"It better be a real emergency this late at night."
"Commander Yura thinks that it is, Sir. I was told to come and request that you come with me to the gate."
Baki frowned and pushed away the report he had been writing. It wasn't like Yura to break protocol unless there was something important. Sending out a messenger rather than coming himself…well, that was even less like Yura. Something was definitely wrong.
"Alright," Baki muttered, getting out of his chair, "let's get this over with."
It took a few minutes to make it out of the village at the pace the chuunin was going and the closer Baki got to the mouth of the pass the more uneasy he felt. Tensions had been high in Hidden Sand for months now and the wrong kind of alarm, false or not, could really cause problems for the population. He knew that there were already whispers among the civilians because of all the new ninja activity; he had even sat in on a few clandestine military tribunals for civvies that didn't take the Kazekage's stricter policies seriously. More than a few of those had seen massive amounts of jail time or fines dished out and everyone was getting jumpy.
Yura wasn't the type to rock the boat and that's what worried Baki the most. There were chains of command for just about everything and his old comrade usually didn't break them. He wanted to ask the chuunin just what this was about, but no one was risking sensitive conversations out in the open – you never knew who was listening to them anymore.
The narrow passage that formed Hidden Sand's best line of defense was just off in the distance and Baki didn't see any signs of trouble. Ninja were patrolling the walls as usual and they were faces that he'd seen time and time again. They might have been standing just a bit more ridged than normal, but it was hard to say tension was anything abnormal these days. Once upon a time he might have given a few of them polite nods, but now it would be just be an unwelcome break in the precious normality of daily duty.
Troublingly, the chuunin didn't take Baki to any of the regular duty rooms carved into the rock face. Instead he was led to the on-site hospital. It was under guard now by two sensor-type ninja that Baki recognized. He felt a small pulse of chakra probe him as he passed.
A familiar jounin was waiting just on the other side of the door. "Yura," Baki greeted, "I hope this isn't as bad as you're making it seem."
Yura was a tall, lankier jounin than Baki was. In the dull florescent light of the room he almost looked like a patient. "We don't really know yet. I was hoping you could tell me what to do from here." He motioned to a bed in the back where a team of white-clad medics were huddled.
Even though he was a seasoned ninja, the small girl laying on the bed was a sight Baki would rather not have seen this late at night. Her flesh looked like it had been torched in a cooker and then put through a meat-grinder. Two medic-nin were working on the worst of her injuries and a third was cutting away her clothing with a pair of scissors. Baki looked away when her shirt came away with a few sloths of skin that had been stuck fast to the dry blood.
He did notice the Konoha headband on the nightstand next to the bed. No one objected when he picked it up.
"Who is she?"
Yura passed a thin folder over and Baki flipped it open. It didn't have any photographs and only a few sheets of paper, but there was a hand-written note stapled to the bottom page. Baki clicked his teeth when he saw it.
"Well, it's certainly one of them." Baki could see why he had been called in on this. He memorized the pertinent pieces of information and handed the folder back. "Our standing orders were to detain her until her master picked her up, not kill her. How the hell did this happen?"
The other jounin bristled. "My men didn't do this," he growled. It would have almost been threatening if it wasn't clear he was just as worried as Baki was. "We found her half an hour ago on the wall, slumped over the guardrail. A few men said they heard something big in the sand and there are tracks out in the sand. It looks like an enormous snake left her on our doorstep."
"A snake…I guess there's no doubt about it in that case. Is she the one with the things?" Baki lazily waved a finger at his eyes.
"The medic-nin tell me she doesn't have any unusual chakra pathways in her eyes, so she's not the one with the dojutsu. Before you ask, she was alone out there. No one else was anywhere in the pass – we checked."
That wasn't what Baki wanted to hear. "Sole survivor, then. If she dies on our watch it might cause a diplomatic incident, especially since they were ambushed inside our boarders."
"You can't expect us to patrol every square inch of Suna. We just don't have the manpower anymore for that." A medic looked sharply at Yura and he glared back. He lowered his voice, though. "They have to know that we can't know everything that goes on in the Wind Country."
"No, that's exactly what he can't know. The Kazekage doesn't want Hidden Sound or anyone else finding out just how thinly-stretched we are right now. It's the whole reason for this summit." He motioned for the man to follow him away from the bed so the medics could do their jobs. From the looks of things they needed every edge they could get. "Focus on what we can do now: what do we know about her?"
"You saw the file. It's what we have."
Baki grunted. "I saw a note with a vague description of two Konoha-nin that may or may not show up in Suna along with a list of genin names a decade old. We have to have something better than that."
"Now who's not keeping his focus? We didn't have information on every genin in a given village even during our best days. She has pink hair – that's what we were told by that Sound minister. How many Konoha-nin have pink hair?"
"Exactly, how many do? It might be clan-specific and if it is we'll have a name." Baki couldn't believe that Yura hadn't already done all of this before calling him. Things were shaky right now, but that was no excuse for sloppiness. "I want to know that girl's name by morning, Yura." The man slowly nodded and that was good enough for now. "What about her injuries? Did she get them in the attack?"
"The medics told me that she had a few cracked ribs, some fresh and some a bit older, along with a bad case of dehydration. Her arm's a mess – it looks like it was field stitched but then healed with chakra, which doesn't make sense. Past that, she fought with it and busted a lot of the stitches so it's back to square one. She also doped herself pretty heavily with soldier pills and morphine. That's why she's so unresponsive: chakra depletion and a drug crash."
It was a laundry list of problems. Baki was surprised the girl was even still alive. "Will she survive?"
Yura shrugged. "It's touch-and-go at the moment. The bleeding from that stomach wound was easy to treat. Whatever went through her went right through without hitting anything important. There was sand in it and that helped stop the bleeding. What the medics are really worried about is chakra depletion. She used everything she had and then some doing whatever out in the desert. They're telling me it's impossible for her to even be alive with so little chakra left, but what's there is managing to keep everything running perfectly. They really don't know how her body is doing it, which is why we called in the sensor ninja." He glanced over at the bed with suspicion. "They couldn't tell us much of anything other than her chakra pathways were extremely developed for her age, even though she doesn't have a lot of chakra to go around yet."
"Make a note of that. We might be able to find more information if we cross-reference that with records from the war." It was more than they had to work with a minute ago at any rate. Looking at her, though, Baki couldn't see anything but a corpse. He turned back to Yura. "The second they're able to safely wake her, make them. Put her in the village general hospital tomorrow. I don't want any village nin to get wind of this."
"The medics won't like that."
"They'll have to live with it. We can't start the summit until she's up and around."
Yura cocked his head to the side. "The Kazekage wants to question her himself?" he guessed.
Baki shook his head. "No, she's part of the Oto delegation. That's why I was up late tonight: if she hadn't showed up I would have been out there looking for her."
The jounin scoffed. "That's crazy," he said and privately Baki couldn't help but agree.
Then again, who was he to understand how the mind of Orochimaru worked?