Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Masashi Kishimoto. 'Nuff said.
Outbreak Part II Chapter Sixteen: Call For Help
Chapter Sixteen: Call For Help
Naruto stood outside the door to the room where Itachi Uchiha was currently being treated. Naruto had only received a brief explanation from Sakura when he met with her in the hospital; it sounded like Itachi wasn't in the best of health, and was being kept in his room while undergoing various medical procedures. It sounded like Tuberculosis, and Naruto hardly knew anything about that kind of stuff. It was in Itachi's lungs, and it would continue to worsen if he didn't get it removed.
The blond had been standing before Itachi's door for almost a minute now. The Uchiha probably knew he was there by now if he hadn't right away. Naruto raised his hand, and knocked lightly on the door.
Naruto opened the door, and quietly closed it behind him. He looked to the bed on the other side of the room, and sure enough, there was Itachi Uchiha, wearing a standard hospital gown.
"...I was told that you wanted to speak with me." Naruto spoke calmly, "I don't really know why, but if you try and pull anything, keep in mind that there are ANBU littering the hospital as I speak. They'll notice if you try anything."
Itachi smirked, "Your distrust in me is well placed." He sat up a bit and grunted as he straightened himself out, "I'm not here to capture you, Naruto-kun. Far from it." He looked to the night sky, the moon shining brightly through the clouds, "I'm assuming you already have heard that Kisame and I have departed with Akatsuki?"
"Well..." Naruto shrugged, "Deidara and Konan informed me that Akatsuki's no more. Hidan seemed unaware, but he didn't really look to care all that much anyway."
"Deidara and Konan?" Itachi gave a hum before continuing, "It's true though; Akatsuki no longer exists. It's now simply Madara Uchiha."
"Uchiha?" Naruto sighed, "You mean there's another survivor?"
"No, he was around before the massacre happened." Itachi explained, "Sit down, I have much to discuss with you. I hope you have enough free time to listen."
The blond took a seat on the opposite end of the room, "I have time. Depends on if it's worth my while."
"It will be." Itachi replied, "First, let me give you a brief history of Konoha's founding days..."
It was almost half past one in the morning by the time Itachi had given Naruto an abridged version of his explanation to Sasuke. He was surprised to find that Naruto seemed to buy the story so easily. Itachi looked over to see the blond had somehow moved his chair to the foot of his bed during the talk, "Do you understand all of that?"
Naruto was quiet, shaking his head out of disbelief, not confusion. He looked up to Itachi, "How did you manage to live with that hanging over you all those years?"
"I forced myself to live the role of the nuke-nin. I took on the life of a rogue, and convinced myself that I would be one." He closed his eyes, exhaling a bit, "Anyway, I have more important things to discuss with you."
"I figured as much." Naruto laughed a little, "Lay it on me. May as well throw more on me while I'm listening."
"Very well." Itachi's eyes locked with Naruto's, "I will start by stating that as of right now, humanity's chance of survival are slim to none. Without you though, there is no hope."
"What?" Naruto tensed a bit as he let the words of the elder Uchiha sink in, "What do you mean? We have a cure! We're immune to the viru-"
"The infection is only a step in the big picture, Naruto." Itachi interrupted, "Madara Uchiha is only a single step away from conquering all of the Elemental Countries. If he succeeds in his plans, the world will be bowing before him."
Itachi sighed, "That's the problem; I only understand a portion of his plan. It involves the Kyuubi and the other Jinchuuriki. I have no idea what how, but it's my belief that he's harnessed the energy of eight of the nine captured bijuu and is using it to control the mutated."
Naruto's eyes widened, "You're kidding me..."
"I wish I was." Itachi shook his head, "Madara Uchiha's a shadow of what he used to be, but he's this close to becoming the most powerful man in the world."
"Great, so how do we go about stopping him?"
"That's where you come in, Naruto." Itachi replied, "You are the only Jinchuuriki left. We captured the Hachibi a few weeks before the outbreak started." The Uchiha turned back to the window, "As of now, you alone have the key to defeating him."
"The Kyuubi." Naruto stated. Itachi simply nodded a reply. The blond ran a hand through his hair before speaking again, "How am I supposed to stop a guy like Madara who has the power of all but one of the tailed demons?"
Itachi gave a ghost of a smile as he looked to Naruto, "The Kyuubi is supposedly the strongest of the tailed demons. You'll have to destroy the container for the bijuu, and then we'll have to kill Madara."
Naruto seemed to understand that much. There was one thing that bothered him though, "Itachi, why was Akatsuki gathering the bijuu up like that?"
"I only have a vague idea of why Madara had us doing that. Pain, our leader, stated that we were to create a weapon that would have the ability to erase an entire nation from existence within seconds."
The blond's eyes widened, "Seconds?"
Naruto slumped into his chair, "I...I can't believe that. Is that possible?"
Itachi shook his head, "When it comes to the power of the bijuu, logic and understanding are very limited to us humans."
"...how much time do we have?"
The Uchiha's eyes met with Naruto's, "That's entirely up to you, Naruto. We could leave tomorrow, next week...two years from now..." Itachi shrugged, "If you want my honest opinion, Madara won't let us have more than three or four months before he tries to capture you himself."
"Huh..." Naruto got up, "I guess I better get training then."
"The training you receive here, while no doubt beneficial, won't be enough alone." Itachi stated, "You'll have to find away to become as strong as one of the Kage, if not stronger."
"In only a few months?" Naruto shook his head, "Look, I know I'm stronger than a lot of people, but that's just insane. I don't think there's a way that will allow me to-"
"There's one way." Itachi began, cutting the blond off, "I...kept in contact with Jiraiya-sama after I left Konoha. I was one of his informants..."
Naruto was surprisingly unresponsive. Itachi assumed that Naruto was just taking it all in stride; he had given the worse of the information to him already, so telling him this was probably not all that big of a shock to him.
Itachi continued, "Jiraiya-sama once told me that if something should happen to him, and the two of us ever met under circumstances like this, that I should inform you to contact a toad named Fukasaku. He apparently has the training you'll need for situations such as this."
"Fukasaku?" Naruto rolled the name around in his mind a few times before shaking his head, "I've never heard of a toad summon by that name."
"That's understandable; he's one of the elder toads." Itachi replied, "He has the training you need to become a true sage. He can teach you the arts of Senjutsu."
Kakashi stood on the wall overlooking the forest in front of the main gate of Konoha. It was a rather peaceful night, if one ignored the incessant noise made by the mutated beings outside the wall.
A chakra signature that he recognized as Iruka was approaching him. He turned around as the Chuunin appeared in front of him. The scarred ninja looked to the Jounin, "Anything to report?"
Kakashi shook his head, "Nothing really. Those sounds are getting louder, but I can't be too sure if they're just vocalizing more or moving closer."
"I wouldn't be too surprised if it was a bit of both." Iruka commented, "The shinobi who've been living here since the outbreak told me that some of the mutated actually seem to be playing a game of psychological warfare with us."
"Figures." Kakashi grumbled, "Hear anything from Naruto?"
The Chuunin shrugged, "Nothing new; must still be talking with Itachi Uchiha."
"I'd really like to know what exactly it is that Itachi wished to speak to Naruto about." Kakashi spoke as he watched the tree tops, "Itachi was a great shinobi, I can't deny that. It's because of that fact that I don't trust him, even if he's bedridden."
Iruka frowned, "You think there's some ulterior motive?"
"Well, I would like to say so, but I can't be one hundred percent certain with the recent events in the Elemental Countries. We've all changed drastically, even if we haven't realized it. Enemies are friends, and anyone who's not trying to kill us is considered family. The very fact that Sasuke didn't try to outright kill Itachi speaks volumes about how much the infection has affected the shinobi world."
"I know what you mean." Iruka agreed, "Anko's changed a lot too. She's quieter, and much more patient with things."
"She's also more needy from what I hear, especially in regards to you." Kakashi added. Iruka's cheeks flushed a bit, but he gave no reply.
The sound of footprints landing behind them caused the two to turn around, only to be met with Hidan, who was dressed in a black shirt and cargo pants with numerous pockets. Hidan gave a nod to the two, "Anything?"
Iruka shook his head, "They're just loud and annoying, as always."
"Tch," Hidan rolled his eyes, "The mutated bastards just better hope they don't try to pull anything while I'm around." He shifted the weight of his scythe to his opposite shoulder, "Hana and her hounds had no problems either. I'm going to go check with that red haired kid-"
"You mean Gaara?" Kakashi asked.
Hidan waved a hand, "Yeah, the former Kazekage...he's been patrolling for the last couple nights, and has been trying to see if he can figure anything out about them."
Kakashi nodded, "Alright. I'll go check with Shizune and Anko, see if they've found anything as well." The Jounin made a hand seal before disappearing in a whirl of leaves.
Iruka sighed, "Did you see Deidara by any chance?"
Hidan pointed up to the sky. Iruka gave him a quizzical look before following Hidan's direction, and looked up. Sure enough, there in the night sky was a single, winged object. Deidara was flying on one of his clay birds.
"Heh, it pays to have someone who can serve as lookout from above." Iruka commented.
"Whatever; I think he's just too much of a coward to stay on the ground where attacks are more likely to occur." Hidan turned around, "Well, I'm off."
The former Akatsuki member jumped onto a nearby roof, heading off towards what Iruka assumed was the direction that Gaara was located.
While the village of Konoha slumbered peacefully through the night, several days' travel north lay the Land of Snow, or as others had begun to call it, the Land of Spring. It had endured for several months now on the bare minimum needed to sustain a civilization. The country had gone into a state of martial law, which the citizens didn't really have a problem with.
After all, the human world was all but overrun with infected, bloodsucking creatures now. May as well make the best of it.
"Kazahana-sama, we've made the proper preparations for the owls. Shall we send them off?"
Yuki Kazahana, the current leader of the isolated island nation, sighed deeply, "Are you certain that these owls are able to sense the difference between infected and non-infected humans?"
"Positive." The Jounin before her bowed, "Yukigakure has conducted every test possible, and the owls have gained the ability to detect the differences."
She nodded, closing her eyes while placing a hand on her forehead, "Very well. We don't have many other options as it stands. See to it that the birds are well fed before they leave."
"Of course, milady." The Jounin stood up before bowing once more, then disappearing in a flurry of snow.
The princess stood up and walked towards the nearest window looking over the snow covered lands of her nation. She was the sole monarch alive in all of the Elemental Nations, as far as she was aware. The rest were either long dead, or among the droves of infected. She would see her nation's survival to the bitter end though. She had no other choice.
"I just hope that there are some still alive..." she spoke to herself as she walked away from the window, gracefully making her way to the table beside her throne where she kept all the important documents she had looked over. Most of them were domestic issues, which wasn't surprising, considering the rest of the world was in utter chaos. Looking at a map, she studied the area where she had a red 'X' marked on Fire Country.
From what her shinobi had told her, the scouting birds they had sent a week ago came back with reports—which the aviary specialists were able to learn about from the birds—indicating that the village of Konohagakure was still standing.
Now she was sending out several of her carrier owls to see if perhaps the village was safe. If she could get even a few hundred shinobi from Konoha to know that her country still exists, she was certain that there would be an increased chance in lasting longer in the midst of this post-apocalyptic world.
The thought of Konoha made her chuckle a bit. She still remembered her first encounter with the shinobi of the Hidden Leaf. Namely one blond who had an attitude and an unshakable will.
"I hope you're alright, Naruto." Yuki thought as she looked out her window once more to see that a light snowfall had begun...again.
Soon they'd have to start the spring generators again to warm up the countryside. The need for more food was high, and unless they managed to grow more crops to feed livestock and the people of her nation, starvation would overtake the entire island.
That, and there were supposedly about a good several thousand infected that were separated from her nation by the couple hundred miles of ocean between them. She had received reports though that some of the infected were possibly capable of traveling overseas now.
If that was the case, the Land of Spring would be done for without help.
"How are you feeling today, Itachi?"
The Uchiha looked up to see the rosette kunoichi walking in with a clipboard in hand and her nurse uniform on. He shrugged, "Better than two weeks ago, I suppose. No pain, but I feel rather weak, as you stated I would."
"You know, I told you that you'd recover faster if you stopped insisting on eating all of those boxes of pocky." Sakura reprimanded lightly while pointing to a box of chocolate pocky by the elder Uchiha's bedside, "I still don't know why you buy so many of them at once. That stuff will rot your teeth out."
"I brush my teeth three times a day, Sakura-san. I'll be fine." Itachi replied while Sakura rolled her eyes, taking out her stethoscope. She ran through the usual routine that she did every other day with the Uchiha, making sure to ask if he felt any pain as she did so.
"How about your breathing? No pain when you inhale or exhale?"
"None, but I find it slightly difficult to take in deep breaths without coughing." Itachi answered, "No pain though when I cough, mind you."
Sakura nodded, "That's good, that means you're recovering then." She finished scratching a few notes on the clipboard before her, "I'm assuming you want the cabbage with onigiri and fish for lunch?"
"Please." Itachi replied. Sakura simply gave a wave as she left the room.
It had been two weeks since Itachi and Kisame had settled inside Konoha's walls. They, like all of the village's inhabitants, were now immune to the infection. Kisame had joined up with the rest of the shinobi forces, taking his turn patrolling the village walls and reporting any activity that was suspicious.
Aside from that, Itachi had managed to make amends with his younger brother, as well as the rest of Konoha...at least what was left of it that knew of him.
On top of trying to recover as quickly as possible from his treatment for Tuberculosis, the Uchiha was taking time to try and recover his eyesight, at least what he could. He warned Sasuke about the dangers of using the Mangekyou, as well as the price that one must pay for it. He had told his brother once before about how to obtain the Mangekyou when he had killed the Uchiha clan, and while he had hoped Sasuke would become powerful enough to combat—and kill—him someday, the recent events had changed things drastically for two Uchiha. Itachi was thankful that Sasuke had yet to gain the cursed eyes of their clan.
A knock at the door alerted Itachi to the presence of Naruto by his door, "Sasuke told me to stop by and make sure you weren't stuffing yourself with pock-" The blond looked to see the opened box of sweets, and frowned, "Uh huh..."
"They're simply a pleasure I indulge in, Naruto. I have few things like that, so I would ask that you don't take them from me."
Naruto snorted, "You just have a sweet tooth, that's all."
"You have no right to lecture me, seeing as you would prefer to eat nothing but miso ramen and red bean soup if you had things your way."
"W-well..." Naruto shook his head, "Anyway, you doing alright? Sakura-chan said you're recovering fairly well."
"If she says so, then I suppose I have to take her word for it." The Uchiha shrugged, "Personally, I just feel a bit weak right now."
"Yeah...it's going to suck when you have to get your muscles back into shape after bed rest."
"It wouldn't be the first time a shinobi had to do something like that."
The blond gave a laugh, "Right...say, by the way, do you-?" He paused and looked off into space for a moment. Itachi raised an eyebrow at the blond's sudden silence.
"What?" A moment later, Naruto shook his head, and Itachi seemed to catch on, "Something happened to one of your Shadow Clones?"
Naruto nodded, "Yeah, one of them dispelled; apparently we got some kind of owl flying around the Hokage Tower. Looks like it had a message from somewhere."
"A message?" Itachi repeated, "You're certain?"
Naruto shook his head, "I can't be sure. Maybe it was just a stray owl that's been wandering the skies ever since it's home village got destroyed."
"Well, there's only so many nations that use owls for messengers."
"Hm...it looked like one of those snowy owls that you see when you go into the snowy areas up in the northern countries." the blond noted, "You have any idea where it could be from?"
"Snowy Owl?" Itachi gave a grunt, "If that's the case, there's only one possible place that bird could have come from..."
Yamato, Kakashi, Konan, Deidara, Anko, and Asuma stood around the desk in what was once the Hokage's office, looking over the scroll they had found attached to the Snowy Owl that was now resting on the perch near the window. They had been surprised when an ANBU had informed them that there was such a bird flying around here during this time of the year, let alone the fact that it was carrying a scroll in its talons.
"It's genuine. It has the seal of Koyuki Kazahana herself on it." Yamato stated as he looked over the scroll, "Hm...it seems there in a similar debacle like us. She's surrounded by ocean, has a single barrier dividing her from the infected, and there's a risk that the nation could be stormed any week now with the ocean currents warming up."
"What should we do?" Konan asked, leaning against a wall, "The chances of us being able to get to the Land of Spring are small with the infected around us at all times, not to mention that we don't have the manpower to assist them in such a struggle."
Yamato sighed, "That's true..."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow, "Tenzou, don't tell me you're honestly thinking of offering them help." The wood-user gave no reply, "Look, I'm all for helping those in need most times, but don't forget that we're in a bit of a crisis ourselves." He pointed outside, "In case you forgot, they're all out there waiting for us to exit those walls.
"I have to agree with Kakashi, Yamato." spoke Anko, who was chewing on a stick that had a single dango on it, "We're outnumbered by several hundred if what your reports say is true. We're not capable of reaching the Land of Spring to offer them some help if we can't even insure that we'll get through the Konoha Forest without getting wiped out."
Yamato looked to the the other member in their group that was present, "Well, there's always Deidara. He can create a few of those clay birds of his and we can fly to-"
"Hey, that requires chakra in order to keep them flying you know, un!" Deidara griped, "That time in Suna was an exception; we had no other options. Besides, we didn't do several days' worth of travel in that one night. We stopped after only a few hours at most."
"Well, there goes that idea." Anko stated with a somber chuckle, "Looks like we don't have any other choice but to ignore it."
Yamato cursed under his breath, "...we can't stay in Konoha forever. We're already straining ourselves as far as food and water go. Our best estimates indicate about another three months at most for living off our resources at the rate we are. We've already instated the village-wide blackouts every night at sundown to conserve energy, and we're trying to maximize crop production as much as possible within the limited farming space inside the walls of Konoha."
"I suppose this is the part where someone suggests a crazy idea, right?" Asuma joked as he put out his cigarette in the ashtray on a table nearby.
"Actually..." Kakashi began, and Asuma sent him a look, daring him to go through with the 'crazy idea' routine. Kakashi put a hand up in defense before continuing, "Suppose...we find a way to spread the vaccine to the outside without any direct contact."
The room was quiet for a few seconds before Anko's eyes lit up, "The river! That's it!"
Yamato caught on quickly, and nodded, "Yeah! The Little Fire Country River runs right through Konoha; we could disperse the vaccine out to the forest behind the walls by putting it in the river..." He frowned, "It...it's still effective if it's placed in water, right?"
"That answer is for Sakura or Shizune to give. They created it, Hana contributed to the vaccine's effectiveness on canines. Diluting the vaccine probably won't affect it's potency if it's ingested directly, but none of us know." Konan answered, "I can go ask Sakura and Shizune about this. I'm sure they'll be able to tell us for sure if that's possible."
With a quick hand seal, Konan dispersed into a cloud of paper cranes and flew out a window towards the hospital. The group watched her for a moment before Deidara spoke, "Well, looks like we may have a solution to our problem, un." He looked towards a picture of the most recently made map of the Elemental Countries, which was drawn up about one year before the whole outbreak had begun, "Judging from the distance of Hidden Spring to Konoha, and considering that we'll find a way to travel overseas..."
He sighed while running through the numbers in his head, "If we kept a consistent rate of travel, we could reach Hidden Snow within a week and a half. This Snowy Owl probably covered that distance in less than three days time if it stopped only once a day to eat and rest. Typically that's the case with messenger birds in the shinobi village...well...hm..." He sighed again, a hand running through his hair, "Then again, you have to take in the metabolic rates and energy requirements for the bird depending on its species. There's also the large mountain range south of Kumogakure that the bird probably had to circumnavigate around, and the winds blowing from the west have a factor as well..."
Yamato opened his mouth to question Deidara, but Kakashi shook his head, "Just let him do his thing. He apparently took some courses in geography and cartography when he was still an Iwa-nin."
After about five minutes of listening to the former Iwa-nin murmuring to himself, Anko groaned, "Deidara, just spit it out already!"
Deidara sent Anko an annoyed look before shrugging, "Considering it's early spring right now, the rivers are probably high. If we take that, along with crossing over the large mountain ranges, which run south of Lightning and through northern Swamp and Rice Country, it would take actually take about two weeks to reach the shores of the ocean north of us. It's our fastest route compared to taking a ship and going around the coast and north to the Land of Spring."
"Fair enough; now we just need word from Sakura and Shizune on the matter involving the vaccine." Yamato stated, "Hopefully this will work. I'm positive that the infected have been using the river for their main water source..." He shook his head, "I can't believe I didn't think of something like this sooner."
"Heh," Asuma gave a nod, "That's the way it is though, isn't it? Some of the best solutions are right in front of you and you never notice them."
No more than an hour after Konan had talked to Sakura did the young medic-nin begin to run experiments on the vaccine's durability in water. The potency was hardly affected by dilution, according to their findings, and much to the relief of all the shinobi within Konoha.
A day had passed before they began preparing large vats of the vaccine to be dumped into the water. The amount needed to affect a mutant were surprisingly low. If the vaccine actually had an effect on an ordinary infected individual, the substance would be considered something akin to a highly lethal poison.
After the vaccine was poured into the waters, the shinobi of Konohagakure played the waiting game with the mutated. It wasn't until a day or two had passed when they received a report from a scouting team that several mutated were found dead along the riverbank about a half a mile from Konoha's walls. The bodies showed no signs of life, and had already begun to show signs of decay.
Yamato called forth the remaining forces of Chuunin, Jounin, and ANBU to the center of town. Along with him were Naruto and the other survivors, as well as Ino and Chouji.
"As I'm sure most of you are aware, the vaccine was a success on the mutants. It's lethality has proven to be as strong as Sakura had predicted. We will now begin making preparations to have several platoons leave for the Land of Spring to provide support and the vaccine as well. From what we understand, they have managed to avoid the initial wave of the outbreak and have been staving off attacks thanks to their country's isolation and the cold." Yamato looked before crowd of about three hundred ninja before him; it was a small number, but there was the fact that these were ninja who had survived through hell on Earth. They were more than qualified for such scenarios, "I will be keeping more than half of our forces within the village for the obvious reason of protecting Konoha. We cannot be sure how long the vaccine will remain active in the waters, but hopefully a good portion of the mutated are dead within these woods, or dying."
Yamato continued on with explaining that the platoons leaving for the Land of Spring would also be in charge of clearing the forests of mutated while moving through them. This was to insure that any who may have survived initial consumption of the vaccine were killed to prevent an immunity from spreading on to future generations.
Soon enough about one hundred and fifty shinobi were packed and ready to leave for Hidden Snow within the Land of Spring.
"So, how long did Deidara say this trip would take?" Kiba asked as he ran through his supplies a third time to make sure nothing was missing.
"About two weeks, I think. He estimated that with the spring thaw that the weather won't be nearly as cold north of us, so travel will be easier." Tenten replied as she sealed several hundred kunai within her scrolls, "Taking into consideration that Deidara's pretty good at measuring distances with how much he's traveled by air, I think that's a pretty accurate length of time for us."
Among the others that had joined the support team for Land of Spring were Naruto, Sakura, Kakashi, Sasuke, Ino, Chouji, Anko, Iruka, Hinata, Temari, Shikamaru, Lee, Hidan, Deidara, Itachi, and Kisame. Initially Hanabi had tried to go as well, but Hinata insisted that as much as she hated to admit it, they were the last living Hyuuga. If something were to happen to Hinata, Hanabi would be in charge of continuing on the bloodline. It had hurt for Hanabi to see her only remaining family leave, but Hinata's abilities would likely be needed.
Sasuke had been against Itachi coming with because of health reasons, but Sakura had defended Itachi by stating he had made a full recovery. His vision was still a bit hazy, but Sakura stated that if they managed to return to Konoha after this mission to Hidden Snow, she had a possible way to solve the problem if what she heard from Itachi would help with her theory.
Kisame and Hidan tagged along namely because they would have been bored out of their minds if they stuck around to protect Konoha. The possibility of being able to burn off some steam was a welcome proposition to the two.
Yamato decided to stay behind since he had become the unofficial leader of Konoha. He was needed here. Those from the group of survivors that stayed behind had done so namely because of age and experience in the case of Moegi and Hanabi, or their abilities were needed within the village, as was the case with Shizune being one of the few truly experienced medic-nin in Konoha. Sakura was more battle ready with her natural immunity to the virus, and a field medic was always a great cushion to have in a possible battle against hordes of rabid mutants.
Konan and Gaara had stuck behind for the purpose of defending one of the few safe havens left within the mainland. They wanted to join the support team, but decided after some forethought that it would be better helping within Konoha's walls. However, if something were to happen to the one-hundred fifty ninja during the mission, they would be the first to leave to provide further assistance.
Asuma also stayed in Konoha for one very big reason; Kurenai was staying behind with their soon-to-be-born child. They didn't want to experience the possibility of being separated from her a second time and not know if one or the other was alive or not.
It was close to noon by the time they were leaving the walls of Konoha. While shinobi and stealth tend to go hand in hand, sending off more than one hundred at a single time was bound to draw attention. Therefore, the teams were sent out in groups of four to five in different directions at first. They would eventually change course and head towards the rendezvous point in northern Fire Country.
Sakura, Naruto, Kakashi, Itachi, and Sasuke were one of these groups. As they silently jumped through the trees, Naruto would look towards Sakura every so often to see how she was doing. She had the vaccine, yes, but he had formed a habit months back of checking on her every few minutes while traveling to see if she was in need of blood.
Sakura noticed the blond looking to her, and offered him a smile, "I'm fine, Naruto. I'm cured, remember?" She flashed him a grin, her elongated canines reminding him that there were effects that would always remain with her from the infection. Then again, he found the slightly sharper than normal incisors kind of cute.
He'd never tell her though.
Kakashi had Pakkun running ahead of the group to make sure that they wouldn't be ambushed, and to inform them if any of their other fellow shinobi were nearby. The small nin-hound had stated on several occasions that he smelled the decaying bodies of mutants, which was a welcome bit of knowledge for the five shinobi.
Eventually the group met up with about four other groups of shinobi from Konoha, one of them consisting of a group of ANBU who had volunteered to go on the mission. An hour later they met up with Iruka and Anko's group, then they caught up with the group being lead by Deidara. By nightfall, almost all the shinobi had managed to form a massive entity that was leaping through the dense northern woods of Fire Country. They had no casualties, much to their surprise. That meant one of two things.
"Either the vaccine is moving through the waters faster than we expected, or they're watching us." Kakashi stated to the shinobi that sat around a large fire while he spoke. They had just reached their destination a half hour ago; a field just north of where the trees ended and the sparser vegetation began, "I expect no less than thirty shinobi to be awake at any given time tonight. Our enemy has the advantage, even if we have the vaccine. They are at home in these woods, keep that in mind. We're in their territory right now."
As the shinobi bunked down in the large field, no one was more than a few feet away from another shinobi at any given time. While they were leaving themselves open, they stood a better chance of being able to pick out enemies if they were all together within a large perimeter than to have more loses while being spread apart.
Naruto awoke the following morning to something prodding his cheek. He opened his eyes slowly and grumbled to himself before seeing a view he had come to enjoy waking up to in the morning.
"Good morning," grinned Sakura as she laughed at his sleepy expression, "Sorry disturb your beauty sleep, but Kakashi-sensei just said he wants the group to get moving within the hour."
Naruto gave a exasperated sigh as he sat up, "Damn, what time is it?"
"Half past six."
Naruto gave the pink haired kunoichi an incredulous look, and turned towards the slowly brightening horizon. Sure enough, the first rays of light were casting a yellow and golden hue over the otherwise dark sky, "Geesh, what's with the early start?"
Sakura rolled her eyes as she handed Naruto a ration bar, which he bit into, "The sooner we get to the Land of Spring, the better. Don't forget that we're in a land that's not exactly the best place to camp out in anymore."
The blond gave a grunt of agreement and stretched. Looking around, he noted that most of the other shinobi were either awake or in the process of doing so as well. Near the now extinguished fire stood Kakashi, who was talking to Deidara and several Jounin.
Naruto stood up and quickly cleaned up his area, sealing away his sleeping bag as well as Sakura's. The young kunoichi excused herself, stating she had to go check on a few shinobi who had received minor injuries from a scuffle with a group of mutants.
It was a bit surprising to Naruto, actually. There were virtually no encounters outside of a minor incident with about a dozen of the mutated infected. No deaths had occurred, but one Chuunin had lost a finger on his throwing hand as a result. Sakura had patched up the injury without trouble, however.
Walking through the crowds of shinobi, Naruto stopped as he came upon two familiar faces, "Morning guys."
Sasuke looked up from his cup of tea while Itachi was busy chewing on a piece of dried meat. They both nodded to the blond, Sasuke speaking first, "Hey. You hear about the fight last night?"
"Yeah, Sakura-chan just told me. I didn't hear any of it last night."
Itachi gave a nod, "I was actually on guard at the time. It seemed like the mutated were getting desperate. They were disposed of without much trouble, and hardly put up a fight."
Sasuke raised an eyebrow, "You think it's because they're starving out there?"
"Likely." Itachi replied, "Considering that the vaccine supposedly killed off any that had been drinking from the main water source of Fire Country for the past couple days, and the fact that they have no blood to consume, it's very possible."
Naruto shook his head, "I'm still surprised that it's been this easy so far for us." He looked towards the woods to the south of them, "We got through their without a single attack from them. It's not right."
Itachi closed his eyes for a moment, "Let's just be thankful for now. Chances are that we'll have plenty of them to deal with once we get further north. Deidara predicted that about only one-fifth of our enemies within the region are dead; the rest are all concentrated north."
The group of one-hundred fifty ninja were soon all ready to go once more, having eaten and cleaned up the area as best as possible to hide evidence of their presence to any that may stumble upon their former campsite.
A day or so had passed when they ran into another group of mutated. Hinata, who had her Byakugan activated at the time, was able to forewarn those in front. It had rained steel upon the mutated, and only one managed to even get close to the shinobi, biting a Genin before receiving a kunai to the temple. The young boy was given a quick treatment from one of his teammates who was also a medic-nin without incident, luckily.
Deidara and Kakashi were overlooking the body of one of the mutants, "Wow...Yamato wasn't kidding at all about their forms, un."
The silver haired Jounin nodded while staring at the beast-like creature, "I'm guessing that those over-sized bottom teeth aren't for looks." He squatted down while keeping a single hand on his kunai pouch, just in case, "It's upper body looks like it carries most of the weight too. Look at the size of those arms..."
"We call those kinds 'Wreckers'." stated Ino, who had been nearby and noticed the two looking over the dead mutant, "They're not so bad, really. While none of the mutated ever have a similar look to them, the Wreckers usually have gigantic arms and that large under bite." She frowned, "Not that bright either, but you don't want to be caught up with one and have several of the smarter ones nearby."
Kakashi glanced over to the Yamanaka, "I take it they're used for causing panic in groups."
Ino gave a nod, "Typically. While they're running around and trying to destroy anything that bleeds, the other mutants pick off anyone unfortunate enough to get caught. We managed to catch them off guard though, so it's no surprise that we avoided injury."
Kakashi and Deidara looked to the nearby shinobi, only to receive nods. The silver haired Jounin shook his head, "Then I guess it was a good thing that Hinata had her Byakugan activated at the time."
After taking a few minutes to rest, the mass of shinobi continued northward. It was close to sunset when Hinata again signaled for the others to halt. This time she didn't speak right away, but just by looking at her pale face it was easy to see that something disturbing was within her line of sight. A few other Hyuuga that were part of the group activated their Byakugan, and gave similar grim expressions.
Kiba decided to speak to the young Hyuuga heiress, "Hinata, what's wrong? What do you see?"
Hinata shook her head, "I-I'm not entirely sure...I have this strangest sensation coming over me right now, and my Byakugan's being affected by some odd jutsu of sorts."
"What's it like, Hinata?" asked Deidara, who was now at the front once more, "Give us details."
"I-I don't know how to explain it. It's like someone just placed a dense mist of chakra ahead of us...but...it's not moving so much as it is just staying in place." Her pale eyes looked forward as the bulging nerves of her kekkai genkai remained visible, "It feels like a dark cloud's been cast ahead."
Naruto, who happened to overhear the conversation, spoke up, "I'll scout ahead."
Kakashi frowned, "Not by yourself you're not."
"Fine, I'll go with him." spoke Shikamaru, "I can get an idea of what we're looking at, maybe."
After a few moments, about sixteen shinobi, among them being Naruto, Shikamaru, Hidan, and Tenten, went ahead into the supposed 'fog' of chakra.
"Tch, fog? I don't see anything. That little Hyuuga princess was probably just seeing things..." Hidan snickered, "For all we know, maybe she was just going nuts from all the pressure of...whoa..."
The white haired scythe user stopped talking as a feeling of dread suddenly crept upon the group. A few of the ANBU drew their short swords, one of them looking to Naruto, the apparent leader, "Uzumaki-san, what do you suppose this is?"
Naruto shook his head, "I'd say Genjutsu...but it's too real."
Shikamaru raised an eyebrow, "Naruto, you're a dud at Genjutsu, how can you tell?"
"Just because I suck at Genjutsu doesn't mean I haven't learned to sense it. This feels different." the blond retorted in a whisper, "Tenten, get behind me. You're vision's better than mine; if anything is waiting for us, you'll be the first to pick it off."
The brunette gave a nod and quietly leaped by the blond, pulling out a handful of projectile weapons that were tied to a string, "I've got your back, Naruto."
The sixteen shinobi carried onward, but stopped as Shikamaru pointed out something, "Hold on...it looks like there's a few buildings up ahead."
Sure enough, there were. Several small structures were standing, lined up on either side of a small dirt road that the ninja had been following for the past hour, seeing as it lead northward. Hidan frowned, "The place is like a ghost town..."
One of the ANBU jumped ahead to Naruto, and spoke, "Uzumaki-san, Ko, the sensor in our group, hasn't felt any sentient presence since we entered the supposed fog. She can sense some wildlife, however, so the fog's obviously not meant to hinder abilities like a sensor's."
Naruto gave a nod, then pointed to two of the Jounin that were with the group, "Report back to the main group, inform them on what we've encountered. If they want to send more shinobi, then go ahead," He looked down to the small buildings, "We're going to investigate this place."
As they entered the first small house, a wave of horrid stench hit their nostrils. Naruto nearly vomited as he looked to see a pile of decaying bodies in the corner of the living room. He closed the door and spoke while holding his stomach, "Ugh, okay, we're not going in there..."
They continued onward, deciding to stick together just in case. Naruto opened another door while Tenten held shuriken at ready. They were relieved to see that there was no stench to invade their senses this time. Instead, a different sight lay in front of them.
The walls were spattered with dry blood. Some looked to be hand prints, others seemed to show that there was a struggle at some point or another. Signaling for the others to continue onward, they crept silently through the living space and into the kitchen.
They entered the area, but they were interrupted by a loud whisper, "Psst, hey, get the hell back in here and look at this!"
Naruto and a few of the others walked back into the living room, and Hidan stood their, pointing at something down a hallway to a bedroom. The bedroom door wasn't what interested the sadistic shinobi, however. Hidan was pointing to the walls lining either side of the corridor.
"...what the hell...?"
The group was silent, staring at the wall, unable to make heads or tails of it. Eventually Shikamaru spoke, "What do you think they meant by, 'Who is he?'?"
Spattered across the corridor walls were words, written in blood. Naruto looked across the various lines of crimson writing, frowning as he read over them.
Can he see us?
Why do they hunger?
Shut him up!
Silence! Shut him UP!
Who is he? Who is HE?
The bloodied eyes!
"What kind of drugs were they taking?" muttered Hidan, "It's like they were going insane or something. Look at how the lettering's getting more and more unreadable." He pointed further down to the bottom of the wall where eventually the words were replaced with bloody hand prints, slash marks, and a few holes in the wall, "Someone went on a rampage here, heh."
Naruto looked over the words once more, and then turned to the hallway. He made a single clone and indicated for it to go and open the doorway. The Shadow Clone slowly opened the door, the others ready for an attack. However, no attack came. The clone simply looked around and gave a noise of disgust, "Nothing here...just...more bloody walls, nothing else."
The group eventually met up with some reinforcements Kakashi sent, among them being Kiba and Lee, the two Jounin Naruto had sent out to report to Kakashi, and five Chuunin. Naruto filled the group in on what they had seen, and then headed back to meet with the rest of the ninja.
That night proved to be a rather sleepless one for Naruto. He hadn't spoken much since he returned, letting Tenten, Shikamaru, and the others fill in the details. Sakura had noticed, but didn't push him for an answer, deciding to just lie next to him quietly as they drifted off to sleep.
The blond, however, had reason to be silent. He was recalling what his clone had seen earlier. He hadn't spoken about what he had seen earlier, namely for the sake of Itachi and Sasuke.
Shifting once more through the memory of the clone, he replayed the images in his mind.
The room was an utter disaster. The bed had been ripped apart, the walls lined in blood while the dresser and lamps lay broken on the ground.
As the clone looked further into the room, it spotted a rather detailed image, drawn in blood, of course. The image was of a spiraling, swirling design. A little to the right of the swirl's center was a hole, and within the hole lay a dark circle. Almost like the pupil of an eye.
Around that pupil was a line, and on that line were three small comma like marks. The clone had recognized it almost immediately.
End of Chapter Sixteen- Well, I managed to update this again! I have to admit, this fic's been a bit slow going, but I DO enjoy writing it when I do. Not sure why it's not updated more often...hm...
Anyway, the suspense continues! The non-mutated shinobi take action! Land of Spring is in dire need of help, it would seem. Will they make it in time? What about the mysterious, foreboding images Naruto had seen? Freaky stuff, eh? Well, keep an eye open for future updates. They're not as frequent as I'd like, but they do happen, lol. Thanks for reading!