Naruto: Blades, Bows, and Souls

REVIEW RESPONSE:

ImagineBreaker7: Thank you, and I know it was a little lackluster, but I really didn't want it to eat up the whole chapter. As for Hanabi and Neji, Hanabi was mostly embarrassed, though a few other tiny things popped up, and Neji, while knowing something of Naruto's clan, sees them as something from the past, fated to disappear, and Naruto mainly through his association with Hinata.

Leonineus: Not bad per say, after all, who doesn't like to see Shikamaru suffer for his laziness?

The Sentinel Stone: They could appear yes, though when and where is still to be decided.

Dragon Man 180: Neji's stick will be removed, but it may not be Naruto doing the removing though.

smith . andrew195: Correct, as for a list of powers and abilities. I might put one out closer to the Chūnin Exams, but I'm not sure

Sailor Solaris2: Yes I do come up with some of them on my own, as for making a list, afraid I don't have the time or a comprehensive one available, sorry, but feel free to use any you find in my story.

TheMysteriousOtaku: I'm not sure if Mei's an Uzumaki, after all not all redheads have to come from that clan, as for Karin…I have some plans for her.

Cm-kun: I agree that I could have put that better, let me clarify: Awakening Bankai earns any shinobi in Uzu an automatic promotion to jounin. It's not a requirement to becoming a jounin, but activating it will see you quickly promoted unless there's some form of outside interference.

Googlemo: Oh? And what about your stories, oh wait you don't have any. So since you're not even a real author, kindly take your opinions, turn them sideways, and shove them up your *BEEP* *BEEP*ing *BEEP*

Crimson-Wyvern: Good observation, and I have plans for that, though I won't reveal them just yet.

To everyone else who read and reviewed thanks for your time and support.

"Normal Speech"

'Normal Thought'

"Zanpakutō Speech"

"Demon/Large Summon Speech"

'Demon/Large Summon Thought'

Jutsu, Kidō/Gintō Incantation, Kidō /Gintō Spell Name, Skill Name, Zanpakutō Ability

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, Bleach, or anything else for that matter except for any original ideas.

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Chapter 23: Bandit Hunting

(Konoha's Eastern Gate)

It had been a bit over a month since Team 8 had returned from their mission to Snow Country, which had recently been renamed Spring Country. The treaty and alliance talks between Fire and Spring were apparently going extremely well, something that had brought Konoha a good deal of favor with the Fire Daimyo, and Konoha itself had been receiving a steady influx of new contracts and missions from Spring as well. As for Team 8 itself, the trio of genin and their teacher had been staying true to their training regimen, steadily working on their own skills, and continuing to do D-ranks.

Right now the team was gathered at the village's eastern gate, ready to head out for their newest C-rank mission. Yūgao had told them yesterday to pack for anywhere from one to two weeks of steady traveling before dismissing them and telling them to meet her at the gates at eight the next morning. Now, it was a minute before eight and the three genin had all gathered, resting easily on a number of benches near the gate while they waited for their jounin sensei to show up.

The second the clock clicked to eight, Yūgao appeared in front of her students in a swirl of leaves. "Good morning everyone." she greeted her students with a kind smile.

"Morning sensei." returned Naruto as he got up off the bench and stretched, absently hoisting a small, black shoulder pack.

"Good morning Yūgao-sensei." responded Hinata politely as she stood up and offered her a small bow before she pulled her pale purple pack back onto her back.

Shikamaru merely grunted as he stood up before yawning loudly while stretching. After he finished, he lazily reached for a dull brown satchel.

Yūgao merely continued to smile at her mismatched team's greetings. "Well, let's head out. We've got to meet our client before we officially start the mission" she stated happily as she started to head for the gate, her team quickly falling into a loose formation behind her.

"Well where are they sensei and what kind of mission is this anyway?" asked Naruto curiously as he followed her out of the gate. The team set out at a brisk running pace, which to normal non-shinobi, would rival a horse moving at full speed.

"Our destination is the capital of one of the western prefectures, near where our border meets with Waterfall Country and Grass Country." answered Yūgao simply over her shoulder. Fire Country, like most of the larger nations, was divided into dozens of smaller prefectures which were ruled and administrated by Sochi (governors), usually members of lesser noble families, in the Fire Daimyo's name. Konoha itself, along with a small amount of the surrounding lands, was considered an independent prefecture with the Hokage acting as sochi. "It should take us about three days to arrive there if we don't run into any trouble." For normal people it would be thrice that if not more, but traveling quickly was one of the perks of being a shinobi. "As for our mission, apparently there's been some bandit trouble and we're being sent to take care of it. We should be getting more information when we arrive."

"Bandits?" asked Shikamaru in a slightly annoyed tone. "Isn't that something, I don't know, the police or the military should be handling? Why are we being contracted to handle it?"

"The police simply aren't trained to handle the type or amount of fighting this would involve. As for the military, well, to put it simply, its economics." answered Yūgao. Glancing backward and noticing her students' confused looks, she continued. "It takes a lot of money to fund an army, let alone put one into action. Housing, feeding, equipping, and paying soldiers is, all-together, a very expensive operation; not to mention the costs of treating any wounded, replacing broken or damaged weapons and armor, and training new soldiers to replace those lost in battle. Especially when compared to the cost of simply hiring a group of shinobi for a C- or even B-ranked mission. So, instead of keeping a large standing army, the Fire Daimyo keeps his paid soldiers down to a small number during peacetime and hires shinobi to handle a number of the jobs they'd usually take care of, border patrols and bandit eliminations being the most common ones, as well as supplementing his forces on more important missions. During peacetime there's barely enough paid and active soldiers to man the forts near the borders and major towns. The Daimyo also has every village and town take part in militia training, which basically means that for a few days each month one male of every household has to report in for military training, though richer households are able to buy a remit for a certain price. If war was ever declared, or even looked like it was brewing, these militias would then be gathered to receive further training before being put under the command of the samurai to march them into battle while the other members of the three factions do their own jobs."

"The three whats?" asked Naruto in a confused tone.

Yūgao blinked. "You don't know about the other two factions?" she asked studying her three students. When they shook their heads negatively in reply, she began to frown slightly. "I suppose it's not too surprising that the Academy didn't cover the other two factions in any real detail, particularly since we rarely interact with them outside of wartime footing." stated Yūgao as she rubbed her chin in thought. "Still, if a rookie shinobi runs into an opposing force from one of other two factions without any knowledge about them…" she trailed off, now looking quite annoyed. "I will definitely be having a word with Umino-san about including a lesson or two about them in the new syllabus." she stated finally.

"So what are these 'three factions' you were talking about?" asked Naruto curiously, breaking his teacher away from her monologue.

Yūgao started slightly and seemed a bit embarrassed by her distraction. "Forgive me, I seem to have gotten a bit distracted." she apologized before beginning her lecture. "Now the three factions are the three elite forces that make up most nations' military power. They are the shinobi, samurai, and monks. Each possesses their own unique traditions of chakra manipulation and control, as well as their own hierarchy and history.

"The samurai are the faction closest to a nation's government. Traditionally, nearly every samurai is of noble birth, either a child born too low to have any rights of succession in a normal noble household or simply being born from a samurai household, a noble clan whose entire family is trained in the samurai arts much like our ninja clans in Konoha; though some particularly talented soldiers are offered samurai training if they excel in their career and have the proper mentality. The samurai act as the commanders and elite officers in every country's army. Traditional samurai are generals, fighters, and bureaucrats, as capable of serving as a commanding officer on a battlefield as governing a city or prefecture. They are the only faction that serves as a part of their home nation's military during peacetime, taking up most of the higher-ranking position in a nation's military.

"In combat, highly skilled samurai are some of the world's greatest weapon-masters when it comes to wielding their traditional panoply of weapons: the katana, wakizashi, yumi (bow), yami (spear), staff, kanabo, jutte, or naginata, and many are still capable taijutsu fighters if disarmed. Their chakra-based techniques most often revolve around what we shinobi refer to as Chakura Nagashi Jutsu (Chakra Flow Techniques), techniques designed to flow ones chakra through weapons and other object to either increase its properties or give it additional properties. Most samurai techniques are based off of two key jutsu: the Nihontō Jutsu (Samurai Sword Technique) and the Ō-yoroi Jutsu (Great Armor Technique). (AN: Ō-yoroi is the traditional name for the suits of armor often worn by the samurai).

"The Nihontō Jutsu, in its most basic form, flows chakra through the samurai's weapon, increasing its reach and offensive power, but its true power comes when it is combined with shape transformation, a form of chakra control that the samurai specialize in. When combined with shape transformation it allows them to literally reshape their blade in mid-combat, allowing them to turn a sword into a spear or an axe in mid-swing. It is both an extremely simple and extremely devastating technique when used correctly. The Ō-yoroi Jutsu is a similar technique, but it applies chakra flow to a samurai's clothing or armor, increasing its defensive value. With it activated a simple silk kimono can become as strong as a suit of chain mesh, and a samurai's full-body armor becomes capable of withstanding the force of several exploding tags detonating at point blank range."

"So how do we beat them?" asked Naruto curiously, getting straight to the heart of the issue.

"The key to fighting a samurai is to not attack a fully armored one directly." answered Yūgao simply. "While their armor is incredibly strong, particularly when combined with the Ō-yoroi Jutsu, it also makes them slow and greatly limits their maneuverability. Fight fast and don't let them back you into a corner. In fact, the Kawarimi no Jutsu (Substitution Technique) that you learned in the Academy is probably one of your best tools for fighting a samurai. It not only allows you to evade their attacks, but also presents you with an opening that can be used to either find a weak point in your opponent's armor or escape. Also, remember that their armor only protects them from direct damage. Burying them alive with a Doton jutsu or drowning them with a Suiton jutsu still works, particularly since they can't swim well in that heavy armor and water-walking is a ninja technique, not a samurai one."

"What about the other faction, the monks?" asked Shikamaru, raising a lazy eyebrow in curiosity.

Yūgao smiled when she noticed she'd actually gotten her laziest student's interest. "In many ways, the monks are very similar to we shinobi, only far more spiritual. They like to keep themselves distant from the military itself and, unless called into action due to a threat of war, most monks are happy to spend their entire lives in their monasteries, practicing their arts and seeking enlightenment, though many practice pilgrimages and other types of training or questing journeys. Most monasteries also act as orphanages for the vast majority of towns and villages, with shinobi villages being the most notable exception. Most monks were originally orphans taken in by the temple who wished to stay and join the order, though a number are simply people who wished to escape their old lives and seek enlightenment. When war is declared, the monks don't usually enter the battlefields, instead they act as a homeguard, tasked with defending the countryside around their temples and throughout the nation from enemy incursions.

"When they fight, monks are some of the greatest masters of taijutsu in existence and many practice at least some form of weapon combat. The exact styles and weapons vary based on which temple or monastery a monk is from. They are also masters of pure chakra manipulation, exercises and techniques that focus on controlling the shape and form of the user's chakra without the use of handsigns or tools, combining it with their taijutsu and weapon techniques to create truly devastating results. Like the samurai, monks have a single jutsu that forms the basis of most of their fighting styles, the Reikan no Jutsu (Spiritual Awareness Technique). At its most basic form, it merely enhances the chakra flow within a body, further increasing the user's strength, speed, and durability. However, its true strength it that it greatly boosts the user's natural ability to manipulate chakra without handseals, allowing for many of the monks' signature sealless techniques.

In direct combat, monks and shinobi share several similarities; we both tend to be light and fast-footed fighters who wear little to no armor. It's best to fight them at a distance, since most of their techniques are based off of taijutsu and many lack more than a few mid-range techniques and rarely possess any truly long-range attacks."

"So where do shinobi stand?" asked Hinata nervously. When Yūgao gave her a curious look she blushed before explaining. "I mean, from what you've described both factions are very strong, so where do we stand compared to them?"

"A good question Hinata." agreed Yūgao, smiling at her shyest student. "Like monks, we shinobi don't directly links ourselves to a nation's military outside of times of war. During peace time we mostly act as independent contractors, doing missions for anyone that's willing to pay us as long as it doesn't endanger our village or homeland. We do some special service work for the rest of the government; spying and internal affairs mostly, but rarely interact directly with our homeland's military or the rest of the government outside of those assignments. In times of war, true war between nations rather than shinobi villages, we act as our nation's special forces unit; the elite infiltrators, scouts, saboteurs, and assassins. While the samurai lead the armies, we make sure the path is clear of ambushes, or we set up those same ambushes for opposing forces."

Yūgao smiled as she addressed her students. "As for combat, we shinobi are tricksters; masters of everything in between and then some. While we, as a whole anyway, may not be as well-versed in shape transformation as samurai or have mastered pure manipulation to the same level as the monks, we are the only ones who make any real use nature transformation and combine it with shape manipulation to create ninjutsu. Very few samurai practice nature transformation, seeing it as 'impure' compared to truly mastering combining their chakra with their weapons. Most monks believe nature transformation is 'unnatural,' forcing ones will onto the natural world, and instead focus on pure chakra manipulation, seeing it as a way of further mastering their own bodies. Both are also weak to illusions, another one of the shinobi's specialties. Monks and Samurai both practice fūinjutsu to some extent, but neither take it as far as shinobi seal masters do. When it comes down to it, while both monks and samurai specialize in their own unique branches of combat, it is our versatility that makes shinobi dangerous."

She let her students soak that in for a moment, reminding them of another reason she'd had them try and diversify their skills. It was a good lesson and would help keep them branching out and further developing their own fighting styles. After a moment she continued. "It's also important to remember that, while neither monks nor samurai have a rating system quite as defined as ours, they each still vary based on their levels of skill and experience. There are samurai who can fight on the same level as a jounin while others are no better than chūnin or even genin. It's all a matter of experience and skill."

She let her students ponder that as they continued moving.

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(3 Days Later, Provincial Capital of Shunmai)

Shunmai was a large town, not quite as big as Konoha but close. The province sharing the same name took up a good portion of Fire's northwestern corner, near the borders of both Waterfall Country and Grass Country, and it acted as a central trading hub for trade between Fire, Grass, and Waterfall along with several other nations further to the west. This had allowed the prefectural capital to flourish, becoming one of the largest towns in the entire country, with only a couple other trade towns, Konoha, and the capital matching and/or surpassing it. It sported both running water and electricity, another indication of its size and importance since most rural villages, and even some of the smaller nations, couldn't afford the equipment and expertise needed to provide one, let alone both, of these luxuries. The streets were well-kept and filled with people, not surprising for a city that relied on trade and traffic for survival.

Naruto let out a low whistle as he and the rest of Team 8 made their way through the streets as Yūgao tried to lead them through the bustling streets toward their client's home. "This place sure is busy, Konoha hardly ever gets this much traffic." he muttered under his breath.

"Well Shunmai is one of the biggest trading towns in Fire Country. While Konoha is just as big, if not bigger, our village's size, wealth, and importance comes from the shinobi population while Shunmai relies on trade to keep it prosperous, so naturally it's going to be a lot busier than back home." answered Yūgao simply.

"So where exactly are we going sensei?" asked Shikamaru lazily, hoping they'd be able to rest when they reached whatever destination they were heading for.

"There." stated Yūgao, indicating a large, important-looking building. It stood at least three if not four stories tall and took up the majority of the block it was built on, built in a traditional design with a dark red tile roof and surrounded on all sides by tall, thick stones walls with the symbol of Fire Country emblazoned prominently on their surface. "This is the provincial manor. Not only is it the home of the sochi and his family, but it acts as the center for most of the province's local government." explained Yūgao, before she turned and regarded her students seriously. "Now, since we're meeting a head of state, I expect all three of you to mind your manners, understood?" she instructed them seriously as they approached the gate.

The three genin simply nodded their heads in understanding, knowing that when their instructor gave them orders in that tone it was important.

As the four shinobi approached the main gate, they caught sight of two men standing guard. Both men looked slightly younger than Yūgao, placing them somewhere in their mid- or late-twenties, and were dressed in military uniforms. A bright red chest-plate covered most of their chests and stomachs while leaving their arms bare save for a pair of shoulder guards, while a short armored skirt protected the lower portion of their waist as well as the upper portions of their legs. Both also carried spears strapped to their backs as well as a short sword sheathed at their waist. They seemed fairly relaxed but when one of them noticed Team 8 approaching, both quickly shot to attention. One of them, looking slightly older than the other, stepped forward. "Halt, state your business." he ordered quickly, looking slightly nervous.

Yūgao stopped with her students, before giving the man a small, polite bow. "I am Yūgao Uzuki, of Konohagakure. My team and I are here responding to a mission request sent by Sochi (Governor) Yoshimoto-sama." she answered calmly.

The man nodded his head before motioning to his partner, who nodded in response before heading inside. He came back a few moments later and nodded toward his partner. Seeing the nod, his partner turned his attention back to Yūgao and her students. "We have sent someone to see if Yoshimoto-sama is ready to see you. You will wait here until they get back." stated the man simply, before he turned and rejoined his partner by the gate, both keeping a wary eye on the shinobi.

Yūgao merely stood calmly, while her students waited behind her with varying expressions. Hinata looked meek, Naruto looked annoyed to be kept waiting like this, and Shikamaru simply looked bored out of his mind.

A few minutes later a small group of about a dozen men came forward, dressed in the same style of armor as the two men standing guard. They were led by a man dressed in a full-body suit of red lamellar armor, the same shade as his apparent subordinates, over a black body suit and carrying a matched katana and wakizashi at his waist. His head and face were mostly covered by a red armored helmet, decorated with a simple, silver flame design over the center of the forehead, and a simple armored facemask, though Naruto noted that he had black eyes. The man nodded to the two guards before turning his attention to Yūgao and her team. He gave a short, cordial bow before speaking. "Uzuki-san, I am Wanomaru Zokimori, a Chūi (First Lieutenant), of the samurai forces stationed here. Lord Yoshimoto is currently in a meeting at the moment. My men and I will escort you to a room where you can wait until he is ready. If you would follow us?" he stated simply, his voice calm and polite.

"Of course." agreed Yūgao with a slight nod, before motioning for her students to follow. Wanomaru quickly took the lead, walking next to and slightly ahead of Yūgao, while his soldiers took up a formation loosely surrounding the three genin. After a few minutes of walking through the manor's many rooms and offices, which seemed to be busily bustling with many functionaries and servants, they were led into a small parlor and instructed to wait.

Plopping himself down onto a cushion, Naruto looked around the room for a moment before asking a question to his sensei. "So this Yoshimoto guy, he's the one who's paying for this mission? Does that mean that if it was a smaller village like Wave they'd have to pay us whenever they needed help taking care of bandits?" That didn't seem right. While Shunmai certainly looked rich enough to easily pay for a C-rank, he was smart enough to know a lot of the smaller villages wouldn't be able to easily afford it. Wave had had to gather everything they had left in order to pay for the C-rank to protect Tazuna, and that was an entire country. Granted it was a small one with only a few villages that was being financially strangled by Gatō, but still…

"Technically no." responded Yūgao. "While Yoshimoto-sama is the one who requested the mission and is technically our client, neither he nor Shunmai's local government are actually paying for this mission."

"Then who is?" asked a curious looking Hinata as she easily seated herself onto another cushion while Shikamaru sprawled himself out next to her.

"The Fire Daimyo." answered Yūgao simply. "As I said before, rather than keeping a large standing military the Daimyo instead hires out shinobi to do a good deal of their regular jobs. Mission requests like these fall under that purview. So whenever bandits become a problem, mission requests are sent to Konoha where they are sorted, evaluated, and ranked before a team is sent to take care of it. Once the mission is complete a copy of the report is sent to the Daimyo's offices, where it is reviewed, approved, and payment is transferred from the nation's treasury to cover the mission fee."

Naruto nodded his head in understanding; that made a lot more sense.

The team waited in comfortable silence for nearly twenty minutes before a group of five samurai, four dressed in the same style as Wanomaru while the fifth had a pair of white horns on his helmet as well as the silver flame, stepped inside. "Lord Yoshimoto is ready to see you now." stated the samurai with the horned helmet.

Yūgao nodded her head as she stood back up, her students quickly doing their same. The horned samurai led them out of the room, two of the other samurai directly behind him while the other two trailed slightly behind the four shinobi. After several minutes of walking they entered a large sitting room. Inside were two people sitting at a low table another four samurai standing guard behind them. One of the two sitters was obviously a samurai, with the same red armor as his compatriots, but his helmet and facemask were removed and sitting on the table in front of him, which Naruto noticed had a golden flame and white horns. Judging from his face, he looked to be in his early forties. His dark black hair, which was done in a high ponytail, was streaked with a few narrow rows of grey, and a set of small wrinkles lined his face, but he still seemed to be fit and able.

The other man was obviously the governor and looked about a decade older than the samurai sitting next to him. He was a large man, not just in girth but height. Standing up Naruto guessed he'd be close to six feet. His body appeared to be that of one who'd kept themselves healthy in their youth but had allowed it to slack as they aged, showing an accumulation of weight over what had once been a solid, muscular build. His hair was mostly gray with only a few flecks of brown remaining and he wore it short and close to his head, displaying a prominent widow's peak, while his face was thick but relatively smooth, with only a few wrinkles around his eyes. He was dressed in an expensive looking silk kimono, solid black with a few decorative streaks of red, and a single gold ring with a ruby resting on one of his fingers was his only jewelry. A finely-crafted katana, sheathed in an ornate and gilded scabbard, rested easily beside him.

As they walked into the room, the four lower-ranked samurai quickly spread out and took defensive up positions at either side of the door way, while the horned one moved to join the others standing behind the two men. Yūgao stepped forward a moment after they'd parted and bowed lowly to the larger man. "Yoshimoto-sama, my name is Yūgao Uzuki of Konohagakure. My team and I were sent in response to your mission request. I understand you're having some bandit troubles?"

"Quite so." agreed Yoshimoto with a slight nod before he gestured to the man sitting next to him. "This is Chūjō (Lieutenant General) Toshimori, the commanding officer for all the military forces stationed in my city and prefecture." Toshimori gave the woman a short nod. "Please sit down and we can go over the details." he motioned to set of cushions placed on the opposite of the table, one in front of the table with three others spaced evenly behind it.

Yūgao nodded and sat down, her genin moving to take the spots behind her.

Toshimori made a motion with one hand and one of the samurai standing behind him stepped forward and placed a map on the table between the three. "The attacks have been occurring for approximately two months now, and have been fluctuating seemingly at random since. They have been fairly spread out around a certain area of the road. Here." he tapped a dark green area on the map a bit less than a week's journey by foot northwest of the city, right before it reached the Waterfall and Grass borders. "This is the Maki forest. There are several roads going along its edges that lead to locations in both Waterfall and Grass and most of them are used regularly by our trading caravans. The forest itself grows around source of the river that acts as the dividing line for the two nations."

"Do you send out any patrols along the roads there?" asked Yūgao.

"Regularly." answered Yoshimoto with a slight nod. "My city is centered around trade these days, so keeping the roads safe and clear is a priority. However, these bandits seem to be a bit better than the average cutthroats we've dealt with in the past."

"They're smart enough to avoid any obviously guarded caravans, and they seem to be moving their base around regularly. We've sent in a few scouting patrols, but they've only found a cleared campsites, and nothing to indicate exactly how many of them there are." agreed Toshimori. "They also seem to be well-trained and very good at planning their ambushes; we've lost a few of our smaller scouting patrols to them as well as merchant caravans. They're been very lucky so far."

Yūgao frowned. "Or they know your patrol patterns and formations."

Yoshimoto and Toshimori both frowned as well. "You think we have a spy?" asked Yoshimoto.

Yūgao shook her head. "No, a spy would be able to constantly supply information to them; their attacks would be regular instead of increasing and decreasing at random. I think you have a traitor, someone who knew how your patrols and search patterns worked well enough to supply the information and help plan the attacks and know how to watch for patrols and scouts, but without being able to acquire any current information to plan accordingly." Yūgao gave the two men a level look. "I need to ask, did any of your samurai or soldiers go missing before the raids started?"

Both men looked pensive for a moment. Finally, after several minutes, Toshimori spoke up. "There was…one incident." he started hesitantly. Yūgao understood, samurai followed a strict code of honor, their bushido. To many it was simply an honor code, but to samurai it was so much more, it was a way of life, a philosophy, and a religion all wrapped up in one. To imagine that one of their own would betray them, to cast away their bushido, was something that was nearly unthinkable to their mindset.

There was a reason that true rōnin, fully trained samurai that had abandoned their teachings, were so rare. Most rōnin were only half-trained dropouts from the samurai academies; men that couldn't live up to the training and mentality required to complete their training and had thus been thrown out of the samurai academies and abandoned by their peers and families. Most true samurai would rather commit seppuku that give up being samurai.

"It was roughly two months before the attacks started." continued Toshimori. "One of my Issa (Colonel), Takemaru Momohiko, was taking a company out on a routine training exercise. The group contained him, several newly assigned samurai officers, and about a hundred regular soldiers. They were only supposed to be gone for a few weeks on a standard inspection around the surrounding countryside; nothing more than a standard exercise to keep the soldiers from getting rusty and help familiarize the new officers with the surrounding terrain. When they didn't report back as scheduled we sent a scouting party to look for them. We found what was left of their campsite. It was at the base of a series of mountains near the northern edge of our territory, near the Waterfall border. It looked like a mudslide; uncommon, but not completely surprising given the unusually heavy rains we've been having this year. We believed they'd been traveling when a storm hit and decided to wait it out, only to get caught when the storm broke away the already loosened soil. We found…several bodies, at least twenty soldiers and two of the junior samurai. The rest we believed were buried too deep for us to retrieve."

Yūgao nodded. "Causing an avalanche isn't too difficult, particularly for someone trained in chakra manipulation, and it would be an excellent way to fake your death." she stated thoughtfully, rubbing her chin slightly. "So there's a possibility one or more rogue samurai is leading the bandits, though we have no way of confirming this. Still, it's best to be prepared." Yūgao finished with a nod. "Now, would you mind indicating where the attacks took place, starting from the earliest and working forward? Any details you have on them would also be helpful." she asked, deliberately changing the subject

The three spent the better part of an hour discussing the attacks, Toshimori giving most of the information with Yoshimoto occasionally adding a few details while Yūgao occasionally asked a question or two to clarify something. "Is there anything else?" she asked calmly as they finished discussing the latest attack.

Both men shared a look before shaking their heads. Yūgao nodded as she stood up. "Alright, then my team and I will head out. We should be able to reach the Maki Forest and begin our search within a few days. If we fail to report back within ten days please notify Konoha, they will send additional forces to find out what happened and handle the problem. By your leave" she finished politely, giving the two men another bow, which her students quickly copied.

Yoshimoto nodded his head before motioning for a group of samurai to escort them out. As they prepared to leave, Yoshimoto raised his hand to have them stop for a moment. "One thing Uzuki-san." he stated calmly, the air in the room suddenly taking on a heavy note. "If Momohiko-san truly is still alive and taking part in this…disgrace;" he spat the word, a trace of anger entering his tone, "bring me back his head. It will serve as a reminder to all those who would dare betray our homeland. Of course, I will personally provide a bonus for you and your team if you do so."

Yūgao turned slightly and nodded her head in understanding. "Of course Yoshimoto-sama, there can be no mercy for traitors after all."

With that the four shinobi were escorted out.

~~~ XXXXX ~~~

"It's getting late, we'll stay at an inn for the night and then move out at first light tomorrow." stated Yūgao as they left the manor, noticing the sun slowly starting to set on the horizon.

"Sensei, what was that last part about?" asked Naruto. "They seemed really tense when you started talking about a traitor, like they didn't want to believe that it was possible, and then they offer us a bonus if we bring in this Momohiko guy's head if he's alive."

Yūgao frowned softly to herself before she answered. "Shinobi and samurai both detest traitors Naruto-kun, but for entirely different reasons." answered Yūgao simply. "As shinobi we are…practical, we despise those who betray our village not only for their betrayals but for the secrets they steal from us and the crimes they commit when they do. Samurai…samurai take betrayal far more deeply. Two of the points of bushido, the honor code that samurai live their lives by, are Meiyo (Honor) and Chūgi (Loyalty), so betrayal is not just harming their homeland and turning their backs on their comrades, it an attack against their very way of life. To samurai, there are few graver insults than accusing one of their own of treachery."

"So that's why they didn't want to bring up the incident involving Momohiko-san?" asked Hinata. "Because they thought it would be insulting the name of a dead comrade?"

When Yūgao nodded, it was Shikamaru who asked the next question. "Then why was Yoshimoto-sama so hesitant as well?"

"Because he's probably a former samurai himself." Surprisingly it was Naruto who'd supplied that suggestion. Noticing he was getting curious looks from his teammates, he explained. "The sword that was next to him, it looked too well-crafted to be just a display piece, not to mention it was sitting in just the right way so that he could grab and draw it quickly if something happened. Since sensei said that samurai mostly came from noble families, it just seemed to make sense, right sensei?"

"Very good Naruto-kun." agreed Yūgao with a small smile, pleased to see that the lessons in observation she'd been trying to instill into her more knuckle-headed student were starting to pay off. "Yoshimoto-sama was indeed a samurai before he retired and was appointed as Sochi (governor) for the Shunmai prefecture at the end of the Third Great War. During the war he was the commander for the samurai forces operating in the area, defending it against Iwa and Earth Country invasions and raiders, and his appointment was a reward for his exemplary service. I am quite impressed that you were capable of noticing even after he's been out of service for nearly twenty years."

Naruto just rubbed the back of his head sheepishly. "Well, I've been studying kenjutsu for a while now, so it just sort of popped out at me." he stated bashfully, blushing slightly at the praise.

Yūgao nodded, Naruto had indeed been training diligently in the way of the sword since he'd awakened his kekkai genkai. Combined with the Kurosaki clan's natural talent and connection to their swords, the boy was rapidly growing into a fine swordsman, so it wasn't surprising that he'd started to notice things like that. Still it was another step in the right direction.

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(2 Days Later, Maki Forest)

Team 8 arrived at the outskirts of the forest in the earlier part of the morning, having decided to make camp for the night several miles away to avoid any chance of being detected before they could start their search. Their point of arrival was the scene of the most recent bandit attack, one that had apparently only happened a few days before they'd arrived at Shunmai. There was still a good deal of wreckage along the road, including several broken wagons. Thankfully, the bodies had already been removed, with only a few bloodstains indicating the slaughter that had taken place.

The bandits were apparently smart enough to not take any prisoners, too much risk of one escaping and bringing word of their camp's location to the local authorities.

"Alright, this is as good a spot as any to begin." stated Yūgao calmly as she stood amidst the wreckage. "Naruto." she ordered evenly, turning her attention to her blonde student.

Naruto nodded before biting his thumb and beginning a sequence of handseals.

Even with Hinata's Byakugan searching the entire forest for the bandit's camp would have taken days, not to mention giving their targets a chance to either escape or prepare an ambush if they noticed them searching. Instead they'd decided to call in some help. From personal experience Yūgao knew that some of Naruto's summons were perfect for the job.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu! (Summoning Technique)." cried Naruto as he slammed his hand into the ground, causing a seal array to appear beneath him for a moment before it exploded by a large plume of smoke.

"You called Naruto-dono?" A new voice suddenly echoed from the smoke. It was light and childish in tone, but the strangest thing was that it sounded like dozens of softer voices speaking simultaneously. When the smoke cleared seconds later it revealed what had to be at least a hundred butterflies covering the ground and wreckage surrounding Naruto. Each one was small, no more than two or three inches wide with their wings full extended and less than half that in length, with the wings decorated in unique and varying patterns of brown, green, blue, and red that greatly resembled segments of a map.

The Butterfly Clan was a bit weird as far as summoning clans went; only the higher level summons were actually individuals while most of the younger and smaller summons could only be summoned as part of large groups. When they were like this they could seemingly communicate silently and instantly over large distances. Hanyachō, the boss summon for the butterfly clan, described it as a special jutsu that linked their chakras together, strengthening their abilities and allowing them to share information. Apparently the younger ones joined these 'swarms' based on the abilities they possessed.

"Hey Seizukachō (Map Maker Butterflies)." returned Naruto with a broad grin. Given the sheer number of summons in a single group, the younger summons usually went by a group name rather than individuals until they were old and strong enough to fly solo. "I need you guys to scout the woods; we're looking for any signs of people living in there, long-term or short-term. Think you guys can do it?"

"Of course Naruto-dono." called out all hundred or so butterflies at once. An odd side-effect of the technique that linked them together, when they were grouped up like this they tended to speak in sync. It was kinda creepy until you got used to it…okay even after you got used to it it was still kind of creepy

As one the multitude of butterflies took to the air, quickly vanishing into the woods. As they departed, Team 8 made themselves comfortable; as soon as Naruto's summons returned and they had the information they needed, they'd start planning before moving in and starting their attack soon after sundown, and the team needed to be fully rested and ready when it happened. Shikamaru leaned against one of the broken wagons to nap. Naruto sat down and placed his katana in his lap, going into a type of meditative training called Jinzen (Blade Meditation) that allowed him to work and train with his Zanpakutō; according to his family's notes it was not only a way to improve his abilities with each of his swords and unlock new abilities with them, but one of the key methods needed to fully reach their ultimate forms, Bankai. Hinata was also meditating, though hers was less specialized than Naruto, merely a type of training meditation designed to help the user continue to develop their chakra control, a must for a burgeoning medic-nin and Jūken user like Hinata. Yūgao merely stood watch over her students, taking a seat atop one of the overturned but still mostly whole wagons, keeping an eye out for any trouble.

~~~ XXXXX ~~~

The sun had reached its zenith and was starting to slowly make its way toward the horizon again when the Seizukachō started to return. The small butterflies came in groups of three or four at first before dozens suddenly appeared in a matter of seconds until the entire swarm was once again gathered along the road. As soon as all of them had seemingly returned, they began to flutter over a barren and smooth part of road. Their wings first started flapping quickly, releasing a small blast of chakra-enhanced wind that further smoothed the road and cut away any grass or vegetation that had managed to finger its way onto the dirt road, until a full ten-foot square was nothing more than a smooth patch of light brown dirt.

Once the area was smoothed out, the numerous summoned insects quickly dropped lower, and began rapidly flapping their wings again, this time releasing small amounts of dust-like scales that fell to the ground with precise accuracy, quickly forming a rough map of the forest.

This was the special ability of the Seizukachō, the best scouting group from the Butterfly Clan. As the small butterflies flew over an area, they were able to completely memorize its topography and then use that information in combination with the colored scales they shed from their wings to form a 100% accurate map of the region down to the smallest detail.

They quickly began moving over and under each other, adding more and more details to the map. Browns and greens showed where the forest was thick and where it was bare as well as any unusually large hills or valleys. Blues quickly formed the large river that ran through the forest's center along with the numerous streams and creeks that broke off from as well as several small lakes, the shading indicating their depth and current. Finally dozens of red spots in varying shapes, sizes, and shades began to appear. Most of them were dull, pale red spots that appeared in over a dozen places on the outer edge of the forest, usually clustered together in groups of two or three, with the one closer to the road and slightly smaller, and the other larger, but placed farther back into the forest. Then there were a half-dozen smaller, brighter areas, positioned on hilltops surrounding a single, large, bright red spot in what appeared to be a small valley hidden in the hills near the forest's center.

As the butterflies finished their task, Yūgao calmly started to study the map. "I assume the red areas are the ones that have shown signs of human habitation?" she questioned the swarm, which was still fluttering over the map.

"Hai!" agreed the chorus of soft voices.

Shikamaru had also managed to rouse himself, knowing the sooner this was over the sooner they could leave and rest. "What do the different shades mean?" he asked.

Several of the smaller butterflies flew down to hover just above some of the paler spots, a few of which were actually close to where they were standing at the moment. "These are places where we saw indications that people had been in the past, old campsites mostly. They didn't look like they were used for long, but a lot of people were there when they were." they informed the genin.

"Staging grounds." stated Yūgao thoughtfully as the butterflies rejoined their swarm, "The positions match up to several of the most recent attacks. They probably have a small group near the edge of the forest," she indicated one of the smaller patches of pale red, " to keep a lookout for incoming caravans and other targets. When a target comes into range they signal to the main attack forces," she indicated the larger pale red areas deeper in the forest, "to move into position to attack. Same goes if they see a patrol or search group coming, but instead they fall back, leaving nothing but a cold campground."

Shikamaru nodded his head. It was a good strategy and took full advantage of the thick cover the forest provided to hide the number and placement of the bandits' troops while the clear roads allowed the bandits a clear view of any incoming threat or prey. All it would take was a single bandit in a tree with a spyglass and they could have a clear view of beyond the forest's edge for miles around.

Yūgao then indicated the brighter areas. "I take it these are the areas where humans are currently living?" she asked, getting another "Hai!" from the assembled mass. "Can you give us any idea of the numbers involved, or anything else?"

The butterflies shimmered and swooped within their swarm for a moment, seemingly communicating among themselves, before several flew down to land on the smaller circles that surrounded the larger one. "These have only about a dozen humans and a few horses. They seemed…wary, like they were waiting for something." the butterflies then moved to congregate over the larger spot, easily ten times the size of spots surrounding it. "There are many, many humans here. A hundred if not more, along with a good number of horses and carts. Most are weak, with no real chakra, but five have good chakra and a sixth has a very strong chakra."

"Sentry camps." stated Shikamaru with a nod indicating the smaller dots. "They're probably there to keep an eye out in case a large military party manages to find the camp. We'll have to eliminate those first, otherwise we risk being flanked by one of them when we attack the main camp."

Yūgao gave her genin a brief nod of agreement. "We should wait until nightfall, they probably don't change out the guards in the middle of the night, too much of risk of an accident. Once its fully dark we'll move in and eliminate the sentry camps first. Once they've been cleared out we'll move onto the main camp."

Team 8 continued to plan their attack well into the afternoon, before heading into the forest as the sun began to set.

It was going to be a long night.

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END CHAPTER 23

Well that ends the first part of my first wholly original arc. I know it's not exactly the most exciting chapter, mostly a lot of buildup and background, but I promise next chapter is well worth the wait.
It's going to be ninja vs. samurai in an all-out clash in the dark of the woods with some bandit slaughter thrown in for good measure. Until then…

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