Chapter Thirty Five: Sublimation
Kaze no kuni, undisclosed location:
In the dead of the night, two individuals walked into the chilling sandy dunes of the desert wearing black cloaks with red clouds emblazoned on them as well as a matching pair of straw hats over their heads.
One with the humpback and gigantic tail made of pure ironwood and metal swished lazily into the night.
"It is finally time we make a move, eh?" One of them asked, the taller of the two.
The one with a slouching humpback merely grunted in response before replying, "Three years… In that amount of time, Akatsuki has not only garnered the necessary tools it needs, it also gained enough power to challenge even the five great powers. Pein is a terrifying man, having all this arranged before us."
The taller of the two smirked, a fact obscured for the both of them. But the person's body language spoke enough for both of them.
"And to target a kage too, I'm sure that man feels confident now that we are out in the limelight for everyone to see."
His partner, uncaring at this point of hiding his anonymity.
"Lofty goals often present you to the world at large and judge you as they see fit. I have had no reservations of doing things in the dark for long, especially now that Konoha and its allies are made aware of our existence."
The taller of the two didn't seem to be disturbed of the fact that these five superpowers would be watching them very closely, well, four, technically as Tsuchi no Kuni has been laying dormant for at least two years now with its ninja decreasing its observations of countries across the continent. "So you're saying that Suna is probably prepared for us when we do strike, Sasori-dana?"
"Probably? They ARE." The humped back figure now known as Sasori replied, the man had survived long enough to have seen wars in his life to see how the powerful villages react to their movements. Konoha had been their most annoying so far. As their strategies had ultimately foiled many of their would be schemes in getting into the village. His spies were working themselves to the bone trying to come up with a path that lead straight to its now official two Jinchuuriki but even with Itachi's advice, Konoha's borders became a very difficult place to infiltrate. It was much like a labyrinth now than it was an impenetrable fortress.
"Suna is the weakest of the five, in terms of resources, in terms of man power and in terms of everything else. Their position on the map has not done them any favors. But the quality of their shinobi should never be compared to the lesser villages. They have a Kage for a reason, best that you do not look down on the Kazekage, Deidara."
The taller of the two, now called Deidara, merely chuckled.
"Oh, I wouldn't dare. I know for a fact how strong a kage is. How even a mere wisp of their chakra shows incredible strength. It is rather unfortunate that in the first move we have to make, it had to be the leader of one of the five great nations."
Sasori could care less. When he joined Akatsuki, he had already seen Pein make lofty goals after lofty goals, the man was high-minded in his ideals but Sasori did not care for such. What Pein wanted was his strength and although powerful, the supposed leader of Akatsuki would rather let his allies do the work for him as he had other things to do.
At least, that's what Sasori thought. The leader of Akatsuki has always arranged short and brief meetings using the Gentoshin no Jutsu (Magical Lantern Body Technique) and would assign them specific roles whenever the time to meet up came. There was no further discussion, not even a moment to peer into the mind of the man who would command them any assignment he wished. He had faced Pein before, and other than that, there was not much interaction between them. But he did understand that the leader was not against meting out punishment against those that crossed him or betray Akatsuki.
Even now, Pein still had a vendetta against Orochimaru, as the man refused to say out his name unless discussing the snake sage's demise and he outright made the death of the Snake master a priority just under the collection of the tailed beasts.
It made Sasori chuckle for a bit, in the old stories and folklores around the world, he had read that most gods were petty. It seemed that Pein was just as well if not, more so as the man was the closest thing to what Sasori call a divine being.
"But you have to admire the history of these Kazekage, Sasori-dana. All of the current Kazekage's predecessors, their fates are met with the most explosive of times. They die gruesome and horrifying deaths. Can you imagine the beauty of such a fleeting life? To live from abject obscurity and to die gloriously in the end in a fraction of a second, like a flower only meant to bloom and die at the same time."
Sasori was brought out of his own thoughts when he heard Deidara speak of his ideal. He grunted at his partner's opinion on art with clear distaste.
"That's precisely why I consider you a plebian, Deidara, you do not see the value of preservation of art and its longevity. Art should be maintained, to stand across time and eons. To have your work be remembered for eternity. Art should not be fleeting, it should be seen and felt by all senses and serve as a reminder of the artist. Art should be forever, art should be eternal."
Deidara disagreed vehemently and saw Sasori's view on art as an affront to his ideal, "Art should be an explosion!"
Clearly at an impasse but not enough to disrupt them from their objective, the two began arguing all the way to Suna. They had managed to sneak inside the borders of Kaze no Kuni via Kawa no Kuni and from there, studied the gaps of the patrols and where they usually converge or disperse. It had taken them several weeks of information gathering and infiltration until Sasori had found a way in by his own spy network.
Now, in the middle of nowhere in Kaze no Kuni, both men were making their way towards Suna and it would be another six hours of this cold trek in the night before they can even see the cleverly hidden walls of Sunagakure.
Unbeknownst to them, several hawks had quietly circled above before they made their way towards the village.
"I see the walls of the village." Deidara claimed, adjusting the device in his left eye to zoom in on the village itself.
"How many years has it been since I came here?" Sasori wondered. It had been far too long since stepping on to the village once more. Years of being on the run, of looking for ways to perfect his art, recruited by Akatsuki, now he returns to Suna, repeating the same actions he had done all those years ago.
It was quite an ironic twist of fate, that the puppeteer Akasuna no Sasori, the assassin of the Third Kazekage, would come back home and participate in a would be assassination of the Godaime Kazekage.
"Heh. Time to get this show on the road." Deidara said and grabbed some substance from his pouch. It was white clay.
To their backs, the sun was slowly rising to the dunes of the desert. A new dawn approaches Kaze no Kuni
Deidara then reveals a pair of mouths that formed within his hands. Deidara grinned viciously as the mouths in his hands began to chew eagerly on the clay and spat out a formed clay bird out of the mouth of the left hand and another one on the right. With that, Deidara performed a hand seal and the bird on the left exploded in a cloud of smoke.
Deidara then jumped and mounted the giant bird on its back as it began to flap its wings and soared into the opposite direction of the village and into the sky before making a sharp turn back towards the skies of the Village hidden in the sands.
Sasori observed Deidara's approach from the skies silently for a few seconds before he decided to walk towards the front of the small crevice of the walls of Suna as if he had not a care in the world. The man only stopped when one shinobi had met him there.
"Have the defenses been breached?" He asked.
The one Suna Shinobi to his front gave a wordless nod. Behind the Suna nin lay two people dead, one of them whose blood splattered on the walls of the village and then smearing down as he lay his back to the very walls he swore to protect. Another had managed twitch and held his head up, and with the last of his remaining time on this world, put up a hand seal before he spoke.
"Y-Yura, you damn traitor! I should have known…"
Sasori looked at the one that his spy had unfortunately missed.
With a mere flick of his tail, Sasori had ended the man's life and stabbed the man through and through at the heart. But it was already too late.
Not a scant few seconds later, Suna was already up in arms and sand had exploded upwards like multiple geysers all around the village.
Sasori turned to his spy and said, "Gather the rest, we will be in for a fight."
Yura merely nodded and disappeared with a distortion of wind.
It had been five days since the incident with the two kunoichi from Nadeshiko village. Three days worth of fame that Naruto really didn't want about him.
Word had spread quickly between the bout of his current lover and the kunoichi who had sought after him around Konoha that whenever he was seen in town, women tend to look at him warily while the men were staring at him like he had somehow become worse than the Kyuubi incarnate.
Not just that though, Kiba often joined the men that were staring at him as if he had taken away something precious from them.
It was a good thing that he found solace within the Fuinjutsu team during these times and also found comfort with the Hyuuga heiress.
After the two dignitaries from Nadeshiko left with a promise to return at that. Naruto made it absolutely clear to everyone that he had no hand in how things turned out this way.
He was not a womanizer damn it!
Naruto was a showoff and even as he toned down in his flamboyant attitude of the need to be at the center stage, he definitely didn't want this kind of attention!
Not all of the days of rest had been a waste though, with Hinata's help, Naruto had managed to make strides in his improvements for Senjutsu. That and he made a great headway towards his wind element. He just wished that he could get over the slump he had when concerning the Hiraishin.
With a sigh, Naruto continued to walk on his way towards the research and development building but was greeted by Sasuke who's first words to him was an insult.
The two greeted as if it was an automatic response or an everyday occurrence. Their banter was complete shit, both of them knew that, but these two could insult each other and they would strangely not find it demeaning. Rather, they were more comfortable calling each other names rather than their given ones. They figured that they just rolled with it and were fine being complete assholes to each other without much flare these days. Their rivalry was fierce, they knew that too, but it was mellowed out, less hostile and more respectful towards each other.
It was a little weird that Sasuke was seeking him for now and the blonde had to wonder why. His teammate did not seek anyone out of the village unless it involved training or something professional like a mission. Sasuke was the definition of a consummate pro, a beast of few habits as they were called. And the Uchiha was the model of it, Naruto was sure.
Sasuke, seeing one of his blonde teammate's eyebrows raising in wonder, handed him the newest bingo book that was published by the intelligence department.
"Any reasons as to why you're giving me a copy of this?" Naruto asked and Sasuke shrugged.
"Flip the pages towards the new bounties section." Was the Uchiha's only answer and Naruto did so.
What he saw shocked him.
On the first two pages of the new book, his face was plastered on the very first page of the section as did his teammates.
Uzumaki 'Kazama' Naruto
Reward: Three million Ryo
Threat Level: A
"Huh…" Naruto wondered as he read further into the details presented to him. Apparently he had an epitaph now! Kazama was fitting! And Badass to boot!
It also listed the skills he had presented during his skirmishes in Snow Country. Many of them were only just skills that he did indeed use during his mission in Yuki no Kuni and was glad that he managed to keep his more serious skills under wraps.
Sage knows how the world would take it if people found out he had used Minamoto no Banbutsu.
As he read further, he saw Sasuke's profile as well
Name: Uchiha 'Kagemusha' Sasuke
Reward: Two point Eight Million Ryo
Threat Level: A
Naruto hummed at this and looked at Sasuke who shrugged. Naruto always knew that the bastard would wind up somewhere here sooner or later these days. What Naruto didn't expect was how his head was worth two hundred thousand more than his teammate's. He looked at the summary profile for skills on the Uchiha and found that the asshole was confident enough that Enton was listed here as a skill attributed to him. He sighed as he continued to another page and was surprised to see Sakura's face in it.
Name: Haruno 'Tekken' Sakura
Reward: Two point six Million Ryo
Threat Level: A
"So what's got you showing this to me, Sasuke? You wouldn't even show this to me like you are right now because my bounty is bigger than yours." Naruto replied and looked at Sasuke with half lidded eyes. He could tell that the Uchiha didn't feel petty as much as he seemed.
Sasuke scoffed at that. He didn't care about his bounty. Not when one of Naruto's skills listed in his summary profile was weaseling his way out of tight spots.
"Look at the next entry."
And Naruto did.
Altogether, these three comprise of a newly dangerous unit called The Hakai no Mikami. Not since the time of the Densetsu no Sannin would there be a three man cell group that would be considered as an S rank threat. Approach with caution. Total reward for these three is at Twenty Million Ryo if they are captured or killed as a group. Rewards will be given by Kumogakure.
"Holy shit." Naruto was incredulous to say the least.
"It seems like our 'friends' from Kumogakure had reported us to the Raikage. The man must be petty enough to have us included in their list. That or he's being overtly cautious and wants us out of the picture before we become a legitimate threat." Sasuke looked down at the book and thought about the consequences of something like this. It was true that a good and tangible way to look up infamy was to see the Bingo book. He had a glance at Kakashi's bounty once and he was awestruck to fund that Kakashi had a bounty of at least eight million ryo for his head, inching very close to Itachi's lone ten million ryo mark.
"Is A rank not a legitimate threat enough?" Naruto asked and Sasuke shook his head.
"Unless we can go toe to toe with Itachi, I'll consider us a headache for the great powers at best."
"You make it sound like we'd need to destroy an entire village in order to come across as S-Rank threats." Naruto replied and Sasuke nodded seriously.
"I'm not going to lie, Naruto. In terms of scaling, we only have a handful of jutsu that we can viably use against S-Rank shinobi not delving into our innate abilities such as the Mangekyou and the use of your friend there. Which is something we really do need in the future now that we've become infamous. People will be out hunting for our heads. As major players go, we've officially joined a very dangerous club."
Naruto sighed at this and grabbed the bingo book from Sasuke's hands. The blonde began to walk and Sasuke followed.
"I understand. Just in time too, I've got to make my way to the research and development building and heading straight to the training grounds after this. I think I've found a nifty way for a new jutsu I wanted to master."
"Already?" Sasuke asked and Naruto smirked.
"Trust me, with this jutsu I'm about to do, I'm going to blow everybody away with just a flick of the wrist."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow at this and asked, expectantly, "Kakashi tells me you've been training to use the Hiraishin no Jutsu. He suspects that you are close to a breakthrough."
Naruto scoffs, "Hardly. I only have my speed to be of any help for now. But I've got something else in mind. The ones I AM close to finishing are the Rasengan's next step, a secret fuinjutsu seal that I've been working on and then Senjutsu."
Sasuke was curious at this, "Senjutsu?"
"The art of harnessing chakra from nature. I've heard from Sakura that you've been looking at a way to stop the degradation of your eyesight from using the Mangekyou. How is that coming along?"
Sasuke shook his head, "There's been no progress. From what I can gather, there is only one way to obtain a Mangekyou Sharingan that doesn't destroy my eyesight. But that's a method we don't have or can't replicate at the moment. You try finding another pair of Mangekyou Sharingan eyes that can work around this village."
Naruto hummed at this and placed a hand on his chin and began thinking, "That would be a problem. But have you asked Sakura and her team to harness some of your own cells just to recreate your Mangekyou Sharingan? The old bat did say that it's a feasible option."
Sasuke nodded, "I'll look into it. Speaking of seals, what's with the new seal you've been cooking?"
Naruto grinned and gave his teammate a hint, "Have you ever thought of a concept of the phrase, 'Two-become-one'?"
Sasuke looked at the blonde with a raised eyebrow, "What? Something like a fusion?"
Naruto hummed, "Yeah, something like that more or less. But that's still a way's off. It's still a concept, after this and working my way with Senjutsu, I'll probably go ahead and start that."
As they made their way to the research and development building and into the Fuinjutsu office, Naruto went to oversee the concept and parts of the group that currently only consisted of ten people as they all were meticulously looking at the seal matrix and core designs that Naruto was overseeing.
All ten members stopped their studies and looked up to see the blonde grinning at them and waved.
"Naruto-san!" Some of them greeted smiling at the blonde in return. Sasuke on the other hand, looked at his teammate.
He had never expected Naruto to hang out with geeks since they were genin.
"How's the appraisal going?" Naruto asked.
All of the members of the group looked excited for a moment and they went to crowd just in front of the blonde and they all looked giddy for a moment.
Naruto did as well.
Sasuke found it incredulous seeing his friend like a nerd like the rest of the group inside concerning seals and the seal babble this group into that Sasuke couldn't grasp his head around made him realize his teammate had been absolutely been misconstrued as a total idiot.
"You see, the way this works is that the core has to be written with this stroke that way so that the chakra applied here as a core can regulate the energy to cause a high speed push to spin and cause enough disruption that the matrices don't delineate due to the vibration…" Naruto said this and the team hung on to his every word.
Sasuke tried to glean in on what Naruto was talking about and found it extremely too technical even for him.
He was still going to call him an idiot after all of this over and done with.
"I see, so the reason we can generate enough force and cause an energy surge relies on the fact that we need the chakra not to be consumed but amplified a thousand times over by causing vibration that cause a multiplication effect similar to the Kage Bunshin. But since we need as much energy output as we could, the fuel of chakra needed for this seal will have been reduced to as much as a hundred people."
"A hundred people for a single seal?" Sasuke asked and Naruto turned to Sasuke as dead the sealing research team.
"Well, a hundred Kage level shinobi, that is." Naruto replied and Sasuke gawked at it.
"How the hell is that even feasible?" Sasuke asked and the group shrugged. One of the researchers answered him.
"It's still developing. I would say that with this new sealing method, we can generate so much amplified chakra that we can add more and more sealing matrices and micro-cores as a way to reduce the need even further. Though we still need a proper stabilizing seal that can help us maintain that and not blow up the entire village in a cascading explosion, I'd say you can give us a year to finish and we can crank this bad boy out to Tsunade-sama."
Naruto whooped in joy, "That's awesome! I knew you guys were so cool! All you needed was a chance!"
"Naruto-san! No one ever called us as cool before! Thanks for the encouragement!"
The core group of nerds madly in love with seals all embraced each other with tears streaming from their eyes with Naruto joining them as well.
Ah, now Sasuke understood.
These people were crowding to Naruto because Naruto always knew what to say to motivate them. That and he had the sincerity to appreciate this bunch of nerds that they would be way too excited to have someone as famous as Naruto to help their self-esteem.
'That was actually a pretty good quality of leadership right there' , knowing how to motivate people to let them finish a task for you.
'A weakness' The voice in his head scoffed at the idea. But Sasuke disagreed.
This is a VERY good trait to have.
Something that Sasuke didn't have. He had realized.
There were things that came naturally to a person, things that they were good at. Naruto was good at things that Sasuke doesn't see himself in as much as Naruto isn't as good to things that he didn't see himself in.
That was another observation that Sasuke had in his teammate.
It was why for Naruto, being Hokage sounded a lot less far fetched as people make it out to be.
Naruto stopped celebrating with the nerds and then asked, "That aside though, how are we progressing with the other two projects?"
One of the Fuinjutsu researchers nodded and stepped forward, "Project snake eater is nearing completion, Naruto-san, with the samples provided by the medic corps coming from your friend, I'm sure we can finally come to a satisfying solution in no time. It has gained so much leaps and bounds especially with your help."
Sasuke assumed that Project Snake Eater was for the cursed seal. He had to admit, the name was pretty catchy.
"And Project White Wings?" Naruto asked expectantly and the the one earlier nodded.
"It is a far more arduous task, I'm afraid. The seal we are currently looking into is quite old and many of the intricacies working out the seal and its purpose had been lost to time. We do, however, think that its feasible and the research notes left behind by our predecessors are pointing out that it is indeed an easier task. The trick is how we can cause some of the locks to loosen up."
It was then that Sasuke spoke, "I would assume that you are talking about the caged bird seal. From what I understand the only way the seal goes is if the one who wields it dies."
Sasuke seemed to recall something from his earlier days as genin. He recalled the mist, a porcelain white mask and a boy with long hair.
"Why not try inducing the subject into a temporary death state?"
The sealing team sans Naruto all scowled at Sasuke and looked absolutely livid.
"NOBODY ASKED YOU, PRETTY BOY!"
"YEAH! WE DON'T NEED A GUY WITH HIS WHOLE LIFE AHEAD OF HIM TALKING ABOUT OUR JOB! GO BACK TO YOUR HOUSE AND BANG YOUR CHICKS! LEAVE US LOSERS ALONE!"
Naruto then proceeded to smack them all in the heads with a chop in one fluid motion and seemingly took command of the team.
"Alright, alright, settle down! He's only trying to be helpful here, guys. And you shouldn't be jealous of Sasuke's popularity with the girls, you don't have to worry about stuff like that. You'll all find your special someone one day, just work on yourselves and try to be better and maybe you can get that special someone. Besides, it's not that great being the center of unwanted attention, ya know."
The team was silent for a few seconds but then began huddling with each other.
"You know, now that I think about it, Naruto-san is pretty popular with the ladies too."
"Hey now, I don't think that's…" Naruto was suddenly cut off when one of them added fuel to the fire.
"I heard he got a girlfriend way before any of his peers had. Not to mention that there's a rumor going around that Naruto-san somehow got the attention of Fujikaze Yukie."
"F-FOR REAL? FUUN-HIME IS LIKE, TOTALLY MY WAIFU, DUDE! AND SHE GOT THE HOTS FOR NARUTO-SAN!?"
"Hey man, I know you like 3D girls and all, but I just want you to know that you've got shit taste."
The team all then turned around to Naruto with jealousy burning within their eyes. Naruto didn't look quite amused at the fact that even his own people seem to be thinking that he was somehow living every man's dream.
"WE ARE STRAYING WAY OFF TOPIC HERE! ALL OF YOU GET BACK TO YOUR POSTS AND GET TO WORK, DAMN IT!"
Surprisingly, everyone straightened up and went back to work by themselves obeying Naruto when he asserted command, recognizing him as a superior in their team.
Sasuke saw his friend for the first time in a different light.
"Tch, fucking Harem Protagonist."
Naruto went over the hapless idiot that made the snide remark.
"I HEARD THAT!"
After a few more pointers and having his team take care of business on this end of Naruto's job, the duo finally went outside and saw a messenger bird circling above them over head.
Sasuke looked passively above as the hawk encircled the air above them for a few seconds before it went away back to the aviary. "I guess break time's over."
Naruto nodded as they made their way towards the mission briefing section.
Arriving at the building, they were met with Sakura, Kakashi, who was waving at them and Team Gai who merely looked at them with Neji nodding his head.
Tsunade was holding her hands together as she had her elbows on her desk, a worrying glance escaped her as she looked over to Naruto and Sasuke.
"Good, you are earlier than expected which means I can give you an early briefing." Tsunade stood up and grabbed several folders from her desk and handed them over to the eight shinobi.
"This is an emergency S-Rank mission meant for eight people. Suna has sent out a distress call asking for aid from us in order to rescue their Kazekage."
To this, the shinobi all looked at their Hokage in surprise. A Kage has been beaten!? How!?
"Akatsuki has managed to capture Sabaku no Gaara, the Godaime Kazekage. One of his trusted Jounin, a man by the name of Baki, had secretly sent this message to us while he argued with Suna's elders. He is skeptical with how Suna's governing bodies are going to deal with this crisis. He thinks that they will not lift a finger and has ordered an immediate recall of his sister, Temari."
To this, the more savvy members of the group were frowning. Kakashi in particular, was the first one to voice his doubts, "So they are immediately planning to replace Gaara with Temari as Kazekage."
Gai gave a nod, "The timing is suspect in this case, its almost as if there is someone within Suna who wants the current Kazekage gone and they will do all the necessary means that they must. It seems the current Kazekage isn't as well loved as we had hoped."
Tsunade nodded at this, "I can see your points, but I won't have you delve into Wind Country politics anytime soon. The only meddling we'll do is when we retrieve said Kazekage and make this look like it was an incident. Certainly, we'll leave Baki to do his work in snuffing out the traitors within Suna. You eight have different objectives this time, the first team is to assist Baki in Suna and pose as diplomats under my name and secure targets of high value that would oppose those that do not approve of Gaara such as his brother, and the second is to intercept the two Akatsuki members that have captured Gaara before we lose him. At minimum, two jounin will be the ones who will go to these two destinations. I recommend having a tracker and someone who can do flying jutsu on the second team, which means by default, Naruto should be the one with the second unit along with Neji."
All of them nodded and began discussing team adjustments when someone had barged into the office as the people within the room looked at the door to the new arrival.
Temari arrived, a look of concern and panic laden on her face, behind her was Shikamaru who was trying to calm her down, "I've heard, my brother's been captured and Baki is sniffing out traitors in my home. Please add this to your mission parameters, Hokage-sama, I wish to be escorted back to Suna!"
Tsunade was surprised at this. When Suna sends their best messenger bird back to Konoha, it was usually a sign of something happening, Temari was familiar with the messenger birds of her home and seeing their fastest hawk had been the one to deliver the message, she was sure something had come up, she made her way to the cryptologists section and from there, knew what she had to do.
Along the way, she had ran into Shikamaru who she had pulled along and mentioned to him what had transpired. Needless to say, the boy had tried to calm her down as best as he could before she could say anything that would be detrimental. Despite Temari knowing what to do, she was still distraught and Shikamaru had to help her with what she needed to say to approve the message.
An idea formed into Tsunade's head, she gave a small amused smile and nodded at Temari.
"Temari, despite the seriousness of the situation, you have the perfect timing. This will make our transition to Suna easier and more numbers on our side. The rest of you, prepare your gear and meet me on the roof in five minutes Temari, stay here and I'll discuss to you Baki's plans and how you're involved."
Temari gave a nod as the eight assigned shinobi dispersed and prepared themselves.
Five minutes later, just as they were told, all eight shinobi plus Temari and now, Shikamaru had assembled themselves in front of the Hokage. Sasuke wore his ANBU uniform and mask as well as a his mother's katana behind him, just as Sakura wore her gear and set the twin short swords on her back. Lee was adjusting his bracers and shin guards while Tenten was fitting her white gloves perfectly on her hands and two scrolls were placed on her thighs as holsters. Neji then gave his teammates their wireless communicators as Naruto approached them, now wearing his sage cloak, and his wakizashi over his own black and orange uniform and vest.
"Looks like I'll be in your care for the time being, Bushy brows."
Lee gave the blonde a thumbs up and a nice guy pose as he added, "We will make sure to find Kazekage-sama, Naruto-kun! We will not fail!"
Tsunade gave a cough to gather everyone's attention and spoke, "I assume that you are all asking why I have Naruto with Team Gai this time. Baki reports that the Akatsuki member responsible for the abduction has a jutsu that can help them in flight. That and he has a peculiar ability of loosely related to bombing tactics, we assume it's a kekkei genkai wielder like the Bakuton (Explosion release) so assume the worst. There are sightings of his partner but there were no mention of his abilities. But it seems that is the one responsible in infiltrating Suna. He may have connections inside the village. Assume the greater threat to be this mysterious figure. Lethal force is necessary. I will not make the mistake of underestimating them and neither should you. That's why you have a minimum of two jounin per team, but considering the circumstances, I think your chances are good."
"Shikamaru." Tsunade turned to the heir of the Nara clan and spoke, "Your job for this mission is to be the official escort for Temari to Suna, find out what you can and work with Suna loyalists to come out and snuff the rats out into the limelight and direct Kakashi's team for assassination if need be. Baki understands that we are threading a fine needle through this controversy, so I take that you of all people should understand how important this mission will be. Sakura and Kakashi will act as your support, Sasuke will remain hidden throughout this mission and will act as your shadow."
She then commanded her shinobi to leave immediately and all of them vanished in a swirl of leaves.
Tsunade looked up towards the faces of her predecessors and uttered, "This will be the first of many against them, I pray that you have given me the right choice."
Not ever since the third war that a team of more than eight shinobi were scrambled for a mission so highly dangerous, that there was a high chance of a fatality with them.
S-rank missions were missions of utter importance, where the safety of a village or its allies hang in the balance. That or something had crossed in the sights of the village's interest. Sasuke knew of that. This was the first time he had been given an S-Rank mission, an opportunity to test himself against monsters, those that had reached his brother's level. If he could overcome this obstacle, then he was one step closer to Itachi.
'Such single minded focus. Your obsession shall serve you well. I cannot help but see such an improvement from one such as you.' The voice in his head commented, Sasuke growled.
'You are an annoying pest. What and who are you, anyway? Why are you here inside my head?'
The voice inside his head cackled madly as it echoed within Sasuke's head, its mere presence had brought such a disturbance within the Uchiha as he travelled along with his comrades at top speed.
'I am a mere relic of the past, boy, nothing more. I was once the favored son, the one who should have inherited the will of my father, but I was not to be. I knew what lied beyond my father's teachings, what he kept from me, what he subjected my brother into, and what he ultimately failed to do. I am Otsutsuki Indra, the first born, the eye of unmatched talent, the true founder and you are, my child, are my descendant that has gotten close to the ideal. Your chakra resonated with the lingering will of my former transmigrant and you have received none other MY will, MY will of power.'
Sasuke could tell that the person inside his head had only eyes for himself, a narcissistic yet overinflated sense of self-worth. Sasuke had to ask himself, could he turn out much like this man if he had decided to go along with Orochimaru? Or would he turn into him regardless?
'Does it bother you so that I, Otsutsuki Indra, approach you like you are a dog? Maybe you are, with all of that blind loyalty that you developed and your shared bonds with your foolish peers, that would certainly put you down to a level of a dog.'
Sasuke didn't look amused, 'Then stop associating yourself to one and get lost. I have neither the patience nor the tolerance for an obnoxious god-wannabe.'
'An impressive yet defiant resolve, you mongrel. We will see how far those fangs of yours can take you... In the meantime...'
Indra appeared beside the boy and gave a disturbing grin, 'We shall see who will remain superior. You? Or I, the true inheritor of ninshu.'
Sasuke scoffed at the man, Ninshu was a dead philosophy, or at least, a mythical one that was lost to the annals of history, old teachings forgotten by human society, it was a philosophy that did not exist to Sasuke.
This man may speak highly of himself, but Sasuke knew. He knew that Indra was nothing more than a failure, and failures like Indra deserved to be forgotten by history.
"Sasuke-kun..." Sakura disturbed him out of his thoughts as he saw his teammate look at him with a worried glance. He was expressing that stone-faced appearance once again, it was a sign that Sasuke was being lost in his own thoughts. It was a miracle that he could keep up despite the speed they were travelling in and how much they were moving through obstacles. Sakura could tell that Sasuke was having one of those episodes again, where his thoughts would drift him away, being together with her teammate for so long, she could tell that whenever Sasuke was internalizing his own thoughts. And many of those, according to Sakura's suspicions, did not seem to benefit him at all.
"What is it, Sakura?"
"You were looking like you were lost in your own thoughts again." Sakura mentioned and Sasuke raised an eyebrow at this. Naruto seemed to have made his way towards them and said, "Are you anticipating that we are going to meet up with Itachi?"
The name of the man still brings a chill down his spine. Even though it was laden with hate and anguish, Sasuke could not be more afraid of encountering Itachi again. It opened a lot of old wounds and three years ago, Itachi had successfully opened them flawlessly.
Memories littered his mind, the trauma of years past coming back to him. And Sakura notices that Sasuke was clenching his fists tighter than before.
"Sasuke, I know you're itching to kill him, I understand your pain, but you're not alone. Never alone."
Sasuke gave a scoff and said, "I'm getting tired of that 'never alone' crap. I know that you'll be there. But this is something I have to do on my own."
Naruto raised an eyebrow at that, "I'm going to keep saying that, you know. Not just to annoy you, but because whatever we can't overcome on our own, we have others who can pick up whatever weaknesses you may have."
It was Lee who then added, "It is true, we are stronger together than apart, Sasuke-kun. You may not want us to be involved, but we will involve ourselves, anyway."
"Because we also want you to stop suffering." Sakura finished and Sasuke remained silent for a while. A few more seconds of silence as Sasuke answered, finally, "I understand, you just can't leave me well alone."
Naruto just smirked, "Never, Sasuke, we won't ever leave you alone to bear your problems. You may think that this is for you alone, but the Uchiha clan was very much part of Konoha as it was a clan. I want to be a Hokage that others not only respect but also someone who considers everyone my family, my strength, my shield, my sword. That is why..."
Naruto's expression changes into a frown, "... I want to do everything I can for them, even if they strayed, even if they are far apart, I want to keep being a part of their lives."
Temari looked at Naruto and noted that Naruto talked about his comrades closely to his own heart. A Kage that cared much about beyond just their village was no kage at all, she thought.
But she had to remind herself that current sensibilities did not translate to future ones. Maybe one day, it will be like that and Naruto may have those sensibilities to change things, but not now. Now was a time filled with uncertainties and that uncertainty was how long a fragile peace could exist within the continent. An event like this, the kidnapping of the Kazekage, may very well bring that peace to a close and enter another bloody war.
"That's why, I will do everything I can for Gaara. We might have started on a bad foot, but I know he earned that redemption, he mentioned to me just how much he wanted to be Kazekage, how much the title meant to him now that he didn't want to fight for a lonely existence. Saving him is the least that I could do."
Temari looked at the blonde once more, in awe of the blonde's benevolence for her brother, Shikamaru answered her just as he was behind, "That's just who he is, he understood Gaara's pain and that pain created a bond so deep that it hurts."
Being a Jinchuuriki, knowing the sadness that it entailed and the loneliness of the path that they walk, Temari had only truly understood Gaara after that faithful day in Konoha. She knew Gaara was her brother and wanted to develop a bond as well, but Gaara's murderous tendencies had stopped her from approaching him. It took a shinobi from another village willing to stand up against him, stand toe to toe with him and delivering a massive beat down that Gaara was brought to his senses.
Temari didn't have that kind of strength.
The strength to stubbornly get back up and continuing to pound against insurmountable odds. To rage against the machine.
Temari found out that these sensibilities she held now were trash.
She looked at Shikamaru who was giving her a knowing smirk.
'Did this bastard know what I was thinking?'
Judging from the boy's smile, then maybe yes, he probably knew.
Wind Country, twenty-four hours later:
They had arrived at the border of Kaze no Kuni and it was here that Naruto and Team Gai separated from Kakashi's group. From this point on, Kakashi's team were to make their way towards Sunagakure no Sato.
In the aftermath of Akatsuki's attack, the team had already noticed the disarray from the patrol guards, most of them looked disheartened while some were visibly biting their lips. But Temari's arrival had somewhat alleviated their doubts.
"T-Temari-sama! It's good that you have arrived sooner! Kazekage-sama, he's been taken away by the Akatsuki!"
Temari nodded, trying to stay calm amidst the crisis within the country, "I've been informed. I'm making my way to Suna now to insure some form of stability. Any news on my brother's whereabouts?"
The Suna shinobi looked down, their despair was palpable, "We've been searching since then, not much of a trail is present, and Kankuro-sama has been missing as well."
Temari remained silent at this realization, the information finally setting in, she began to think just what was going through Kankuro's mind before he went missing and she could only think of one thing to arrive at her conclusion.
Shikamaru seemed to be arriving to it as well, perhaps he already knew while the rest of the team were forming the answers in their heads.
"We need something to track him down first, then we can trace the place where Gaara is." Sasuke answered, Kakashi shook his head, "Our objective is to escort Temari to Suna and rendezvous with Baki-san there. Although I can feel your eagerness, Sasuke, let Naruto and the rest wrestle the information out. We have our own clear rules of engagement."
Sasuke wanted to snap at Kakashi at that but withheld himself back.
He knew his captain was right in this case he looked down, trying to contain his emotions once again and Shikamaru nodded, Kakashi then turned to his team and commanded them to head back to Suna and find Temari's brother.
"It doesn't mean we can help the others make their jobs easier. I will make arrangements if needed. For now, we find Kankuro. An ally less is not ideal in any circumstances."
With that, the group nodded and began their search.
Kakashi grabbed a kunai from his pouch and cut his finger, a trickle of blood escapes from the injured finger and began performing a set of handseals.
"Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"
A whisp of smoke escapes the ground that Kakashi touched and cleared seeing a pug with a blue vest and a headband of Konoha covering its head.
"Kakashi? You have another job for me?" The dog asked and Kakashi gave a wordless nod.
"We have to find a displaced Suna nin in this desert, can you help us?"
Pakkun scratched the back of his head with his forepaw and said, "That might be a problem unless you specifically give me a scent."
It was here that Temari volunteered.
"I'm looking for my brother. First order of business is to find Kankurou and secure him."
Temari kneeled down and lent her arm forward, Pakkun was fast at work at recognizing herself.
"There's a scent similar to yours, about several kilometers from where we are and he's not moving. There's another just behind yours and its moving in a straight line. My guess is it's in midair." Pakkun remarked, the Suna Shinobi all looked at each other and scrambled towards the second area unceremoniously, abandoning their posts. Temari would have stopped them, but they were long gone before she could give an order.
"Those fools are going to get themselves killed. The Akatsuki are not a group to be trifled with if they can even beat a kage in his own element." Sasuke commented, and although a bit miffed at Sasuke's words about their shinobi, Temari had to agree.
It was then that they began their search as Pakkun took point, Temari noticed that the path they were in was veering very little from the village. They could still make head way, but Kankurou's retrieval comes first. According to the mission parameters Shikamaru had shared to her, Kankurou was as vital as her to be in the village.
Two whole hours later, they had come across the part of the desert where they noticed a small pile of wreckage strewn around.
Temari looked on and she was quick to notice destroyed relics littering around the sandy dunes of the desert. A piece of them, she could recognize as well.
It was one of the head of one of Kankuro's puppets, Karasu.
"He's close." Pakkun announced to the team, the winds blowing in the desert seemed to have been slightly distorting his sense of smell, but the scent never disappeared, it just that the scent was veering off along with the tumultuous winds in the desert along with the fact that the mangled puppets seemed to give off faint and distracting smells that almost veered him off his range. But the scent strongest next to Temari was getting closer, it was getting to very easy to pinpoint now until they had made their way towards a large mound of sand, with a head barely out of being almost burried.
"Kankurou!" Temari shouted, she rushed over to her brother as the others helped her pulling out the puppeteer from his untimely burial.
Sakura kneeled beside the boy and her hand glowed green for her diagnostic jutsu. She could still see Kankuro's chest rising and falling, but it was shallow and it was a clear sign that he was going into distress.
"Diaphoretic, his extremeties are cold and clammy, heart rate is tachycardic, rapid shallow breathing, he's going in and out of consciousness, coma scale, probably thirteen, checking his fingertips, noticing slow capillary refill time, congruent with a rapid but weak pulse, blood pressure is there but dropping slowly. He's going into shock. I'll need something to stabilize him before we move him."
She then turns to her teammate, "Sasuke-kun, I have a scroll in my pouch for emergency purposes. There's an IV set prepared for immediate resuscitation methods. I need you to unseal the contents while I establish a sterile field. Before we can move Kankurou-san, we need to keep him alive."
Sasuke nodded and grabbed a scroll from Sakura's pouch and unsealed its contents, a number of IV bags, several small ampules, a hollowed needle, and an IV line.
"Doton: Dorodomu (Earth release: Earth Wall Dome)" Sakura performed several handseals and slammed her hands on the ground, Shikamaru instantly recognizes this as the Jutsu one of the sound nin they had fought years ago performed. He turns to Sakura with a raised eyebrow. It seemed it wasn't just him that had a photographic memory.
Sakura then raised Kankuro to a makeshift table made of earth, sanitizing the area around the puppeteer with some antiseptic that she had in her scrolls and immediately began her work.
"Is Kankurou going to be safe?" Temari asked and Sakura shook her head as she established an IV line and began immediately went full blast on her infusion with the IV bag.
"I can't say for certain, at this stage of the body's response, catching up to the damage done to him will be difficult. The first stage of treatment here is to administer emergency aid and stabilize him before rooting out the problem, my guess is that he's been poisoned judging from how his body is reacting, relative physical injuries are easy enough to solve because the cause is obvious, it's a different matter altogether when something is messing him up chemically. I'm preparing an infusion with some inotropes to help with the circulation just in case the immediate fluids aren't enough, but I'm going to have to keep monitoring him to see if there's an improvement."
"How long are we going to be here?" Shikamaru asked, and Sakura scowled, "As long as it takes. Once he's stable enough, we'll be able to move him to a better facility in Suna where I can perform a better diagnostic of his situation and what type of poison he's been inoculated with."
So, they would be here at a minimum, of at least four hours to over a day. Shikamaru estimated.
Two hours later, Sakura noted a change in Kankuro's vitals. It was subtle, but Sakura had noticed a better heartbeat, the arms and legs weren't as cold and clammy as before but the blood pressure remained low. Gritting her teeth, Sakura broke a small ampule and extracted the fluid with a sterile syringe before puncturing an IV bag and pushing the liquid to the bag and began adjusting the infusion again.
"He's improving, but his blood pressure is still low, I'm giving him an infusion of dopamine, that way we can raise his blood pressure and move him sooner."
Normally, Sakura would give the infusion in a much more strict sense, and she was risking of giving damage to Kankurou rather than aiding him, but in order to move him faster to a hospital, she would have to risk of doing this and try to make up to the boy as they make their way to the village.
It was then that Kankurou started to stir. He flinched when he started to move. Pain wracked his body as if he had crashed into a brick wall. His world was spinning, disorienting, even as he didn't know where he was or how he got there or what time it was.
"Ugh... W-What happened?"
Temari went to her brother's side immediately, "Kankurou! Don't move! Sakura is stabilizing you right now!"
It was then that Kankurou forced himself from the table and sat up.
Or at least he tried before falling flat on his back and he grunted.
"Gaara... Akatsuki... Akasuna no Sasori..."
Temari froze from what Kankuro had just mumbled. Akasuna no Sasori? The terror of the red sands? Said to have destroyed an entire country with his puppets alone? The name that described the nightmares of Suna shinobi had joined Akatsuki?
Temari was then brought out of her thoughts when Kankuro's left hand let go of a piece of cloth.
That piece of cloth happened to have the design of red and white cloud patterns, a sign of Akatsuki.
Kakashi leaned down on the ground and let Pakkun smell the piece of clothing, "Though defeated, Kankurou secured something that could help in rescuing the Kazekage, for that he has my respect."
Pakkun gave a nod, "It's the same direction back in Kawa no Kuni."
Pakkun then turned to Kakashi, "I'm going to assume that we're splitting up here. One group heads to Suna for the mission, the other is going to serve as backup for Gai's team. Naruto and the others can probably handle themselves, but its nice to know that reinforcements will be there to support against Akatsuki."
Kakashi nodded, "Sasuke and I will be the backup. Mission parameters have changed. We need to stop Akatsuki with whatever it is they're planning with the Kazekage. If what your nose is indicating, then that means that the Akatsuki members who took the Kazekage have come to a full stop. Kawa no Kuni is probably one of their bases."
To this, Sasuke paid full attention for Kakashi's words.
"Then we'll be heading to Suna." Shikamaru answered and Temari nodded.
Despite Sakura's promise to Sasuke, she knew she was needed elsewhere and Sasuke understood.
"I'll be going with Shikamaru and the others. Hopefully, we can find the appropriate antidote for Kankurou."
Kakashi gave a nod and Sasuke walked over to Sakura and patted her shoulder, "I know you want to come with me. I can feel it in your actions. But you've chosen well to put another well being's life in your hands rather than your own. For that, I'm assured that you can take care of yourself. If you manage to heal him sooner, I'm sure you will be able to catch up."
With that, Sakura dispelled the jutsu and the earth dome crumbled all around them. Temari and Shikamaru carried Kankurou by the shoulders and the quartet leaped towards Suna leaving Sasuke, Kakashi to head back to Kawa no Kuni.
"In case we do meet Itachi, Sasuke, are you mentally prepared?"
Sasuke looked at Kakashi for a second before he turned back his eyes back to Kawa no Kuni, "Half of my life has been preparing for that moment, Kakashi-sensei..."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow at that moment, "And what about the other half?"
Sasuke merely closed his eyes beneath his mask as he recalled the death of his family once more, "Half of it has already died on the night of the massacre."
Kakashi couldn't help but feel empathic to his student. He who had lost everything that night, much like how Kakashi had lost everything growing up.
Kakashi swore to this day, that he would not let his students live in the same fate as he did.
He promised himself that he would give everything he had for his students.
Undisclosed location, two hours before Kisame's attack:
Ten figures stand on ten fingertips of a giant statue, all of them except two, showed an ethereal presence as a massive globe of chakra surrounded their victim. It was only the first day of their extraction and the Ichibi was proving to be a cumbersome task. When the leader of Akatsuki announced the technique, Genryukyufuujin (Nine Illusory Dragon Heads Sealing Method) he announced to his members that the task was to be done in a full three days and three nights with no interruptions. All nine members stood and performed the technique without much fanfare and the one with the plantlike appendages spoke to the leader.
"Five Konoha shinobi are scouring the country. They are most likely looking for the Kazekage. One of them is the Jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi."
The leader seemed unconcerned, as if he already knew this would happen. The leader turns to Sasori and Deidara and then speaks to them, "I would have expected Suna shinobi to have been the ones to go on find their kage, what I did not expect is for Konoha to meddle in their affairs. But nonetheless, there is no reason for concern. They have yet to find the general area of where this is. Only someone with enough sensory ability can pinpoint this current location, but this presents to us an opportunity. We will capture the Kyuubi jinchuuriki here and transport him beyond the blockade of Takigakure and direct into Ame."
The leader looks at Kisame and Itachi and then commanded the two, "Itachi, Kisame, lend me forty percent of your chakra. We will deal with these rabble soon enough."
Itachi and Kisame looked at each other and then back to the leader. With a nod from them, the leader accepted the chakra between the two and then looked back at Deidara and Sasori.
"Sasori, have your spies be ready."
Sasori gave a nod, the puppeteer from Suna knew what the leader was planning and had Yura and Mukade come up front.
"I would have hoped that I didn't have to sacrifice more of my pawns for this game of yours, Pein. Good spies are hard to come by in our field of work. And you refuse to have some of your men be involved with your schemes."
The leader refuted, "That is because my men are still affiliated with my village, the less involvement we have, the better we keep our identities hidden."
Sasori didn't find that answer enough of a justification, "Just like what you did in Iwa, I presume?"
The leader narrowed his eyes against the puppeteer, "Iwa was a covert operation. What we did there was through years of planning and execution. Do not assume just because I went there myself means that I have involved my men in some way. We slashed our forehead protectors as a sign of being missing nin in order to establish to Ohnoki that we are affiliated to no country."
Shinobi with no borders, hounds of hell that will cause mayhem whenever and wherever they see fit, an idea that most of the people who joined this organization liked for one reason or another, but Pein seemed to have something in mind other than what they were doing now. Sasori knew this. What he didn't know was the motive behind accumulating such ridiculous amounts of power.
Sasori seemed to find ticking off the leader amusing, though, and pulling the answer out seemed to be second in requirement instead of this.
"And just how well is that going for you? Assuming control of Iwa, the only thing that you have done notable as of late is to be a thorn on the Raikage's side. I thought you wanted peace? And why inaction against Suna when we all know that if Iwa were to act now, then Suna would be finished."
Pein didn't answer the man, he was not going to give the puppeteer the satisfaction of an answer, it was here that the lone female of the group spoke, "In order to achieve peace, sacrifices are required, there must be a catalyst to which we can act. But in order to do so, we must require the nine bijuu as a show of strength. These nine bijuu have been used as deterrents to war..."
It was here that the members were looking at the female member seriously, not a single soul spoke then. It was here that Konan continued,
"... But even with those, the five powers has laid waste throughout the continent and laced our lands with three shinobi wars. A deterrent is merely used as a last line of defense for their respective villages. It is why even after all these massive wars and genocides, these villages remained standing. Their jinchuuriki system has prevented total destruction of these villages and the others are left to pay for the devastation the five villages had left."
Pein then added, "Acquiring the bijuu puts us in a power dynamic that would make the five nations wary over us, they will not raise a hand against us and we will be free to do whatever we desire."
Having nine of the bijuu would scare the countries against Akatsuki more than strike against them, that was common sense. An organization that can destroy countries in a blink of an eye would make the five powers tremble in fear and they could fully use them as they want to with what Pein was planning to do. But that didn't mean that wars will end with what Pain was planning. Wars will just be fought without the safety net of a jinchuuriki. Something that would bring about a complete destabilization of nations from growing smaller to absolute destruction.
And these massive beasts of chakra will now be used by the Organization instead of the nations.
'Nothing will have truly changed by then. The only thing that will change, is the amount of deaths.'
As Yura and Mukade neared the statue, two dragon heads made of chakra coiled their way towards the two humans and engulfing them. The leader's chakra travelled through to Sasori's henchmen. Yura and Mukade screamed horribly and writhed in agony before being consumed by Pein's chakra, every orifice and pore that were on these two men lit up their chakra network flooded from head to toe with power as Kisame and Itachi's shared strength entered them both.
"Kisame will be handling the five man team, Itachi shall serve as his backup. He will be intercepting the reinforcements sent by either Suna or Konoha."
And with that, from where Yura and Mukade stood were the faces of Itachi and Kisame.
Kawa no Kuni:
Since their separation in the country, Team Gai plus Naruto had been scouring the country as much as they could, it was here that Naruto took to the skies to see a bigger birds eye view of the land and found nothing as of yet that could help him in their search. The main bulk of the search fell on to Neji's shoulders and he had been directing where to look and how to find them. It had been several hours and nothing of note was even remotely present.
The team had gathered up to their base camp and the five of them had made their reports. So far, nothing came into mind.
Gai gave a nod at them as he noticed that Tenten and Neji were looking a bit winded while Lee was on the ground sitting and leaning his back against a tree, "It can't be helped and I'm sure some of us are tired enough after crossing Fire country at top speed and making halfway in Kawa no Kuni. We have no choice but to put this search on hold for tonight or we would be too tired to face Akatsuki if we continue. I understand the urgency, believe me, I do. But in times like these, we have to be in our top shape if we are going to face them."
All of them nodded at once and it was here that they began starting a fire while they began talking about the next step of their plan, "This was the projected general direction according to witness reports from Suna's distress call. Missions like these depend on a certain level of luck if we have no clue where to look, but seeing as we have managed a good sweep of the area, we can expand our search to another area for about ten kilometers from here and look there. We don't know what the Akatsuki plans for the Kazekage and the rest of the Jinchuuriki, but before something dire happens, we need to put a stop to their plans."
Naruto nodded as he looked at the campfire with a frown, "The Akatsuki want the bijuu, and there are multiple ways to extract them out of us. But that's going to cause problems, because once a bijuu is extracted from its host, then the chakra of the host is sucked with them, the host immediately dies as a result. It just so happens that one of the bijuu is in the Kazekage."
Naruto gripped his hands tightly and his knuckles turned white, "If anything, before they can even extract the tailed beast within Gaara, we're pressed for time as it is. My Kage Bunshin has been spread enough and still..."
"Naruto-kun..." Lee interrupted his thoughts and gave him a thumbs up, "I promise you this, though Gaara was our enemy back then, though he may have almost cost me my dream and my life, the fact that he has changed is a testament of what our second chances give us. I was given a second chance if not for your work with Tsunade-sama and you seem to give that second chance to him as well and if not for your work, there would probably be hostilities left in between our two villages. I believe that your handiwork with him is what forged this strong alliance between Konoha and Suna and we would wish nothing more than to continue this alliance forged not by paper, but by your bond with Gaara. If we were to lose him now, then there is no telling what will happen in the future. This alliance is still young, but we cannot let it die the way it is. That is why we have to save Gaara, and believe me, Naruto-kun, we will succeed if not for the village then at least to save a friend."
And with that, Naruto seemed to calm himself a bit, letting a small smile escape his lips as he closed his eyes, hearing the voice of his predecessor.
'The power to reach out and the power to forge a different path, to not let the ideas of old take forth and destroy us. What a delightful thought, isn't it, Kurama?'
The nine-tailed fox scoffed at this, 'Let's see what he thinks once he figures out the whole truth.'
Asura looked at Kurama for a second and he could tell that something within the beast didn't quite impressed him yet. Like the fox was hiding something more from him. Asura looked at Kurama pensively for a few more seconds before he turned back towards his host. For the first time, he sees Kurama actually looking something much more than angry, like somehow the creature was looking guilty, somewhat repentant?
All Asura's thoughts changed, however, when he saw Kurama's ears twitch.
'Something is here, and its going to attack'
To the outside world, the five Konoha shinobi relaxing around the campfire remained still as they talked to each other, it was here that when Naruto heard the words of Kurama, he turned his head to where the bijuu was pointing at and he scowled. The four were quick to notice.
Just then, a huge wave of water surged high above the trees and onto them, the five Konoha shinobi dispersed from the campfire as it was immediately swallowed down by the crashing tidal wave that came out of nowhere and flooded the entire landscape.
Five shinobi then landed on to the surface of the water, their feet made small ripples around them and they looked beyond to where the giant wave of water came from.
A small chuckle escapes from afar and a man wearing the cloak of Akatsuki appeared, along with a giant sword wrapped win white cloth hefted on his shoulders.
Naruto's scowl turned into surprise, the man's height and posture were familiar, the man then threw his straw hat away and a familiar sharp-toothed grin greets them.
The man was standing tall with his blue skin and beady eyes, a figure so imposing that it brought memories within Naruto that brought chills down his spine.
"Good day, host of the Kyuubi, I see that you are presenting yourself willingly to our organization, this time. Did you perhaps have an epiphany?"
Neji looked at the man and then turned to Naruto whose unease was present for all of them to see.
'I see, so this is the man that had beaten him down all those years ago, although he doesn't show it, there is a sense of fear that clearly escapes him.' Neji thought as he stared back at the man before them, their enemy's cloak billowing with the winds.
Naruto then replied, forcing himself to speak, pushing the fears that had surfaced in him back down, "Sure. And I'm presenting myself with the way I've always wanted to, by skinning you alive and letting the real sharks feed on your corpse. You'll be wishing that you should have finished me, Kisame."
Naruto remembered that name, how could he forget the one who had defeated him so completely? This was the man who not only nearly killed him, he was also the one who crushed his spirit and grounded it into dust. If it wasn't for his asshole of a benefactor, he wouldn't be standing here today to face the man in front of him again.
Kisame smirked, impressed that even with his mere presence, the host was unafraid and he chuckled, "Feisty little creature, aren't you? Though it won't turn into the way you want it to. Do remember that we left you for dead after doing nothing against us. A few years of training will not change that fact."
It was here that Neji spoke, "I'm afraid that you will be disappointed with that prediction. In fact, I suggest you be careful when dealing with us."
What's this? A hatchling who thinks they can come toe to toe with the tailless beast? Kisame couldn't help but laugh at the notion, "Oh? Are you seriously threatening me? Have you come to test me up close?"
He smirked as the five shinobi prepared themselves. Gai grabbed a pair of nunchaku with a design of two dragon heads each, as Lee decided to let go of his weights from his legs and grabbed a pair of tonfa from his pouch with Neji activating his Byakugan before performing a peculiar handsign that Kisame did not recognize. Tenten then raised her hand and pointed an open palm at Kisame, a gesture familiar to Kisame as Naruto grabbed a pair of Kunai with his hands.
The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki noted that this team was not backing down, he had to oblige with their spirit. As it was, holding back against this man was not an option they were willing to do.
Kisame grinned, a sense of excitement escapes him, battle lust running through his veins as he felt his heart beat faster than it did before.
"Then come as you like!"
Upon arrival of the group, Baki was quick to greet the envoy Tsunade had sent and Temari had informed of him of what was decided on the way here. With the help of the Konoha shinobi, they managed to bring back not only Kankurou, but they also gave a general direction of where Gaara might be. Baki had escorted Konoha team with Temari to the hospital to have Sakura perform the needed procedures for Kankuro and had all the medics that he trusted be around Sakura and Temari's brother while Temari and Shikamaru followed Baki to an empty room within the hospital. A handseal later, Baki motioned for Temari and Shikamaru to relax as he began his briefing.
"I will not mince words, Temari, the elders have decided to place you as the next Kazekage."
Temari scowled at this, "Baki, don't tell me that the elders want me to become the Rokudaime just because Gaara was taken. This proclamation means that they are assuming my brother is dead."
Baki nodded his head, "It's as you say, they are assuming his death now at the hands of the Akatsuki, the timing is suspect. I'm sure you know that Gaara is not as popular as he seems to the village. True, he may have prevented many more deaths this time around, but public perception has always been divided about him."
Temari rubbed her temples, "Was Gaara at least aware of this? People looking for his death?"
Baki nodded once more, "Yes and he has been keeping tabs of the people who are actively wishing for his demise or at the very least, discredit him enough to make him leave his position. We have been aware of some unsavory deals and dealt with them accordingly, but never about Akatsuki."
Shikamaru scowled at this, "Baki-san, let me ask you, how long did the name of Akatsuki started circulating in the village?"
Baki answered and he looked down, almost shamefully, "Close to how much word has gotten out of Konoha, mostly three or four years ago. Kankurou was tasked along with me to discover if any of of our institutions have been compromised. We have discovered that the Yondaime-Kazekage, Rasa-sama had made a deal with Akatsuki, specifically with Orochimaru to plot out the invasion on Konoha. It is also why both Temari and Kankurou recieved special training with Suna's greatest treasures. Once Temari has been sent as an ambassador, Gaara had quickly gathered Kankurou and I to talk and manage our security here."
Shikamaru began to think about this, "So give or take, less than a decade. With how active the village is right now in uprooting the problem, I would see how those in the circle would know Gaara's plans and his intentions on such. I would say your problem is rooted in too deep that the elders are somewhat involved in the scheme and that this incident isn't just Akatsuki barging at your doorstep and letting in one or two dangerous elements."
Shikamaru was looking as if the matter was shallow for now until he began to think, "Can you give me a file of the elders for a moment, Baki-san? I want to know if there are any more motives other than disposing Gaara. There has to be more before this. I would not believe an elder is foolish enough to recognize their position internationally just to get rid a person formidable enough to scare away almost any other shinobi. A deeper motive has to be present, perhaps something more."
Baki shook his head at this, "I am sorry, Nara-dono, an ally you may be but those files are confidential for a reason..."
"Baki." Temari interrupted her former teacher as she turned to the man and said, "Shikamaru has my permission to see the files."
Baki was frowning at this, the elders had warned him not to get too chummy with the people from Konoha but it seemed even Temari was now affected, "With all due respect, Temari, these things will compromise the village as it is now..."
"Baki!" Temari shouted this time, becoming testier by the second.
"The. Files. Give it to Shikamaru, now. I'm the incumbent Kazekage and it is within my authority to allow Shikamaru to view the necessary files that he needs! We are up against an organization that has the ability to destroy countries and what have you! And you are here saying to me that even with all the necessary precautions that you, Gaara and Kankurou worked through, Akatsuki still manages to slip through the cracks by elements that dislike my brother! Forget all of this confidentiality, our village is in a crisis like never before! You will give those files or so help me..."
Shikamaru then placed a hand on her left shoulder as and looked like he was acting awkwardly, "If its any consolation, would it be okay for me to act like a consort or something? I understand that this may compromise your village, or that probably isn't enough. But the village needs help, Baki-san. Temari needs your help. One of her siblings were taken away by Akatsuki that the higher ups of this village is presuming dead while the other is literally on death's door as we speak. Right now, we are the only help that you can fully trust. Sakura is there treating your other student, Konoha has graciously lent you Tsunade's apprentice to solve this problem along with your staff. The least you could now do is completely trust me on this task. I swear, by our allegiance, I will never betray Suna's trust, Naruto is expecting us to do what is necessary and just."
The name of Naruto resonates within Baki's memories. Gaara had spoken many times just how much he looks up to this person during the more quiet times and during the quiet musings of their Kage, thinking about his decisions and how this Naruto person would act brought forth a sense of understanding within Baki about Gaara, how he was soundly defeated by Naruto and how his rise to his seat of Kage was due to this boy who had made a bridge to him even though it was through bloodied hands and fists. Even now, even with all the strength that Gaara had accumulated, the Yondaime Kazekage looked up to this person, a person who he would call a friend.
Such a thing was out of the ordinary. Friends between villages? Since when did that happen? Since when did the monster that was once Gaara change so much that he had become someone who was deemed worthy to follow?
Baki thinks this and recalls the time shinobi of Suna began following him. Those too young to remember his former deeds looked up to the Kazekage and those with more open hearts, listened to him and believed in his change. And it all came from this one person, who influenced the Kazekage to trade his life for theirs.
And what of the village? Were they really going to betray that person who took the blow meant for them?
Were they really going to let him die? Were they really going to leave him? Discard him?
Baki didn't seem to think so.
Baki would give his life to the village as much as Gaara would. And with Gaara giving the ultimate sacrifice, for all of Suna to see, he felt like screwing every rule that the village had. Just for this one moment.
"Alright, I will give you those files that you need."
And with that, Baki made his way towards the Kazekage's office.
"Shikamaru..." Temari trailed off and Shikamaru looked like he had just done something normal.
Temari's blushing face said otherwise.
"What's the matter?" He asked.
"Y-You... said something you shouldn't have! C-Consort!? Are you mad!?" Temari bellowed and Shikamaru looked confused for a moment until he remembered his words.
The Nara fell flat on his butt just as Temari slapped Shikamaru's hand away from her shoulders.
"Y-YOU'RE GOING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR THIS, YOU HEAR ME!?" With that Temari walked out of the room while Shikamaru gave a sigh before muttering.
"Me and my big mouth."
A group of medic nin were huddled beside her as they peer into the procedure that Sakura was about to do. Kankurou, though still unstable, was sedated but with as little as possible. Sakura noted signs of fading in and out of consciousness, the brain must be working overtime and trying to send signals to every which way it was why even though these were concerning signs for a patient, the deep tendon reflexes were still intact, which meant it was functioning the way it should be, ruling out a powerful neurotoxin. Sakura had a scalpel ready as she went and carved two incision sites on different parts of Kankuro's abdomen. She could tell with chakra alone just which parts of the body the poison was strongest. This procedure of poison extraction was developed by Tsunade herself and she had taught it to her students for a time and many of those in Konoha's medical facility had learned how to do the procedure itself being part of its curriculum.
As Sakura continued to cut beneath the skin and connective tissue, she commands one of the medic nin to grab a sterile basin with sterile water as she does her magic. A cloud of chakra, almost sticky in consistency appeared before her right palm and lets it dig through the incision. She could hear Kankuro screaming in agony as she told one of the medics to increase the dosage of the sedative. Sakura lets her chakra probe inside Kankurou's abdomen and with it, it began attracting the poisonous substance within his system. Sakura could visualize in her head that the poison coarsed through the body via the bloodstream and the effect was mostly present on the liver, kidneys, and to her surprise, the heart and the lungs. With her other hand, she redirected the flow of chakra to catch and was caught with the free hand. Sakura then viewed her handiwork. There was at least thirty mililiters worth of black gunk in her technique as she placed the poison substance onto the sterile basin. She watched as the poison seemingly blended with the water and Sakura made a deeper frown.
"This is a water soluble based poison, slow acting, but almost untraceable. That cuts down our list of culprits in half. Prepare another basin, this time, an empty one. We know its not a neurotoxin, this is most likely a poison that affects hematopoietic cells which is probably why we are seeing signs of shock and acidosis, probably metabolic in nature in the patient. I'll need a vial of sodium bicarbonate to increase the blood pH levels, hook him to a ventilator for assisted breathing, no need for further invasive maneuvers, we'll do a blood transfusion, a pack of red blood cells will do, then list these following plants that you need..."
Sakura dictates the much needed plants, plants to counter act the rapid degradation of blood cells, plants that help in stimulating red blood cells, the list was very specific and Suna had a plethora of herbal medications present in its biodome.
Sakura then turns back to Kankurou and performs another poison extraction, this time, black gunk in her hands were much smaller, the fluid falls onto the empty basin, and Sakura sees that the poison settle slowly. She then performs one more poison extraction on Kankuro and only small blots remain. She sighs in relief and plops the poison down on to the empty basin once more as she performs the Shosen no Jutsu (Mystical Palm Technique) and closes the incision sites she made.
The medics were amazed that this teenage girl could perform such advanced methods for her age.
It was here that an elderly woman had approached Sakura and said, "That was a very splendid work you've done, child. I would dare say that your work is as good as that Slug Princess, Tsunade."
Sakura turned to look at a wrinkly old, greying haired woman with age marks marring her face, she wore a black cloak that covered her entire being with a white muffler just beneath her neck and a peculiar looking hat.
Sakura felt awed at those words, "Thank you, I was personally trained by her, you see..."
"And I hate that slug woman!" The elderly woman declared as she ground her teeth out with Sakura's look turned from from awe to surprise when she added that last part.
"... May I ask as to why?" Sakura awkwardly asked while the old woman only looked at her for a second and then laughed, "Well aren't ya a well mannered girl, totally different from that drunken hot headed bitch."
Sakura didn't know what to feel at that moment, she couldn't tell if she wanted to yell at this old bat or at least try to understand her.
"Anyway, just a fact that Tsunade was just better at everything she did concerning medical jutsu and the like over me just pissed me off. It's why I don't like her!" The old bat declared, showing how petty she was over the fact that the slug princess had beaten her in her preferred field.
Sakura was about to tell the old crone off when she noticed that the old woman slumped to the side and went motionless.
"Hey, ma'am, get up! You should go to..."
The old lady gave no response.
Sakura slowly reached out for her and tried to shake her to see if she had a reaction.
Still no response.
Sakura paled at this, this old lady might have just died for being too excitable! She was about to call for a team when the old woman started laughing like a maniac.
"I WAS ONLY PRETENDING TO BE DEAD!"
A medic sounded off, Sakura turned to the old bat, who she assumed as Lady Chiyo and Sakura stood up and went for a respectful bow.
"I am sorry about my presumptuousness, please forgive me lady Chiyo!"
The old bat seemed to laugh it off as she said, "I'm just messing with you, girl. Truthfully, your work really has left an impression, it takes a certain art to have the eye of a good iryo nin and I think you are doing a fine job. Can't say the same for Kankurou, though."
Sakura was surprised at this, "You know Kankurou-san, Lady Chiyo?"
Chiyo gave a heart laugh at this, "Hah! Knew him? I practically raised him as a puppeteer, ground his bones to ashes, I did. But fat lot that did to him, he chose his emotions first before getting knifed by an Akatsuki member, I thought I trained him better than that, serves the boy right for going after his brother when he knew he had no chance. His brother is another fool, choosing to save this god forsaken hellhole when his father shoved this place into ruin."
Chiyo had a lot of dissatisfaction in her as she talked about the current generation of Suna shinobi, she looked absolutely dissatisfied with the way things were.
"I don't think that's any way to talk about the people that are willing to put their life on the line for the village, Chiyo-sama." Sakura awkwardly replied and Chiyo scoffed.
"I don't have any problem with that, what I see is a bunch of fools who think its fine to rely on the strength of outsiders solving our problems. I'm glad you made it here, girl, because you showed most of the shinobi here have become woefully inadequate." To this, the suna medic beside Sakura looked down as she was being degraded by one of Suna's great elders.
The old lady didn't even flinch as she continued.
"The history of the Kazekage has always been marred with a curse of an assassination plot against them, in Rasa's case, he was a fool thinking he could trust Orochimaru with a plan. And now where is he? Six feet under, with the rest of his spawn acting all friendly and taking an alliance a greater precedence over the development of the village as a whole."
Sakura didn't like the fact that now the old lady kept badmouthing the people that were trying to bridge a gap between them. They had re-established their ties after the invasion, they had become allies worth fighting for, they shared so much and even established a friendship that went beyond mere alliances on paper.
Chiyo looked down, a feeling of sadness escapes her that Sakura could clearly see. "And now with his foolishness, the last Kazekage, with the power of his bijuu, is taken without even any candor. It was a mistake in keeping him alive. Suna has lost its edge, now its nothing more than a pitiful village demoted to being last of the five great powers. Well deserved in my opinion, and his foolish brother too just for acting on his own just to chase after a dead man."
"And what's wrong with that?" Sakura suddenly asked, Chiyo looked back at the girl. Sakura looked like she had enough.
"What's wrong with relying on others to help you? What's wrong with Gaara? What's wrong with his siblings? What's wrong with being concerned for one another? Gaara was a fool? That fool almost killed us all because of the Jinchuuriki system! He never asked for it and in turn, he was turned into a killing machine by his father! It was only because of Naruto that he could change, he saw something else than being a container! Gaara, Gaara could change because Naruto chose to be his friend, he chose to change Gaara and pull him out of his pain, he made existing for Gaara bearable and you're saying now that it was a mistake to let him live?"
Sakura was now shouting, "Why are you a medic nin? You clearly see death as nothing more than a common event not something tragic! Maybe this is why shishou was better than you, she would have done everything in her power to save a life even to the brink of failure!"
"Sakura-san..." The suna medic nin pulled her back just as Chiyo stood there, speechless.
"No, I can't take her words lying down! I won't have her smear the trust that Naruto and Gaara made! She doesn't understand one bit of what made this work!" Sakura shouted as she was escorted out of the room.
The old lady turns to look at one of the medics and Chiyo scoffed, "It seems like master, like a apprentice, a disrespectful one, that girl."
But out of all the shinobi she had met, this was possibly one of the people that ever raised their voice against her. Chiyo couldn't help but look at the girl with interest. Gaara did not shout unless absolutely necessary, and Baki merely acquiesed to her words while Kankurou barely refuted any of her words whether neutral or filled with scorn.
But this girl surprised her. This girl not only shouted at her but also questioned her abilities as a medic. Chiyo found it absolutely humorous.
On the border between Kawa no Kuni and Kaze no Kuni, deep within the sea of trees and other greens stood Uchiha Itachi.
Around him littered corpses of Suna Shinobi, all taken down with kunai to the throat or a shuriken rupturing an artery. The Uchiha waited patiently as he stood in the forest, not paying heed to the dead in his wake.
"We weren't expecting you to be this early, but I see that you are making quite the headway."
There was hatred roiling within the person as he growled and gripped the sword on his back tightly, knuckles turning white as the person beside the man lifted up the forehead protector that concealed a sharingan.
To be continued...
To be honest with you, the retrieval of the Kazekage arc was actually a plot point that I had no idea what to do with. It served as an introduction to the second part of the story in canon and it serves as the arc that delivers one of Akatsuki's goals under Pein. It also has the plot point that Akatsuki is successfull in its first true attempt of capturing a tailed beast. At the start of part 2 in canon, this was one of the most emotionally driven arcs in the series, not going to lie, it explored a lot of the emotion within Naruto, his reflections on the jinchuuriki system and how much damage it has done not just to him, but to someone he saw as a kindred spirit. And him seeing Gaara dead with Sakura saying she couldn't do anything anymore was probably one of the best tearjerker moments in the series it was all of that anger bottled up and then exploding just as he sees Gaara, after suffering so much, and feeling his pain. That and Chiyo's sacrifice. For a first arc for part two it wasn't bad.
For my next notes, well, this will probably the only canon arc that I'll be doing. The rest of the story veers of way, way out of canon.
Yes, also, Sakura's time to shine as a medic nin is here, most of what she does I do on an almost regular basis which is why I had to mix both reality and fiction for this one. I pulled most of my experience working at the ICU and ER, resuscitation methods, calculations, computations of intropes. Those are real medications and procedures (except for Sakura's jutsu, that probably requires a good dialysis machine LOL).
I'm still stuck with my 80hour work week, I'm trying to find a better alternative but this pandemic just shot my chances for a job opening so I have no choice but to stick with my old hospital for a while.