One hundred Suna Jonin did not seem like much of an army. Anyone unfamiliar with shinobi might view them as about as dangerous as a mercenary force of the same size. That would be a very big mistake. This group would easily annihilate an ordinary army one hundred times their size and were enough to conquer whole nations. This was the difference in killing power between ninja and ordinary soldiers, no matter how well trained and armed. It was the reasons the Daimyos had agreed to the formation of the ninja villages in the first place.
Looking at their numbers Jiraiya understood this. He had hurried to meet with Kushina and her troops while they were still inside of Wind country. He noticed the presence of Kakashi, Itachi, and Shinzou.
"You're calling out all your big guns I see." He and Kushina were a little away from all the others so they could talk in private.
"The only reason I didn't bring the whole army with me was because a smaller force like this can move faster and it's easier to hide." Kushina said. "I figure a hundred Jonin should do it."
"Unless you run into another army of ninja," Jiraiya pointed out solemnly. "You know taking a force this size over the border into Fire will be seen as an act of war. If you're discovered Konoha will attack you, and they'll be within their rights to do so."
"I can't reach Lightning country by land without going across Fire. We'll try to stay hidden and get through as fast as we can."
"Kushina this is reckless," he warned. "You're taking a huge gamble not just with all of their lives but with the lives of everyone in Suna. If you're caught…"
"My sons need me," she said tightly. "To save them I'll run any risk."
"You're talking like a mother not like a Kage."
"Everything I've done up until now has been for the sake of my family. Even becoming Kazekage was just a way to safeguard them. Being a Kage means nothing to me if I can't use my authority to protect my children." She gave him a hard look. "So tell me Jiraiya where are your priorities? Tsunade is trapped there as well you know."
"My loyalties have never changed, you know that. I happen to believe Orochimaru, better known as Fugaku, will destroy Konoha unless he's stopped. That's why I've been helping you and Naruto even though it could be seen as treasonous."
"Well that's lovely, but I'm afraid the time has come for you to come out into the open. I want you with me when we attack the Cloud nin."
"If I do that everyone will see me as traitor," he objected. Up until now he had managed to keep everything concealed.
"So what?" She demanded. "Konoha sees Kakashi, Anko, Itachi and Hinata that way. What difference does it make? If you're serious about stopping Orochimaru then sooner or later you're going to have to play that role. If things work out you'll be the hero later, but for the time being you'll just have to live with it. I want you at my side when I go to save them. If you won't help me fight to save my children then I want nothing more to do with you."
"This is a mistake," he predicted. "I'd be more valuable if I could keep my ties to Leaf open."
"I'll trade any future advantage for your help right now. Now are you coming over or not?"
He slowly nodded. When she put it so bluntly there was no other choice. It did hurt him to take this last step and openly turn against the village. He could only hope that in time all would be forgiven after Orochimaru was exposed.
Just as they were getting ready to move Kushina received a message from Tsunade via slug.
"Change of plans," she announced. "We're moving in a different direction."
The coastal village of Attu was perfect for their needs.
It was a tiny out of the way place, judging by the number of houses there were only a few hundred residents. The village was built on a rocky little island about half a mile out into the bay. It was connected to the land by a simple wooden floating bridge. The coastline here was made up of sheer cliffs that were all about a hundred feet high. Reaching the wooden bridge was only possible through a narrow pass between the cliffs. It was an easily defensible position. Even against ninja who could walk down cliffs any attack would have to be funneled through that pass.
The terrain would also make it impossible for them to be surprised.
"I'll keep some shadow clones on top of the cliffs to keep watch," Naruto said. "I'll be able to see for miles from up there."
Tsunade nodded her agreement. "With any luck we'll be long gone before anyone realizes who we are."
"I see only one problem with this location," Baki pointed out. "There are no ships."
That was true. They could see several row boats out in the shallows and there were a couple flat barges tied up to the island. There were however no sea worthy boats to be seen.
"This is obviously a fishing village and there are docks," Tsunade said. "That means there must be fishing boats too. They're probably all out to sea right now."
"Why don't we just go to one of the coast cities?" Kankuro asked. "We'd be able to get a ship right away and we could hire something a lot faster than some smelly fishing boat."
Temari slapped the back of his head.
"Ow! What was that for?" He asked her angrily.
"That was for being a complete baka!" Temari snapped at him. "You're a ninja! You're supposed to be able to see underneath the underneath!"
"So?" He demanded.
Baki sighed; disappointed his student was not more astute. "Do you really imagine that we could enter a large city, charter a boat, and not be noticed? The Raikage is undoubtedly searching for us as we speak. He will not allow us to leave Lightning country alive after having attacked Naruto and Gaara. No doubt he has sent alerts to all the major port cities in this land to be on the lookout for anyone trying to rent or steal a ship. Getting a fast ship will do us little good if we run into a naval squadron out at sea."
"What are you going to do if our boat gets sunk?" Temari asked him in annoyance. "It's not like we can chakra walk all the way back to Wind country you know."
"They'll probably notice us here too," Kankuro said trying to defend himself.
"I'm sure they will," Temari agreed. "Seven foreigners just showing up out of nowhere in a place like this and renting a boat. I'm sure we'll make quite a stir."
"So how is that any better?"
"Do you think a place like this has phone lines or radio communications?" Temari asked with a voice sharp enough to cut bread with.
"Oh," Kankuro replied feeling embarrassed. "Yeah, I guess they wouldn't."
Phones were standard equipment within most cities and towns. Phone lines running between places though were still rare. One could for instance pick up a phone inside Suna and dial up someone on the other side of the village. It was impossible though to call someone in a town twenty miles away. Never mind calling someone hundreds of miles distant or in a foreign country. That was why the ninja villages still relied on birds to deliver emergency and high priority messages. Radio communicators were far rarer and used almost exclusively by shinobi. A little place like this was unlikely to even have any phones. By the time news of the strange visitors got out they would be long gone and on their way back to Wind.
"Come on, let's go and see what they have," Tsunade said.
Crossing over the bridge their weight caused the wooden planks to sink a bit and for the water to lap up over their feet. Though they didn't really need to they held onto the ropes to steady themselves. The planks were slippery and the bridge swayed a little with the ocean current.
"It would be faster just to chakra walk," Kankuro complained.
"Ow!" He again glared at his older sister.
"We're going to cause enough of a fuss as is," Temari told him. "No need to advertise that we're all ninja."
As they crossed Naruto sent a dubious look over to his cousin. Michio had moved his katana from his back over to his hip. He was bent forward as he walked with the huge sword he'd brought with him weighing down his back.
"You're not really going to try and use that thing are you?"
"Hell yes I am!" Michio replied with an excited grin. "This belonged to one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. It's an awesome weapon and I'll use it from now on."
Naruto glanced at Michio's hands. Despite all of Tsunade's healing he had both of them covered in bandages. Every time he tried to use Samehada metal barbs came out of the handle. "I don't think your sword likes you."
"He'll get used to me," Michio said.
On his back Samehada suddenly began to stir, almost causing Michio to slip and fall.
"Does your sword know that?"
Michio glared hatefully at the huge weapon. "Knock it off or I'm having you melted down for scrap."
Samehada stopped moving on its own.
Naruto didn't understand why Michio was so determined to wield the thing. For Naruto his katana was like a part of him, an extension of his body and will. He couldn't see why anyone would want a sword that was more an enemy than anything else.
Attu was a shabby looking place. The little houses were all the color of wood left to bleach out in the sun. The people here were dressed in grey cloth and few of them bothered wearing sandals. Their faces all had that rough weather beaten look of folk who lived on the ocean. The people all stopped to stare at them as they came over the bridge. Obviously they weren't used to visitors and had probably never laid eyes on ninja before. Never mind seven at once, never mind foreign ninja at that.
Tsunade had considered having them use henges to disguise who they were. Then she had decided not to bother. A group of rich merchants showing up here to rent a boat would probably cause as big a stir. Whatever happened the news of it was unlikely to get out too fast so she decided to simply appear as ninja and use that to overawe everyone.
There was no hotel in such a small place but the only tavern did have a couple of tiny rooms available for them. It was there that Tsunade and the others learned the five fishing boats were all out to sea and would not return until about sunset the day after tomorrow. Kankuro made as if to say something but an elbow in his ribs kept him quiet.
"Do you think I could rent out one of those ships?" Tsunade asked. "Me and my friends need to get somewhere and it's important we leave as soon as possible."
The tavern owner was a big burly man named Hiro. He looked at her and the others questioningly. He'd had no objection to providing all of them with food or agreeing to rent out his two rooms. Talk about renting one of the boats made him a bit uncomfortable.
"That would be between you and the ship's captain," he told her. "I doubt any of them will be willing to set out right away though. They'll all want to take care of their catch first."
"I'll buy their catches," Tsunade said simply. "I can pay them whatever they want." She could too. Both she and Baki had cleaned up thanks to their bets during the first phase of the exams. If she needed to she could get additional funds from Kushina delivered to her by Katsuyu.
"Well," the tavern keeper admitted. "I suppose if you're really that willing and can afford it I guess you'll get one of them to help you."
"Good, the day after tomorrow then we'll be on our way."
As soon as they were in their rooms Tsunade took out pen and paper and sent Kushina an update on their situation.
Kirabi looked over at Yugito. "You sure this is the way my fiery cat? We need to find them quick, you know stat!"
She groaned. "Do you have to talk like that? Can't you talk like a normal shinobi? Please?"
"Sorry cat, but you know I can't do that. I'm the one and only Killer Bee and I've got to talk fast and free."
She suppressed another groan. Why do I even bother? "Yes, I'm sure they went this way. Or do you doubt my sense of smell?"
"Got no doubts at all, I'll follow you complaints and all."
"Great," she muttered. His team was following along with them. When they found Naruto and Gaara again they would need to hang back and leave the fighting to her and Kirabi. Sniffing the air she picked up some new scent up ahead. "Damn. We have to stop and get ready to fight."
She halted and so did the others.
"You found them here?" Kirabi asked excitedly. "I didn't think they were so near."
"It's not the Suna nin," she told him.
Up ahead five figures dressed in black robes with red clouds came out into the open.
Sasori nodded his head. "Not the ones we were looking for but they'll do."