AN: Back again! Here's the next chapter...although it's only a rough draft. I'm heading home for the weekend and really wanted to get this out before hand. If anything needs expanding/fixing, let me know! I intend to edit/rewrite this at least once more when I get back. \AN
Chapter 3: Mist
Sarutobi Asuma ambled back towards his team's campsite, the message they were sent to retrieve placed snuggly in his back pocket. Taking a long draw of his cigarette, Asuma exhaled the blue-tinted smoke into the cool night air, his mind wandering towards a particular red-eyed genjutsu mistress. Absently wiping a trickle of blood from his nose, the tall jonin entered his team's campsite.
Asuma's cigarette fell limply from his lips, his eyes widening in horror.
Asuma drew both of his trench knives, instantly surging wind chakra through them. Allowing every ounce of his killing intent loose, Asuma stretched his senses out, desperate for a read on his team's attacker. Clenching his fists, Asuma felt hot tears slide down his cheeks as he sensed no one in the surrounding area.
"They didn't deserve this…no one deserves this…"
In front of the Konoha jonin were all three of his genin. Shikamaru was hunched over on the ground—he could have been asleep if not for the red gash where his throat should have been and the pool of blood around him. Asuma's heart constricted as he glanced at the harmless Choji; the large boy had been ruthlessly gutted, kunai pinning his hands and feet to the ground. Ino, however, was the worst; the feisty blond was stripped naked, bodily fluids coating her corpse and the numerous kunai embedded in it.
Dropping to his knees, Asuma slammed his fists into the ground, his anguish finally overwhelming him.
"I DON'T KNOW WHO YOU ARE, BUT I WILL FIND YOU! I WILL MAKE YOU FEEL PAIN THAT YOU CAN'T EVEN IMAGINE!"
Asuma let out a strangled yell, hitting the ground in impotent fury.
"They didn't des—"
Asuma's whisper died as a muffled sound reached his ears. Forcing himself to calm down, the Konoha jonin again searched for any sign of life, albeit now within the clearing.
Sensing three familiar chakra signatures, Asuma stared in disbelief at the three corpses in front of him before his eyes finally widened in understanding. Asuma's hands immediately formed the ram handseal.
Asuma watched as the campsite in front of him wavered and then dissolved, revealing all three of his genin laid out neatly by the fire, Shikamaru conscious and struggling against his bonds.
"And then Naruto knocked them out."
Asuma frowned at the black-haired youth across from him. He had, of course, heard of the Uzumaki boy going nukenin, but to attack his team of genin by himself? The kid had guts and maybe a death wish to boot.
"He tied them up, then starting asking me questions."
Asuma's eyes narrowed at Shikamaru.
"What did you tell him?"
Shikamaru's shoulders slumped; the Nara genius propping his chin on his hands.
"Everything. Konoha's structure, ninja techniques, clan jutsu, various ninja and their techniques, I answered everything I could."
For the first time in his life, Asuma looked at the Nara genius with disappointment clear on his face.
"You know I have to report this? Why didn't you refuse or just lie to him?"
Shikamaru gave his sensei an irritated look before his eyes shifted guiltily to Ino's battered form.
"I tried. Some of the questions were plants, and when he caught me in a lie…"
Asuma swallowed hard. Taking the punishment yourself was one thing, but having someone else hurt because you wouldn't answer, he'd seen chunin and even some jonin break under that kind of torture.
"It's alright kid. There's nothing you could have done."
Shikamaru's eyes stared at the dirt in front of him, clearly refusing to believe that he was so entirely blameless.
"He left a message for you as well. He said that this was a warning and that, from now on, if anyone comes after him, he'll make reprisals—just like what you saw."
Asuma's teeth ground together. The brat had them right where he wanted them; if they took him out, it had to be a sure thing now. If he managed to escape…
"Do you think he was telling the truth?"
Shikamaru paused for a long time, contemplating his sensei's question.
"I'm not sure, but it's close enough that I wouldn't be comfortable calling him on it."
Asuma nodded, his own thoughts on the matter cemented. Active pursuit of the kid needed to end, and it needed to end immediately. With a long sigh, Asuma ran a hand through his hair and fished out a cigarette.
"Alright, kid. Go set up one of the tents and get some sleep. You deserve it."
Shikamaru didn't move from his position next to the campfire.
"Asuma, he took everything except our clothes."
Despite himself, Shikamaru smiled as his sensei began a long string of curses.
Nearby in the Land of Tea
Naruto couldn't help a smirk as he sprinted through the Land of Tea, putting as much distance between himself and team 10 as possible. His ambush had progressed perfectly; he was now completely restocked on gear, had some very reliable intel from the most intelligent ninja of his year, and—most importantly—had sent the old man a message. Unless he had completely misjudged the Sandaime, the threat would be reason enough to terminate pursuit and give him the time he needed to get stronger.
'Check, old man'
Sliding to a stop, Naruto examined the split river in front of him;one branch went west towards the Land of Waves, while the other meandered east towards the Land of Water—a land in the midst of a civil war. Frowning, Naruto immediately turned toward the western branch; war wasn't something he was anxious to experience.
Land of Waves
Warm blood flowed down Kakashi's arm, the sliver-haired ninja looking at the boy in front of him in disbelief. Haku gave a feeble cough as he stared at the arm piercing his chest.
"Zabuza-san, please run."
Zabuza looked at Haku, his hand tightening on the hilt of Kubikiri Bocho.
"Please, Zabuza-san. I won't last much longer."
Kakashi, seeing Zabuza gripping his sword, moved to pull his arm out of the fake hunter-nin's chest only for the boy to quickly grip his arm.
A single tear slid out of the corner of Zabuza's eye, the missing-nin quickly turning and vanishing into the mist despite his grievous injuries. Kakashi grunted as he watched the mist ninja disappear, the boy in front of him finally relaxing his grip on the copy ninja's arm.
"Tell Sakura…that I'm sorry…"
Kakashi let out a long sigh as he watched the light fade from the hunter nin's eyes. Making a few quick handseals, Kakashi unleashed a small futon ninjutsu and cleared away the mist covering the bridge, revealing Sasuke and Sai unconscious where they had attempted to bring down the fake hunter-nin and Sakura still standing alert in front of Tazuna.
"That's enough Sakura, the fight is…"
Kakashi let his head fall as the mist revealed a small army of bandits, thieves, and other rabble lead by Gato himself.
"This is so not my day."
Fire Country, just outside the Land of Waves.
Zabuza leaned against a tree, desperately trying to stymie the blood flowing from the deep cut across his chest. Kakashi had done far more damage than he had originally thought—it would be a miracle if he made it out of this one.
Deciding he was far enough from Wave for neither Kakashi, nor Gato to happen upon him, the mist ninja sank to the ground and fished through his supply pouch for bandages, immediately stopping at the sound of someone approaching his position.
With a soft curse, Zabuza moved into a crouch, the cut across his chest widening and spilling even more of his blood across the forest floor.
Naruto stopped as the smell of blood reached his nose, drawing a kunai and dropping to the forest floor. After several minutes, the blond found what appeared to be the source of the smell—a large puddle of blood, right at the base of a tree. Naruto's eyes widened as he dipped his fingers in the crimson fluid; it was still very warm, whatever had been bleeding was probabl-
Only months on the run saved the Konoha missing nin as he ducked, not bothering to question his instincts. Naruto's eyes widened in disbelief as a massive sword embedded itself in the tree he had been standing next to. Springing away, Naruto turned to face his attacker—a large, brown-haired man with blood drenching his entire chest.
Zabuza glared at the boy in front of him, clearly a trained ninja; in his current state, he was toast, even fighting a kid like this. Zabuza's eyes shifted to the boy's headband and for the first time, he dared to hope he would make it out of this mess alive.
"I need your help, kid."
Zabuza moved to step forward, with his arms up in a show of good faith towards his fellow missing nin, but only managed to fall face first onto the forest floor, unconscious before he hit the ground.
Zabuza awoke several hours later, wrapped in a bedroll. Groaning, the jonin managed to snake an arm into the cloth bag and run a hand over his chest, now covered in bandages with patches of blood showing through. To his left, the brown-haired boy he had tried to kill watched him impassively.
"I'm not going to make it, am I kid?"
Naruto looked at the man in front of him for several seconds, finally giving his head a slow shake.
"You lost too much blood. The only reason you're conscious right now is because I gave you every blood-replenishing pill I have and several soldier pills, but they'll start to wear of soon. I tried to move you, but you just started to bleed faster. Unless a medic-nin willing to help you shows up in the next few minutes…"
Zabuza sighed, allowing his head to turn back towards the night sky.
"How long have you been running, kid?"
Naruto's eyes widened as the brown-haired ninja in front of him simply ignored the fact that he was entering his last few conscious minutes in this world.
"Almost four months now."
Zabuza simply watched the stars for several moments.
"The first few months are always the hardest…"
Naruto nodded in understanding, his voice cracking slightly as he broached the inevitable; indeed, the entire reason he had wasted so many pills bringing the mist nin back to the conscious world.
"Is there anything you want done with…"
Naruto made a vague gesture towards the giant cleaver next to Zabuza and the rest of his gear.
Zabuza didn't even bother to look; he had been thinking about the same thing.
"Take it, kid. I know it looks big and unwieldy, but it's truly an amazing blade—one of the swords of the seven swordsman of the Mist, actually."
Zabuza, for the first time in years, allowed a quiet chuckle to escape him at the boy's look of awe.
"I wouldn't carry it out in the open yet though. Mist nin tend not to be happy when their swords go missing."
Naruto nodded as the man in front of him began coughing, blood obvious on his lips.
"Looks like this is it…"
Zabuza leaned his head back, ready to meet Haku again.
Naruto leaned forward, meeting the mist nin's eyes.
Land of Water
Naruto leapt off the water and landed just inside the borders of the Land of Water, immediately crouching and scanning his surroundings. Not seeing anyone, the blond quickly removed his leaf headband and substituted Zabuza's mist. Drawing out a smaller scroll, Naruto unsealed his prepared clothing, quickly slipping into black pants, a tight black, sleeveless shirt, and a pair of white arm warmers—Ino's if he remembered correctly. Pulling his new, black facemask up to his nose and wrapping tape around his ankles and wrists, Naruto mentally rehearsed his plan. Clipping his kunai and supply pouches into place, Naruto stood to his full height, looking-as intended-much like the mist nin he'd encountered in Wave.
Storing his leaf hitaite and old clothes, Naruto slid the storage scroll back into his supply pouch before beginning his cautious trek into the war-torn Land of Water.
Naruto's landed with a soft tap, the acrid smell of smoke filling his nose. Crouched on the branch of a large oak tree, Naruto could clearly see the burned and gutted buildings, a few even still smoking. Leaping forward, Naruto landed on a beaten path leading into the village, immediately scanning the area around him. Sensing no one, Naruto began to slowly navigate his way among the decimated houses, doing his best to ignore the rotting corpses as he made his way onto the only cobbled street in the town.
Stepping over a piece of blackened wood, Naruto fought against the urge to empty his stomach. From the looks of it, this village had been massacred only hours before...and absolutely no one had been spared. Naruto closed his eyes for a moment before standing straight and stretching his muscles. The entire town was clearly empty; no one sane would stay amongst this horror any longer than absolutely necessary. Naruto took off at a run down the street, framed on either side by the ominous, charred remains of houses and shops. The only option was to move on.
Naruto scanned the roof tops and various building as he ran, immediately noticing the small drop of pink in the road amongst the backdrop of grays, browns, and blacks. Naruto's run slowed to a jog, and then to a walk as he closed in on the object. His fist tightening, Naruto finally came to a complete stop as his teeth ground together in impotent rage. In the middle of the road lay a little girl, no older than three. In her arms lay a small, brown teddy bear; its fur matted and singed. The leaf nin had been on the run for months, escaped ANBU, and lived a shadow of an existence. He had been tortured by his own villagers and betrayed by the man he called 'grandfather'. He could accept these. He was a shinobi and a jinchuriki. Despite everything, there was a reason-no matter how twisted-for his suffering. Staring at the kunai that pinned the girl to her bear, Naruto felt warm tears sliding down his cheeks. There was no reason for this. The girl was too young to have defended herself, too young to have understood, too young to have even remembered the massacre of her village.
Only the barest glint of sunlight off metal saved Naruto, shaking him from his thoughts enough that the kunai meant for his chest instead buried itself in his arm. Grunting as pain coursed through his arm, Naruto brought his own kunai up in an awkward guard just as his attacker swung down with a tanto. The effort was just enough to deflect the blade, pulling its wielder off balance. Acting on months of drills and fights with his shadow clones, Naruto crouched, placed his off hand behind his kunai, and then drove the weapon through his attackers neck and into their brain. Allowing the body to drop, Naruto fell to his knees as pain continued to course through his arm. Gritting his teeth, Naruto gripped the kunai in his arm and removed it with a single pull, immediately beginning to bandage the wound. Several painful seconds later, the dressing was complete, and Naruto turned back to his attacker.
The boy couldn't have been any older than him, his pristine mist headband shining proudly on his head while his lifeless emerald eyes bore into Naruto's cerulean. Naruto hunched over as what little he had eaten over the past two days splattered onto the cobblestone street. His first kill. A young boy with a shining hitaite and haunting eyes. Staggering to his feet, Naruto sprinted towards the forest; the boy's jonin sensei wouldn't be far away.
Naruto groaned as it started to rain…again. He had been in water country for a little over six days now and it had rained almost the entire time. With a sigh, Naruto slipped underneath one of the larger trees in the surrounding forest.
Glancing around him warily, Naruto checked the wound on his arm and reevaluated his chances of reaching the rebel camp. According to the few villagers he had encountered, the Mizukage had been forcing the rebels steadily backwards and the war was approaching its climax. Naruto sighed; Zabuza's assessment of the situation was starting to look overly optimistic.
Naruto's deliberations halted as an explosion rocked the forest behind him. Drawing a kunai in each hand, the Konoha missing nin crouched against the tree he had taken shelter under, waiting and hoping.
Naruto let out a soft curse as another explosion went off, this one significantly closer to him. Whoever it was was coming right towards him. Making his decision, Naruto launched out of his hiding place, running perpendicular from the explosions in a bid to simply evade the confrontation. Only seconds later, Naruto almost fell out of the trees as the forest suddenly thinned, revealing a clearing nearly a hundred yards across and full of shinobi. Naruto did his best to disappear into the nearest shadow as the shinobi force looked expectantly to his left; eyes widening, Naruto heard the explosions again closing in on his position—albeit there now stood a small army between him and the pyrotechnic displays.
Naruto examined the force in front of him, silently thanking kami that he hadn't approached from the same direction as whoever was setting off those explosions—he would have been dead before he even…
Naruto's eyes widened in understanding as he frantically searched the shinobi for some sign—
"For the Mizukage! We end this war now!"
The yell was soft, just loud enough for the assembled force and Naruto to hear. Naruto's fists clenched as the Mizukage's forces spread throughout the clearing preparing to ambush whoever was being driven straight for them.
Naruto sank back against the tree behind him. It was all over; coming to Water had been a huge mistake. Naruto felt the strength leave his body as Zabuza's last, vehement words washed over him, accompanied by a small dot of pink against a backdrop of gray, brown, and black.
'The Mizukage is a monster in a boy's body; he kills men, women, and children without the barest thought—even those who have never opposed him. He's turned the Mist into hell itself. The rebellion is the best thing that's happened to that country in almost a century;…I…should have gone back…to help…'
Naruto gritted his teeth, fury coursing through his body. Naruto's eyes narrowed as another explosion washed over the clearing, close enough that the rebels could be no more than a minute away from the ambush.
"Zabuza…you were right...he is a monster..."
Pushing himself back to his feet, Naruto crossed his hands into his favorite handseal.
"Yagura, I will end you..."
The image of a little girl holding her teddy bear flashed through Naruto's mind.
"Kage bunshin no jutsu!" (Shadow Clone Technique)
Naruto unsealed all of the kunai and exploding tags he had looted from team 10, quickly dispersing them to his clones; moments later, Naruto caught sight of movement in the forest just before the clearing and gave a single signal to his clones. Naruto felt a feral grin slide across his face as he launched himself into the clearing along with a hundred of his shadow clones, performing a quick henge to look like just another mist nin.
Landing several meters into the Mizukage's forces, Naruto's clones ignited the explosive tags attached below their clothing and engaged the forces around them as the original raced for the front of the clearing and, presumably, the rebel force.
Naruto grunted as one of his clones exploded nearby, splattering blood across his face. Forcing himself to keep his feet, Naruto continued to run full tilt towards the tree line where a brown-haired woman had just appeared. Naruto almost tripped when two Mist nin in flak jackets appeared right next to him, joining him in his sprint towards the rebel force.
"Follow us. Remember, we only need to take down Terumi Mei."
Naruto nodded silently at the shinobi, doing his best not to glare as the man met his eyes. The other ninja gave Naruto a friendly smile.
"Don't worry, we'll do most of the fighting; you just give us some ranged support."
Naruto gave a quick nod as the two men pulled slightly ahead of him.
Mei landed on the edge of the clearing just as the first explosions rocked the Mizukage's forces, sending them into disarray. Quickly stepping back into the shadows of the tree line, Mei examined what little remained of her ANBU, signaling an exhausted Ao forward. Gritting his teeth, the Mist nin quickly activated his stolen byakugan and scanned the clearing.
"They're the Mizukage's forces. Probably an ambush. The only possibility is to push left and avoid it; whoever is fighting doesn't have any reserve forces nearby, they'll be overwhelmed in moments."
Ao deactivated his byakugan as he sent a significant glance back towards the handful of shinobi that now remained with them.
"We can't last much longer."
Mei nodded her head, very aware of exactly how wrong their mission had gone and how many shinobi had lost their lives because of it.
"Move left; don't engage unless you have to."
The shinobi behind Mei immediately set of at a run; Ao's only visible eye widened when the brunette didn't move.
"Mei, we need to—"
"Go, Ao. I'm going to buy you some time; I'm counting on you to get them back."
Ao grit his teeth as several shinobi in the clearing finally noticed them and began running towards their position.
"Mei, without you the rebellion…"
Ao's words died as Mei silenced him with a glare.
Ao gave a single, stiff nod as he disappeared into the woods; behind him, Mei drew a kunai and sent it screaming towards a shinobi who had caught sight of Ao, ending his life instantly. Drawing two more kunai, Mei smiled as three shinobi closed in on her.
"Looks like it's time to…"
Mei's words died as one of the shinobi fell slightly behind his comrades and promptly buried a kunai at the base of each of their skulls. Landing in front of the brown-haired woman on the edge of the forest, Naruto allowed his henge to drop.
"Zabuz-! No, who are you?"
"A friend of Zabuza's. We need to move though, my clones won't keep them busy much longer."
Mei simply nodded at the boy in front of her, her eyes wide in shock.
"Everyone in there is either an enemy or a clone?"
Naruto nodded as Mei began a series of handseals.
"One last attack it is."
Mei inhaled, channeled chakra to her lungs, and activated one of her kekkei genkai.
"Futton: Komu no Jutsu!" (Boil Release: Skilled Mist Jutsu)
Naruto watched as the tall brunette exhaled a thick mist into the clearing, quickly turning to follow her as she vanished into the forests.
For those curious, Mei's jutsu is the acidic mist she used against Sasuke at the five-Kage summit.