Metalmancer


The World In Which We Live

Konohagakure no Sato: Autumn

The autumn air over Konoha was crisp, clear, and just this side of frosty. The forest around the Hidden Leaf, was known on many maps, as the Forest of Fire, and there are some people who believe that the name came specifically because it was within Hi no kuni, or the Land of Fire. Those people are wrong, because while the leaves of these deciduous trees tend to retain their green color, longer than other forests of its type, in just a few weeks' time, this forest will look like it's on fire. The leaves will have changed into an inferno-like appearance of reds, oranges, yellows, and even whites on some species.

In Konoha's training ground 66, Team Eight, or as they call themselves, Team Kurenai, was training in the role their sensei envisioned for them when she formed this team. They were an SSET team, or Scouting, Sabotage, Espionage, and Tracking team, while all ninja could take Direct-Action to the enemy, when they needed to, SSET (pronounced as 'set') teams, specialized in Key-Hole operations. Their strength was in their stealth, the ability to conduct their operations in secret, the enemy should never know they are there until they feel the sword slide into their guts. Some of the best assassins in the ninja ranks came directly from SSET teams. Team Eight was playing a game that most children play at one time or another, Hide-and-Seek, and it was played the same as the childhood game, although sometimes, like today, it was inverted. Instead of one person being, It, and having to go find the others, this time everybody except for one person was the so-called, It, and were tasked with finding one person. They gave this form of the game, its own title, it was called, Capture the Missing Ninja, and the person being hunted down, was labeled the Missing Ninja, or Nuke-nin.

Karin Uzumaki, fourteen, was the Nuke-nin for today's training session, which when she took time to think about it, was fitting for her. She, out of all her teammates, had real-world experience as a Missing Ninja, it was how she came to meet her cousin, and why she became a kunoichi of Konoha. The law of the Elements is that anyone may be a ninja, rank and station played no part in it, and anybody may become a ronin, unless you were previously a member of an actual ninja village and were labeled a Missing Ninja by your village. Karin was laying in underbrush at the edge of the training ground, which, while not as overgrown and congested as the infamous Forest of Death, nevertheless was one of the easier training grounds to hide in, it seems our sensei is taking it easy on us today. There are training grounds here in the Leaf, that are as barren and stark as the Desert of Winds, in the Land of Wind, and Team 8, would still be held to the same standards of stealth, as here in this dense woodland.

Karin had been a Missing Ninja at one time, well it was a very short stint, but she was not originally from Konoha. Karin's memories took her back to her former village, I'll never view that hellhole as a home, specifically to the agreement her mother made with the Elders of Kusagakure, to use her special healing abilities for the benefit of Grass. It seems, Uzumaki chakra is so potent and vibrant, that it permeates even through their skin, and if someone bites them, anywhere on the flesh, they are instantly healed of all injuries, and it even replenishes their chakra. Naruto-itoko-kun doesn't know if he has that ability, Karin remembered, because with a biju held within his body, he has always been reluctant to try that sort of thing, which was why he was afraid to replenish me with his chakra on the way to Konoha. While Kasumi Uzumaki, Karin's mother, was a healer of comparable caliber to Tsunade Senju, the village only saw her as a chakra replenishment station, which was partly the cause of her death. The village was attacked, and while the ninja were able to fend it off, they were exhausted, and fearing a return of the marauders, the Elders made Kasumi fulfill her obligation.

Karin's most vivid memory of that time was when they let her in to see her mother, they at least had the decency to cover her up, but one of her arms was sticking out from under the blanket. Karin, who was seven at the time, saw bitemarks from several different sets of teeth, running along that arm, it was as if it had been chewed on by a pack of teething toddlers. Kasumi's corpse was barely ash, when Karin was forced into that role as well, but she was also enrolled as a ninja of Grass, then sent through their Academy, I guess, they thought if I had training to expand my chakra capacity, I would be more useful to the village. She was taught taijutsu, ninjutsu, and how to use kunai and shuriken, though only enough to prevent her from being a hindrance on missions. They must have thought that a girl so young would not remember or care about what happened, and if she did, what could she do while she was in the village?

But Karin has an intellect that could rival even the most gifted of the Nara, which came with a long memory and even longer patience. She threw herself into her training, keeping to herself as much as she could, and paying lip service only, to loyalty for the village. The villagers of Kusa were only marginally better toward her than the villagers of Konoha were toward her cousin, Naruto. Meaning that while they were not openly hostile toward her, they did not accept her, no matter that her mother gave her life for the village, a village that was not even hers, they treated her as no better than the child of a prostitute, simply because she was not born in the village. At least, they never tried to price gouge her when she went to buy food, but parents never let their kids play with her, she had to live in a slum by herself. It was all she could afford to rent on the crumby stipend the village allowed her, because of her attendance at the Grassroots Ninja Academy, because none of the orphanages would take her in.

When she was not training or attending classes at the academy, Karin was either learning to be a medical ninja, or reading at the public library, which was impressive in its breadth of knowledge, for a village that size. She learned many things in that library, ninja history, social and physical sciences, earth and life sciences, mathematics, including teaching herself, calculus, and game theory. When she gained her headband, she was also placed on a Genin team, just like in her current team, the only difference is that Team Kurenai liked and accepted her. In Kusa, she was placed on a team with two boys from her class, who barely passed, and a new Jonin as her sensei.

Karin has made herself forget them, even what they looked like, all she lets herself remember is how they saw her. She was nothing more than an object to them, and training with them was nothing more than a chore, because all she ever got was criticism from her sensei. Of the two boys, one was a bully and the other ignored her, and both of them were weaker than her, they barely graduated from Grassroots, whereas she finished third in the class. The Jonin, knew this, which was why he never let her spar with either of them, because if she did, she would humiliate them. At least he did not exclude her from other training, there were not many trees in Grass, it is a pretty flat prairie, but then bamboo is a grass, and not only does it grow fast, it grows tall, and it can live forever. The oldest bamboo grasses just so happen to have trunks as thick as some trees, and can grow very tall, so that is where she learned better chakra-control, by scaling up and down the ancient bamboo of Kusagakure.

Kusa's mistake, the reason she was able to escape, came about because of her team's first C-ranked mission outside of the village. At some point in their training Kusa ninja are sent on their first mission outside the village, their client is the Daimyo of Kusa no kuni, to test the caliber of his military, every team must be sent out on a month-long scouting and border patrol mission. The team Karin was on was one of the teams sent out, and as she has pondered quite a bit since then, she often wonders, what the Hell were they thinking? If you treat an asset like garbage, make sure they never get out from under your thumb, or they'll bolt the first chance they get.

During the first two weeks of the mission, her Jonin-sensei, kept a close eye over her. Karin was smart and devious, she had never told them about her Mind's Eye, so she was very aware of many things around her, including when someone is using chakra, but more importantly, she learned how to judge someone's emotional state based on fluctuations in their chakra. She was not as accurate in judging such things as her cousin, she did not have enhanced senses or a metal sense, but she had become fairly accurate at lie detection, and learning deception busting. So, she knew when her sensei was paying attention to her, and when he was not.

She was not afraid of her teammates either, because the one that was a bully, was also a coward, and knew perfectly well, how any confrontation between them would end. She was more powerful than both of these boys put together, and they both knew it, even the indifferent one had seen her go toe-to-toe with their sensei and hold her own. They may have not had the guts to confront her directly, but they showed their antipathy for her in other ways, which for them was quite subtle. Karin was tasked with doing all the cooking for her team, she of course, did all of her own cooking, back in the village and these men had only ever lived at home, where their mothers doted on them, so they never really had to fend for themselves, even the Jonin had little luck attracting women.

Karin's fellow genin were clever and manipulative, in their own way, and it did not take a genius to see what they were up to, nor to see who the Jonin favored. Every night, after she cooked and after they finished eating, they volunteered to do the dirty crockery, while she took the first watch, and every night, they would conveniently forget to come relieve her, except for just before they were due to rise and begin, their daily activities. At most, Karin would get two hours of sleep a night, and when she would confront them, at first in private, they would show no remorse for leaving her out there all night. After the first week, Karin confronted them in front of the Jonin, and they claimed that she volunteered to take their watches, if they would do the dishes, and when she denied it, the Jonin sided with them and made her keep doing the watches, like they claimed they had been doing, all along.

It was around this time, Karin had decided she had enough, and began implementing her plans for leaving. She had planned to do it all along and had been gathering a specific variety of mushroom, one that, while not deadly, induced a level of sleep so powerful, it was said to be a kin to a living death. Luckily, when boiled, like in a stew, the effects were severely retarded, she may have hated these men… no, boys… but she did not want to kill them, nor leave them to the mercy of others if they were found in a vulnerable state. She was pissed at them, not murderous, and to leave them at the mercy of others, would be evil, she wanted to humiliate them, not kill them. She had to be careful and be sure they saw her eating everything they ate, he may have been a narrow-minded, fascist asshole, but the Jonin had earned his rank and was an experienced ninja.

So, she decided, that she would deceive them by not deceiving them, and luckily nature, provided her with two tools that worked in her favor. The first was a blue-moss, that grew on north-facing rocks, they were a prime example of the balance of nature, because they were an antidote for the sleep inducing mushroom. Another asset given to her by nature, was the fact that she was a woman, and none of the males on her team, knew very much beyond the basics of health class, about a woman's menstrual cycle.

One day, while they were patrolling along the border of Fire and Grass, she found an outcropping of north-facing rock. There was plenty of moss for her purposes, so she immediately diverted her trek, and ran up the side of the outcropping. Karin used her kunai, to scrape up a healthy quantity of the moss, and placed it in a small container, and she did this in full-view of her teammates. She was placing the container inside her backpack and patting it with a self-satisfied grin as she returned to them. Karin fell into formation and began walking as if she had not just done something unusual.

The Jonin's mouth had twisted into an angry grimace as soon as she left to get the moss, and for her to just fall back in formation as if she had not made a breach in discipline, was just too much. He seemed to overlook the fact that, while they were the military arm of their nation, they were not a traditional army, and things like breaking formation were not supposed to be a big deal. The Jonin, however, did not care about that, he barely tolerated her to begin with and she was not even born in the village, so he always looked for any excuse to let his feelings for her shine through, "Genin Uzumaki, how dare you break formation to go collect herbs, when we're supposed to be patrolling the border of our nation! You need to stop behaving like a civilian that can do anything she wants, you're a kunoichi of Kusagakure now, not a half-trained, ronin idiot, just playing at being a ninja! I should make you dump out that moss you just collected, as an example, but I'm going to give you a chance to explain, why you thought it was okay to suddenly break formation to go collect herbs!"

Karin was not surprised at him for yelling at her for this, she was well aware of his animosity for her, he seemed to go out of his way to take her to task for the simplest infractions, ones that most would shrug off and leave alone. She looked over at him with righteous feminine fury, blazing in her eyes, and let killer intent leak out of her body and wash over all three men, forcing the two louts to their knees, and even the Jonin took a step back from the irate female staring him down. "First of all, you have to already be in formation for someone to break it! Last I checked we're not samurai, we're ninja, we don't follow any of the traditional customs of a normal army! We don't march, carry flags, or blow horns, hell, we don't even salute our leaders, except for a bow, which is just standard courtesy, that we extend to anybody on the street!"

Karin's face turned a different shade of pink, as her wrath became coupled with embarrassment, "and it's none of your bloody business why I collected that moss," she screamed, "it's completely personal, not to mention private, it's not something you three have to worry about! So, mind your own fucking business," she finally shrieked!

Karin's words seemed to have calmed the worst of the Jonin's anger, but he still felt he had the right to know what the moss was for, so he continued, but in a much calmer voice, "Karin-san, we are a team, and since we do not have the village out here to back us up, we need to learn to trust each other, rely upon each other. Trust is a tricky thing and it needs to be tended to with care, and the only way to grow trust is to not allow yourself to keep secrets," he stated with a reasonable voice, though as she looked at his eyes, she could see the 'or else' within them as he pleaded, "so please, tell me why you collected the moss?"

Karin looked at him, then with a sigh and a nod of her head, told them, "we're out here for a month, and next week I will be starting my period." She was looking between all three male members of her team, and noticed each of them taking on an expression of surprised repugnance, especially the Genin, though even the Jonin was looking a little green as she continued, did they finally realize I am a woman? Pricks! "I have enough feminine products to prevent the blood scent from attracting the dog-lovers of Konoha, but that's all they do. The moss I collected, when brewed into a tea will help me alleviate the cramps and bloating that come with the bleeding, which tends to throw off my balance on the worst days of my cycle," Karin explained, which is partially true, those symptoms do tend to throw off one's balance, but all kunoichi are taught certain healing techniques, which help reduce those symptoms to near negligible degrees, but these shinobi did not know that. The Jonin had no kunoichi on his team as a Genin, then she allowed some of her resentment over the past two weeks to spill out, when she added, "it also prevents me from getting crabby and wanting to kill you three, for not having to go through what we go through, just so we can push out your little bastards during childbirth," she growled while leaking some of her KI, and her womanly fury, which made the Genin scramble away from her, and made, even the Jonin take another step back!

The Jonin was seemingly mollified with his expectations, and he really did not know any better, the only woman in his life, other than Karin, for him and the male students, were their mothers. So how was he to know what it took to maintain proper hygiene for women, "very well, I'm sorry for making you divulge such private information to the public, but next time, let me know when you need to do something like that, alright?"

"Hai, sensei," Karin agreed, as she bowed.

During the next week, not much changed, Karin was still cooking all of the meals, and getting very little sleep. It just served to steel her resolve about leaving, and also, her period really did start on schedule, the only thing she lied about was how she soothed certain symptoms. The night of her menstrual cycle, in addition to the pot she used to make stew, into which she added her new ingredient – they never lingered around the fire while she cooked – she added a smaller, water-filled saucepan to the fire. Karin added the moss to it as soon as it began boiling, the water took on the bluish color of the moss, and it smelled like mint.

In that time, Karin continued to prepare the stew for her team, and upon tasting it found that it tasted the same as when she cooked it before. She began to feel lethargic, so she immediately drank some of her moss tea, and discovered that it did have a minty flavor, while the effects of the tea instantly counteracted the mushroom, it even gave her some extra pep in her step, and another effect Karin never expected, she got horny. Not to the point of going after the first guy she saw, thank the Three, but she definitely felt her nether regions heat up after drinking her moss-tea.

For every bite of her stew, Karin sipped her tea, and the effects were eye opening. It seemed that the mushroom was as much of a counteragent for the moss, as the moss was for the mushroom. The moss acted like a shot of caffeine and an aphrodisiac, while the mushroom acted like a warm glass of milk and a bucket of ice-water, all rolled into one. They were perfectly balanced against one another, so much so that Karin wondered as she ate, what the undiluted effects of the moss would be like? The mushroom sends you into a coma, would the moss, turn you into a sex-crazed maniac?

Her team, ate with her and did not seem to taste the difference, as Karin hoped, and before long, all three of them began snoring as they sat next to the fire. Karin looked over at them, sending out her senses to make sure they really were asleep. She tentatively touched them to make sure they were in a deep sleep, even going as far as to shake them, they never even budged. When she was sure they would not wake up, she picked them up, one-by-one and carried them into their respective tents, she felt the need to at least make them comfortable, they were her team. Karin ran to her tent to pack everything she had brought with her, she took enough food to live on, if there was no place for her to get any in the future.

Then turning back to camp, Karin waited to feel anything, but there was nothing, she had nothing for them. They had treated her like garbage, and the village treated her like a burden, they contributed to the death of her mother, they took her life and threw her away like a used milk-carton. Then instead of treating Karin with the respect her mother's death should have afforded her, she was treated no better than the child of a whore, she was treated like a burden to the village instead of an asset. The Elders of the village always seem to think they deserve your loyalty, simply because they are leaders of the village, they never seem to understand that loyalty goes both ways. If you want others to be loyal to you, you need to be loyal to them, it is a gift to be cherished and cultivated, and the only way to grow it is to nurture it with honesty and care. Karin reached up to untie her Kusa headband, and threw it into the fire, she turned, sending chakra to her legs and feet, and ran off into the night.

Karin knew she needed to make it to the border and cross it quickly, as long as she was in the Land of Grass, she would be in danger of getting captured. It seemed as if the Three were smiling upon her, because she encountered no other patrols on the Kusa side, but she decided not to linger. She pumped measured amounts of chakra into her legs to augment her natural speed, and she made several dozen kilometers within a few hours. Which goes to show just how much chakra the Uzumaki possessed, she once compared her chakra to Naruto's by comparing herself to a lake, well most ninja, if they were to continue the comparison were puddles, with some training they could be called ponds of chakra. Well, even lakes can run dry, if their contents are in constant use without allowing them to be replenished, that coupled with her lack of sleep for the last two-weeks, contributed to her losing her footing. She tumbled down through the canopy of the Forest of Fire, with branches and vines slowing down her plunge, enough that she suffered no more damage, than a few bruises and landed on the side of the road in a mud-bank. Which was where Naruto-itoko-kun found her the next morning, as he was making his way to Konoha to talk to Mikoto-sama.

Karin was suddenly brought out of her musings of the past, as one of her shadow clones was popped, and she received her clone's memories. With a single handsign, Karin sunk into the ground, Naruto had taught her the Kage bunshin-no-jutsu, one of the many things he taught her before leaving Konoha. Karin had chosen a violet, camouflage, cover-all uniform, similar to her cousin's metal-worker outfit. The colors ranged from lavender, to a very dark purple, with plenty of pockets on the chest and left thigh, her ninja tool pouch was strapped to her right. One of her most prized possessions, was the standard-length, mangalloy-titantung katana, peeking out over her right-shoulder, it was the last gift given to her by her cousin, before he departed from Konoha almost half-a-year ago now. A few accessories she added on her own, was the shemagh, used to cover her scarlet-red hair, patterned with fleur-de-lis style designs in the same color as the rest of her uniform, a plain black, leather belt, looped around her slender waist, with her forehead protector acting as the belt buckle, and on her back similar in size and position, as an Uchiha family crest, was a crimson, Uzumaki spiral.

A couple decameters away, standing where the clone was destroyed, was the violette-haired heiress to the new Hyuga clan, Hinata. She had chosen a uniform color that matched her hair, but the sleeves were long, and she had chosen an optional, knee-length, side-slitted, kunoichi skirt, with bicycle shorts to protect her modesty. She wore combat boots and spiked, fingerless gloves, to give her taijutsu an edge, and those gloves were cascading with raiton-chakra, from the strike she had used to pop the clone.

At the same time, a swarm of Kikaichū was falling toward the ground, they had been used to immobilize who they thought was their prey, most people, no matter how tough, cannot resist wiping away something that is crawling upon their skin. Even if they are in the path of a tsunami, they will lose speed because they will be too preoccupied wiping away the vermin crawling upon her skin. Suddenly, Karin literally leapt from the ground, directly behind Hinata arcing high above her pursuers, and unleashed a barrage of shuriken directly toward Shino Aburame. Who, from looking at the cuffs of his pants, had chosen a black and dark-gray uniform, which was all that could be seen from under his overcoat.

While Shino was distracted by the projectiles, Karin brought a gravity-assisted axe-kick down toward Hinata's head. Instead of meeting it, Hinata pirouetted to the side with a knife-hand block to the side of her teammate's ankle, and faster than lightning, using raiton-chakra thrust two fingers into the joint. Which numbed it enough to make landing on it difficult, but Karin immediately, converted the chakra in that region to healing chakra, and reawakened the nerves in the ankle.

Hinata advanced forward, her fingers extended like blades, which is how Karin chose to view them as, for a Hyuga, advanced in the Juken, that is how the extremities should be treated. Hinata thrust a hand at Karin's midsection, which was met with a block by the forearm, followed up by an elbow to the bicep, and a strike toward the now vulnerable back of the neck. As Hinata fell, Karin pulled a kunai from her pouch, and seemed to slash out at empty air, which revealed Kurenai-sensei trying to hide in an illusion. Kurenai stepped to the side while scooping Karin's wrist, and sending a knife-hand strike to her student's wrist which dislodged the weapon from her grip, but the genjutsu mistress of Konoha continued to spin clockwise, bringing an elbow directly into Karin's spine, which sent her sprawling face-first in the dirt.

Before Kurenai could recover from her attack, she felt the unmistakably, sharp point of a kunai prick at her neck, causing her to reflexively jerk her neck to the side. The Karin on the ground disappeared in a puff of smoke. The new Jonin cast her eyes to the side, seeing a purple shemagh, and a pair of crimson eyes, only a shade lighter than her own, staring at her with implacability. Kurenai began smiling, at least one of my students will be ready for the Chunins in a few months, then said, "good work, Karin-chan, though I guess with your sensory abilities, trying to use genjutsu to hide from you is pointless," she asserted, then grew a devious smile, and added, "though if I was a real enemy, I hope you won't stop at just putting your kunai at my throat." She looked down, causing Karin to follow her gaze, to Kurenai's own arm to find a kunai, poised to plunge into the younger woman's abdomen, "if I was really your enemy, we would have died together."

Karin just gave a smirk, "maybe, sensei, but then maybe not," she retorted and jerked her head in front of the ebonette-haired beauty, who turned as she felt the approach of another chakra signature. They all saw a drop of water fall right in front of them, then another, and another, before a torrent of moisture condensed from the air, and fell to the ground, except instead of conforming to the ground, the deluge of water seemed to rise up, as if it were a measure of water being poured into a tumbler. Within the water, they could all see a form, a female form that appeared to be naked, though none of them could make out any detail, even if Shino's imagination did fill in enough of the gaps to force him to blush. Then the water immediately evaporated, and Karin stood fully clothed with her blade drawn, swinging it swiftly and resolutely toward Kurenai's neck.

The blade stopped a hairsbreadth from touching the Jonin's neck, and the Karin behind Kurenai popped out of existence. The kunoichi looked into each other's eyes and saw the determination reflecting back at each other, then they held warmth as both women smiled, even though they were from different places. Karin never once, felt like an outsider since she became a member of Team 8, three months after Naruto left, the second time. She reached back and returned the Titan's Tongue to its sheathe, lowered her shemagh to her shoulders, and smiled a genuine smile. "You two are so full of tricks, and despite my diversity of training, it's all I can do to keep up with you," Karin complimented her fellow Genin, "I daresay if I had been on the run from Konoha, I would very well have been pulled in within a few hours of leaving."

Hinata was blushing demurely at the glowing praise of her elder, fellow kunoichi, and even Shino had some color in his cheeks, and Kurenai smiled as she watched the newest kunoichi of Konoha, praise her teammates. "Right, I think it is time to head to the Hokage's Office to get a mission," their sensei suggested, "all of you have progressed very well since our formation, I'm going to recommend us for a C-ranked mission." She saw the excitement coming into their eyes, so she decided to remind them, "keep in mind, that all I can do is offer my recommendation, the Hokage may not agree."

"I agree with your assessment, Kurenai-sensei," Shino told her, "our most recent training exercise, shows that we have increased our skills substantially. Why, because Karin-san is the most skilled of the genin in the village, and we were able to fight her evenly."

Kurenai was considering his words, as she turned with her team and began walking toward the seat of power in the village. I think a simple escort mission would be enough to give my team some confidence, and experience outside the village.

They walked into town, passing by shops and restaurants, and they came to one of the newest businesses to be established in Konoha. A ramen shop, which was opened just a month ago, by a newcomer from Tani no kuni, his name was Kanpachi, he lived in a room above his shop with his roommate. He was the first person to open a ramen shop in Konoha, since Ichiraku began selling his food only to ninja exclusively, because he was fed up with the civilians that lived in Konoha insulting his favorite customer. Karin had eaten there a few times, mainly she liked to hear the stories he told her about her cousin, he had told her and anyone that would listen about how Naruto saved him and his roommate, from being buried alive. Well, that and because his ramen was delicious, she could not seem to decide which ramen was better, Kanpachi's or Ichiraku's, and she sometimes felt guilty when she chose him over her friendship with Ayame.

As they were passing in front of the shop, the door opened and a figure came rushing out, and collided with the Uzumaki girl. The figure was a woman, that much could be told, by the way the cloak she was wearing conformed to the shape of her body, and the wide-brimmed hat, could scarcely contain her brown-hair. Karin stayed on her feet but let out a squeak as she was crashed into, and she reached out to steady herself and the woman so she would not fall. The woman refused to look up as she begged their pardon and hurried on down the street, making Karin smirk when she heard the other person's voice, are you curious about the ramen, Ayame-chan, or the ramen chef, Karin wondered, not that I blame you for either one, both of them seem rather tempting, and the latter, especially so when he smiles?

Team Eight entered the mission office of the Hokage, and stopped before Tsunade's desk, "Team Eight reporting for a mission," Kurenai said formally.

Tsunade looked up with a grin, "very good, Kurenai," then while turning to Shizune, who took a scroll from a bowl labelled with a D, added, "as you can see, we have a ton of requests…"

"Excuse me, Hokage-sama," Kurenai replied, "but I formally recommend Team 8 for C-ranked mission status."

Tsunade's warm smile had died as soon as the words C-ranked left the ebonette's mouth, as she turned to regard her Jonin, while Shizune had paused on her way over from the table. "Have they completed the C-ranked Qualification Card," and Kurenai nodded, then Tsunade looked over at the Genin who also nodded, "then please show me those and the copy of the Codes that all four of you are expected to carry with you at all times."

All of Team Kurenai stepped up to the Hokage and produced the requisite documents; Shino's were revealed using his bugs, but the kunoichi produced them from a storage-seal tattoo on their right arm. Tsunade reviewed the Q-Cards of all three Genin, the tree-walking and water-walking requirements were signed off by Kurenai, the spaces for the 50 D-ranked missions were filled in with the name, date, and signed by the customers, while the three-minute strength tests were signed off by Mitarashi Anko. Which got a curious look by Tsunade, before turning back to the Jonin, "these seem to be in order, Kurenai-san, but I'm curious as to why Anko's initials are on the strength test instead of yours?"

Kurenai was expecting this question when she walked in here, and had her answer ready, "Integrity, Hokage-sama." When Tsunade looked at her with a puzzled expression, Kurenai elaborated, "I asked Anko to evaluate my team, while I evaluated hers, I didn't want to allow my pride or my regard for them to play a factor in their strength tests. What if I passed them and they weren't ready, or went easy on them, just so they could advance to C-ranked missions, whether for my pride as a sensei, my greed for the higher pay of these missions, or out of some misguided sentiment that could cloud my judgement? Anko and I, spar and train together all the time, she knows how strong I am, and she would know if I was taking it easy on them or giving it my all, this test was as much an evaluation of me as it was my Genin."

Tsunade had a big smile on her face as Kurenai finished her explanation, "by the Pillars, woman, I could kiss you," she exclaimed, causing Kurenai and the rest of Team Eight, to blush, "that's just the kind of thing I want to hear about my ninja. You and Anko, understood what these Qualification Cards were for, not just the surface purpose, but the spirit of what I'm trying to do here, return to Konoha, its soul." Tsunade, after her outburst returned to looking over the documents, and was nodding to herself, "these seem to be in order," she said, while turning her face back up to them, she looked behind Kurenai to Karin, then over to Shizune and nodded.

Shizune got the signal and returned to the table to pick up a single scroll. It was placed between the C and B-ranked mission scrolls, it had a C scroll ring with a plus sign written upon it. As soon as Shizune handed the Hokage the scroll, she went over to a small door leading to the waiting room for clients. Tsunade opened the mission scroll, and read it to be sure of the contents, "Kurenai, you're going to find this mission designation a little unusual," the mentioned kunoichi quirked an eye at her Hokage, "it has been classified as a C+-ranked mission, the pay is a little more than normal, but the danger could be equivalent to a B-rank."

"I am intrigued, Tsunade-sama," the Genjutsu Mistress of Konoha admitted, "what's this mission about?"

At that moment, an old man with grey-hair, spectacles, a large beard, and dark eyes, walked through the door, looked around at the newcomers, before bringing out a stoppered jug. He opened it and took a large swig, before capping the jug, and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He wore a long-sleeved V-neck shirt with an obi, stained pants, and a pair of worn sandals, carried a towel around his neck, with a pointed hat on his head. He cast a disdainful sneer at Team Eight, "what's this, I asked for ninja, not a bunch of girls and an emo kid?"

The Genin and even their sensei glared at the man's attitude, but they remained silent. Tsunade merely smiled, "It's the best I could do with the money you've given us, Tazuna-san, but if you don't like it you can always accept a refund and go find someone else, to plead your cause to. I've only been willing to listen to you because I felt my heart soften as you told your story, I don't think there will be very many others willing to do even that. Besides, when you told me your story a couple days ago, I contacted a friend of mine," she turned her eyes to look at the red-head, "a Ronin, who has agreed to help. I've agreed to pay him out of my own pocket," Karin's eyes widened as she understood to who Tsunade was talking about, and they shared a smile. Karin's was excited, but Tsunade's smile was warm and affectionate, "he would have done it for free, that is just the kind of person he is, but I refuse to take advantage of him," Tsunade looked down and added softly, "he is my most precious person."

Tsunade brought her eyes back up to look at the old man, "so, what will it be, Oyaji-san," she indicated Team Eight, "take the help you are offered," then pointed at the door behind him, "or go your way?"


Team Eight have been on the road from Konoha for half a day now, they had left the village the morning after accepting their mission. They were walking in a loose coalition, no real formation to speak of, they were idlily chatting, getting to know their client, and learning more about the situation in Wave. They were going up against the shipping magnate, Gato, of Gato Transport, who had entered Nami no kuni a year ago, and began buying up the entire waterfront district, including shipping and fishing companies. Then, he began charging exorbitant mooring fees to all, but his own vessels, driving away competing businesses, he has been strangling the economy of Wave with his cruel monopoly, which has resulted in reducing the people of Nami to abject poverty.

About six-months ago, Tazuna, a master bridge-builder, began construction of a massive bridge, which would connect Wave to the mainland, thus breaking his monopoly. "The bridge is almost complete," Tazuna told them, "it needs about a month of steady construction, and Gato's monopoly will be broken, and my people will have hope again."

"There are rumors that Gato, is more than just a shipping tycoon," Kurenai mused, "I've heard that he deals in all kinds of goods, from drugs to slavery – especially sex trafficking – but any investigation into his dealings has found nothing incriminating."

"I don't understand," Hinata wondered, "why didn't the Daimyo of Wave already own the waterfront, with something so vital to the health and wealth of his nation, surely he would have made sure nothing could jeopardize that?"

Tazuna turned his head away and spat, "because the first person Gato bought off was the Daimyo, who hated being the ruler of such a small country. As soon as money changed hands, the little bastard deserted Wave and ran off to Pillars-know-where, he left us to fend for ourselves and I say good riddance to rubbish."

They crossed over a small, swiftly-flowing river at about midday, Karin's Mind's Eye was open, and Shino had set a perimeter of five meters with his bugs, while Hinata, who had added a pair of wraparound sunglasses to her wardrobe, had her Byakugan blazing behind them. This was an unusual mission, while ostensibly it was a C, the bridge builder had heard that there might be ninja after him, something Gato is known to employ. So, they were going to be extra alert, not only do they have to be on the lookout for enemy ninja, they also had to be ready to meet the ronin, Tsunade hired to augment their forces, he was supposed to meet them before they made it to Nami.

A few meters passed the river is when they noticed something, the temperature surrounding them was above freezing, but a small puddle seemed to have already frozen over. Which would have been more plausible if it were in a shaded area of the road, but this one was in the middle of the trail, a place the Sun's rays had no trouble reaching. Karin's Mind's Eye of Kagura became focused on the puddle, which showed that there were two people being concealed under a genjutsu, making them believe it was just a puddle of frozen water. She looked over at her team, and all of them nodded, confirming that they had noticed, then she softly said, "Shino-kun, I bet they're hungry."

"Affirmative, Karin-chan," Shino said with a nod.

Karin went back to scanning their surroundings, as they walked passed the spot of the would be bushwhackers, when she felt a couple of presences in the trees, one in which she was quite familiar, and the other was that of a stranger. She was just beginning to focus her Eye on it, when all of a sudden, a pair of panicked screams erupted from the ground behind them. The genjutsu they used was immediately broken, the two ninja appeared, and were being engulfed in a cloud of Kikaichū beetles. All that could be seen was their clothing, they wore a camouflage suit, with bandages and several pouches around their waists, with dark-coloured, knee-length sandals. Both of them, seemed to be wearing large metal gauntlets on one arm each, connected to each other by a shuriken-styled chain, which prevented them from covering half of their faces from the Aburame's assault. The only difference between the two men was in the decorations on their Kiri forehead protectors, a single horn on one, and two horns on the other.

"That's enough, Shino," Kurenai ordered, then added, "we need them alive if we are to get information from them. Just drain them enough so they cannot move, but keep them conscious," she instructed.

"Hai, Kurenai-sensei," Shino answered, and did as he was instructed.

Draining these ninja, did not take very long, they relied more on each other than they did on chakra, which was commendable but just made immobilizing them that much easier. Shino retreated his insects, and Kurenai knelt beside them, thank the Three, I chose trousers instead of a skirt for my uniform, or I'd be giving them a very interesting view right about now, and I'd have to pretend it didn't bother me. Kurenai studied them while taking out her Bingo Book, she turned it to the section for Kirigakure, "Oni Kyodai, Nuke-nin from Mist for trying to overthrow their Mizukage, a five-hundred-thousand ryo bounty placed on each of your heads," Kurenai looked over the top of her Bingo Book, "of course bounties are only paid if you're dead." She gave them a sweet smile, "so right now, you're more valuable to us as corpses, tell me what I want to know, and we'll see if you can raise your value to us enough to keep you alive."

"Fuck you, bitch," the one horned brother spat weakly!

Kurenai looked at the other one, "and how about you?"

"I ain't tellin' you shit, whore," two horn retorted!

Kurenai began to smile a pretty smile, her favorite part of this interrogation was now about to begin. Because one of the reasons she liked studying genjutsu is because in her opinion, the methods of Torture and Interrogation, were too crude and chancy at best. As a result, she decided to study genjutsu to be able to pull secrets out of even the most willful subjects' minds, Kurenai grabbed two horn's head by the chin, "you're worst fear is to be separated from your brother," she concluded with a raspy voice, "and I assure you, that will never happen."

{Both brothers found themselves standing in a pitch black void, a place where no light could survive and in fact, they were the brightest objects within this place, they could see each other because of the luminance coming from their bodies. They were not standing next to each other; they were separated by the length of their chain. They heard, what sounded like the rushing of the air and felt the bite of a set of chains, pierce into their lower bodies. The pain that enveloped them was like nothing they had ever experienced, "AHHhhh!" They looked down, only to see another set of chains – more like barbed-wire – sticking out of their bodies, they had the appearance of being used quite often, they could see fresh strips and pieces of flesh, clinging wetly to the teeth of the chains.

As exquisite as their torment was, the chains' primary purpose was to hold them in place, because from below them a machine of a design unknown to them rose out of the darkness. It was a single column, rising between the brothers until it was a meter over their heads. As soon as it stopped, an arm extended just below their own chain, it was more like the claw of a raptor, two prongs in a V-shape managed to hook themselves under their chain. It started to rise up, gathering the chain and lifting both grown men until they were standing on their toes. They screamed in agony as the chains in their flesh pulled on them from below. They began to hear the hollow sound of footsteps approaching them, the machine stopped its movements, but they could still feel the bite of the chains embedded in their bodies.

Kurenai entered their field of view, she was smiling warmly at them, like a woman who was grateful to them for assisting her with her shopping, but there was a sinister glare in her eyes. "Please, gentlemen, there is no need for this to go any further," she implored, "tell me who else, Gato-teme hired to assassinate the bridge builder, if you do I'll send a message back to the Leaf, to have them send ninja to retrieve you and hold you in Konoha until the situation in Wave resolves itself. Whether we live or die, succeed, or fail on this mission, you will be let go and no ninja of the village will hunt you for at least two weeks. We are not close allies nor bitter enemies with Mist, so we have nothing to gain politically or militarily from holding you, you've been away from your village for some time now, surely any intelligence you have about them is outdated. There would be no benefit for the village if we gave you back to Karatachi-sama," Kurenai was speaking in a reasonable tone of voice, it was warm and inviting, what the invitation was had not yet been decided, it was dependent upon the answers she got from the brothers, "so please, tell me what we can expect once we enter Nami no kuni?"

The Demon brothers considered her words, then the one-horned asked, "what if we don't answer you? We know who you are, and we know we are in a genjutsu," he informed her, "we can stop and start our chakra…"

Kurenai began to laugh, "and I bet you're one of those shinobi that believes genjutsu cannot actually damage the physical body. Well let me complete your education kid, genjutsu is the discipline that works with the mind, and your mind is the medium through which you interact with the world. You think you are actually touching something when you run your fingers over it," Kurenai lectured, "what your feeling is an illusion. The atoms in your finger repel the atoms in whatever you're trying to touch, the electrons negative charge pushes against other electrons, causing a chain reaction that ultimately leads back to your brain, which tries to interpret the repulsion as to help you understand the world around you. So, if the genjutsu is powerful enough, it can leave wounds on your body as lasting as if I plunged a knife into your belly, and even better is while your body heals, your mind will remember that pain until your dying day."

"So, if you wish to continue in defiance, that is your choice," Kurenai grinned in eagerness, "I have always wanted to test and see if I can use the minds touch response into believing it had received a fatal wound. I wonder if it will actually trick your body into dying, that would be perfect for assassinations where there can be no visible wounds, doctors would be baffled, a healthy person suddenly dying for no visible reason, that would be an enormous breakthrough in genjutsu theory. You two would go down in history as the first people killed by a genjutsu," Kurenai stopped in her exuberance as a thoughtful expression blossomed upon her face, "because of your head decorations, I think I'll call you subjects one and two, in that order."

The two brothers looked at this crazy bitch, a kunoichi that looked upon their deaths as nothing more than a footnote in her research. It was worse than just being considered tools to fulfill the will of their sensei, at least in that context they mattered, and their deaths would mean something, it would serve a purpose. They looked at each other, really, what difference would it make if they told them who else was on their client's payroll? They looked at the genjutsu mistress and answered, "our boss, is the Demon of the Mists, Zabuza Momochi, of the Seven Swordsmen, he has Kubikiribocho on his back, and another apprentice that was not a member of any village, his name is Haku Yuki, and he has the kekkei genkai, Ice Release, and he is second only to Zabuza-sama in strength and skill."

"Thank you, gentlemen," Kurenai replied, "and I already knew about Momochi, he's listed on your Bingo pages as a known associate but thank you, for the information on this Haku person. Now, what are we to do with you two," Kurenai's smile became vicious, "should I keep my word and send you to Konoha," she asked them, before her grin became truly evil, "or should I just kill you now, and collect your bounty?" The brother's eyes hardened as they assumed the road she would choose, before an eerie glow beamed from her eyes…}

… out in the physical world, both Kiri shinobi were placed into a deep slumber. Their heads lolled to the side and they began to snore. Kurenai looked up at her students and nodded, "it seems our enemies are more formidable than we first believed," she addressed her students, "it seems Gato is more desperate than we thought, he has hired Zabuza Momochi to kill Tazuna-san, he is a dangerous foe, one that even I may have trouble defeating, on my own that is." Kurenai turned to stare directly at a stand of trees to her right, "it's a good thing I will have help on this mission, isn't that right, Naruto-san?"

All of the ninja were already turned in that direction, Karin had clocked him almost as soon as they came into this clearing, he had been one of the presences in the trees before the brothers' outburst. Hinata had seen him with her Byakugan a few decameters before crossing the bridge. The Kikaichū had alerted Shino to the presence of a large chakra pool in the trees, he had been hidden behind a small genjutsu aimed at the Demon Brothers. Tazuna was, of course, the only one surprised by the presence of someone else, so when he turned to see a boy at around the age of the genin, sitting quite contentedly on a large branch just under the canopy, he gave a start of surprise and his mouth dropped open.

Naruto jumped down with a friendly grin on his face, there was slight approval in his eyes aimed toward the group, "that was excellent ninja work," he turned to Kurenai and bowed in greeting, though his eyes never touched the ground. "You're doing a good job, Kurenai-san," he praised her, and there was a slight blush on her cheeks at his admiration, "your team was able to handle both of those guys without revealing all of your strengths and abilities. Those two were sent to scout you, there was another member of the group hidden in the canopy, watching the whole thing, but they – pardon the pun, Aburame-san – bugged out as soon as the screaming started. They stayed just long enough to see the horror of your Kikaichū in action, before retreating, that means they will be ready for at least two of you."

Tazuna looked in surprise at the violet-eyed, six-whiskered red-head, in the ball-cap, placing a large scroll on his back, and hooded, navy-blue, embroidered poncho, over a long sleeved, navy-blue, coverall jumpsuit, wearing an odd sword on his left hip, with a heavy hilt. There was a ninja tool pouch on his right thigh, heavy workman's boots on his feet, and oddly enough, two tanto blades on his right hip, one black and curved, one white and straight, with a small, gray ribbon on the hilt. Tazuna noticed the symbols for the metalworker's guild and journeyman, pinned to the ball-cap, then looked over at the Jonin from Konoha, "who the heck is this kid, Jonin-san?"

Kurenai looked over at their client, "he's the help, our Hokage called in to aid us in this mission."

Tazuna looked between Naruto and the woman, "you cannot be serious, how can this little runt, be enough to take on the ninja, you said even you would have trouble beating?"

Kurenai was nodding, she understood Tazuna's concerns, "because of all of us, he has the most experience when it comes to fighting the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist."

Naruto had walked over and greeted his cousin with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, he bowed to Shino and Hinata, and Tazuna, before greeting them, "Hello, my name is Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze, Ronin from the Two Rivers," then performing a single hand-sign, and after a small puff of smoke handed his business card to Tazuna, "and journeyman metal worker. I have experience in commercial construction, heavy construction, and am a certified Chakra Arc Welder. I would like to join your work crew, and help you finish your bridge, I'll accept minimum wage pay if that's all you can afford, and act as a bodyguard for your work crew, while the Leaf ninja guard you and your family while you're home at night. Does that sound okay by you, Kurenai-san, Tazuna-san," he asked, looking between the kunoichi and the client? The latter could still only nod in stunned silence, "I'm getting paid a thousand ryo from Tsunade-chan, so I'm getting more than enough to cover my duties as a ninja," Naruto added to clarify his reason for being there.

"That's quite fine, Naruto-san," Kurenai agreed, "and thank you for what you said about my team, it was nice of you to say it."

Naruto just shrugged, "just stating the facts, Jonin-kun," Naruto replied, as he turned back to stand next to Karin, "if I felt they had been lacking in anything I saw, I would have said as much, and been sorely disappointed." He turned back as if remembering something else, "oh, and killing one of the Swordsman doesn't exactly qualify me as experienced, Kurenai-san."

Kurenai merely smiled, "you've killed more than me, Naruto-san, and you can just call me, Kurenai."

"You may do the same with me, Kurenai, as can all of you," Naruto grinned at them with comradery, "we're going to be working together, and you're Karin-itoko-chan's team, which means you're practically family, no need to stand on formality with me." Karin and Naruto created one Shadow clone each, and set them to guard the slumbering brothers, then Naruto created and dispelled another almost immediately. He said that one, would relay what happened here to the Shin-bunshin in Konoha, and get a message to the Hokage to have the Demon Brother's detained, until the resolution of this mission, one way or the other.

They had been walking again for another hour, Naruto and Karin had taken point, their Eyes where scanning ahead of them for more ambushes, and Tazuna could not seem to take his eyes off the new addition to their group. Tazuna was walking between Hinata, she could not keep her Byakugan blazing indefinitely since, unlike the Uzumaki-Eyes, it consumed chakra, and Kurenai, with Shino returning his bugs to a five-decameter perimeter and acting as a rear guard. Tazuna kept his eyes on the new addition, and could not help but voice his curiosity, "Are you sure about this boy, Kurenai, not that I doubt your word, but how can somebody as young as him be so strong?"

"It's the kind of world we live in, Tazuna," Kurenai affirmed, "there are people in this world, younger than Naruto, but they're stronger than most Jonin."