A group of three, all alone.

Glimpses of a world were Akatsuki succeeded…

Thought: 'Thought'

Speech: "Speech"

Change in scene: …..

"You want to go through the pass?" The barkeep stared at her face incredulously.

"Yep." The green haired woman downed the remainder of her sake, exhaled, and looked back at the barman.

"Surely you could go around it? I mean, the mountains are harsh, full of ravines, jungles, wild animals!" He was accentuating his point by waving his hand in the air.

"I've climbed mountain ranges before, plus, I have to get to Tsuchi as soon as possible. I've got money riding on it."

The barkeep looked over the woman sitting in front of him. She was quite fit, if the firmly muscled arm holding on of his glasses was an example, and certainly looked capable.

"Well, you look like someone to take things seriously." She wore tough clothing, which looked like it had seen hard wear, yet was well maintained. "You'll need some wet weather gear and a ton of supplies." He warned. "While the rest of Earth Country is rocky and dry, these particular set of mountains is close enough to the equator to be tropical."

She finished her fourth glass. "I'm sure I can handle it." She poured a fifth. "But do you reckon two ten year olds could do it?"

"What?! Are you serious?"

"Is that a no?"

"Of course it's a no! Sheesh." The bartender rubbed his hand with his face. "Besides, you can't go through there without permission."

Eyebrows arched she asked "Permission? From whom? The mayor?"

"No, no… The pass has, well, protectors, as such. There are three of them, hermits that live on the mountains around that track. They don't ask for payment, but they don't let anyone through who could damage the ecosystem of the pass, or the peace of the area. Nearly a decade ago, the previous Daimyo sent a group of hired Akatsuki ninja though there in an attempt to annex our town. None got through. Or returned."

"They defeated ninja? Akatsuki ninja?"

"Yeah. At first I thought they were Akatsuki ninja themselves, but when that happened I realised I was wrong."

"Are they rouge Akatsuki?"

"I dunno. Could be, but if they were I'm sure they would have been deliberately targeted by now. Hell, I was surprised when there was no retaliation for that loss I mentioned earlier. At leased none that worked, cause they're still there."

Green-hair stood. "How can I contact them?"

"I don't know myself, never needed to cross those mountains. But Chara does. She owns the inn on the other side of town."

The woman nodded, paid for her drinks and approached the door.

"It's called 'The Passes' Inn.' Its all green with plants on every available piece of space, you can't miss it."

The woman waved over her shoulder, before peering out of the door and looking both up and down the street.

"Humiko! Kureno! We're going, so come on."

"Yes, Mom…" Two children roused themselves from their doze on the porch of the bar, rubbing their eyes.

'What kind of mother am I, to let my kids sleep outside of a bar this late at night while I get a few drinks? If my mother were still alive she'd probably say something like, "Yari, treating kids like pets will get you eaten by a wild bear!"'

Taking her children's hands in her own, Yari trotted down the street, heading for the other side of town.

"So… you want to pass through the pass?" Chara was an older lady in her mid 50's, who carried herself with a mysterious demeanour.

"Yeah, I've got some family business that needs urgent attention on the other side." The room Yari was sitting in was filled with the smoke of burning incense, which was making her decidedly light headed.

Chara gazed at her over steepled fingers. "I see… Do you know who and what they are?"

"The Hermits, Chara-san?"

"Oh, how they would laugh if they heard that particular title. Yes dear, the Hermits." She smiled warmly. "And please, call me Tsuuki."

"Well, Tsuuki-san, from what I've heard I can guess they're ninja."

She hummed. "Yes, that is correct. They are ninja, but, they are not under the sway of either Mandara or Akatsuki. They come from a time before the rise of Akatsuki, about which you have probably heard in stories from your elders."

"But I thought all ninja either died or swore allegiance to Akatsuki? I mean, they turned their weapon on each Hidden Village and hunted down those ninja who survived, right?"

"Yes, that is true. The Five Great Hidden Villages have been reduced to craters, their occupants devoured by the flames of war. Yet the strongest did survive."

Seeing the look of disbelief on Yari's face, Tsuuki asked, "How old are you, dear?"

"Me?" Yari was puzzled. "I'm twenty six."

"And them?" Tsuuki gestured towards the two children, who were once again dozing, this time in the embrace of two large chairs seated at the back of the room.

"They're ten." Yari's face was a little flushed, her eyes downcast.

Tsuuki chuckled, an odd cooing noise emitting from her throat. "Worry not child, I do not judge you." She smiled warmly then continued. "But back to the matter on hand. The three who guard the pass are at least eighteen years your senior, and have seen things you wouldn't believe. Twenty eight years ago Akatsuki reforged the world in the furnace of war and bloodshed. And those three were caught right in the middle of it."

"To ask for the assistance of the… Hermits…you must tread the path for several kilometres. Eventually you will find what appears to be run down hut. Whilst it may look on the decline it is really quite well constructed, and will shield you well from any foul weather you might encounter. Stay the night there, and in the morning one of them will come to ask your intent."

Tsuuki's eyes narrowed. "Now you must take heed of what I say next. Your life may depend on it. You must show the utmost respect to them when you greet them, for their moods can be fickle. One is kind and friendly, but untrusting. One is ill-tempered and cold, but principled. And one is so very neutral." Tsuuki face lightened. "I could never tell what she was thinking."

She rose slowly from her chair. "But I have rambled long enough, it is very late," She peered at a clock, "Or should I say early. Come put your young ones to bed, buy your supplies when the sun rises high and meet me one final time before going on your way."

"Thankyou, Tsuuki-san, for your assistance." Yari also get to her feet. "May I ask how much it'll cost for us three?"

The innkeeper paused in thought. "Ah, tis a small fee. One I'm sure you can afford. We'll talk about it in the morning." She left the room, closing the door behind her.

Yari exhaled. 'Glad that's over. It doesn't sound too difficult, but riddles? Why would she talk in riddles? We're not reading a book here.'

She approached her children who slept on, ignoring her presence.

'I guess I ran them ragged on the trek here.' The green haired mother stroked her daughter's cheek. Humiko snuggled closer to her hand and sighed happily.

"Once we get through the mountains we can rest, I promise."

"Mom?" Yari turned to see her daughter's twin, Kureno, sleepily rubbing his eye with his fist. "Are we going now?"

"Not yet, honey. We'll sleep here tonight, and then leave tomorrow." She picked him up and planted a kiss on his brow. "We'll be camping, isn't that great?"

"Yeah, mom." He said, a yawn following his words. "This smoke smells funny…"

Yari smiled, she loved her kids, more than anything else.

Picking up her still sleeping daughter in her other arm, she left the room. A quick word to Tsuuki directed her to her quarters. It was spartanly furnished, yet cosy. Three beds were crammed into the tiny space, along with a small washing basin and a smaller fireplace.

Yari placed each child in a bed before turning in herself. She had a long day tomorrow.

Light came through the small windows, illuminating the indoor spring.

"Ahhhhhh…." Both Yari and Humiko sank deeper into the heated water, letting the stress bake out of them.

"I love spas! Especially after a long trip. Don't you, Mom?" On the other side of the dividing wall, Yari could hear Kureno splashing around, and all round not relaxing.

"Yes, Kuro, I do!" She rolled her eyes at Humiko, who giggled.

"Are you laughing at me?" Kureno's indignant response made Humiko giggle harder.

"Make her stop!" The whining tone of his voice made her burst into full laughter.

Splat! A piece of soap had soared over the slight gap between the divider and the roof, and made its foul-tasting entrance into Humiko's mouth.

As the girl spluttered and spat, attempting to get rid of the soapy taste, her mother stood up.

"Alright! Before this gets into a war, we're going shopping!" Of course her twins completely ignored her and began a battle of artillery soap.

"C'mon you maggots! There's still a ways to go."

"But moooooom!" Both her kids were complaining, again.

"No whinging." She spun around, a scowl on her face, fists on her hips. "We've only been hiking for four hours. You've gone on longer walks before."

The twins had sweat slicked faces and were taking heaving gulps of air.

"The air's to thin up here. And I'm tired." Humiko frowned. "And Kuro snored all night."

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did not!"

"Did too!"

"Did-"

"Shut up!" Now Yari was also red faced, but for a different reason.

"If you have enough energy to screech like that then you have enough energy to hike! Now march!" She pointed up the slope.

With a grumble the twins re-commenced their walk.

As soon as they passed her Yari's face softened from a mother's imperious scowl, to a sad smile.

'I guess I didn't notice the change in altitude.' She gazed at the tree and mist covered mountains. 'It's probably because I grew up in this area, on the other side of these mountains.'

With a sigh, she followed her struggling children.

"Well, Chara was right." Yari gazed at the crumbling building in front of her. "This place really is run down…"

It looked like an abandoned temple of some sort. And whilst the walls were rotting and there were holes in the floor, if you looked closer you could see that the frame was brand new, and the roof's gutter was free of leaves.

"Alrighty kids. She clapped her hands together. "Let's get the camp set for one night."

The three of them set up their campsite with practiced ease, and soon had a small fire going in the centre fire pit, with the tent canvas covering the walls to keep out the wind.

"It's creepy in here." Said Humiko, who had her sleeping bag bunched up around her nose. "It's dark and creaky."

"Don't be a wuss!" Growled her twin. "How can you grow up to be big and strong if you're scared of things like the dark?"

"Shut up! You don't like it anymore than I do, I can tell."

Yari figured she was right, since each twin could feel the mood of the other with unerring precisions, almost to the point of being able to read each others minds.

Another argument ensued, with shouts of idiot, scaredy cat, and bastard echoing around the small clearing the building resided in. Eventually though, tiredness overtook the two ten year olds, and they fell asleep curled up next to each other.

Yari remained awake however, on watch for anything that might attempt to approach the camp.

Hours passed and there was still no sign of anything bigger than a field rabbit.

Just as Yari was going to turn in for a quick nap a heavy thump sounded behind her.

Whirling, she pulled her two short blades from the small of her back and got into a low self defence stance.

Standing before her was a tall figure wearing mostly green and brown from what could be identified in the nonexistent light. He also had a large brimmed straw hat with fabric hanging down enough to cover his eyes. Across his shoulders was a tan coloured cloak which covered most of his body.

"Is there something you wish to discuss?" He said, twirling her blades in his hand.

Yari looked down at her own empty hands.

"I guess so."

First Naruto FanFic!

Note: Yari's Fighting stance is not taijutsu because she's not a ninja. As far as YOU know!

Further Note: The straw hat is not the Akatsuki straw hat, cool as it looks. Think of the Hat the Vagabond Wears in 9Dragons for an example. (Just go to the website and dig around for a bit. If you cant find it just think of a shallower conical straw hat with rectangles of cloth hanging down obscuring the eyes and upper features.)

BWAHAHAHAHA-chough…