Stooping over a broken branch Kiba inhaled deeply and remembered the words he had been told so often by his mother. 'There is no such thing as a single scent.' Over the years he had learned that what she meant was that in tracking one must never be single-minded; musing to himself, he realized that the same advice was good in life. The broken branch smelled of blood and wet straw, indicating the wounded man garbed in a straw cloak they were following. The footprint in the ground added scents of powdered stone and gunpowder, the materials this Hiroyuki used in his work. The air itself smelled of sweat and adrenaline from labored running. Focusing on any individual smell made the world sharper, his eyes seemed drawn to the areas his nose identified. His nostrils flared as he integrated every scent into one image, his trained instinct gave him more information than often seemed appropriate.
"He's has two kilometers on us, and he's managing to keep a steady pace." Sniffing again, Kiba continued. "I think he's stopped twice either to rest or set up simple traps, we can avoid those and continue after him."
"If he did set up traps, we shouldn't underestimate him. You wouldn't believe how complex of traps he could set up in under a minute with only razor wire." Karui looked up, seeming irritated at the endless mist surrounding them. "And this cover will only make the traps harder to see."
"Then let's catch him before he gets the chance to restock on explosives."
Set back on the trail, Kiba increased the pace their group was taking in order to catch up with the rogue faster. Pine needles grazed his cheek and he wished he was back in one of the southern forests. The forests surrounding Konoha were perfect for adding a vertical element to skirmishes, but the branches of these trees were too small and close together to be used like that.
As they approached the first place Kiba had identified as a potential trap he gave a hand signal to Karui informing her of it. She stopped and looked for a few seconds before pointing at two trees. Narrowing his eyes Kiba saw what she had seen, droplets of mist seemed to hang in the air unmoving. Bending over she picked a stick from the ground and threw it in between the trees. It stopped in the air as surely as if it had been caught. Near invisible cables wrapped around the stick, snapping it in half. At the same moment the trees fell in the direction the stick had been thrown, intended to crush any who had followed the one who had triggered the trap.
Akamaru barked an all clear having searched the surrounding area for any scent concentrated areas that other traps may have been set up at. Returning to the chase, Kiba let his smell enhance the world around him again as he tried to zero in on their quarry's location.
"He's stopped again. We'll bypass the next trap and use this time to catch up with him."
She nodded and gave him a look that seemed to compel him to remind her when that time would come. Without returning her look Kiba increased his pace again, they had already lost more than enough time from when he had been unconscious. As there were no set paths, Kiba had to constantly choose which way he would run around the trees as they appeared before him in the fog. It was exhilarating in a way, never quite sure how the forest would shape itself in front of him. More than once he had to jump to his side to avoid a row of trees that he could not run through. One time this maneuver landed him very close to Karui as she was running, nearly knocking them both over. It was then he decided that he did not like this forest.
Upon reaching the second of the Hiroyuki's stopovers he gave the signal to run around and pick up the trail on the other side. Not ten paces later Kiba noticed that Karui was not following him. She was barely visible through the fog. He heard her gasp as she fell to the ground.
He ran back to where she was, kunai in hand preparing to disable any trap she may have sprung. Sad disappointment filled him when the scene became clearer as the fog parted.
"Keep it down Kiba, I'm not that much of an amateur to fall into a trap."
Fighting to keep his concern hidden, Kiba knelt down in the ground next to her. She was removing a series of branches on the ground revealing a small door. The smell of gunpowder was stronger here than in the trail they were following. Her hand pressed two of the wooden panels together which opened the small chamber. Realization set upon them as they recognized what this was.
"He didn't set up a trap here, this was a supply cache." Karui said seeming irritated.
Kiba knew that the longer this went on the worse it would get for himself, Akamaru, and Karui.
"We can't let him set the pace. We need to somehow get ahead of him and set our own ambush."
Karui nodded in agreement, she put her hand on her sword hilt and freed the blade from its scabbard a few inches before sliding it back in. When she realized she had distracted Kiba she apologized.
"Sorry, nervous impulse. Bad habit I've never really been able to break."
"If we're going to get in front of him we'd best start moving."
For the first time in days Kiba finally felt in his element. Team eight was noted for being tracking specialists; but his heritage was centered on the ultimate form of tracking, the hunt. In hunting it is essential to not only know where your prey is, but where they are going. With a new intent the forest which once seemed dim and damp seemed to come alive and hum with anticipation. The darkness of evening had finally set in, and every annoyance and challenge of the forest now acted to spur him on.
They jumped down into a small creek, which was dry owing to the season. Kiba could focus on the smell of their target. His pace was slowing, his leg smelled of dried blood and antiseptic cream. Selecting a position two hundred meters ahead of Hiroyuki's they laid in wait. Focusing his chakra he enhanced his hearing, listening especially for Akamaru to make the first attack.
The sound of a slash and a cry of pain broke the night's silence. Leaping from behind their cover they charged at the short shinobi. Once again Kiba smelled the slow burning fuse and knew they had to make this fight short. In the haze of the mist Karui flashed her sword through graceful forms, she seemed more like a spirit than a kunoichi. Hiroyuki threw down a grenade which exploded with a blinding light. Karui raised her free arm to shield her eyes, Kiba knew how to work without his sight though. As one sense fades out, another becomes stronger. Each step betrayed Hiroyuki's location to Kiba's sense of smell.
"Now Akamaru! Gatsuga!"
Akamaru went low with the attack, knocking the man off balance. Kiba's slammed himself into Hiroyuki's chest with his attack, knocking the bomb expert down completely. Jumping back, in case an explosion occurred, Kiba waited to see if the short man was still moving. Weakly Hiroyuki raised his arm and pulled out a canister.
Karui rushed forward with her sword and pierced him in his right shoulder. This did nothing to stop him from touching his fuse to the canister which shot up a bright green flare high into the night sky. The sky flower pulsed light in increasing brightness, which when reflected off the fog made for an uncomfortable radiance. Finally it exploded shooting a beam of light straight up into the night sky, which paused in the air and didn't burn down for twenty seconds. On the ground, Karui's sword still in his shoulder, Hiroyuki was laughing.
"I hope you two didn't have too much trouble with me," he said coughing, "because I hate to think what's going to happen when you face who's coming next."
Karui put her boot across his face, knocking him out, before freeing her sword and sheathing it. A line of pale red shadow floated across Kiba's vision, an afterimage of the flare. He adjusted the straps on his bracers then looked at Akamaru and Karui.
"Let's hope his friend puts up more of a fight than he did."
Akamaru growled in agreement and Karui nodded. For a moment Kiba could swear that her gold eyes shimmered briefly in the dark, but it was probably just his imagination.