XVIII: Fog of War
"Tsuru-senpai, I'm going first, so make sure you lock up."
Tsuru grunted a reply through the wooden stamp he held in his mouth. The door closed and the hunter was soon to be the only person within the headquarter. Since his encounter with the mountain of bodies, he had been assigned mountain loads of paperwork. As the leader of a rookie squad of hunters, it was his duty to finish their paperwork until they fully comprehended the entire process that could cause the greatest threat to a shinobi's career: Carpel tunnel.
Switching the brush for the stamp, Tsuru pounded a splotchy seal of authentication on the last piece of paper.
He leaned back in his chair to alleviate his spine. Now that he was finished…
Tsuru glanced at the clock. It was late, which meant that he could go about freely. And if he could go about freely, he could get some more information on the strange orders he had been receiving lately. He also wanted to know what business the owner of the second-largest trading company had with the leader of a military institution. It was not a common practice for hired mercenaries to become acquainted in a client's personal affairs.
Slipping a notebook out of his pocket, he flipped open to a dog-eared page.
He said that he would put his trust in his leader, but he could narrow this down by having faith that the Raikage was not doing anything illegal.
Tonight he would busy himself with a little… exclusive research.
"Sakura-chan is harder to see ever since she colored her hair."
"I'll take that as a compliment."
Sakura and Naruto landed gingerly on a concrete post that lined the headquarters of the Hidden Cloud. So far, so good. They would allow five minutes max for Sasuke-kun and Kakashi-sensei to take care of anyone left in the building. As far as they knew, they had not been detected. Ironically, Naruto's stealth had become one of his greatest assets over the years, though his excessive verbosity had not changed.
She and Naruto were going to go straight to the secretary's office and meet Sasuke-kun on the way for any urgent information that needed to be exchanged. Kakashi would continue to make rounds. After five minutes, radio contact would be established. If they found the information they were searching for, radio contact would cease and the two teams would separate and regroup back within the borders of the Fire Country.
If there was no information, then the team was doomed to a life of either an expatriate or fugitive for the rest of their days. Naruto declared that there was always another way out, but Sakura held to her doubts.
…Now she really had nothing to think about. The other things Sakura could think about was not something she would want swimming through her mind, but nevertheless, they surfaced.
Sakura found herself wondering if Kakashi was as transparent as she thought, making such a plan that left no chance for her to talk to her idiot of a leader for an indefinite amount of time.
She wondered if he had selected two-man teams because he did not want to be so close to her. Sensei was either too complicated or too blasé on human relationships, and Sakura had a hard time choosing which option fit the situation.
She also wondered why five minutes could last so much longer than an hour when one had complicated things to think through.
Sasuke would have liked to have Byakugan's ability to look through walls, but looking a few seconds into the future would suffice for the time being.
He and Kakashi had three more minutes to ensure some time for Sakura and Naruto to gather information and high-tail it out. The best worst case scenario was that the Raikage was still about and the most important part of their mission would be postponed indefinitely.
Kakashi jumped up an empty stairwell and confirmed it to be secure.
Godaime-sama made such a rash bet, he thought as he turned a corner and ran down another hallway. The battle between Naruto's notorious good luck and Hokage-sama's Legendary Loser status had begun a long time ago, and the outcome would be revealed tonight.
Tsuru held a small flashlight in his mouth as he shuffled through a stack of hanging files.
Other than a sudden influx of A and B missions assigned, there were no strange mission reports or papers from any governmental institution or official.
Damn, I wish Raikage-sama would get a better secretary, Tsuru cursed as he shifted the flashlight between his teeth. If he wasn't careful, he would end up with some unnecessary salivating.
No one really knew the exact reason Raikage-sama never considered firing his current secretary. He was irresponsible, unorganized, perverted and had been in office for the last fifteen years. Tsuru decided that the man was of some kind of service to the Raikage. Maybe the Raikage was a closet pervert and needed a scapegoat?
Tsuru stopped his shuffling and lingered on that theory.
It was plausible.
A pine branch nodded in an irregular wind. And nothing else.
In the midst of shuffling papers, Tsuru's hand twitched. Though he did not sense any kind of presence, there was a prickling in his spine that told him to run and hide.
He had no time to rearrange the papers. Urgency hit his senses so hard that he did not bother to do anything but jump in to a large cabinet and conceal his presence.
The door creaked open. Sakura and Naruto slipped in the room Sasuke had specified. Tsuru reached for a shuriken
"The Raikage should really fire his secretary," Naruto muttered as Sakura moved briskly toward the desk and immediately began to shuffle through the papers. From the closet, Tsuru tensed to make his move.
Naruto jerked upright, nearly making Tsuru reveal his presence. Sakura also stiffened as audio streamed from the headphones.
"Why is he coming here at this hour!"
Then why are you guys here at this hour, Tsuru retorted cynically in his mind. He played out the next several minutes in his mind. The two shinobi would be caught exiting the room. The Raikage, being one of the most powerful entities of a major Hidden Village, would finish them off with one semi-powerful jutsu. They really didn't seem to be too tough. Especially the spiky headed one. This would be a good chance to see some good Kage action.
The closet doors whipped open to snap Tsuru out of his reverie.
"What the—?" The spiky-headed ninja was cut off as he was pushed hastily into the closet and was followed by another body that crushed Tsuru to the side.
The ruckus ended abruptly as stealth was, unfortunately, a higher priority compared to comfort. Tsuru found his knee crushed to the back wall and someone's hair smashed in to his face as he heard the door open and saw the lights flicker from the crack between the hinges.
"Who the hell are you?" was the question that was throbbing so deafeningly in the air that Tsuru wondered how the Raikage could be oblivious of their presence. This, without doubt, the most unprofessional situation he had encountered since he once had to substitute a teammate's presence with a cardboard cut-out for several minutes back in his gennin days. While that situation had passed with surprisingly minimal negative results, Tsuru was not sure if he would be able to escape unscathed in his current situation.
Meanwhile, Sakura and Naruto were completely discombobulated due to the fact that they were sharing a refuge with an enemy.
Tsuru's attention eventually shifted to the world outside as two… no, three people entered. Well, not in the closet, but indoors (why was he correcting his own thoughts?).
He could recognize the Raikage and… and what's-his-name from that morning. Some important guy. Anyways, it was him, the Raikage, and someone with no shinobi training.
"You're contribution has been of great appreciatiation, Doro-san." Raikage's voice and the sound of an opening drawer were heard clearly through the thin barriers. There was a crinkling of a large envelope and a thud of paper landing on the wooden desk.
"You need to get a new secretary."
"Someday. Ah, here are the results." For several excruciating minutes, there was nothing but the sound of flipping papers Tsuru felt the intruder's hair ticking his nostrils as he breathed in. He wanted to sneeze.
"Ho, the Sharingan has more potential than I thought."
Tsuru stopped himself from snorting hair in surprise. Naruto's face tightened. Sakura felt something squeeze her chest. How many people were after the Sharingan?
Tsuru's chest constricted and he found his heart clinging desperately to his faith in Raikage-sama. Suddenly he didn't want to uncover anymore facts than he had found. He wanted to be content with digging in futility. He didn't want a reason to turn against the man he respected.
"And what of the experiment?"
"Stable. You've already seen the archetype this morning…" They were leaving. As the voices faded, Naruto and Sakura was ready to pounce on Tsuru who was preparing to bolt.
One. Two. Three.
Bam! Tsuru rammed the door open, catching Naruto and Sakura on his way and creating a knot of struggling bodies on the floor. Everything stopped when something cold and thin grazed Tsuru's throat.
Naruto sat on Tsuru. A crude, yet effective method to keep his hostage from escaping. Meanwhile, Sakura turned her radio back on.
"What happened? Did the Raikage do anything noteworthy?" Sakura raised an eyebrow. To her surprise, it was Kakashi's voice that streamed over the radio. Funny, she thought. Since when were we back on speaking terms?
"You're not Sasuke-kun."
"Oh? You've forgotten my voice already, honey?" Kakashi answered back in lighthearted innocence.
Sakura's hand twitched in mild irritation. As innocent as those bred by demon spawn, she thought. But to her credit, this was not the time to be hung up on trivial matters.
"He's after the Sharingan. And apparently there's someone helping him out. Other than that, we have someone else spying on the Raikage too."
Naruto patted Tsuru's head as he stuck the hunter mask he found on his head. "Oi, what's a hunter-nin doing here?"
"Uh?" Tsuru's voice was stuffy from the weight that flattened his chest to the floor. "I was doing research."
"Really?" Naruto pulled a book from Tsuru's pocket and flipped through the pages.
"H-hey!" Tsuru struggled to recover his book but was foiled by Naruto's foot plastering his skull back against the floor.
"Y'know, it's not good for you or the book if you chew on the binding," Naruto advised as he skimmed through the book. There were notes and some sketches scattered here and there about different missions and what read like thoughts and opinions on various situations. A name scrawled at the top of a dog-eared page caught Naruto's attention.
"Sakura-chan, come here for a sec." Sakura walked over from the desk and flashed a light to see the page.
"That's the town we stopped by after we left after that Thompson-guy died."
On the other side of the wire, Sasuke listened intently. Kakashi took it up on himself to be the main watchman.
Sakura glanced at Naruto, then to Tsuru. "So... you were there the night we were at that town?"
"…Yeah." Tsuru coughed. This guy was heavy. "If you get off me, I'll tell you why I'm shuffling around here."
Naruto looked at Sakura. She shrugged. He seemed pretty intent on gathering information, considering that he was also hiding in the Raikage's closet. Chances were that he wouldn't attack them until he had enough information to act, but whether they should believe this man's report or should even allow him to live were choices they had to gamble with.
Naruto watched as Tsuru pushed himself off the floor and asked, "So why were you in the closet?" Tsuru felt a kunai held firmly against the his throat and decided that attempting to lessen the volitile nature of his situation would backfire. This would be a game of balencing diplomacy with two-way interrogation techniques.
"First of all, who are you? Where are you from?"
Naruto glanced at Sakura, wondering how he should answer the question. Sakura stepped in to the intellectual battlefield.
"Why are there Konoha ninja in the Lightning country?"
"We wouldn't be here if the borders hadn't closed down so suddenly."
""Suddenly"?" Tsuru repeated. Sakura took note of Tsuru's confusion and continued on.
"While we were on a mission, the borders of the Lightning country suddenly closed down while there was still two weeks left in our mission contract." Planting her hands on her hips, Sakura looked up at Tsuru defiently.
"If the borders were to close, the Raikage would be informed of our mission as according to the agreement between the Leaf and Cloud fifteen years ago. With that, there would have been a notice at least a five days in advance. However..." Sakura leaned over to narrow her eyes at Tsuru. "We never heard a word about this from the Raikage's secretary, and it was from Ma'dam X from the Land of Anonimity that I found everything was all set and done post-facto."
Tossing her hair, Sakura went a few paces before firing another diplomatic bullet.
"With facts like that, it becomes obvious why we decided to investigate the Raikage."
Tsuru sighed. I looked like he pretty much owed these people what he had found.
"It had been about a month since I've been assigned to patrol the min-north-eastern coastal area. We heard that there were missing-nins who had murdered a lord and later massacred approximately thirty unidentified shinobi. When we went to inspect the damages, we were also given orders not to identify the shinobi."
"Wait!" Sakura's cut into Tsuru's story, "That's a breech of international and domestic policy!"
Sasuke's eyebrows knitted together as pieces began falling into place. Kakashi had also noticed a pattern with Tsuru's report.
"Anything else you've found before we came in? Like some kind of weapon or something..." Naruto trailed off in his attemp at subtlty.
Tsuru scratched his head. "Nothing really. There's been more A and B missions than usual starting from two weeks ago."
Sakura took a deep breath and exhaled with exasperation. So much for going back home.
"Looks like there really was nothi—"
"Wait." Sasuke's voice stopped all three shinobi as his command rang clearly through the air. His mind was churning with everything that had happened since the borders closed as he began to see a reason forming though the chaos of their haphazard mission.
"There's been more A and B missions than usual starting from two weeks ago."
"No identifying village. Could mean that a Kage's behind this." Sasuke's eyes swirled red as he reached into his pack and twirled about his Fuuma shuriken.
"Ho, the Sharingan has more potential than I thought."
Click. The last piece fell in to place.
"The Raikage killed thirty of his own shinobi to test the Sharingan."
…Bleach and college. That's what's keeping me busy. I blame the ichiruki LJ community. And also the fact that I couldn't figure out my password all this time.
Still on hiatus. Haven't read Naruto for the past month or so. Don't look forward to updates. It'll only hurt you.
If you didn't understand Sasuke and Kakashi's banter about Sasuke's girlfriend, I say that you're too young to read this fic.
Also: Tsuru Crane