The Twisted Reality 9

The beast lurks in the darkness, eyes glittering and ready to strike at the lamb's neck. Silent does the predator slither, yet the lamb might be a wolf in sheep's clothing, and the beast might be just another prey, for a bigger predator...the one that lurks in the skies out of the thoughts of all.

Konohagakure no Sato – Taifuu Shimura

"Right flank." Shino buzzed through the small radio, his voice nothing more than a light whisper that he still picked on.

"On it." He whispered back in reply, taking careful steps atop the tree branch he was on. The target dashed beneath them, meowing and running like hell.

"Distraction coming." He supplied, narrowing his eyes at the sight of the blond haired girl prowling through the vegetation of the undergrowth of one of Konoha's small parks. For a moment, he stilled while taking a deep breath, taking in the pure air thick with the smell of resin and tree bark, the sensation all too familiar with that of a long time before.

As his feet held against the bark, he felt the warmth of the sun bask on his head, warming him as he absent-mindedly palmed a kunai and began to make it spin slowly within his hand.

"Oh hey, oh hey." He hummed, as his eyes snapped open a second later while he pushed his legs hard against the bark and jumped down.

The trees, the bandit camp, the falling down and the hope of a quick death, the sailing arc of the Kunai…he remembered that, the thrill, the adrenaline.

He remembered that, he knew that as the kunai left his hand it would sail and end up straight in front of the cat, forcing him to jump to the side, where Ino would scare him and send him the other way, where Shino was. If the cat instead went backwards…he'd be there to catch it.

Tora the cat was captured within five minutes of being found, with no wounds on him or his teammates, albeit Ino held a slightly sulking attitude for a moment, refusing however to speak about it.

"This is the last one, isn't it?" He asked, earning a small nod from Shino. "C-ranks now await us." He supplied with a small smile, to signal his satisfaction.

"I hope we will be suitably ready for the tasks ahead of us." The Aburame replied quietly.

"Thou worry not! Tis' a great deal to humility be betrothed!"

"…stard." Ino mumbled.

"Have thou spoken, fair lady?" He queried, having half an idea of what Ino had actually murmured between gritted teeth.

"Bastard." The blond haired girl mumbled, "You're a bastard. You're both bastards. I'm part of this team too, but none of you even listen to me! What the hell, I'm a kunoichi too! I passed together with you, and we're the best of the class! Why don't you include me too in your plans!?" As she screeched that, her eyes turned teary for a moment, before shaking her head. "Never mind: you're both assholes." Sulkily, she began to pace quickly through them, pushing them apart as she stomped off towards the destination they should go to drop the cat.

The meow of the cat grew distressed, as Ino was probably choking the life out of the beast. He looked at Shino for a brief instant, before sighing.

"Should we?"

"Emotional stability should be a requirement of a successful shinobi." Shino pointed out.

"Thy heart so hard to deaden is! Why, oh cruel fates, do you besiege me with such tasks!?" He exclaimed, before rolling his eyes and making a nod in the direction Ino had run off to, "Let's catch up with her."

"Indeed." And the next moment, both boys began to run in order to catch up with the furious girl.

"I'm not listening to your excuses!" Ino huffed as she probably heard them run towards her.

"We aren't going to apologize." He replied hotly, "Not until you apologize first."

"What!?" She turned around like having been whipped, her face red from ill repressed anger.

"You heard me." He rebuked her, "You should apologize to whatever Kunoichi you stole the title of 'best' to." As he crossed his arms around his chest, he pointed with his right hand to the sky. "Thy disgrace Kami knows, bequest his pardon and grace shall befall."

"Me…Me apologize?" Ino hissed, "I got full marks in everything at the academy! I was at the top in Taijutsu, Genjutsu and Ninjutsu for the female side. I was the best…no, I am the best."

"No, you aren't." He replied quietly, "Does thy pride blind you to the truth? Does thy arrogance know no bound?"

"Why can't you speak like a normal person for once!? What the hell, you think you're funny? Well you are definitively not!" As Ino screamed that straight in his face, he shook his head.

"You are a brat." He spoke clearly and slowly, "And I wonder how you managed to be the best Kunoichi of this generation, if you act like this." He added, "You are loud. You are obnoxious. You scream and act like the world must bow to your will. You are everything I despise and dislike: you are a bubblehead, and guess what? I don't care if you want to become a 'pretty and powerful kunoichi', because in my book you're nothing more than a snotty kid who needs a lesson in humility." His fists clenched tightly, before he snapped his head to the side.

"Shino, was I wrong in my statement?"

The Aburame raised an eyebrow behind his shades, considering it became visible to him, it meant he had raised it quite a bit.

"I'd be glad to refrain from worsening the situation any longer."

"Fine, coward." He muttered, smiling slightly at the Aburame's flinch, "I don't think holding words up works in a team, so let's cut to the chase." He turned his eyes towards Ino, and took a step forward.

Ino was apparently holding Tora tightly to herself, her eyes looking at him slightly puffed, like they were about to start crying. She apparently hadn't yet begun because he had still to finish speaking.

"Because of a simple mistake made by a Chuunin, I saw my friends die in front of my eyes. Because of a mistake, an idiotical mistake that not even a worthless academy student would make, my friends died in front of my very own eyes and I swore upon their last dying breaths that I would carry on their dreams, because they had died to protect me."

"Carry on my dream!"

"So, when I see a brat." He took another step forward, "Who knows nothing about what being a shinobi is, I feel angry." The voice was now guttural and hoarse. "And when I hear her whine and whine and cry and whine some more I get even angrier…because she knows nothing and speaks like her grades count something in the world!" As soon as he exclaimed that, he took another step and Ino retreated of one.

"You think you're special huh? You think everything's going to be fine because you're pretty, or maybe because you've got full marks on all tests…well, when a bandit holds you at blade point, grades mean shit." He pointed his right arm at her, his index finger aiming at her head with his hand in the form of a gun.

"You are a bull's eye with your cheerful attitude and exclamations, your whining is hearable from a distance, and your stealth skills are worse than pitiful: they're worthless. You don't crawl on the ground without whining about grass and dirt at least ten times, and that's just plain pathetic you know? You can't hit a target that moves with precision, and apparently you don't even calculate the wind when throwing shurikens, and what about your non-existent stamina? Hey pretty princess, grow up." He hissed; his face inches away from hers, "Because if you don't…you'll die." He opened his arms wide, his shoulders rising in a shrug.

"Don't believe me though: believe reality. Welcome to the game, welcome to hell, welcome to being a ninja."

Then he grabbed Tora by the scruff of the neck pulling it out of Ino's arms.

"This is a chore for kids." He snorted, "The Yondaime is right, you know? We kill for money, we spy for money…being a 'beautiful' kunoichi means nothing if you die in a ditch with your face charred by an explosive, does it?" He inquired with a snarl. "No…I suppose it doesn't mean anything to you… just go on and play with dolls or make belief with the other toddlers...at least you won't risk killing others more worthy than you."

He took a deep breath, before heading off, Tora held by the neck. He'd deliver the cat to the delivery point: an old attendant of her highness, the Daimyo's wife. He'd stamp the mission completed, and then the cat would probably escape again along the route back to the capital…like it had done for years and years. The Daimyo's wife should have just quit and bought another cat…but since when were nobles smart?

He had just chewed off the head of the blond girl, and now he dearly hoped they could at least send a transfer because of the Kunoichi's future lack of cooperation if she stayed in the same team.

He had little doubt with whom Shino would prefer to work alongside with, if his following him was of any indication: logic always went a long way after all.

They reached their sensei soon after, having already delivered the cat and gotten the stamp needed to signal it completed. The man was speaking in a hush tone with another man, one with blond hair and the same shade of eyes that Ino had.

Of course turning back he could see that Ino was actually missing from the team…probably to whine about them to her father if this was of any indication. Yet no harsh rebukes came his way, if anything the man smiled at them before leaving Ibiki and waving goodbye.

"Where's the third member?" Ibiki growled, looking all the bit menacing as he was.

"We had a disagreement." He replied slowly: there was no need to beat around the bush, and Ibiki would have come to know it anyway. It was better to get this out of the way quickly, so that they could move on and get a replacement; one that maybe wasn't a stuck up girl.

"Explain the disagreement, Genin Shimura." Ibiki snarled.

He looked at him, simply and effectively looked at him, without saying a word. His right eye was twitching as he tried to reel in some of his temper, before exploding in front of his Jounin-sensei, and as he did that he slowly took a deep calming breath.

"Genin Ino Yamanaka complained about mine and Shino Aburame's lack of interaction with her, or our insertion of her skills within our team planning. Considering her skills were subpar in anything but theoretical matters, there was no need to implement her in the chores." He stated out like he was making a cold report to his superior officer, which was indeed the case, but it was clear by his tone what he thought about it…really clear.

"Of course when she confronted us upon the matter, and then left without hearing our side of the argument we ran to catch up with her and make things clear." He added carefully, "She did not like hearing the truth of the matter."

"Oh?" Ibiki raised an eyebrow, "And what was the truth?"

"That she's a disgrace for the Kunoichi of Konohagakure no Sato." He deadpanned, without even flinching for a second, "That she's just a snob who knows nothing of the world. Actually, sir, I also added she should go back to playing with dolls."

Ibiki didn't appear visibly contrite or angry, if anything his face was bored. A moment later, the man inclined his head to the side, before taking a deep breath.

"I suppose I could move forward a notice to change teams, but you would need to find a substitute, wouldn't you?"

"You…You'd really do it?" He asked surprised. He had half expected the man to do something to change his idea, or to say something about how they were meant to stick together and do everything as a team.

"We are talking of C-ranks from now on, kid." Ibiki growled, "Do you think I'd lead a team who has issues out on a path of blood? Even well-oiled teams get some of their members killed during C-ranks eventually. I'm not taking chances: you two apparently are on the same boat of thought, I'm not keen on getting more chores from the Yondaime, and you wouldn't be lying about her abilities because none of you has a previous history with her. Thus if you can find an apt substitute, then yes, I will let you swap teammate."

"Shouldn't we try and see if Yamanaka-san can change?" Shino queried.

"Each of you finished six missions a day, for a grand total of eighteen a day, we had but forty to do. This is the third day and we're done now." As the Torture and Interrogation chief waved the last printed mission with his hand in front of them, his face didn't show any type of worry or preoccupation.

"The Yondaime told us to be done in five days, we now have most of the afternoon, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow to report to the mission assignment desk…You know what it means then?" The man added slowly, waiting probably for them to say something.

"We either convince Yamanaka-san to grow up by the end of the fifth day or we find a substitute by the end of the fifth day." He replied quickly.

"Precisely: it's that or the Genin Corps." Ibiki's veiled threat fell upon him like a ton of bricks.

"What?" He gurgled out strained.

"I will not lead a splintered team outside of Konoha's walls." The man replied quietly, "You are all either on the same side, or you can get together with hundreds of other Genins in the Genin corps…they were looking for runners last I checked."

The Genin corps of Konohagakure no Sato weren't a black sheep, per se. They were just made up mostly of those Shinobi and Kunoichi who had passed the 'prime' of their life without passing the Chuunin exams. On one hand, it was for those who actually enjoyed doing messenger duty, or who would end up becoming Desk Chuunins, on the other it was also composed of failures and weaklings who had never managed to pass the Chuunin exams, and who their very own team had left behind.

It wasn't much of a threat though…if you enjoyed staying on the border line of poverty, but for a clan heir like Shino or Ino? It was a clearly offensive prospect. He furthermore was the son of the Sandaime: it would be a terrible blow to the Shimura's family pride, even though he was the only Shimura still alive.

"Understood sensei." Shino replied curtly, with a quick nod.

"Good. We will meet after lunch, three o'clock at training ground twenty-eight." Those words said, Ibiki stood up and left, but the small smirk on the man's face said it all.

He narrowed his eyes at the retreating back of the man. Of course the man wasn't just a Jounin for nothing…he had earned his rank, and now he also understood why people were afraid of him.

He'd have to find a substitute or get Ino to grow up. In both cases…maybe Shino would help?

He turned around, seeing Shino looking at him, probably waiting for orders.

"Let's go and look for Ino." He sighed.

"Are you sure?" Shino replied, curious.

"Well…we can always tell her we wanted to apologize, and get her on the right track." He replied, his mind starting to churn out just what to tell the girl.

"She would suspect the sudden change of heart." The Aburame pointed out.

"Oh no…I need to apologize for the harsh words, not to change the reasons I spoke them." He grinned lightly, "Deliver upon thy fools the olive branch of wisdom and peace, and thee heart will strike true towards those who wish for a second chance."

"What if she does not want a second chance?" Shino demanded, his gaze set on the road ahead of them.

"Then we start looking for a substitute."

And with that reply, the two of them kept on walking in silence.

Training Area Forty-Four – Katsu Uzuki

She was positively pissed off. The third kunai in a row had missed its target, and for the third time she had felt something whip her on her back. Whatever it was it had yet to tear through her clothes, but she had little doubt it would soon start to make her bleed.

"Keep those fingers nimble and reactive!" The voice of her so dreaded sensei came through the foliage, "It's not that difficult to hit a pineapple, is it!?"

Clearly, the mad lady had decided she was going to pay for whatever sin she had committed, or maybe she was genuinely caring of making her reach the top. Whatever the idea was, she was feeling terribly murderous right about then, especially against pineapples.

The purpose was to manage a hit with one of her kunais against said fruit, which was apparently capable of changing its direction in mid-air, or at least appeared to have a will of its own considering it kept on evading her attacks.

"Are you telling me you're letting a pineapple, of all things, defeat you?" The next moment, she felt a strong round object scrape her cheek with enough strength that it could have been a punch, for all she knew. She fell on the ground, growling her frustration at the offended fruit which was apparently floating in mid-air.

"I call this…pineapple-no-jutsu." Anko's voice came with a teasing tone from above her, "Or…the evolution of carrot on a stick: pineapple on a ninja wire."

"It's carrot and a stick! Get your facts straight at least!" She yelled back at the woman, standing up. She knew Anko wouldn't be offended by that: the purple haired woman was apparently completely unfazed by what she called her, as long as it wasn't done with others around. Sometimes, she even thought that her sensei actually enjoyed being insulted.

Few seconds later, and the pineapple was moving once more, just like a puppet tied with strings.

"Well, if you say so…" Just as her sensei's voice teased her, wires wrapped themselves around her right ankle, pushing her on the ground as the Kunai she had in her hand fell on the ground. She yelped from the shock, letting herself being pulled through the dirt, until she suddenly kicked with her left foot against the ground, grabbing another kunai in the meantime and, as she was airborne, cut the wire holding her. Spinning around, she threw her weapon straight against the origin of the wire, hearing back from it a solid 'thunk' noise…which was far better than the usual nothing.

"You murderer of trees! You Tree-slaughterer!" Anko's voice kept on singing without a bit of worry, probably she hadn't even managed to hit near her. No, more than probably, it was surely.

"You're getting on my nerves." She growled, her hand mechanically moving to get another kunai, only to find that her pouch was empty. The only thought she had, for the next few seconds, was of how she was no longer armed. It lasted only for a brief moment, because a second later she was completely tied up by ninja wire, and hoisted upwards against a tree.

The wire's pressure against her was uniformed, and luckily she had little exposed skin for the wire to actually press against raw. It still didn't make for a pleasant sensation, being bundled by a type of rope that was used to kill enemy shinobi.

"And what are you going to do about it?" Anko mused out loud, as the purple haired kunoichi walked towards the girl with a clear flaunting hip movement. "Being on your nerves means shit girl." The kunoichi added, before dropping her down like a bag of potatoes.

"You're dead by the way." Her sensei drawled out annoyingly, "Lesson's over for the moment: start scurrying around for the blood sucking leeches."

She groaned in pain as she stood back up, massaging her stiff arms and joints as she slowly walked towards the river. She wouldn't be doing any nonsensical D-rank chore as her sensei tended to call them, but she did need after all some money to live by. Apprentices were placed under the care of their masters, and thus it was the master who decided just how much to help their students live; meaning that her sensei did absolutely nothing.

She was forced to collect plants, animals, poisons and the likes from the training ground Forty-Four, dubbed 'The Forest of Death' and sell them back in Konoha. Her loveable sensei got a cut, because she would intervene, maybe, if a dangerous beast were to lurk its way towards her. A pity that her teacher's definition of dangerous meant 'anything outright mortal that I can't kill'…which left little Anko would actually move for.

She didn't have to follow a strict line of conduct, like always being dressed in a yukata, learning how to play the shamisen or even having tea ceremonies, but she was forced to follow her teacher's orders. Refusing to do so was immediate treason. A Jounin-sensei had three students, and while the relationship was usually more lax refusal of obeying orders was met with a warrant for treason, and usually it never went beyond that.

Apprentices were different because they learned from their masters without passing through the secrecy laws concerning techniques. If her sensei wished, she could teach her a D-rank technique or an S-rank one, and go unpunished.

The side effect was that if she, apprentice, used said technique to kill a Konoha civilian, then her master would face the fault just as well as she.

She could of course ask to change master, or be sent within the Genin pool, but chances like this one happened rarely, and she had been lucky. Maybe Sakura's lack of actions as of recently meant just that: she had finally left her alone.

She quietly pricked the finger of her right hand, before letting drops of blood flow in the water of the stream near the thick water reeds. Soon the water began to bubble up, as the ferocious leeches that resembled more small black water locusts than vermin fought for the crimson liquid.

Quickly, she scurried through her supplies for the small net, usually needed to hold medicinal pills. Dropping it in the water, she soon hauled off a good dozen of still twitching leeches that had ended up stranded within the wires. The leather pouch on her belt popped open, she began the slow process of fishing out the small leeches and pouring them within their future home at least for a couple of hours.

Once the pouch was filled, she turned around to walk towards her sensei, who had been napping with her back against a tree bark. A giant anaconda had her head split in two by a kunai, straight above her teacher. Probably the snake had tried to prowl above the Jounin, and had learned its lesson with its death.

"Skin the snake," was all that her sensei muttered, while keeping to herself against the tree trunk, apparently trying to hold up her sleep posture.

She meekly nodded, before setting off to reach her teacher's 'victim', only to be stopped halfway through the meadow by Anko's voice.

"No, not my snake! The one behind you!" And just like that, she turned around to stare into two giant yellow orbs. A really big snake, to say the least, stood there hissing at her and ready to lunge and strike her. That did it. That day was definitively the worst day in her life.

Never mind the fact that she was without explosive tags to begin with.

Konohagakure no Sato – Taifuu Shimura

Shino knew where they had to go, at least. He had half the mind to ask the Aburame boy how he was able to track down the kunoichi in question, when it became clearly evident he was relying on his Kikkaichus. He could hear them buzz every now and then intermittently, guiding the boy towards the left instead of the right, or bringing him through an alley rather than through the street.

They finally found the girl huddled on a bench of the park, her face hidden within her knees and her arms encircling her legs. He looked at Shino, who looked back at him.

Even through the shades the boy wore, the message delivered was pretty much clear.

"Alright." He mouthed slowly, taking hesitant steps towards the blond haired girl until he got precisely in front of her.

"Beauty sleeping?" He commented offhandedly, taking a step back as the kunoichi literally jerked awake and jumped upwards, nearly hitting his chin with her head. "Careful there!"

"What do you want now?" She hissed at him, "I'm not talking to you." She muttered, turning her head to the side and huffing as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.

"So you'd rather have a pleasant life in the Genin corps?" He replied calmly. His eyes darted to their surroundings, were the people of the village were happily going by with little fuss or trouble. "It certainly will help you land a husband, I suppose."

"What the hell do you know about me!?" She yelled at him suddenly, pointing her right hand with her finger straight at him. "What is it!? You're enjoying this? You think it's funny to come down on me as if my self-esteem is some sort of carrion to be eaten? Do you get off doing this to me? What is your Kami-Be-Damned problem!?"

"What is yours then?" He asked back. "Why aren't you doing something to change? Why do you insist on being a pampered and spoiled princess that…"

"I am not pampered nor am I spoiled!" She yelled back at him, this time her right hand morphing into a slap that dashed out fast enough to catch him off-guard. The slap resounded strongly, as the girl huffed to take her breath back. "I am not spoiled."

"Prove it." He snapped back.

"Gladly." Ino growled, setting into a loose stance just as he did the same. Shino was watching the exchange from nearby, looking around in carefully concealed nervousness in hope that none of the Chuunin assigned to police duty or any Uchiha or Anbu would pass by. It took the Aburame a moment to quickly assuage the situation and then whisper his own words.

"No maiming. No Killing."

He nodded as his left hand went in a hook-like form to try and fish out Ino's left leg to try and make her loose her balance. The girl jumped backwards before quickly charging in from slightly to the left of his side, but he sidestepped to the right, his right hand punching forward and getting deviated by the girl's left arm that came down swooping. Twirling on her left ankle, Ino's right leg came upward in an arc, aiming at his side.

His left arm descended as his forearm took the blunt of the blow. It felt nothing more than a light pinch: he had felt far worse.

Their scuffle lasted for seven minutes, after which the blond haired girl appeared to be ready to fall on the ground from the fatigue.

"I told you." He muttered, "You're a danger for yourself and your comrades. Seven minutes and you're already slipping." His right hand viciously pierced through the girl's hastily placed up forearms, punching her straight in the guts. "See? You'd be dead had I used a kunai."

Ino coughed, holding with both of her arms her lower stomach where she had been hit. He didn't as much as flinch at the sight, but simply whipped out a kunai and offered it to the girl.

"Prove you really want to be a Kunoichi. I'd rather live in the Genin corps than risk my neck out on a mission with one who can't watch my back." He narrowed his eyes when the girl grabbed the kunai and took a step back. He had expected her to just give up actually: he had no doubts they could pretty well find a 'desperate' Genin who wished to be part of the group from the very same Genin corps he had been speaking of. Instead the girl had grabbed the kunai, what for, he had no idea.

"I'm not spoiled and I'm not pampered." She spat out, before pulling her pony-tail out in front of him and…cutting it down, "And I'm going to show it to you. But I'll never be just another shinobi! I'll be the best one there is!"

He raised an eyebrow, looking at the sudden display of anger mixed with flustered and seething rage that intertwined also with a mixture of determination and a slight bit of fear. Fear? Why was she afraid to begin with? "Reading another's body is easy, Naruto. You just need to remember what a dead man face is, and notice the differences."

And then it hit him. The girl was afraid of being rejected again. She hadn't been boisterous by nature, but only because she had been completely scared out of her wits: she had been afraid of being overshadowed and even then, in that precise moment, she was feeling the same. She was afraid of being left behind.

"All right." He muttered back, "But no yapping during missions higher than D-rank until we hit Chuunin."

"You're on."

Shino merely looked at them both with a facial gesture that pretty much meant 'Why did I end up with insane people?' with a bit of 'It could have been worse, at least they're not Kiba'; although those were speculation on his side, rather than real expressions of the Aburame boy.

They still had training that afternoon though…and while he doubted everything with the Yamanaka was resolved, at the very least she wouldn't risk getting caught in a hold by being yanked by her hair. Kami had to be thanked for that small grace, at least. It was as he began to walk towards the training ground however that he frowned.

The last words he had thought…they had been directed at him, or at someone else?

If the movement of wings of a butterfly tear apart continents, then what is the consequence for the stampede of a demon?

Author's notes

Took me a while to gather enough time to get this chapter out, being busy on the HP side of Fanfiction for a while…As I found out, a lot of people complained mostly about the OCs. Which however are there only till chapter six and will reappear at intermittence until being snuffed out later on…

I usually prefer a slow build-up, with keeping hidden from the reader determined notions as to make it all the more worthy at the end. While rightfully so some might complain about something, it wouldn't be the same to just 'deliver' immediately and then have the broth stir and stir and stir.

Even Sakura being an Uzumaki (through adoptions) has far more distant meanings than a mere 'yes because I can'. Or her being completely bonkers. Just like the subtle hints I gave away of Naruto's tests (or should I say Taifuu?) being different from those of the others. Still, even this story will now follow the formatting of 'five thousand words per chapter' since I find it relaxing.