Chapter 3: Nocturnal Forest: Forbidden Sleep and the Lotus Ninja

The next morning Team 7 met at the gates to Konoha. Kakashi was, of course, late and had to go through the daily ritual of Naruto and Sakura shouting at him. Naruto was more energetic than usual, which was saying a lot. Sakura kept brushing her long pink hair and looking to Sasuke for his attention (which he never gave...). Kakashi finished making the preparations and came back to the gates. "Everyone ready?" he asked. They all nodded and the group started on their way.

Ten-Ten collapsed to the ground in exhaustion. Ever since Gai-sensei and Lee had been in the hospital from their injuries, Neji had been training with her twice as hard.

"Come on, Ten-Ten," he said, "Don't tell me you've had enough already?"

Ten-Ten frowned and tried to keep herself from exploding. "We've been training from dawn to dusk for the past three days! Don't give me that! I've barely had any sleep!" she shouted.

Neji didn't take too kindly to that. His brows furrowed and his white eyes narrowed with contempt.

"Oh man! He's mad!" Ten-Ten screamed in her head. Just then, Ino and Shikamaru walked up. Ten-Ten was so relieved she thought she might pass out.

"What's up, guys?" Ten-Ten asked. Shikamaru crossed his arms while saying something about the whole thing being a drag while Ino glared at him.

Ino turned to her and said, "I heard Naruto, Sasuke, and Sakura left on a high-level mission."

This sparked Neji's interest. He nodded for her to go on. "They left this morning. I heard that they are going to the Hidden Cloud Village," Ino continued. The others were obviously impressed.

"How'd you find out?" asked Ten-Ten.

Ino sighed. "Sakura told me, of course," she said. Ten-Ten had forgotten that they had become better friends after the Chuunin Exam.

"Don't feel too left out," Ino said, "After all, I'm here because we've been assigned a mission too."

Kakashi and Team 7 continued their journey north and slightly east. After half a day, they came to the edge of a forest. A sign was crudely shoved into the ground. Sakura walked over to it and began to read it.

If above distraction your mind may be, keep your rest away from thee.

If discipline be what you lack, be prepared for sleep to attack.

Sakura turned to Kakashi. "Kakashi-sensei, what does it mean?" she asked.

Kakashi took a good look at the sign and the said, "Well, Sakura, it seems to be a warning. From what I've heard, sleep is forbidden in these woods. Those who do never leave the forest alive. Or, so I've heard."

Naruto was silent for a moment, the shouted, "Well I'm Naruto Uzumaki! I can go without a little sleep 'cuz I'm going to be Hokage! Believe it!"

Sasuke frowned. "What a loser," he mumbled. Kakashi ushered them in with a final warning about not sleeping.

A figure in a pink kimono jumped from tree to tree, searching for someone. She stopped when she saw another figure, clothed in black. "We have company," the pink figure said. The black one smiled and said, "You know what to do."

Kakashi and the rest of the team made their way through the forest. Naruto was getting impatient to get through the forest, Sakura was getting impatient with Naruto, and Sasuke was getting impatient with both of them. Kakashi was silent, and kept thinking of the mission before them. Something wasn't right. He looked back at the others and then made a quick peek at his backpack. Whatever was going on, he'd know by nightfall...

Sakura broke the tension suddenly. She rushed up to a group of unusual looking pink flowers. "How beautiful!" she exclaimed.

Naruto ran up and shouted, "Let me see!" Naruto jostled Sakura, who swung around and upset the flowers, sending their pollen into the air. It was an unusual black color, which made Kakashi suspicious. He ushered the other two away from the flowers and tried to get Sakura to stop clubbing Naruto.

The sun started to go down in the horizon, and the sky turned into a magnificent collage of reds and purples. Everyone thought it was quite lovely, especially Sakura. She sighed with satisfaction. And then it happened:

She yawned.

"Oh! That's strange!" she said, "I'm sure I'm not tired. Maybe I just need to sit down a minute." She promptly sat down in the middle of the path and began to close her eyes. Kakashi rushed over and gently shook her. She nodded, and then quietly said, "I'm not sleeping. Just resting my eyelids..." Then Kakashi heard a yawn behind him Naruto had sunk to the ground and looked liked he was fighting sleep, but losing.

Sasuke smirked and said," Sleeping on the job, eh Naruto?"

Naruto jumped up with a start. "No way! I'm Naruto Uzumaki and I can overcome anything. Believe it! But-" and here he sank back down "Everyone needs a breather."

Kakashi was alarmed and how quickly Sakura and Naruto seemed to be fading. Kakashi decided that if their bodies were winning the battle, he would have to conquer their minds. "Sakura, what will Sasuke think if you fall asleep?" Kakashi whispered to her. Then he turned to Naruto. "And Naruto, are you really going to let Sasuke win and show that he has better discipline?" The trick worked and the two leapt to their feet with new determination. "Good," Kakashi sighed.

The pink figure appeared next to the black one. "It seems they have overcome the effects of the flower," she said. The black figure turned and responded," It seems then that we will have to use force."

Kakashi noted that, although struggling slightly, the squad was back on its feet. He still couldn't help but wonder what triggered it. He and Sasuke had only begun to feel fatigued, while the effect came on Naruto and Sakura long before. There had to be something that triggered the effect, but what? Then it clicked.

"The flower's pollen," he mumbled out loud.

The other three turned to him. "What do you mean, Kakashi-sensei?" asked Sasuke. Kakashi eyes darted back and forth before resting on his students.

"The flower's pollen causes the sleepiness. That's why Sakura and Naruto, who ingested large amounts of pollen due to the accident, became drowsy long before Sasuke and I did, because the pollen concentration in the air is significantly less."

A blur of pink and black shot past them, the pink one landing about twenty feet behind Kakashi and the black one in the trees above the pink figure. The woman in the pink kimono spoke, an eerie sweetness to her voice. "Oh, we are very clever, aren't we? Yes, you figured it all out. Or did you? Does something seem to be missing?" Kakashi didn't seem as surprised as the rest of his group. "I was expecting someone," he said. The ninja in the pink kimono smirked and said," Were you? But I'm sure you never expected, the Lotus Ninja!" Her lips curled into a sickeningly sweet smile. She stepped forward, and it seemed that no one in the group could resist her voice. "I am sure you are all very tired. Get some rest. Sleep will make it all better. Sleep is peace. It is eternal." The three chunin had their eyes almost completely shut. Only Kakashi seemed to muster a fight. She cooed in his ear more than anyone else. "Come now, Kakashi," she whispered. "Let your mind slip into the shadows of sleep where desires come alive."

Oops. Wrong words.

Kakashi's eyes came alive like fire. Before she even realized what was going on, the pink Lotus Ninja felt herself lifted off her feet and met the hard surface of a nearby tree. The others felt a strange sense of awakeness.

"Now I get it," said Kakashi, "you lull victims to sleep with the bewitching of your voice, and then your partner finishes them off."

The female Lotus Ninja raised herself up and smirked. "Very good, Kakashi. I represent the alluring powers of the lotus flower, while he-" and here she motioned to the black Lotus Ninja "represents the ultimate consequences that the pleasure brings." Then she breathed out. It was sweet. Too sweet. Stifling. Poisonous. The three chuunin sank to the ground. Even Kakashi's mind felt blank as his knees buckled beneath him. He had to do something. And fast. His hand slowly moved to his kunai pack. He fought as hard as he could and swiftly brought the kunai out and sliced at the pink Lotus Ninja. It cut across her neck, and blood began to trickle down. She clutched at her neck in pain, releasing Kakashi and the others from her sleeping jutsu.

Sasuke leaped to his feet and began performing handsigns. He then shouted, "Fire Style: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!" He began shooting fireballs from his mouth which hit all around the pink Lotus Ninja. She struggled to get up, but sank to the ground.

Naruto sighed and said, "Well, glad that's over." Just then a black blur leapt from the trees and flew at Naruto.

"Get down, idiot!" Sasuke yelled. Naruto was too stunned to react. Sasuke jumped and pushed him down, receiving a slice down his back.

"Sasuke!" Sakura screamed. She ran over to help him, while the black Lotus Ninja quickly rebounded and flew back at Sakura. Kakashi kicked him in midair and sent him crashing to the ground. Kakashi stepped in front of his students to protect them. The black Lotus Ninja slowly rose up with his back to them.

"That's strange," thought Kakashi, "Doesn't he worry that we'll attack him while his back is turned?" Then he noticed it. The black Lotus Ninja was performing a handsign.

"Get on guard! He's performing a jutsu!" Kakshi yelled back to his students.

The black Lotus Ninja turned and said, "Forbidden Art: Death Lotus Jutsu!" He opened his mouth and a black fog shot out at Kakashi. Naruto and Sakura helped Sasuke and jumped up into the trees. Kakashi was about to follow when he felt hands grab him from behind. The pink Lotus Ninja had grabbed him. The black fog moved alarmingly fast towards him. Kakashi knew he only had one chance at this. He performed an escape jutsu to slip out of her grip and then leapt behind her. The black fog hit her and she screamed out, while her body seemed to wither away.

Kakashi quickly performed another jutsu and said, "Ninja Art: Mirror Rebound Jutsu!" The black fog was reflected back and hit the black Lotus Ninja, who cried out in pain before withering away. Kakashi looked around and saw that the lotus flowers also withered away to nothing. Kakashi steadied himself. Defeating those two was no easy feat. The other three ninja leapt down and joined their squad leader.

"Kakashi-sensei! That was amazing!" said Sakura. Naruto nodded in astonishment. He managed a weak smile.

"Come on," said Kakashi, "Let's make camp and spend the night so that we can recover." The other looked at each other.

"Uh, Kakashi-sensei? I though we couldn't sleep in this forest."

Kakashi shook his head. "You see, Naruto. It wasn't the flowers that killed you, it was those ninja. The pollen of the flowers lulled travelers to sleep while those two ninja finished them off in their sleep."

Sakura shuddered. "How awful," she thought.

That night, while the other three were sleeping, Kakashi slipped open his pack and drew out a scroll.

"Good thing I performed a replication jutsu of the scroll at Tsunade's," thought Kakashi. He opened the scroll and his eyes became wide with shock.

"No, no way," he whispered.

The next morning, everyone was refreshed and ready to start off. Sasuke was unusually quiet.

"Are you all right, Sasuke?" asked Sakura. He ignored her, but winced unintentionally. Sakura concluded that he was in pain.

"Let me help, Sasuke," she said. He didn't say anything, but nodded that it was okay.

She performed some hand signs and whispered, "Ninja Art: Mystic Palm Jutsu." She laid her hands and his back and both her hands and his back glowed a soft blue. When she had finished, the large cut was gone.

"T-thanks," he managed to say. Sakura smiled in satisfaction.

"That's a very special gift, Sakura. Keep working on it," said Kakashi. She smiled and nodded. She finally felt important.

Whew! That was a long chapter! I finally overcame my short chapter disability! Yaay!