Hope everyone likes chapter 3. If you do please take a moment to leave a review. I find my mental energy to keep going in a story increases with the amount of feedback I get. =) And of course I don't own Naruto.
Sasuke was bound alone and in the dark. The ink and chakra forged snakes wrapped completely around his body restricting all movement. He could not work a hand sign and pain was radiating from all points. He realized the snakes were biting him and he felt his chakra being drained...no that wasn't quite right, the snakes were not draining his chakra, they were somehow paralyzing it causing it to flow slowly throughout his body.
He had to admit it was a fairly effective trap. Sai had never truly believed Sasuke would have fallen for the initial ambush. Instead, it's purpose was to lure him in the middle of dozens of snakes drawn upon every branch and leaf big enough to hide one. Even with Sasuke's eyes he had not noticed mistaking them for merely naturally occurring shadows on the battlefield. After foiling the first ambush he was completely unprepared and now at the mercy of his teammate. On a certain level he almost couldn't blame Sai (or should he say Sai's mysterious master who was actually giving the order) after all he had almost had betrayed and left the village. Even at his most naive he had known that going to Orochimaru could very well have put Leaf Village in some sort of danger, he had no intention of trying to harm Konoha but he knew that Orochimaru had designs against the village and there would have been a good chance Sasuke would have failed to out think the legendary Sannin. If Sakura had not made him see the error in that reasoning who knows how things may have turned out. And if he almost turned traitor once how did anyone know he might not give into temptation again?
Except that he knew they were wrong, he would never come close to putting the village in danger the way he did that night. It had been a crossroads, a point in his life were he had been forced to chose which path in his life he would take. The light or the dark, life or death, to be and avenger...or to be a hero and with Sakura's help he made the right choice and turned away from that darker path.
It occurred to Sasuke that possibly Sai might find himself in a similar predicament. Sai had been a plant on their team. Sasuke had realized pretty early that it was most likely to do with him as one of the last of the Uchiha. Even as morose as Sasuke had been Sai had unnerved the team more. Sai was creepy not because his heart seemed dark or full of hatred but instead it was the lack of emotion hiding just beneath the surface that had bothered his teammates. More than that it was his attempts at emotion that disturbed Sasuke the most, whenever he met Sai's eyes it was as if was looking into the lifeless eyes of a doll. Sasuke may have found himself lost in hatred but at least he was still feeling something.
Despite that Sasuke had started to notice changes in his teammate. Every so often something said or done seemed to elicit a a small laugh or a smile that while looking awkward on his face seemed far more real than the practiced grins he would sometimes display when he thought the situation appropriate. At first his movements had been mechanical almost like he going through the motions of being a person. Kakashi had worked hard with him though, helping him to begin to develop a sense of if not true friendship at least camaraderie through training his skills in a team. In many ways he had come along further than Sasuke if only because he had so much farther to go.
So Sasuke had to believe that despite the orders from above that Sai was at least a little conflicted about his mission, that there was a part of him that wanted to fight for his friends instead of trying to kill them. But Sasuke knew that Sai had been conditioned since he was a child to follow orders, to become a perfect killing machine for his masters, in a way not to different that what his brother had tried to do with him by having him focus on his hate so he could become stronger, just so someday his brother would have someone to test his strength. The thought filled Sasuke with anger. How dare those who were supposed to guide the next generation twist them so!
Shinobi were tools. Shinobi were weapons. Shinobi most always follow orders. These things were true but like many things they were not the whole truth. Their masters, the civilians and sometimes even the ninja themselves forgot that before anything else a Shinobi was a person first. If that person stripped their emotions away or allowed themselves to be drowned in hate or grief they would begin to crack. They would no longer have the wisdom needed to see the difference between a target..or a comrade. They could no longer protect their land because they would just become it's most recent threat.
Sai's master thought of Sasuke like some broken weapon that must be destroyed. But every ninja like Sai who he twisted into some sort of perversion of a real ninja was just in the end another danger to the village. Sasuke realized that he didn't just want to escape this trap, he just didn't want to defeat Sai, Sasuke realized he wanted to save his friend from this darker path like Sakura had done for him.
Right after he kept Sai from killing him.
Sai walked cautiously toward the pile of withering snakes, Sasuke should be tightly bound and his chakra network should be slowed to a crawl with the special venom many of his snakes were made with. It was a special toxin used to incapacitate powerful ninja of their Jutsu without directly killing them or in this case causing damage to the organs of the body. The toxin was expensive and rare and given to Sai just for this mission.
Sai did not know specifically why Danzō wanted the Sharingan eyes of his comrade but he didn't question orders.
He pull out his tantō and raised it in a blow that if judged correctly should strike cleanly into Sasuke's chest. It was difficult to judge because of the snakes of course but as long as he missed the eyes he should be fine.
A moment passed, he stood poised blade ready to strike.
A moment more with Sasuke obviously struggling trying to find a way out. He really ought to kill Sasuke before he found one.
Odd...Sai thought to himself.
I seem to be having difficulty attacking.
Was he under some sort of genjutsu? He knew that Sharingan users could become adept with the skill but as far as he was aware Sasuke had not trained much in that regards yet. Even if he had without Sai's knowledge Root members were well trained to detect and counter any technique Sasuke would have had time to learn. Maybe some sort of poison? Nothing seemed wrong with his body that he could tell and of course Root members had just as much training in poison and poison resistance as anything else. Then why wasn't Sasuke's blood running down his weapon's blade yet?
Could this be a emotional response? He had be taught since he was a child how to suppress every emotion a human could experience. But even with his best efforts he had been unable to completely suppress his feelings. At least according to Lord Danzō. He felt he had kept his mind pure of emotion but he had been constantly beaten for lapses he failed to see for himself. According to his Sensei this deficiency had made him a ideal candidate for this mission, a long term assignment to watch over the last of the Uchiha and report any information he could find on the Third Hokage's camp.
So he had joined Team 7 and tried as hard as he could to fake the emotions he was told he was failing to stamp down. He had trained and battled with his new teammates, his comrades and in time had begun to suspect that Danzō may be correct. Sai wasn't sure but from time to time he believed he may have felt...something. A sense of satisfaction when Kakashi gave hard won praise, a lighter feeling as he understood a shared joke and a tight strong feeling when his comrades were in danger. Yes, he had felt things even if he still had issues understanding them and it...for a lack of a better word frightened him. For if he was not the tool that Danzō had been attempting to forge all these years then what was he?
It was with a conflicted heart that Sai watched his target. He could still see his friend struggling within cocoon of ink snakes. Once again he readied tantō as he neared Sasuke and tried not to think about his conflicted emotions. For the first time in Sai life he was having difficulty focusing on the job at hand and was not fully concentrating on his target. Thus, he did not notice the surge in chakra emanating from the black mass. With a burst of electrical energy a white flash nearly blinded Sai as a figure leap into the air and landed in front of him.
Sasuke landed in front of his fellow ninja and on his face were black swirling tattoos that almost looked as if they were on fire. Remnants of black ink snakes were falling around him disappearing as the fell to pieces. He looked into Sai's eyes with a look on his face that was something between sadness and a smirk. Sai stepped back for a moment as he observed him.
"So you finally decided to use Orochimaru's power?" Sai asked as he contemplated his next move.
"Well it's not like you left me much of a choice Sai," responded Sasuke, "that was a pretty effective trap after all."
"Perhaps that is what my Master fears you Sasuke, not that you will chose to become a enemy of the Leaf, but that you will be put into a position where you have no choice but to do so?"
"Not going to happen Sai. I have something to protect me from something like that."
Sai tipped his head to the side in a query. "And what is that?"
Sasuke smiled back at him.
"You should know the answer to that."
Sai's eyes widened as Sasuke's hand began moving in a blur.
"My friends Sai!"
The hand signs finished.
" Fire Release: Fire Stream!" Sasuke shouted and Sai sprung into the air to avoid the attack. Only the young ninja realized the fire attack was not truly aimed at him but being direct against the field where they were fighting. The stream of fire was burning any other potential traps which may have been hidden. Which was a excellent move thought Sai since he quite a few backups ready for the last of the Uchiha.
Sasuke finished his attack leaving much of the glade smoldering with a few small scattered fires throughout. While Sai was still in mid-jump he pulled out six shuriken and launched them at his opponent. Before they even struck Sasuke was moving to the left putting some distance between himself and the Root ninja.
Sai dodged three of the projectiles, blocked two with his tantō but one did manage to graze his arm. Sai couldn't help but think that the Uchiha had not been trying to hit him considering his accuracy was incredible. He landed scanning the environment ready for his opponent's next attack but Sasuke had taken the distraction to disappear. Did he run for help? No, Sai decided, it was not in Sasuke's nature to run and now that the element of surprise was gone he knew that Sasuke had a real chance of winning this fight.
A fireball came out of the shadows, he dodged the blast easily but from it's size and speed Sai knew it was just another diversion and the pale ninja was soon proven right as a fūma shuriken races toward him guided by wire strings. Sai blocked the attack but the bladed weapon bounced off and flew across the field and then turned and came back at him again. Sai avoided the attack only to see the weapon once again cross the glade and turn toward him again. Sasuke was using chakra through the wires in order to control the weapon and direct it back at him. This made things difficult. Sai dodged again and tried to cut at the wire controlling the shuriken but it moved too fast for him to connect with the wire.
The fūma shuriken once again began to turn toward him so Sai decided to employ a different tactic. He spread out one of his scrolls one handed and began drawing.
"Ninja Beast Scroll!" he shouted.
A large ram with large black horns of ink exploded from the paper and rushed toward the shuriken. Both clashed in the middle of the field, pieces of soot and earth erupting around the attack. The ink creation and the spinning chakra fueled blade pushing against each other. For a moment Sai though his ram was going to lose as he saw cracks forming on the surface of the living drawing. If he was a different person he would have sighed with relief as the blade began to slow but instead he just gave slight nod knowing the attack had been neutralized. The oversized shuriken fell to the ground it's blades mangled. Quickly Sai began to draw his next attack.
His initial trap was not the only ploy he had planned for the Uchiha
Sasuke had been impressed with Sai's defense but was worried as Sai started to furiously paint on his scroll. Sasuke knew it was best to not let him call forth more of his creations. Drawing forth a kunai in each hand he rushed from his hiding spot toward his teammate intended to keep him too busy to finish any of his "art".
Even before he came into view Sai's head lifted up and the serious look in his eyes caused Sasuke to pause. Sai had already finished whatever he was working on and Sasuke was fully aware it would only take a single handsign to summon the creation forth. As the opponents eyes met the young Uchiha could see the slightest bit of internal conflict in his friends eyes. Conflict or not he knew that Sai would still attack.
"Your skill is impressive as always Sasuke. My snake trap would have been the best method to neutralize you. Between your dōjutsu and that curse mark you are a formidable Shinobi but if immobilizing you won't work there are other methods." Sai said and with a slight pause continued.
"You should run."
With a small handsign he activated the scroll and a seeming solid column of ink erupted from the scroll and Sasuke was only able to make out what it was with his Sharingan. It was birds, dozens if not hundreds of birds moving at dumbfounding speeds. Without hesitation Sasuke turned and ran back into the cover of the forest the sounds of bird wings flapping right behind him. He moved with almost reckless abandon through the branches of the trees relying solely on his Sharingan to make sure his footing was sound.
Still, even with the speed he was moving the first bird caught up to it's sharp talons making a light cut along his shoulder. Two more barely missed him as they speed past he saw them seem to stop in midair as they tried to turn back on their target. Sasuke managed to take one out with a kunai as he continued on. One down only untold numbers to go.
Sai followed as quickly as he could behind his teammate and the huge flock of hawk-like drawings. When moving at top speed Sasuke could easily outrace him but he would find it would be near impossible for him to outrace his latest creation. Facing a experienced Sharingan user is a difficult task as in a straight fight they can overwhelm an opponent with superior reflexes and skills thanks to their dōjutsu's powers. One possibility is to bind them to neutralize their skills. This is the far safer option that Sai had tried to employ, but if that option failed or was no longer available the second tactic to taking down a dōjutsu user is speed and overpowering numbers. Beast Scroll: Hawk Storm was in response to this need. This jutsu summoned over two hundred swift petite hawk constructs. Any one of the ink birds was not a threat for most ninja by itself and did not cost much chakra to create but the entire swarm summoned could attack a enemy from almost all angles at once and only the most fleet of shinobi could hope to outrace them. The Root shinobi knew that Sasuke would be hard pressed to defeat this attack but there was a risk, while a individual hawk did not cost too much energy the entire swarm was taxing and if his comrade did defeat the attack Sai knew he would be hard pressed to complete his mission.
At least complete his mission alive anyway.
Sasuke had been pushing his body at a much faster pace than his normal top speed and the only thing he had to show for it was that he was still alive. Dark black birds were now constantly surrounding him and he had dozens of small wounds bleeding all over his body. Nothing he couldn't handle for now but if it continued he would fall over from exhaustion or blood loss before too long.
Another bird risked getting too close and was destroyed by a quick kunai strike but another two scored light wounds on his back. This could not continue. With a quick decision Sasuke suddenly made a sharp turn to the left and the birds collided together in a attempt to follow. Sasuke scattered some smoke pellets around himself and dropped from the branches to hide in the foliage on the ground giving him a position in order to view the flock's response to his disappearance. As he waited he also took the time to bandage what wounds he could in order to stop the blood loss.
For a moment the flock seemed to be in chaos as the ink constructs could not find their target. The confusion did not last however when in seeming unison they scattered in all directions. They seemed to have commands ready to go.
Sasuke thought back to what he knew about Sai's Jutsu. The most common misconception about a ink construct was that the size of the summoned drawing was proportional to the power of the construct. Sometimes a summoned mouse for scouting or delivering a message may require more chakra and be more inherently complex than a lion that was summoned for battle. The reason for this is the advantages and limitations of the Art Jutsu. Unlike a puppet ninja who controls and powers his puppets through chakra thread a artist shinobi imprints preset commands into the construct that become active once the picture has been animated, because of this more chakra can be required for more numerous and complex commands. As long as the construct is in line of sight the ninja can send new commands to the summons with pulses of his own chakra. Since most summons meant for direct combat stay within line of sight of the summoner their commands tend to stay rather simple since they can be added to or altered on the fly. However, when the summoner requires a construct to move beyond his line of sight things become more tricky. The ninja artist must balance the amount of chakra he puts into the summons versus the complexity of the commands needed for when the drawings leaves his sight. This leads to a mouse summons needed to scout and cross enemy territories far more chakra intensive than the lion that must merely slash his opponent. One of the great marks of a artist master is the ability to create complex actions with as few, and as simple, commands as possible thus saving on the amount of chakra used and extending the ninja's powers in battle. Sai was remarkably good at this which was why he was one of the ninja to master this ability. Just as he tended to economize his words and actions when dealing with other people so too was he a master in maximizing a host of actions which very few and simple commands.
The deadly flock was a good example of the this. Sasuke was sure at least for now that he and the birds were beyond Sai's line of sight. Each individual bird could not have too much chakra in it or the mere act of summoning them would have left Sai with chakra exhaustion. So a limited number of commands. If he was to bet the first command was merely: Follow the flock; follow and kill the target. The second was based on the condition if he managed to escape or hide as he was doing now: Scatter and locate the target. So far just two commands that would not be nearly so effective if there weren't so many of the constructs chasing him. When he vanished they did scatter in every direction looking for him. So it was no surprise when one of the birds finally spotted him. He was not fast enough to destroy it before the third command was obeyed: Sound location and regroup. A loud caw alerted and was shared by the other birds who then began to converge on his position. Undoubtedly some of his pursuers were lost not hearing the call still searching for him. Sasuke realize the point was moot as the chase was on again.
Sai had heard the sounds of his birds scatter when Sasuke had lost them and he was also pleased when he heard the alert showing he had been located. He was satisfied with this jutsu as a acceptable counter to his teammates abilities. A dōjutsu user such as Sasuke came be a difficult opponent but even the most dangerous of opponents can be brought down by shear numbers. Sai knew that this battle was not won since the summons had required a large amount of his chakra and soldier pills can only help so much. Also, the flock had very simple (but well written he thought as smugly as he ever let himself) commands due to the chakra each bird could handle and Sasuke was a very intelligent opponent. Sai wonder curiously if he would find the best way to defeat this particular jutsu.
Sasuke found himself in a kind of rhythm as he was once again raced through tree branches. The flock had not completely reformed from when he had hid from them but it would only be a few more minutes before they were able to attack in force. For now he had just been adapting a zigzag motion through the trees attempting to prolong his followers as long as possible.
So the constructs had at least three commands that they were working with which at least in this scenario made them a real pain in his ass. Once Sai had them locked on a target they followed either it or each other until the target was dead. If the target escaped view they scattered until one of the flock found the target at which point the fowl announced the target's position which was then spread to the rest of the flock who then converged on the target. Against a group of ninja this would not be so effective as they could scatter the flock just by going in different directions not to mention the chakra used to create each bird would be to small to allow for more than one target to be designated at a time...Sasuke's eyes went wide in realization. It couldn't be that simple could it?
As before Sasuke threw down several smoke pellets around himself and once again the flock lost sight of him. The flock began to scatter when it's attention was drawn to a figure leaving the smoke cloud in the same direction as their target. Several of the birds neared the figure but this was not their target. This was another boy wearing a green leotard and sporting a bowl haircut. Their target's location lost the flock once again scattered in search of Sasuke. They only had the image of one target in their creation thought Sasuke making sure to put several hundred feet and several minutes between the flock and himself before he let the transformation of Rock Lee vanish and gave himself a moments rest. He was getting dangerously close to physical and chakra exhaustion, it was time to end this before Sai did something the both of them would regret.
"Very good Sasuke." a voice said from out of the shadows. Sai appeared on a branch only a few feet in front of him. "That was a very elegant solution to my jutsu."
"Unfortunately you seemed to have still kept up with me." replied Sasuke breathing heavily from his exertions. The young Uchiha glanced up seeing the flock of constructs gathering above him starting to block out the sun filtering through the branches. Sai, of course, was now completely in control of them which made them far more deadly. One of the birds landed on Sai's shoulder and seemed to regard the Sharingan wielding ninja coldly.
"You didn't have much of a chance of getting away Sasuke, not while my little birds were with you. They would keep telling me where you were."
"Don't tell me you manged to cram a fourth command into them?"
"Of course not but that was not needed. I merely replaced the commands on a few of them to mark the course you and the rest of the birds were taking. There were still more than enough to either defeat you outright or run you down to the point of exhaustion." Said Sai with a nod toward Sasuke condition.
"Well I never said you weren't smart Sai but are you smart enough to know you don't have to do this?"
"I'm sorry Sasuke but I have my orders."
Sasuke grinned back. "Since when are you sorry about anything? When we first met Sai you couldn't care less what anyone else thought. If you can admit to being sorry about your actions then part of you knows this is wrong and you can chose to do something different."
Sai shook his head in negation of Sasuke's words. "No Sasuke this is the only path to keep the village safe. My master showed me a long time ago that only a obedient tool can be effective."
"You master was wrong. Ninja must know when obey orders but they must also have the wisdom to know if the one he follows is worthy of that obedience. If you chose to blindly follow a master who would order you to kill your friends then you are no better than me following Orochimaru to get my vengeance!"
"It's to protect the village." Sai repeated numbly.
"We're stronger together Sai!"
"No we're not." replied Sai and with a gesture of his hand the birds descended onto his friend. Their screeches and caws drowned out any sound and in Sai's eyes their appearance seemed to take on more demonic darker color than the ink they were made of. Through the swarm Sai could barely make out his comrade but he was just able to see as multiple beaks pierced his body and Sai waited in anticipation of the blood to follow, a cold feeling washing over his spirit. Instead, he took a step back in surprise when Sasuke exploded in a puff of white smoke a log now at the center of the flock.
A log completely covered in paper bombs.
"A substitution." he whispered.
Sai did not actually remember the explosion that ripped through his jutsu. He didn't remember the heat and the fire that had surrounded him momentarily. He didn't remember being thrown through the air and he certainly didn't remember flying through the forest and being slammed into a tree several hundred feet away and falling to large branch below him. From Sai's perspective one moment he was there there and then the next he was here. The very next thing he saw was the visage of Sasuke emerging from the flames he Sharingan glowing red and a Chidori in right hand looking for the first time like the avenger he had always named himself. From that moment onward Sai would always be able to identify when he felt fear. Knowing it wouldn't have a chance to stop a Chidori Sai brought up his tantō in a defensive posture hoping it would help somehow blunt the attack. The attack hit and broke the blade but with another small jolt of suprise Sai realized it wasn't a Chidori.
"Rasengan!" Sasuke shouted and a small blue orb struck into Sai's chest breaking his ribs and smashing him into the trunk of the tree leaving a crater. Blood dribbled from his mouth as slide back the ground.
"After the Chūnin exams Jiraiya of the Sannin took a interest in me and taught me this technique in order for me to protect myself. Even after I almost joined Orochimaru he has still shown faith in me just like Sakura showed faith in me and helped me resist the darkness. Just like I have faith in you Sai. You don't have to spend one more day in that darkness alone anymore." Sasuke held out his hand to his defeated team member.
"You've been our friend for some time now Sai you just have to realize it."
This time Sai didn't hesitate as he took his friends hand.
"Sakura?" a voice called out drawing her out of her musing. She had heard the story from Sasuke and later as if in apology from Sai. She can't say she wasn't angry at his betrayal but in time she just blamed his master once they learned of Danzō and Root. In truth after that mission Team 7 began to become a true unit once Sai switched his allegiance from Danzō to them. Once again the voice called out to her. She realized she had been ignoring the Hokage. The pink hair girl bowed in apology.
"Forgive me Lady Tsunade I was just lost in thought."
"It's not like you to get distracted Sakura. If this mission is too personal for you let me know now."
"No Ma'am I just want to make sure we are going to try to bring Naruto home first instead of just putting him down."
"Of course Sakura," she responded with confidence but Sakura couldn't help but notice that she wasn't meeting her eyes. "but understand this; Naruto was already losing to the demon inside him before he was put under Danzō's personal care. If Kakashi or Yamato decide he poses a threat to civilians we will have to put him down regardless of the consequences. Do I make myself clear?"
This time it was Sakura who looked away from the gaze of her Sensei. "Yes My Lady."
The Godaime Hokage looked upon them all. "Very well then Team Kakashi your mission is to find and if possible retrieve Naruto Uzumaki and bring him back to the Hidden Leaf. This is considered a S rank mission and you will leave as soon as your prepared. Are there any questions?"
"No Hokage!" they responded in unison.
"Excellent then depart as soon as possible and...make sure you come back safely!"
"Yes Hokage!" With that they left room and set a meeting spot at the gates in under a hour.
As Sakura began to prepare the feeling that everything was terribly wrong just wouldn't leave.