Kyo

Konoha Gaiden [Private]

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The story of our past is one that is etched in bone by the point of a blade. For as long as can be remembered humanity has waged war against one another. Factions formed and rose up against one another to control the land and make their mark as rulers. Nations rose and fell, but the fighting never ended. In order to employ more effective means of fighting one another, the ninja were born. Expert fighters who specialised in sneaking in to enemy territory undetected using special equipment and tools, and no short supply of skill. At some point in time humanity discovered chakra, and with that ninjutsu was born. Utilising the inner power of chakra, ninja were capable of strange and powerful abilities which were used to crush their foes. In the end ninja only made the fighting worse, and so the war went on. 

 

It was at this point that the ninja decided that change was in order. The ninja of each country worked together and formed their own Hidden Villages within each nation. Inside this village the strongest of the shinobi was appointed as the leader, awarded the title of Kage. The Kage of each village would take requests from all people, and decide which ninja to dispatch on any mission, considering the money being offered, the difficulty of the mission, and whether the mission should be taken at all. And so it is now that each village thrives thanks to the ninja who do the difficult tasks that the every day folk cannot. This is a story of one such village. A village in the vast forest of the Land of Fire. 

 

A village hidden within the leaves. 

 

Konohagakure

 


 

 

[Chain Explosion - Naruto The Last OST]

 

 

Footsteps cut through the trees with the speed and grace of the wind. Three figures dressed in black moved under the cover of night, their presence concealed. As the trees began to thin out they spread out and went off in different directions. One figure was dressed in tight fitting, black gear, with a metal breastplate, hidden under a dark purple poncho that flowed in the wind as she hopped from tree to tree. Finally she breached the forest and the cover of the leaves. She wore a black mini-skirt and long stockings, a pair of simple black sandals on her feet. Her head was covered by a purple scarf that was tied around her forehead like a bandana, long red hair flowing out from the back of it. 

 

She landed on the soft grass with barely a sound, and sprinted across it and ducking behind a nearby formation of rocks. She stopped to catch her breath under the white, taking sharp breaths under the white, featureless mask she wore over her face. She chanced a glance over the rock and examined her target. A short distance away was a stronghold, a fort manned with guards along it's walls. The woman gave lifted her hand and gave three distinct signals, communicating to her comrades that were hidden nearby. As soon as she had done so, two other black shapes shot out from nearby hiding places and tore off towards the fort. 

 

The red-haired shinobi followed suit, moving from her hiding spot and sprinting through the grassy plain that lead to the fort. When she came to the wall she tapped off the ground with her feet and simply continued running, moving up the wall with the same speed and grace as she had on the ground. Then as she reached the edge she grabbed it and pulled herself over, flipping through the air and landing with a soft thump on top of one of the guards, pushing his head hard in to the floor to knock him unconscious. Her fingers felt around his neck for a pulse, and quickly found one. It was faint but the man was still alive. The shinobi pressed on, speeding down the fortifications outer wall until she found an opening and leapt, descending down on to the tiled roof of on of the buildings, allowing herself to slide down it's inclined side, and dropped off the edge. 

 

She hit the dry dirt with a tap and stood up, looking around. She heard the murmuring of two people talking. It was coming from her left, from around the corner. It was growing louder. She moved to her right and around the corner of the building, pressing herself tight against the wall, and listening. The people were talking about something irrelevant, she didn't bother to make a mental record of it, but instead listened to it's volume. She waited until the noise had faded, and then she moved from the wall and continued on her path. Inside her head was a mental map of this fort, one constructed by the hard work of multiple reconnaissance missions. She knew where she was, and where she must go. 

 

She made her way quietly across the fort, moving in between the buildings for cover. Before long the had reached the building she needed and moved round to the side of it. Then she scaled the wall and grabbed the ledge of a window, slowly pushing it open and climbing inside. She adjusted quickly to the warm glow of the lamps lighting the inner corridor. The light would completely invalidate her camouflage, but she was on the home stretch. She had to keep moving, trusting that her comrades would be in position as well. She moved down the corridor and took a sharp right, and descending the stairs to the lower floors. Then she made her way to a sliding door and pushed it across, finding herself in a fair sized room with grass mat floors and a small shrine on the other end. She walked across the room to the shrine and inspected it. The ornate lion figure was familiar to her, she felt around it carefully until she found the hidden latch she knew was there. She pressed it and a small compartment popped open at the front. 

 

It was empty. She froze for a second, surprised by the realisation. They had found it. If they had done so, had they known the importance of the statue after all? How much did they know? Perhaps they could even anticipate that she would be here. If that was the case then...

 

Alert to the danger, she turned to leave the room, only to find her way barred by a lone figure. The young man was slim with athletic muscle. He was dressed in a tight fitting, sleeveless top, and had long black gloves on each arm. He was wearing baggy cargo shorts and sandals, and he wore a strip of cloth tied around his neck, with a metal plate over the front showing a strange symbol on the front. His hair was a grayish white and cut straight at his collar. "Pleased ta meet ya, Anbu-chan." He said, with a sly fox-like grin. "Don't tell me ya gotta skedaddle already? I was hopin' ta show ya our special brand of hospitality."

The red-haired shinobi's hands blurred as she formed a particular set of seals. There was a popping noise and clouds of smoke exploded at either side of her. She darted towards the figure, and from the smoke came two more shinobi, exact copies of her. She reached the white haired shinobi and pulled a kunai from her pouch, swinging it at his throat. With his sly grin still in place the shinobi leaned back casually, the tip of the kunai narrowly missing his neck. Then he pulled his leg up and out, kicking her in the chest and sending her back in to the room as one her clones came at him with another kunai. He nimbly dodged the strike, allowing her arm to stretch over his right shoulder. He lifted his arms and grabbed hers, locking her in place, before birning up his knee and catching her in the stomach, causing the clone to explode in to smoke and disappear. Then the ninja dodged the blow of the third by ducking down and sweeping out his leg to knock her feet out from under her. As she hit the ground he brought his hand down and clasped it around her throat, choking her until she stopped struggling and disappeared with a pop. 

 

Meanwhile the real version stood up from inside the room. She gingerly rubbed at her stomach for a moment, and then readied herself. 

"Shadow clones, eh?" The white haired shinobi said with a grin. "Ya gonna have ta do better than that." 

"I'll show you just what I can do!" The red haired shinobi said quietly. The she sprinted forward and brought her leg up for a kick to his side. He lifted his arm to block it and struck back with his other arm. A flurry of punches and kicks ensued as each of the ninja brought blows to one another, before finally, the white haired ninja brought a Kunai out from his own pouch, and stabbed it violently in to her neck. The red-haired Shinobi froze in shock for a moment. Then, like the others, she disappeared with a pop and a burst of smoke. 

"Another 'un!?" The white haired ninja said through clenched teeth. He spun on his heel and sprinted from the building only to see the red-haired shinobi rejoin her comrades, and sprint off over the wall of the fort. The white-haired shook his head, but another sly grin appeared on his face. "Doesn't matter. Konoha are in fer some bad times ahead."

 

 


 

 

[Morning]

 

 

A young boy sat himself up in bed, stretching and letting out a big yawn. His hair was medium length and spiky, and he had a pair of dark blue eyes. He got out of bed dressed in white pajamas with little green lizards on them, and shuffled over to his closet. He took out his clothes and got dressed, swapping the pajamas for a pair of black three-quarter length shorts, a pair of black sandals, a fishnet vest, and finally a white jacket with a high collar and black stripes down each sleeve. He left his room and made his way downstairs where he found a plate on the table with a bowl of rice and a small note next to it which read:

 

Jin

Had to head out for a while. Left you some breakfast. Good luck today. 

Dad

 

Jin smirked and lifted the bowl off the table, gobbling up it's contents in mere seconds. Then he patted his stomach and let out a relieved sigh. On the table next to the bowl was a forehead protector with the leaf-like symbol of the village he lived in, Konohagakure. He picked it up and examined the symbol for a moment, a bit of pride swelling inside him. Then he took the forehead protector and tied it around his head. In Konoha, to be given a forehead protector was a sign that an academy student had graduated, and had began their path as a ninja. Jin had become a Genin, the first raknk of ninja, and today would be his first day of working in that role. He was to meet his new Jounin leader, an accomplished ninja, who would guide him on his journey, along with another Genin who he would be paired with. 

 

He turned around to leave his house only to see the door open. A women stepped inside, dressed in leggings and a knee-length purple skirt, and a black t-shirt, with a purple scarf wrapped loosely around her neck. The woman had dark blue eyes and red hair just like her son, and when she caught sight of him she gave a soft smile. "Oh, you're still here." She said. "I've just got back."

"Mom!" Jin exclaimed, "I was just about to leave. I have my first mission today!"

"Yes, I remember." His mother said. 

"How did yours go?" Jin asked. 

"It...well you know I can't talk about it." she replied, giving an awkward and forced smile. "Nothing you have to worry about anyway."

 

Hideo Jin was the son of two well known ninja. His father, Isamu, was a Jounin assigned to serve and protect the most important ninja in the village, the Hokage. His mother, Saya, was a member of Konoha's elite special ops ninja known as the ANBU. He knew very little about what she did, and most people in the village didn't even know of her position. While operating as an ANBU shinobi she had a code name, and a mask, to protect her identity. However to Jin, Saya was just his mother. She was a kind woman who was very encouraging, and a better cook than his father. He struggled to picture her dressed in the garb of a ninja, going on dangerous missions. But he knew she was strong, so strong that he wanted to be just like her. 

 

"Do you know who my leader is?" He asked Saya. 

"Of course I do." Saya replied with a smile. "But it's more fun for you to find out on your own."

"Aw c'mon...is he tough? I mean I guess he has to be or...hey wait is it a girl!?"

"Go find out for yourself." Saya said, and she gave her son a hug. "I have faith in you, I know you'll do well."

"Thanks, I'll make you proud." Jin said. 

"I already am." Saya replied, and she let go of her son and let him leave. "Go on, you don't want to be late."

 

"I'll tell you all about it when I get back." Jin said with a confident grin. Then he walked out the door. When it closed behind him, Saya's warm smile faded and was replaced by a cold and distant look. She had failed today, failed in a mission that could bring great danger to the villagers of Konoha, and danger to her son. She wanted to sleep, but she knew that she would have to leave again soon. She had much to report. 

 

Jin walked over the steps in the street near his house and made his way in to an open market area. Beyond that were rows of houses, buildings, watch towers and beyond that was the academy where he had trained. Even further still was the Hokage's office, and beyond that a great rocky mountain that stood over Konoha. Etched in to the stone were the faces of each Hokage that had served the village. In total there were now 7 faces up on the wall, the rightmost one being the current Hokage. Jin wondered if, perhaps, his own face would be carved upon that mountain. Or maybe it would be his partner who would have that particular glory. He knew she was a girl, but he hadn't been told who it was yet. He wondered if they would be good friends, or perhaps they would be rivals. There seemed to be endless possibilities in front of him, and for the first time in a while. he was totally excited about his future. 

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[Nakama]

 

It had been a long, sleepless night. It had been quiet, dark and uneventful. But she had still remained awake throughout. Now she could hear the sound of birds chirping in the trees, and minutes later, a knock on her bedroom door.
"Yuri? Are you awake yet?!" It was her father, Ibiki. Her name was really Sayuri, but her mother, leader of the Satomi clan - who also, to Yuri's great chagrin, was the Hokage - once said to her that her husband had wished for a boy during her pregnancy, had taken to calling her 'Yuri', so the nickname more or less stuck.

"I'm awake!" She called back, with a groan. Yuri's head beneath the covers, she reached over to her bedside table and grabbed the black goggles and pulled them on, obscuring her eyes. She felt practically naked without them. Once she was awake enough to get dressed, she bound her abdomen and sections of her lower legs in bandages for support, then put on a pair of black shorts and combat sandals, then a short-sleeved black top that stopped at the bottom of her ribs, over which she pulled on a large dark green jacket. The jacket had flared sleeves that were so long they hid her hands entirely, and a wide stiff collar that almost came up as far as her nose. The jacket itself was no longer than her top, stopping just below her ribs in a half-cut.

Yuri shared many features with the rest of the women in her clan. She had pale, porcelain skin. Long, wavy black hair. And she had an explosive temper when angered. The only thing she hadn't inherited, at least yet, was her womanly figure. She was very petite, and it was something of a sore point for her. Especially as her older sister, Mira, made most the men in the village turn their heads when she walked by.

 

Her family was unusual to say the least. Never mind the fact her mother, Masa, was the Hokage. Or her sister, Mira, was a hunter nin. Both incredibly dangerous and important jobs in their own rights. On the flip side, her father was the owner of a ramen shop he had cleverly called, "Ibiki's". Though, her father was quick to point out that running the ramen shop was indeed, both important, and dangerous. At this, she always laughed, but then she'd spent a few summers helping him in the kitchen, and he wasn't entirely wrong. She loved her family, in spite of, or perhaps because of their flaws. She considered herself blessed, though it wasn't always easy being the daughter of the Hokage. With that, came expectation. 

 

Her mother was always very formal and distant in public, never showing her any attention or favour. Sometimes her mother would arrange strenuous training sessions with a man called Isamu, who no matter how well she performed, he always criticised. She found it difficult to make friends too, because of who her mother was. So no, as much as she was thankful for what she had, she didn't have an easy childhood at times. But, that didn't matter any more. She had worked hard to get to this point, she had aced her exams, finishing amongst the top in her class and now she was a genin. She was going to be assigned with a partner, and a teacher and she was hopeful she'd make new friends in them both. 

 

Yuri wandered downstairs and got herself something to eat, her father was running around getting ready for the morning food rush, gathering ingredients to take with him to work. Her mother was long gone, as she usually was by the time Yuri came downstairs in the morning. She didn't know where Mira was, but then she never did. Sometimes she would be gone for days or weeks at a time, then one day she would just be home, acting like nothing had changed.

 

Picking up a slice of toast, Yuri took a bite as she ran out the door, wishing her father a good day at work. He offered her no advice, for he'd married into their clan and never been much of a fighter, his advice was always more worldly. Like how to talk to boys (which began, 'don't hit them without good cause'), and how long you should cook ramen noodles for (three minutes, no longer). She had to get out of her head, so many thoughts whirled around about her life and her first day. She stepped out onto the path and started towards the meeting area. She marched past the academy where she had trained, and the Hokage's office where she knew somewhere inside, her mother could be deciding the future of the village. She walked past her father's shop that had yet to open, and then on to the outskirts of the village. She left via the east exit and walked, skirting the forest until she came to a large open space with a bench placed in front of a pond. Yuri stood up on the bench and sat on the edge and sighed. She hated waiting, it didn't help that she was impatient as well as short-tempered. A few minutes passed, and at last, she heard footsteps. She wanted to impress her new partner and so she vaulted backwards off the bench and landed with a tap, and came face-to-face with a green jounin jacket.
"What are you doing?" The man asked, he had a deep voice. She looked up but his face was obscured by the bright sunlight, but he was tall. Much taller than she was, and she wasn't a short girl for her age.

"I... well..." She pursed her lips as she tried to explain.

"Alright." The man replied, not letting her finish. And then, she heard it. Another pair of footsteps approaching, she turned and saw a young boy with fiery hair and ocean blue eyes, a smile spread across her face and she waved. So, she thought to herself, these are my comrades.

 

 


 

 

[Rakujitsu]

 

His name was Hisato. That was the only name he gave them. He was tall and slim, but his voice carried an air of authority and finality to it. His requests were more like commands. He had short scruffy mane of sandy coloured hair, and a short blonde beard. His skin was deeply tanned, and he had a thick scar running down the left side of his face. His left eye was a milky white, and the right was a dark brown. He had a look that reminded Yuri of a lion. She liked him immediately. As for her partner, she was unsure about. He hadn't said too much, but then, neither had she. Their jounin leader hadn't given them much chance. The moment the boy had arrived, Hisato launched into an explanation of their duties and responsibilities as genin. But his speech was long, and she was starting to get bored. She shuffled her feet and let out the quietest sigh.

"Am I boring you, Sayuri-chan?" Hisato asked.
"My name's Yuri, okay." She corrected him. Hisato crossed his arms expectantly. "Yeah, i'm bored! I want to, y'know... do missions! Save people, or something. This is boring." She growled, crossing her long-sleeved arms in a mimic of her jounin leader. 

 

"Boring? Mmm..." Hisato stroked his beard thoughtfully, "Sometimes being a ninja is boring, Yuri-chan! How very observant of you."
"Huh?" Yuri raised an eyebrow in confusion.
"Sometimes, you have to remain still, for days at a time, or remain incognito as a traveller in an inn, for months, doing nothing but eating sweet cakes and drinking green tea. You will long for those times when i'm done with you!"
Yuri turned to look at her partner, as she was genuinely confused. She was getting the feeling that she'd won some kind of booby prize, or somebody was playing a trick on her. Maybe she was in the wrong team, or they'd sent some kind of 'joke' teacher. This man didn't seem to have all his marbles. He finds drinking tea and eating cake fun activities. She wondered what he'd experienced to make him so... zen. Regardless, she didn't like it.

"Can't we just do something fun! Something physical!?" Yuri asked.
"Something physical..." Hisato mused, and then a smile spread across his face. "Alright, we'll play a game, so I can test your abilities. I have here, a little money, if you can pull it from my belt, you can keep it." Hisato then pulled the note from his pocket, and Yuri saw it had a great deal of zeroes on it, her eyes lit up.

"That's gonna be mine!" She took an excitable step towards Hisato.
"But wait!" He cautioned, "For every failed attempt, you must tell your teammate something incredibly personal and private! Sharing secrets amongst yourselves is the best way to start friendships, it garners trust and comradery. After all, shinobi are all about secret keeping. Trust one another with your secrets and form the bonds of friendship. BEGIN!!" He shouted the last word, and in the same breath, vanished.
"Aww, crap..." Yuri muttered, then turned to her partner, "Er, hi..."

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"Hi!" Jin said in response, thrusting his fist out like he was punching the air, but he held it there like an offering. "I'm Hideo Jin, pleased to meet you." 

"Satomi Sayuri. Call me Yuri." She replied with a smile, then looked down at the boy's fist. She pulled back one sleeve and grasped Jin's fist with her hand and shook it like a handshake.

"Uh...alright!" Jin said, and he gave a little giggle. "Well, Yuri, I hope we can be friends, but I have to tell you..." Jin turned away from her and folded his arms across his chest. "...I'll be the one taking Sensei's money!"

 

Hisato leapt out of a nearby tree, quickly pursued by Yuri who yelled across the courtyard, "No you won't!" And reached out to grab the note hanging from their teacher's belt. As she tried to grab it however, the Hisato in front of her disappeared in a puff of smoke and she over-extended, landing quite unceremoniously on her face. She tumbled across the ground and then they heard from nowhere, yet everywhere.
"That's one secret!"
Yuri picked herself up and brushed herself off, clenching her teeth in frustration, "Fine!" She barked, crossing her arms as she thought for a moment, "The Satomi clan use bugs in their jutsu!"
"That's not a secret!!" Hisato's voice corrected.
"Dammit... we bond with the bugs even when we're in the womb, it's the only way we can have that fully symbiotic relationship."
"Better!" Hisato called back. Yuri grouched, crossing her arms and pouting further.
 
"...Bugs, huh?" Jin said, his face fixed in what was a clearly forced smile. "That's...that's really...cool." He added, before shivering. 
"R-really?" Yuri perked up and smiled at Jin. It wasn't every day that someone complimented her clan in that way. Even with her mother being the Hokage, people had a peculiar dislike of their jutsu. But it was all Yuri had ever known, it wasn't unpleasant to her. "Wanna see?" She asked.
"Uh...yeah, sure." Jin said, shifting uncomfortably like the mere thought made his skin crawl. "Just remember, you have to give me another secret if you mess up again."
Oblivious to Jin's discomfort, Yuri pulled back one sleeve of her jacket and held out her hand, holding out her forefinger in front of Jin's face. Then, the tip of her finger darkened, and the little black area grew out until it was in the air like a golfball-sized cloud of smoke, "They're really small, you can't really see them unless you look really close. But they're quite pretty..."
 
Yeah, Jin thought, pretty creepy. But he forced another smile in an attempt to mask the fact he was screaming internally. He couldn't help but think it might be useful though. Lot's of ninja clans had special relationships with animals, and used those bonds to extend their skills in the field. The thought of using bugs, however, was still an uncomfortable thought. "That's a pretty unique skill...I can't say I have anything like that." Jin said, although he didn't seem to feel too bad about it. "My dad trained me in Taijutsu, and my mom...well she works a lot so she hasn't taught me much, just one ninjutsu." What Jin hadn't mentioned was that during this conversation, he had been watching. His father, Isamu, had always stressed the importance of observation, and that mastery of the skill was far more useful than any ninja technique. When Hisato had disappeared, he had suspected that the figure that had stood there was a clone. Yuri's brief altercation only confirmed that suspicion. 
"Listen, Yuri." Jin said. "Sensei is a Jounin. So attacking head on is out of the question. As long as he can predict our movements then he can control the flow of battle, and we won't stand a chance. Standing out here we're too easy to anticipate. So...I'm going to hide, see ya!" And with that Jin went off at a sprint, disappearing in to the trees. 
 
[bad Situation]
 
Yuri opened her mouth to speak, but it was too late, Jin was gone. She puffed out her cheeks in frustration, but then something occurred to her. She grinned and held out her arms, and the little black cloud was dwarfed as a large black mass spewed from the ends of her sleeves, fluttering them as they left. They hovered in the air for a moment, and then dispersed. "I'll find him first, Jin!" She called out, and sauntered across the courtyard, waiting for the telltale signs. Hidden among the trees, Jin smiled at Yuri's response. 
"I'm counting on it..." He said to himself. Then he placed his hands together to form a seal, and released his chakra. 4 perfect clones of Jin appeared in the tree branches around him. "Spread out and find Sensei, don't worry about making a ruckus."
"On it!" The clones said in unison, and the each of them disappeared in different directions through the trees. Jin stayed where he was, watching Yuri carefully. "Sorry to use you as a decoy, but that money is mine."
 
A few seconds passed and then Yuri paused, mid-step. She frowned and turned her head at an angle, "Why are there five of you...?" She muttered, but at that moment, she felt something. They'd found him. Hisato exploded out of a nearby bush and Yuri dove towards him but missed, he was just too fast.
"Secret!!" Hisato barked, as he vanished.
"My bugs can secrete a variety of oils and toxins!" She barked back, "Including a paralysing toxin, and the secret is you've been bitten!!" She yelled irritably, but then smiled at her triumph. Though, she suspected their leader knew about her abilities and had come prepared, so she didn't sit around waiting. Equally, she knew he was just too fast, she was going to have to work with Jin, or else neither of them would win the prize. "Jin!!" She called out, "Pincer?!"
 
In response, Jin shot out from the trees in front of Hisato and made a beeline for him. However Hisato was still to fast, and swung a right, running off with Jin and Yuri hot on his heels. Then, to Hisato's surprise, three more of Jin leapt out from the trees and cut him off. The first leapt at him with a spinning kick, which Hisato deftly blocked with his arm and brought his other fist up, catching the clone straight in the chest, followed by a pop and a cloud of smoke. The second slid across the ground to kick his feet out from under him, but Hisato leapt up and kicked the clone in the face and it also disappeared. The third came at him head on with a punch, which he deflected and struck back, dispersing it also. However by this point the real Jin and Yuri had closed in on him. Hisato turned and smirked, as the pair rushed him with fist's clenched. As the fists collied with him, there was a pop and a rush of smoke, and Jin lay on the floor, clutching his face. 
 
[Fooling Mode]
 
"Eh!?" The other Jin stammered. 
"Idiot! Why'd you punch me!?" The real Jin yelled, clearly considering he hadn't disappeared like the other clones. 
"Why'd you get in my way, idiot!?" The clone roared back. 
"I didn't I was hiding in the tree, idiot!" The real one screamed. 
"But you're right here! Idiot!" The clone yelled. 

"Stop... arguing with yourself." Yuri raised an eyebrow. And people thought she was strange. She shook her head, "Hey, wait... do clones count as attempts?"

 

"Indeed they do." Hisato's voice echoed around them once more. "Jin, you now owe 5 secrets."

"What!?" Jin barked. He cursed and placed his hands together, dispelling the clone and then sat huffing on the grass. He gave a heavy sigh and then lay back on the grass, staring up at the sky. "Fine...well where should I start?" He said rhetorically. "Well I do have one secret, but it's not mine to tell. A ninja is supposed to hold the secrets of others dear, so I won't tell you that. Well the first thing is, I'm actually thirteen years old. I failed my first exam at the academy and had to wait another year. Second is...let's see...oh, the ninjutsu I used is called a Shadow Clone. It's the only ninjutsu technique that I know besides the basics. Thirdly, bugs really creep me out. I'm sorry, I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

"Oh..." Yuri's expression sunk, but was quickly replaced with a devious smile, "That's fine. I guess i'll just have these back then." And as she finished speaking, a thin black mist rose up from Jin's body and returned to Yuri, disappearing into her sleeves.

 

 

Jin froze, like a statue. His eyes slowly moved to look at Yuri, but his body remained still, like a painting with eyes that follow you. "Y-you...they...on me...I..."

"They're not on you any more." Yuri rolled her eyes, "I just thought it'd be a good way to get to this." Yuri pulled out Hisato's note and snapped it, "We got it!!" She called out, a few seconds passed and then Hisato appeared in front of them. 
"No, you don't. Cloning a piece of paper is academy-level." Hisato pulled his note off his belt and held it out in front of them, "Right?"
"You can all come back, too." Yuri replied, and then the note in Hisato's hand dissipated, changed colour and returned to her as a small puff of black smoke. "We win!"
"You mean you win." Jin said. "I just tried to play you...to get it for myself."
 
[Daylight of Konoha]
 
"Yeah, and I did the same thing to you, but /we/ won." Yuri replied with a smile, letting Jin hold the note, "I knew I wasn't fast enough to get close to Hisato-sensei, so I planted my bugs on you, and they transferred when you got close enough. If not for you, we wouldn't have it." Jin mused on this and examined the note. Maybe they hadn't gone the right way about it, but they had managed to complete the task. Perhaps that was what mattered. As he looked at the note he frowned. 
"Hey...wait a minute!" He said as he swiped his thumb over all the zeros, and noticed that they had come off in his hand, until only the number 1 was left. "You tricked us!"
"Hahaha!" Hisato's let out his barking laugh as he threw his head back. "You guys didn't think I was gonna let you get your hands on my cash, did you?"
 
"That's not fair, you told us we'd win a lot more!" Yuri crossed her arms as her temper blossomed, "You made a promise, we told secrets, and now you have to buy us lunch." She grinned, "At... Ibiki's." Hisato raised his eyebrow at Yuri and folded his arms. 
"I'll tell you what." Hisato said. "I'll buy you lunch if you can pass the real test. You might have completed the objective, but you did so by using each other. If you pull that kind of crap on a mission you could get each other killed. So why don't you each tell me what you have learned about each other, and if you answer correctly then lunch is on me."
"Well." Jin said as he pushed himself off the ground and stood up. "I learned that my Sensei is a trickster who doesn't play by the rules. I suppose our enemies won't play by the rules either, so that kind of attitude is probably useful. As for Yuri..." Jin turned to her and looked her over for a moment. "Her bugs are pretty creepy, but they're useful. With Yuri's abilities we can perform reconaissance effectively and possibly avoid fighting altogether in most situations. Even if we do get in a fight, well, it's like my dad taught me. Interpreting your opponents next move is one thing, but Yuri forces her opponent to make the move she desires, and as such she controls the flow of battle far more effectively than someone who merely knows the next move."
 
"More rules..." Yuri muttered, "I've learnt I can't trust a word that comes out of my Sensei's mouth, this is probably just another trick." She let out a deep sigh, "But, I also learnt that working together is more important than winning at any cost. I learnt that I could bolster my own weaknesses by using the strengths of my comrade. I'm pretty strong, and fast, I think," Hisato grinned at her and raised an accusatory eyebrow, "For a genin! Alright.... but, Jin is faster, yeah... and I don't know how to make shadow clones. I probably can't, actually, even halving my chakra once would be a bad idea, plus my clones wouldn't be able to exist without the bugs, they regulate too much of my system." She let out another sigh and shook her head, "Teamwork wins, Jin is almost as smart as me, blah blahblah." She grinned sheepishly.
"I guess that'll do." Hisako said, giving his team a hearty grin. "Come on then, let's go eat!"
 
"Finally!" Jin said, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation. "Oh I guess that's another secret. I have a really high metabolism, so I eat a lot."
"You stuff your face all the time and you'll get fat, kid." Hisato said. 
"Yeah my dad thought so too. But you ask him, I can eat 10 bowls of ramen and still have room for desert. And..." Jin tapped his stomach to show how firm it was. "Not a scrap of fat on me."
"10 bowls?" Hisato said with a sigh. "I'm regretting this offe for lunch already."
"Oh I'll make sure that you do." Jin said with a cocky grin. Then the trio laughed and made their way back to town. 

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[Morning]

 

"I'm so hungry..." Yuri muttered, holding her stomach as it growled. "I'm going to order everything on the menu, my dad's ramen is the best!"

Hisato gave her a wary glance as they walked down the street, noticing the sign, 'Ibiki's Ramen' just ahead. He shook his head and grinned at the two young Genin. Ibiki looked hard at work behind the stall, several customers were sat on the stools enjoying the warmth of the sun on their back, and the heat of the ramen in their bellies. A man and a woman got up, thanked Ibiki and left.
"Ahoy, Ibiki!!" Hisato called, raising his hand.
"Oh, Hisato!" Ibiki nodded to the man and they greeted one another as friends. "I see you've brought a couple of hard-working shinobi-in-training."
"Hi, dad." Yuri grinned sheepishly.
Ibiki turned and looked at the other Genin, the young boy. "Red hair, blue eyes. You're a Hideo, if ever I saw one. You must be Jin."

"That's me." Jin said with a short bow. "I didn't expect people to know that. I mean, most people only know my dad and he looks nothing like me."
Ibiki and Hisato exchanged a look. 

 

"So," Hisato clapped his hands together, "What are we getting?"
Ibiki looked at Yuri and then turned to look back at the clock on the back of the stall, "Yuri, you gotta be going, don't you?" 

"Huh?" Yuri looked up from behind a large menu. "Oh, Mira!" She thumped her fist off the counter, "I have training, I totally forgot."
Hisato turned to face her and shook his head, "You'll get your training during our mission, we're eating and then we're leaving."
"Oh... alright, Hisato-sensei." Yuri replied, looking back at her menu. 
"--and that." 
Hisato turned to hear Jin finish ordering and Ibiki handed him the bill and began cooking. Hisato took one glance at the bill, muttered something about it not being a real number, then wished Yuri well on her training and told her to return as quickly as possible. He really didn't need another mouth to feed.
"Right!!" Yuri nodded and leapt off the stool. She was going to be late, Mira wasn't going to appreciate that one bit. 

 

[Different Sky]

 

It took a few minutes to reach her house, even sprinting there, but she made it. She ran through her house, and walked out the back door into an expansive garden. Well, to call it a garden would be an understatement. It was more like a small wood. Perfect conditions for secluded training - and insects. 
"You're late." Mira stated, her voice was even and quiet, but still upheld absolute authority. It was in those respects that out of Yuri and Mira, her sister was far more like her mother. "We're going to train twice as hard, then." She added. Yuri groaned, but one look from Mira silenced her. "Get ready." Mira walked away, turning her back to Yuri and waited in silence.

"Are we picking up from last time?" Yuri asked cautiously.
"We are." Mira replied. Her sister was beautiful, but cold. Mira had long silky hair, unlike her unruly, wavy mess. She was tall and well-proportioned, and she wore a long dark green coat with one sleeve missing. Her exposed arm was covered in bandages. Her sister had an enormous gourd on her back, and a similar pair of goggles to her own, obscuring her eyes.

Before Yuri could ask her next question, Mira whirled around, launching herself at her without reservation. Yuri had time enough to raise her hands to block, but that was all. Mira collided with her, and Yuri flew across the ground and landed roughly. She drew in air, gasping. Her forearms were numb with pain.
"Faster." Mira commented.

 

[Keisei Gyakuten]

 

"Alright!" Yuri snapped, lifting herself off the ground. She cracked her knuckles and then lifted her long-sleeved arms. A thick black cloud flew out from the ends and swiftly swarmed towards Mira. She was completely surrounded, there was no escape. 
"You can't expect to beat me, not with them." Mira replied, "Your Tsukimono are in disarray, maybe a casual observer can't see, but they have no cohesion, see?" Mira lifted one forefinger and from it spewed a thick, black cloud. It was far smaller in size than Yuri's but it expanded and swarmed over Yuri's insects. In seconds, the larger cloud fell away until there was a fine coating of dead insects laying on the ground. 
"Now, see the strength of a cohesive Tsukimono user!" Mira barked, and held her arm out in front of her. The dark mist of insects descended on her arm, as a black mass swept over it and spiked outwards, forming a blade. The form held tight, and glistened with moisture. "My insects have locked and formed a structure, like this, their shells are harder than steel. Their saliva can excrete any chemical I choose, and apply it to the blade. Don't get hit!!" 

Mira leapt high into the air, Yuri tried to follow her movements, but to her surprise, the body in the air dissolved into a black mist. She leapt forwards, sure in the knowledge that her sister had to be right behind her. Her guess was spot on. She narrowly avoided being gutted. But despite her instincts, the blade still knicked the back of her leg and as she took her next step, her leg failed her entirely and she crumpled to the floor, unable to stand back up.

"They feed on chakra, you should know that. But more so, in this form, they can temporarily absorb the chakra pathways, disabling an opponent's ability to form chakra to that point, or even control their body." Mira walked around and looked down at her sister. "You expected to dodge me? You're too slow, too weak. Our clan can't use genjutsu, nor can we use powerful ninjutsu outside our Tsukimono bugs. You have to rely on them, and on your taijutsu. Those are our strongest tools, and yet you haven't mastered either."

 

[Caution]

 

"You're really startin' to piss me off..." Yuri growled, holding her leg in discomfort. It felt as though she'd lost a limb, she couldn't feel it at all, just a dull pain above where she'd been struck. "I know you're stronger than me, I can't... it's not my fault, you're a Jounin and i'm just a Genin!" 
"It's not my fault, i'm too young, you're too strong." Mira shook her head, the blade surrounding her bandaged arm melted away and dissipated into nothing. "Excuses. When I was your age, I wasn't nearly as weak-willed. I've seen your comrade, even he has a stronger will than you."
"Shut up!" Yuri's eyes welled up and she grabbed hold of her sister's ankle, "You're so mean! Just stop it, alright! Help me up!" 
Mira yanked her leg out of Yuri's grasp and then bent over and grabbed her by her jacket and harshly pulled her to her feet. "I'm only doing this, because you have a mission. You cannot be allowed to hinder your comrades."

A warm rush of energy cascaded over Yuri's body, and she felt her leg return to normal, she even felt as though she hadn't just fought her sister. She felt good as new. "Why can't you be more like dad..." Yuri muttered, pushing her sister off her. Mira looked at her but didn't reply, eventually she took a deep breath and answered with something else. 
"The chain is only as strong as it's weakest link." Mira started to leave, "You are the weak link. In our family, and in your team. Change that." Then Yuri was left in the wood on her own. She slowly tried to unclench her fists, she had held them so tight that it hurt as she uncurled her fingers. She took a deep breath and tried to shake off her sister's antagonising attitude. She was often insulting and difficult to live with, but she'd never been quite so hard on her before. Right now, she wasn't sure her sister even liked her. No, she thought to herself. She was sure Mira didn't like her.

 

 


 

 

[The Raising Fighting Spirit]

 

"What in the hell?!" Yuri yelled, though her voice was drowned out by all the commotion. 

She arrived back at Ibiki's ramen shop to see her father trying to grab Hisato-sensei, while throwing bowls, ladles and all manner of utensils. Hisato dodged them expertly, but then noticed Yuri, "It's time to go!!" He called to her, then a stray spoon clocked him in the side of his head and he went down. Her father dashed out from behind the stall and made to grab him, but as he laid his hands on Hisato, he vanished in a puff of smoke. Ibiki barely had enough time to yell an obscenity as Hisato disappeared into the horizon, literally dragging Jin and Yuri by the scruff of their necks.
"Sorry dad!!" Yuri yelled back.

 

[Evening]

 

"Hey, uh, sorry about that." Hisato said at last. They'd been on the road for a little while now, and the sun was waning in the distance. They'd covered a lot of ground, but everyone had been fairly quiet. Yuri figured if it was anything like her, it was the anticipation of their first mission and everything that meant. "I didn't realise Jin was gonna eat quite so much, and--" He pulled out his wallet and opened it. A little moth flew to freedom and he sighed. "Yeah, well... we'll make a lot on this mission, so i'll be able to pay your father back when we get home, alright?" 
"Y-yeah..." Yuri replied, a bemused expression on her face. "Where are we going anyway?"

"We're heading to Kusagakure." Hisato replied.
"The... hidden grass village?" Yuri frowned in confusion.

"Mm!" Hisato replied, "Kusa have no allegiance to the other major villages, but they lie on our border, so sometimes they ask for assistance, and we've always had an amicable relationship with them. Weird place, though. Forests of bamboo and giant mushrooms." Hisato scratched his beard thoughtfully, "We hold the Chuunin exams there, sometimes."

 

"W-wait!" Jin said, his voice a little panicked, "We're not doing the Chuunin exams now, are we? I-I'm not ready!"

"Ha ha!" Hisato's laugh was deep and throaty, "You ain't kiddin', kid." He shook his head, "Well neither of you are, but that's alright. We're just starting out, that day will come. No, Kusa has asked us for assistance in dealing with a rogue ninja."
"They abandoned their village?" Yuri asked.
"Mmm..." Was Hisato's only response, his face was grave.
"But why are they asking us?" Jin said. "I mean, they have their own ninja, right? That doesn't make much sense."
"True, they could send out more of their own ninja to deal with the rogue element." Hisato replied, "But there's a lot of politics involved."
"I don't care about politics." Yuri muttered, folding her arms. 
"You're gonna have to, soon enough." Hisato muttered back at her, "Whether you like it or not." He groaned, obviously from personal experience, "Anyway... Kusagakure are a small village. They don't have the same systems in place as other major villages. They don't have hunter-nin's, for one. But that doesn't mean they couldn't track down their own ninja. The problem is that Kusagakure is surrounded by several different nations, to recapture a powerful rogue ninja, without a dedicated capture force, would require a lot of manpower. They're concerned that if they empty their village of shinobi, then they could be attacked by a hostile force."
 
"So they think two Genin and one Jounin can help?" Jin said, raising his brow questioningly. "Am I the only one who thinks that sounds kinda stupid?"
"You're right." Hisato replied, "It's not the best solution. But it comes back to politics and the facts of life."
"Ugh..." Yuri groaned, "Wait... are we supposed to capture a Jounin?!"
"Yes." Hisato replied, without a beat. "Unfortunately, Konoha is stretched thin right now, and we didn't have the resources to commit a stronger force to this. But Konoha couldn't refuse, either. Kusa asked in order to foster a better relationship with us, so we can't really refuse without breaking all ties with them. Politics are stupid." Hisato let out a short sigh, "But," He added, with a hopeful tone, "I'll be able to track him down and capture him, with both your help, of course."
"Awesome." Jin said, rolling his eyes. "I'm gonna die on my first mission because a bunch of old crusties want to play nice. Just great."
"Now you're gettin' politics." Hisato replied with a throaty laugh and patted Jin roughly on the back. Up ahead, the path veered into a darker section of the forest, and to the right-hand side of the road, was an old tea house. It looked as though it had seen better days.
"Last stop before Kusagakure, I should think. Let's get something to eat and drink, take a little break, then push on, okay?" Hisato smiled at them.
"But... you don't have any money." Yuri frowned.
"I didn't say I was buying." Hisato grinned, clapping them both on the shoulder, and marched them inside.
 
[senya]
 
The tea house was laden with the heavy scent of perfume and cooked fish. For such a small and out of the way place, it was surprisingly busy. Most of the seated areas were taken. The ceiling was clogged with a layer of smoke and the kitchen at the back looked like it had a lot of orders on. The hot food smelled delicious and they hadn't eaten since breakfast. In fact, Yuri hadn't eaten at all. Her stomach was past the point of growling now, and had gone on the offensive, giving her hunger pains. She ran to the front desk and ordered food immediately, as Hisato and Jin sat down on padded cushions surrounding a short table. She joined her comrades and sat down, looking forward to the hot food.
"A lot of people must come through here..." She mused, looking around at the other faces. Most of them seemed uninterested in their group. "Hey Jin, have you ever left the village before?" Yuri asked.
 
"Once or twice, I think." Jin replied. "Sometimes my mom and dad would take me to a little village by the coast for a few days. It's actually one of the few times we got to be together. My mom... well... she goes on a lot of important missions. So she isn't home all that often. What about you, Yuri?"
"Not really, well..." Yuri thought for a moment, "I mean, outside the village, in the forest, sure. But never this far. I think when I was really little, my parents took me out like that, but, I don't really remember." Yuri was pulled from her thoughts when her food arrived. She'd ordered half the things on the menu, and she started eating ravenously. Soon after, a tray of green tea and sweet cakes were brought to their table, they thanked the waiter and ate in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the relaxing atmosphere.

"Excuse me, may I sit?" 
Yuri looked up to see a tall man. He had short black hair, pale skin and dark green eyes. He was covered with a dark green poncho. He glanced in her direction and she blushed and went back to eating - though with a lot more decorum than before.
Hisato looked him over and then nodded, "Go ahead, it's busy here."
"It often is." He replied, sitting beside Jin. "Hello."
"Hi." Jin said with a mouthful of food. "I'm Jin, nice to meet you."
"And you." The man replied, "My name is Kaoru." He bowed to Jin, "I see you are from the leaf, what brings you into our fine country? I'm travelling to Kusagakure, is that also your point of destination?" He asked, smiling.
 
"Uh..." Jin looked over to Hisato for some help. "...We're... going to visit... a... uh... my grandma... is sick?"
Kaoru smiled at Jin and turned to look at Hisato, "I didn't know ninja took their leaders on personal errands."
"He's just trying to protect his team. Albeit he is a terrible liar." Hisato replied with a grin, "Good to finally meet you, Kaoru."
"And you, Lion of the East." Kaoru replied. Yuri watched the interchange between the two men and glanced at Jin, giving him a 'what the hell is going on' look, as best she could. Kaoru caught her look and laughed.
"This is Kaoru," Hisato smiled at Jin, "He is our contact with Kusagakure. He's going to assist us in recapturing the rogue ninja."
"Well that's a relief." Jin said with a sigh. "So you're a Jounin as well, then?"
"I'm sorry, no." Kaoru scratched the back of his head, slightly embarrassed. "Well, y'see, uh... haha..."
"Kaoru is a Genin." Hisato replied for him. "As I said, Kusa can't lose so much as a single Jounin right now."
"But, I know our forests like the back of my hand, and i'm also a tracker!" Kaoru folded his arms, "Better at tracking than half our Jounin, anyway..." He added, proudly. Yuri wasn't sure how much of that was truth, or just boasting. But either way, she didn't care. She liked Kaoru, but she wasn't sure she could talk to him right now, so she just continued to eat in silence.
 
"That's cool." Jin said with a nod. "Yuri is pretty good at tracking too. Maybe with both of you helping each other we can get this job done in no time, right?"
"Yeah, I hope so!" Kaoru replied excitedly, "I have my own training to get back to, though if I finish this mission successfully then I can take part in the next Chuunin exams. Have either of you taken your exams yet?" Kaoru asked, looking to Yuri. She looked up for a moment, shook her head and lowered it once again.
"Oh, well, not to worry." Kaoru laughed his question off, "So, what are your strengths and weaknesses, Jin?" 
"I'd say I'm pretty fast." Jin said. "I learned Taijutsu from my dad, and he's the personal bodyguard of the Hokage. In terms of weakness... hmm... well I don't really know that much ninjutsu."
Yuri choked on her food and swallowed with a degree of difficulty, coughing loudly. She reached forwards and drank her tea in a single gulp and, once she'd found her voice, it was framed by disbelief, "Isamu-sama's your dad?!" 
"Uh, yeah." Jin said, looking a little confused. "I thought you knew. I mean everyone knows who my dad is..."
 
"W-well..." Yuri frowned, "I... my mother introduced me to him, and he trains me sometimes, but..."
"Really?" Jin said, looking excited. "Hey! We should spar sometime! We can see which one of us he taught the best! Oh... who's your mom?"
"Uh, well..." Yuri touched her sleeves together like a monk, and beneath them she pressed her forefingers together nervously, "My mom, she uh..." Yuri swallowed and looked at Hisato, but his face was expressionless, "Satomi Masa. The Hokage." Kaoru's attention immediately refocused on Yuri.
"Uwaaaah!?" Jin cried as he fell over on to his side, his legs dangling in the air. "You're the Hokage's... daughter!?"
"Mm..." She nodded quietly. Yuri looked up and saw her team and Kaoru focusing on her, her face felt hot.
"That's..." Jin sat up, pausing for a moment. "That's... pretty awesome! Yuri... your mom is a badass!"
For a moment, Jin's comments didn't register. Yuri blinked (though nobody could have seen it) and frowned. She wasn't used to people her age reacting in that way. Mostly, they just told her to 'buzz off', or some other insect-related insult. Yuri had never had many friends as a child. She perked up and smiled at Jin. Okay, he didn't like bugs, but maybe this could work. 
"Alright, that's enough of that." Hisato let out a content sigh, "Ready to go Kaoru?" Their guide nodded, and so they stood and left the tea house.
"Oh..." Yuri spoke up as they walked back onto the path, "What's our target's name?" She asked.
Hisato glanced at Kaoru and they said her name, together. "Oshiro Ayame... The Crimson Field."

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[Ninmu]

 

"I'm kinda hungry again." Jin said, rubbing his stomach. 

"Tough. I told you that was the last stop." Hisato said. "Besides you must have ate three times your daily allowance earlier."

"I can't help being hungry." Jin said with a shrug. "So where are we anyway?" 

 

The group were currently walking through a large wood. The trees were were huge and their branches sprawled out all over the place, so much so that the sky overhead was completely blacked out. However as Jin observed closer he noted that they were not trees at all. Where trees ended in leaves, these stalks ended in large domes. Jin screwed up his face for a moment, and then his jaw dropped. "Hey...are these mushrooms?" He said. 

"I did tell you there were mushrooms." Hisato said casually. "What did you think I meant when I said 'forest of giant mushrooms'?"

"Well..." Jin looked a little sheepish, before muttering, "...I didn't think they'd be this big."

"I think it's great." Yuri added, holding out her sleeve as a little moth landed on it before flying away a moment later.
"Just watch your step," Kaoru replied, "This forest has had several generations of chuunin exams take place in it's depths. We try and clear it out every chance we get, but there are still thousands of undiscovered traps waiting to harm the inattentive."
 
"Huh?" Jin said, stopping in his tracks. "You seem to know a lot about that, Kaoru-nii. Did you compete in the exams?"
"I did, but..." Kaoru replied, slowing to a stop. He faced Jin and sighed, "A couple of years ago, we had the Chuunin exams in our own forest. But... we didn't finish it." 
"Uh...we?" Jin asked, scratching his head.
Kaoru hesitated, "I..." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "I pressed my team to join the Chuunin exams. I was so sure we were ready..." He swallowed, his breaths shallow, "But I was an idiot. We were nowhere near ready. Our medic was killed, and my best friend sacrificed himself to save me. I haven't taken the exams since." Jin opened his mouth to respond, but no words came out. Instead his head sunk to the ground, and an awkward silence followed. It was only broken when Hisato decided to move things along. 
"We should probably cut the small talk anyway." Hisato said. "It's time to earn your keep. Kaoru, make whatever preparations you need and start tracking our target. Yuri, you're on reconnaissance, make sure our enemy isn't watching us. Jin, watch our back. I'll take the front and keep an eye out for traps."
 
"Got it!" Jin said, snapping his head back up and nodding confidently.
"I'll do my best!!" Yuri replied, nodding.
"Alright." Kaoru walked ahead of the group, knelt down on the ground and bit his thumb, making it bleed. He wiped the blood across the inside of his other palm, forming a strange symbol, and then formed a series of seals quickly. After a few seconds, he finished, clapping his hands together and then slammed his blood-covered hand to the ground. There was a slight rumble and then a quiet 'pop' as what looked like a miniature husky dog appeared in a cloud of smoke. It wore a small blue neckerchief and a black eyepatch over it's left eye.
"A--" The dog started.
"Hey!" Kaoru snapped, "We need to track down a rogue ninja." 
"Ah-- right." The dog looked at the other people present and then back to Kaoru, "Who're we trackin'?" 
"Oshiro Ayame."
"B-but..."
"Just do it. Here." Kaoru held out a metal forehead protector, it's symbol sliced down through the middle. "Find her, or her comrades, Kappa."
"Right!!" The dog whirled around and leapt into the trees.
 
"Whoa..." Jin whispered. "Summoning Jutsu? That's pretty cool..."
"Not bad, huh?" Kaoru grinned, "Making a connection with an animal is the strongest bond a shinobi can make, I think."
"I agree!" Yuri replied, and held up her sleeves to show Kaoru, but he was already focused on talking with Jin.
"I can show you how if you don't know already?" Kaoru replied.
"Really!?" Jin gasped. "I'd love to!"
"Jin!" Hisato snapped irritably. "Focus."
"Right...sorry, sensei." Jin said, his cheeks going a little red. 
 
The group continued walking through the forest at a careful but brisk pace, with Hisato taking the lead. As they went deeper the forest grew darker, and Jin began to feel more and more creeped out. Every snap of a twig, every sudden breeze, or the echoing noises of woodland animals, all made his head twitch in their direction, his eyes wide and alert. "Hey uh..." Jin whispered. "I was thinking some people might find this forest quite scary. I mean, not me but...some people. Y'know?"
"This place is just..." Kaoru shrugged, "Full of bad memories."
"Wait!!" Yuri held out her arm as the group stopped. She slowly lifted her arm up, and from just beneath the surface of the earth, a couple of feet in front of them, a small wooden block with black markings rose out of the ground. "It's a trap..." She added, and the wooden block moved off to one side, then lowered itself to the ground and a fine black mist came out from beneath it and surged forwards into the ground once again.
 
"Hey...good job, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "Your bugs might be creepy, but they sure are useful!"
"They're not creepy..." Yuri muttered defensively.
"They're useful, at least." Hisato nodded, taking careful gauge of the trap they had set aside. "That would have incinerated a large section of this forest, and us inside it, I should think."
"The exams are made to test ninja to their limit and beyond. Those who are not strong enough, are not expected to sign-up, but... most years, there are still deaths." Kaoru added.
"Well we're not dead, and we have Yuri to thank for that." Jin said, trying to sound cheerful. 
"The shinobi of Konoha are well-trained, it seems." Kaoru mused. Yuri smiled at the boys, "So you use insects then, Yuri?"
"Mm!" She nodded quickly, "They're great for lots of things, and... but... I have to get a lot better before I can call myself a true Satomi clan member."
 
"Figures I'd get stuck with a bunch of chatterboxes." Hisato said with a hint of a smirk. "As much as I like to see you all bonding, there is a time and a place. If you insist on flapping your gums then at least make it useful and provide me with a status report."
"Uh, all clear from behind." Jin said. "Well, it's actually pretty dark but...you know what I mean."
"I have to..." Yuri slowed to a stop, "I need a second, there's too much happening right now, i'm struggling to make sense of it." Yuri winced as though she was hearing or feeling something unpleasant and shook her head like she was trying to get water out of her ears. "Chakra everywhere." She muttered, "There's a bubble around us, the bugs that have touched it have been killed... it's closing around us!!" Yuri yelled. Hisato reached for a kunai with a lightning hand, and the group were suddenly on high alert. Something or someone had trapped them, and they intended on snapping the trap shut for good.
 
[Glued State]
 
"Don't panic." Hisato said through gritted teeth. "We have to think our way out. We need to know what we're up against. Jin, send a few shadow clones out and see if you can breach the barrier."
"Hm!" Jin affirmed, clapping his hands together in a seal. Three clones appeared around him, and each one jetted off in a different direction, leaping through the trees. The group waited patiently, as they heard rustling in the trees. Then, after a few moment, Jin gave an audible gasp as if he had seen something that the rest hadn't. 
"This is bad..." Jin said, his eyes fearful. "They all just...died." His hands gripped in to tight fists as he tried to stop himself from shaking. 
"I expected that." Hisato said, and he looked calm and collected. "You remember a shadow clone's experience like it was your own, correct?"
"Yeah...pretty much." Jin said with a nod. 
"Alright." Hisato said. "Don't worry about the barrier. Think about your surroundings. What was happening to the environment, like the trees. Were they affected at all as the barrier closed in?"
"Uh...no. It all just looked normal." Jin said. 
 
"And how far out did you get?" Hisato asked
"Not far, about a quarter mile. Though it was a little less with each clone." Jin explained. "I'd say it's moving about a meter every 5 seconds."
"Then we have to move quickly." Hisato said. "Yuri, what about underneath the ground?"
"There's a lot of ground to cover!!" Yuri pleaded, as she held out her arms and braced herself.
"You can do it, Yuri!" Kaoru took a step back, watching.
Yuri focused as hard as she could and a few seconds later, a large black cloud of insects vented from the ends of her sleeves. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead and trickled down her skin as the insects spread out across the ground and disappeared into the soil. "There are too many rocks..." Yuri grit her teeth, "Soft sections of soil here," Yuri nodded at the ground in front of them, "But the barrier is closing fastest on that side, but I don't feel it beneath us..."
 
"That's all I need to know." Hisato said with a nod. "I'll take care of the rest."
 
 

 
 
[strangeness]
 
There was a soft thump as a pair of feet landed on top of a mushroom pad that was growing high above the trees. There was a man down on one knee, his hands clasped in a seal, looking down in to the dark depths of the forest. The man was wearing a green coat with a high collar, obscuring his face, but without sleeves, exposing bare arms that were covered in elaborate seal marks. His long, brown hair was slicked back over his hair, and his skin looked dull and grey. 
"Keigo." A deep voice came from the newcomer who had joined the man, apparently named Keigo. "Has it worked?"
"Hmm..." Keigo replied, apparently deep in conversation. "...I'm unsure. There were a few things that hit my barrier and perished, and now it has completely closed in on them...hmm...four corpses. Yes...it worked."
"Good." the other man said, and he stepped forward to stand at Keigo's side. This man was tall and muscular, dressed in black trousers and the distinctive green flak jackets that were common among ninja. He had a headband tied around his head like a bandana, with the symbol of Kusagakure scratched out. "Ayame wants 100% confirmation. You need to see the corpses."
"Yes...she would." Keigo said, sounding none to thrilled about the prospect. "Very well, Ren. Fall back and check if there are any more stragglers, I'll catch up."
 
With that Ren leapt off back the way he had came. Keigo stood up, his hands disappearing under the long sleeves of his coat, then he stepped off of the mushroom and descended down in to the darkness, hopping from branch to branch, sprinting across the large branches, until finally he landed on the floor of the forest, and to his left he saw a pile of corpses. He walked over to them, and examined them. They all wore fearful expression, they had died quickly. Two of them were children, a boy and a girl. "Messy..." Keigo said to himself. "...Those bastards...sending children." He added, shaking his head. He went to walk away, tutting to himself in disagreement, when he heard the slightest click as his foot hit the ground. His eyes widened in realisation, but it was too late. The forest lit up in an almighty explosion, animals sprinted away from the burning fire that had made the entire area suddenly bright and clear. Then Keigo appeared with a flicker, on the outside of the blast zone. "That was close!" He said to himself. No sooner had he said it had shuriken began whistling though the air towards him. Quick as a flash he withdrew and kunai and with a whirlwing flurry he deflected each one, and stood ready for a fight. "Come on out!" He called in to the forest.
 
A figure descended from the trees, a kunai drawn, and landed a short distance away from Keigo. Jin stared at the ninja, his eyes filled with a quiet rage. 
"Oh?" Keigo said. "You're just a kid. How did you escape?"
"You killed them!" Jin snarled. "You killed them all!"
"Nothing personal, kid." Keigo said, and he looked a bit disappointed. "I don't like killing people, if I can avoid it, but I've got orders."
"I don't care!" Jin yelled. "...I can't forgive you!"
"That's...too bad." Keigo said, and he readied his kunai. "I'm afraid I'll have to kill you too, unfortunately. Messy...messy."
"I'll show you messy!" Jin roared, and he launched himself at Keigo. 
 
[strong & Strike]
 
Keigo's eyes widened as Jin came at him with alarming speed. He sprinted forward as well and the pair clashed kunai as they passed each other. Jin stopped and spun around, leaping and sweeping his leg around at Keigo's head. Keigo ducked and Jin leant backwards, landing on his hand and springing back to his feet, bounding forward and striking with his kunai. Keigo parried it again, and swung a punch at Jin's face. Jin narrowly dodged and countered with a swift punch to Keigo's stomach and followed with a knee to his ribs. Keigo doubled back but recovered in time to avoid another kunai strike and caught Jin's wrist. However the young ninja carried on, running up Keigo's body and kicking him in the face, freeing himself from Keigo's grasp and flipping backwards, sliding across the dirt. 
 
"Shit!" Keigo spat. "You're fast for a kid!" He added as he sprinted forward, his kunai raised to strike. Jin leapt and flipped forward, bringing his heel down on Keigo's hand, causing him to drop the kunai. Jin landed on his feet but Keigo whipped back up with sudden speed and hooked him hard in the jaw. Jin fell backwards across the dirt, tumbling over and over before crashing in to the stump of a tree. Keigo wiped the blood from his lip and began to amble forwards, when Jin simply disappeared in a cloud of smoke. "What!?" Keigo gasped, but he didn't have enough time to say much else. A hand grabbed his heel from beneath the ground, and suddenly he felt himself being dragged into the dirt like it was quicksand, until only his head remained above ground. Then the earth began to tighten and solidify around him, trapping him. 
 
[Hyouhaku]
 
A sandalled foot came down on Keigo's head, pressing firmly aginst it and pushing his head to the side at an awkward angle, causing him to wince in pain. 
"Uh-oh..." Said a man's voice. "Looks like you got your ass handed to you by a kid." There was a soft tap on the ground near Keigo, and then Jin walked in to his line of sight. 
"Any longer and he might have had me." Jin said with a cocky grin. "Once he realised I was using shadow clones he might have started trying harder."
"Underestimating a child...bad move." Hisato said, and he pressed his foot down harder, causing Keigo to yell in pain. "But hey, at least you didn't kill anybody, your conscience is clear of that."
"Wha...how?" Keigo asked through gritted teeth. 
 
"Shadow clones, duh." Jin said. "And any ninja out of the academy knows transformation jutsu. You just had to think there was dead bodies. Although I can't take credit, it was sensei's idea."
"You followed instructions perfectly." Hisato said, and he sounded a little impressed for once. "Come on, you've earned it." He held out his clenched fist towards Jin. "Come on, fist me."
"Eh!?" Jin stifled his laughter, and began clutching his sides in an attempt to hold it in. 
"What?" Hisato asked. "What'd I say?"
"Er...nothing." Jin said, giving a little chuckle. "You're supposed to say 'pound it', not...well nevermind." Jin held out his fist and wrapped it against Hisato's. "So, what now?"
"Well this guy is gonna answer some questions." Hisato said. "...and we'll just have to see how Yuri and Kaoru get on with following the other guy."
"Yuri won't disappoint." Jin said with a confident nod. "And Kaoru-nii is with her, he'll protect her!"

 

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[Chain Explosion]

 

Their trap had worked. Observing Keigo and Ren from a distance, the two had separated and Keigo was almost taken out in the blast. Ren had fallen back to search for possible survivors, but he had no idea what had happened to his partner. Yuri and Kaoru followed him, quickly and quietly. Ren was a mountain of muscle, his endurance seemed neverending and they were struggling to keep up, especially Yuri. Ren leapt from a branch, breaking it as he stepped off, forcing Yuri and Kaoru to take another path in their pursuit. He hadn't noticed them yet, once he came to a stop, they could set a trap and take him out as quickly as possible. Yuri just had to get close enough to plant some of her Tsukimono bugs on him and then she'd have the advantage, a common tactic her clan employed. Weaken the enemy through their symbiotic bond with their bugs, empowering themselves so that even in an overwhelming fight, a Satomi clan member could overcome the odds by consuming the strength of their fallen foes. Yuri and Kaoru landed on a nearby branch as Ren fell to the forest floor and began to search.

 

"Now." Kaoru whispered to her, "When I give the word, I want you to throw everything you have at him, and I mean it, Yuri. We need to stop him, if he survives then there's no telling what we could be up against. Are you ready?" Kaoru clasped her on the shoulder, reassuring her. Yuri shook her head and looked down at Ren.
"But he doesn't even... what if he's not really a bad person?" Yuri asked.
"He is." Kaoru replied.
"But how do you know?" She whispered back.
"They were a part of my village, remember?" He replied, looking down at Ren. "Now, we have only one chance..."
 

Yuri swallowed, she wasn't ready. She didn't feel even remotely ready. Not to fight, not to take a life. But that didn't change the fact that she had to. She turned to face Ren who was busy inspecting the ground, likely looking for some kind of trail to pick up. Yuri raised her sleeves and felt the rush of warmth leave her body as millions of Tsukimono bugs evacuated from every part of her body, every pore. The black cloud flew into the air and she silently commanded them to disperse and, as always, they followed her commands without question. That was the price of the bond. She was their host, but they were her army. She could feel them disperse all around Ren. They were crawling on the ground towards him, they were flying in the air above him. They came from every direction. There was no way for him to escape now, he was totally surrounded. Yuri pulled the sleeve back from one arm and held her hand out in front of her, she turned it over, palm facing up, and then closed it into a fist with a swift motion. Her bugs surged forwards, Ren had time enough to gasp as the cloud descended on him, trapping him. The black mass surrounding him, weighing him down. He collapsed to one knee, just a black humanoid mass now. Yuri tightened her fist until her knuckles were white.

"What's wrong?!" Kaoru asked, seeing the pained expression on Yuri's face.

"It's doing nothing!!" She yelled, panicking.

 

[Heavy Violence]

 

A shapeless black arm raised up to where Ren's head had to have been, and then with a great show of strength, it ripped a great swath of Tsukimono bugs from his face. Ren's eye peeked out from beneath the human-shaped Tsukimono mass.

"Company?" He asked, casually. Then he leapt into the air and slammed himself into the ground, killing the bugs on his back. He stood up and ran head-first into the nearest tree, crushing more of the bugs and toppling the tree. He did this two or three more times until there was almost nothing left on him. Yet, he remained unscathed. He had not so much as a single scratch on him. He was not weakened from chakra loss, or poison. Her bugs had been completely ineffective. 
"H-how?!" Yuri could barely speak.
"This isn't the movies, kid." Ren replied, brushing off the last black specks, "I'm not going to explain my strengths and weaknesses to a stranger." He laughed, "I'm not that dumb." Then he took a deep breath and let it out, "Now come down from there, so we can talk."

 

"Liar!" Kaoru snapped. He started to form seals and lightning fast, Ren launched himself into their tree, smashing it to pieces. Yuri and Kaoru fell to the ground, but before they could crash into it, Ren leapt up and grabbed Kaoru by the throat, while kicking Yuri in the stomach. She coughed blood and soared backwards, hitting the forest floor and coming to a stop a few feet away.
"It's rude to call people names." Ren muttered, looking at the choking Kaoru with a sad expression on his face.
"I'm--" Kaoru tried to speak.
"I don't care who you are." Ren growled, and headbutted Kaoru, knocking him unconscious. He threw the boy aside and turned his attention to Yuri. "Now you, you're a Konoha ninja. You're just the sort of person i'm looking for." He grinned, and casually strode towards her.

 

"L-leave me alone!" Yuri spat, trying to pull herself to her feet. She could barely breathe, every time she tried to draw in air it was like she was trying to inhale glass. This man hit harder than anyone she'd ever known, harder than her sister, harder even than her mother. She couldn't get hit like that again, she wasn't sure she'd survive. Yuri glanced over at Kaoru's lifeless body and a rage built up inside her. "I'll kill you!!" She snarled, trying to steady herself as she stood up.
"That's more like it." Ren nodded, "Give me a fight, see if you can make me bleed." 

Yuri took one last breath and then raised her head, blinking back the duplicates her eyes were showing her of Ren. She raised her arms and flicked her sleeves back, bringing her hands together. She formed a single seal and held it, pressing her forefingers together to face the sky.
"Bugs." Ren laughed, "What a one trick po--"

 

[Kenkonitteki]

 

Yuri opened her mouth and spat. The thick white fluid flew at Ren's face faster than a kunai. He was too close, and it was too fast. It splashed into his face and for a moment, he didn't react. He wiped the glob of spit off his confused face, opened his mouth to speak, and instead, a scream came out. He clutched at his eyes as darkness slowly replaced the forest and the last thing he saw, was Yuri standing defiantly before him. 
"What did you do?!" He screamed.
"Isn't it obvious..." Yuri straightened up, clutching her stomach where Ren had hit her. "You're blind." For a moment, panic spread over Ren's face, but it was quickly replaced with rage. "You trained your body, but you couldn't train your eyes." She added, and then held her right hand up, clutching it into a fist. A fine black coating of Tsukimono bugs formed over it and then she started running. Yuri wasn't nearly as fast as Jin, she knew that. But she was strong. She was strong. She could find a weakness in his armoured skin, but only if she could disable his ability to counter her lack of speed.

 

She started running as fast as her legs would carry her. Yuri opened her mouth and roared as she closed the gap on Ren. The enormously muscled man raised his boxing glove-sized fists to block, but Yuri was ready. Unable to see where she was, he couldn't block her. She slid beneath his guard, rose up and brought her fist up underneath Ren's jaw as hard as she could. She heard the crack as her Tsukimono-covered fist collided, and she felt give. She had broken his jaw. Ren wailed and grabbed at his face and tried to get hold of Yuri, but she deftly dodged out of the way and took a step back, when she felt a sharp pain in her shoulder and collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

 

[Yogensha]

 

"You're here..." Ren muttered, through clenched teeth. He tried to move his jaw as little as possible.

"It's funny that you can see better now without your eyes."
Ren shook his head irritably, and grunted. He sat down and sighed, rubbing his sweat-beaded forehead. He could relax at last, he wasn't running any more. He had served his purpose, been true to his leader. They were on the right path. "Now?" He asked.
"Yes, now." They responded, their tone calm and soothing, "Are you ready?" They asked.
"Good luck..." He winced, as he spoke. Then straightened up, and looked ahead into darkness. He felt a woman's hands grasp his head on either side, softly, lovingly. Then, there was a sudden snap, and he collapsed to the floor. A soft tap as feet left the ground, and then silence. Even the birds and insects of the forest had fallen silent.

 

 


 

 

[Anun]

 

"Yuri!!" Kaoru yelled out, running towards his friend. He knelt over her and checked her pulse, she was alive. But she was hurt. He looked over at Ren and studied the man for a moment, his neck was snapped. He knew that Yuri hadn't done that.
"K-Kaoru..." Yuri groaned, opening one eye and blinking as the light flickering through the trees of the forest dazed her. "W-what happened?"
"I don't know, you attacked Ren and nothing happened, we started fighting and Ren knocked me out, but when I came to and tried to help you, well... the last thing I remember is a sharp pain and waking up to find you next to him."
"What?!" Yuri sat bolt upright, her head spinning. She looked at Ren, and realised then that he was dead. "I don't understand, I didn't..."
"I'm sure you didn't." Kaoru nodded, "I think the same person who knocked you out, did the same thing to me."
"But... why?" She asked, "They waited until I was winning against Ren to..." She trailed off, trying to think.

 

"They likely wanted to assess your abilities, and stopped you when it looked like you were going to win."
"But, they killed him...?" Yuri frowned, standing up slowly and shuffling over to Ren's body to look at him in silence.

Kaoru stood and sighed, "It's a sad reality of being a shinobi, Yuri." He replied, "They were likely afraid you would get information out of him, like this, there is very little you can gain but insights into his own abilities. Nothing on his mission or goals."
"It's a cruel thing to kill your own comrade..." Yuri muttered, sniffing.
"It is. But sometimes the alternative is far worse." Kaoru took Yuri by the shoulder, "You know where Hisato is?" He asked. Yuri nodded, "Good, then return to him, I will hide the body for my village to retrieve later."

 

"Alright..." Yuri started off, but stopped as she reached to touch her belt. It was where she had wrapped her konoha forehead protector, using it like a buckle, beneath her bandaged lower torso. Yuri looked down and frowned when she felt only cloth, "Oh... my protector..."
"Your what?" Kaoru asked, walking up to her.
"I..." Yuri looked around, "I've lost my forehead protector."
"Oh, like this?" Kaoru pointed at his own, from Kusagakure.
"Yeah... I can't find it, maybe it fell off when Ren hit me..." Yuri shook her head, "I can't see it anywhere. Damn..."
"I'll look for it before I leave, alright?" Kaoru replied with a smile.
"Yeah, but don't put yourself out, I can always get another when I get home." She smiled back at Kaoru.

"You did a great job, Yuri. I know it doesn't feel like that right now, but you did." Kaoru nodded at her, and Yuri only smiled weakly in response before setting off. After a minute or so, Kaoru turned to look at Ren's body and grabbed him by one arm. He then lifted the arm, and dragged the body effortlessly into a nearby bush. Then he returned to the clearing, and let out a long-held breath. From his pocket, he pulled out a strip of black cloth and held it up, looking at it. Then he turned it over, unfolded it, and looked at the unblemished metal band of Yuri's Konohagakure forehead protector, and smiled.

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[Confrontment]

 

When Yuri and Kaoru had returned they explained the events that had taken place while they were away together. All the while Hisato listened intently, never speaking and allowing them to get through what they had to say. When Yuri had concluded her report, he held his hand to his chin and let out a frustrated sigh. Folding his arms across his chest, he observed the situation they were in. Jin, Kaoru and Yuri were standing with him in a secluded area of the forest. Tied up to a nearby tree was Keigo, who had been calm and quiet since the time of his capture. Hisato felt that there was information about this mission that was obscured to them, and if they had any hope of succeeding they would have to find the answers. Jin was the first to break the silence. "Sensei, what do you we now?" He asked. 

 

"Well...considering what happened to Yuri it's safe to say our enemy has a few things she doesn't want us to know." Hisato explained. "So our captive here gives us a bit of an advantage. I'm going to interrogate him and see what he knows."

"It's not like he's just going to tell you." Jin said. "I mean...how do we get him to cough up the goods?"

"Interrogation tactics can be quite unsavoury." Hisato said. "However in times where there is more at risk we have to do unpleasant things."

"We would be better off learning what we can from him and terminating him." Kaoru added, his eyes sad. He looked down at the bound man and then turned his gaze on Hisato, "This man is a danger to us all, there is no easy way to restrain him or ensure that he doesn't escape, and later cause problems for us." 
Yuri shook her head, "They don't seem like evil people though..." She muttered, holding her stomach where she'd been hit. Despite the fight, she hadn't felt any malice from the man, he was just doing the same as her. It was a strange feeling, and she wasn't sure she liked the uncertainty.
 
"It can't be that simple!" Jin protested. "Don't talk so casually about killing someone..."
"There's nothing casual about it." Kaoru replied calmly. "This man knows me. And I know him. Our village is smaller than Konoha, but i'm sure you understand that your village is like an extension of your family. So, you must understand the gravity of my words, when I say, that this man has to die."
"No I don't know!" Jin lashed back. "If this man was really family to you...then you'd try harder."
"How would my trying harder save this man's life?" Kaoru asked.
"Who is he to you?" Yuri nodded at Keigo. 
"He is a friend..." Kaoru replied, his gaze falling to the ground. Yuri's mouth fell open and she stared at Kaoru in disbelief, unable to form any words.
 
"Maybe it won't do anything, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try!" Jin said angrily. 
"That's enough, Jin." Hisato said, and he turned his gaze to Kaoru. "If you know this man, then I will ask you to be honest with me. Do you think he will cooperate or provide information to us willingly?"
"Keigo?" Kaoru asked, turning to face the man. The two looked at one another for a few seconds and then Keigo stared at the ground in silence. "No, he won't. Not by choice." Kaoru sighed, "He is a loyal and trustworthy person, to the end..."
"I'm not staying here for this." Yuri muttered, and marched off into the woods.
"Yuri!" Hisato called after her. "I am afraid I'm going to have to insist that you stay."
 
Yuri slowed to a stop and clenched her hidden fists, "Why?!" Yuri snapped, without turning to look at her teacher. "Why do I need to learn this? We didn't even ask them what they were doing or why?!"
"You are a shinobi, with a mission. Does it matter?" Kaoru replied.
"Of course it does!" She whirled around to face them, "I was taught that ninja protect people! How are we protecting Konoha right now? We hurt them, they hurt us, we hurt them, and it goes round and round. I wanted to become a ninja to protect people, to protect my family and friends... not this."
"Yuri..." Hisato said patiently. "It's true that we don't know enough about this mission. That's why what I am about to do is important. I want you to stay because understanding this part of being a ninja may be vital to your survival one day. There is a wide assortment of practices used to obtain information from someone, I want you to stand by and watch me as I do this. Do not speak, do not act unless told to so. That goes for all of you, understood?"
 
"Yeah..." Jin said, but he turned his head away from Hisato. "...I get it."
Yuri shook her head and crossed her arms in silence, but remained rooted on the spot. She knew if she opened her mouth, it would be to yell. Hisato took this as confirmation enough. He turned around and approached Keigo, who was still waiting calmly and quietly, his entire body wrapped in thin wire that kept him fixed to the tree. Hisato stared at him in silence, and Keigo stared back with an expression of mild amusement. "You're going to have to do better than that." He said with a faint grin.
"You are a missing nin of Kusagakure. Keigo, was it? How old are you?" Hisato asked. 
"Old enough." Keigo replied. 
"And why did you attempt to assassinate us?" Hisato asked. 
"Orders." Keigo said simply, sounding bored. "Like I said to the kid, it's nothing personal."
 
"Are you sure about that?" Hisato said. "You're loyal to the Crimson Field, our enemy. Can I assume you share her feelings. Do you have any animosity towards Konoha?"
"Heh." Keigo shook his head. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't. I still don't have anything against you guys, though. I've never met any of you. None of you have wronged me."
"So you're just doing your job then?" Hisato said. "Just like us?"
"Yep." Keigo said in response. "And that's all you're getting from me."
"We'll see." Hisato said. "How about we talk about the Crimson Field, hm? The rumours say that she obtained that nickname after she was found to be the sole survivor of a particularly bloody battle. They say she was found within a field that was soaked right through with blood, hence Crimson Field."
"That's the story." Keigo said. 
 
"Oshiro Ayame. Quite the impressive kunoichi." Hisato said. "Apparently she did a lot for Kusagakure. I wonder why she changed her mind? It seems odd for an accomplished ninja to just completely change their mind all of a sudden. So I have to ask, what happened to her?"
"Are you trying to say she's evil?" Keigo asked. "Give me a break. Who among us has the right to judge the dark deeds of others. You can't act all superior if you like, and you can dress this up, try to be accomodating to soften the blow. It doesn't matter. You can try being diplomatic for a while, for the sake of your Genin, but you know that in the end these kinds of situations always result in torture. Being a ninja is messy. The villages put ninja on these pedestals, and make their children excited and eager to become one. They train their children to become murderers. Maybe Ayame was just sick of it, did you ever think of that?"
 
"And yet she has ordered you to kill two children in the process." Hisato replied. "It doesn't seem like she has risen above it to me."
"Old habits, I guess." Keigo said.
"Do you agree with her methods?" Hisato asked. 
"Do you agree with Konoha's?" Keigo replied. "Do you even question your orders?"
"I do not." Hisato said. 
"Me neither." Keigo said.
 
[Anun]
 
"Unfortunately I don't have time to do this properly. So I will have to hope I can obtain the most pressing information from you." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame headed right now?"
"I've already told you I'm not talking." Keigo said with a sigh. 
"Have you considered what it will do to Kusagakure if she succeeds in her plan? Whatever she is doing, if word get's out that it was her then it could lead to a war with Kusagakure. Konoha cannot protect Kusagakure from a major threat like that. Your village is small, and could be stamped out by any of the Five Great Shinobi Villages. Is it really worth risking the lives of your friends and family? Your comrades?"
"I made my peace with that a long time ago." Keigo replied. "So do what you like. I'm as good as dead now, so it doesn't matter."
"Then...what about your own life?" Hisato said. "Do you think you are really ready to die? Have you ever faced your mortality, and I mean really faced it?"
"What do you-" Keigo stopped talking as Hisato's hand clenched against his throat, squeezing tightly. He began to choke but Hisato only gripped harder. Then when Keigo's skin began to turn red from the lack of oxygen, and tears began to well in his eyes, Hisato released his grip.
 
"I'll ask again." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame going?"
"Go to hell!" Keigo spat through gasping breaths. Hisato gripped his throat once more, and this time he drew a kunai in his other hand and pressed it's sharp tip up against Keigo's right eye, holding it just enough so that Keigo could feel the point pushing against his socket. He released his grip enough so that Keigo could speak.
"I will make this as slow as possible if you do not cooperate." Hisato said. "You will relent, eventually. I can see that you have not quite managed to extinguish your fear of death. Very few people ever manage to accomplish such a thing. Many ninja think they are ready, but when it comes to the crunch they become terrified."
"You're...just proving...that you're all no good." Keigo gasped. "There's no hope...for men like us. We've already been tainted." Keigo's gaze moved past Hisato, and fell on Jin. He looked scared, like he might be sick at any moment. "But kids...like him...they might just make this world a better place." Keigo took another gasping breath, and continued to look at Jin, and when he spoke he addressed the young boy. "...Violence and killing...it's a cycle. It'll go on forever unless we try harder to stop it. You know that, kid. And so does your leader, but he's too set in his ways to do anything about it."
 
Jin simply stared at Keigo, his entire body trembling. He didn't know what to do, what to say. He was too scared to speak. "...Fine." Keigo said finally. "Just remember that I did this " He paused for a moment, and then he spoke again. "Kumogakure. That's where she's headed." Hisato instantly released his grip from Keigo and stepped away from him. 
"Thank you." Hisato said. "I'm...going to let you live. Jin is right, we need to try harder if we're going to grow as shinobi."
"Let me live? You just made my death a certainty." Keigo replied, and then he stuck his tongue out. A black symbol was etched in to the pink flesh of his tongue. "Sealing Method: Cursed Tongue Eradication Jutsu. All of us agreed to have them sealed on us. To ensure no information falls in to the wrong hands. Damage control, basically."
"Why...didn't you just say so?" Hisato asked. 
"It doesn't matter." Keigo said, and he smirked. "Hey...Kaoru." He turned his head to look at the young ninja from his village. "The kid was right. We're too quick to kill. Myself, Ayame...you. Pain makes us that way, but that doesn't mean it's right. We should probably listen to the kids more often...I..." Keigo's eyes suddenly glazed over, and then he slumped over, and stopped moving. 
 
"Why!?" Jin roared, and he rushed forward until he was stood at the tree. "Why would someone do that...to their friends!?"
"Jin..." Hisato began, but Jin cut him off. 
"No! Don't try to rationalize it!" Jin yelled. "They were her friends, her comrades. How could she do that to them!? It's...it's not right."
"No. It isn't." Hisato said. "But Ayame no doubt has her reasons. And her comrades all agreed to this. She may be dangerous but...she has inspired many good ninja to follow her. Her friends are willing to go to these lengths, because they believe in her. We still have to stop her, but that does not make the bonds that they have any less important. Respect your enemy."
"I won't!" Jin snapped. "She abused their trust. And you...you're not any better, sensei. You got what you wanted, so let's just go."
 
Jin turned his back on Hisato and put his hands in his pockets. He wondered, was this what it was like to be a ninja? It always seemed like such an adventure to him, but now that he was living it, he wasn't so sure. He didn't want to kill anyone. Even if the people were truly evil, to kill them made you just as bad. That made sense to him. How could other ninja think differently? He felt cold, and a little fearful about what this road might do to him, what he might become. What if one day it was him who was threatening to gouge someone's eye out with a kunai. Was that what lay ahead for him? He wasn't sure about anything any more. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he didn't want to be a ninja at all. 

 

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[swaying Necklace]

 

Kumogakure. The village hidden in the clouds. So this was Ayame's destination. But why was she going there? If she was a rogue ninja, was she trying to join a new village or was there a different motive she couldn't comprehend right now. Her thoughts of their enemy's plans were pushed from her mind, however, when she looked back to see Jin following them a little ways back. He looked troubled. Yuri had never been very good at talking to people, about anything really, she was more comfortable with the world of insects. So much less drama in their world. The only thing that people and insects have in common is war. Right now, she couldn't imagine a world in which that didn't exist. The events today had shown her just how easily conflict is created, even when both sides feel what they are doing is right. Yuri wasn't very good at talking with others, but she had to try.

"Hey..." Yuri dropped back from Hisato and Kaoru to fall into step with the lagging Jin. For a few seconds, she remained silent, unsure what to follow up with, then she nervously smiled at him and sighed, "So, are you okay?" She asked.

"No." Jin said, keeping his gaze focused ahead of them. "But... I don't think sensei wanted us to be okay with that, y'know?"

"Not really..." Yuri muttered back, shaking her head. She wasn't used to mind games like that, she just wanted to do her mission. What she thought was supposed to be a right and just thing to do, and go home. "So, we're going to Kumogakure then..." She said, switching topics, "I've never been there before."

 

"Me neither." Jin said. "Do you know much about the ninja there? I know we're at peace but, we haven't always been on the same sides in past wars. I hear their village is on top of a mountain range, so high up its literally hidden in the clouds."

"O-oh..." Yuri fell silent once again. She was reminded of how little she knew about the other villages. "My mother told me a little about other villages when I was very young. She once told me that Kumogakure has a village built right into the mountains. And the Raikage works in a huge building made of blue stone built right into the tallest of the mountains." She couldn't help but smile, "I bet there are a lot of powerful ninja there..."

"Yeah." Jin said with a nod. "I'm... a little worried. Don't you think we should be reporting this to Konoha... and Kumogakure. I mean... They should know what's happening, right?"

"Well..." Yuri frowned. She agreed with what Jin was saying, but wasn't this something Hisato already knew? He was a jounin, this was something he had to have a plan for. Maybe he'd already sent a message somehow, "Sensei is smarter and stronger than both of us, I think he... he must know what he's doing, Jin."

 

"Well I don't like being in the dark." Jin said. "Just because I'm a Genin doesn't mean I should just follow orders blindly. I mean if we do that... How do we know if we're doing something wrong?"

"You're a ninja that doesn't like being in the dark?" Yuri smiled at Jin, but she could see her attempt at lightening the mood was ill-received. "I... I guess you just know, don't you? If you're doing something wrong, wouldn't you--" She stopped talking. Kaoru had slowed down to meet up with them while Hisato scouted out ahead. 
"Hey, are you guys doing alright?" Kaoru asked, concerned.
"I'm alright..." Yuri muttered, entirely unsure if she was.

"Yeah, fine." Jin said, and he forced a smile. "Any luck with tracking Ayame?"

"Mm," Kaoru glanced at both the young ninjas and then smiled, "Alright, good. Hisato and I have found tracks, they're definitely going towards Kumogakure. It won't be a long journey, we were already close to their village, we just have to leave the forest and move through some rocky terrain."
"You know Kumogakure well?" Yuri asked. 
"Yeah - tracker, remember?" Kaoru smiled back at her. Yuri nodded quietly, then looked to Jin.

 

"Why would you be familiarising yourself with The Land of Lightning?" Jin asked with a puzzled expression. "It's not Kusagakure territory..."

"Uh, well..." Kaoru laughed and scratched the back of his head, he seemed embarrassed. "It's kind of a long story, but my parents were originally from Kusagakure. I came to Kumogakure as a child, so it's more like I know it from when I was very young." Kaoru sighed and shook his head, "I'm sorry Jin, Yuri... I didn't mean to... well I mean, I never meant to upset you both. It's true Keigo was a friend of mine, but, I also know what he's capable of. But... i'm sorry he died like that..."

"He didn't have to." Jin said flatly. "But that's Ayame's fault." He added.

"Yes. It is." Kaoru nodded, taking a deep breath. He rubbed his temples and then let his breath out, "She should have found a better way."

"Nobody should die like that..." Yuri muttered. They had finally come to the edge of the forest. Yuri had lost track of time, but the sun was setting on the horizon. Inside the forest, it was hard to tell how much daylight was left. But here, where the forest fell away, there were endless rocky valleys misted in cloud, streams slashed through the valleys and they could see a collection of the tallest mountains in the distance. 
"There..." Kaoru nodded at the mountains ahead of them.

 

"That... is pretty high." Jin said, and he looked in awe of it. "It's... defensible." He tried to sound like what he thought a ninja should sound like. "You can't just walk right up there without a welcome party. I guess that's kind of the point..." Kaoru smile at Jin and nodded knowingly. 
"Come on, it won't be long before we're spotted." Kaoru motioned them on. Hisato had been quiet this whole time, Yuri watched him walk alone in silence. She wondered what he was thinking about, what he had been planning. He couldn't have always known that Ayame was travelling to Kumogakure, so what was he going to do if the Kumo ninjas got pulled into this as well?
The ninja quartet walked down into the valley, disappearing into the mist. Yuri held out a long sleeve and pulled it through the mist, which swirled around and re-settled. "It's thicker than my dad's best ramen soup..." She grinned, feeling the moisture bead on her skin. She liked the cool, moist air here, and her little travellers were enjoying it as well.

"I don't like it at all." Jin replied, scrunching up his face. "It's hot, and wet. This kind of weather is what creates storms you know. Besides, we're no closer to finding Ayame. What if she's already inside Kumogakure?"

"We'll find her Jin, we--" Yuri stopped mid-sentence, as she heard a quiet little clink, metal striking stone. 

 

[utsusemi]

 

Lying on the ground, wrapped in black cloth, was Yuri's forehead protector. The symbol of Konoha etched into the metal. It was hers without a doubt. Kaoru was already knelt over it, picking it back up, when he looked up and saw their faces. "W-why... do you have my protector, Kaoru?" Yuri asked.
"I found it." He smiled, standing back up, "Back in the forest. I said i'd look for it." 

"But..." Yuri frowned, and held out her hand for it. Kaoru remained motionless, as though he was weighing his options.

"Kaoru... what's going on?" Jin asked, his stance becoming tense and alert. "...Why do you have Yuri's forehead protector. Give her it back, right now."

"I will..." Kaoru replied, smiling. "Soon, okay?" Kaoru looked over their shoulders, noticing Hisato as he strode back towards the rest of the group.
"Everything alright?" Hisato asked.
"Sensei, Kaoru found my protector." Yuri replied, but she sounded unsure. 
"Kaoru?" Hisato asked, stepping forwards.
"I'll give it back." Kaoru smiled and gripped the headband firmly.

 

"Give. It. Back." Jin said under his breath. "That belongs to Yuri. You have no right to take it."

"Rights..." Kaoru's smile turned sad, "It's not about rights, Jin. This world isn't built on a person's rights. It's built on a person's will, and their strength to wield it upon others. I've been taught that, many times. Nobody is without sin, not for that." He looked at the protector in his hands and gripped it tighter still, "I need this more than you do. If I could only make you understand..."

"If you needed it, you could have asked for it!" Jin snapped. "You just don't get it, do you? You don't have a clue what it means to be a friend!" Jin's hand moved quick as flash and a kunai twirled in his hand before stopping in place as he gripped it firmly. "Yuri is my friend... I'll... I'll fight you, if you make me."

"You would fight me - for this?" Kaoru held the protector up and looked it over, "What is it to you?" He asked, frowning. "This would save lives. Can it do the same for you?"
"Whatever this is, Kaoru," Hisato growled, "I've had about enough of it."

"I want it back now, okay?" Yuri asked, holding out her hand expectantly. Kaoru shook his head, and took a step back.

"If you cared... you would have told us!" Jin snapped. And then something clicked in to place inside his head. Kaoru did not trust them. He was lying to them. He had wanted Keigo to die, before they could even attempt to extract information from him. Doubt washed over him. He didn't think he could trust Kaoru any more. Without another word he rushed towards Kaoru, his kunai drawn and ready to strike. 
"Jin, no!" Hisato yelled, but it was too late, Jin was already on Kaoru, reaching with his free hand to grab him.
 
[Kokuten]
 
Kaoru shoved the protector into his jacket, and as Jin came within striking distance. He vanished. Yuri heard a noise behind her, and whirled around, reaching for her kunai. But something splashed in her face and blinded her, then white hot pain pulsed through her body, and she felt weightless as she flew through the air and smashed into a boulder. She opened her eyes, trying to push through the pain, and watched helpless, as Hisato fell to his knees, clutching at his throat. Blood rushing down his front like a waterfall. She screamed at the top of her lungs, as her eyes widened in horror. She was covered in his blood. In their sensei's blood. Hisato dropped to the ground, dead. His blood spilled out across the dirt, turning it a reddish brown, and Kaoru stood back up and whirled the kunai in his palm. 
"Sorry, Hisato-san." He sighed, then turned his attention on Jin.
 
"Sen...sei..." Jin mouthed, his body frozen in place. Everything had happened so quickly, and he had barely registered any of it. A deep feeling of dread washed over him. Death felt painfully close, and he was so afraid. But Yuri was still alive, and she was closer to the danger. He had to protect her, no matter what. He remembered what his father had taught him during their training. A tactician who thinks several moves ahead would control the flow of battle, and victory became certain in that instance. In order to win, Jin had to take control of this fight. 
"Kaooooru!" He roared, making sure Kaoru's attention was on him. He hurled his kunai towards Kaoru. This was merely a distraction. He took a small black ball from his pocket with his other hand and threw it at the ground. The ball cracked with a hiss and suddenly the entire area was blanketed in a thick, black smoke. Now came the hard part. He had memorised the position of each important person on the field. He formed a seal in his hand and summoned four shadow clones. In each he had given a specific goal, one to counter each move he could think of his opponent making. The first shot ahead to tackle a frontal assault, whilst two more darted off to head off an escape attempt. 
Jin moved for his true target. Not Kaoru, but Yuri. He found her form in the smoke, and before she managed to make a noise, he gently pressed his closed fist against hers, to let her know it was him. "Get up." He whispered. "We have to run."
 
Yuri was huddled on the ground, shaking. Her front, from her hair to her legs, was covered in blood. It matted in her hair, and stuck to her clothes making them feel heavy and uncomfortable. Her goggles were smeared with them, and she couldn't see. But she shook from fear and shock. She could barely move. Terror had totally enveloped her.
"You can't run!" Kaoru yelled out into the black mist, "I'm a tracker - remember?!" He yelled the words he had said not too long ago. Then he listened intently, he could detect minute noises hidden amongst the approaching chaos. Kaoru whirled around, dodging the first clone and stabbing it in the back before leaping into the air and snapping the neck of the next clone as it flew underneath. Two more clones grabbed him by either side, and for a moment, he was caught. Kaoru pulled one arm free through sheer strength and struck the clone in the face and turned his attention on the last, but as he did so he felt pressure in the air in front of him. Despite the warning, he was off balance from striking the other clone, and he knew he couldn't dodge or block the attack. The fist connected with his face and he fell back, but as he did so, he threw a kunai that pierced the shadow clone.
 
"No more hiding." Kaoru growled, then formed a series of seals and blew through a hole he formed by pressing the tips of his thumb and forefinger together. An enormous gust of wind exploded outwards, forcing the black mist and the natural mist of the mountains far away, creating a clearing. Kaoru grinned and turned his attention on Jin, who was crouched over Yuri, "Let's see one another for who we really are..." He muttered, striding towards them, unaware of the irony of his statement. A strip of flesh hung down from his cheek, where the clone had struck him, revealing another layer of skin beneath it, pale and supple.
"I never hid who I was!" Jin snapped back, and he stood up, ready to fight. "Yuri! You need to run! Back to Konoha.... I'll hold him off." And Jin stared down Kaoru, and for the first time took a good look at his wounded face. His eyes widened in shock.

"So you are the stronger of the two... interesting, maybe I was wrong..." Kaoru's grin faltered as he saw the look on Jin's face and brought a hand to his cheek and touched the skin hanging from his face, "Well, that's a shame." He sighed, "I'd have rather you not seen that..." 

 

[Jinchuuriki]

 

Running his fingers across the strip of hanging flesh, Kaoru grabbed hold of it, and pulled. Kaoru's face tore apart, splitting to reveal long, snow white hair that cascaded out from underneath. Kaoru's grin widened even as his face was pulled away from it's resting place and lifted up so that whatever was beneath it was hidden. Yuri looked up and watched in muted horror and disgust as Kaoru's skin, clothes and everything that made him him, was torn from the being beneath it. Kaoru was being worn like some kind of skin suit. The flesh was discarded, thrown aside, and only she remained.
"Oshiro..." She began, bowing. Introducing herself by each syllable, "... A-ya-me." Then she straightened up, brushed back her long white hair and grinned at the two ninja. She had watery blue eyes and pale skin. She was slim, in her early thirties and wore a flattering tight-fitted black shinobi outfit. "I'm sorry, but now you've seen me, I really can't let you leave here..."

 

"Wh... what?" Jin choked. "You're... Oshiro Ayame. You've been with us all along... but... why!?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Ayame asked, smiling with a frown on her face. "I need to get to know you, if i'm going to become you. Thats the problem with transformation techniques and the like, there's just too many ways you can see through it, too many tells that give the game away. But, my clan have a kekkai genkai that allows us to absorb DNA."
"What?" Yuri pulled herself out of shock and confusion, "You can...." She trailed off.

"I can take you, and make me... you." Ayame replied simply, laughing. "The only weakness is it requires time to understand the person I become, and so it's not something I can use to fool someone, at least not for very long. Unless you've never met your guide to Kusagakure before..." She chuckled, and started towards them.

 

"You think you know enough?" Jin asked. "I mean, are you really that confident?" He was stalling. He knew it, and Ayame probably did too. However, the more he spoke, the more he found an element of truth to his words. "...Do you really think the Hokage doesn't know her own daughter? And even if she doesn't... my dad will know! If he's trained Yuri then he'll know her like she was his own!"

At this, Ayame roared with laughter, "Grow up, child." Ayame shook her head in disbelief, "I don't need to convince a mother i'm her child, I just need to convince a Raikage..." She made a motion with her hand, and a dozen ninja leapt down, hidden amongst the rocky outcroppings and cliffs, "... of Konoha's intent..." She then pulled Yuri's headband out, and tied it to her forehead and formed a single seal, and closed her eyes. Suddenly her body shifted, she grew shorter, her hair darkened, her clothes changed and there stood in front of them was a duplicate of Yuri. "... their intent to war." With a single motion of her hand, the ninja ran for them.

 

[Denkousekka]

 

Yuri grabbed hold of Jin and pushed him to the ground, quickly forming a pair of seals and the black cloud of smoke that was her Tsukimono bugs rushed from her sleeves, from beneath her collar, from every pore and enveloped them in a protective layer. Yuri roared as she held the seal and suddenly the ninjas stopped, not from her battle cry, but from another noise. A humming that was growing in intensity. It became so loud it was almost deafening and they turned to see a heavy black mass holding Yuri - who was in fact Ayame - to the ground by her leg. She was hacking at it with her kunai, but nothing would remove it. Then the humming grew louder still, and then the bugs began vibrating and then in a moment of clarity, Ayame realised what was about to happen, but she couldn't stop it.

 

The bugs exploded. Ayame screeched as her leg was blown clear off at the knee. She collapsed to the ground, but despite her injury she was still screaming at her ninja to grab Yuri and Jin. But they were too disoriented by the light, sound and heat of the explosion. A heavy cloud of dust hovered in the air, and at last Yuri allowed her bugs to dissipate from the form she had used as a shield to protect them. As she stood up, she helped Jin to his feet and started to leave, when something caught her eye. The deep gouge that had been sliced into Hisato's neck was smoking gently, and she could see the flesh deep in the wound was knitting together. She almost gasped, but kept it inside and grabbed hold of Jin.
"We have to go - NOW!!" She yelled, and together, they leapt back into the woods. They could hear the footfall of a dozen ninjas chasing them, and she knew they were maybe only a couple of minutes from certain death. Ayame had taken her form, but she had wounded Ayame. Yuri didn't know if that was enough, but it would have to be. She had a feeling Hisato wasn't out of the fight just yet, he couldn't be. They wouldn't have sent a jounin on a mission like this who couldn't take care of himself, right? That's what she wanted to believe, at least. But everything that could have gone wrong on this mission, had done, and this likely wouldn't be the last time. She exchanged a look with Jin, if not for him, she would be dead right now. She would have to thank him later, perhaps by starting with a promise never to cover him in bugs again. She imagined that was a promise she would be unable to keep. Keep going, Yuri, she told herself, they're right behind you!

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[Glued State]

 

As they made their escape Jin was thinking about what came next. In the heat of the moment he had found a quiet focus in his new objective: To get Yuri out alive. There was no time yet to grieve their fallen leader, and if he had been overcome with trauma then he'd probably be dead already. Instead he focused on doing what his father had always considered top priority, to control the flow of the battle. He had already gathered the facts. There were 12 ninja chasing them, all working together. Yuri had provided them an advantage with her surprise attack, which had also left Ayame wounded, hopefully for good. At any rate she probably wouldn't be after them herself, but her team were organised, and had been keeping tabs on them all along. They knew their tactics, their abilities, and they probably knew the terrain far better than Jin or Yuri. 

 

The situation was exceptionally bad, and their chances were slim. He knew that with such a large group after them, they would likely split in to smaller cells and come at them from all angles. Even if they kept running, Eventually they would tire and get caught. If he was going to keep the upper hand then they had to change their tactics. He made sure Yuri was still close, and he signalled for her to stay close to him. Then he dropped from the tree tops and landed on the earth below, rolling to adsorb the shock of the fall, before moving on at a quick but silent pace. They had moved in to the cover of closely grouped trees, and he brought up his fist, level with his shoulder, signalling for Yuri to freeze. Then he pressed himself against the trunk of the nearest tree, and cupped his hand to his ear, signalling for Yuri to listen. He brought his hand down to waist height, and Yuri crouched when he did so. He crouched down with her and waited. 

 

There was a soft tap in the distance and one of their enemies dropped from the tree tops. He stood still for a moment, lifting his chin and slowly sweeping his gaze around, trying to find any sign of them. Jin crouched lower to stay out of sight and held his breath. Their enemy was alone, and was standing out in the open. Perhaps if they rushed him they would be able to overcome him together, but that was a big risk. They had to look for an opening and make a break for it. And yet...why was this ninja alone? Jin narrowed his eyes as he watched the man, and then he motioned for Yuri to get ready. He put his hands together and two shadow clones appeared at his side, crouched down and out of sight. One of them quickly performed his own seal, and in the blink of an eye had taken the appearance of Yuri. Jin gave his clones a quick nod, and then they took off while the ninja's back was turned. As they crossed the clearing, another ninja fell from thre tree tops and dropped them both in an instant with a pair of kunai to their backs. 

 

Just as Jin had expected, the first ninja had shown himself as a decoy to lure them out of hiding. The other had remained waiting in the trees, ready to strike at them. When the clones disappeared in a puff of clouds, the enemies had reacted by fanning out to sweep the area. This had it's good and bad points. All of this meant that they had managed to avoid detection, for now. However, it also meant they would start searching more aggressively, now that their plan had failed. He gave Yuri a nervous glance and then tried to think of what they could do. They wouldn't fall for another clone distraction. Then his eyes widened as a sudden realisation came to him. It was risky, but it was the best chance they had. 

 

[Fake]

 

They shot out of their cover and sprinted across the clearing. Then, a second pair of them went off in the opposite direction, slowly and clinging to the cover of the trees. The enemy ninja rounded on them immediately. "Not this time!" one of them snarled as he lunged towards Yuri. Jin stepped in front of him, kunai drawn and the pair clashed. Jin dodged the flurry of blows and struck back, before the other enemy stepped in and countered his strike, and together the enemies pinned him down and cut him to ribbons. Only for Jin to explode in to clouds and disappear. 

"A double bluff!" One of them cried. "Sneaky brat! Get after the real ones!" He added as he sprinted off over the clearing, after the real Jin and Yuri, but they were long gone. 

 

[Hakubo]

 

Jin and Yuri had made their way out of the woods and had found themselves at a large cliff face, with a waterfall flowing down it, and a thick mist coating the bottom. Jin pressed on and motioned for Yuri to follow. They climbed the rocks around the waterfall, and edged around the side and slipped through it, in to a small cave that was hidden behind it. Jin let out a sigh of relief and sat himself down on a rock. "Okay..." Jin said, pausing as he took a deep breath. "...We should be okay to talk now. I...well, I think we have a lot to talk about. However, we need to think of a plan before we make another move. Let's assess the situation and try to think of something."

Wiping the blood from her goggles, Yuri leant against the cool stone wall and caught Jin's eye before speaking, "Sensei is alive, Jin."

Jin simply stared at Yuri in disbelief. "...Are...are you sure?" He asked.

"Mm... i'm sure." Yuri nodded, licking her lips, "His wound was smoking, and the tissue was healing. I don't know how, but I think once the wound is healed he'll wake up - so long as Ayame and her ninja don't notice." Yuri shook her head, "I can't believe Kaoru was Ayame, or... the other way around, I don't know. Was there ever even a Kaoru?"

 

"That's a question for another time." Jin said. He had been wondering the same thing, and the thought of what might have happened to the real Kaoru made his stomach turn. "If sensei is alive then that complicates things. We can't just leave him. That means...we need to go back."

"But... Ayame was powerful enough to kill Hisato, more or less... and she has a whole bunch of other ninja who I didn't detect, even with my bugs surrounding the area. It was like, they must have seen them and choose not to kill or interact with them, but somehow masked themselves from my bugs..." This thought stuck with Yuri and she frowned, trying to think.

"So we leave him to really die, then?" Jin said with a frown. "Tell me, what would a ninja do in this situation? I'm not even sure I know any more..."

"I don't know..." Yuri wished she had the answers, but she didn't. Every thought screamed for her to run home to Konoha. But she couldn't. "We can't leave him, not if there's a chance he's alive. But... we're just genin..."

 

"Says the girl who blew Ayame's leg off." Jin said. "You...you don't even realise how talented you are, do you?"

"I'm not talented." Yuri muttered, "Hisato got killed, and I just... froze."

"As I recall...you saved our lives and gravely wounded our opponent." Jin said. "You did just what my dad would expect. You brought the flow of battle back within our control, just like he teaches with his Taijutsu, y'know?"

"It's not good enough." Yuri bit her lip, "Mira would have killed her and she would never have fallen into a trap like this..." Yuri stared at the waterfall rushing over the exit to their cave, "When she was my age, she was sent on high-ranking missions. She was so strong, they awarded her a Jounin rank after two missions... I can never compete with that."

"Yeah but...it's not all about being tough, is it?" Jin said. "You should believe in yourself more, Yuri. I believe in you."

Yuri held her head up and smiled at Jin, "... thanks." She took a deep breath, "So, when should we leave? Do you have a plan?"

 

"Not really." Jin admitted. "I made a bunch of clones while we were running. They're spreading out and keeping watch. There's still 12 out there for the moment, one for each of the bad guys. The only trouble is I don't pick up on what they've seen until they are dispelled. But I figure if we stay here then I can record what they find out and build some knowledge about these guys, their techniques and stuff. Y'know, beat them at their own game."

"Right..." Yuri nodded. She was proud of Jin, but she couldn't say it. He was intelligent, and clear-minded even when everything went wrong. She took a deep breath and pulled her left sleeve back so she could see her hand. With a moment's focus, she pooled insects in her palm and concentrated. They swarmed over her hand and tried to reach out, as though she was making a blade, but as they started to form, they fell apart and returned to her palm. "Damn..." She muttered, shaking her head, then let them return.

"What's wrong?" Jin asked. 

 

Yuri looked at Jin and then back at her insects, "I'm not really supposed to talk about it..." She said dejectedly, pursing her lips. "My sister would be mad."

"Okay." Jin said with a nod. "Well then...I suppose we should try to come up with a plan." Jin stood up from the rock and took a step forward, but stumbled and fell down to his knees. He pushed himself back to his feet, his hand shaking as he did. When he looked up there were beads of sweat dripping down his face. "Sorry I...I tripped."

"Are you okay?" Yuri asked, putting her hand on his shoulder.

"Yeah...I..." Jin sighed. "When you create shadow clones you seperate your chakra equally among them. So with 12 out there my chakra is split 13 ways. It'll come back when I dispel the jutsu, minus any they've used. But...I guess that's one of their weaknesses. I'm not as strong when I'm split up."

"Oh... I never learnt about shadow clones. My sister said we can't use them."

 

"It's a potentially dangerous ninjutsu." Jin said. "It can put the user in a real bind if it's abused. But I don't really have any other options...right..." Jin stopped in his tracks, staring off at the back of the cave fearfully. Some colour had returned to his cheeks, and despite his shock he looked a lot better. "All of them...at once!" He gasped. "But how did they...oh no!"

"Jin...?" Yuri squeezed his shoulder, "What is it?!" She whispered fearfully

"All my clones just got killed at once...and none of them saw who did it." Jin said fearfully. "It was a co-ordinated attack. But how do they know where we...the dog!" Jin spun on his heel so he was facing the entrance to the cave. "Ayame is a tracker! That wasn't a lie! That dog, remember? We need to run!"

 

Just then a small husky dog with an eyepatch and a blue neckerchief stepped through the waterfall, snarling viciously at them. They were too late. Ayame knew where they were, and they only way out was blocked. 

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[Girei]

 

"I'm not waiting in here like a rat trapped in a cage..." Yuri scowled, looking at the back of the cave. There really was no other way out. She stood up and held out her hand to Jin, "I-I..." She hesitated but took a deep breath, and steeled her resolve. "I'm going out to meet them."

"That's suicide." Jin said, but he drew a kunai from his pouch and gripped it firmly. "But I see no other way. Let's go, Yuri."

Together, the two ninja walked into the waterfall. Yuri felt the cold water crash down on her head and shoulders, chilling but refreshing her. She burst out the other side and saw nearly a dozen ninja, crouched in the trees surrounding the rocky pool, stood on the bank, and then from the shadows of the forest, came Ayame, though she still appeared as Yuri. She was supported by one of the other ninja, her leg had been fitted with a tourniquet.

"I understand." Ayame said, through gritted teeth. She was obviously in pain, "I should have been straightforward with you. But I couldn't trust two children and an ANBU agent with the lives of my friends, and my family. You have to see that." Ayame straightened up and smiled, "Please, don't make me do this. If you come quietly, I will find a way to fix this. I promise."

 

"Why should we believe you?" Jin said, his hands trembling. "You've lied to us this whole time. How can you expect us to trust you?"

"I can't." Ayame replied truthfully, "I have to pursue my goals, to whatever end. If you get in my way, I will have to kill you. I'm asking you to lay down your weapons, you will not be harmed, and when the dust settles, you can return to your homes. That, I promise you."
"What exactly is your goal?" Yuri asked, frowning. "You left your village, you were heading to Kumogakure, you wanted to disguise yourself as a Konoha ninja, I don't understand. It doesn't make any sense!" Yuri snapped angrily, images of Hisato still fresh in her mind.

"I intend to start a war." Ayame replied simply.

"Why would you do that!?" Jin snarled. "Thousands died in the last war! If you start something like that... all those deaths will be on your hands!"

 

"And I will bear that pain!!" Ayame yelled back at them, "I have lost too much, and I will lose no more! War is a catalyst of change, people will suffer, but from the ashes a new order will rise, one free of war and hatred. To stop a fire, you must burn around it, cutting off it's spread, controlling it's destruction. So I will set Konoha aflame, and stop it's reaching embers from devouring."

"But Konoha is full of families and good people! What have we ever done to you?!" Yuri screamed.
"You're a child. You're both children, so you don't understand..." Ayame shook her head.

"Yeah, because adults have done such a great job." Jin said through grit teeth. "If war changed anything then why have there been so many? If you hurt all of these people, then how long will it be before someone starts a war to kick you off your pedestal?"

"Because war is a product of greed." Ayame replied, "A Kage is a guardian, a symbol, and sometimes a leader. But the power behind them comes from others, and it is they who control war. I will take that power from them, and put it in the hands of those more deserving to wield it. Those capable of exercising restraint."

"There has to be a better way!" Yuri pleaded, "Can't you see you're just part of the cycle?!"

"Enough!" Jin snapped. "There's no convincing her, and I refuse to live in a world she creates! But... I won't fight her either." Jin dropped his Kunai, and inclined his head towards Ayame. "Go ahead. Kill me, and see if it makes you feel any better. I wonder, if you care so much about your family, how will you feel when they look at you with terror in their eyes?"

"They can hate me, as long as they're alive." Ayame replied, looking to Yuri. "Lay down your weapons." 

 

[shippuden]

 

"No..." Yuri replied, clenching her fists.

"What?" Ayame asked in disbelief, frowning. "Yuri, there's no need for us to fight. If we do, you will die. Your comrade will die."
"Sometimes people die." Yuri replied in a low voice, "But if I just lay down, and let you kill me..." She raised her head to meet Ayame's gaze, "I won't let you!!" She screamed, "I won't let you kill my friends! My family! I-I... i'll stop you!" She pointed at Ayame, "I am Satomi Sayuri, one day I will find a way to stop all this needless killing. But until I find a way to stop it for good, i'll just have to beat you down until you give up!!" She yelled, then reached for her kunai and spun it around, gripping it tightly. Yuri knew she was no match for Ayame, and they were hopelessly outnumbered. But she had to do something, she had to buy Hisato time. If there was even the slightest chance he could recover, she had to give him that chance. 

"I don't want to fight..." Jin said, but he bent down and picked up his kunai once more. "But you're right, Yuri. If you want to stop all the killing then you'll have to get stronger and become a leader. I believe... you can do it. So I'll follow you." Yuri nodded at Jin, silently thanking him. She faced Ayame and stepped forwards.

"Then you've made your choice." Ayame replied sadly. She faced the ninja helping to keep her standing, "How long will it take to heal, Haji?"
"I can regenerate it in maybe two days." The ninja replied. 
"Let's go." Ayame started back into the forest. "Kill them." She added, disappearing into the brush.

 

Yuri burst forwards, black clouds swarming around her in seconds, she raised her kunai and threw it. The weapon cut through the air towards Ayame's back, but one of the ninja leapt towards it and knocked it aside with his own. Yuri kept running, she leapt clear over the blocker and landed, tapping off the ground and leaping towards Ayame, but more ninja jumped in to block her advance. There was no getting around it, Ayame was going to escape. Yuri took a step back and brought her hands up, "I can...."
"You heard Ayame, kill her..." One of the ninja strode towards Yuri and Jin. The others followed. 
"I must..." Yuri continued.

The near dozen ninja surrounded them, drawing weapons and closing in for the kill.

"I will!" Yuri roared, and brought her arms up into the air. The swarming insects descended on her fists and as she brought them back down through the air with a whipping motion, the black clouds formed around her arms and where hands once were, there were now two enormous black blades, glittering in the evening sun.

 

[strong and Strike]

 

"Well come on then, if you're coming!" She barked at her enemies.

"There's something on those blades, don't get cut!" One of them yelled back, and then they charged. 
Yuri dodged to one side as a sword slashed through the air beside her and she brought one blade arm down towards the ninja, he brought his sword up to block it but she cleaved straight through it, to the ninja's great surprise and panic. She was careful not to cut too deep, just a nick. The ninja seized and collapsed as her paralysing toxin took effect. He would be like that for hours. Yuri leapt back as a kunai stabbed through the air where she'd stood a moment before, then she blocked two more strikes and whirled in the air, becoming a bladed tornado. The ninja backed off just long enough that Yuri saw several of them charging Jin, "Look out!!" Yuri yelled to her comrade.

 

Jin leapt back and thrust his arm forward, sending a barrage of shuriken towards his opponents. One dropped to the ground and spread his palms across it. Suddenly the earth before them rushed upwards as a wall of earth. Jin began rushing forward as his shuriken suddenly dropped their transformation, and became a group of his clones. They moved around the wall on either side, a shining glint of thin wire cascading behind them. They circled the enemy ninja and went back round the wall, pulling tightly on the wire, and pinning the ninja against the wall.
And then the real Jin leapt over the top of the wall with a flip and threw three kunai at their feet, which embedded in the ground next to them, each of them with an exploding tag tied to them. Jin landed with a tap and looked at the three ninja, who were thinking about how to escape from the bind. "Make a move and I set these off!" Jin yelled.
 
As Yuri landed, pulling herself out of her spin, she turned on Jin and jumped forwards, pushing her arms out. The blades on her arms dispersed and shot forwards like a torrent of water. They splashed over the three ninja, and when they lifted away, the ninja were paralysed. Quick thinking Jin, Yuri thought. I'm not fast enough to bind them, but you can hold them long enough that I can neutralise them. She grinned, but had to roll out of the way of another attack, but as she did so, another ninja landed behind her and she was trapped. She brought her arms up, ready to reform her blades but this ninja was too fast. He tapped off the ground and kicked her in the gut with enough force to wind her. Yuri hit the ground and vomited, rolling away and trying to pull herself back up. Her arms and legs trembled, she couldn't find the strength to stand.
"Jin..." She mouthed, and reached out to him, but collapsed.
 
"Yuri!" Jin cried as he rushed towards her attacker recklessly. His chakra was virtually empty, he was tired and hungry, but all that mattered was protecting Yuri. He reached the ninja and swung at him recklessly, only for each swing to be dodged or blocked with ease. The ninja was patient, calmly deflecting each strike while Jin lashed out furiously, tiring more with every kick and punch. Finally he leapt up to kick at the ninja's chest, and the man simply flickered out of view. Suddenly he was above Jin, and brought his fist down in to his chest, sending him crashing to the dirt, blood spluttering from his mouth. He tried to get up, but his body wasn't listening any more. The ninja stood over him, and drew a kunai, leaning down and gripping it tightly. Jin caught a look at the ninja. He didn't look very proud of what he was about to do, but he was going to do it anyway. He was loyal, just like the rest of Ayame's team.
"Stop..." Yuri groaned, she pulled herself across the ground towards Jin, but felt a weight on her back as one of the ninja pressed his boot down onto her, pushing her down into the ground. Her hands grasped for dirt and dug into it, but she could no more pull herself towards him than she could stand. There was nothing more she could do.
 
[The Last]
 
"Oi!!"

Ayame's ninja all looked up in surprise. Hisato leapt out of a nearby tree and landed a few feet away, "I've seen enough... your boss gave me something to remember her by, fetching huh?" He poked a thumb at the thick scar beneath his chin, "Do me a favor, will you?" He asked, "Get your filthy paws off my students..." His top lip curled back, revealing a pair of almost animal-like fangs and he snarled at them.  
"H-Hisato is alive?!" One of the ninja stuttered, and he dropped his kunai and fled.
"It's the Lion!!" Another screamed, and followed suit. 
"Hey!" Hisato yelled after them, "Tell your boss i'm comin' for her next! So... four against one, huh? Hardly seems fair on you." 
They ignored his comment, "Kill him." One of them yelled, and all four of them charged at once. Weapons at the ready, Hisato shoved his hands into his pockets and his grin widened.
 
The first ninja to reach Hisato slashed out in rage, but Hisato barely moved, the blade glanced over his shoulder and Hisato leapt up and kneed the man in the chin. The ninja went down in one. The second ninja slid across the ground, trying to knock Hisato's legs out from under him, but he jumped and landed with expert timing, bringing down all his weight on the ninja's knee. There was a loud popping sound and the ninja screamed. The last two came at Hisato from either side, screaming their battle cries. Hisato - still hands free - vaulted into the air, and both ninja passed one another as Hisato landed head first onto the ground and whirled around like a spinning top, clocking both of them in their jaws. When the dust had settled, nobody was left standing but Hisato himself. He looked down at his jacket and pulled out a hand to brush the dust from it and then strode over to Jin and Yuri, picking each of them up with one hand. He held them there for a moment and then grinned, "Well done..." He brought them into an embrace. Yuri smiled as best she could manage to Jin, and then Hisato patted them both gently on the back. "I couldn't have asked any more of you, i'm proud of what you both accomplished. We have a lot of work to do, but we'll stop her - together." Hisato smiled at his students, beaming with pride in their abilities. But inside, below the mask, he was enraged. Ayame had been with them all along and he'd never realised, she had gotten the drop on him and if not for the special technique his superiors had supplied him, he would have been killed. Ayame had escaped, and with a Konoha headband, she could assume any form she wished and incite war with Kumogakure, or anywhere for that matter. He had failed in his orders, and now they had to plan their next move. But for now, for Jin and Yuri, he smiled. 

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[Homecoming]

 

The sky was a pinkish hue as the sun began to set over Konoha. Jin was stood at the gates of the village, staring up at the rocky mountain in the distance which displayed the faces of every Hokage that had served since it had been established. Everything seemed very peaceful here, which was a stark comparison to what he had just been through. A short distance away from him, Hisato and Yuri were speaking with other ninja, who were taking two of Ayame's men in to custody. Hisato had bound their arms and tagged them with some sort of sealing jutsu that had stopped them from being able to use any chakra based techniques. They had made the long journey back to Konoha with a lot less talking and friendly banter than when they had set out. Jin had barely spoken to either of them. He had been thinking a lot on the way back, and he had made a decision somewhere along the way. He just had to tell them. 

 

"Jin, let's go." Hisato called to him, and Jin nodded and returned to his companions. They walked through the gates and in to the village. When they reached the square that led in to the market district Hisato stopped them and they stood so that they were all facing each other. "Well, I'll report what happened to the Hokage. Along with our informant we can probably arrange a real task force to carry on this mission. So I think you should both get some rest, go home to your families. I'll be in touch when we have another mission lined up."

"Sensei..." Jin said, and began rubbing his hands nervously. "Um...I have something to tell you both..."

"What is it, Jin?" Yuri asked

"Well..." Jin took a deep breath. "I won't be coming on another mission. I...I'm giving up on becoming a ninja."

"What?!" Yuri felt like she'd just been punched in the face, "How can you?!"

 

"It...wasn't what I thought it would be." Jin admitted. "I don't think I can do it. I'm sorry Yuri...I was really enjoying spending time with you. I just..." Jin turned his gaze to Hisato. "I don't want to become a killer. Those people we fought...they weren't bad people, they were just twisted up from bad circumstances. It seems like being a ninja only makes that more likely to happen."

"It does." Hisato said with a nod. "It is a hard life. But a good ninja endures all things."

"Well...I guess I'm not a good ninja." Jin said. "I enjoyed the time I spent with both of you, though." Jin turned back to Yuri, and gave a soft smirk. "This mission was a complete disaster. But one good thing came of it. I made a friend."

"I..." Yuri shook her head, she didn't know what to make of it, "I can't believe you won't be a part of our team though..."

 

"I'm sorry, Yuri." Jin said, staring at his feet. "But I think...you'll be fine without me. You have all your other friends with you." Jin lifted his hand and pointed at Yuri, indicating to the bugs that resided within her. "A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. There were times back there when I thought I was going to break. I don't think I'll be able to hold it together if it happens again."

"A weak link can be fixed." Hisato said. "With training you can become a lot stronger, in your body and mind."

"Maybe, but I just don't want to." Jin said. "I'll find a way to help people some other way."

"You're sure?" Hisato asked.

"I am." Jin replied with a nod. 

 

Yuri clenched her fists, "You'll just give up being a ninja because there are ninja that kill people?!" Yuri could feel the tears welling up, "You can't just give up because other people are bad!" Then without warning, Yuri slapped Jin across the face, she felt the sting on her palm and the look of shock on his face, and then she ran for home, distraught and confused. Jin placed his hand on his reddening cheek, but didn't speak. He had let Yuri down, and the thought was making his stomach turn. 

"She'll understand, in time." Hisato said reassuringly. "I don't agree with your decision, but it's yours to make. We'll make arrangements for the future of our team. Go on, you better get going."

"Right..." Jin whispered. "Thank you, sensei. I...won't forget either of you."

"Mm!" Hisato responded. "Likewise, kid. Now get going."

 

=====

 

[Ochibabune]

 

Jin pushed open the door to his house and stepped inside. It was dark inside his home, and there were no signs of life. "Hello?" He called out, "I'm home". Nobody called back. Jin let out a sigh and turned himself back around, and closed the door behind him. He sat himself down on the steps outside of his house and rested his chin in his hands. No doubt his mother was on another mission. She might not have even been in the village. His father was probably with the Hokage, and would probably be home in a few hours. That didn't really feel good enough though. He needed them now, and they weren't there. Shaking his head, he stood up and walked down the street. It was quiet now that night had come. Many of the houses had lights on, and noises of people talking around dinner tables could be heard as he walked past them. 

 

He walked for about an hour, and before he had even realised he was way on the other side of the village. The streets were thin here and the buildings around there were restaurants, bars, bath houses, and other places that adults tended to frequent. There was a lot of noise coming from a particular place. It was a bar of some kind, with rows of seats lined up outside of it. Steam rushed out from the inside and escaped in to the night air. As Jin drew closer he could smell sake, and tobacco smoke. He walked slowly, watching the people at the nearby table. 

 

[sasuke's Theme]

 

"All right!" A woman declared. She was dressed in a gray kimono and was smoking tobacco out of an old pipe, her head obscured under a grass hat. "It's time for you crusty, old farts to watch a master at work. I'll raise 17'500 Ryo!" The woman pushed a few chips in to the middle of the table and took another drag from her pipe. She leant back in her chair and tilted her head up, to reveal herself as an old woman. Her skin was slightly wrinkled and her green eyes looked tired. She wore red lipstick and had dotted a little, black beauty spot above her lip. Then, just for a moment, her lazy, drunken eyes darted towards Jin, and fixed him with a confident glare, before returning to their usual, sleepy look. 

"Yer a bluffin' old hag!" The old man from across the table replied. "I'll see yer 17'500 and raise ye another 2'500!"

"Interesting." The third man said. "I believe I have the winning hand here. I'm all in."

"Shit!" The other man cursed, and tossed his cards down on the table. "Too rich for my blood!"

"All in eh?" The woman said with a smirk. "You've got double the amount of chips I have. That's just bully tactics."

"Are you gonna raise your bet or what?" The man replied tauntingly. 

 

"Mmm...sure, I'm all in then." The woman said. "But I paid to see it, so let's see it."

"Alright." The man said, and he flipped over the last card on the table. Then he placed his hand down so the cards were showing. "Full House."

"Hmph!" The woman said, and then she placed her own cards on the table. "Four of a kind beats a flush, you lose!"

"Damn!" The man exclaimed, and thumped the table with his fist. "I was so sure..."

"I warned you, I'm a master." The woman said with a smirk. Then she reached in to the table and pulled all the chips in close to her chest. As she did, a playing card fell out of the sleeve of her kimono. 

 

"Hey...wait a minute..." One of the men picked up the card and examined it. "You...you cheated!"

"You lousy, old hag! You're nothing but a crook!" The other roared. Then they lunged at the woman, who leaned back on her chair. She gave Jin another knowing glance, and then, she was gone. Jin blinked to make sure his eyes hadn't played a trick on him. The old lady had completely disappeared. He had seen ninja move quickly before, but this old woman had practically vanished without the slightest hint of a trace. The two old men were cursing and screaming at each other when Jin decided it was best to move on, and he took his leave. 

 

He walked out of the district and continued through a park. He was passing by a bench under a lamp when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the old woman was sitting on the bench, drinking from a jug of sake. He doubled back and stared at her. He could have sworn she was sitting there before. "Y-you...you're that old lady!"

"Who you calling old, punk?" The sneered at him. "Doesn't the academy teach you to respect your elders any more?"

"Uh...sorry." Jin said, and he gave a short bow. "It's just...well, you cheated those old guys."

"Life isn't fair, you'll learn that soon enough." She said to him. "Anyway, what were you doing wandering around in a place like that? What are you, like, eight years old or something?"

"I'm 13!" Jin said with a scowl. "Besides I'm a nin...uh." Jin scratched his head. 

"Ninuh? I think it's pronounced Ninja." The woman said. "They must have really let the standards slip if you're what passes as a Genin."

 

"No...I meant. Well, I'm not a ninja any more. I...I quit." Jin said. 

"Smart move!" The old woman said with a smirk. "I should have quit when I was your age. Would have been much less trouble."

"You're a ninja?" Jin asked. 

"Not for the last 20 years." She replied. "I quit too. Giant waste of my life, that was."

"Oh...so you didn't want to kill either?" Jin asked. 

 

"People die, punk." The old woman said. "Heck I sent a lot of people there myself. Not exactly proud of it, but...it's just part of life."

"Well I don't want it to be part of mine." Jin said. "Becoming a ninja was a mistake for me."

"I don't blame you." The old lady said. "But that doesn't explain why you're hanging around outside seedy bars like that at your age. Don't you have a home to go to?"

"I do. It's just my parents are out and I just needed to clear my head." Jin explained. "I don't really know what I'm going to do from now on."

"Mmm...I remember that feeling. Puberty is a bitch." The old woman said. "But you'll get through it. Then you'll fall and love, realise you had it all wrong, then start all over again. Then you get married and your life really goes to hell. Well, for most people anyway. Or you can become an old spinster like me! Haha!"

 

"I...don't mean life in general." Jin said. "I just meant that I've always wanted to be a ninja. I've never thought of doing anything else. I don't know what to do now."

"Well no point asking me, kid." She replied. "I'm a washed up old has been."

"But back there, you moved so quickly." Jin said. "That's the Body Flicker Jutsu, right?"

"You're pretty sharp." The woman said with a nod. "But what I do is better than any mere Body Flicker."

"It was pretty cool, though." Jin said with a smirk. 

"Heh, you're okay for a punk." The woman said. "What's your name?"

 

"Hideo Jin." Jin replied. 

"Well I'm Sorano." She said. "Here, have some sake."

"Uh...I don't think I should." Jin said. 

"Pfft! You big pansy!" Sorano said, and then she took a big swig from the jug and let out a gasp. "When you're old you'll appreciate good sake a lot more."

"Well I'm not supposed to drink it. I'm a minor." Jin said sternly. 

"Yeah, yeah." Sorano waved her hand at him in a dismissive fashion. "In my day there weren't any rules like that."

"Well I suppose I have to go." Jin said. "It was, uh...nice to meet you."

"Likewise, punk." Sorano said and she lifted her jug to big him farewell. Then, before he could turn around to leave, she was gone again. 

 

=====

 

[Different Sky]

 

Hisato stood on the top of the Hokage's office, having not long explained the situation to her. He was staring out at the village, and looked deep in contemplation, when he heard a soft tap next to him, and he looked up to see a figure standing on the ledge of the building, on his right. She was dressed in a long, black cloak that disguised the form underneath, with only a featureless white mask revealed under the hood. Hisato turned his head back to look over the village and folded his arms. "The mask is a bit overkill, don't you think? I know who you are, Saya." He said. 

"You are one of the few who does." Saya replied, her voice cold. "Just because we are in our home doesn't mean we can be reckless. If you had been more careful then perhaps things would be different. Perhaps I could go home and see to my son, who is lost and saddened by his experiences in the field. And yet now, because of the complete failure of that very mission, my team must leave tonight to clean up this mess."

 

"I'm sensing a little hostility here." Hisato said darkly. "Do you have a problem with how I operate?"

"When my son is concerned, I do." Saya said. "You are one of the best, Hisato. I find it hard to believe you didn't realise how dangerous Ayame was."

"I just did as ordered." Hisato replied. 

"Oh, please." Saya said. "That mission was fishy, and you knew it. Sending two Genin after someone like that. The Hokage would never have allowed it if she had known the details."

"Nobody knew the details." Hisato said. "It was just unfortunate."

"That poker face may work on everyone else." Saya said. "But you and I...we are of the same creed. Don't think I will fall for it for one second."

 

Hisato turned his head to look at Saya once more, and he gave a short sniff to hide the flare of his nostrils. "You're mistaken, Saya." He said. "I suggest you go carry out your mission."

"Such a faithful dog...or 'Lion', is it?" Saya said mockingly. "I'm watching you, and the ones who hold your leash. You best hope that I am indeed mistaken." Then with a flicker, Saya took off, and Hisato watched as her cloaked form leapt off over the buildings of Konoha. He sighed and his gaze fell to the floor. 

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[shirotsumekusa]
 
The walk home was quiet. A few people were walking home from a bar and waved to him as he passed, and he put a smile on his face for them, but as they passed, Hisato returned to his melancholy. It had been a long trip, and it had not ended as he had imagined. He had failed his mission, he had lost one of his students, and for what? He shoved his hands into his pockets and dragged his feet. When he put his key in the door he heard excited wheezing and smiled. Before the door was even an inch open, he saw a wrinkled snout shove its way through the gap and shove it open, and out shuffled an old, wrinkly-looking bulldog.
"Hey there, Goro." Hisato leant over and patted the dog on the head and closed the door behind them. Goro hobbled over to the sofa and slowly pulled himself up onto it, where he sat and watched Hisato put his keys on the table by the door. He got changed into a t-shirt and boxers and walked over to the sofa to join his dog.
 
"Oof!" He groaned, as he sat down. Then studied his dog's face for a while, "Met a talking dog today." Goro stared back at him blankly, "Why don't you talk, huh?" Hisato scratched him under the chin and smiled, and Goro's little tail whipped against Hisato's leg happily. "It's been a weird trip..." He put his legs up on his coffee table and sighed, resting his head back on the sofa. What was he going to do now? He guessed it wouldn't be long before they contacted him. But he hoped it wouldn't be tonight, he wanted to relax and get out of his head. Hisato closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his nose, and he stayed like that until he heard a knock at his door. He didn't know how much time had passed, he'd fallen asleep. Goro was lying on his back on top of Hisato's legs, snoring with his jowels half splayed out.
 
"Coming..." Hisato muttered, lurching up and disturbing Goro who gave a disgruntled growl before slumping onto the sofa and resuming his slumber. There was another knock at the door, this time more urgent. "I'm coming!!" Hisato barked irritably. He stretched, letting his back crick and then leapt up as though he had pulled off the cloak of age he had been wearing, and then made for his door. When he opened it, he saw the mask of an ANBU. Immediately Hisato was on alert. "What is it? What's wrong?!"
"Nothing." The woman replied. "I need to speak to you, but I have a mission so i'll be brief."
"What's this about?" Hisato asked, frowning.
"It's about my sister." She replied.
"Oh?" Hisato raised an eyebrow quizzically.
 
[Kikyou]
 
"Yuri?"
 
She heard her name called, and looked up from her breakfast. "Hm?" Yuri looked at her father confused. Since arriving back in the village yesterday, and learning about Jin abandoning his journey as a ninja, she'd been a bit out of sorts. 
"Did you hear me?" He asked.
"Mm, yeah..." She muttered, pushing the scrambled egg around her plate. 
"Sooo..." He left the word hanging in the air, fishing for a response. "... how was your mission?" 
"Fine." She replied, moving a piece of bacon that had offended her to the edge of her plate. 
"Fine huh...? Okay..." Ibiki nodded knowingly, he knew what that meant, and he wasn't likely going to get anything out of his daughter. "What about you, Mira? How'd your mission go last night?"
 
Mira casually glanced over at her father, and Ibiki nodded irritably, "'I can't talk about that', yeah, alright." Ibiki looked between his two daughters, both the spitting image of his wife, though Yuri's hair was wilder, and Mira was more feminine. He loved them both, but at that moment he wished he'd had two boys. He shook his head and sighed, "Alright well, gotta get the shop open. Love you both!" He kissed them both on the forehead as he passed.
"Have a good morning, father." Mira replied, nodding.
"Bye, dad." Yuri added in a sulky tone. Ibiki hesitated at the door but eventually let out a quiet sigh, and left, leaving Mira and Yuri alone at the breakfast table together. There was silence for a long while, Yuri was used to this. Mira never said much to her. They used to be a lot closer. She could remember her sister being a guardian, someone she could rely on. Once, when she was very little, Yuri was playing outside and an angry little dog (though at the time, it seemed a lot larger) barked at her and chased her down a path. Then her sister appeared out of nowhere, which made the little dog jump out of it's skin in surprise. She'd laughed so hard that day, they both had. Now the woman sat in front of her was a stranger.
 
"I have something to discuss with you." Mira said. Yuri blinked a few times before the words processed.
"Sorry?" Yuri frowned, "What did you say?" 
"We need to talk." Mira leant forwards and pushed both their plates aside, "And you shouldn't play with your food. You never know when you might need to leave, you should eat it while you have the chance." Mira paused and studied Yuri thoughtfully and then casually added, "That's your first lesson."
"My first... what?" Yuri half-choked in surprise.
 
 

 
 
[Ochihabune]
 
Yuri walked up to the door and stood in front of it, staring at it for a little while. She looked either side of the house on the street, just another house in a long line of shops and houses. It was unremarkable compared to the clan house her family owned that was comparatively lavish (although a little old world for her tastes). The buildings were shaded in drab shades of brown, and a shadow hung over the street where the sun hadn't quite reached, perhaps it would only see the light during the peak of the day. Yuri stood on the single step in front of the door and knocked.
There was a creaking from above, and the window directly above the front door slowly opened. Jin poked his head out of the window. "Hello?" He said as he looked down, before instantly recognising who was at the door. "Yuri! Hang on..." He said before disappearing from the window. There was a thudding noise from the house as Jin made his way to the bottom floor, and then he opened it with a grin. "Hey... I didn't expect... well never mind, come in!"
 
The inside of JIn's home was homely, like she imagined a cottage might look. It was very clean, but well lived-in. There was a pleasant smell coming from the kitchen, and the house was definitely less a house, and more a home. Yuri noticed there were a lot of notes scribbled in a variety of handwriting. Notes seemed to dot everything, from the fridge, to the kitchen counters, to the dining table. They were everywhere. She would have laughed if she hadn't realised that their own family did the same thing - only with bugs. That thought stifled the laugh before it began.
"So, hi..." She muttered, offering a lop-sided smile.
"Hi" Jin said in response, and smiled back. "Is everything okay? It's just after yesterday... well, you know..." He looked away from her awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck.
"Mm..." Yuri crossed her arms and shrugged, "I'm fine..." Then there was an uncomfortable silence for a short while, eventually Yuri plucked up the courage and muttered something inaudible but when Jin didn't react she grew annoyed and repeated it a little louder, and maybe a little indignant, "I'm sorry, okay!?
 
"You're sorry?" Jin said. "I should be the one apologising. It was me that upset you."
"It's just..." Yuri bit her lip and shrugged again, she felt embarrassed just for realising it, but, "I don't... I don't really have any friends." Yuri said at last, her cheeks going pink. But as she started, she began talking faster and faster, "I don't really... other kids don't really talk to me, and... you're the first one who did, really, and I thought maybe you did just because you had to because we were on the same team but then you were really nice to me, and we didn't exactly succeed in our mission, I know, but we walked away from it, and we put a dent in Ayame's plans and now..." Yuri slowed talking and tapped her forefingers together nervously, "I sort of... have to leave soon....."
"Leave?" Jin said with a frown. "You mean... leave the village? For how long?"
"I don't know, I think a long time..." Yuri replied, "My sister said we won't be coming back until i'm ready to take the Chuunin exams... maybe a really long time then." She chuckled half-heartedly. 
 
"But... I thought..." Jin's head sank for a moment, and he was silent. Then he lifted his head, and he was smiling. "That's... That's great, Yuri. It's a really good opportunity for you."
"I dunno... it's not that great... it's my sister, after all." Yuri muttered, "Plus i'm not going to see you or Sensei for, like... ever."
"Yeah well there is that." Jin said with a nod. "But my mom is away a lot. Sometimes it can be for a really long time. When she's home, though... we spend a lot of time together. She really makes our time together special, because we don't know how long it will last." Jin looked directly at Yuri, as a way to punctuate his next statement. "Even if we're apart, we have a bond. I won't forget about you. So when you get back let's make up for lost time, hm?"
Yuri considered Jin's words for a long moment then nodded with a smile. She still didn't like the idea of them separating, but somehow she felt a little better. "Okay!" She said at last, "So..." Her face screwed up in confusion, "What exactly are you gonna... do now?"
"I... have no idea." Jin's head sank in defeat. "I've wanted to be a ninja since before I can remember. I've never thought about anything else. I guess... I'll just have to figure something out."
 
Yuri stared at the ground in quiet thought for a while. She couldn't imagine abandoning everything she had made herself into. It wasn't perfect, but it was all she knew and understood. And despite it's flaws, she knew she would always be a ninja. Even if that didn't always mean to her what it did now. But she smiled and met Jin's gaze with confident eyes, "Give it time. I know, you'll figure it out." She nodded, sure of that fact. Then she heard a noise behind her, someone clearing their throat. Yuri turned around and saw someone she had never expected to see, not in a million years, and certainly not here. 
"May I come in?" She asked, standing in the doorway. 
"Mom?!" Yuri's eyes widened in panic and she flicked her gaze to Jin.
 
"H... H-H-H..." Jin stammered, his words apparently stuck in his throat as he gazed, wide eyed, at the woman in the door. "Hokage-sama!" He finally said as he made a swift and deep bow, so low he nearly hit his head off the floor. Another figure appeared behind the Hokage, one that was more familiar to Jin. 
"Hello, son," Isamu said with a soft smile. His hair was long, brown and spiky, but the way it grew out was similar to Jin's. However Isamu was tall and muscular, dressed in black ninja gear and a green flak jacket, with his Konoha forehead protector tied around his right bicep. His eyes were dark brown, and there was a cross shaped scar across his left cheek. He turned his head to Yuri and gave her a nod. "It's nice to see you too, Yuri."
 
Yuri's mother, Masa, was a tall woman with the voice and mannerisms of a monk. She was serene and intelligent, calm yet also she had a clear authority to every word that left her mouth. She was beautiful, with long dark hair and garbed in the traditional white robes of the Hokage, with the wide-brimmed hat sat upon her head. "I'll assume that's a yes," She said, smiling and looking back at Isamu, like two old friends exchanging a look only they understood.
"I don't understand - why are you here?" Yuri asked, confused. "Aren't you busy?"
"Always." Masa replied, looking at her daughter as if she was no more than another person in the room, "But i've heard that a young boy no longer wishes to be a ninja," Masa inclined her head at Isamu, "So, I came to ask why that might be?" Yuri scowled at her mother and crossed her arms, or rather, sleeves. Masa noticed the reaction from her daughter, but it didn't register on her face.
 
"Uh..." Was about all Jin could say. He stood with his arms behind his back just staring at Masa. Despite what he had recently decided, he was in awe of the Hokage. She represented the very apex of what he had wanted to be his whole life. Of all the ninja in Konoha, Masa was considered the best. The question, coming from her lips, had rattled him entirely. 
"I'm sorry, I think he's a little star-struck." Isamu said with a sly smirk. "Jin... the Hokage is just like anyone else. She's not here to scold you or anything. She just wants to know, and... so do I."
"Dad..." Jin tried to look anywhere but his father. He realised that he had still not spoken with him about this either. He took a deep breath, and managed to calm himself somewhat. "I... I think the way things are now, the way ninja are. It's wrong." He said quickly, as if saying it faster might somehow allow it to slip under the Hokage's radar.
 
"The way ninja are?" Masa asked, her tone curious. She stepped inside, glancing at Yuri as she walked in and then pulled out a chair from the dining table and sat down, placing her hands on her knees and waiting patiently for Jin's clarification.
"Well..." Jin paused for a moment to gather his words. "On our mission, the people we faced. They were doing pretty terrible things, but they spoke with us. They were... doing these things to right a wrong that had happened to them. At first I thought that maybe this was just how it was with other villages, but then they said they wanted to target Konoha. I couldn't imagine why that would be... but I began to think that maybe we aren't any better. I'm sure there are some bad people out there, but I think there are a lot more people who become bad through circumstance." Jin stopped for a moment and looked at his father. "We have people that we love, and we would do anything to protect them. If they got hurt, well... if my loved ones got hurt, I think I would be capable of doing some pretty terrible things. When I thought sensei was dead, I wanted to hurt the people who did that to him. I wasn't strong enough to actually do that, but if I continue down this road then I might be one day. As ninja we grow stronger, and many of us won't aim to abuse that strength, but when the things we love are threatened we will do anything to make it right. At least if I stop being a ninja, I won't be tempted through power. I'll hurt... and I'll live with that hurt, and that's all that there is to it. Does that make sense?"
 
The Hokage stood and bowed her head to Jin and Yuri, then turned and walked out, leaving the two children inside. Masa took a deep breath and let it out, as Isamu closed his front door behind them. "This raises questions..." Masa crossed her arms in thought.
"That seems to be the case." Isamu said with a nod. "I'm sure we'll learn more from the ninja who were captured. Besides, my wife and her team are dealing with this now. We're in good hands... besides, I'm a little more concerned about my boy right now."
"Don't let your feelings for Jin cloud your mind, Isamu." Masa replied, "I will need you clear-headed for what's to come..."
"You don't have to worry about that." Isamu said. "But right now my boy has just thrown away everything he has ever wanted. Saya isn't here, and won't be for quite some time. He arrived back yesterday and hasn't spoken to either of us in all that time." Isamu shook his head. "He makes a fair point, you know. Who are we doing this for, if not for our children?"
 
[Anun]
 
"We do this for everyone. Every living person. Every person who has yet to live, who might be refused that chance should power fall into the wrong hands. What I am concerned about, is what if Konoha is already in the wrong hands?" Masa started walking down the street, with a purposeful stride. 
"If that is the case, then now is the time to care for those who are hurting." Isamu said. "Because that pain can be exploited, just as Jin said. He's a smart kid but he's not beyond being coerced. He's still naive to what this world holds." 
"Do not let yourself be lost to doubt, Isamu. I believe your son will find the right path." Masa replied, but stopped Isamu with a hand gesture before he could speak again, "Another time, my friend. Now I need your mind... and your fists." The Hokage clenched her jaw, and her pace fastened. 
"As you say, Hokage-sama." Isamu said with a distinct tone of annoyance.
"Thank you, my friend." Masa smiled, but her eyes were grave.
 
Masa marched up the steps to her office with Isamu just behind her, as she reached the top several attendants greeted her and asked if everything was alright, she waved them off and strode through into her office and closed the door behind them. Then she walked over to her book case and moved one of the books out of the way and pressed a button at the back. The bookcase clicked and drifted open an inch and Masa grabbed it and swung it open. This was one of the few entrances - and her personal entrance - to the secret underground training facility for Konoha's ANBU, the special ops unit.
"Inside." Masa said, and as Isamu entered, she closed it behind them. They walked down, further and further, for a long time. The stone floor seemed to go on forever, and it became colder as they delved deeper and deeper. Eventually, the tunnel spread out to a pair of large steel double doors. Masa reached out, grabbed the handle, twisted it and pushed. Nothing. She tried again - nothing. Locked. She glanced at Isamu, and then sighed and gently pressed her closed fist to the cool steel of the door.
 
[shippuden]
 
The steel doors smashed open and everyone inside scattered, ANBU or not. One of the doors flew from it's hinges and crashed into the ground with a sonorous howl of metal and then Masa and Isamu stepped inside, "AKIRA!!!" Masa called out into the large hall. The room was enormous, cavernous even. The walls and ceiling were cave-like, but the ground had been carved down to a flat surface and there were hundreds of different training machines, equipment, training dummies and all manner of lethal-looking weapons hanging on the walls. 
"Why are you here, Hokage?" Akira replied, stepping out of the shadows of the far wall. "Wasn't it made clear to you when you were given your position, that I had autonomy from you?" Akira was tall and slim, he had sandy blonde hair and tan skin with dark eyes. He was dressed in black with a black flak jacket on and he had a scar that ran from just beneath his nose, down through his lips and to the tip of his chin.
"I want to know why one of my village's genin believes that Ayame, the Crimson Field, was anything but a simple rogue ninja." 
"Why should I answer that? I don't answer to you." Akira growled.
 
"My son was one of the Genin on that mission." Isamu growled back. "That information would have classified the mission as S-Rank, no Genin would have been allowed near it. Withholding that information is a danger to our Village."
"It doesn't matter the rank of the mission, the Genin were simply there to make it appear as a simple retrieval mission. They were," Akira was searching for the word, "Expendable?" 
"What did you just say to me...?!" Masa spat, clenching her fists. Her normally serene face had been quickly replaced with rage, yet she remained motionless. Waiting, though her patience was little more than illusion now.
"I am dealing with forces you cannot possibly understand. The lives of a couple of Genin are nothing compared to the lives of the entire village, or even the entire world. I was given autonomy from you for a reason, Hokage. With the benefits of my research, Konohagakure's will can spread, enveloping the other nations, unifying us."
"You're beginning to sound like a mad man, Akira." Isamu said. "You may have autonomy, but that does not mean you discard our children like yesterday's trash. It is unforgivable!"
"What research have you been performing here, Akira?!" Masa took a step forwards and Akira tensed, "Tell me, or I will pry the information from your still-living corpse."
 
[Orochimaru's Theme]

"And I believe you could do that, Hokage. I know your clan's powers... but, I will not refuse you this..." Akira paused and a smile spread across his lips, "I am creating Jinchuuriki, well... maybe that's not the right name. They were slaves to the Tailed Beasts, little more."
"What?!" Masa barked, "You're creating new Jinchuuriki?!"
"No." Akira replied, shaking his head thoughtfully, "I'm creating new... Tailed Beasts." 
"Fool!" Isamu cursed. "The Tailed Beasts caused devastation on a level unlike any other. Even when sealed within Jinchuuriki, their very existence drove the ninja villages mad with power! You cannot do this!"
"You've gone too far, Akira... the council gave you too much power, they laid too much trust in you." Masa was shaking with anger.
"Cannot?" Akira laughed, "Oh... I already have. Why did you think I sent your little group after Ayame in the first place? I wanted to see what happened when two untested Tailed Beasts met." 
"Oshiro Ayame... has a Tailed Beast inside her?!" Masa's voice shook as she spoke, "So, she wasn't a rogue from Kusagakure at all..."
"No." Akira confirmed, "She was one of my successes. Only she escaped and I thought it would be interesting to see how powerful she had become, though I was surprised to see the young boy and Hisato return alive..."
"What..." Masa studied Akira's face carefully, "You said you wanted to see what happened when two Tailed Beasts met... two. Who is the other Tailed Beast, Akira?! WHO?!" Masa screamed and took another step towards him, she was desperately holding herself back. 
"Satomi..." Akira paused, studying Masa's expression with amusement, "... Sayuri." 
 
[Need to be Strong]
 
A black cloud swarmed from Masa and grew to envelop the entire hall in a matter of seconds, sweeping over the lights and clouding the room in semi-darkness as she reached up and pulled off her goggles. Her eyes were obscured as she tipped her hat, and then the screams began. Each one was blood-curdling, bone-chilling, agony in it's purest form. The screams echoed out, cascading like dominos as the ANBU dropped, one after another. Unable to escape the darkness that surrounded them. Tears flowed freely down Masa's face as her lips curled back in pain.
Akira formed seals so quickly it seemed like a flash, then he bit his thumb, smeared the blood on his palm and slammed his hand down onto the ground in front of him. There was an enormous explosion and when the dust settled there was a snake the size of a small mountain. Rays of sunlight flickered down into the hall and Masa quickly fastened her goggles back on and looked up. Akira was nowhere to be seen, and then she realised.
"The summon swallowed him, Isamu!!" Masa yelled out, throwing her hat aside and ripping off her robes to reveal she wore a black shinobi outfit beneath. She pulled in her arms and the enormous black swarm returned to her. 

Hundreds of men and women landed around the snake within moments of the explosion. But they were no ordinary ANBU, their masks were red. The crimson ANBU stood there silent and defiant beside the enormous grass-coloured summoned snake. "ISAMU!" Masa screamed, leaping into the air towards the great snake, "FIGHT WITH ME NOW!!" The village alarm sounded, soon the whole village would be audience to Akira's horrors. But even now, they could never imagine the extent to which his vile grasp had already extended. Masa soared towards the snake like a bird of prey, talons glistening in the sun. She would kill Akira to save the village, to safeguard it, but most of all, to take revenge upon the man who had harmed her daughter. It was time to win, or die.

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[Kouen]

 

Isamu was surrounded by Crimson Anbu in every direction. He stood ready, and as he clenched his fists there was an audible cracking from his knuckles. "So...you have all turned traitor to Konoha." He said, as his eyes flitted back and forth, gauging every move his opponents made. "Very well. Then I see no need to hold back." He added, and the Crimson ANBU took that as their queue to strike. As the nearest closed in on him, he made a sudden movement and there was a flash of raw power that exploded out from him. He hit the ninja with a lightning strike, the force shattering the porcelain mask on his face, and the ANBU crashed into the floor in a heap. "First Gate: Opening." Isamu said through clenched teeth. Then he sped off across the hall, his body a blur as he crashed through multiple foes, each one knocked aside like flies. The Crimson ANBU were quick to react to the new threat. Three shinobi stood side by side in his path, each performing the same formation of seals in perfect synchronization. Then, collectively, they sent a huge jet of flame towards Isamu, the fire clawing forwards like a hungry animal, moving quicker and quicker, and growing larger and hotter. 

 

Isamu kept sprinting, bringing his thumb to his mouth and biting down to nick the skin. Then he suddenly stopped, dropping to a crouch and placing his hands across the floor. "Rashomon!" He barked, and from the earth rose a collosal, towering barrier, it's edges covered in dangerous barbs, and the centre depicting a gruesome, toothed maw and a pair of angry eyes. The flames smashed against the barrier, crawling around it and bursting further forwards. Isamu stood in the space behind it, cursing as the heat of the flames scorched his skin. As the flames subsided he was left in a a field of thick smoke, his opponents converging around him in the darkness. Isamu stood up slowly, his burned flesh already beginning to heal rapidly. He lifted his head, to show that the veins around his eyes were bulging furiously. "Second Gate: Healing." He said. Then he performed some seals of his own, and took a deep breath. Then, he let out a blood curdling roar of fury, amplified by a great gust of wind that surged forward, cutting through the air and dispersing the smoke in a matter of moments. A few of the ANBU were knocked clear off of their feet, but more still were already advancing. 

 

Isamu went off at a sprint, and he moved so quickly that his image was but a series of flickers. He sent his fist crashing in to the face of one of the Crimson shinobi, before leaning on his front leg and kicking up with his back to catch a pursuing shinobi in the chest. He advanced on another, hitting him with a rapid series of punches to the chest, before jumping up and bringing his fist down on his head, sending the ninja crashing head-first in to the concrete. 

 

Masa flew towards the giant snake, forming seals in a blur. The creature whipped it's head back, thrashing it's tail and levelling the building behind it. Then it snapped forwards trying to bite the Hokage in two. Masa finished her seals, closed her mouth, her cheeks expanded and she spat. A thick white spray expanded out, interconnected like webbing, but still attached to her mouth. It flew out like a net and wrapped around the snake's face as it hissed in rage. Then she formed more seals and the webbing attached to her mouth vibrated and suddenly a bright blue bolt of electricity bounced down the webbing and shocked the snake. It's scaly flesh burnt and turned to ash wherever the lightning struck, leaving it horribly wounded. Masa landed mid-way up the snake's body and raised an arm, the black smoke of her insects formed around her arm, creating an enormous blade the length of a greatsword. With significant effort she plunged the metal into the snake's hide, piercing it's tough outer layer and then started sprinting, dragging it through it's flesh. But as she neared the snake's head it snapped it's mouth shut and then opened it's maw so wide that the netting finally snapped and it sprayed a jet of acid so large it was going to cover a large section of Konoha's residential district.

 

Immediately Masa disengaged from the snake and vanished, appearing a split-second later in front of where the acid would momentarily splash down. She raised her hands up into the air and from them, a hurricane was born. Black as the night, stretching high up into the sky. Her insects fanned out and interlocked until there was an enormous black dome over the residential area, casting a shadow over the citizens of Konoha as they watched the barrier form just in the nick of time. The acid splashed over the black barrier and fizzed menacingly, then Masa whirled around and redirected her arms and the barrier imploded on itself, turning into a dense little ball, trapping the acid inside. Without missing a beat, the ball shot towards the enormous snake and exploded as it touched it's skin, bursting a huge hole from one side to the other. Masa let out a breath she'd been holding and quickly wiped away the few drops of acid that had landed on her skin, though the damage was already done, and she had holes through her arms the size of small coins.

 

"Masa!" Isamu yelled as he made his way out of the facility and on to street level, heading for Masa and the snake. However before he could get very far, a black sludge oozed out the the cracks in the street, and then took form as a group on Crimson ANBU. Isamu lunged at them and swung a furious punch, only for it to pass through the ninja, whose body simply parted like liquid, and then reformed when Isamu relinquished his arm. He clenched his teeth and prepared to fight once more. His opponents were clearly some kind of elaborate clone jutsu, with the real one hiding somewhere nearby, pulling the strings. One of the clones lunged at him, and as it touched his arm, it stuck to him like glue, the black ooze crawling up his skin. More lunged at him, and with the weight of the first stopping him from moving, each connected with him easily, their bodies becoming a black sludge that quickly enveloped his whole body, weighing him down and stopping him from moving. He fell to his knees as more piled on, and soon he realised he was trapped under the weight of them. He sturggled weakly, as the black sludge covered his face, and finally moved over his eyes, and all he could see was darkness. 

 

"Iaijutsu: Infinite One Sword." A voice called through the darkness. 

 

[ikari]

 

Light suddenly returned to Isamu's vision, as the black ooze that had captured him was suddenly torn to shreds, by a flurry of dazzling cuts and slashes, moving so quickly that it might as well have been blades of wind. As the shreds of dark sludge spattered across the ground, Isamu stood up to see a figure dressed in a dark purple kimono, with black leggings and grey sandles, with wooden armour panels over his chest and arms, stained a dark brown. The man slowly drew his katana over the length of the saya tied to his waist, and then with a single motion, he sheathed the blade back in to it with a high pitched whine, followed by silence. The man raised his head of thick, shaggy black hair that seemed to naturally part to one side. He was in his 40's, and had cold, almost bored looking eyes that were a rare shade of orange, and a thin goatee. "I know you're currently on watch." The man said casually, "But I thought I might lend a hand, on this one occasion."

 

"Kotetsu!" Isamu gasped. "Your timing is impeccable, as always."

"Hmm...wasn't on purpose, just lucky I guess." Kotetsu replied. 

"Well we need a little luck right now." Isamu said. 

"Who needs luck when you've got the Goei Shotai in force, eh?" Kotetsu said, and gave the slightest hint of a smirk. 

"She is here, too?" Isamu asked. 

 

His answer came in the form of a maddening shriek. A Crimson ANBU came running around the corner, his mask missing and his face was the definition of panic. Hysterical, he barely gave them any notice as he ran off down the path. Before he could escape, however, his path was blocked by a flock of crows that swarmed around him, converging in a black mass that slowly began to take the shape of a person. The female ninja was dressed head to toe in a black cloak with long sleeves and a wide collar. Her hair was long and straight, like ink, and covered one side of her face entirely. Her visible eye locked on the hysterical ANBU, and it was a deep crimson, with three tomoe swirling menacingly around her iris. Caught in her stare, the ANBU fell silent, but his eyes were enough to encapsulate the sheer terror he was experiencing. And then, without warning, he simply collapsed from the trauma of it all. 

 

"Uchiha Mirai..." Kotetsu said, his tone a little fearful. "She's a demon..."

"I heard that." Mirai replied, and she glared at Kotetsu. "Stop flapping your gums. We have a job to do, the Hokage needs us."

"I'm struggling to get to her." Isamu admitted. 

"We're here now." Mirai said simply. "Go to her."

"We'll take care of the rabble." Kotetsu said confidently, and then he drew his katana once more. 

"All right." Isamu said with a nod. 

 

Then Isamu leapt on to the rooftops and went off at a sprint, as the sounds of battle resumed behind him. Finally he began to close in on Masa and the snake, and as he reached them he leapt in to the air, and landed with a thunderous crash on an opposing rooftop, so that the snake was between him and Masa. He stood up straight, and as he did, his skin began to turn red, and his eyes had went entirely white, the veins all over his skin were pulsing violently. "Third Gate: Life." He said. 

 

 


 

 

[A Crisis After Another]

 

When the alarms started ringing Jin had sprinted up to the top level of his house, climbed out of the window and scrambled on to the roof of his building. When Yuri arrived shortly after him, he was staring off in to the distance, his eyes wide with fear. "Th-that's...near the Hokage's office...Dad!" He cried in a panic, as he watched the giant, slithering snake make it's way through the clouds of smoke and fire, tiny dots flitting all around it back and forth, dots that Jin knew were shinobi, fighting that horrible creature. 

 

She couldn't believe her eyes. The snake was bigger than the building her mother worked in, it towered over all of Konoha. Panic spread over Yuri as she realised the first person there to combat this creature would be her mother. But why was it happening?! Were they being invaded?! She had heard that villages often used summons in times of war, but she had never imagined it would be anything like this. It was like out of a nightmare. She watched as hundreds of ninja in the distance fought and died. Crimson masks blocked those in white masks, or green jackets trying to get to the snake. Then, Yuri saw a lone figure standing atop a building, just in front of the snake. "Mom!!" Yuri screamed, and leapt from the building, rushing towards the chaos and destruction with reckless abandon.

 

"Yuri! Wait for me!" Jin cried as he sped off after her. When he caught up he ran alongside her. "If your mom is there, then so is my dad. We need to help them!" 

Yuri tapped off the next building, rushing towards the battle. A few more seconds and they'd be there. Her eyes were dazzled as flashes of electricity and fire, torrents of water, and all manner of other ninjutsu were thrown from one ninja to another. Hundreds of bladed weapons flew through the air, and Yuri had to twist in the air to dodge a stray kunai that almost caught her in the chest. There were too many people, yet she looked below her and hundreds of bodies lay scattered over the building rooftops and in the streets below. Who were the red-masked ANBU and why were they fighting against the rest of the Konoha forces? But her questions went unanswered, as her mind kept pulling her back to a multitude of horrors, the awful possibilities unravelling before her as to the fate of her family and her village.

 

A figure blocked their path suddenly, and Jin came grinding to a halt. The man standing before them was not an enemy, but he looked angry as hell. 

"What are you two doing here!?" Hisato yelled. "Run! Now!" A Crimson masked ninja leapt over the side of the building and lunged at Hisato with a blade that looked like a large needle. Hisato leaned backwards just in time, as the tip of the blade arced through the air, inches from cutting his neck. 

"Sensei!" Jin cried as he sprinted forward. Hisato flinched in a moment of fear as he saw Jin coming towards him, and he miscalculated his next move, the needle blade cutting a large gash in his arm for the trouble. Pain snapped him back in to focus, and Hisato leapt in to the air and hit his opponent with a swift kick to the shoulder, driving him back. Then he lunged forward, his right hand drawn back over his shoulder. There was a blue spark and his hand suddenly ignited with crackling electricity that chirped and tweeted like a thousand birds. He brought his palm over the ANBU's head and gripped tightly, as the lightning coursed through him, causing his body to seize up and jerk frantically. When Hisato let go the ANBU dropped to the ground, his clothes were smoking, and one of his legs was still twitching. 

 

Hisato turned to Jin, and he looked just as angry as before, but also relieved. "We need to get far away from here, right now."

"I'm not leaving my mom!!" Yuri yelled at Hisato, and ran for the edge of the building. The battle was so close now, just a little further, she could make it. Hisato was quicker, and he was on Yuri in an instant, holding her shoulder firmly to stop her from running. 

"Stop!" He barked. "I know what you must be feeling, but you will only get in her way. If she sees you, it will distract her from the battle. Just as it did me..." He inclined to the bloody gash on his arm as if to drive home his point. "Please, we need to leave. You can still help the village in other ways."

"My mom's not like you!" Yuri snapped angrily. She knew Hisato hadn't meant it like that, but she'd wanted to hurt him all the same. She was so close, and he was stopping her, she had to help. She was stronger now, stronger than she'd been when she left the village. She'd even wounded a powerful jounin. She knew she could help her mom, she just had to get there. "Let go of me!!" She snarled, pulling away from Hisato frantically.

 

[Guren]

 

Jin clasped his hand around Yuri's other shoulder. His grip was harder, more tense, and he seemed to be fighting back just as much emotion as Yuri was displaying. "He's right, Yuri..." Jin whispered, and it sounded like he was trying not to cry. "...I'm scared too...if something happens to my dad..." Jin wiped at his face with the sleeve of his jacket, and his body shook as his emotions came bubbling up. "But if my dad died trying to protect me out there...I know I'd never forgive myself. I...no, we...we have to trust them."

Yuri burst into tears and pulled her goggles down from her eyes, covering her face in her sleeve as her shoulders shook. She whispered, "I hate you... I hate you..." Her shoulders slumped and she stepped back from the edge of the building. Wiping her eyes dry, she covered them with her goggles and her arms dropped to her sides in defeat, even as the battle raged in front of her.

 

"Yuri..." Jin said, but he trailed off. He wasn't sure what to say. Then, after a moment, he reached out and took her hand in his. "...The whole village is fighting right now. Every kid in Konoha is probably feeling the same right now. I'm not saying that's right, because it isn't. I hate this too...but for the ones we love...we need to try harder." Jin looked out at the raging battle, and he gulped back another fit of tears that were on the horizon. "I may not be a ninja any more...but Konoha is my home. I love this village, and the people who live here. For that reason, I can't let my feelings get the better of me. I'm...I'm going to use my fear to help who I can. But...I need you with me. Just this one last time."

 

"... Let's go." Yuri muttered, gritting her teeth.

"Okay." Hisato said, folding his arms. "Then this is our last mission as a team. Let's make it count."

"What should we do?" Jin asked. 

"There are fires spreading out from the source of the attack." Hisato explained. "A lot of innocent people are being caught in the crossfire. We can keep to the shadows and scout for survivors. We provide support wherever we're needed. Are we clear?"

"Yes, Sensei!" Yuri nodded obediently.

"Alright." Hisato said with a nod. "Let's go."

 

 


 

 

[Cave]

 

"Masa!" Isamu yelled from across the gap between them, the large snake looming in between them. "We need to take this thing down before it destroys half of the village! I'm going in, I'll find you an opening!" And then without warning Isamu leapt from his spot on the rooftop and crossed the gap between him and the snake. He landed on it's dry, scaly hide and sprinted upwards, chakra blazing from him like an emerald flame. The snake coiled around itself and the head came snapping towards him, but Isamu pushed off the snake and flew in to the air, only for the snake to turn upwards and come after him, it's jaws open wide. Isamu's hands blurred as he performed the necessary seals, and then his chest swelled when he took in a breath, and blew out a torrent of fire that came crashing down on the snake. The creature hissed and reeled backwards from the pain, but Isamu was still descending upon him. "Aaaaaaggggghhh!!" Isamu roared as he came down on the creature's head, his fist slamming in the base of it's skull, and the force burst out of him, causing shockwaves in every direction, and the ground beneath them began to crack and crumble. 

 

Isamu leapt off of the snake's head as it began to rear up. He landed on the ground and went off at a sprint, the snake quickly giving chase. Isamu turned and went down a narrow street, and as the snake pursued the buildings crumbled under it's might. Isamu bounded from wall to wall, dodging the flying debris, until finally the snake caught up with him, and it's gaping jaws moved around him, snapping shut. It was still for a moment, satisfied with it's kill, but then it's eyes began to dart around in a panic. Slowly it's jaws began to pry open against it's will. Isamu has holding on to it's fangs and pusihing them upwards, his body was bursting with chakra, and his eyes were wild and frenzied. "Fourth...Gate...." He snarled. "...Pain!" Then with a surge of power, Isamu completely snapped one of the snake's fangs right off, and fled from it's mouth, rebounding off of the rubble and blurring from sight, reappearing above the snake with the giant fang still in his arms. With a final battle cry he thrust the fang down in to the snake's own head, pinning it to the floor. 

 

Masa appeared beside Isamu, her feet quickly touching the floor as she stepped up to the snake. She took a moment to look around her. The entire centre of Konoha was in ruins. Half the buildings had been destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of bodies scattered the ground, like they were seeds for sowing. Masa's gaze passed over everything, as she heard the snake behind her quickly go up in flames. The body turned to ash and scattered to the winds until there was nothing left but a single body. Akira stood up from inside what had once been the snake, and looked down at the ash outline of his summon. Masa saw three dots on the horizon, and her keen eyes picked them out immediately. Hisato, Jin and Yuri. She smiled sadly and turned to face Isamu.
"Well done, my old friend." Masa clapped a hand on Isamu's shoulder, "Look after them." Suddenly she thrust her other palm forwards with enough force to send Isamu soaring backwards, in the same instant she pulled back her sleeves, revealing a complex series of seals. Isamu landed expertly, but he was already too far back, and she had already begun. She slammed her hands onto the ground, and a huge bubble of energy erupted around her and Akira, sealing them inside what looked like an enormous glass container. 
"Alone at last..." Akira mocked, grinning.
Masa stared back at Isamu and put her hand to the barrier, "I'm sorry..." Then she turned her back on him, and faced Akira.
 
The colour drained from Isamu, as his body returned to it's normal form, and he sank hopelessly to his knees. "Hokage-sama...Masa..." He said weakly. His head sank to the ground as the reality of the situation began to weigh down on him. He looked back at Masa, and the beginning of tears were forming in his eyes. "...Masa...you stubborn fool." He said quietly to himself. And then he brought his fist back and punched the dirt beneath him, angry that he could do nothing but watch. "Masaaaa!" He screamed after her, and then he sank back down, quiet at last. 

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[Clear Black Sea]

 

She could hear her friend's muffled screams behind her, but the battle still raged on. Masa could barely hear it now inside her barrier, but she could feel it. She knew that every moment that passed, more people were dying. She remained motionless, a black mass of insects pooled at her feet and made her look as though she was a shadow made real.
"Please," She pleaded to Akira, "If we're to fight like this, surely you can see there is no reason for our friends to lose their lives?"
Akira studied the Hokage carefully and then sighed and shook his head, he put two fingers to his mouth and whistled. The crimson ANBU in earshot froze and turned to face him, then like a falling house of cards, each of them in turn whistled, and disappeared, leaving the Konoha ninja confused and alone on the battlefield, surrounded by the ruins of their homes and the bodies of their friends and families. 

"Thank you..." Masa bowed her head ever so slightly, but her eyes remained locked on her enemy. 
"I no more wish death on anyone than you, Hokage-sama." Akira returned the bow as a gesture.

 

"Why?" Masa asked, frowning. "Why did you do this?"

"I've told you already. For power. Power for Konoha, so that we might repel our enemies." Akira crossed his arms and waited patiently.
"What enemies?" Masa asked accusingly, "I negotiated peace between the villages, the Kage's met and every one of them signed."

"Do you really believe a flimsy piece of paper can uphold the peace you seek?" Akira replied, "That's so naive. To have peace, you must exert force."
"Working down there in the dark has made you blind, Akira." Masa stalked back and forth, assessing him and their surroundings. Much that was trapped within the barrier was rubble, a few buildings remained standing, and a few trees, but the rest was little more than broken rock and bodies. 

"You call me blind, yet are you not the mother who took so little notice of her daughter, that I could sneak into your house at night and steal her away and return her, more or less in one piece, without so much as a murmur from you?" Akira laughed and shook his head, "You are a hypocrite."
"I know i'm a bad mother, but i'm a great Hokage. I sacrificed love so that I could raise my daughter in safety--"
Akira began clapping slowly, interrupting Masa, "And well done, on that."

 

[sarutobi]

 

Masa roared and charged Akira, raising her hands and pointing them forwards like daggers. The pool of insects at her feet exploded upwards, swirling around her arms. Akira gasped and leapt back, trying to dodge, but Masa was just as fast. She leapt up, following him into the air and sliced at him with her arms. Her insects flew around him, trying to encase him, trying to touch him. A single touch, that's all they needed. Masa wasn't trying to disable him as she would any other. She was trying to annihilate him. Akira formed seals and blew a liquid jet of fire from his mouth large enough to smother a house, and Masa countered with her own seals, and then quickly threw out her arms to either side of her, she waited until the perfect moment when she could feel the flame licking at her face and then she brought her arms back together and clapped her hands, creating an ear-splitting sonic boom. The liquid flame rippled and splashed back towards Akira. He tapped off a nearby tree trunk and soared over the top of the flames as they struck the tree and incinerated it, then he began forming more seals and Masa did the same. The two ninja matched one another for speed, their hands blurring as Masa copied Akira's movements, seal for seal.

As Akira finished, so too did Masa, and two bolts of chakra lightning burst forth from their hands and formed enormous tigers. The two electric creatures struggled around one another, crackling and exploding as their bodies destroyed anything they touched. Masa pushed forwards and her tiger roared and bit into the hide of Akira's living energy, and split it in two but as she readied to send the lightning to her intended target, a kunai suddenly appeared right in front of her eyes.

 

Biting at the air, Masa grabbed the kunai with her bare teeth, and leapt back, forcing the tiger to dissipate. She spat the blade into her hand and studied it with a confused expression for a moment, but there was no time to consider what had happened. Akira flew towards her, forming seals, and she knew she had to counter him. She threw the kunai to one side, started to raise her arms, and then Akira finished his seals and Masa panicked. Her arms were so heavy it felt like there was several tons of weight pulling them down. She could barely raise them as high as her waist, despite her strength.
"See my power!!" Akira yelled, as he landed in front of her, whipping his leg around to roundhouse kick her. Masa dodged backwards, but the extra weight made it difficult for her to dodge, but in spite of this Akira's attack fell short. She dodged twice more as Akira continued his assault and then she leapt up into the air as she realised that Akira was holding the seal in place. She had to break it. She came down on him like a ton of bricks, aided by the weight in her arms. She closed her fist and struck his shoulder with all the force she could muster. She heard a crack, and Akira grunted and his left arm went limp and he leapt away. The weight lifted from her arms and Masa took no time to question how Akira was capable of performing such jutsu, she knew only that she had to kill him before he could do it again. 

 

[Narukami]

 

"I'll show you what it means to fight a Satomi..." Masa growled, and raised her arms, holding them out at either side of her. She took a battle stance and the black mass of insects surrounding her, crawling across the ground, and hovering in the air, suddenly took to her. They covered every part of her body until there was nothing left exposed. She was just a black mass. Then, the darkness began to take shape. It tightened and locked in, rippling as it formed into plates. It was forming into armour. Within seconds, Masa emerged clad in what looked like black armour. Two pairs of glistening, gossamer wings spread out from her back, each one as long and wide as a full-grown man. Spines ridged her armour, and she reached into the air, and as she did, more insects materialised into a black katana. 
"Impressive..." Akira whispered, genuinely. "But just another insect to fall beneath my boot."

"The problem with insects, Akira." Masa replied, whipping her sword through the air, "Is there are so many of them, and no matter how many you kill, we'll always outlive you."

 

Akira turned his gaze to outside the barrier, and saw hundreds of Konoha ninja stood just outside the barrier. Waiting, patiently. Their eyes burned with a fiery anger that he could barely begin to fathom. "You will not survive me today, Hokage-sama..."
"I beg to differ..." Masa began, and with a single wing beat, burst into the air and dive-bombed Akira. But as she did so, Akira brought his hands together and mouthed a single word.

 

"Release."

 

 


 

 

[Crisis]

 

Yuri ushered one of the last children out of the main gates of Konoha - when the crimson ANBU vanished, their evacuation had become a lot easier. Hisato still watched over them while Jin and her both worked hard to make sure everyone was getting out alright. But as she reassured a panicked child, she felt a strange pain in her gut, "Ah..." Yuri scrunched her eyes up in pain, "ARGH!!" She screamed and collapsed to the ground, falling unconscious as a little wisp of smoke rose from her, and the acrid smell of burning flesh filled the air.

 

"Yuri!" Jin cried, and he moved so quickly that he was at her side only moments after she had fallen. He went to touch her, when he noticed the bandages on her stomach were smoking, and he froze.  He didn't know medical ninjutsu, he didn't know what to do at all. Hisato appeared next to him and calmly, but firmly moved him out of the way. Silently, he began to unwrap the bandages around Yuri's belly, and his eyes looked tense as he looked at the source of the smoke. On Yuri's stomach was the black marking of a snake consuming it's own tail, in the shape of a circle. There were several other symbols around the outside of it. 
"A sealing jutsu." Hisato said ominously. 
"What?" Jin said.  "Where did it come from?" 
"I don't know... "Hisato replied. "I've never seen anything like it... This big one in the middle... Im not sure. The others... Five elements, maybe. But that could be used for a lot of things... "
"Is she okay?" Jin asked
"Right now, yes." Hisato said. "But we need someone with a better grasp on sealing to take a look. Or a medical ninja, at least."
 
Hisato ran alongside the long line of people evacuating Konoha, his eyes frantically searched their bruised and beaten faces. They had experienced terrible things. Many were civilians, but many too were badly injured ninja. Those who were hurt but still standing were helping to organise those being evacuated. It was a small miracle that anyone was getting out alive. Hisato looked back at the village, he could no longer see the snake, but there was a strange bubble reflecting the sunlight in the distance. That can't be good, he thought to himself, then he focused on his task at hand. Yuri had fallen unconscious, and she looked like she was in pain. Then there was that strange seal on her abdomen.
"Please!" Hisato yelled into the crowd of people, "Someone help me! My student is sick, there's some kind of strange seal burnt into her flesh! Please! Someone has to help me, I..." He frowned as he realised, "... I don't know what to do..." He looked at their faces, but they were sullen and vacant. "Please..."
 
"Eesh, all you youngsters are the same..." A woman said as she stepped out from the crowd where she was helping a couple of people move along. "In my day all ninja cells were required to have a medical expert." The woman tipped up her grass hat and examined Hisato, and then her glance fell over Yuri and Jin. "Hey... how's it going there, punk?" She said with a soft smirk as Jin looked up to her. 
"Hey, old lady!" Jin said, surprised to see Sorano again. 
"In my day people respected their elders, too." Sorano said, rolling her eyes. She turned back to Hisato. "You're taller so I'm going to assume you're the one in charge. What's this about a seal?"
Hisato frowned at the old woman, he wasn't sure she was in her right mind. Her breath stank of alcohol, but nobody else had stepped forwards. Reluctantly, he lowered Yuri so that the woman could inspect the burnt flesh that was formed in the shape of the strange seal.
 
"Hmm..." Sorano said as she examined Yuri. "...Pretty accomplished work. Time released by the looks of it. It's been on her for quite some time. It's actually a series of different seals. This snake in the middle, that's the main one. Never seen it before, probably a unique creation of the one who did it. These symbols around the outside..." Sorano moved her finger across Yuri's stomach to identify each marking. "This is actually two Four Elements Seals, which are designed to seal something within the vessel. Something big by the looks of it."
"How do you know that, old lady?" Jin asked. 
"The Four Elements Seal is an old sealing jutsu used by a Clan that's been extinct for more than four decades. There aren't many left that know how to do it, and even fewer who have the talent to do so. I'm one of the only people I know that can, truth be told."

"If you know how to do it, can you undo it?" Hisato asked. 

"Absolutely." Sorano said. "But I'm not going to."
"What!?" Jin gasped. "But you have to help her, Sorano!"

"Wait, Jin..." Hisato looked the old woman up and down, "You can't be... you're Sorano?!" Hisato face screwed up, "W-wh-I don't... you're Sorano?! You can't be!" He shook his head in disbelief, "Are you really the God Step...?"

 

"Focus, hot stuff." Sorano said, shaking her head. "You've got a little girl in trouble. I can't undo this seal, because as I told you, it's containing something inside her, something big. I'm not letting that thing out to play, and besides which it would probably tear her apart in the process. What I can do is disrupt it. You have to understand though, it's a temporary measure. This seal is designed to maintain the vessel by fusing the chakra of whatever is inside of her. By disrupting it, in the long term it would do a lot more harm than good. Do you understand?"

"We'll deal with that when we come to it, it's tearing her apart right now!" Hisato snapped, looking down at the young girl in his arms. Yuri's face was scrunched up in terrible pain, like she was being tortured in a dream. He couldn't bear seeing her like that. "Help her."

"Fine." Sorano said. She lifted her hand, and each of her fingers ignited in a cool, blue flame. She placed her fingers down on Yuri's seal, and black ink spread around the outside of it, taking the form of a five-pointed seal around the original. Sorano suddenly jerked away, as for a brief moment, she felt a horrible presence penetrate her mind. She took a moment to gather her thoughts, and then resumed her usual demeanour. "She'll be fine in a moment. She might struggle with ninjutsu until that new seal is removed. I suggest you get her somewhere safe." 
"You should come with us." Jin said. 
"Mmm... I changed my mind." Sorano said, turning back towards the village. "I thought this was about petty inner circle politics... but it's worse than that. Get somewhere safe." And with that she was gone.
 
 

 
 
[Moonset]
 
"What have you done..." Masa whispered, and watched on in disbelief. Akira stepped towards her, his body wreathed in dark blue chakra. He looked as though he was burning alive, yet he was unhindered. A terrible, evil presence stretched out before him. It's will sought her out and paralysed her. She couldn't believe what was happening, she had never experienced fear like this before. "A-Akira... s-stop..." She grit her teeth, and tried to raise her sword arm, but Akira clenched his fist and suddenly her sword became so heavy it tore from her hand and sank halfway into a block of stone jutting up from the ground. Masa started towards Akira, but he tightened his fist, and her legs became so heavy she thought her bones were going to snap. "I won't... let you..."
"It's out of your control..." Akira replied calmly. "Stop, Hokage-sama... please...." 
"No..." Masa growled, "Nnnnoooo!!" She took another step, laboured by an insurmountable weight. "Get out... of my... home!!"

Masa took another step, and suddenly her leg gave way. She fell to one knee and then collapsed onto her front. She felt like she was being crushed into dust. She stretched out and planted her palm down on the ground, and pushed up, screaming as she did so. She started to raise up off the ground and Akira closed the gap between them, "It's over, Hokage-sama. I've won." He leant over her as she fell back to the ground and lay there, pinned. "You can't so much as raise a finger, nevermind--"
"E... E..."
"What?" Akira frowned, he couldn't hear her. The Hokage's face was pressed so hard into the ground he could see blood pooling below her. He knelt down and listened, her voice was faint and pained, but he could make out just a couple of words. He realised too late what they were.
 
[Orochimaru ~Fight~]
 
"Eighth gate... Death!!" Masa yelled. Chakra exploded out from her, smothering Akira who screamed as he was burnt inside a Kage's hundredfold concentrated chakra. He tried to back away, but as he did so, Masa grabbed him by the jacket and held him on the spot. "NO!!" Masa screamed, "I'm taking you with me! You won't hurt anyone, any more!!" Then from her hand, the black armour morphed and expanded, travelling up onto Akira's jacket, he frantically tried to brush it off in a panic, but the insects spread onto his hands and started to cover him. In seconds, there was nothing left but a wriggling black mass, like an insect caught in a spider's cocoon, desperate to escape before the final bite. Masa grit her teeth, closed her eyes, and let out a sigh.
 
First, a tiny spark. The spark bounced across her body, and multiplied exponentially until the sparks ignited into an inferno. Akira screamed at the top of his lungs as the fire spread over his body, and then expanded. The fire flashed over everything inside the barrier, smoke filled it until nothing could be seen inside and then there was an earth-shattering explosion. The ground shook, nearby buildings toppled and everyone watching remained frozen in fearful silence. Slowly, cracks appeared in the barrier, and dark smoke gushed out. Then the cracks spread, and the barrier collapsed in on itself, vanishing. The smoke rose up into the air, and the onlookers watched in hope. Konoha held it's breath. The smoke cleared, and a single body lay in the middle of a smouldering crater. Satomi Masa - the seventh Hokage - lay still. Akira's body was nowhere to be found.
 
 

 
 
[Madara Vs Naruto]
 
Akira shuffled down the path, his breaths were unsteady and rasping. He held a black sword in his hand, but as he walked, it slowly crumbled into dust and lay scattered in his wake. Akira reached up and grabbed at the armoured arm that still clung to his jacket and slowly wrenched it from him, throwing it to the ground, as it's black chitinous armour also turned to dust. His whole body was covered in terrible burns, his hair was burnt away and his face was horribly disfigured. Each breath stung his lungs, and yet he was alive. He had survived the seventh. The one that the other Kage's had called the 'Black-Eyed Demon'. Now there was no-one to stand in his way. They would all fall in line, one after another, once he was through with them. Then he stopped and wavered, staring at the figure stood before him.
"Move aside..." He hissed.
 
"Has it been that long?" Sorano said, as she discarded her grass hat to reveal a head of grey hair that was tied back in a ponytail. "These old eyes don't forget a face. Not a little boy any more, are you?"
Akira stood still, trying to focus on her, when he finally did, realisation dawned on his face. He grew tense, but he knew she was no match for him. Not any more, even like this. Once, even not so long ago, she would have been able to stop him. But not with the power of a tailed beast inside him. "Step aside, old woman. I am leaving." His tone was a little more respectful, though it didn't match his words. Despite knowing he was stronger than her, he couldn't help but be threatened. He had spent his life aware of the long shadow she cast over him. She was the ninja a dozen generations of shinobi aspired to become. 
 
"Insolent, just like the rest of the youth." Sorano said, a vicious snarl spreading across her face. "You think you're hot stuff now, Jinchuriki!" Sorano practically spat the last utterance, showing her extreme dislike of even the word, let alone it's meaning. "Do you even realise what you have done?"
"I do... even if you... do not." Akira's laugh turned into a cough and he spat a glob of blood to the ground, "I am no host, old woman. I am the beast." He grinned and then resumed his stumbling walk towards her.
"Oh, a beast now are you?" Sorano replied, her look stern and disapproving. "You're just a baby beast. That damn fox had more power than you in just one of his tails, and I sent him packing, even if it did cost me."
"We're a different breed." Akira replied, his grin spreading as four more ninja appeared behind him. Each were a different height and build, but all were robed in white with veils over their faces. Together, the five ninja advanced on Sorano and she was forced to relent. "We'll see you again, one day, old woman." Akira growled, and then all five of them vanished.
 
 

 
 
[Family]
 
"Yuri...!!"

"YURI!!" 

"Wake up, Yuri!!" She blinked her eyes open and stared up at a dozen faces looking down at her. She looked at each of their faces in confusion. She saw her father Ibiki, her sister Mira, her comrades Jin, and Hisato. There was an old woman stood beside Jin, and Isamu gripped his son's shoulder.
"W-what..." Yuri tried to pull herself up, her head was spinning, and she felt nauseous. Then she saw their faces. She didn't just look at them, she really saw them. Something was terribly wrong. "Jin...?" She asked, frowning. Her friend was crying, everyone was crying. Their tears flowed freely down their cheeks accompanied by a terrible silence. The wind howled through the ruins of Konoha, as Jin pointed. Yuri turned and saw a large crater, and down in the centre of it, was a body.

"I..." Yuri looked back at them in confusion, and her sister stepped forwards and lifted her off the ground. Yuri wanted to tell Mira to let her go, but something about Mira's face stopped her. She'd never seen her sister cry before. Mira's lips trembled as she carried Yuri down into the crater. Yuri looked around, and she could see the forms of hundreds of villagers stood on the outer edge of the crater. Then Mira was lowering her, and she felt warm soil beneath her. She looked over, and choked on her breath as she saw her mother lying there.
"Noooo...." Yuri's face screwed up, "Noooo!" She scrambled over the rubble and gripped onto her mother's shirt, "Mom!!" She cried, "Mom!!" She shook her again and she felt hot tears well up in her goggles. Yuri ripped them from her face. Her eyes were as black as night, with no white or colour to them. She leant over and pulled the goggles down from her mother's eyes and Masa's eyelids flickered. "MOM?!"
Masa opened her black eyes and stared up at the sky, she opened her mouth but coughed up a mouthful of blood which ran down the side of her mouth, and Mira knelt down on the other side of her. Yuri felt her father's hand on her shoulder as she gripped her mother's other still remaining arm.
 
"M-Mira..." Masa choked. Yuri watched her sister lean in and her mother whispered something into Mira's ear. Mira's face went pale and Yuri watched them in confusion until Mira nodded, then Yuri felt something on her cheek and she turned back to look at her mother. Masa's hand grazed her cheek and she smiled, "T-There you are..." Her arm dropped, and she closed her eyes, a smile frozen upon her face.
"No... mom... MOM!!" Yuri started shaking her again, "Mom you can't!!" Mira placed her hand on her mother's chest. "NO!!" Yuri screamed, pulling Mira's hand away, "Don't touch her!!" Yuri pressed her forehead to her mother's and her shoulders shook as she sobbed uncontrollably. Eventually, she pulled away and saw Mira placing her hand back by her side, she looked down at her mother, and her skin had turned grey, and lifeless. The seventh Hokage was dead. Her mother was dead. Yuri fell onto her side and curled up into a ball. Her world had come to a crashing halt, and nothing, and no-one could fix it. Her mother was dead.

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[Grief and Sorrow]

 

Jin's hands ran through the length of his hair, holding his head up over the desk in his room. He was staring at the desk, and had been for a long time. In front of him was the forehead protector he had been given when he had first became a Genin. It had been two days since the death of the Hokage, and he had not worn it since then. It was symbol of Konohagakure, of being a ninja, and he no longer felt like that applied to him. His tears had stopped a while before, and all that was left was an empty, hollow feeling. He could barely recall the last few days. Nothing seemed important any more, and anything that was important just had to wait. It was not just Jin, but the entire village. Just as the Hokage had become still, so too had Konoha, and the people within. This place had always seemed so warm, and full of life. Now it was a cold place, a dead place. The little feeling Jin had left, was focused on Yuri. Her grief seemed far more important than his own, and yet he had not seen her since. She had to be with her family, now more than ever. They would see each other again. Soon, in fact. 

 

Jin stood up from his desk, finally. He was dressed in simple, black attire, with no accessories, or flair. Today was the day that the Hokage would be buried. The entire village was turning out for her funeral. In just a few short hours they would be allowed to say goodbye to her, and together they could grieve. Jin hadn't even known the woman named Masa, but he had known the legend that was the Seventh Hokage. Jin found a kind of sadness to that. Konoha was grieving the death of a symbol, and far fewer grieved for the woman. The emptiness he felt was the grief that one would have at such a loss. And yet the grief of losing the woman, a mother, wife, friend. That kind of grief was entirely different. 

 

"GET OUT!" A voice roared from the bottom floor of Jin's home. He left his room and ran to the top of the stairs, leaning over the railing to see what was happening. A man in official robes was stood by the door, apparently quite shocked by the sudden display of anger. He was an older man who wore glasses, and looked very presentable and proper. 

"Now Isamu...this is something that must be decided..." The man said in an attempt at a soothing voice. "...we must decide among the candidates..."

"We haven't even put her in the ground yet!" Isamu barked. Jin had never seen his father in such a rage. "How dare you! How dare you come in here and..."

"Isamu, I am also saddened by the loss of the Hokage but-"

"MASA!" Isamu roared. "...Her name was Satomi Masa! She was my friend! She sacrificed herself to save this village, and you will allow her this moment!"

"I...I see that I have come at a bad time..." The official said. "I'll come back tomorrow." The man made a quick exit, and as he closed the door behind him, Isamu fell to his knees. 

 

Photographs crashed to the floor as he let his grip fall from them. In the photos Jin could see a young boy no older than he was now. He looked strikingly like his father. Stood next to him was a young girl, and for a moment Jin thought that it was Yuri. Then he realised that it was her, the Seventh Hokage, Satomi Masa. She was just a Genin in the photo, and judging by the other figures around them, it looked like a team photo. Another photo showed Masa, now a few years older, proudly wearing a green flak jacket, the symbol of a Chuunin. She looked so happy. And behind her was Isamu, who was smiling despite looking otherwise dejected. Jin noted that he wasn't wearing a flak jacket. The next photo he saw showed a Masa that looked much more like how Jin knew her. She was still younger, but she was wearing the traditional red and white hat of a Hokage. The photo looked like it was supposed to be an official portrait, however, Isamu had leaned in to the shot making a peace symbol with his fingers, and pulling a funny face. Masa looked like she was holding back the urge to laugh. 

 

Jin had never known that Masa had been with Isamu since they were both children. They had been in the same team, much like he was with Yuri. And that thought hit him like a ton of bricks. He had been in a team with Yuri. He had left that life behind. He wondered if he had lost an opportunity to have a friend that was as seemingly close as Isamu and Masa were. He walked down the stairs to meet his father, and as he reached the bottom, his mother appeared from the living room, dressed in the same black outfit they were all wearing, and her red hair was loose and flowed right down her back. She knelt down and put her arms around Isamu, who was shaking. Jin could see the small puddle on the floor where his father was crying. Saya, however, was gently stroking his hair, and smiling softly as she comforted him. She slowly helped him to his feet, and walked him towards the stairs, where he locked eyes with Jin. 

 

Isamu froze, like a child who had been caught doing something he shouldn't. Jin just stared at him. He wasn't sure what to say, or what to do. It was Saya who managed to break the silence in the room. "Sweetheart, we need to finish getting ready." She said to Isamu. "You'll want to look your best today."

"She always said I looked scruffy..." Isamu said, sniffing as he spoke. "...even when I did dress up."

"That's because you are scruffy, sweetheart." Saya said sweetly. "But you should make the effort. Masa deserves that much from you."

"Yeah..." was all Isamu could manage to say. Then Saya walked him to the stairs and Jin stepped out of the way. As she walked past him, Saya gave him a warm smile, and for a moment it made him feel like things might be okay. His mother was very good at doing that. As she walked up the stairs, there was a knock at the door. 

"Jin, could you please get that." Saya said. "We'll be down shortly." Jin didn't reply, but he made his way to the door and opened it. 

 

[Rakujitsu]

 

Sorano stood at the door, dressed in her usual grey kimono, and wearing her grass hat. As Jin looked up at her, she gave him a soft smirk and nodded once. "Can I come in?" She asked. 

"Uh...sure." Jin said, and he stepped back so she could come inside. Before she did, she slipped out of a pair of wooden geta, and left them at the door. Sorano entered the home and gave the place a cursory once over, before walking in to the living room and sitting herself down on a cushion by a low table. "Don't suppose you have any sake?" She asked. 

"No, just tea." Jin said. "I could have my mom make you some."

"No, that's all right." Sorano said. "Come, sit with me." Jin did as asked, and waited silently for Sorano to speak, but she did not. They sat in silence for a few moments, until Jin couldn't wait any longer. 

"Why are you here, old lady?" He asked. 

"To check up on a hunch." Sorano said. "How are you, boy? Not so good I imagine."

"I'm...not sure how I am." Jin admitted. "I feel...empty."

 

"Ah, so the fire has went out." Sorano said with a sagely nod. "But it's not always easy to light it again. Your tears have made the kindling damp, and no matter how hard you try, it just won't burn."

"Uh...I don't..." Jin said. "What do you mean?"

"The Will of Fire, boy. Don't they teach you anything?" Sorano said, and she gave a disapproving tut. "It is the very ideal on which Shinobi of Konoha stand. The Will of Fire states that the entire village is like a family. We all love, and cherish, and we fight to protect one another. It is this Will of Fire that allows us to go on, and we pass it to the next generation when we die."

"So...you're saying that fire is out?" Jin asked. "So the village has lost it's fire, is that what you're saying?"

"Precisely." Sorano said with a nod. "And while that is the case, the fire will begin to burn again with time."

"I see." Jin said with a nod. "So what if we want it to burn quicker? Is there something we can do."

 

"Well, time really is the biggest factor." Sorano said. "But for an individual, that time can be longer or shorter. And this can often depend on their Gyoku."

"You've...lost me again." Jin said, shaking his head. 

"Gyoku is the most important piece in Shogi, boy." Sorano explained. 

"Ive never played, it looks boring." Jin said. 

"Jin, Shogi is a game of war. This world is a board, and we are the pieces." Sorano said. "And the Gyoku is the most important piece. It is the piece that, when lost, means the end of the game."

"So...how does that have anything to do with the Will of Fire?" Jin asked. 

 

"All Shinobi play their life like Shogi. Their Gyoku is the thing that they hold most important in life. The thing they cherish most in the whole world. It is the greatest source of their strength, and the thing that makes them most weakest. For some people it is just one person, one thing. For others it might be an ideal, such as to protect the future generations, or to protect your family. Do you understand?"

"I think so." Jin said with a nod. "So the Hokage, her Gyoku...was us, right?"

"Exactly." Sorano said, and she leaned in closer, resting her arm on the table. "The Hokage's Gyoku was this village. In it's entirety. Past, present, and future, all of it was the single most important thing to her. When she saw it being threatened, she did what any of us would for our special thing, she fought to protect it with her life. This village was her Will of Fire, it was what made her so powerful, and also so vulnerable. That is what it means to be a ninja, Jin. That's what it should mean."

 

"Wow...I never thought about it like that." Jin said. "So...if I want to have my Will of Fire burn again, I need to find my Gyoku?"

"I think you already have. You just don't realise it." Sorano said. Then she looked Jin dead in the eye. "What is your Gyoku, Jin?"

 

[sasuke ~Destiny~]

 

"Jin!" Saya snapped. Jin turned to see his mother standing at the entrance to the room, and she was almost unrecognisable to him. Her eyes were cold and dark, and she was stood poised, ready to strike. Her glare was fixed on Sorano. "What is going on?" She asked. "Why are you in my home, God Step?"

"Mom, calm down." Jin said. "She's my friend."

"She is a traitor!" Saya snapped. Jin turned back to Sorano, and he looked confused and upset. 

"Is...that true?" Jin asked. 

"Mm...more or less." Sorano replied, her gaze on Saya. "I wouldn't say I betrayed anybody but I was branded that way anyway."

 

"You turned your back on Konoha." Saya said. "You had a responsibility and you walked away from it."

"Heh, well aren't you the loyal dog." Sorano said with a smirk. 

"Hey!" Jin snapped. 

"I don't sugarcoat anything, boy." Sorano replied, shaking her head. "I'm too long in the teeth to have it any other way. I don't make excuses for who I am. You're mother is absolutely correct, I abandoned Konoha, at least as a ninja. You think I'm just some old lady, but if you ask most people, they'll tell you that I'm a legend. Not that I care much about gossip."

"So...what you said about the village being a family..." Jin said. 

 

"I never said it was my Gyoku." Sorano said. "Listen, boy. Konoha isn't all sunshine and daises. Sometimes in a garden you get weeds. Big, nasty weeds. I didn't like how this garden was looking any more, so I got out. It's that simple."

"And now you come waltzing back in?" Saya said. "After what has happened here?"

"What happened here just proves I was right." Sorano replied. "Konoha has some weeds that need uprooted and disposed of. There's a lot of things I love about my home, but when it begins to change I don't have to stick with it. It was a different time back then, I thought this place was lost forever."

"And what about now?" Jin asked. 

"Now...I realise I was wrong." Sorano said. "Masa showed us all that. The Will of Fire is still strong, but it needs to burn brighter. That's why I'm back. Because of you, Jin. I want you to come with me, tonight. We'll leave this place, and I'll train you as my student."

 

"Absolutely not!" Saya snapped. "How dare you!"

"No, how dare you!" Sorano barked back. "This boy is a Genin. That means you saw fit to allow him to travel this world, to fight, to lie, to deceive, and to kill. How dare you presume to have any say in what he does. You already decided that he was a man, and you can't take that back." Saya looked wounded by the remark, but she said nothing. 

"Stop fighting!" Jin yelled. "Not...not today."

 

"What's going on?" Isamu's father said as he entered the room, and then he noticed Sorano. "You...you're Sorano."

"Yeah, yeah, we've done that already." Sorano said and gave a tired sigh. She stood up from the table, adjusting her kimono. "Hideo Isamu, you're quite the ninja. I think your son is an even better one, or at least he will be."

"Um...thank you." Isamu said, looking a little confused. "But Jin doesn't want to be a ninja..."

"Yeah, right." Sorano said. "He doesn't want to be a ninja like the rest. Nobody seems to have told him that he can be whatever ninja he wants."

 

"Isamu!" Saya said. "She wants to take Jin away."

"What?" Isamu said. "You're kidding."

"She's not." Sorano said. "You saw it with your own eyes. Jinchuuriki. You know what that means."

"What does that have to do with Jin?" Isamu asked. 

 

"Jin." Sorano said, and she looked at him. "Tell me. Who is your Gyoku? Who is the most important piece on your board?"

"..." Jin lowered his head for a moment, thinking. Then he looked up and said. "My friend. Satomi Sayuri."

"That's why." Sorano said. "He's got the potential, I can feel it. And he has a bond with that little girl. He'll protect her, from anything, whether you like it or not. I want to make sure he's tough enough to face what will come."

"I..." Isamu looked shaken. "I...understand."

"Isamu!" Saya protested. 

"It's Jin's choice, Saya." Isamu replied. 

 

"There you have it, boy." Sorano said with a smirk. "It's your choice."

"...Why should I go with you?" Jin said. "My dad is right. I don't want to be a ninja."

"The people that killed Masa. They'll be back." Sorano said. "And they'll be coming for your friend Yuri."

"What!? Why!?" Jin gasped, and he got up from where he was sitting. "Yuri's just a kid...why?"

"You know why." Sorano said. "That seal that appeared on her. It's going to cause her all sorts of trouble down the road." Jin was silent. He remembered the coiled snake-like mark on her stomach. Sorano had said it was designed to keep something inside her, something big. 

 

"I'll train you." Sorano said. "I'll show you things no other can. I'll show you how to protect her." Jin stared at Sorano. Then he turned back to his parents. His father looked worried, but he nodded at his son. Saya looked dark, and angry. She barely looked like his mother at all. It was as if she was a complete stranger to him. Was this the part of her she tried so hard to keep hidden from her family? Was this the Saya the ANBU? Jin looked away from her, and then back to Saya. 

"When do we leave?" He asked. 

"Tonight." Sorano said. "After the funeral. You need to say goodbye to her. And you can promise her, you will come back."

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[Remember You]

 

"--really unique--"
"--your loss--"
"--an inspiration like--"
"--never fill her shoes--"

She found no comfort in their words. Yuri barely heard them. Over the past two days, a stream of people had visited their home. People she'd never seen before, never known about. People who had never cared to say a word to her, were now embracing her as though she were their sister. She wanted this to be over, but at the same time she was terrified what that meant. It was very... final. Yuri sat at the end of her bed, staring at the table on the far side of her room. A chess set stationed atop it, mid-game. Yuri stared at the chess pieces, waiting patiently for their players to move them. The game that would now remain unfinished. She never got much time with her mother, but one day she'd come in with a chess set and set it down in her room and told her that they were going to play. Her words were still as clear as the day she'd said them.

 

"But I don't want to play chess, it's boring!" Yuri huffed. She was nine-years-old, staring at the chess pieces as her mother set them down on the board, one by one, explaining what each of the pieces meant in the game, and how they would interact. "This is stupid, how's a game going to teach me to win in a fight..."

"It won't." Masa replied, taking off her Hokage hat and placing it to one side, brushing her long dark hair out of the way. "It will teach you to think like your opponent." She added, "And that, will teach you how to win in a fight." Masa smiled to herself, as she placed the last piece on the board. The King.
"I'll just use the King, he's the best!" Yuri leant over and picked up the King piece and held it up with a smile.
"You think so?" Masa replied, raising an eyebrow. 
"I know so, look... you take the King, you win. Game over. He's the important piece, you have to protect him or you lose."

"In a game, maybe." Her mother noted, "Just remember this is to teach you how your opponent thinks, not to play a game. Winning isn't everything, if you've lost all your pieces."
"What's it matter, if I win..." Yuri muttered, sulking, then she reached forwards and knocked one of the pawns over.

"Careful." Masa chided her, picking the pawn back up, she placed it gingerly back on it's rightful spot, "Every pawn is important, without them, you cannot hope to win. The King is who he is, because the pawns put him there. It's his responsibility to protect them, and win at the same time." Masa let out a deep sigh and looked over the readied board. "Okay." She nodded, and moved her first pawn. "Your move."

 

Yuri looked down at the game she'd had in play with her mother. She had finally taken her move. It had taken her over a week, but she'd finally moved her piece. Yuri sat down and stared at the board. What had she done? Then she saw it. Yuri could see her mother was about to lose to her. Yuri had far less pieces on the board, but she'd trapped her mother's King and in a couple of moves, he'd be hers. But most of her mother's pawns remained untouched. Yuri stared at the board for a long while.

"Stupid game..." She muttered, gnawing on her bottom lip. Then suddenly, something about the game made her very angry. Before she knew it she had leapt out of her chair and brought her hand down on the table. Chess pieces flew everywhere, her wooden table shattered and split in two, and then she found herself crying. "IT'S A STUPID GAME!!" She screamed, kicking the pieces across the floor in a frenzy. "I HATE IT!!" Yuri screamed at the top of her lungs, stamping on the board.

 

She felt a presence behind her, and then a large set of arms wrapped themselves around her in comforting embrace. Her father pressed his cheek against her head and Yuri's shoulders slumped and she whirled around, crying into her father's chest. "It's not fair..." She cried, "Anyone could have been the Hokage, anyone but her..."
Ibiki pulled his daughter into a tight hug, looking down at her. Both Yuri and Mira reminded him of his wife. While Mira looked more like her, he saw a lot more of Masa in his younger daughter. He felt tears in his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. He had to be the rock that held their family together, even though it was killing him inside. He kissed Yuri on the forehead and took a step back to look her over. 
"Are you ready?" He asked.
Yuri wiped her nose with the back of her hand and shook her head. He smiled at her, and adjusted her jacket, which was the same as before, but was black instead of a dark green. She was as ready as she was ever going to be. She looked out her window and saw it was raining, and in the distance, she could see torches smoking as rain droplets pelted them. An enormous crowd of people waited for them.

 

[Good-bye Forever]

 

Yuri stepped out her front door, she could feel her father just behind her. He handed her an umbrella, but she ignored it and stepped out into the rain. Throngs of Konoha villagers stretched on before her, and as she walked, she felt their hands stretch out and graze her shoulders, or give them a firm squeeze. Her eyes fell on each of them, their fire was all but gone. They were clad in black, just as she was. She heard their voices as she passed, their kind words. They parted before her, and eventually she came out the other side, and there she was. Her mother's body was wrapped in bandages from head to toe, wreathed by flowers which danced as the rain bounced off their delicate petals. Yuri quickly became drenched as she stepped up alongside her mother and lifted her by the stretcher along with her father, Isamu, and Mira. The four of them carried her through the village, and the crowd grew larger and larger as more of the village joined the procession until they reached the gates and walked out and up a small incline to where a pyre rested. 

They placed her down and her father nodded to her sister, Mira, who led her back to the front of the crowd alongside Isamu, and Jin. They turned and watched as Ibiki stood beside his wife, staring at the bandaged body for a long while. "I..." Ibiki began and stopped himself for a moment, "I'm not a ninja, I was never cut out for that life, but I always knew Masa was. I met her when I was just five-years-old..." He paused, looking up at the rain through his clear umbrella, "I'd fallen and scraped my knee, I was bleeding and crying and I was just sat there, helpless." Ibiki laughed bitterly and then sniffed and continued, "Then this girl came over and kicked me, she said 'Stop feeling sorry for yourself!'" He smiled and then started to laugh, "'So what you got hurt? Pain lets you know you're okay!'" He shook his head as tears started falling, "I know it hurts right now..." He looked out across the gathered crowd, "... but we're gonna be okay, because Masa..." Yuri quickly walked up to her father and took his hand, he smiled down at her and nodded his appreciation. He'd said enough. 

Isamu came forwards with a torch and knelt down to hand it to Yuri who took it, the fire hissed as the rain pelted it and she could feel the heat on her cheek. She stepped up beside the pyre, and held the torch in front of it. But she struggled to bring it down upon the base. Her hands trembled and she started to cry again. Mira walked around the pyre and took the torch in hand with Yuri, and helped her guide it down to the base and place it there. After a few seconds, the pyre went up in flames and soon the bandaged form of Satomi Masa vanished into the flames that grew higher and higher, fighting back against the rain. Yuri sniffed, brushing her long, wet hair out of her face. She was so fed up with hiding who she was for the sake of others. She was tired of being afraid, and seeing the world through a lens. 

Reaching up, Yuri ripped her goggles from her face, snapping the strap as she did so. Then after turning them around and looking at them for a long while, thinking about how others would see them, she threw them into the flames of the pyre and smiled. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks, but she knew she was going to be okay. She looked down at the bandages covering her abdomen, and thought about the strange markings that had been burnt into her skin. Where had they come from? Why were they there? Nobody would speak to her about it, and she felt like the people who knew, wouldn't so much as look her in the eye. She needed answers, but she wasn't going to find them here.
"Yuri..." Mira whispered.
She turned to look up at her sister, "N-Now...?" 

"Mm." Mira nodded, then picked up a bag and started down the path and stood there waiting for her.

Yuri gave her a quick 'wait' sign and ran over to Jin. She smiled at him awkwardly and pointed at her eyes. "What do you think?" She asked.

 

Jin looked at Yuri and saw her eyes for what was the first time. He stood there in silence for a moment, stunned. "... they're..." He said and a hint of a smile appeared on his face. "They're beautiful."

Yuri smiled back at Jin and let out a long sigh, "So, we're supposed to go now..." Yuri nodded in the direction of her sister, "We might not see each other for a long time."

"Yeah..." Jin said sadly. "I...decided to go on a trip too. I don't know when I'll be back."

"Oh..." Yuri pushed a pebble about with her foot, "But you're not a ninja any more?"

"True." Jin said with a nod. "But that's why I'm going on this journey. I'll get to see the world, and make my own mind up about things. I still want to help Konoha, I just need to find my own way. You know?"

 

[Those Who Inherit the Will of Fire]

 

"Yeah." Yuri nodded, smiling. She was glad that Jin had found a path to walk, even if it wasn't as a ninja. "I like the rain..." Yuri sniffed, feeling a little better. She wiped her eyes and looking up, she cupped her hands and watched as they slowly filled. "It's like cleaning a wound..."

"Hopefully it will wash away the weeds." Jin said, remembering his conversation with Sorano. "When we see each other again, a lot of things might be different. Konoha might be different."

A fire lit in Yuri's eyes, "Konoha will be stronger." She let out a breath and smiled, "And so will we." She added, grinning to Jin. Just then, she felt warmth on her face, and she let the water in her hands fall to the ground. The clouds slowly began to part, and a few rays of sunlight trickled down. "I'm gonna be a lot stronger when I see you again..." Yuri's grin widened and she held out her fist, "So don't fall behind, okay?!"

 

"Yuri..." Jin whispered, and he just stared at her hand for a moment. He couldn't tell her everything, he couldn't tell her that he was doing this for her. He looked at her, and gave her a warm smile, then bumped her fist with his own. "I'll keep training. So that I'm ready, when you need a partner again."

"Mm!" Yuri nodded.

"Come on, Yuri!" Mira called.

"O-Okay!" Yuri called back, "Goodbye Jin, good luck!" She ran up to Mira and they started their way down the path. Yuri looked back as they walked, and she could see Jin stood there, watching her leave. She waved to him and smiled, then sighed as she realised her time with Konoha was over, for now. She told herself it wouldn't be long, because it was still her home, and she would soon be back. She looked up at Mira, her sister's expression was calm and even. Difficult to read. Yuri didn't care. She reached out and took her sister's hand and to her surprise, Mira smiled.

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[Homecoming]

 

The sun was shining, and Konoha was busier than usual. The streets were full of people, with lot's of new faces seeing the sites, browsing the market district, and finding room at the inns. A crowd of people were walking through the gates at the entrance of Konoha, the proceedings being held up by sweeps being performed by the ninja at the gates, who were checking people's bags. Sorano had dutifully allowed for her small bag to be checked, after all she didn't carry much other than her grey kimono and grass hat. She stepped over the threshold and made her way in to the village itself, surveying the rows of buildings, and the streets in between. Her gaze followed all the way up to the mountain at the farthest reach, where there were once 7 stone carvings when last she saw, but now there were 8. Sorano smirked at the new face on the mountain, one which she recognised. She turned her head back towards the gate with a sigh. 

 

"Are you coming or what? All you've talked about for the last 5 days is Konoha, and now you're lolly-gagging?" She called back to the crowd. A brief moment passed where nothing happened. Then, from the crowd, a young man emerged. He was tall and lean, with the beginnings of well-defined muscle definition showing in his arms and legs. He was dressed in a pair of white shorts with an orange stripe down either side, and a matching shirt, sleeveless, and wrapped loosely around his front exposing his chest, and a fish net garment underneath. He also had orange finger-less gloves on, and his wrists were wrapped in white bandages. He was carrying a large hiking backpack, with pots and pans strapped to it clearly the bulk of the travelling gear. 

 

Hideo Jin had become a young man in just a short year. His distinctive spikey, red hair had been cut short at the sides, with the length left at the top. His dark blue eyes were full of energy as he made his way towards Sorano, but he wasn't looking at her, he was looking over his home. "Wow..." He said with a grin. "Looks like they've rebuilt everything already."

"Stuff like that gets done fast when everyone pitches in." Sorano said. 

"I can't believe it's been a whole year." Jin said. "It feels really good to be home. She'll be here, right?"

"Hell if I know. It was you that wanted to come back here as soon as you heard about the Chuunin exams." Sorano said. 

 

"Yuri said Mira wanted to train her for the Chuunin Exams. So Yuri will be here...I know it." Jin said with a nod. "I wonder if my parents are home."

"Well I'm pretty sure your father is in the village." Sorano said. 

"What makes you say that?" Jin asked. 

"Oh...I just have a feeling." Sorano said with a smirk. Jin furrowed his brow, perplexed. Then he saw it. The eighth stone head that was carved in to Konoha's Hokage monument. "Is that...my dad!?"

"I think so." Sorano said. "Looks like he's been busy this year."

"My dad...is the Hokage!?" Jin just stared on at the monument. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. "This seems...so surreal."

 

[i'm Home]

 

"I told you things would change." Sorano said

"I need to see them." Jin said. "My Dad, my mom, Hisato...and...Yuri! Let's go right now!"

"Nobody is stopping you, boy." Sorano said. "I've got my own things to do. Quite frankly I'm sick of the sight of you anyway."

"Old lady..." Jin said with a smirk. Then he looked at her and she smiled and nodded back. 

"Go." She said. "And leave the backpack."

"Thanks, I'll see you soon, old lady!" Jin said, and he let the backpack drop from his shoulders. It hit the dirt like a ton of bricks, causing splits in the dirt underneath. Then Jin took off like a shot, scrambling up to the rooftops and leaping across the buildings, faster and faster as he made his way across the village at rapid speed. He didn't know where he would find everybody, but he knew the first place he was going to look. 

 

As he reached the other side of the village he finally found the building he was looking for. The Hokage's office. With a final leap he landed with a tap on the roof of the building, and no sooner had his feet touched the ground, has several Shinobi dressed in black emerged in front of him, each wearing the mask of the ANBU. 

"The Hokage's Office is off limits to visitors!" One of them said sternly. 

"Huh?" Jin said. "But-"

"Jin!" One of the ANBU said in shock. Jin frowned, the voice sounded familiar. 

"Yeah, that's me." Jin said. 

"Oh...Jin!" The ANBU stepped forward, and she removed her mask and hood to reveal a head of long red hair, and dark blue eyes, just like his own. 

 

"Mom!" Jin cried, and he ran forwards to meet her, and the pair embraced. Saya rested her chin on her son's shoulder, breathing a sigh of relief. She lifted it again, however, as she realised how tightly Jin was hugging her. His arms were shaking. 

"Jin?" She said in a worried tone. 

"I...I missed you, mom." Jin said, his eyes shut tight, and tears dripping down his cheeks. Saya smiled, and rubbed Jin's back. Her son was finally home. 

 

---

 

[Kakashi's Theme]

 

"So let's see now..." Isamu said, as he looked over the pile of scrolls on his desk. "So I think we should be fine if we just do these two missions. They carry much less risk, and that should allow us to meet our budget."

"Uh, Hokage-sama...." A woman in spectacles was sitting across the desk from him, her blonde hair tied back in a bun. "What with the extra security precautions during the Chuunin Exams, our budget has almost doubled this month."

"Oh...right." Isamu said, scratching his head. "Well then we can take the S-rank as well, that should do it."

"I'm afraid we are a little stretched thin, what with most of the Jounin stationed here for the exams." The woman said, and she adjusted her glasses. 

 

Isamu's head fell in to his hands and he let out an exasperated sigh. "Masa...you made this look a lot easier." He grumbled to himself. 

"Hokage-sama, if you will allow a suggestion." The young woman said. 

"Yes!" Isamu replied. "Anything, please, if you don't mind, Sarada."

"Well..." Sarada began, and she pushed her glasses up again, and the glare from the light made her look like a mad scientist. "You see these numbers are based on our current outgoing expenditure. If we implement a series of cost saving initiatives, and do a little creative reassignment of our Jounin for the exam, we can reduce our outgoings by at least 30% This would additionally free up Jounin to take on the S-rank mission which would inrease our incoming revenue for the quarter."

"Uh...right." Isamu said. "Let's do that then." 

 

"Very well." Sarada said. "That just leaves the these release forms, and a few risk assessments that need signed off, also the Kazekage has made a few special requests for his living quarters during his stay. Then you have a meeting with the Elders in an hour and-"

"I hate this job sometimes..." Isamu grumbled. "Why did I even agree to it?"

"The other two candidates said no." Sarada replied. 

"Ah, right...that." Isamu said with a heavy sigh. 

 

Just then the door opened and Saya stepped through it, with Jin following closely behind her. "Sweetheart...someone is here to see you."

"Please tell them I'm busy, dear." Isamu said, not looking up from his desk. "I'm neck deep in-"

"Dad..." Jin said, and Isamu's head shot up at the sound. 

"...Jin!?" Isamu gasped. "You're home!" He got up from his desk, abandoning the giant stack of paperwork, and went over to Jin, hugging him closely. Then he let go and started squeezing Jin's arms. "Have you been working out?" He asked. 

"Not really." Jin replied casually. "The old lady always makes me carry the gear though..."

"I have to say...I'm quite surprised." Isamu said. "I didn't think you'd be keeping up with your training."

 

"Oh, I'm doing a different programe now." Jin said. "Well a few, actually. I haven't really had time to practice our old forms."

"Are you kidding!?" Isamu gasped. "My Taijutsu training was supposed to be my legacy to you!"

"Well Sorano said it didn't fit with my training." Jin said. "She taught me her Taijutsu instead."

"Is that so?" Isamu said with a smirk. "And what use have you for Taijutsu."

"Oh, right." Jin said. "I decided. I want to be a ninja."

 

[sasuke's Theme]

 

"You're...serious?" Isamu said. "What changed your mind?"

"I haven#t changed my mind." Jin said. "I don't like how ninjas act now. So...I'm going to be a different kind of ninja. I'm going to set and example for everyone else." Isamu looked at his son, but struggled to find words. The last time he had saw Jin, he seemed so lost, so unsure of himself. The Jin who stood before him now was a calm and confident young man. He answered quickly, but without hesitation, like someone who was sure of himself. What's more was the kind of calm aura he was displaying was almost zen. 

"Well that's great news son." Isamu said finally. "I'm sure I can set you up with a new Genin team soon."

 

"I already have a team." Jin said. "I want to be paired with Yuri...to compete in the Chuunin exams."

"Uh...but Jin...you've only ever done one mission." Isamu said. "And Yuri is still off training I think."

"She'll be here." Jin said confidently. "I'm heading off soon to find Hisato. I want to train a little before the exams."

"I...see." Isamu said. "Well if Yuri does show up, and Hisato agrees, then I don't see any reason why you can't."

"Thanks, dad." Jin said. "Oh and congratulations on becoming Hokage."

"Well, thanks." Isamu said. "It's a tough job."

"Then you're the right man for it." Jin said, and he smiled at his dad. "Oh...I decided one more thing while I was travelling."

 

"And what's that?" Isamu asked, folding his arms across his chest. 

"I'm going to become Hokage." Jin said confidently. 

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[and Dark]

 

Something had woken her. Something stirring in the darkness. Yuri rubbed her eyes and yawned, staring over the fire through to the darkness on the outer edge of the camp. She felt a strange presence. As she stared into the darkness, it stared back. A heavy wind howled and rushed through her camp, almost knocking her over. The fire spluttered and died. "W-who's out there?!" She yelled, reaching for her kunai, but there was nothing at her belt. She looked around but couldn't see Hisato, or JIn, she couldn't see her sister. She was alone. She felt a chill run up her spine, and she looked down to see water spilling over her toes. Yuri looked up, and saw a pair of bright yellow eyes glaring back at her from the darkness, she felt it's hot breath on her face, and then she shivered as the water at her feet rose. Suddenly a tidal wave crashed into her back and she was sent flailing towards the glowing yellow eyes. She panicked, swimming as hard as she could against the current, but it was no use. She screamed for help, but none came, and she began to tire, moving closer and closer towards the two glowing yellow orbs. Suddenly the darkness split and revealed a gaping maw full of razor sharp teeth, she could feel the current pulling her down towards it. Yuri was going to be swallowed whole, she she felt the teeth snap shut in front of her, casting her into complete darkness and silence. 

 

[senya]

 

Yuri woke with a start, leaping to her feet and taking several quick steps as though she was about to start into a run. Then she remembered where she was and she slowed herself and looked around. She was stood next to two sleeping bags, her older sister, Mira was lying in one, still asleep. Somehow Yuri had managed to wriggle free during the night, she was chilled to the bone, and yet she had been sweating profusely while dreaming. She felt terrible. Any time she tried to sleep, she was greeted with those dreams. She had long fallen into the habit of going without sleep for days at a time, despite the detrimental effect it had on her. Exhaustion was preferable over her dreams.

"Another one?" Mira muttered.
She hadn't realised her sister was awake, she didn't seem to be, even now, "Mmm..." Yuri nodded.
"Walk it off, we're almost there." Mira replied, leaning up and stretching, "Go clean up, i'll pack up."

The fast-running water of the river was cool and refreshing on her face, Yuri splashed herself several times and looked at her reflection in the water. She was taller now, and she had lost her boyish figure, she now shared her sister's womanly charms. Her hair was also much longer now, but just as unruly as ever. She had tied much of it back into a high ponytail, leaving just her bangs to hang freely down to her shoulders. She had been forced to wear one of her sister's coats as her old one no longer fit. It was long, with a black band running down the middle of the front. It split from the waist down, fanning out and had one long sleeve that almost covered her hand, while the other sleeve was missing and her arm was covered in bandages from the shoulder down to her knuckles. The jacket had a high collar that came up nearly to her nose, but she had not chosen to replace her goggles, despite her sister still wearing hers. Yuri had put that part of her life behind her, she had come to appreciate the black voids of her eyes, and their uses during missions especially. If the discomfort of others was the price to pay for that advantage, then so be it. However, her lack of sleep had also cast dark bands around them, and she knew she looked tired. She rubbed the corners of her eyes and sighed then stood up and returned to her sister. Mira had already finished packing and threw her a bag.

 

"Come on." Mira motioned for her to follow. They walked in silence for a long while until Mira spoke up when they saw the village ahead of them. "Looking forward to being back? Apprehensive?"
"Yes, and no, i'm not. Why should I be?" Yuri replied, frowning. Mira nodded to herself, and abandoned the question. The two ninja stepped up to the front gate and had to show their passes to the guards. Yuri looked them over, and got a strange feeling off them. She wondered if they weren't ANBU, maybe Konoha had stepped up it's security since the attack last year? She took back her papers when told that everything was in order, and they stepped through into Konoha. The village had changed a great deal, and yet it had remained the same. Much of the same districts had remained in tact and yet many of the buildings had changed, there was a freshness to it. The way that grass smells after rain. 

"I'll talk to you later." Yuri said, offering Mira her bag. 
"Alright. We have to inform the Hokage of our missions. Don't forget." Mira replied.
"Right..." Yuri nodded thoughtfully, and then turned and vanished.

 

[Morning]

 

Yuri landed silently in the middle of the street and saw her father's stall at the far end. She smiled when she saw him working behind the counter, same as always. She noticed a few customers sat on the stools and grinned when her eyes fell upon one person in particular. The young man with the red hair. She recognised him at once. Though, he'd gotten much taller. She looked up to the sky, letting the sun warm her face. She felt like she was home at last. Surrounded by the village, her father cooking ramen, and Jin close at hand. She walked up behind him and looked over his shoulder, he was mid-way through his breakfast.

"Hideo Jin!" Yuri barked authoritatively, "What are you doing slacking off?!"

 

Jin looked up from his bowl of Ramen, recognising the voice in an instant, and he greeted Yuri with a warm smile. "It's nice to see you too, Yuri." He said. "And who said I'm slacking? I'm going to need all the energy I can get for what's to come, and your dad has the best Ramen in Konoha!"

"Damn straight." Ibiki added, beaming at his daughter. "My you look just like your mother..." 
Yuri smiled back at her father and then clapped her hand on Jin's shoulder and dragged him off the stool, "Come on. Mira gave me a message from Hisato, we're to meet him outside. There are things to discuss." She noticed the bowl he still clutched in his hands, "You can eat on the way." She added, dragging him across the floor as if he was weightless.

"When you said you'd be stronger I didn't think you were being this literal..." Jin said through mouthfuls of ramen, apparently quite happy to be carried along. "So we're going to see sensei, huh? That's good, I've been looking for him."

 

[Kakashi's Theme]

 

Yuri pulled Jin out of the village and in minutes they were stood in front of Hisato, in a small clearing. Forest surrounded them on all sides and he was sat upon a tree stump. "So, my two students back together at last?" Hisato asked, grinning as he watched Yuri put down Jin.

"Sensei." Yuri replied, nodding respectfully. 

"Yo, sensei." Jin said with a nod. "Not that I'm not glad to see you but if we had to chat, I don't see why we couldn't have done it over a bowl of ramen." Jin said.

"We're not here to chat." Hisato replied, his grin turning wicked.
"Oh?" Yuri raised an eyebrow and rested one hand on her hip.

"I get it." Jin said with a nod. "Makes sense, we've been gone a long time. I hope you're offering real money this time."

 

"I'm offering something better." Hisato replied, looking over each of them. "I hear you're a ninja again, Jin. And Yuri, I hear you're smashing records..." Yuri simply smiled in response and waited patiently in silence, her gaze turned to Jin though, at the mention of him becoming a ninja.

"Yeah, I guess that's true now." Jin said. "But I've lost a whole year, so I need to make up for it. I spoke with my dad, he says if you agree, then I can participate in the Chuunin Exams with Yuri."

"U-uh..." Hisato chuckled, scratching the back of his head, "... I didn't think you knew. Well, there goes my surprise..." Then he sighed and laughed it off, "Ah well... yes, if you two can work together to take this off me," He held up a single note with a number of zeroes on it, "Then you can use it to celebrate, and consider it your successful application to the Chuunin exams.

"We took that from you before, we'll do it again." Yuri replied confidently.

"I don't think he'll be going so easy on us this time." Jin said with a smirk. "But that's fine. I picked up a couple of things when I was rambling from town to town."

"It's true, I was kind of going easy on you guys," Hisato grinned, "I won't make it so easy for you."
"I won't feel so bad," Yuri began, as she started to turn into what appeared to be black smoke - though Hisato knew better than to think that, "When I take that from you, then..." Her entire body dispersed, leaving nothing behind.

 

[Ripple]

 

From the ground behind Hisato, the black smoke reformed, surging up from the ground and taking Yuri's form almost immediately. She reached forwards, clenching her fist and throwing a punch. Hisato whirled around and stepped back to avoid the strike, but Yuri was too close, and too fast. She reached his face, and as she struck, it splintered Hisato into a thousand pieces. Yuri grinned as Hisato had used a body switch technique and her attack had entirely destroyed the wooden block he'd swapped with - it was little more than sawdust now.

"Ready to step up?" Yuri asked Jin, cracking her knuckles. 

 

"Hey if you keep that up I might be able to rest easy." Jin said with a smirk. Then he formed a seal with his hands and five shadow clones appeared around him. "It'll be easier to find him with more heads, let's go." Jin's clones took off in every direction, but Jin simply went off at a jog behind them.

"More heads?" Yuri mused with a grin, watching him run off, "You hear that?" Yuri asked, apparently to no-one. She lifted her arms and an enormous black cloud flew out from between her bandages and spread out over the clearing and into the surrounding forest. Then she started walking towards the trees as though she had all the time in the world, mid-way there her body turned to smoke and vanished once again.

Moments later, Hisato leapt out of the nearby trees and ran for the clearing, as several of the trees smashed to pieces and began to collapse behind him. He rolled to one side to dodge a falling trunk, and found Yuri was on him as fast as lightning. She leapt towards him and punched with all her force. Hisato dodged in the nick of time, grabbed her bandaged arm and threw her over his shoulder, and suddenly he was surrounded by Jin's clones as Yuri landed a few feet away.

"Any time you're ready, Sensei." Yuri added, raising her eyebrow impatiently.

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[Nine Tails vs Black Nine Tails]

 

The brief pause when Jin's clones had landed, had felt much longer to Hisato, as the 5 clones, Yuri, and Hisato all squared each other up. That moment happens often in battle, where all the opponents wait for the other to make a move, waiting to interpret each others actions, and hopefully react quickly enough to come out on top. Jin's clones were the first to move. Confidence came with numbers, and they attacked in unison. One leapt and came down at Hisato from above, two more charging at him from behind, one more from the front, and the last from his left flank, with Yuri blocking the path to his right. Hisato had nowhere to run to, his only option was to fight back. 

 

Everything happened in an instant. The clone to his left flank was closer by a small margin. Hisato brought his leg up and kicked him full force in the chest, sending him back, before the clone at his front threw a right hook at his face. Hisato weaved his head away from the oncoming fist and brought his own to the clone's chest, right under his outstretched arm. He jabbed him twice, hard, before bringing a left hook down on the clone's jaw, cuasing it to explode in a puff of clouds. The two from behind were next. Hisato leapt and spun around, catching the first with a sweeping kick to the head, before landing and immediately catching the foot of the clone from above, dragging him down and swinging him in to the final approaching clone, and they crashed in a heap before dispelling. 

 

Expressionless and silent, Yuri ran for Hisato. She slid to the ground at the last second and kicked up into the air, forcing Hisato to leap up and at that moment she kicked off from the ground and pushed off from the ground with her arms, kicking up like a rocket. Hisato gasped and quickly kicked her away, careful not to touch her. Her hands touched the ground for a second time and she used the momentum to whirl her legs around like a capoeira martial artist. Hisato leapt back out of the way and formed a seal, a jet of concentrated water burst from between his lips and cut a line through the ground towards Yuri, fanning out and becoming a sheet so there was no escape. Yuri sprinted forwards to meet the water and leapt into the air. For a moment, Hisato saw nothing, watching Yuri disappear behind his attack. Then she burst through it, somehow unscathed, and he was forced to dodge out of the way - straight into Jin's assault.

 

Three more clones came at him. This time they moved in a tighter formation and came at him head on. Unlike the last assault, these clones were moving in harmony with one another, and Hisato's movements became a blur as he blocked and dodged the strikes coming at him. What the hell is this? He thought as he deflected a punch and sent a couple of jabs back, finally taking down one of the clones. These clones are far more prepared. I can't defeat them with Taijutsu alone! Hisato dropped low and swept his leg out under one of the two remaining clones, who leapt up to avoid it. Hisato's hands weaved a few seals, and then the earth under the clone shot up like a pillar, but with the force of a cannon. The clone dispelled and Hisato dodged in time for the last remaining clone to send a punch straight in to the pillar of earth, followed by the cracking sound of broken knuckles. There was a high pitched chirping noise, and then Hisato finished off the remaining clone with a shock of lightning from his palm. 

 

Finally Hisato turned to see that he was caught in the centre of the clearing, with Yuri behind him and the real Jin facing him. "Yo, sensei!" Jin called, "Looks like you're finally trying!"

"You're not the one who should be testing me." Hisato replied. "I understand now. You sent clones in to test my taijutsu, and used their combined experience to strengthen your own knowledge for the real fight."

"Yeah, that's right." Jin said. "Plus, I wanted to fight the real Hisato."

"That's not the point of this exercise." Hisato said. 

"I don't need money" Jin said with a smirk. "Besides, this is fun, no? I know it is for me."

 

Yuri straightened up and faced Hisato, for a few seconds she barely moved, then she smiled, "As fast as ever, Sensei." Yuri added, "You moved so fast my bugs couldn't even stay attached to your boot." Then she started walking towards Hisato, "I'll have to do something else, so..." She seemed distant, as though in a daydream. Her tone and her expressions seemed muted somehow. "Are you ready, now?" She asked, her smile disappearing.

Something tells me she wasn't being serious before Hisato said to himself. I need to prioritise keeping my distance from Yuri. Jin might cause problems but at least I don't have to worry when deflecting his strikes. Hisato smiled softly. "You've really grown up, both of you." He said. 

"Aww look sensei's getting all sentimental on us, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "I suppose we better hit him where it hurts and take his money now, hm?"

 

[Keisei Gyakuten]

 

"What are we planning, Sensei?" Yuri asked, her tone seemingly indifferent, as she strode towards Hisato. "Maybe the fly is in the spider's web, and has yet to realise." Suddenly Yuri launched forwards, opened her mouth and spat. A thick glob of spit flew at Hisato who ducked to avoid it, as he did so, Yuri swept his legs out from under him and he hit the ground hard. But as quick as he'd touched the dirt, he vaulted back up and away from her. The spit hit the trees behind him and sizzled, eating through the trunk to leave a hole the size of a fist. Hisato was just getting his bearings when he felt a presence directly behind him. 

 

He dodged just in time as Jin's foot swept over his head. Jin landed in front of him and whipped his other foot back round for another strike which Hisato blocked his his right arm and went on the offensive. He swung at Jin's face and the boy moved only a fraction to avoid being hit. Hisato dropped low and swept his foot out but Jin hopped to avoid it and moved back a few inches. Hisato was already coming back up on his front leg and spinning round to kick with the other, but Jin nimbly ducked and avoided it again. He's seriously fast! Hisato thought, This is the training of the God Step, no doubt about it. Hisato charged forward and sent a punch towards Jin's chest, but he dodged with a flicker and used Hisato's arm to rebound upwards and over with a flip in the air, landing with a tap on the ground, before lunging forward, his fingers grasping just inches from the note attached to Hisato's belt. Then Hisato also disappeared with a flicker, and Jin stopped mid sprint and straightened himself up, turning round to see Hisato a few yards away, keeping his distance. 

 

"So you've mastered the Body Flicker Jutsu?" Hisato said with a smirk. "And your reaction speed is flawless."

"Yours isn't too shabby either, sensei!" Jin said with a smirk, "But you don't have time to be running your mouth!" He added, before dashing forward in a sprint, closing on Hisato with alarming speed. Hisato only then noticed, that Yuri was closing on his back. 

Yuri thrust her hand out, her palm clenched into a tight fist but Hisato knew that Jin would reach him first. He deflected Jin's first attack and immediately whirled around to face Yuri, but as he readied to deflect her attack indirectly, the sleeve around her arm morphed and expanded out, turning black as it turned into a large black maw with teeth. The jaws slammed shut on Hisato's arm but before Yuri could celebrate, Hisato vanished, leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Yuri turned just as Jin flew through the cloud of smoke, his fist primed. She dodged to one side, and grabbed his bare arm as he passed. Jin's face lit up, somehow Yuri had passed information to him. Then they both turned, and charged for Hisato once more.

 

Hisato had finally accepted that he was going to be able to protect the note with both of his students coming at him head on like this. However he wasn't beaten yet. As they came rushing towards him he let a small, black orb drop to the floor. As it bounced off the grass the orb burst with a hiss and the area was surrounded in thick, black smoke. 

 

Hisato rushed through the tree tops, hopping from branch to branch away from the site. He had to clear some distance, lay low and rest. He couldn't help but smirk as he had fled. They still weren't tough enough to beat him in a straight fight, but he couldn't keep it up without actually hurting them. Still, they had pushed him further than he had expected, and that alone made him proud. He almost felt bad for leaving them in the dust like that, but hard lessons were the best ones to learn. Before he could finish his thought, however, he became aware of another presence. He turned his head and looked down to the forest floor just behind him. Trailing behind him in a full on sprint, was Jin. 

 

[breakdown]

 

I can't believe it! Hisato thought, he's matching my speed! I suppose that's to be expected from Sorano's apprentice.

Below him, Jin clapped his hands together to form seals, and then thrust both of his hands forward, sending a torrent of wind rushing up to the trees, cutting through the branches like blades, and causing Hisato to drop to the ground level. Hisato spun on his heel to meet Jin, who put his hand in to his leg pouch and hurled three shuriken directly at Hisato, who quickly swerved his upper body to dodge them. That attack was predictable he thought, and then his eyes widened as he realised the true nature of the attack; a diversion. Jin flickered behind Hisato from above, gripping tightly on his jacket, and as his feet touched the ground he hurled Hisato over his own shoulder in to the ground. 

 

Hisato reacted just in time, and managed to get his feet on the ground, sliding across the dirt a few feet. He stood up to see Jin waiting, ready to fight. "You...really have improved. You've even managed to learn Wind Style ninjutsu" Hisato said with a nod. "But your Taijutsu still needs a little work. You're not ready to take me on in a one on one fight, even if you can match my speed."

"Hm...I know." Jin said with a nod, and he smiled. "But I have to try, right?"

"Right." Hisato said with a nod. "But you made a mistake, and it means you lose."

"We'll see!" Jin said, and he gave a little chuckle. 

 

Hisato and Jin sprinted for one another, and as they met they clashed in a blur of punches and kicks, each one matching the other, dodging, blocking, weaving and countering every blow. Finally Jin flcikered behind Hisato and saw his chance, and lunged for the note once more. He got so close that his fingers touched the very edge, and then he felt an iron grip around his arm. Before he knew what was happening he was being hurled through the air by untold strength. He crashed in to the ground unceremoniously and rolled a few feet before stopping and laying in a heap. He pushed himself up and bgean brushing the dirt off of himself. It had all happened so quickly, he hadn't even known what had truly happened. 

 

He looked back at Hisato, who was facing away from him. His blonde hair had looked longer and wilder, and his skin had went a dark tan colour. However the affect seemed to be dissipating already, his skin lightening and his hair receeding back to it's normal length. Hisato turned around and Jin just managed to catch the glimpse of a golden flow in Hisato's eyes that was quickly fading. "Hmph! I can't believe you made me use that technique..." He said with a toothy grin. 

"What...the hell was that?" Jin asked. 

"That...is why they call me the Lion of the East." Hisato explained. "And it's the reason you have no chance of getting this note. You left Yuri to pursue me on your own, and that was your mistake. You can be as fast as you like, but if you leave your team mates behind you'll always be at a disadvantage. You're done."

 

"Mmm...." Jin said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Then he burst out laughing. 

"What's so funny?" Hisato asked. 

"It's just..." Jin said as he tried to compose himself. "...I was a little worried that maybe we'd have changed too much, and Yuri and I couldn't work as well as a team." Jin's looked at Hisato, and his eyes held a devilish glint. "I never imagined that we'd actually get you though, sensei!"

"Get me...you-" Hisato froze. Everything he had missed starting falling in to place in his mind. He had fallen in to their trap. 

 

 

 

 

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[The Raising Fighting Spirit]

 

"Sensei!!" Yuri called, speeding towards Hisato. He turned and leapt out of the way just in the nick of time. Yuri's fingertips glid across the edge of the note and then Hisato was away. She wasn't able to keep up, but she'd driven him towards Jin who used the opportunity to dash forwards, trapping Hisato in a pincer formation. Hisato grinned, they had trained well. They were faster, stronger, but they still had a ways to go. At the last second, as Jin reached out, Hisato kicked off from the ground and leapt up towards the tops of the trees, looking down to see that Jin had leapt up and was chasing him into the branches. As he neared one of the top-most branches, Hisato heard something and looked ahead. There in front of him was Yuri, crouched on top of a nearby branch, clutching something he couldn't make out in her hands and clenched teeth. He looked on in shock, as she smiled back at him.

 

"Yo!" She growled, and then she pulled the strands of invisible webbing, and their filaments suddenly glittered in the half-light of the forest. Hisato cursed and tried to move, but he was mid-air and unable to redirect himself. The webbing hissed as it coiled around every tree, partially cutting through the trunks. The webbing stuck to every part of his body, whirling around him and trapping him suspended in mid-air, the webbing pulled tight and then his arms and legs were pulled harshly into his body, and he was trapped. Jin flew up into Hisato, grabbed the note and kicked off from his body and landed beside Yuri on the tree branch.

 

[saika]

 

"Hmph..." Hisato shook his head, but started to laugh, "Excellent." He nodded in pride, "Really... how did you?" 
"Clones." Yuri replied, loosening her grip on her webbing just enough so that Hisato could pull himself onto a branch. Then she withdrew the webbing and let go of the strands.

"But... I struck you?" Hisato frowned, "And you can't use the shadow clone-- ah." Yuri and Hisato smiled at one another, and then as if on cue, two identical copies of Yuri landed on the branch beside her. She held out her bandaged arm, and they dispersed into black clouds and flew in-between the bandages, disappearing in seconds.

"Looks like you underestimated us, sensei." Jin said, folding his arms. "Maybe we haven't seen each other in a while, and we don't know each other's abilities that well any more, but I trust Yuri, so I gave her the time to do whatever she was going to do."

"You're strong." Yuri replied, nodding to Jin with a subtle smile.

"Thanks, that means a lot coming from you." Jin said. "The old lady doesn't really do compliments..."

 

"Old lady?" Yuri asked, frowning.

"Sorano." Yuri said. "I've been travelling with her all this time. I suppose you won't remember her actually."

Yuri looked from Hisato to Jin, "I don't..." Her frown deepened but then it dawned on her, "She was the woman who helped the day of the attack, right?"

"Yeah, that's right." Jin said with a nod. "She came back with me to Konoha. I'm sure she's around somewhere if you ever want to see her again."

"I'm sure i'll see her at some point." Yuri replied, though she was unsure if she wanted to see a reminder of that day.
"Are you both ready, then?" Hisato asked, smiling.

"I've been ready ever since I heard about it a few weeks ago." Jin said. "As soon as I heard... I knew Yuri would be here, so I begged Sorano to take me back here."

"When are the exams starting, Sensei?" Yuri asked, standing up.
"Ah..." Hisato mused for a few seconds, "About ten minutes ago."

 

"What?!" Yuri snapped angrily.

"Sensei! Why didn't you tell us earlier!?" Jin cried.

"I wanted to see the extent of your abilities before I knew for certain whether i'd let you apply or not." Hisato replied simply, "Besides, neither of you have worked together in over a year, and I wasn't about to let you just dive right in without a test of your abilities. Also, its not my fault you're both back so late."

"We have to hurry." Yuri turned and started to leave.
"The other Genin from the other villages are all already here, it was decided that Konoha would be the staging grounds for the Chuunin exams as it would harbour good relations after the attacks. You need to get to the testing building for stage one of the exams. North-east, big white-washed building. You'll be in exam room six."

"Come on, Jin." Yuri nodded confidently.

"We best hurry." Hisato added, then grinned, "Good luck, make me proud. After all, I entered you as 'Team Hisato'."

 

[survival Examination]

 

Team Hisato had rushed to the exam building as quickly as they could. When they arrived they filed inside and through the corridors to exam room 6. However as they turned the corner they stopped as they came to a corridor full of people, all waiting outside exam room 6. "What's going on?" Jin asked. 
"Beats me." Hisato said. "Looks like there's a hold up. Quite fortunate I suppose, now you guys can blend in and nobody will know you were late."
"So... these are the other teams then?" Jin asked. 
"Looks like it." Hisato said, and he inclined his head towards the groups. "See the forehead protectors they are all waiting. There's some Kumogakure over there... and those guys are Iwagakure... and-"
"Hey that team over there are from Konoha." Jin interrupted. 
"Mm... yeah... that's Team Omi." Hisato said. 
 
The two Konoha ninja were standing next to their own Jounin leader. One of them was a young man with shoulder length, straight blonde hair, who was wearing a strange visor over his eyes, and dressed in a dark blue jacket and a pair of black trousers. Next to him was a young woman dressed in a white robe shirt, with a short black skirt and fishnet stockings. Her long, black hair was tied back in a high ponytail, with her forehead protector tied around her neck. At her waist was a single katana. 
"The boy is Asagiri Nonoi, a brilliant tactician for his age. His family have served Konoha since it's inception. The girl is Masamune Totsuka. Her mother is a highly skilled Jounin in her own right, and her father is Masamune Kotetsu, a Samurai from the Land of Iron who swore allegiance to Konoha many years ago, and is now one of Goei Shotai who protect the Hokage."
"And that's their Jounin leader, the woman?" Jin asked as he looked at the fearsome kunoichi that stood with the others. She was dressed in tight-fitting black ninja gear, and the lower half of her face was covered by a black shinobi face cover. Her eyes were a pale blue, and her black hair was cut straight at her shoulders. 
"That's Hizuchi Omi. She was an exceptional hunter nin before she chose to train Genin. She's one of the most dangerous shinobi in Konoha. Cold and ruthless, and not liked by many."
"I like her." Yuri replied, her face curling into a slight smile as she looked the woman over.
 
"Well that's not a bad thing." Hisato said. "There can be a lot of prejudice in this village, that doesn't mean that there is any good reason to dislike someone like Omi. As you can see she has been trusted to train two Genin, and as much as I hate to say it, they are this year's favourites for Konoha. Nonoi is showing great promise, and Totsuka is a prodigy. She had been trained in the Samurai art of Iaijutsu, and some seem to think he abiity with that art make her a Jounin level fighter."
"Then why is she stuck doing this." Jin asked
"Because there are no short-cuts in the shinobi life. Being a capable fighter is only one aspect of what it means to be Jounin." Hisato explained. "At any rate, I'd avoid conflict with that team."
"I'd like to match blades with her." Yuri spoke, mostly to herself. "So what's going on right now? Are we just supposed to wait until the examiner arrives or is something happening inside the class?" Yuri stepped forwards, "Step aside." She barked, and the crowd of other Genin obediently pushed their way back out of her path. She banged her fist on the door and stepped back, putting her hands on her hips impatiently. 
 
"Your girl has a loud mouth, Hisato." Omi piped up, and she cast her eyes over Yuri. "...You're...I see. Mira clearly made quite the impression on you."
"She's got the skills to match." Hisato said with a smirk. "We should probably leave soon anyway. This exam is for the Genin, after all."
"Nothing in the rules says I can't scope out the talent and make sure my team are prepared." Omi said. "Not that they need it. They're pretty awesome, just like their sensei."
"Sensei it's not cool when you boast." Nonoi said with a soft smirk. He turned his head towards Yuri, his eyes concealed by his visor. "The examiner isn't here yet. That's why we're all waiting. I'm Nonoi, by the way. It's a pleasure to meet you Satomi Sayuri. I was... deeply saddened by your mother's passing." Yuri quietly gauged the boy's demeanour and then nodded to him.
 
"Nonoi, quit flirting and focus." Omi said. 
"I wasn't..." Nonoi said with a sigh. 
"You know it's not worth arguing with her, Nonoi." Totsuka remarked. "Sensei considers it her sworn duty to mess with us."
"Hey it's not just my duty!" Omi said. "...I also enjoy it. Anyway, it's time for me to go." Omi turned to leave and stopped by Hisato. "Also, a word of advice from one Konoha team to another. Do you see they guy with the breather?"
Jin looked further down the hall to see a ninja with a breather over his face, and a pair of intense, wild eyes that reminded Jin of a shark. He was wearing a pair of metallic canisters on his back. Next to him was another boy who was wearing grey shorts and a sleeveless vest, his skin was a pale grey and his teeth were razor sharp, and his head completely shaved. 
"...I don't want to say too much, but they are from Kirigakure. Keep away from them, they won't hesitate to kill anyone in their way." She said ominously. 
"But...this is just an exam." Jin said. 
"They don't care. It's easier to kill than to subdue." Omi replied. "Anyway...good luck!"
"Wait...wh-" Jin said. 
"Later!" Omi said with a wave and she disappeared around the corner.
 
[Caution]
 
"Silence!!" A man strode forwards, and the crowd of Genin naturally parted. He was wearing a dark green jacket, he looked to be in his early forties, and had a scarred, shaved head. His face was equally scarred, and part of his lip was missing in the corner of his mouth, giving him a permanent snarl. "I am your examiner, Kazuo. You will find a table along with your team, do so quietly." Yuri exchanged a look with Jin, this man was absolutely no-nonsense. He looked as though he'd been through several terrible battles, and maybe even captured by the enemy. The scars were a stark reminder of the pain that all ninja must endure in one way or another. 

Yuri sat down but before she could settle in, a hand coiled around her left knee. She looked down at it in apparent indifference, and then looked up to see one of the Kirigakure ninja. Grey skin, shaved head. He leant in and blew her a kiss. Yuri smiled back at the boy, and he grinned, revealing shark-like teeth. Then suddenly she reached forwards, grabbed the back of his neck and slammed his face into her table, pinning him to the wood.
"SATOMI!!" Kazuo barked, and Yuri's gaze darted to the examiner. She let the boy go and Kazuo returned to his preparations, while the grey-skinned boy made a 'thumbs up' and sliced his thumb across his throat. The gesture was clear. Yuri grit her teeth, trying to keep her patience in check, when the examiner cleared his throat.

"This test is simple." Kazuo called out to the class so that everyone could hear, "Do not leave this room." He sat down, and opened a trashy romance novel and began reading, putting his feet up on his desk. All the Genin in the room turned to look to one another for confirmation that they'd heard right.

"Uh... is this a joke?" Jin said to Yuri as he sat down. "I mean, I get following orders but, this seems a little too easy." Kazuo glanced up at Jin, and then resumed reading his novel.

Yuri leant back in her chair and waited, but nothing happened. There seemed to be no danger, no tricks or mind games. Nothing. She glanced at Jin and shrugged. Minutes turned to hours, and still nothing happened. Kazuo had stopped taking their questions, he seemed engrossed in his book.

"What do you think this test is for?" Yuri asked JIn, looking around the room. Many of the Genin were already getting fidgety and irritable. She had to admit, she was impatient by nature, and she was becoming very annoyed now.

"Probably just stalling because they messed something up with the exam." Jin said. "Either that or they want to cut down the amount of participants by boring us to death."

 

"I've had enough of this!" A boy two tables over from them snapped. He stood up and banged his fist on his table, "This isn't a test, this is time-wasting, and i'm not going to sit around and believe this 'examiner'! There has to be something more to this..." He strode across the room, making his way for the door.

"Hey don't!" His teammate yelled, standing up. The boy opened the door and looked back at the examiner irritably, it wasn't locked, there was no trick to it. He stepped out into the hall, and like a flash, Kazuo vanished. A moment later the boy's teammate flew towards the door, thrown by an invisible force, and he slammed into the boy, and both fell out into the corridor. The door slammed shut behind them and Kazuo was back in his seat, feet up on the desk, reading his romance novel. "One down." Kazuo muttered, licking his finger to turn the page.

 

[Anun]

 

Two days passed. Several Genin had been disqualified already. One person had asked to use the bathroom. Kazuo had said they could, and when they left, their team was ejected. A girl had passed out from lack of water, her team had been ejected. So too had the team of a young Genin who had also lost his patience and tried to attack the team from Kirigakure. The Kiri ninja had simply grabbed him and thrown him out the front door, prompting Kazuo to forcefully eject the other teammate. 

 

"Ugh..." Yuri groaned, leaning forwards onto the table. She had excellent control of her vast chakra supplies, she knew compared even to most Jounin she was a master, but that also came with a price. Her bugs consume chakra, and in huge quantity. She had forced them to consume less and less over the course of the past two days, but without food or rest, she had been unable to regain her chakra. Her head started to dip, and her eyes began to close.

Jin reached over and put his hand on Yuri's. "Hey... are you okay?"

Yuri blinked herself awake and stared down at the table, "I... should have limited... their chakra consumption... sooner..."

 

"...That bad, huh?" Jin said, and he looked down at the table thoughtfully. "...How does that work? I mean... I'm pretty tired but I can probably spare some chakra. Is that something you can work with?"

"Can you... spare it...?" Yuri asked, reaching out with her palm open. "It won't... be pleasant..."

"Look...if you pass out then we both forfeit." Jin said. "If we share the load then we'll last longer overall." Jin placed his hand in hers and gave her a smile. "Just take what you need." Yuri nodded and closed her fingers over Jin's hand. Then little black specks appeared across her skin, and within seconds the black mass spread over her hand and across to Jin. She urged her Tsukimono bugs to draw Jin's chakra and feed upon it. Yuri looked up as they did so, and she felt the change immediately. 

 

[Thank You]

 

A current of warmth spread through her body, rejuvenating her within seconds, but she could see the discomfort on Jin's face. It had to feel like his body was shutting down, his body temperature dropping. His hand had to feel like it was freezing. She quickly let go of him and her bugs abandoned his skin to return home. "I-I'm sorry..." She muttered, then clasped her hands over his and warmed it as best she could.

"It's fine." Jin said, but he looked considerably more tired. "Is that... do you feel that all the time?"

"Feel what...?" Yuri asked, frowning. She took a deep breath and let it out, feeling better. 

"Well... your Tsukimono bugs... you've had them with you your whole life." Jin said. "I was just wondering if it always feels like that? It was a pretty weird sensation."

 

"No... its..." She searched for the words, "My body was formed in tandem with the Tsukimono. My body is cooler than yours, but its natural for me. When I hold your skin it's like you're on fire. We're cooler to accommodate our insects, but it also has many benefits for us. For example, our heartbeat is slower, so we need less oxygen to survive and those ninja who use heat-detection are unable to track us."

"That's... pretty useful, I guess." Jin said. "It's pretty interesting. I know a clan like the Satomi, it's important that they keep their secrets. Thanks for explaining it to me."

"Mm..." Yuri nodded, half-smiling. "I'm going to try and meditate. My sister taught me, she said it would help me control my temper - among other things." She rolled her eyes at Jin and smiled, "Are you going to be okay if...?" She asked, raising an eyebrow with concern.

"I'll be fine." Jin said with a nod. "I've went a while without food before. The old lady lost our money gambling one time."

"Oh..." Yuri reached into her jacket and pulled out a small dark orange bar. "Here. This will hold you over."

"Thanks." Jin said and took it. "What... is it?"

"You're better off not knowing." Yuri smiled back at him, still unsure about his stance on bugs.

"No, really." Jin said. "What is it?"

 

Yuri hesitated, "It's..." She reached into her jacket and pulled out a second bar, "It's basically tree sap." She held the bar in her hands, "Its full of sugar, water, nutrients, minerals and fibre and my insects process it and refine out the impurities and toxins into this solid form. It's very sweet, though. But i'm sort of inclined to sweet things naturally." She took a bite and smiled as she started chewing it like a candy bar. 

"Hmm... neat." Jin said, and he took a bite of his own. He chewed on it for a moment, considering it. Then he swallowed the bite and gave a little nod. "That's really sweet. It's good though, thank you." Yuri smiled at him and they ate the rest of their bars in silence.

 

 


 

 

[On The Road]

 

Yuri woke with a start. The room was quiet, Jin and everyone seemed to be asleep. There was no light coming from outside the windows. It had to be night time. But why was everyone asleep? She reached over to try and wake Jin, "Hey..." She whispered, hoping that Kazuo wouldn't notice. Jin was unresponsive, but she could hear his breathing. His skin felt cold and lifeless. She recoiled in surprise and fear, looking to their examiner only to realise that Kazuo was also asleep. Were they asleep though? She looked back at Jin, his chest wasn't moving. He wasn't breathing. "Oh my... Jin!!" She knocked her chair out and shook him, "Jin!!" Then something pulled her mind from Jin's frozen, lifeless body. If he wasn't breathing, then what was? Just then, she felt a gush of hot, stinking air from behind her.

Slowly, she turned around. Yuri's face fell upon a set of bars, like those in a prison. But these were each as tall as a building. As thick and wide as a tree trunk, and on each of the bars, there was a small paper seal with black writing. Another hot, heavy breath of air washed over her face, fluttering her coat and hair. She stared out into the darkness, something was on the other side of those bars. She stepped forwards, feeling drawn towards it. She could see nothing but darkness ahead of her. Then, as she took another step towards the bars, an enormous hand burst out from between them, reaching for her. Yuri screamed and turned on her heels and ran as fast as she could. She looked over her shoulder and saw the giant clawed hand stretching for her. It was a muddy golden colour and covered in scales. That was all the time she had to check, and then she was sprinting. But as far as she went, the arm stretched out to ensnare her. She reached the classroom wall, and the hand came crashing down, missing her by inches. The claws buried themselves either side of her, and raked back through the classroom floor, pulling up tiles and knocking aside tables and bodies until it retreated back inside the bars. Then Yuri noticed the pair of bright yellow eyes, they were far up, near the top of the bars, staring out at her like two great suns.

It's getting dark in here... It growled, it's voice was as deep as it was terrifying. I don't like it, wake up...
"Yuri!?" Jin asked.
"GET OFF ME!!" Yuri screamed, kicking and punching as she pulled herself out of her chair and took several panicked steps away from Jin. The other Genin in the room turned to look at Yuri in silence as she stared back at the rest of the room. Had she fallen asleep? It had been like another of those dreams, but this was worse somehow. She felt like she was tangible in that dream. Like if she had been hurt, or...
"I'm sorry." She muttered to Jin, and grabbed her seat and sat back down, missing the strained expression Kazuo had been giving her. He eventually returned to his novel, and the rest of the class went back to ignoring her, there had been a great many outbursts before hers, and so it hadn't surprised them. But Yuri had seen something in Jin's face. She couldn't describe it, but she felt further from her friend now than she had while she had been away, and that terrified her.

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[survival Examination]

 

Jin was beginning to feel tense. He was past the point of feeling hungry, or even tired. The exhaustion had caused a pressure to form in his head, and every muscle in his body was tingling. His head bobbed as he struggled to keep himself from passing out. He was also worried about Yuri. Her little outburst seemed out of character, and he was concerned that she was being through too much stress in this situation. But worrying about Yuri was starting to become a difficult process as well. After all, he wasn't coping very well either at this point. He felt like he was going to fall asleep at any moment, and then all of this would have been for nothing. He'd be letting Yuri down, and that was one thing he couldn't bear to do. For a moment he had forgotten where he was, and then, as realisation of what was happening came to him, he jerked to keep himself awake and fell from his desk, hitting the floor hard. The hard floor's impact shot a jolt of pain through his whole body. Exhausted as he was, even something as simple as falling over was overwhelmingly painful. 

 

"Jin..." Yuri pulled herself out of the chair and helped Jin back to his seat, "This is too much..." She muttered, "Some of the Genin here are in serious trouble, and we're not far behind..." She looked Jin over, her black eyes searching him up and down. For a moment, the veins around her eyes turned black, showing prominently beneath her pale skin, then they returned to normal. "You need healing." Yuri put her hand on his shoulder. Jin brushed her hand from his shoulder and shook his head. 

"No...you need to conserve your chakra." He said. "It's okay...I can do this!"

 

"I've enough... to do this." Yuri replied, and before Jin could argue, she grabbed him firmly by the shoulder and pushed her palm into his chest. "Hold... very still." She added with a cautionary tone. A pool of black spread out beneath her hand and ran up her arm, at the same time as it spread across Jin's chest until it could be seen moving up his neck. A few minutes passed and then the spreading black mass subsided, withdrew and returned to Yuri's hand and she quickly pulled away. "I've stimulated your body to produce endorphins... to block pain and serotonin to... make you feel better. It might only last a few hours though, if that... And I won't be able to do that again..."

 

Jin stood up, and sat himself back on his desk. For a moment he was silent, and he rubbed his hands together nervously. After a moment he nodded and turned to Yuri. "...Thank you." He said. 

Yuri nodded but sighed, "It won't mean much... if this keeps up for much longer." She took a shallow breath and tried to continue, "We're going to have to make a choice... sooner or later. If we leave the room, we fail. But doing nothing is... only making us weaker. We have to make a choice... act now or accept the consequences... no matter the cost." Jin didn't respond. The exhaustion he was enduring him was reminding him of another time in his life. It reminded him of the importance of what he was doing, and why he had really came back. 

 

 


 

 

[Caution]

 

Feet crunched along the stone-covered bank of a river that was running down from the stone mountains ahead. There was a forest on either side of the river, and Jin was walking upstream, following Sorano under the moonlit sky. He was carrying the large camping rucksack on his back, and looked exhausted. "How much longer?" He whined complacently. 

"Not far." Sorano responded. "We're almost there."

"Could you maybe carry the gear? Just for a little while." Jin asked. He had been travelling with Sorano for three months now, and not once had she ever carried the equipment. 

"Are you so weak you'd have an old woman carry things for you?" Sorano said irritably. "If you can't carry a rucksack a few miles how will you ever hope to accomplish anything in life?"

"A few miles!?" Jin said through gritted teeth. "We've been walking for a full day!"

"And you've barely ever opened your mouth other than to whine about it." Sorano said. "Look, it's up here."

 

Jin stopped to look ahead. The river had ended at an enormous cliff face, and he looked in awe at the great waterfall that cascaded down it, the tremendous force of the falling water sounding like a rumbling earthquake up ahead. "Whoa..." He said. "...Please don't say we have to climb that..."

"No, boy." Sorano said. "We go through it."

"Through it?" Jin asked. 

"Come along." Sorano said, and the pair continued down the river bank towards the waterfall. When they reached it, the fine mist of water sprayed over them, and Jin found the sensation a little refreshing. Sorano moved closer to the falls, and then she disappeared behind them. Jin followed her, stepping in to the gap between the rock face and the waterfall, and the water rushing past him became deafening. He moved through it, his whole body getting soaked, before emerging in to a dark tunnel behind the waterfall. He followed the faint shape of Sorano, treading carefully to avoid tripping over the rocks. 

 

Eventually they came to a flat stone wall at the end of the tunnel. Sorano placed her palm across it, gently feeling her way through the carved markings in the wall. Then, as he had seen her do at least once before, he watched as her fingertips glowed with a gentle, blue flame, and she pressed them on the wall. The flames carried through the markings in the wall, until eventually they made the shape of a strange symbol he had never seen before. It consisted of three concentric circles, and around them were symbols he didn't recognize. 

"The elements of chakra that you know, are Fire, Wind, Water, Earth and Lightning." Sorano explained. "These symbols are known as the Five Movements. They represent an older view of the elements known; Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal."

"So what is this symbol for?" Jin asked. 

"Do you remember when we met on the day of the attack on Konoha?" Sorano asked. "On that day I mentioned a clan that has been extinct for over four decades. This is their symbol. The Hitotsuyunagi Clan."

 

"Hitotsuyunagi...I've never heard of them. Were they from Konoha?" Jin asked. 

"At one time they were." Sorano explained. "During the time of the First Hokage. However, in time they chose to leave the village. They became a nomadic clan. However, they had a few hideouts in various places. This is one of them."

"So...why are we here?" Jin asked. 

"To show you this world's past." Sorano said. "And to help you decide your own destiny." She turned her hand on the stone, and the fire spread further, weaving through the intricate carvings, creating a leyline of glowing fire across the wall. There was a rumbling noise, and then the wall slowly began to rise up and disappear. Torchlight ignited and the path ahead was illuminated. Sorano walked through and Jin followed. The interior walls were smooth and man made, and the ground had become flat. They walked down the corridor for a few minutes, the torches lighting up as they drew close to them. 

 

After a while they emerged in a pitch black room. It was difficult to see anything at all, but Jin got the impression that the room was quite large. "We're here." Sorano said. 

"Finally." Jin sighed, and he dropped the heavy rucksack on the ground. he stretched his arms, flexing his fingers, enjoying the sudden sense of weightlessness he felt. 

"Jin, if you will recall I mentioned that part of the seal on Yuri was derived from a Hitotsuyunagi Sealing Style. Do you know why they created such techniques?" Sorano asked. 

"Is it something to do with Jinchuuriki?" Jin asked. "I'm not even quite sure what that is, I mean, not really."

"Observe." Sorano said, and she bent down and placed her hands on the ground beneath her. Torchlights blazed around the room, flooding it with light. Jin watched as the sheer size of the room became apparent. It was a large ceremonial hall, and as his eyes fell on the walls of the room, he felt a sense of terror grip him. 

 

[Destiny]

 

Across the entirety of the walls, was a large painted mural, one that was very old. It depicted a series of strange and terrifying creatures, each uniquely different from the other. Among them was a large, blue cat, as well as what looked like a cross between an octopus and a bull. Another was a hulking, crimson gorilla. The creatures were all painted together, four on either side, and in the centre was huge, snarling, red eyed monster. A demon fox with nine tails. Even though it was just a mural, the creature looked truly terrifying. 

"These are the creatures known as tailed beasts." Sorano explained. "They are a calamity. A tremendous force of nature. That one in the centre is the Nine Tails, which some believed was the strongest."

"These things...are real?" Jin said with a gulp. 

"They were...or they are, I suppose." Sorano said. "They were sealed away. It took a tremendous amount of planning, and a huge sacrifice. The entirety of the Hitotsuyunagi Clan gave their own lives to seal away these creatures, so that they would never harm any one again."

 

"Old lady...why are we here?" Jin asked. 

"To learn the mistakes of the past." Sorano said. "You see, before they were sealed away, the Tailed Beasts were a great and terrible foe. One thrash of their tails could destroy and entire village. And yet as with all powerful things, ambitious men tried to control it. Many people came to the same conclusion, which was that the Tailed Beasts were too dangerous to be left unchecked. And so it was decided that they would be sealed away, to be used in a method that posed the least amount of risk, and in a way that would provide the captor with a truly awesome power."

"Jinchuuriki." Jin whispered. "...They sealed these beasts inside people? Inside ninja?"

"Indeed." Sorano said with a nod. "Jinchuuriki became invaluable assets. They were considered weapons of mass destruction. Each village possessed at least one of them, at one time or another. Just the threat of unleashing the Jinchuuriki was enough to stop wars from happening. They completely tipped the balance of power."

 

"And...one of them is inside Yuri?" Jin asked, and he sounded like he was trying to fight back a bubbling rage inside him. 

"That's...not possible." Sorano explained. "The Nine Tailed Beasts are gone. If Akira is to be believed, he has created his own. Tailed Beasts created by man. I never thought such a thing would be possible. And what's worse is he has committed a sin of the past, and created Jinchuuriki to house his creatures. Nothing good will come of that, do you understand?"

"So...what do we do about it? If the Hitotsuyunagi Clan are gone, then they can't stop this from happening." Jin said. 

"One remains." Sorano said. "And she will train another. If he so chooses."

"She? You mean...?" Jin looked at Sorano, and she smiled back at him. 

 

"I am Hitotsuyunagi Sorano." She said. "Sole survivor of my clan, and the one who holds all of our knowledge and secrets."

"Old lady..." Jin said. His fists were clenched and shaking. "You mean...you're whole family..."

"All gone." Sorano said with a nod. 

"But...what was that sacrifice for if this is happening again?" Jin barked. "Why!? Why did they have to die if it was just going to keep happening!?"

"Exactly, boy." Sorano growled in a tone of quiet rage. "That punk Akira has insulted everything my clan fought and died for. That is why I have chosen to come out of retirement, and to train you for what's to come. Do you think you are up to it?"

"I want to protect Yuri..." Jin said. "...If this is how I do it, then there's no question. I'll do it."

 

"A good answer." Sorano said, but her voice sounded sad. "However, there may come a time when you need to protect everyone else from Yuri. Are you prepared for that?"

"I..what do you mean?" Jin asked. "Yuri would never-"

"Yuri won't have any choice." Sorano said. "When you see her again...there will be signs. They will be subtle at first, but I will train you in how to spot them. To protect Yuri, to protect everyone, you will need to know how to stop her. I can show you how."

"...Okay." Jin said. "How long do we have to train?"

"I've never seen anyone master the necessary abilities in under ten years." Sorano said. "You're talented, but I would say that's your benchmark."

"But...do we have that long?" Jin asked. 

"You best hope so..." Sorano replied. 

 

 


 

 

[Naruto Main Theme]

 

Jin's fists clamped around the edge of his desk firmly, as he stood up, and with a frustrated yell he hurled the desk across the classroom, smashing it in to the wall. Kazuo put his book down of the table in front of him and stood up, glaring at Jin. "What he hell do you think you're doing!?" He barked. 

"I've had...enough!" Jin yelled back. "You've kept us in here, starving and tired for three days now! How much longer do you plan on keeping us here!?"

"Get your desk and sit back down, before I toss you out of here!" Kazuo ordered. 

"Go ahead!" Jin spat back. "But if you try it I promise I won't go without a fight! Maybe you'll beat me...but...I'll keep fighting until my last breath. You can starve me, beat me, you can even torture me. I'll never give up on my destiny! I'm going to...I'm going to be Hokage!"

"Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "You've got guts, but that's not enough, kid."

 

Suddenly a table flew across the room and Kazuo was forced to react. He drew his kunai and sliced through it, the two halves flying past him and crashing into the wall behind him. Kazuo tracked the arc of the huge projectile and saw Yuri cracking her knuckles. 
"What are you going to do about it?" Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow. She put her hands behind her back and released her insects in a wide pattern, dispersing so that few in the room could see them. Suddenly a dozen more students appeared out of nowhere and started clamouring. 
"Let us go!" 
"I've had enough of this!"
"Throw him out!!" The last one yelled. Then they vanished, but were replaced with the indignant cries of the remaining students, brought to action by Jin and the rebellious students who first became vocal. Yuri brought her insects home and gave Jin a wink before turning her gaze back on Kazuo. 
"You heard them." Yuri said finally, putting her hands on her hips.
 
"So we fight." Totsuka said as she too stood from her chair. 
"Interesting...I doubt this was how they wanted this test to go." Nonoi said as he followed suit. "But I must admit, I want this to end just as much as the rest."
"The Konoha brat makes a fine point." One of the Kirigakure ninja said as he stood. "Besides...I'm itchin' for some bloodshed!"
"I see...so this is how it is." Kazuo said, shaking his head. "Is this your idea of being an effective ninja, Hideo Jin? You've caused a full scale revolt during an official examination!"
"So what!?" Jin snarled. "If my enemies captured me and did this...are you saying you don't expect me to revolt!? Give me a break!"
"Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "Interesting...this is a higher number than we expected but...you all pass!"
Yuri grabbed the nearest chair and ran at Kazuo, only to find a half dozen of the other Genin were trying to hold her back, "I'll kill him!!" She yelled, cursing and throwing the chair across the room and began to pull the Genin holding her across the floor, her strength overpowering them.
 
"Ahahaha!" Kazuo threw his head back laughing. "Quite the temper, Satomi Sayuri. How about you save it for Round 2, hm?"
Kazuo's question confused Yuri long enough for her to stop her advance. She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose before sitting back on the nearest chair.
"That was my seat--"
Yuri turned and met the ninja's indignant expression with her own. Black eyes staring him down, her iron will and fiery rage mixed with a confident authority. The boy held his hands up and lost the colour in his face before backing away.
"So..." Yuri growled, turning back to look at Kazuo, "What's round two?
"You'll be briefed just before it commences." Kazuo replied. "You have three days to rest up. Someone will contact you with a time and a location, and you will go there. What I can tell you is you will be working in your teams, and you will all be each others opponents from now on. Even teams from the same village will be pitted against each other. Also, the next test is designed so that at least half of you will be guaranteed to fail. No more questions, you can go now."
 
"Ah...finally." Jin said with a sigh. "Yuri, I hope your dad is ready for a large order. I'm going to need at least ten bowls of his Tonkotsu Ramen to get over this!"
Jin turned around and saw that Yuri was nowhere to be seen. There was a small note on the chair beside him. Picking it up, he saw it read:
Jin, I wrote you a Haiku to pass the time, enjoy.
 
The noodles are mine
Anguish now in despair, friend
I feel no guilt bye.
 
"...Eh?" Jin said, completely bemused for a moment. Then there was a croak from his stomach. "...YURI!!!" He roared. 
 
 

 
 
[Little Song]
 
When Jin finally arrived at the Ramen stand, he found Yuri sitting on a bench, quietly eating her food. He sat down next to her and saw that there was a bowl of ramen already waiting for him. He smiled to himself, and picked up a pair of chopsticks without a word, snapping them apart, and whispering "Thanks for the meal." And then he began eating in silence. After a few mouthfuls he let out a satisfied gasp. Ibiki's ramen had never tasted so good. The two continued eating next to each other, and never spoke a word. There was no need. Despite their exhaustion and hunger, Jin could feel that they both felt the same. They were excited about what was to come, and glad that they had passed the test. The Yuri with him now looked perfectly calm as she sat and ate, nothing like the highly strung Yuri that looked on the verge of a breakdown before. 
 
"You know..." Jin said, putting his chopsticks down for a moment. "...Everything has been a bit of a rush since I came back. I think over the next few days we should spend some time together. We have a lot to catch up on, and we might not get this chance again. I was thinking, I'll speak to my dad, maybe you could come round for dinner tomorrow? We're going to have a tough time ahead so we should enjoy the quiet times, like this. What do you say, Yuri?"

 

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[Kokon Musou]

 

Yuri stepped up and stood in front of Jin's front door. She wore a simple pair of wooden geta and a beautiful white kimono with pink and red flowers across it. Her skin was almost as pale as the kimono, and her long black hair fell loosely around her shoulders and cascaded down her back - a dark brown in comparison to her eyes. She had applied a little make-up to her cheeks and lips to give her face a little colour. She knew she had to be on her best behaviour for a number of reasons. First, she was meeting Jin's parents, second she would be eating a formal meal with her taijutsu master, and last but by no means least, she had both her mother's good name to uphold, and her family's name. She didn't like talking about it, but the Satomi clan were nobility, and her father was the only exception to their clan's etiquette and laws, in more ways than one. Yuri leant forwards and knocked on the door and waited patiently for an answer.

 

There was a muffled tapping of feet, and a short pause before the door opened with a click. Jin was dressed in a simple black kimono, which he looked entirely too uncomfortable in. He cast his eye on Yuri, with a momentary expression of something like awe, but then he replaced it with his usual grin. He tugged at his kimono. "Mom said I had to dress up. Did she ask you to as well?"

"Mm..." Yuri looked Jin up and down and then shook her head quietly, then a grin spread across her face and she started laughing, "I-I'm sorry!" She said, in-between fits of laughter. She'd just never imagined that was something Jin owned, never mind would wear. 

"Just get in already." Jin said, rolling his eyes. "Mom's been in her 'demon mode' all day." Jin stepped out of the way to let Yuri inside. He led her in to the modest home, which was sparkling clean and tidy. There was a pleasant aroma coming from the kitchen, and when they entered the dining room Saya was just finishing setting the table. She was dressed in a traditional black tomesode, with a pattern of golden birds on the bottom and a matching sash, with five silver crests pinned around the garment. Her long, red hair was tied back and as she noticed Yuri she gave her guest a warm smile and stood up. 
"Nice to see you again, Yuri." She said. "You look very beautiful, I hope my son was courteous enough to say so."
"Uh..." Jin said, scratching the back of his head nervously.
 
"He was," Yuri replied, smiling at Jin, "In his own way." Then Yuri bowed to Saya respectfully. "You have a lovely home. I'm looking forward to our meal, it smells great." She looked expectantly into the kitchen and took a deep breath. It seemed her father wasn't the only culinary master in the village. But something was bothering her. Jin's mother had said 'nice to see you again', but she had never met her before today, at least, she didn't recognise her face. Also, her insects were buzzing with activity. They were reacting as though they felt a familiar presence.
"Thank you." Saya said with a nod. "We'll be eating soon. We're just waiting for Isamu to arrive. Please take a seat and I'll fetch us something to drink." Saya left the room and Jin immediately sat himself down on one of the cushions around the table. 
"I haven't had one of mom's home cooked meals in so long. We're in for a treat!" He said, practically salivating at just the thought.

"Jin..." Yuri gazed after his mother and then slowly knelt down beside him, "What does your mother do again?" She asked, frowning, unable to pull her gaze away from the kitchen where Saya was working. Something was definitely off, she just wasn't sure why. 

"Uh... she..." Jin looked a little nervous. "I'm... not allowed to say." He said finally, bowing his head. "I'm sorry... it's not that I don't trust you... it's just not for me to say."

"Oh..." Yuri's face tensed and then fell expressionless, silence filled the room. "... I understand..." She said finally, placing her hands on her lap and staring at the ground. So, Saya was like her sister Mira, then. Yuri bit her lower lip. Her bugs had alerted her to Saya's familiarity before she even understood her discomfort. Without Saya's mistake, without even her bugs. Yuri knew she would have realised what Saya was. Because she recognised a mask. Yuri caught Jin's eyes and she then she realised something horrible. He didn't see it. He didn't see the mask his mother wore. Yuri opened her mouth and moved her hand to touch Jin's shoulder, but she recoiled when she heard his mother's voice. 

 

"I suppose my little slip up didn't go unnoticed." Saya said as she enetered the room again with a table of drinks. "After all, I have never met Yuri before, at least not without my mask on."
"Mom..." Jin said, but Saya silenced him with a brief look as she placed the drinks on the table.
"Jin, it's okay. I am more than certain that Yuri is no traitor or spy." She said, and she couldn't help but smile. "It's sort of strange, really. I've watched you grow up, Yuri, and yet this is the first time I have been able to truly meet you."
"We all wear masks..." Yuri replied, moving her hand to indicate her own eyes, but her tone was just for Saya. "I'm glad you can see me without mine at last, and likewise..." Her voice almost broke as she stared at Saya, finding it difficult to hide her anger.
"You look like Masa, right now." Saya said. "She was never very good at hiding her anger." Saya took a sip of her drink and placed it back on the table before continuing. "If you have something to say, then please say it. This family holds a lot of secrets on my account, obviously. I would rather not add to it."
 
[sadness and Sorrow]
 
"Stop!" Yuri snapped at last, slamming her palm down on the table. She couldn't control her breaths, and they came fast and shallow.
"Yuri?" Jin said with concern. "What's wrong?"
Tears started falling as Yuri spoke venomously to Saya, "You think you're doing your son a favour by hiding who you are?!" Yuri yelled angrily, "You're all the same! You're so used to wearing a mask you can't even take it off any more. It just becomes a part of you..." She trailed off then stood up and pointed at Saya, "You! My sister... my mother." She shook her head in disbelief, "How can you all think this is the right path?! HOW?!"
"You are... a smart girl, Yuri." Saya said patiently. "But there are things you do not yet understand, and in an ideal world I would hope you never do, but I expect you will one day." Saya looked at Yuri directly, and her eyes became cold and distant. "These eyes have seen terrible things. Things I would rather not have my child experience. Perhaps it is inevitable, but I will do so for as long as I can. Children... are so eager to grow up. This is because they do not know what awaits them. Adults like myself, and indeed your mother and sister, we have seen things that have changed us, and not for the better. You clearly don't agree with this, but to be frank, I don't especially care if you do or don't. You have not seen what we have seen. Don't you dare insult the sacrifices we have made, so that you might never see such things."
 
"Enough!" Jin said, slamming his fist on the table. "Mom... stop it! This was supposed to be a nice dinner..." His hand trembled with anger. Saya looked at him, and her eyes had become warm and gentle once more, and she smiled. 
"You're right... I'm sorry." She said with a nod. "I'll go start getting the food ready. Isamu will be home soon." Saya got up and went back in to the kitchen, and she left behind an awkward silence.

Yuri shook her head in disbelief, "... I should go." She turned and started to leave.

Before she could reach the door, it had already opened, and Isamu stepped through it. He looked much as he always had, except a little more tired around the eyes. He looked up, and his face lit up as he saw Yuri and Jin, and he gave them a warm smile. "Well, well... today I get to eat with both of my students." He said, and he looked at Yuri in particular. "... I'd imagined you'd look a lot tougher by now but... well you look very pretty, all the same."

"Appearances are deceiving." Yuri muttered, standing in front of the doorway patiently.

"Did I...miss dinner?" Isamu said, looking a little confused. 
"No, dad." Jin said, and he looked down at his feet sadly. "Yuri was just... something came up, she has to go."
"Nonsense." Isamu said, and before she could argue, he was leading Yuri back to the table. "I'm a very busy man now. Sarada had to... uh, I mean I had to work extra hard to afford this time with my family. And that includes you, Yuri."
 
[Nakama]
 
Yuri quietly sat down at the table as Isamu disappeared into the kitchen, she looked over to Jin and mouthed, 'I'm sorry'. Just then, she saw the plates of food being carried through by Isamu and Saya. She caught Saya's gaze, and for a moment, she thought her smile might have been genuine. Yuri frowned and then before she knew it, everyone was taking their seats. But before the meal could begin, there was a knock at the door.
"I'll get it." Jin said, and he got up and walked in to the hall, and pulled the door open.
Stood on the front step, was Mira. She stared down at Jin, unimpressed. "So, you're the boy..." She muttered. 
"Step aside, step aside, Mira!" Ibiki chided his daughter, who seemed nonplussed at being pushed to one side by her father. "Hiya Jin!" Ibiki beamed at him and then looked over Jin's shoulder, "Hi Saya! Isamu!!" He called, "I brought sweet dumplings! Room for two more?!" He asked, grinning. Yuri stared at her father in disbelief, a small smile creeping across her face. When she told her father about the meal she was having with Jin's parents, she never thought her father would just invite himself, although that seemed in-character.
 
"Ibiki!" Isamu roared from the dining room. "Did I hear you say dumplings!? Get your ass in here!"
"Hehehe..." Jin giggled, and stepped out of the way. "You better do what he says, I guess."
"Made enough twice over!" Ibiki roared back at Isamu, laughing. Yuri caught Mira's eye as they walked in and silently questioned her. Her sister shrugged back at Yuri and mouthed 'free meal', and offered the smallest of wry smiles. Yuri couldn't help but smile back at her. "Aaah!" Ibiki sighed, as he fell into a chair beside Isamu and gave him a pat on the back. Mira sat down beside Saya and gave her a small nod. "So...!!" Ibiki clapped his hands together, "This looks delicious!!" 
"Well I do try." Saya said with a nod. "Hopefully it tastes delicious too."
"I'd be a lot thinner if it didn't!" Isamu said with a smile. "Well... this has turned in to quite a gathering. It's a shame it took so long for this to happen." Isamu looked sad for a brief moment, as he remembered his friend who would have loved a get-together like this. 
"So... are we going to eat or what?" Jin said, rubbing his stomach. 
"In a minute!" Isamu said. "First... I think congratulations are in order. I heard today that my two favourite Genin made it through to the second round of the Chuunin exams. Both of you, very well done."
 
"We sat in a room for three days." Yuri replied, shaking her head with a small smile, "It wasn't the most pleasant of experiences but it wasn't like we were fighting a tailed beast." Yuri laughed but trailed off upon seeing the strange expressions on most everyone's faces. "What?" She asked.
"So dad, can you give us any hints for the next round?" Jin said, changing the subject. 
"Nice try." Isamu said. "I'm afraid I can't tell you, obviously. It wouldn't be fair to the other Genin, and not fair to you really."
"How come?" Jin asked. 
"Well if I help you then you won't learn anything, will you?" Isamu said. "But you'll do fine. Me and Masa worked well, and I'm sure you two will as well."

Mira cleared her throat, "I wouldn't be surprised if finding a way to learn about the exam prior to it's explanation on the day would be considered within the rules. Intelligence gathering is a natural part of being a ninja." Then she stuffed two entire dumplings in her mouth - making her look like a hamster - and began to chew. 

"Do you think?" Yuri asked, grinning thoughtfully. 

"That's a fair point." Isamu said with a nod. "But I don't think asking your dad really constitutes intelligence gathering. You'll have to try harder than that."
"Your father is right." Saya said. "I mean you could do so many effective things. You could assess where the most exam officials are stationed, check for areas of the village that are sealed off, heck I'm sure if you told the ANBU outside his office that Isamu sent you to collect something he forgot then they'd probably let you in, then you could raid his office for official documents."
"Saya!" Isamu gasped, nearly choking on a dumpling. 
"I said they could do those things." Saya said with a smirk. "I'm sure they wouldn't stoop to such things though."
Yuri nodded innocently, biting through a dumpling and enjoying the pleasant and subtle peach flavour jam inside, and just as subtly she caught Jin's eye and raised her eyebrow with a smile. Her meaning was clear, 'Shall we?'

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[Ninmu]

 

Long after everyone had eaten their fill, the night drew in to the early hours of the morning, and the adults said their goodbyes and retired to their beds. However, two young ninja had waited until their houses were quiet. And now they had met each other under the twilight sky, standing on the rooftops of Konoha. 

"My dad went out like a light." Jin said with a grin. "So where should we go first? If we can find out where they are holding the second exam then we can get an idea of what's to come."

"I could take Saya's form, or Isamu's." Yuri suggested, "Between our encounter with the Crimson Field, and my sister's teaching, i've learned a thing or two about disguise. I'm confident I can fool even an ANBU, so long as they don't have a password or something."

"They might be on high alert if they expect something like this." Jin said. "Plus people are going to find it odd if the Hokage is wandering around in the middle of the night. As for my mom...I don't even know what she's like as an ANBU. She's pretty careful about that stuff. Seems a little risky. Hey...what about Hisato? Do you think they'd let him know what's going on?"

"Hisato?" Yuri asked, and then considered it. "Do you think he knows about all that?" She asked, unsure.

"Hmm...you know, the old lady would probably help us out." Jin said. "She doesn't give a crap about rules anyway."

"Mmm... I think she would be our best bet. She has a vested interest in you, but is also willing to break the rules." Yuri nodded to herself, "Yes. She's our best bet. But, would she help?"

"I'm not really sure, she's a bit unpredictable." Jin said. "But there's no harm in asking her. Now all we have to do is find her..." Jin scratched his head. "I don't know if I mentioned but...she's really fast. Like...it's almost like she can teleport. She could be anywhere by now."

 

"But will she still be somewhere in Konoha?" Yuri asked.

"Well if she is, then I think I know where she'll be." Jin said. "It's where I first met her. Come on, I'll show you." And Jin took off, Yuri following quickly behind him. 

 

[Akatsuki]

 

As Jin and Yuri took off on their midnight mission, they had not noticed that they were being watched. A mysterious figure in a black cloak stood atop a building shaped like a tower, balanced on the top of the roof. The figure's face was entirely concealed by a strange, silver mask that was shaped like a mythical demon, known as an Oni. It featured two horns protruding from the head, and a fanged mouth, with two larger fangs protruding out of either side. The figure also wore a black, fitted hood under the mask, completely concealing any distinguishing features. The mysterious figure kept watch of them, until they were completely out of sight. Then he turned and leapt off of the tower, landing on the rooftops below and going off at a sprint. After he cleared a couple of rooftops, there was a tap as another figure started running alongside him. This one was dressed the same, but his Oni had a single horn on the front of his head. As they progressed, more and more figures joined them. There were now 6 figures running alongside each other, all dressed in black, and each with a silver mask, each Oni looking similar, each one with a number of horns on their head to indicate their number in the group. 

 

They kept going until they had cleared the residential area, and descended to street level, weaving through the tight alleys without a soul even noticing. Eventually they came out at a run down, old building not far from the Hokage's office. They each scaled the building and broke in through the windows around it. They entered in to a room of complete darkness, but they struck out violently, and there were multiple thuds as the ninja laying in wait were put down effortlessly. They descended in to the depths of the building, and when they reached the basement they were greeted with light once more. Ahead was a long, metallic tunnel, one of the secret entrances in to Konoha's ANBU headquarters. The Oni each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off down the tunnel. 

 

When they reached the other end, several ANBU appeared to bar their path. One of the Oni cut off from the pack, speeding ahead and running up the side of the wall, greeting the first ANBU with a spinning kick. The next one went to react, only to find two more of the Oni leaping on top of him and putting him down with barely so much as a whimper. They didn't stop to survey, they simply knew where they were going. They weaved through the labyrinthine corridors, before emerging in a room that looked like a large warehouse, filled with rows and rows of shelves that reached right up to the roof high above, and on each shelves were countless scrolls. Once again they each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off in separate directions without a single word for confirmation. Each of them began searching carefully through the shelves, making sure to put each scroll back after checking. The one with the two horns was the first to find what they were looked for. He examined the scroll for a moment, and then rolled it back up, then gave a short and sharp whistle, before moving back towards the tunnels. 

 

[Jinchuuriki]

 

Stood at the only way out, were the two remaining members of the Goei Shotai, Uchiha Mirai and Masamune Kotetsu, and behind them about 20 ANBU ninja. The two horned Oni stopped in his tracks, and each of his companions dropped around him from the parts of the warehouse they were lurking. The two groups stared at each other for a moment. The two horned Oni tied the scroll he was carrying to his belt, and then looked at Kotetsu. "Masamune Kotetsu...Samurai from the Land of Iron. You're a long way from home." The man said in the youthful tone of a playful prankster. 

"Small talk will only delay the inevitable." Kotetsu said, as he rested his hand on the katana at his belt. "Spare yourself the trouble and come along quietly. You will be interrogated so that we can learn your motives for this unwarranted raid, and then you will be imprisoned. Either that, or you will die by my sword."

"Hmm..." Two horns said as he rubbed the chin of his mask in a mocking fashion. "Is there a third option? I don't like those ones very much."

 

"The third option is I subject you all to a hundred years of misery, in the blink of an eye." Mirai said coldly, and her eyes flashed a deep crimson as she awakened her Sharingan. 

"Oooh...creepy." Two horns said. "But your Genjutsu only works if we look you directly in the eye. I don't think we'll make that mistake."

"Enough!" Kotetsu said, and he strode forwards slowly. "Do not try to stall with me. Come and face me."

"Aww, you're no fun!" Two horns said. "Well, it's your funeral!" Then he went straight for Kotetsu at a blinding sprint. Kotetsu gripped his katana, and then he drew it outwards in a horizontal slash. There was a moment where nothing happened, and then Two Horns was torn to shreds as if a thousand blades were cutting rapidly at him, and his remains scattered the floor unceremoniously. The Oni paused, and looked a little anxious. Kotetsu eyed each of them as he brought his sword back in to it's sheath. "Who else want's to try me?" He asked. 

 

"Oh! Me, please!" Two Horns called, as he stepped out from behind one of the bulkier members of the Oni. Kotetsu's eyes widened in shock. 

"How...is that possible?" He asked. 

"Oh I have a few tricks." Two Horns said. "I liked that one though. Infinite One Sword, am I right?"

"Who...who are you?" Kotetsu growled. "You know too much."

"You can call me Spirit!" came the reply. "These are my friends, Malice, Avarice, Wrath, Faith and Saint. Pleased to meet you!"

 

"He mocks us." Mirai said. "Let's not waste time. They are likely agents of Akira."

"No way, lady!" Spirit said. "You've got us all wrong! We just want to borrow this scroll, then we'll be out of your way."

"This archive contains Forbidden Jutsu that have been locked away for a reason." Mirai said. "Whatever you have planned, we can't allow it to happen."

"Well if you want to know what we're planning all you had to do was ask." Spirit said. "It's not like you can stop us anyway."

"Confident." Mirai said. "You underestimate us."

 

"You've got it backwards." Spirit said, and his voice sounded a shade colder, and more twisted. "You have completely underestimated us. We know all about Akira and his little Tailed Beasts, that's why we're taking this scroll."

"What are you talking about!?" Kotetsu barked angrily. 

"This scroll is just one of five. Five scrolls shared between five great shinobi villages. When you put them together, they show you how to summon and control and Tailed Beast. Pretty handy, don't you think?"

"If that's true...then you will not leave her alive!" Kotetsu snarled, and then he went at a sprint towards them, Mirai and the rest of the ANBU following closely behind. 

 

[Kokuten]

 

The large Oni with five horns, Wrath, moved quickly, drawing his own blood and placing his hand on the floor. He summoned a large boar that charged at Kotetsu. Kotetsu leapt in to the air, drawing his sword as he flipped over the boar, cutting it clean in two, before advancing forward. The three horned, Malice, and the four horned, Faith, both intercepted him, drawing their kunai. The three clashed, Kotetsu's katana a whirlwind blur as he moved expertly to parry their strikes. Meanwhile the six horned, Saint, moved for the ANBU, pressing his palms to the ground and unleashing a dragon made of rock that exploded out from the ground and crashed in to the ninja. They spread out to avoid it and advanced forward on Saint, sending a barrage of fire and water at him. 

 

Mirai's body blackened and took the shape of a murder of crows, weaving through the carnage before her, and emerging from behind spirit, and hurling a barrage of shuriken at his back. Spirit moved quickly, summoning a wall of earth to protect himself from the blow. Then before he could react his wall was shattered by a great fireball that Mirai had sent his way. Spirit fell forward, but managed to get back on his feet. His hands were a blur as he performed the necessary seals, and then he pushed his hands forward, and sent a hurricane of wind towards Mirai, knocking her off her feet and sending her tumbling back in to the rows of shelves. Spirit realised too late when he saw Mirai's body explode in to a murder of crows once more, and the real Mirai appeared behind him, and plunged a kunai in to his neck. However this, too, was a feint. The real Spirit emerged from deep within the warehouse, riding high above on the back of a great hawk. The bird took a dive, knocking Mirai off her feet, before arcing round towards the other Oni, who leapt on to the bird, one by one, before it ascended in to the air, climbing higher and higher towards the roof. Working together, Faith and Saint summoned a giant ball of flame, and fired it at the roof, blowing it open, and the hawk carried them out in to the sky above Konoha, and away from Kotetsu and Mirai. 

 

The hawk swooped over Konoha, and spirit gave a soft chuckle as he took the scroll from his belt and examined it. "That was a little too easy, don't you think?" He said to his comrades. 

"Guess again." Malice said, and he pointed ahead of them. Standing with his arms folded, floating in the sky, was a young man in his mid 20's with a lean, muscular physique. He was dressed in black trousers with bandages wrapped around his lower legs, and was wearing a sleeveless, green combat vest with a hood. His hair was light brown, and cut short and spiky. His skin was tan, and his eyes were a dark brown. 

"I-Is he...flying!?" Saint gasped. 

"There's only one ninja who can do that..." Malice said. "That's Azuchi Dai, The Tsuchikage!"

"Shit...the chuunin exams. He must be attending." Spirit said. "This could be bad."

 

Dai lifted his head slightly, eyeing the hawk flying in the distance. He unfolded his arms, holding his hands close to his chest. A transluscent cube formed in between them, with a single white orb in the centre. Then he sent the orb forward, and as it hurtled towards the hawk, it expanded in size, growing larger and larger until it seemed completely unavoidable. 

"Dive!" Malice roared, and the hawk plummeted almost vertically, narrowly missing the expanding cube, pulling up just above the rooftops of Konoha, and the Oni all leapt off of it and began sprinting across the rooftops. 

"Particle Release, I've seen it before." Malice said. "It's a Bloodline Selection, more powerful than a Bloodline Limit. One of the only ones known."

"Yeah, great!" Spirit called back. "How do we stop it!?"

"You don't." Malice replied. "It allows the user to completely disintegrate anything within the space on a molecular level."

"That's insane!" Spirit yelled. 

"Agreed." Malice said. 

 

Before they could make their escape, Dai came swooping towards them at speed, and stopped, hovering, before them all. "To invade one of the Five Great Shinobi Villages, during a Chuunin Exam, is an insult to us all." He said, his voice quiet but filled with a raging anger. "You are the ones who have raided Sunagakure and Kirigakure already. Even if you think you can take me on, which I sincerely doubt, I am sure the Hokage will be along shortly to assist me."

"This is bad..." Malice said. 

"I've been in worse scrapes!" Spirit said in response. "Leave this to me, just get out of here!" He tossed the scroll to Malice, and then the rest of the Oni went off at a sprint across the rooftops. Dai shook his head in disappointment. 

"You are a fool. I will dispose of you, and then catch up to your allies."

"No you won't." Spirit said. "Because you have no idea what's going on."

 

"And I suppose you are going to enlighten me?" Dai said. "You think you can reason your way out of this?"

"I know I can." Spirit said, and then he removed his mask and revealed his face to Dai. 

"You're...what is the meaning of this!?" Dai snarled angrily. 

"I'm glad you recognize me." Spirit said. "Allow me to explain everything..."

 

 

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[Evening]

The smell of tobacco and cheap rice wine carried on the breeze as Yuri followed Jin across Konoha's rooftops. He veered off and she followed him down to street level, where a notable fog of smoke drifting up separated the bar from the other businesses surrounding it. Yuri took a deep breath, but crinkled her nose from the smell.
"And this is where your sensei is...?" She asked, raising an eyebrow in disbelief. 
"Well, I think so." Jin replied, scratching his head. He walked over to a couple of older men who were quietly playing cards at a bench. "Oi, old guys!" He said, and they turned and frowned at him. "I'm looking for an old lady. Likes sake, and gambling?"
"Heh, sounds like my ex wife." One of the old men replied, chuckling. "But there's also someone like that inside. She's currently losing all her Ryo to the owner, hehe."

"And you learnt from her?" Yuri asked sceptically. As a drunk reveller walked out, Yuri walked into the bar, pushing the large man aside as though he weighed little at all. Inside the bar, it was warm, smoky and the lighting was dimmed. Yuri saw a group of people sat at a table and crossed the room, weaving through tables and patrons to get there just as the man at the table threw down his cards and grinned.
"Well, how 'bout that then?!" He cheered, and a couple of people watching over his shoulder chuckled at the old woman.
"Oi, old lady, you're Jin's sensei?" Yuri asked, examining the stakes on the table.

Sorano tilted her grass hat up so she could look at Yuri, and smirked. "That's right, princess." She said. "Now bars aren't for the youth, so run along." She turned back to her hand and focused her gaze, pondering her next move. 
"We came looking for you, old lady." Jin said as he stood next to Yuri, "We were wondering if you could help us with something."
"Bite your tongue, punk." Sorano growled. "Leave you on your own for a few days and that presumptuous attitude comes out again. Don't you forget who the boss is here." She turned back to her hand and Jin stood silently, giving Yuri a look that said she should do the same.
Sorano placed the last few notes she had on the table. "Alright, I'm all in." She said confidently. The owner of the bar smirked and licked his lips, eyeing his own hands. 
"Alright, Sorano. I'll pay to see 'em." He said, and he matched her bet. Sorano smirked and placed her cards on the table. "Full house." She said, and she immediately went to take her winnings. 
"Uh-uh, Sorano." The owner said. He placed his own hand down. "Straight flush." He added with a grin.
"Ah, snap!" Sorano cursed. She sighed and leaned back in her chair, turning to the two kids. "Alright you two. I'm in a bad mood, and flat broke. What exactly have you come to bother me with, hm?"

"We want information on stage two of the Chuunin exams." Yuri glanced at the man who had just taken the last of the old lady's money, then turned her attention back to Sorano as he gathered up the notes and coins. "You know something, don't you?" She asked.
"What makes you say that?" Sorano said, shrugging. "I'm just an old relic. You think they tell me what's up?"
"Well if you don't know, you could find out right?" Jin suggested. "There's no way they could stop you. You're the best ninja in Konoha."
"Not a ninja, boy." Sorano said. "Now... maybe I could do that. But why should I?"
"You used to be a ninja though, didn't you?" Yuri replied, "Can't you see the value in our knowing this information? Both Jin and myself want to change Konoha for the better. Would you stand in the way of our progress?" She looked over the table and the other gamblers who had fallen silent, "Or would you like to go back to your cards?" 
"Oh, I see." Sorano nodded. "So you think a spiffy flak jacket will be the key to bettering Konoha?" Sorano smirked. "Genin, Chuunin, Jounin.... none of those titles really reflect how capable a person can be. Not to mention the kind of trouble I could get in for helping you, and if anyone found out that you two were involved... well, you'd be disqualified, for sure."

[Survival Examination]

"Alright." Yuri looked across the table, "A wager, then." Yuri grabbed the man sat beside Sorano and pulled him out of his seat, then sat down and looked across the table. "If I beat you with the next hand, then i'll also win back your money for you, and you help us. If you beat me, then you can have this," Yuri reached inside her collar and pulled out a gold chain necklace with a pendant on the end of it, "It's worth a lot. So if you win, maybe you can win back what you've lost already. Either way, you win something. You're a betting woman, think you can beat me?" She asked, her face expressionless.

"Interesting." Sorano said, a sly grin spreading across her face. "It seems the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Although.... Masa was always a very confident gambler, because she knew the game better than almost anyone." Sorano took a deep breath and leaned forward on the table. "But you've misunderstood your opponent. I don't gamble for money, It's not difficult to get money when you're capable like myself. It's the risk that I enjoy, kid." Sorano swiped the deck of cards from the table and began to shuffle them expertly in her hands. "Let me propose another wager. If you win, I'll dig up some information to give you kids an edge. But, if I win..." Sorano's hands moved like a blur, dealing the cards to each of them in an instant. "... Both of you will agree to forfeit the Chuunin exams."
"Wh-what!?" Jin spat. "We're not doing that!"
"Then you'll just have to go in blind like the rest of them." Sorano replied. "A ninja must be able to weigh out the value associated with a risk. And no risk is really a risk at all, without a hefty price for failure." Sorano turned her head back to Yuri. "On the other hand, if you're anything like Masa, then there is really no risk at all, hm?"

Yuri considered the old woman for a long while, then let out a sigh and nodded, "Alright. It's a deal." She picked up her cards and studied them in silence, then placed them face down on the table, "So...?" She leant back and waited for Sorano.
"So... let's get started." Sorano said, and she flipped the first of three cards placed on the table. "King of Hearts." She said. "Now, Sayuri, at this point I'll offer you a chance to concede, and walk away with no consequences. What would you like to do?"
"I would like you to turn another card." Yuri replied, placing her hands on her lap patiently. 
Sorano turned another card. "4 of Spades." She declared, and looked at her own cards. "Mmm... interesting. This time I'll give you the same offer once more, you may concede now and the wager will be forgotten, but, if you do so then you must also agree to be my ward for two weeks, where you will do whatever I tell you."
Yuri checked her cards a second time, committing them to memory. She looked at the other two cards presented to her and paused in quiet thought, "I'd like to see another card. I'd rather be disqualified than end up rubbing your toes and carrying your bags." A small smile spread across her lips.

"Oh I think you'll find being my ward can be a very rewarding opportunity." Sorano said with a grin. "Isn't that right, boy?" She turned to Jin. 
"...It was a tough year." Jin said, his eyes staring off in to the void as he pictured the arduous tasks he had been made to perform during his training. 
"Ah, well, it can't be helped." Sorano said with a shrug. She flipped the last card and smirked. "Ace of spades..." She said. "Well, Sayuri, you know the drill. Carry on and risk your future as a ninja, or concede, and this time... if you quit then Jin will leave Konoha for another year, and train with me."
"Wait, I don't agree to that." Jin said. 
"You are a team." Sorano said. "The consequences affect you both. That is part of being a ninja."

"Then you force me to continue regardless." Yuri replied.
"Perhaps your principles do that." Sorano replied. "Plenty of ruthless ninja out there, quite a valuable trait to a lot of people." Sorano drew in a long breath and sighed. "Hmm... well, that's some poker face you've got, Satomi Sayuri. If I had more to lose I'd maybe be a little worried right now. Well, it can't be helped. I guess I concede." She said, laying her hand face down on the table. "As much as I'd enjoy seeing if you lost, I'm much more keen to see what you do in the next stage of the exam. Seeing the Kage's collective heads roll is worth more than anything you can offer me."

[Rainy Day]

A long sigh of relief escaped from Yuri and she leant back in her seat. She took her cards and Sorano's, and for a moment, considered checking them, but thought better of it and placed them all back in the deck. She didn't need to see Sorano's hand to know now. It had all been a test. She stood up, put her pendant back on and walked out into the cool night air and waited for Jin and Sorano to join her. 

"Not sure what kind of lesson that was supposed to be, old lady." Jin said as he shoved his hands in his pockets and went outside. 
"Well that's because the lesson wasn't for you." Sorano replied. "Sometimes even a mature woman like myself needs to learn a thing or two."
"So, how are you going to help us?" Jin asked. 
"Hmm..." Sorano put her hand to her chin, thoughtfully. "Why don't you leave it with me. You have a few days to prepare. Do what you need to do, and when the time comes I'll have something for you, deal?"
"There doesn't seem to be another option." Yuri replied, but bowed politely to Sorano, "My mother always spoke highly of you, God Step." Then she turned and made to leave.
"Heh, that is surprising..." Sorano said in response. "Masa was a great Kunoichi, and a great leader. Naturally, we rarely saw eye to eye. It's nice to know she never took it to heart. Good luck, both of you."
"Yeah, thanks, old lady." Jin said with a smirk. "I'll be sure to become a chuunin, and make you proud."
"You'll need more than a flak jacket to make me proud, boy." Sorano said sternly. "But it's a good first step, at least."
"I see why she's your sensei," Yuri nodded to Jin, gave Sorano one last bow and then leapt up to the rooftops. A few moments later, Jin joined her, "So, i'm going to bed. Let's do something tomorrow, nothing serious just... let's enjoy a day together, we don't know when we might be able to do that again."
"Sure, sounds good." Jin said with a nod. "We should take a tour of Konoha. It's been a whole year, it'd be nice to see what's changed."
"Mm," Yuri nodded, and then vanished. As she darted across the rooftops to return to her home, she wondered what was in store for them in the next stage of the Chuunin exams. She would not fear her dreams, not tonight. For the first time in a long while, she was happy.

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[Naruto's Daily Life] 

"Phew...Yuri's gonna be so surprised." Jin said quietly to himself. He was crouched on top of a tiled roof, with a neatly packed carrier at his side. "I got up before dawn to make these bentos." He said gleefully. He took a length of rope and tied it around the handle of the box, pulling on it to make sure it was fastened tightly. He took out a piece of card he had scribbled a smiley face on along with the word 'surprise' and he placed it on top of the carrier. Then he slowly began to lower the carrier off the side of the roof by the rope, allowing it to descend down to a window. It was Yuri's bedroom window. He grinned in anticipation, and tossed a small pebble so that it fell down the side of the house, hit the top of the carrier and bounced, tapping against Yuri's window. Now all he had to do was wait. 

"Oi! What are you doing there!?" A voice cried. "This is private property of the Satomi clan! Get down at once!"
"Uwah!?" Jin gasped as one of the ninja guards of the estate came sprinting across the roof toward him. Then he felt like he was forgetting something. "Eh...ora?" He glanced down at his hands, and saw that the rope he had been clutching was gone. Then he heard an almighty crash, and scuttled towards the edge of the roof and looked down, only to see a shattered carrier, with the bento boxes lying in shreds across the ground. "AAAAGGGH!" He yelled, leaping to his feet. "My bentos!"
"Come 'ere, you!" The ninja snarled as he leapt towards him. 
"Ah!" Jin yelped as he leapt out of the way and ran across the roof in a panic, causing tiles to dislodge and come sliding off the roof and shattering on the ground below. "Hey leave me alone! I just wanted to have lunch!" He cried back at the ninja, 
"I'll give you lunch!" The Ninja roared back as he sprinted after Jin, who leapt from the roof, descending to the ground. 
"That doesn't make seeeeeense!" He called back as he fell to the ground and landed with a soft tap.

Yawning, Yuri opened her bedroom window, scratching her head as she looked outside. She watched Jin running from one of the estate guards and smirked, disappearing back inside her bedroom for a moment to change out of her pyjamas. A minute later she emerged in a plain black t-shirt and jean-shorts and climbed out her bedroom window and leapt down onto the adjoining wall of their estate. She grinned at Jin running from the guard, then looked down at the broken tiles scattered across their garden, and the small pile of food scattered about. Amusement turned into a quiet rage as Jin came running back in her direction, quickly followed by the guard. As he tried to zip past her, she reached out and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck then thumped him on the head.
"That's how you get ants, Jin!" She snarled, pointing at the food, "And I should know!!" The guard caught up to them and started apologising profusely for disturbing her sleep, not catching the intruder, and so on. "So, it's your fault, then?" 
"Uh..." The ninja guard looked to Jin and then at the food on the floor. 
"You disturbed my friend, chased him, which made him drop our lunch and break our tiles and mess up our garden." 
"Uh, well... now..." The guard considered his response carefully, weighing up all the things he could say. Then he promptly dropped that plan, as it was foolish, and did an immediate 180 degree turn and sprinted away in fear, as Yuri chased after him at a sprint. She was on him in seconds and kicked him in the backside so hard that he flew up into the sky, becoming a distant figure until he disappeared from sight entirely, a glint on the horizon.
"What a mess..." She muttered, cracking her knuckles as she sauntered back.

"Er...sorry." Jin said, scratching the back of his head. "I made bentos for a picnic but that guy spooked me." He added, letting out a sigh. "I guess that was all for nothing...."
"It's alright. I'm not exactly sure what goes where, but..." Yuri held up her bare arms and they turned black, the swarm of insects expanded further and further until it looked as though she had two beach ball-sized groups and then they scattered. A number of them descended on their lunch, while the other swarm flew to the broken tiles. The tile swarm lifted the tiles up and carried them back onto the roof and fitted them in, one after another, while Yuri directed them. Meanwhile, the other swarm lay thick over the bento, obscuring it entirely. When the tiles were finished, Yuri sighed and held out her arm for the bugs to return. They swept down from the roof and returned to her arm where they disappeared and then she leant over and put her hand into the swarming cloud of insects on the ground and pulled out two seemingly untouched bento picnic lunches. The second swarm whirled around her arm and disappeared inside as she held up the lunches to Jin. "There you go." She said at last, "All fixed!"
"Hmm...guess I should have known you'd clean up my mess." Jin said with a smirk. "So...I was thinking we could go sit up on top of the monument." Jin said, pointing off in the distance towards the large mountainous rocks with faces carved along it. "You get a nice view of Konoha from there, and we'll get some peace and quiet."

"Sure." She nodded with a smile, then as they started walking she quickly excused herself for a moment, and walked over to where she'd kicked the guard up into the sky. A distant screaming came hurtling ever louder towards them and then Yuri reached out and grabbed the man a second before he hit dirt. She put his feet firmly on the ground and patted him down, apologised for going overboard and walked off, "Okay, let's go!" She smiled to Jin, and they walked off. The guard stood there in silence for a few seconds longer, holding his backside. Slowly, he fell onto his side, still frozen in the stance he'd been placed, a scrunched up stunned look of pain and fear etched on his face.


[Little Song]

"Ah!" Jin sighed as he dropped on to his backside and fell backwards so that he was lying down, staring up at the sky. "I missed this sky." He said with a smile. "I mean...it looks the same as the rest of the sky but...mm...it's hard to explain, I guess." They were now on top of the Hokage Monument, facing out on to the large valley Konoha was built in. 
"Mm..." Yuri sat down beside Jin and looked up at the clouds.
"So..." Jin said. "You must have seen and done a lot this past year. Anything you can tell me about?"
"Well, i'm not an ANBU, we took a couple of high-rank missions in the last few months but nothing I can't talk about." Yuri thought for a moment, "Oh!" She fell onto her back and stared up at the sky, "This is my favourite," She grinned, "Once, we captured a rogue ninja, which wasn't too hard I guess, with my sister there, but here's the good part," She leant onto her side and supported her head with her arm so she could look at Jin, "We were on our way back with him when his brother attacked us! We had no idea he had a brother who was also a ninja, turned out he was from a smaller village who had learnt of his brother's capture and came to stop us, but get this--" She paused for dramatic effect, "They managed to restrain my sister, and I fought both of them!"
"Really?" Jin asked, turning his head to face Yuri. "Isn't your sister kind of a badass? How did you beat them?"

At this, Yuri fell onto her back and twiddled her thumbs, "Well, I mean..." She shrugged, "... I didn't /beat/ them." She flashed Jin a sheepish grin, "But I managed to distract them long enough that my sister broke free and we took them down, so..." She licked her lips and nodded, "I mean, obviously, I never let Mira live that down." Yuri started laughing. Jin smiled and looked back up at the sky. 
"Sounds exciting." He said. "My journey wasn't really like that, at all."
"How do you mean?" Yuri asked, "I mean, for me, it wasn't all missions. I had to do a lot of training. I know she's your sensei and all, but Sorano didn't seem like I pictured her, not from how my mom talked about her."
"Mm...no arguments there." Jin said. "Granny Sorano puts on a grumpy act, but I think there's a lot more to her. She taught me a lot of things. Maybe she went about it a little unorthodox, sometimes I didn't even notice I was being trained. She used to make me carry all of the supplies in one big sack. She never carried a thing, it used to make me so mad. Walking for miles, day in, day out. When we stopped at a village she'd sleep at an inn, and make me sleep outside in a tent. She made me catch, prepare and cook all of our meals. I felt like a glorified slave, and never once did she lift a finger to help me." Jin thought about it and he couldn't stop the wide grin from spreading across his face. 

"One day, after about 3 months, I had finally had enough, and I lost my temper." He said. "I yelled at her, and told her this wasn't what I signed up for. I told her I left Konoha to become stronger, and told her I wanted to go home. She seemed her usual self at first, told me to suck it up, scolded me for being weak and complacent. But that night she woke me up, and told me to spar with her. I...couldn't believe it. I hadn't sparred in months, but I was better than I had ever been. Stronger, faster, and tactics came to me much easier."
"That's pretty cool." Yuri nodded, "I'm not sure i'd want to carry around a pack all day as part of my training, but I guess I had my own walls to climb."
"It got better after that day." Jin replied. "I still had to do all of that stuff, just like before, but every day we'd spar. She started showing me how to control my chakra, and helped me harness the wind element. Oh, and this one time we met this huge toad." Jin held his arms out wide for emphasis. "He was bigger than a house. I've never seen anything like it before."

"Wow..." Yuri tried picturing this enormous toad Jin mentioned but it was difficult to imagine a creature like that even existing. Though, she found herself being reminded of the snake that had attacked Konoha, and it gave her chills. Suddenly, a large toad wasn't so hard to picture. "I'd love to have seen some of the things you did..."
"Well then I'll show you someday, when we travel together again." Jin said, smiling. Then his smile faded as he remembered the one thing he didn't want Yuri to ever see. Images of the terrifying mural he had seen at the hidden temple of Sorano's ancestors. The menacing stare of the nine tailed fox flashed in his mind and he visibly winced, and shifted uncomfortably. 
"Hey you okay?" Yuri asked, frowning.
"Hm?" Jin turned to look at Yuri, and forced a smile. "Oh, yeah...I'm fine. I was just thinking about this time where Sorano lost all our money gambling and we had to eat nothing but rice cakes for a week." He felt a tug of guilt immediately. He hated lying to Yuri. 
"Oh, alright..." Yuri turned back and stared up at the clouds.

"Hey..." Jin said, changing the subject. "...Do you think we'll be able to do this? The chuunin exam, I mean. Some kids die on these exams, you know?"
She let out a long sigh, "I think we have a better chance than some, and maybe less than others. I'm not worried about dying..." Yuri caught her lower lip between her teeth and chewed absent-mindedly.
"And...what about killing?" Jin asked. "How do you feel about that?"
"That's what i'm worried about." She replied quietly.
"Hmm..." Was all Jin could say as a reply. For a moment they sat in silence, a gentle breeze blowing over them as they stared up at the sky. Then, after a while, Jin suddenly leaned back on to his shoulders and vaulted up on to his feet. 

[The Last]

Jin folded his arms and looked out over the horizon of Konoha, taking in the entire village in all it's glory. The wind rushed through his hair and he felt a rush of excitement, and a confident grin spread over his face. "I guess it can't be helped..." He said with a short sigh. He turned on his heel to face Yuri, with his arms still folded. "Satomi Sayuri!" He said with an authoritative snap. "Looks like you're not as ready as I thought you were. I can't let you compete in the chuunin exams in your current state."
"Let's not break this pleasant afternoon by you forcing me to beat you into the ground." Yuri sighed pleasantly, staring up at the sky. "I could stay here forever..."
"Talk is cheap!" Jin said with a wide grin. "If you can't rely on yourself, then I'll have to show you that you can rely on me!" He raised his head up high. "Tonight, just after sundown, we settle this! I'll show you that if you're ever in danger of doing something you'll regret, I'll be there to smack you in the face. Yuri...your next opponent...is me!"

Yuri sat upright and looked Jin up and down, studying him to see if he was being serious, after a minute she stood up and walked over to a nearby boulder. "Alright, we'll spar." Then she turned, brought her arm back and struck the boulder with her bare fist, the enormous rock split from the centre, cracks striking out like lightning bolts. Then it collapsed into a dozen pieces, kicking up a small cloud of dust. She turned back to face Jin with a wide smile on her face, closed her eyes and gave Jin a double peace sign, "Can't wait!" She cheered, and sauntered off. As she walked off Jin stood strong, with a fixed smile on his face. 
"...She scared me so much I can't move my face..." He said through clenched teeth. 

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