Chapter thirty: Mist.

No-one knew what happened to Hashirama Senju. Tsunade spent the next week in deep mourning, breaking up with her brief boyfriend - much to Jiraiya's relief, although, funnily enough, Orochimaru was nowhere to be found to comfort her. A gap that Jiraiya tried to fill - even if Orochimaru was creepy and slightly herpetological (not that Jiraiya knew the scientific word for snakelike), he did - occasionally - have an extraordinary sensitivity to Tsunade's emotions, even when Jiraiya didn't notice that something was wrong.

Shortly after Torbirama became Nidaime Hokage, he called back Sarutobi and his unit from their mission, a top-secret assignment that had takken them months. He also called back another Jonin cell, that, for some reason, Jiraiya had never met before - lead by a dark-haired man called Danzou... THe rumours that fluttered among the older villagers hinted at an infiltration mission to Kumogakure that had lasted years, and included the assasination of at least one Raikage...

"Congratulations, Jiraiya!" Sarutobi bellowed as he met his two fair-haired students outside one of the local food-places. "It seems you finally got your promotion!"

"Yep. And I've found myself a publisher too. I'm going to becme a real author." He held up one of the prototypes for his book, Icha Icha scrawled across the cover. He hadn't dared to tell anyone - it took mind to understand true pervery - but felt safe enough here, with his teacher to protect him from Tsunade.

"I want a signed copy - gratis." SArutobi said, grinning, knowing that his student would have to fork up in repayment for all the times he'd let the boy get out of training to 'research'.

"Here you go - it's not even officially out yet." He handed Sarutobi the book with a grin, ignoring Tsunade's glare as they walked under the short curtain and into the stall.

*

Tobirama Senju stood in the office that had formerly been his brother's. The small plant on the desk had withered and died about four days ago - it had been sustained by Hashirama's life-force, some people even believed that it was a part of the reason for his mastery over mokuten. And, since it was dead, there was no chance that the Hokage's elder brother was alive.

"It looks like I really have inherited your legacy..." Tobirama murmured, as the last withered leaf fell from the tree. Hashirama's legacy was the burning Will of Fire for which the village had been named, a determination that had eventually consumed it's leader...

Tobirama froze as he sensed a wave of chakra that wasn't supposed to be there. It was at the edge of the forest, waiting.

*

At the edge of the village, seven swordsmen waited. Kumorigetsu Hozuko leaned on the tall Executioners Blade, driven point down into the soft earth, watching Ringoshi Samekuchi as he swung the bandaged Samehada through the air, filed teeth bared in a grin. Kumorigetsu had already claimed the right to fight Sarutobi - as leader of the group - while Ringoshi would mop up any ninja other than the sanin who was foloish enough to come close.

"I call dibs on Jisuke." Said the only woman in the group, Momoko Zanza as she studied her long fingernails, crusted with dried blood, Rai Roga crossed over her back.

"Then I'll fight their girl." Said Sakana Shirona, checking Hiramekarei's bandages. The other three - androgynous Asuko Shuichi with Kajoukiri's two small leaf blades twirling on their chain, Torushi with Suiryu wrapped around his emaciated form, and Shirya Kotetsu with Kaisohana coverring his entire right arm in razor ridges and hanging with fine chains tipped with razor spines - seemed content to help Ringoshi as necessary.

"I cna't wait to get revenge on this pathetic village. And then see what's stinking up that big forest over there." Ringoshi said, pointing to where the Forest of Death rose from behind its high fences.

"It's Kyuubi. THe most powerful Bijuu." Kumorigetsu said disdainfully. "Our mission is to acquire it."

"Then why fight their Jonin?" Asuko asked, catching the hilts of his Kajoukiri.

"A distraction. I'll leave a water clone here, and so will you, Shirya, We'll go to fetch the kyuubi for our Mizukage.

"Won't that be fun, hana-chan?" Shirya purred to his blade as he stood up with a grin.

*

Okay. I made up this cohort of swordsmen, and they may come back at a later date, or in their own fic (BIG maybe on that one) cos I like em. Now, I'm gonna give you the meanings of all the sword names I made up.

Kajoukiri - spiral-cut.
Suiryu - water-dragon
Kaisohana - seaweed-flower (actually, I think that this one may be my favourite name, even if the translation's kinda lame.) Other than that, my translations could be slightly off, but hey, most people - including me - will probably never know. And I shall try to be more frequent in updating.... ANd I know this is short, but it's spend a month editign it longer, or post it now, so hey.