Three blondes and a Monkey King
Yamanaka Inoichi sat, in the chair behind his desk, in his office. He resisted the urge to close the window; the breeze made the few strands of hair, that he hadn't pulled tightly into his pony-tail, slap his face. Instead he used the loathsome chakra-control excersize to neatly stick the loose hairs to his scalp.
The person sitting in front of him must've noticed, for the womens' eye-brow quirked up for the shortest moment possible. Inoichi noticed 'the tell' only because he had been trained, to do just that, for decades.
The woman sitting in front of him was one of the few people in this world that could still give him nightmares. Inoichi could truthfuly say his childhood had been a happy one. Despite the many wars his village had taken part of, he had never truly been affected by the horrors that the walls of Konoha held out, and as he learned later on, kept inside.
But the woman sitting opposite of him had been the end of his childhood. And his adult life had not nearly been as safe or kind to him as his childhood had been.
"So you see that it is essential to Ino's own progress that she participates in these specific chuunin-exams." The elderly woman folded her hands neatly into eachother thus closing her request that could not be denied.
Inoichi could see reason in her explanations but still, sending his little girl into the real world like that… could he? His daughter was a kind soul, she was still a child, her eyes still innocent and her hands unbloodied. Sure, she had toughened up the last few months, she was stronger than the little girl he remembered her as, but was she ready for the Chuunin exams?
"You must have great confidence in Ino's skill to let her enter, even though she just graduated the academy." Inoichi looked passed the woman to one of the few framed pictures he had on his wall. There was one of his old team, back when they were genin. Back then he had been trained by the very woman that now asked him to send his child into the real world.
"I do." She answered curtly.
Inoichi didn't have to look at her face to know she was truthful. His eyes had found another picture, one of him and his wife. She had been pregnant when they took that picture, the third shinobi world war had been almost a decade before that, the world had seemed safe. Safe enough to share with a child of his own.
"You are putting her in harms way this early in her carreer?" Inoichi couldn't keep the acusing tone out of his voice, not that he really wanted to. They were talking about his daughter, his most prized possession, the one thing in his life that was perfect.
The woman in front of him deflected the question. "Do you not have faith in her?"
His answer was both traitorous as it was understandable. That's why he didn't give it to her. Inoichi was willing to sacrifice many a thing for the village; had sacrificed a lot already. But his daughter, it was just that one thing he couldn't give up. It was the one single thing more important than the village. "I will think about what you ask of me."
The woman stood up, the fabric of her clothing neatly unfolding, as if it knew that she would throw it away if it didn't. "I'll come back tomorrow. Surely you will have an answer then." She turned and walked out of his office.
Inoichi released a sigh he didn't know he had held in.
Ino threw away one of her old dresses. It wasn't one of her favorites, but she had worn it often enough for certain memories to be attached to it. Most of them were ones where she and Sakura had spent time together. Something they hadn't been able to do much lately.
She didn't fit it anymore though, she had outgrown it, aside from that; the floral design on it was totally last years' style. But as she did with the other dresses she had decided to get rid of, she neatly folded it and put it in the box on her bed.
Perhaps another child wouldn't mind wearing it. Despite it being last years fashion, it was still a pretty dress. The box was nearly full but Ino wasn't even halfway through her closet. "Mom, could you get me another box?" Ino shouted.
Not much later her mom walked in with another box. "I'm sure the orphanage girls will love all these clothes Ino, but are you certain you want to give it all away?" She eyed the five dresses Ino had already folded and stacked on her bed.
"Hmm?" Ino closed the door of her closet.
"I mean, it's not like you don't fit them anymore." Her mother put the box down on the ground. And held up the blue dress that was on the top of the stack. "You bought this only a few months ago…"
Ino's face crinkled, as if it was obvious. "Sure I can put them on, and they look good on me… But mom, I'm not a child anymore. Sensei is right, if I want to be taken seriously I should dress seriously."
Her mother looked at the dress, then at her own and back again; there wasn't much difference. "It's a perfectly serious dress if you ask me."
Ino rolled her eyes and put the dresses in the second box. As if her mom would understand? "Thanks for the box, mom." Swiftly she turned back around and opened the closet door. When she turned back to fold another dress her mom was already gone. Atleast her mom understood when she wasn't needed anymore.
It was a good half hour later when Ino was done. She had two boxes full of old clothing. Stacking them on eachother she went out to the orphanage.
The two boxes were heavy, but nothing her arms couldn't lift. She wasn't a weak little girl anymore. These days she could easily lift five times this weigth.
When she reached the orphanage she dropped the boxes on the ground and knocked on the door. At first no one came, but right when she wanted to knock again the door swung open. "Hello!" the one that opened the door was a little boy, not much older than a year or four.
"Hello." Ino said back, her voice softer and kinder than it was normally. "Could you ask one of the matrons to come?"
The little boy nodded, closed the door and by the sounds of hurried feet Ino guessed he ran back in. Ino waited for a bit, and by the time the door opened again she had sat herself on one of the boxes. "Ah, Yamanaka-san." The matron that opened the door said.
The woman was young, perhaps only just eighteen, but her eyes already had small bags under them. Ino knew that working at the orphanage was hard work; for one of her d-ranked mission she had been tasked to help for a week. Ino had gained a whole lot of respect for the people working there, day and night they were up on their feet taking care of children and babies.
Behind the woman the young boy was standing, as if the matrons' dress shielded him from the stranger that was Ino.
He didn't look frightened, but he must've gotten a warning from one of the matrons because the cheer with which he had opened the door before was gone. He seemd more cautious now.
"Hello Shunta-sama." Ino bowed. Shunta had been one of the people that had shown Ino around the orphanage and taught her some of the tricks in dealing with the younger children. "I've brought some clothing." Ino patted the boxes she was sitting on to emphasize what she said.
"Ah, that's really kind of you, Yamanaka-san." The woman smiled brightly at her, and though her eyes were tired; they twinkled in gratitude. "Would you mind carrying them inside?" She asked.
"Ofcourse not." Ino hopped off the boxes and went through her knees to pick them up. The small boy looked at her with big eyes. And whispered something to Shunta.
Shunta petted the boys' hair. "Yamanaka-san here is a shinobi. Shinobi are really strong, they have to be; they defend our village."
After Ino put the boxes next to the stairs, Shunta invited her to stay for some refreshments. But Ino declined, she was already running short on time. "See you later Shunta-sama." She bowed once more. And waved at the little boy.
The child waved back and didn't stop until Ino had closed the door behind her. Looking up, the sun was already descending; which meant she didn't have much time left until her team-meeting.
Ino arrived at the address she had been slipped on a note during training the day previous. It was in one of the richer parts of the village. It wasn't in a clan district, but it was still impressive.
Ino stood at the gate of a mansion that was surrounded by green fields of grass; a commodity in Konoha. Inside the walls there wasn't really a lot of space, so mansions like these were both expensive and rare.
The mansion itself wasn't really that impressive, it was obviously an old building. But decay hadn't set in. There were a lot of windows, which in Konoha was rare; windows were difficult to defend and in a shinobi village that was something held in high regard.
The iron gates opened just when Ino wondered if there was a doorbell. She followed the cobblestone path leading her to the front door. She knocked three times and waited. She was about to knock again when the door opened to reveal her sensei.
Ino quickly bowed. "Good afternoon Koharu-sensei."
The elder nodded approvingly and motioned for Ino to come in. "Good afternoon Ino." The tone was familiar but still polite. Despite spending a lot of time with her sensei, she didn't feel particulary close to the woman. Atleast not the way that other teams seemed to be with their senseis.
Ino was guided through the mansion, it was more spacious inside than the outside had hinted at. "You're the last one to arrive." Koharu-sensei said opening a slide-door revealing both Shikamaru and Chouji, her teammates. They sat on little blue pillows next to eachother at the low table. This was obviously the tea-room. On the table were four cups, three were filled with steaming tea and one was empty. Ino assumed the empty one to be hers.
"Tea?" her sensei asked after Ino seated herself opposite of Chouji. Ino nodded holding out her cup for the woman to fill it. "Thank you, sensei."
Shikamaru reached for his cup and held it with both hands, he blew at the surface of the tea to cool it down, which in itself was quite pointless, but most social habits were. Ino placed her own cup back on the ceramic dish. She wasn't about to burn her tongue in her eagerness to satiate her thirst.
Koharu-sensei sat down aswell, and they sat in silence for a good minute before she started to talk. "The three of you have been invited here, my home, to celebrate this." She procured three folders, Ino wasn't quite sure from where, they hadn't laid on the table…
Ino gladly took the one folder with her name neatly written on it. Koharu-sensei's handwriting was precise and elegant, it seemed to fit her. Ino envied her; while her own handwriting wasn't quite as barbaric as Chouji's it wasn't nearly as clean or elegant as her teachers'.
"Go on, open it." The elder said, a hint of amusement in her voice.
Ino opened her folder, and from the edge of her sight saw that Shikamaru and Chouji did the same; apparently they had waited for approval first aswell.
In bold letters a top of the first page she read; 'Chuunin exam – registration form' Ino gasped, this had not been what she had expected to find inside the folder. She thought they would get another mission, perhaps B-ranked, after all they had completed a good five C-ranked ones without problem.
But ofcourse, Utatane Koharu had other plans for her team. Five C-ranked missions, the minimum requirement to be entered into the Chuunin-exams. Ino quickly looked over the form, it was pretty much a standard form, asking her name, day of birth and other such things. Looking through the other pages she found more of the standard forms, asking for permission to use video-footage in the academy, asking for permission to use her name in promotion pamphlets outside of the village and other such things.
Ino closed the folder and looked at her teammates, Shikamaru didn't look all that surprised, and Chouji was still reading.
"Your clanheads have already given me permission to enroll you in this exam, but it is mandatory that the genin in question also give permission." Her sensei held three fountain pens in her hand. "I expect the three of you to do well in this exam; after all, I have trained you well… You have all improved greatly under my tutelage. Don't let fear stand in the way of this decision, each single one of you is currently skilled enough to partake, as a team however you might be.." She paused, seemingly looking for a word. "Overqualified."
Chouji seemed surprised at this, if Ino's knowledge of her teammates face was correct. The widened eyes, the parting of his lips. The overall dumb look- Ino silently laughed, looks were deceiving. She had learned that the last few months quite thoroughly.
Chouji looked big, dumb, slow even. But Koharu-sensei had unleashed something in the boy; something Ino respected. Out of the three genin in her team she had no doubts as to whom was physicly the most impressive.
She might have grown stronger under the harsh hands of her fathers' sensei, but Chouji had grown confident. And it made all the difference, just a few months ago she wouldn't have trusted him with her life in a fight… But after their mission to the land of waves, after seeing Chouji look death into the eyes without batting an eye, how could she not?
For a moment she saw flashes of her own memories. But she crushed them and forced them away, that mission had been instrumental; their team had become a unit. And she had learned to trust her teammates, and had learned to respect the old lady that was her sensei.
"Thank you, sensei." She said softly, taking one of the fountain pens and carefuly wrote her own name, birthdates and such on the forms. After her, both Shikamaru and Chouji filled in theirs aswell.
When she finished her tea had cooled enough that she risked drinking it. It tasted sweet, which was not what she expected her sensei to serve. She looked at Utatane with puzzled eyes, her sensei was difficult to pick apart. First of all the woman was intelligent, socially smart and incredibly quick-witted. And while she was old, her body had not withered. If her fight with Zabuza was any inclination, she was perhaps on par with her father who was in his prime. Perhaps stronger. Even after so many months spent in her direct environment she had not seen the depths of her teachers' being, had not seen the back of her tongue.
Putting the forms back in the folder, Ino gave it back to her sensei. "So what is next?" she asked, when both boys didn't seem able to form words in anticipation of their sensei's plans.
"Next?" Koharu-sensei parroted somehow mocking her, as if the most obvious thing in the world was what came next. Her eye drifted away from Ino to Shikamaru, as if he was supposed to know what came next.
To Ino's surprise; Shikamaru did. "Next is fighting Inoshikachou." Shikamaru's voice was flat but the way his lower lip trembled, however minutely, gave away he expected hell to be waiting for them.
For a second Ino was unsure what he meant, but then a vision of a purple boar, with yellow wings and giant antlers came to mind. She swallowed back the bile that wanted to rise. Ino looked at Chouji, "So your father really can summon him?"
Chouji nodded solemnly. "It wasn't just a bedtime story."
Ino shook off her fear of the monster her father had told stories about. She hadn't thought of the creature in years; but her father had described it very vividly. The pinnacle of raw power, only tamed by his old team through perfectly timed teamwork.
A flying boar the size of this mansion, and they had to fight it? Ino looked at her sensei. Respect for the old wrinkled wench be damned. That crazy bitch!
Anko walked through the halls of the T&I department, strutting like she owned the place. She didn't really, but it annoyed the otherwise stoic Ibiki. And right now she needed some entertainment. Because of the chuunin-exams she had nothing to do, and the little ruse the pink haired genin had played on her had only been funny when she could bribe Hatake in to buying her dinner. And that had been days ago.
It wouldn't be long before the chuunin exams would start, one more week. One dull more week. Boring wasn't a strong enough kind of word to describe the way she felt.
She walked past Inoichi's office, when she saw Morino walk out of it. "Whatcha doing here?" She asked, who cared that he both outranked her and that it wasn't any of her business?
Ibiki looked at her, just looked; his face as if set in stone so solid. Apparently her inquisitive nature wasn't quite as appealing to him as she had found it to be herself.
"Hey! A girl can ask right?" She said when he walked away. When he just kept on walking she sighed. "Lame prick."
Her eyes fell on the name plate of the office. "Yamanaka Inoichi – Head of Intelligence." She opened the door when she suddenly thought of earlier that morning when she had taken care of some administration. "Hey Inoichi, isn't your brat on that team led by Grandma Utatane?"
The blond 'Head of Intelligence' looked up from his paperwork. "Ino studies under councillor Koharu, yes."
Anko closed the door behind her and walked towards the framed pictures on the wall. "Ya know, I heard some rumours about that team." Anko stopped when she reached a picture of a young girl with blonde hair, two boys of the same age and an older woman standing behind them, the three children were smiling, and the girl had the brightest smile of the three. The older woman had her arms around the two boys that stood on the girls' side. It was a cute picture. "Heard they were the ones to capture Momochi Zabuza… Interesting rumour right?"
She didn't need to look at Inoichi to know she was irritating him, everyone in their division knew that talking about his daughter was best left to him and only him. "Not so much a rumour as a fact." Inoichi said, strectching the last word, as if Anko was daft.
"And they killed his student, right?" Anko turned around, a smile; no, a grin on her face. "An ice-user." Anko walked towards his desk and seated herself on the edge of it. "Ya know, it makes me wonder, who did the killing?" Her fingers traced the intricate design carved into the desk.
"What do you want, Mitarashi?" Inoichi sighed.
Anko's shoulders sagged, wasn't anyone gonna entertain her today? "You're no fun, Inoichi… Anyways, your brat signed up for the chuunin-exams, makes me wonder; what is that old crow up to?"
The Yamanaka sat upright. "Oh, her reasons couldn't be clearer."
Anko took the bait, like a snake bit a mouse, quickly. "Do tell!"
Inoichi leaned into his chair, sinking back. "Why does Hatake Kakashi have his genin train in the Forest of Death? Why does Yuuhi Kurenai have her genin taking B-ranked missions after just two months? Why does the new team Ino-Shika-Chou have an elder-council member as a sensei? Why are there four Kages invited to the chuunin exams?"
Anko blinked, Inoichi knew his shit. "It sounds like –"
"No." Inoichi said, cutting her off. "It doesn't sound like, it is."
Anko threw her hands into the air. "Why does no-one tell me shit like this? A Fucking fourth war?"
Inoichi stood up and walked towards the pictures on his wall. And grabbed the one with his wife, him and his daughter on it. His nephew had taken it, it was during the clan picnic last year, Ino had worn a pretty blue dress, and she had no idea what it was like to fight. "Not yet, but the elders, the Hokage; they are preparing for one." He looked at the picture, his eyes softened before he put it back on the wall.
"Something changed when the 'old one' died and they found 'that' body. The old garde is up to something, right now even we, the department heads, don't quite know with whom we will share the battlefield. But Danzo hasn't shown up at any of the shinobi council meetings, nor have Koharu or Homura, the Hokage has been seen training at Training ground one… Tsunade was spotted in the village just weeks ago. A war is here, we're just waiting for the first drums to sound."
Gone was the grin on her face. This shit was serious, if the Yamanaka clan head was this clear while talking to her, then he must be certain. "I'll keep an eye out for her, you know. When the time comes." Anko looked Inoichi straight into the eyes. "I promise."
The head of the Intelligence department nodded. "I know."
Inside, Anko felt proud. She meant what she said. But feeling that this conversation was over she almost ran out of the room, it was just getting too goody goody in there.
Koharu did her morning stretches when she felt the presence of someone other than her maid. She knew who it was, and thus decided to continue her morning routine like usual.
"Good morning." He greeted her.
Stretching her left leg and putting her right leg infront of it, she straightened her arms out to fall into the second warrior pose. "Good morning" she answered back. "Shouldn't you be in your tower?"
The man chuckled. "Alas, I'm not."
Koharu quirked her eyebrow. "So what brings you here? I doubt it is to see me stretch." Fluidly she moved from warior-two into warior-three. Standing on one leg required more concentration, but she had done this daily since being a little girl, she could do this in her sleep.
"You're right, of course. Not that this isn't a sight for sore eyes." The old man reached into his pocket and retrieved a pipe, which seemingly lit itself when he put it at his mouth. "I was hoping you could do something for me?"
Koharu went back into the warrior one pose, this time switching the dominating leg. "Whatever does my Hokage want?"
Hiruzen blew out the smoke he had inhaled while Koharu changed poses. "You see, I have to go on a small journey, just a few days, two perhaps three. And while I could ask Homura or Danzo to keep watch; I'm afraid I've already sent them on their own errands."
She looked at him, a question held only at bay by her pressed lips.
"You assume correctly, I am visiting Enma, it wouldn't do to not court him properly." The hokage took the pipe out of mouth. He had traded the hokage robes for his battle attire, a black outfit with two, long tale-like ribbons attached to the back of his forehead protector. "After all, our plans do lean quite heavily on him."
Once again, Koharu was impressed by her old teammate. There was an intelligence hidden behind his eyes, behind that grandfatherly smile of his. She had nearly forgotten it, but the pact they had forged, earlier that year, had shown just how sharp his edge still was. "I'll see to it that your chair will be warm when you return." Koharu said.
"Wonderful! Well, that takes cares of things." Hiruzen placed his left hand on the ground and a summoning seal unfolded itself between the grassblades. A small monkey erupted out of the smoke that followed after the seal had completed.
"Sarutobi-dono!" The monkey clad in red robes said, bowing. "What is it you need me for?"
"I need a trip to the Forests of Jigokudani."
"Of course, I will take you immedeatly!" The monkey took hold of the Hokage's thumb and with an exciting voice screeched: "Reverse-summoning jutsu!" And just like that, they disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Enma sat on his throne in the ruins of his castle. It used to be a majestic place: stone walls adorned with golden motivs telling the tale of a girl, or woman it was difficult to tell in its current state, walking up to a great tree, much of the motivs were lost since the Great Monkey King had started to rule. Now the tale was damaged or hidden by thick vines and leafs.
It hadn't always been his castle, but since the start of his rule the castle, which had at one point been the pinnacle of architecture and culture, had made more room for nature to come in. Or better said; in his one-man war to win these lands, he had destroyed much of the castle he now called his own.
His kingdom was vast, the entire mountain, and the valleys around it were his. The sycamore trees housed thousands of his kind. It was the most Idyllic place his clan had ever owned. Surely his forefathers would've envied him and his people, their current standing in the world and their riches. They had come a long way since his childhood.
Currently his kingdom was thriving, as it had ever since he had ascended to the throne. But Enma remembered the days in which his father had ruled… His father had been a kind king, but a weak one. Afraid to spill blood or sacrifice lives. In the time his father had ruled, these mountains had been part of another kingdom.
It was in his youth that Enma had proven himself worthy of the throne, almost singlehandedly he had usurped the throne from his father, sweeped these mountains in a rage befitting of the moniker his enemies bestowed upon him.
It had been a long time since he had last shown the world that side of him. His current populace had forgotten the blue demon he could be. But his enemies hadn't. And so the Forests of Jigokudani remained untouched by the paws and claws of his neighbours. And so he reigned supreme.
Enma's attention drifted away from pondering the past and focused on the present when he felt one of his nieces being summoned. He wondered which Sarutobi needed her help. But before he could really think about it, the answer presented itself to him when a large cloud of smoke appeared and dissipated on the stairs before his throne.
"Hiruzen." Enma leaped from his throne to the spot where the elder Sarutobi had made his appearance, threw his hands out, to greet his trusted companion with a hug. "It's been a long time."
Hiruzen reacted returning the friendly hug, patting the monkey king on his back. "That it has."
"Whatever brings you to these parts of the woods?" Enma asked, walking back to his lazily grabbed a fresh mango out of the fruit bowl next to him and threw it for the Hokage to catch,
Hiruzen caught it, eyeing the green fruit for a second. "Thank you." He bit into it, the juices trickling down to his chin, into the white haired goatee. "I think it is time to continue my training."
Enma bellowed out a laugh. "Hah! Who knew that you still had tricks up your sleeves?" Enma's face turned serious. "You do realize that it could kill you?" He stroked his tail, as if it brought him clarity of mind. "There is a reason you stopped this training back then, you couldn't even grasp the idea of it."
The Hokage nodded. His face serious. "Keywords, back then. My friend, I believe the time is right."
"It could take years." Enma countered.
"I have three days." Hiruzen said playfuly. "But I think it will prove to be sufficient. After all, I got this far on my own." He slammed his hands together, blue chakra seemed to dance on his skin, etching colored lines in his face. His face set in concentration; a gust of wind slowly building up.
"In only three days… It will be a do or die kind of thing Hiruzen." The monkey king said, looking the Hokage up and down as if to see if the man was up to it. "Very well! Follow me, I know just the place, let's travel to the Mouth of Hell."
Danzo, leaning with his left hand on a cane, stood on the balcony overseeing the village. Under his keen eye he scrutinized the village, there were weakpoints barely covered from civilian eyes but they stood out like dirt on white sheets to him. It wasn't the first time he had seen this village, but it had been almost forty years since he had last set foot inside it.
The village hidden in the clouds… The name was aptly given, even if painfuly unimaginative. This early in the morning the sun lit the clouds surrounding the mountains, the village nested itself in, in a golden hue. He guessed some would call it magical or pretty. But Danzo didn't see the world with words like that in mind, it wasn't Konoha; and thus not worth his appreciation.
Danzo felt someone coming close, the feeling was familiar and as he suspected he heard Fuu's voice. "Sir, the meeting will commence in ten minutes." The fact that Danzo didn't turn around to face Fuu was both a sign of trust in his subordinates' loyalty as it was a sign of the trust he had in his own skills. No ninja worth their title would ever leave its back open for an attack.
"Ten minutes." Danzo repeated disdain in his voice. Ten minutes longer than he wished to spend in this village. There had been a reason that Danzo had almost buried himself in the roots of Konoha, to be away from it made him restless.
While Kumogakure was a beautiful village in its own right, it had nothing on Konoha. There was a lack of tranquillity he had come to love in Konoha, Konoha was always busy. There were always merchants coming in, trading, selling their goods or going out, Even in the wee hours of the day Konoha was never truly asleep, because Konoha was alive, buzzing. But these mountains; they seemed too peaceful, too silent for a shinobi to feel at ease.
Fuu took a few steps back and kneeled. "Torune has secured safe passage, there seems to be no foul play at hand."
With a grunt Danzo turned around, his back going from straight to slightly hunched, his eye from dangerously sharp to almost unfocused. Where his cane normally held a strict rhythm now it made disharmonious thuds on the ground as he walked passed Fuu. The shinobi of darkness turned into an old man before Fuu's eyes, it was wrong, yet it looked right. Danzo looked the part of an old man that had left his glory days behind him. And once he spoke, even his way of talking seemed to have changed, becoming brittle, hoarse and slow. "Alas, it is time to meet with the Raikage."
Quickly, Fuu rose when Danzo passed him and kept a five step distance between them. They left the chambers, in which Danzo had rested the night in, and slowly walked through the corridors. Fuu, once or twice, faltered in keeping a perfect five step distance from the the impersonation of an old man the root leader had created, for he kept changing the pace with which he walked. Right now even Fuu couldn't see the man behind this charade.
When they reached the meeting room they were greeted by a young bronze skinned woman with her hair tightly pulled into a short pony-tail. "Good morning Councilman-dono." She offered, bowing just enough for it to be polite.
In a manner very unlike Danzo he gave the young woman a respectful nod back. "Good morning." He said. "Please be a dear, and open the door…" When the door opened to reveal a grand room, Danzo slowly walked in meanwhile giving the young woman a few claps on her shoulder, as if she had been a good girl.
The room was obviously used for official meetings, the wooden tables and chairs looked like they were created from expensive materials. The left wall was decorated by three paintings of men with white clothing and big hats, they looked stern and almost disapproving, as if they saw through the carefuly crafted persona Danzo was showcasing right now. Danzo spared the paintings a few seconds of his time before he seated himself in the chair the young woman pulled back for him. "Thank you."
The young woman gave him a smile and took a few steps back, walked around the table and stood next to the three paintings, like a pretty wallflower. Fuu mirrored her and stood just passed arm length away from Danzo.
They waited a good three minutes before the door opened again and a dark skinned man walked in with blonde hair slicked back, white robes and a giant black belt around his waist with a golden boars' face proudly shining on the belt buckle.
The man wasted no time greeting Danzo and immeadeatly sat opposite of him. "The Hokage has sent you, his trusted right hand, to invite me into his village; hoping you will be able to change my opinion on the validity of Konoha's chuunin exams." His voice was loud, and brisk.
Danzo smiled, perching his cane, which he had held in his left hand, next to his chair. "Well, yes, that does seem to be the case." Danzo's left hand trembled slightly while he petted his right arm, like the bandages and the sling were an animal. "Hiruzen did say you were quite the straight forward person, he also told me you would very much like to see this years chuunin exams."
The Raikage raised an eyebrow at that. "Explain."
Danzo inhaled slowly, the sounds that joined the intake of breath couldn't be deemed healthy. "The Uchiha boy's brother is to participate aswell." Danzo looked slightly puzzeled as if he couldn't fathom why that would influence the Raikage's decision. But the blondes' lips thinned into a smile. "And, excuse me if I pronounce the name wrong; it's been a while since Hiruzen said them to me, Team Samui might be interested in this?"
Right then, Danzo knew he had succeeded. The Raikage, the last Kage needed to gather all Kages in Konoha, had taken to the bait.
Harry had been body-popping short distances the entire day, not once teleporting further than his eyes could see, yet his tenkutsu points felt ablaze. A few not so polite words left his mouth as he had to stop for the third time in the last ten minutes. "It is like I'm crippled."
By now he was halfway out of the Land of Snow, it was far quicker than he would've been by foot, but the result was hardly something he was proud of. Before the beating he had taken, and the abuse he had let his body go through to fight with Orochimaru, he could've easily body-popped himself in one go to Konoha… He had even managed to do it with two people coming along.
His clothing was drenched, not only by the snow he had ploughed through time and time again, but also by his own sweat, Harry was glad he couldn't smell himself; it probably wasn't as pleasant as he'd like it to be.
If he kept this rate up he wouldn't make it to Konoha. He knew this; he was exhausting himself and while the first few hours of doing this had helped him keep his mind occupied, right now the emotions felt more removed, as if the physical distance also created an emotional distance. Perhaps it did, perhaps it was just the total exhaustion finally kicking in.
Harry knew he couldn't go much further like this, he had to rest… Not because his chakra was drained, but because his body just couldn't handle the strain of using his teleportation jutsu one more time.
And so Harry climbed into a tree, hoping that if he was a little bit higher the cold wouldn't be as intrusive as it was in the snow. It didn't take long for the exhaustion to claim him as his eyes closed and he fell asleep.
Enma stood at the edge of his kingdom, quite literally. His toes touched the edge of the steep trench named the Mouth of Hell. The trench was a good kilometre deep, and about fitfty meters wide. Smoke and gas escaped it, Enma knew that it came from the river of lava that flowed at the bottom. "This, Hiruzen, is the Mouth of Hell. It is where the summoning of Deva can be ritualized."
The old man nodded. "I see. So this is the place where you'll teach me?"
Enma sat down, his legs crossing into the lotus position. "When you first came to my castle I tried to teach you the ways of my kin. I was younger, and unacustumed to your species' ways of learning." Enma paused, his hand now resting in his lap. "The path I tried to show you… it was one you could never have completed. Even if you were not as restless as you were back then. The fact that you've come as far as you have says more about your genius than the quality of my teachings back then."
Hiruzen sat down as well. He had sat with Enma like this before; many a time they had finished a spar in this exact pose; to relax the body, to focus solely on their breathing.
"But you see, I was mistaken back then; you are no monkey."
"I thought that much was obvious." Hiruzen said.
Enma smiled. "Ah, yes; I knew we were not the same, but you took to my teachings as well, or even better than any of my own kind. You are the kind of genius one sees but once in a generation." Enma's smile faded and a seriousness etched itself on his face. "Your own process in this summoning technique is proof of that much. But I have lived a thousand years, and I will live a thousand more, and it is only now that I understand what I actually did back then. I tried to teach you something I did not understand, because it came to me so naturally."
Hiruzens' wrinkles and lines seemed to soften, as if understanding dawned on him. But before he could come to the conclusion Enma continued. "I was going to wait with teaching anyone this technique until someone as talented as you came by once more. But I see the fire behind your eyes, you are determined to reach a goal. The fact you sought out my help despite the power you already have… Even though it is waning, no one in my kingdom other than I could rival you when it comes to pure strength."
Slowly Hiruzen could feel the atmosphere around him change, the very air seemed to come alive as if it was a powerline that suddenly got electricity shot through it, it felt like it finally served its purpose. "Back when I took this kingdom for my own, I used this power. It gave me vitality beyond measure, it is why I am still alive; a lifespan longer than normal. I have not been able to share this power with anyone, no one seems compatible, no one truly understands the sacrifice that must be made; but if you're willing to die, if you are willing to throw yourself into the pits of hell to get stronger then, and only then can you learn to harness the power of the Deva."
Determined Hiruzen answered. "I am."
"Good. The gasses released by the river of fire in the Mouth of Hell are rich in the kind of chakra you will be trying to acces, you will feel connected to something more; don't let it take you over... I will guide you through it; all you need to do is stay still. And remember your Will of Fire" Enma placed the tip of his tail on Hiruzens' forehead, on his third eye. And with a rush of power Hiruzen had not ever felt before he felt his control on his chakra go. "Right now I am in control, don't fight it, just relax and experience how this feels."
Hiruzen had difficulty seeing, he hardly had control over his body; the strangeness of the situation was so much more intense than what he had accomplished on his own. No wonder that he hadn't been able to understand this before, he couldn't feel this vitality while he was young, even now the concept of vitality and power being the same was hard to grasp.
Enma sat in front of him and guided the rush of power through his body. No longer was the monkey king brown skinned and white haired. No longer was his face ape-like. A transformation had taken place. In front of the Hokage sat a demon, blue skinned and an even deeper blue colored coat of fur danced like flames in the wind.
Decades ago he had seen this face once before and wanted to use the same kind of power as the monkey king, he had failed; not even coming close to feeling the power Enma had told him about. But now; it was evident, it was all around him.
For a moment, the feelings that rushed through him were so alien to him, he thought he had lost himself. But Enma's presence kept him grounded, wouldn't let him ascend from his body. Even though the lure of reaching into the vast unknown around him was so tempting. It was as if the air around him called him out, called him out to join a world in which pain was fleeting.
"Keep yourself in there Hiruzen." Enma's voice said; it was lower and harsher than it was normally, but it was still familiar. "Don't let it seduce you; make it join you instead. I will slowly give control back to you… If you give into the urge you will die here, you will dissipate into thin air and not even the Shinigami will be able to claim your soul. Once you have control you must let yourself fall into the trench: trust that the chakra will keep you safe and it will, you won't die but you'll be reborn."
Hiruzens' mind tumbled and spun around; the words registered but they didn't take hold. He thought he had understood the kind of power he was seeking but this was so much older, so much more than what he could possibly understand. What gave him the right to try and control something so ancient? It didn't want to be controlled… it wanted to be free like the wind; it wanted to be fleeting.
"Take control Hiruzen!" Enma bellowed out.
Control? What was control? One had no control over Life or Death… Life was fleeting, only the air would always be there, and it would be fleeting aswell, but it would come back. The cycle of a gust of wind, being there and not being there, Life and Death... How could he control something like that?
For a moment Hiruzen was sure that if he let go, of everything, it would all just be okay. But in the far back of his mind a small voice told him of his responsibility, of the lives that needed his guardianship. That needed his power. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives depended on him, on his strength.
A storm was brewing. Who had said that? Danzo? He couldn't let himself go in the wind… He needed to control the wind, needed to master that storm… And suddenly the world was clear again. He reigned in control. Latched onto the chakra as like a toddler held onto his mothers' hand.
"Now Sarutobi! Jump, now!" It all made sense once more, of course, he had to die and be reborn; he had to be fleeting to be eternal, like the wind. With a mighty force of will Hiruzen moved himself to the edge of the trench and jumped.
Enma's own colors returned as the blue faded away. "Now only time will tell if my friend will come back."
Ino woke up to the sound of her sensei sharpening her hairpins. "Ah, it seems you've decided to finally grace us with your ever so pleasant presence." The sarcasm couldn't be more tangible than that.
"Hello, sensei." Ino felt her hair in her face, and without a thought used the chakra control excercise she had been taught so long ago to make her hair pull itself back into a pony-tail. Koharu-sensei gave her a weird look, which Ino expertly ignored.
Utatane reached out with her hand, which Ino gladly took as the help to get up without too much effort. "The three of you did well last night." With a barely hidden smile she motioned at the two boys lying on the couch. "I didn't ecpect the three of you to accomplish this task in one day." Now she leaned forward, in a very conspiring way. "Don't tell them this, but you've exceeded my expectations."
Inside, Ino felt a very warm feeling take hold of her chest. "Thank you, sensei." She said.
"Yes… Listen closely… I will be busy the coming days; and you three will need your rest. So until the chuunin exams start, I want the three of you to rest up and make sure you are in tip top condition." Her sensei looked at her with pride in her eyes. "After all, no student of mine will look ragged or sleep deprived when showcasing her talents."
Koharu-sensei placed the hairpins in her tightly spun bun and put on a coat, reaching for the door with her hand. "Make sure they don't start drooling on the carpet… It is cashmere, not that they would value such a thing." And with those words she left her mansion.
Ino stood there, baffled. She had never seen her sensei this… this… loose? She blinked a few times, and pinched herself but realized she wasn't dreaming. Then she looked at the two boys lying on the couch, she should let them sleep in, they had really put up a fight yesterday, given their very best.
But why should she waste her day waiting on them? So after coughing twice; warming up her voice, she let it rip.
Ten minutes later Ino arrived at her home. She hadn't been home much this week. But thankfully her mother welcomed her with a cup of jasmin tea. "How was training sweetie?" she asked after pouring herself a cup of tea as well.
"Well, we did a lot of it… Managed to capture, uhm, an animal." Ino held the cup between her hands and under her nose, the smell and warmness of the tea relaxed her, the terrors of yesterday feeling far away. "And Sensei is really proud of us. Said we exceeded her expectations."
Her mother gave her one of those 'I'm so proud of you' smiles. "Well, I'm happy to hear that. Your father has been agitated all morning. It will do him good to know it went well."
"Oh come on. Dad shouldn't be such a worry-wart."
Her mother merely raised an eyebrow, making Ino sigh. "He's only this way because I'm a girl and not a boy. He should trust me more. Like sensei does. She knows I pull my own weigth in the team."
Ino suddenly didn't feel like drinking the rest of her tea and put it back on the table. "That's not at all-"
"It's okay mom… I'm just tired, sorry. I'm gonna go see Sakura." Ino gave her mom a kiss and almost ran out. She needed someone less... adult.
Sakura lived pretty close to Ino, it took Ino only a few minutes to get there. Knocking on the door she waited for someone to come open it. She knocked again when no one seemed to open, but halfway through; the door opened. "Sorry, I had no pants on yet." Sakura appologized cheerfully, opening the door.
"It's okay, I'm kind of early. I just, well I wanted to have a girls' day. You know, like we used to." Ino let herself in and went straight for the kitchen. "Do you have anything to eat?"
Sakura was barefooted and looking for her sandals, which apparently were not where she thought she had put them the day before. "There should be some Taiyaki left… I didn't eat them all."
Ino found the plate with three chocolate filled Taiyaki fish cakes. "Oh, nice; chocolate!" Ino had already devoured her first before she went to Sakura's room. "Your parents have to work?" She said while munching on the second fishcake.
Sakura, who had apparently found her sandals, sat on her bed and put the footwear on. "Hmm? Oh no, they went to the market. There is supposed to be this new stall that sells all these different kinds of cheese."
"Oh, we should do that!" Ino exclaimed.
"Sell cheese?" Sakura asked befuddled.
"No, silly. Go to the market; let's shop till we drop!" Ino's enthousiasme was hard to deny. "I mean, I'm free today from training. You are FINALLY free from training as well. We should do some girly shopping, not be Kunoichi for a day!"
Sakura smiled, putting on her other sandal. "Sure, I could use some new socks and such."
"Great! Come." Ino took Sakura's hand and, very kindly, dragged her out of the house.
"Wait, let me grab my wallet." Sakura searched one of the drawers in her desk. "There, now we can go."
AN: Yay for inspiration! Anyways, some much needed world building and plot building in this chapter. I started writing this chapter from team Sevens' pov. But it just didn't make sense, I couldn't get the information in without forcing situations that didn't make sense. And then it suddenly hit me; Ino was the perfect conduit for this chapter, surrounded by important people in a way that team seven is not.
Hopefully you all like this chapter.
So: Happy new year and if you celebrate any holidays between then and now, happy holiday aswell.