Tsunade sighed and for the hundredth time wished Shizune would let her have sake while she worked. It seemed that for every victory they achieved against the Akatsuki there was a defeat right behind it. She walked away from her desk to overlook the village and continued to contemplate the message that had been delivered to her office from a cloud ninja a few hours ago. The message was simple.
Killer Bee had been captured.
The Raikage was understandably irate at the capture of his brother and had ordered Samui back to the village, seeing as how Bee was her former sensei. The blonde woman whose chest size could rival Tsunade's own had taken the news with the same stoic expression but the sannin could easily see the tension in her frame.
'And to think I thought things would be getting easier. I hope Kakashi and the others have better news when they return.' Tsunade thought to herself. Needing a break, Tsunade walked out of her office and headed towards the hospital.
Team eight had returned in rough shape. Every member was injured in some way but Shino was the worst. Naruto and Hinata were injured almost as severely as the Aburame but their divine chakra would heal them much faster than Shino whom had no such benefit. She'd focused a majority of her time on him and even then he would be out of action for a while longer then his teammates. As Tsunade walked into the hospital she grabbed the charts for each of them and reviewed their injuries.
Hinata had a severe concussion as well as a broken left arm, fractured ribs, and mild burns on her body from the multiple explosions she'd fallen victim to against Deidara. Still of the three of them she returned to Konoha is the best condition.
Naruto had several internal organs damaged from Deidara's final attack as well as severe 2nd and 3rd degree burns from his battle with Flame. If not for his divine chakra he might be crippled and unable to return to active duty. That being said he would continue to be held in the hospital, much to his chagrin, for a few more days at least.
Shino had burns to his lungs, face, arms and chest. He'd lost almost half of his insect swarm and it had taken her hours to return his left leg to functioning order. She feared he still might have a limp for the rest of his life but only time would tell. And all of this wasn't the worst of it. Before Shino had been able to kill Flame the Akatsuki member had all but burned Shino's left hand to a crisp. Tsunade had had no choice but to amputate the hand.
Tsunade stopped walking for a minute and took a deep breath to steady her nerves. It wasn't fair to her that these ninja who were only just turning seventeen had gone through so much pain and battle. She wondered if her grandfather's and Jiraiya's visions of a peaceful world would ever come to pass.
Tsunade stopped by Naruto's room first and was unsurprised to see Hinata sitting at his bedside. Her left arm was in a sling and her ribs were rapped to aid in their healing. The former Hyuga looked up at her and gave a soft smile as she turned her gaze back to the man she loved.
"I'm surprised he's resting. Getting him to stay in bed is just as hard now as it was a few years ago." Tsuande said as she placed her hands on Naruto and began using her medical jutsu to check his progress.
"Naruto-kun tried to leave as soon as he woke up. I was able to calm him down." Hinata informed Tsunade who finished her inspection and walked over to Hinata to do the same for her.
"Do I even want to know how you did that?" Tsunade teased the kunoichi. Seeing the slight blush appear on her face Tsunade couldn't help but chuckle.
"All I did was kiss him and subtly give him a sedative. I hope he's not made when he wakes up." Hinata said softly.
"Don't worry Hinata. As I'm sure you know men are so thick headed at times that they need a women to get through to them. Remember behind every great man is a greater woman. He'll understand." Tsuande said as she finished her check on Hinata. Seeing her relax at the comforting words was all Tsunade needed to know she'd assuaged Hinata.
"While I would like to keep him here longer I know a losing battle when I see one. If he'll promise to take it easy and get plenty of rest he can return home, provide someone is there to watch over him. Can I count on you for that Hinata?" Tsunade said, wording it like an order.
"Hai Hokage-sama." Hinata said with a wide smile, playing along.
"Then you have your orders Ms. Yuhi don't let me down." Tsunade said with a smile as she walked out of the door.
Feeling better after the meeting Tsunade steeled herself for her trip to Shino's room. As she walked towards the room she saw Shino's parents leaving. Both gave her s small bow and thanked her for saving his life before leaving. Shino's normally exuberant mother much more subdued than normal.
'Can't blame her.' Tsunade thought as she entered in.
Shino was covered almost head to toe in bandages. His usual shades were off and he had a morphine drip to help with the pain, which also kept him unconscious until they felt he was healed enough to be reawakened. Tsunade looked beside Shino and saw Haku's bed. Shino's parents has suggested they be moved into the same room and Tsunade saw no harm in it. Haku had still not yet woken up from her own injures though the ice user was in much better shape then she had been when she had first arrived in Konoha. Tsuande was sure to send multiple reports to Mei and Zabuza that she was doing much better and would awaken soon.
Tsunade walked over to Haku and again gave a routine check of the young woman and was satisfied that Haku would awaken any day now. Though she would have some permanent scars from what Flame had done to her without the combined efforts of Tsunade and Hinata, Haku's future as a ninja would have surely been over.
Tsunade began to check Shino and was pleased that he was healing, albeit slowly. The 2nd and 3rd degree burns on his chest and arms would scar a bit but no skin grafts would need to be taken from him and her jutsu along with special creams made by both Haku and Hinata was helping him along. His leg was very bad when he came in and she had to work with Shizune along with another five medics to save the limb and return it to functioning condition. With that done Tsunade looked to the one place she hadn't been able to save. Shino's left hand was gone. She'd had to amputate it at the wrist. It was too far gone and Hinata was in no condition to help save it at the time. She check to make sure that it stump was free of any infection and redressed some of his wounds before ensuing his pain meds were still working and leaving him to rest but not before turning to look at Haku.
'Wake up soon Haku. He's going to need you.' Tsuande said as she left the room and walked to the basement of the hospital. Now that she'd checked over team eight she wanted some answers and was going to get them.
Tsunade walked into a room beside the morgue that they used to examine bodies before either cremating them or burying them. Inoichi was waiting for her beside the body of the monster that was responsible for so much pain and heartache. Tsunade quickly brought her emotions under control and focused as a medic ninja and Hokage. She'd already tested his blood and other bodily fluids as was standard procedure and while none came back out of the ordinary there was too many things that didn't add up about this man.
For one thing given how powerful Flame was it was beyond confusing why he had suddenly appeared only a few years ago out of nowhere. He was not in the Bingo book nor was there any rumors circulating around about a strange man with a mastery of fire that rivaled that of Madara Uchiha. From what they could tell he had shown up out of the blue, found the small village that was the home of Saya and laid waste to it just because he could until confront by Team Eight.
"Hokage-sama I assume you called me here to scan this man's mind?" Inoichi stated.
"That is correct Inoichi. I must warn you that the cause of death was a blade through the skull so the brain has been damaged. Still anything you can tell me would be of a great help." Tsunade informed him.
"I'll do my best." Inoichi stated. What few knew about the leader of the Yamanaka clan is that he worked with Ibiki and Anko a lot. When the two of them felt they had gotten all they could out of a prisoner they called him in to scan the victim's minds to learn if there was any more secrets they had missed.
Inoichi placed his hand on Flame's head and used a variation of his mind transfer technique to trey and unlock the secrets of Flame's mind. This was not easy on someone who was dead and it was made even harder by the fact that there were portions of memory that were missing due to the damage Shino had caused when he pierced his head to kill him. After a few minutes he looked up to his leader and told her wait he'd seen.
"Hokage-sama this man was created." He said.
"What do you mean?" Tsuande said as her eyes narrowed.
"From what I can tell the earliest memories he has is waking up in a giant glass tube surrounded by some type of fluid. After that is a jumble of images I can't make out but it seems he was in extreme pain at the time. I did see one person early on and that was Orochimaru." Inoichi said solemnly.
"Orochimaru?! Are you telling me that snake is still alive!" Tsunade shouted in both anger and terror. Jiriaya had been certain he'd killed their teammate when he last tried to invade with his army of cursed sealed beasts three years ago. Jiraiya still woke up in a cold sweat some nights because of it.
"I don't believe so. From what little I can tell he was in that tube for quite some time after Orochimaru left him. I can't tell how much time has passed but the next image he had was of a strange man in an Akatsuki cloak standing in front of the glass tube. The man had on a strange orange mask with only one eyes hole but that's not the strangest part." Inoichi said as he took on a troubled look.
"What is it?" Tsunade said anxious to know what had the man so spooked.
"If I didn't know any better I'd say the person staring at him had the sharingan." Inoichi stated with a grim look.
"That's no possible. The only one Itachi left alive was Sasuke and Naruto killed him years ago." Tsunde said with her blood running cold. Another Uchiha in the Akatsuki along with Itachi was bad enough. That this one had never revealed himself yet was even more troubling.
"I can only tell you that while Flame was unfamiliar with the sharingan he did see it. Afterwards the strange man released Flame from his tube and disappeared in front of his eyes. It wasn't a shunshin either. He simply disappeared. Flame didn't care about that though. Whatever Orochimaru had done to him gave him his powers and like a wild beast he sought only to destroy any and everyone around him. When he faced Naruto and the others he had finally come against someone strong enough to face him and they became an obsession. That seems to be the main reason he joined the Akatsuki. So that he could find and kill all the members of Team Eight." Inoichi said darkly.
"Thank you for your time. I'm sure I don't need to tell you not to speak of this to anyone." Tsuande said as she turned to leave. She had much to think about and would need to talk to Jiraiya as well but not before drinking a lot of sake.
"Of course Hokage-sama." Inoichi said as he looked down at Flame. He knew that Tsunade was thinking the same as he was. Who was this mysterious person with a sharingan eye and were there other dormant monsters like Flame somewhere in a random laboratory that Orochimaru had left lying around. Karin hadn't seemed to know of any more and Inoichi had personally verified that when he scanned her mind before she became a member of the Leaf village.
'Still this just proves that there might be more that she knows nothing about. I pray that this isn't true. We don't need any more monsters like him roaming around.' Inoichi thought as he threw a sheet back over Flame's body and left as well.
(On route to Hidden Rock Village)
Kakashi lead a team of four consisting of himself, Kurenai, Anko and Iruka towards the Hidden Rock village. Tsunade had ordered them to travel to the village that held the most animosity toward the Leaf village and attempt to get them to sign a treaty with them like the Sand, Cloud, and Mist villages. Normally such an endeavor would be pointless at best and extremely dangerous at the worst. Kakashi wouldn't put it past the Rock village from attacking and killing any messengers proposing such a thing. Tsunade thought the same, despite being given something close to permission from the leader of the Rock village, hence the team constructed for the mission.
Kakashi was known throughout the ninja world and his reputation spoke for itself. Kurenai used to be a lesser known ninja as she was a young jonin. However in the past few years of being on A and S ranked missions with her husband had not only made her a much more dangerous ninja but also helped her gain more notoriety in the ninja world. Anko was known as the "Snake Mistress" of Konoha in the bingo book and many feared her sadistic tendencies, especially if they were a prisoner of hers. Iruka was the only unknown as he was only a chunin and content to remain one despite his intelligence and abilities to possibly become more. He would be the negotiator and they hoped that him being a chunin would lower the Rock ninja's suspension.
Another thing working for them was the other villages that were currently in alliance with konoha. The Rock village by this point must have been aware that the other four great shinobi villages had come to an alliance. The Sand village had always been an ally of Konoha stretching back to the Third Great Shinobi war when they fought together against the Rock village. Gaara being the Kazekage and Temari's relationship to Shikamaru only strengthened the bonds that Orochimaru ahd attempted to destroy.
The Mist village was known to normally be the most blood thirsty and brutal of the villages and thus in the past their relationship with the Leaf village had been strained to say the least. However with Mei Terumi and Zabuza momochi leading the village the relations between them and leaf had improved greatly. It also didn't hurt that their adoptive daughter was known to care very deeply for a certain Aburame.
The Cloud village was still an interesting matter in Kakashi's mind. Their two villages had fought more than once in the past and their attempts to kidnap not only Hinata but Kushina in the past didn't endear them to Naruto or any of the younger generation of Leaf ninja. In truth the only reason the Raikage had signed a treaty was because he respected strength and Naruto had shown himself to be on par if not better than Killer Bee as well as the fact that Konoha had the Sand and Mist village on their side. That being said, while the two villages did have a treaty there was definitely an undercut of tension and distrust between them. Still they were on the best terms they'd ever been on since the aforementioned attempt to capture Hinata.
'The Hidden Rock village is between a rock and a hard place so to speack.' Kakashi thought to himself and shook his head at the horrible pun.
The Rock shinobi might seek to kill him and the others out of spite but with the inevitable retaliation of not only Konoha but the other great shinobi villages as well hanging over their heads, they were not as likely to try their luck. They'd been defeated in the Third Shinobi war by the combined efforts of Konoha and the Sand village. Adding in the weakened but still formidable Mist village along with the very militaristic Cloud village would be a death warrant.
"How long until we get there?" Iruka asked as he took a canteen from Anko for a drink of water.
"Not long. Besides we've had some company watching us for a while." Kakashi responded. Anko and Iruka looked to him in surprise while Kurenai showed no emotion.
"What do you mean? I can't sense anyone." Anko said as he stretched out her senses and tried to pick up anyone in the vicinity.
"Don't waste your time Anko. You won't find them like that." Kurenai said as she moved off of the tree she was leaning on. They only had to wait a few seconds longer before multiple rock ninjas appeared out of the ground and the leaf ninja found themselves surrounded.
"What business do you have in our country leaf ninja? Speak quickly while you still can." The leader of the rock ninja ordered.
"Our Hokage wishes to extend an offer for a long term treaty between our two villages. I have been ordered to reveal the details only to your Tsuchikage." Kakashi replied back in his normal aloof tone.
"And you decide to cross our borders without first getting our approval? You tread on dangerous ground Copy-cat Kakashi." The man said with barely restrained anger.
"Hokage-sama sent a messenger hawk a few weeks ago and the response from what I understand was that we could come but that we shouldn't hold our breath on accomplishing anything." Kakashi responded.
"Tsuchikage-sama gave me no such orders." The man said in a threatening tone as his allies began to move into attack formation.
"Then perhaps he simply forgot to mention it. But why else would we willingly cross into the Earth country and not even try and conceal our presence?" Kakashi countered calmly. Kurenai and Anko tensed in preparation for an attack while Iruka looked on with calculating eyes.
"Perhaps all you say is a lie and you wanted to trick us into allowing you and your comrades into our village to assassinate Tsuchikage-sama." The man retorted.
"While that's possible Hokage-sama is not in the business of giving out suicidal missions nor am I inclined to accept them." Kakashi said. For a moment neither side spoke and the tension in the air reached a boiling point. Finally the rock nin gave a disgusted grunt and turned around.
"Follow us leaf ninja. If you give us any reason just know we will kill you where you stand." He snapped as he made a signal and his team ran back to the village never checking to see if Kakashi and the others were following.
"Well that was easier than I thought it would be. Let's go." Kakashi said with a smile. Kurenai, used to his nature, shook her head as she followed her husband. Anko turned to see Iruka deep in thought.
"What's wrong?" She asked.
"If this is the kind of reception we can expect then how are we ever going to get a treaty with the rock ninja?" He asked in concern.
"Whether they do or not isn't something we can really control Iruka-kun. Besides they are in a tight situation right now with the other 4 great villages on somewhat good terms. They can't attack one without the other 3 coming in retaliation and even they aren't so arrogant as to think they can defeat all 4." Anko said with a shrug without much concern. She smirked as Iruka chuckled at her answer and followed after Kurenai and Kakashi. They were still one of the most talked about couples in Konoha despite being married for three years. Many couldn't understand how two people who's personalities were so different could work together so well.
'It just works for us.' Iruka thought to himself as he followed.
The company of ninja walked through the gates of the Hidden rock village and while Kurenai and Kakashi showed no reaction, it was obvious Anko and Iruka had never before seen the home village of their greatest rival. The village was formed in a mountain range and most of the buildings were formed out of the rock and stone that naturally formed. Some of these buildings stretched far into the sky and were connected to one another by a series of bridges. It was through one of these buildings that they climbed up until they stood at the peak of a building and marveled at the view of numerous mountaintops shrouded in mist.
"Keep moving." One of the rock ninja barked as he gave Iruka a short shove in the back. The rock ninja quickly had his hand snatched away and was pulled face to face with an angry Anko.
"Touch him again and you'll lose that hand." She said with a smirk that promised pain.
"Anko stand down." Kakashi said in his usual tone, despite the tension between the two groups growing exponentially in seconds. The rock ninja seemed ready to fight, having looked for any reason to eliminate the Konoha shinobi. These in turn had Kakashi and Kurenai on edge though they didn't show it so openly.
"Whatever." She said as she released the man.
"So these are the Konoha ninja who wish to see my grandfather."
The tension was broken by the arrival of two Rock shinobi. Their attire showed them to be jonin of the village and Iruka could feel their strength.
"Kurotsuchi-sama." The head rock ninja said as he bowed his head, his comrades doing the same. Kurotsuchi was a fair skinned attractive young woman. She had short black hair and pupil-less pink eyes. She wore the standard rock ninja outfit consisting of a red uniform with the right sleeve torn off and a brown rock ninja flak jacket.
"We'll take it from here. You're dismissed." She said in a calm and relaxed manner, not unlike Kakashi.
"B-but Kurotsuchi-sama!" the rock ninja stopped very quickly when she stared at him. His team bowed and they left the Konoha nina with the two rock ninja.
The man standing beside Kurotsuchi was a very large portly man that reminded Iruka of an Akimichi. He had dark eyes and black hair that spikes out at the back from underneath his forehead protector which he wore like a bandanna. He also had large cheeks, and a plump nose which gave him an overall look of constant joviality. He wore the red Iwagakure uniform which had both its sleeves, underneath his flak jacket in addition to a yellow scarf around his neck.
"Come on Akatsuchi let's take these guys to see gramps." She said as to the giant of a man. He silently followed her across the bridge towards the giant tower that housed the leader of the rock ninja.
"Anko please control yourself." Kurenai said in an exasperated tone to her friend. The four ninja walked across the bridge and into the tower. Kurotsuchi went into the office first with Akatsuchi guarding the door. Kakashi nodded to Iruka and the chunin walked forward to address the Iwakage, whom had yet to turn his chair around to acknowledge them.
"You're Hokage said that you wanted to come and discuss a treaty of some sort is that right?" The Iwakage said as he turned his chair around. Onoki was the leader of the hidden rock village and even older then Sarutobi, the Third Hokage, had been before his death. Onoki was a very short old man with a triangular beard and a moustache that had angular corners, a big red nose and thick eyebrows. The top of his head was completely bald, although, he had long white hair on the lower-half of his head which was styled in a traditional chonmage hair cut, the back of which was tied with a yellow ribbon into a topknot. Ōnoki wore a green and yellow coat with a red collar and underneath he wore the traditional rock ninja outfit.
"That is correct Tsuchikage-sama. We feel that a long term treaty would benefit both of our countries." Iruka said. Onoki glared at Iruka for a moment before looking at the rest of the team.
"Is that right? If she feels that to be true why isn't she the one in front of me now? You youngsters are all the same, failing to show proper respect to your elders." Onoki stated.
"Come off it old man. What respect should they share with someone who should have retired years ago?" Kurotsuchi taunted her grandfather with a smirk.
"I'll have you know I'm still as deadly as I was at my prime!" He shouted in anger at his granddaughter. He tried to stand then leaned over and began to complain about his back hurting. Iruka looked at Kakashi and the others and only received a shrug in response.
"Told you." She teased. Onoki grumbled at her before returning his gaze to Iruka and the others.
"So your Hokage feels that our two villages can put aside the hate and resentment that has been prevalent since the last great shinobi war? I'm sure you didn't get that impression when you met some of my ninja." He said critically.
"While it is true that the bad blood between our villages run deep we truly believe that it's time to move from the past and into a new future Tsuchikage-sama." Iruka stated.
"And you truly believe such a thing is possible?" Onoki said in a highly skeptical tone.
"We've done so with Kumo and to be honest they've done more recently to be considered untrustworthy then you have." Iruka pointed out calmly. All of them thought back to the Cloud village's attempt to capture not only Kushina but Hinata and the fact that they were somehow able to salvage a treaty with them despite the offense to Naruto and his family.
"What makes you think you can trust them though? Treaties sound nice but in the end they are just pieces of paper we write on and state as fact. The truth is that any treaty is completely dependent on both parties adhering to the rules. Are you so sure that Kumo won't use this new treaty of yours to once again attempt to steal one of your precious kekkei genkais?" Onoki tested Iruka.
"You make a very good point Tsuchikage and to be honest such thoughts are common among many in our own village. However we wish to at least try and mend the bridges that have been damaged in the past. The world is changing around us and we must do so as well." Iruka said passionately.
The others hid their amusement but they were again bearing witness as to why Iruka was given the authority to speak for Tsunade. It was apparent that Naruto's own strong convictions were in part due to his close relationship to Iruka growing up and nurturing the thought that anything was possible. Onoki's laughter brought their attention back to him swiftly, though.
"You have a way with words. But words alone mean very little to me. I've lived a long time." Onoki began.
"You got that right." Kurotsuchi muttered. She quickly shut up when Onoki turned deadly serious eyes on her. His gaze turned to the Konoha ninja and they too were quickly reminded why Onoki was considered one of the strongest Kages, regardless of village, to ever live.
"I've met a lot of people who felt the same as you. You may not believe this but I've fought against and with your Third Hokage. He continually preached about the "Will of Fire" that drives your shinobi to go above and beyond their limits for your village and comrades. It's almost something that I too could believe in. However I've also seen the worst in humanity. I've seen what hatred and fear can do to people. Case in point, while I admire your Yondamie Hokage and his skill to end the war against us the fact remains that we still had to bury hundreds of our shinobi that he killed. Do you really think those families have forgotten?" Onoki stated. Everyone, even his granddaughter, were hung on the words of the elder shinobi.
"I have no intention of going to war against your village, especially with your alliances with the other three great shinobi villages. However I don't think that a lasting peace agreement can ever exist between our two villages. The past is still too fresh a wound for many of my ninja and most would reject such a treaty outright." Onoki said simply. The leaf ninja looked at one another for a moment before Iruka spoke.
"We understand completely Tsuchikage -sama and only hope that one day that your mind is changed. Even still we offer a gift in all of the information that we've gathered about the Akatsuki. Even if our villages are not friends the Akatsuki pose a problem for all of us." Iruka said as he pulled out a scroll and placed in on Onoki's desk.
"That won't be necessary. I know full well the Akatsuki's strengths and I have no intention of making them my enemy." Onoki retorted, his eyes going hard. That surprised Iruka and the others, quite a bit actually.
"I'm afraid I don't understand Tsuchikage-sama. The Akatsuki are a group made up of S-ranked missing ninja. Taking down even one is problematic." Iruka stated.
"I understand that completely and am also aware that your shinobi have already killed quite a few of them if my sources are correct." Onoki said.
"That is correct however we are still unsure as to how many members still remain but we do know that Kisame and Itachi Uchiha are alive and the two of them alone are some of the most poswerful shinobi from their respective villages." Iruka stated.
"I'm well aware of this. However the Akatsuki have never done a thing to raise a hand against my village. The most annoying thing I've heard is that punk Deidara joined up with them." Onoki replied.
"Yes and he was killed recently by our comrades." Iruka responded. That at least seemed to catch Onoki by surprise as well as his granddaughter.
"So that upstart finally got what was coming to him. For that alone you have my gratitude but I still don't plan to join in any scheme you've village has to attack them." Onoki said with a smirk at the thought of Deidara finally meeting his end. Deidara had not only stolen a secret technique from the village, which is how he made his so called "art", but he'd also killed quite a few high level rock ninja when he escaped.
"The Akatsuki plan to capture and acquire all of the tailed beasts. While we don't currently know what their purpose is we can assume it's not going to be good for any of us. It's only a matter of time before they come for your demon containers as well. And when they come they'll most likely cause an untold amount of damage to your village as they did to both the Sand and Mist villages not too long ago.
"That's not something we need to worry about." Onoki said softly.
"Why is that?" Iruka asked, his tone starting to get a bit exasperated.
"It's because they already have our two demon containers. Our village council and myself agreed to hand them over." Onoki said in a cold tone.
To say Iruka and the others, including Kurotsuchi, were shocked would have been a gross understatement.
"You what?!" Anko shouted in anger. Kurenai, normally the voice of peace to her best friend, was likewise doing her best not to shout as well. Kakashi kept his cool expression though he was also upset. What surprised him was the expression on Kurotsuchi's face. The rock jonin had a disgusted look on her face.
"I'm quite sure you heard me the first time." Onoki said.
"How could you do such a thing?! While we don't know why they're going after the tailed beasts it can't be for anything good. Why would you just hand them over like that?!" Iruka shouted, losing his composure. Naruto was his little brother and the thought of him being in such a situation scared him to death.
"It was an agreement between our two villages. The Akatsuki performed mission for us and the only thing they asked in return was our demon containers. You think I trust them? I don't however whatever they plan to do with those demons is their own business. I'd rather be beside them when they achieve their goal then in their way." Onoki stated.
"You sound so sure they'll succeed in their plans. We've taken quite a few of them out over this past year." Kurenai spoke up for the first time.
"Mere pawns used for a moment before sacrificed. Have you defeated Itachi Uchiha? What about his partner the "Monster of the Hidden Mist" Kisame? Have you even met their leader yet?" Ononi whispered as he eyes took on a look that shocked every one of the ninja in front of him for a second time.
Onoki was sacred. No more like terrified of the leader of the Akatsuki.
"I've met the man. And I can tell you now that he is not someone you want as an enemy." Onoki said after a moment.
"Who is their leader?" Kakashi asked. He was very curious now. Onoki may have been old but his power and reputation was still legendary. It was said that he could combine three elements to form his "Dust Release" techniques. Few people were on the wrong end of those techniques and survived.
"You'll find out one day and when that day comes you'll understand why I choose not to sign an alliance agreement with your village." Onoki said with an air of finality.
Kurotsuchi looked like she wanted to protest but a simple look from her grandfather was enough to silence her. Still, Kakashi caught her eye and for a moment saw them soften as if to apologize for her grandfather's actions. It was gone quickly but Kakashi made a note of it even as Iruka thanked Onoki for his time and they turned to leave.
"Not a word Kurotsuchi, not a word." Onoki said softly as the leaf ninja left his office.
"I never thought of you as a coward old man." She said as she glared at him, for the first time actually using old man as an insult rather than a teasing joke.
"You'll see one day why this was the best way to keep our village safe." Onoki responded without turning to look at her.
"But what about our pride as rock ninja?! You always told me we bow to no one but ourselves. Are you really so afraid of a group of ninja that now number in the single digits that you would give up our jinchuriki who were our comrades?" Kurotsuchi.
"Yes, yes I am." Onoki said seriously.
This stopped his granddaughter in her tracks. It was twice in as many minutes that he'd admitted his fear of this group of missing ninja. To most of their village Konoha was seen as full of soft weak willed ninja that got extremely lucky in the last Great Shinobi War with their Yondame-Hokage Minato Namikaze. They also thought that their two jinchurikis had been lost on suicidal missions and most were actually elated at the fact. To learn that they were willfully given up as part of an agreement with a criminal organization was beyond crazy in her mind.
"Tsuchikage-sama! We have a lone ninja seeking entrance into the village." A messenger ninja stated as he ran into the room. Onoki glared at him for a moment for not knocking first but the look on the ninja's face was enough to let Onoki know why he'd forgotten in his haste.
"Kurotsuchi go and escort the leaf ninja out of the village from another of the exits." Onoki ordered. Kurotsuchi was confused for a moment before turning to comply. She wanted to talk with that group of ninjas as well.
"Very well." She said, not wanting to seem too eager else Onoki become suspicious.
"Well this was a waste of a trip!" Anko said loudly, drawing annoyed looks from surrounding rock ninja, which was probably her reason for being loud in the first place.
"We knew this would be a long shot but who would have thought we'd have learned what we did?" Iruka responded being deliberately vague about learning that the Rock village, or at least it's Kage and council, had been working with the Akatsuki. They were still in the village and didn't want to have such information spread around.
"People will do anything if they think it will keep them alive." Kurenai said, just wanting to be out of the village. The last time she and Kakashi were on an S-ranked mission they had rock ninja on their tail all the way back to Fire country.
Kakashi, having kept quiet, stopped walking and the others stopped in confusion until they saw Kakashi looking behind them and they too then noticed Kurotsuchi's approach.
"Hold on. I need you to follow me." She said. The rock ninja that had been escorting them gave a bow to her and left.
"Whatever as long as we can get out of this village and back home." Anko said, smirking as she again felt a few glares being sent her way from the surrounding rock village ninja and civilians.
Kurotsuchi didn't respond to Anko's taunt. She took the lead and turned to take them through one of the many hidden tunnels out of the village. They were known only to a few high ranking rock ninja to be used in a time of evacuation or to sneak up behind an enemy that had them surrounded.
"Is there a reason that you aren't taking us out of the village's gates?" Kakashi asked suddenly after having being silent for so long.
"All I know is that my grandfather ordered it and I'm doing as I've been commanded." She replied.
"You're a loyal solider. I wonder if your two jinchuriki were just following commands as well." Anko said testily. Iruka gave her a look but there was no real heat behind it. He too was still reeling from the information they had just received.
"I knew nothing about that." Kurotsuchi defended herself.
"And if you had would you have said or done anything?" Kurenai jumped in.
"How dangerous are the Akatsuki?" Kurotsuchi said, changing the conversation.
"They are a mercenary band of missing ninjas, all of whom are S-ranked, who are collecting demon containers for some unknown reason. And apparently their leader is strong enough to terrify your grandfather, one of the most powerful ninja still alive. Knowing all of that do you really have to ask how dangerous they are?" Iruka spoke up.
She didn't respond to that and the trip through the tunnel was silent until they reached the exit. From what they could tell the tunnel let out into the forrest a couple of miles away from the village. It was positioned this way so that rock ninja could easily flank an opposing army laying siege to the village's gates and attack them from behind.
"This is where we must part ways. I'm sorry my grandfather was so stubborn. If I had known about the deal he'd made I would have done something. Believe that if nothing else." Kurotsuchi said.
"We do but that doesn't change the way things are. We'll have to report what your grandfather has been doing to Tsunade-sama." Kakashi stated as he took point and began to walk out.
"Understood." Kurotsuchi replied, knowing full well that working with Akatsuki more or less would make a pariah out of her village. That group had caused pain and damage to all of the other four great hidden villages and they would not look kindly on the Rock village for siding with their enemy. The Cloud village especially might declare war on them.
"Our battle is with the Akatsuki. As long as your grandfather stays out of the way I see no reason for us to attack against you." Kakashi said, sensing where her thoughts had taken her. To be honest he'd been thinking the same ever since Onoki had told them about his "arrangement" with the Akatsuki.
Kurotsuchi looked up to him with both hope and confusion in her eyes. It was no secret the Hidden Rock and Leaf villages were still the worst of enemies. The bad blood between them ran deep, very deep, for Kakashi to give her words of comfort and reassurance rather than a scathing comment was not something she was expecting. If the shoe were on the other foot so to speak she knew a majority of her comrades would jump at the chance to crush the Leaf village.
"Let's go. We must report this immediately." Kakashi ordered and he took the lead and began the trek back to the leaf village. Kurotsuchi watched them leave for a moment before turning back into the cave.
"Tsunade-sama is not going to like this one bit." Iruka said as he shook his head. While they didn't really except to sway the Rock village into signing an alliance, at least temporarily, none of them would have guessed that they were working with the Akatsuki.
"I'm more concerned in how the other kages will handle the news. I doubt Gaara or Mei will do anything drastic but the Raikage is still extremely livid at the loss of his brother and Yugito being in critical condition. He might just declare war on the Rock village out of revenge." Kurenai added.
"And with the agreement we have with them we'd be forced to attack as well." Anko said in a serious tone, understanding just how close they could be to a 4th Great Shinobi War.
"As strong as the Rock village believes themselves to be they have no chance against the other four great villages. We'd destroy them in less than a week." Iruka said.
"And yet it would take more time and resources then we can afford and give the Akatsuki plenty of chaos to stir up and work with." Kakashi said a bit harshly. He'd rather not think about another war. He'd seen enough death and pain to last him a few lifetimes from the last shinobi war.
No one had anything to add to that as they continued their trek back home. They had been traveling for a while when Kakashi abruptly stopped. Kurenai was immediacy at his side having long ago learned her husband's body language and knowing that he sensed danger. Anko prepared herself while Iruka stayed close as he too surveyed their surroundings.
"You can come out." Kakashi said as his hand moved to lift his headband up, revealing his sharingan.
Walking calmly from behind a tree a few meters ahead of them was a woman wearing the Akatsuki's black robe with red clouds. She had blue hair, amber eyes with lavender eye shadow and a labret piercing. She also had a large light blue paper flow in her hair.
"Akatsuki." Anko all but hissed as two kunai appeared in her hands in a second and she prepared to attack. Kakashi held an arm out and halted her advance. The strange woman had yet to make a threatening move and they also had no idea who she was or what she could do.
"Kakashi and Kurenai Hatake as well as Iruka and Anko Umino." She said in an unemotional tone as she looked at each of them.
"Who are you and why are you here?" Kakashi asked, his tone equally cold.
"I am Konan and I am here only to ensure you deliver my leader's message to Konoha as well as the other great villages that are your allies." She responded.
"And what would that be?" Kurenai asked.
Konan didn't respond except to slowly walk towards them. All four prepared for battle but were stunned when two giant wings of what looked like paper grew from Konan's back and she took to the sky.
"You'll see for yourself shortly." Was Konan's response to Kurenai's question as she looked back in the direction of the Rock village. Still not feeling any killing intent from the mysterious ninja the Konoha team themselves turned to see what she was looking at.
(Hidden Rock Village)
Onoki looked out among his village as the civilians and ninja went about their everyday life. The earlier meeting with the Konoha ninja still bothered him as did the accusations coming from his granddaughter. He still remembered when he was their age and felt that he could take on the world and come out on top. That notion was swiftly crushed when he'd come across ninja who's power eclipsed his own many times over.
'There are some battle and some opponents you simply do not stand against.' Onoki thought to himself. He rubbed his back and for the first time in a long time began to feel his age and the wear and tear on his body.
"Tsuchikage-sama, your guest is here." Onoki turned as he heard the voice of one of his ninja outside of the room.
"Send him in." Onoki said as the door opened and in walked an Akatsuki member. But this was not just any member, this was their leader, Pein.
"Onoki thank you for seeing me on such short notice." Onoki bristled a little at the lack of respect showed by Pein but let it slide as he again observed the man who claimed to lead the likes of Orochimaru, Deidara and Itachi Uchiha.
Pein wore the standard Akatsuki robe with red clouds. He had spiky orange hair and several piercings in his nose. However the thing that sent shivers down Onoki's spine was his eyes. Pein possessed the Rinnegan. The ripple like pattern that spread over the eyes was a light sclera and just looking and them unnerved Onoki.
"What is it that you want? You already have my jinchuriki and we have no work that we need your men to take on for us." Onoki said with a glare.
"A team from Konoha was here earlier. I'm sure they wish for you to join their alliance. What was your answer?" Pein asked, ignoring Onoki and further upsetting the elder Kage.
"I told them that I had no plans to endanger my people by getting involved with the fighting between your group and theirs. Whatever may happen in the future the Rock village will stay neutral." Onoki said simply.
"Very wise of you." Pein said simply.
"What is it that you want?" Onoki repeated testily. He did not want this man in his office any longer.
"I would like for your village to send a message to the others about standing against us." Pein said as he stood up.
"I just said that I don't want to get involved in his conflict. I won't fight with the other villages but I also won't be your errand boy. If you truly want to send a message then do it yourself." Onoki spat.
"I plan to." Pein said as an explosion erupted outside of the window. Onoki turned in shock and horror to see a building go up in smoke and fire as civilians and ninja began to scramble around.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Onoki shouted as his door opened and several high ranking Rock ninja surrounded Pein.
"It is exactly as I said. You're village will serve as a message and warning to the other four as to the fate that awaits them should they continue to stand against us." Pein said as another building exploded.
"Take him!" Onoki shouted and his ninja jumped to attack Pein.
Pein raised one hand, muttered a word, and the next thing Onoki knew, he was hitting by a crushing force and throw out of his window. As he fell to the ground he saw several enemy ninja wearing Akatsuki robes laying waste to his village and its inhabitants.
'What have I done?' Onoki thought.
(Miles outside of the village)
Even from their distance the Konoha team could both hear and feel the explosions rocking the Rock village.
"What's going on?!" Anko said in confusion.
"Pein-sama is delivering his message that he wishes for you to give to your Hokage." Konan said with no emotion at all to the devastation.
"Let's move!" Kakashi shouted as he ignored Konan and moved to return to the Rock village. A wall of paper rose before them cutting them off.
"I'm afraid that Pein-sama has yet to finish up. Please don't interrupt him." Konan said.
"Enough of this!" Anko shouted as she leapt in the air to engage the blue haired missing ninja.
"Anko don't rush in!" Kakashi ordered to no avail. Anko had been itching to get a piece of the group that wanted to kill her little brother and Konan was too easy of an opportunity to let escape.
Konan, for her part, did nothing but raise herself higher into the air. She seemed unwilling to fight Anko or any of them for that matter. Anko was not to be deterred however.
"Hidden Shadow Snakes" She called out as several serpents shot from his sleeves to wrap around Konan's leg. The female Aktasuki frowned in annoyance before sending a paper shuriken to cut through all of the snakes with no effort. Anko fell to the ground but was caught by Iruka at the last minute.
"Anko-chan you have to calm down. Flying in without a plan is not going to help anyone." Iruka admonished his wife softly. Seeing her leap into battle against such a deadly opponent nearly gave him a heart attack on the spot.
"I know that but we have to do something." Anko said as her eyes softened seeing the fear in Iruka's face.
"And we will. Your plan was rushed but at least we have a good idea how she can attack and defend against us." Kakashi said as he prepared to form hand signs. Suddenly the wall of paper in front of them disappeared as Konan slowly lowered herself to the ground.
"Pein-sama is finished." Konan said as he landed a few meters away from the leaf ninja with her back turned.
Kakashi and the others were surprised to hear no more explosions or sounds of battle from the village, which scared each and every one of them to the core. No more than ten to twenty minutes had gone by. All they could do was watch as a lone figure walked towards them.
"Pein-sama I trust you are unharmed?" Konan said as she walked to his side.
"Of course. They were no threat to a god such as myself." Pein responded. His eyes locked onto Anko as she gave a short snort at hearing him refer to himself as a god. Anko forgot to breathe for those brief seconds of eye contact.
'Impossible.' Kakashi thought at seeing Pein's eyes. He'd thought the Rinnegan to be either a myth or dojutsu that had long ago died out.
"Kakashi Hatake. Tell your Hokage as well as your allies that I will be gracious to them. They have one month to turn over Naruto Uzumaki, and Yugito Nii over to us. Should they do so they can avoid feeling my wrath. Should they refuse I will destroy them all." Pein said as he grabbed onto Konan and both of them disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Kakashi said nothing as he and the others immediately raced towards the Rock village. What awaited them was beyond words. The giant gates of the village were reduced to rubble. Fire and smoke enveloped the streets and building and bodies burned in open view.
"I-Impossible. How could one man do all of this so quickly." Kurenai said in shock. Kakashi said nothing, he was focused on where the Tsuchikage's tower used to stand. All that was left of it was a smoldering husk of broken rock.
"Search for any survivors." Kakashi ordered after a moment. He summoned his ninja dogs and gave them the same order. Their heightened senses would make them a huge help.
Sadly they found none after a few minutes. No one had been spared. Men, women and children were all lying in the streets, restaurants and even in what remained of their own homes. Many seemed to have been trampled to death. Others stabbed, or burned, and the list went on.
Iruka turned a bit green at what he was seeing. He was a ninja so death didn't surprise him but this had been a massacre and each and every child he saw dead reminded him of his own students and he couldn't help but to picture them in a similar state.
"Ninja and civilians. He spared none of them. What kind of monster is he?" Anko said as she scowled deeply. She was trying to put up a brave face when truthfully she was terrified to her core.
After a half hour of failing to find any survivors Kakashi was ready to give up until he heard the barking from hid ninja hounds. He ran over and saw them barking in front the same tunnel they had used earlier. It was now sealed by a couple of tons of rock and he acted on a hunch. He walked towards it and stopped abruptly at the body sitting against it. Kurenai and the others came to his side to see what had stopped him in his tracks and they too were stunned to find Onoki's dead body.
From what they could tell the Tsuchikage had made a last stand at this point to fight off Pein and defend whatever was behind him with his life. Kakashi slowly walked forward and gently moved Onoki aside as his hounds continued to sit in front of the now sealed cave.
"They are voices inside Kakashi. This is the only sign of life we've found in the whole village." Pakkun said. Kakashi nodded and he sent his dogs back to the summoning realm.
"This is thick. It could take a while to get through." Iruka said as he studied the giant boulder sealing the tunnel.
"Raikiri!" Kakashi said as he formed his lightning blade. He dashed forward and smashed through the rock like a hot knife through butter. The boulder collapsed and Kakashi jumped back to avoid several rock ninjutsu aimed at him.
"Hold your fire! We aren't your enemy!" Kurenai shouted as she was instantly at Kakashi's side.
"And how do we know that?! You expect us to believe it's just a coincidence that mere minutes after you left we were attacked?!" A rock jonin said as he emerged with about twenty other rock ninja all ranging from jonin to academy students. Behind them in the cave they could hear civilians crying out in fear and anger.
"Are you all that's left?" Iruka asked. He received a glare for his comment.
"We're more than enough to take our revenge against you!" He said as he prepared to attack. He stopped when a fist hit him in the head so hard he fell to the ground unconscious.
Kurotsuchi limped out from beside the foolish jonin and was about to speak before she saw her grandfather's body a few feet away. She seemed to lose all of her remaining energy and feel to her knees weeping for her grandfather. The other rock ninja, having been broken out of their fear induced rage also noticed their fallen kage and many followed suit of falling to the ground in shock and disbelief.
"From what we can tell he fought to the end defending you all." Kakashi said softly.
"I know he did. He told me to grab whoever I could and not to leave unless we heard from him." Kurotsuchi whispered softly and tears continued to fall from her eyes.
"Is there anyone else?" She asked after a moment with a gleam of hope in her eyes. Kakashi said nothing and that hope quickly died out.
"So many people. It happened so fast. We never stood a chance." A rock chunin said as they all looked at what used to be one of the mightiest villages in the land.
"What's going to happen now?" a young academy student who looked no older than seven said. His eyes were wide and full of disbelief, Kakashi had seen it far too many times.
All of the remaining ninja and civilians looked to the still weeping Kurotsuchi. It was obvious whom they felt was their new leader. She saw they looks and giving one more silent prayer for her fallen grandfather stood to her feet, dried her eyes and looked among her people.
"Our village is destroyed, our friends and family are dead but we are still Rock ninja and this is still our home. We will do what we have been taught. We will rebuild, regain our strength and fight back!" She said in a commanding tone. She got some looks of approval, though most were still too shell shocked by what happened or still being consumed by grief.
"If you need any help…" Kakashi began as he saw the look on Kurotsuchi's face. She was now beginning to understand that words alone wouldn't help much and the weight of leading what was left of her people was on her shoulders.
"You would still help us? Even now?" she asked. Others turned as well surprised at the leaf ninja's offering.
"As you can plainly see the Akatsuki is an enemy of us all. They have no allies except themselves. We have to fight them together or fall one after the other." Kakashi said solemnly.
"Thank you. I know it probably doesn't mean as much now as it would have earlier but what remains of the Hidden Rock village is willing to work with you." She said. Kakashi gave a short nod as he and the others turned to leave.
"We must be going. We have to let all of the villages know what happened and what threat awaits us all." Kakashi said as he and the others left what remained of the Hidden Rock Village to deliver the news to Tsunade and the others.
The Five Great Shinobi Villages had just been reduced to Four.
Words can convey how sorry I am this took so long. Seriously almost six months have gone by. I'd be surprised if anyone still remembers this story. However work, life and a new relationship have eaten up all of my time. That being said I will never abandon this story. It will be finished and we are actually moving closer to the end.
The Hidden Rock village is all but destroyed with the greatest of ease from Pein. He now gives an ultimatum to the remaining villages. What will they do when they hear of the devastation? What can the shinobi alliance do against such a foe?
Find out next time!