(A\N: WARNING! If you haven't read A Ripple in the Pond and Crimson Reflections (the first two installments in this trilogy) then you will be completely confused and probably think some of my characters are OOC. I would highly suggest you read those first.

And for all of you who have been eagerly awaiting this, enjoy!)


Two Years Later…

The air in Konoha was cool, and a mist hung over the village and its forests from the rain the night before. Birds chirped softly in the background, while a small breeze whistled through the trees.

The sound of chimes echoed throughout the semi-silent forest.

Kotetsu Hagane gave a soft sigh as he leaned against the gate. He hated guard duty. It was a little better then being the Hokage's errand boy, but not by much.

"This mist is thick, ne?" Izumo Kamizuki asked from where he stood beside him. Kotetsu nodded, his brows furrowed in concentration.

"Hai…" There it was again, the haunting chime that had caught Kotetsu's attention a few moments earlier. "Do you hear that, Izumo?"

"Hear what?" Izumo sighed. "You've been at this post for too long. You're delusional."

"Stop being an idiot, Izumo." Kotetsu snapped. Ever since that fateful day two years earlier everyone in Konoha seemed tense. Maybe it had to do with the threats of war from some of the other villages. It was common knowledge that everyone was making secret alliances with each other.

All of the major shinobi powers were shifting, waiting for the fighting to begin. They were like a taught bow whose string was being pulled to its limit. Anything at this point in time could cause that string to snap, and the consequences would be irreparable.

Suddenly they both tensed as the soft chime sounded again.

"I heard it that time." Izumo whispered, a hand going for a kunai. Kotetsu merely nodded as two figures slowly approached Konoha's east gate.

They appeared out of the mist, their black cloaks rustling. A small shadow hovered at the side of one of the figures.

Once again the bells sounded, a soft sound.

Izumo and Kotetsu stared, openmouthed, recognizing the cloaks immediately.

"It…it can't be…"

They looked into the swirling crimson eyes of the first figure, and they slumped to the ground.

And then the two figures slowly began walking into Konoha, their bells softly chiming.

Atsuko slid off of the chair at the ramen stand, giving a small smile to the vender before he began walking down the road. His eyes drifted across the people walking down the street, and he smiled as he saw Yamanaka-san, Ino's mom. She was putting some flower arrangements in the window of their shop.

Atsuko walked over, hurriedly grabbing one to help her. "I've got it, Yamanaka-san."

"Thank you Atsuko-chan." She smiled warmly at him, ruffling his hair. "But shouldn't you be with Kurenai-san? I heard she was teaching you some genjutsu."

Atsuko nodded excitedly. "Hai! She's been helping me a lot. I hope she's my sensei when I get finished at the academy." He stopped with a worried frown. "But…when Ino-sempai becomes a sensei then I want her to be my sensei too…"

Ino's mother laughed at his sad expression. "It's alright, Atsuko-chan. Hokage-sama and Iruka-san will pick the perfect sensei for you."

He nodded, before he spied Kakashi walking down the street with Gai, Asuma, and Kurenai. He grinned, "Kurenai-san! Asuma-san! Kakashi-san! Gai-san!"

The four Jônin looked down at the young boy as he ran over to greet them, a goofy grin on his face. It had been almost three years since he had been brought to Konoha by Ino and the others. It had taken a little while for him to get used to the way everything had worked in Konoha, but now he acted as if he'd lived there his entire life.

It heartened them to see the little boy so loyal to his newfound village and the people he loved. He lived with Ino and her parents and was going to the academy.

"Hello Atsuko." Kakashi greeted with his usual smile that was hidden behind his face. His smiles were always sad these days, and his eye had lost a little of its old luster.

But then again, that was the same with everyone. Even after two years there were certain moments when they all remembered, and the old pain would always return. It hurt, but it couldn't be pushed aside.

Suddenly Atsuko stopped as he caught a glance of someone sitting in one of the open restaurant booths. "…clouds…"

Four sets of eyes turned to where Atsuko stared, and their gazes locked on the black cloaks and crimson clouds.

"Akatsuki." Kurenai growled beneath her breath, eyes wide in surprise. She, Asuma, and the other shinobi of the village had been briefed on the strange short-termed peace contract Konoha had shared with the Akatsuki to save Sakura Haruno. But that contract was null and void now, and it had been ordered that any Akatsuki be killed on sight if they walked on Konoha ground.

Why here? Kakashi thought angrily. Why did you return after all Sakura did for you? The feeling of déjà vu wouldn't leave. Mostly because he recognized Kisame immediately, calmly sipping a cup of tea. He resisted the urge to bring out his chidori right then and there, but he knew he couldn't. Like before, he and the others would have to get the Akatsuki away from the civilians. Civilians who were looking at the cloud-adorned cloaks with curiosity and a bit of fear. They remembered the last time they'd seen those cloaks.

Kakashi supposed the shorter member was Itachi. He was Kisame's partner, after all. The two Akatsuki members seemed to sense them, as they slowly stood. The chimes on their hats drifted across the small distance between them, and it reminded Kakashi of the first time they had fought. They caught a flash of Kisame's face as he gave a grin and began walking down the street behind Itachi. Asuma's eyes narrowed. The look was a smug one, as if he were daring them to follow.

And they did, Atsuko trailing behind them.

Kakashi stared at them, his hand around a kunai as he, Gai, Kurenai, and Asuma stood in front of the two Akatsuki members. They were right next to the bridge, away from the villagers. The exact same place Asuma and the others had caught Itachi and Kisame the first time they'd come here.

Kisame grinned at them, a dead giveaway with Samehada. "Isn't this a nice little reunion, eh Hatake?"

The one with the Sharingan…Itachi Uchiha… a large dog stood at his side, an Akita with white fur and deep chocolate eyes. A small earring was placed in its right ear, a chain with a black feather dangling from it. It wore no collar, and it watched them all as if waiting for them to attack.

Kurenai's eyes narrowed slightly as she remembered how he'd countered her genjutsu so easily. She was ready this time, however. She would make sure she didn't let her guard down.

Asuma took a long drag on his cigarette. "It won't end like it did last time, however. We have you sorely outnumbered."

"Just remember not to look Itachi Uchiha in the eye!" Gai spoke, grinning. "Leave the Uchiha to me, eh Kakashi?"

Kakashi lifted his headband, revealing his Sharingan. If Itachi wanted a Sharingan battle, then so be it.

Kisame's eyes narrowed as he took a step forward, hand on Samehada when Itachi lifted up a hand, making him stop. Itachi then tipped up his Akatsuki hat.

"Ne, Kakashi-sensei, is that any way to treat an old friend?"

(A\N: So? Yes, I know you all love my cliffhanger...So here it is, the beginning of Maelstrom!

I know it's a bit short for your tastes, but it is a prologue after all. The next chapter will definately be longer, of course.

(A new theme for a new story...corny pick-up lines! So, enjoy:

I'm sure glad I brought my library card, 'cause I'm checking you out!)