Iwata considered it understandable that she hadn’t expected a desert to be cold, but nonetheless, it was. She should have expected it and brought a coat or something, but she hadn’t, and now she was beginning to lose feeling in her arms.
Her fingers were long gone. She’d lost feeling in them when she was climbing down the side of the walls an hour ago.
Rubbing her shoulders, she tried, unsuccessfully, to create any warmth she could.
Finally reaching the top of the sand dune, she sprinted off the edge and fell a couple dozen feet before hitting and rolling across the sand.
Shaking out her hair, she groaned in annoyance as she realized there was now sand in her Jounin jacket.
Giving up once again in the war against the sand, she resumed her sprint across the dark desert surface, straining her eyes to see anything that wasn’t smooth sand ahead of her.
Her destination was the barely visible Tsukinomiyako Mountain Range, where, according to Ashito, resided a hidden camp of Kumo Shinobi. She had a hard time believing it, but here she was regardless, risking her life to go to it.
It had been excruciatingly painful to make it out of Suna without being detected… she hoped. Iwata wasn’t entirely sure that none of the guards had seen her, and that there wasn’t a team of Suna Elite following her.
If there is, it’s too late now, and all I can do is hope I make it to the camp, Iwata mused, once again rubbing her aching fingers.
Because of the seals covering the outer wall of Suna, she’d been forced to slowly make her way down the side without chakra. She’d thought the hardest part would be making it on top of the wall, but that wasn’t the case.
Ashito had pointed out to her several abandoned staircases that led to the top of the wall, and she’d taken the closest one. Despite fearing that the ceiling was going to collapse on her, the seemingly infinite spiders, and cracked stairs, she’d made it to the top without much trouble.
I wonder how the RAIKOU made it into Suna, Iwata mused, because climbing that wall without chakra, and without making any noises is surely impossible.
Rubbing her hands together, Iwata wished yet again that she’d been born with a natural affinity to fire. The cold was killing her.
Several hours of blithering cold slowly drug by, and Iwata finally began to reach the mountains. The sand had smoothed out not long ago, and she’d thankfully been able to pick up speed.
Locating the small, nearly invisible trail up into the mountains took her longer than she would have liked.
As she made her way along the winding trail, she was tempted multiple times to create a simple illumination Jutsu but resisted the urge. She wasn’t concerned that Suna would spot the light, but that a Kumo Guard would. She didn’t want a Kunai in her throat and a useless apology.
Groaning in frustration as she yet again was forced to backtrack, she found where she’d left the path and resumed following it. It was incredibly hard to see the way in the dark, as it was little more than beaten down dirt.
Despite hearing and sensing nothing, Iwata froze.
Slowly… carefully… she reached down to her Kunai pouch and grabbed the handle of one of her many Kunai.
Iwata stopped, trying to locate the source of the voice.
“If you draw that Kunai, I will kill you.”
Iwata let go of the handle, letting it fall back into her pouch. She couldn’t see them, but whoever had spoken was right behind her.
“My name is Iwata Kayami…” she said, being careful not to move. “I’m the Captain of Squad Dorai, from Suna.”
She winced as lightning cracked to life next to her face. By the time her eyes had begun to adjust to the bright light, it was extinguished.
She forced chakra into her eyes, helping them adjust to the darkness quickly. However, she still was unable to see anyone, and she wasn’t willing to turn her head and risk death.
“Very well, come with me, Captain.”
A RAIKOU member appeared in front of her, seemingly stepping out of the shadows. Like all RAIKOU, they wore complete black, their grey mask with various lightning designs being their only unique feature.
They walked in silence for several minutes, and Iwata was glad she now had a guide as the RAIKOU took several winding turns that she would have missed.
Eventually, they came to a stop, and the Shinobi moved to the side, gesturing to the entrance of a small ravine.
“I must return to my post, but you’re free to go.”
She thanked him and stepped inside the small and dark ravine, taking care to watch the uneven ground to avoid tripping.
Iwata knew that the RAIKOU was lying and that they were following her from the shadows. Why? Because letting her enter by herself would be a breach of security. A RAIKOU would never allow that to happen.
No, what probably was happening was that she was being followed by a squad of RAIKOU.
RAIKOU, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill her, should she not be who she said she was.
After fumbling around in the dark, Iwata eventually made it out of the ravine.
She was shocked by the scale of the camp, lit by lanterns hung from the tents, and numerous campfires. There has to be at least a hundred tents here… and with four men to a tent…
It was clear the Raikage was serious.
Moving such a massive force across the Elemental Nations and into the Land of Wind was no small or easy task. What made it even more impressive was that she’d only sent the report to Kumo a month before.
Looking toward the middle of the encampment, Iwata instantly spotted the command tent. She’d been in Kumo war camps before, and they were all organized the same.
At the center was the command tent, surrounded by the tents belonging to the strongest Shinobi, and RAIKOU. After that, a ring of medic tents, followed by regular tents which housed most of the Shinobi.
Making her way down the path into camp, Iwata expected to be stopped by guards, but nothing happened.
However, she was stopped as she stepped into the clearing around the command tent.
“State your name, rank, and purpose for approaching the command tent.”
A RAIKOU had appeared out of seemingly thin air in front of her.
“Iwata Kayami, Jounin. I am the Captain of Squad Dorai, assigned to the Kumo Embassy in Suna,” she responded quickly.
The RAIKOU didn’t reply; instead, they just stood there, silently staring at her through their mask.
A minute passed before the RAIKOU moved, stepping to the side and gesturing for her to enter the tent.
Walking up to the tent, she pushed the large tent flap to the side and stepped inside. The first thing she noticed was the massive table in the middle. It was covered with a large map of the Land of Wind, and several small figures were clumped together in the mountains. She was surprised to see that only three were in Suna.
Pulling herself away from the table, Iwata turned toward the voice to find Darui sitting on a bed off to the side.
Setting down the scroll he was holding, Darui got up and walked to the table. She matched him.
Iwata had been surprised when Ashito had informed her that Darui, the Raikage’s second hand, was in charge of the operation.
It made sense, but the implications of it were daunting. With Darui being here, it meant that the Raikage had no qualms about starting a war with the Land of Wind.
“I must first thank you for your efforts in obtaining the information about the Stone of Legend. The Raikage wanted me to tell you personally that he’s thankful.”
Iwata bowed deeply, doing her best to keep her expression calm.
“He wants you to know that he is aware of the risks you and your team took to obtain this valuable information.” Darui continued.
“Thank you, Darui-sama,” Iwata replied. It was a rare honor for the Raikage to personally recognize the efforts of his Shinobi, let alone a Jounin like herself, who wasn’t that high in the ranks in the grand scheme of things.
“Now, how can I help you?” Darui asked curiously.
“I’m here to request permission to begin searching for the Land of Wind Daimyō‘s son within Suna.” Iwata began, “I will need another team assigned to our Embassy in Suna, to keep it staffed should Suna come knocking for any reason. ”
“I see,” Darui replied thoughtfully, turning toward the small figures on the map. Iwata recognized two of them as belonging to RAIKOU squads, and the other as her own Squad’s emblem.
“Are you confident that you can find the Prince without alerting Suna to our intentions?” Darui asked, abruptly losing his friendly persona.
“We’ve taken great pains to make sure that the Land of Wind is unaware of our presence here… it was perilous for you to even come here.”
Iwata nodded silently, suddenly understanding she was on thin ice. The silence dragged on for several minutes as Darui stared at the map, clearly deep in thought. Iwata began to regret coming to the camp more with every passing second.
“I will allow it.”
Iwata felt herself deflate in relief. If Darui had said no, it would have made the risks she’d taken by coming here not worth it.
“However, you must return to Suna, tonight,” Darui ordered, turning away from the map. “I will have Squad Nai meet you tomorrow at the Embassy if they can get through the front gate as civilians. However, if they don’t arrive, you are not to look for the Prince.”
Iwata bowed deeply, “Thank you, Darui-sama.”
“I hope you understand how much you’ve endangered this entire operation, and won’t make such a mistake again,” Darui said, his back turned to her. “Now go.”
Iwata bowed again, though Darui couldn’t see her, and turned around quickly before hurrying out of the command tent.
Maru Plaza, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
“May I interest you in a fruit cake, Josei-san?”
Iwata shook her head and politely declined.
“I’m just looking,” she said with a smile. The shopkeeper nodded and turned toward a small child, who was eyeing the various candies in his stand.
Taking advantage of the distractions, Iwata looked over her shoulder at the large plaza behind her. On the other side was the Shinobi Academy, and it would be opening soon. She wasn’t sure exactly when, which was why she and Squad Nai had arrived early.
They were all disguised as civilians, and for the last few hours, had aimlessly wandered around the various shops scattered along the edge of the Plaza. Unsurprisingly, she’d found that most of what was being sold was for children. She’d guessed it was for the students that came out on their breaks and bought things.
“Can I interest you in some pocky sticks? These are from the Land of Rice, still good.“ The old shopkeeper said, pointing at a small box of the candies on his counter.
Iwata politely shook her head, resisting the urge to smile at the man’s open and sunny expression. He was doing his best, but she knew something like pocky sticks couldn’t be imported. They’d never survived the heat through the desert.
No, the old man had made these himself, probably this morning, and was trying to make them seem extraordinary.
An admirable attempt.
“No thank you, Kyaku-sama.”
Iwata could tell that the shopkeeper was beginning to get frustrated with her presence. She was, after all, blocking part of the stand from potential customers.
She’d just started to look over the candies, feeling her sweet tooth begging her for some sustenance, when she heard a loud clamor behind her.
Turning around, she saw numerous children, ranging from very young to early Genin ages, pour into the plaza. All of them were heading for the Academy, whose doors had just opened to welcome them all inside.
Iwata regretted choosing to move a few minutes ago to the candy stand, as she now couldn’t see the majority of the children as they walked by. All she could do was hope that Hirohisa had better luck than her. She’d seen him walking toward the stands near the Academy entrance earlier.
Giving up, Iwata turned back to the candy stand and picked up one of the blue suckers that had caught her eyes. The shopkeeper accepted the coins she handed him, and she popped the sucker in her mouth before walking out onto the plaza.
The last of the students were just entering the Academy, and as the last one stepped inside, she saw one of the teachers reach out and close the doors.
Turning toward one of the several outdoor table restaurants around the area, Iwata walked up to the first available table and sat down. She chose the chair that gave her a clear view of the entire plaza and waited for her teammates to arrive.
Eichiro, the Captain of Squad Nai, was the first to arrive, and after asking permission to sit, took one of the seats to her left. He was shortly followed by Shigeko, and then Arata.
As they were quietly waiting for Hirohisa to arrive, the waiter came up and took their drink orders. They all ordered water.
“Finally,” Shigeko grumbled as Hirohisa walked up to the table, grabbing a chair from an empty table along the way, and sat down.
“Given that you’re smiling,” Eichiro said, clearly annoyed, “I’m guessing you have good news?”
Hirohisa’s smile increased.
“Are you serious?” Shigeko groaned, “We’ve been here for three hours, and it was all pointless?”
Hirohisa shrugged and turned to the waiter as he walked up to the table, carrying everyone’s drinks.
“What can I get you, Sir?”
“A tea, please,” Hirohisa replied, and the waiter nodded before turning and leaving. Once the waiter was out of earshot, Hirohisa continued his report. “None of the children matched the description you gave me, Iwata-chan. I’m confident that the prince didn’t slip by me.
Iwata rubbed her face before leaning forward in her chair and picking up her drink. After taking a quick sip, she set it down.
“Well… I say we all eat, and then begin searching as many public training grounds as we can for the prince.” Iwata said, and Arata agreed. “He came to Suna to become a Shinobi, so if he isn’t here at the Academy, it seems like the best place to search.”
Iwata looked at Eichiro questioningly, noticing the Captain’s doubtful expression.
“It’s probable that he’s being trained at a private training ground, which would be risky to get too close to,” Eichiro explained.
Iwata grimaced, he was right.
“We’re just going to have to hope that isn’t the case,” Hirohisa said optimistically as he leaned back in his chair, attempting to peer around Iwata’s head in search of the waiter. He was hungry, damnit.
She hated missions that required her to pretend to be a civilian, she just hated it.
Her first complaint would have to be the speed, as it took for-fucking-ever to get anywhere. In the last three hours, she’d only been able to search three training grounds and found nothing!
Hopefully, someone has had more luck than I have, Iwata thought, finally giving up and turning around. She wouldn’t have enough time to check the next training ground and make it back to the meeting point in time.
Hurrying to the other side of the street, Iwata joined the civilians walking in the same direction as her. Like many cities she’d seen in her life, Suna had vast roads. This allowed carts and buggies to be pulled through the middle of the street, without interrupting foot traffic.
Mostly such design improvements were thought of by civilians. Shinobi just jumped over the roofs. It was much faster, and something Iwata badly wanted to do.
Alas, she was restricted to merely walking… and not even at a quick pace, for fear of drawing unwanted attention to herself.
The meeting point was Suna’s only park, and as she drew nearer, she was surprised to see as much green as she did. From above, she suspected the place probably stood out like fresh blood in water.
Crossing the street once again, Iwata entered through the open gates into the park and was relieved to see a complete lack of sand. She was so tired of it.
There were numerous paths throughout the park, weaving between the trees, bushes, and vibrant grass. Choosing the one on the far right, Iwata let herself relax slightly and take in the beauty of the flowers spread out around her.
She smiled at a young couple as she passed by, and the girl waved in return.
Reaching her destination, Iwata sat down on one of the many benches and waited for her teammates to arrive. She’d chosen one of the spots shaded by several trees and was relieved as a cool breeze blew through her hair.
To sell the civilian-look as much as possible, she’d let her hair loose, something she rarely did. Hair was nice, but it got in the way in a fight. Iwata had never understood Kunoichi who didn’t put their hair up, seemed like asking for death in her opinion.
Sensing someone walking up being her, she calmly looked over her shoulder to see Hirohisa walking toward her. She felt like groaning as she saw the smile on his face, now unsure if it meant he had good news or bad.
Walking around the bench, Hirohisa sat down and sighed in relief, finally out of the searing heat of the sun.
Hirohisa nodded, his eyes closed as he enjoyed the cool breeze.
“He’s at a secluded training field to the west, training with a Jounin. I didn’t recognize the Jounin, but there didn’t seem to be any guards that I could tell.” Hirohisa said.
Iwata cursed under her breath. That was the complete opposite direction from the training fields she’d searched.
“We’ll wait for the others to arrive, and then head there.”
Hirohisa nodded lazily.
Iwata rolled her eyes and turned away. She’d honestly hadn’t expected to find the prince after the failure at the Academy. The Shinobi she’d interrogated from the strange organization had told her he was going to the Academy.
Perhaps he was pulled out of it… for private training? But then why was he ever in the Academy to begin with? What changed? Iwata wondered. She felt like something was missing, something that was dangerous.
She resolved to make sure they were careful when approaching the prince.
After a few minutes, the rest of Squad Nai arrived, and after filling them in, they set out for the training field Hirohisa had found.
Iwata realized they should have traveled individually only after they’d stopped, but it was too late by that point. She would just have to hope that no one had thought anything of it.
“See those windows up there?” Hirohisa said, pointing toward a strange building to the right of the street. “We need to climb up into there to be able to see into the training field. If we go any farther than this, we risk being detected.”
“How did you figure that out?” Shigeko asked as he shaded his eyes.
“Well, we both know you’re incapable of being stealthy, Shigeko, so I thought I better find a way where you wouldn’t need to be,” Hirohisa replied and promptly leaped up onto the building before Shigeko could respond.
Iwata almost called out a warning when Hirohisa jumped again and grabbed the edge of the window before hauling himself inside. Looking at Eichiro in concern, she realized he was already preparing to jump.
A second later, she was the only one on the street.
Sighing, she looked up and was once again struck by the strangeness of Suna’s buildings. The structure was typical enough, to begin with, basically being a box of sandstone with various windows and a door. After that, the building became a ball with windows around the outer edge.
Shaking her head, Iwata tried to sense any Shinobi nearby. Once she was satisfied, she lightly leaped up onto the building and quickly jumped again.
Pulling herself through the window, Iwata forced chakra into her eyes to adjust them to the sudden darkness of the room.
“Over here,” Hirohisa whispered loudly, gesturing to her from across the room.
“What took you so long?” He asked as she hurried over. Iwata ignored him.
Looking through the window, Iwata saw a training field, hidden by a high wall, which had a young boy in the middle of it.
Pale skin, brown hair, a blindfold…that’s him alright, Iwata thought. She’d thought the Shinobi had been lying when he’d told her about the blindfold, but apparently not. It seemed the prince was genuinely blind, after all.
“Is that him?” Arata asked, and Iwata nodded.
Looking away from the prince, Iwata focused her attention on the Shinobi standing next to the prince. That’s Baki… shit.
“Well, do we risk nabbing him and potentially avoiding an entire war?” Shigeko asked.
Iwata shook her head, “No, that Shinobi is Baki, the Kazekage’s second-in-command. We might be able to take him, but we would definitely have a fight on our hands. It wouldn’t be quiet.”
Eichiro scoffed in annoyance, “at least that confirms it… it’s definitely the prince. He’s obviously getting special training.”
“Distraction then?” Hirohisa suggested, “Some of us pressure the Shinobi long enough for one of us to grab the prince and neutralize him before we all run for it.”
Eichiro resisted the urge to hit Hirohisa in the head, but just barely.
“No, you idiot. Darui-sama isn’t ready to hold off the inevitable retaliation from Suna… it’s also way too obvious. If we don’t kill the Kazekage’s right hand, then the Kazekage will most certainly be alerted.” Eichiro said as loudly as he dared, “and if we did somehow manage to kill him quietly, then we risk a very enraged Kazekage.”
“I mean, if you want to needlessly sacrifice yourself, go ahead.” Arata added, “but I don’t really feel like dying to Suna’s Jinchuriki.”
Iwata agreed. If they were to kidnap the prince here and now, the One-tail Jinchuriki would most certainly be sent after them. Killer B was in Kumo, so they wouldn’t have a Jinchuriki to counter Suna’s.
“I say we just watch and follow the prince once he leaves. Tail him for the next couple weeks, and work out his patterns. When Darui-sama is ready to move, it will make capturing him much easier.” Iwata said, and when none of her teammates voiced a disagreement, she moved away from the window.
Iwata froze, her brain unable to process what she saw in front of her for a split second. Several thick tendrils of sand were lazily floating through the air, all of them headed for her and her teammates.
Ducking under one of the tendrils as it darted toward her head, Iwata used chakra to gain enough traction to kick off the floor. She hardly heard the wooden floorboards crack beneath her.
Twisting in mid-air, Iwata saw the tendrils continue their path and impale each member of Squad Nai through the head in rapid succession. None of them had even turned around.
Then she flew through the window, narrowly missing the frame, and began plummeting toward the ground. Once more twisting around in mid-air, she collided with the next building and quickly flowed chakra through her feet and hands.
Once she’d secured herself on the wall, Iwata looked back and was shocked to see a large volume of sand slowly undulating up the side of the building. It had crept up, and none of them had noticed it.
Iwata could only watch in morbid fascination as the sand reversed course and began to fall back toward the ground. As it flowed out of the windows, it pulled the limp bodies of Squad Nai after it and dropped them to the street below.
As soon as all the bodies landed, the street seemed to open up and swallow them.
Iwata stared at the spot for several seconds. If she hadn’t seen it happen, she would be completely unable to tell that anything had happened. The sand had repaired the street behind it, and now her teammates were dozens of feet underground.
Suddenly coming to her sense, Iwata turned back toward the wall and quickly climbed up it. Fearfully keeping an eye out for more sand, she sprinted across the roof, throwing caution to the wind.
She had no intention of becoming the next victim.
Kazekage Tower, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
Tap… Tap… Tap… Tap tap tap… Tap… Tap… Tap…
Realizing he was going to damage his ornate chopsticks, Rasa forced himself to set them back in their beautiful case. They had been a gift from Torio shortly after he’d taken up the role of Kazekage and were made of extremely expensive jade.
The chopsticks were indeed works of art, each decorated with beautiful designs made of gold.
Rasa sighed and leaned back in his chair before quickly finding himself staring at the barren ceiling of his office. Taking a deep breath, he calmed the raging storm of thoughts in his mind.
The first thing he needed to address was his growing suspicion that Naruto’s real father wasn’t a Hyuga. Which leaves the question open of who Naruto’s real father is… because it most certainly isn’t Torio… if it was, Torio wouldn’t have lied about it.
Rasa shook his head and leaned forward in his chair, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. I don’t even think that Naruto is Yura’s son either… Rasa mused, did Torio adopt Naruto? But from where?
“That doesn’t even make any sense…” Rasa muttered, “why would Torio lie to me about that? What does he gain from doing that?”
Getting to his feet, Rasa began to pace his office.
I can understand lying to other people about Naruto’s real origin, but why would he lie to me? If I accept that Torio did adopt Naruto, did he do it because Naruto has the Byakugan?
Rubbing his forehead, Rasa realized he’d forgotten about a vital piece entirely.
How did Naruto get the Byakugan to begin with? Rasa wondered, realizing he wasn’t getting anywhere. The pieces he had didn’t fit together, which meant there were pieces he didn’t have. Such as why Naruto’s skin was so pale, an extreme rarity in the Land of Wind.
It’s more feasible if Naruto is from the Land of Fire, Rasa thought, but immediately was at a loss again. How could Torio have adopted Naruto from the Land of Fire, especially since Naruto had the Byakugan, which meant the Hyuga would have been aware of him. Or hell-bent on killing him… I can’t imagine that Naruto is a part of the Hyuga clan.
“Perhaps the group that has been attacking Torio was hired by the Hyuga?” Rasa wondered aloud but shook his head as he continued pacing his office. The Byakugan was one of the Land of Fire’s most powerful Kekkai Genkai, and if the Hyuga knew that Naruto had it, they’d most certainly go to the Hokage.
As far as Rasa knew, he was on good terms with Minato.
Sighing, Rasa walked back to his desk and sat down.
Something else had been bothering him as well, and he hadn’t been able to investigate it because of the sudden concerning rumors.
Naruto’s strange and erratic behavior, he’d noticed it in his spar with Naruto during the prince’s birthday, but he hadn’t thought much of it. However, he’d seen it again when Gaara had killed the bandit camp in the mountains. It felt like rage… I thought it was Naruto’s anger at Gaara for trying to kill him at the time… but I don’t think that’s what it was.
The most glaring example had been right after Gaara had driven a spear through Naruto’s side.
It was like Naruto had become possessed by a demon as he tried to violently attack anyone near him. Rasa had been forced to knock him out for his own safety.
Yet, at times, Naruto can be extremely cold, Rasa thought. When Naruto had come to his office after killing one of his classmates, Rasa had thought Naruto’s lack of emotions had been Naruto in shock. Now he wasn’t so sure.
I’m going to have to confront Torio about this, Rasa realized as he finally gave up.
Picking up one of the reports on his desk, he started to read it. It was a report from the Captain of Gaara’s protection detail. The Captain only sent him reports when there was something worth reporting, it was just how the man was.
Baki wasn’t a fan of that, but Rasa personally preferred it. He didn’t like reading reports about Gaara killing dozens of civilians at a time.
Quickly reading through the report, Rasa was surprised by its contents.
Gaara hadn’t killed any civilians or even shown interest in doing so for well over three weeks. Instead, Gaara had followed Naruto around everywhere he went, but instead of trying to get close to Naruto, he would only follow him from a distance.
The report also stated that Gaara was spending an abnormal amount of time in the Kazekage Mansion.
Marking the report as read, Rasa set it aside and once more folded his hands in front of him. He wasn’t sure what had caused Gaara’s sudden change in behavior, but he wasn’t going to question it. This was what Torio had wanted, and it seemed that by luck, it had been accomplished.
Rasa didn’t have any doubt that his actions had done little to nothing to bring Torio’s request about. When his friend had asked for Gaara to become Naruto’s personal bodyguard, he’d immediately expressed how unlikely that was to come about.
After Gaara’s multiple attempts to kill Naruto so soon after meeting him, I was sure it was pointless, but I went with my plan in Nekokami anyway… Rasa mused.
A second later, the office was empty.