Trial By Fire
"Kitsune-chan! Uh...what am I doing here?" Naruto stood in a forest at the mouth of a massive cave. The night was clear, with a warm summer breeze. The stars shone brightly in the night sky, with the full moon being low over the horizon. Inside the cave, the Kyuubi laid curled up. She almost looked to be peacefully sleeping until one of her eyes lazily opened. Naruto's mindscape had improved considerably in the past four years, a by-product of his happiness being real instead of a mask to hide the pain.
"Don't blame me kit. Tell me, what is the last thing you remember?"
"Hmm...me and Hinata had Kakashi sensei cornered. She slipped a tag on him and grabbed the bell as he ducked under my swing..." Naruto scratched his head, trying to think of what happened after that.
"Consider it another lesson in the difference between you and a jounin. You couldn't even follow what he did to you. Let us just say, if you weren't my Jinchuuriki, you would be eating through a straw for the next six months. I already set some of my chakra running through your system, about as much as you can handle without causing harm. It'll help you heal even faster than normal. I tell you, regrowing teeth ain't easy. Try not to lose so many of them in the future." Naruto at least had the decency to blush at her rebuke.
By the time the group got to the hospital, Hinata was starting to wake up. After asking who the pink elephant was, Kurenai discretely removed her weapon pouchs and tantos before passing Hinata off to the waiting medic. "Pink Elephants? Could you have kicked her any harder? What the hell, did you have a flashback to the last war? Did you mistake her for someone from Iwa? Holy shit, how many exploding tags does she carry!"
"Apparently yes, yes, maybe, no comment, and apparently quite a few" Kakashi deadpanned. That really was a lot of exploding tags. Even worse considering how many were used at the training area.
"We're going to have words Kakashi. You can't train fresh genin the way you trained ANBU."
Whatever else Kurenai was about to say was interrupted by the panicked scream of the medic running a diagnostic on Naruto. In his haste to back away from Naruto, the medic tripped over his own feet and fell into Kakashi, screaming about the Kyuubi taking over. In a heartbeat, all three jounin were armed, if completely unsure what to do. The genin of teams eight and ten were joining the medics in panicking, and joining their sensei's in preparing to fight, even if they didn't understand why exactly they were panicking or where the Kyuubi was. Someone on the staff already hit the panic seal, sending a direct emergency alert to the Hokage office.
The panicked standoff of all the ninja vs Naruto's unconscious body ended after a few tense moments with the closest medic lunging for Naruto with scalpel, too close and too fast for any of the jounin to stop him in time. Before he even made it a step, a fox the size of an adult tiger with nine tails smashed him to the ground. Keeping him pinned with one paw, the Kyuubi crouched down and looked at the rest of the Ninja in the room, baring her teeth. Giving a deep growl with a touch of killing intent, even the three jounin backed off. The six genin completed their panic.
"Mmm...you're so soft...nice kitty..."
"HINATA! GET AWAY!" The Kyuubi's growls quickly turned to purring as a delirious Hinata laid against her and was stroking her flank. That was the scene that the Third Hokage, Jiraya, and two squads of ANBU walked into.
Purring for a few more seconds, the Kyuubi gave a startled look at the gathered Ninja. "Awkward...Can I go back to growling and we can all pretend you didn't watch the mighty Kyuubi, being of UNIMAGINABLE POWER, purr like a kit while being petted?" Hinata reached up and started scratching the Kyuubi behind her ears, earning her more content purrs "Mmm...that's the spot. Oh, stop panicking! Silly mortals. If I was going to go on a rampage, you would all be dead already."
The Hokage was the first one to recover. "Kyuubi-sama, how are you out of the seal? And why is Hinata petting you?"
"The seal changed four years ago. It is now an open cage, one I have been free to leave at any time, and have done so many times before this. Usually to skip lectures at the academy. I admit though, that I'm most unclear on the circumstances that caused it. As for Hinata, she's petting me because she thinks I'm a giant kitty, and the pink elephant probably told her to. I admit, the Pink Elephant gives good advice." If the gathered ninja didn't know any better, they'd swear the Kyuubi just shot Kakashi a deadpan expression at the end of that statement. "If you're not here to hurt Naruto, then you may pet me as well" Looking at Sakura, she let another another low growl "Except her." Seeing no one move to pet her, Kyuubi gave a saddened look. "Worth a try..."
"If you aren't breaking out of the seal, or trying to destroy anything, why are you still on one of my medics, and why is Naruto here?" The Kyuubi just gave the Hokage a 'Are you stupid?' look before laughing.
"Your 'medic', and I use the word loosely, is being punished for attempting to slice Naruto's throat open with a scalpel, because one of your other medics thought Naruto having my chakra in his system meant I was taking over. I really have no idea how Konoha ever rose to prominence. You use me to create a jinchuuriki out of Naruto-sama, then promptly panic at the mere thought of the boy using my power. Fools, all of you. As for why Naruto is here, perhaps Hinata's pink elephant can enlighten us? Well, the pink elephant told me it was a training accident and Kakashi could fill you in on the details. It also said 'Nice Hat'." Hinata let out a drunken giggle.
The Hokage was afraid of just how much paperwork this day was going to cause. At least the new genin were looking slightly less fearful at the apparently friendly Kyuubi, but this was definitely not how the Hokage wanted them to find out about Naruto's burden.
"Oh, and Jiraya, can I get a signed copy of the Icha-Icha series? What? Stop looking at me like that Kurenai, they're very well written!"
"Hokage-sama! It must be a trick! If it had any power, it would have already attacked Konoha! We must kill it before the seal breaks!" The Hokage put his hand on the ANBU's shoulder to hold him back, while the Kyuubi just laughed.
"No. The Kyuubi is right. We've known for four years now that the seal has been opened. Killing Naruto would only result in a five hundred foot tall pissed off demon in the middle of Konoha. The Kyuubi ceased to be a threat to us on that day."
"I see. Can someone pull Hinata off me? I think she passed out again. Jiraya, Third, we must speak privately."
"Yes. If anyone has a right to know, it would be you." Glancing to his ANBU "Make sure no one leaves. There will be no rumors of what transpired here."
Hinata woke up to the sight of Kakashi, Kurenai, and Asuma standing over her. "How you feeling Hinata? Sorry for knocking you out like that..."
"I had the weirdest dream sensei, we were all at the hospital, and there was a pink elephant telling me to pet he large kitty, but it had nine tails. Now that I think about it, it looked like a fox. She was Naruto's, and asked Jiraya for a signed set of the Icha-Icha books..." Her own little perverted giggle was quickly cut off as she winced from her crushing headache.
"Hinata...that wasn't a dream. Well, the pink elephant was, and had us worried, but the rest wasn't...and also has us worried."
"Oh...was that really the Kyuubi?" Kakashi nodded. "Is that why Naruto has a seal on him? Why so many people seem to hate him?" Another nod. "But she was so friendly and loving. Why did she attack twelve years ago?"
"Nobody knows, except her and maybe Naruto."
"Where's Naruto?" Sitting up, Hinata looked around the room. Teams eight and ten were sitting together, looking uncomfortable. Eight ANBU were standing in the room, sealing off the exits. Three medics and a receptionist were sitting together in another part of the room, looking towards a hospital gurney with a look of fear. On the gurney was Naruto, still covered in his own dried blood and untreated.
"She was being controlled, by a man claiming to be Madara. Just as Madara controlled her at the Valley of the End. Hating Kitsune-chan is as meaningless as hating a sword. I'm sorry everyone, this isn't how I wanted to you to find out."
"Naruto! You're alright!" Hinata moved to Naruto so fast, he could have almost swore she just used a jutsu to wrap him in a hug, ignoring the dried blood. "I'm sorry! If I was stronger, you wouldn't have gotten hurt!"
"You're not mad at me? For hiding Kitsune-chan? For being a Jinchuuriki?"
"Why would I hate you for hiding it Naruto? I've known you've always hidden why the village hates you, so why would I hate you just for finding out?"
Sitting up, Naruto finally realized how big of an audience he had. Sakura looked at him with both fear and disgust. There was a great deal more fear than disgust however. No surprise, they barely tolerated each other for the most part. Ino looked somewhat fearful,but didn't look to be drawing away. Shino was as unreadable as ever. Kiba was just looking depressed. Probably thinks he'll never prove himself the alpha over someone with the Kyuubi. Kiba, don't ever change. Choji looked more concerned than anything, though there was the hint of fear behind his eyes too. Shikamaru just sat there, eyes closed, in his usual thinking pose, before looking up at Naruto.
"I don't see how this changes anything. If you were a danger to us, you would have hurt us long ago. Considering how often we've all been to your place, and our parents never seemed to have any problems with it, it's safe to say that all our clans know your secret, and don't hate you for it. Why should we? You're still the same idiot you were this morning." That simple statement from Shikamaru changed the atmosphere completely. The fear in the room seemed to subdue almost instantly as the young genin thought over his words.
The three jounin present smiled at the reaction, trying very hard to ignore the fact that all three thought the worst a few minutes ago.
Naruto just hugged Hinata closer to himself. Resting his chin on her shoulder, he looked at the gathered genin and tried to hold back his tears. His freinds knew, and they didn't hate him.
"I see. These revelations are...disturbing. They explain much as well. Jiraya, I trust you and Kakashi to train the kit well. Him and his mate. Even the mightiest Jinchuuriki needs one to watch their back. The kit is her source of strength. Gives her the strength she will need to help him."
"I understand Kyuubi-sama. Wait, mate? Aren't they a bit young?"
"They may not be fully re-enacting your books, but make no mistake. They have chosen each other as mates. More fully than most humans ever do. I will be on my way. Perhaps next time we chat, it will be for pleasantries."
After the fox disappeared, Jiraya looked over to the Hokage. "Sensei, I'm afraid we can't put it off much longer. I'm going to have to take him as an apprentice soon. I'd like him to have some more experience under his belt first. If those two pushed Kakashi that far, they're more than ready to start C-rank missions. After this next chuunin exam, I'll take them both with me. I'd like to teach them a few things before I leave again however."
"I may as well repeal the law about the Kyuubi. There's no point in trying to keep such a poorly kept secret any longer."
Much to the releif of the Hokage and Jiraya, when they rejoined the rest of group, the genin weren't looking at Naruto with real fear anymore. There was still a bit, but even more, there was acceptance. Hinata looked to be glued to the poor boy as well.
"Hokage-Sama?" Everyone turned to look at the Hokage after Kakashi addressed him.
"It's alright Kakashi. We've known for a while. We couldn't be truly certain, but it's as the Kyuubi said. The seal has been open since before Naruto started the academy. She is no threat to Konoha. Unless Konoha chooses to make her one." That last sentence was spoken while delivering a glare to the medics. "Kurenai, Asuma, I believe your teams should be training right now?" Teams eight and ten knew a dismissal when they heard it and didn't waste much time leaving, even if they weren't sure just how much training they would get done after the events of the morning so far.
"Hey gaki, how you feeling?"
"I feel like I got into a fight with a jounin. I think my ribs are still broken."
"Hahahaha. Consider it a lesson. Time for another one. I'll be leaving again in a few days, and there's something I want to pass on to you two before then." Turning to Kakashi, Jiraya gave the man a shrug as if to say sorry before turning back to the two genin. "You two look well enough to start. You know what they say, if you ain't bleeding, you ain't training. Today, you two get to learn..." With a quick bite of his thumb, Jiraya went through a few hand seals before slamming his hand to the ground "KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU!"
Looking up at Jiraya standing on the large toad, Kakashi shakes his head. "Jiraya...maybe a hospital isn't the best place to teach them to summon...?"
The next couple days before Jiraya had to leave again were busy for team seven. Through practice, the Naruto was able to summon Gama, a man-sized toad wearing samurai armor. Hinata was able to consistently summon Gamakichi and Gamatatsu, two much smaller toads. They wouldn't be much use in a fight, but they could scout or relay messages quite well. Between summoning training, Kakashi was driving Naruto hard with kenjutsu and taijutsu training, while he had a shadow clone pushing Hinata in her taijutsu training. Finally, the day they were scheduled to begin their first mission arrived. Team seven took the morning to train, holding off on grabbing a mission until after lunch.
"Hey! Kakashi-sensei! What kind of mission are we going to do today? Rescue a princess? Storm a castle? Overthrow an oppressive regime? Guard a noble? Find lost treasure?"
Catching the scroll the chuunin on duty at the assignment desk tossed him, Kakashi took a moment to read it before looking at his genin. "This is a very important mission. Are you two absolutely sure you're ready to be shinobi? After this mission, there is no going back. Your innocence will be lost, and you will never look at the world the same again."
Naruto and Hinata quickly came to attention and shouted in unison. "Hai sensei! We're ready!"
"Good! Our mission today is to pick up the garbage in training area forty-three!" The chuunin at the assignment desk couldn't hold it in anymore, and was laughing at the poor genin as their hopes were crushed in one fell swoop.
"WHAT! Don't we pay people to do stuff like that!"
"Yes. We do Naruto. They're called 'genin'."
"My innocence...it's gone..."
"Hey guys! What did you get for a mission?" Kiba came running up, followed by Shino, nodding his head in greeting, and Sakura who was carrying a large cat. "We had to track down a cat. Can you believe it? Someone hired ninja to track down a cat! Damn thing took hours to find too!"
The chuunin at the desk was laughing again. He loved his job, he really did. There was nothing more entertaining than watching new teams with their first missions. Tora, the cat, was well known among the more experiences genin. It's spent the past five years running from ninja, and picked up quite a few tricks as a result. They've even joked about giving it an honorary genin rank due to how many teams have completely failed to track him.
"Would you believe me if I said we're storming a castle to save a princess and overthrow an oppressive regime and finding a lost treasure?"
"Oh. In that case, we're cleaning training area forty-three." Naruto finished with a sigh while Hinata put a hand on his shoulder.
"Come on Naruto-kun. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get back to training." Waving bye, team seven made their way to the training area they were supposed to clean up. Garbage was everywhere. Kakashi just leaned against a tree, and pulled out an Icha-Icha book.
"Well, get to work."
"Right...as you said Hinata. The sooner we finish..." Sharing a nod and a smile, the two got to work. "Fūton: Daitoppa!" Scaling down the power of the great breakthrough wind technique, Naruto was pushing the garbage along. It wasn't neat, but it was starting to pile it up.
"Suiton: Mizurappa!" From the other side, Hinata was doing the same, but with a wave of water she was shooting from her mouth. Naruto had shadow clones going along to grab what the two of them together missed. Once they finally managed to get everything gathered, they were at a loss of what to do.
"Kuchiyose No Jutsu!" With no better idea, Naruto summoned Gama. "Hey, Gama! Can we get a hand with this? We're gonna burn this pile of garbage." With a croak, Gama turned to the pile before spitting a steady stream of oil at it. Naruto lit one of his explosive tags and tossed it into the stream, igniting it into a blazing inferno that incinerated the pile of garbage. It also left a great deal of the training area on fire.
"Good job Naruto, Hinata. Now stop the fire before you burn down Konoha." Kakashi didn't even look up from his book.
"Oops..." That gives me an idea. I got something for your smug ass...
Iruka, who joined the chuunin at the assignment desk, was staring at the mission report in disbelief. "Kakashi, this can't be right. That was a D-rank mission!"
A slightly singed Kakashi just shrugged, for once not reading reading his book. "It's right." The glare at the two genin didn't go unnoticed.
"Well...this is definitely one for the ridiculous feat list. Most jutsu ever used in a D-rank, most property damage ever done in a D-rank, use of a summoning jutsu in D-rank, first use of a biju in a D-rank, did you really use the Kyuubi to power up a wind release jutsu to fight a FIRE!"
"...Uh yea, lets go with that..." Almost had Kakashi's book with that too...
"Use of a water/wind combination jutsu in a D-rank, AND setting your sensei on fire in a D-rank. I'm not sure sure if this belongs in a hall of fame or a hall of shame..."
Kakashi gave a slight shudder. "Fire...so much fire..." Naruto's smirk went unnoticed by both the jounin and the chuunin. Now to get another excuse to set him on fire...
Naruto was covered from head to toe in soot. Hinata was leaning against him, her excessive use of jutsu in fighting the fire having taken it's toll on her. "Iruka-sensei, we're ready for another mission!" Even the most cursory inspection of the team made it obvious that Naruto's statement was pure bravado, but orders were orders, no matter how much Iruka disagreed with them.
The other chuunin threw another scroll at Kakashi, whose eyes widened as soon as he saw the large C on it. "Already?"
"The Hokage left this mission here for you team in specific. I think it's too early, but he wanted your team to move up to C-rank missions after your first D-rank. He has faith that your team can complete the mission. You're expected to leave for it tomorrow, so you have tonight to get ready for it."
Taking a minute to read the scroll, Kakashi looked at his genin. "Last time I was joking, this time I'm not. This will be your first true mission as shinobi. This mission is the true turning point of your lives. Pack for a two week trip, and this will be a combat mission. We leave tomorrow at dawn. There has been reports of banditry between Fire country and Wave country. Not too bad for your first C-rank."
"Naruto, Hinata, take care. You proved graduation night that you have what it takes to be fine shinobi of the leaf. Good luck out there." Iruka was torn. On one hand, he knew they were ready for combat. On the other hand, he couldn't help but see Naruto and Hinata, his academy students.
"Don't worry Iruka-sensei. We'll be back before you know it!"
Naruto and Hinata were rummaging through Naruto's apartment, trying to decide what to take for equipment, while the Kyuubi was laying on Naruto's bed, reading her own copy of Icha-Icha paradise, signed personally to her by Jiraya. Hinata had shown up with a pair of black sleeveless tactical vests. They weren't armored like the chuunin flak vests, but they provided much needed storage space, having six scroll pouches in each side of the chest, along with two general use pockets.
Currently, they were going through Naruto's seal scrolls, and tag collection. The storage shelf had several scroll sections labeled. Fire, Water, Oil, Mud, Shield, General Storage. The general storage scrolls just had your standard storage seals. The Fire, Water, Oil, and Mud scrolls had far more specific seals on them, greatly increasing their storage, but limiting just what can be sealed in them. The shield scroll was something a bit special. It was a completely custom piece. It was so far his first and only success at creating a fire and forget defensive shield with fuuinjutsu. Oh, he could make a defensive barrier any day of the week. Anyone with half decent sealing skills could. But you have to constantly pour energy into them, and can't really do anything else while holding it up. They also took several people to make one of any decent effectiveness. Anything worthwhile that could be done solo was still beyond his sealing abilities. More importantly though, these shields could be used by anyone, much like an exploding tag. The downside was, they were extremely short lived. It was a few seconds of protection, but as any shinobi knows, a few seconds is a long time in a battle.
The next section of the storage shelf for his seals held the tags he's been making ever since he could. He had so far managed to create a decent variety of specialized tags. In addition to the standard exploding tags, he had shrapnel tags that would shoot metal shrapnel when they blew, cutting tags which were just directional powered-down exploding tags for cutting through doors or walls without serious risk to people on the other side, and spalling tags which were essentially the opposite of cutting tags, designed to turn a wall into as much shrapnel as possible with a directional concussion blast.
Naruto took two of each scroll for himself, and passed two of each to Hinata. Once again, Hinata ended up taking the lion share of his exploding tags, while they evenly split the specialty tags, not having many of them to begin with. Using the sealing scrolls, the sealed their travel packs, rations, several extra canteens, and a few extra blades. After all, the one thing you can reliably do with a standard blade as a ninja is break it. Standards blades just aren't strong enough to handle the stress of ninja-combat, long term, which made chakra blades highly sought after by any dedicated kenjutsu user, which in turn, made them hideously expensive and rare. Most chakra blades these days were acquired from dead ninja or samurai, not bought.
Finished packing for the upcoming missions, Naruto slipped his arms around Hinata and lightly brushed her neck with his lips. "Hinata-chan, you need a shower. Almost as much as I do."
Giggling, Hinata smashed her elbow into Naruto's ribs. "Is that so Naruto-kun? I think you're just trying to get me naked. In that case, I get the first shower." Smiling back Naruto, she took her shirt off and tossed it at him before heading off to the bathroom. "Feel free to join me Naruto-kun". Soon after, her pants and underwear were tossed out the bathroom as well while Naruto just stood there holding her shirt, trying to decide what to do.
"You might as well join her kit."
"We're still too young for that though..."
Looking up from her book, the Kyuubi just raised her eyebrow at him. "Technically, you're both legally adults. Not only that, you're both Shinobi. How long do you plan on waiting?"
"I don't know, maybe a few more years?" Naruto said while scratching his head.
"You have a beautiful woman who just practically threw herself at you here, and you're obviously interested. I don't think you really recognize how dangerous your job is. Odds are very good that one of you two will die by the time you're done waiting. All you're gonna accomplish by waiting is hurting her feelings. Just go for it kit."
"Naruto-kun? You coming?"
"If you don't start moving, I'm going to drag you to her myself. Old enough to kill and all that..."
"You two certainly looked happy this morning. Where are your bags though?" Completely surprising the two genin by showing up on time, Kakashi tried to not laugh when Hinata fell out of Naruto's lap, blushing furiously. He didn't quite succeed.
"We didn't bring bags Kakashi-Sensei." Naruto snapped open one of his scroll pouches and withdrew a scroll. "Our supplies are all sealed up, and we both have an extra storage scroll in case we find something we need to hold on to."
Of course they sealed their supplies... "You know, sometimes I forget you two have been training with Jiraya for a while now...however, I still have to check your supplies to make sure you packed properly. Go ahead and start unsealing."
With an indifferent shrug, Naruto and Hinata started unsealing their supplies. They didn't quite take it personally, after all, it's their jounin sensei's job to check, but they still found it annoying. Packing for a trip was basic academy stuff. Going along that line of thought, Naruto could barely suppress a shudder. If checking their packing was something their sensei HAS to do, it's only because fresh genin have proved that something as simple as packing was beyond them. That's probably why the mortality rate for young ninja was so high.
Looking through the what Naruto packed, Kakashi raised his eyebrow. "Naruto, do you really think you'll need this many replacement swords?"
"What kind of question is that Kakashi-sensei? I don't have a chakra blade, so they have a nasty tendency to break after a while. Sure, my arms would probably fall off before I could break THAT many swords, but I'd rather have more than I need than need another blade I don't have."
Kakashi just shook his head. He doesn't know you can strengthen a normal sword with chakra yet? I wonder how long until he finds out. After all, Kakashi wanted payback for that firestorm still. "Well, you both seem to be overpacked, but using just a single sealing scroll means you're well prepared instead of burdened. Glad to know I won't have to babysit you two. Lets get going, We'll get a more in-depth briefing when we get there."
Kakashi showed the two chuunin manning the front gate the missions scroll and signed the team out and team seven got on their way. With two genin in tow, even these exceptional two, it would still take a couple days to get to the the coast.
"Alright sensei, what's the plan?"
"First, we meet a Captain Tsurugi and his men. He'll have more complete information when we arrive. This isn't a full extermination mission. We're to take as many prisoners as practical. That means we'll be babysitting the regular soldiers who will take custody of the prisoners. I hope you two are as ready as the Hokage thinks you are, there will be fighting."
Team seven met with Captain Tsurugi at a small military camp. A quick headcount showed forty men plus the good Captain himself. The Captain was quite recognizable from the rest of the men, being the only man with a sword instead of a spear, along with his heavy red armor standing apart from the light blue armor the rank and file wore. His greaves stopped short of his knees, while an armored skirt covered most of his thighs. His chest plate, shoulder guards, and arm guards were made up of overlapping plates. Judging from the number of slices and chipped edges, the armor wasn't just for show.
The meeting with Captain Tsurugi went as they almost always do. The man was relieved to have ninja along but he had appearances to maintain and complained, loudly, at every opportunity. It was an old dog and pony show. Ninja were always glad to have regular soldiers along in any sort of extended campaign. Ninja take territory, soldiers hold and consolidate it, maintain supply lines, and implement the Daimyo's rule. Soldiers on the other hand, loved having ninja along. Someone else does all the heavy fighting, and you sit around and take credit for the success. Sure, there was always some level of jealousy, and as such, soldiers had to pretend ninja were hogging the glory, and ninja had to pretend that soldiers just got in the way. Such rivalries are an ingrained tradition.
"So. You're my ninja team for this? Only three of you? Did your last guy fall out a tree on the way or something?" Captain Tsurugi was an old hand at this game. It was rare for most mid-grade missions to have anything but a four man team assigned. They had to be a pretty solid group if Konoha only sent three.
"Just the three of us Captain. Good to see you again. These two are Naruto and Hinata. Trust me, they're much better than they look."
Captain Tsurugi just shrugged. He learned years ago not to judge a shinobi by looks. He's seen children not even ten yet go through other shinobi like a buzzsaw. Of course, he was honor bound to talk shit to them. "They look a bit young. You sure they can handle this? This isn't something for children. I don't think I'd trust them to walk my dog."
Naruto and Hinata, not used to this sort of interaction exchanged quick glances before Naruto raised an eyebrow. "You do know that the regular starting age of a Shinobi is twelve, right? Many start much earlier than that as well. So really, in a way, it kind of IS something for children."
For the first time he could remember, Captain Tsurugi was legitimately at a loss of what to say. The kid was technically right, but he couldn't admit it. "Right...well, as long as Kakashi here is willing to carry your bodies back, no skin off my nose."
Kakashi cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. "Yes, well...we should get this started. Do you have any updated information for us?"
Captain Tsurugi unrolled a map on to his table for the ninja. "My scouts have tracked down their base of operations to this valley. You guys built in several supply caches in the area's cave system during the last great war, and we're fairly sure they're using those. They've quite effectively hidden their true numbers. My scouts confirmed at least thirty, and suspect there are more unaccounted for. They're all just regular bandits, no samurai or ninja with them that we know of. Nothing too difficult. Well, maybe too difficult for you and your children. My men will have no difficulties."
Kakashi knew exactly what cave system the captain was talking about. "Great, we'll be done by lunch. Are your men ready to move?" What both leaders knew, and didn't say to each other, was that the cave system is probably the most developed and improved fortification Konoha ever built. It was the command center of the eastern front during the last war, hardened to survive ninja combat. This wasn't going to be fun at all.
"Me and my men have been ready. We'd be done by now if you weren't so slow to get here."
Naruto just rolled his eyes, getting annoyed with the captain. "Whatever old man. Just try to not fall on your sword. I've seen scarier troops of girl scouts." Kakashi, much to his credit, managed to hold in his laughter. Hinata had no such luck.
"You got a loud mouth kid. I like that. Alright Kakashi, lets get this show started. You know the drill. Me and my men march to the valley making as much noise as we can, you and your kids capture or kill anyone we scare up. Once we get to the caves, we'll make it up as we go along. There's likely to be some nasty fighting in there. One last thing...it seems that they've been highly selective of their targets. It's only luck that we even figured out people here have been disappearing. Virtually all the travellers get by unmolested, so they could have been here for quite a while before we even caught a sniff of this operation. They have some sort of objective in mind, but I don't know what."
"Done by lunch he said..." Naruto tossed aside his broken sword. "No samurai he said..." He managed to sidestep the next thrust, barely. "Then why the fuck does this guy's sword GLOW!" Ducking, the sword swipe took off a few tips of hair, then followed through into the wall of cave, effortlessly sliding through the stone.
Quickly going through a few handseals, Naruto jumped forward into the opening and puts his hand on the mans chest. "Fūton: Daitoppa!" The massive burst of wind launched the samurai back into some of his own men, breaking quite a few bones all around. Unfortunately, the samurai never let go of the sword, and the blade snapped, leaving it half embedded in the wall. "Noo! I wanted that sword..."
Turning back to Hinata, Naruto dived just in time for her opponent to smash into the wall by him. "Sorry Naruto-kun, I didn't have time to aim him."
"Well, your family training sure seems to be paying off. I wonder how the other two groups are doing." The ten soldiers following the two genin went about tying up their new prisoners. It wasn't an altogether BAD plan. Well, it was, but it was about as good as could be done with three shinobi, forty soldiers, and the troop commander. Naruto and Hinata took ten soldiers, Kakashi took ten, and Captain Tsurugi took ten, leaving the last ten outside to watch the prisoners. Unfortunately the cave system really needed more people than they had to properly clear out.
"They're fine kit. If Kakashi ran into something he couldn't handle, you'd know it. Tsurugi is also far more dangerous than he looks. I doubt he's fallen on his sword, or someone elses for that matter."
"I'm sure they're fine Naruto-kun."
Naruto unsealed another sword and made some shadow clones to help the soldiers subdue the few bandits not too hurt to fight back. Clean up only took a few moments for them, as after fighting those two samurai, resistence crumbled. Much to their credit, they've managed to avoid killing anyone so far. "Alright guys, take five. I'll scout ahead with some shadow clones and make a group to carry back our prisoners. Make sure they're bound tight, your buddies outside are going to be outnumbered pretty soon at this rate." This wasn't the first group they've taken down, though it was the only group to put up notable resistence.
Making another small army of clones, Naruto took a seat as they ran through the cave system. They'd find the next group to take in no time. Hinata just shrugged, before flopping into his lap, her face nearly glowing from her blush as the remaining soldiers began to snicker at the scene. The two sat in companionable silence waiting for the rest of their detachment to return. A quick poke in her side, and Hinata got out of his lap.
"Alright guys, I think I've found...oh...wow...I don't think I'm gonna sleep again anytime soon." Naruto's face lost all color as he turned to Hinata. "Hinata...remind me NOT to piss off the captain. That man scares me. Alright, I've found their main base in here. Lets get moving! The three teams are linking up in five!"
Tsurugi looked at the men in front of him. Three ronin and two low chuunin level shinobi. All five had a smug expression, confident that this wasn't even going to be a fight. Turning his head to his own men, he sighed. "I'll handle them. Stand back men." Turning back, he caught a glance of that loud mouthed brat crawling on roof. Damn. Shadow clones? No wonder the kid is so cocky. Shouldn't be surprised. They wouldn't send weaklings with a legend like Kakashi.
"You five are under arrest. We can do this the easy way or..." The first ronin charged. He was cut off mid-swing as Tsurugi drew his blade, cutting through the mans sword, arm, and entire body. A quick spin to conserve his momentum while closing the distance to the second man, and his next swing took both the mans arms. Reaching out, he grabbed the third ronin and threw him towards the first shinobi to block a lightning spear. The fried body lost enough moment that the shinobi had no problem getting out the way in time. Another quick swing of his sword, and the fireball the other shinobi fired off was bisected, splashing harmlessly into the walls.
"The hard way it is." Neither of the chuunin were prepared to fight a full blown high level first one turned to run...and ran right into Naruto's clone. Or, more specifically, the butt of the clones sword. The second turned to ran, and didn't even make it a step before crashing to the ground, his legs both removed just above the knee.
Wiping his sword off, Tsurugi nodded to the boy. "Not too bad. Managed to keep three of them alive. Be on your guard, this is something much bigger than we thought. They have far too much combat power here to be simple bandits."
"Tsurugi, I found what looks like their main base in here. About 600 feet down this tunnel. Be careful it's heavily fortified. I have a set of clones looking for Kakashi-sensei to notify him."
Set of clones..? Great, I think I'm looking at the next Itachi if he can make SETS of shadow clones...hopefully this one doesn't freak out and kill his entire clan."Alright. How far is your team?"
"The men escorting our prisoners back should return soon. After that, we're about three minutes out. Call it five minutes until we can link up." The boy paused for a moment. "Kakashi-sensei says he'll be there in five minutes as well." With that, the boy dispelled.
Naruto and Hinata were the first to arrive to the central chamber. By now, most of Naruto's clones had dispelled, giving him a good idea of the cave systems layout. There were a few more such areas, but all were abandoned. All said and done, the entire military command of a hidden village could move into this cave system and have room left over. At the far end of the chamber, the way forward was blocked with what looked to be the most formidable wall Naruto ever saw. Unlike the wall around Konoha, this one you couldn't go over as it went to the ceiling. The firing slits left an excellent field of fire for defending archers, and showed just how thick the wall was.
"There are twenty archers manning the wall Naruto-kun. Behind them are three more. Judging by their chakra systems, they're shinobi. One looks to be high jounin in strength."
Kakashi and Tsurugi arrived in time to hear. Neither found it to be an ideal situation, but it was hardly insurmountable, but definitely not ideal. This was now quite officially an A-rank mission. "Naruto, since you're always full of surprises, you got any ideas for getting through the wall easily?" Kakashi didn't really need help. He could just use his chidori to blow through the armored door, and wouldn't have any issues avoiding the archers, but he wanted to get Naruto and Hinata involved. Treating them like genin would be a waste of everyone's time.
Naruto frowned for a moment in thought before smiling. "I got just the thing sensei." Making twenty clones, Naruto pulled out his five spalling tags and passed them out to his clones. The extra fifteen drew swords and took up guarding positions, three to a tag carrier. Note to self: Find way to add in Kyuubi-chan's chakra to exploding tags. The five carriers channeled a small trickle of chakra to the tags, expanding them back to their original size. Kakashi and Tsurugi both sweat dropped at the sight of the massive tags, being almost as big as Naruto. Hinata looked at the massive tags with lust.
As the five teams took off to breach the wall, Naruto nodded to Hinata and both started throwing explosive tag laden kunai at the wall. The resulting waves of explosions barely scratched the wall, but it achieved it's objective. The arrow fire from the wall cut off almost immediately, and the explosions obscured the vision of the defenders. "Note to self: Invent smoke bomb tags."
Of the twenty clones, seventeen survived to make it to the wall. Two tags went to the left side, two went to the right side, and the last tag went directly over the door. Not having any cover, the clones just detonated them all as soon the last tag was placed. The tag on the door turned the armored slab into pure shrapnel, while the four tags on the wall itself didn't seem to have much effect at all on the wall, despite the massive explosions, big enough that most the waiting soldiers got knocked down. Since the explosion was concentrated almost purely straight into the wall as a concussive blast, quite a few of the clones survived, and immediately started pouring through the door.
Without catching Hinata's wince, Kakashi looked to Naruto. "Well, the doors open, but you didn't even scratch the wall." Naruto just shrugged. He didn't think the tags would be able to take down the wall, but he was pretty sure he didn't want to see the other side of it. The look on Hinata's face told him he was quite right. The sights he got from a dispelled clone were enough to make him sick. Naruto didn't waste any time in emptying the contents of his stomach.
"Ano...Kakashi-sensei, all the bandits are dead. Only the three shinobi in the back are alive."
The three shinobi were in a small huddle in the back. The two younger were obviously twins, and the older one was a brother as well. "Alright brothers. Once they get caught into that killing field, we'll move in and cut them down. This mission is officially scrapped. He knew we couldn't operate here indefinitely, so we already have our next area of operations identified." Once the first arrow was loosed, the three brothers looked to the wall. A few more arrows were loosed before the archers started ducking and yelling. A couple kunai sailed through the windows, exploding harmlessly. A great deal more exploded at the wall.
"Shit! I can't see!"
"None sir! We have no visibility though!"
"We got an injury over here!"
"Don't worry, I'll be fine! Don't let them get close!"
"THEY'RE AT THE WALL!
The three brothers watched at the door disappeared into a flurry of shrapnel. Wasting no time, all three dropped to the floor as the entire wall seemed to explode inward. Most the men didn't even live long enough to scream. Body parts were strewn all across the area, blood splattered everywhere. Having never seen a true Shinobi war, all three paused for a moment at the gruesome sight. The only thing that saved them when the small swarm of shadow clones charged in was the fact that the shadow clones all stopped a the sight as well. One of the clones even managed to throw up, which oddly enough dispelled it.
Getting back to the matter at hand, the remaining clones drew their swords. "Surrender. You're trapped and injured. You can't fight your way out."
The eldest brother took stock of his situation, and disagreed with the young mans assessment. Their injuries were really quite minor, and they weren't exactly weak pushovers. "I don't think so. Before I kill you, whats your name?"
The Naruto clones replied as one. "We are Legion!" As one, the two groups charged each other, except for one clone remaining by the door, leaving two clones per enemy. The Eldest brother quickly cut through both of his clones, while the younger two seemed to be struggling. Guess he isn't just all talk, but still not good enough to stop me.
Instead of immediately pursuing the last clone, he went to the aid of his brothers. The fight didn't even last thirty seconds. "You'll have to do better than that to stop the Daisuke brothers!" Flicking his headband, which showed a slashed through symbol for Kumogakure. "We'll show you true swordsmanship."
All three brothers rolled up their left sleeve, revealing a seal on their arms. With a swipe of a thumb, all three unsealed their swords.
The last clone bolted out the door with all three hot on his heels.
Wiping his mouth, Naruto pointed to the open doorway. "I'm drawing them out, lets finish this." His clone bolted back out, with all three of the enemy ninja chasing him. Once in the open, they started throwing jutsu at him as well. One of the twins stomped the ground, shooting up a large rock to head height. A chakra infused punch later, and a stone spike was shot at the clone, who barely dodged it.
Turning, the clone threw his sword into the ground, grounding an arc of lighting the other twin shot at him. The follow up fireball was too big for him to dodge, dispelling the clone in a puff of smoke. The three brothers, and looked around for the real one, noticing a small group of clones have cut them off from retreating back through the door.
"Ah. The Daisuke brothers. No one has seen you in five years. I do beleive you three have the dubious distinction of being the weakest shinobi to ever make the bingo book."
The eldest brother looked at Kakashi, along with the two kids next to him and the troop captain behind them. "Ah, Copy Ninja Kakashi. I'm afraid it's as you said, five years ago when we first went missing-nin, we were the weakest shinobi to get put into a bingo book. That was five years ago however. We're honored, to have such a man sent after us. Brothers, why don't you take the two kids, I'll take Kakashi."
Tsurugi just shrugged. "Guess I'll sit this one out then. Lets see if your kids are as good as you think they are."
"I am Kaneda Daisuke, eldest of the Daisuke brothers. Prepare yourself Kakashi." With that small pronouncement, the man disappeared. Kakashi's eye widened for a moment before he had a Kunai held up, barely managing to block a sword swing that sent him sliding back a good ten feet. Both Naruto and Hinata broke off to their seperate sides, avoiding the opening attacks from the twins.
"I see. You truly do deserve a much better ranking you've been given." Moving to lift his headband, Kakashi took a foot to the face, and nearly lost his head to a slash, ducking under it just in time. The follow up strike bisected the log that replaced Kakashi.
Finally having opened the distance, he wasted no time raising his headband, bringing his Sharingan into play.
"Uh, dude, your twin is so screwed." So far, Naruto was managing to hold his own against his attacker. Other than the occasional lightning Jutsu, the guy just wasn't that good. Blocking another sword strike, Naruto smiled at him. "No, seriously. He doesn't know what he's messing with." Several explosions and loud cursing punctuated his statement.
Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Naruto smashed his leg into the man's sword arm, managing to knock the weapon out of his hands. Following up with a thrust, the man avoided the strike and managed to return the favor, bringing his knee into Naruto's wrist, breaking his grip in the sword.
Not letting that slow him, Naruto stepped in striking, managing to slip into his guard. Once in, Naruto became a quick flurry of knee's and elbows. His strikes quickly drove the man back, staggering him. Naruto planted his left hand on the man's chest before he could disengage and open the range back up. Channeling chakra, his hand stuck to the man's chest. Pulling himself in, Naruto smashed his elbow across his jaw, then smashed it again into his nose on the return swing, finally staggering the man enough to drop him to the ground. In return, Naruto ended up taking an elbow across the face, managing to break his grip, and rolling him off.
A few more explosions rang out, along with more screaming and cussing. Shaking his head, Naruto grabbed his sword from the ground and moved to end the fight. Unable to see clearly through the blood covering his eyes from the blonde's vicious assault, Naruto's opponent wasn't able to block or dodge in time, take a shallow slash across the mans chest. Managing to barely open the range, he flashed through hand seals, and put everything he had left into his jutsu. As Naruto's Sword sunk hilt deep into his chest, he smiled as he grabbed Naruto. "Raiton: Jibashi!" Naruto let out a scream as arcs of lighting began to course across his body for a few second.
As the technique ended, both Naruto and the twin collapsed to the ground. "Heh..you're still alive?" The man looked over to Naruto who was already struggling back to his feet, nasty burns covering most of his exposed skin. Opening his vest, he smirked up at the injured genin, whose eyes went wide when he saw the massive set of exploding tags. "Boom."
"WHAT THE HELL YOU CRAZY BITCH!" Rolling back to his feet, he was quite unsure how much longer he could keep moving for. The constant explosions were taking a hell of a toll on his body. Everytime he closed the distance, the Hyuuga girl came within millimeters of ending his life. Everytime he opened the distance, exploding tags came within millimeters of ending his life. "THIS IS JUST REDICULOUS! HOW MANY OF THOSE DO YOU CARRY!"
Moving through his hand seals, he smashed his hand on the ground, shooting spike into the girl...who effortlessly weaved through each spike before sending another wave of kunai and exploding tags before she ducked. Why would she duck...?
The next wave of explosions, unlike the previous waves, shot out chunks of metal shrapnel along with the explosion. He never had a chance. As he dropped to floor, slowly bleeding out, a giant explosion caught Hinata's attention.
"NARUTO-KUN!" Hinata screamed as the boy was engulfed. Not even he could survive that! Movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention, as the man she was fighting just ripped open his vest as well. "I'll see you soon, brother.." Eyes widening, she reached for her chest, pulling out a scroll from it's pouch. Ripping it open, a barrier hummed to life as the world around exploded in fury. The barrier held for a few seconds, before the hum quieted, and the barrier dropped. Even as the smoke from the massive explosion began to clear, she was still holding the scroll in a death grip. She stood there in shock for nearly a minute before she felt a hand on her shoulder.
Turning her head, she saw Naruto standing by her. His lips were moving, but she couldn't hear him speaking. She couldn't hear anything.
Kaneda wasn't doing too well either. He already heard the back to back explosions from both his brothers setting off their suicide charges. Kakashi was quickly overpowering him as well. That Sharingan gave him far too much of an advantage to work through. Oh, he knicked him a couple of times, and in return Kaneda had taken a hell of a beating.
"Heh. Guess the Daisuke brothers were never meant to amount to anything, eh?" He had to admit, that mass of blue lighting Kakashi had in his hands was looking dangerous. Hopping back to open the distance, he went to open his vest, knowing full well exactly what Kakashi's Chidori was about to do to him. That was when the ground behind him erupted, with a shadow clone of Kakashi coming from it. Kakashi's arms went under his own, before linking up behind his head, effectively pinning him and keeping him from activating his suicide charge.
"It's over." The real Kakashi move in a flash, and plunged his hand right through the heart...of the log and his shadow clone. I bet this is what Naruto and Hinata felt like when we fought...
"You're right. It is over for now. Next time you see me, I WILL avenge my brothers!" That was when Kakashi noticed the log had the suicide vest on it. "Tch. Like you can outlog me!"
Kakashi appeared next to both his genin as his replacement log was annihilated. "Maa...he uses almost as many explosive tags as you two do. He's definitely long gone by now."
"Kakashi! I think Hinata's lost her hearing!" Hinata was sobbing into Naruto's chest, nearly crushing him in her grip.
Looking down, Kakashi gave one of his trademarked eye smiles. "Don't worry Naruto, it'll return. If not, then they can fix it up at the hospital. I've lost my hearing more times than I can count." You know, Rin did the same thing the first time she thought I got myself killed...At least Hinata is lucky enough that the love of her life returns her feelings. "Anyways, I don't think we're going to catch up to him. I'll go see if I can find any documents, or anything else to tell us why they needed such a large force here. Why don't you two join up with the men outside, and help guard all the prisoners. I'll take a few with me to look for anything of interest."
Kakashi, Captain Tsurugi, and few of his men were picking through the mess. What was left of the defenders even sickened Kakashi. "I can see why Naruto threw up when his clones started dispelling. I didn't expect anything this bad."
"You know Kakashi, if those two weren't so painfully green, I'd think they were ANBU. The way the Hyuuga broke down crying after her fight, she obviously isn't very experienced at all. They almost act like Academy graduates, but fight like veterans. Both of them came out of those explosions that should have killed them without a scratch too. What's their story?"
Digging through what remained of a bandit looking for documents, Kakashi smiled. "They just graduated from the academy actually. They're my first genin team, and this is our second mission."
That was more than enough to break Tsurugi's stoic demeanor. "They're fresh graduates! What the hell are you guys feeding your kids!"
Despite the messy scenery, Kakashi couldn't suppress his laughter. "Those two train with Jiraya whenever he's in town. He's never in town very long, unfortunately, otherwise they'd both be stronger than me by now. As it is, I'd say both are at least mid-chuunin level."
"So how did you end up with two genin instead of three? And don't think I didn't see that kid regenerate from those burns either. I'll bet he's fully healed before we get out of here."
"It probably has a lot to do with how good those two are. If you stuck a fresh academy graduate with those two, nothing good could possible happen. A more experience ninja would be able to adapt to the team, but a fresh graduate would drag the entire team down. They were already a team long before graduating."
"So if I heard you right, I'm about to get rich by betting on them during the next chuunin exam?"
"With luck we can do the bare minimum of missions, to up the odds. Hopefully my cute little genin will be longshot odds the entire way. Hopefully no one notices all the top jounin betting on those two."
"Well, these guys seem to have nothing. Lets check the back office."
Leaving the caves, Kakashi and Tsurugi caught up with the rest of the troops. Hinata and half the troops were resting, most of them asleep, while Naruto and the other half stood guard. "Kakashi-sensei! Find anything?"
"Found plenty of documents. Not much in the way of stolen goods though. It seems they were targetting people to kill. They weren't bandits. We'll need to pass this off to the cryptanalysis squad though. How's Hinata?"
"She's sleeping right now. She still couldn't hear when she went to sleep."
"Alright. Wake her up. We're done here. Tsurugi and his men can finish up, we're on our way back to Konoha. The sooner we get back, the sooner we can get answers to what these people were doing. And Naruto? You two did well today. This was well above the C-rank mission it was supposed to be. I'm proud of you two."
A/N: Yea yea, I'm LAZY and took forever to update. Sorry :p Hope you enjoyed the read! Critiques and reviews appreciated. If you don't tell me how I suck, I can't fix the problems after all. Hopefully in the future I can keep up a faster pace for updates :)