A/N: No need for words when this chapter is made of them. Sorry for the delay! Here's the chapter!
Chapter 26: Raging Embers, The War On Snow!
"How pitiful… To have been outwitted by such minor pests." sneered a deep and gruff voice.
Naruto's eyes snapped open to reveal the depths of his cerulean irises. Before his sight was the mighty and monstrous form of the Nine-Tailed Beast sealed within him. The behemoth gazed down at Naruto from where it rested lazily. Its dull crimson orbs were filled with aggression and disgust. Every breath it took drew forth both a foul odor and a cloud of fog to which only came when heat met the cold air around it. The Kyuubi's orange fur bristled with annoyance, its tails swishing in barely restrained fury, but even still the colossus beast tried hard to give off a visage of utter disinterest with half-lidded eyes and dull facial expressions.
"Absolutely pathetic… to allow yourself such an emotional reaction to the death of some honorable fools dying for their even more foolish country." the Nine-Tailed Beast simmered just below the surface, Naruto could tell.
"Why are you like that…? In that form… Kurama?" Naruto asked, ignoring the taunts the beast was using by using his own. He had never uttered the Kyuubi's proper name ever since the beast had first told it to him. Kyuubi had told him at the time of learning the name that he was unworthy of the honor.
The Kyuubi bore its fangs at him, growling with venom dripping from the canines. Its half-lidded eyes narrowed dangerously while it shot up from its lazy posture.
"You DARE-?!" but the beast stopped as its voice boomed and echoed off the walls of the sewer like prison it was held back in. In an instant, Kurama knew what the boy was doing. The beast laid back down, resting its head within its folded arms. "But of course you would dare… As you know, this is my truest form and. It is also this is form I am forced into taking whenever you evoke my chakra… or when you and I are not in tune with the one another…"
"Okay, so what now?" Naruto asked, floating up to be eye level with the beast.
"Oh? You need to ask such mundane questions? Where did the brainy part of you go?" Kurama taunted coyly.
"So we deal with the device over the seal," Naruto proposed, "Why don't you just overload it with your chakra?"
The Kyuubi's laughter was loud and haunting. It crested the waters and waves swelled from where the beast's condensing laughter rang out.
"Those ninja must have smacked you around more so than I thought." The Kyuubi chortled in deep amusement at its container, "Fool! Unleashing my power to destroy the device would be like super-heating a corked bottle of sake! Your pitiful human chakra network would explode from the overwhelming power surging through it before being released. It would annihilate half the country. And that would be only two second after annihilating you and anyone within hundred meters of you."
At first Naruto said nothing. Merely cooling his expression and clasping his arms in a rigid fashion behind him. This was not the time for him to be yelling and screeching as those he were a punk Academy student dreaming of being Hokage. He was the Hokage now! He needed to act like it!
"So then, Kurama," Naruto saw anger flash across the Kyuubi's eyes, "what is the plan to eliminate the device then?"
Kurama scoffed at the boy. "Don't even attempt to appear smart when we both know it literally hurts your brain to try."
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Naruto snapped before he even knew it. Damn, the Kyuubi got under his skin.
Kurama merely went on, as though Naruto had said nothing.
"You may try to act cool in front of the other disgusting mortals, but when its just you and your pathetic friends you don't seem quite so impressive, now do you?"
Naruto stared blankly at the beast.
"I think its because you must be trying to impress the other humans around you with a composed façade… But that sort of plan is only executed well if you have any cool to begin with." the Kyuubi cocked a lazy brow at Naruto.
"In other words, young and fool-hearty Naruto Uzumaki… you have no idea what you're doing. No clue of what you're getting into… You're just making it up as you go along."
Naruto's cool façade was cracking fast as his fists when to his sides, clenched so hard that his palms were bleeding from the nails digging into them. Naruto's teeth clenched and grinded as well while he glared at the Kyuubi, a beast which knew his every thought, every intention…
Every fear and hope…
"Like with the ninja of Snow… They outwitted you with the simple plan of enrage and then a tactic of divide and conquer in the sense that they divided your attention and then conquered your ass." The fox's grin was the most infuriating thing about him right now. Naruto would wipe that grin from him permanently one day.
"I know what the hell I'm doing, dattebayo!" Naruto snapped, not even realizing that he had slipped back into the verbal tick he had held back for months until now. "I was kicking their frostbitten asses all the way up to that flying contraption of theirs!"
"Correction!" the beast bellowed, so loudly and suddenly that Naruto flinched back from him, "I said that they OUTWITTED you, boy, not OVERPOWERED."
"And? What's your point? Just explain it already! I'm smarter than I used to be, and I refuse to go gallivanting around as an idiot anymore! I'm the Hokage now!"
"You little fool," Kurama said bluntly as he began to settle down for another long nap, "You are an idiot and that it was how you managed to became Hokage…"
Naruto turned his back on Kurama in a split second. His blood was boiling! He didn't understand what the Kyuubi was getting at, and the entire conversation with the fox-faced bastard was frustrating him to no end. It made him even angrier that he didn't know why it was making him so angry.
"You got anything useful to say for when I wake up, fox?" Naruto asked tersely while the Kyuubi rolled his large crimson orbs.
If the boy didn't understand who he was at heart by then, there was nothing more Kurama cared to do about it. Naruto would learn the lesson, sooner or later… the hard way or not…
"You would have to overpower the device yourself, under your own powers, before I can lend you enough power to leak any of my own chakra into yours. The infernal gadget has managed to suppress both our individual energies while also knocking the two out of sync at the same time."
Naruto kept his back to the beast. "The lead Snow-ninja, Nadare, said that they had plans to use the device the Raikage and his ninja."
"Yes, such a contraption would work greatly on any normal human, but works two-fold on Jinchuriki and beast such as we." the Kyuubi simmered in a hiss.
"How can that thing separate and suppress both our chakra? You and me are like five Kage-level charka each!" this whole ordeal was making Naruto's rage surface from places he had long quelled.
Place where his fears were supposed to stay put.
"How am I supposed to know!? I'm no expert on your new-aged human technology!" Kurama bellowed in annoyance. And for some reason, the exchange of causal annoyance made something in Naruto lighten just a bit.
"If this were two or three years later, then we wouldn't be having these problems." the beast went on, shattering the little wave of something that went through Naruto and replacing it with confusion.
Naruto was starting to hate confusion and ignorance more so than anything at the moment.
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, turning now to the demonic beast.
"I mean the blasted Fourth Hokage's seal would have absolved enough of my demonic chakra by then." and at Naruto's quirked brow, the demon rolled his eyes before continuing on with his explanation, "The seal your damnable father, the Fourth Hokage, used to imprison me takes large amounts of my chakra from me forcibly while purifying it and slowly adding it to your own constantly expanding network and reserves."
Naruto's eyes widened as he had no clue the seal did all that. He knew it held the beast and its will back whenever he wasn't using the Kyuubi's chakra, but making him stronger by taking strength from Kurama? That was completely new news to Naruto.
"It was one of the reasons I brought up your personality earlier," Kurama hissed, a meaningful look at Naruto through one open eye, "Your earlier rage at seeing the mortal-human Doto defile and disgrace that Sandayu character's cause, it was only fueled greater and greater by your gathering up my chakra for your fight against the ninja of Snow."
Naruto again turned his back to the Kyuubi, but not out of rage this time. No, this time something inside of him dripped cold. A cold he hated much like the kind which swept through the Land of Snow.
"Naruto…" Kurama called, but Naruto merely paused as he was about to go to consciousness, "In the time to come, you and I shall face each other in final conflict. Do not spread yourself so thinly when it comes to your training by trying to accomplish things which you'll never truly master."
"Like what?" Naruto snapped heatedly.
"Like the healing arts you've attempted. You're trying to learn intricate medical ninjutsu which you could never be good at because our enormous chakra. You will never have fine needle-point control like what is required for the work the ones called Tsunade and Shizune do." the Kyuubi said with a purr of distain.
"And why are you telling me this?" Naruto gritted out, his fists once again clutched at his sides.
"Because I know of your pitiful concerns regarding the human known as Rock Lee and the boy's continued status as a ninja of your village. You cannot do everything and save everyone. Do not burden yourself with everyone else's problems." but then something lightened in the beast's purr. Something which had been rock hard and solid became soft and gentle when he continued on, "There are other pitiful humans around you which can help. Allow them to. Ones like Tsunade and Shizune to work expertly on the Rock Lee's surgery, the strange one Ebisu to help restructure the Ninja Academy, and the Toad Sage Jiraiya with his spy work. They will help to support your shortcomings."
That had hit Naruto where he had hoped not to be touched. His shortcomings—
"They have other stuff to attend to! I refuse to be seen as an idiot again by those I had finally gained the respect and admiration of after so long!" Naruto lashed out in a shout, making the beast cock a brow at him.
"Oh? Have I hit a sore spot in the Hokage's armor?" the Kyuubi mocked uncaringly, "Have you been lying to yourself all this time after the death of that boy-girl human named Haku?"
"I have not!" Naruto shot back fiercely.
Kurama shot up from his lackluster position once more, bearing down upon Naruto like a tidal wave of fury.
"Then what happened to your believes in the last few months?! Where went the you that said he didn't care if he remained a fool all his life so long as he could protect those precious to him! Or was that a lie? Where is the you who said he didn't care about what others think of him? Or was that the lie?" the Kyuubi berated before sneering down at Naruto, "Your idiocy knows no bounds if you think you can lie to me; the being closest to you. The very one which rests inside your very soul."
Naruto said nothing, could say nothing. He could only muster a glare at the beast, unafraid of what it could do to him.
But in complete pause of what it could say.
"You never once changed your priorities and goals from reaching your dream of being Hokage. Protecting those you hold dear had only become your main focus after the Chunin Exams. Like a petulant child, you still seek the approval, acknowledgement, and admiration of the village as Hokage. Perhaps you are still just that… a child." the beast sneered at Naruto.
"I am not a child!" Naruto snarled hotly. "I am the Hokage of Konohagakure!"
Kurama gave the boy a baleful and heated glare, "And…? So what?"
The two shared in a tense silence while they glare at one another. Their deadly silence was broken when the world around them began to shake and shiver. The Kyuubi's gaze dryly scanned the area, seeing the environment that was nothing but sewer shiver and shake as though it were an ill infant.
"This conversation is over, boy." the Kyuubi spat, settling once more into its rest. As Kurama closed its eyes, Naruto felt something tug away at him.
Tug him away from the cage and seal.
Tug him back to reality.
"Go and deal with the latest annoyance whilst I get rest." Kurama yawned widely, glancing at Naruto with one eye opened while he pushed the young Kage out of his own mind.
The boy will learn, sooner or later… one way or another…
Naruto's eyes snapped open to the world around him as it exploded out in pain. He gritted his teeth. He would not cry out while the violent electricity surged through him. When the shocks ended, Naruto hung his head. His breath came out in ragged and rapid bursts. Sweat dotted his forehead and dripped from his limp spikes of hair. While attempting to regain any semblance of control over his lungs being on fire and every cell in his body tingling from torture, Naruto belatedly noticed he was being touched.
Or rather poked… with a stick… a long stick.
"Hey, hey, you ain't dead yet, now are you Hokage-chan?" Fubuki asked sweetly, her toothy grin making Naruto sick to his stomach.
"Not yet," Naruto snarked, "But keep close, and with looks like yours, I'll drop dead soon."
"I knew I was drop dead sexy." Fubuki winked.
"Is there a reason you came to torture me with just your presence, or were you just bored of beating yourself with the ugly stick you're now poking at me with?"
Fubuki's grin grew more feral, if that was at all possible.
"Oh, I'm gonna have really kinky fun with you, bitch." she whispered before poking him again with the stick, causing a shockwave of electricity to go throughout his body the second his bindings jingled in the hooks that held him to the ceiling.
Still though, Naruto did not yield to her pleasures. He would not cry out in pain in front this sadistic woman.
"Y-You're disturbing my s-sleep, woman." Naruto gritted out, "It's a-annoying."
"Aww, come on, Hokage-kun." Fubuki was now pouting as she poked at him softly, "Go back to making those cute little whimpers you were a minute ago."
Naruto ignored her in favor of the noise which came from the end of the hall. In came two more ninja with Koyuki as their prisoner. The princess was thrown into her icy ceil across from his own with little to no care whilst he watched on. Fubuki's grin was back.
"Aww, poor Princess," Fubuki cooed once she saw where Naruto's attention was directed. "Don't worry, Hokage-kun, you two will be best buddies forever. Lord Doto wants you to together in Princess Koyuki's final hours. Right before he ends her after activating the secret weapon of our beloved country."
"And what do your master have in store for me?" Naruto asked as blandly as he could. He could not let them see him enraged, he had to stay cool.
"Oh, does someone feel left out?" Fubuki asked as though she were talking to a baby, "Well don't worry, baby, Lord Doto has something special in store for your-smexy-self."
"Fantastic," Naruto rolled his eyes. Fubuki poked him again with her stick, causing him more pain as he was shocked once more.
"Yes, Lord Doto has given full control of you over to me. I'm gonna tease Konoha's secrets out of you. Then we're going to ransom you off to your village… or whoever the highest bidder is. Fu, fu, fu." Fubuki's grin went from playful to downright devilish in nature, the gleam in her eyes making her appear feral and untamed.
Naruto scoffed at the purple-haired woman, "As if! The ninja of my village would and will crush the Snow until there's nothing but ashes in the icy snow fields, dattebayo! And you can believe that!"
The last thing he expected was for Fubuki to laugh at him, turn around, and walk out as though his words were simply too ridiculous to stand.
"Oh baby, don't worry, Mama Fubuki will be back at the end of the day. And you can believe that we're gonna be up all… night… long! Fu, fu, fu!" she left laughing crazily and manically. Naruto could honest believe the woman was a few scrolls short of a library.
Naruto turned to Koyuki, who was slumped down on her knees and depressed-looking. His expressionless visage settled and his eyes landed on the woman.
"So… what're you in for?" he asked tonelessly.
Later that day, when the sun had set, the moon rose, and the temperature dropped to just above freezing, the remaining members of Team Seven had long since regrouped together in a forest clearing. Brushing snow off of the logs and starting a small fire, Sakura was still downing soldier pills. Though they had initially believed all from the battle to be dead, after the airship had taken off and Kakashi-sensei had made clones to pick up the bodies, they found that a few would live to tell of the horror with Sakura constant medical attention. Along with Kakashi or Sasuke reading from her books and scrolls on what to do next step by step.
Normally they wouldn't have dared light anything without the smokeless wood Kakashi carried in his sealed survival scroll. However, having moved through the day at the speed of a civilian caravan, they were now simply too content. Besides the fact that they'd be long gone before any ninja could find the source of the small fire and come searching them out. Not that they suspected they would. After all, the Princess had already been captured, and their mission was a failure.
Or so it seemed.
"So what do we do now, Kakashi?" Sasuke asked. Sakura would have done it, but she was at a loss of what to do or even what to say. She held out her palms towards the fire and wrapped her cloak tightly around her shoulders, but it didn't seem to help much.
She was still chilled to the bone and sick to the stomach from the horrors she'd witnessed firsthand today. Even during the Chunin exams and Orochimaru's subsequent Sound invasion hadn't shaken her quite like watching several dozen brave men be cut down and cleaved into by a ruthless tyrant. She hadn't seen these sorts of atrocities. Or the simple unfairness.
"At least during the Sound invasion, our ninja had fought back as equals. Here, it had been less of a battle between worthy foes and more of a senseless slaughter…" Sakura thought bitterly as she also couldn't help but wince every time she thought of all the blood that had been on her hands. She saved three men.
Of the seven that had been alive out of the eighty-nine which had gone into battle, she had saved less than half. It had taken all her humanity to keep her going just those few hours ago. That and the men she was working on verbally sharing their fears of dying and their hopes that she could save them. Every odd man had died on her, and at that moment all Kakashi could do was rush her onto the next man that needed her undivided attention.
It was one of that only times Sakura wished Naruto was there to do something stupid like he used to do, and take her mind off things. Now all she had left were Kakashi reading his book and Sasuke staring into the flames like some sorta zombie.
Honestly, being on the same team as the guy for the last few months had really taken the awe out of her in reference to the last of the Uchiha.
"Well, that's simple, Sasuke. We have to rescue the princess and Naruto," Kakashi replied firmly, if at least a little lazily also.
"They could be anywhere by now," Sasuke pointed out in a mutter, still staring into the flames of the small camp fire. Sakura rolled her eyes. Sasuke always had to play the Yami's advocate and point out flaws every two seconds, even against himself. "Even if we pick up their trail and follow them back to wherever Doto's stronghold is, they'll be plenty of Snow ninja."
"Yes, Sasuke. Ones of Jonin and Chunin level likely, guarding the place. We are a small team, and not exactly designed for heavy combat. We're down a member, who also happens to be the leader of our village. This looks pretty bleak, right?" Kakashi said, all without looking up from his book.
"Alright," Sasuke sighed, "Lets go rescue our idiot… and the princess."
"Our client is dead," Sakura pointed out, looking down at the snow which melted near the fire. She hadn't spoken a single word since they started again as a caravan. She realized that her expression must have been obscured by her bangs and the shadows from the forest. "We won't be paid for this mission, completed or not. We've already been put through enough. Wouldn't it just be easier to go home.
"No, not easier. Not without Naruto, at least it wouldn't be." Kakashi admitted while scratching the back of his head with his free hand right before he turned a page.
Sasuke wisely didn't say anything whilst he went from staring into fire to staring at Sakura. He really wished Naruto was there. He'd be able to snap Sakura out of her funk. Honestly, its like she never saw people die… right… in front… of her… before…
"There's something else," Kakashi added, "There is a reason I said the mission isn't over back up at the mountains."
"Other than Naruto being kidnapped.
"Kage-napped, Sasuke." Kakashi corrected without much humor, "But no, other than the obvious."
"You mean the crystal, right?" Sakura asked hollowly, "Doto wasn't only after the princess. That purple-haired harpy mentioned a crystal and so did Doto."
"Ahh, so you caught that, huh?" Kakashi glanced up from his book just the once at her, mildly impressed.
"Yeah, that creepy chick said something about a crystal when that team first showed themselves." Sasuke remembered, "What was that all about, Kakashi?"
"Why, this of course," Kakashi replied easily, unzipping the front of his flak jacket and drawing out the hexagonal amethyst, holding it up with dramatic flourish of his hand.
"Sensei… How did you…?" Sakura looked up at Kakashi, staring in awe at him with her mouth slightly agape.
Sasuke, however, was not so easily impressed, "Great, so now we still have one thing they want."
"They'll figure that out soon, though if not already," Kakashi pointed out in reply, shrugging off the crystal's necklace from around his neck and holding it up in his hand. He offered it to Sakura and Sasuke for observation and examination. "Doto is no fool. So I want one of you to take this. Logic dictates that I should hold onto that little trinket, what with being the most likely and able to keep it safe if worse comes to worse. However, logic isn't my profession. Its ninja arts. Meaning that even if the crystal isn't our official mission, anything we do to hurt our enemies is important as well."
"Understood," Sakura said, her and Sasuke exchanging looks while Kakashi studied his book again. Sasuke nodded to her and she quickly slipped the necklace around her neck, hiding it from view quickly. Kakashi then looked up a moment later, and snapped his orange novel shut.
"So we have no plan…" Sasuke started with an unimpressed look at Kakashi, "but we've got an objective."
"Yup, we rescue the princess." Kakashi nodded even while he spoke.
"This is gonna be hard." Sakura admitted, to both herself and her two teammates.
"Exactly," Kakashi replied, "and this mission calls for stealth… for cunning… for guile… for luck and the guts to never give up."
Sasuke scoffed in amusement, "And thanks to Naruto, those aren't exactly our team's trademarks."
"The guts and luck parts are." Kakashi pointed out.
"I'd better go get changed," Sakura said briskly, climbing off her log and vanishing behind nearby trees and bushes.
"Now that I think about it," Sasuke said, loud enough for the changing Sakura to hear, "Naruto might just kill us for this one."
"Hmm?" Kakashi quirked an eyebrow.
"Remember what he said when we were getting our first C-ranked mission?" Sasuke prompted as he leaned forward, "How he wanted to rescue princesses and such? Yeah, could we just avoid him on this one? He might legitimately kill the three of us once he realizes what's going on here."
"That's only if he's conscious," Sakura said, emerging from behind the foliage after a few moments.
"Did you turn your clothes inside-out?" Sasuke observed in question. The look Sakura gave him made him not even care about the answer, and Kakashi was not going to bring up the question of how the inside of her clothes were shades of grey which had been on the tip of his tongue. True the clothes were very impressive for her, especially with the apparel now making it easier for her to blend into the background of the snowy forest and, presumably, the dark fortress Kakashi assumed a tyrant like Doto possessed.
"Are we ready to move out under the setting sun?" Kakashi asked, reluctantly climbing to his feet while Sasuke did the same. Both removed their headbands and tucked them in their pouches. None of them had much in the way of supplies or gear, they were back with the film crew, but they did indeed have plenty of stealth, cunning, and guile between them now that Naruto was away.
And even with Naruto away from them for the moment, Kakashi liked to believe that they still had his infectiously indomitable spirit at their disposal.
Sasuke believed it, too, but he'd never so much as utter such a thing around anyone living thing in fear of never living it down.
The team nodded between themselves. And with the fire extinguished with just a flick of Kakashi's wrist and the snowball he had acquired upon getting up, the three remaining members of Team Seven disappeared in the blink of an eye and the haste of a blur as they set off.
Set off to make war against the Land of Snow.
Finding Doto's fortress hadn't proven all that hard as they'd thought it might be. After all, it was a great, ugly black structure in the side of a nearby white ice hill, it stood out like a cat-ninja at an Inuzuka gathering. That wasn't the hard part. The hard part would be getting inside. As Sasuke had predicted, the place was swarming with both regular guards and snow ninja. Most of them wouldn't be any stronger than the average ninja, but the sheer numbers would be problematic if Team Seven was cornered. Worse, they'd catch the attention of those like Fubuki and Mizori, or even Nadare, and then they'd be in real trouble.
So their first step was observation. Sakura waited patiently while Sasuke and Kakashi snuck around to observe the guards. Kakashi-sensei had said that her job was to hold their position, which just meant to baby-sit the hiding spot for their regrouping. So there she sat for thirty minutes while to two used Sharingan to spy on the enemy.
"One hundred and five shinobi present in three-man units and five shift-swapping patrols," Sasuke stated once he and Kakashi returned. "And it seems not all of them are wearing that special chakra armor we saw earlier."
"It must be in limited supply," Sakura mused while Kakashi nodded in agreement, "Saved for those who pass a certain rank, like our Konoha flak jackets."
"So far we only know of three who wear the armor. I can't seem to find any of them, it may be able to hide from even the Sharingan." Kakashi said to his students, "They may be around… only, we can't see them."
"Let's hope not," Sakura muttered. She really didn't feel up for a fight at the moment.
"Agreed, and the rest?" Kakashi inquired of Sasuke.
"Around. Any of them come close, we'll see them long before."
"Good work... Sakura?"
"Judging on how the structure is exteriorly designed and the number of patrols that have passed in those thirty minutes you've all been gone, also taking into account Sasuke's observation of their shift-switching, I'd say this place is your standard stronghold fortress class-B. It'll have dungeons at least three levels down from its entrance floor with all corridors and passageways being in linear order."
"Meaning?" Sasuke had gotten lost with all her pondering on the structure.
"That Sakura here has more than likely located Princess Koyuki and Naruto's exact location just from external observation of the fortress. Great work, Sakura." Kakashi praised. Even despite her low spirits and weary mind, Sakura still blushed bright red under the praise from her mentor.
"Thank you, Kakashi-sensei."
"Anything else you'd like to add, Sakura?" Sasuke asked with an aloof look. He'd never admit that he was impressed.
"Yeah, actually. If this is a standard class-B fortress, then I think I've managed to calculate a safe route to the dungeons that'll avoid any major installations or patrols."
"Perfect, Sakura." Kakashi praised again before crouching down into the snow, drawing in it with a stick he'd located nearby, "Okay students, here's lesson two in the art of warfare. The element of surprise. Here's our plan."
Guard duty was one of the oldest occupations on the planet. Ever since people had decided they things were of value, they had began to worry they would lose their things or others would take them. And so, when people got lazier and richer, they hired guards with the express purpose of guarding their valuables. Gems, family, even the guard's employers themselves. They existed to sit and watch for trouble to whatever they guarded. But as well as being one of the oldest occupations in the world, guard duty could also be one of the most boring in the world. Imagine if you will the many long hours, days, weeks, months, even years at a time going by with nothing to do but sit and watch for trouble to finally come. Nerve-wrenching the first few times, soul-wrenching from boredom all the rest.
This might've explained why the guards to Doto's fortress were on the verge of falling asleep when the team arrived, traveling across the snow and to the front gates. One of the three-cell team's Doto must've sent out. Though a ruler of the Snow Country, his fortress also functioned as a Hidden Village. And on occasion the ninja would have to make use of their shinobi talents abroad to bring in money. The guards barely paid them any mind. Except…
…except one of the guards caught a flash of black amidst the pale blues, whites and greys of the snow shinobi guard. At their insistence, they called a halt to the team, their suspicions aroused. It was an odd bunch, after all. Two men, one woman. None of whom bore any remarkable features beneath their hoods and masks. "What're your names?"
"I'm Kotetsu," said the man in the front, with piercing blue eyes. "This is my team. Reporting back from patrol duty."
The guards glanced at one another. They hadn't heard anything about that, though it wasn't completely unusual. "Where are your papers?" Border patrols were always assigned papers sealed with special chakra so that they couldn't be relieved except by a new team of proper replacements, not just anyone with a decent Transformation Jutsu.
The three snow shinobi glanced at one another. "Oh, I had those!" the woman in back piped up. Tsk, newbies… "Come take a look!"
The guards moved in to take a look, not thinking until the last moment that the other two were moving to surround them and get into position. By the time they did think, the supposed patrollers had struck. The first guard went down with barely a grunt, two hard blows in his stomach and one across his jaw to knock him out like a light. The second guard cried out a warning before he too was quickly overwhelmed. Snow shinobi and more guards came pouring out of the open doors towards the three ninja shinobi, who stood their ground grimly.
"We've been discovered! Defend yourselves!" shouted the first attacker, his voice now distinctly that of Kakashi Hatake. A puff of smoke engulfed him and his two teammates, revealing the forms of Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, also ready to fight. They rose up their fists and prepared to engage the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, using good ol' fashioned taijutsu to kick ass.
This, if anyone knew Team Seven, would've immediately tipped them off that something was amiss. Not that disbelieving would help either, of course.
As the gates opened to admit the soldiers and guards, high above, clinging to the wall with chakra-charged feet, the real members of Team Seven watched the battle unfold as they their way inside, crawling along the ceiling and out of sight, for in such dark corridors, and high ceilings, it was remarkable how very little any of the passing guards bothered to ever look up.
"Those clones of his such buy us some time." Sakura theorized as her eyes locked forward on Kakashi's back. "Hopefully we'll have well-infiltrated the fortress by the time those snow ninja figure things out."
After a few turns and twists, they managed to drop back down onto the ground and proceed walking. It made it a little easier to find their way without the entire fortress being upside down.
Kakashi paused and gave the signal for his team to do so as well behind him as he took point. Then, without hesitation, she moved. "This way," was all he said. Sasuke and Sakura nodded, following behind him. A kunai was palmed in the kunoichi hand as she saw no sense in taking precautions in the tyrant's lair. Even with the famed Copy-ninja and last of the Uchiha, Sakura felt nervous. Hell, she'd feel nervous even they had Neji or Hinata's all encompassing Byakugan at their disposal.
Because in heart, Sakura's foundation had been shaken at that last battle. She was nervous about the fact, in her heart of hearts, she just didn't know if she really- deep down- had what it took to be a kunoichi. To be a ninja.
To be a killer.
"Someone's coming," Kakashi said suddenly, and she tensed immediately, snapping out of her reverie. "Down that corridor. Move," he added, pointing it out. Before Sakura could do anything, Kakashi vanished into hiding at the top of the dark ceiling while hanging upside down, and Sasuke had quickly swung out an arm and gently pushed her out of the line of sight with his hand as a pair of Snow ninja came past them, pausing just before the intersection where they were hiding like Kakashi had commanded of them. If the ninja got much closer, they'd spot the two Genin in short order.
Though what Sasuke hadn't realized was that when he'd swung out his arm to push Ayami out of the light, he'd accidentally missed her far shoulder, which was his target. Instead he'd hit a lump of some sort just under her vest. Sakura, fully aware of just exactly where the Uchiha's palm was on her, slapped a hand over her mouth to muffle the squeak that was sure to emerge. Her cheeks become rosy pink and her face felt like fire. It was a near wonder Sakura didn't kill him and end the honorable Uchiha line that instant.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the guards moved off. Still holding Sakura, unaware of her embarrassment, Sasuke leaned forward to tilt his head and make sure the corridor was clear. "Okay, looks like they're gone… I think we can move on," he said in a low whisper.
Sakura, unable to properly voice herself, reached out and tugged on the raven-haired boy's jacket. Sasuke turned back to her, and she just pointed down at where he's grabbed her. And his onyx eyes opened wide in shock as he all but yanked his hand off her body as if it had been scalding hot. His face going a bright shade of red as a stream of apologies formed on the tip of his tongue, Sakura placed a hand over his mouth before they could pour out. If he could voice them aloud, and possibly give them away, there'd be much more trouble than they're own embarrassment.
"Sakura, I'm- I swear that was an accident. I'm not like Naruto, I would never-"
"I know," she replied gently. "I know, its okay. It was clearly an accident," even still as she spoke her cheeks were stained pink.
"So…!" she said, softly nudging her head to where Kakashi dropped down at. Sasuke blinked, then jumpstarted.
"Oh, right, the mission… Let's go." he said, taking off down a corridor with no haste.
"Umm, Sasuke…" Kakashi began. Sasuke spun on his heel without pause and watched as Sakura had taken off down the opposite corridor.
He'd been heading the wrong way.
"And now for lesson three, students. The diversion. Sasuke, you're with me. Sakura, you locate the others while we keep the attention on us."
"Right, sensei." and with that, Sakura formed three hand-signs before disappearing out of view of the naked eye.
"Her genjutsu has become sub-par to say that it used to be one of her greatest strengths." Sasuke commented while Kakashi shrugged. The two were running down the corridor, no longer being stealthy as they moved. With them now safely inside, and Sakura sneaking through undetected, they'd be able to combat anything that came their way.
"Where to? Now that Sakura's going after Naruto and Princess Koyuki." Sasuke asked.
"Down a level. We don't know how long that distraction at the front gate will last. Remember, we want as much chaos as we can possibly cause to distract them from our main objective."
Sasuke nodded as they made their way down the corridor, then idly reached up and grabbed a hanging lantern, swinging it around and tossing it back the way they'd come at an expensive looking rug, setting it ablaze. Kakashi quirked an eyebrow at him, to which he merely shrugged, his expression still one of disinterest and impassion. Though Kakashi noted that Sasuke's cheeks were looking a little pink in the cold. Could the last Uchiha be catching a cold? Now that he thought about it, Sakura's face was a little red, too. Hmm… couldn't have sick students at a time like this…
"What? You did say chaos."
"Not quite what I had in mind," he remarked, his lone eye glancing upwards. "But if you want to play the game that way…" he hurled a pair of exploding tag-kunai upwards at a supporting beam, making sure Sasuke and himself were well out of the way of devastation that followed as the entire ceiling came caving in. By now they could hear the shouting and screaming, could see troops moving. The two slipped in and out of rooms and hiding places, continuing to sow chaos from one end of the stronghold to the other. Setting fires and exploding rooms and releasing genjutsu so some of the Snow Genin smashed into walls thinking they were running down a corridor, or found themselves being crushed to death by gigantic roots and vines that had sprung up out of nowhere. On occasion, they even left exploding tags with delays so they would force their pursuers to backtrack, thinking them going a different direction.
"We've spent too much time around Naruto," Sasuke remarked while they broke into what must've been Doto's private distillery. And as any good shinobi can tell you, if there's one thing that burns better than wood, its alcohol. So Kakashi and he flipped through hand-signs at rapid pace. "The dope's bad habits are rubbing off on me…" he added with a deadpan expression, not even caring as he and Kakashi set blaze to the room and then took a few flaming bottles to drop out of a nearby window and letting it shatter near a platoon of guards running through the courtyard.
Kakashi wisely decided not to comment on such. He too felt he'd been spending too much time around the Konoha prankster. He was actually starting to enjoy himself. But he knew they couldn't keep this up forever. Sooner or later they were going to get themselves cornered, or run into trouble. Their small number of two and quickness had helped so far in enabling them to avoid Snow patrols, but they wouldn't help much against Nadare and his buddies in the chakra armor.
"Come on, Sakura. Hurry…" Kakashi thought. He laid out some more exploding tags on walls, then quickly formed some hand-seals.
"Transform…" he murmured. As he watched, the tags faded, shimmered, and vanished, replaced by smooth stone walls just like before he'd set them. Completely invisible unless some ninja were actually looking for them. This set would go off once he triggered them remotely with the last hand-sign.
"Hurry up," he urged his student from afar.
Making their way down another corridor, Kakashi stiffened suddenly, clutching at his side, and Sasuke was there in an instant, concerned he'd been attacked and ready to defend his sensei. Kakashi glanced up, shaking his head. "I'm okay," he said, then frowned thoughtfully for a moment. "It's the team at the bridge, my Shadow Clones… they were just taken out. They couldn't hold on any longer."
"Then we don't have much time," Sasuke replied. "Come on."
Naruto hung alone in his cell; his face would have easily passed for one of the dead. If one were to look at him, some might have gone as far to claim he was actually dead. Not a spark of life could be seen midst the boy's body no matter where you looked, from his limp blond locks to down to the tip of his toes. After careful observation, one would be able to make out the slight rise and fall of the young man's chest, indicating his respiratory systems were just barely in function. Shinobi veterans of countless missions or service in war would recognize this young man's symptoms almost instantaneously. A victim of torture, and not the refined art that was taken up by the top-notched professionals in the hidden village of Konoha. No, this was sloppy work done through electro-shock as seen from how every few minutes or so the boy would twitch or spasm without meaning to. Such travesty, such pains of the flesh had hunted man for as long as history could recall. Such could destroy an individual so completely that one might as well wish they were dead, rather than continue on with the living.
However, none of that mattered to Naruto right then. As the gravity of his situation was sinking into his flesh and bones as surely as Fubuki would carve into him with a kunai when she returned, he could see things before him. They replayed like a broken record, over and over again.
Fubuki was an obvious amateur at this torture and interrogation thing, but she was passionate enough about art. She was also good at Genjutsu, something he himself had not ready defense against while in his present state. She made him observe images. They were most likely memories. Probably some of her own. After all, the best way to make someone feel pain was to share your own long deep-seeded agony with them.
She made him view, before his very ideas, an iceberg collapse on top of a single man that didn't even leave a body behind. Then a frozen-over lake that trapped two young souls inside its icy jaws of death. Next was a young woman who had already given into her own hopelessness being led out to what he was sure was her own demise and the words of a promise of more to suffer and die at his expense.
He closed his eyes. That last part of the images was probably improvised to make it sting all the more… and it worked. Just as easily as the images were shown to him made him realize how easily they could have been the reality of his own team. How could he have been so foolish… so arrogant? What made him act so rashly? He knew the answer, however, before the question had even formed in his mind's eye. Seeing those men fall the way they had, without even a fair chance to fight for their believes? He of all people knew the world was a cruel place, but finding even deeper levels of its cruelty were fast becoming daily occurrences. He shut his eyes tighter, wanting to make the anguish he felt go away. Why he had allowed things to progress so far? Why make those poor souls believe they could accomplish the impossible after their many years of failure, over the lost lives of countless men and women who had tried and been crushed just as they had? How wives would not welcome back husbands? How many children would cry into the night over the lost of fathers? How many parents would weep for sons buried before even they?
How stupid was he to believe that they, a simple team of ninja, could fight an entire country alone?
Why hadn't he listened? Was it his pride, being unwilling to accept the impossible like many times before? Had it been naïve optimism, a characteristic of his youth and inexperience that led those brave men to such a bitter end? Perhaps it was an over-inflated ego from surviving and accomplishing overwhelming odds before in the forms of the missing nin Zabuza and Haku, to making it to the final portions of the Chunin Exams and bringing down the powerful but insane Gaara, to battling alongside Sannin and defeating Orochimaru while coming home to be crowned Hokage of Konoha, foiling who knew how many goals and plans that many enemies had in store?
Or could it have just been his guts to never give up?
He always prided himself on being able to follow through with his promises, even before the Chunin Exams where he met Lee and resolved to help Hinata against Neji's blind hate. To be able to meet any challenge head on and overcome it, no matter the odds.
But… was giving up necessarily a bad thing?
It didn't just mean to stop trying and submit, it also allowed one to be able to recognize a situation, realize you were in over your head and reevaluate your options so you could succeed at another time.
True, there were times were retreat wasn't an option. If he had given up, even temporarily when facing Gaara, Sakura would had been crushed to death, maybe Sasuke as well since the Uchiha had been on the verge of exhaustion. Times where you had to stand your ground even if it meant your own death to stand up for what was right.
But… did that necessarily apply to every situation out there?
Just how different would his situation be if they did wait just three days for reinforcements to arrive? They would have still had to retreat at the Iceberg, but Sandayu and his men would surely still be alive…
"You look like hell," Koyuki stated hollowly as she finally mustered the courage to speak.
"Yeah? So do you," the blond retorted just as emptily.
Naruto didn't bother to respond to that comment. Somehow, seeing remembering that she was there, alive like Sandayu had wanted, gave his mind pause. She was still there, and as ever reluctant and opposed as she was, she was still there. Sandayu might not have survived, but he hadn't failed the man just yet. Maybe he had made all the wrong choices, maybe he should have done things differently at different points along this mission, and maybe none of that even mattered. However, Naruto just knew that right then, he had something still do to on their mission.
Something still to do in the fresh memory of Sandayu.
"There's no spring in this country."
The fact Koyuki had spoken those words caught the young Hokage off-guard, making him temporarily forget his regained determination. "You said that before. What do you mean?"
Koyuki didn't seem to be looking at him when she replied. "My father always used to say it. 'You'll see when spring comes, Koyuki.' Because of the perpetual winter in this country, I had never seen spring as a child. It was as distant and foreign to me as a child's fairytale story. Even so, I was curious. He told me to close my eyes, to imagine myself surrounded with flowers. To run as fast as I could. That, he said, was spring." the Snow princess' face darkened a bit before continuing. "And he told me that if I never gave up, if I believed in the future, then spring was sure to come."
She paused for a moment, then, for the first time, she looked directly at Naruto with those soft, empty eyes of hers. "But you should realize the truth by now: this country has nospring. My father died. I fled from the Land of Snow and I stopped believing. I was always running, always lying to people… though mostly I was just lying to myself. My life has become one big charade. Becoming an actress was about the only thing I was cut out for in this world."
The blond boy was silent as she finished her little tirade. Then he nudged his mouth into his collar and bit down. He cursed lowly.
"Damn these new clothes…" he spat out thread and dirt as he mental glanced through his wardrobe. "My old orange jumpsuit had a steel-cutting file on the shoulder along with a spiral symbol. It would have come in handy right now…"
Then Naruto stuck out his tongue and bent his head down to open his shirt. Koyuki watched him as he took something from the collar of his black Gi. It was a small filer. Using his arm strength, Naruto pulled himself up and began filing away on his chains.
"It's way smaller and more flimsy than the other one, but I'm glad Shizune and the others didn't completely forget about my being a ninja when they tried giving me a fashion sense." Naruto felt the joke was very empty by this point, but was since thankful for the fact he could joke none the less.
"That's not going to change anything, you know."
Naruto ignored her as he continued his work. He worked on it for several long minutes, then when he was halfway through the first link of the chain, the file snagged on something and he ended up dropping it to the floor. He didn't restrain the profanity from leaving him as he heard the file clank to the cold floor below.
"I told you. In the end, all you can do is give up." Koyuki said, putting her face against her knees. "If you had done so earlier, you and your team would still be alive after all this. All your work, all your struggling made no difference. Doto still won… Now, we're all gonna die here…"
"Correction, you will die here." Naruto said, "I will be tortured unimaginably by that Snow ninja girl long after you're dead."
"That's not funny!" Koyuki screamed, almost startling Naruto into a reaction.
"Well, I don't see any reason not to make your last moments a little lighter." Naruto snarled coldly as his face drew up. "If your wondering about the mission, then don't bother. You've given up and have been giving up for so long that you've forgotten what it feels like to fight. To have hope. I'm not going to let more people die for someone like you. Someone that doesn't even try…"
Naruto turned his gaze away from her, the beginning feelings of disgust starting to come over him. "My team will come, and we'll end Doto either before or after you're gone. We— No, I, at least owe Sandayu that much."
Her voice was small, like a child lost in the roaring wind, "How… How can you be so calm about this?"
"How can you be so useless?" Naruto snapped, not having meant to, but everything now was starting to piss him off as it came to a head in the form of the despairing princess in front of him. "After Sandayu gave his life for yours! Gave his dream that you'd take back control of your control from that Doto bastard!"
"Sandayu was stupid!" she finally snapped back, looking up at him with teary rage in her eyes.
"Yeah…" he harshly muttered the word, stinging her in places only Sandayu's death could touch, "Yeah, you're right…"
He looked her dead in the eye, holding her gaze as he continued, "He must have bee hella stupid if he died for someone like you." he spat the words like she disgusted him.
"YOU SHUT THE HELL UP!" she roared, furious for reasons only her heart knew, "YOU DIDN'T KNOW HIM! YOU DON'T GET TO SAY ANYTHING LIKE THAT ABOUT HIM! I KNEW HIM! ALL MY LIFE, I KNEW HIM! ONLY I GET TO TALK ABOUT HIM LIKE THAT, SO YOU JUST SHUT THE HELL UP! HE WAS MORE THAN MY WATCHER AND ASSISSTANT! HE WAS MY OLDEST FRIEND AND LIKE AN UNCLE TO ME!" her tirade seemed to lose energy as tears began to fall.
"So shut up… He was more to me than you'd ever know…" Koyuki finished, not wiping away her tears as she felt the prison she was cast into reflected how she had buried emotions so long ago.
Maybe it was time for a good cry, and for something to cry over?
"…Make up your mind, will ya?" Naruto berated as Koyuki snapped her attention back to him. The shadows of his hair obscured her vision of his face, but his words were like cold steel to her already fragile mental state. "YOU CAN'T JUST SAY THINGS THAT GO OPPOSITE! WHAT WAS HE?! A FOOL OR A GREAT MAN?! WELL?! WHICH ONE?!"
Koyuki was silent as she stared at him. He lifted his chin, showing the hard emotion behind his cerulean blue eyes.
"If ever my Iruka-sensei died while trying to get me back to some throne in the Land of Fire, I'd fight tooth and nail until I got the chance to kill the guy who dared defy Iruka-sensei's dying wish and long dream." Naruto bite out as Koyuki shrank back from the words as though they were draggers. "You're selfish… and a spoiled brat if you think that Sandayu had died only for you. That man was a better person than me, and I hope one day that I could be so great a man. But what about all the people Doto has killed and oppressed in his bid to be King of this place? What about your own father, one of the first that bastard uncle of yours slaughtered in his plans? And about Sandayu, who was only the most recent causality of the evil bastard?"
Naruto pressed on, "Sandayu died not only for you, but for them as well."
Koyuki had heard enough. It was too much for her to take! Why couldn't he just be quiet and let her wallow in self-pity alone. She covered her eyes, clenched her eyes shut tight. "Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!"
He didn't as he kept going, "All those people in the Land of Snow now who are still suffering Doto's iron rule. THINK OF THEM LIKE SANDAYU DID! LIKE HE MUST HAVE! THE MAN SACRIFICED HIS LIFE NOT ONLY FOR YOU! HE DID IT FOR THEM TOO!"
"He gave his all so one day you'd be free of fearing Doto, but also so that the people of Snow would one day be happy again…" at seeing the tears streaming down her face, Naruto couldn't help but sneer. "But I guess… the only thing you can do for all the dead and suffering is cry while rotting away in this place… just waiting to be killed for some crystal around your neck."
"But… unlike you, I refuse to give up." Koyuki's head jerked back up at this proclamation. "Back home, in Konoha, they once labeled me an outcast. Something to be despised and hated. For a long time, I had no one I could call friend. The coldness of their eyes all told me to just give up, to roll over in a ditch somewhere and die." At that, the princess noticed that fire was coming back into his eyes that were only moments before so cold to her and her plight. He began pulling on his chains as hard as he could. "If I give up now like you… or any time things got too hard… it would mean accepting what they thought of me back then! But that's not who I am! I don't have to pretend to be anything but me and don't have to disguise who or what I am! They gave me a label, and they hated me, but now I'm loved by many and trusted by them to! They care about me, and I'll protect those that are precious to me until my very last breath! That's the kind of man Sandayu was, and that's the kind I'm working my way up to!" the chakra device began flaring up, sending painful electric bolts zapping through Naruto's body as he gave a pained cry.
"Stop it, you dumbass! Just give up already before you get yourself killed!" Koyuki shouted, unable to help herself as she stood up right at the bars, tears falling onto the cold icy floor.
"My first name is Naruto… my given name is Uzumaki… I am a ninja of and chosen fifth Hokage of Konohagakure… and I REFUSE TO GIVE UP! I refuse to believe that I should have just taken the coward's way out and die alone in some back alley!" he gave another yell to drive himself further past his limits as the device sent wave after wave of nullifying power shocks through him, "And. I. AM. NO. COWARD!"
With those last powerful words spoke, the chain broke and Naruto hit the floor as the chakra device powered back down to its dormant state.
"Na-Naruto…" Koyuki called hesitantly.
Slowly, Naruto picked himself up, but could not get to his feet just yet. He settled in stead for raising his head so he could get a look at Koyuki's face.
"See now… that's what I like to see." he said as he still tried to get back to his feet. "The look on people's faces… the disbelief a person has after they've told me to give up and I never did, only to prove them wrong. it's a look I love to see… And because I persisted… Because I try to break past what people expect from me, good things will alwayshappen. I don't have to be smart to know that when you give up, your dreams and everything else… DISAPPEAR!"
His last word echoed down the hallway, as if the ghosts of the past were all agreeing with the young blond with whisker-like markings and bright blue eyes.
As he clumsily climbed to his feet and began examining his cell, remembering very well not to touch the bars as he shot Koyuki a foxy grin, he spoke again in her speechless silence. "And now I'm going to show you that your father and Sandayu weren't wrong in their believes."
With that, he sat down on the cold hard floor, crossing his legs. He put one elbow on his knee and rested his chin in that hand's palm. His head nodded downwards slightly with both eyes closed. As Koyuki watched him, she felt something start to bubble up within her. A feeling she had thought was long since dead. One she had brutally stomped the embers of life out of only for this blond brat to rekindle long dead flames.
The power to believe, a raging fire that she felt warmth from in what had been many years.
Naruto's eyes snapped open after a long pause of silence. Koyuki had to guess about five minutes had passed. He stood up, his legs wobbling as he did before he, either bravery or foolishly, grabbed the bars of the cell and heaved.
White lightning surged along the bars, and the pain was immeasurable this time. But he grimly held on, pulling hard, using all of the strength in his body. Dimly, she could sense crimson chakra filling his coils as it joined with the damped blue while both looked for a escape along their path. He grit his teeth hard. He just needed to hold out, to outlast this thing a little while longer.
"!" Biting back a roar that might've drawn the guards, settling for a low growl, the nullifier's glass face shivered against his torso. A thin crack developed. Evidently, the combined powers of him and the Kyuubi were too much for it. The injuries to his nerves and such from the electricity were healing almost as rapidly as they were occurring, and he felt his canines extend as he channeled more of the Kyuubi's power. His eyes must have shifted as well as he went as full-throttle as he could given his weakened condition. They were probably red as blood with slitted pupils. He could feel a feral hunger, a bloodlust fill his body, but unlike the previous times; he had complete control thanks to the dampening effects of the chakra device. Through clenched fangs, Naruto heaved, tearing the metal bars clear out of their frame and hurling them aside. His clothes were charred and smoky, and he staggered backwards, collapsing onto his knees while panting heavily for breath. He felt the crimson red chakra subside and vanish in his tired state.
The lightning had still hurt like hell, however, and he could barely feel anything. He lay there, on the floor of his ceil. He did not even respond when Koyuki cried out, attempting to see if he were alright or not. He was only dimly aware of the unfortunate stench of smoke wafting off his clothes. He gave a weak thumbs up to let her know he was at least okay for the moment before groaning and letting the appendage drop.
Princess Koyuki, looking nothing short of amazed, stepping back from her own bars as her eyes were once again wide with disbelief.
He really was nothing short of incredible.
Calling on such power, a maximum of which would have destroyed him if not for the powerful chakra nullifier suppressing him at every turn it could, had drained him much, but he'd be good to go shortly. Meanwhile, Naruto hoped his friends got their asses in gear with coming to their rescue to protect them.
Because Kurama had been right… Maybe he could rely on his friends to pick up some of his slack…
Sakura was moving down a level now, on the last level above the dungeons. She slipped down with no problem. The place was protected by only a few guards, easily dispatched by two well-placed strikes which sent them crumpling like wet paper. Apparently there was no sense in extra guards for watching prisoners safely barred up, especially one useless actress like Koyuki, when there was an invasion going on. Unfortunately, it meant that the keys to the cells were nowhere in place.
And there she was. Unlike Kakashi-sensei, Sasuke and Neji with no incredible Doujutsu or fancy eyesight.
She could only assume a guard had taken them and wasn't present. To look for them in the entire fortress would take time. Too much time. And she had not had the foresight to bring her lock picking kit with her from Konoha because she never expected things to be like this.
She made a mental note, to next time just pack the extra damn thing no matter how much Sasuke and Naruto were embarrassing her to her mother.
Dropping down the next level, Sakura fought that there was only one entrance and one exit from the dungeons. A single door which a guard was entering through. She heard commotion as she got closer, the sound of grunts and such. She opened the iron door and peeked inside to see one of the three guards inside fall to his knees.
Curtsey of Naruto's fist to his gut.
Her heart leapt with joy that her friend was safe and that there would be no need to find another Hokage so soon after his inauguration. Their first mission as a team since he became Hokage was like a start back to normality, and Sakura had taken to it like a breath of fresh air. Now, what with all that had happened so far, it was more like a destructive ride on rapid waters and a breath of toxic fumes.
The second guard dropped next as Naruto pushed him back onto a set of broken bars, which seemed to send a shock through the man's system. The shocks would have continued if the man had not rolled off the bars throughout all his screaming.
The third guard did not look to be playing around as he took out a kunai and charged Naruto's barely up form with the weapon. Sakura surged forward. She would not stand back. She would fight and watch Naruto's back.
Using some quick thinking, Sakura ran full-out and leapt into the air with both feet pressed together. Her feet collided with the back of the man's head and sent him flying over Naruto as he was just clamoring to his feet. She back-flipped to land in front her friend and village leader. His soft smile was all the reward she needed for saving his life out of the many times he had protected her.
"Are you okay, Naruto?" she asked, seeing as his clothes were wafting smoke and he twitched every so often.
"I'll be fine," he said, an unreadable tone to his words as he gestured to the unconscious ninja around them. "Check them for keys. We need to open Koyuki's ceil."
"Be care, the bars are wired to shock." Koyuki warned. Sakura nodded and began rifling through the ninja's pockets and equipment. One the third ninja, who she flinched back from in noticing that as he impacted the wall he had cracked his neck and was more than likely dead, she found a set of keys with kanji that read 'prison'.
"Here, these will work—" but Sakura could say no more as they heard someone coming in. When she turned back to gauge Naruto's reaction, all that was left was a dissipating smoke cloud which signaled his going into stealth. She too quickly hid amongst the shadows of the torn cell.
A grunt ran in, looking around as though he were utterly terrified to be there. However, while completely disregarding the unresponsive bodies of his fallen comrades, the man's spirits lifted when he saw Koyuki sniveling within the confides of her prison cell.
"Well at least that's one good thing Doto-sama won't beat me for," he sighed in relief while sliding down the icy wall with his back. He slumped to the ground and rested there with a tired look years beyond himself. "I should have been here for you guys… Forgive me, comrades…"
Hearing this gave Sakura pause to the kunai she had planned to throw and embed into the man's chest. Why did his few words have such an effect? He was an enemy ninja. He was to be struck down with no remorse! Why couldn't she take the kunai from her weapons pouch!
But she already knew why. He was no different from her. No different from anyone. He had comrades, teammates that were entrusted to his hands. Their lives could have been saved if her were there, the way she was there for Naruto now. But still…
"You're scum," Koyuki's icy tone of voice shook Sakura from her contemplation. Koyuki was clutching her knees to her well-developed chest, staring— no, glaring at the Snow ninja.
"What'd you say?" he asked, standing up in one second and looming over the cell the next.
"I said, You. Are. Scum." Koyuki spat out at the man. "You pretend to care about your friends there, but you haven't moved an inch to help them. In fact, your first thought was if Doto would beat you or not. Don't pretend if there isn't an audience to care."
"You don't know me, woman!" the grunt ninja yelled fiercely. His eyes were a normal brown, very common in the world. But they were hard, like that of steel. "You've no idea the pains and fears we've had to go through while you were off living it up as a movie star! Fuck you, because while you were off playing make-believe, we've had to do whatever had to be done to survive!"
"Does that include lying to yourself… like a man turned animal who thinks everything is just to survive the next day?" Koyuki posed to the man, who seemed to get even angrier.
"Yes, because if I can live another day, then that's one more I get the chance to honor the memory of my fallen brethren." and with that the man ended their conversation by walking away from the cell and went to collect his dead friends from the ground.
"Wait," Koyuki called out and the man looked back at her with disgust. "Come back."
"I don't have to talk to you, Princess Koyuki." he spat, turning again from her, "In fact, I was commanded not to by the demon known by its human name. The one you left us with. The one known as Doto."
"Then all the more reason for you to come here instead of going over there," she muttered, but in the silence she might as well have spoken aloud. The air of confusion was felt by more than just the grunt man as even Sakura couldn't see the immediate danger of picking up his fallen. She doubted Naruto would be striking the man down when the guy didn't seem to notice anything amiss. He had yet to even comprehend that the cell he was about to enter should not have its bars thrown in like they were.
"What the hell are you on about, woman?" the guy turned and walked over to the princess. Koyuki looked up at him with a clouded expression. Sakura watched in caution.
"You're right, I left. I ran and I've been running for a long time." as she spoke, Koyuki slowly stood from where she had been huddled in the fetal position at the center of the cell. "And I don't know if I'll ever stop running. Running from the memories. The responsibilities. The death. The despair. The past. The present. The future. Maybe I'll never stop… But is that so bad."
"What are you even saying? You're not making any sense, Princess." the guard was no longer apprehensive in his stance to her. He must have, at one time long ago, been a young boy who looked up to the royal family of the Land of Snow. It showed in his eyes, Sakura found. The harden brown orbs that melted to give way to those long trotted-down memories from even longer ago.
"Its not so bad to run. Its disgusting and disgraceful if you run backward. And I'll freely admit how that was what I did for a long time." now Koyuki was slowly but surely stepping forward. "I would cry each night in the beginning. The scenes of that day playing in my mind like the stuff of nightmares. And it was! For years, it was! But then I went through a range of emotions as the years wore on. And one of them… was anger."
Koyuki stood mere inches from the bars, and the guard was nervous. Then he gasped. Sakura's eyes widened as she realized that Koyuki had her thick and wide sleeves removed from her clothing with her arm between the bars of the cell to have her fist implanted in the man's windpipe. Not enough to crush it, but more than enough to send the man into a spasm attack as he writhed about on the ground and begged for air.
"When I was a young and foolish teenager, I wanted nothing more than to fight. I was tired of running. Tired of hiding. Tired of the life and the nightmares and sick of the fear. I wanted to fight back. I wanted to fight back HARD." Koyuki bent on knee to look at the man she had defeated, watching as he clawed at his throat and coughed violently.
"A boy. A stupid and foolish boy reminded me of those days. The days I worked myself into the ground between productions. The days I would have to use makeup to hide my bruises. The days I tore into directors and made them rewrite scenes so I could fight against stunt doubles and professional action men. Those days, those young and foolish days… They seemed so far off… But now… The embers have been stirred."
"I'm sorry…" the guard looked up, following Koyuki's movements as she once again rose from the ground and stared at the bars of her cell. She reared back her fist, and shot out with explosive force. It was terrifying, Sakura found. Like watching Lady Tsunade when she and Lord Jiraiya had fought against the puppeteer back in the village a couple of weeks ago. Brute strength blended masterfully with the grace and poise that only a fully matured woman could possess.
It was something she strove to possess.
Sakura ducked back into the corner shadows when the cell's front crashed to the ground atop the man. He was fired, quite possibly to death by the residual electricity from the freshly broken bars. Sakura felt sorry for him. She hardly knew him, and yet she felt something for him. Pity that he had seen his friends dead shortly before his own death came. Sorry that he had to die in the first place when she could have simply knocked him out or crippled him.
"That was uncalled for," Naruto's voice came, shaking Sakura's thoughts as her somber gaze lifted from the man under the bars to where Koyuki was flexing her bleeding and bruised fist. Each flex she winced and hissed, but made no move to stop the actions. Naruto made no move either as he stood looking down at the man under the bars.
"He doesn't need to survive past this. He and his friends shouldn't have to endure this world and the hell of its ways anymore." Koyuki said, finally able to flex her fist and clench it tightly without a sound of protest. "From now on, I'll be the one honoring their memories."
"Fine by me," Naruto shrugged, then glancing over to where Sakura was coming from to meet with them. "We ready?"
"Yeah," Sakura nodded, "Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke are the ones causing noise." and it was true. With everything that was happening in the dungeon, Sakura had simply allowed the explosions and quivers of the fortress to backpeddle into background noise.
"Lets end this today," Koyuki spoke with finality.
Naruto turned from them and gazed upon the door which separated the prison from the rest of the fortress. There, in the doorway, stood Kakashi and Sasuke leaning against the opening.
"Then lets go wild!" Naruto declared, and with that he began to move as the others followed.
All prepared to wage war on the Snow tyrant Doto… and anyone else that stood in their way.
The war started! Team Seven and Koyuki the Kick-Ass Princess VS. Doto and the Snow!
The Omake Menace:
Why No One Questions Hinata's Sanity — or — A Day in the Life of Hinata Hyuga:
A knock came to the door.
"Come in. Enter." Naruto— or rather his clone back home at Konoha— didn't bother to look up from the paper work. The door creaked open.
Hinata walked into Naruto's office, looking nervous as she shuffled inside.
"You su-summoned me, Na-Naruto-kun?" Hinata asked timidly as this was the first time she had ever been called to the Hokage's office by an ANBU suddenly appearing in front of her.
"Ah, yes! Hinata! Come on in!" he looked up and pushed aside his half-finished work.
"I bet you're wondering why I called you in here." he smiled at her while cupping his hands together atop the desk.
"Yes, I am won-wondering," Hinata took the seat Naruto gestured for her to rest in.
"Well Hinata, I've received some reports here." he pat down the stack opposite his paperwork. "So I'm going to do a bit of a counsel with you. Nothing to serious, just a few questions to see where you're heads at."
"Alright," she was growing comfortable now that she was sure she wasn't in trouble. "That sounds fine."
"Okay then," Naruto snapped his fingers, and the ANBU Black Ops hidden in the room seated themselves on the couch along the side wall in a flash.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we're sitting here today with Hyuga clan heiress, Hinata Hyuga."
"H-Hello," Hinata gave a small wave to the special operatives on the couch.
"Now I want you to be completely honest and open. Try to speak from the heart, okay."
"Are you s-sure?" she sounded nervous.
"Please," Naruto asked.
"Alright, I will."
"So Hinata, what's a day in the life of Hinata Hyuga like?
"Do you re-really want to kn-know?" still she sounded nervous.
"Please, tell us,"
"Well, for st-starters," Hinata's entire demeanor changed in that instance. Her timid gaze became sharp. Her posture shifted from flustered to calm and collected. And she leaned back into a gangster pose in her chair as Naruto's eyebrow rose. "I don't sleep, motherfucker, off that rice wine and red bean soup. Doing three-sixty while getting head coming straight from you."
Naruto's eyebrows shot into his hairline and his jaw dropped. What the hell was this!? When Neji and Kiba had reported to him that Hinata was not all she seemed, he hadn't expected this!
"Damn, Hyuga-sama sounds like a crazy bitch…" a female ANBU whispered to Ox. Hinata spun in chair at the comment, glaring at the operative who had spoken.
"Yo, you shut the fuck up! We all know you just want my Naru-kun's dick!" Hinata snapped, making even the ANBU gape with shock and astonishment. Gone was the sweet and timid Hinata, and hear was the provocative and proud Hyuga ball-buster.
"Hinata," Naruto drew her attention back to him, "focus on me."
"I bust in yo mouth like a gusher, motherfucker. Roll up on Oto, and smack the shit outta Orochimaru's mother!"
"What you want… Hinata?" Naruto was sure this was a completely different personality speaking with him. Something like Sakura's other-self, but just a little more volatile.
"To train naked at night!"
"What do you need, Hinata?" he asked, leaning closer.
"To fuck my Naruto-kun all night!" she then rose up from her chair and kicked it over. She stomped over and took a hold of the female ANBU Black Op by her long purple hair.
"Don't test me, bitch, about two things: cinnamon rolls and Naru-kun. 'Cause if ya do, I'll put a Gentle Fist down your throat 'til I'm fingering you, and my foot so far up your ass that I'll get shit in my boots." she dropped the woman onto the ground unceremoniously where her fellow ANBU quickly gathered her up and comforted her.
They were all a little frightened.
"Trust me it'll hurt. Leave you screaming, pay for my dry-cleaning."
"Hyuga-san, please calm—"
"Fuck you man, it's my name that he's screaming!" Hinata slapped the rather large Ox ANBU operative and sent him to the ground.
Naruto rose from his chair.
"Hinata, that's enough!" Naruto commanded. Hinata looked back at him like he was stopping her fun and boring her with his presence. "Do you think I'm just gonna let you bitch-slap the shit out of my ninja?"
Hinata seemed to think about it for a moment before she shrugged with an air of no concern.
"I never said I was a role model," Hinata then grinned devilishly, "nor a team player."
"Hinata come back to us." Naruto pleaded, "What about Neji? Your friends? Your team? What about Kurenai? What would they say if they saw you like this? If she saw you like this?
"My father, friends, Neji, and Kurenai can all suck my Naru-kun's dick! I'm Hinata Hyuga motherfucker! I drink 'til I'm sick!"
She advanced on Naruto before roughly grabbing him and forcing him into a kiss where she shoved her tongue down his throat. When she released him, he fell back into his chair. What the hell!?
"Slit your throat and pour nitrous down the hole," Hinata continued, making gestures for the words she was rapping, "I've watched my Naru-kun you laugh and cry; now the bitches that made him cry will die."
"Hokage-sama!" Neji and the other members of Team Eight crashed into the room. Seeing the crying ANBU and Naruto's red lips and stare of shock gave them all the information they needed to know what was going on.
"And all you fools," Hinata pointed at the people who had just rushed in, "Yeah, you know I'm talking to you."
"We love you Natalie! Please don't kill us!" Kiba begged as he hid behind Shino, who was standing strategically behind Kurenai and Neji.
"I wanna fuck you too!" Hinata responded.
H, it's for Hinata! H, is for my sweet honey! I'll kill Akamaru for fun, so don't push me!" at this Hinata gave a wicked laugh at her own crude humor.
"Wow Hinata," Naruto said as he finally recovered from his shock of her violating his mouth and civil liberties, "I'm surprised. All this coming from the sweet and innocent flower of the Hyuga clan?"
Again Hinata looked back at him as though her were annoying her. Then she appeared not to care anymore as she shrugged. "Well, there's a lot you may not know about me, Naru-kun." she winked at him, and Naruto felt like he might be getting raped at the end of all this. He paled, but would be brave.
"Re-Really? Such as?"
When I was in Academy, I smoked weed everyday. I cheated every test and beat the shit out of Mizuki. I got a bomb posse, you got a bunch of fruits." she looked around at the people cowering in his office as she said this. "I fucking quit being a punk-ass ninja! I'm tired of this shit!"
"Hinata, I'll admit that you're one bad-ass bitch right now." Naruto began slowly.
"Hell yeah she is!" Kiba squeaked as he clutched the back of Shino's jacket. Akamaru barked in agreement inside his own.
"And Yugao will always pay for your dry-cleaning when her… umm, sh-shit gets in your shoe."
"What?!" the female operative was no longer cowering. She would kill the Hyuga before she actually allowed the girl to go through with any of those threats. It would be a fight of epic portions the day the Hyuga princess thought she could actually put her foot up Yugao's ass!
"And as for your problems, well… you need help with that." Naruto said, looking at Hinata with a sliver of fear, "Because right now, my dick is scared of you."
Those last words seemed to have a profound effect on Hinata. Her entire deamnor changed back into the shy and awkward girl they all knew and loved. She flung herself into Naruto's arms where he, even though he was greatly surprised, caught and held her against his chest.
"Oh Naruto-kun! I never meant for you to be frightened of me! I thought you'd find my other more confident personality sexy!" she cried as Naruto stared over her shoulder at her team and Neji, who gestured for him to simply accept the craziness before the other Hinata returned from lack of response.
"You're just fine the way you are Hinata. You don't need to change anything for me," Naruto said, hugging her close as they enjoyed each other's embrace.
"She back yet?" Kiba came out of hiding when he peeked over Shino's shoulder and saw that Naruto was hugging Hinata. "Yahoo! We're safe for another day!"
"Yes, thank the Heavens that is so," Neji sighed in relief with Kurenai doing the same. Even Shino's shoulders seemed to sage with the feeling of safety once more in mind.
"Though I've just got one question, Hinata." Kiba started, moving past the others. Over Naruto's shoulder, Hinata's gaze sharpened acutely, "How come you always—?"
But Kiba didn't get to finish his question as crazy-Hinata was back, and quick as a flash she had released Naruto and picked up the chair that she had once sat in. She took it up and shattered it over Kiba when she bashed him with the hardened wood seat. Kiba went down like a ton of bricks with splinters of wood decorating his clothes and the office's floor.
"No more fucking questions," Hinata growled, and Naruto had enough. Now she was actually attacking people. He jabbed Hinata in the neck with two fingers, hitting a pressure point and making her collapse onto the floor where Neji and Kurenai were quick to recover her while Shino and Akamaru tended to Kiba.
"Get her to Inoichi Yamanaka, and he'll setup sessions for her. I was being honest when I said she needed help for her problems. She meet with him every two weeks for individuals sessions, and then twice a week in group sessions alongside Sakura, Sasuke, and Choji."
"Choji? The Akimichi boy under Asuma?" Kurenai inquired. Naruto gave a nod.
"He's got an eating problem, if you haven't noticed." Naruto said before turning back to his desk.
"Get her to Granny Tsunade for observation. Lets make sure Hinata's okay all over. Oh, and be sure to get Kiba over there to. He might have splinters in his muzzle. The poor mutt." Naruto ordered while seating himself behind his desk.
"Yes sir," and with that, they disappeared from Naruto's office in a blur of motion. The ANBU were still seated on the couch to the side. Naruto felt a vein in his forehead pulse.
"And you all get back to work, dammit!"
They scrambled for a moment, but all vanished into the shadows soon enough, leaving Naruto alone in his office.
Glancing around for a second, Naruto dug into the bottom left drawer to his where a steaming hot bowl of Miso ramen with extra pork fillet was waiting with a pair of chopsticks beside it.
"Ahh, I needed this more than I thought I would," Naruto said between slurping down noodles and broth.
Natalie's Rap by Lonely Island
Next OMAKE: Orochimaru the Wonderful!