Naruto: Chronicles of the Seventh
Book I: Dissension
Chapter I: Red Leaf in the Darkness
******Konoha – Three years after Pain******
"God it's hot!" she said while making her way down the main road in Konoha. Konoha was always humid due to being in the middle of the forest, but living here all her life she was used to it. But then there were days like this, when it seemed as though the gates of hell itself opened upon her. She couldn't wait to get to her destination. The cool of being indoors would be a blessing.
Everyday she made this trek out to see her Sensei and everyday it was a welcome distraction from the pain she felt. During this time she was just a girl on an errand. She wasn't a ninja going into battle, or a medic trying to save a life. She treasured these simple errands. It was at these times she felt the most…..normal. But she knew her life was anything but, especially over the passed three and half years.
It had seemed her life was thrown upside down. She had lost friends, family and her home. To her, and to many other citizens, Konoha died that day. Sure it was rebuilt. The Hokage saw to that. But he had rebuilt it in his image. And as a result Konoha had become as dark as its leader. The buildings now had a distinct lack of character to them. They were darker, less hospitable, more war like.
It was as if these buildings were built to be miniature fortresses instead of homes for families. Even the Ichiraku Ramen Bar, now rebuilt, lacked the warmth it once had. Ichiraku Ramen, every day she passed by she couldn't help but smile. She had had so many good times there. She thought back to the times Team 7 would stop by after a mission, upon Naruto's insistence of course. And even after Sasuke left, she and Naruto would still always stop by for a bite.
It then dawned on her that she hadn't been there since Naruto left. At that point she frowned a little thinking about it. The good times seemed to melt away after that day. She didn't really notice it so much back then but Naruto had been the force that bought everyone together. With him gone and Kakashi and Jaraiya dead she never really stopped by anymore. And she knew she should, if for any other reason to see Ayame. Despite her father dying on the day Pain attacked she had chosen to rebuild the Ramen shop and continue the tradition.
"Sakura-chan!", came from the distance. The shrill scream jogged her from her thoughts. She turned to see Ino running up to her. "Where have you been?," Ino said breathlessly. "Lady Tsunade sent me to find you and I've been looking everywhere!" Instantly Sakura knew something was wrong. Lady Tsunade, since loosing her position had never summoned her like this. Sakura immediately broke off at top speed winding her way through town with Ino right behind.
"Any idea what this is about?" she yelled while deftly leaping over a low wall and into the courtyard of her sensei. The Lilies she had planted last season were in full bloom and gave the entire grounds a picturesque calmness. To Sakura it was an oasis within the madness that had become Konoha.
"Not at all," said Ino. "I arrived about two hours ago to begin my daily training when I saw Lady Tsunade speaking to a couple of Danzo's ANBU in the courtyard. She signaled that I stay away so I couldn't hear what they were saying. After they left, she just walked past me heading inside and told me to find you. She seemed upset though."
She was right, this was bad. In the almost four years since Danzo had took over he had never once sent for or come to see Tsunade. Back then he had told everyone that Tsunade would be kept on as an advisor. But she knew that would not be the case. Danzo had ordered this home created for Tsunade. He called it a place fit for a former Hokage. In honor of her leadership and sacrifice he said. What a joke. He just wanted her to have no reason to leave the village. It's much easier to see your enemies when you know where they live.
And watch them he did. Danzo watched everyone. He had his pets he called ROOT strategically placed throughout Konoha. Watching, listening and reporting to their master. Danzo claimed it was for additional security. Bull. It was for control. To maintain control. The message was simple: I see everything. I hear everything. I know everything. Except in one place: Tsunade's estate. Danzo went out of his way to make it appear that he did not watch the goings-on here. But Sakura knew better. So did Tsunade.
When Sakura arrived at the front door she didn't even bother to knock. She quickly opened the door and the two girls entered making sure to remove their shoes upon entering. They headed directly to the living chamber and saw Tsunade, where she always was when she needed to think. Tsunade, as beautiful as ever, sat on three silk pillows. In front of her was a small, well crafted ornate table with an open bottle of Sake. A half empty glass in her hand. She sipped it almost absent mindedly while staring out the window at the Lilies in the courtyard.
The girls sat down next to her, knowing in these moments Tsunade would take her time to gather her thoughts before acknowledging their presence. After a short time, she turned to them, her face still marked with the light hint of anger. "Sakura, our…..Hokage…..has summoned us to his office tonight at midnight."
Try as she might, Sakura could not hide the surprise on her face. "What for Lady Tsunade," she asked.
"His pets wouldn't say.", she remarked with the look of disdain on her face. "All they would say is that the option to turn down his invitation was not available. And that you especially must be in attendance."
Tsunade then looked to Ino. "Ino, please go out to the courtyard and prepare the grounds for our training session." Ino got up immediately with a look of concern on her face. She wanted to say something but thought better of it and left.
Once she was gone Tsunade turned to Sakura. "I've been hearing from sources that Danzo's heavy handed style is not going over so well with the Water and Lightening villages. And we are currently without allies since he so "wisely" decided to alienate Sunagakure. Both villages are moving and unless something is done we will be at war by winter."
"Do you think this is what he wants to speak about?", asked Sakura.
"Ha!," Tsunade said as she sipped her sake, "that old fool would rather see Konoha burn before asking my help! No, I don't know what he wants. But we must be careful. Danzo cannot be trusted and the fact he wants this meeting to take place at the dead of night does not bode well."
"What if you're right Lady Tsunade? What if this is a trap," Sakura asked.
At that moment Tsunade's face grew dark with anger and said, "Then it will be the last trap he'll ever set my dear." Sakura had seen that face before. She knew Tsunade was deadly serious. For Danzo's sake he'd better not play games tonight.
As quickly as Tsunade's face had shown anger it had then took on the look of thoughtful concern. "How's your mother?" Tsunade asked.
Sakura smiled and said, "She's fine. It took some time to rebuild the shop and get things going again but things are looking good."
Tsunade smiled back, but she knew Sakura was not telling the whole truth. Her father had been a trader, selling fine linens in the heart of Konoha. The heart of Konoha….the first place Pain had arrived. The store was obliterated that day and her father was killed. Her mother had decided to try to keep the business going. But it was difficult. Tsunade saw Sakura's bright smile and knew it was not a smile for her past or present, but for her future. It was the type of smile she saw on Naruto's face all the time.
******Konoha – Midnight******
They walked silently through the darkened hall. Tsunade couldn't help but reminisce on the times she spent in this building. The tough decisions that she made here, the seemingly endless stream of situations that needed her attention. And the sound of Shizune's voice behind her reminding her of this duty to be performed or that duty. The thought of Shizune caused a slight pain in her heart. She remembered the concern she always felt every time she sent a team out on a mission. She remembered the fatigue; the constant tiredness that came with the position. It became like a constant companion to her. She missed it. All of it.
Finally she came to the door that led to the office that was once hers. Two of Danzo's pets stood at the door. One of them lightly knocked on the door as they approached and Danzo's voice could be heard, "Let them in." The door was opened and they entered into the room, half lit by candle light which gave it an eerie glow.
Danzo, sitting behind his desk, her desk, appeared to be reading a report. He observed them with a cold look on his face and without smiling, "Ah, Lady Tsunade and her faithful apprentice. Please sit" Tsunade and Sakura sat down noticing that two more of Danzo's pets were hidden in the shadows. No doubt just in case Tsunade forgot her place.
"What is this all about Danzo," she said, "why would you need to see us like this?"
With the same cold, emotionless look he replied, "What, no greetings for the Hokage, Tsunade? That's rude." Tsunade griped the armrests, cracking them slightly, her anger building. Sakura looked at Tsunade not knowing how much of this she could take. Tsunade's temper was legendary.
Danzo continued, completely ignoring Tsunade's reaction. "As you know the Lightening and Water villages are causing us trouble," he said. "For the past three years, due to the failure of the previous regime, they have smelled weakness within Konoha and have attempted to capitalize on this."
Failure. Once again Tsunade face contorted in anger at the thought of this. But she kept her calm. "For the most part," Danzo continued, "we have kept them in check. However lately we have seen a massive increase in their movements and attacks. Five days ago, three of our Anbu teams were destroyed by them. Little remains were left. Our investigations concluded that a massive amount of chakra was used. More than any one person could use. We have reason to believe Akatsuki is now helping them and that they have finally created at least one Jinchuriki of their own."
"Impossible." Sakura whispered. Both women stared almost blankly at Danzo as if he had dropped a great weight upon them.
"Are you sure?" Tsunade asked as composed as she could be.
"Very," Danzo replied "our intelligence is well researched and flawless. It also falls in line with previous intelligence the ANBU had gathered."
Tsunade swallowed hard, her mouth dry. "Do you have plan?"
"No," Danzo replied. "We are still working on a counter measure. I decided the best person to destroy a beast is someone who is familiar with beasts." Danzo then sat back in his chair. "To that end," he continued, "I have sent for a specialist in the matter."
At that moment there came another knock from the door and a voice could be heard. "Lord Hokage, they're here."
"Send them in," Danzo replied. At that point the door opened and familiar figure entered the room. Upon seeing him Sakura gritted her teeth, her own anger boiling to the surface. Sai, that traitorous bastard, Sakura thought. Sakura near leapt out of her seat at the very sight of him.
Sai saw Sakura sitting there and smiled that same forced smile as always. Seeing that smile angered her even more. Seeing her reaction Sai merely looked away almost sheepishly as he addressed Danzo. "Lord Hokage, I have returned."
"Yes," Danzo replied "you have done well Sai, I knew you could be trusted for this mission."
"Thank you, my Lord," replied Sai as he bowed. Stepping aside a taller, hooded figure entered the room. He wore a long dirty red coat with a hood which hid his face.
Danzo paused, as if regarding him and awaiting a response from the man. After some time Danzo appeared somewhat annoyed then asked, "Nothing to say?" The figure remained still. "Very well," Danzo continued, more visibly annoyed, "please take a seat." Still the man stood. Not moving, remaining just barely in the room and just outside the light of the candles.
Visibly upset by the affront Danzo stood, walking around his desk to face the hooded man. "Let me explain something to you," Danzo said not attempting to hide his disgust, "you are a guest in my home. This village, this building, this office is my home. When entering another man's home you should address him. When offered a seat in a man's home you should take it. Especially when that man happens to be your Hoka-."
Immediately the hooded stranger took a step forward further into the room and interrupted Danzo, "Let me explain something to you," he said.
That voice, Sakura thought. It couldn't be! But she knew. Tsunade knew. Tsunade turned in her seat, the look of surprise etched into her face. Slowly, Sakura rose her feet, tears beginning to well in her eyes.
Then she saw him remove the hood, the light shining off his blond hair, his still boyish face and eyes though obviously in Sage mode still had that optimistic intensity. He continued, "You Danzo, have never been and never will be any Hokage of mine."
She saw him, after nearly four years of hoping for his safety and praying for his return she saw him. So many emotions filled her. She felt as though a million pins were slightly pricking at her skin. So many things she wanted to say at that moment. Like a wave everything hit her and as tears now flowed freely all she could muster was one word, "N-Naruto!"
******End of Chapter I******
Next Time: Red Leaf in the Moonlight