On the Boundary Between Light and Shadow

It was dangerous, she knew, to wander around in a hidden village. Not just because of their distance from the mountain that served as her home – the closest one still took several days' travel to get there, and bandits waiting to prey on unwary travelers were not an uncommon sight – but also because of the people who inhabited it. The hidden villages were filled with ninja, the type of humans most likely to detect her presence, after all, and if she were discovered, the consequences would no doubt be... dire.

Still, there was something which drew her back to the places again and again. Perhaps it was because of the scenery – her home did not have any counterpart for the twisted forests and craggy mountains that surrounded some of the villages she had visited. Perhaps it was the people. Her homeland boasted only a village of middling size, after all, surrounded by scattered farmsteads. Perhaps it was because of the aura of violence and despair that seemed to permeate the villages which she visited. Or perhaps it was so that she could, if only for a short while, leave behind her reputation as a bringer of unfortunate events.

But regardless of the reasons why she was there, Kagiyama Hina sat on top of the four carved stone faces that overlooked the village and gathered misfortune, slowly but steadily accumulating a pile of the small paper boats and dolls that she used to disperse the ill luck that persistently dogged her footsteps. She had entered the village without much fuss early in the morning, claiming to be a civilian visiting the city, and had, after purchasing a large quantity of paper squares, traveled to the vantage point and begun her work. The repetitive motions were calming in their own way. She had long since ingrained the motions into her mind, and she folded the boats effortlessly.

By the early afternoon, she had run out of paper, and she stood and gathered up the small boats, carefully placing them into a basket she had brought along with her, satisfied with her work for the day. After she stowed these away in the room she had rented at one of the travelers' inns that dotted the town, she would go and buy some food before coming back to this vantage point and spend the rest of the day sitting in quiet...

A voice jolted her out of her thoughts. "Hey there!"

She started, very nearly upending the basket onto the grass. A young boy with pale blonde hair waved to her from the far side of the monument. He smiled brightly at her and ran over, moving surprisingly quickly for a child his age. Hina sighed, before smiling back and returning the gesture. It was rare for her to have any human contact, both because of her reputation and the taboos against associating with her, and also because of her own decisions to avoid the company of others. Even though associating with this child for a while shouldn't lead to any lasting consequences, especially since she'd already finished folding the boats for today, she would have preferred if he'd stayed away, if only because she could not ensure that none of her influence would linger around him.

Still, it could be relaxing to have some human company once in a while, if only for the different perspectives the people she met could offer. Besides, this was a child. There wasn't anything she could really do to him, right?

"I haven't seen you around before," the boy said excitedly.

Hina smiled again. The child's happiness was almost infectious, and it was hard to resist being caught up by his cheerfulness. "I doubt you would have," she said quietly. "I don't live in Konoha, and I'll be leaving soon once my business here is done."

The child frowned, scrunching up his face. "If you're not from Konoha," he asked slowly, "then where are you actually from?"

"That," Hina said, poking the kid on the nose, "is a secret." She giggled a bit as the child squawked indignantly. "In any case," Hina said, collecting her things, "I really should be going." She looked down at the village below. "Nice meeting you, kid." She had barely begun walking away when she heard a shout from behind her, and turned to look. The boy was running after her, waving as he followed her down the path she had been taking.

"Wait!" he shouted. Hina stopped and waited. The boy ran up to her and looked up at her, almost pleadingly. "Can I come with you? I won't get in your way, I promise!"

Hina blinked. It was rare that anyone would willingly follow her. She looked at her basket full of dolls, then at the boy, then back at the basket. "All right," she said, grudgingly. "If you really want to, I guess you can follow me." The boy let out a loud cheer, and Hina smiled faintly. It was good to see that at least one person could be happy when in her presence.

Based on her previous, if limited, experience dealing with young children, Hina half-expected the boy following her to incessantly ask questions about anything and everything she did. It was with a great deal of surprise, then, that she discovered that the boy kept his word to the letter, choosing to trail her at a distance instead of sticking to her side. Still, if the child was intelligent enough to keep his promise to her, she was hardly one to complain.

Her business in the village did not take long to conduct. Most of the things she purchased were items that she would be hard-pressed to find back at her home: high quality paper, a selection of steel knives, some fine porcelain dolls, and some children's primers and other textbooks that Keine would no doubt be interested in.

As she wandered around the city, visiting the shops which might sell items of interest to her, Hina quickly noticed that the townsfolk seemed to treat her with a sort of quiet sympathy. It wasn't until she dropped off her purchases at the inn, though, that she discovered why. By that time , she had finished shopping, it was already late afternoon, and she could feel herself steadily getting hungrier. Sparing a glance at the child who was still stubbornly following her, she began to look for some sort of food. There were plenty of vendors hawking their wares on Konoha's streets. What to buy, then? Yakitori, perhaps? She looked at the nearest stand, which did, in fact, sell grilled chicken skewers. The last few times she had bought the stuff in the human village, usually from Mokou, it hadn't been bad.

She looked back at the kid who was still stubbornly following her, this time waiting half-concealed behind a trash can, and then walked up to the cart, ordering two portions of yakitori. The young man working the stand nodded at her pleasantly, and soon, the street was filled with the pleasant smell of grilling meat. "So," the man said, as he worked, "what brings you to Konoha?"

"Business," she said quietly, "business and travel. There are some items available here that are both much more difficult to find in smaller cities and much more reasonably priced here. The scenery helps as well, I suppose. Konoha is a beautiful place."

"I figured you weren't from around here," the man said, "considering you haven't noticed the village troublemaker following you around."

"Troublemaker?" Hina asked, with a frown. "I met that boy while I was sightseeing earlier this morning. He's seemed nice enough so far, and I haven't seen any reason to drive him away."

The storekeeper shook his head. "That kid's bad for business," he said dryly. "He's always running around causing some sort of disruption, not to mention the fact that a good deal of the populace seems to dislike him. I'm not surprised, to be honest. He has this habit of causing property damage – nothing major, of course, and usually it's not anything that a fresh coat of paint can't fix, but it's still quite irritating to wake up one day and discover that your storefront has been covered in bright orange paint." The man sighed. "And it doesn't help that the Hokage seems to like him for some reason. It seems like he never really receives any real punishment for any of his antics."

"Is that so?" Hina asked. "What about his parents?"

He shook his head. "I think he's an orphan, but no one knows for sure. The only people who know are the ninja, and they sure as hell aren't telling anyone anything – the last time any of us civilians asked about him, we were told in no uncertain terms to leave the matter alone." The man grimaced a bit before smoothing his face into a calm smile. "But enough about that kid. How long are you staying in Konoha, miss?"

"I'm leaving tomorrow morning," she replied. "It's several days' journey to my home, and I want to put some distance between myself and the city before night falls."

"I see. Well, I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Konoha, and I wish you a safe journey." He leaned over towards her, placing two full wooden boxes on the counter. "And be careful. There's rumors that groups of bandits have begun to raid merchant caravans in the area. A lone traveler like you would be a perfect target."

Hina nodded, taking her food. "Thanks for your concern," she said, "but I can take care of myself." She looked back to the street, where the kid was still standing behind the trash can that he'd hidden himself behind when she first came to the stand. "Well, I suppose I should be going, now. Thanks for the food."

"Thank you for your patronage. Hopefully I'll see you around in the future, miss."

Food in hand, Hina made her way back to her former vantage point overlooking the city. The trip back was uneventful, all things told, and, before long, she had settled back down in the grassy clearing where she had sat making her dolls earlier that morning. Placing the two boxes of food down on the grass, she waved the child over. He bounded over with all of the enthusiasm of a small child before finally skidding to a halt in front of her.

"Sit down," she said, pointing at the second box of food. "That one's yours." The kid sat down almost instantly, before glancing at her, looking confused.

"For me?" he asked. "Really?"

She nodded. "Really. You should hurry up and eat it – it'll get cold soon."

The boy looked at the box, at her, and then back at the box. "Thank you very much for the food!" he said. And with that, he fell upon the proffered food and devoured it. Hina watched, mildly impressed. She'd barely even begun eating by the time that the young child polished off his bento.

"You know," she said, after he'd finished eating, "I never got your name."

"Um!" the boy said. "I'm Uzumaki Naruto! Future ninja of Konoha!"

Hina blinked. "Uzumaki... Naruto," she repeated. It sounded suspiciously similar to the name of someone she had heard mentioned in passing before. There were always rumors floating around of some incident or another that the Hakurei Maiden had solved. Most, of course, were quickly disproven, but there had been one remarkably persistent story regarding a violation of the spellcard rules and an expedition to the deepest reaches of the sea, which was still spoken of even now, nearly four years after she'd first heard it. And of the many names which had been associated with that story, one had stuck out to her – Uzushima Naruko, youkai of whirlpools. And even if the similarity in names was almost certainly coincidental, it was still surprising to hear something which reminded her so much of events at home.

"Well, then, Naruto-kun," she said, finally, "why did you want to follow me around today?" She frowned a bit. "You're not planning to pull some sort of prank on me, are you?"

Naruto shook his head frantically. "That's not it at all!"

"Well? Why did you want to follow me, then?"

The kid gulped, looking for all the world like Aya when someone caught her in a place that she had no right being in. She stared at him for a long moment, and watched as the boy struggled to decide what to say. "You were nice to me," he admitted, sounding embarrassed.

"Nice?" Hina asked, confused. She didn't remember doing anything particularly remarkable earlier that morning, nothing that warranted such interest, at any rate.

Naruto nodded. "Yeah," he said quietly. "You didn't yell at me to go away or ignore me like the rest of the villagers do."

It seemed at the shopkeeper's suspicions had been correct, then. This Naruto was definitely an orphan, and judging from his response, likely had no one to take care of him, either. She could certainly understand his motivations in latching on to the first person he perceived to be friendly. She herself was not a stranger to the crushing melancholy that loneliness could bring, and unlike her, and while she had some few friends who either could ward off the misfortune that she brought with her or simply didn't care about the bad luck, Naruto likely did not have anyone to talk to at all. Still, it really wasn't her problem; no matter how much sympathy she had for the kid, there was absolutely nothing she could do to improve his situation.

"What's your name?"

The boy's question jolted her out of her thoughts.

"Ah," she murmured. "I haven't introduced myself, have I? I am Kagiyama Hina." She smiled at him. "Pleased to meet you, Naruto-kun."

Naruto blushed a bit. "Pleased to meet you too, Hina-san," he parroted. Hina smiled again, and nodded at his words, waiting for him to say something else. After a moment of silence, it became clear that he wasn't going to say anything else, so she turned back to her food, instead. Naruto stayed silent, watching her eat, finally speaking up after she finished. "Hey," he said, "Hina-san, what were those dolls you were making earlier?"

"The dolls? They're called nagashi-bina," she explained. "A lot of the time, I make them using more expensive materials, but paper is the only thing that I can really get cheaply. And as for why I make them... It is a ritual of sorts, and I've made them long enough that it's become a habit."

The boy scrunched up his face a little. "I don't like them at all," he declared. He carefully looked at Hina, who frowned a bit. "I mean," he hastily amended, "they're pretty and all, but..."

"No, that's quite all right. They're used in a ritual of cleansing, to carry away peoples' impurity and misfortune. I'm not surprised that you found them a little unnerving. Everyone does, really."

"You're not mad at me?"

Hina shook her head. "Why would I be?"

Naruto smiled happily and hugged her. She froze for a moment at the contact, and then slowly let her arms wrap around the little boy's back. "I think you're pretty too, Hina-san," Naruto said. "And you smell nice."

She laughed a bit at that. "Thank you," Hina said quietly. Naruto only hugged her tighter in response. When he finally let go, she grimaced at the thin but noticeable aura of misfortune the boy had somehow acquired. She had dallied far too long, and now that she was no longer focused on the child, she could feel the impurity which she collected slowly becoming more and more concentrated. Apparently, it had once again reached the point where it could affect the humans she associated with. And while the child was unlikely to notice any misfortune dogging his footsteps for now, if she stayed any longer, no doubt Naruto would find himself followed persistently by bad luck for quite some time.

"What's wrong?" Naruto asked.

Hina sighed, making a show of looking at the position of the sun. "It's going to get dark soon," she told him, "and I should probably get going now. I'm leaving early tomorrow morning, after all, and I want to be well-rested for the journey. Besides, you should probably be going to sleep soon, as well."

Naruto looked downcast. "Can't you stay a bit longer?" he begged. "Please?"

She hesitated a moment, looking at the young boy, who seemed to be close to tears. "I'm sorry," she said softly, "but I really do have to go now. I'll visit again in the future, though, and I'll look for you whenever I'm in town."

He looked at her intently. "You promise?"

Hina nodded. "I promise," she said, with all the conviction she could muster. Despite that, Naruto still looked uncertain. Hina sighed again. She really did have to leave – it would be better for everyone, after all, but simply abandoning the boy like that left a bad taste in her mouth. She looked at the boy again. "Here," she said, slowly unwinding the red and white ribbon wrapped around her left wrist, "this is for you. It's a good luck charm. Keep it safe, all right?" She drained away the misfortune it had accrued from her contact with it and handed it to Naruto, who clutched it tightly to his chest.

"I'll keep it safe for you, Hina-san" he declared, "and I'll give it back to you when you visit again. That's a promise!"

She smiled softly. "Keep it," she said. "It's yours now. You can probably make better use of it than I can. Good bye for now, Naruto-kun. We'll meet again!" And with that, she walked away, waving over her shoulder as she left, leaving behind a young boy and a ribbon on the mountaintop and taking a strange feeling of happiness with her. Perhaps, she thought, as she left the next morning, she should visit places like these more often. All in all, it had been a most satisfying experience.

Judging from the amount of bandits who accosted travelers wandering between the elemental countries, crime was still commonplace despite the prevalence of ninja. There were several theories as to why. Keine had written some sort of thesis on the topic, relating it to income inequality and social instability. On the other hand, Aya had published an article in her newspaper speculating that the hidden villages encouraged the activities as a means to increase their own revenue.

Unfortunately, no matter which theory was correct, there still were bandits who roamed around looting merchant caravans and taking hostages. More importantly, there were still bandits who could interfere with her duties. Evidently, there were quite a few of them as well, judging from the group of twenty or so armed humans who had seen fit to accost her. It reminded her of her grandfather's stories about the outside world, back when he had been a young swordsman sworn to the service of the Saigyouji clan. The sight was a sobering reminder that the new world that she had to adapt to was, in many ways, completely different from the world which she had lived in for so long.

Youmu sighed, and let her hand fall to the hilt of the katana she kept strapped to her waist. "Look," she said. "Let me pass, and no one has to get hurt."

The leader of the group of men shook his head, and brandished the cudgel he held in his hand in what could possibly pass for an attempt at cowing her into submission. "No can do, missy. Now hand over all the money you have and those two swords you've got there, and we'll let you go without any hassle." The man smirked. "And if you don't, well... I can't really stop these guys from doing some more unsavory things once they get their hands on you."

"Humans," she muttered. Even though Reimu had quite explicitly stated that the spellcard restrictions need not apply when dealing with humans from the new outside world, she still didn't enjoy using her full powers on some otherwise helpless humans. It reminded her too much of darker days, of the times before the Hakurei shrine maiden had instituted the restrictions which prevented unnecessary loss of life, when she had, more often than not, resorted to force to resolve disputes.

The bandit coughed, and slapped his club into the palm of his hand a few times. "Well?" he asked. "What'll it be? I don't have all day here."

"I see that I have no choice," Youmu said.

"All right then. Hand over the swords first, and..."

She moved, disappearing from his sight and reappearing behind him in an instant, her sword already drawn from its scabbard and held in a guard position. "Sword Skill," Youmu intoned. "Flashing Cherry Blossoms." Dozens of pinkish-white slashes followed her path, and the corpse of the bandits' leader slumped to the ground. She looked around at the other bandits, who had collectively taken a step away from her. "Does anyone else intend to die today?" They fled, leaving the rapidly cooling corpse of their former leader behind.

Youmu sighed again, wiping off the thin sheen of blood that coated her blade with a handkerchief before ramming it back into its sheath with what was perhaps an unnecessary amount of force. The metallic smell of fresh blood was yet another reminder of days long past. It was unpleasant enough that she was sorely tempted to simply leave, but her sense of decency demanded that she do something, anything, about the body in the road. It took only a few minutes to drag the corpse into the thickets by the side of the dirt path and kick some dirt over the dark patch of drying blood that indicated where the body had lain.

Those few minutes, however, were apparently enough for someone to notice and attempt to sneak up behind her, judging from the faint sounds of cloth rubbing on cloth. She laid her hand back on the hilt of her katana. "Who goes there?"

A man in the green flak vest that seemed to be standard for ninja from this area dropped out of a tree behind her, and she whirled around to face him. "Foreign kunoichi," he demanded, "identify yourself and your purpose here."

"I am Konpaku Youmu," she said, "here to establish diplomatic relations with your village."

The ninja seemed a bit taken aback at her statement, but if anything in her simple statement had disturbed him in some fashion, he hid it well. "Very well, then," he said, walking slowly towards her, pulling a small wooden chit out of one of the many pouches on his vest and holding it out to her. She accepted it from him and tucked it into a pocket. "You may proceed down this road to Konoha. Do not lose that chip – it is a guarantee of safe passage, and if you are spotted near the village without it, there will be unpleasant consequences."

And with that, he dashed away without a single question regarding the dead body by the side of the road, jumping up into the treetops and quickly disappearing from sight. There were a few more rustles from the trees surrounding her, indicating that the ninja's comrades had left as well.

She shook her head. What a strange place, indeed.

Youmu flexed her hands nervously. In all honesty, she hadn't really wanted to take this job, not when it involved leaving Yuyuko-sama to fend for herself for so long, but when Reimu had carefully explained to her that everyone else qualified to do it was either busy dealing with the repercussions of the transition between worlds or busy keeping the youkai in check, she had acquiesced. Still, even the very thought of it was strange. Her? A diplomat? But, it seemed, for better or for worse, that she was to represent her home on unfamiliar grounds.

The remainder of her trip to this "Konohagakure" had been relatively uneventful, all things told. It hadn't taken her very long at all to arrive at the gates of the place, which, despite it's claims of being a "hidden village", was more of a city than a village, and not particularly hidden, all things told. The police manning the gates had waved her along without a second glance, once she'd presented the chit and explained her purpose there, and from there, a few simple questions had directed her to the tall tower overlooking the rest of the city. When she'd arrived at the tower and announced her presence, the secretary manning the desk had informed her that "the Hokage will be with you shortly." And since then, she'd sat down in a lounge and waited, and waited, and waited...

To be honest, it wasn't the waiting that bothered her. There were any number of reasons that might necessitate putting off an unscheduled meeting with an envoy from an otherwise unknown nation, after all, any number of domestic crises that she might not know about. Besides, she hardly had a reason to complain – it wasn't as if Yukari-sama would ever be prompt if she could help it. Nor was it the unfamiliar, chafing weight of the metallic headband neatly affixed to her upper left arm, something which Sanae and the others had insisted that she wear on her person at all times. No, if anything, her annoyance stemmed from the other person in the room, a young, dark-haired teenager who kept on sneaking glances at her, or, perhaps, more precisely, the two swords she carried strapped across her back. Evidently, from the metal band tied across his forehead, he was a ninja. Clearly not much of one, though, considering the ease with which she could identify the cause of his inordinate curiosity, though she supposed that some allowances had to be made, considering his young age.

"You know," she said finally, after about half an hour of idly watching the ninja failing miserably at his attempts to hide his staring, "you aren't very good at this whole subtlety thing."

The kid blushed. "They're beautiful," he said.

"So you aspire to be a swordsman?" Youmu asked. The boy nodded silently. "That's a good dream, kid," she said slowly, "but it is one that will take a lot of hard work to achieve." After that incident with the Taoists, the last she had been publicly involved in, a group of children in the human village had idolized her, declaring their intention to become swordsmen, "just like Konpaku-san." After a while of them bugging her to give them lessons whenever she went shopping, she'd agreed to teach them a little of what she knew. None of the children had shown up past the fourth lesson. Knowing how to wield a sword was not simply a matter of poking with the sharp end, and very few had the determination, or the time, for that matter, to learn the nuances of swordplay.

"Hey!" the boy snapped. "Who are you calling a kid? You can't be that much older than me!"

She blinked. Wasn't it obvious that she was... Oh. "Whatever you say," she muttered.

The kid grumbled a bit under his breath. "Say," he said, after a moment, sounding hopeful. "Could you teach me, then? You look like you know what you're doing."

Youmu stared at him. "Are you sure you're supposed to be a ninja, kid?"

He jerked his head in a nod and held up a hand, pointing at himself with his thumb. "Of course!" he said. "Gekko Hayate, chuunin."

"I see. In that case, are you sure you're allowed to seek instruction from a foreigner?" Youmu tapped her fingernail on the headband on her arm in a series of sharp clicks, and Hayate's face slowly turned pale, and then flushed a brilliant scarlet as he took in the three unbroken lines of the qian trigram scored across its surface.

The Hokage's secretary walked in at that moment, saving the boy from any further embarrassment. "The Hokage will see you now," she announced.

Youmu nodded and stood up, walking through the large double doors and into the Hokage's office without a second glance.

The office itself was roughly what she had expected. A low desk, piled high with papers, all four walls covered in bookcases filled with dozens of tomes and scrolls, and a pair of large windows which overlooked the village off to one side. Granted, some of the details were different – a brush and a block of ink sat on the desk in lieu of one of the self-inking pens which were in abundant supply at Rinnosuke's shop – but, overall, it would not have been out of place at, say, Eirin's clinic. As for the man sitting behind the desk, though, that was a different story.

From the obsession that the people of this world had with strength, she had expected the military leader of a ninja village to be some sort of man, young enough to be in the prime of his life, yet at the same time old enough to have the experience necessary to manage a large organization. Instead, the man sitting behind the desk was someone who should have been spending time with grandchildren, rather than managing military affairs. It was surprising, and also impressive. To remain the leader of a ninja village, even at this age, no doubt took a great deal of skill, especially in a society which seemed to take the opinion that strength mattered above all else.

The doors closed behind her soundlessly, and the old man behind the desk stood. "Greetings, Konpaku Youmu," he said gravely. "I am Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure, and it is my honor welcome you to my fine village."

She bowed to him. "Thank you, Hokage-dono," she said. "I am honored to be here." She straightened up, and was surprised to see that the Hokage had returned the gesture.

"So," he said kindly. "What brings you here today, Konpaku-san? And from a previously unknown village, no less?" The grandfatherly air the Hokage exuded was overpowering, and Youmu had to remind herself that it was likely only a front. This man standing in front of her was someone who had kept his position, not through brute force, but rather, through finesse. No, the impression that she got from him was almost certainly false, and she would do well to remember that.

"I am here to formally request an opening of diplomatic relations between our two villages." She took a deep breath. "In addition, I have been permitted to negotiate economic treaties within certain parameters."

"And your village?" Youmu froze. "It would be rather inconvenient to negotiate with you or any other representative of your village when I do not know its name, no?"

Her face burned in embarrassment. "Kekkaigakure," she said. "I am here on behalf of Kekkaigakure, sir." The Village Hidden in the Boundary. The idea for the name, patterned off of that of the ninja villages which studded the continent, had initially come from Margatroid, of all people. Still, it was remarkably appropriate, and it had quickly caught on. Yukari-sama, of course, had been quite amused once she learned of the traditional titles held by the leaders of each village.

"I see," the Hokage said. "Well, it does not behoove me to force a guest to the negotiating table, not when she has just arrived from distant lands. You will, of course, be provided with accommodations here for as long as necessary. If you would like, we can begin discussions tomorrow. However, considering the limited powers invested in you, I believe that it may be more prudent to meet with your leader face-to-face instead."

She nodded, relieved. "That would be preferable." Letting Yukari-sama deal with the negotiations would be much better than performing a task which she had no real training and very little preparation for.

"In that case, then..." The Hokage looked over his desk, selecting a thin scroll from among the many papers on his desk and handing it to her. "This is a formal invitation to your leader, whoever he may be, to meet with me here to discuss the terms of our... coexistence."

Youmu nodded again. "Thank you very much," she said, bowing again. "By your leave?"

The Hokage bowed again in response. "My secretary will make temporary arrangements for you, if you so wish." He smiled. "I hope you enjoy your stay here in Konoha."

Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage, sighed as the girl left. To think that someone this young would be sent alone into unknown territory... He himself would have been uncomfortable doing such a mission without at least a full team as an escort, even in his youth. Just what kind of a place was this Kekkaigakure, that they would resort to such measures? "Well, Jiraiya?" he asked to a corner of his office. "First impressions?"

The air in front of a bookshelf shimmered, and the ninja in question stretched a bit as he stood from where he had been crouching during that exchange. "Nice figure," he said. "A bit young, though. Overall, I'd give her a-"

"Jiraiya!" he snapped.

"Sorry, sorry. She seems genuine. Judging from the way she carried herself and the swords, likely a close combat specialist. Possible kekkai genkai as well, if that hazy cloud floating around her head is anything to go by. The girl wasn't particularly suited to the job. You could see how relieved she looked when she found out that she didn't actually have to do any negotiation." He laughed a bit. "But besides that?" He shrugged. "This Kekkaigakure is probably extremely low on manpower, if they'd send someone like her to speak with you. And alone, no less."

"And the seals?"

"Do you really doubt my skills that much, sensei?" Jiraiya sighed at his stare. "All taken care of," he said, finally. "And she didn't seem to notice, either."

Hiruzen sighed, and sat back down. "Track her when she leaves. Discreetly, of course. Something like this... it has the potential to destabilize the balance of power, and at the very least, I want to make sure that we know where potential enemies might originate from."

Jiraiya nodded. "Of course."

"Dismissed." Hiruzen sighed again after Jiraiya left. He really was getting to old for this.