The Bloody Mist

Chapter 10: Women and Warfare

Disclaimer: Don't own Naruto, but I do own all my 5 OC's that compromise the most of the Seven Swordsman, along with the swords they use. Don't go stealing 'em, now!

AN: Wow, been way too long since I had a decent update on this story. I'm not really counting the minichapter I put out a few months back, since that wasn't much. But I think it's time to get this ball rolling once more. Read and enjoy, but don't forget to review!

Zabuza crouched on the ground in front of the charred remains of his doppelganger, his hand limply holding his great sword. Staring hard at what was left of his opponent, which wasn't much more than ash, he spat some blood out of his mouth in barely suppressed fury. Wasting his time in such a manner; this was hardly his idea of a homecoming. And it was all because that bitch just wouldn't leave him alone. Kami, he was gonna give her the thrashing of a lifetime.

Damn Minako, and her Genjutsu.

As he thought that, the world about him began to snap, cracks running through the sky and the earth. Then the Genjutsu broke apart, tearing the illusion away from reality. Zabuza looked down at his wounds and then at where his opponent had lain, seeing that both had vanished without a trace. It was exactly as he suspected, and the confirmation of that only served to redouble his anger. He'd slaughter that bitch if ever he managed to get his hands on her.

Standing to his feet, he looked for Kisame, who was standing a few yards to his right. His friend was obviously free from the Genjutsu as well, and was watching Zabuza with an air of interest, as if wondering what the Jounin would do next. The answer to that was simple; find that conniving, annoying bitch and teach her a lesson or two in manners. Hefting Kubikiri Houcho with his usual ease, Zabuza placed her carefully in the harness on her back and strode over to Kisame, wishing that he was still wearing his shinobi gear. Unfortunately, Haku and Naruto had all of his equipment, and they were with Minako, according to Kisame. Speaking of which...

"You spotted her position?" Kisame nodded and glanced at a small grove of trees before turning his attention back to Zabuza.

"Over there. But, look, Zabuza, don't go overboard on her. For one thing, she's probably just messing with you, just like you've done with the others from time to time." Zabuza growled under his breath, forcing himself to admit that Kisame had a valid point. His fishy comrade continued, saying "And secondly... not that I'm one to pass up a fight, but Hisan is tense these days, and if he heard about a serious fight between two members of the Seven Swordsmen..." he trailed off, but Zabuza knew what he was implying.

"... the shit would hit the fan. I know, Kisame, but that doesn't change the fact that she insists on pissing me off, and one of these days..."

"Yeah, yeah, I get ya. Just not today, okay? It's been a bad day for me, other than the fact that you're back, and I don't feel like dealing with that shit right now. Let's just go meet up with your brats, alright? They're probably worried sick about their poor lil' Zabu-chan." Zabuza grunted in reply, pointedly ignoring Kisame's pathetic attempt at humor, and the two shinobi turned and strolled nonchalantly over to where Kisame claimed Minako to be, Zabuza trying his hardest to stay on top of his anger.

Just before they reached the small cluster of trees, there was a rustle of leaves in the wind, and Minako appeared, Haku and Naruto in tow. The two kids ran forward to check on Zabuza, Naruto hesitating a bit when he saw Kisame. He had grown accustomed to being around strong shinobi, since he had been training with Zabuza, but the chakra he felt rolling in waves off of this Jounin was immense! It made him feel like he was looking at a relaxing predator, one who hadn't attacked him yet merely because he just didn't feel like doing so. It was definitely not a comforting feeling.

"Zabuza-san, are you hurt?" asked Haku, her concern clearly evident. He shook his head and patted her roughly.

"Hardly. It would take more than some Konoha trash to take me on. You two made it okay, I assume?"

"Of course, No-brows!" grinned Naruto, dropping a large bag to the ground, metal clinking from inside of it. "Got your gear right here, too." Zabuza gave in exhasperated sigh; if he wasn't so tired, he'd have taught the brat a harsh lesson for treating his gear so roughly. Besides, there were bigger fish to fry. He turned a glare towards Minako, treating Minako to a healthy dose of bloodlust. She merely smirked and placed her hands on her hips in a challenging pose. Zabuza growled under his breath before running his eye along her frame.

She had changed her look during the month or two he'd been gone. Her Mist headband was no longer hanging loose about her neck, but had been shifted to its proper position on her smooth forehead, the black band contrasting with her crimson locks. She wore the usual Jounin flak jacket, but had sewn several pockets along the sleeves, and Zabuza was willing to bet that the inside was full of false linings and handy compartments she could stash useful weapons. It was left open in the front, revealing the dark blue T-shirt she wore underneath, mesh underarmor barely visible behind it. Her pants were colored a dark green and bore several cargo pockets as well, and she wore them low on her waist. She had kept her old belt, which had any number of scrolls and pouches attached to it, and she wore combat boots instead of the customary shinobi open-toed sandals. But, most importantly, he saw a large cloth-wrapped bundle on her back, and he knew instinctively exactly what it was. She saw Zabuza eyeing her and she bared her teeth, her green eyes flashing.

"What the hell do you think you're looking at, you pervert?" she snarled, a kunai appearing in her right hand. Zabuza reached for a kunai of his own, but pulled his hand back slowly, trying to control himself. Of course, what really made the difference was the fact that all his kunai were still in the bag lying at his feet. That little fact might have had something to do with it.

Instead, he replied her gesture with a snarl of his own. "Me, a pervert? I don't think so. Nothing there to look at, anyways." That was totally untrue, since she was easily a D-cup, but he knew that she was sensitive about her figure, and thus had always knew how to push her buttons.

As always, it worked.

"... the fuck did you say?!" she growled at him, gritting her teeth.

"Oh, you heard me. Or are those big ears only for show?" She had no reply for that, too busy glaring at him. And he returned her stare, matching it with one of his own. As the sparks flew between the two, Naruto edged over to Kisame.

"Um, hey," he whispered at Kisame, who gave him an amused look, "why are they fighting?" Kisame shrugged.

"They always do that, kid. They've got this kinda hate-hate relationship. They're both a pain in my ass, but there ain't shit I can do about that. Just think of them as one of those old married couples and ignore 'em." Unfortunately for Kisame, that last comment hadn't been completely ignored. Minako colored slightly and drew back, transferring her glare to Kisame, staring daggers at the grinning Jounin. Zabuza, his smirk poorly concealed, merely turned away from his two comrades and knelt next to the sack of his gear, fishing out the bandages that he always wore. As he wrapped them about his face, he beckoned Naruto over to him with a free hand.

Naruto hurried to his side, but his steps slowed a little as he heard a sudden caution from the Kyuubi. "Be cautious, boy. Though these humans may seem normal, I sense their power lurking just beyond sight. You know of Zabuza's strength already, do you not?" Naruto frowned a little, coming to a stop by Zabuza's side. "Then you should understand the seriousness of the situation when I tell you that the female, though not as powerful as Zabuza in sheer strength, possesses a demonic quality to her aura that far surpasses his own. And I believe you have already sensed the incredible amount of chakra their other companion has at his disposal. Tread cautiously, or you will soon be dead..." Naruto shivered slightly, suddenly realizing the incredible danger he was in. Any one of these three Jounin could crush him like an ant, and it was only because of his affiliation with Zabuza that he was not already a smear of blood on the grass.

If Zabuza noticed his student's nervousness, he didn't show it, and he shot Naruto a look of caution and whispered softly to him, "Naruto, until I give you instructions otherwise, you are to remain in your human form. Understand?" Naruto, far too cowed to argue, nodded weakly, and Zabuza returned his focus to the task of outfitting himself once more, dismissing the blonde completely. But Naruto didn't even have the chance to blink before he felt a large hand settle itself on his shoulder.

"Zabuza, I'll be taking the brats to the rendezvous point," spoke Kisame over Naruto's head. "Meet us there when you're ready." Zabuza nodded slightly, and Naruto felt the older shinobi turn him about forcibly. "Alright, kiddo, you're with me. You too, girl." Kisame propelled Naruto forward at a brisk pace, Haku trailing slightly behind them. Soon, the clearing was empty, save for Zabuza, who was pulling his various weapons and tools out of the hemp sack, and Minako, who was glaring at him with a rather strange look on her face.

"Something you need?" asked Zabuza dryly, after a long moment of tense silence. Minako frowned and cruched on the ground, toying with the bandage-wrapped object on her back.

"You tell me," she answered enigmatically, her voice even stranger than her look. He glanced up at her and noticed that she had a small frown on her face. Almost as if she was angry. Or worried about him in some way. He lifted an eyebrow at the thought and then chuckled wryly under his breath. That couldn't be it.

"Heh, You're as stubborn and annoying as always, it seems." He crouched to the ground and picked up his custom-made pants, which possessed any number of useful pockets and holsters. He looked at her, smirking widely. "Mind turning around?" She glared at him, crossing her arms.

"Like I'd really expose my back to an asshole like you."

He sighed softly and stood up, holding his pants loosely in his hands. "Well, I suppose it doesn't matter much to me. Didn't think you were here for a show, but feel free to watch, if that's what you want." He tossed his pants over his shoulder and reached down to his shorts, making a show of unbuttoning them. She colored and turned away, tossing her hair behind her head.

"You wish, dumbass. Nothing there to see, anyways." she retorted, using his own remark against him. He chuckled again and started to change into his shinobi garb, eyeing her as he did so. Why was she acting so strange? If he didn't know better, he'd say she was attracted to him on some level. But that could hardly be the case, since her animosity towards him was widely known. Admittedly, he was a looker, although he was hard pressed to find a woman that didn't piss her pants at the sight of him, but it wasn't like he was even looking for a relationship anyways. He was far too busy training himself and Haku, not to mention the fact that Naruto would now double his workload at a stroke.

He sighed and zipped up his pants, reaching down for the mesh underarmor he wore beneath his shirt. It was pointless to even think about; he was merely misreading her, as he so often did. Then again, he'd like to meet the man who could read the ever unpredictable Takitetsu Minako, Trickster of the Deceiving Mist. Actually... He folded his arms and stared hard at her, wrinkling his brow.

"Minako... Why are you here?"

She scoffed at him and tossed her hair over her shoulder, her back still turned. "Why shouldn't I be, you prick? You saying I can't do whatever I want?"

"Hardly. It's just surprising that you would show up to meet me with Kisame. The message I sent was addressed to him. Now, why would you tag along?"

The muscles in her shoulders tensed noticably. "I was bored. What, do I need your permission to haul your fat ass back to the village?"

"Not really, but I'd prefer that you check with me before deciding to use me as a test subject for your sadistic Genjutsu." He heard her snicker, but ignored it, concentrating on the matter at hand. "But, really, why did you come?"

She gave no answer, but her stance became rigid, as if she was intensely nervous all of a sudden.

Zabuza grinned, showing all of his teeth. "Could it be that you were worried about poor lil' me?"

At that, she seemed to snap, turning around wildly, her green eyes flashing. "Like hell I'd be worried about your sorry ass, you prick! You've done nothing but piss me off from day one! First you waltz into my life and steal all the glory that I worked so hard to obtain, undermining my years of hard work! And you had the nerve to pretend that you hadn't done anything wrong! On top of that, you constantly try to outdo me on missions, despite the fact that I'm clearly stronger than you in every way! And, of course, we can't forget the simple fact that you're a fucking asshole! And every day, I have to put up with your goddamned arrogance and your callous, unfeeling attitude towards everything and everyone! Did you ever once acknowledge me? No! Did you ever try to talk to me, other than the occasional insult? No! Did you ever even notice me, in all these years we've been working together? NO! And why? Because you're a selfish, unfeeling bastard whose only purpose is to make me feel like shit! Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that you honestly never noticed the fact that I..." Suddenly, without warning, all her fire and rage just drained away.

Her voice gone, she simply stared at him, speechless. He met her gaze evenly, honestly surprised and shocked for the first time in many years. But he wasn't too shocked that her gaze had slowly dropped, and she was now staring at his bare chest, which was rather well built. He also didn't fail to notice the fact that her face was quite flushed, and she seemed almost to have a small nosebleed. Usually, Zabuza would be the first to point the fact out to the fiery redhead, and to taunt and tease her endlessly over it, but...he just didn't have the heart for it. For the first time in a long time, he was feeling something other than his customary cold callousness, or feeling of pride and excitement over Haku and Naruto's growth. He felt... almost sad. As if it truly was his fault she felt like this.

As he mulled this over, Minako turned away from him, covering her nose with her hand. "Whatever. I'm gonna go scout ahead. Finish changing, you prick." She muttered quietly before dissapearing in a puff of smoke.

He stared at the spot she had been, confused and caught completely off guard. He had no idea what to think of that outburst. What had she been getting at? Was she honestly saying that it was his fault that he had stolen her title of "Youngest to Become One of the Seven Swords"? Was that really what she was saying? Was she mad because he had teased her? If that was the case, then what about all the times she had provoked and taunted him? For as long as he could remember, she had been the instigator of nearly every encounter he had had with her, every fight he had thrashed out with her. What did she want from him, dammit?! Surely this couldn't all be over the stupid title, could it? If that was true, then what about all the stuff she had said about "you never talk to me, you never notice me"?

Is that what she wanted? For him to notice her?


He groaned and threw the rest of his clothes on, feeling a headache coming on. He honestly had no idea what to think about that woman, and he knew that trying to figure her out was a wasted effort. That was the case for most every woman he had ever met, but exponentionally more so in Minako's case.

As he strapped on his kunai holsters and buckled on his harness, he found himself mulling over the past month or two in his mind. Come to think of it, up until a month ago, he had felt almost dead to himself. He felt no emotion, but more importantly, no pain. The closest he came to possessing feelings was the constant boredom he had. Then he had found Haku, and found another emotion: pity. Over time, that pity turned into pride, as Haku bloomed and flourished like a dying flower suddenly given light and water. Then he had found Naruto, and had discovered more about himself. He was able to laugh, now. Not smirk or chuckle darkly like he had before, but actually laugh. And he had found out how to be happy... Well, a sort of happiness, at least. And now, with Minako... It felt like there was something else there he had yet to learn about himself, some other emotion buried deep inside himself, itching to get out.

Could it be...?

He shook his head roughly, banishing all those thoughts from his mind. Hefting Kubikiri Houcho above his head, he slid her easily into her place on the harness and snapped her in tight, making sure it was a snug fit. Then, after double-checking all of his gear, he set off after his students and his sparring buddy, trying his best not to think of the look on Minako's face after her tirade. It made him feel...

Gah. Women.

Naruto looked about himself, observing the interesting surroundings. They had been travelling for a little over an hour now, through the terrain of Island Country. The name was more than fitting, and they had already crossed three brides inbetween narrow but long stips of land, each indepent and slightly different from the last. Naruto was a bit unnerved by the heat, since he was used to the slightly cooler climate of Konoha, but he was enjoying the clean sea breeze that blew around them, tantalizing his keen nose with the scent of the ocean.

He turned and looked at his companions, wondering how they were reacting to the climate. Zabuza and Kisame, who had grown up in the area and were used to it, walked through the islands without so much as glancing at their surroundings, beyond checking to see if they were being followed or observed by unwelcome company. Minako was unusually quiet and reserved, though, and the one time Naruto had tried to talk to her, she had merely snapped at him angrily and told him to get lost. He idly wondered what was wrong with her; then again, maybe she was always like that.

But Haku looked like she was starting to suffer. The village where she had come from was notorious for its cold climate and heavy winter snows, and she had not yet grown used to the heat of Island Country. From the look of the way she was sweating, Naruto wondered if she would ever get used to it. The ice user was far too timid to take off any of her excess clothing, like Naruto had done. Every time she glanced at the boy's bare chest, she colored slightly and looked away. 'Geez,' Naruto thought to herself, 'you'd think she hadn't seen my chest before. She's way too shy.' Even as he thought that, he glanced surreptitiously at her once again, noting her flushed face. 'Still... it's kinda cute...'

He shrugged and turned to Kisame, who was sauntering next to him with a slight grin on his face. Of course, a grin from Kisame was still pretty intimidating, thanks to the Jounin's teeth. "Yo, Kisame, howcome it's so hot around here?"

Kisame looked at him and raised a grey eyebrow. "Hot? You kidding me, kid? It's August; it's starting to get pretty cool out." Naruto's jaw fell.

"Cool?! No way! This is hotter than a Konoha summer!"

"Heh, that so?" asked Kisame idly, eyeing Naruto with an amused smirk on his face. "Well, I wouldn't know too much about that; never been there myself. But, yeah, Island country can get pretty toasty in the summers."

"What about the winters? Are they hot, too?" asked Naruto as he glanced about himself again.

"Well, they're not hot, exactly. But it almost never snows."

Naruto frowned thoughtfully. If that was the case, then it wasn't all that different from Konoha. While it was never really hot out in his old village, it almost never got cold enough to snow, thanks to the climate. "So, where's the Mist village? Is that in one of these Islands?"

Kisame chuckled. "Heh, no way. It's in Water country, past all these islands."

"Water country? What's it like?"

"Well..." Kisame's brow furrowed a little in thought. "Not really. Water country is really one big island, bigger than all of the islands in this country put together, but the climate there is wierd because of the air currents and stuff in the area. The northern area is kinda chilly, and it often freezes over in the winter. There's a lot of swamps and stuff on the western side, and on the east there used to be a lot of volcanic activity a long time ago, which made a lot of mountains and canyons. But the south side is a good bit like this country, except not much can grow out there. A few shrubs, maybe, but that's it."

Naruto was slightly awed by the diversity of Water Country. "Wow, that's wierd. Why is the country different in spots like that?"

"Shit, I don't know, kid. I'm not a scientist; I kill people for a living. Ask one of the braniacs when we get there, maybe they can tell you more about it."

"Okay, well, where's the Mist village?"

Kisame sighed. This kid did not know how to stop talking. "It's roughly in the middle of the country, I think."

"Why's it called the Mist village?"

"For one thing, it's not. It's Kirigakure no Sato, the Village Hidden in the Mist. Get the name right, brat," grumbled Kisame, thumping Naruto leisurely on the head. As the blonde boy grumbled obscenities under his breath, Kisame idly tapped the forehead protector he wore. "For some reason, the whole village is covered in a dense, constant fog. Probably something to do with the moisture in the air and the temperature, or some shit like that. All I know is that it's practically impossible to spy on us from outside the village, and because of the positioning of our country, we've never been invaded since the formation of our village."

Naruto was impressed. "Whoa, seriously? Howcome nobody ever attacked you?"

"Were you not listening, you stupid kid? I just told ya! The mist means that you can't even see the goddamn village from outside, and so you can't properly plan a battle strategy. Not to mention the fact that the Mist shinobi have always been the most skilled out of all of the Hidden Villages."

Even though he was slightly awed by Kisame's boast, he was a little confused. "Huh? But I always heard that Konoha was the best village..."

"Tch, c'mon, boy, you can't honestly believe that those tree-hugging incompetents stand a chance against us. Zabu-chan over there beat down nine of the bastards without trying." That wasn't necessarily true, but Kisame knew that the real reason Zabuza had had trouble against that mangy group of shinobi wannabes was simply because he had grown lax in his own training ever since he had found Haku. Well, Kisame would soon fix that.

Naruto tried his best to repress his laughter at the nickname Kisame had so graciously applied to Zabuza, but the image of a chibi Zabuza waving a sword bigger than his whole body was one that was hard to shake. To distract himself, Naruto asked another question. "So, if the Mist ninja are so powerful, why don't you guys just take everyone else over?"

Kisame sighed. "Well, here's the thing, kiddo. We've got the most powerful shinobi out of all the villages, but we also have the fewest." Naruto's confused look made it clear that the kid wasn't following. Kisame took a breath, preparing to explain, but Zabuza stepped in before he got a chance.

"There's something important you have to understand, boy: a shinobi's life is hard. One big mistake that villages like the Leaf have always made is that they cushion their shinobi from the reality of the ninja lifestyle. I bet that, if you have become a Leaf ninja, you wouldn't have made your first kill until you were at least a Genin, or even a Chuunin. Do you know why that's a mistake?"

Naruto frowned for a moment in thought. What could be bad about not having killed somebody until then? But then memories of the Uchiha he had slaughtered came back to him, along with all the suffering and torment he had gone through. But, where before he would have avoided killing a person at all costs, he found that the idea of killing again was... well, not pleasurable, but acceptable. He knew that he'd have no problem killing someone, as long as it was to defend his precious people or in self-defence.

Zabuza eyed him, seeing the determined look on Naruto's face. "Yeah, I think you're getting the picture. Now, could you imagine if your first kill had been in actual combat? Or if the first time you had seen death face to face was when a comrade was killed next to you?" Naruto's face paled.

Kisame chuckled darkly. "Looks like you're catching on, kid. But the Mist doesn't want that to happen to its shinobi. Ain't that right, demon?" Zabuza looked at him and smirked under his mask of bandages, remembering his youth.

"So," interrupted Naruto, still a little shaken from the prospect Zabuza had shown him, "what does the Mist village do to stop that from happening?"

"Simple," replied Zabuza, his eyes on Naruto. "Every year, before the newest batch of recruits graduate from the Ninja Academy, there's a special test."

"Test?" Naruto was puzzled. How the hell was a test supposed to help with someone's first kill?

"Yep. A test. Sounds easy, right?" Naruto nodded. "Wrong. This test is simple; the instructors pair up every member of the graduating class into groups of two. Once they're paired, they fight."

"What, to test their skills?" asked Naruto, with a strange feeling of horror beginning to overtake him.

"Something like that..." muttered Kisame, his eyes flashing and his smile turning fierce.

Zabuza chuckled again, making sure that Naruto's eyes were on him before he spoke again. "Naruto... The fights aren't just friendy spars. They are one-on-one deathmatches."

There was a moment of silence as the blonde processed this, his eyes widening and his face turning pale. "They... they kill each other?" he finally stammered, staring at Zabuza in horror.

"Got it in one, kid." replied Kisame, toying with his kunai pouch.

"That's right. They kill each other. Children who learned together, laughed together, ate out of the same bowl, shared the same weapons, had to fight and kill each other in order to become ninjas." said Zabuza, his expression invisible under his bandages.

"B-but..." murmured Naruto, his mind spinning, "how is that supposed to help them get over death?"

"Look, runt," Zabuza said, halting for a moment and looking Naruto in the eye. "Death is a part of the shinobi way of life. No matter what you do, you're gonna have to kill people. It isn't an option; it's a fact. Whether you're killing an enemy shinobi before the bastard has a chance to gut you, or you're assassinating some fat politician for messing with the wrong guy, you're gonna have to kill people. The first kill is always the hardest. Doing it in the academy, where there are people around you to help you, is better than having to do it on the battlefield or while in enemy territory. Doesn't that make sense?"

"Plus it weeds out all the weaklings," Kisame threw that into the conversation with a lazy shrug.

Naruto just stood there for a moment, thinking it through. The more he thought about it, the more the initial feeling of horror and revulsion started to slip away. The Kyuubi, who had been idly listening in on the conversation, decided to toss in his two cents.

"Hmm, I hadn't realized that there was a village that so truly recognized the harsh realities of life. All things live and all things die. That's quite an interesting idea. The test not only serves to eliminate any half-hearted weaklings, thereby preserving the strength of the village's shinobi force, but it forces the survivors to open their eyes to life's horrors. After all, knowledge is power, and knowledge of one's own frailty leads to a search for greater power..." Kyuubi's voice trailed away, but not before making a considerable impact on Naruto's thoughts.

"I... I guess that makes sense..." Naruto mumbled softly, finding himself accepting the idea. Zabuza arched a brow in surprised. He hadn't expected the blonde to understand so readily. Perhaps the boy was smarter than he had thought.

"Yeah, well," Kisame interrupted, picking at his teeth with his fingernail, "that doesn't really matter now. Thanks to a certain browless wonder, they don't do it anymore."

Naruto turned to Zabuza, knowing that there was only one person Kisame could've been referring to. "What's he talking about, No-brows?"

There was a long moment of silence, as Zabuza merely stood there and looked at the ground, his eyes shadowed. Since Zabuza wasn't replying, Kisame answered for him.

"Not too long ago, a mere boy showed up during the final exam at the Ninja Academy. In a span of twelve minutes, despite his complete lack of any formal training or weaponry, the boy fought and killed every person involved in the exam, both students and instructors, over a hundred people in number."

Then, slowly, Zabuza finally looked up, and Naruto met his gaze. There was a flash of something in Zabuza's eyes, some spark of insanity that momentarily rose to the surface. For just an instant, Naruto could see blood and death in the eyes of his teacher, and found himself completely unable to move, paralyzed by the killer intent that leaked from Zabuza.

Then Zabuza spoke, his voice low and eerie. "Ah, yes... Those were good times." For a long moment, Zabuza stared into Naruto's wide and frightened eyes, as if daring him to say something, anything. But Naruto couldn't say anything, too terrified to move, to even think. The only coherent thought he had was the sudden realization that here, standing not three feet in front of him, was a true shinobi.

Zabuza was a real Jounin.

And he dared to call someone as powerful as that 'No-brows'?

As the Kyuubi roared its laughter in the back of Naruto's mind, Zabuza finally broke his gaze and turned away from Naruto, the boy falling to the earth as the killer intent that had bound him suddenly dissapeared, as if it was never there. His teacher looked at the rest of their company, who had stopped a little ways ahead when they noticed that the two Jounins and Naruto had fallen behind. Stepping forward, he carried on as if nothing happend.

Kisame let out a sudden laugh. "That brat, always showing off." He reached down and picked Naruto up off the ground easily. "C'mon, kid, let's get going. There's a ways to go yet until we get to Water Country."

"Yes... And once we reach the village that is shrouded in eternal mist, your real training can finally begin..."

AN: Sweet, I'm on a roll. I went months without updating any of my stories and then, in a weeks time, I update Will of Fire, Howl of the Kitsune, a new one-shot about Asuma, and this newest chapter of Bloody Mist. Now, if I can just keep it going, we'll be in good shape! ;P

My original idea was to have most of the seven swordsmen meet with Zabuza and the kids, but then I realized that that just didn't make sense, so I made it into just Kisame and Minako. Kisame was there, of course, since he and Zabuza are equally matched in sadistic tendencies, making for excellent sparring buddies. Minako, on the other hand, is there for a completely different reason. I wonder what the future holds for her and Zabuza...? :)

Not too much new stuff concerning Naruto in this chapter, since I wanted to shed more light on Zabuza. One of the reasons that I made this story in the first place is because Naruto is really good at changing people, so in the future we'll see both Zabuza and Haku grow and change. And, of course, Naruto will grow, too. That should be fun, right?

Next chapter will have them reaching Kirigakure no Sato, so you can expect a little bit about the village's history, as well as some details about the village itself and some of the shinobi in it. We will be seeing the rest of the seven swordsmen in the next chapter, along with the Mizukage, ol' Suiryuuga Hisan himself. There'll be some interesting dynamics between him and Zabuza, and those of you who remember the original details of Zabuza's abandonment of the Mist village might already know how they'll hit it off.

That's it for now, guys. Don't forget to review! :D

'Til next time,