"Tainted Demon Eyes"
By Nes Mikel
I herby acknowledge that the work of fiction presented here is for my own personal amusement and entertainment purposes alone. Most of the story, characters, place names and other etc stuff in this fiction are copyright Naruto, Kishimoto Masashi, Weekly Shounen Jump, and any others I might have forgot. Enjoy.
- Chapter Eight -
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
"I guess there is no fooling a true shinobi." – Gatoh
"It's about this mission."
Prying her eyes away from the bandaged hand she cradled, Sakura looked at Tazuna who was talking to Kakashi, a little curious about what he was about to say. "You're right." the elderly man said, his face austere. "This job is most likely outside your scope of duties. The truth is… a super dangerous man is after my life."
"A super dangerous man?" Kakashi eyed Tazuna with the corner of his eye. The bridge builder nodded back.
"You've probably at least heard of his name before." Tazuna sighed. "The wealthy shipping magnate… a man named Gatoh."
As Tazuna continued, Sakura started to understand just how serious this C-rank mission was turning out to be. Gatoh, Tazuna explained, was one of the world's few extremely wealthy people that officially ran the famous Gatoh Shipping Company. But in secret, he sells drugs and other illegal items using ninjas and gangs to take over rival businesses and even small countries. The Country of Wave where Tazuna hailed from was one of the latest places the very ruthless, power-hungry businessman had set his eyes on. Through money and violence, he quickly took control of the entire country's shipping industry, granting him a monopoly on all business traffic in the country. The only thing he had to fear now was the completion of the bridge.
"Ah, I see!" Sakura slowly nodded her head up and down in understanding. "So since you're building the bridge, you're in the way!" she shouted out her conclusion rather loudly.
"So that means those ninjas were hired by Gatoh?" Sasuke asked as his gaze drifted over to the two Mist missing-nins still tied to the tree.
"Most likely." Naruto commented, his back to the bark of a nearby tree. "Still, there's one thing I don't understand…"
"Yes, if you knew ninjas could be after you, then why did you hide that fact when you hired us?" Kakashi asked the question for Naruto instead, hands stroking his chin in a thoughtful manner.
"The Wave Country… is super poor." Tazuna answered, his eyes downcast. "Even the Feudal Lord has no money. Of course, we don't have much money either. Not enough for the expensive B-rank mission." he turned his eyes away from the ground and put on his best glittering smile for the four confused ninjas in front of him to see. "If you quit the mission now, I'll definitely be killed, but don't worry! If I die, my cute ten-year old grandson will just cry for a few days! Oh, and my daughter will live a sad life hating Leaf Village ninjas forever! But it won't be your fault! Not at all! Hahahahahaha!"
Needless to say, the group was left with no choice but to protect the conning bridge builder, at least until they got their client safely back to his country.
Although annoyed, one pink-haired kunoichi was happy at these turns of events, much unlike her teacher who was dreading the next encounter of hunters who would most likely be at Jounin-level. For Sakura, though, she thought this was the prefect opportunity to redeem herself for her earlier failures, still totally unaware just how dangerous her future trials were going to be. Skipping a little along the way, Sakura and the not-so merry band of five carried onwards with their journey.
Inside a deep, dark forest somewhere between the borders of Fire and Wave, an otherwise confident voice gasped sharply in surprise as it realized that they had been followed. Raising its right arm, palm flat, the leader of the pack signaled the other two to stop, and stepped forward uneasily, staring into the unknown darkness trying to locate their stalker. No such luck. "Who the hell are you?" the leader shouted, its voice feminine. "Come on out before we-"
"W-what the f-"
"CAPTAIN! Damn it, you bi-"
A sharp kick and a jab had silenced their burst of revenge as the remaining two wordlessly fell to the ground, joining their comrade on the dirt floor. Still partially concealed within the enveloping shadows, a figure silently emerged from behind the thick canopy of trees and stood over the fallen, maintaining some distance as it studied them with its hard brown eyes. Tense face muscles relaxed a bit. The figure then sighed.
That was too easy.
A quick glance confirmed that one of them was dead; one of its arms was sliced off from the initial attack, and the neck was bent in an unnatural angle from the follow-up kick, so much so that it was hopeless to expect it still alive. Good. A tad curious, the executioner walked over to the victim and bent down in front of the body, reaching out with its left hand towards the mask that covered the dead shinobi's face. Equipped on that left hand's fifth finger, a small ring: a single jewel in the center with the kanji letter Ku inscribed.
The figure pulled the mask off the corpse and carefully set it down on the ground. Behind the white mask was the face of a woman, the insignia of the Mist engraved on the protector tied over her light blue hair. It was a pretty little thing, young and full of life just moments ago, now so deathly pale and lifeless, a thin stream of blood flowing from her thin immobile lips. Her glazed eyes were wide, no doubt from the trauma and confusion that ran through her brain seconds before the red-clouded death crouching in front of her had erased her life. Judging from their earlier actions and reactions, she appeared to be the squad captain of this pitiful three-man team. Well, that made things a little more convenient at least.
The figure stood up, and then turned towards the other two members of the group, still lying unconscious on the ground. Judging from their broad shoulders and well-toned muscles, they both appeared to be male. Their bodies twitched periodically and their fists were clenched in a tight knot, indicating that they were still alive. Even unconscious they still show the will to fight. I guess the Mist shinobi aren't known to keep on fighting no matter what for nothing.
Still, the only reason they were even still alive was because the cloaked figure had let them. Their pathetic lives had a purpose to fulfill, and that can only be done if they were alive. Well, that wasn't exactly true, it still could've been done with or without their lives but it would've been more of a hassle without. Can't have that, can we?
Still, the figure was disappointed at how this was all too easy. Not in the sense that the robed figure thought that this was a trap. It was too easy because they were so miserably weak. Did the Hidden Village of the Mist's shinobi quality become so low they had resorted to calling these as hunter-nins? Even that idiot Shark Man would've been able to kill these three without ever using that oh-so favorite popsicle stick of his in two seconds flat
Oh well… let's get this over and done with.
Cutting through the now-voiceless stillness that surrounded the thick forest, the figure chanted something in a quiet voice, hands flying through a set of complicated seals. Kneading the necessary chakra, the figure then pushed the clasped hands slimly forward as it unleashed the technique upon the two unconscious men.
"Shouten no Jutsu."
The two figures lying on the ground suddenly started to pulse, only for their entire bodies to soon erupt into a violent uncontrollable shudder. They rolled over left and right on their backs, survival instinct kicking in, clutching their heads painfully in a useless struggle to deny the entities that were slowly taking over their bodies. It was in vain; their visible physical forms soon flickered then wavered, changing and undergoing metamorphosis. The mysterious figure continued to stand above them, solemnly observing the effects of the technique. Although the figure could not see their expressions of the men that withered in agony beneath its feet due to their white masks, it could very well imagine the face of one locked in painful agony, vocal cords failing, jaws carved in a silent scream. Still cloaked within the shadows, the figure licked its lips in pleasure, reveling in the carnage.
Minutes passed by before the horrific scene suddenly came to a stop. Their bodies reacted violently one last time before they went stiff, and eventually still. The jutsu was complete. Ever so calmly, the previously immobile two silently rose from the ground, wiping off specks of dirt that had attached to their Mist issued hunter-nin uniforms, acting as if nothing had happened. The biggest difference however, was although their clothes remained the same they clearly were no longer the same people. Their changed hairstyles were proof enough. One of them crooked its neck, testing its synchronization with the host. "Tsk, couldn't you find someone better?" it said. "This body is a piece of shit."
Hissing in anger, the cloaked figure took a step forward and stepped out of the shadows. Emerging into the thin rays of the high noon sun that broke through the overgrowth, it was a woman. She appeared to be somewhere in her late-twenties, with strawberry blond hair and eyes a deep shade of brown. She wore on her forehead a protector with a carved line across the symbol of Leaf, signifying that she no longer held allegiance to that Hidden Village – the mark of a missing-nin. Her long hair was tied into two separate pigtails behind her back, the longer ends concealed within the insides of the large cloak with red clouds. The designs were stitched in a seemingly random pattern, somehow presenting itself with a strange aura of intimidation. Normally, such a large cloak would've made it difficult to tell the owner's gender apart, but the unmistakable line of a bust could clearly be seen beneath. It was an indication of just how large they were. With malicious hatred, the woman glared back at the offender. "Would you have preferred if I used one of your subordinates instead?" she asked, her face crooked in fury.
The man that had spoken, the shorter of the two standing in front of her snorted at her words, obviously not intimated with her threatening attitude. "Takes at least five days to get them transported from Sand to here."
"Then make do with what you have." the woman retorted, the corner of her eye twitching as she struggled to hold back the anger boiling within. Oh how she hated this bastard. She would've loved to punch him in the face, throw him over her shoulders a few hundred meters, and pound him into the ground with her fists and kill him. Too bad the one in front her was only an imitation and her efforts would only be a waste of chakra.
"Hey hey, settle down now, danna, hime. No need to be like that… yeah." the taller of the two eased into the conversation, his hands childishly flailing in the air in an attempt to settle down the two who were ready to kill each other in a moment's notice if need be. He was a strange one. If one looked carefully, one could see that he possessed abnormal hands – he had a thin, as-if carved line on both of his palms that looked similar to an old scar. The biggest surprise however was that the 'scar' on his left hand was slightly ajar, and an appendage that looked awfully like a tongue hung loose from the small opening.
The taller man's attempt at calming the two down was met with disapproval when the shorter man huffed at his attempt. "Stop that Sei. You look like an idiot."
The accused man turned to his partner and was about to say something in return but one look at the shorter red-haired man's glare had changed his mind. "Fine, fine, danna. I'll stop. Yeah." the man wearing the ring of Sei muttered bitterly instead as he ceased waving. He brushed the large bundle of dirty blonde hair away that covered his entire left face as he removed his Mist hunter-nin mask, then brought a hand up to the strange machinery that was attached above his left eye and fiddled around with it to see if it were functional.
The woman was now wondering to herself if it were such a wise idea to summon for their help in the first place. She was a tad annoyed at how the youngest member of her little group could be so immature at times, and how insulting and uncooperative the other can be. True, she had to admit that the tall blond man was valuable because he was the one who kept the balance between their awkward group of three, whereas the shorter man could essentially function as a one-man army and was capable of wiping out a large group of foes within seconds. Still, if it weren't for the stupid rule that discouraged killing between members, she would've murdered that red-haired puppet bastard eons ago with or without the blond man's interference. Well, that will change. Eventually. But they didn't need to know that.
Finished with his adjustments, the strange blond man then turned to the woman with a large grin on his face. "So!" he clasped his hands once. "Tsunade-hime, what now?" he asked.
She should've expected something like that, coming from him. "Deidara…" the large woman disapprovingly eyed the playful man, her fists tightening.
"Oh come on." the man referred to as Deidara replied as he held his shoulders up in a shrug. "It's not like anyone's listening, do we really have to call each other by codenames, yeah? Don't you think so too?" he turned to the short red-haired man that stood to his immediate right. "Sasori-danna. Yeah."
The man called Sasori that carried the kanji of Gyoku said nothing, but shot a glare back at Deidara in a look that screamed 'don't-involve-me-in-this-conversation-or-I-will-kill-you' kind of attitude. After he was sure his intended message was noticed, he removed his own mask and glanced over at the seemingly forgotten body on the floor. "What are you going to do about that?" he indicated to the corpse with his chin.
"Do you want me to blow it up, yeah?" Deidara was quick to offer, a large smile plastered on his face, grinning like the fool he was. He was always the eager one, always wanting to show his capability with his explosives and the resulting explosion he called art.
Sasori huffed at his words yet again. "You don't have your clay here, dumbass." he commended.
Deidara again was about to say something back before his shoulders slumped, realizing the truth in his partner's words. "You're so mean, Sasori-danna!" he whined. He staggered back and crisscrossed his hands above his heart feigning hurt, going so far to even have a little tear in his eye. Sasori naturally ignored him.
Rolling her eyes at the exchange, Tsunade approached the fallen female hunter-nin and crouched down in front of her on her knees. Opening her mouth wide, Tsunade's teeth then morphed into sharp fangs, and in a flash bit down into the neck of the dead woman. A sick, slurping sound echoed quietly in the forest as she drank the blood, the victim's form then suddenly shriveling, becoming smaller and smaller as the life-blood was drained from its body. Soon, a large gasp sounded as Tsunade breathed in a fresh batch of air, her evil task done, flicking her tongue around her lips as she scooped up and savored the last drops of the red liquid. Tsunade had sucked the body dry; the white mask set down on the ground and the now-empty pile of clothes were the only remaining items it left behind. An impressed, whistling sound broke the tense silence. "Damn, no matter how many times I see that it never gets old… yeah."
Ignoring Deidara, Tsunade stood up, and closed her eyes as she felt the new blood flow through her veins. She shuddered a bit from the cold that washed over her as the transformation slowly took place: the shape of her face, her hair, and even her entire body structure changed bit by bit, until she was finally the perfect resemblance of the woman she had killed just moments ago. Reopening her eyes, she brought up one of her now slimmer hands, forming a half-seal. A cloud of smoke erupted around her, and when it cleared she was now wearing a Mist hunter-nin uniform that mirrored the one on the ground. She formed another different half-seal, and the clothes on the ground erupted into a sudden burst of flame. After the ball of fire had eaten away the last of the materials, the ashes scattered into the wind, all evidence of what had transpired earlier now gone.
"Now that the old hag seems to be done…" Sasori began, his words quickly catching the attention of the now very ticked off Tsunade. "Mind explaining why you have called us here using the Shouten? You gave us little notice and hardly any explanation after our last meeting was interrupted."
Tsunade resisted the urge to snap back at him using all of her remaining patience she still had left in her. Flicking the long blue strands of her transformed hair out of her face, she began her explanation. "This Mist hunter-nin team was the one that got a hold of the information that the millionaire Gatoh had hired Zabuza. This team was about to meet with the informer who is actually Gatoh himself to pry more information off him and to perhaps strike a deal with him."
"How'd you get this information? Yeah."
"One of Gatoh's men is my spy." she answered Deidara's question. "So I decided to eliminate the hunter-nin team and assume their identity, and meet with this Gatoh ourselves. I figured that we could plan our strategy from there."
"Without our consent?" asked Sasori. His eyebrows were creased, obviously annoyed at how Tsunade had acted on her own accord yet again. Still, he realized that this was quickly going nowhere if he kept on bickering with the old hag, so instead he turned his attention away and uncaringly started into the depths of the woods. "Never mind. Just lead us to the meeting place."
Thankful that Sasori had decided to smarten up, Tsunade nodded. Picking up the white hunter-nin mask on the ground, she put it back on her face. "Follow me." she said, and disappeared into the deep shadows of the forest. The remaining two mirrored her actions and reequipped their masks, following their female partner with mild haste.
In the same forest not so far away, one particular man was not in his best of moods. Him, the president of the famed Gatoh Shipping Company, him, the mastermind and don of the regional underworld had just been threatened and intimidated by one missing-nin. Wearing his black business suit and his trademark circular-framed sunglasses, his small frame was shaking in anger as he steadily walked through the forest along with his two bodyguards.
No one messes with Gatoh and gets away with it. No one.
After he was sure he walked a considerable distance away from the hideout of that missing-nin that called himself Zabuza, he called for his bodyguards. "Zouri! Waraji!" he lashed at them, still irritated. "How much longer?"
"Our scheduled rendezvous point is close, Gatoh-sama." the smaller of the two bodyguards replied. The samurai's name was Zouri. He was relatively new to the underground organization Gatoh ran, but the gray-haired youth with the thin red eyeliner was strong and paralleled his elder senior Waraji in terms of skill and strength with the long katana blade. Noting this, Gatoh had quickly acknowledged his strength with the deadly tool and made him into his personal bodyguard and aide. The rich man adored strength above all else, and the young man that wore the purple wool cap, the bulky jacket and the long sheath of his sword on his left waist had gained his respect and trust after defending his life at least half a dozen times.
His counterpart, Waraji, scoffed at partner's words but said nothing more. He had no love for this newcomer and only put up with him because he was evenly matched with the sword he carried within the sheath strapped to his right waist. The eye patch that covered his right eye was there to cover the wound Zouri had given him in a duel that started when Waraji accused him of being a suck-up to their boss that ultimately ended in a draw because their employer had ordered them to stop. Waraji was a true professional mercenary, and valued money above honor, and had wisely chosen to obey. However, although he would never admit it, Waraji was actually thankful that Gatoh interrupted the match; had it continued, he wasn't sure if he would still be standing here alive. Since then, the large man with random tattoos etched in his exposed skin was cautious around Zouri and watched his every move, not trusting him one bit, but wisely stayed out of his way lest he repeat the shame of their last duel.
The trio walked through the dark woods a little longer before Zouri came to a sudden halt in the middle of a small grass clearing. He took a small circular mirror from one of the many outer pockets of his jacket and held it high in the air, tilting it in an angle in such a way that reflected sunlight in a crooked bend. He flickered it around for a moment longer, signaling to their contacts that they were here.
"Gatoh I presume?" the unexpected voice suddenly came.
Caught unprepared, the businessman jumped a little in surprise. Zouri dropped the mirror and the hands of the two bodyguards immediately went for the hilts of their katanas but paused when they noticed the three figures sitting on top of the tree branches. White mask covered their faces and an unscathed insignia of the Hidden Mist were carved on top. Their contacts had finally arrived.
Gatoh barely managed to suppress his growl. "You're late." He made sure to watch his tongue. He didn't want to make enemies out of true professional ninjas such as hunter-nins.
"On the contrary, you're late, Mister Gatoh." the woman that had spoken promptly jumped off from the branch and landed silently in front of them. Not looking ruffled in the slightest from the rather long fall, she stared at him coldly. "Let's skip the pleasantries. We want information."
"Hmph. Very well." Gatoh took a small silver case out from the insides of his suit and pulled out a branded cigarette from the case and snapped his fingers. Zouri was by his side in an instant, taking out a lighter and setting the end of the cigarette aflame. Gatoh took a long drag from his cigarette. "I'm sure you're familiar with my… 'business'." he said, his voice cordial.
"We are aware." the woman confirmed.
"There are two things that are currently preventing me from having total dominance over the Country of Wave." he explained. "One of them," he held up one finger. "Is the bridge that the old fool named Tazuna is trying so desperately to build despite my generous 'offers'. The other," he held up another finger. "Is the small band of thieves this Zabuza fellow is leading."
The Mist-nin in front of him nodded, urging him to continue.
"We're not sure when they first settled down in this region." Gatoh said. "It was only about two months ago before my shipping routes started to suffer from routine theft and sabotage. The losses were minimal at first but over the weeks they started to mount and I was starting to lose men from the attacks and even had products originally destined for the Black Market stolen." he flicked the ashes at the end of his cigarette and ground them into the grass floor with the flat of his feet. "Oh, of course I tried to take care of the problem myself by sending out a few of my own men. Naturally, none of them came back alive. It was around this time I decided to contact this band of thieves and try to negotiate a probable solution."
Gatoh paused a bit as he took another long drag from his cigarette. He breathed out a large plume of white smoke before he sighed. "However… to me, negotiations was out of the question. Do you know why, Miss…?" he trailed off, unsure of what to call the hunter-nin.
"You may call me Ku."
Gatoh nodded. "Miss Ku, I am a businessman. I like it when things are run like clockwork, and nothing bothers me more than a thorn in the side that prevents my operations from running smoothly. The bridge is one such thorn, and this Zabuza that betrayed your village," he dragged the word out, making sure his displeasure was noted. "Is another. Even if I had negotiated a solution with his merry band of thieves I know how things will end – one way or another it will bite me up the ass and the result will not be pretty."
"A wise decision."
He dismissed that comment with a wave of his hand. "The fact of the matter is, Miss, I want him removed. Once I had learned of his identity, I immediately contacted the Hidden Mist, and they promised me they would send a team of hunters. I presume you three," he pointed his fingers at each and every single one of them. "Are it."
"That is correct." the female replied. "However, there is one thing we must confirm with you before we proceed with our mission, Mister Gatoh."
He was not prepared for this. "What is it?"
"If you did indeed think that negotiation was out of the question," her cold eyes glared from behind the mask. "Then why did you hire him?"
One of Gatoh's eyebrows rose, not expecting the question at all. He tried to play it off. "I guess there is no fooling a true shinobi. However, I was going to get to that."
He shivered at the cold tongue, but did his best to ignore it. "It was my way of killing two birds with one stone, Miss Ku." he explained. "I hired him to eliminate the bridge builder Tazuna – I explained this earlier already, but he was proving to be a hindrance. I promised Zabuza that we would not come after him and also split a small share of my profits if he decided to carry out this job for me. He agreed, and that meant it would at least put a stop to his sabotage operations for the time being. If he succeeded I would've eliminated one problem without having to lift a finger, whereas your three would sweep in to take care of the other." Gatoh waved his hands forward in a sweeping motion. "We all walk away happy. However…"
"However?" she questioned.
"Just a small problem." Gatoh admitted as he dropped his cigarette, his hands shoved deep into the pockets, his own personal way of easing discomfort. "Tazuna hired Leaf ninjas for protection. Zabuza's men ambushed them once already but they failed. I know some of Zabuza's men; they are pretty capable in their own right despite the insults I threw at him back in his hideout. I assume the old man hired some pretty capable ninjas from the Leaf." he added.
The woman didn't seem phased with it at all. "That is of no consequence. We will deal with it if they prove a hindrance." she answered as if it were something written in stone.
"Just hear me out. I'm sure the next bit I'm going to tell you will interest you." Gatoh said, earning a slight raise of a cheek from the hunter-nin, now obviously curious at what he was going to say. "Zabuza promised me he would take care of Tazuna himself. Alone. They should be somewhere past the border by now. Probably near the local fishing port to catch a small ferry to the mainland."
Gatoh tried to somehow determine the reaction the hunter-nin gave when he revealed the information that would no doubt work to their advantage if they wanted to succeed in their mission to kill Zabuza, but the shinobi in front of him remained unreadable and continued to be silent. Assuming that she had heard him, he continued. "Now, concerning this, I will like to ask you a favor…"
"That's where you're mistaken, Mister Gatoh." the female ninja interrupted him suddenly, her stare intensifying that sent chills down his spine. "Our orders are to simply eliminate Momochi Zabuza. We are not obligated to involve ourselves with your 'business'." she quickly turned around and aptly started to walk away. "This Mist is thankful for your cooperation. We will now take our leave."
"Just hear me out!" he raised his voice and stopped the woman. She half-turned and glared at the man who had clearly stepped out of line. Gatoh, truly frightened, took a step back and bumped into the chests of his taller bodyguard guarding his flank. "A-all I ask… is to not interfere until Zabuza kills Tazuna! I mean, if you have an opportunity, sure, kill him, but I would still like to ask you to wait until you're sure Zabuza is going to be defeated by the Leaf bodyguards Tazuna hired. If I have to, I will take care of Tazuna myself, but I'd like to avoid incident if I can. I mean, it can work to your advantage. One way or another I'm sure he'll exhaust himself!"
He saw the woman's eyes become narrow slits behind her mask, seemingly contemplating his words. When they returned to normal, she turned her back and resumed her walking. "We will consider it." she said simply before she jumped high into the air and landed next to her two teammates who were waiting for her on the branch. "Gyoku, Sei. Let's go." With that, they disappeared in a flurry of leaves and their presence vanished from the clearing completely.
The multimillionaire sighed. He always thought ninjas were always more troublesome to deal with compared with their status counterparts. Samurais were much more simple to handle, all it took was enough money and they would gladly throw their so-called honor away to dirty their hands for the silver and gold rewards. Nonetheless, Gatoh smiled a sly smile as he walked away from the clearing with his two bodyguards, a little satisfied how his little problems will soon be taken care of.
Gatoh would've never imagined that he was actually dealing with the very people that had already eliminated the real team that had been sent from the Mist, although they shared the same intentions to kill Zabuza albeit for different reasons. However, he also would've never imagined that the people he was trying to stab in the back had already foiled his plans as the figure hidden behind the shadows of the taller trees silently left the scene.
The large man was still sitting on the couch when the youngest of his men walked through the door of his hideout.
"Well?" he asked, batting an eyelash.
"Is it as you expected, Zabuza-san." the boy answered as he removed his mask, his black eyes and innocent face curved in a sad smile. "I followed them to a clearing where they held conference with three Mist hunter-nins. Gatoh has indeed sold us out."
"Hmph." the missing-nin huffed, not overly surprised at the revelation. "Perhaps we have stayed at one place too long."
"Zabuza-san." the eyebrowless man looked up and stared into the serious face of the boy, now with a determined look on his face. He saw the boy's grip tighten around the mask. "You only have to give me the word…"
"Killing him will do no good, Haku." he calmed the boy. Haku always became so emotional when it came to matters concerning him. It was something that Zabuza had, without shame, used to his advantage all these years, getting him out of tights spots and his near brushes with death itself. Without his help, he knew he wouldn't have survived this long. For the boy to go such lengths to protect his master, Zabuza was that valuable of a person to Haku. And although he will never admit it publicly, Haku was that valuable of a person for Zabuza as well. Although Haku was not his son by blood, Zabuza imagined their relationship something similar if he ever would've had such a thing called family.
He made a promise with his best friend, after all. And he intended to keep it.
Still, there was this immediate problem needed to take care of. Although he had told Haku that killing Gatoh would do more harm than good, he almost reconsidered his decision. There was no telling what the blabbermouth will do if he was still alive, and above all the man was rich, and if he wanted he was sure he could hire a platoon of mercenaries and ninjas after him. Although the former could be dealt with easily the latter would pose a small problem. Moving away and going into hiding would have been the best option especially now that all of his men besides this boy in front of him had ran away after he had told them there were most likely missing-nin after them. Cowards. He should've killed them but he let them go, although that would only increase the possibility of them selling him out not that it mattered anymore. Still, it was the only way he could pay them back for their faithful services they offered in the small three-month period they were together as they launched attacks on Gatoh's operations. For him and Haku to live, Zabuza was ready to do anything, even sinking to low depths such as thievery.
Hmph. The Devil of the Hidden Mist sure has gotten soft…
However, his men had been right in running away. Hunter-nins were much worse of a problem than Gatoh was or his band of mercenary samurai combined. They needed to be dealt with first, and fast. He had thought they learned their lesson after they had barely dealt with the previous batch all those years ago. For the Mist to send in a mere there-man team, they seemed to be highly underestimating their capabilities – although he had to admit they only got out of that mess because of something he really didn't want to remember. Nonetheless, the hunter-nins were still a dangerous element to consider.
"Haku," he broke the tense silence as he looked into the eyes of the boy and questioned him. "What's your estimates on the strengths of the hunters?"
"I only got a glance at them… but from the way they carried themselves about, I would think they are quite strong." Haku answered. "If I can manage an ambush, I can probably take out one of them, but I doubt I can take all three out at the same time, unless I…"
Haku didn't have to say anything more than that. Zabuza knew what he was about to say, and he didn't like it. In fact, neither of them liked to consider that option, and only reserved it as a last resort. He thought hard. Even if they could find a way to take out those hunter-nins, it would only stall the Mist temporarily as he was sure they could and would find them again. They had been under their radar for the longest time but when Gatoh blew their cover, the short-lived moment of peace forever ended and he had no doubt the Hidden Mist will be after them with renewed vigor.
There was only one option.
"Haku, do you know who the bridge builder hired for protection?"
Haku looked confused, but he answered the question nonetheless. "Leaf ninjas."
Village of the Hidden Leaf. Not too bad. Zabuza slowly raised himself from the couch much to the young boy's surprise and heaved the giant cleaver sword over his shoulder. "I'm going to meet them." he said simply before he straddled over to the exit of the small room.
"But Zabuza-san…!" the boy protested, startled. "There's no need to fight them, Gatoh has betrayed us!"
He put a hand on his Haku's shoulder, reassuring him. "Don't worry." he smiled behind the bandages that covered his mouth. "I have a plan." he hoisted and positioned the sword onto his back and crouched down low in front of his remaining subordinate. "Now, listen carefully…"
There were six people present in the meeting that took place in the small clearing just earlier. Tsunade and Gatoh did all the talking; Zouri and Waraji stayed behind their employer and were ready to protect him had the woman tried anything, whereas Deidara and Sasori sat on the tree branches observing the entire conversation from a little distance, the former excited and the latter totally bored. Of the six, only one of them had noticed Haku, the uninvited seventh, spy on them from beginning to end.
As he ran through the woods trailing behind the two to their latest destination to kill the protector of their 'target', he was grinning from ear to ear, and only the mask he wore for the whole Mist hunter-nin getup had prevented his teammates from seeing that sinister smile. Deidara, despite his childish antics and silly behavior, possessed observational skills and brains that easily surpassed his two comrades, a fact he kept well hidden from both of them. It was one of the reasons why he had survived this long in an organization full of S-rank criminals even he wasn't one himself (yet) and even had landed himself in one of the most important positions within.
For now, he kept quiet about the discovery. Letting Sasori or Tsunade know about the white-masked boy that spied on them during the entire meeting with Gatoh would ruin everything. He wanted this to be a surprise, and he was sure the boy would certainly make things interesting. He couldn't wait to see what Zabuza and company would try now they knew there were people after them. Deidara liked fun. And fun was what he was going to get. Nothing pleased him better than seeing someone's – in this case Tsunade's – plans blow up in their face.
You see, Deidara's explosions of art weren't just limited to physical ones.
He enjoyed mental ones too.
Wave Country wasn't exactly all what Sakura imagined it to be. Judging from the name, she had figured it was famous for its beaches and such but in reality it was just a shabby country that was formed as a result of a union between several small and poor island nations, and it turned out they were named after the tidal waves that occasionally assaulted their costal lines. Not a very cheerful name, that one. Then again, Fire Country was named after the famous forest fires that sprung up every summer season, so she wasn't really in the position to accuse the Wave inhabitants for naming their country after a natural disaster.
So far, the only thing that truly impressed her on the journey was when she had first set sight of the huge bridge that Tazuna was building. She was so mesmerized with it, she had shouted out rather loudly only to be quickly hushed by the man who was generous enough to risk his ferry career to give them a free ride to the mainland. Quickly biting her tongue, a little embarrassed for acting out of line, she remained quiet the rest of the trip.
The boat rocked gently as it carefully navigated through the waves, hidden in the shadows of the giant bridge to avoid detection. They avoided the use of the gasoline engine and were instead rowing through the water, employing stealth since it would be nothing but trouble if Gatoh's men had found them now. Kakashi told them that he preferred to avoid unnecessary confrontations if he could, and their client agreed – much to the chagrin of Sakura. She wanted an opportunity to prove herself, and they were taking one such opportunity away from her.
"We'll be there soon." the ferryman announced, his voice a hoarse whisper. "Tazuna, it looks like we've avoided detection so far, but… just in case, we'll take the route that has vegetation. It'll make it harder for them to spot us."
The elderly bridge builder nodded his appreciation. "Thanks."
The rowboat that carried the group entered a small archway, dimly lighted by the florescent lights above. The tunnel was dark but they soon erupted into light as the mist that had been haunting them the entire boat ride suddenly cleared, the full view of a small town coming into focus. Above the water half-submerged trees grew that provided them the necessary cover as they advanced through, and there wasn't that much land for them to see as most of the houses were built on top of wooden barges and walkways. The atmosphere was rather dark; Sakura didn't see a single person in sight and from the looks of things the houses were poorly built by patches of spare material that could've been found anywhere in the dumps. The boat approached one such house and unloaded the crew on the barge. "This is it for me." the ferryman said. "Good bye… and good luck."
"Yeah. Super thanks." Tazuna said, a little sad look in his eyes.
Wordlessly the ferryman yanked the previously unused engine to life and quickly departed from the scene. After seeing him off, Tazuna turned to the group and laughed uneasily. "Ok! I expect you guys to get me home safely!"
Kakashi sighed. "Yes, yes."
For a while, they continued to walk in total silence until Sakura found herself walking on hard ground again after they left the town borders. She kept on reminding to herself that her chances of redemption would come, glancing from time to time at Naruto and Sasuke besides her. She made a vow right there, swearing to herself that she wouldn't let them hog the spotlight any longer. It was then when she noticed that Sasuke to her right was staring ahead, some weird expression on his face. Before she could ask what was wrong with him, he suddenly reacted, a shuriken in his hand. "There!" he shouted as he threw it with deadly accuracy towards the bushes behind.
"…heh, just a rat." Sasuke said as he coolly brushed his bangs with the wave of his hand.
"Stop trying to act cool, you idiot! There is nothing there!" Sakura shouted as she took a satisfying whack at the idiotic macho's head.
"Ow!" he protested. "But Sakura, I swear, there's somebody after us!"
"Yeah right!" she rolled her eyes as she and Kakashi made their way over the bushes to retrieve the stray shuriken. She found it immediately, only to see a poor snow-white rabbit knocked unconscious from shock when the shuriken embedded itself on the trees centimeters away from its head. "Oh my god!" she shouted as she cradled the rabbit on her thighs. "Sasuke, look what you've done!"
Sasuke strolled over to her, his eyes wide and apologetic as Sakura continued to scold him for his idiotic behavior. She was about to launch into another string of insults before she heard her teacher shout suddenly. "Everybody GET DOWN!"
Realizing the urgency in his voice, Sakura immediately ducked down and pulled Sasuke face-first into the dirt floor with a violent and satisfying yank at his shirt. She felt a swirl of wind as she saw the gigantic sword spinning in the air overhead, narrowly missing all of their heads. She looked to her left to see Naruto tackling Tazuna down into the ground, evading danger. Had Kakashi not shouted out his warning, she was sure at least several of them would have lost their heads. Literally.
The large sword continued to fly a moment longer before the longer end embedded itself on the thick trunk of a nearby tree. In an instant, a figure materialized, standing on top of the hilt of the sword, his naked back turned. He was wearing a camouflage-style armguards and leg warmers and wore simple teal pants. Titled in an angle he wore the forehead protector of the Hidden Mist with a line carved through, bandages wrapped around his mouth in a style similar to Kakashi. "Well well well!" her teacher exclaimed as he slowly approached the ninja. "If it isn't the Hidden Mist's missing-nin Momochi Zabuza-kun!"
Sakura gulped her nervousness down as she reached down for a weapon in her pouch.This was her chance. She pulled one out and was ready to charge forward, but was stopped short by Kakashi. "Get back." he said.
"What? Why?" she protested.
"This one's on a whole other level." he answered. Sakura took a step back. She never saw her teacher this serious before. "It will be a little tough…" Kakashi said as his hand grabbed his own forehead protector that covered his left eye and moved it upwards a little. "…Unless I do this."
Unbeknownst to all of them, at that same precise moment three figures that carefully concealed their presences away from the group about to be engaged in battle arrived at the scene. The three members of the criminal organization named Akatsuki silently smirked as they sat back and watched the battle that would no doubt end in their favor one way or another.
The actors were in position. The stage was set.
There is no more turning back.
For this is the path I have chosen.
Tainted Demon Eyes
- Chapter Eight -
"Bridge Over Troubled Water"
So ends Chapter Eight.
This chapter was more of a preparation chapter for the AU setting of the Wave Country Arc more than anything. Lots of new characters and revelations, many behind the scenes looks to see what they are plotting, and how everything is slowly falling into place and put into action.
I'm sure some of my readers were surprised that Tsunade turned out to be the third member of the mysterious group first introduced in Chapter Six, although I'm pretty sure Sasori and Deidara was an easy guess. As for why she is in the Akatsuki and why she is evil… it will eventually be revealed all in due time. There is an actual plotline underneath that made her turn out the way she is in this AU. On a related note, writing evil Tsunade trying to keep (some) of her original personalities still intact was a real challenge to write, and it ended up looking like she's a completely different person entirely (weak laugh). I noticed Deidara is a little out of character as well, but many fanarts and fanfictions write him off as a rather playful character, so I went with that train of thought. Of the three Akatsuki, Sasori is the most in character.
One problem I've been having thus far is my difficulty of writing a good scene for Sasuke as he seems to be a little neglected within my storyline thus far. For the life of me, however, I can't find something good to write about him since at this point he's just a… well, a womanizer and a show-off with some average skills. I hope I can come up with some ideas soon… he is one of the three main characters after all… orz
I think that pretty much sums things up… oh, one more thing. If my readers haven't noticed yet, I update my profile semi-frequently updating the current status of my stories. So for those who are curious on where my current progress of stories stands, I suggest you check it out from time to time.
As usual, reviews, comments, criticism are most welcome! Even a small comment would make my day as a fanfiction writer. Thanks for reading!
- Nes Mikel
Japanese Word Translations in Chapter Eight (in order of appearance):
shinobi – literal translation is "those who stealth". Another word for ninjas.
ninja – a member of a class of 14th-century Japanese mercenary agents who were trained in the martial arts and hired for covert operations such as assassination and sabotage. Note that the ninja's in this fic is not based off real life, but based off the ninja's in "Naruto"
kunoichi – female ninjas. Literal translation is "nine is one." If one combines the three kanji's (one of the three types of the Japanese alphabet) that make up the word kunoichi, it becomes another kanji that means "woman".
jounin – expert-class ninjas on the ninja hierarchy
kanji – one of the three Japanese alphabet.
ku – lit trans: "air".
nin – shortened version of the word 'ninja'.
chakra – one of the seven centers of spiritual energy in the human body according to yoga philosophy. This is in real life, by the way. In "Naruto" they are the necessary spiritual energy you need to perform ninjutsu, genjutsu (illusion techniques), certain forms of taijutsu (physical combat techniques), and blood-limit techniques (inheritance techniques).
shouten no jutsu – "shape transfer technique". Requires a sacrifice. Overrides the sacrifice's control of body for another. The one who is then in control can control the body as if it was their own body until knocked unconscious or dies.
jutsu – technique
danna – a rather old-fashioned formal way of calling someone "mister".
hime – princess
sei - lit trans: "blue".
gyoku – lit trans: "jewel".
shouten – "shape transfer"
samurai – a professional warrior belonging to the Japanese feudal military aristocracy. In "Naruto", they function the same way, but some of them are mercenaries and bounty hunters that do not serve a lord.
katana – japanese-style swords
san – attached after a name, it is a way of calling people out of respect. It could mean "Mr", "Miss" or "Mrs".
shuriken – a small, star-shaped, quadruple-bladed throwing weapon used by ninjas. However, shuriken's shape and size can vary widely. The example I gave in this explanation is just the most common form of shrunken.
akatsuki – lit trans: "red moon". A mysterious criminal organization in "Nartuo".