"I can't thank you enough for bringing back my Tora! I was worried to death," said the Feudal Lord's wife as she cuddled (read: held in a choke hold) the cat the three genin had retrieved. The genin looked at the cat's distress without a shred of pity. They all wore scratches and bite marks from the cat. It had fought them the entire way back to the village after they had captured it.

"Now then," started the Hokage. "The next mission for Kakashi's Squad Seven is..."

"Excuse me, Hokage-sama. But isn't there any missions of a greater urgency we could do?" interrupted Noriko.

"Yeah, that's right," yelled out Kiba. "We've been doing nothing but blah missions since we started. Peel potatoes, babysit, retrieve a toy from a roof... give us something worthwhile!"

Kakashi hit Kiba on the back of the head. "Pipe down. The Hokage will decide when you're ready for tougher missions."

"Ow..." whined Kiba.

"But sensei, Kiba's right. We're not doing anything that tests our skills, and you know we can work as a team. Why can't we do any more difficult missions?"

"Hmm..." The Hokage looked over the three genin. Even the Uchiha prodigy looked like he was bored with the routine missions they had been doing. "You all know what a mission is. Requests pour into the village every day, and they are sorted into ranks according to their difficulty. As brand new genin rookies, you three are only qualified to do the lowest rank, D missions."

Sasuke looked away with a "Tch". Noriko sighed, resigning herself to yet another boring mission. Kiba let out a little growl, which earned him another smack from Kakashi. He whined a little, and slumped in defeat.

The Hokage saw the disappointment evident on all three of them, and came to a decision. "Okay, fine. If you insist... I'll have you do a C Rank mission. You will be bodyguards for someone."

The genin perked up. Akamaru barked excitedly, and Kiba exclaimed, "Alright! Who is it?"

"I'll introduce you now. Could you please come in?" the Hokage said, and they heard a door open behind them. They saw a heavyset, late middle aged man enter the room.

"What's this? It's just a bunch of darned squirts." He took a drink from the bottle of sake he was carrying. "Particularly you, the short otemba."

Noriko gave the man a killing glare. "I'll show you otemba!" she yelled out, and started to rush the man. Kakashi's hand on her collar prevented her from getting far. "Let me go! He called me otemba! I'll kill him!"

"What good will it do to kill the man we're supposed to be protecting?" Kakashi asked, and Noriko sweatdropped, realizing what they were supposed to be doing.

The man finished off his sake, and let out a heavy breath. "I'm Tazuna, veteran bridge builder. You'll be risking life and limb in guarding me, until I return to my land and complete my bridge.

The five stood just outside the gate leaving Konoha. "Alright!" cried out Kiba, and Akamaru barked excitedly. "Let's get going!"

"Settle down, dobe," said Sasuke. Kiba glared at him, and Akamaru growled from inside Kiba's jacket. Kakashi just watched the two of them as he walked alongside Tazuna. Noriko was strangely subdued, walking beside him. He decided that he needed to keep an eye on her; something was obviously bothering her. He hoped it wouldn't become a problem on the mission. At least whatever was bothering her was keeping her quiet, and he wouldn't have to deal with her violent outbursts for a while.

The three had excellent teamwork; they had shown this time and again on their missions. However, the three refused to get along. If it wasn't the longstanding feud between Kiba and Noriko, it was Sasuke's condescending attitude toward both of them that sparked conflict after conflict. His attention returned to Noriko. Perhaps he'd ask her what was troubling her when they stopped for the night.

"Hey. Am I really okay with these squirts. Those two can't get along, and this one doesn't seem to have much life in her."

Kiba and Sasuke both glared at Tazuna, and Noriko just sighed. Kakashi held in his surprise that she didn't have any more reaction than that. Whatever was troubling her was serious.

"I'm a jonin. I'll be watching the three genin. There's no need to worry," he said

The three continued to walk on their way to the land of waves. Noriko hadn't said a word since leaving Konoha, which puzzled Kakashi. He'd thought she would be excited on her first time outside Konoha. But she walked silently, almost lifelessly. He definitely had to talk to her.

As they continued along the path, Akamaru whined to Kiba from inside his jacket. "I know, Akamaru. I smell them too, but I can't tell where it's coming from."

Kakashi noted the exchange, but didn't comment. He had sensed they were being trailed as well, and was waiting for the inevitable attack. 'He's a sensor type, and not a bad one,' thought Kakashi. 'Good to know.'

Sasuke had noticed Noriko was walking rather listlessly, and was walking next to her. At least, he wasn't going out of his way to keep his distance from her, and ended up walking near her. Kiba seemed on his guard.

The sudden, intense feeling of killing intent coming from behind them surprised all of them, as two ninja burst out of a puddle in the road, and in the blink of an eye had wrapped Kakashi in a razor chain. "The first one," they both said, as they pulled the chain, ripping Kakashi to pieces.

Noriko broke out of her fugue. "Kakashi-sensei!!" she screamed, but stopped as both the enemy ninja turned their attention on her.

"The second one," they both said, and Noriko froze as she saw the chain coming toward her, threatening to wrap her the same way it had Kakashi.

Sasuke sprung into action, quickly drawing a shuriken and a kunai from his pouch. He threw the shuriken, which intercepted the chain headed toward Noriko, and pinned it to the tree. He threw the kunai through the hole in the shuriken, ensuring that the shuriken and the chain would remain pinned to the tree.

The two enemy ninja reacted with surprise when they found they couldn't yank the chain out of its pin. "It doesn't come off?" Sasuke landed between them, grabbed each of their arms that were pinned to the tree, and delivered a fierce kick to both their faces.

Both ninja released the chain from their gauntlets, and rushed in different directions. One rushed Tazuna, and the other rushed Noriko. Kiba saw the attack coming, and stepped before Tazuna holding a kunai ready to defend, Akamaru perched on his head ready to attack. At the last moment before the attack, Sasuke also stood there to defend Tazuna.

Noriko, however, looked like a deer caught in a car's headlights. She saw the attack coming, and managed to raise one hand to defend herself, but she didn't react quickly enough, and his clawed gauntlet raked her forearm.

Suddenly, both attacks stopped as Kakashi stood there, with both enemy ninja in submission holds. "Yo," he said.

'Tch. Showoff,' thought Sasuke, as he saw how Kakashi had subdued both ninja within an instant. Both Noriko and Kiba looked at where Kakashi had "died". A pile of logs lay on the ground. Kakashi had used substitution.

"Noriko... Sorry I didn't help you right away. I got you hurt. I didn't think you'd be incapable of moving," Kakashi said, dragging the two enemy ninja to the tree their chain was pinned to. "Anyhow, let me just say, good job, Sasuke. You too, Kiba."

'I... couldn't do anything,' thought Noriko. 'But Sasuke... it was his first real battle... Didn't he feel scared at all? I couldn't even move to defend myself, I was too scared...'

"Yo, are you hurt... scaredy cat?" Sasuke smirked at Noriko.

Noriko seethed with rage at that. "Sasuke you jerk!" she yelled out and started to rush him.

"Noriko!" Kakashi called in a warning tone. "These guys have poison on their claws. You need to take out the poison quickly."

"What?!" Noriko looked at her wound. It was barely bleeding.

"You have to open the wound and drain the poisoned blood. Don't move so much, the poison will spread." Noriko looked at her wound, with something approaching panic. She was poisoned!

"By the way, Mr. Tazuna..."

"W-What is it?"

"I have something to talk to you about."

Kakashi had tied the two ninja to the tree with their own razor chain. Noriko was still nursing her scratched arm. She hadn't had the guts to open the wound herself. "Chunin from the Village Hidden in the Mist... These guys are Ninjas known for continuing to fight no matter what the sacrifice."

"How were you able to detect our movements?" one of the ninja asked.

"There probably wouldn't be puddles of water on a clear day like today, when it hasn't rained for days." Kakashi responded.

"Knowing that, why'd you leave it to the kids to fight?" asked Tazuna.

"If I felt like it, I could kill these guys instantly. But... I had to know who the target of these enemies was."

"Hm?! What do you mean?"

"I had to know whether it was you, or one of us Shinobi who was being targeted. We haven't heard anything about you being targeted by Ninjas. The content of the request was supposed to just be protection from gangs, thieves, and the like... This is a mission with a B rank or higher. The request was supposed to be for back-up protection until you finished building your bridge. If our enemies were to be Ninjas, the mission would've been estimated without question as an expensive rank mission. It appears there's some good reason for this, but being lied to in the request won't do. This is beyond the scope of our mission."

"We're not ready for this kind of mission yet. Well, at least me and Noriko aren't," said Kiba, and Akamaru barked his agreement from the top of his head. "Let's go back to Konoha. Noriko needs medical attention."

"This sure is a burden. Since we need to treat Noriko's wound, we need to return to the village."

Rage boiled up within Noriko, and where she had been hesitant before, she quickly drew a kunai from a sheath and plunged it into her arm where it had been scratched. All four others looked on in amazement as she held the kunai there, letting the blood from her arm spill onto the ground.

"Noriko! What the heck do you think you're up to?!" Kiba exclaimed.

"I should be getting stronger," Noriko started, fire in her eyes. "Here I'm steadily carrying out missions and doing extra training by myself every day... I'll never get into another situation from which I'll have to be rescued. I'll never be afraid like that again. I won't lose to Sasuke! I'll protect you, old man. I swear it! The mission continues!"

"Noriko, it's all well and good to rid yourself of the poisoned blood, but any more than that and you'll bleed to death."

Noriko sweatdropped, and had to suppress the panic she was starting to feel. She withdrew the kunai, and blood started to flow more freely, increased by the panic and her elevated heart rate.

"Things will get hairy if you don't stop the bleeding quick... Seriously! Show me your arm."

Noriko gave Kakashi her arm and tried to quell her rising panic. She couldn't bleed to death here!

Kakashi looked at the wound with some surprise. It was already closing. "Kakashi... am I going to be okay?" Noriko asked him nervously. She was having a hard time keeping herself from panicking

Kakashi began to wrap the arm with a bandage. "Well, you should be okay." 'Is it the power of the Nine-Tailed Fox?' he thought.

Later, Noriko sat in the boat they had rented, staring out into the fog. She was glad she'd bandaged her breasts, since the thick fog and humidity was making her shirt stick to her. She watched the fog listlessly, apparently lost in her own thoughts. Kakashi didn't fail to notice that whatever was bothering her hadn't stopped when she made her bold declaration. She'd gone back to keeping to her own thoughts as soon as the adrenaline and panic of the situation had passed. He'd have to get her alone to talk to her, and soon.

"The bridge should be visible soon. When we reach the side of the bridge, we'll be in the land of waves," said the boat operator.

Kiba peered out into the fog, and could just dimly make out the bridge construction. "Whoa! That's huge!" he exclaimed, and Akamaru barked his agreement.

"H-hey! Please keep it down! I took this boat out under the cover of fog, cut the engine and am rowing by hand! If they find us, we'll be in deep trouble!"

Kiba clamped his hands to his lips, but Kakashi and Sasuke looked accusingly at Tazuna. "Mr. Tazuna, I want to ask you something before we arrive at the Pier. The identity of your assailants, and the reason why they are after you. If you don't tell us, our mission may end when you make landfall" Kakashi looked deadly serious, almost angry.

They continued in silence for some moments, as the boat came beside the bridge and started to follow alongside it.

Tazuna sighed. "It appears I have no choice but to tell you. Frankly, I'd like to get it off my chest. Just as you said, this may be beyond the scope of your mission. Actually, I am being targeted by a terrifying man."

"A terrifying man? Who?" Kakashi's tone indicated he was not going to accept not being told.

"You guys have probably heard at least his name before. A shipping magnate by the name of Gato."

Kakashi looked surprised. "What? Gato... of the Gato Company? One of the world's richest men?"

"Yes. On the surface, he's the chief executive of a shipping company... but underneath, he is into drug trafficking, and deals in contraband using gangs and Ninjas. Moreover, he runs a despicable business, ruthlessly taking over nations and enterprises."

'It was about one year ago when that man first set his eyes on the Land of the Waves. He used his wealth and violence to enter this country, and before anyone knew it, he had taken complete control of the island's maritime transportation and shipping. Having a tight grip on the ocean, in an island nation like the Land of the Waves, means having control of finance, the government, the people... everything. The one thing Gato fears is the completion of the bridge that has been under construction for some time now."

The story had even Noriko's attention at this point. "Since you're the one building the bridge, you've become a hindrance."

"Then those Ninjas from before were Gato's men...?" asked Sasuke.

"But I don't understand. Your opponent is a dangerous one who will even use Ninjas. Why did you hide that fact from us when you made your request?" Kakashi asked.

"The land of the waves is a very poor nation, and even feudal lords have no money. Of course, we ordinary citizens have no money either. We cannot afford to make requests of B rank or higher.'

"Well, if you pull out of the mission when I land ashore, I will, no doubt, be killed. Killed sometime before I make it home.'

"But there's no need for concern! Should I die, my cute grandchild who will turn eight will only cry his heart out! And my daughter will only blame the Hidden Leaves Ninja for the rest of her life and grieve in solitude! Oh, it's not your fault at all!"

All four ninja sweatdropped at the guilt-tripping they had just received. "Well, I guess we have no choice," said Kakashi. "Let's continue as his bodyguards."

"Oh! I am most grateful!" The expression on Tazuna's face, however, was closer to that of victory than of gratitude.

"We'll be arriving soon," said the boat operator. "Tazuna, it appears we haven't been noticed up until this point."

"Thanks," replied Tazuna.

When the boat arrived at the pier, they disembarked and the boat sped away. "Okay. Get me home safely," said Tazuna, and the five began walking.

'When they next attack, it won't be chunin, but elite-level jonin. Cripes...' thought Kakashi to himself.

The five continued walking for some time, and Noriko remained lost in her thoughts. 'Even though I'm a girl, they call me otemba and treat me like a guy...' she thought. It had been eating her up inside since even Tazuna had called her that, upon first meeting her this morning. She looked down at her clothes. It wasn't remotely feminine or frilly, but she'd never really wanted to attract a guy that way. She was wearing an orange shirt, white shorts, and a white light jacket. Even her backpack was orange, and not some feminine color. She wore her yellow-blonde hair short, tied into a ponytail that barely reached her shoulders. She had to admit, it wouldn't be strange to see a guy wearing exactly what she had on, even her hairstyle.

She sighed heavily. 'Otemba, otemba, otemba... can't they see I'm still a girl...' Suddenly, she felt a wave of killing intent coming from somewhere. She quickly drew a kunai from her thigh sheath, and threw it in the direction the feeling was coming from.

"What are you doing?!" Kiba yelled out. Apparently he hadn't sensed anything. Sasuke, on the other hand, had a kunai in hand. He crept over to the bushes Noriko had thrown her kunai, to see a white snow bunny cowering where it had nearly been skewered by the kunai that had landed mere inches away.

He smirked at Noriko. "If you're looking for our dinner, you'll need to aim better than that. You missed it by inches.

Kakashi, however, was on full guard. He had sensed what Noriko had responded to, and had noticed the strangeness about the snow bunny's color. 'It must have been raised indoors, away from sunlight, to be used in a substitution. They're here,' he thought.

Noriko, Sasuke, and Kiba had started bickering about whether there really had been someone there or not. Kiba insisted that he would have smelled something if someone really was around, earning him taunting from Noriko and Sasuke about being a dog boy.

"Everyone get down!" Kakashi yelled out, getting the attention of all three bickering genin They looked up to see a huge, spinning sword flying at them from the trees. All five hit the ground, and the sword flew over them to embed itself in a nearby tree. A tall, masked man landed on its handle.

Noriko pointed to the ninja. "See?! I told you there was someone!" She had retrieved her kunai, and now held it in a defensive stance. The kunai seemed woefully inadequate, though, in contrast to the huge sword the enemy had. She thought of the scroll she had in her pouch, and what had been sealed within.

"Well, well, if it isn't the Rogue Ninja of the Hidden Mist, Zabusa Momochi." Kakashi said.

Noriko shifted her stance and prepared to throw her kunai, but Kakashi raised a hand to stop her. "Don't get in the way. Stay back. He's on a totally different level from the guys earlier." He raised a hand to pull up his headband, which the three genin had noticed was always covering his left eye. This would be the first time they see it uncovered.

"I assume you are Kakashi, the Sharingan user..." Zabusa stated. Sasuke looked at Kakashi in surprise. "Sorry, but I'll have you hand over the old man."

"Get in Manji battle formation, you guys. Protect Tazuna. Don't involve yourselves in the fight." Kakashi pulled the headband from his eye, and opened it to reveal a red pupil with three teardrop marks around the outside. "I am his opponent," he said.

"Well now, I never expected to see the rumored Sharingan this soon. This is an honor," Zabusa spoke in a somewhat mocking tone.

"What the heck is a Sharingan," Kiba growled. "And what's up with that eye?"

"Sharingan is power that the light of the eye generates, and the pupil emanates," Sasuke said. "The user of the so-called Visual Art is said to possess the vision to see through all genjutsu, taijutsu, and ninjutsu, and is able to deflect them. The Sharingan is a type of eye that is unique to the user of the Visual Art. However, that is not the only power of the Sharingan."

"Well said. That is not all. What's more frightening is that such an eye can assess an opponent's techniques and copy them." A thick mist began to cover the area as Zabusa spoke. "When I was in the Anbu Black Ops of the Hidden Mist, there was information about you in the Bingo Book I carried around. There was also something else in the book about the man who has copied over one thousand skills... Kakashi the Copy Ninja."

All three genin looked at Kakashi dubiously. Was he really that incredible a Ninja? Sasuke had his own thoughts about it. 'The Sharingan is a special trait that only appears in a select few, and only among the Uchiha clan. How did he come to have it?'

"Let's end the talking here. I must kill that old man immediately." The three genin quickly took up a defensive formation before Tazuna, each with a kunai held ready. "But, Kakashi, it seems I have to defeat you first." Zabusa kicked off the tree, easily removing his embedded sword, and disappeared.

The five spotted him standing on the water, a whirl of water and mist surrounding him. "Ninja art: Hidden Mist Technique," he said, before the mist became too thick, obscuring him from sight. When the mist cleared, he was gone.

"He'll probably come to erase me first..." Kakashi took a few steps toward where Zabusa had vanished.

"What the heck is he?!" asked Kiba. Akamaru growled from on top of his head. "Yeah, I couldn't smell him either."

"Well, he's probably used some scent masking technique. That was Momochi Zabusa. He's an Anbu Black Ops member in the Hidden Mist, and is known as the "silent killing technique" expert. As the name suggests, it's a killing skill that's implemented in an instant of silence. By the time you realize it, it's possible you may find yourself in the afterlife. I haven't totally mastered the use of my Sharingan, so don't lower your guard, you guys. Well, if we fail, we'll only die."

The mist in the area started to steadily thicken. Before long, it was so thick the genin couldn't see Kakashi standing a few steps away.

"Eight spots," came Zabusa's voice from the mist. "The larynx, the spine, the lungs, the liver, the jugular and the subclavian veins, the kidneys, the heart. Now then, which vulnerable spot would be good?"

Kakashi focused his chakra, and the intensity of his chakra pushed a large portion of the fog away. It was still misty, but it was easier to see. The effect on the genin, however, was they were paralyzed by the intensity of the chakra in the area from not one, but two elite jonin level ninja.

'It feels like... if I make a single move, or even take a single breath, I'll be marked and killed,' thought Noriko. 'Is this a jonin's thirst for blood?' She felt a slight movement from Sasuke beside her, and looked to see him trembling, and his face covered in a look of complete and utter panic. He shifted his kunai to a strange grip... it almost looked like he planned to plunge it into his own stomach. 'N-no! Sasuke, don't!' she tried to say, but the words wouldn't come out.

"Sasuke. Don't worry. I'll protect you with my life. I will not allow my comrades to get killed." Kakashi turned his head and smiled at the genin.

The three genin were able to relax slightly. The intensity of the chakra and intent to kill in the air had not wavered a bit, but knowing that some of that was intent on their protection made it easier to bear.

"I wonder about that..." In an instant, Zabusa was standing in the middle of the genin's formation, sword at the ready to kill all three genin and Tazuna in one spinning stroke. "It's over."

Before any of them knew it, Kakashi had pushed them all out of the way, and had impaled Zabusa with his kunai. The three genin looked on as water leaked from the wound Kakashi had inflicted on Zabusa, and another Zabusa appeared behind Kakashi, sword at the ready to deliver a fatal blow.

"Kakashi-sensei! Behind you!" yelled Noriko. Kakashi looked behind him as the Zabusa he had impaled dispersed into water, falling to the ground. The other Zabusa didn't give him time to react, slicing Kakashi in half with a mighty stroke. The three genin watched in horror as Kakashi was severed in two, which turned to surprise as the two halves of Kakashi dispersed into water and fell to the ground in a splash.

'The water clone technique? It can't be! In this mist, did he actually copy me?' Zabusa felt Kakashi's kunai pressed against his neck. "Don't move. It's over."

Zabusa chuckled. "Did you say it's over? You don't understand, do you? You won't be able to beat me just by making like a monkey. Not a chance." He chuckled again. "But I must say you're good. My water clone technique was being copied when you spoke. By letting the clone talk as if it were you, you succeeded in distracting me. And you used the Hidden Mist Technique to hide yourself to see what I was doing. But..." Another Zabusa appeared behind Kakashi. "I'm not a fool."

The Zabusa Kakashi had his kunai held to dispersed into water, and the Zabusa behind him swung his sword. Kakashi ducked under the blow, only to receive a kick from Zabusa that sent him flying. Zabusa rushed after Kakashi, sword ready, but a gleam on the ground made him stop. 'Makabishi spikes...!' "Hmph. How foolish." Zabusa jumped into the water.

Kakashi surfaced in the water where he'd landed. "What's with this water? It's awfully heavy."

"Humph... Fool!" Zabusa appeared behind him, making some hand signs. "It's the Water Prison Technique!" Zabusa finished his hand signs, and Kakashi was encased in a bubble of water. "You're caught. It's a special prison that makes it impossible for you to escape! It makes things harder having you able to act. Now, Kakashi, I'll have to settle things with you later. First I will finish those guys off." He made another hand sign. "Water Clone Technique."

He turned his attention to the three genin "You're acting big, wearing a headband like a Ninja. But a real Ninja is one who has hovered between life and death numerous times. In other words, only those who are worth being listed in my Bingo Book deserve to be called Ninja." The clone made a hand sign, and the mist thickened. "Guys like you can't be called real Ninja." The mist obscured him from view.

'He disappeared again...' thought Noriko, just before she received a vicious kick that sent her flying. Her headband came off, and fell to the ground at Zabusa's clone's feet, who stepped on it. "You're just a kid!"

"You three! Take Tazuna and run!" yelled Kakashi. "You have no chance against this guy! As long as he has me trapped in this Water Prison, he won't be able to move from here. And he shouldn't be able to use the Water Clone Technique if he's far enough away from his real body. In any case, just run for now!

'Run? Not a chance. Not while you're trapped... Even if we ran, he'd catch us sooner or later, and kill us,' Noriko thought. 'Our only option is to save you, so you can protect us.'

Sasuke seemed to have been having similar thoughts. "We'll just have to do it!" he yelled out, rushing the Zabusa clone. He tossed a handful of shuriken at it as he rushed, which were blocked by a swing of the clone's sword. Sasuke leaped into the air, readying an attack as he came down.

"Too easy," the clone said, and caught Sasuke by the neck as he came down, interrupting whatever attack he had planned. He threw Sasuke away, who landed heavily on the ground some distance away and slid.

"Sasuke!" yelled out both Noriko and Kiba. 'He just took down Sasuke so easily. The jonin level, a real ninja... We can't run, we can't fight him... at this rate, we're all going to die!' Noriko started to push herself to her feet, getting ready to run. 'I don't want to die! Maybe he can't get all of us! I have to run!'

A twinge of pain in her arm reminded her of the kunai wound she had given herself, and she suddenly remembered the circumstances surrounding the wound. 'That's right. I promised I wouldn't be so afraid, that I'd never need to be rescued. I won't lose to Sasuke.' She looked down where the Zabusa clone was stepping on her headband. 'I'm a ninja now, and I'm not going to run anymore.' She rushed Zabusa.

"You fool! Stop it!" yelled Kakashi from inside the water prison.

"Idiot," said Zabusa, as Noriko came at him, and beat her away with a mighty punch. Noriko went flying, and landed some distance away, rolling from the impact.

"What are you thinking, stupid?! Charging him on your own! You saw what happened to Sasuke!" Akamaru barked his agreement from on top of Kiba's head.

Noriko stood, her headband in her hand. She turned a glare on Zabusa. "You. Record in your Bingo Book, about the kunoichi who will one day become the Leaf Village's Hokage." She tied her headband back on her head. "Leaf kunoichi Uzumaki Noriko!"

"Sasuke, Kiba, I have a plan." Noriko pulled a scroll from her pouch, and rolled it out. She wiped a little blood on the scroll to break the seal, and in a puff of smoke, a long staff appeared. "We're all going to go at him together. Let's show him what we can do!" She spun the staff in her hands, and held it in an attacking position.

The other two nodded, realizing what her plan was. Just like in the bell test against Kakashi, there was no way a single one of them would be able to prevail over Zabusa. But with all three of them fighting together, they might be able to secure their objective. The only difference here, was instead of capturing the bells, their objective was to rescue Kakashi.

Zabusa chuckled. "You? The Hokage? An otemba like you? Don't make me laugh. You guys still don't get it, do you? You want to play at being Ninja? By the time I was your age, my hands were already stained with blood."

"Zabusa, the Demon," Kakashi remarked. "Ten years ago, the hidden mist village was forced to reform its Ninja graduation exam. The previous year, a boy who did not have the qualifications to become ninja killed over a hundred candidates."

"Ah, that sure was fun," said Zabusa. In a flash, his clone rushed Noriko and delivered a fierce kick. Noriko only just managed to bring her staff up to block, but was knocked away by the force of the kick.

"Noriko!" Both Sasuke and Kiba yelled. They looked at each other, and nodded.

Kiba leaned over into a position on all fours, and Akamaru jumped onto his back. "Ninja art of Beast Mimicry: Man-Beast Clone!" he called, and in a puff of smoke, Akamaru on his back transformed into a clone of Kiba. "Let's go, Akamaru!" They both rushed Zabusa's water clone.

"Not good enough!" Zabusa yelled, and kicked both Kibas away. He turned and prepared to slice one with his sword, but something whistling through the air forced him to turn his attention away. He blocked two shuriken that Sasuke had thrown with his sword, and turned to face Sasuke, who was rushing him. He readied his sword to attack Sasuke, but something wrapped around his sword, preventing him from swinging it freely. He turned to see Noriko there, a strange whip she held was wrapped around his sword.

"Kiba, do it!" yelled Noriko.

"Alright! Ninja Art of Beast Mimicry: Fang Over Fang!" Kiba called out, and began to spin toward Zabusa's water clone in a whirlwind of claws and fangs.

Zabusa's clone swung his sword at Noriko, forcing her to release it from the whip and dodge... or so he thought. Instead, when she released the whip from his sword, it straightened, and she used it to block his sword. The impact still sent her tumbling back, but the whip, now a staff, protected her from being sliced in half.

Zabusa's clone turned to attack the Kiba that was just about upon him, but at the last moment, the attack swerved and aimed toward Zabusa's real body. As he saw the attack coming toward his real body, Zabusa realized there was a second attack coming at him from the side. The clone prepared to rush to help defend his real body, but something snaked around his leg, tripping him. It was that damn whip/staff thing again. Sasuke came down from above, plunging his kunai into the clone's back, dispersing it back into water. "Our sensei taught us to never let your enemy get behind you," he said.

Sasuke quickly made some hand signs, while Kiba and Akamaru maneuvered to hit the real Zabusa from opposite directions. "Fire Style: Phoenix Flower Technique!" he called, and blew a series of fireballs at Zabusa, before falling to a knee, coughing. "Damn, used too much chakra," he said, before collapsing.

The fireballs never hit their target, neither did Akamaru or Kiba. Zabusa jumped high up into the air, avoiding all the attacks. "You damn kids!" he yelled, as he prepared to slice Sasuke with his sword on his way down.

Noriko saw the attack coming. "Sasuke!" she cried out, and started to run to protect him from the blow. She staggered, and fell to a knee after a few steps. 'Damn it, I put too much chakra into this weapon...' She stopped focusing her chakra into the whip, and it changed back into a staff. She staggered back to her feet, and took a few steps toward Sasuke, but she knew she wouldn't make it in time. She staggered, and collapsed.

She heard the sound of metal hitting metal, and looked up to see Kakashi, kunai in hand stopping the blow that would have ended Sasuke's life. 'We're saved. Thank god,' were her last thoughts before she passed out.

She awoke to a spray of water in her face, and found herself being held by Kiba. "Hey! Let me go!" She started to struggle.

"Hey! Stop that! You don't want to fall down right now." Kiba said.

She stopped, and looked around. She realized they were up in a tree, and there was a torrent of water rushing below them. She shuddered as she thought of what would happen if she were caught in that. "Sorry. Thanks," she said. "Can you let me down now?"

Kiba let her down to stand on the branch they were on. "That's Kakashi's technique. He just blew away that Zabusa guy. Once this calms down, we should look for him."

Noriko nodded. She looked at the staff, she had held clenched in her hand. She looked down again at the torrent and sighed. "Guess I'll have to carry this for a while. It'll be hard to find the sealing scroll this was in."

"What is that, anyway? I've never seen a staff like that before. You used it like a whip a couple of times." Kiba took a close look at the staff. It looked like it was made up of countless little pieces of wood, all tied together with little metal strings.

"It's a special staff the Sandaime Hokage gave me a while ago. It'll change into a whip if you focus enough chakra into it. Keeping it there doesn't take as much, but it takes a lot of chakra to get it to change. Changing it back to a staff isn't tough, just stop focusing your chakra in it."

"I see. I'd ask to try it, but I used up most my chakra on my attacks against Zabusa. Akamaru did too. I had to take a food pill to have the energy to rescue you. I'm not sure where Akamaru and Sasuke are, hopefully safe."

The two watched in silence for a few moments until the torrent below them tapered off, then drained away. They both jumped to the ground, and looked around. "Kakashi will probably be wherever Zabusa is, and Zabusa is probably wherever the water dumped him. So if we head the direction the water was going, we might find them." Noriko started walking in the direction the water had been going.

Kiba shrugged. "Sounds good to me."

It wasn't long before they came across Kakashi. He was talking to a ninja wearing a mask with a symbol of the Hidden Mist Village. 'A Hidden Mist Anbu?' thought Noriko. Zabusa was lying between them, seemingly dead. The ninja picked up the corpse, and disappeared in a swirl of mist.

"Hey! Kakashi-sensei!" called out Noriko. She ran over to him. "Who was that?"

"That was a tracker ninja from the village hidden in the mist. She finished Zabusa off, and is taking the corpse to destroy it and its secrets." Kakashi pulled his headband back down over his Sharingan eye. He looked to the side, where Tazuna and Sasuke were walking toward him together. Tazuna was holding Akamaru, who looked to be sleeping.

"Akamaru!" Kiba ran to Tazuna. "Thank you, I'll take him now." He took Akamaru from Tazuna's arms.

"Well, at least that's what he said he was doing. It's his mission, not ours. Ours is to get Tazuna home, and that's not finished yet."

"Sorry, and thank you everyone. You can rest at my house," said Tazuna.

"Alright. Let's go..." Kakashi started to walk in the direction of Tazuna's house, but after a few steps he collapsed, unconscious.

Alright, chapter 3 is finally done! This took longer than I expected it to, as some events took a life of their own. C&C welcome, leave a review if you liked it. Leave a review if you didn't like it, for that matter. Let me know how I can improve my story.

A number of people have asked, so I'll define a couple of terms here.

kawaiikune: sexless, uncute

otemba: tomboy

I know, I could have defined the terms earlier. However, I thought more people would have been exposed enough to Ranma 1/2 to pick up on the term (Ranma's always calling Akane that). Then it hit me: Not everyone watches anime subbed, like I do. Of course, even then, there's still google...