You know, I moved and for a long time I wasn't online. For months I had to do other things that didn't involve using the Internet on a daily basis. I still always planned on continuing my stories, but as time passes and your life changes, so do your priorities. It's thanks to the people who gave their reviews, even when they thought I had given up, that got me interested in getting off my ass and writing again after I got Internet access. Thanks guys.

I'm about half done with my Inu Yasha chapter. For those interested in that story and are reading this to see what's going on: don't worry, I haven't given up.

This chapter starts with Kakashi. Don't worry; it ties in (much) later.

And now, on with the show!


Chapter 7:

Kakashi's perspective

Light leaked in from the door behind me in the large and somewhat spacious restaurant basement I crouched in, etching the random junk stored around me in stark relief. Dusty chairs and broken tables stacked upon one another in haphazard fashion, with spare dishes and silverware set apart from the rest. The ceiling to the basement, or the floor for those above, however you wanted to look at it, thumped as people went about their business, oblivious to what was going on below.

I stood stock still in amazement, as I stared down at the dead ninja lying at my feet. Insects buzzed and whirled around the corpse, some landing to investigate while still others flew off, tracing crazed circles in the air that only made sense to them, before they circled back to rest on his body.

Wearing black and brown robes, splattered in areas by mud and stained in blood, the man staring sightlessly up at the dimly lit ceiling of the basement, looked like anything but the confident Leaf Jounin I had grown up with. His short black hair was caked to his skull with mud, while his mouth gaped open in a silent plea, perhaps testimony of his surprise at his own death. A hole three inches in diameter gaped in his chest, already filling the air with the smell only the dead where capable of producing.

When a man died, his bowels loosened, releasing the unconscious control everyone employed while alive. Gases released, bladders drained, which, combined with the smell of decomposition, formed a unique smell. It was no wonder why many who came in close contact with a dead body often lost whatever they had for breakfast. Only fortitude and experience could ward you against it. How the people in the restaurant above me could fail to smell it was a wonder all its own.

My throat tightened in sorrow, as I silently bid another one of the few remaining friends from my youth, goodbye. Tosu had been an energetic boy. When we were younger, his personality had closely matched Naruto's, although Tosu had a natural talent in the art of Nin-jutsu, unlike my blond student, who had to work harder than most, for any progress he made.

In fact, if not for me Tosu would have been our classes' number one rookie. And now he was dead. I frowned beneath my mask as I examined my surroundings, looking for clues on how this had come to be. Jounin of Tosu's level could not be easily taken by anyone, not even me.

The oddity was the mud. The floor was clean and made of wood, with no sign that a fight had taken place here, or that Tosu had been dragged in from outside. Someone had carried him in, and stored him here like the junk around me. At the thought, a knot of anger formed within me, quickly controlled. Letting emotions control you can only lead to mistakes, and I could never afford to make one at the game I played.

Tosu had been my contact for the mission I was assigned. Without him, I had no reliable information about the land I was in, or the ninja I was supposed to find and neutralize. 'Through persuasion or force', Tsunade hadn't really cared how I was supposed to get these ninja from supporting the warlord they worked for. I just had to do it.

All I knew about my targets where their names and general location. Tosu was to have given me the rest of the information I needed, and help me carry out my orders. To make matters more difficult, I had Sasuke with me on this mission. Naruto's mission had involved Sasuke's brother. We couldn't be sure how Sasuke would handle a mission where he might conceivably need to spy on his brother, but never attack. So in order to distract him from that fact, he had been sent with me. If not for that, Sasuke would have been sent on the Genin mission instead of Hyuga Hinata.

I glanced behind me as I heard Sasuke shift uncomfortably from his spot by the door. Cool as always, he had taken one look at the dead body and crouched down where he stood, observing what he could. Only his body posture and slightly scrunched nose gave away the fact that he was uncomfortable with the dead body. Once again, Sasuke had impressed me with his level-headedness.

His eyes glinted red in the dim light, the two black swirls in them showing his use of the Sharingan. With the Uchiha Sharingan eye ability active, the user could see things not immediately noticeable by the average eye. One of the many reasons that famous clan had made the perfect police force for Konoha, before they had been wiped out by Sasuke's brother.

Glancing back towards the body, I shifted my Konoha forehead protector down to cover my left eye. I had already used my own Sharingan, and seen what I could; which wasn't much. Whoever had done this had been careful to leave no clues behind them with Tosu. They had even changed his clothes; I had figured that much out.

That was another mystery: Why change your enemy's clothes?

The only answer I could come up with was grim; the reason one would change clothes with an enemy would be to assume their identity. But wouldn't a simple Transformation Jutsu work just as well? Could it be that those who had killed him weren't even ninja? The idea of a Jounin of Tosu's caliber dieing at the hands of someone who used no jutsu seemed ludicrous, but at the moment, I couldn't think of anything else that fit.

"What now?" Sasuke asked from his place by the door.

I stood a moment longer staring at my friend, before reluctantly turning to face Sasuke.

"Well..." I started to say, but stopped, my mask covering my frown as I looked at my Genin student.

Sasuke hadn't moved, but immediately something jumped out at me as somehow WRONG about him. The hair at the back of my neck prickled as I kept my posture loose and casual. Activating my Sharingan, I uncovered my left eye again, truly looking at Sasuke as only someone with my ability could. The three scratch marks on Sasuke's left wrist that he had gained two days ago while walking in the woods were gone. This Sasuke's hair was parted half an inch further to the right than it had been moments ago. Quickly I cataloged the other differences my Sharingan picked up for me, all faster than a blink.

"I think for now, I'll settle for you telling me who you are," I said calmly, keeping my tone bored despite my racing pulse.

What had they done with Sasuke? They had to have taken and replaced Sasuke in the time it took me to turn around that last time. The skill required for that without me sensing it gave me the chills.

Casually I pulled a kunai free from its holder on my leg, twirling it quickly in my hand before letting the handle slap into my palm. With my eyes trained on him, I could detect every twitch of movement his muscles made, which would give me all the time I needed to respond accordingly. I wasn't going to let him get away. A nagging seed of doubt floated its way through the back of my mind, wondering who this man could be, to sneak up with such skill, before I brushed it away as distracting. Somehow over the course of my life, I have become well known, and unfortunately, that kind of fame brought with it people from all corners of the world, coming to test themselves against me. I was used to challenges.

The one posing as Sasuke looked down, his shoulders shaking as the low rumbling laugh that escaped him changed from Sasuke's tone, to something darker, deeper.

"Kakashi-kun, you are going to be so fun to play with," the impersonator said, his now deep bass tone seemed wrong, coming from Sasuke's mouth. That voice belonged in a large man in his prime, not a young teen.

A plan formed in my mind and without a word, I infused the kunai in my hand with chakra and flung it at him, aiming a little over his head. Quickly, while the kunai was still flying, I performed twelve rapid hand seals, finishing my last seal just as the kunai I had thrown landed with a THUNK directly over a bored looking Sasuke. Apparently the ninja had already calculated that the kunai would miss him, so a dodge was unnecessary; I was counting on that.

The doppelganger's boredom became alarm as he focused from the kunai to what I was doing with my hands, instantly springing from his crouch as he recognized what hand seals I had performed. The man was very good to catch the movements, but that split second where he had focused on the kunai had given me the time, and now it was too late for him to escape.

The kunai buried in the wooden plank thrummed and vibrated, its edges blurring, a soft hum filling the air as my trap jutsu activated.

"HAA!!" I shouted in effort, forcing the chakra I needed through my arms and into my now blurred kunai across from me.

The wood the kunai was embedded in was undisturbed as the kunai blurred more, until it seemed liquefied. With each vibration, a piece of it's metal seemed to flow and fling off, forming into hundreds of darts that shot from the blurring kunai, each trailing a black chain that absorbed light, the darts finding marks with resounding claps wherever they landed in the ceiling, the floor, the walls, creating a black spider web of chains that blocked the exit completely, faster than it takes to blink.

Silence followed as the patrons above registered the sounds my trap had made, while my enemy stared in shock at what I had done. I had picked up this nasty jutsu in the same fight I had earned my Sharingan eye. To touch the black chains that now hung and crisscrossed the entrance was instant death at worst, and a guaranteed knockout at the least; a fact I wasn't going to alert my enemy to.

A second had passed, but in this sort of battle, a second was a long time. My enemy stretched out his hand, and the air swirled, weaving together in purple and blue lines, forming a staff that crackled with the chakra he was feeding into it. My heart hammered in my chest as I watched the weapon form, truly shocked. Manifesting a weapon such as his was known to be possible, but the skill required made it rare, especially since nine times out of ten a normal weapon would work just as well or better. But to create one so fast!

Even as I finished my jutsu I dodged to the side as the Sasuke clone struck, the four-foot staff just barely clearing the ceiling as it whirled in, thudding into the spot I had just been standing. An enormous boom sounded, startling me with its impact as the staff cracked through the floorboards, chips of wood and dirt flying up to cloud my vision.

We paused, studying each other through the cloud his attack had created, the motes of dust dancing in the air occasionally catching the few strands of light that made it past my entrapping chains. Sasuke's twin was grinning confidently, using muscles in a different way, to form a smile I had never seen on his face before, proving beyond doubt that this was an imposture.

An idea formed in my head, causing me to grin back at him, in a way that would have wiped that smirk right off of his face, if he could see me beneath my mask. This man was either responsible for Tosu's death and Sasuke's abduction, or he knew who was. For the first time in years, I felt the unique kind of anger kindle in my gut that I remember having all through my teen-aged years. A passionate anger, that none of my opponents had ever lived through.

Before I could act, I sensed something behind me. Moving out of instinct as much as anything else, I leaped to the side, hitting a wall and using it as a springboard to leap over something that passed beneath me, the wind of its passing almost stealing my balance as I flipped over. In mid-air I bit my thumb sharply, breaking the skin, and landed in a crouch, forming rapid seals and slamming my hand down onto the ground, pushing more chakra through my arms and into my hands.

"Summoning No-Jutsu!" I said through gritted teeth, even as I took in exactly what I had dodged. Smoked billowed out in response to my summons, and three dogs appeared around me, standing at least waist height with bristling fur and snarling fangs, glaring about me as they took in the situation. They were my special attack group experienced at close in work like this. The basement wasn't that large to begin with, and with my new enemy added and the dogs, it had just gotten a lot smaller.

Through the haze of smoke and debris, I saw what looked like a demon standing over me, in a Leaf Jounin uniform with a hole in the shirt about the size of the wound in Tosu's chest. The uniform was stretched taut over large muscles, with some of the seams broken where the thing had forced a body part through that had been too small to accommodate. Its skin was black and gray, with warts and scales poking through the shirt and dotting it's ugly pug face. Its blood-red eye-sockets were empty, but I could sense that it could see me very well. It had a snout instead of a nose, and sharp, jagged teeth filled its mouth as it snarled and tore its fist from the hole in the wall it had created, when it had missed me. Earth fell from the hole, showing that there was no escape that way.

'Where had this one come from?' I wondered, amazed anything like this could have been here the entire time without my noticing. Just what was I DEALING with?

"I'll bet you're pretty confused about now, eh, Kakashi-kun?" The one that wasn't Sasuke said from behind me, his tone oily and wicked. "I never said I was alone. It's a shame we have to kill you. I think you would have made a wonderful pet."

I snorted, half turning my head to keep them both in view as I ran through tactics in my mind, now having to take into account two foes.

"A pet? I'm afraid that's impossible," I said, keeping my tone as lazy as possible. "I bite," I confided, as a number of ideas came to me.

With a primal scream the demon charged, the sound seeming to erupt from somewhere deeper than its throat or chest. At the same time, the doppelganger leapt into action, my attack dogs running to intercept. I tensed, prepared to put the first part of my new plan into action. They would both fall, and I would find Sasuke, and they were going to pay for taking another piece of my past from me.

They had defeated the number two rookie of my class. They were about to see what the number one could do.


Many miles away from Kakashi and his struggle, Naruto and his team approached the heart of the jungle.

Naruto's perspective

My jaw popped faintly as I yawned once more, keeping my weary place in line behind Hinata. We had hiked all night. Hinata's white coat bobbed in front of me like a beacon below her short swaying blue hair, reminding me to stay alert. With an oath to myself I straightened and looked about, trying to pierce the jungle around me, looking for anything threatening, any sign of life... hell I was looking for ANYTHING other than what I had been seeing for the last five days. Endless jungle that disappeared into fog ten feet from me.

Around us, the fog had lit up once more as daylight broke in the world somewhere far above us. We had traveled for the first few days thinking we could get to the other side of this maze quickly. That had changed yesterday, when we came upon a burnt out camping site only days old: OUR camping site. We had tried to get our bearings soon after, but our compass had stopped working, our efforts to create a makeshift compass had failed, and climbing trees to see over the fog hadn't helped; the fog was taller then the trees. We were lost.

We were lost and I was starving! Rabbits. Rabbits and lizards was all that seemed to live in this hellhole. I had seen some green fruit and eaten some berries, right before Sakura had recognized them as poisonous. Two hours and one lost lunch later, I was gnawing in desperation on the last of the rabbit meat we had. That was days ago now, and I was pretty sure my stomach was going to leave me for someone more willing to feed it if I didn't do something soon.

Sakura-chan and the rest had steadily grown crankier as our supplies had gone down. Sakura would snap if I even looked at her, Temari would crack cruel jokes at my expense, Kankuro had started up a dialog with his puppet, which no one really wanted to interrupt, and Gaara had simply stopped talking, which made everyone nervous. Even Hinata had started to snap at us a little, although she blushed and stammered apologies as soon as she did.

With a start I realized I had gone back to staring at the back of Hinata's coat without thinking. This was my life now; an eternal fog on a trail in a jungle that would never end, lead by a white coat.

Do other ninja' go through what I did? Where all challenging missions just long marches, punctuated by short spots of action, followed by a long march back? Wouldn't it be easier to just leave the ninja you wanted to use in the place you needed them? That way... no marching!

I shook my head, realizing I was seriously starting to space out and loose it. It's a good thing I hadn't said any of that out loud. I didn't need the rest thinking I was any dumber than they already did.

"What was that Naruto-kun? I only heard that you wanted to leave something somewhere," Hinata said from ahead of me softly, half turning her head to regard me over her shoulder as we walked.

That is one thing that had changed over the last week. She had stopped stuttering almost completely, and she spoke with me more, although she never did it for very long. We would get into conversations, and suddenly her face would turn red or sometimes purplish, and she would suddenly stop and walk away in a hurry, her stutter re-appearing as she mumbled some apology. I would ask her about it, but I was afraid her face would turn plaid or something. Without a doubt, she was the weirdest one out of all of us. She was nice though, at least.

"Uh... nothing! It's nothing," I told her hastily, feeling my cheeks heat up.

Shit! I HAD said that out loud? The lines where my thoughts ended and my mouth began were starting to blur. I needed food soon! Lots of it, with plenty of ramen! Hmm... ramen. My stomach rumbled at the thought, sending bolts of hunger-pain surging vengefully through me, furious as it realized I had thought of ramen, but hadn't supplied it. I clutched my stomach, begging forgiveness. With a final growl it relented, settling back into its new favorite game; turning itself into knots. We all needed hobbies, after all.

Abruptly I ran into the white coat of Hinata's as she suddenly stopped. She squeaked in alarm at the impact, and we both would have gone down if I had been walking any faster, or had more strength in my body. Instead I bounced off her back like a ball, wavering on my feet as a dizzy spell hit me briefly before I regained control of myself. She stumbled forward a little from the contact, glancing back over her shoulder towards me; her cheeks flushed a cherry and rosy color.

"Sorry, Hinata," I said, unsure of why she had changed colors this time.

Oh well, I should be used to it by now. Hoping to divert attention, I looked pointedly past her towards Kankuro, who had stopped us. She smiled at me briefly, her white teeth flashing before she took the bait and turned to Kankuro.

Kankuro stood, holding his fist up at a right angle from his body in the signal for a halt, from his position ahead of Hinata, his body partly blocking the view of a particularly large tree that had a path leading to either side of it. I looked at the massive tree, following the aged and knotted trunk up with my eyes as it disappeared from view above us, its lowest branches hidden in the dense fog, nowhere in sight.

"What's wrong? Did you find some food?" I asked louder than I intended, although the sound was absorbed easily in the fog. My stomach growled at me again at the mention of food, angry at being reminded. I moved forward past Hinata as I spoke, hoping against hope that my guess was right.

"Yeah, it's food Naruto. Why don't you dig in?" Temari teased from behind me before Kankuro could respond, as she gestured at the tree bark.

My vision turned red for a split second at her comment and for a moment only, I saw nothing but blood and touched inside me the boundaries of an anger that was vast and deep, before I mastered myself and pushed it aside. My heart pounded as I did so and I took a deep breath, willing the bad thoughts away. Such moments had become common for me lately and it scared me. The anger felt alien somehow, outside myself like an intruder and yet, at the same time, it felt right. And that was the scariest thing of all.

Sakura-chan looked at Temari sharply but said nothing, joining me as the rest of us came to flank Kankuro and stare at what he had found, Gaara coming up behind, silent as always. Sakura and Temari had started to butt heads more and more over the last few days. It started when they got into an argument over cooking duties. Sakura claimed that the sand ninja hadn't been doing their share and Temari had shot back with a nasty remark about Leaf ninja in general, and where Sakura could stick her cooking gear in particular.

It had only gone done hill from there. Wisely, everyone else had stayed out of the argument. Soon it had gotten to the point where if one said 'left', the other would say 'right', just for the hell of it.

Thoughts of Sakura-chan and Temari vanished, as I got a look at what Kankuro, still silent, was looking at. Etched deeply into the base of the tree, a large seal was carved in thick and clear lines, its edges grown over with moss and rounded with extreme age. Intricate patterns too complex for me to even begin to decode were scrawled around the seals' circular pattern, to form a vaguely star shaped design.

"Why would a seal be in a tree?" I wondered aloud, thinking what a silly place for something like that was. Kankuro snorted, looking at me out of the corner of his eye before he turned back to examine the tree.

"You really don't know anything, do you?" he said as he bent down to get a closer look. "A tree is one of the most common places to seal something you don't want to release anytime soon," he finished, frowning, as something about the pattern seemed to catch his attention.

A familiar feeling came over me as he spoke. That feeling I got when I stumbled on something that was amazing to me, but seemed to be common knowledge to everyone around me: in other words, the feeling I got when I realized that people thought I was an idiot. It was shame and anger and jealousy that they knew and not me, all rolled into a neat ball that seemed to collect in my cheeks. I hated that feeling. Growing up I'd had to find out many things this way, and it always left a bad taste in my mouth.

Looking at me strangely like everyone else at my display of ignorance, Hinata turned her pale eyes to Kankuro and visibly steeled herself before speaking.

"Why is that, Kankuro-san?" she asked him calmly.

With something like shock I realized that she probably knew the answer, but wanted to take the heat off me. A knot of suspicion laced with wonder rose up in me as I looked at her in profile. Would she really do that? Or was I wrong? Maybe she didn't know and I was being too paranoid? It was Gaara who answered, surprising us all by talking for the first time in maybe a day.

"It doesn't take much to seal something like an element or a jutsu. Usually paper will do for most things. But if you want to seal spirit, or a person, or a demon, only something living will work for longer than a few hours," Gaara began, walking forward and crouching next to the seal. "A life force must act as an anchor for a seal to draw power from, to maintain itself against another life force. The seal doesn't need much, so anything alive will do. If a human is shouldering the burden of maintaining the seal, then the seal will collapse once that person dies, killing or releasing whatever was contained within the seal, depending on how it was designed," he continued, his voice sounding almost wistful as he reached out a hand, not quite touching a section of the pattern with his fingers.

"So if it's on a tree..." I said, realization flooding me.

"Trees can live for hundreds, even thousands of years," Temari completed the thought, her voice touched with awe. "So whatever is sealed here was meant to stay here, for as long as possible."

Sakura shook her head in dumb amazement, her short pink hair shiny even in the fog as it shifted from side to side. "I think I can recognize a few of the patterns at the top," she told us, her green eyes squinted as she looked at it over Kankuro's shoulder. "Something about filth or dirt."

"What about this one?" Kankuro wondered, placing his fingertips against a diamond shaped rune that seemed set apart from the rest.

Before anyone could guess, the pattern under his fingers ignited in light, each line seeming to catch fire from within and blaze, seeping into and then through his fingers as though they didn't exist to block the light. Everyone but Kankuro, who seemed pinned to the tree by his fingertips, jumped back a step in alarm as the fire from the pattern spread to the other patterns on the tree until they crackled and glowed fiercely with an unknown energy.

I jumped again in shock as Kankuro abruptly screamed, his eyes wide as the light, not letting him let go, seemed to seep into his skin, a glow appearing just under the surface of his hand, lighting him up so I could see the shadow of his skeleton highlighted against a halo of glowing flesh.

"Kankuro!" Temari cried in alarm, moving to help him before Gaara grabbed her arm, shaking his head.

"Don't touch him," he commanded tersely, staring at Kankuro with a calculating look. "It might spread to you."

Kankuro sucked in a breath, only to let it out again as another blood curdling shriek of purest agony, his body convulsing as the light now inside of him spread faster, moving up his arm and infusing his chest and legs. Ears smarting from the pitch, I looked around desperately for something to help him. I didn't like him, but he was my teammate. Not spotting anything, I shrugged my shoulders, preparing to body tackle him off the tree.

"We've got to do something!" I shouted over Kankuro's cries even as I prepared to move. "I think it's killing him!"

The decision was taken from me when the light built up within Kankuro in a surge, seeming to almost heat the air with its brilliance. All I saw then was white and I shielded my eyes, purple dotted after images flaring across my vision as the light flashed once, brighter than the sun at noon, and faded quickly, disappearing as though it had never been. I shook my head, trying to see, blinking my eyes rapidly as I took in the scene.

Kankuro was gone. All that remained were his clothes, pilled in a heap where he had been crouching. His puppet lay beside them, discarded.

"KANKURO!" Temari cried, her voice breaking as she sprang to his clothes, her hands shaking in her grief as she went to touch them.

I felt something stir inside me that might have been sorrow, but it was confusing; I hadn't even liked the guy. So why did I feel so bad? I glanced around me at the rest of my team, watching as Hinata and Sakura-chan's faces turned sorrowful, while Gaara's jaw clenched as some emotion I couldn't name seemed to take him.

"What the...!" Temari exclaimed sharply, forcing my attention back to her. Where she had touched his clothes, a small portion moved, making muffled grunting sounds as it fought its way out from under them.

My jaw dropped as a small pink head popped out from under the clothes, its black eyes darting all around as it sniffed the air with a short snout. A short pink body soon followed and it stumbled up onto stumpy legs, grunting all the while.

"Kankuro got turned into... a pig?" I heard myself say, staring at the pig that was Kankuro. A silence stretched as we all stared at him, and he stared at all of us. Of course, there was only one thing to do now.

The laugh came from somewhere so deep inside, that I saw it coming from a mile away. I did nothing to stop it. I laughed loudly and I laughed hard, my sides shaking and my vision blurring as the cosmic justice of it all came crashing home to me.

"Kankuro's a pig!" I said again, just to hear myself say it, causing me to laugh even harder, breaking it up every now and then to hoot or oink at Kankuro, causing me to break down in laughs all over again.

"Stop it Naruto!" Sakura hissed at me after a minute, although her lips twitched as she clearly fought a grin herself. Kankuro hadn't made a friend in her, that's for sure.

"Or what? You'll make me squeal? I'm sorry I'm being so pig headed!" I chortled, enjoying myself.

Gaara had his palms to his face, shaking his head into his hands in disgust. Disgust for me laughing or for Kankuro's predicament I had no way of knowing. Hinata was fighting a smile herself, but forcing it down out of respect for Temari, while Temari herself was glaring at me with pure death in her gaze.

"Are. You. Done. Yet?" She bit out, the shear intensity of her gaze sapping my humor from me like water spilt on sand. She was clutching her battle fan tightly and looked eager to use it.

Controlling myself, I schooled my face and nodded quickly, raising my hands in a piece gesture. "Ah, yeah. Yeah that's it for now, I think," I assured her, as I struggled to keep another grin from breaking out on my face; I liked my legs attacked to my kneecaps. This was just too good though. When we fixed him, I would never let him live this one down. Wait, we could fix him... right? My humor vanished as I thought of that. I felt myself turn red in shame and embarrassment as I realized that we might not.

"Sorry, Temari," I mumbled, not able to look at her suddenly. I was such an idiot. "Um, where IS Kankuro?" I asked, frowning as I looked around. Panicked, Temari stopped trying to kill me with her eyes and looked around frantically for her pig brother. Oh god, he even had a tail! 'Not funny Naruto, Not funny,' I reminded myself as I joined in the search.

"Spread out," Sakura suggested as she joined us. "Don't get too far though," she cautioned as she suited action to words and began searching on the other side of the trail, her pink hair disappearing behind a tree.

Hinata was relatively close to me when I heard a pig-like grunt from further in the trees, so she heard it too and joined me as we narrowed in on the sound. "Here Kankurooo," I called softly, "I've got a nice... uh, puppet for youuu," I finished lamely, not knowing what a pig puppet ninja craved. Hinata touched my arm, stopping me.

"Byakugan!" she said sharply as she swiftly formed some hand-seals and activated her eye ability, her eyes becoming piercingly white as thick veins appeared near them, showing its activation.

"He's close," she whispered after a moment, pointing a little distance away through some more trees. Nodding I let her take the lead and followed after, feeling like a dope once more; I'd forgotten she could do that.

We found Kankuro in a small clearing eating a bowl of feed while a frail old man in a loincloth and innumerable tattoos watched. The man's forehead was high and his head lumpy, with liver spots and wisps of white hair framing the fringes, behind his ears mostly. His body held no body fat and dark purple tattoos covered every inch of him, from his toes all the way up to his neck. His dirty loincloth was brown and stained with things best not guessed at and he held a hand carved spear of wood with a point of stone in one hand. His eyes were filmy white, but I thought I saw a bit of gold in them, but when I looked harder that impression was gone.

"Hey old man! Thanks for finding our pig for us!" I called as I came near slowly, not wanting to scare Kankuro away. At last someone else! Maybe we were getting closer to civilization after all, although from his clothes I sort of doubted it.

"No trouble t'all ma'boy!" the old man replied cheerfully without looking away from Kankuro as he fed, his accent strange and his voice thin, like old parchment.

"N-Naruto-kun!" Hinata whispered urgently, grabbing my arm once more and whispering into my ear, her voice frightened.

Curious I tuned to her. "What?"

"M-my Byakugan didn't SEE him when I-I looked," she said quickly, her stutter resurfacing in her fright. Her eyes, no longer using her ability, darted from me to the old man and back like a frightened bird.

I still didn't see the problem. "So what? So you missed him, what's the big deal?"

"B-But it doesn't miss this close. It sees everything!" she insisted, her voice hushed and serious. Something in her voice turned my stomach cold as I started to understand what she was trying to say.

"That man doesn't exist!" Hinata said, her voice shaking.

Slowly I turned to look at the old man, who was no longer looking at Kankuro, but was staring at me with a wide and gap-toothed smile.

Oh, hell.


Hah, set it up. Do you have any idea how hard it is turning a character into a pig?! ... Well it's not that hard really. Thanks for waiting and let me know what you think of this chapter! I hope you liked it.

I had quite a few responses to the challenge! Congratulations to you all who responded for doing such a fabulous job! I am truly humbled. Special congrats to DameWren who responded to the challenge with the fiction Two Halves, and did such a fantastic job of writing! Wow! I think you win it.