Raikiri no Yume
--Lightning Blade Dream--
by Jade Rhade
Prelude – Eki no Inu Kau
--To Feed the Dogs of War --
"Tch." Genma adjusted his toothpick with his teeth, gazing up as the sky lightened from a deep indigo to a blood red. "That's ominous. What's the saying about red skies in the morning?"
His companion shrugged. "How should I know, Genma-san?" she questioned, nervously dropping a hand to her shuriken holster as a bird cawed and took flight overhead.
Her action was not unnoticed. Genma grinned and shook his head regretfully. This is what happens when Hokage-sama starts assigning rookie Chuunin to border patrol. The fact remained, however, that there was little other choice. Even now, almost three years since that disastrous Chuunin Exam (the one for which he had proctored the final exam, to his eternal dismay), Konoha still had barely enough shinobi to keep the land secure from invasion. Jounin were more in demand than ever as requests for high-profile missions continued to pour in, and ANBU always had something going on... leaving the border patrol stretched thin.
The former Chuunin examiner put a hand on the kunoichi's shoulder. "Don't jump at every small noise," he cautioned. "You'll tire yourself out."
"H...hai," she agreed. Her hand, however, remained in place.
"Tch." Genma bit down on the toothpick. Her nervousness was going to infect him if he wasn't careful. Damn rookie. "What's your name, anyway?"
"I want you to check one hundred meters in each direction, Yume-kun," he told her. That would get her off his back, at least for half an hour. "Come back immediately if you see anything suspicious."
Her eyes widened. "But sir, what counts as suspicious?"
"What are you, a Genin? Tch." Genma shook his head with frustration. "You passed your Chuunin exams somehow, didn't you? I'm sure you'll know if you see it."
"Y-yes sir," she managed, jumping straight up into the air and disappearing to the north.
Genma sighed and pressed his fingertips to his forehead. It was going to be a long week until he was relieved. Something about that girl... he'd never seen her before; and distinctive indigo eyes like hers would be hard to forget. Once he returned to the village, he'd check her background, but until then he rested his back against the tree and began composing a few lines of poetry in his mind.
blood red skies above
keeps the young from peaceful sleep
my path...He sighed, sensing a presence behind him. "Back already? What did you-"
...my path leads to death
Bright sunlight streamed through the leaves and branches, lending the forest a serene, still air. All was silent but for the sudden crackle of a leapt-upon branch.
"Yahoo!" Inuzuka Kiba cheered, briefly flying through the air before landing again. "Early morning run, right Akamaru?"
Easily keeping pace beside him, his ninja dog and constant companion, the snowy white dog Akamaru barked once in resounding agreement. They'd already left the rest of their team behind; they'd wait for them at the border, sure enough, but early morning runs were the best. The impulsive youth sniffed the air and twisted around in midair to face back the way he had come. Akamaru had already halted and was sniffing more intently.
"What is it, Akamaru?" Kiba landed nimbly on the branch, only then noticing the silence of the forest. A silence that was far too deep- not a bird nor beast stirred.
Nearly two meters from snout to tail, Akamaru whined unhappily, then jumped from the branch to the ground and bounded off to the east.
Kiba was quick to follow. "What is it?" He skidded to a stop as a smell hit his sensitive nose like a blow. "Wha-"
The sweet iron smell of fresh spilt blood made him gag as he entered the small clearing, the sight of the precious fluid only then registering in his vision, smeared over the trees and the rocks, soaked into the soil beneath his feet, a devilish mire sucking at his shoes. "What happened here?" Kiba covered his nose and crossed to the far side of the clearing, where Akamaru pawed at something in the bushes.
The dog, white fur now streaked with red, bit down on a piece of navy blue cloth and tugged. "This is a Konoha ninja!" Kiba exclaimed, dropping to his knees and pulling the body from the brush. The man's breathing was faint, but it was there. "Akamaru, go get one of the guys patrolling the border. There's got to be at least one somewhere near us." He frantically dug through his pack and yanked out a scroll, scribbling a brief note on the inside and handing it to the dog. "Bring them here, go!"
Akamaru chomped down on the scroll and vanished, winding his way through the trees like a white shadow.
Kiba shivered as he gazed around the clearing. "What kind of weapon could have done this?" he murmured, staring at the gashes covering the Jounin's body. And his eyes narrowed. There was something clutched in the Konoha shinobi's hand. The younger man gently opened his fist and, as if struck by a bolt, dropped the hand and lunged to his feet."Hurry, Akamaru!"
Sarutobi-sensei. Not a day has passed that I haven't marveled at your influence in this village. Tsunade stood at the bay window of her office, hands clasped behind her back, watching a shadow fall over her village from the clouds obscuring the sun above. Sometimes, though, your mistakes and misjudgments come back to bite me. She sighed and turned, picking up a simple piece of cloth, recovered by Inuzuka Kiba- a cloth heavy with the weight of impending war.
A single finger-less glove, the type commonly worn by shinobi. A glove which, on the knuckles, was emblazoned the mark of the Village Hidden in the Clouds.
"Genma-san has no memory of the fight he must have had," Shizune said softly, eyes on the glove. "And it will be some time before he's conscious enough to respond to ANBU's interrogation methods."
"Of course," Tsunade agreed, clenching her fist around the navy-blue cloth. "That would be too easy."
Beside the glove lay a letter, recently arrived- this morning, actually- by carrier pigeon from the Village Hidden in the Clouds. In eloquent words, it warned of a rogue ninja turned serial killer last seen approaching the Land of Fire. A pleasant method of denying any possible involvement. However...
"Relations have never been good between Konoha and the Village in the Clouds." Tsunade dropped heavily into her seat and laid her head on the table, letter in one hand, glove in the other. "This could be an innocent case of a murderous rogue ninja, or it could be a prelude to invasion."
"And don't forget their interest in the Byakugan," Shizune added. She flinched as Tsunade turned a glare to her.
"How would I forget something like that?" she snapped angrily. "Now be quiet, I have to think." Tsunade steepled her fingers and rested her chin upon them. "Shizune," she said finally. "How many Jounin are available?"
"Uhh..." the less-imposing woman dug through the paperwork littering the desk until she found the list. "Right now... one."
"That's all? One?"
"Hai. Hyuuga Neji."
Tsunade's hand slipped and slammed against the desk. "Absolutely not!" The impact jarred the precarious stack of papers, sending them cascading through the air like a papery rainstorm.
Shizune jumped and tried to catch some of the wayward sheets. "But... he's the only one available," she protested weakly.
"It's impossible that there's only one Jounin not currently assigned to a mission." Her eyelid twitched with the effort of remaining calm. "Where is everyone?"
She gulped. "Well... we've had a lot of requests for high-profile missions lately... and we've just had the graduates from the Academy get assigned... There are a whole bunch of Chuunin available, though!" she added hastily at the sight of the mounting storm crossing the Hokage's face.
"I don't want to give Chuunin something this sensitive." Tsunade pressed her fingertips to her forehead and sighed.
"Why not Neji-kun?" Shizune ventured.
Her head snapped up. "Because I'd rather the Byakugan be nowhere near those damned Cloud ninja!" Tsunade massaged her temples wearily. "Send for Neji," she conceded finally. "If I remember correctly, only one member of his team is currently in Konoha?"
Shizune checked the paper in her hand. "Hai, the kunoichi Tenten. Lee-kun is with Gai-san on a mission."
"Send for her, then, too."
The other woman bowed and exited, leaving the Hokage alone. A rather ominous sign, Tsunade realized with horrifying abruptness.
In the flurry of papers that had flown through the air, the letter promising peace had disappeared.
A/N: Please don't post any spoilers for Shippuuden beyond episode 30 or so in reviews. Thank you for your consideration.