Author's Note : Right, so this. Part 'Four', really the epilogue, and wherein what Tera's meddled with takes effect in truth. I no longer have a word count to obey, so they're a bit long. Again, a beginning/middle/end format in three more chapters. I will also post what I have when I have it.
…also, a couple of you missed the point to the story so hard I'm still wondering if you read the same fic I wrote. Which is fine, it happens and this isn't my 'usual' for want of a nail stuff explained in exhaustive detail, but I could really do without getting annoyed into a bullet point list of everything some of you missed which the vast majority of you don't require. At this point, I'm going to shrug and say 'welp, I tried'.
Tera was a plot point. A historic character to canon that was never 'greatly' known if Erin hadn't popped up. Backstory for Orochimaru's clan and some of his early life. A footnote to canon. Obviously, especially as the 'founders of the Leaf' didn't have it, she was never going to get a 'happy ever after'. She did a lot of shit even if she had no 'great threat to the storyline' to focus upon, no 'do this and save everyone ever' goal to work for. Tera was working blind, much as everyone else was in the story, to make the Leaf into the Konohagakure of Naruto's. Yeah, she knew some of what was to come. Little to nothing of which could be put to use in her lifetime.
That doesn't mean she did 'nothing'.
Tera was a decade older than Hiruzen, meaning at the end she was just shy of being thirty-five. There were no massive time skips towards the end in part three, Tobirama had only a couple years as Hokage and given the pacing of the story where we could jump a year easily enough in between chapter events it's entirely representative of his time in office. If Hashirama knew of and passed his gambling addiction to Tsunade yet it was Hiruzen the Third Hokage that taught her at age six... Part one covered sixteen years and some of a seventeenth, part two a year and some months, and part three nearly twenty itself. The 'feel' of those last chapters were colored by an ongoing world war, of course they were darker in tone.
I still don't get 'unnecessarily fatalistic'.
"MAY WE HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PLEASE?"
The Third Raikage, another in the line of individuals named 'A', exploded out of the mountain spire topped 'Raikage's Office'. Aiming for the individuals that had just blown in the Village Hidden in the Cloud's front gates wide open and called out for his attention so brashly.
A telescoping staff scooped the powerful martial arts master out of the very air and slammed the tall and dark skinned shinobi into the ground. Sarutobi Hiruzen flipped the Monkey King Emma's Adamantium Staff from around, retracting the staff as his fellow shinobi Leaf poured out of the very shadows of the village to mainly painlessly take down any Cloud ninja attempting to aide their kage in the fight.
"As it seems," Hiruzen continued rather coldly, advancing on the shinobi he had slammed into the ground, "we need to reach you through a means you understand better… will this beat it through your head we would LIKE A PEACE TREATY?"
"Told you I could get him to do it." Utatane Koharu informed the darkly scowling shinobi with a crossed set of scars on his chin, lazily wafting an ancient Land of Rivers war fan in front of her face to occasionally conceal a wicked smirk. "Pay up, grumpy."
"Do pay attention, harpy. We are not done just yet." Shimura Danzō informed her testily, pointedly looking away from the kunoichi with hair buns acting as the whole incident was nothing more than a stroll through a well-manicured garden and not a stealth infiltration to finally get the peace talks over with.
"He does have a point, Koharu." Uchiha Kagami reminded her lowly, sliding from yet another shadowy corner to join them in his 'daylight' working uniform and not the Dragon ANBU mask he usually wore when working for the Leaf.
Spinning the still vibrantly colored fan around her hand, the kunoichi ran her eyes over those that hadn't caught on to the Leaf invasion fast enough to prevent their 'assault'. "We couldn't let them get away with it again, or there would be a third incident where 'oh... sorry, they were criminals. Nothing we can do~' will become the norm for them."
The kunoichi's poisonously sweet yet utterly sarcastic tone was pitched to carry far, causing a few interesting reactions through the civilians being politely herded away from the 'Cloud-Leaf style diplomacy' going on in the center of their village.
"Cloud shinobi are strange."
"Like you have any room to say that, Leaf." One of said Cloud ninjas spluttered, apprehended before reaching the three 'advisors' of the Third while the hard-love style beat down was going on so the terms of a peace treaty between Cloud and Leaf could be finally hammered out.
A peace treaty… in A's blood. A bit of Hiruzen's, but really more desirable than his life and yet another failed 'peace negotiation'.
"What the hell is this supposed to be, anyways? You won't survive this insult-!"
"Well! The first time we tried this… with the last Raikage 'A', our Second and yours was attacked. Happens. Why not." Koharu continued lightly in that venomous tone that left no one with the illusion she believed the words she was using, admiring the reflection of the high morning mountain sun off the bladed tips of the heirloom weapon in her hands. "No one died, after all… but the second time it just so happens the very same Cloud-unit that followed the same attackers of that first meeting… wander unerringly where our Second traveling through the forests in the base of your mountains to attempt the peace talks again. Killing him, who was our teacher as well as kage, and a dear master of mine because she would not leave him to die alone. Whatever are we supposed to think about your so-called 'diplomacy methods'?"
"We do not require a third example of your customs, thank you." Kagami tacked on dryly in a carrying yet strong tone, reaching back over a shoulder to palm his sword as more attention was aimed at them rather than the slug-fight between the Third Hokage and the Third Raikage. "We might be peace-loving forest hippies, but we can learn new tactics. If this is the only way you will respect our strength instead of slide around like a pack of honor less rats around the requested treaty… well, as I said. We can certainly learn new tricks."
"We can butcher you as you can us." Danzō informed anyone listening in a dark tone. "We would not survive it, we would not gain anything from it. But if you insist…"
"Is THAT what this is about?" Roared the individual named 'A' in pure rage, swinging a double-fisted blow onto Hiruzen who caught it on his staff even if it shoved the kage back feet in revenge. "It is NOT OUR FAULT!"
"Prove it!" Roared back the Hokage, using the motion of his Summon and weapon and it's ability to telescope in length to crack the other man across the face with the butt of his staff. "THEY were YOURS, EITHER YOU"RE NOT THE STRONGEST because CRIMINALS DICTATE YOUR FOREIGN POLICY, or are you just COWARDS TO THE LAST!"
A deep breath, and the Fire Shadow spewed out an entire curtain of pure fire chakra to hammer his 'burn' into the mind of the Lightning Shadow. Who had to immediately light a fist with lightning chakra to ward off the fiery 'protest' and create a safe spot for him to remain in to endure the wash of flames and launch a counter the moment he could.
The Shimura Clan heir made a dismissive wave of one hand, using wind chakra tricks taught to him from the former best wind user in the Leaf he got before his childhood best friend managed to learn his lessons from the same woman to contain the fire in a limited area.
By this time, with the utterly eye-catching fight being hammered out through fist, staff, fire and lightning chakra going on dead center of the Village Hidden in the Clouds, more high ranking shinobi of the village were responding to the invasion alarms they had.
Only to be bewildered as rumors reached them of a very peaceful yet very violent protest of their 'foreign policy' being hammered out. Seeing the event was something else entirely, and more shinobi than the first-responders or the on-site Cloud shinobi that the Leaf infiltration slash containment teams ensnared into their delaying tactics out of the way ended up watching the surprisingly civilized fight going on than being alarmed that there was one going on entirely.
That didn't mean the Leaf team was lacking in their 'interference blocking' tactics even still. They were all mostly ninja as the civilians were trying and mainly succeeding in staying out of the way.
The reason why Danzō had to use his wind chakra was to keep the widespread fire chakra from eating into the barrier team's erected 'spar containment/jutsu experimentation' seals.
Unfortunately, enough chakra thrown at it would get the barrier to fall and allow 'interference' in the Cloud-Leaf style diplomacy going on. It wasn't entirely an obvious flaw in the fūinjutsu barrier supplied by the widowed Senju-Uzumaki master of it that lived in the Leaf, but one that shouldn't be strained to contain two kages' worth of chakra techniques and the cautious sniping the Cloud shinobi managed around the blockading Leaf shinobi mostly pinning them in place or in standoffs.
As most of the 'infiltrators' were mainly all the Akimichi, Yamanaka, and Nara teams that could be spared from the war efforts with more than a few Mokuton using Senju peppered in… it wasn't a greatly large concern. The fight was very eye-catching, enabling the always shockingly stealthy Akimichi-Yamanaka-Nara teams to pin their 'targets' in place so things could finally be worked out between their villages.
By shadows, by mind control, by giant-sized armored shinobi who really should never be able to be overlooked. With a few snarly trees, just to top it all off.
Getting out of this incident would be… interesting.
Koharu fluttered the ancient war fan idly, mostly just playing with the recovered Sekanji Clan wind user's weapon. She couldn't use it as it was intended, as she didn't have the wind affinity to pair with it. Males that could be called wind users, like the shinobi standing next to her with the Shimura Clan name, generally preferred larger and more 'weapon' fans than a demure 'noblewoman's secret weapon' as this.
The paired fan to the 'right' one in her hands was also… shattered. The fabric of the 'left' fan was fine, bloodstained but fine, but the frame was both wood and steel and the pieces might not fit back together to be 'repaired' and remain 'original'.
The kunoichi wondered, mostly idly and with a measure of tired grief she would likely never rid herself of, what Sekanji Momomi would have done with her sister's weapons now the kunoichi that wielded them was… no more.
...she missed her master of poisonous substances and words, and it hadn't yet been a week. Informing her heir and nephew that his beloved aunt would not be able to attend his academy graduation or ever coming home again would be… painful.
They had recovered her body, her and the Second Hokage both although the aim was more 'officially' for him to keep the Mokuton from being stolen from the Senju, but the spirits of those two individuals was gone. The bodies were merely husks of what had once been vibrant if reserved ninja, which had been rather towering figures through most of her life.
"Do not start crying, harpy." Danzō informed her in a tone pitched to only drift to her and not anyone else standing farther than Kagami from them. "That will not do anything for the image we are trying to present."
"I am aware, grumpy." Sniffed the kunoichi in insult, taking a deep breath and sighing with it as if bored rather than sad.
Convincing Hiruzen of this being the more 'effective' method to attempt yet another simply diplomatic request for a peace treaty… had taken a bit of doing. Luckily, as the Hokage in question had still been reeling a small bit from learning he was one of the last few shinobi 'close' to the couple to know the Second Hokage had a lover and they had been involved for years… well.
It made convincing him that the last and likely only lesson that kunoichi passed on to him applied in this situation as well a bit easier.
Everyone did learn at different rates, and sometimes one teacher just couldn't get some lessons across evenly enough that everyone learning from them understood it. If those of Cloud only respected strength rather than words, and didn't respect them, then the Leaf would learn a new way to get the request across in a way those of Cloud understood better.
If one tried long enough, even a bad teacher could get across a lesson to a unwilling student. Eventually.
Terazawa's last stand with Tobirama had certainly left an impression behind in the mind of the Third Hokage.
Spinning the fan one last time, as it seemed the 'conversation' between the Third Raikage and the Third Hokage was finally getting into 'what the hell do you want?' and 'peace, weren't you listening?' parts of the 'Cloud-Leaf diplomacy efforts', Koharu let the weapon snap shut for a final time. "Well… now we go from infiltrators to diplomats, here's to hoping they don't try killing us."
"I am still uncertain as to how we are to… extract you and the Hokage, if things turn for the worse." Kagami informed her lightly as an aside, releasing the hilt of his sword uneasily which did encourage some of the lower ranking Cloud ninja to do the same warily. "I can understand using the barrier teams as temporary secured holds while we descend the mountains, with some of the Senju to keep things contained as we retreat if there are no still surviving barrier teams or flanking tactics are tried… but from inside Cloud?"
"We're not. Hopefully, they'll let us go in the end."
"I do not like this part of the plan."
"Noted, grumpy." Koharu sighed again, this time regretfully, tucking the folded fan into her belt so she could take it back to the new owner of the weapon back in the Leaf. "But… as this infiltration part was your part of the plan, and the part after is mine… suffer."
"...there is a backup plan, right?"
"A shit-ton of firepower while we run like hell back through our 'insertion' method." Admitted the kunoichi wryly, patting the highly disturbed looking Uchiha on the shoulder a few times. "We want peace, not yet more war. Trust has to start somewhere, and while we have enough shinobi to avoid anymore 'accidental' criminal interference… eventually we're going to have to trust them on the whole 'we are possibly allies' part. This part was the part Hiruzen wouldn't budge on."
"Next time, I plan the entire thing." Danzō hissed at her in irritation.
"Your plan would be pitched warfare until we're all dead."
"There's nothing wrong with-"
"There's everything wrong with that." Koharu reminded him pointedly, jabbing a finger into his chest and no longer bothering to conceal her words from eavesdroppers or just those in range to hear her. "War is the coward's way out. The easy resort of those that have no other methods or the courage to create more. It didn't work between the Senju and the Uchiha, it was something else our teachers reached for in the end. Why the hell do you think it will work here?"
"Stop using teacher's words, harpy. You're not wise enough to pull them off."
"I would if you would listen to them. Master's not here anymore to remind you, grumpy. So I will."
Danzō was preempted from retorting by an earsplitting crack, the Raikage and Hokage meeting again in a martial exchange yet the staff remained whole while the Cloud kage limped a step backwards with a wry and sharp laugh before launching another attack. "...I cannot believe this is working."
Koharu sniffed in insult, sticking her nose in the air. "Of course it's working. Strength is their whole thing. We're strong, we just didn't want to fight them anymore. They thought that meant we were weak and this has shown them we're not, just really annoyed right now."
More and more of the 'cautious' disarmament was being warily echoed by patches of Cloud and Leaf shinobi, which did nothing for the suspicious eyeing but eventually when the really young ninjas were let go in pairs or groups first it encouraged yet more to stand down as nothing really violent was offered to 'object' to.
Aside their entrance, but that wasn't something the Leaf teams would be apologizing for.
"There'll probably be a few dead from this still." Danzō commented idly, watching what she was. "That won't do much for you 'soft diplomacy'."
"Of course there is, we did break into their home and all but took their kage hostage." Koharu dismissed a bit bitterly. "But nothing else was working, so that is a risk we ran willingly."
"How did you even GET UP HERE?" A bellowed, a bit tiredly now because for all he was a martial artist master and a kage-level shinobi and thick with the muscles such a man would have developed over his lifetime… his opponent was an equally trained ninjutsu specialist with a weapon that could not be broken he wielded with equally war-honed and long-trained skill.
"We MARCHED a BLOODY FOREST up your DAMN MOUNTAIN!" Hammering double-handed swings of that Adamantium Staff form of his Monkey Summons to punctuate his words, Hiruzen ended the combination strikes with a rib-blow that forced the other man back as the staff extended yet again. "Uchihas and Kuramas are masters of genjutsu, the Yamanaka Clan can fool and reprogram the mind, the Naras master the shadows for their amusements, and the Senju control trees. How else do you think we snuck all these shinobi into your very front yard?"
Holding a hand to his greatly abused ribs, the Raikage frowned in a more puzzled manner than with the sheer irritation and rage that had been his main expressed emotions for most of the 'fight', rising back up to his full height but not launching immediately into another attack. "So what is this?"
"Yet again, we would like a peace treaty. Without more 'criminals', those that believe us weak or not worth the consideration, interfering and cutting the talks short." Insisted the Hokage strongly. "We could keep warring, but we of the Leaf have already seen where that leads. Neither of us can usurp the other right now, in time perhaps one or the other could claw out that last advantage and 'win'... but it would be a bitter pyrrhic victory in the end. Killing too many of our shinobi, our people and our children, and destroying that which we envy from the other. Instead, as our Uchiha and Senju brethren did before us, we would like to be friends."
"The Gold and Silver Brothers, as well as the Kinkaku Force, were acting without orders." Insisted the darkly skinned but blond haired and green eyed Raikage, feeling out any damage to his neatly trimmed beard as he considered his opponent and the lack of true hostility from the Leaf teams.
"You do realize, that it was twice they interfered, how that makes you seem from the outside. Correct?" Hiruzen observed a touch bitterly, ready to counter any sudden attack but entirely more willing to speak instead. "Admittedly criminals were the tools… but for the same cause? Years removed from each incident? More like 'scapegoats' than just unfortunate happenings, intentionally done such, to any that will not take you at your word. Our Second Hokage was coming here, assisted by a clan head poison mistress to replace the former Uchiha Clan head as his advisor, yet they knew exactly where he was and how to evade her toxins."
"We are aware it does not appear as if they truly were criminals." A pointed out in something close to a 'tart' tone himself. "Which was likely the entire point of the sabotage they wanted to continue. Yet here you are, again."
"The happenings do not change the underlying truth of why we continue to come here." Countered the Third Fire Shadow tiredly. "We can war more, kill each other off in an eternal struggle that will be won by fluke or by atrocity neither could live with peacefully, or seek a truce with a strong opponent we respect. We will accept, with some difficulty now but that cannot be changed, that you are truthful in seeing them as criminals and unwanted in their efforts. Now that this has been aired out so none may mistake it, may we please be friends and not enemies?"
"Interesting way to ask, Monkey King of the Forest."
Hiruzen snorted, releasing his weapon and Emma's form to return to the ape form he usually had. "I am following the steps our First, the very same Hokage that put aside the inherited fight with his eternal 'enemy' and instead built our village with him. Hashirama-sensei was a very unconventional shinobi who taught me. If just words were not enough for your people in the end, then we will change our approach into something they will understand now."
Glancing over his people, his civilians who were all untouched if somewhat blockaded and the Leaf shinobi teams nonlethally retraining somewhat less peacefully protesting Cloud ninja, the Third Raikage snorted sourly himself. "Shock tactics?"
"Well… your people weren't listening."
"We could just crush you all now."
"You could." Danzō interrupted darkly, straightening up from his 'side-talk' with the other two advisors of Hiruzen's. "We will make you bleed for it, but it is entirely possible as this is not an 'assault' infiltration. Yet, that would confirm in the end that it wasn't criminals that 'sabotaged' you all… wouldn't it?"
"I have… heard your complaint, and proposal, kage of the Leaf. Now what?" A inquired with a measure of annoyed bemusement, rubbing his jaw and the bruise showing even on his darkly tanned skin around the blond strands of his beard.
"I hear, Hokage-sama. Pack it in!" Shouted the normally even-toned Uchiha, getting most of the obstructing Leaf shinobi to suddenly pull back so the startelement of both his loudly pitched words and the sharp retreat as the 'infiltration' forces started their slow but quickening reversal of the situation. "Let's go, men!"
"And ladies." Amended the Dragon masked ANBU General wryly, nodding to Koharu pretending blissful ignorance as he led the bulk of the Leaf forces out of the Village Hidden in the Clouds. "Back to the trees, I don't believe our friends will greatly appreciate leaving the masquerading forest on their doorstep and earth tunnels that connect their roots back to Frost."
The Raikage raised an eyebrow at his fellow standing opposed but not hostile.
"Well… as I said, we will take you at your word. With some difficulty." Hiruzen reminded the other a touch bitterly as Emma the Monkey King dismissed himself. "We loved our Second, one of the last men who established our village in the beginning and led us even with the rest dead and gone before him. Now he, and his lady love, are gone."
"...that rumor was true?"
"Terazawa-sama was the Sekanji Clan head. Apparently, the plan was for her to leave it to her nephew upon his sixteenth birthday and then finally marry Tobirama-sensei, who was the Senju Clan head. No matter how much otherwise they would claim to that point." Admitted the Third Fire Shadow, a bit wry in this topic. "Which… will never be possible now, nor is there a child from them to hold on to in their bitterly missed wake."
The heavily muscled and towering form of the Third Lightning Shadow dipped slightly in a slump. "That's… cold. Tobirama-sama was a strong opponent, a real tribute to your village to face in battle. I do regret hearing it, Hiruzen."
"As do we, Raikage-sama. Now can we talk as friends?"
"Now. Let's talk, Hokage-sama." Loosening tension-taut muscles, the other kage gave his fellow a slightly bloodstained fierce grin. "But we're having a rematch as soon as we're done."
"That, was so damn risky."
"Hashirama-sama would be proud, though." Homura commented to Kagami wryly, helping other Sarutobi earth specialists in pulling the earthen walls down on themselves to close the breeches and tunnels that enabled the Leaf teams the security to do their invasion/diplomatic assault. "Madara-sama perhaps a touch less so, but you know if the two of them were doing it they'd go alone and somehow do it all without the small army. And Tobirama-sensei would heave that so put upon sigh then somehow get the details nailed down exactly as we wanted it while they were having their argument on whose idea was the part that worked."
"Wouldn't be the only one proud of us." Koharu reminded him a touch bitterly, blinking rapidly and wrenching her dark gaze down to the frost-touched ground under their feet. "Ah… fuck. You'd think we'd get used to burying off our teachers."
"It doesn't get easier. But they would never accept burying us first, so..." Danzō informed her blandly, tiredly staring off into the distance over the pine trees where the Second had made his last stand with only a poison mistress as backup. "Hiruzen, how are you dividing the offices now?"
The slightly battered Third Hokage sighed, pulling a somehow not-broken pipe out of his armored 'Sarutobi' war uniform and placed it between his teeth. "Homura, take the internal seat. You've got the temperament to deal with that headache yet didn't grab onto ANBU or your clan for the excuse of not taking it. Danzō… either you or Koharu are to take the external advisor's seat. I expect the two of you to figure it out yourselves."
Two students of a recently dead mistress of poisonous words and manipulating intents exchanged a look between them.
"I'd be better on the sly, no one still pays much attention to a woman serving tea and just generally being out of the way."
The Shimura Clan heir snorted sardonically. "Bald-faced lies. Mito-sama might've been the first kunoichi of the Leaf, but teacher was another no one quite managed to forget about no matter how demurely she wafted that fan about. She just sat there waiting for someone to do something stupid she could retaliate for and everyone knew it. If that's the trend of things for the future, harpy, you'd do better on the hot seat while I guard your back."
"You are better on the 'brutal hard truths' end, you'd need the office's authority to make the hammer you can bring down just that much more heavy. Face it, grumpy, the paperwork's yours."
"...fuck you, harpy."
"How are the two of you not screwing yet?" Homura asked exasperatedly, rising to his full height and turning back to the rest of the Third Fire Shadow's teammates and advisors.
"I." Koharu insisted in a wounded innocent tone. "Have taste."
Danzō, obviously pleased to be given the 'responsibility' but arguing for the sake of it, scowled heavily. "No one would survive screwing that."
The kunoichi smiled poisonously. "Care to bet on that, grumpy?"
"This is now going to be my daily life. We're now going to be stuck in an office most days, and I won't be able to just order them to spar in a different field or remove myself." Hiruzen observed in a wondering if defeated tone that begged someone for patience, fixing his own eyes on the dark sky over their heads. "How did it end up this way?"
"Karma." His best friend informed him in the tone of someone conveying a worldly truth of the universe. "You were a demanding little shit as a kid. Took you twenty years to learn to ask politely."
"...I kind of don't want to leave." Admitted Koharu after a pause as the rest of the assault-diplomacy teams readied themselves to either return to the Leaf or head off to the war front they had been pulled from to secure the north one. "Leaving and going home would mean… they're really gone and it's up to just us now."
"They did the hard part." Kagami reminded her with a half-smile, fingering the blank Dragon mask he wore for what seemed most of his days these years. "Most of the groundwork is laid, most of the fighting is done, now we just have to pick up the pieces and live with it. In the village they already built, within the guidelines they wrote, and with the children they left behind."
"Yeah, 'we have it better'." Dismissed the kunoichi tiredly, fingering an ancient war fan stuck in her belt. "You don't have to go back and tell a pair of kids who will become really influential later their aunt and uncle aren't coming home anymore now too."
"Aa… right. Good luck with that."
"COWARD!" Koharu hollered after the masked shinobi that somehow instantly disappeared from the clearing, huffing sourly when only her voice echoing off the pine trees sounded in return.
They were shinobi, worse yet forest dwelling shinobi in a forest. The only sounds were those talking casually and the shifting rustle of plants as animals went about their business around those strange human creatures.
"...how did I miss that?" Mused the still smoking Sarutobi Clan head, running a few battered fingers through his small goatee in something approaching confusion. "In hindsight, it really does make a whole lot of sense…"
"You may be a slight bit gullible, Hiruzen." Homura informed him solidly, a kink to the line of his mouth under his glasses giving away his thoughts on the matter. "You were probably the only one to take Tobi-sensei at his word when he denied it yet the rumors continued lingering for years."
"Ignoring the fact he never could look teacher in the eye while doing so or even a few hours afterwards." Danzō chipped in blandly. "And then there was that 'ANBU send her to send him to bed' thing… no one was fooled by the denials after that."
"He kind of sucked at lying to those he liked about personal information, didn't he?" Tacked on Koharu, smirking wickedly at the exasperation their Hokage was all but radiating. "Good thing Tobi-sensei rarely had to."
"...well. Continuing." Hiruzen interrupted before yet another detail could be added to what he had apparently missed about his main teacher and one of his teammate's masters being somewhat secretive over the true nature of their relationship, clearing his throat and removing the pipe stem from between his teeth. "Danzō? Are you going to take the external advisory seat?"
"Oh my, contain your enthusiasm."
"Shut it, harpy."
Sighing, the kage rubbed at his forehead.
Then he had to put out his trimmed goatee as his pipe's burning bowl got a bit too close to the facial hair.
"...ladies and gentlemen, our Hokage-sama."
"Do be quite, Homura."
"Damn it, STOP FOLLOWING ME!"
"STOP CALLING ME THAT TOO!" Tsunade roared over a shoulder, sprinting as hard as she could because she knew her childhood friend. Knew how desperately Orochimaru didn't want to lose his lovely aunt.
Blinking hard, because she'd rather grieve with him than the stupid toad-boy following her, the Princess of the Senju Clan slid to a slightly messy halt in front of the samurai guardsman that held the gates of the Sekanji compound secure for them in the day.
Aritada smiled a bit crookedly at her, stumping over on a wooden peg leg to open the sliding wooden gates for her. "Might want to check… her labs, hime."
"But what happened?" Jiraiya demanded in exasperation, still sprinting after her somehow when he really should've keeled over in a gasping puddle because he never had this kind of stamina in school.
Tsunade whirled around before she passed the poison library, irritably shoving one of her ponytails back over her shoulder as she glared fully at the boy. "There's a Third Hokage-sama now, figure it out dumbass."
The white-haired boy frowned in a puzzled manner, which just really made her want to smack him, before he blanched. "Wasn't Hokage-sama your uncle?"
"Great uncle." Snapped the kunoichi trainee shortly, striving to not cry in front of the other kid. "And n-not anymore. Now it's his student, who's Sarutobi-sama."
"So… why are you here? Why'd you even go to school today, when even the teme didn't?" Jiraiya pressed, actually somewhat smartly of him so she threw him a bone.
"Because it wasn't just my great uncle, that lady you called 'girl-Orochimaru'? She died with him, Orochimaru-kun's aunt."
"Oh… she was… nice."
Tsunade snorted roughly, the distraction keeping her attention off the underlying why they were speaking of the topic. "Cause you were with us. Aunt Tera wasn't a nice person, unless you were somewhat close to her. Or she thought you could be amusing. Which was both in your case, just so you know."
"My sister was very much the woman her life made her into, Tsunade-hime." Sekanji Momomi informed them both, a bit sadly, as she descended the steps old Ikeda kept the poison library within. "It's a Sekanji thing, to not get close to one another or even strangers you know decently well. We don't test our poisons or toxins on other people, on those we live with nor on those we are suppose to help. We do test them ourselves, on our own bodies. It… makes for an awkward time as a family clan, as occasionally one or two of us might just suddenly drop dead with nothing to be done about saving them."
"Is that why the teme is such a… teme?"
"Jiraiya-san. For your information, this is Orochimaru-kun's mom."
Blushing hotly, the white haired boy suddenly looked anywhere but at the copper eyed and paper pale kunoichi joining them on the dirt paths that traced lanes into the grounds of the Sekanji Clan compound.
Momo, the possibly new Sekanji Clan head or just regent, smiled wryly at him even if he wasn't looking. "It is nothing I haven't heard before, hime. And… it is entirely possible, young man. We are a hard clan to get close to, because we are so defensive and jealous of our hearts even among those we should be safe in loving. Orochimaru-kun learned those lessons at my lady sister's knee, how to be chancy with it and what to risk in the end."
"That's… really cool of you. The whole 'don't poison other people' part. Even if..." Jiraiya offered awkwardly, rubbing an elbow as he peered up to her warily. "I'm… sorry?"
The kunoichi shook her head. "Just don't spread it around. We are very much the 'weird geeks' in the ninja ranks, and we honestly like it that way. If everyone knew we didn't test out new toxic compounds on those that annoy us… my lady sister's office would've been overrun by those seeking to curry favor or otherwise waste her time. Now mine, I suppose…"
"Are you the new clan head now, Momomi-sama?" Tsunade inquired, stubbornly not thinking about why that had to be asked.
"No hime, I am Orochimaru-kun's regent. Tera had me trained well, but frankly I have none of her effortless skill in dealing with others." Admitted the older kunoichi blandly with a bitter smirk. "My sister was my shield… well, more like the dagger one would wield in the off-hand. Sharp enough to kill, fully willing to do so, but more used to ward off threats and the like. She kept me safely out of the way from such things, so as to not be pulled into power struggles and force me to split my attentions from what I wished to do and what we must do as the line of the clan heads. I know how to do it, now that my 'wild' years of growing and finding out what I wanted and can do myself are over… but that wasn't until I actually asked her to help with the duties that pulled so harshly at her at times. I am also… very much her pale copy, in ways. I could match her in straight pitched battle by the end… but she could plot circles around me in everything else."
"You all keep saying she wasn't nice, but she sounded like it." Pointed out the white-haired shinobi trainee a bit suspiciously.
"Because we were close to her. Ask any random Uchiha clansmen, or Hyūga, or even the more moderate clan's shinobi that had to deal with her, and they would claim the former Sekanji-sama was a bit of a bitch." Momo remarked fondly, a slightly bitter wry smile on her pale face. "She could be, too. Tera was very much a woman of self-honesty, of the brutal time before the Leaf, and so very cold for taking it on so I would not have to. It really wasn't until after we moved here that she thawed just a small bit, and widened her pool of 'hers' to include others that were not forced upon her or she was otherwise responsible for. Until the war started, and she stopped accepting new people in."
Sniffing hard, the young Senju kunoichi rapidly blinked and pretended she didn't just start crying at the reminder of everyone that had been lost so far. "So now, if your idle curiosity is satisfied, leave."
"I was concerned." Jiraiya spluttered in offense, then the boy paused and glanced from the mother of one of his classmates to another classmate. "I'm sorry. Tell the… erm, tell Orochimaru-san I'm sorry his aunt's gone too."
"...you should probably go. He's not going to be in a good mood." Tsunade pointed out after a beat when it looked as if the other kid didn't know what to do now. "I got to go make sure he won't bury himself in aunt Tera's labs, or anything else like that."
"Thank you, hime." Momo informed her warmly if a touch tiredly, taking the steps off the path to return to the Sekanji Clan head's home. "Dinner is at the usual time."
"Okay!" Tsunade hesitated, and looked back at the kid still standing there. "Seriously, go. Orochimaru-kun's going to be in a foul mood, if anything. You're not going to help much."
"If… if you need me to run interference or anything, with our classmates, I'm totally good with that. The teme too, I suppose."
"Thanks?" Tried the Senju Princess a bit awkwardly, surprised by the offer at all much less coming from what was probably the worst kid in their class. "Um… I might even take you up on that tomorrow. He's going to be nasty for weeks at least. I'm not going to be up to talking to a lot of people myself..."
Jiraiya gave a dismissive shrug. "That's… if I knew my parents, and they were as cool as his aunt, I'd probably be the same way if one died."
"...why do you chase after me, anyways? I never got that part."
"I want some help. I'm an orphan, I don't have anyone to teach me the tricks everyone else seems to already have."
"Oh. Seriously? Bribery and manipulation will get you more than straight out asking with us. Unless you ask Sakumo-kun to introduce you to his already graduated elder sister Naname-sama for more straightforward ninja tricks, but the Hatake Clan is really more samurai than ninja even now and they might not be able to help you any more than you can pick up yourself."
Jiraiya paused with his mouth open, shut it with a bewildered blink, and then snorted a bit depressively. "Figures."
"I accept your offer of services rendered instead." Tsunade informed the kid prissily, sniffing more to keep the tone light enough she wouldn't break down now that most of the interruption was dealt with. "Survive Orochimaru-kun's venomous temper every day, and I'll ensure you at least have the tricks in time for team assignments upon graduation if not for class. He might even help, eventually."
"I said no."
"We're on the same team, teme! Now you can't stop training me!"
"Why?" Orochimaru wailed into his own hands, getting not really sympathetic pats on the shoulder from his kunoichi teammate as she joined the other two invited to Training Grounds Seven.
"Sorry? But… at least we ensured he wouldn't drag us down?" Tsunade tried with a bit of a bemusedly wry smile of her own. "He's... half-decent these days. Not nearly enough to get his grades up, but that's not really a terrible thing if it makes the others overlook him."
"Oi! For mostly self-trained, I am fantastic."
Hiruzen blinked down at the group of newly graduated genin in confusion. "Would someone like to explain to me what is going on?"
The Sekanji Clan heir drew in a bracing breath, dropping his hands to seize the front of his former male classmate and now shinobi teammate's yukata and drag the startled kid forward so he couldn't avoid sharply annoyed yellow eyes under the thick purple crests of his station. "You. You, possible distant cousin or not, you will not embarrass us. If we are to be forced to deal with you, you will be more than just adequate."
"Well… he's got a bit of a back-step already, and that's not even counting clan skills." The Princess of the Senju Clan observed in a more amused tone. "There's the Senju and the Mokuton, and my medical studies… and then there's you and your Sekanji poisons and chemical toxins, the unreal fixation you somehow have on learning jutsus… what the hell are we going to turn him into to fit on our team?"
"Eh… between us? Medical shinobi are trained to be careful, and poison users are all about the details. Pretty sure we can cover them ourselves."
Idly scratching the back of his head, the Third Fire Shadow wondered if he really should've copied his teachers in taking on at least a team of students to train while being the kage of the Leaf. He could've passed them off, no matter how much Koharu sniffed at him because Tobirama informed Terazawa her heir would be safe with him and he would be letting their teachers down if he didn't take the team.
"A weapon specialist, perhaps?" Mused the Sekanji heir thoughtfully, only to snort after a moment. "I want a sword of my own in time, when I have the reach for such, so perhaps not."
"Taijutsu?" Suggested the Senju Princess next a bit less confidently. "I mean… we will need close quarters. To give you breathing space and keep me covered if need be."
"What elemental affinity do you have?" Demanded Orochimaru shortly, only to earn a blasé shrug from the white-haired child he was still gripping. "Perfect. We shall have to ask my mother… hopefully it is somewhat compatible or at least helpful to someone with a water-earth affinity."
"You didn't get your aunt's wind?"
"No, it seems as if that will be something I shall be forced to work for."
"So… you don't have their sensory skills either?"
"Unfortunately not, it seems."
"Pity. And with the Senju kekkei genkai, as well as medical chakra, it's not really required for me to use or develop my affinity. Or useful, I suppose."
"That, hime, does not mean you should not. Merely some care is required. Your uncle, for example, was the greatest water user in existence even before he picked up the Mokuton ability."
Hiruzen coughed pointedly.
"How did you get on jutsus, anyways? That's more a Sarutobi or Shimura Clan thing." Tsunade wondered aloud.
"...my lady aunt said I may not bring her back from the dead for idle whims, but that there is a forbidden jutsu to bring back the dead for war. If there is ever to be another, I would like to use it and speak with her." Admitted the pale skinned and dark haired child with the metallic yellow eyes as if the jutsu he spoke of wasn't supposed to be a secret. "Perhaps fight with her at my side to show her that I have succeeded in what she asked of me and that the clan she sacrificed so much of herself to save still thrives. Then speak with her once more. The point being, I will require a lot of knowledge on how jutsus work and how to use them in order to make use of such a thing."
"Okay. So long as I can hug her. Grandpa and uncle Tobi too, if you don't mind."
Orochimaru sniffed in insulted dignity. "There will probably only be one fight in the existence of reality where all three of them are required to aide us. And that would be if a kami ever tried to murder us all."
"I don't care. If it ever happens, I get hugging rights." Dismissed the tiny blonde with a little huff of insulted dignity of her own.
"Hugging dead people."
"You're not going to be able to turn it into something creepy so I retract my demand, Orochimaru-kun."
"Children." Tried the Sarutobi Clan head a bit exasperatedly.
"You realize this is in the theoretical stages, yes? I will require more skill, more chakra, and more faith from the Leaf itself to ever get my hands on uncle Tobi's work on jutsus. They won't just hand it over as the clan will aunt Tera's labs and her research notes when I reach sixteen or become a poison master myself."
"We'll get there."
"Students." Tried the Hokage again, a little shortly this time.
Wary yellow, confused tawny, and flat black but curious eyes turned to him.
"...I am the Hokage, and your teacher. Welcome to Team Seven."
"Oh." Orochimaru commented blandly.
"Nice?" Tsunade tried warily.
"Hi." Jiraiya informed him cheerily.
Hiruzen palmed his face in exasperation. "Fūinjutsu."
There was a beat of confused silence.
"Jiraiya-kun can learn fūinjutsu if, as you say, his grades are not entirely representative of his skills. Hashirama-sensei relied on his wife and his brother for such, even Terazawa-sama relied on Tobirama-sensei for a few things. Seals, which are a bit of a hard shinobi art to classify, can be his main talent along with taijutsu for the added front-line cover Tsunade-hime might need in time. They are versatile, useful in many ways, and also might be something you come across in time."
The Sekanji Clan heir sucked his teeth for a second. "...that would just work."
"Not many outside the Uzumaki Clan know it." Offered the Senju Princess.
"What do I need for it?" Wondered Jiraiya curiously, as if they weren't debating on his future skill set as a shinobi.
"...calligraphy. Nearly perfect calligraphy." Admitted the kage after a moment, keeping his face in his hands.
"...well, that's out."
"Oi. I can do it." Jiraiya refuted Orochimaru's blunt dismissal hotly, a rapid flapping of fabric as if one of the children was waving an arm around wildly. "I did everything else you two heaped on me."
"Well… that is true." Tsunade remarked almost idly, as if she wasn't manipulating their third teammate into being so stubborn to recklessly charge headfirst into any remote possibility of learning the skill. "I suppose."
The horribly finicky skill only one clan in existence studied to the point of mastery and would require massive amounts of practice and patience to become skilled with. Encouraging a hot-headed young shinobi who had a lot to prove to anyone else looking in at the team because he was the orphan on a team with a future clan head and the Senju's own Princess granddaughter of their First Hokage under the Third Hokage's tutelage.
Dragging his hands down, Hiruzen peered at the three tiny shinobi trainees still bickering about his knees either on or kneeling on the ground. On the topic of their third's future abilities, and what routes would be worth it or not. Then twisting their teammate's slightly gullible and excitable nature into making him stubborn about learning it so as to keep his motivation up through being taught the trade.
Well… if he ever got called away to handle some matter of state, at least they wouldn't kill each other. A small bonus, even if that rendered his plan with the two bells in his pocket a bit defunct.
"Hokage… sensei? What are you to teach us, anyways?" Demanded Orochimaru, as an afterthought.
"Call me Hiruzen. And that is very much something I am wondering myself right now."
"Well, you can teach him," here Jiraiya was jerked about a small bit but suffered it patiently enough, "taijutsu or calligraphy. I require more lab or just research time myself, and the hime just requires patients to experiment on these days to put what she knows into use. Both of which an instructor not familiar with the subjects will aid little with."
"Sounds good to me." Cheerfully agreed Tsunade, then she got derailed when the Hokage started rubbing at his temple. "Ooh, ah… Hiruzen-sensei? Do you have a headache? Can I fix it?"
"I, children, will be teaching you teamwork." The Hokage informed them a touch wryly, which really did not gain much of a reaction. "And… how to fight a superior opponent, how to mix and match your own specialties to make up for any lack in the future missions you may be placed upon, and your duties as shinobi of the Leaf."
He was pretty sure some of the stranger team-bonding sessions of Tobirama's could be of use, and there were a few incidents with Hashirama in the field he could adopt a few tricks from. And… perhaps the Forest of Death the Senju were currently spreading to reinforce the village's walls and practice their crafts could come in use.
Since it had been Hashirama's fault the entirely stone complex that should have been the Hokage's Tower was a near-unlivable wild mess of Mokuton-infused forest, they might as well get more use out of it.
"If we put you down, will you leave us alone to develop ourselves?" Inquired Orochimaru silkily, nearly a dead copy of his own aunt's tone when she felt highly unamused… or amused, or found a way to twist something to amuse herself.
Or anytime she was near Hiruzen, really.
...poison users, right. The clan probably had equipped their heir with everything that unwary usage wouldn't kill the user. Koharu had been pressed with more than a few of those from her master, and frankly getting dose with some of those once was more than enough.
Hiruzen snorted out a breath of fire from one nostril and it didn't burn his beard, thank you Homura.
The suddenly hyper focused attention of the children was not gratifying. Really.
"...I want to learn that." Jiraiya commented almost wistfully.
"Damn." Orochimaru huffed, tucking something away back into his sleeve.
"Now you started it." Tsunade sighed.
"I will be learning that first."
"Oi. I have dibs, teme!"
"WHAT. DID. YOU. DO?"
"Erm…" Hiruzen spoke slowly, still staring at the burned scorch-mark on the ground which was lacking one of his three chūnin students to occupy. "...this… is not good."
"You think?" Hissed Orochimaru, sounding more frustrated than the shocked look on Tsunade's face suggested the other two of his students were in truth. "You knew how easily Jiraiya-san can be encouraged, Hiruzen-sensei! We had him decently trained up! Now who are we to take as a third teammate?"
"Orochimaru-kun." It did at least get the Sekanji Clan heir to stop the words, but the seething look in sharp yellow eyes did not fade. "I… am not entirely sure what he did."
"He saw the sequence for Summoning you did to call the Monkey King Emma, and then tried it." Offered the snarly young man a touch sarcastically. "What happens if you do not have a Contract yet try to Summon something anyways?"
"...I have no idea." Hiruzen admitted in bewildered confusion.
By all accounts, one needed to sign in blood on a Summoning Contract. Then start negotiations with the Summoned creatures to actually use them in battle or just even as messengers. The Hokage hadn't heard of anyone trying without actually signing a Contract first.
"Frankly… nothing should have happened."
"Oh great." Tsunade sighed heavily, something she had been doing for years now when the Hokage accidently encouraged her teammates into doing things which might work out well but were really rather hazardous for their health and his peace of mind.
Twitching at a learned response, because if one of his two rather competitive students in shinobi skills was missing and only one left that would mean-
Hiruzen whirled around, two seconds too late to stop the Sekanji heir from following his fellow teammate's path.
"...well, it was fun while it lasted." Observed the Senju Princess a touch sarcastically, learned either by close association with the Sekanji Clan and their penchant for such or from Hiruzen's own teammates and friends turned advisors as she sought their help for kunoichi things. "Hiruzen-sensei, if my teammates are not returned I will be taking this up with my clan head and lady mother. Just so you know. And, I'm telling Koharu-sensei and Danzō-sama. You can tell Momomi-sama her son seems to have disappeared into the ether."
Koharu, definitely his teammate's brand of her former master's venomous sarcasm.
"Wait." Commanded the jōnin-sensei of Team Seven a touch quickly, otherwise known as Team Hiruzen as the number had been recycled for the next round of shinobi graduates but it didn't seem if any other 'Team Seven' would stick for more than a year or a day. "I will… speak to Mito-sama."
"What will that do?"
"She and I were speaking, while Jiraiya-kun had his lessons… I think I can track them still. Hopefully." Finding a crystal ball would be somewhat tricky, but surely some glass bauble would work just as well for the short term. "They are not 'into the ether', they… erm… I have no idea, but I might be able to find out and to keep panic from spreading unwisely while we investigate."
Tsunade gave him a highly unimpressed look over folded arms.
Since when was the kunoichi the 'responsible' one on the team?
Hiruzen wisely did not give word to that wonder, even if the preteen girl in question had her own horrible habits of tracking down even a drop of pain in her surroundings to practice her Mokuton-enabled healing skills and figuring out how to reverse engineer them to teach another how to do the same healing without the kekkei genkai or twist what her healing could be applied to in truth, and dashed off with measurable haste to the nearest merchant's corner.
Crystal balls, or even a glass bowl, would be… Wind Country glassware. Still rather pricey things, if more common in the markets than they had been in his childhood or even during the war.
"I am not speaking to you."
"Oh come on, it's funny!" Jiraiya perked up like some kind of twisted-humanoid mole creature upon sighting her where their teacher said they had reappeared, simply covered in mud and leaves that glimmered just a touch strangely in the afternoon light, giving Tsunade a bright and excited grin as they wandered closer to her and their usual training field. "Hey, hime! You won't believe-"
"You two morons left me and Hiruzen-sensei in the middle of lessons! Next time, be morons on your own damn time!"
"But just check this out!" Heaving the heavy scroll he had been balancing on his shoulder on the ground before her, the white-haired shinobi spread it open to reveal… a Summon's Contract.
A new Summoning Contract, a massively important looking one, for all it looked downright ancient.
For the Toads.
Tsunade blinked blankly down at the fragile looking paper, holding only just Jiraiya's bloody signature and hand print. Glancing to her other shinobi teammate who was less dirt encrusted but ruffled in a way she really didn't see very often earned her a bitterly disappointed sigh and another of the heavy scrolls he had been carrying with more care to what it was rolling open to lay over the Toad's Summoning Contract.
Snakes, again equally as ornate yet old, with only Orochimaru's blood and signature slotted into the first available space.
"...think if I do it too, I'll get the Slugs?"
"No, hime, you are perfect the way you are. There is no need to-"
"Pretty sure, yeah." Jiraiya interrupted with a gleeful smirk cracking some of the drying mud on his face, wagging his equally dirt encrusted eyebrows. "Then think, that legend Orochi-teme's aunt lady told us will be continued into the next generation."
"Aunt Tera, and we do not need to repeat history." Orochimaru carried on tonelessly, blatantly ignoring the young Toad Summoner's words and even his own ruffled appearance to try and derail this topic of discussion. "Frankly, as I have not tried to kill either one of you by tossing you off cliffs, that legend is defunct."
"She never did say what they went on to do afterwards, and Hiruzen-sensei's kind of… like a sage or something because he's old, right?" Tsunade mused thoughtfully, tapping a finger against her lower lip as she pondered. "Perhaps… because we have yet to forge the rest of it?"
They weren't dead, just a bit battered and a tiny bit more as if they had been tested like against their team's jōnin-sensei who was really a kage in some skill or another. Orochimaru probably lucked out because most snakes preferred dry places with access to water, whereas toads were very much mainly water-dwelling creatures by nature.
The utterly betrayed look her old childhood friend gave her was very, very sweet revenge indeed.
"Just no pacts with evil things that want to puppet you, Orochimaru-kun. Or swords-"
"I get the damn sword." He interrupted huffily. "As I get samurai training on the side as it is, I might as well use it for something."
"And we gotta teach the kids, not try to kill them." Jiraiya tacked on cheerfully just to be heard.
Puzzling over it a few more seconds, the Senju Princess shrugged. "Alright, tell sensei I'll be back in two days myself. Oh, and he's really mad at both of you."
The Hokage would be really mad at her too, but sometimes it did pay off to have such reckless teammates. A Summoning Contract, a new one just for her, was a good bribe to try for herself.
"...is this how the old-timers say the first one got started?" Jiraiya inquired almost idly, slugging one Sand shinobi in the gut with a heavy fist and then spinning to drop kick the man in the back of the head. "With the minor 'scuffles'?"
Orochimaru slid, in ways that the human form could not perform naturally, into the guard of another such opponent only to take hold of various limbs and twist himself unnaturally again. As the pop of joints being wrenched painfully out of alignment would have concealed his words, the Snake Summoner first dealt with his opponent before rounding on the next and responding. "Perhaps. There was a fair bit of confusion on when hostilities were formally offered to all, so there is no agreed upon starting to the conflict."
This one held a sword, so the Sekanji heir slid his own from the sheath held upon his back and focused on that threat instead of the kunoichi with the needles.
"Oi, stop leaving me the ladies!"
"I thought you preferred them."
"Not like this." Complained the barely teenaged Toad Summoner hotly, getting the desert-girl to rush him in her own offended haste and end up with a sealing tag slapped to the back of her neck rendering her useless. "And… she's down."
Formally trained in their own variants of bushido or not, the Sekanji samurai and Hatake Clan had developed between them a style of kenjutsu that would and could certainly trick even shinobi kenjutsu masters into fooling themselves into believing they knew the style of an opposing swordsman. Making use of the information was merely something that honored that side of his clan, and satisfying as he had yet to find a sword he really liked.
Going through his opponents' swords was just… well. At some point even samurai honor could be twisted enough to 'grave-rob' a bit.
A crack of fist on meat covered but solid bone had both of her teammates ducking to the confusion of their last few opponents, as the Slug Summoner punched a man so hard he flew over their heads. "Damn it, I said LEAVE ME ALONE!"
With a disgusted huff, Tsunade then went back to patching up the wounded jōnin-sensei of the team they had been sent out to reinforce.
"And you, stop moving."
Orochimaru took advantage at the admittedly surprising chakra control exercise of his female teammate, sliding his few feet of steel into his greatly distracted opponent's belly instead of draw things out more with the blades. While he was so low, he swiped some of the blood from a minor cut on his left hand to Summon one of the Snakes. "We are missing one, Katsumata."
A flick of a red tongue was aimed in his direction, and the black scaled viper slid off to hunt.
It was admittedly a risk to Summon in battle right now, but the Sekanji heir had something trained up to cover for him.
Two booted feet slammed into the shinobi attempting to take revenge for his fallen fellows, propelling him away from Orochimaru as Jiraiya flipped off his face into a backwards somersault in order to land on his own feet. "Watch yourself, snake-man."
"Do be quiet, toad-boy."
"Hey, just cause you're two weeks older than me doesn't give you a right to call me boy."
"Did you two forget about something?" Sneered the very last standing Sand ninja a bit disgustedly. Likely half from how quickly his team had been dismantled by a trio of shinobi more than a decade younger than him, and partially from being ignored.
Orochimaru scoffed, and Jiraiya blandly gestured to the man's feet.
He hesitated before actually checking, just in case it was a distraction instead of a reason, then looked down just in time to see the crown of a fast-growing palm tree that slammed into his chest and catapulted him far away from the admittedly sandy stretch of the Fire-Wind borders.
"And that's that." Tsunade announced with an annoyed huff, getting to her feet and dusting off her hands. "Do you two really think there's going to be a new war?"
"It's been nearly a decade since the last ended and we attempted to then 'demilitarize' each other through word instead of murder." Observed the Snake Summoner sardonically as he resettled his weaponry back into place and shifted intents from combat to hostage taking, focusing on the severely wounded or otherwise incapacitated Sand ninja. "Long enough for some to lick their wounds and try their luck again. The Village Hidden in the Sands has little exports, unlike the Leaf and medicine or Cloud with their… well, with the trade we give them and the advantages they make from it."
"I'm pretty sure Cloud's got… something." Jiraiya interjected, mainly sheepishly as he failed to come up with a Lightning Country export as well as he hauled one of their kunoichi to the 'prisoner' group. "They've got… rocks."
"Minerals." Tsunade interjected shortly. "They do a lot of the salt trade, maintaining some of the ports to Snow and Rock and to those across the sea to the other few shinobi nations out there, and some of the mining they get out of their mountains. Not gold, silver, or iron, but others."
With a snort, the white-haired Toad Summoner placed his contribution to their team's mission down and side-eyed the pale but darkly haired Snake Summoner. "You almost sound… excited there, Orochimaru."
"It's the reasoning I need, now I just need the technique." With a pointed frown on his equally pointed face, the Sekanji huffed and bent to pick up his very smug black viper from the ground and inspected the blood around her fangs. "I do not look forward to war, but if there must be one anyways…"
"...Orochimaru, why did your Snake bite my patient?"
"Because, that is not the teacher we have been sent to locate and assist. Where are the students?"
Blinking, the kunoichi ran tawny eyes over their surroundings without truly seeing them. "Erm… that is a good question. Fuck. So now what?"
"We send a messenger back, and either wait for a tracker or put Jiraiya's Toads to use."
"Oi, do you know how bad a Toad's sense of smell is? Why not one of your damn Snakes? At least they're hunters. Or the hime's Slugs? They've haven't been used yet either."
Orochimaru sniffed in mock insult, but dropped the amusedly tolerant viper to the sandy brush underfoot next to the new-sprouted yet fully grown palm tree. "Well… if you don't wish to be of use…"
"Seriously speaking, through." Tsunade interjected before their third could get huffy over the slight. "War?"
"We are not that good yet, hime." Pointed out the Sekanji heir quietly. "Fourteen and chūnin for half a decade, jōnin expectations or not in months if not another year or so, being released from under Hiruzen-sensei's watch merely meant we can be put to use without requiring the kage of the Leaf to leave his office unattended so often anymore. In two years, we both may end up in control of our respective clans. A reduction in field missions would dull our edges, as much as Jiraiya or teacher might spar with us to keep it sharp... it will rust somewhat. If the war truly hits home, will we be as effective as we are now? I would like to hedge my bets, regardless of other motivations."
"But will it get that bad?"
"Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
"Another of your aunt's sayings?"
"She had a fair few." Agreed Orochimaru with a dismissive shrug for the Toad Summoner. "What did we all learn the last round? That war will not do us much. Now, we see how many heeded that lesson and reached out to an ally to build with or who failed to learn anything and wishes to fruitlessly bash themselves against another's bulwark."
"Mist, I don't think they forgave us for turning their own 'specialty' against them the last time." Tsunade admitted bitterly.
Jiraiya scratched the back of his shaggy white head. "Rock, probably. They're… hard-headed, for sure."
"And Sand is desperate for anything, however much they cannot afford more conflict balanced on the edge of the desert without many resources as they are." Orochimaru finished pointedly. "And more, the so-called 'lesser' shinobi nations that nip at our heels or otherwise harass us in hopes of dealing some kind of damage to make one of the 'great' nations fall."
The three of them exchange a trio of looks, from wary to bemused to an almost seething expectation.
"Again, what I said stays Orochimaru." Tsunade reminded the Snake Summoner in a tone that would not be dissuaded. "I get hugging rights."
"...I would say something… but… pretty sure your current new 'look' says it all." Koharu informed Danzō pointedly.
Holding a hand to the bandaged of his now ripped out right eye, the Shimura Clan head snorted harshly as he stalked over to 'his' desk. "Harpy, try not to confuse yourself by your own tongue."
"I don't know, Danzō-sama… you know what they say about blind men and the one with one eye left. You could make it a thing."
"Spare me," Hiruzen interjected pointedly as he let himself into their office not even moments after it had been shut, frowning just as pointedly at the darkly and more somber dressed shinobi with snow white bandages wrapped around nearly half of his face, "did the medics really let you go this quickly, my friend?"
Danzō blinked his remaining eye at the other man blankly as he seated himself.
"That's a 'no', in case you didn't catch it." Remarked the kunoichi lounging half on and half off her own desk blandly.
"Time waits for no one." Interrupted the shinobi, turning a few pages of the never-ending reports from spies and informants that basically bled from this part of the Hokage's Tower complex. "Especially not with what's brewing. I can sit and sedately go through paperwork with one good eye, instead of act foolishly and press a healing injury to the point it worsens. Speaking of."
Danzō pulled his copy of the missions report, the very badly ending diplomatic one to the reaches of River and Rain which never even got that far north he wrote up while still being nagged by nurses not to strain his remaining eye, and tossed the cylinder of paper to their kage.
"We aren't getting even a trade agreement out of River."
"The fact one of the former members of their clans has a surviving daughter and a grandson in the Leaf did not make an impact, that I was the one giving the news made no impression, nor the fact said grandmother's descendants were interested in opening a line of communication. Apparently the Wakizaka Clan is a merely minor one, not influential, there."
Their Fire Shadow sighed heavily. "Well… it was a long-shot at all. While we may respect the Sekanji Clan… it is not a wide respect for them as much as it is for their work."
"Or their varied and many ways of killing things using chemicals and plants." Koharu reminded him bluntly. "Orochimaru-kun's good, I won't knock your student, but… how many Sekanji do you see in the village these days? They kind of… hermited themselves away when master died."
"They're not widely sociable in the first place." Danzō bluntly informed the room on the heels of her comment, just a touch more sarcastically. "And of course they did, teacher was probably one of the few that bothered to let others gape at her without blinking an eye. The rest react more normally to those that want to stare at their skin or who still just eye them suspiciously to see if they can spot a genjutsu hiding their skin tone or figure out what the eye crest colors mean."
"White skin, that pale? Isn't natural."
"It is for them."
"They speak with the Nara and the Aburame Clans." Hiruzen put in thoughtfully before the two derailed whatever it was by nitpicking, tugging on his goatee absently in lieu of the pipe he was missing.
"Because the Aburames are such a clan of social butterflies." Danzō scoffed dryly, rolling his one remaining eye. "And the Naras barely bother to actually put effort into their relationships if they don't have to. Their only saving grace, and the few reasons why we know they've yet to murder themselves off producing and experimenting with poisons or whatever medical breakthrough needs testing, is the Hatake Clan. And for a clan of former samurai living in a shinobi village, they're not all that outgoing either."
"Why are we on this topic?" Koharu asked of Danzō curiously.
"If it wasn't so obviously hard to disguise oneself as a naturally born Sekanji, due to that skin and their crest colors having some kind of meaning they never say anything about, I'd be concerned they're the best route of infiltrating the village."
"You talk to one for two seconds and it's obvious who was born into the clan and who married into it."
"Exactly. And we just opened them up somewhat to 'desperate family members seeking lost connections'."
"Momomi-sama and Orochimaru-kun were both skeptical of anything coming from talks that mentioned them." Pointed out the kunoichi, straightening up in her office chair as the talking got somewhere interesting. "They're more than well aware to not immediately let just any 'distant relative' into their compound without putting them through processing by Yamanaka."
"But news will get out, Momomi-sama admitted a fair few women of her clan was married off in Grass before they had the troubles that drove teacher relocating them entirely here. We just used it as a lever in an admittedly failed negotiation attempt, when it spreads that remote connections to our clans are being looked for at all it will be tried once or twice."
The Hokage sighed, fixing his stare on the ceiling. "I take it you bring this up for a reason?"
"We're going to need more security, a process by which long-lost 'clansmen' can be processed without obviously doubting them in case it might just be true, and a watch for even afterwards as there would be no telling when one's path could be traced back in order to know if they want something specific or just to rejoin their clansmen." Danzō shrugged, settling himself in his chair a bit moodily. "I tried, Hokage-sama, but… it will come back to bite us if we're not careful. Especially as River's shinobi have no reason not to spread word themselves."
"Well… given you lost an eye, no one's saying you did less than your best." Pointed out Koharu with a general gesture to the other shinobi's entire face. "Why is this something we're going over instead of say Homura? As he's got internal security under his office, you'd probably be better off telling him than Hiruzen."
"For if we pump more stringent controls on who enters-"
"It'll look fishy." Danzō finished for Hiruzen flatly. "No matter what we try to do, be as 'transparent' or whatever about why we'd do so, adding in more rules on top of the highly suspicious ones already since it seems another war is brewing will make others wonder why. Few will cotton on to the 'a Leaf clan has connections outside of the Leaf' as the true reason, and as to why we didn't do it before any connection came to light… the timing of the broadening hostilities won't really affect that at all because everyone with sense is doing the same, yet us seeking a trade agreement will increase it more than just that?"
"...yeah. That does sound shifty from the underside."
"So…" The wounded shinobi flicked his remaining eye from one to the other consideringly. "...we need something not visible to trigger those suspicions."
Hiruzen tugged on his goatee instead of respond for a long moment.
"We already do, don't we?" Questioned the poison user in the room warily. "The ANBU of Tobi-sensei's. Kagami and his group."
"There's not really a whole lot of them." Countered the Shimura Clan head. "Do we pull them from their missions and work just to cover this? Pull apart that plan of Tobirama-sama's, the military police thing Homura's trying to somehow implement and toss it on them? I've got a better idea."
"What are you suggesting, Danzō?"
"Spies. Infiltrators. Long-term saboteurs." Shrugging, the shinobi gave a dismissive wave of a hand. "Maybe moles. Those inserted into other lands and other villages to specifically do one and only one non 'suspicious' task or prep the 'lay of the land' for future agreements, or to be those 'turned formerly or prior clansmen' routes others try to gain a ear in our homes. We can't just control rumor and slander from just here, or showing our 'might' as you do following your teacher's path. Mine had… less straightforward methods."
"Your teachers were sharingan users." Koharu interjected with a smirk. "They could do it all with a glance. And unless you're saying break up the Uchiha Clan into some kind of splinter-cell organization, 'seeking new grounds so they can rebuild and strike back at such craven creatures that make up the Leaf', is that even possible?"
"Izuna-sama didn't put anything into place?"
"Izuna-sensei was an Uchiha, worse yet one of the best of his generation aside Madara-sensei himself. He's got things in place, half of which I can't use because I'm not an Uchiha to reinforce things when they slide." Danzō couched his shoulders into something very much like the bastardized love-child between a shrug and a defensive slouch. "The framework to a Leaf spy network is in place, growing out day by day, but Izuna-sensei didn't expect to die as he had in the field even if he had alternative plans waiting for his successor. Some of it's unraveling, nothing which will harm us but it is degrading. As I can't do what he did, I have to approach things a bit more from the side."
"What are you suggesting, Danzō? Bluntly, not this nibble at bits and pieces tactic you use to get around 'distasteful' things." Hiruzen commanded a touch flatly himself, eyeing his old childhood friend with a touch of wariness.
"...sending civilians… or children, in to do this. Without the suspicion fully adult individuals would incur."
Koharu blinked twice, then scowled as she slid down her seat and stared off into the middle distance blankly. "...I thought the whole point of the village was to keep the children from being forced to do such things."
"It is. Danzō, my friend. Is there any way to avoid that?"
"No." Bluntly denied the shinobi shortly. "Even if I stuck to civilian and adult agents, they would have children where they live. Asking them to not live in spite of their orders is more than I can do. More than I can realistically rely on. If so, would these children then be forced to work within and with foreign militaries and with childhood friends grown at their side of their own? Should I ask those children instead, to betray everything they know for some likely viciously gossiped about village of their parents? Do you want me to ask that? Between the ages of five and ten, asked to perform six or ten years of service themselves with low-risk busywork just keeping their ears open, and then allowed to return for 'deprogramming'."
"And then what?" Drawled the kunoichi venomously, waving a hand into the air between them. "Oh… yeah, thanks and all… but we don't trust you anymore since you didn't grow up here so you're going to be watched for the rest of your life-"
"No." Refuted the Shimura Clan head again, a touch hotly. "When, not if, we extract them and replace their 'node' with a new individual they'd get the choice to return or stay out there or go somewhere else. After we deal with the issues such work might inflict on them and let them destress from that kind of mission. If they chose to stay here, why wouldn't we make use of that kind of loyalty to us?"
Hiruzen rubbed his face tiredly. "And this ties back into the clan-related discussion… how?"
"...more for the hostile shinobi villages. A loose Sekanji, or Uchiha, or whomever, out there and doing their own thing? Visibly identifiable as such, if not a obviously 'fully' trained one with their specialties. A recognizable clansmen of the Leaf, who may or may not even know they are or are not related? It's going to be tried, why not control those it'll be tried through before it even becomes an issue?"
"Not without the clan head's approval." Mandated the Third Fire Shadow strongly, holding up one of his hands to prevent the obvious rebuttal. "Not written, not documented, but at least one or two people per clan you involve must know, Danzō. Accountability is a right all the clans were given, you cannot block them in tracking their various members if they work under the Leaf. Visibly or not."
Danzō scowled, but eventually nodded. "Orphans, and those… how did the Yamanaka term them… 'at risk' children forced to grow up too soon? Can fill out the rest of it. Perhaps even masquerade as one or two clansmen without really being one as well."
Koharu kicked her booted feet back up on her desk with a dark scowl, slouching with her arms crossed over her chest. "I still don't like it."
"This is war, harpy. You and Saru might dance about it as you wish, but my job is to ensure it doesn't slide into something even worse."
"This is going to come back to bite us so hard…"
"No. It won't." Danzō bit back just as bitterly. "I know what I'm doing. I know the individuals I'll be approaching. They're not the type to change loyalties on a whim, especially if I can amass enough of a reward for them like 'a safe life as a paper-pusher' or 'entrance to a shinobi village as a full ninja'. Orphans of violence or just unfortunate fates, street rats left to run wild, those that are overlooked in the Red Light districts, they have their own brand of looking at things. They'll have the same finely tempered steel to them as teacher did, as our various instructors who bit and clawed a way to live in a world without a village to safeguard their soft bellies, before they crafted the Leaf for us all. They'll murder, lie, and steal for just one more edge… I'll give them something to do it all with first, then once they do the jobs and come back a reward tangible enough to keep doing it."
"...you're going to be running an orphanage. A ninja orphanage." Deadpanned Koharu flatly. "And… it'll even be a benevolent thing to most looking in from the outside once the kids return as full adults with a 'secret' mission under their belts and with a forehead protector to gain their rights here. By doing nasty things to other villages under their noses."
The poison user paused deliberately, fingering her lower lip, then slowly started smirking in a bitterly amused way. "Damn, grumpy. So much for that eye of yours blinding you to what's in your face."
Danzō gave a supremely unimpressed look with his lone remaining eye.
"What would you do with the returning 'agents', my friend?" Hiruzen interjected before the two of them got into another little petty fight, folding his hands behind his back and wearily waiting for the rest of it. "Pay them and let them go, train them up to be shinobi?"
"They'll have a year or so of some training." Admitted the other shinobi flatly. "At least. A year to test them, figure out how far they can press things and what they're really like personally so as to figure out if we want them, then when they come back… they can be folded into a different kind of shinobi 'branch' if they want."
"We have several so far. The various research branches, the Intelligence Department some are calling 'Torture and Interrogation' these days, the various little paper pushers we have at hand running errands and files from department to department. There are a lot of things that would benefit from a few extra hands."
"Some of those kids are going to try to use you instead."
"Of course they are." Grunted the one-eyed shinobi, unamused by Koharu's next obvious point. "Depending, that might not be a bad thing. I want them too, to try and 'manage' my offer for their best, and then find out that yeah I'm the best option they have so they'll commit to my line in the end. A few it's not going to be enough for, the dumber ones that can't see beyond their own noses or those too broken, but more than enough will to pay off in the long run."
"We had better not gain the reputation of taking in the desperate and orphaned just to murder them off in creative new ways, Danzō."
"...of course not, Hokage-sama."
Hiruzen sighed heavily, nodding to the two that controlled the 'office of the exterior advisor' for him. "Then I will not object to your plans. While you balance the darker boughs of the Leaf against our enemies, try not to forget why we do this."
The one-eyed Shimura Clan head waited until the office door closed behind their kage. "...that still sounds so damn corny."
"We're the Leaf, we do tree-puns." Koharu informed him needlessly, finally pulling her own work over to review and make changes to if need be. "Really bad tree-puns, with a few speckles of fire-puns heaped on top."
"That doesn't make it any better, harpy. Especially not coming out of Saru's mouth." Grunted her very normally sour co-worker. "I would've said roots, if we needed something on the dark side myself."
"Like that's any better."
"...I think now."
"Now?" Tsunade repeated, mostly in shock but a little exasperation threaded into her tone, trying to keep Jiraiya still enough to piece his left leg back together. "For fuck's sake, Orochi. We've nearly gone the entirety of this so-called 'Second' war without needing that. Why now?"
"Because," Orochimaru observed cuttingly, making use of the Senju's Slug Summons to negate the poison the Salamander Summon was spewing so readily in order to remove one of the Rain ninja from his kunoichi teammate's small bastion of calmness, "now we are up against someone that uses poisons and I do not know how to enable our survival against these odds. She was very strict on the underlying reasoning to me, hime."
"...she was the first Leaf poison mistress. One of the best, she might've known him." Jiraiya, who really only knew the individual they were talking about through stories and secondhand accounts, pointed out while Tsunade kept his leg from becoming something distinctly not leg shaped. "Matches, at least, some of what she said."
"And he's another of her 'generation'." Finished the Snake Summon in satisfaction, pulling on the earth itself to form up another copy of himself to buy some more time with. "Hanzō the Salamander might not have had something he felt was worth his life, her insight to how he might twist next will be more than worth it."
"That kind of turns him into a sour, old man clinging too hard to his old 'glory' days." Retracting some of the wood, borrowed from their nearly ruined surroundings as Hanzŏ had not cared for the collateral in his way in this fight, with her Senju bloodline the Slug Summoner finally let their third go again. "Stay off it as much as you can, Jiraiya."
"How?" A gesture to their surroundings, including the mud-clone of Orochimaru nearly getting beheaded by a snap of a Salamander's jaws, and the Toad Summon made a few awkward hops over to the Snake Summoner. Taking a deep breath, their teammate spewed out a mouthful of fire of his own to light the poison gasses still lingering in the wake of the earth clone's death to give the Summons a bit of a fire-breath problem. "I'm with the teme, what else can we pull out we haven't that's been countered already? We're running out of options."
Tsunade was prevented from replying, even if she had anything more to offer, in fending off the twisted amphibian that leaked toxic gasses everywhere before it could overtake their position she retreated to in order to tend their injuries. A tree, of no distinct subspecies, grew from her borrowed wood just tall enough to wrap it's normally rigid truck around the creature's maw and hold it shut to afford them the seconds to readjust their position before it snorted the toxins instead.
Straight into another nest of Hanzō's ready shinobi forces that had massacred the rest of the Leaf teams they had been deployed with. Which included the leader of Rain himself on a high building just waiting, requiring both shinobi of Team Hiruzen to focus upon so she was left with encouraging the ninja to avoid jumping into the fight if there was an opening to attack their leader wouldn't kill them for.
Jiraiya, still slightly damaged in spite of her healing and weakened more now this second day of the fight than the rest of them, did pause to supply the fire to light her trees aflame. Burning leaves crackled and hissed when they ignited the pockets of poisons only to fizzle out against wet Salamander flesh and the ever present drizzle the lands were known for. It provided more than enough light for Tsunade to start cracking skulls into wooden prisons to keep them out of the way, a punch apiece as they couldn't twist about the fading daylight to surprise her for now.
There were no other Leaf forces left in the area, and with just the three of them and their Summons against the entirety of Rain's forces…
"Orochimaru! Do it."
"Jiraiya! I need a minute."
"Working on it." Taking the Snake Summoner's position in warding off the heavy scythe he was fighting, the Toad Summoner spread some of the blood leaking from his mouth onto his left hand and slammed it to the ground. Two more Toads were added to the fight, one armed with a sword of his own to replace the Sekanji Clan head. "Now!"
Injured or not, Jiraiya could afford them a minute with just a little help.
Orochimaru hit the ground heavily, forming up yet another earth clone to assist his teammates with that brushing contact with the mud, before darting over to one of the dead bodies of their own former comrades.
Tsunade didn't watch, too distracted with preventing interference, but even she noticed when the rain stopped being a nuisance.
Things just sort of stilled… something not entirely felt but something even nature itself took note of despite how the shinobi tried to ignore such a sign that might just be a distraction.
Then in a utterly vicious gust of wind picked up each and every one of the men the Slug Summoner was trying to discourage from attacking her teammates then slammed them into the nearby walls or broken homes.
"...oh my. Hello, my darling nephew." The resurrected Sekanji Terazawa observed mildly as coppery eyes surrounded by unearthly black sclera flicked from one of Team Hiruzen to another and finally resting upon Hanzō the Salamander, flicking an ancient Land of River's war fan open to conceal the lower half of her face. "I take it you require a measure of aid?"