Hana sat on the bridge railing, one of her dogs standing on its hind legs letting her scratch it behind the ears as the other sat, curled up at her feet while the last was at the edge of the bridge digging furiously for something or other.
Civilians came and went on their normal routine just a few yards away in the village road, with the occasional traveler making his way across the bridge after entering the gate and the even less occasional chuunin squad leaving the village for their missions or patrols.
She was beginning to wonder when exactly her partners for this mission would finally arrive when someone finally marched up to her. She could admit to being surprised at his identity.
"Hatake? The Hokage's sending you with me?"
Kakashi smiled tiling his head as he reached down to pet one of the Haimaru triplets that approached him. "Mah mah. I actually asked for the mission when I heard about it. It'll be good practice."
Hana raised an eyebrow, not really understanding the need for Hatake Kakashi of all people to practice on a C rank mission but his meaning became a bit more understandable when, someone else got to the bridge.
Kakashi turned and greeted the new arrival with a smile. "My bad habits are rubbing off on you at last."
"Oh shut up!" If it wasn't for the pink hair Hana wouldn't have recognized the young woman infront of her as Haruno Sakura.
Gone was the bright red dress, along with any traces of baby fat that may have been in her at the age of twelve. The girl was lean with wiry muscle and her hair was long enough to reach her waist, dressed from head to toe in black clothes that were not too dissimilar from Anbu gear sans the cloak and steel plates. Her Konoha headband was around her neck, the steel glinting at her throat like a gorget
"I actually have legitimate reasons for being late."
"I'd love to hear them."
"Why so you can use them yourself later?"
… "I admit to nothing."
"Soooo." She decided to cut in before this continued too far. It could be amusing but they had a job to do. "I'm thinking we should get underway right about now."
Sakura turned to her. Smiling "Hi. Your Kiba's sister. Hana right?"
She nodded, jumping off the railing. "Yup."
"Well now that we all know eachother..." Kakashi turned and marched toward the gate. "We should get moving like Hana said. We're wasting daylight."
The man paced the width of the room.
"Meet? She wants to meet!"
He was skeletal thin, deathly pale, his long hair thin and brittle more a corpse than a man while his nails were cracked and filthy. The heavy silken robes and finery did nothing to hide the unpleasantness of his features.
"Some kind of trick. It has to be!" He muttered to himself, biting at his already horrid nails. "Get me out, expose me to their assassins, attack me, kill me. Fire sides with Earth now-"
The muttering man turned so fast he nearly tripped over his own feet. "Mokou! Mokou have you heard!?" He shouted walking up to the new arrival, a hunched back figure with his face hiding behind a masquerade ball mask, its smiling hollow cherubic face pretending to pass itself as a child.
"Mokou!" The lord quailed his hands digging harshly into the hunchback's shoulders. "Mokou they're trying to kill us all now!"
"We don't know that my lord." 'Mokou' said placating, as though speaking to a child as he reached up to remove the Kumo Daimio's fingers from his shoulders. "They're just requesting that we attend a summit meeting."
"No, no no Mokou! You don't see as I see! You don't see the traps." The white clad lord shouted gesturing magnanimously. "They want to kill me, they want to kill Kumo! They want to kill-"
"You are ever so wise my lord." The hunchback said, blithely interrupting the raving man before he could really get started. "But we must not show that we are weak or frightened. Allow me to send someone in your stead."
"Yes-Yes. Send someone. Someone strong, powerful. That can kill these treacherous vermin when they think us vulnerable and attack! Call in my Samurai, my ninja and my armies. We will be ready to destroy Konoha and Iwa both.
Mokou bowed. "My lord is ever wise. It shall be as you command."
Tactfully, the hunchback figure bowed out, leaving the cracking Kumo Daimio to his own personal ravings.
Who woulda thought Monk robes were so comfortable?
I mean really. It was ridiculous! There were so many folds of cloth that it seemed like this should be blisteringly hot, heavy and stifling but the white robes felt as smooth as silk. He was starting to think the seamstress that made this was a seal master in hiding who decided to dedicate her or maybe even his life to making perfect, comfortable clothing.
The robe itself was white, almost criminally so. People who lived up on a mountain shouldn't have clothes this white. He almost felt bad for how dirty it would get with him as its owner wandering around. It'd be gray soon...
But for now it was white, the clothes he wore beneath it were simple gray and black, nothing fancy which suited him just fine. He'd strapped his kunai pouch onto his hip, hooked his weapon onto his belt tied a handful of shuriken under his sleeves and was currently making his way north east.
North west was Iwa, where he wouldn't go anywhere near considering Cyrus' hunter nins were Iwa nin and he ran the risk of being recognized; South was Konoha and South west was Suna, two places where he'd be found at a glance.
So he was heading north east to Kumo.
He'd heard stirrings of some bad business happening up there between Kumo and Iwa, but hopefully he could just pass on through while either waiting for Cyrus or for the thirty days to be up for him to contact that Kushina woman.
The only thing that sort of had him worried was the fact that he would have to pass through Oto territory. Though he figured it was such a small chance that Orochimaru, Kabuto or Sasuke for that matter would just...trip across his path, and they were the only people he knew of Oto that could recognize him.
So the risk should be miniscule really.
But seriously was this stuff made of silk and no one told him?
The fire crackled in its pit, the flames dancing merrily as smoke drifted up into the sky.
Hana came back into the camp with some dead hares, one of the triplets had his muzzle coated with drying blood, his brother and sister perked up at the sight of them while Kakashi looked up from where he was cutting up some vegetables for the stew. "Good job, leave them there, I'll start skinning them in a bit."
Hana nodded, setting down her kills beside him before walking over and sitting down by a tree stump scratching at one of her dogs behind the ears.
"Perimeter traps are set." Sakura announced as she joined them by the time Kakashi half way through skinning the second rabbit.
The copy cat nodded absentmindedly.
Finally Hana decided to broach the curiosity that had been nagging her for a while. "So Kakashi, call me nosy but why drag your student out to a mission for practice. Practice is for the training grounds, not-"
"live missions." He smiled. "I was a chuunin too ya know? I know the mantra."
Hana nodded, then looked to Sakura as the pinkette sat. "No offense by the way."
"Truth be told, Sakura's already proven herself rather apt at combat for the last few missions we've been on. Now we're testing her ability to remain undetected. Its kinda hard to test that against me for obvious reasons.
"You could have always asked a chuunin or two to help you out."
"Not the same. Stealth is the one aspect of our job training cant really cover. The environment of the training grounds is too familiar and too controlled for a skill that can be broken by just putting your foot down in the wrong spot."
Hana shruged. A fair point. Though she did think doing it on a mission was a tad too risky considering that missions tended to be, you know, somewhat important and it going to hell could mean people getting hurt or killed or even the village loosing something a lot more valuable than a single life, or even a team of lives.
Then again, it was a C rank what were the chances too much would go wrong on with Sharingan no Kakashi on point?
"They have four."
The snake sannin rubbed the bridge of his nose, sighing in aggravation. "Four out of nine..." He muttered to himself.
"And Pein will be zeroing in on the Nibi and the Sanbi and the Rokubi soon enough. The only ones currently out of our reach are the Hachibi, and of course the Kyuubi."
Orochimaru pulled his gaze towards Itachi's projected image. "Can you stall them further? What's Kushina doing?"
"Kisame and I have done all we can without appearing suspicious or inept which is just as bad. Kushina has sent out warnings to the remaining bijuu and their villages, but whether those were heeded or not has yet to be seen. Her resources are primarily being spent in the north, looking at the brewing war between Kumo and Iwa."
Orochimaru worked his jaw, thinking, the cogs slowly turning in his mind. "I am near Oto's southern border. Which of the three Jinchuuriki is closest to me?"
"The Nibi, our reports suggest however that she is neither trusting nor overly easy to take down. She is somewhat overconfident however. That's why Pein will be sending the immortals after her."
"Hoping Hidan can cut her before she gets serious I assume." He mused before shrugging. "I'll have to send agents up there to try and assist her if I don't go myself."
"Wouldn't that be far too conspicuous? It would put you right in the cross hairs of Akatsuki, moreso than what you are already. Not to mention Kumo will take issue with you stealing their Bijuu."
"Four out of nine is acceptable, seven out of nine isn't, especially when one is missing and the last can be overwhelmed by all of you going after him at once if he proves too obtuse. Pein would rather keep himself below the notice of the villages and with good reason. The moment he tips his hand like that is the moment he stands in the crosshairs of the entire ninja world and it wont be long after he's killed because of it."
The door to the chamber suddenly opened, revealing Kabuto, his silvery white hair framing his face. "Orochimaru-sama." He greeted adjusting his glasses.
"Speak." The snake hissed as Itachi's immage faded to nothing.
"Our border guards have reported a breach sir."
"And they didn't deal with it?" The sannin snarled. The ineptness of people was astounding.
"No sir. I don't believe they would have been able to do so. Considering that among the infiltrators is Hatake Kakashi."
That made the sannin pause then he slowly turned around to stare at his subordinate.
Kumo and Iwa were sending small probing teams at eachother. Oto was dead in the middle of that no-mans-land. Tsunade no doubt wanted to know how far things had escalated before launching that summit. If they were still at the point of simple jeers and faints or if skirmishes had already broken out.
A chuunin squad was understandable...
That wasn't understandable. Tsunade was sending him here to say something. What that message was he couldn't say.
But he certainly had a response...
Tsunade might be rather wroth if she got one of her best jounin back half dead, but Oto was his territory, and though a 'truce' of sorts had been reached, she should learn not to take...liberties.
He wouldn't kill the man. But he would teach him and Tsunade not to step back into Oto territory uninvited, and unwanted; again.
Snakes were, after all, territorial creatures by their very nature.
Well this chapter is short as hell. But the next chapter will be much much bigger. Other than the fight, Naruto, finally meets Kakashi and Sakura again after all this time, and maybe even Sasuke too ;p