I do not own, or receive any financial benefit, from the Naruto properties.

A Teacher's Glory: A Union of Rejects: Chapter 12

By Larry Huss

Nara Shikamaru sprawled, sore and bloody, on the spongy soil of a clearing in the Forest of Death for the fifth time that hour. It was long past being fun… in fact, it hadn't even started at that level, but when something is really a matter of life and death even the laziest can be motivated. He watched as the illusory sand Sakura had convinced his mind existed once again began to flow toward him at a trotting pace, and rolled back up to his feet. It was back to dodging and evading, as he slapped another prepared fake explosive tag to his torso. 'They're only doing it because they care,' Shikamaru thought, as he prepared to embarrass himself once again. 'Someday they'll call being a complete klutz 'doing a Nara'; I just hope I'll be there to laugh along with them.'

"So, the Toads won't have anything to do with him; say he was just plain rude to Gamachuken and they deserve an apology. I can see both sides of the story; it puts me at a disadvantage in wearing a mask of righteous indignation and just tossing him off a cliff or something. Still, it got me thinking, and I finally got it through my head he wasn't a mushroom."

The Hokage frowned. "Mushroom? Why not a carrot or something? Must you always be so vulgar?"

"As I said," Jiraiya continued, "I can see both sides of the situation, and that's the exact slant he has on how he's been treated. The problem is that it's actually pretty much accurate. Not many genin realize it, and no matter how he tries to avoid thinking about things he can't help but have his reactions take that into account.

"So we traded info. He told me things he thought wouldn't hurt his teammates, and I answered his questions straight."

Still frowning, the Hokage interrupted "Isn't not giving tit-for-tat information a big part of your spying technique? How can we run a Hidden Village with that degree of candor with the troops? Genin don't need to know anything about policy, or techniques beyond their abilities."

"So I confirmed who his parents were, and-"

"What! That is a State Secret! If it gets out there could be hell to pay from Iwa, plus who knows how many other complications."

Jiraiya just shook his head. "Sensei, it's all old news, and if he survives another year or two it's going to be pretty hard for at least some of the facts not to get out. Maybe you could order him to wear a mask all the time, but his resemblance to Minato is just too obvious, now that he's getting older. The genin Uzumaki doesn't need to know who his father was; the boy Naruto does. I told him to keep it quiet, and he will. I gave him a goal not to tell anyone about Minato until his fifteenth birthday… and I think that he'll do that.

"Do you know what the little bugger has been doing, Sensei? He invented a proto-Rasengan! At thirteen, without any hint from anyone! The damn thing doesn't have the destructive power, being so unfocused, but it actually has a few uses that the Rasengan doesn't; it's a lot less intensely destructive, anyway. I showed him the real one, and he's going to start practicing it, after the Exams are over. He's almost back to his normal condition now, and since he's not all that sure of the internal security situation, what with all the strangers we're going to have showing up for the final Test in the Arena, he doesn't want to wear himself out trying to learn new, high-chakra using techniques until he's satisfied we haven't been infiltrated. "

Sarutobi felt as sense of betrayal at that. Didn't the child he had been kind to since he was an infant trust him to keep Konoha safe during the three days of overcrowded madness that the final Exams would entail? Was a mere genin thinking of himself as a hidden resource to be kept prepared for an emergency? How dare… oh, right. With a probably insane Jinchuriki coming to compete, it was perhaps not actually that bad an idea to have a hidden one up the sleeve. While it was good the boy was only thinking of his Village in not pushing himself forward, he should not be making such decisions for himself. But now was the time to let his former student know that the Old Man was not completely out of touch with even his lowliest of soldiers.

"Chakra Flood. Mitarashi said in her report that was what he was calling it. I should have paid more attention to it, I expect. I didn't have the information on that one sent to you, Jiraiya, as the technique was being put directly onto the Scroll of Forbidden Techniques. An obvious oversight, now that I think about it more.

"It was in regard to one of the Yamanaka mind searching jutsu. Yes, a prisoner had most of his chakra system forcefully drained and shocked for some time thereafter, allowing normally difficult to use invasive techniques to be used on him far more easily. As you say, evidently not too destructive, but not without uses, either.

"He and the Uchiha were doing something or other for their cute little teammate, also. But it hasn't been proven in combat, so there isn't much to say about it yet. And there was something silly about cats… "

From there the discussion wandered off in other directions. Instead of the expected old man being pessimistic and younger one being aggressive, it was Sarutobi who was not seeing any unaccounted for dangers on the horizon, and Jiraiya who felt that a massive programming of defensive reworking and fortification was needed in the immediate future. Then again, it was Sarutobi who would have to cough up the extra overtime pay for the vacation-time work, and extended shifts. Finding the proper balance point in such things was never easy.

Old Man Ma wondered who the odd ninja with the strange haircut was. Ma had been wandering for quite some time, now that he had floated away from his descendents (at their request; he was something of an embarrassment to their new-found respectability), and he had been picking up spare change for his journeys by doing some martial arts tutoring at various training halls he came across in out of the way places. There wasn't any reason for the name 'Ma Joong' to cause anyone distress, this far away, and after all these years. He doubted they'd even heard about the Judge, here in the beyond-the-beyond. Still, old instincts were coming alive. Having a trained killer (even if he probably wasn't connected to the local underworld) paying attention to you was rarely a good thing.

For the last several hours the tall man in green had been up on a rooftop of one of the old abandoned buildings that surrounded the dusty courtyard Ma had been using as a place for his lessons with the interested young clerks and students of this little town. Their ninja overlords didn't forbid it, and since the disappearance of their constabulary a decade or so ago, only the most unofficial and voluntary of local neighborhood watchmen had been keeping the petty bullies and thieves under control. Accordingly, many merchants and craftsmen had no trouble letting their younger employees off for an hour or two in the afternoon to learn a bit better how to discourage the rowdier element. And there were always the young braves who wanted to show off some flashy moves to impress a special young lady. He'd been one himself, back before the seas were wet, and he sympathized with their motivations.

Mighty Guy, Jonin of the Leaf, watched the big old man patiently move from student to student in the dusty courtyard down below, and have them shift their feet this way, or put their weight just so. His oddly-accented voice echoed upwards, stressing the need for proper breath, and not using their soon-to-be-acquired skills in improper conduct. All well and good, and martial arts were, of course, a fine way of keeping the body healthy. But finding civilians doing something beyond mere money making wasn't what had brought Guy here. There was the rumor, slightly confirmed, of a drunken brawl down at one of the rougher saloons near where the carters and drovers gathered and caroused. A fracas in which an ancient foreigner had quelled a score of strong, drunken, and armed men with hardly any violence. Nothing but a few broken arms. As a connoisseur of hand-to-hand combat, Guy had the self-imposed obligation to check things and prevent the humble folks of Konoha from being taken in by fast-talking foreigners.

Soon, Lee, following his Sensei's instructions, would show up in civilian clothes and without his head protector to challenge the old man. He would make the stranger prove his claims to be a valid instructor of the divine art. Guy was justifiably proud of how two of his students had reached the Chunin Exams final stage, but Lee, despite his many virtues, had failed miserably. He would have to learn a painful lesson, that deceit and falsehood were everywhere, even among the venerably aged, and especially among the cutest girls. It was one of the sorriest, but most necessary lessons for a boy burning with the fires of youth to learn. As for recruiting a cute girl for Lee's next lesson (after he learned that venerable grey hairs do not a sweet grandparent make)… perhaps the Yamanaka would be suitable?

At last, his most ardent student entered, looked at the many shop clerks and apprentices trying awkwardly to center themselves and find their natural balance, and shook his head, then said in sad disbelief.

"Don't you guys know you're just going to hurt yourself, if you let yourself get into a fight, instead of running away? I mean… do you really think an hour or two a week pretending to train will let you master one of the fine arts? If you go past the Ninja Academy you'll see seven years olds who could knock you over without thinking of it.

"And I mean, really! How can you move in such a position? You're stuck in one place like a clothesline pole, just a steady target if someone throws something at you! Is that the best your sensei can do for you?"

'Yes,' Guy thought to himself, 'Lee really does have to learn a bit more subtlety, even to be a provocateur. He cares so much, he tries so hard, how could you break the news to him about flies and honey?'

The old man came over to the young (hidden) ninja, his gait a little bit of a slide, and a little bit of a swagger. He spoke with a foreign accent, and a little of the odd formality that those who have risen in life to a higher status sometimes used.

"Young man, I am Old Man Ma, and these, my students, are here for a serious purpose. If you don't want to join them, that's fine. But have the good manners to be quiet and conceal your bad upbringing and low intelligence. You'll get in less trouble in life that way."

'Now, Lee,' thought the Jonin on the rooftop. 'Now you should give your name in proper form.'

"And who's going to make me!" yelled the disguised genin.

"Perhaps your nurse, when she comes to change your diapers?" asked the old foreigner, turning his back and walking away. Lee didn't take the insult… well.

He tried to run around the man and get in his way, only to be clothes lined on a massive forearm as he tried to pass the ambling ancient.

For a second or so Lee lay on the ground, trying to breath, and holding his throat. Then, with a yell, he charged at the broad back (matched in front by a broad belly) of Old Man Ma with intent to commit mayhem. Only to somehow find himself in front of the man, but now face down in the dust. Up above Guy nodded his head; he had never seen that move done quite that way before, but there are more ways than one to cook fish. The old man didn't even spare a second as he walked over Lee's body, driving his face back into the dirt.

"Now, students, now that this rude young person is having a soil snack, I'd like you to get back into your first positions. Letting the farting of sparrows distract you will slow up your progress toward skill.

"By the way, the child is one of your local ninja; his master is watching us as I speak, and in general I would be embarrassed if you slack off and forget what I have taught you. You don't want me to be embarrassed, do you?"

Hurriedly, the score of young people resumed their various stances; two teen girls began to flex their wrists in a circular motion, and several young men began to shoot out short, rapid punches, with an exclamation barked out with each one. The others began doing anything from standing still and concentrating on breathing from the diaphragm to bending over backwards at the waist until their skulls rapped against their buttocks, or at least as close to that result as they could get. The old man stood facing them, not focusing on anyone in particular, and giving short criticism to first one, and then another, without seeming to pay special attention to any. Up above Guy felt a bit ashamed, as he hurriedly wrote a little note, folded it up, and then sent it twirling down like a shuriken at the back of the old man's head. Guy wasn't surprised in the least when a hand flashed back over a beefy shoulder and caught it at the last instant.

Well, at least the youth of Konoha weren't being defrauded by a charlatan. Guy still didn't see exactly where Ma was going with his training methods, but he was willing to admit now that they were, in fact, probably being done for a very specific purpose. After his own fiasco at being subtle the least he could do was to introduce himself, and ask for the opportunity to let the stranger test him.

Temari of the Sands was doing her shopping today. She was going to see the Chunin Examinations Finals after all, and before it degenerated into senseless violence and meaningless carnage she wanted to show off a little that she was a young woman, and not just a blond killing machine. At home, looking like a fresh-faced civilian girl would be unthinkable; the daughter of the Kazekage could never do something like that! But in a far-off land (before it became a far-off desolation) she could pretend, for two or three days, that she was a young woman with the time and inclination to flirt and be frivolous. It would even be an acceptable form of cover, in the security sense. After all, she wasn't going as a contestant, just as a sightseer for her two brothers' displays. Gaara in killing people, and Kankuro, who had been invited as a between-fight entertainment and exhibition of the talents of Suna. It had really been nice of Konoha to let them do that sort of advertising and helping them drum up some business. It was certainly more than their own Daimyo was willing to do.

Temari hoped that she wouldn't have to personally kill any of the nicer people she had met during the earlier part of the Exams; Yamanaka Ino or that friendly Akimichi Choji. They were sweet kids, not at all like the slimy little Uchiha or his weird pink-haired teammate. It just goes to show, she thought, there's good and bad all over. It was a shame that this time she was going to have to be one of the bad.

Hmm… so if she was going in a civilian capacity she wouldn't be wearing her genin outfit; it would be much more appropriate if she wore a less… militant style of clothing. A skirt with embroidery, some shoes with at least a little heel and something on top that let it be known that her top was developing nicely. On the day of the treachery she would have to go to the arena without her large battlefan (it would be too likely to arouse suspicion if such an obviously specialized weapon was being brought into the place by a non-contestant), so something with stylish pockets to hold her smaller fans, and a few kunai would be just right. So basically something in sky-blue with tawny gold and scarlet embroidery around the hem, waist, and pockets? Maybe a necklace to set off her eyes, like that one with the beads of yellow-brown tourmaline? If only she could have had a friend to do this shopping trip with her, it would have been perfect.

Though his informational sources were now far more restricted than he was used to, Orochimaru did know that the Container had survived. What every previous report had indicated, that the creature was stupid and lacked self-discipline, meant that by now it would be unable to resist the urge (built-in) to utilize the Cursed Seal of Heaven. Its already weak sense of self, and undoubted latent hostility to the callous and stupid population of Konoha, should make it ripe to take commands when the invasion took place next week.

Even without the Seal it had been unlikely the Container would have been killed in the attack; that much danger would have certainly caused the Fox to seize control of the weak-witted child. Now it would not only be wreaking random havoc on the day, but the command elements of the seal would make it the most useful puppet at his command since Orochimaru had signed his contract with Manda of the Snake Summons. A gentle smile crossed the Sennin's face.

Without the advanced version of the Uchiha eyes, Orochimaru knew that he couldn't command any of the Tailed Beasts by traditional means. Except this way he could use his own techniques for getting the Beast containers under his control. His technique; not some freakish gift that spoiled and inbred aristocrats hoarded with their incestuous matings. Perhaps he should try to spread his control around a bit. He knew, none better, where the One-Tail was. There was little doubt about the locations of Eight and Two Tails, and they were prone to dangerous stunts that would make them vulnerable. Wouldn't that be a nice surprise for Tobi, and his lackey, Pain? A few of the other locations were on the tip of his tongue; a complete set was probably too difficult to achieve without going the route of his old companions. But there was little reason not to get an augmented squad to serve as an assault force when he had to deal with Akatsuki. Sooner or later they would be coming to demand compensation for any number of petty things they thought he was guilty of; why not give them a bit of entertainment?

And in the end, having the most powerful source of chakra known to exist as his tool was really too good to pass up. He wondered why he hadn't thought of taking over the Container earlier; probably too much work, and not enough vacation time. It tended to make him excessively narrow minded when he didn't get in his recreation and relaxation. After he leveled his old home, he decided. Then he'd give himself a little well earned rest. All work and no play…

"It's starting to get on my nerves." Naruto said, not looking directly at the source of his discomfort.

"You've got a young, blond, admirer; don't most guys go for that sort of thing?" Sakura asked.

"Same species would be nice. It's cute with Sasuke and Yoko, but when you get right down to it, she's pretty cute by herself anyway."

The genin in question was about to protest that his interests were strictly training, revenge, and maybe girls, someday, when the feline in question leaped up into his arms. As he rubbed her exposed belly he contemplated how he'd get back at his sniggering teammates. Still, there was the basic question to be answered. Why was there a small monkey showing up for the last few days when they practiced?

"Maybe it's been driven out of its troop, or something, and it wants to join up… or something? Got lonely, maybe?" Sasuke finally came out with.

It was such a small monkey, they would have felt absolutely evil to have thrown rocks at it to drive it away. It was also a quiet monkey, and wasn't disturbing them any, except for being there in the first place. It wasn't raiding some garden, flinging its… waste at anyone, or menacing a small child. It was just observing them with great interest and regularity, and had been for several days. As far as they could tell it wasn't anyone disguised, and it wasn't a pure illusion; it was exactly what it seemed.

Monkeys weren't unusual around Konoha. Having a warm climate and lots of trees, the forests broken by occasional patches of farms and gardens, a fair number of the three local species of the things were often seen outside the walls. There was even a small resident population of one type inside, also. This one wasn't any species that Sakura knew, and she had been to the library to check it out in the reference books on wildlife there with no success.

As their Sensei came over, the final straw was added to the burden of their discontent. A different, longer-nosed primate appeared at the wood line, walked over to their observer, gave it a piece of fruit, and took its place as the first went off. Enough was enough. If they could capture Tora the Cruel in record time, they could damn sure take down this simian spy and subject it to interrogation!

As a training exercise it was to be a no-Clone capture; three to one odds against a master of a particular environment, with Sensei observing and sure to give a scathing critique afterwards. Harm a hair on its head, and the exercise would be counted a failure. The three genin (with Yoko streaking off to join in the fun) were off, to the immense astonishment of the furry observer. That got them their first twenty meters; after that they had to fight for every half step horizontally, and every vertical pace closer to the dodging monkey.

It was acrobatic enough that Yoko finally had to just curl up on a tree limb, exhausted and out-dodged. She decided to blame it on her 'delicate condition.' Soon the pursuit had gone beyond her field of vision, and she slunk back to the training ground it had all started at to wait for the eventual triumphant return of her Sasuke. And the others, of course.

It was finally caught and immobile, held by the neck in Naruto's hand. After twenty minutes, and three kilometers horizontal (and four vertical in ascents and descents) pursuit,it was a trophy to be treasured, and so was carefully tied so that it couldn't bite or scratch. They escorted it proudly back to the training area. For her criticism, a puffing Anko finally had to resort to telling them they had been doing so much combat training lately that they had been neglecting their agility exercises. Pretty puny stuff, really.

The discussion turned to who now had a pet monkey. It was certainly a handsome beast of its kind (whatever kind that was), and hadn't engaged in any of the less savory behaviors it might have used in expressing its displeasure at incarceration, showing good manners. At that point a minor roadblock in their plans arouse.

"I don't think I'd like that," the monkey said. "And I don't think that the rest of the family would, either. I mean, a visit would be nice, I suppose, but I guess I'm just an outdoorsy type of guy."

All, human and feline alike, eyes turned to Sakura. She shook her head defiantly: "I'm alright. I can take this. The second time is always easier, they say."

Naruto carefully untied the creature; it had played fair with them, after all, and to keep it tied up seemed unfriendly. It gave a little nod, stretched itself, and took a small bow.

"I'm called Apricot Blooming, and I'll be seeing more of you folks. We're doing a bit of recruiting. And please, Miss Mitarashi, a little discretion in your official reports, perhaps?"

With that it slowly faded away, until only its smile was left, and then that was gone also. It had once read about that sort of stuff in a book, and had always wanted to give it a try. If it had still been there it would have been pleased with the reaction it had left behind. But that would have meant… paradoxes.

Shimura Danzo looked at the simple unfolded piece of paper in his hands. So, Hiruzen had finally tumbled to the coming disruption of the coming Chunin Exam. It had certainly taken him long enough; the temptation to send him an anonymous warning had been building for weeks now. Being assigned to command the Main Gate guards was far less than the limit of Danzo's talents, but as he kept how much he could still do a secret, such a posting was reasonable enough. And, since he had gotten a good idea of what the attack plan would be, it would be a safe enough place to be as things resolved themselves.

Would it be better if Hiruzen survived the attack, or if he died? Survived, Danzo decided; if the Hokage died in a battle taking place within the walls, in public view, the entire defense might collapse. That would be too much; the Village itself would be in real danger. Yes, survived; he'd have to make sure to have some of his best Root operatives in the stadium ready to pitch in if Orochimaru turned out to be better than expected. Or if Hiruzen had gone too far in his decline.

That was unlikely, though. In fact, lately he had become harder to influence, even with 'special techniques.' Perhaps he was building up some sort of immunity to them. If so, that was something to think about. It wouldn't do to try to use them promiscuously and base a long term strategy around them. One short and sweet grab for the will of some foreign potentate at the opportune time, and then seal things with a basic delayed poison to take care of possible second thoughts when the technique wore off, was one thing. Keeping a elite ninja under control, quite another.

Danzo sighed. In the years since Hiruzen first started to show those flashes of infirmity of will, back during the Hyuga crisis, the 'special jutsu' had only been used on him a handful of times. Once to get the Uchiha mess settled in a permanent manner, then to get Utatane Koharu's little quid pro quo taken care of. There had been that time when Jiraiya's request for permission to investigate the Land of Rice Fields had to be denied, and of course there had been the task of making sure that the Chunin Exams were to be held in Konoha this time. The odd occasion he had had to influence outsiders (the Kage of Suna, and others) hardly counted.

If only Hiruzen hadn't blown the Hyuga decision so badly. They had the Kumo Head Jonin dead to rights (and also very dead in general), and in his idiotic quest for peace Hiruzen had accepted their ridiculous demands for Hyuga Hiashi's head. If Hizashi hadn't volunteered in his stead, who knows what the effect on the balance of power in Konoha would have been, whether or not the Hyuga would have gone the way of the Uchiha or not. To go through the pain and blood of winning a war, and then act as if Konoha was the loser… that had been intolerable. That day had been when Danzo had finally decided that manipulation of the Hokage (if he could do it discretely) was not treason.

Everything that had followed from Hizuren's awful decision had been both predictable and bad. Instead of Konoha's size and strength making them unquestionably the first ranked Hidden Village, the one that none dared anger or cross, they had become just one among others. And just one among others meant that the others considered Konoha potentially vulnerable to a shrewd enough and sudden enough stroke. As the new alliance of treacherous Suna and upstart Sound proved.

To be safe one must be both strong beyond question, and feared beyond doubt. To be hated was unfortunate, but better even that than to be despised. And now all the Hidden Villages were wondering… was Konoha as strong as it looked, or was it weak and just hiding its decrepitude. The worst thing was… they were right. The weakness was at the top, not among the soldiers that worked, and had to pay the price for folly among the leadership.

After this current affair was over, then a definite plan would have to be put in place. The current administration had gone on too long, and had gotten too complacent

Jiraiya looked at the map on the table. It was marked with the size of the garrison that would be on each section of wall, and the units that would be hidden in the forest where there was the greatest likelihood that they would be able to take Sand in the rear. Oto… was Orochimaru's, and that meant an ambush of them was unlikely to escape his discovery. He knew the country around here far too well to be surprised.

So, Konoha would have its listening posts and walls occupied. The seals that strengthened the gates and walls were fully re-charged, and they would be hard to climb by normal means, or burrow under. There were even a few mine fields of explosive tags with remote fusing in place. Yes, the invaders would meet an alert and prepared town, ready to surprise them. That being said… Jiraiya stared at the map, wondering what the invaders would be doing for their surprises.

She was having dinner at the Yamanakas. Kankuro was back at the inn feverishly working on his puppets. Every joint was being oiled, every pin and screw secured to the ultimate safe point of strain.

All the candidates who would be fighting tomorrow in the first day of combat (except for Gaara, who just didn't care, or have to) were no doubt trying to scout out the Grand Arena of Konohagakure for any advantages that might be found in that foreknowledge. All the secret infiltrators from Suna and Oto were no doubt being torn between tasting the fleshpots of a less regimented town than their own, and doing the spying and planning for the big event that would be taking place tomorrow. She got to have a family dinner with the Yamanakas.

Mrs. Yamanaka, 'Mai,' was a decent cook. Not gourmet-type splendid, but the plates of hearty food that she carried in from her kitchen had a pleasant little kick. Temari wondered how good a cook her mother would have been; did Kages' wives cook, even for their own families? She couldn't even really remember her mother's face (only from old photographs), much less what she had acted like. She wanted to tell Ino not to bother with the salads she was concentrating on to keep her (already slender) figure, and just go and enjoy herself while she could.

Mr. Yamanaka was, well… hot. Even when he helped out at the family flower shop he was a powerful presence, not dominating only because his good manners made his customers so at ease. He teased his daughter so well, and often, that she was in a constant state of saying "oh, daddy" that only the gentleness of his pokes kept it from being awkward. Temari couldn't decide whether she would have preferred him as a father, or a lover. Not that there was any chance of either happening. So soon, so soon, all this would pass away. She didn't understand how she could feel so content tonight, with her conflicting feelings. Maybe the fact that she was having locally made grape wine with the entrée, with a promise that later there would be some plum wine imported from the famous orchards of the Moadoroki Shrine on Nagi Island. Perhaps that had a bit to do with it. In dusty Suna only the most important banquets for visitors had anything but thin and sour vintages poured. In rich Konoha, honored guests of even regular ninjas could get at least an occasional taste of the best.

Before the dessert course the family took a little breather for an hour or so in the reception room, sprawled on soft chairs or a couch. If Temari happened to doze off a little she was sure she wasn't the only one. When they finally went back to the eating area she found a cooled fruit and cream concoction was waiting, with the promised plum wine to accent it. Bliss rolled out from her tongue to spread throughout her entire body. She was still floating from that when she left to go back to her inn. Perhaps she had overindulged though; she felt a bit… off.

When the blonde kunoichi from Suna passed out on the couch, Yamanaka Inoichi gave an imperious jerk of his head to his wife, signaling her to leave the room. When Ino made to leave also he shook her head; it was time for another lesson on the real business of the Yamanaka: running the Internal Intelligence Branch of Konoha Security.

"Notice, genin, the exact feel of her chakra, both as to her personal indications, and as to the level. The drugs in her wine goblet and in the portions of food she received have rendered her unconscious, and temporarily lowered her chakra levels so that the mind-reading technique I'll demonstrate will be able to extract the data sought for without damaging her mind, as would be the case if it had to be ripped out when she is at full force.

"Yes, Ino, ripped out is just as painful as it sounds. Also, she'd remember what had happened, and that would lead to further complications. So, now, you do it like this!"

With that Inoichi preformed a sequence of seven seals. Ino knew that her father was also doing things in his own mind to prepare it for the reception of the thoughts and memories he was hunting for. While the actual hand signs for the jutsu had been stolen (by the Uchiha among others) in the past, it was the internal mental preparations and training that had made the Yamanaka the premier practitioners of non-damaging direct mental interrogation. She was a bit dubious about doing this to a guest; Temari had been so friendly back in the tower in the forest, and she'd been a perfect guest (with great fashion sense) at dinner so far. But business was business, and Daddy had promised her that Temari's mind wouldn't be damaged at all if they had the various dosages right.

"Now, genin, you look. The primary things Jiraiya-sama mentioned were possible large scale intelligence infiltrations and some targeted prisoner escapes. But don't be afraid to follow your intuitions if you feel something important is just out of sight."

Ino set her breathing patterns, and then initiated the techniques to enter the kunoichi's mind. She spent a long time there, being less adept than her father, and finally he had to shake her to get her to withdraw her mind from the other girl. A quickly evaporating vaporous antidote to the sedatives the Suna kunoichi had been fed was placed in some of the pots of rich-smelling blooms scattered around the parlor (and what could be more natural for an owner of a florist shop than to for him to have some of his more robust specimens decorating his own residence?), and soon Temari was awake and alert again. She did some decent damage on Yamanaka Mai's specialty dessert, and left for her inn, not suspecting in the least that she had just devoured enough toxin to give her a debilitating (but not dangerous) illness all the next day.

After Temari left, the Yamanaka ninja (father and daughter) made their way through the doors connecting to the back yards of the buildings adjacent to their residence. From there it was just selecting a safe place to enter the streets for their swift trip to the Internal Intelligence Branch office.

It was sometimes hard to figure out how to talk to someone who was simultaneously your commanding officer (due to a special assignment, Class C), a superior ninja, and your usually indulgent father. Ino decided that respectful formality was the way to go; they were in his office as head of Internal Intelligence Branch, and the door was open, with people coming in for briefings and to carry written orders to various teams and individuals. The fact that a Sennin was sitting in the room, sprawled out in a chair, also argued for a bit of restraint.

"Sir, do you think we can get prepared in time? Having an insane demon rampaging… how will we stop it?"

"Ino-chan, Ino-chan, this was only confirmation. We've had an inkling of this for some weeks, and it is positively impertinent to ask how we'll stop this in the presence of Jiraiya-sama. After all, Gaara isn't the Nine-Tail, and we have a number of alternate and secret sources of strength at our command.

"Now you get some rest. We can't let it be known we've confirmed the timing of the attack, and so we'll have to let the Exams go on. But that doesn't mean that we won't have augmented our patrolling for their infiltrated agents. Those genin who aren't in the Exams will be in organized teams doing patrol work, and to make sure when things get hot the civilians are properly evacuated. You're going to be with Aburame Shino, Hyuga Hinata, and Rock Lee. Aburame will be leader. Other teams will also be around. Your initial station will be near a Stadium exit, to help with a possible evacuation. You will receive other orders, as needed. If you see anyone wearing one of these," he held up a yellow armband with the Konoha symbol on it in blue, and the words 'Auxiliary Militia,' "you are to consider them friends unless obvious attacks are made by them."

"Got it, Dad…Sir. Just curious, could we maybe have Uzumaki too. With all his faults, he would add a little muscle to a pretty young team."

"Uzumaki Naruto is on special assignment."

Sasuke was sitting on his bed when he heard the knock on his door. His small jump told him that he must be a lot more nervous than he had thought, he decided.

"Come in, Tamaki. I'm decent."

Considering the number of times they had been in the baths and seen each other naked, that qualifier was probably a bit unneeded. The girl came into the room with a tray in hand, and a very nervous expression on her face. Sasuke prepared for the worst.

"Uchiha-sama, as the Clan Head and only current member you have certain… unique responsibilities. These are made more urgent due to the increased risks you will be engaged in dealing with in the next several days.

"Accordingly it is imperative that you… reproduce… so the Clan does not go extinct. Fortunately I am particularly able to help you in that important duty."

Sasuke felt himself suddenly get very, very warm and short of breath.

Tamaki lowered the tray to his eye level, so he could see what was on it. Twelve clean test tubes and a matching set of stoppers.

"I have the proper preservation equipment in my room. Now, Master Sasuke, I want you to fill these up before you go to sleep tonight. For the good of the Clan!

"I'll be waiting outside your door to take them away when you're done. Please remember to close them properly when they're full."

The girl gave a sigh of relief, that hadn't been easy for her to get out; giving such orders to the Clan Head. But it was her duty, just as he now had his.

"Twelve… what do you think I am?" Sasuke protested.

Tamaki set her shoulders, she had been afraid (and perhaps something else, also) about this.

"I will do everything I can do to help you, Master Sasuke!"

The tall man picked up one of the yellow armbands, twirled it around his finger, and flipped it to his apprentice. The other picked it out of the air with no trouble, and looked at it with an odd sense of wonder. It was strange for him to receive so much welcome and trust, here in the Land of Fire.

"Won't you find it awkward to go into battle without Kubikiribocho in your hands, Zabuza-sama?"

The big man shrugged, it wasn't as if he was going to argue about that, but it still it seemed it was time for another little ninja lesson, actually two.

"Right now I'm 'Roshi,' remember that. Never break cover, even in private, unless you absolutely have to. And yes, I feel… well actually I'd prefer to fight naked than how we'll have to do things, but the payoff is going to be too good to screw things up. So, 'Shiro,' keep your mouth shut if you can't keep your tongue under control. And keep this little arm decoration handy, and out of sight until you need it. Count your blessings; at least you can cut loose with your best stuff when things go hot. I've had to give up my favorite Kiri-type techniques as well as my little paring knife for this gig.

"Look at the bright side, anyone who's throat you cut will deserve it by anyone's standards, you puritanical little prig!"

Shiro… at least for the next few days… smiled. He had been shown his rally point earlier that day, his duty station. Guarding one of the emergency shelters, something he could really get into. Of course… Roshi… would be doing Stadium duty. Shiro wondered if he'd pulled a little string or two to get that plum. Of course, that Mitarashi woman that had been so impressive back in Wave would be watching her genin team fighting there. Shun smiled again.

Apricot Blooming prostrated himself before his leader, his master, his god. If he kept his face down in the ground he wouldn't have to see the look of sorrow on Enma's face. But some things were not meant to be.

"Blooming! When did you get so respectful? Stand up and give me your report. Is he suitable? Is he worthy? Will he do?"

Reluctantly the small monkey with the large nose got to his feet. At least the king was putting on his official visage; stern, wise, and terrible. Nothing in it of the rumors he'd heard, of the currents only one who had been in the Heavens could feel. No hint that an old and dear friend was soon to be gone from the mortal realms.

"Yes." There was nothing else really to say. "He rules the wildness inside him. He is as merciful as he dares be. He will do what he must, despite the pain. He will do.

"Will the other side… cooperate?"

The great head nodded. "We have talked; if the Toads didn't come through it was decided to extend our contacts with the Fire-Forest-Realm. And the Toads don't like his smell."

Apricot Blooming smiled, "You're going to them with a whopping big bribe didn't have anything to do with that, did it?" Then he reached up and caught the heavy bunch of grapes his king threw at him.

"Hey, it doesn't do to let things just happen to you, randomly, does it?" grinned the Great Sage Equal to Heaven.

The small monkey bowed, and backed up three paces before turning and walking out of the audience chamber, pulling grapes off the bunch and chewing thoughtfully. Things might work out, after all.

Author's Note:

A mushroom farm keeps the young ones in a deep, dark, place and feeds them on manure.

A ninja genin is kept in deep, dark ignorance of many things, and is usually informed with legends and lies.

"Great Sage Equal to Heaven "is but one of Enma's titles and names. After the first few millennia you tend to acquire more than a few. Others may seek to steal them, to further their own fame, but mere power does not a Sage make, and just staying alive for a few millennia is an indication that power isn't lacking either.