The Best Laid Plans
Chapter 30 - Exposed Throats
Disclaimer: Forget killing all the lawyers. Start with the bankers and the politicians who're conning/micromanaging the world into the abyss.
A month later...
Oe Temmu, the younger step brother of the late Daimyo of Hi no Kuni and one of the claimants to the throne of the land, walked into the room with his consort the Lady Uno-no-sarara.
Ibiki and his companion, who'd been enjoying a cup of tea while waiting for their hosts, stood up and bowed to the noble usurper.
"Good evening, Lord and Lady," greeted Ibiki.
Temmu nodded, imperiously. He was convinced that the presence of one of the most senior members of Konoha's Intelligence department indicated that the village leadership had decided to throw in their lot with him.
"Good evening, Ibiki. Please be seated. How are things back at the village? Do you see an end in sight to this damnable war?"
The torture expert made himself comfortable and started his briefing. Oe Temmu listened carefully, asking such questions as were pertinent and they spent the next hour in small talk and discussion on the course of the war.
"How may We help you today, Jounin Ibiki?" Temmu asked at the end of the hour.
Ibiki and his companion exchanged glances.
"We're here on the subject of your claim to the throne."
Temmu raised an eyebrow, feigning surprise. It really wasn't. For the past month, messengers from Konoha had met each of the other claimants to the throne and had conveyed Konohagakure's refusal to support their claims. Temmu was the last remaining contender and it stood to reason that the Leaf shinobi would send someone to meet him and announce their support for his faction.
"And what is your leadership's stance on the subject?" he asked.
"The Godaime expresses his regret that he will not be able to support your claim to the throne."
Temmu's mouth snapped open and remained stuck in that position.
"If not me, then who else?" the lord asked. "It's become common knowledge that the Hokage had rejected everyone else."
"Konohagakure are not supporting anyone at this point in time," Ibiki explained.
"Do you shinobi think that you can seize power for yourselves? The noble houses will not stand to be commanded by a bunch of ninja," Temmu retorted.
"Godaime Hatake Kakashi isn't interested in the Fire Throne."
"It certainly looks like he is from where I stand. I'll have you know that I'll not stand for it. A murderous thug for hire on my brother's - on my - throne."
"Once again, Lord, the Godaime isn't interested in the Fire Throne."
"Well, I won't let him have it. I'll gather the nobles and crush your village first," Temmu snarled.
"And this is why Konohagakure refuses to back you. You would start a civil war in the middle of a war on which hinges Hi no Kuni's survival," Ibiki's companion accused the Lord.
Ibiki held up his hand to silence his colleague.
"Let us not let passion cloud our judgments, Hideyoshi," the ANBU commander said. To Temmu, he said, "My companion perhaps spoke out of turn, Lord, but his words have truth behind them. That you and the others would push the country towards civil war when our forces were fighting on three fronts doesn't speak well of any of your leadership abilities."
Temmu mastered himself with difficulty.
"Get out of my house," he ground out his words. "I'll see your Hokage before the Council of Nobles."
"Actually," Ibiki replied pleasantly, "you won't. We conveyed one part of the Godaime's message. We did not convey the other."
"Well then, Sirrah, have your say and get the hell out of my house."
"It is simply this, Lord. You will send your wife, your parents and kids to Konohagakure with us where our forces will be able to ensure their safety."
"You would take hostages and blackmail me."
"Please, Lord. Blackmail is such a strong word. Let us not use it. We're better men than that," Ibiki smiled.
Samurai walked into the room from multiple doors, drawn by their master's angry words.
"It's out of the question. Now, get out or I'll have my retainers throw you out."
"You sure you want that, Lord," Ibiki asked, smiling still. If he was bothered by the mass of armed men standing at his back with drawn swords, it wasn't evident.
Temmu's eyes narrowed.
"If something untoward were to happen to me and my friend," the ANBU commander continued, "there would be an unfortunate incident at your home tonight. Sadly, one of our ninja would have gone rogue - the pressure of continuous war for three years getting to him, you see - and there'll be no survivors. Why, the shinobi would be so overwrought he would kill everything down to the rats. I'm sure we do not want that."
"You wouldn't dare!"
"Actually, I think that the poor insane bastard might rape your wife and your daughter - She is eight, I believe, and way too young for such things. So, it would be a pity. - and sell them to a pimp in Kaze no Kuni. And you know how much the folks in Wind hate Fire nobles right now. Sad, really."
Konan found her friend frowning over an intelligence report in his study.
"Pein-sama, is anything the matter?"
Nagato stirred and cast a questioning eye at his companion.
"You were so immersed in the report that you lost situational awareness," Konan explained.
"I was reading this communique from Iwa from their intelligence head," he gestured at the unfurled scroll on the desk. "She is worried that there's been no update from either Itachi or Kisame for months now and concerned that there's been no report of mass casualties among the Leaf nin under Jiraiya's command."
Konan took a seat and pored over the message herself.
"I'm not seeing any cause for concern. These things tend to take time."
"I agree, absolutely. The delay could be caused by any number of reasons."
"One of the cell members could have fallen ill, for example, and they could be lying low until they're combat ready."
"Yes. I'm not worried about that. Both Itachi and Kisame are very dependable. Far more so than any of our other cells."
"So, what is it that has you worried?"
"The forces arrayed against Iwa and Kusa on Hi no Kuni front grow in strength even as we speak, while our nominal allies have to deal with a shattered supply line and insecure rear as well lost momentum and morale. I hate to say it, but it looks increasingly likely that the land of Fire will survive the war."
There wasn't anything Konan could say about that so she kept her counsel to herself.
"It is decided then," Inoichi gestured at the other two men in the room. The intelligence head had smuggled himself into Jiraiya's little fortress on the Kusa hill after news of Itachi's unplanned return to the fold. He'd then spent the next few weeks carefully debriefing the Konoha's mole in Akatsuki and the result had been an intelligence coup as good or better than the windfall from Oto or the defection of Kabuto. A brainstorming session at the end of those briefings had been a plan that had the potential to pull the carpet from under the rogue organization's feet.
Jiraiya and Itachi nodded without hesitation.
"I'll brief the Hokage," the Yamanaka clan leader informed the others. "I see no reason why he should reject it. We've all been aching to get our claws on Akatsuki and this is by far the best plan towards that end. The only practical and reasonable plan, to be perfectly honest."
"I would disagree with that," Itachi responded. "While it's true that there's no way to infiltrate Rain without Pein's cognizance, it is also true that Konoha has something that Akatsuki need. I'm sure you can work with the required people to leak information about Shukaku's location and spring an ambush when my organization sends people to collect the beast."
"There is that," Inoichi agreed, "but I'm afraid it won't get the political traction we need to implement it anywhere in our territory or that of our allies. Everyone knows what happened the last time Akatsuki thought they had a lead on the Shukaku and no one's going to want to risk another repeat of Tea capital. Ergo, that's neither practical nor reasonable."
Itachi nodded understanding. Even a genius never stops learning and he'd just learnt something new. Arguably, he'd never get to use it - making policy and playing politics were not part of his job description - but he filed it away just the same. He would not be half the shinobi he was if he learnt only those things that he considered pertinent to the immediate job.
"So, the village's hopes rest on my forlorn hope?" he asked.
Inoichi smiled and shook his head.
"Need to know, Itachi-san. And you do not have need to know."
"My apologies," Itachi responded. The question had been impertinent and unwise. What he did not know, he could not divulge if his mission failed and he was captured, after all.
"I guess this concludes today's session," Jiraiya pronounced. "Inoichi, how about the three of us share a drink?"
"Will wonders never cease?" Colonel Saigo Takamori, commanding officer, 3rd Restoration Brigade, observed as the last of the inbound high value shipment of materiel was delivered to his unit. "Logistics are actually meeting their delivery commitments for once."
Lt. Colonel Beppu Shinsuke, Takamori's executive officer scowled and punched his right fist into his left palm. His ancestral home was in territory captured by the invaders and though his family and closest retainers had escaped the pillaging and rapine, most of the common folks that were his responsibility to protect had not.
"Screw wonders," he barked gruffly, "This means we get to kill them Iwa and Kusa wogs and stack them up sky high."
"Patience, friend," Takamori counseled, "We still have a few more weeks to go before we can go about kicking the invaders out of our land. The rest of the assault brigades to be similarly replenished still and the shinobi and regular army reinforcements aren't at their staging points for the offensive yet."
3rd Restoration Brigade was camped fifteen miles from the Iwa-Kusa frontline where Hi no Kuni slowly built up the forces for their first offensive action on this front. The area was heavily patrolled by roving bands of shinobi and samurai as troops and materiel were moved into staging areas under heavy guard. 3rd Restoration Behavior had been pulled back from the Kaze no Kuni border where they hadn't seen any action and earmarked as one of the advance elements of the attack.
For all that Takamori counseled patience with his XO, the Colonel was still pissed that his war with Wind and the chance for glory said war brought had sputtered out with a whimper against the actions of Konoha's Three Flames. Hopefully, things would go better on this front and he would have a chance to lead his brigade into combat.
"Yes," Shinsuke agreed. The cold smile that lit his face as he spoke was that of a starved predator contemplating prey. "We'll get a chance to thank the Tsuchi army for their abstinence in holding captured ground through ever increasing deprivations in the face of our inevitable onslaught."
Mitokado Homura stared impassively at the Kaminari no Kuni representative as their underlings explained pleasantries and slowly warmed up to the subject over the course of an hour. Homura, who was more than seventy years old, was a past master at this game owing to his extensive experience as a liaison with the samurai clans of Hi no Kuni. Hell might freeze over, but he wasn't going to break eye contact or blink first, though his eyes hurt like you wouldn't believe.
Thankfully, before the pain got to be too much for him to bear, the Kaminari contingent finally got around to raising the subject of this meeting. Homura smiled grimly at his opposing member.
"It is indeed regrettable that Kusa had to be wiped off the map, but so was the destruction of Tea capital," he pointed out.
The Lightning noble nodded, a grave and discomfited expression etched on his visage.
"Kaminari no Kuni censures the rogue organization Akatsuki for their actions in Tea," he acknowledged.
Homura waited patiently for the other to continue.
"We saddened by the loss of life and the destruction of the two cities," the nobleman reiterated. "My Lord and Master, the Hon'able Daimyo of Kaminari no Kuni wants to ensure that such tragedies are avoided in the future at all costs."
Ah, thought Homura. That's why they called for this meeting. He'd wondered whether Lightning wanted to raise the subject of the captured Two-tail jinchuuriki, but apparently, the destruction of Kusa and the implications for all Elemental nations rankled the Kaminari no Kuni ruler more.
The septuagenerian sat up straighter. The revelation of the agenda changed everything. Lightning was the first nation to initiate a formal conversation on the destruction of Kusa and if he played things right, Fire stood to gain quite a bit.
"The Hon'able Daimyo is wise. But how may we help you? Hi no Kuni must preserve the ability to defend ourselves against the indiscriminate use of such weapons. So long as the world remains the way it is and so long as other actors - be they state sponsored or states acting alone or together - hold and control similar weapons, my nation needs such a capability for self-defense."
The samurai lord nodded as if he understood Fire country's predicament.
"I'm sure that you'll do what's right for your country and your people. As my Lord and master will do what's good for his," the samurai responded after a moment's consideration.
Homura mentally translated. The response was a carefully worded threat. The Lightning Daimyo and Cloud's Kage were officially giving notice to Fire that a repeat performance of their doomsday weapon would not be tolerated.
"The people of Hi no Kuni have the highest regard for the Daimyo of Kaminari no Kuni. His wisdom is known to one and all," the Konoha diplomat responded without batting an eye. Translation: Your people have no need to fear me and mine.
"As my Lord and master would say, 'even monkeys fall from trees.'" Translation: Words are well and good, but anyone can make a mistake. What's the guarantee that something will not go wrong?
"Not seeing is a flower," Homura replied adroitly quoting another proverb. Translation: Reality cannot compete with the power of one's imagination. There's nothing that I can say or do that you'll make you trust me if you're paranoid.
The samurai nodded. He understood what the retired Leaf shinobi was driving at. However, he had responsibilities to his people and that meant...
"Giving birth is easier than worrying about it." Translation: It's very hard to trust because trust is so easily betrayed. Give me something solid that I can take back to my Daimyo and mollify his fears.
Homura nodded and switched topics. And in the interest of not being misunderstood, he addressed the problem as he took a more direct with his initial problem statement.
"Hi no Kuni's environment isn't one to fill a person's head with a sense of security and confidence," he confessed. "We face an existential threat with Iwa and Kusa on one direction. Then there are the unaddressed and long festering issues on our other borders. We fall seven times and stand up eight, but the rule of the land is as it always has been, 'the weak are meat; the strong eat.'" Translation: You talk about your Daimyo losing sleep, but what about mine? We are beset by enemies on all fronts.
The samurai lord brooded over Homura's statement in silence for a few moments.
"Perhaps an agreement can be reached that's mutually satisfactory," he said. Translation: Maybe if we make you a bit safer by defining clear cut boundaries for the proxy wars we fight with each other, we can reach a beneficial agreement that puts both our fears to rest.
"Perhaps," Homura agreed. Translation: What do you bring to the table?
Sandaime Tsuchikage Onoki rolled open an empty writing scroll, pulled out his brush and nodded at his subordinates.
"Status of the supply situation," he asked his quartermaster.
"We've met the mule procurement program's goals, Sandaime-sama, though there's been a greater than expected delay between purchase and delivery. In turn, this has caused a whiplash effect in deliveries to the front. Our troops facing the enemy haven't been starving exactly, but they have been living under straitened circumstances with most units paralyzed into defensive postures in the tactical and operational sense."
"You mean they aren't fit for combat operations," Onoki clarified. "I guess it's a good thing that Hi no Kuni units are also unprepared or I'd have lost an army and you'd have lost your head."
The quartermaster nodded, meeting the Sandaime's glare without flinching. Logistics is the art of the possible and his people had worked miracles to even keep the front supplied after the disaster in Kusa.
"My apologies, quartermaster. While you counseled that we do not retreat from our lines, it was I who made the actual decision and responsibility for the result rests with me. How long before your people can supply enough materiel to the frontline troops so as to affect a change in their strategic posture?"
"Another month, Lord. If we can reduce the Sannin Jiraiya's fort and improve internal security, we may be able to save as much as a week and a half from the effort."
Onoki looked askance at his Head of Operations. The man shook his head in the negative.
"Not possible. They have strength in numbers with a far higher than normal population of powerful, blooded combatants and they're very well dug in."
"You heard the man," Onoki informed his quartermaster.
"Then a month from now, Sandaime-sama."
Onoki turned to his Head of Intelligence.
"And how long before Hi no Kuni can mount a credible defense or offense of the frontline?" he asked.
"We estimate five to six weeks for the former and ten weeks for the latter. They're pulling in those volunteer units armed of tradesmen and farmers armed with pikes and bows, a thin leavening of samurai to stiffen the ranks. We believe this indicates that their posture for the near future is going to be defensive in nature. So, we have time."
"Good. Some breathing room is all we need to crush those damnable tree-huggers. Pull out the Han and Roshi from their interdiction duties around Jiraiya's fort and move them to the front in five weeks. Start making movement plans, unit objectives and all that to resume the offensive in six weeks."
"So, Oe Temmu wants to be difficult," retired General Tetsuzan Nagata said. An old, scarred veteran survivor of a hundred battles, the samurai lord was one of the most influential nobles in Hi no Kuni. Incidentally, he headed the faction that was against all four pretenders to the Daimyo's throne.
"That appears to be the case, Lord," Kakashi replied.
The samurai nodded and took a deep breath.
"Well, if that blowhard doesn't know what implacable means. Guess it's time someone taught him and the other vermin what it means."
Kakashi raised an eyebrow.
"I'll talk to the others, Kakashi," the Tetsuzan continued. "And we'll see what'll see."
"Of course, Lord."
"Thanks for bringing this to my notice. Those dirty scumbags!"
After the oldster left, muttering imprecations against the late Daimyo's relatives, Kakashi turned to Ibiki.
"Hopefully, that takes care of the Lord Oe Temmu and his wife. Good job and carry on, Ibiki."
The elder Uchiha brother looked up from his reading and nodded acknowledgement at his visitors.
"Morning, little brother! Naruto!" Itachi greeted his visitors. "What brings you by this morning?"
"We heard about your plan from Jiraiya-sensei and Inoichi-san."
Itachi raised an eyebrow at his brother.
"Better this than a seppukku in all but name with me as your second. At the very least, your death would serve a greater purpose."
Seconds passed. Finally, the elder brother nodded.
"And you, Naruto? What are your thoughts on the subject?" he asked, genuinely curious. He'd learned about Naruto's actions in Kusa during his debriefing by Yamanaka Inoichi. It was regrettable that a new generation was making the same sacrifices he had, but by this point, he looked at the Yondaime's son as a kindred soul and one who'd been through enough to empathize with him.
"The ninja world and our way of life is thus ever saved by faceless heroes," Naruto replied in a somber tone, bowing deeply at the waist in honor of his friend's brother.
Itachi looked discomfited by the gesture.
"We all do what we can for peace," he said.
"Peace in our lifetimes," Sasuke seconded.
"And perhaps, peace forever," Naruto appended.
Later, in the day, as Team 7 were lunching together in silence, Naruto cleared his throat.
"Yes, Naruto," Sasuke asked.
Sakura had her mouth full and only raised an eyebrow.
"I think we need to return to Konoha. I want to talk to Kakashi-sensei."
So, the plot is a little more fleshed out now for the finale. Thanks to everyone who reviewed. I know I used to reply to individual reviews, but I don't have the time anymore. My apologies.
The old notes, which are still very relevant:
Been busy with life, work, baby and wife. And as a result, Kishimoto beat me to the Itachi saves the Shinobi world schtick. God, I hate it when that happens. But then, I haven't been fast with my updates and fully deserve to be robbed of my thunder.
Anyways, hope you like the snippet. I guess you can all guess what Itachi's mission is going to be, huh?