Author's Ramblings: I originally intended to write a long and complicated explanation on Naruto's regeneration, but frankly, that cut too much into my programming time. College comes first, unfortunately.
Well, for all those waiting for it, I've decided to pull another (hopefully) original action. Just wait and see.
For your information, this arc will be the longest yet, and the only other I have in mind that will last as much, or longer, is the civil war arc, after which the first part of this story will be over, and the timeskip will likely commence. How I'll handle the second part for the story remains to be seen.
Chapter 14 : Stormbringer : Beasts of Prey
A week had passed in preparation and resting, as each of the three focused on their studies and training. An agreement had been struck for them to wait a bit before going on a new mission, and to spend that time planning.
Naruto had instituted his five-clone strategy, spreading his time evenly between chemistry, the remaining five black scrolls from his sensei's cache, working on a new puppet, working on the notes Jiraya left behind, his chakra control, and finally, the original resorted to taijutsu training against a sixth clone that lasted only a short while, so as not to disrupt the others. Suffice to say, that the nightly headaches almost made him a frequent consumer of painkillers.
Yugao and Haku kept practicing together, with Yugao finally completing the seal array for her sword and Haku improving more than a bit in taijutsu and then there was that pet project of hers, but that's for another time. The week passed, and the group of three had prepared themselves for their next job.
The helmsman of the ship felt slightly uncomfortable because of the five figures that stood on the bow. All five dressed in dark gray, almost black cloaks, with hoods and masks hiding their faces, not to mention straw hats over the top. All five remained near perfectly still for most of the journey, one of them having merely given instructions when they boarded.
He had heard rumors from the others in the company that the big boss, the one who had apparently taken over the whole thing, had a number of highly capable ninja under his command. Normally, he didn't put much stock into rumors, but these five seemed to fit the description quite well. Even as the weather turned for the worse, they still remained outside, still as death.
The first place they were supposed to approach was Tea country, and at that point, the one in the middle (as it was hard to describe them by anything else but their relative position) raised his left hand and pointed out. Two of the cloaked figures on his left suddenly moved, jumping over, and seemingly running off on water, leaving him behind with the one who had a large naginata on his back, and the other who seemed to have a long package wrapped in black tape on his or her back.
And the journey continued silently.
Naruto stiffened as he noticed the distant shore of Sea country. As all countries within the region, it consisted of one major island surrounded by several smaller ones. The island itself was relatively flat, having only a small number of hills crisscrossed by rivers near the middle. The two places there that interested him were the port city where he was now going, and the collector's estate, which was on a small island just a bit off the coast.
One thing that bothered him was that this was going to be even more challenging than normal, considering that his secondary mission here was to recruit a number of currently unaligned shinobi. He had gone through the list that Tensai gave him, and found only three groups of particular interest to him. First of those were a group named the Black Fang, a band of five trackers belonging to a now-defunct ninja village from within Earth country, that seemed to have joined with the last member of a clan of political exiles from Tsuchigakure, bringing their numbers up to six. Names unknown, but descriptions were given.
The second was a woman by the name of Guren, allegiance unknown or nonexistent, skills uncertain but ranked a B-rank threat in the bingo books. 'Talk about your lack of information, the only things present were a name and a picture.'
And the final was even more curious, but marked off as uncertain. The oldest missing ninja in the Bingo books, Kakuzu, formerly of the Hidden Waterfall village. Well, that one was more of a warning, if the large, glaringly red letters 'AVOID' was any indication. For a person to be in the bingo books for sixty years, and for his bounty only to keep growing, one had to be quite powerful. Again, there was very little apart from the numbers of mercenary missions and bounty hunts the man performed. A scary number of 3071 bounties in total delivered to various bounty hunter posts over those sixty years, and roughly 2000 mercenary missions of varying rank, none under B. One point made him rather curious though, if he was that tough and dangerous, how the hell did the note of 'Greedy as a lawyer' get safely added to the bingo books?
He shrugged, the motion hid by his mask, and the sound concealed by that of the sea and ship. He would be cautious. There were locations mentioned for the first two, but the third was... for the lack of a better term, around the area. He let his mind go over it all in detail, mostly to pass the time.
"This will be enough captain. We leave here." Naruto calmly stated, his voice slightly modulated by the mask he was wearing. He noticed the captain nod, and just before he jumped off, he turned once more.
"Good luck in your endeavors captain. I doubt that the boss would appreciate you getting yourself killed."
Jumping over with an elaborate spin, immediately followed by his two companions, the three of them skidded across the surface of the water, as if daring someone to attack them. The late afternoon sun covered the area in it's final rays, though it was still quite cold, the slow advent of the oncoming winter showing it's first signs. For once, Naruto found himself very content that his clothes were more than usually warm, as they warded off the cold, biting wind that seemed to blow.
The two figures at his side remained quiet, eerily so, not even making any sounds as they landed on the water. Naruto smiled at that, proudly. After all, how many people could say that they created such lifelike puppets? Though to be honest, he did have some helpful inspiration from his sensei's scrolls. The evil grin at the wrapped up object on the smaller puppet's back went completely unseen. He could hardly wait to field test that little toy.
The port town loomed in sight, he would have to find a half-decent inn to stay the night.
'Three people would attract too much attention. I better seal them up.' Naruto quietly thought, and proceeded to seal the two puppets into scrolls that immediately went under his cloak, and the vest beneath it. He avoided sealing them into seals written on his own skin for the simple reason of saving that surface for more important seals for later on.
Instead of rushing into the port town, Naruto decided to turn to it's immediate surroundings, since he yet remained beyond the line of sight of average people. He didn't want to attract too much attention to himself. Landing on an empty stretch of coast, he began a slow walk towards town.
He hadn't bothered to remember the name of the place, as it really wasn't that important to him, however, he knew that the first person he should talk to was the mayor of the town.
Yugao remained still on a nearby tree as she watched Haku gather information, dressed up as a young girl this time.
"So Aoi-san traveled in that direction? Thank you so much kind sir." Haku answered kindly, offering a small bow to the innkeeper who seemed all too willing to help out the young girl. To think, in such a short time, she had gathered not only the name and location of current wielder of the sword they were supposed to retrieve, but his current destination and company. It was funny how ill-behaved ninja could be at times due to overconfidence. Not once did she and Haku show themselves as they were, not once were they more than a pair of harmless girls, or shadows in forest, unseen. Not that they would complain, it meant that their job was only easier this way. Arrogance had killed greater men than Rokushiko Aoi. 'And, well, it was his problem if he obviously has to compensate with a large sword.' she quietly mused as Haku walked over to her in the bushes.
"Are we done here?"
"Uhuh" Haku confirmed "Aoi and his band of merry idiots have been traveling towards south. They left a few hours ago... he apparently was mouthing off about a well paying mission. Seriously, what do they teach jounin these days?"
"Damn me if I know... what do you think Mezuro wants with the sword?" Yugao asked, curious for her friend's opinion
"Probably to use it for one of his scary puppets." Haku responded, a shiver going up her spine. Those things scared her at times. Yugao could only chuckle, hiding the shiver that ran up hers. After all, Narutos' puppets were scary when he wanted them to be.
"Let's just keep going, okay? I had enough of those things back home, no need to talk about them here as well." Yugao offered, and the two girls went on, both almost giggling at their little, private joke.
"Finally!" a burly man dressed in work clothes exclaimed "I knew they'd send someone sooner or later. You're from Mirage you say?"
"Yes." Naruto calmly responded "One of our own ships was sunk here, and I, as well as my two partners, will look into the matter at hand. Any assistance you can offer is welcomed, especially information."
The two of them were sitting in the equivalent of an office, built in the traditional style. Unlike the ones he was used to, there were no chairs, and the only table, seemed more like a slightly raised platform. The tatami mats spread across the floor were comfortable though, as were the two wide pillows they were sitting down upon. Nothing too fancy, but warm and comfortable, more like a home than the workplace of an official
With a couple of short nods, the mayor took a few seconds to remind himself of everything useful he could. Thinking quickly, he pulled out a large, rolled up map, as well as a pencil.
"The attacks occurred here, here, here and here so far." he explained, each repetition of the word followed by him circling a small area "Now, bear with me on this, I'm no expert, but I'd say that the attacks could be coming from here, as they all seem to be at around the same distance from it. Worse still, I'd say that whoever is attacking has a very good idea of the timetables of arriving ships, from all directions." he added, pointing out a small island of to the northeast of the mainland.
"You don't seem to believe this the work of some monster, mayor...?" Naruto trailed off, waiting for the man to give his name. While he was slightly surprised that the man didn't do so, it was only fair to give some room. The town's only source of income, trade, was under heavy attack by something or someone...
"Mirako, and no. I don't believe this to be the work of some crazed monster on a rampage, the timing and accuracy of the attacks are too convenient. Though the idea of a monster guided by someone does come to mind..." the newly introduced Mirako trailed off suggestively. It was more than just an unpleasant idea, and Naruto knew, both from rumors and from practice that there were more than just simple animals in the world ( how else would one explain a 50 meter tall toad clad in armor and wielding a blade of some sort?). That, however, didn't mean he was in a rush to meet a hostile one.
"Alright, alright, I get it. Do you have a description on the.... thing?" Naruto finally asked, returning to the subject at hand.
"That's just the thing... we haven't got any reliable descriptions, as all the attacks came at night, and the only survivor of such an attack was a woman by the name of Guren, and she just upped and disappeared a day later. And that was a week ago, since then I have no idea where to find her."
"I see. Thank you for your help. I will look into the matter." Naruto offered a small bow, and got up.
"There is one more thing." Mirako's voice stopped him. To Naruto, he seemed hesitant, almost concerned.
"There might be someone who can help you... a girl, who lives just outside the town, by the name of Isaribi. She's a pearl diver, though not overly popular around here, but the only ones who know these waters better are the fishes. She is a kind girl, and I would ask you to treat her kindly, if you chose to bring her in on this." Mirako explained, though Naruto felt that the last part was more of a personal request than anything else. It reminded him of himself somewhat, and of his own situation from not so long ago. It was a minor thing for him to do anyway.
"That's all I ask. Good luck sir."
Over the next hour, Naruto got a very intense feeling of deja vu as he asked for the young girl's location. The faces people made were the ones often directed at him, not open loathing, but a fine combination of fear, hate and ignorance, with just the slight addition of misinformation and primal fear of all things different. Certainly, he no longer cared about what the 'good' people of Konoha thought of him, but he had spent more than a few days analyzing them and their feelings. Know thy enemy, first and foremost.
Eventually, he managed to find out the location from an old fisherman, who didn't seem to mind about the girl, and she apparently lived in a small cottage to the east of the town. So, taking note of the coming night, Naruto made his way there.
'We're still a few hours away from Degarashi port, and should they reach there, this becomes a lot more complicated than intended.' Yugao mused as she and Haku kept running through the trees. The thick forests around them provided ample cover, and their mostly dark clothing blended in almost perfectly. The fact that night was soon coming was also an advantage, as both had sufficient training to work in low light conditions.
"How much further ahead of us do you think they are?"
"A couple o... wait, I see four figures, one of them a guy with an umbrella on his back." Haku started, only to correct herself as she spotted the four figures in the distance, a couple of hundred meters away from them, mostly noticeably identified by the light they were carrying.
"Good." Yugao whispered "Break up and circle around them, a hundred meters ahead should do it.. I'll drop a genjutsu on them, then we drop trees and ice on them." she explained the short and simple plan of attack.
Silently breaking up, the two of them ran in different directions, with Haku running to their left, and across the forest road, while Yugao kept moving forward to prepare the trap. She kept constant attention to the light as she moved forward, dodging trees as the light slowly moved past her, and finally behind her.
A hundred meters away from the group, Haku finally reached her position, and began placing additional exploding tags on the bases of the trees that were already tagged. Normally, this would do very little, however, the tripwires that were formed just over the forest floor would trigger more than just a few of them. Yugao had already done her job here, which meant that her part was now up, and that was to weaken the select few trees so that they could easily crash on the group.
'Just a minute more...' she idly thought as she finished her job, moving away just in time to avoid the coming light.
Rokushiko Aoi wasn't a fool. Fools didn't survive in the ninja world for long. When he recognized the glint of ninja wire against the light of the lantern, he slowed down, ever so slightly, to let the three fools he was saddled with take front, and trigger the trap.
The sound of the first explosion came immediately, just as the first of the three chunin under him caught the tripwire. What he didn't expect was for the explosions to continue in a chain around them, and start bringing down trees, easily two dozen of them in fact.
By rolling around, jumping and finally using the Sword of the Thunder God, it's vibrant yellow blade ripping through wood like a hot knife through butter, he finally managed to get on top, only to come face to face with his attacker, a person in a dark cloak with a straw hat.
'Wait, didn't I see people like this somewhere before?'
'Clever bastard, maybe he isn't as much of an idiot as he makes himself out to be.' Yugao thought as she finished going through several handseals before opening her mouth to whisper.
"Earth Release : Mud Bullets" she near quietly intoned, spitting out a rapid succession of five mud projectiles at him.
From the side, Haku remained hidden, going carefully through a long string of handseals...'Just keep his attention peeled to you Yugao. Just a few more seconds'
He barely had the time to duck and roll. Sure, his sword could cut through those bullets, but it would be pointless, as they would just flow around it and land in his face, or on his hands, disabling him. 'Not a good idea'
The sword was useless against this enemy, he or she had simply found a way to bypass it's impressive combat capabilities, not to mention the fact that the light it gave off made him a beacon in the dark. With a snarl, he shut the blade off, reattaching it to a buckle on his belt that held it, and pulled out the modified umbrella on his back.
'What's he up to with that umbrella... he's a Rain nin, so no ideas there... oh shit, I think I know.'
As quickly as she could, she pulled two previously prepared kunai from the ground, tossing them at the ninja before rolling away into the shadows to pick up four more.
'Again?' Aoi wanted to curse loudly, but he knew it would only get him killed, as the two kunai landed on the ground under his feet and the sound of sizzling forced him to jump into the air.
"Now Tenre! Ice Release : Frozen Pillar!" Haku shouted as a four more kunai flew in his direction, identified only by the sound of metal whistling in the night. Before he could even try to dodge, he realized that he didn't feel anything under his waistline, except for numbing cold. And even that vanished under the flood of pain as the kunai struck their target.
"Slightly challenging this time around." Haku commented as the two of them begun the cleanup, gathering whatever supplies could be scavenged from the four, now dead, ninja.
"We got what we came for... might as well burn the bodies and get the hell out of here." Yugao added as she held the handle of the infamous sword in her hands.
"Agreed. Still, that sword sure is something..."
"Heh... I think we could convince Naruto for you to hold onto it." Yugao commented, breaking into laughter at the hopeful expression on the girl's face. "Come on, let's go. He's probably waiting for us down south."
"Hai, hai. Don't get your panties in a twist." Haku cheerfully returned as the two of them left the newly made clearing, heading straight for the coastline.
Night was slowly falling as Naruto quietly studied the lay of the land on his way to the cottage. The path was there, but as the grass that now covered it showed, it was rarely used. The cottage, now visible, was atop a small cliff, with a side path leading to the beach bellow. It wasn't large, he summarized, a single story building made out of timber with a thatched roof, likely just solid enough to keep the rain out. No visible opening for smoke, to his surprise though... which likely meant that the fireplace or over was outside, if it even existed. It was little more than a glorified hovel. Still, not like he was used to great comforts, and home was home, wherever one found it.
Keeping himself completely visible, and as nonthreatening as possible, he kept his walk towards the building, hoping that he would spot someone he could talk to, rather than have to track the occupant or occupants down.
"Hello? Is anyone home?" he called loudly, only to receive a response of "Over here!" coming from the opposite side. He walked over, going around the old home, to come to its front porch, and notice a young girl sitting there. Well, younger than him anyway.
Isaribi was sitting right next to the front door, a small pot next to her where she dumped the what little meat she cut out of the oysters she was cleaning, and a small plate where a handful of small, somewhat dull pearls were. The quiet crackle of a fire that was burning in front of her was only interrupted by the occasional cry of a seagull and the loud clanks as another oyster hit it's growing pile, or a pearl joined the collection.
She seemed to be slightly younger than him, though it was hard to tell, as parts of her body were covered by bandages, though at some points, he noticed something strange, like a skin condition of some sort... probably something she picked up while diving. Her clothes were light enough, even with the coming winter, consisting only of a somewhat ill-fitting, bleached robe that was once probably sky blue, tied at the waist by the same bandages she used to cover her skin at several places. Her black hair was mostly short, though two long tails framed her face, tied at the end by faded red ribbons
"Can I help you?" she asked in a slightly edgy voice, obviously made nervous by his presence. Only then did Naruto remember just what he looked like. The set of clothes he wore was quite intimidating, when he thought about it.
"My apologies, at times I forget that I'm wearing this suit. I didn't mean to disturb you, but I was told that you may know something of the... sea monster that's been attacking passing ships?" Naruto politely tried. The girl stopped what she was doing for the moment, turning towards him.
"Sea monster, huh? Give me one reason why I should help you?" she retorted. The bitterness in her voice was not lost on Naruto. It was only then that Naruto noticed several unpleasant details. First of all, the girl had a few small, light scars on the skin of her bare arms. To his trained eye, those looked incision scars made by someone very skilled, and the way they followed the veins and nervous system was worrying at best. Second, her home, if it even was that, had broken windows, and the door seemed to barely hang on it's one remaining hinge. The now-barely visible traces of paint that seemed to form unreadable words completed the picture.
"Just like home." he near whispered. He thought she wouldn't, but the girl obviously did hear him
"What did you say?" she asked, her voice now a bit more subdued, her curiosity provoked. Naruto chuckled lightly, the modulation of his mask must have made him seem so much older than he truly was, when he was at best a year or two older than her.
"Would you hold this for a moment?" he asked, voice still perfectly polite as he handed her the straw hat that had but moments ago stood on his head. Quietly, she nodded and took it in her hands, as Naruto began divesting himself of the covering clothes.
Her shock was clearly visible when Naruto's young face showed from under the mask was obvious.
Quietly, he sealed his clothes into a storage scroll he then replaced in his vest, before sitting down on the ground, and looking at the sea, while resting on his hands.
"Life sucks doesn't it?" he offered, not really looking at her. "People can be so stupid at times, and so cruel as well." he spoke in a gentle tone, dropping completely on his back.
"You shouldn't lie down on the ground like that. You could get sick." she commented without any real intent, returning to her oysters.
"Can't get sick at all." was Naruto's response. "Back home, it was just another reason for people not to trust me, to ignore me."
"So? What did you do about it?" Isaribi asked, paying only a bit more attention than she did before.
"For years, I did everything I could think of to get their attention, to prove them wrong. In the end, I simply stopped caring anymore. And one day, I was forced to leave."
"There isn't really a moral to the story, but somehow, I felt I should tell you. Don't know, call it crazy intuition. What with all the broken windows and graffiti..." Naruto blabbed on, absently pointing at the wall behind him.
"So you noticed... I'm not really welcome around here." she stated, mild disinterest being the only thing present in her voice.
"Not hard to figure out. Couldn't get anyone to tell me why though. What did you do? Burn down their store of sake?" he offered jokingly.
"I came back, when their sons and daughters didn't." she stated bluntly, quickly getting up after throwing a final oyster onto the growing pile, and going straight inside to apparently deposit the pearls she extracted.
"So tell me again. Why should I tell you?" she asked, this time a bit colder.
"What do you want in return?" Naruto offered in turn.
"Nothing you could give, I'm afraid." she answered, shaking her head slowly as she walked towards the edge of the cliff, only to sit down and stare at the open sea ahead
"Try me." was his response, as he stood up, crossing his arms on his chest and walking over.
'Is he really that stupid? Or just curious? Either way, he'll be gone soon.' Isaribi tiredly thought, and after a few seconds, she got up and turned around.
"Can you cure this?" she asked in an angry voice, removing the bandages off of her forehead and revealing a number of fish-like scales there. Of course, the reaction that followed was everything but expected.
"Hmmm.... exotic." Naruto stated, like a connoisseur after trying a fine wine. "Why do you even want to remove these? They look good on you."
To say that Isaribi was dumbfounded would be an understatement. Exotic? Looked good on her? The cause of her miserable life for the past year, and he dares say it 'looks good on her'?
"Are you insane?" she asked him, voice laced with growing anger
"Quite possibly." was Naruto's swift response "I certainly don't see why I should give any special reaction to those scales. I'm no expert, but it's probably curable. If you really want to, in exchange for your help while me and my team are here, I can pull a few connections and get you some treatment afterward. It's not that big of a deal for me." he explained stoically. And it really wasn't. At worst, getting the best of doctors, even the likes of Tsunade of the Sannin would barely scratch at the surface of the amount of capital Mirage now possessed. One of the finer aspects of trade was that large sums of money weren't that hard to acquire for a man of skill. And Tensai was such a man.
Isaribi stayed silent for a few moments, just gaping at him incredulously, before she replaced the bandages.
"How can you just say something like that?" she asked him, voice once more subdued.
"Because it's the truth. I work for a group called Mirage, quite influential. One of their ships was among those destroyed, so they sent me and my team to investigate and put a stop to the attacks." he casually explained "The man who runs the company owes me a few favors, so it would be quite easy for me to arrange something along those lines."
"Fine." she sighed "I'll help. By the way, I never heard your name..."
"Mezuro. Kaichi Mezuro, at your service."
"Isaribi" she offered in turn.
Author's Notes: Yes, Naruto has mad scientist moments. Why? Because I find it entertaining. And I hope you will too. Anyway, to the subjects at hand, yes, I've separated them and they will rejoin at some point, no I will not write down which group is where, again, because I've already done so in the story. Will any of the people mentioned here be joining the group? Who knows, you might find out next chapter.... if I'm not feeling overly evil. When will I update next? Unlikely till next week, I'm going to be out of town for the weekend, as I'm going to a summerhouse of one of my friend's family. I need my several times delayed vacation away from civilization...
Oh, and I almost forgot... will Naruto get just Yugao, or both Yugao and Haku, or a full harem? I'll simply be evil and say.... NOT TELLING!
And to be nice, yes, there will be some fluff coming up soon.
Well, anyway, this was the opening chapter of the new arc, not much interesting happening here. Hope you liked the ambush, though. Seemed like the best way to handle the situation (well, apart from Haku and Yugao seducing and then killing him... and I'm not good at writing scenes like that, unfortunately :| )
Short explanation for the two jutsus
Earth Release : Mud Bullets
Earth Jutsu/ Rank C / Offensive/*Tactical
The user fires five projectiles of sticky, caustic mud at the victim. Should these projectiles hit, they deal minimal damage , but greatly hamper the movement of the victim.
Ice Release : Frozen Pillar
Ice Release / Rank A / Pure Offensive
Using the residual moisture in the air, the user creates a pillar of ice around a target. The height to which the pillar can and will go is decided by the creator at the moment of use. Any body part caught by the pillar faces near instantaneous hypothermia and freezing damage to tissue. Without medical aid, the parts damaged so cannot naturally recover. Should a victim be completely encased in ice, he or she will die near immediately, barring special capabilities that would counter such a death (Jinchuriki status, specific bloodline limits, and so on.)
So, read & review, the usual stuff, ask any questions that I didn't answer already...