Aoki Restaurant, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
Rasa chuckled as the chunk of fish flew up into the air, confident the Kunai flying towards his head, hidden behind the meat, would never reach him.
Sure enough, once the Kunai had pierced the meat, it reversed course abruptly, as the string of chakra attached to its hilt was sharply pulled.
The chefs of Aoki would never cease to amaze Rasa. Despite eating here frequently, they always had some new surprise up their sleeves.
Aoki was a restaurant only for those that knew about it. Its single room, dominated by natural wood and rice paper, created a simple, yet warm and authentic ambiance. The room wasn’t massive either, only having three tables and a bar counter.
However, that wasn’t what made Aoki such a special place, its history was. It had been created over twenty years before by two retired Shinobi from the Second Great Shinobi war. Since its founding, it had only employed three other retired Shinobi.
One of them was a retired Puppeteer.
Rasa shook his head and smiled as his old friend, Junzo, picked up the just prepared plate of food, and flipped over the bar counter. A second later, the dish was set on the table in front of him; none of the food the least bit disturbed.
“I’ll never figure out how you do that, Junzo,” Rasa commented, breathing in deeply through his nose.
Junzo smiled. His hands folded behind him.
“Enjoy your food, Rasa-sama.” Junzo said, “Sasori-sama and Baki-sama are on their way.”
Rasa nodded and caught the pair of chopsticks Junzo tossed to him.
Snapping them apart, he habitually adjusted them in his hand and picked up one of the sushi rolls on his plate.
It was delicious, of course.
Hearing the room’s only door slid open, Rasa looked over to find Baki, closing the door behind him.
“Seems I was first this time,” Baki commented as he sat down at the table, and Rasa chuckled.
Setting the chopsticks down, Rasa waited for Sasori to arrive, knowing that he’d have to wait to finish his dinner.
“Ahh, damnit, you beat me,” Sasori exclaimed as he entered.
Making eye contact with the owner of the restaurant, Sasori created an X-like symbol with his hands. The retired Shinobi nodded and gestured to the other chefs to follow him. A second later, they had all vanished.
Rasa raised an eyebrow in surprise as the chair Sasori was about to grab moved, Baki having pushed it with his foot.
Rolling his eyes, Sasori attached a chakra thread to the chair and pulled it back into place, catching it and sitting down.
“If you two are done acting like children every time we have a meeting, I’ll explain why I summoned you here.” Rasa said, considering eating another piece of sushi roll.
Giving in, Rasa attached a chakra thread to one of the pieces and manipulated it through the air and into his mouth.
“Mainly, I wish to discuss Naruto, and get your thoughts on some inconsistencies I’ve noticed about him.” Rasa began after a moment, “After that, I want to hear what you’ve learned about the rumors I asked you both to investigate.”
“Sounds good to me, I’ve definitely got some stuff to share on those matters as well.” Sasori said, suddenly wishing they’d met in Rasa’s office, as he now had nowhere to prop his feet.
“I’m guessing you’ve come to the same conclusion I have?” Baki asked, and Rasa gestured for him to continue, taking the opportunity to eat another piece of his delicious dinner.
“I don’t believe that Naruto’s real father was a Hyūga… it just doesn’t make sense.” Baki said seriously, and Sasori looked over at him skeptically.
“I get that he has baby horns, white skin, and a possible personality disorder,” Sasori said, “but how exactly would he have gotten the Byakugan if he wasn’t a Hyūga?”
Baki shrugged and leaned back in his chair, “I’ve no idea, but how would you explain Naruto’s oddities?”
“White skin could be some sort of recessive genetic trait from some family members.”
Baki pointed at the side of his head, “That doesn’t explain the horns. I’m not really worried about the white skin, while rare, it’s not exactly like… horns coming out of the sides of your head rare.”
“We’re sure they’re horns?” Sasori asked, and Rasa nodded.
“Tanyu confirmed that they were naturally growing out of his skull in the Tsukinomiyako Mountain Range. I had him check again when Naruto was unconscious for a week in the hospital.”
Sasori shook his head and pressed his palms against his eyes as he tried to think of some sort of explanation.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Sasori admitted finally, giving up.
Rasa pointed one of his chopsticks at Sasori, “It makes more sense if you assume that Naruto isn’t Yura’s son.”
“Whoa, okay, you’re saying that Torio lied completely and that he adopted Naruto… from somewhere?” Sasori asked, surprised.
“Why would Torio lie about that then?” Baki wondered aloud, “If we assume that Torio did, in fact, adopt Naruto, then we can assume that it was because Naruto has the Byakugan.”
Baki shook his head, “What is there to be gained from lying about Naruto’s history, especially to you?”
Leaning back in his chair, Rasa began twirling the chopsticks between his fingers.
“Let’s assume that Naruto is, somehow, a Hyūga,” Rasa said. Sasori and Baki nodded. “Then how would he have ever gotten away from that clan? They’re known for how set they are on protecting their Kekkai Genkai, even to the point of killing deserters.”
“I don’t know,” Baki admitted.
“This is a pointless conversation,” Sasori interjected, “we don’t know enough to make any solid conclusions. All we can do is guess, and we’re not getting anywhere. However, I am going to guess that the real point of this conversation is that you’re considering going to Kazedama and questioning Torio about Naruto.”
Rasa nodded silently.
“That’s a good thing, in my opinion,” Baki added, and Rasa looked at him curiously. “There are a couple things that cause me concern about Naruto daily, in fact.”
“How so?” Sasori inquired.
“Well, Naruto’s mastery of Ninjutsu, Genjutsu, and Kenjutsu to some degree is increasing rapidly. However, his Taijutsu has stayed the same since I became his Sensei.” Baki explained, and Sasori whistled in surprise.
“That’s honestly just impressive, considering you were kicked out of the Shinobi Academy for being too intense in Taijutsu training.”
“Yes,” Baki replied, gritting his teeth. “But that’s beside the point. I fear that Naruto is physically incapable of getting any stronger… a genetic defect potentially.”
“Interesting,” Rasa said.
Baki nodded, “What’s more, Naruto has acted strangely several times. Similar to how you described him when you sparred with him at the Daimyo’s palace.”
“Ah,” Rasa said, “Where it seems like he’s unsure what he wants to do, he’s conflicted and repeatedly completely switches between things? Sometimes it seems like a different person almost.”
“Similar to that, yes.”
“Sounds like something else to ask Torio about,” Sasori interrupted, “I’m curious to hear about this mission that Naruto almost went on a few days ago. I suspect this is one of the topics you wanted to talk about?”
“Hai,” Rasa replied, gesturing to Baki to hold his thoughts for the time being. “To fill you in, Naruto has requested to go on another mission, and that I allow Gaara to go with him this time.”
“Makes sense to me,” Sasori said, surprising Rasa. “I don’t really see the problem. Torio wanted Gaara to become Naruto’s personal bodyguard. It seems to me like that’s been accomplished.”
“Gaara could be trying to kill Naruto,” Baki warned, and Sasori scoffed.
“Gaara has tried to kill Naruto, yes. But, since first meeting Naruto, Gaara has passed up two opportunities where he could have successfully killed Naruto, and no one could have stopped him. If Gaara really wanted Naruto dead by now, he would be.” Sasori said, and Baki didn’t reply, just staring at the wooden table in thought.
Rasa sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll allow it then, however, you will be going as well, Sasori. I want both of you to carry a seal.”
Both of Rasa’s subordinates nodded.
“Now, tell me what you know about these rumors,” Rasa ordered, and Sasori sighed, his usually lively aura fading away.
“I regret to say that I’m really quite lost. I’ve been unable to locate the original source of the rumors, and I’m hesitant to begin actually searching the nearby land for a Kumo camp. If there is one hidden somewhere, and we were to discover it, we could possibly trigger an attack on Suna before we’re ready.”
“So, you believe we should take this seriously then?” Baki asked, and Sasori shrugged.
“We have to be careful, is what I’m saying,” Sasori replied. “If there is a camp, then we can assume that there are spies in Suna. I think we should begin preparing for war, but subtly.”
“I agree. However, I am going to begin sending out Elite to the north and west. If there is a camp, I want to find it.” Rasa said, and Sasori shrugged again.
“Why is Kumo moving toward another war, though? It can’t be because of the attack on their embassy… can it?” Baki asked though he didn’t get an answer. “I wonder if the Kumo Shinobi ever found the Shinobi that attacked their embassy, I’ll have to go and ask them.”
Sasori chuckled, “I’m sure they’ll be happy to answer all of your questions. Be sure to ask if they’ve got any friends hiding around as well.”
“It’s worth a shot.”
Sasori raised his hands in the air helplessly.
“The Jinchuriki ruined our chance,” Tsukasa stated coldly, masking her annoyance.
Tera was silent, and Tsukasa wished she had the power to see through the Jutsu masking the man’s face. It was impossible to read him, and that bothered her.
“How possible is it that the Prince will go on another mission?” Samuk asked no one in particular, and Tsukasa shrugged, uncaring. It was possible, but she didn’t really believe it would happen. There was just no way the Kazekage would allow it.
“Then, we should fall back to plan B,” Samuk said, and Tsukasa rolled her eyes.
“We can’t do that, idiot.” Tsukasa chided, causing Samuk to glare at her. “Overwhelming brute force has been tried into the ground, to the point where we don’t possess the power required anymore.”
Tsukasa knew she was pissing Tera off, but she didn’t care, the man was an idiot. He would get himself killed sooner or later. From talking to Raidon, Tera’s second-in-command, she’d come to learn that Tera had sent well over a hundred of his own men to their inevitable death.
Tera was set on avenging his fallen master, to the point of sacrificing those loyal to him. All that was left of the group were those present, including two stationed by the door as guards. The rest were hiding in the shadows. She wasn’t sure exactly how many members were left, but she estimated less than two dozen.
With the organization’s history, it was almost a shame Tera had been left in charge.
War was coming, she could smell it in the air, and this organization would be destroyed in the crossfire because of Tera’s incompetence.
“So, do we just wait for another opportunity, then?” Samuk demanded, though no one responded.
Tsukasa had quickly realized that Samuk was the only one actually loyal to the group, and not intending to betray them. She wasn’t entirely sure about Otabane… the mysterious Shinobi could become a problem to her plans.
She’d heard the rumors being whispered in the shadows; Kumo was coming. However, she’d actually confirmed them. There was a sizeable Kumo army hidden in the nearby mountain range, and they were waiting for something. Her spies had been unable to discover what that was.
However, Tsukasa could guess, and she was pretty confident she had the answer.
Kumo were the original hunters of the stone. Hell, they’d even started an entire war with the Land of Wind over the Stone just a few years after the end of the Warring States Era. Somehow, Kumo had gotten wind that the Stone had been found, and were most likely also after the Prince.
The fact that they hadn’t already kidnapped him meant the Jinchuriki was a lot more dangerous than she’d initially thought.
Tera didn’t know any of this, because he was trusting her to tell him. A costly mistake.
Everything is going to explode soon, and I don’t intend to be in the middle of it when it does, Tsukasa thought. Hopefully, I can find some way to nab the Prince during the onslaught, but if not…
“All we can do is wait at this point. If I learn anything, I will inform you immediately, Tera-sama.” Tsukasa said, easily keeping the disgust out of her voice.
“Very good, you’re all dismissed,” Tera ordered and watched Tsukasa form a hand seal before vanishing into thin air. He followed her with his eyes as she walked across the room and opened the door before stepping outside into the cold night air.
Tera grimaced as Samuk activated yet another henge, and left through the window. Otabane quickly following.
“We should have killed Samuk already,” Raidon said as one of the cloaked Shinobi in the room closed and latched the window.
“He’s a useful idiot,” Tera replied, getting to his feet.
“Can we trust them?” Raidon asked, walking up to the table. Other than himself, Raidon was the only other original member. Everyone else had died.
“We should leave Suna,” Raidon said, their voice as emotionless as it had always been. “We’re too weak, and we risk being discovered and killed.”
“No! We cannot risk losing our chance to capture the Prince.”
Raidon was silent.
Tera waited a moment to see if Raidon would continue. He didn’t.
“I’m going to the Delta safe house for tonight. Meet me at the Kajitsushu apartment tomorrow morning.” Tera instructed. Pulling a scroll out of his kunai pouch, he unfurled it on the table.
When the sealing smoke had cleared, Raidon was gone.
Within a minute, Tera had changed out of his Shinobi clothing, sealed them, and switched into a simple pair of civilian clothes. Smoothly slipping the scroll back into his Kunai pouch, Tera adjusted his shirt to cover it.
“All of you are dismissed as well,” Tera said, and though nothing visibly happened, numerous shadows vanished.
He briefly considered following their example but decided against it. He’d wanted to walk at a civilian pace for a reason. He needed time to think.
Picking up the straw hat on the table, Tera slipped it on his head and stepped outside. Once the door was locked, he began making his way down the shadowy street. It would take him an hour to reach the Delta safehouse, but that was fine with him.
I cannot trust anything Tsukasa tells me, but her spy network is invaluable. Tera mused, she’s smart enough to have fail-safes in place if she were to die. So killing her and taking over is out of the question.
Otabane was also of concern to him, he couldn’t trust them.
Bringing in new members so suddenly was a mistake, Tera admitted. Reaching the end of the alleyway, Tera came to a stop and expanded his senses. He didn’t want to be seen by a patrol or civilian. As unlikely as it was, they could become a witness.
Suddenly sensing a chakra signature above him, Tera leaped backward, but it was already too late. Feeling something hit his neck, he ripped it out, at the same time drawing a Kunai.
Feeling his chakra slipping out of his control, Tera struggled to keep his balance.
It’s too late, Tera realized and tried to force chakra into the seal on his chest.
Once the target had collapsed, Ashito signaled for his team to move. Together, eight RAIKOU dropped out of the shadows. Two began searching the quarry for weapons, while two more began tying up the target’s hands and legs.
Ashito and the other four RAIKOU stayed on the lookout. They didn’t want to be interrupted by a Suna Patrol.
Twenty seconds later, the target was wholly neutralized and ready for transport.
“Let’s move,” Ashito ordered.
Kazekage Mansion, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
Chess had always been one of Naruto’s favorite past times. His father had taught him how to play the game at a young age, and he fell in love with it simply because he had never been able to beat his father.
With Baki canceling their training session and Naruto having forgotten to go to the library to get new scrolls to read, he now had nothing to do. So, he’d located Temari and asked her if there was a chessboard in the mansion.
She’d been happy to help him, and a few minutes later, he set up the chessboard on the study floor.
Because of his responsibilities, Naruto’s father hadn’t been able to play chess with him as much as Naruto would have liked. So, he’d learned to play against himself.
An hour had quickly passed, and Naruto had beaten himself twice.
As he was collecting the pieces to reset the board, Naruto was surprised by Gaara as the redheaded Jinchuriki silently entered the room.
He didn’t say anything, but when Gaara sat down on the other side of the board, Naruto couldn’t hide his surprise any longer.
Of course, Gaara remained silent.
Quickly setting the board, Naruto moved one of his pawns forward and waited to see what Gaara would do. Instead of physically touching his pieces, Gaara manipulated the sand in his gourd to move one of the pawns forward.
Naruto reacted accordingly.
For an hour, neither said anything, merely playing the game. Naruto found it relaxing, just matching his mind against Gaara’s in a battle of strategy.
He was surprised to find that Gaara didn’t like taking chances. Despite creating multiple openings for Gaara to get close to his King, Gaara refused to take them. Only when he could ensure complete success would Gaara strike.
It wasn’t what Naruto had been expecting.
Looking up, Naruto realized he’d completely stopped paying attention to his surroundings. Standing awkwardly in the door was Temari, who seemed to be surprised to see Gaara.
“Would you two mind if I brought a friend over?”
Naruto looked at Gaara, wondering how he would respond.
“You don’t have to ask me, Temari-san. I am but a guest here.” Naruto replied, and Temari nodded distractedly, clearly focused on Gaara.
Temari smiled, “Thank you, Gaara.”
Naruto looked at Gaara in surprise, watching Temari hurry down the hallway out of the corner of his eye.
“It seems you do care about your siblings, Gaara,” Naruto noted as he moved his queen. With Gaara’s defensive strategy, Naruto had been forced to wait for Gaara to make a move. The game had dissolved into little more than waiting for the other to make a mistake.
Gaara didn’t answer.
Thirty minutes later, Gaara had won. Naruto wasn’t sure if he should congratulate Gaara or not and was debating it when Gaara stood up and walked out of the room.
That was the strangest hour of my life, Naruto mused.
Getting to his feet, Naruto picked up the chessboard and placed it on a nearby table before leaving the room.
He was hungry.
Making his way down the hall, Naruto stepped off the entrance hall balcony and onto the stairs. Hearing the familiar sound of the front doors opening, he stopped.
“I can’t be here, Temari. My parents will kill me.”
The voice belonged to a girl Naruto had never seen before, who was tightly holding onto Temari’s arm as they both entered the Mansion.
“Chinami, stop worrying about it, they won’t know if you don’t tell them. Besides, there’s nothing to worry about.”
“The demon lives here… he could kill me!” Chinami said fearfully, and Temari sighed before finally noticing Naruto on the stairs.
“Calm down,” Temari said, pulling her friend after her. “Meet Naruto. Naruto, this is Chinami.”
Naruto bowed, “A pleasure to meet you, Chinami.”
“L-like wise.” Chinami stuttered, fearfully looking around the room.
“If you’re looking for Gaara, he’s not here. He left a few minutes ago.” Naruto offered, and the girl’s head snapped toward him.
“So, he does live here?”
Temari sighed, “Yes, he does. Gaara is my younger brother.”
“What!?” Chinami screeched, and Naruto winced behind his blindfold.
Breaking free of Temari’s grip on her arm, Chinami turned and ran across the entrance hall and out the still-open front doors.
Turning to Temari, Naruto noticed the dejected look on her face.
“Did you not tell her that Gaara lives here?” Naruto asked, and Temari sighed.
“I avoided the question. It’s tough to make friends when Gaara is your brother. Even though it’s obvious, most kids don’t realize it, so I try to avoid talking about it.” Temari explained before walking over and slamming the doors closed.
“It’s really not a problem though,” Temari said, smiling.
Naruto wasn’t sure what to say, so chose to remain silent. He felt like he could understand Temari’s desire to make friends. Many times he’d seen children playing in the streets of Kazedama and wanted to leave the palace to go play with them.
“Perhaps she will calm down?” Naruto offered after a moment of silence.
“Thanks, Naruto,” Temari replied and made her way up the stairs toward her room. Naruto didn’t move, watching her walk away through the back of his head.