Title: Dreaming of Sunshine
Summary: Life as a ninja. It starts with confusion and terror and doesn't get any better from there. OC Self-insert.
AN: Also many, many thanks to erimies who has very patiently listened to me ramble about DOS for the last couple of months, and been inundated with half-formed ideas. She's just started her own fic 'The Clan of Samsara' with a whole sweep of reincarnates. I really recommend it. XD
One may go a long way after one is tired. ~French Proverb
There were a few conference rooms in the tower big enough to accommodate a group of twelve. Not the kind with a table and chairs, but there was floor space and a pile of seiza cushions to kneel on.
It felt weirdly formal, but this was a mission briefing, so maybe the weirdness was that I was used to them being informal?
The atmosphere in the room was more boisterous than tense, however. There was a bit of wild speculating going around – I wasn't the only one who thought that getting these four teams together was a sign of something big – but no one had any more information, or was willing to share if they did.
"Ah, damn," Kiba moaned at me. "That's the last time I come to you for information."
I rolled my eyes at him. "I only found out this morning, same as you did," I complained back. "How am I supposed to know more?"
"I don't know, but you always do," he said. "Come on, Shino, back me up." He nudged his teammate with a shoulder.
Shino shifted his glasses in a move that seemed to convey mild exasperation. "It is illogical to assume that Shikako would be privy to more information than we are in possession of. Why? Because the rapid assemblage of multiple teams indicates an emergency response."
I smirked at Kiba. "I think that means he's on my side. And it's good to see you again, Shino. It's been a while."
"Yes, it is pleasing to be involved this time," Shino said. And wow, that was a little passive aggressive, wasn't it.
"Hey, you know you were the first one we asked for last time," I said, because being left out of the group sucked. I knew that. "And I, for one, would have really liked you to be there. There was a particular giant spider I would have left all for you."
"Hey," Kiba butted in. "I thought we'd agreed not to mention that." In his jacket, Akamaru made a sad growling noise at me.
"Sorry, Kiba. I'm bad at secrets." We shared a smirk, because the back and forth banter was just so easy.
"Then I will endeavour to be around in future," Shino said, looking pleased. "In order to protect you from spiders."
It startled an actual laugh out of me. Shino's sense of humour tended to take people by surprise. "Now there's a promise I can accept," I said with amusement. "Careful, Shino. You keep sweet talking like that and you'll have a fan club the size of Sasuke's."
Shikamaru slouched in nearly half an hour later, a sheath of papers held loosely in one hand. "Everyone's here?" he asked rhetorically, running a hand through his hair. "Great."
"Oh, don't sound so enthusiastic!" Ino said irritably. "You better not have been keeping us waiting just so you could dither around-"
Chouji wrapped an arm around her shoulder to stop her from getting up and possibly assaulting our team leader. I would have wondered if Ino was on edge because this was her first mission since her injury, except that was actually fairly normal Shikamaru and Ino interaction.
Beside me, Naruto muffled a snicker.
Shikamaru sighed, and rolled his shoulders back until he looked at least vaguely at attention. "Alright, everyone pay attention. This mission comes direct from the Hokage. It's A-rank, classified, and extremely sensitive."
Several people straightened at the information. Naruto perked up. Even now, the promise of a high ranked mission was like candy to him.
"It have anything to do with those explosions last night?" Kiba asked, guessing what we had all suspected was the reason for this meeting. "Village security went up another level this morning, too."
"Yeah." Shikamaru gave a brief nod in his direction. "Just let me explain. The explosions last night were part of an Anbu operation to bring in a fugitive who had infiltrated the village. He evaded them for a while, but was eventually cornered and refused to surrender, setting off a bunch of explosive notes. He was pronounced dead at the scene."
There was a shift of confusion amidst the teams.
"I do not understand," Lee said. "If the target is dead, then what is our mission?"
"I'm getting to it," Shikamaru said, eyes dropping to his papers for a second. "As far as I know, the Anbu had him under surveillance for about two weeks and the reason that they attempted to bring him in last night was that, last night, he finally made a move. He broke into the construction company headquarters and made off with a bunch of important blueprints."
I wasn't the only one that seemed to be thinking that.
"I don't get it," Naruto said, looking around at the rest of us. "What's so important about a bunch of blueprints?" He frowned, turning slightly towards me and Sasuke, but it was Neji who answered him.
"If Konoha's enemies got their hands on those blueprints, it could be disastrous," Neji said, and he didn't sound at all put out about having to explain something that should have been obvious. "Once they have a detailed analysis of the structures within the village, it would be a simple matter to find the most efficient way to break in or cause harm."
Realisation stole across Naruto's face. "Oh, yeah. That would be bad," he agreed.
"The Anbu searched the blast site," Shikamaru continued. "But they concluded he was unlikely to have been in possession of the plans at the time. Which is where we come in."
"Can we be certain that the blueprints are still within Konoha?" Shino asked quietly. "Because the most logical conclusion is to assume that the reason the infiltrator was not in possession of the plans is because they have already been delivered."
"No," Shikamaru said seriously. "We can't. We can only hope that the plans aren't already in the hands of our enemies."
That was sobering. The last thing Konoha needed right now was a gigantic hole in our defences. If Hidden Cloud were serious about attacking us, then that would be an opportunity that they simply wouldn't be able to pass up. We would have an invasion on our door step in weeks.
I'd never known anything about another invasion, but after Gelel, I was reluctant to assume that meant anything at all. I didn't – desperately did not – want to be wrong.
"Additionally," Shikamaru continued. "This guy has a reputation for setting some pretty nasty traps, so we're likely to run into some during this mission. Keep your eyes open."
"Understood," Ino nodded firmly. "Just tell us where to start looking."
"We'll start by heading to the construction HQ," Shikamaru said. "They've put together a list of plans that are missing, so we know what to look for." He handed out the pages that he was carrying. "This is the dossier for the guy. He came into the village a few months ago, in the guise of a carpenter."
"No!" Naruto protested loudly, shooting to his feet. The dossier page was clutched crumpled in his hand. "This has to be wrong."
I shared a glance with Sasuke, then grabbed one of the pages myself. At first glance, I couldn't see anything wrong. The photo was nigglingly familiar for a few moments, before I managed to place it.
"The old man from the ramen stand," I said with resignation. "You know him, Naruto?" Of course he did. That was another layer of complication to a mission that didn't look simple to start with.
Naruto nodded vigorously. "Old man Genno doesn't have a mean bone in his body!" He said. "There's no way he's some kind of imposter ninja."
There were other people trading glances too. They did not seem overly supportive.
"Maybe that's what he wanted you to think," Kiba said with a snort. "Sure looks like it."
Naruto glared. "No. I knew him, okay?"
"Maybe you didn't," Sasuke said quietly. "Sometimes you don't." He wasn't looking at either Naruto or the information page, and the comment wasn't even that loud.
I sucked in a breath, the words I was going to say getting caught in my throat. I could see so much meaning behind those words.
Sasuke, are you-
"I did," Naruto insisted, steamrolling right over the protests with sheer bullheadedness. "And I'm saying that he wouldn't do something like this. There's a mistake."
Shikamaru sighed. "Come on, Naruto. He might have seemed harmless, but it was an act. He wanted us to let our guards down. And it worked."
Naruto clenched his jaw, ready to burst into another round of protests. I could see the divisions in the room forming, of people siding against him. Hinata was nervously twisting her fingers, glancing between Naruto and her team. I could see she wanted to believe him, but wasn't convinced of the logic of it. Lee, maybe, could be swayed by Naruto's sheer conviction, but Neji looked surprisingly thoughtful too.
"Either way," I said, hastily, because we didn't want to start this mission a team divided. "We have to investigate this. If you're right, then we should find some information to exonerate him and prove that he wasn't involved, right?"
We didn't need to be all on the same page about why we were looking, as long as we kept looking. Maybe it was even better to have a doubter involved, so we didn't interpret information in the light that we wanted to. That was a problem when you had your conclusion long before you found supporting evidence – you tended to try and shove puzzle pieces together to make them fit the picture you wanted.
"Or find he did," Kiba muttered.
I hoped someone stood on his foot. I was too far away to do it myself.
Naruto held my gaze for a long second. I tried to look as calm and as serious and thoughtful as I could – it felt like sinking into mission mode, like gearing up for a fight.
"You're right," he agreed, almost grudgingly, before throwing himself into it. "Let's go and find out what really happened!"
Personally… I wasn't sure where I stood on the matter. On one hand, I didn't want Naruto to be wrong. On the other… well. It looked pretty likely.
I trusted Naruto but he wasn't exactly known for being observant.
"I can't tell you how ashamed I am that we did not guard those blueprints properly," the foreman of the construction company repeated for probably the third time. "I can never face Tsunade-sama again."
The construction foreman seemed very like a normally stable man reduced to a state of flustered shock. Given what had happened and how badly it was likely to reflect on him and his company, it was understandable. Also, it was highly likely that we weren't the first ninja to knocking on his door today – and I suspected that the others had been Anbu. That would make anyone flustered.
But, it wasn't actually our job to pass judgement on any of that. We were just here to find the missing blueprints.
"I need you to tell us everything that you know about Genno," Shikamaru said. "Where he came from, what he was doing here, everything."
"Well," the foreman said. "He came to the village about three months ago, with a letter of recommendation from a master carpenter in the Land of Wind. I'm sure you're aware that there's a bit of a construction boom in Konoha at the moment; every local carpenter has all the work he can handle. We desperately needed more skilled hands, so we took him on. He was an adequate carpenter. Nothing special. I didn't see any reason to offer him a permanent position, but like I said, we needed all the hands we could get. He took his job seriously, showed up on time, always did as he was told. After he was here for some time, I discovered that the letter he'd given me was a fake. I don't know if it'll do any good, but here it is."
Not exactly good news, but not unexpected either. We already knew he was an infiltrator.
"How'd you know it was a fake?" Naruto asked, puzzled, as Shikamaru looked over the offered letter.
"I was going over my records, and I found another record from the same carpenter. When I compared the two, I found that the handwriting didn't match." He shuffled through his papers, and frowned. "That's odd. I can't find it. To be honest," he admitted. "We didn't really care that the letter was a fake as long as he kept his nose out of trouble and did his work. Now I realise that that was a mistake. I never considered that the old man could be a shinobi."
And that, right there, was the number one problem with any security system. The weakest point was always, always the people involved. They'd let something slide, because it didn't seem important and then bam. Trouble.
"Do you have a list of the missing blueprints?" Shikamaru asked, moving away from that line of questioning. "Which of these sites did Genno work on?"
"None of them," the foreman said. "The structures on that list involve the safety of the village. An outside contractor would never be allowed to work on something so important, even if we are so shorthanded."
That at least was security conscious. Didn't make up for what had happened, but hopefully reduced the risk quite a bit.
Shikamaru sighed. "We still need to check these over and make sure he didn't slip inside to set traps anywhere or sabotage the construction. Neji, Hinata; we'll need your Byakugan for that. Take …" his eyes scanned over the group, selecting and discarding options, "Lee and Tenten with you."
Both Hyuuga gave curt, professional nods, and took half the list each.
"Yosh," Lee said, bouncing to his feet. "Hinata and I shall finish our half before you and Tenten, or I shall do five hundred chin ups!" He pointed a finger at Neji.
Neji ignored him. "Do not over exert yourself, Hinata-sama. Don't rush or … allow yourself to be rushed." The statement could have seemed harsh, especially given what I knew about their relationship, but it seemed more like well intentioned advice than censure.
"I will be thorough," she said quietly but with certainty.
Neji left the hall, Tenten shadowing him on his right.
Hinata stood gracefully and bowed slightly to the rest of us. "Lee," she said softly. "We should hurry if we want to finish before Neji-niisan."
Lee might have actually swept her off her feet in his rush to get going, but all I saw was a blur of green, so I couldn't actually say.
"Also, there's a chance that Genno was able to hide the plans before the Anbu cornered him," Shikamaru said, glancing towards Kiba and Shino.
Kiba smirked. "And you want us to think like thieves and figure out where, right? No problem, leave it to us. I'll have all his hiding places sniffed out before it's time for lunch."
"Alright. And Sasuke. I need you to liaise with the village patrols to see if you can work out what happened last night. No doubt the Anbu have already covered that angle, but it can't hurt." He cracked his neck. "Ino, you need to talk to the Hospital and see if they've learnt anything from the body."
Both of those were good choices – Sasuke had been working with the patrols recently, so he'd know who to talk to, and either Ino or I would be mostly likely to understand what the hell the medics were talking about.
"Shikako, I want you to go over the records here. Maybe see if you can find that other letter. Or whatever."
I nodded, wondered if Shikamaru was giving me the easiest, safest assignment and was abruptly angry with myself for even thinking that. He'd given everyone tasks they were suited to, and I couldn't argue that this wasn't well within my abilities. Who else was going to do it, Naruto?
Whatever was going on between us, whatever we were arguing about – this was a line I didn't want to cross. I wasn't going to bring this kind of ill feeling into a mission. I wasn't going to doubt legitimate orders just because I wasn't happy with the person giving them.
And it was Shikamaru. I still trusted him. I still thought he would have the best plan for dealing with all of this. How could I not?
"Naruto, Chouji and I will go and investigate his lodgings and talk to his co-workers. See if we can learn anything."
Everyone moved out.
I turned to the foreman, feeling calm and settled. I was on a mission. I knew what I had to do. "Do you have a record of Genno's work history? A list of the sites he was working on?"
"That's not a face that tells me you have good news."
I held up a hand, forcing Shikamaru to wait while I finished making notes. My hand was starting to cramp, and the entire page was filled with a list of tiny writing. "That's because," I said. "I really don't have good news."
He sighed. "We're updating the Hokage in five. Neji and Hinata are done, and Kiba and Shino admit that they're stumped."
I nodded, standing and stretching. "Find anything?"
He shook his head. "'suppose it's something," he said, hands in his pockets. "We didn't actually want the Hyuuga to find things."
It meant that Genno hadn't left any traps behind. Or, more pessimistically, he hadn't left them anywhere we could find.
Tsunade was waiting for us when we got to the tower, and we filed into her office. It was a little crowded, but we spread out in an arc around her desk.
"We conducted a background sweep on this guy, his place of residence and recent known locales," Shikamaru began without preamble. "The fact is he was remarkably unremarkable. He was an average carpenter; did his work, never stood out and never made any big mistakes. He didn't have any friends but didn't have any enemies either. He was the kind of person that if he disappeared one day, no one would miss him. He could just … fade away. His undercover technique was so good it ought to be in the shinobi textbooks."
I winced. That was not a promising opening.
"The only person who seemed to think he was something special was Naruto." Shikamaru jerked a thumb in his direction. "His apartment was empty, he wasn't involved in any clubs or groups, and the only places he ever seemed to go was out to eat. His entire stay here is a carefully constructed dead end."
"We also agree with that statement," Shino said. "Why? Because even Kiba and I were not able to find any trail more recent than twenty four hours old. Unless he maintained a frequently visited hideout inside Konoha, we are unlikely to be able to retrace his last steps."
"Yeah," Kiba agreed, frowning. "I can find you every place he visited in the past week, but sometime yesterday the trail just stops cold. I don't know what kind of scent blocking technique he used, but it's good. I couldn't even find the scent of things he was wearing and carrying. Usually people pick up the scent of things they interact with and you can track those for a bit, but I got nothing."
Tsunade nodded, but looked a little grim. Fair enough, those were the two best ways to go about finding an imposter and both had turned up nothing.
"In contrast," Neji said. "I can report that the structures that Hinata-sama and I examined were not trapped or tampered with in any way." Beside him, Tenten sighed in apparent relief, though she clearly already knew that.
"I've got a general timeline of events from the on duty guards and patrol units," Sasuke said. "Between the initial alert, and the explosion detonating, there's a gap of two and a half hours, which is when we presume Genno hid or exchanged the plans."
I made eye contact with Ino, asking if she wanted to go first or I should. She looked reluctant, and tilted her head slightly to the side.
I took a deep breath. "Bad news," I said, apologetically. "Those blueprints aren't the only items missing."
There were several hissed breaths.
"The letter that the foreman mentioned is gone, as well as a variety of other plans and documents. Nothing as crucial as the blueprints, of course, but some of its still sensitive information. There's a whole sweep – accounts, supply order forms, employee records, a copy of Konoha's building codes… it's all very random. I suspect that it's mostly a smokescreen to hide a few specific documents, but what they are, I can't tell."
I held out the pad with all my notes on it.
"I cross referenced with all the jobs that Genno was known to have worked on, or people he was known to have worked with. There are a few hits, including the Academy upgrades and for lack of a better option, I'd suggest starting there."
Tsunade took the pad and skimmed it closely. There were a lot of documents. Mostly it just seemed like Genno had grabbed handfuls of things at random, which was why I assumed it was a cover for whatever it was he didn't want us to know he was after.
"I have worse news," Ino said, holding out a hospital report. "The body that the Anbu brought in… isn't Genno."
And I thought that I had dropped a bomb. No wonder Ino looked reluctant.
"It was badly burnt," she said. "But initial autopsy is consistent with a man of between ages twenty five to thirty, not sixty to seventy, who lived a life of low physical exertion. So not a labourer or shinobi, in other words. Also, he was most likely to have been dead in excess of twenty four hours before he was brought in. So he would have died before the explosion anyway."
"So he's still alive?!" Naruto exclaimed, sounding less distressed than probably everyone else in the room was feeling.
"The Anbu didn't notice that?" Kiba asked. "Seems like a hard thing to sneak past them."
"They would have been a fair distance away to avoid the explosion," Tenten said. "So there was probably a short period of time where Genno was able to make a switch. But that means…"
"It was a trap," I finished. Of course it was. If this guy was good enough to lose the Anbu in the middle of a chase, then he could easily have drawn them to a predetermined location rigged with the things he needed.
"It did seem strange that a guy that good would be caught by the Anbu in the first place," Shikamaru acknowledged. "So that means our mission is even more time sensitive. He could be retrieving those plans right now."
So even if they weren't in the hands of the enemy, they could be very, very shortly.
"The perimeter guards are still on high alert," Tsunade said. "But I'll raise it another level. No one gets in or out without inspection. If those plans are still inside the village, they won't be able to get out."
It was a big if, and we knew it. But if we couldn't track him inside Konoha, how the hell were we going to track him outside it? He could have gone anywhere.
"Alright," Shikamaru decided. "Team Eight, Team Ten, you're with me. We'll go and check out the explosion site, see if there are any clues as to how he pulled this off. The rest of you will start on Shikako's list."
We filed out of Tsunade's office. I noticed that Shikamaru hadn't specified who was in charge of our team, which technically meant Naruto was – being the only Chunin in the group. But Naruto was slightly… emotionally compromised.
I met Sasuke's eyes. This could be awkward. Just our team, and we'd work together the same way we usually did. But the addition of Team Gai made things different.
"The Academy is probably the priority," I said softly, working to present the information in such a way that everyone would agree on a tactic. "Not only is it a site that Genno actually worked on, the repair list and specifications that are missing are only slightly less sensitive than a full blueprint. And… it's the Academy." I gave a helpless shrug. According to the foreman's security protocols, Genno really shouldn't have been working on it. He had only been included in minor repairs of training halls, and only because they were busy and he had never caused any trouble.
It was the Academy. All those kids…
"I agree," Neji said. "An attack upon the Academy could be devastating. And given the volume of people that pass through it every day, any traps are almost certain to be triggered accidentally. It would be prudent to eliminate such a possibility before spreading our attention."
We exited the tower and turned to head towards the Academy. We were walking quickly, but not running. At this point, it would only needlessly tire us with no benefit.
"Hyuuga has a point," Sasuke said grudgingly. It wasn't completely hostile, but it was close.
I bumped his shoulder with mine in remonstration. I was about to continue with a vague outline of a plan, when someone shouting Naruto's name caught our attention.
"Ehe, I'm on a mission right now, Ayame-nee," Naruto said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I can't come and eat right now." He looked longingly at the restaurant.
The Ichiraku waitress ducked out of the stall. "Oh, is that so?" She said. "Okay then. We'll look after the note that Genno left you until you're finished."
"Eh?" Naruto asked, surprised. "He left me a note?"
"Yesterday," she confirmed. "After you left. He said it was part of your surprise! I was a little worried that you weren't going to come by today and see it. You seemed so excited about it yesterday." Her face crinkled into a happy smile.
She had no idea the kind of news that she was bearing, or the importance of it.
"Take it," Sasuke directed after a momentary pause. "We can spare five minutes." It was a bit of a weak redirect for how intensely focused we all were in this conversation, but Ayame didn't appear to notice.
"I don't believe it," Tenten hissed as Naruto went into the stall to get it. "A note? What kind of trap is this?"
"We'll have to see," I said, reluctantly. Because there was no way that Naruto wasn't going to try and see whatever the note was about. What had Genno said yesterday? Why hadn't I been paying more attention? Something about a treasure hunt? No, hadn't Naruto said that?
It probably looked really strange for six ninja to be huddling over a piece of paper in the middle of a street, but then again, this was Konoha. It probably wasn't that strange.
It's time to start your search for treasure!
The hunt begins at your leisure.
Be quick of mind and sharp of eyes,
And answer the riddles to find your prize.
Find the next clue near deep water,
Man walks over, man walks under,
Footsteps echo with a clatter,
in times of war it burns asunder
I wasn't the only one that looked completely baffled.
"Eh?" Naruto asked. "What does it mean?"
"It's a trap," Tenten repeated. "He's trying to lure you somewhere."
"I told you," Naruto said mulishly, jaw setting with stubbornness. "Genno is my friend. He wouldn't do this. This whole thing is a big misunderstanding.
I bit my lip and considered our options. As far as leads went this was probably the best we had. Yes, it was probably a trap but…
"The easiest way to find out would be to spring the trap," I pointed out. "Follow the riddles to the final location. It's risky, but…"
It was risky. To spring a trap without getting caught in it was tricky at the best of times. If Genno was a trap master, then he would also know how to deal with people who thought they could get around his traps.
"Yes!" Lee agreed enthusiastically. "This is a splendid plan. I shall go with Naruto, and we will be prepared for any surprises me might encounter along the way."
"No," Sasuke said cutting him off. I thought he was vetoing the whole plan, but he continued. "Tenten and I will go with him. You three continue on to the Academy."
That… yeah, that was a better combination of people. Lee and Naruto together would just play off each other and get more and more energised. Sasuke and Tenten had better heads on their shoulders.
Maybe we could have split up into Team 7 and Team Gai, but I had been the one to find all the missing documents, so I was the one who knew the most about that arm of our mission. Even if I was a little disappointed to be missing out on the more interesting part. Really. Riddles.
"Alright," I agreed. "Good luck."
"Finally!" Naruto exclaimed. "… so what's the answer to the riddle?"
"A bridge," I said, maybe a little impatient. That still left a lot of locations. Although… "Did you tell Genno about our training grounds?" Because there was a little red bridge there that we met on, sometimes. It was a personalised location, and reasonably isolated. If no one was specifically looking for it, chances were anything there wouldn't have been seen yet. "Otherwise probably one of the main Nakano crossings."
"Yeah, a bit," Naruto agreed. "Let's go check it out."
Lee looked a little disappointed, but not particularly upset about being turned down, or that Sasuke had just taken charge. That was good.
"Do you know which parts of the Academy Genno was working on?" Neji asked as we started walking again. "It will be helpful to know where to focus."
"Unfortunately no," I said, because he was right. If he had to go over things inch-by-inch, then having target locations would help. And it would be mostly Neji doing it. The Byakugan was invaluable here. "All those documents were missing. I'm hoping that the Academy records will have a copy, or at least specifics of what was repaired so we can narrow it down."
Unfortunately for us, the Academy office was staffed by a single middle aged Genin with a broken arm, who fully admitted he had been there all of a week and had no idea where any such records were kept. We could look ourselves, but without some kind of clue, we had no idea where to start either.
It would take more time to try and locate a specific file, than it would to simply begin our search. We could look for the paper later, if we still needed it then.
We started on the roof and worked our way downwards. Lee and I did physical sweeps while Neji activated his Byakugan and scanned everything that way. I wondered if he was starting to get tired – he'd clearly been using it all day to check the last list of construction sites – but he was probably well aware of his own limits.
We got as far down as Training Hall B – the same one that Lee and Sasuke had used to fight before the Chunin Exams – before we spotted anything strange.
"That's new," I said, referring to the wooden target post dominating one wall.
It was also slightly unusual. Training logs like that normally went outside, where stray kunai wouldn't damage the walls, and you had more room to move freely around it. An inside post might be good for when the weather was nasty, but a single one wouldn't do much for a class of thirty.
It seemed a little strange.
I dropped down off the balcony to inspect it closer. It had a circular target painted on it, but didn't actually seem to be different from any other training log I'd ever seen.
"Wait! Don't touch it!" Neji ordered sharply, staring at it with his Byakugan.
I stepped back. "Have you found something?"
"Yes," he said grimly. "It has an explosive note beneath it."
"That," I said. "Is not good." Still… beneath it? That was odd. "Is it pressure activated? Or…"
"The bulls eye of the target is the trigger, I believe," Neji said. "But there is another fuse leading away from it. I think…"
"What is it, Neji?" Lee asked, confused, after his teammate faded into silence.
Neji was looking for something, that much was clear. It was a little creepy, actually, how his irises were moving but you could tell that he wasn't looking in the direction he seemed to be looking in. Three sixty degree vision was undoubtedly handy, but… it was weird.
"There are at least four more explosive notes within the exterior walls of the Academy," Neji confirmed. "And there are more fuses leading out of my range. They're all connected to the same trigger."
I ran a hand through my hair. Oh, that was not good. That could flatten the Academy. And, you know, the Academy? Was full of people. Kids.
Shit. What were we going to do? I could feel the creeping of panic starting to set in. The situation had been serious before this, but it hadn't been so immediate. Missing blueprints were a long term problem. This could be bad, right now.
"Someone needs to inform the Hokage," I decided. "I'll go. Maybe Lee could find Shikamaru and tell him what we've found?"
Neji nodded. "I will locate the rest of the explosives."
I jumped away and made a beeline for the Hokage's office.
Tsunade-sama took the new information in stride, which was incredibly relieving. There was something to be said for operating inside the village and being able to get orders quickly.
"Issue an order to evacuate," she said, quickly writing down a proclamation and stamping it. "Get the kids out, and then we can send in some experienced trap breakers to clear the tags out. Don't try and remove them on your own, but keep an eye on the trigger. Get both Hyuuga working out where any more tags might be."
"Yes, Hokage-sama," I said, taking the scroll quickly.
I jumped back to the Academy, glad it wasn't far away, and found Neji standing outside, near the road. He didn't look happy.
"No good news?" I guessed.
"No," he agreed. "It appears that the fuse branches in several directions, leading out into the village."
I pursed my lips and considered. "Well, Hinata will be here soon, so we can get the two of you following that. Do you have an estimate of how many there are?"
"I have seen the fuse branch six times. That would be the minimum. If it continues to branch further, as I suspect, then there could be dozens," Neji said. "Hundreds, even."
And wasn't that a terrifying thought. Even worse than knowing what was behind us.
"Let's not borrow trouble just yet," I said. "I'll get the evacuation started." I hesitated, an idea springing on me. "Are there any Hyuuga currently at the Academy?" It wasn't totally unprecedented to drag more ninja into a mission as the situation called for it, and I figured this probably called for it.
I could see Neji following my train of thought. "Yes, several of them. Hanabi would be capable of assisting us. Sumiko, as well. The others might not have the focus necessary to identify the hidden notes."
"Okay, I'll see if I can pull them out of class to help." It wasn't exactly one hundred percent fantastic to get Academy students messed up in this – and I knew Hanabi was only Konohamaru's age – but at the same time, the Byakugan was our best bet at finding these things, and who knew how many actual ninja Hyuuga were in the village.
We designated the Training Hall as our meeting place so we could keep an eye on the trigger and I headed inside to start the evacuation process.
It might not have technically have been to procedure, but the first room I knocked on was Iruka-sensei's.
"Shikako," he said, blinking at me in surprise. "Can I help you?"
"Sorry to interrupt," I said, smiling as blandly as I could. "I need to borrow Hanabi Hyuuga for the day. Also, I have a message from the Hokage."
Iruka-sensei took the scroll and read it. Then his eyes jumped to mine, faintly alarmed.
I doggedly held that bland smile in place. Nothing to see here folks. No reason to panic.
Iruka-sensei knew damn well that 'random' evacuations of the Academy didn't really just happen. At the same time, he also knew that freaking the students out was not going to benefit anyway.
"Alright, kids," he said, giving me back the notice. "We have an evacuation drill. Everyone pack up your things. Hanabi, you're excused. Please go with Shikako."
I waited until she had efficiently tucked her books and pens away, and came down to meet me.
"Go to Training Hall B," I said. "Neji will be there to give you further instructions."
I repeated the process to get Sumiko, who was a branch house member that was thankfully in the graduating class so I didn't have to worry about dragging two little kids into this mess. Okay, she was still eleven, but it was closer.
Then I raced around and presented the evacuation orders to the rest of the classrooms.
By the time I got back to the training hall, the Academy was rife with the low murmur of people moving. It sounded steady and practiced, and I knew that it was well drilled into them. We'd done evacuation drills at least once a term, and these kids would have already taken part in a real evacuation during the Exams.
Lee had returned with Team Eight and Team Ten, and I dropped from the balcony to land lightly beside Ino.
"Progress?" I asked quietly.
She shook her head. "We found how he escaped and fooled the Anbu, but that's about it."
I kinda wanted to know the explanation behind that, but I could wait till later, it if wasn't crucial.
Neji had clearly filled Shikamaru in on the developments from our half of the team. He looked grim.
"Locating these exploding tags is clearly important, but we can't forget that Genno is still out there with all of the papers. If we operate on the assumption that Genno was the one to plant all the tags, then there might be clues. At this stage, we really need that kind of lucky break." He looked over the group. "Shino, go with Sumiko. Kiba, with Hanabi. Ino and Lee can go with Hinata and Neji. Be thorough, but try not to attract too much attention; we don't know if he's watching us. We don't want him getting the bright idea to set these tags off anyway."
He'd put our better trackers with the younger Hyuuga, clearly in hopes that they'd pick up anything that the pre-Genin missed. Unfortunately, that left the best remaining trackers as Ino and me. Not great.
Everyone accepted their assignments with firm nods.
"I did not mention this before," Neji said. "But underneath the training post, there is more than an explosive note. There is also a scroll. I do not know what it says, but it could be important."
Shikamaru sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets. "Great. We'll work out how to get that out too."
"Do we have any leads?" I asked, as they filed out, leaving Shikamaru, Chouji and I behind. Chouji was snacking away on a bag of chips, and I took an offered handful because yes, it was getting late and I was hungry.
Shikamaru shook his head. "Not unless Naruto's team finds something." He huffed in exasperation. "Was it really the best plan to send them?"
I shrugged. "Not the worst," I said. "And Naruto is pretty damn stubborn when he wants to do something. I could have cajoled him, but the instant we hit another roadblock like this? He would have switched right back to wanting to go."
At least this way Sasuke could direct him a little. The two of them would bicker like anything, but they'd work together. And as far as 'spring the trap' teams went, well, Naruto was unpredictable. Not so observant, but that was what Sasuke was for.
"Do you think it's strange?" I asked, frowning at the training log.
Shikamaru glanced at me sideways. "The trigger?" he clarified.
"Yeah," I agreed. The fact that he'd pointed out the exact thing I was thinking meant we were on the same track. "It's so… haphazard. Someone has to hit the bulls eye to set it off. It would be totally random as to when that would occur. It might not happen for weeks. It might happen right away. It's a weird thing to leave to chance like that."
"Maybe he left instructions for someone to set it off?" Chouji volunteered. "After he was gone and everything."
"Maybe," I said, doubtfully. Then paused. Reconsidered. "Neji said there was a scroll under there." If Genno had set Naruto up to trigger the trap…
That was so far beyond awful that I couldn't even wrap my mind around it.
"You think…" Shikamaru trailed off. "Troublesome. Okay, let's get it out."
It was a little nerve wracking to try and disarm the trap. We didn't really disable it entirely – I didn't know if there were backups or fail safes and I didn't want to find out by setting them off – just raised it off the base high enough for Shikamaru to slip a Shadow Stitching tendril in and hook out the scroll.
Without touching the explosive note that was also in there.
"Troublesome," he repeated.
I unrolled the scroll on the floor.
Can weather even the mightiest blow,
And will crumble only to river flow?
I sat back. "That's… short." And much less helpful than the clue that Naruto had picked up at Ichiraku.
The answer was stone, clearly. Strong, but eroded by water? But which stone and where? I flipped the paper over, half hoping there was more written on the back, but there wasn't.
"At least we know it was definitely Genno," Shikamaru said, leaning back.
"We weren't really doubting that," I countered, frustrated.
Maybe if Sasuke and Naruto followed the trail here, then they would have more clues.
Instead we marked out a floor plan of the Academy and drew in the locations Neji had indicated the tags were for the trap removers. Then I went to the office to start looking for the Academy copy of the records. At this stage, it probably didn't help us much, given that we'd found the traps, but at least we'd have a copy for the records if we didn't manage to get the plans back.
When I felt Naruto getting close, I regrouped in the Training Hall. The log had been removed; clearly disabled. If I concentrated, I could feel two people moving around the outside of the Academy – that had to be the team Tsunade had sent. They even seemed familiar…
Koharu and Homura? My eyebrows shot up. But I supposed that you couldn't doubt their skill. As far as finding people on short notice to do extremely complicated work went, that was a neat solution.
But it was also no wonder that Shikamaru looked slightly cranky.
They were not his favourite people.
"No way!" Naruto exclaimed. "You guys beat us here."
"Idiot," Sasuke grunted. "You knew they were coming here. We were supposed to come here."
"Not Shikamaru," Naruto retorted, and okay, he was kinda right. "Hey, where is everyone else?"
"Out looking," Shikamaru said. "Tell me what you found."
Tenten groaned. "Riddles and more riddles. Not a single trap, either."
"Yeah, there were lots of super hard riddles," Naruto exclaimed, waving his hands and dropping a whole bunch of scrolls on the ground. "But we got them, and hey, one was even in my apartment and that wasn't there this morning because I totally would have seen that."
Sasuke interrupted him. "The last riddle is in three sections," he said, crouching to lay two scrolls flat on the ground. "The last one is here at the Academy somewhere."
Mutely, I retrieved the scroll we'd found. That made sense, if it was part of a set. On its own, it wasn't very descriptive.
Find the truth in parts of three,
Here, your home, the Academy,
Find them all and find the plans,
They'll be safe when in your hands
What has roots that no one sees,
touches sky and kisses breeze,
Upon its side has faces five
But does not grow, is not alive
Can weather even the mightiest blow,
And will crumble only to river flow?
"We were pretty sure that it was referring to the mountain, even without the last part," Sasuke said. "But we figured that we – Shikako?"
I felt all the blood drain from my face. "We evacuated the kids to the mountain," I said hoarsely, looking up to meet his eyes.