All that was left was a pile of rubble. People scattered about working desperately to free the owners of the wailing voices inside. For the first time since she had arrived, Sakura saw the two sexes mixed and working together.
"Moriko!" Hana yelled as soon as they were in sight. "Amaya-sama…" She added softly seeing the aged leader in her hands.
"We need to get the building debris clear," Moriko said, kneeling to the ground and letting Amaya's head rest on her lap. "Start from the top. If you keep working at the sides, there's libel to be another collapse." Hana nodded.
"All this, just from an earthquake," Sakura said softly, looking at the damage.
Something in the air changed and Moriko looked over at her. "This isn't just an earthquake," she said softly. "And if you were really one of us, you would know that."
Sakura felt Kakashi shift behind her, a classic sign that he was examining the situation and looking for several ways out of a bad situation. She had to think fast too. With Amaya not there to protect her, Moriko could move forward on her suspicions and…
"I don't care where you're from," Moriko said sudden sadness. "If you were her to assassinate Amaya-sama, you're too late."
Sakura looked back at Kakashi and nodded firmly. He was just going to follow along with her new plan. Obviously, they couldn't keep the original cover up but at the same time, they couldn't attach themselves to Leaf.
"We were just sent to watch your tribe," Sakura said. "The village over the mountains wanted to know how easy it would be to take control of this region."
Moriko snorted. "I should have known. You're not the first they've sent over. But your timing couldn't be worse. Our leader is dying."
"I don't understand," Sakura said. "She was just a child…"
"No, she used a jutsu to cover up her true age," Moriko replied. "Not that someone who is only forty would normally look like this but the strain… it ages our leaders quick." Sakura watched as Moriko put a hand on Amaya's forehead. "If only she had let me take over, she would have had more time."
Sakura watched the interaction, allowing several things to come into place. Amaya was Moriko's mother and only forty years old. Though without the effects of the jutsu, her body looked like it was only twice as old! And now, according to Moriko, she was dying. The strain was killing her.
Sakura looked around, watching the tribe continue to work with the effects of the earthquake.
"This isn't just an earthquake."
Sakura's eyes blinked as she found her answer. The chakra they use to manipulate their environment… it's not a one time thing! They have to maintain it by using a leader and her chakra control to do it. It puts strain on the body, and of course, it ages them. That's how they did it! And that's why…
"Amaya-sama's dying caused this," Sakura said softly. "She can't hold the changes to the environment together so things are attempting to shift back to what they were."
Moriko nodded and stood up. "It's true." Any trace of sadness disappeared from her eyes. It was as if she had suddenly returned to her normal state and realized that she had just told them everything. "Which is why your being here is just really bad timing… at least for you."
Sakura didn't even have a chance to blink when the flash of steel came down at her. There was a loud crash and she was blinded by the flash of light that reflect off of Amaya's dagger. But much to her surprise, Sakura was unhurt. It took her moment before she realized Amaya's blade had been caught by a kunai. Kakashi's eyes never moved as he pushed the woman back and regripped his weapon.
"Sakura-chan," he stated, watching as Moriko's subordinates started to gather. "Go find the others and leave. I'll catch up later, you're in charge until then."
"Don't question sensei," he smiled and turned back just as Moriko started to gain troops. Sakura waited a beat longer before quickly running away from the crowd. Kakashi eyed the women coming towards him and let his smile grow.
Under normal circumstances, the idea of about five women charging him at once would have been a dream come true. But these women were highly skilled and looking to kill him. Worse, he couldn't use any Jutsu or else he'd reveal his role as a ninja.
"Well ladies," he smiled, "I don't suppose we could talk this out over a cup of co…" A spear landed to his right with a heavy thud. "Thought so."
Sakura ran, barely hearing the battle cries Kakashi's attacker let out. Please be okay, sensei, she managed to think before returning to the task at hand.
Trying to find her teammates in the confusion should have proved more difficult. But it was very hard to miss Sasuke attempting to drag a half conscious Naruto and a screaming girl towards the center of town.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called out.
He looked up and caught her eye. He quickly dropped Naruto to the ground and put his energy into restraining the cursing girl. Sakura watched as she came closer, completely unaware of why he was close to tackling a stranger.
"Let GO you son of a…"
"Woah," Sakura said, coming to a halt. "That's not a girl."
"No shit," Sasuke said through gripped teeth.
"I won't do it! I won't be a slave to you people!"
"Is that…" Sakura started.
"Yeah, it's Matsui-sama," Sasuke replied.
"Matsui-sama, please calm down," Sakura said. "We were sent to rescue you."
For a moment, Matsui calmed down and Sasuke used the chance to pin him to the ground.
"You were?" he said softly, attempting not to breath into too much dirt.
"Yes," Sakura said quickly. "Your family hired us to retrieve you. Didn't Sasuke-kun or Naruto explain that?"
"How could he?" Sasuke said, pointing to the huddled mass on the ground.
"Naruto!" Sakura cried out, seeing his condition. "Are you all right?"
"It… just burst," Naruto managed to get out.
"NA-RU-TO!" Sakura yelled, shaking him rapidly.
"Sa…Sakura-chan?" he said softly coming out his daze. He looked at her and then at her chest. Then without warning his hand snapped forward and he landed a hand where it shouldn't have gone.
A moment later he was a pile in the dirt courtesy of a very horrified and angry Sakura and a rather annoyed Sasuke. "It didn't burst…" he managed before drifting off into the dark again.
Sakura glared for several seconds longer as Inner Sakura let out of a stream of obscenities. "Sasuke-kun, can you please drag Naruto? We need to get out of here, Kakashi-sensei's orders."
Sasuke frowned before reaching down and pulling Naruto up by the collar. "Come on, dead last."
"Matsui-sama," Sakura started. "Please follow them."
"Aa…" the cross dressed young man nodded.
"Where are you going?" Sasuke asked.
Sakura looked at him briefly. "I need to set some traps to cover our escape."
"Aa," he nodded before leading the other two away.
Sakura didn't really lie outright. She carefully set a few traps but rather then following her teammates, she ran back towards the center of town.
A pile of women lay around him and Kakashi was finally able to concentrate solely Moriko. He didn't appear to have hurt any of them too badly and from the looks of it, he was working hard to keep them alive. Unfortunately the same was not true for Moriko.
A glint to the left forced Kakashi and Sakura's heads to turn towards an outcropping. Sakura saw the archer just as Kakashi realized he shouldn't take his eyes off of Moriko. Sakura didn't bother to wait for Kakashi to react but threw a kunai just as the woman let loose an arrow, knocking it off its target. The woman was already preparing another strike when a voice cut through the air.
The fighting came to an abrupt halt as Amaya slowly stood from the ground. Moriko pushed herself away from Kakashi and ran towards the ailing woman.
"Amaya-sama," she said. "Please stay seated, you can't exert any more…"
"It's over," Amaya said softly. "Mori-chan… please…"
Moriko's eyes opened wide and she started to shake her head in vehement opposition to whatever Amaya wanted to say. Kakashi ran over a grabbed Sakura's arm.
"We need to leave now," he said, starting to walk away.
"Wait," Sakura cried, trying to see what was happening. Kakashi tried to pull her away but she wouldn't move.
Amaya reached out a hand and placed it on Moriko's cheek. "This is my end," she said softly. "And your beginning."
The crowd had quieted down, watching slowly as there leader faded away. "I wanted to keep you from this," Amaya whispered, "but in doing so, I think I have made it worse. Be kinder, Moriko, and happier. We don't have enough time to be anything else."
Amaya reached up and placed her hand on her daughter's chest. Moriko's eyes started to water and Sakura squinted as a light filled the area. When she was finally able to see, Amaya had disappeared.
Sasuke frowned at the fire, watching it start to dwindle down. The nobleman was huddled next to it and Naruto was off looking for wood. Though what could take him this long to find a few twigs was beyond him.
Someone approached and Sasuke reached for a kunai before relaxing as a familiar chakra became clear.
"Stupid river," Naruto said, shaking out a wet foot before dumping more wood on the fire.
Sasuke shook his head. "Only you would mess up a simple assignment like finding wood."
"I didn't mess it up!" Naruto retorted. "I just missed part of a brook, okay?"
"Whatever," Sasuke replied, obviously not referring to the brook incident anymore.
"I already said I was sorry for before!" Naruto continued. "How was I supposed to know they were water balloons and not really ones? Besides, who runs around dressed like a woman for weeks on end?"
"Someone who doesn't want to be a slave for the rest of his life," Matsui replied glumly.
"What happened to you anyway?" Naruto asked.
Matsui sighed. "Well, I was reading this interesting report about this tribe of women and I got… curious…"
"Yes," Matsui said. "I suppose it would have helped if I read on to see that the men were slaves but at the time my only thought was there was a town of women somewhere attempting to run everything. How couldn't they resist my charms once I promised to help them? I am, after all the son of daimyo, running a simple village should have been fairly easy."
Naruto snorted. "Guess it wasn't as easy as it looked." Matsui awarded him with a glare.
"Just because you have the charms of a wart hog…" Matsui began. Sasuke snickered before he even finished.
Naruto frowned looking at his teammate. "Yeah, I forgot that you were God's gift to women," Naruto said sarcastically. Sasuke looked at him with a raised eyebrow as if he had stated something obvious.
"Good evening, I see we're guarding ourselves well this night."
Sasuke and Naruto jumped, reaching for weapons but Kakashi had already emerged from the shadows looking disappointed. A weary looking Sakura was behind him, trudging slowly before collapsing in front of the fire.
"You got out," Naruto said. "We were wondering what happened."
"Things didn't go as planned," Kakashi said. "But we managed to leave without too much of a fight." He looked down at Sakura and frowned a moment before heading towards the nobleman. "So this is Matsui-sama then."
Matsui nodded slightly, not bothering to rise.
"We apologize for the poor accommodations but we will get you home by tomorrow evening."
Somewhat awed by the tall silver haired ninja, Matsui bit back a retort and just nodded. He pulled out a blanket and curled up near the fire. A few moments later, he was snoring quietly, leaving the three ninjas alone in silence.
"Ne, Sakura-chan? Are you okay?" Naruto asked.
Sakura blinked before looking up at him. "Huh?"
"You're just real quiet," he added. Next to him, Sasuke looked on, hoping for an explanation as well.
Sakura took a moment before shaking her head. "Nothing's wrong. I'm just thinking about things."
"Huh?" It was Naruto's turn to be confused.
Sakura sighed. "Hokage-sama wanted me to lead the trip because he thought I knew everything about the Onnaribisu that would be needed. And I thought that I did too. I mean, I've read everything there was on them and got most of the details right only now…" She frowned. "I don't think I know anything about them at all."
Sakura paused and looked in the fire as Kakashi moved forward and passed out what was left of their rations.
"But without you," Naruto started, "we wouldn't have gotten as far as we did, ne? So Sakura-chan did know enough."
Sakura smiled. "Thanks Naruto," she replied, concentrating on her food.
"That's good to hear Naruto," Kakashi said. "Especially after you were so upset that Sakura was put in charge at the beginning of this mission."
Naruto stopped eating and looked up at his sensei with terror on his face.
"So," Sakura said, dropping the cup of tea she was working on. "You didn't think I'd be able to do this?"
"Ah… Sakura-chan… I didn't mean it like…"
Having bought himself enough time, Naruto bolted with an irate Sakura following him. Sasuke sighed as the two disappeared into the woods.
"So… we learned nothing then," Sasuke asked his sensei.
"Enough," Kakashi replied. "At least enough for Sakura to write down so that the next group will fare better then we did. And we completed our mission. There's not much more that was needed."
"I guess it would have been good to learn how they used chakra to manipulate the land," Sasuke added. "I think I… HEY!"
Naruto stumbled over him and ended up knocking Sasuke off his seat. Sakura was standing behind them, looking at Kakashi, having overheard the last thing Sasuke said.
"It wouldn't matter, Sasuke," Kakashi said. "It obviously was only meant to be used by women, chosen women who were dedicated to a cause that I don't think we'll understand."
"Sort of like how Sakura's dedicated to Sasuke ne?" Naruto smiled.
A loud boom echoed in the forest and Naruto once again was asleep on the ground. Matsui was still snoring away as the rest of them decided to turn in. Sakura pulled her blanket out and finally managed to quell the raging maniac inside her head.
Sakura paused and looked over at Sasuke. He wasn't looking at her, just laying on her side.
"You did do well," he stated.
Sakura blinked and then smile. Inside, Inner Sakura had woken up again and was not going to sleep anytime soon. But outside, Sakura just nodded. "Thanks," she said before pulling the blanket over her head to prevent the blush.
~ Fin ~
Author's note : Grrrrr… I hate taking long to finish a story and then not being satisfied completely with the ending but… that's it. Thanks for reading and hope you come back for the next one I write.