A/N: Important! I've updated Chapter 10 AND 11 at the same time so go back and read Chapter 10 first!
Kurenai yawned as she shuffled out of her bedroom. She and Kakashi had taken the first shifts watching over the daimyo while he slept. She'd gotten lucky and pulled the first shift, being relieved sometime in the middle of the night. Running a hand through her slightly messy hair, she made her way into the sitting room.
The floor they had commandeered was more of a large suite than a floor of individual rooms. It had one large sitting room/library, with modest bedrooms branching off to the sides. A set of glass doors opened up onto a large balcony, from where you could see a spectacular view of the whole capital from where the palace had been built into the hills.
She stepped into the sitting room proper, and blinked at the sight that greeted her.
Four Narutos sat around a table while a fifth had Henge'd himself into the clothes of a blackjack dealer, and was now dishing out cards to its fellows.
"I can see you've had a very productive night." The genjutsu mistress commented as she lowered herself onto one of the couches, tucking her legs under her.
"You know it." One of the Naruto's replied smoothly. She assumed this was the original since he'd been the only one to reply. The large amount of poker chips piled before him singled him out as well.
"Alright, gents, let's see your hands." Dealer Naruto said, holding his own close to his chest.
"Twenty-one!" The real Naruto crowed triumphantly, tossing down his own hand. Sure enough, a King and an Ace of Spades stared back up at them. He laughed, satisfied, as he scooped all his winnings over to add to his already rather large pile.
"Damn it!" One of the clones slammed his fist on the table. He pointed an accusatory finger at his creator. "You're cheating! You have to be!"
A punch to the face was all the answer he got in return.
"Anyone else got something they'd like to add to that?" Naruto asked as he brandished his fist threateningly. The remaining clones nervously glanced at the quickly dispelling smoke cloud that had once been their brother, and quickly shook their heads.
Kurenai merely shook her head at the blonde. The boy was well on his way to becoming as eccentric as any of her other colleagues.
Slowly, the rest of the teams began to wake and before too long they were all gathered in the sitting room, sans Kakashi who was still guarding the daimyo. Naruto and Kiba had scrounged them some food from the palace kitchens, which they quickly devoured. When all the plates had been cleared, Kurenai had them gather round.
"Okay, as you know our mission is to guard the daimyo, but since there's very little chance that the assassin will attack before the festival Kakashi and I have decided that it would be a good opportunity for you to get in some training. We've talked to one of Hideyoshi-sama's guards and he pointed us to a area of forest behind the palace that people rarely venture to that would be perfect for our needs. Until the festival you'll be training there whilst at the same time switching in and out of guarding Hideyoshi-sama. Go get your gear, we leave in five minutes. Shino, Naruto, could you stay here for a moment?"
As the others went to get their things together, the two quiet Genin stayed behind as ordered. Kurenai looked to Shino first. "Shino, am I correct in assuming that you've already placed a tracker bug on the daimyo."
The Aburame nodded, pushing his shades a little further up the bridge of his nose before speaking. "I have, Kurenai-sensei. If the daimyo is in danger it will alert the rest of the swarm, which in turn will alert me."
Kurenai nodded approvingly then allowed the boy to go gather his gear. When he left, she turned to Naruto. "While I trust Shino's bugs implacably, there's no reason not to have a back-up plan. Can you create anything that will help us keep a closer eye on the daimyo?"
Naruto paused and looked thoughtful about it. He cradled his elbow in his palm as his other hand stroked his chin. "Maybe." He said uncertainly. "I mean, I've never tried it before… but it might work…"
"What might work?"
Instead of replying, Naruto clasped his hands together. The black smoke unique to his Bloodline bloomed forth out of clean air and when it cleared Kurenai was greeted by two strange sights.
The first was a eye. About the size of a clenched fist, the orb bobbed unaided in the air, whizzing to look this way and that. A quivering optical nerve dangled from the back, and the sight of its wobbly motions made the Jounin a little nauseous.
The other appeared to be a simple mirror, held afloat by tiny sets of wings on all four corners. By their size it was obvious that there should be no way they could bear the mirrors weight. But that was rational thinking and these things were created though a young boy's imagination. As any philosophical thinker will tell you, rationality has no place in an imagination.
"How will these help us keep an eye on the daimyo?" Kurenai asked, intrigued, as the eye floated over to the window to look at the view. Perhaps besides his family, no one had ever really been able to get a good idea of just what the Ritsuzen was capable of. In fact, this was the first time she'd ever really seen it in action. That time after Naruto was attacked didn't count.
"The eye will… well, 'keep an eye' on him and the mirror will show us what it sees. See?" He invited her to look into the mirror. She gasped. Instead of her own reflection staring back at her, she instead saw the view from the window where the eye was still floating. She glanced between the mirror and the eye, trying valiantly to think of how the mechanics behind the jutsu allowed it to function. For the life of her she could come up with anything. This shouldn't be possible. Suddenly, she was starting to appreciate just how much potential Naruto's Bloodline possessed. If he could explore and master it, the possibilities would literally be endless.
Reining in her awe, she addressed one small matter. "How will Kakashi know not to attack it? I doubt he'd take kindly to an eye just floating into the daimyo's room unannounced."
Naruto thought about it. A few seconds later the eye floated out the window and down into the daimyo's floor, sporting a new accessory in the form of a miniature Konoha hitai-ate. Hopefully it would be enough to convince Kakashi not to skewer the poor thing on sight.
No sooner had the eye left than Kiba emerged from his room, his pouches secured and Akamaru trotting along obediently at his heel. "That's it, I'm ready to g-" He stopped short, blinking rapidly. "Hey, Kurenai-sensei? Is that mirror… flying?"
Naruto and Kurenai looked at each other.
"You explain." Was all the blonde said as he walked off to grab his own gear.
Kurenai led the Genin out back to the clearing in the forest, just a five minute walk away. As they walked, Naruto had to explain to a curious Team 8 the truth about his Bloodline. Shino kept his composure for the most part, but if you looked close enough you could see both eyebrows raise high on his forehead in surprise. Hinata didn't say much, but she was still shocked. Being a wielder of one of the most powerful ocular jutsu in the world she knew that new Bloodlines didn't just pop up unexpectedly. Still, she was too shy to pry into it and said nothing.
Kiba was much more vocal in his opinion on the matter.
"Dude, that's freaking awesome!" The boy exclaimed excitedly. He turned to the blonde, a wide grin on his face. "You mean to tell me you can make anything you can imagine out of thin air?"
"Well there are limits, but yes."
"And that mirror thing is somehow connected to an eyeball that's watching the daimyo? It'll let you see anything the eye sees?"
A wide, lecherous grin made its way onto the young Inuzuka's face, and he giggled perversely. "Man, do you have any idea how useful that is? You could peep on the bathhouses from the safety of your own room and you'd never get caught!"
Naruto blushed bright red at that, having never thought about the possibility. Fortunately before his mind could wander too far down that road, a furious Sakura bashed Kiba over the head, sending him sprawling into the dirt. It had to be said that Kurenai didn't say a word against the assault on her student. In fact by the look on her face she might have thought he deserved it.
"Pervert!" The pinkette yelled angrily. "Imagine wanting to use jutsu to peek on innocent women! I'm sure Naruto would never do that. Would you, Naruto?"
She and Kurenai turned piercing glares on the poor blonde. He cleared his throat nervously. "O-Of course not." Despite his words, his voice cracked halfway through, causing his already prominent blush to double. Their chilling gaze lingered on him for a few more seconds, causing him to squirm uncomfortably, before they finally relented.
Naruto breathed a relieved breath then turned his own glare on Kiba, who was nursing a rather large bump. "You know, it's one thing to sign your own death warrant, but don't drag me to an early grave with you. I happen to like being alive, thank you very much."
Eventually they came to the clearing the guard had directed them to. Kurenai turned to the Genin, her arms folded under her chest. "Alright, since we've got a lot of downtime before the assassination is scheduled Kakashi and I have agreed you shouldn't just be sitting around doing nothing. To this end we've decided to start you on controlling your chakra."
"Huh? But wasn't that what that stupid leaf balancing test in the academy was for?" Asked a confused Kiba.
Kurenai nodded. "The leaf balancing exercise was designed to be a rudimentary exercise for young children who were just starting to learn how to control their chakra, but since you are older your chakra supplies have grown with all the training you underwent in the academy and during your time as Genin. This new exercise is important because not only does it give you greater control over your chakra, but it also provides you with an effective tool to use whilst on a mission."
Sakura raised her hand. "Um, Kurenai-sensei? What exercise are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the tree walking exercise."
"Tree walking?" Sasuke asked, his brow scrunched in confusion. "What do you mean."
Kurenai didn't reply. Instead she drew an handful of kunai and, with a flick of her wrist, threw them. Six thuds echoed in the clearing as the kunai buried into the bark of the trees, a good thirty feet above the ground. She turned back to the young teens. "Your goal is to retrieve those kunai."
Kiba scoffed and grinned down at Akamaru. "Piece of cake! Right, boy?"
Akamaru barked in agreement, his tail wagging excitedly.
Kurenai smirked. "Don't get so cocky, Kiba. It won't be as easy as you think. You have to retrieve the kunai…" She leaned closer, a mischievous glint in her eye. "…without using you hands."
The Genin all gawked at her.
"What?" Sakura asked incredulously. "But that's impossible… isn't it?"
Again, Kurenai said nothing. Instead, she turned and marched towards one of the trees. The Genin watched her go, confused as to what she was doing. Kurenai didn't pause in her stride as she placed a foot on the bark and, to the amazement of the students, strode calmly up the tree. When she reached the kunai that was imbedded in the wood, she turned back around, a half-grin on her face.
"Still think it's impossible?" She asked teasingly.
With that she put them to work. Watching from the sidelines, she could get a good idea of their abilities. Sakura seemed to have no trouble, only wobbling a bit as she slowly made her way up her chosen tree. Shino was having a little more trouble, but was still making good progress. Kiba and Sasuke could only made it up about a dozen or so feet, but were doggedly staying at it.
She winced in sympathy as Naruto hit the ground hard. The boy's chakra control was easily the worst of the lot. She watched as he shoot his head, dazed, and gathered himself for another attempt. A loud thud echoed through the clearing a few seconds later, followed by a loud exclamation of a few choice words that she was certain he shouldn't know. She shook her head, knowing Kinome would never tolerate such language from any child of hers. 'Must have been Azuma. From what I remember, he could curse with the best sailors. Best not tell Kinome, she'd kill him.'
Pushing the matter from her mind she turned to check on her own kunoichi student's progress. She wasn't disappointed.
"Fantastic, Hinata!" The raven haired Jounin called. The others looked round to see what the fuss was about.
Hinata stood near the top of her tree, the kunai she was aiming for held in both hands. The shy girl blushed at the praise and quickly made her way down the tree.
"I assume you've already been taught the tree walking exercise?" Kurenai guessed as she took back her kunai.
Hinata nodded. In fact, being raised as a Hyuuga ninja, she knew most of the major chakra exercises, and even some that weren't widely known outside the clan. Her skill with such exercises was the one area her father never berated her about.
"Hey, Kurenai-sensei!" A call came from the trees.
She and Hinata looked up to see Sakura sitting comfortably on one of the higher branches. She looked to be out of breath, but surely enough her kunai was in her hand. Kurenai could also see that Shino was close to retrieving his own.
"Very good, Sakura." She called back. "At this rate we should be done in no time."
A thud and a grunt drew their attention. Naruto was sprawled at the base of his tree, rubbing his ass after what appeared to be a particularly rough landing.
"Or maybe not." Kurenai muttered.
"Oooowwwwwww…" Naruto groaned as he gingerly lowered himself onto one of the comfy wingback chairs. He'd shed his scarf, haori and sandals and was now reclining with his feet propped up on one of the leather footstools. He grunted as he shifted himself slightly, the motion sending painful throbs through his poor, abused body.
They'd spent the entire day training. Kurenai, seeing that the girls had no further need for the tree walking exercise, had introduced them to the water walking exercise instead. Since Hinata already knew that one as well, Kurenai upped the ante and used a small Suiton jutsu to send some minor waves through the water, making retaining a level balance far more difficult. Shino had made it to the top and retrieved his kunai by the time he was chosen to replace Kakashi shadowing the daimyo. Kiba and Sasuke were just a few feet shy of completing the exercise when they were told to stop for the day, while he himself had only managed to get three quarters of the way up.
And it took falling ass first onto the hard ground over two-hundred times to do it.
Naruto whined piteously in his chair. He had aches and pains everywhere, even in places he didn't even know he had!
"I hate trees." He muttered, uncaring if anyone could hear him or not.
"Strange thing for a Konoha ninja to say." Sakura grunted back from where she was sprawled on one of the couches. Kiba was laid out on the floor beneath her, Akamaru snoozing on his chest. He had fallen there when he lost to Sakura in the battle for the couch and apparently couldn't be bother to get back up again.
Kurenai smiled from the large dinning table where she and Kakashi were sorting out the takeaway she'd fetched for dinner. "Now now, Naruto, it's not the trees fault that you couldn't get the kunai."
"Yeah, don't blame the tree because you failed." Sasuke remarked from where he lounged in his own chair. His eyes were closed and it was obvious he was exhausted.
"Isn't you kunai still out there along with mine, Sasuke?"
The last loyal Uchiha merely grunted.
Naruto's head lolled in Kakashi's general direction. "Hey, sensei, can you toss me a bottle of water?"
Kakashi grabbed one of the many unopened plastic bottles and chucked in in Naruto's direction. The blonde had turned his hand palm-up on the armrest, expecting the Jounin to throw it towards his hand. Instead the bottle hit the armrest, falling to the ground a foot or two out of reach.
Naruto regarded the bottle for a few long moments, probably trying to figure out if it was worth the effort of shifting himself to grab it. "Can somebody get that?"
Naturally, this generated a round of 'hell no's' from his so-called comrades.
"You guys suck."
"Man, Naruto, I know you're tired, and the insomnia thing doesn't help, but you're one of the laziest people I've ever met! And I've shared a class with Nara Shikamaru!" Kiba said from the ground.
"I know, it's a terrible affliction. One that I'm trying to overcome."
"Okay, guys, your food's ready." Kurenai called. "And no, Naruto, no one will bring your's over to you so you'll just have to get it yourself."
Sakura looked to her teacher as she grabbed her own food. "Hey, Kakashi-sensei, who's going to watch the daimyo tonight?"
Kakashi looked up from his book. Despite her many attempts, Kurenai hadn't been able to steal the damnable thing so she could burn it. "Well, Shino has him for most of the night then Naruto will take over. Hinata, will you be able to take the shift after that at noon?"
"Yes, Kakashi-sensei." The girl said quietly.
"Good, then it's all settled. If wee keep it up this way we should have no problems from now until the festival." Kakashi said happily. Kiba looked like he was going to say something when a strange object floated over their heads. They all watched silently as a fleshy orb with four long, thin, four-fingered arms hovered over the food, apparently looking for something. It bobbed up and down for a moment before gliding over one of the plates and grabbing it with its hands. The eyes of the ninja followed the little plate-thief as it rose into the air and brought its cargo over to its creator.
"I'll start working on it tomorrow, I swear!"
He watched with a slight smirk as his client paced the carpeted floors of the study, agitation plain with every movement. He leaned back in the padded leather chair, one leg flung over an armrest, despite his host's request for him not to.
"It's too dangerous." His client spoke in clipped tones. "It could send my entire plan up in flames. There has to be another way."
He shrugged. "This is the best way. If we take the ninja out, then there'll be no one to stop me from killing the daimyo during the festival. Getting them out of the way this early will allow us to avoid any complications later on."
"You weren't saying that the first time I told you he'd hire ninja. You said that even if he had ninja with him during the festival you could still kill him."
He rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Because two or three Chuunin, no matter how well trained, wouldn't have been a problem. Two seasoned Jounin, however, will. Especially if one of those Jounin is Hatake Kakashi. The fact that they have Genin with them, while not all together a problem, could be irksome. Strength in numbers and all that. Taking them out now is best."
"What's to stop that fat bastard Hideyoshi from just sending a letter to Konoha requesting more ninja? I'm sure that once they hear that the two teams they sent are dead they'll respond with far greater force the second time around."
He sighed, aggravated with having to spell it out, and when he spoke his voice was mocking, as if explaining things to a child. "Today is Monday. The festival is on Friday, that's four days away. If I make my move tonight, the daimyo won't be able to send his letter out until at least tomorrow morning with all the chaos that will go on. The messenger bird will take at least a day to get to Konoha, so that means it won't get there 'till Wednesday morning. It'll take Konoha most of Wednesday to decipher the letter, process it, and for the Hokage to review it and gather a team. Even if he manages to send the team out on Wednesday, they'll still take three days to get here, which means they won't arrive until the morning after the Halloween festival, by which point the daimyo will be dead, I'll be paid, and you'll go on with your little plan."
His client was silent for several long minutes after that, presumably weighting his words and deciding whether or not to go ahead with the plan. Finally, the client turned to stare at him levelly.
"You're positive that more ninja won't arrive until it's too late?"
"You're positive that you can kill the Konoha ninja tonight?"
His client gestured towards the door. "Then go do it."
"Aw man! Why did sensei pick those guys to go into town? I mean besides for training we've not been off this floor! The Land of Festivals is meant to be a big party place, and the capital's supposed to be party central! And we're stuck in hear missing it! Not fair or what?"
Shino tried to tune out his teammate's complaints, but found it increasingly harder and harder, especially when Akamaru started adding agreeing yaps and barks to his master's diatribe every few seconds. Briefly, he too wished their sensei had sent him into the city, instead of confining him to their suite with Kiba. It would certainly be a more peaceful experience, never mind the fact that the streets were bustling with drunken partygoers.
It had only been a few hours ago that they had finished their training. Kiba and Sasuke had both managed to walk up the trees high enough to retrieve their kunai, and Kakashi had told them that they'd move onto the water walking exercise with Hinata, Sakura and Shino himself once they'd managed to perfect their control a little more. Since Naruto had to forgo training for today as it was his shift to guard the daimyo, he remained the only one of the Genin not to reach the top of the tree, much to his chagrin. Naturally, this generated much teasing and mocking from Kiba and Sasuke. Once they had all arrived back at the suite Kurenai and Kakashi had informed Hinata that she wouldn't have to take her shift since they wanted to update the daimyo on the mission status. Kakashi had instead ordered his team to head for the inner city and see if they could gather any clues as to who was trying to kill their client. Kiba had protested loudly at being left behind, but Kurenai had wanted them to remain behind in case they were needed for anything.
Shino sighed. "Complaining about it won't change the fact that Kurenai-sensei wanted us to stay here, Kiba."
Kiba grunted. "Yeah, but still I'm bored. I mean there's nothing to do here until the festival."
"Read a book."
"There's nothing good. It's all history and crap."
"Sharpen your kunai."
"Did it yesterday."
"Do it again."
"No point, they're already sharp."
"Then why don't you take Akamaru for a walk in the gardens? I'm sure he'd like it."
The Inuzuka scowled. "I did that yesterday. You should have seen the look one of the male servants me when Akamaru hiked his leg on one of the trees. You'd think I'd came into his house on Christmas day and pissed on his kids by the way he was yelling."
Shino pushed his shades further up his nose. "Well the palace gardens are quite famous for their beauty. Maybe he was afraid Akamaru urinating on the tree may have done damage."
Kiba rolled his eyes. "Well all I know is I ain't going anywhere near that psycho and his vaunted garden again. Akamaru was about ready to maul him yesterday." He rolled his shoulders, trying to work out a kink. He glanced at his teammate. "You think Kurenai-sensei would care if I went to catch up with Kakashi's team?"
"Perhaps. She did order us to stay here."
Kiba waved him off. "Nah, she'll be fine. If she says anything I can always say I went out to get something to eat. She can't punish me for that, right?"
Shino sighed again, and was about to reply when suddenly there was a muffled shout, followed by a very loud bang that rattled the windows of their suite.
"What the hell was that?" Kiba yelled, jumping out of his chair.
Shino rose as well, followed by Hinata. "It sounded like an explosion." The bug user deduced. "It sounded like it came from the gardens."
"W-What?" Hinata started in shock. "B-But that's where Kurenai-sensei, Kakashi-sensei and Hideyoshi-sama are!"
"Which means they're in trouble." Shino quickly made his way towards the balcony, strapping his kunai pouch to his thigh as he went. Hinata and Kiba followed behind, grabbing their own weapons.
They were just a few feet from the balcony when the glass doors blew inwards. Thousands of thin slivers of glass, each as sharp as any kunai, were propelled towards Team 8.
"So you're saying you've found no evidence of who exactly wants Hideyoshi-sama dead?" Noburu asked, a frown marring his aged features.
Kakashi shook his head. "No, Noburu-sama. My students are in the city now keeping an ear out for anything that may help us, but sadly I don't think they're going to find anything."
They were in the palace gardens; a sprawling maze of exotic flowers, grass fields and beautiful trees. Even to a casual observer it was clear that this was a rare sight. Each living thing that had been planted here had been carefully positioned so that its colours complimented its neighbours wonderfully. Large marble fountains had been built and the trickling sound of running water filled the air. It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky. The heat of the day was passing and they could feel the chill of the coming night in the air as the breezes tugged at the expensive robes of the daimyo and his advisor.
Hideyoshi stopped before one of the larger fountains. Atop it was a lifelike statue of one of the Land of Fire's previous daimyo. The marble figure sat atop a stallion and at its feet a pack of hunting dogs sat at heel. The current daimyo sighed, wearily rubbing his temples to ward off the coming headache. "So we're no closer to finding out just who wants me dead?" He asked of his ninja bodyguards.
"Not at this time, no sir." Kurenai said quietly with a small bow of apology.
Hideyoshi sighed again his eyes gazing up at the carved face of his forebear. "Forty years I've been daimyo of this land. I've led my people fairly, gotten along well with my servants, and have actually managed to put aside politics and make friends with those in my government." He shrugged helplessly. "I just wish I knew why this person wanted me dead. What could they hope to gain from it?"
"We don't know, my Lord." Kakashi said. "But rest assured, no harm will come to you while we're here."
The portly man gave the Jounin a tired smile. "I know that, Kakashi-san. As always, your vigilance in this matter is appreciated."
Kakashi bowed slightly in thanks. He opened his mouth to say something else when his sharp ears caught a slight keening in the air. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as it happened. His one visible eye saw the small blur flying out of the trees to their left and the sound of it stabbing into the thick marble of the fountain statue seemed to ring unnaturally loud in his ears. That's when he heard the hissing. Sparing no time, he grabbed the daimyo in his arms and threw himself back.
The fountain detonated. Stone debris filled the air, crashing down into the flowerbeds and the water of the fountains. Smoke and petals filled the air.
Kakashi landed on the steps of the palace, a dazed and confused daimyo cradled in his arms. He saw Kurenai a few feet away, Noburu laying at her feet, a bloody gash adorning his forehead. She looked fine, apart from the marble dust in her hair.
"Kurenai, did you see him?" Kakashi shouted. The ringing in his ears from the explosion was deafening, making it hard to head what Kurenai was saying.
"I didn't see his face, but it came from those Sakura trees just past the fountain." She shouted back. Behind them, samurai guards were pouring out of the palace, their weapons drawn and ready to defend their lord from attack.
Kakashi ignored them as he peered into the smoke that covered the gardens, trying to catch any movement in its midst. Slowly, the grey haze began to clear as it was pulled away by the breeze. It slowly revealed the ruins that had once been the magnificent gardens, once teeming with life, now strewn with rubble. Water poured from the fractured fountain, covering the ground. Kakashi tensed when he saw the figure in the smoke, standing atop the fountain ruins. Suddenly the wind shifted and the attacker's face was revealed.
Kakashi's eye narrowed dangerously.
A/N: I know that chapters 10 and 11 are a bit on the short side and maybe a little choppy, but rest assured there is far more to come. I've hit a stride with the story so I think I'll be able to get the next few chapters out fairly rapidly, maybe even up to the end of the mission. Trust me when I say that there is far more to look forward to. I won't go into specifics, but I will say that the Ritsuzen's first true battle debut is coming soon!