The Lightning nin took cover behind some bushes. He was panting and scared. Ritana and Gobal were both dead. As soon as they had seen they were up against the Second Flash they had tried to break off and run, but it had been too late. He had chased them down and slaughtered them. His friends were gone and he was wondering if he would survive. The answer came to him when he felt a burst of wind and a flash of yellow and black. Before he could even act there was a stabbing pain in his back and he was thrown to the ground. He expected death to be immediate but to his surprise he was still breathing as he looked up. Standing in front of him was the Second Flash of Konoha; he was twelve and a miniature version of his father. He wore black trousers and shirt with a single stripe of orange running down the side. He had on a green Jonin vest and beneath his spiky blonde hair was the Leaf hitai-ite. His blue eyes and unmarked face were calm.
"Why?" Namikaze Naruto asked.
"Huh? What do you mean?"
"Why do you keep fighting when it's hopeless? Your village is gone and the Hokage rules this country now. Why won't you accept that? No one can defeat Konoha. If you would just accept resettlement you and the ninjas here could become citizens of the Leaf and have good lives."
The paralyzed Lightning nin did what he could, he spat at the one standing before him. "To hell with you! To hell with Konoha! And to the deepest darkest hell with your Hokage! We don't want to be leaf nins! We just want to be free and left alone!"
Naruto stared down at his opponent and ground his teeth. Why? Why wouldn't they understand it was all pointless? He'd come here with the army three years ago when the Hokage had destroyed the Village Hidden in the Clouds. He'd seen it first hand, the true power of the Hokage. Against such might all resistance was futile.
"Why don't you wish to be a bird while you're at it? You have about as much chance at that."
"Go to hell!"
"Gee, I never heard that one before. But enough of this, I'll give you a choice. Do you want to die or be a prisoner?"
The Lightning nin shuddered, he'd heard the stories. "Please kill me."
Naruto nodded, not surprised. Very few rebels ever surrendered. He held out his palm and concentrated chakra. "Four Winds Rasengan." He ended it quickly and cleanly.
He returned to his team. "All right let's finish up this patrol."
"You know you could have let us help." Sasuke complained.
"Oh Sasuke-kun I'm sure Naruto-sensei had his reasons." Sakura added cheerfully.
Naruto shrugged. "I wanted to ask the last one why they were fighting us when it was hopeless."
"Who cares?" Sasuke sounded bored. "They're foreigners, it's not like they can really ever be trusted."
Hearing that Naruto turned towards the third of his soldiers. "Any thoughts on that Haku?"
The boy merely offered Sasuke a friendly smile. "I would like to think I am as loyal as anyone else. I have lived in the village six years now and think of it as my home."
Sasuke looked embarrassed. "I wasn't talking about you, I know you're loyal. So are most of the ninjas who agreed to resettlement. But the ones who are fighting us have made their choice. They don't deserve any more chances."
Naruto frowned. "Even if they are enemies today they can become friends and allies one day."
Sasuke shook his head. "My brother doesn't think so; neither does anyone else in the Uchiha clan. My brother says we should begin Total Pacification here."
Naruto gave him a sharp look. "Total Pacificationis a pleasant way of saying let's kill everyone; every man, woman, and child. It's not something to be hoped for."
Sasuke shrugged indifferently. "It worked in Wind country."
Naruto didn't like the cold blooded way Sasuke could talk about massacring millions. It also bothered him to see Sakura and Haku both nodding their agreement. What was happening when even relatively innocent Genins thought nothing about mass slaughter? "I was in Wind country during the last stages." He said quietly. "Take my word for this none of you want to see the things I have. This is your first two month tour of duty. Maybe after a few more of these you'll really start to understand what war is." He turned around, suddenly very tired of the conversation. "Come on let's move."
Namikaze Minato approached the Hokage Tower. He had been summoned to a meeting of the Circle by the Lord Hokage. As he moved towards his destination his eyes wandered up to the cliff wall. When he'd been a boy there had been three faces carved into it. The faces of the first three Hokages. They had seemed very impressive back in those days. He could still remember as a boy being amazed that anything could be so huge. The three faces were still there of course, but now they seemed insignificant. To their right was carved the visage of the fourth, or Yondaime, Hokage. That face was ten times the size of the others and took up the entire cliff to the right of the original three. There was literally no more room for more faces. That had not been done by accident.
As always the Tower was crawling with ANBU. He counted a dozen outside and was sure there were even more of them inside. All of a sudden he felt a nostalgic for the old ANBU masks. In the old days each ANBU had painted his own mask in the form of the animal he felt best represented him. There was a certain style and individuality to them. Now all the ANBU seemed to be clones. They all wore the black robe above their armor and identical black death masks over their faces. The only difference he could see to any of them was the small number in red stamped into the forehead of each mask. The ANBU really seemed like men who had been reduced to mere numbers.
At the entrance he presented his identification papers. He found it more than a little annoying. His face was well known in the village and he had on the special hitai-ite which everyone also knew. Yet the ANBU insisted on checking everyone. When the ANBU had confirmed he was who he said he was he was allowed into the Tower. Even the Tower had changed; the Sandaime had met with people with a large but otherwise ordinary office. That was not enough for the Yondaime, oh no not even close.
He walked down the halls to the throne room. Beneath a twenty foot arched marble ceiling he fell to one knee and cast his eyes down upon the floor. The luxurious throne was empty of course; the Hokage loved making a grand entrance, so he would wait there on one knee until given permission to rise. He was the first member of the Circle to arrive. The Hokage would not appear until all the members were present.
The next to arrive was Jiraiya. He flashed his sensei a quick smile before turning his face back to the floor.
Then came Uchiha Itachi, head of the ANBU, the police force, and heir of the Uchiha clan. Itachi was a mystery to everyone, perhaps even the Hokage. Since the death of Shisui, his best friend, he was known to be close to no one. He was efficient and cold and never questioned the orders he received.
Then came Momochi Zabuza and Hoshigaki Kisame. They came together as they usually did. Together Zabuza and Kisame were the either the greatest heroes or traitors to ever come from the Village Hidden in the Mist. Just as war was about to begin between Leaf and Mist they had assassinated the Mizukage and seized power. They had immediately negotiated a deal with the Hokage. The two of them were granted membership in the Circle, with all the accompanying privileges, and their village had been spared destruction. In return, the village had surrendered unconditionally and its ninjas had agreed to resettlement. Of all the other lands with a ninja village it was the only one not to have an insurgency. Of all the rival villages Mist was the only one not left a blackened ruin. The surrender had saved many thousands of lives and strengthened Konoha with fresh reserves of able shinobi. Of course there was another point of view that the two of them had stabbed their village and people in the back. Hero, traitor, traitor, hero, really wasn't it all just a point of view?
Next came his student Kakashi. The silver haired ninja gave him a quick nod before going to on knee. Minato was glad to see his former student here on time. It was annoying the way he would sometimes keep his subordinates waiting. Trying to do that with the Hokage was dangerous. Circle member or no.
Next came Tsunade. The leader of Konoha's medical corps took a knee in silence as had the others. But he could read the unhappiness or annoyance in her. Of all the Circle members she was the only one who would openly disagree with the Hokage. There was much she did not agree with and she had the courage to say so. He suspected that she and one other person could get away with that. Anyone else would be risking their lives.
Then came the other person who was known to disagree with the Hokage openly. He was the only one who was not a member of the Circle. He was the only one to ever decline membership. Sarutobi did not have to kneel or stare at the ground. He sat down in a padded chair and quietly lit a pipe. It was odd to see how the Hokage acted around Sarutobi. It was nothing less than the activity of a child looking for parental approval.
Finally came the last member of the Circle. Anko walked past the others and knelt just before the dais. Before she did so she shot Tsunade and Sarutobi looks of annoyance. Anko was devoted to her Hokage mind, body, and soul. To her the Hokage was never wrong and could not be wrong. She loathed anyone who dared to question his wisdom or his genius. She acted as the Hokage's right hand and was the second most powerful person in Konoha. She could have anyone below Circle rank killed with just a word. She was also the one who ran the camps, and knew more of their dark secrets than anyone but her beloved Hokage.
Not surprisingly it was only a couple minutes after Ankos's arrival that the Hokage came. As was his flamboyant habit he appeared sitting upon his thrown in a flash of fire.
"You may all rise and look upon me." Said a soft and amused voice. They all rose to their feet and gave their Hokage a bow. He was dressed in the gold and white robes of state and around his neck was the fiery gem of the Kitsune. Even standing twenty feet away Minato could sense its incredible chakra as well as its evil. On his feet he took a closer look at the other Circle members. They of course all wore the special hitai-ites that marked their status, the ones with the Leaf symbol within a circle of snakes. Without a word Anko immediately stepped up onto the dais and took her usual spot to her former sensei's right.
"Ku, ku, ku, I thank you all for coming here today." He smiled out at all of them. His eyes staying on Sarutobi just a bit longer than the rest. With one hand he idly stroked the gem as though it were a pet. With each touch Minato felt the chakra and aura of evil pulse stronger. "You eight who are known as the Circle of the Serpent are the ones I have favored above all others. With you few I have willingly shared all the gifts I have acquired since gaining control of the Kyuubi kitsune." Perhaps it was just imagination but Minato could have sworn he heard an angry rumbling coming from somewhere. From the looks of some of the other faces in the room he was not the only one. "To you alone I have granted immortal life, I have granted eternal youth, perfect health, complete healing and regeneration, not to mention wealth and power greater than any lord's. Have I not been generous?" He paused and they all waited for him to continue. But instead he frowned. "I asked a question, have I not been generous?" His tone just a little sharp.
"Very generous! Orochimaru-sensei." Anko replied eagerly.
"Sure." Jiraiya said.
"You have." Minato said.
"Generous sure." Tsunade said.
"Yes you have Lord Hokage." Zabuza said.
"Extremely generous." Kisame confirmed.
"You are generous Hokage-sama." Kakashi drawled.
Itachi nodded ever so slightly but did not deign to speak. Sarutobi gave no reaction at all but simply continued to watch.
The Hokage tilted his head and smiled at them all. "Have I not been merciful?"
Again the question was met by general consensus that he had, though Minato and a few of the others might have wondered when the last time the word merciful had been used to describe the Yondaime.
The Hokage nodded apparently agreeing with their assessment of him. "Yessss, I have been most merciful and most generous. Yet one of you has betrayed me." There were gasps from most of them along with immediate pledges from them that they were completely loyal. Only Sarutobi, Itachi, and Tsunade remained silent. Orochimaru's slitted eyes traveled along their faces as he took a firm hold of the gem. His eyes stopped on one of them.
"You are the traitor."