NARUTO

Nox Noctis Ingredior

A New Mission

Three Weeks Later…

Naruto struggled valiantly against the lashing claws of the beast caught in his arms. He growled against fierce resistance, and muffled his ears as best to block out its loud, monstrous war cries. However, he was still deafened by them, but bit down tooth and nail to resist the screeches. But no matter how strong his mental endurance was against such an audible onslaught that nearly broke through his very eardrums, he could barely stand up against the razor sharp talons of this creature. Try as he might, he could barely keep his grip as the monstrosity set upon him like a wolf, a ferocious demon wanting to break free against the arms attempting to pin it against the attacker and the ground.

As much of a tussle, and as hard as it was, Naruto found it a lot easier to tame a wild falcon, eagle and dog than this stupid cat!!!!

"ARGH! WHY YOU LITTLE RAT!" Naruto yelled, the cat's claw scraping across his face. "THAT'S IT!" he shouted, wrestling the brown, furry creature onto its stomach and attempting to keep it down. Sakura and Hinata watched from either side of him as he rolled around on the ground with the cat, giggling at the sight.

"YOU WANT TO PLAY SUMO! THEN LET'S PLAY!"

The little cat, Tora, howled loudly and turned the tables for the fifth time, managing to end up on Naruto's chest, and was lashing angrily at his face. Naruto cried out in pain, before grabbing the cat's arms and trying to get it into a headlock.

"YOU'LL PAY FOR THAT, CAT!" Naruto cried out. "THAT'S DIRTY PLAY! NO CLAWS!!!"

"This is Snake to Pinky! What is your status? Over!" Anko's voice spoke up through the receivers in the group's ears. Sakura giggled, seeing Naruto once again, unsuccessfully grab the cat by the neck and try to throttle it, only to have the cat jump up onto his head and scratch his hair and forehead brutally. The pink haired girl then turned and placed her fingers on the receiver piece, transmitting a reply to their team leader.

"This is Pinky to Bitch…"

"IT'S SNAKE! BRAT!" Anko shouted back, causing Sakura to wince at the screech in her earpiece.

"Sorry… (snigger)… Snake…" Sakura replied with a grin. She looked back at Naruto, to see him continue struggling against the claws of the cat. Hinata was now crouching beside his flailing body, trying to help him remove the cat, despite its protests. "We've caught the cat! Slippery little rascal! Please verify: brown fur with a red bow around its right ear, designated: Tora!"

"That's the rat!" Anko exclaimed. "Geez, this is the 1127th time it's gotten away!"

Sakura's eyes widened. "The 1127th time the cat's managed to run away from its owners!" Naruto and Hinata stopped struggling. With Naruto managing to keep the cat in his hands at arms length above him, he sat up, and he and Hinata looked at Sakura with widened eyes.

"What?!" the pair in the background shouted.

"Well… I've been keeping score! I've got a record booklet right here of all the missions ever undertaken! Every Jonin's got one, but they may tell you something different in this case! Anyway, this is the 1127th time the cat has managed to escape from its owner Madam Shijimi," Anko said. "I had to chase the same little monster when I was a Genin! I think the cat has been around since the very first Hokage!"

"Really?" Sakura asked, raising an eyebrow.

"It's a got a heck of a lot more lives than nine, I can tell you that," Anko stated. "A curse among ninja! It says in here it took Team Minato 7 hours to try and catch it, thanks to it clawing up Kakashi and Obito's faces more times than once!"

"Slackers!" Naruto called, the cat going back to scarring his hands. Its claws lashed at his hands in lighting fast, anime style, and Naruto bit his lip in a humorous manner to resist its onslaught. "We… got it… grr… in less than… argh… two hours!"

"Excellent! You just beat the old record by five minutes! Congratulations brats!" Anko exclaimed. "Pack it up, we're headin' on back!"

"Stupid cat, cutting into my training!" Naruto growled. Sakura smiled and pulled out the cage from the scroll they were given. Upon opening its lid, Naruto tried to put it in, but the cat continued to put up one hell of a fight. After futility lashing away at Naruto's hands, placed its hands and legs at the four corners of the frame to the cage door, and held its place. Sakura secured the cage and took a stance as Naruto tried to push the cat in by force. They both growled at the effort, as the cat continued to protest against going into the cage.

"Come on, cat!" Naruto growled. "Get… in… there!"

He eventually managed to put it in, and Sakura quickly shut the cage. Naruto staggered back and fell to the floor in exhaustion, and watched as the cat flailed around inside its cage. The spiky haired Genin backed away as he saw the cat trying to get out, and Sakura put the cage down, for fear of being scratched by its claws sticking out of the spaces between bars.

"Put a seal on that damn thing!" Naruto shouted, pointing a shaky finger at it.

Hinata quickly did so, placing one of the top and at the door, and a small one around the lock. The three of them collapsed in exhaustion, with Naruto sprawling out on the grass.

"Ugh… I hate these missions…"


An hour later…

The question of why the cat ran away from its owners over a thousand times was soon answered when, as soon as the cat was returned to its owner at the mission briefing room, they saw how Madam Shijimi, the Fire Daimyo's wife, treated her cat. A fat woman, dressed in royalty, smothering the cat with hugs and kisses, almost suffocating it. Tears of anguish could be seen escaping the cat's eyes as the woman hugged her cat.

Naruto, Sakura, Hinata and Anko watched as the woman paid for the mission, and left with her cat back in its cage. When the door closed, Sakura shook her head.

"I kind of feel sorry for the little fellow…"

"M-Madam Shijimi must take better care a-and consideration for her pets," Hinata explained. Naruto frowned.

"Well, tough for it," the blonde said. He rubbed his right cheek, his hands, face and head noticeably wrapped in bandages and covered in band aids. "Ow…! Stupid cat! I should have put some ointment on these scratches before I wrapped myself up…"

"Oh, I've got some ointment, Naruto-kun!" Hinata exclaimed, holding out a bottle to the young man. Naruto looked towards her and smiled brightly; he grasped the bottle and looked at it, getting a whiff of its herbals scent and nodding his head. "I made it myself… i-it should help!"

"Thanks a lot, Hinata!"

"Erhem," the pair was interrupted by the Hokage, who cleared his throat to catch their attention. Sarutobi nodded to the team and smiled, seeing them line up in front of him, with Anko hanging to the side, hands in her pockets and a smirk on her face. "Excellent work, Team 7! I am really proud of you four for capturing and returning that ra… I mean, the pet cat, to Mistress Shijimi. And congratulations for setting the new record… Anko…" he looked towards her. "What's the time?"

Anko pulled out her booklet, Naruto, Sakura and Hinata quickly moving over to her, and craning their heads to see the times. They whistled at the number of times and teams involved in the missions.

"Lets see…" Anko murmured. "Team 5… Team 21… Team Gai… ah, yes! Team 7, consisting of Naruto Uzumaki, Sakura Haruno and Hinata Hyuuga: One hour, fifty six minutes, and thirty-seven seconds!" She slapped the book close, nearly hitting Sakura's nose. The woman and the team grinned over at the Hokage; except Hinata who merely smiled proudly. "Read it and weep!"

"Wonderful!" the Hokage exclaimed. "As an added bonus for breaking the record, I will add an extra 30 percent to your mission pay. Well done!"

Sakura and Hinata high-fived with each other and Naruto knocked knuckles with Anko.

"What time did you get, Oji-san?" Naruto asked. "When you were on Team Tobirama?"

The Hokage rubbed the back of his head, and hid as much of his expression under the shadow of his funny-hat as much as possible. "Uhh… my team got… twenty seven hours, fifty-six minutes and seventy two seconds… the… cat managed to cross the borders into Kumogakure. That was our best time…"

Naruto, Sakura, Hinata and Anko stared at the Hokage sitting behind the desk silently for the next several seconds, even Iruka and some of the other staff also working in the room at the time paused to gape at the Hokage. After the few seconds had passed, and Naruto tried to contain his laughter, he just let it out. Holding his gut and trying to maintain his stance, he pointed and laughed at the great old Hokage, with Sakura and Anko joining in, and Hinata in a fit of giggles on the side. Even Iruka had to shove a fist in his mouth to stop himself from laughing.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!" Naruto laughed. "T-T-THAT'S… HAHAHA… PRICELESS!!! GAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!"

"Shut up! That cat has been trouble since before you were even born! It nearly started a war between Konohagakure and Kumogakure!" Sarutobi exclaimed, only to make Naruto laugh harder and fall to the ground, with Sakura and Anko nearly falling to the ground, laughing. "Kumogakure demanded a public execution for the 'furry demon', as it tormented the Raikage when it managed to enter its office and scare his wife! His wife was allergic to cats! We managed to avoid a war when we agreed to split the bill between Kumo and Konoha for capturing the cat on the original mission!"

This only seemed to add fuel to the already raging fire, and now Sakura was on the ground laughing.

The laughter carried on for another minute or so, before eventually everyone calmed down and, with soar guts, everyone was on their feet again, and paying their humblest of respects to the Hokage.

"Sorry, Hokage-sama," Anko said, wiping a tear away from under her eye. "Please… carry on…"

"Of course," Sarutobi Hiruzen replied, a tick-mark visibly seen on his head. Clearing his throat, he held up a scroll and began reading out the missions received today. "Alright, the next missions for your team are as follow. They consist of several, simple D-Rank missions: walking the dogs from the local store, mowing the Fire Lord's lawn, getting a few kites out of the First Hokage Monument Tree…they've been building over the past few weeks and it looks a bit messy, requirements are to return them to their owners… and…"

"WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! HOLD THE PHONE, OJI-SAN! NO WAY!" Naruto shouted, crossing his arms in front of him dramatically. "I'm not doing one more D-rank mission until I see a C or at least a B-rank mission on that scroll!"

Anko sighed and folded her arms too. "To be honest, I agree with the gaki, Hokage-sama," she stated.

Sakura nodded her head in agreement, a frown appearing on her face. "All these D-rank missions are putting us off. We need to at least work out and put our skills to the test with at least a C-rank mission…"

Hinata shrugged, hands held up and fingers laced together. "I-I'm not that fussed…"

Sarutobi sighed and shook his head. "Goodness…" "These four are going to make me bald…"

"Pwetty Pwease Oji-san!" Naruto said, pouting cutely, with Sakura doing the same.

"Pwetty Pwease!" they said at the same time.

"Alright! Alright! Stop that," Sarutobi groaned, pulling out a random scroll from the C-rank pile. "Okay, here is a lucky draw!" The old Hokage tossed it over to Anko, seeing the woman catch it and open it. "One C-rank mission! You and two other Genin teams are to escort Miss Haru Hashimoto back to her country village in the North, the Land of Bamboo Reeds. She is of a wealthy family who rules the village and the lands, but has been brought here for protection due to an unfortunate uprising. Now that the uprising has been quelled, she has been called back to receive her inheritance and lead her village. So… what do you say?"

"Hell yeah!" Naruto exclaimed, pumping his fist.

"Whoosha!" Sakura also shouted, giving Naruto a high-five. The two of them grinned to each other.

Hinata smiled and looked at Naruto. "This'll be exciting, huh Naruto-kun?"

"Yeah! It will be!" Naruto replied.

"Well, there we go!" Anko said, pocketing the scroll. "What other teams do you want me to bring on this mission, Hokage-sama?"

"Offer the positions to Team Asuma and Team Kakashi to accompany your team on this mission," the Hokage said. "Kiba and Sasuke have been arguing for a C-rank, and Team Asuma needs to get more experience outside of the village walls. Perhaps you can bring Kurenai for assistance…"

"Yes, Hokage-sama," Anko exclaimed with a smile.

But just before they were about to leave, a new voice shot up from Team 7, making everyone stop in their tracks.

"Wait a second! Wait a second!" Sakura shouted, waving her hands in front of her. "Why do we need so many teams on this mission if it's just a C-rank mission? Why does it require us to subtract such a segment from our overall shinobi force?"

Sarutobi raised an eyebrow, finding the question quite surprising. He chuckled and rubbed the back of his head.

"Well… you may not like it if I told you, youngsters," the old man said.

"Go on! Fill us in!" Naruto exclaimed, standing beside Sakura for support.

"Yes. Please do," Hinata said, also accompanying Sakura on her other side.

The Hokage sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Very well then…here goes…"


An hour or so later…

Konoha North Gates…

"WHHHAAAAAAAAAAAAAATT!!!" Naruto's yell echoed throughout the village, scaring the birds out of the trees and causing the Inuzuka dogs to howl at the sheer volume of the outcry.

Sakura and Hinata giggled as they watched Naruto stare gawking at the Jiao. The Jiao, or litter, is a human powered transport that requires the service of two to four men to lift the center chair, bed or portable room, either covered or not, by holding the pole(s) at their sides or on their shoulders. This one was a bed sized one with a futon, and was incased in a wooden portable with a roof, and locked doors. The elegant red veils over it concealed the royally designed view windows on the sides, front and back. Inside it, sat the silhouette of the young woman they were escorting back to the nation.

"I don't believe this!" Naruto shouted. "It's barbaric!"

"I'll say. My goodness!" Anko said, placing her hand on her chest in mock shock. "How can the Hokage make you endure such awful and brutal torture?" The woman then smirked and thumbed towards it. "You'll be one of the first to carry it…"

Naruto let out one of the loudest and biggest groans in his life, which Sakura laughed to and patted him on the back sheepishly.

"Don't worry Naruto-kun," she said. "This way, at least you'll be getting some good exercise!"

Naruto's face fell at this, and a sweat-drop appeared on his head.

Anko grinned and poked Sakura in shoulder, hard, which made her rub the spot to ease the jab.

"Don't you go teasing him, pinky!" Anko said. "Cause you're taking over after the first three miles!"

This time, Sakura deflated, and her face fell. Hinata just shook her head at the pair and they simultaneously hung their heads in shame and disappointment.

"So… when can we get moving?" the voice of the woman from inside her human transport carrier asked. Her voice was delicate and soft, matching the tone and feeling of the very veils that concealed her from the outside world. "I am most eager to get back to my village. It's been so long…"

Anko and the three Genin waiting turned towards the Jiao, the Jonin blinking in surprise before smiling at the silhouette.

"Such manners," she exclaimed, folding her arms over her chest. "Don't worry. When the other teams get here, we'll move out. Don't worry ma'am, you'll be back in your home village by the end of the day."

"Very well…" the woman replied, before silence fell.

The members of Team 7 waited patiently with their bags and their job, Naruto going to stand by his side of the Jiao, and Sakura and Hinata talking about different herbal remedies and healing techniques using palm oils. During this time, Anko pulled out a particular orange book and, with her back turned to her students, began reading and enjoying it.

It didn't take long for Team Asuma and Kurenai Yuhi to meet the team at the gates, with Ino, Choji and Shikamaru going to join their respective friends. Ino joined up with Hinata and Sakura, and the three began an animated discussion about boys, whereas Shikamaru and Choji shared some quality time with Naruto beside the carriage.

"Hey there Kurenai," Anko greeted the family raven haired woman. "How's it going?"

"It's alright!" the woman replied, hands on her hips. Asuma pulled up alongside her, also waving.

"Hey, Anko!"

"Hey!" The woman looked between the two, studying them closely and placing a finger on her chin in thought. The two blinked as the woman looked between them with that calculative face, and Kurenai only knew from experience with her friend that she was deducing something between her and Asuma, and that was not good.

"Uhh… Anko-chan?"

"Alright, spill it! You two are going out aren't you?!" Anko said, poking Asuma in the chest. "Come on buddy, don't just stand there blushing and gawking! I know you two have been hanging out an awful lot with each other. My eyes don't play tricks on me, and neither does my watch! Unless my binoculars are designed to be optical-illusional, a couple of nights ago I saw two silhouettes through the window of your house, doing things that only a couple would do… knoc…!"

"ANKO! Shuuush!" Kurenai shot out a hand, clasping it over her friend's mouth and wearing an expression in a fashion similar to when Naruto was in an animated rush to put a clamp on something life-threatening. Catching Anko by the mouth with her hand, shutting her up, Kurenai looked behind her to see their students staring at them, apparently having been drawn to their conversation about 'Asuma and Kurenai being together', or something. Seeing that they'd stopped, the students returned to their own devices, while Kurenai rounded on Anko, looking rather flustered. "How many times have I told you not to spy on me and Asuma!" she hissed.

Anko took a moment to think, eyes looking upward and finger to her chin. She blinked as she thought, before looking back at Kurenai and grinning nervously. "I'm guessing this is the twentieth time…"

"Twenty-seventh!" Kurenai hissed, looking over at Asuma, who was standing there, cigarette hanging loosely from his mouth and face as red as a tomato. "You! Say something!"

Asuma shrugged. "Don't ask me! I'm no good in solving arguments when we're clearly backed up into a corner!"

"Ugh…" Kurenai dead-panned, before glaring back at Anko, "breathe a word of this to Kakashi or anyone else, and I promise you the next genjutsu I use on you will have you talking to a inanimate object for the rest of your life!"

Anko smirked. "Not possible…"

"Why not?"

"I know you; you're not as twisted as me!"

"Oh yeah!"

As the argument, and later discussion of the mission, continued on, we are moved back around to the boy's group over by the Jiao. Shikamaru, Choji and Naruto talked and laughed with each other, and Naruto slowly began to feel that perhaps this was what it was like to actually have friends that stay by your side for real, even against their parents' wishes. This made him feel grateful for their friendship and loyalty.

"You see, I always did like regular pork with rice, you know the red one, but add it with the juice sauce from stay to the rice, and add a side of Wonton noodles, and you've got yourself a wicked combo there!" Choji exclaimed, rubbing his stomach and licking his lips. "Boy, I could go for some of that now!"

Naruto also licked his lips, folding his arms and leaning against the side of the Jiao. "Yeah… boy that looks god in my head…"

"Either that, ramen, or women," Shikamaru pointed out casually, though it looked like he didn't mean it in a joking way. Choji just chuckled, while Naruto glared at him with a tick mark on his forehead against his headband. He thrust his fist at the boy, teeth gritted.

"Who asked you?"

"I only assumed…"

"Well, Mr. Fortuneteller! Maybe you can tell me how many seconds there are between now and when my fist connects with your lower jaw…"

"You won't do it…"

"You think I won't?"

"I know you won't…"

"Yeah?"

"Uh-huh…"

"ARGH!" Naruto growled pounding the side of his head with his palm. After doing that a couple of times, he poked an exaggerated declaration his way, jabbing his finger in his direction. The proximity made Shikamaru lean back a tad bit. "You're pushing it, buddy! Do you want to die young?"

"Meh…" Shikamaru shrugged.

Naruto then grinned and patted him on the shoulder. "Hey, I'm just joking…"

Shikamaru shrugged and smiled. "I knew you were all along. You're too easy to read…"

"Heh! That's why he can beat you at Shogi any day!" Choji exclaimed, pulling out a packet of kettles and beginning to munch on them. Naruto dead-panned, before rounding on his other friend with an animated, freak show expression

"WHAT WAS THAT?!"

Naruto heard a giggle behind him and turned towards the Jiao he had been leaning against. He blinked, trying to peer through the veil and see whether the woman inside was spying or listening to them. However, incapable of being able to see through it, he shrugged and turned back to the pair, who also became a bit puzzled at the giggle. Unbeknownst to them, a bright, sapphire eye of the unknown girl peered through the window and at the spiky haired blonde.

"Oh! 'Bout time!" Anko groaned, throwing her arms into the air when she saw Team Kakashi walking down the road towards them. She sighed, and placed her hands on her hips. "God, how did Minato ever train such a slacker?"

"Hey all!" Kakashi said, waving with his right hand, while his left hand was preoccupied with his book. Sasuke, Kiba and Shino also waved, the three boys moving forward to join the others. The Inuzuka shook hands as he greeted Naruto, Choji and Shikamaru, and Sasuke just hung back with Shino. Shino, however, did greet Hinata and Shikamaru on his own terms, and once everyone was assembled, were called to gather around the Jonin, once they had discussed the mission with each other.

Anko took the stand, as she had been the one to receive the full mission specs.

"Alright, you filthy, disgusting, repulsive, weak maggots!" Anko began in her military march tone of voice. "Our mission today is a standard escort-and-body-guard-mission: A C-rank mission that requires us to escort Mistress Haru Hashimoto back to her capital village, in the Land of Bamboo Reeds. We will alternate between groups of who gets to carry the mistress every two miles, while the others will form a protective perimeter around the convoy! If any obstacles, the most likely we may encounter will be mercenaries and highway robbers, nothing more! We have assembled as this cell for not only practical, but educational purposes. Learn from experience! You hear me?"

There was silence at first, as the Genin stared at Anko, leaning back a bit as if she were some sort of giant loud-speaker booming at them.

"And… this psycho is your teacher?" Kiba whispered to Naruto. The blonde's hair spiked up and he clamped a hand over his mouth quickly.

"Shhhh!!! Don't let her hear you?"

"Seriously, this woman scares me," Ino said, trembling a bit on the spot.

"Pft, you don't know the half of it," Sakura replied.

"This is going to be a real drag," Shikamaru groaned.

"Hmm… this'll be interesting," Shino murmured to himself, followed by Sasuke 'hmph' of agreement.

"Alright, Kakashi, Asuma, Kurenai, you get to pick out the remaining three Genin that can carry the mistress," Anko said to the senseis behind her. The three of them nodded, stepping forward a bit.

"Kiba…" Kakashi pointed, while the Inuzuka dead-panned.

"Shikamaru, you're up!" Asuma pointed.

"I knew it, it's a drag…" Shikamaru thought.

"Sasuke… get going…" Kurenai said.

"Alright…" the Uchiha murmured, walking over to join the selected group.

Slowly, but surely, the four Genin lifted the Jiao onto their shoulders, adding on extra weight to their bags, and of course to the leg and wrist weights Naruto was already wearing. Once it was propped up and everyone was in formation, Anko led them on through the gates, grinning and obviously looking cheerful, with Asuma and Kurenai bringing up behind her, and Kakashi way at the back to make sure no one fell behind.

"Let's move it troops!"

TO BE CONTINUED…


Author's Note: I wanted to take the story in a different direction to the Wave Mission Arc, just as a starting mission. I have an idea I want to get out with more action and butt-kicking. Don't worry, the Wave mission will come right after this one...