AN: So sorry for the totally way-too-long delay. I have no excuse, well I actually have plenty, but none that are acceptable. I would like to thank all of you for continuing to review, alert, and favourite- it really means a lot and serves as a totally acceptable form of an extra-kick-in-the-ass-wake-up call to get up and write. I would especially like to thank novelreader for the suggestions and the correct diagnosis of writer's block- I will definitely build on those suggestions. I also feel that I should give hint to my guilty bias- if it hasn't been figured out already. I am a Sasuke fan and I am gladly going to ignore recent chapters where he's being a complete ass and going totally insane (I may not like Karin by herself, but damn that was cold!). I like *fictional and exaggerated* Hawk team dynamics, and it will show through in my writing. I will try to suppress it as much as possible, but I can't make any concrete promises. I'm not very happy with this chapter, it's just thrown out there to show that I haven't abandoned this project. In any case, R&R, but please no flames- draft research essays were just handed back this week and my feast for flames has been quite satisfied by overly sadistic TAs. I don't know when the next chapter will be out (it won't be as long a gap as this time), but it's currently crunch time so I have other things I have to focus on. Sorry for the extraordinarily long AN, and I hope you enjoy!
Warning: This chapter may be a bit disturbing, gore, tension- I don't know, just be warned.
Disclaimer: Naruto= not mine. Lyrics are from RAIN by CREED. Stupid random bolding and italicizing, not-centred lyrics= the fault of ffnet. I'm not technologically advanced enough to deal with its crap, so I'm afraid that this is how it will stay :(. If there are any random BREAKs, that means scene switch and where there should be a line :). If there seems to be any problems, let me know because ffnet is totally screwing me right now.
I tried to figure out,
I can't understand...
What it means...
To be whole again...
Trapped between the truth
And the consequence
Nothing's making sense...
A thousand times before
I've wondered if there's something more...
Sasuke flinched as he heard the words. Something was definitely wrong with him. He kept hearing Itachi's voice, or Orochimaru's; sometimes he heard them both. Even worse was when he thought he heard Team 7. Whispering, taunting… He shook his head in an attempt to clear his thoughts.
"I've detected more chakras heading this way from the south, Sasuke," Karin informed, turning to walk backwards facing Sasuke, "I would guess there to be around ten in the group."
"That's unusual for ANBU group formations," Juugo said with a frown, he turned his head to regard Sasuke, "From what you've said previously they tend to travel in groups no larger than three or four."
Sasuke silently contemplated, "Any idea of their strength?"
Karin shook her head, "Nothing concrete, but they definitely aren't weak."
He nodded, "We'll avoid them for now. Suigetsu?"
"This way fearless leader, there are pipes here so we must still be going in the right direction." Suigetsu gave his customary shit-eating grin while gesturing wildly to a seemingly deserted tunnel.
Karin glared into the darkness, "I'm starting to think we're never meant to see the light of day again," she muttered before dejectedly following Suigetsu into the pipes.
"Father did he say what he sent ROOT out to do?" Hiashi shook his head in response.
"He said they were going to take care of loose ends."
"But father, that means Naruto-"
"Hinata, I don't want to hear another word. Naruto is a traitor. Understand that. What's more, there's even proof. Trust Danzo for now. In any case, I'm sure that if ROOT is after Naruto, they would have been instructed to imprison him as opposed to kill him because of any knowledge he may have of other plots against Konoha."
Hinata shook her head furiously. She had been trying to convince her father of Naruto's innocence. She had attempted to find the rest of her team, but they were included in the list of nin who had fled Konoha, even Kurenai was nowhere to be found. Hinata had tried to infiltrate the- fake- Hokage's palace, but to no avail. It was too well guarded, the entire village was on hyper alert for any treasonous activities. Hinata had accepted the fact the she would need to bide her time, but it still hurt that her own family didn't believe her.
Hinabi had believed Hinata. Unfortunately once she showed signs of dissent, Hiashi had sent her off to be mentored at the Ninja Academy where instructors were now intensely training recruits and children in an attempt to build up a solid infantry. Able-bodied citizens were being drafted into training, while those unable to fight were being forced to work on village repairs. Somehow Danzo had made it out to be an honour to be assigned a role in the 'new Konoha.' Anyone that showed any sign of resistance was quickly and quietly dealt with in a way that, surprisingly, raised no suspicion.
Had it really come to war? All around her non-combatants and children built fortifications for the village- minor defensive improvements, as had been stated by Danzo- while sounds of kunai and jutsus swept through the air from the training grounds and the Academy. The youngest children and the eldest citizens had been put to work sharpening weapons and organizing rations. Hinata quivered in fear, there were even rumours that the Kages were going to gather from all over the lands to discuss what should be done with the traitors. She herself had no idea why they would gather for something so insignificant. Kages came and went, assassination and coup d'état attempts were common. Even with the global threat of the Akatsuki, there had been no previous history of the Kages ever agreeing to meet in a civil manner.
Hinata suspected that Danzo had promised the Kages something in return for their presence, the greatest question being what could possibly be of such immense value to the Kages?
The sounds of footsteps reached Hinata's ears. She hastily stepped into a shadowed doorway, watching as a group of ANBU marched by. Another thing that was strange- the ANBU weren't considered militant, they were more for infiltration and stealth. Danzo was throwing them around in an effort to suppress uprisings, and instill fear in the population.
Once the ANBU passed, Hinata shakily stepped out from the darkness. She was on a mission for allies. She was attempting to approach the families of the missing nin in order to build some form of internal resistance. Hearing more footsteps, Hinata once again hid, this time behind a plant, as pathetic a hiding spot as it was. She sighed, she was going to need all the help she could get to oppose Danzo and save her friends.
Kakashi stepped over a piece of fallen pipe, never taking his eye off the page in front of him. He was aware of Naruto and Sakura quietly talking in front of him. They had been walking for most of the day. It was difficult to tell the time under ground. Team 7 had been moving almost non-stop, only taking an occasional rest to set up distractions for any pursuers. Ahead and behind them, Naruto's Kage Bunshin wandered as scouts. They had had to avoid an ANBU team, but overall they had no difficulties in losing unwanted followers.
"This seems like a good place to set up camp for tonight," Sakura said, upon reaching a decently sized part of the tunnel.
"No objection from me. I hear running water in these pipes, I think there might be some kind of water source further down the left-hand tunnel. If you pass me the bottles, I'll gather some. Never know the next time we'll run into a clean water source." Naruto beamed as he enthusiastically held his hand out for the requested materials.
Rolling her eyes, Sakura passed him the bottles, "Be sure to check that the water really is clean. We wouldn't want to escape Danzo only to be poisoned by rusted water lines." Sakura gave Naruto a piercing look that would have rivalled any one of Sasuke's on a good day.
"Okay, okay, I'll be sure to check," Naruto walked away muttering.
Kakashi studied Sakura's profile. Her brow was furrowed, her eyes narrowed, "What's wrong?"
"I don't know. Something doesn't seem right. It's almost like it's been too easy to escape and evade Danzo's people. I really wouldn't put it past the ROOT operatives to poison water sources in an attempt to kill us."
Kakashi lowered his head in acquiescence. Sakura was right to have these suspicions. They were suspicions that he should have had. He couldn't lose focus now, not when there was so much at stake.
Hinabi sullenly threw a shuriken. She waited until the instructor had turned away to retrieve it. Huffing slightly in frustration she leaned against a support post, looking around the busy training grounds.
In the trees, blurs could be seen as nins practiced stealth and tracking techniques. Desks had been brought into the field as instructors taught using real demonstrations. Children were being pushed out of tall trees in an attempt to force them to perfect substitution techniques quicker. Younger children still were being shallowly cut by remaining ROOT members to raise pain tolerance.
The station Hinabi had been on involved aim and so-called bravery. One half of the nins through shuriken and kunai while the other half watched the weapons flying towards them and would catch them, without flinching. Of course, considering the fact that most of the trainees were originally non-combatants, there was very little proper throwing technique, which in turn led to a lot of flinching and a great deal of blood.
Hinabi took stock of her surroundings as she idly balanced a kunai on her finger. Most individuals had greatly improved since that morning, pain as a motivator did that to people. She didn't understand why she was here. She had learned all this crap years ago! Hinabi recalled her sister's theory that something wasn't right. She agreed. Her suspicions had started with Neji's death. In itself, it wasn't a surprise, but she had been the only one to see the way ROOT had rushed upon the scene to take Neji's body. Hinabi had noticed that no one else had garnered that sort of attention, and wondered what was so important about Neji that he had prompted that response.
Unfortunately, she wasn't in a great position to begin investigating. She watched the young children running around chaotically trying to avoid kunai and shuriken adults were coldly throwing at them. Combat training, the squeal of a child was heard, to teach the young ones how to dodge properly. Hinabi took note of any dissent, surprisingly a good deal of the participants seemed almost as unemotional as the ROOT members, she would observe for now, and when she knew more of the situation then she would act.
Naruto approached the well cautiously. It definitely paid to be careful. Something didn't seem right. He sent out his senses, looking for any chakra traces. Nothing. There was a faint trail, but nothing within the immediate vicinity. He shrugged, he doubted that any ANBU had come this far.
He reached for the rope. He grasped the rope as a deep feeling of dread washed through him. Naruto's head jerked up and moved fervently from side to side, trying to see into the shadows. He breathed deeply and stiffened. Blood. A lot of it. A faint scent of poison was discernible as well, Sakura had been right.
Naruto looked back at the rope. Whatever was bloody and poisoned was on the other end of the rope. So much for a water source, he thought cynically as he reluctantly began to pull the rope. It was heavy. He could hear water, or blood, dripping as whatever he was hauling came closer to the opening of the well. It was getting closer. With a great deal of trepidation, Naruto gave the final tug, and came face to face with an image right out of the realm of nightmares.
AN: Any suggestions for who the well person/animal should be would be appreciated, I'm contemplating having whoever it is alive. Also, if there are any suggestions for any characters that should somehow meet up with T7 or TH...