Chapter 17: Rogue Gallery
As ordered by their village leader, Team Eight had risen bright and early the next day and made their way towards the Great Gate. Packing was virtually unnecessary given that storage scrolls had long since become redundant because of the Inventory Box, and little needed to be added to the storage space thanks to previous overnight training sessions in and outside of dungeons. However, Anko had ordered scrolls and backpacks to be carried by her Genin nonetheless to avoid unwanted questions.
Naruto, ever eager and willing to go outside Konoha for the first time in his life had arrived at the gate before any other member of Team Eight, not including his ninken. Where Naruto went, Hotto went.
Looking behind him, Naruto noticed the well-known Gate Pair of Konoha: Hagane Kotetsu and Kamizuki Izumo. Two Chunin Naruto knew all too well. Outside of Iruka, both men were two of the few Chunin that Naruto avoided when it came to his pranks, at least when together and even then there was hesitance. While not individually successful as Iruka was when it came to capturing him, six times out of ten were Kotetsu and Izumo successful in capturing him and avoiding his traps despite their laid back and nonchalant demeanour. Their chances of success were higher when working together, which was almost all the time.
"Yo!" Was the simple greeting.
"Heard your team is being sent out for an outside mission," remarked Kotetsu, the Chunin with the dark hair and a bandage across the bridge of his nose to the back of his head.
"Yep!" Naruto saw no point in denying it.
"Congratz. Now we don't have to stop ya from trying to sneak out," laughed Izumo, the one with a bandana-like forehead protector and a brown-haired bang covering his right eye.
The Genin frowned at the comment but couldn't fault the Chunin for it. Naruto being an adventurer at heart wanted to see what was outside Konoha more than once when he was younger but hadn't been allowed by the Sandaime unless someone was with him. Being who he was the young boy had tried and failed in numerous attempts to go outside Konoha's walls by himself, usually being stopped by the two Chunin before him. It had taken the threat of him never having ramen ever again to stop, and thus the top of the Hokage Mountain became one of his favourite spots because it allowed him to see not only all that Konoha had to offer but well beyond the Great Wall, too.
"Anko," the Chunin duo greeted the Jonin.
"Drinking buddies. But they can't hold their drink worth shit," she elaborated. Both Chunin were decent individuals but sucked as drinking partners in Anko's personal opinion.
"Hey! We do all right!"
"Yeah, we're not the one with a fifty-year-old liver!"
A kunai in her hand and serpent coming out of her sleeve had them stiffen and instantly regretting their foolish words, "What was that?"
"It was Kotetsu!"
"You backstabbing asshole!"
"You and I agreed it was every man for himself when Anko gets pissed!"
"Doesn't make you any less of an asshole!"
"Are they always like this?" Asked the Yamanaka that arrived alongside her Hyuga teammate, both could only look on at the bickering duo.
"Meh," Anko shrugged, "You get used to it. Pretty much all ninja have the odd quirk, or three."
The group of Genin and Chunin interpreted the message for what she actually meant: all ninja were crazy in some way. Anko was no exception, but the woman didn't bother to hide her craziness. Regardless, seeing her putting away the serpent and the kunai had both Chunin breathe a sigh of relief that didn't last more than a nanosecond, "I'll deal with you two when I get back."
"We'll bring the dango and booze," both declared and wept. The peace offering was by no means going to be cheap for either of them but it was better than the alternative.
"Apology accepted. Now, then, here's what's happening," spinning around, Anko's gaze fell upon her team, "We travel south from Konoha for a day and a half or two before we meet up with a guide the client village assigned for us. Once we do it'll take us another two, maybe more, to reach Yuzukamura. Be on guard as once we enter the area, we may encounter bandits or some local wildlife."
"Maybe a few, and it's actually alligators, and even then they're not that a big of a deal with," it would have been another story if they were going to the Land of Swamps, where the smallest of them was easily over two times the length of an ordinary alligator, "but I was referring to leeches and mosquitoes."
Seeing the woman shudder, Naruto asked, "What's so bad about that? Pretty sure Ino can whip something up, right?" And the only male ninja of the group earned a nod from the Yamanaka.
"'Fraid we're gonna have to do without," Anko informed him and almost whined herself, "Helpful as they are, and the Yamanaka Clan make the best, their repellants have an odour to 'em. And before you ask the Aburame Clan don't make any because they like bugs. We have no idea who we're dealing with and a person's scent can give their location away. I received some last-minute intel from Hokage-sama and apparently no matter what route or how well hidden the caravan was or whenever they tried setting up an ambush they were still found. The Inuzuka Clan aren't the only ones with an enhanced olfactory system. So, no repellants, I'm sorry to say."
And she was being honest. Leech and mosquito bites sucked. The former more so in this case because these weren't your toothpick-sized bloodsuckers but close relatives to the palm-sized ones found in Konoha's infamous Forest of Death. Severe blood loss happened in seconds if a decent number of them managed to latch on.
"Ah, crap," so far this mission was off to a good start in Naruto's opinion.
"This bites," Inuzuka Kiba groaned as he pulled another weed from the garden of some lazy old fart. The lawn and garden had definitely seen better days upon first sight over three hours ago and he could only wonder how long it had been since proper maintenance had been performed.
"Quit complaining," despite Sakura telling this to her wild teammate the pinkette couldn't help but mentally agree.
Sasuke for his part said nothing and did nothing but pull out another weed. But the last Uchiha had the same mindset as his teammates. The only one on their team who was having any sort of enjoyment was Kiba's ninken and perhaps Kakashi if the odd giggling he released was an indicator. Off to the side, their Jonin instructor was nose deep into a book and while Hatake Kakashi had impressed him during their test the man left much to be desired since then.
He was constantly late, no techniques except for the odd survival skill were taught to them, and the majority of the time all they did were drills and mock combat scenarios and sparring. It made Sasuke re-evaluate how high Konoha's standards were if this is what passed as a Jonin. At this rate, Sasuke wouldn't be able to avenge his clan anytime soon.
"Yosh! My eternal rival Kakashi!"
All three Genin blinked and turned to see a sight that they'd never forget but sorely liked to. Kakashi did nothing but turn to the next page in his book and greeted his 'rival' with a passive demeanour.
"Gai," was Kakashi's simple reply.
"Kakashi and members of Team Seven! How fare you this afternoon?" Asked the energetic man.
"We're all seeing this, right?" Kiba couldn't believe his eyes, dearly hoping his mind was playing tricks on him.
"God, I hope not," Sakura said back, her incredible memory working against her as she memorized every detail of the man and his unbelievable attire.
"Hmm," Sasuke agreed.
"Fine," responded Kakashi, who continued to read his book, "Where's your team?"
"They are preparing for a mission outside Konoha. We leave in an hour so I thought I'd do a few quick exercises before we left when I spotted you and your youthful students," Kakashi could only imagine what Gai meant when he said 'few' and 'quick exercises' despite the number of years knowing the odd ninja.
"No fair! His team goes outside Konoha and we're stuck doing this crap!" Kiba complained.
Kakashi was undeterred by the hotheaded boy's outburst and began placating him in short order, "Settle down, Kiba. Fresh Genin teams don't usually take on C-Rank missions in their first few months. Gai's team has been in circulation for over half a year now. They have more experience than any of you three."
"Sorry, four," the man apologized to the team ninken.
"I guess," the boy groaned, but he didn't like the answer.
Blinking in confusion, Gai asked, "You mean you haven't heard?"
"Heard what?" Kiba asked.
"Anko and her team were tasked with a C-Rank mission four days ago," Gai revealed before Kakashi could stop him.
"WHAT!" All three Genin exclaimed.
Sighing, as this was what he was hoping to avoid, Kakashi snapped his book shut - and just when it was getting to the good part - after putting in a bookmark, "I had heard of that, yes. Good for them."
"Wait, you knew and didn't tell us?!" Kiba asked once more.
"I didn't believe it was important," and it wasn't. How Anko managed her team and how Asuma and Gai or any other Jonin instructor managed their team wasn't any of his business. Who went on what mission and what kind of mission it was also wasn't his business. And his team wasn't ready as he'd like them to be for a C-Rank mission.
"Not important! The Dead Last managed to go on a C-Rank mission before us!" Kiba declared.
"Last I remember, Kiba, you were the Dead Last of your graduating class instead of Naruto," he corrected. Kakashi had initially believed his teacher's son didn't take after either of his parents - skill-wise that is as he was certainly Kushina's son if his grades and personality were an indicator - but his turnaround during his last year had the makings of a late bloomer finally coming around.
Kiba turned red with embarrassment and anger as Sakura stifled a laugh and Sasuke sported a light smirk. Seeing this only served to anger Kiba up even more, "That's it! I'm over this shit! We're going to the Hokage Tower to get a C-Rank mission right now!"
Watching him leave, Gai couldn't help but ask, "Doesn't he know you're already done?" And indeed the garden and lawn were done and all that remained was collecting payment and putting away the bags of weeds.
"It'll only get him even more riled up if we told him," Sakura informed the man; Kiba could get really annoying whenever he wanted to prove himself or one-up another.
"Go after him and wait for me. I'll be there in a sec," Kakashi ordered both remaining Genin. Sakura and Sasuke did as they were bid while their team leader collected the payment for the mission and then headed off to the Hokage Tower himself. His team might not be ready as he'd like them to be, but perhaps a good kick in the pants by reality would be the necessary push they needed.
But first, if it was available, he'd have them chase Tora if the feline blur he just spotted a block over was anything to go by.
"Finally," Ino breathed a sigh of relief as she and her team and their guide set their sights upon their destination. The latter half of their trip had not been a pleasant one. Neither Hinata nor Ino were on the same level as Anko and Naruto when it came to endurance but she'd like to think they did well for their first time. Anko would probably have a different opinion, the Yamanaka thought.
Meeting with the guide had been when the 'fun' part had started. Despite it being the winter season it wasn't uncommon for Hi no Kuni to get rain and warm weather. Apparently, the southern part of Hi no Kuni didn't receive the same memo and they were heavily cloaked to keep the winter's unforgiving winds at bay. Given their role in the group, Ino and Anko had more exposed skin than either of their teammates and were less than comfortable at the moment. Fortunately, they were but a leisurely ten minutes away from warming up if they went full tilt. Ino didn't care if she'd have to carry their guide to do so.
Yuzukamura was a large hamlet with many different-sized homes and roads situated on hills that had a decent-sized plateau. Each hill had rows of trees, stands and poles with plants attached or growing up along them, others had edible grasses such as rice growing as far as the eye could see in well kept paddies. In the distance was the largest elevated plateau with the largest building surrounded by a tall wall of wooden pikes exceeding sixty odd feet that were nearly ten feet thick, and that was only the shorter portions. The defensive bulwark was apparently made by the Shodai in exchange for a trade agreement between the two villages and had since been added upon over time such as the man-made moat.
The protected building in question was likely the storehouse and distillery the group had learned about from their guide. The man was a chatterbox and a wealth of boring and useless information no one cared about. Sure, knowing about the village in question and where and what was what and who was who might be useful. But about nine out of ten of what he droned on about was pointless drivel.
"That's the village's pride and joy, the Yuzukamura Distillery. Fun fact about it," Anko felt her eye twitching and saw Naruto and Ino were just about ready to pounce on the soon-to-be pancake. Anko had never killed a client before, but she had certainly come close and had on occasion gotten back at the more annoying ones in a discreet manner that left them oh-so satisfyingly humiliated. This guy here was microseconds away from being her latest victim before a group of armed men came up the hill to greet them.
"Identify yourselves!" A voice suddenly announced and spared them from hearing the useless trivia.
"Yuzuka-sama!" Hearing the honorific, Team Eight looked at the aforementioned woman that came up to them with a small group of armed individuals. A quick glance at how tense many of them held their weapons and the way they looked everywhere told Anko that they were either greenhorns or nervous as hell, or likely both.
"Team Eight from Konoha?" The woman asked.
"You expecting anyone else?" was Anko's reply, "You the head honcho of this village?"
To their surprise the woman shook her head, "No, that would be my mother. However, she isn't available at the moment, so I'm here in her stead."
"Lucky them," Team Eight heard one of the guards mutter.
"Hold your tongue!" Apparently, the comment wasn't low enough as Yuzuka's bark had the guard become ramrod stiff. The woman earned some points for that stunt alone in Anko's books.
"Shall we?" Yuzuka motioned for them to follow her lead.
The trip was short and soon the group enjoyed the comforts of the indoors, a small spread of drinks and food, mostly fruits and vegetables with some rice dishes, was soon brought for their leisure.
"I'll keep this short as I want you to start as soon as possible," Yuzuka began, "We need these bandits dealt with and dealt with quickly. They have my mother."
"How'd that happen?" Anko asked, taking a sip of the alcoholic beverage she was given. It was pretty good.
"My mother… is a headstrong woman and quick to anger when wronged and strict to a fault. She takes the welfare of Yuzukamura very seriously. These bandits have been a thorn in our side for months and my mother finally had enough and left with a group of guards with the most recent caravan to try and ambush them."
"That was two weeks ago, right?"
"It was," Yuzuka nodded. "My mother is skilled with a naginata and knows a few basic ninja techniques, but evidently that wasn't enough. A warning flare was seen maybe half an hour after they left and when we found the caravan it was hopelessly annihilated and bodies littered the grounds, some of them in pieces. The only saving grace is that several of them were missing from the site."
"We hope. The area around there usually doesn't have its share of predators, especially during winter, but it is a swamp and it's not uncommon for the odd creature to show up where they usually don't," Anko and Ino detected a hint of hope that such an occurrence didn't come to pass.
"All right, what about the site? What did it look like?" Anko asked.
"Almost like every other," was the unhelpful comment, "Broken wagons, cut up bodies, smashed in heads, decent-sized crater holes and broken trees. But no signs of ninja techniques were used. No burn marks, scorch marks or anything else that would serve as an indicator."
That last bit of information had Anko's attention, "So, physically strong individuals," the average bandits were usually much stronger than a well-trained civilian but not as strong as a well-trained ninja. But even then ordinary ninjas weren't physically strong enough to do what was described. In other words, these were Chunin or near-Jonin level individuals.
"We believe so, yes. All we found at the scene was this," the woman brought a box from her side and opened it to reveal a piece of clothing, "It belonged to my mother."
Grabbing it, Anko and her Genin felt their eyes watering as the scent assaulted their senses, "Ho, boy!"
"Oh, God. Close it!" Naruto pleaded.
"I'm sorry?" Yuzuka didn't understand their reactions.
"You can't smell that?"
"Smell?" Yuzuka held a look of ignorance.
"You're pulling our leg, right?"
Frowning, Yuzuka said, "I'm not pulling anything."
"Yuzuka-sama, the perfume Yuka-sama uses is a local one. Outsiders such as our guests are likely unaccustomed to such odours," said one of Yuzuka's attendants.
"No shit!" were the collective thoughts of the group. Well, at least they had a way of finding their target.
I am so sorry for the immense wait. Two years ago I developed a terrible case of insomnia that lasted for months (I was lucky to get 2 hours of sleep a day over the course of four months). Pills worked to put me to sleep but made me extremely ill the next day). A few months later it looked like I was getting better then it all went to shit. Going from 7-9 hours of sleep a day to 2 hours or less sucks on levels I can't even begin to describe.
I was tested for everything and nothing showed up (no tumors, blockages, abnormal readings, or brain patterns); I did everything and then some and it got me nowhere. It was only in the last few months of 2023 did everything started going back to normal for me and that was because my cousin told me to try indica strain edibles (the first time I took too much and tripped balls and not in the fun way) but I fell asleep after an hour of the negative side effects going away, and since then I only require less than 10 mg to go to sleep and now I got my old 7-9 sleep pattern back (thanks for nothing doctors and naturopaths of Ontario, Canada). The reason why is unknown and has yet to be determined.
Anyway, rant over, I am trying to get back into the swing of things. This is a sneak preview of what is to come, it's not the full chapter. The full chapter should be out after the Harry Potter one in a couple of weeks but that depends on a few things as I may start a new super high-paying job that requires me to move (I just went through my latest interview).