As Baki quietly watched his comrades and leader plan out a battle strategy, he couldn’t help but think about how many innocent lives would be lost.
There was nothing they could do about it either, and while he understood that, Baki resented it. His first urge had been to suggest evacuating civilians out of Suna immediately, but that would lead to killing more than they saved.
The scouts had come back with too little information. They’d been unable to find any encampment by Kumo. Instead, they’d only brought back more worrying rumors.
A battle was coming, and it could very quickly become a war.
Thousands will die… Baki thought as he blankly watched Rasa explain his plan to his commanders. They were all inside Rasa’s office, and like himself, Sasori was off to the side, his eyes closed.
Baki didn’t like war, though he didn’t hate it either. It was necessary at times, but that didn’t make it any less terrible. If anything, since the end of the Warring States Era, the wars had only gotten more bloody, the body counts higher.
The end of the Warring States Era had supposed to bring about peace, and in some ways, it had. Civilians were thriving, and by extension, the Shinobi were as well.
Which had only resulted in more Shinobi dying.
For some reason that Baki couldn’t understand, Kumo was here in the Land of Wind. If the goal was to attack Suna, which was the most logical choice, Baki couldn’t figure out what they would gain by doing so.
The Land of Lightning is on the other side of the Elemental Nations from the Land of Wind… and the Land of Fire will never let them take over our country because then the power balance would be thrown off, Baki mused. Not that the power balance isn’t already fucked.
At the very least, Baki was relieved that the Land of Fire didn’t seem to have any dogs in this fight. If knowledge of Naruto’s Byakugan was to get out… Baki feared to think what sort of hell would descend upon them.
The Hyūga Clan would be furious, and they had more than enough power to move the entire country against them.
Perhaps, somehow, Kumo has discovered that Naruto possesses the Byakugan, and that’s why they are here. It’s no secret they’ve wanted the Byakugan for two dozen years.
Baki sighed and pushed off the wall to rejoin the conversation.
“I want security on the walls raised,” Rasa ordered, getting a nod from the Commander in charge of the wall guard. “Fill the gaps, I don’t want any more spies getting in or out.”
“Could that give away that we’re onto them?” Nakazo, one of Suna’s most experienced Shinobi, asked.
Rasa nodded slowly, looking back down at the map of Suna on his desk. “Yes, it could.”
“It’s a risk we’re going to have to take. We’ve let this go on too long.” Baki interjected, and many of the Commanders nodded in agreement.
“We don’t know when they will attack, or even if they will attack Suna first,” Sasori said, also rejoining the conversation.
“Yes, the uncertainty is dangerous,” Rasa agreed.
“How can we be so sure that Kumo has Shinobi in the Land of Wind?” Tessai, who was standing to the left of Rasa’s desk, asked.
“We aren’t,” Sasori admitted, shrugging. “That’s the problem. Rasa-sama sent out scouts four days ago, and they were unable to find anything to the north and east of Suna. If Kumo is in the country… either the scouts missed them completely… or they’re already past Suna.”
The statement was chilling. Suna had been strategically placed to be able to quickly reinforce any area on the border in the case of an invasion. The First Kazekage’s planning had been what enabled Suna to repel Kumo’s incursion into the Sakaime Forest.
But… If Kumo had gotten past Suna…
“Surely, there is no way!” Tessai said, shocked.
“It depends on how many Shinobi there are…” Junnosuke, a Shinobi who’d fought in the First Great Ninja War, and was now retired, said.
“If it was a small force, then the Shinobi stationed at each village and city should be sufficient. At least to hold their ground until we could assist them,” Sasori said, and Junnosuke agreed.
“Yes, I agree, a large number of Shinobi couldn’t get past Suna without us noticing. However, from what we have to work with, it seems probable that Kumo is here to attack a city.” Junnosuke said, and his expression made it clear he expected others to finish his thought.
“Shit,” Nakazo whispered.
“We can only hope,” Rasa said, shaking his head before leaning back in his chair. “If the Eight-tails Jinchuriki is in the Land of Wind, there isn’t much we can do. ”
“Will Gaara fight for us?”
Rasa pursed his lips, unsure of how to answer.
“I believe he will,” Sasori said, drawing several looks of surprise.
“What could they possibly want?” Tessai wondered aloud.
Leaning forward in his chair, Rasa folded his hands in front of him.
“You all know what you need to do.” Rasa said, pulling everyone out of their thoughts, “you’re dismissed.”
The room cleared abruptly, the Commanders activating Shunshin and vanishing in swirls of sand as they rushed to complete their orders. Only two remained.
Having noticed Rasa’s gesture for him to stay, Baki sat down in one of the now-empty chairs as he waited for Rasa to finish rolling up the map.
“I will be leaving today,” Rasa said, his back turned as he put the map away in the cabinet behind his desk.
“Is this really the best time?” Baki asked, though he already knew what Rasa would say.
“No, it’s not. However, I need to talk to Torio.” Rasa said as he sat back down in his chair. “I can’t help but think that Kumo is here for Naruto.”
“How could they have possibly known?” Baki asked though he wasn’t expecting an answer.
“We’ve heard nothing of the Assassins since Naruto was brought to Suna. As I requested, Torio has been sending me coded scrolls every two weeks, and nothing.” Rasa said, and Baki sighed.
“So, the Assassins are here in Suna then?”
Rasa didn’t answer.
“Should we put Naruto under security?” Baki asked, and Rasa shook his head, causing his second-in-command to look at him in surprise.
“He’s already the safest person in Suna,” Rasa said, and Baki understood immediately.
Without a doubt, Gaara was the best protection for Naruto.
Still… nothing is guaranteed with Gaara. Baki thought. The Daimyō wanted Gaara to be assigned as Naruto’s bodyguard, and somehow… that’s happened… did he know that this would happen?
“Do you really think that Gaara being Naruto’s bodyguard is safe?” Baki asked, still unsure.
Catching the scroll that Rasa tossed him, Baki unfurled it and realized it was from the Captain of Gaara’s protection detail. As usual, the Captain’s report was short and to the point, saying that Gaara was showing significantly increased interest in Naruto.
“In some way that is beyond me, my son has become attached to Naruto,” Rasa said.
Baki set the scroll down and stared at it for a few moments, deep in thought.
“Do you think Gaara is already protecting Naruto, and that we’ve not noticed? ”
“I do,” Rasa said seriously, and Baki rubbed his eyes, trying to process this new information. Never in his life did he think that Gaara would ever protect anyone of his own accord, and yet, it seemed like he was.
Baki laughed, causing Rasa to look at him knowingly.
“Doesn’t seem possible, I know. However, this is why I have to go to Kazedama now, while I still have time. If Suna is attacked while I’m gone, and they are after Naruto, I believe Gaara will protect him.” Rasa said, standing up.
Kumo War Camp, Land of Wind, EN.
Turning around, Darui looked at the masked RAIKOU Captain standing behind him expectantly. All of the Captains in RAIKOU appeared almost identical, to prevent being able to target one specifically.
The RAIKOU Captain bowed.
“I am Captain Lightning, Sir. I’m here to report that the Seal Masters have broken the prisoner’s seals, and to request permission to begin with interrogation.”
“Ah, Ashito-san,” Darui said. “Permission granted.”
Ashito bowed again and left.
Turning around, Darui leaned on the table, thinking.
This was a significant breakthrough. It had been through sheer luck that the advance RAIKOU team had not only captured the prisoner, but had also been able to move him out of Suna without detection.
However, when the suicide seal had been discovered, along with an unknown seal on their tongue, Darui had been sure that it was a dead end. Ashito had been determined to try anyway.
This mysterious group with no name concerns me… Darui mused. Perhaps I should observe the interrogation.
Quickly rolling up the scrolls spread across the table, Darui gestured for his protection detail to follow him and stepped out of the command tent. Shading his eyes, Darui looked around the camp for the new building.
Spotting it at the edge of the clearing, Darui began making his way towards it. The building was explicitly for prisoners, and only slightly more secure than a tent. It had been thrown together a few days ago and was little more than stone.
Nodding to his men as he passed, Darui reached his destination, and the RAIKOU member stationed outside opened the door for him.
“Darui-sama,” Ashito greeted, his voice emotionless. Darui realized he’d expected him to be surprised, but that wasn’t going to happen. However, the other Shinobi in the room was surprised to see him, bowing as he entered.
He smiled, “Ah, Iwata-san, I’m surprised to see you here.”
“Yes, I requested to be here for the prisoner’s interrogation,” Iwata replied, trying to keep a confident appearance.
“Why, might I ask?” Darui asked, keeping his voice emotionless.
“This man killed my brother, Sir,” Iwata explained quickly.
Thinking for a moment, he turned away and began walking across the room toward the cell. “I’ll allow it.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Iwata said, trying to not show her relief.
Darui ignored her, focusing instead on the prisoner behind bars in front of him. The man was in peak physical condition, and undoubtedly a powerful Shinobi. Darui doubted many Shinobi were as in shape as the prisoner was.
Who is this, exactly?
“Are we waking him up?” Darui asked, turning to Ashito, who gestured to the RAIKOU standing at the cell door entrance.
“Yes, Sir, however, I was waiting for you to arrive.”
“You know me too well,” Darui said as he turned away and watched the RAIKOU stick a syringe in the prisoner’s shoulder. A moment later, Darui and his comrades disappeared, shrouded in Genjutsu as one of the RAIKOU finished their hand seals.
With practice born of years of training, Tera’s breathing didn’t change as he woke up.
The first thing he noticed was that his head hurt, followed by the feeling of rope around his wrists. He was restrained, though by who, was a mystery. Taking care to not give anything away, Tera attempted to feel out his chakra and discerned he was still drugged.
There are other people in this room… at least five, Tera thought. He could barely feel the chakra signatures nearby, but it was enough.
He waited for a moment to see if the drug was fading, but his chakra continued to refuse to respond.
It’s Chakra cuffs… damn it.
Giving up, he cracked his eyes slightly and immediately noticed he was shirtless, and that as he’d thought, the suicide seal was gone. There was no way to tell if the seal on his tongue was gone, but it was probably safe to assume it was.
Painfully lifting his head, Tera groaned as he took in the dimly lit room. He was in a cell, little more than six feet across. There were no windows, but there was a door on the far wall.
Temporary cell room then, Tera realized, That rules out Suna… so who then?
Keeping up the appearance of a groggy and confused prisoner, Tera blinked slowly, as if trying to see through the darkness of the room. He even gave the restrains a test and pretended to be shocked.
As he’d known they would, a Shinobi appeared out of thin air in his cell, a mere few feet in front of him. It was a RAIKOU Captain.
Tera chuckled quietly.
Of course, it’s Kumo…
“Shinobi-san, it’s clear that you’ve undergone intense training.” The black-masked RAIKOU Captain in front of him said, their voice emotionless. “So, I’m not going to bother with normal interrogation tactics, and am instead going to ask if you’d prefer to do this the easy way.”
Tera stared at them. He was surprised but didn’t show it. It was a fantastic offer, but his honor would never let him accept it. He couldn’t go to his grave knowing he’d willingly betrayed his master.
“I appreciate it…” Tera coughed, not having realized how dry his throat was. “Your offer, however, I can’t accept it.”
The RAIKOU Captain nodded.
The cell door opened, and a young boy suddenly appeared in the doorway.
Tera felt like laughing. The boy was a Yamanaka, and from the chains on his ankles, clearly a prisoner of Kumo.
The irony… Tera thought as he watched the young boy make his way behind him. Upon seeing the Yamanaka, Tera had immediately recognized them as the Yamanaka he had kidnapped and sold to Kumo seven years before.
Feeling the boy’s hands on the sides of his head, Tera relaxed and closed his eyes.
Iwata didn’t usually decide things based on her gut feeling, but when she did, she stuck with it. Her punishment for her mistake would be severe, she knew that, but she didn’t care.
She had to be here, to see the man who killed her brother suffer.
Of course, there was no evidence that the Shinobi in the cell in front of her had killed Katai… but she knew it was him.
If she was demoted, or worse, Iwata didn’t care, Darui could do his worst. Seeing the bastards face constrict in pain made it all worth it.
A moment of silence passed, during which the prisoner’s face seemed to calm. Iwata resisted the urge to speak, knowing she was on a thin edge. Whatever goodwill she had with Darui was gone, and one miss-step would have her out on her head.
“Yoshinaka,” Ashito said, and the boy jumped as if remembering where he was. Iwata realized she’d never seen the Yamanaka prisoner before, having just heard stories about him and bits of conversation. From what she knew, he was one of Kumo’s many aces in the hole.
He was unique in more ways than one, such as the fact that he hadn’t gone through Kumo’s brainwashing to make him loyal to Kumo, as he’d been too old when they’d obtained him. Additionally, she’d heard he was infertile. Therefore making him the only Yamanaka they had, so they couldn’t risk driving him insane through torture.
Iwata couldn’t help the grin as the prisoner jumped in their chair and yelled, Yoshinaka clearly now more focused.
For the most part, Yoshinaka spent his life in a lavish cell room, only being allowed out to interrogate various prisoners when usual means proved insufficient. The boy was frail and kept that way intentionally.
The Yamanaka Kekkai Genkai was not to be underestimated, and the boy was only allowed to be handled by RAIKOU, who could resist the mental invasion.
Noticing the prisoner suddenly stopped moving, Iwata looked at him in confusion, trying to figure out what had happened.
She was about to ask if he’d passed out when he screamed louder than he had before.
“Roots… of a tree… the tree…” Yoshinaka said quietly, his eyes half-closed as he stared at the prisoner’s head between his hands. The prisoner was shaking now, and Yoshinaka was clearly struggling to keep his grip. “The shadows that protect the great tree.”
“More specific, Yoshinaka,” Ashito ordered emotionlessly, and the gaunt-looking boy nodded fearfully before concentrating. The screams rose.
“He is the leader of an organization… once called ROOT.” Yoshinaka said, stammering as he lost contact with the prisoner for a moment. Iwata saw blood beginning to trickle out of the prisoner’s nose, and couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
Suffer you bastard… like you made my brother suffer.
“It was created by Danzō Shimura… of the Land of Fire…”
“Continue,” Ashito ordered.
Taking a deep breath, Yoshinaka seemed to refocus himself, and the prisoner once more became silent.
“The creator was executed by the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, for treason. Their last orders were to avenge Danzō’s death, and bring about the Land of Fire’s destruction.” Yoshinaka stammered suddenly, his eyes widening in shock. Iwata was surprised to see rage and anger building in the boy.
At least we’re in the clear… ROOT is a rogue organization… If the Land of Fire was also after the stone… Iwata shuddered to think of the bloodshed and war that would come about.
The intensity in Yoshinaka’s eyes shocked Iwata. It was a stark contrast to the boy’s appearance a few moments before.
“To bring about their objectives,” Yoshinaka said, his voice and hands trembling. “They kidnapped and sold bloodline children to the Land of Fire’s enemies… to make them stronger.”
“Focus, Yoshinaka!” Ashito ordered, taking a step forward. Yoshinaka recoiled in fear, nodding quickly, his anger vanishing.
“While… while kidnapping children, they raided the libraries of numerous clans for any useful information they could use against the Land of Fire,” Yoshinaka said after a moment.
The prisoner seemed to have given up, his head dropped to his chest.
“During a raid on the Sengwari Clan, ROOT discovered an old robe in a display case. One of their members recognized it, having seen two old men traveling through the Land of Wind wearing similar clothes over a decade before.”
“So the monks did escape with it after all,” Darui mused aloud, his voice blocked from entering the cell by the Genjutsu.
“They didn’t know what it meant at the the time, so left it behind. It was only a year later that ROOT discovered the symbol on the robe belonged to the Order of Liberty.”
Iwata was shocked. Even though Kumo had been acting on the information she had obtained, she still hadn’t believed that the Stone of Legend still existed. Secretly, she’d hoped it had been destroyed. It was too late now.
“ROOT decided to investigate, and moved their operations into the Land of Wind. Spies were planted in every city and village. After a few months, and by sheer luck, a medic-nin they had bribed reported a man in their hospital wearing a robe with the symbol.” Yoshinaka said, no longer being resisted by the prisoner in front of him. Either they’d realized it was pointless, or Yoshinaka had broken their mind. Iwata hoped it was the latter.
“However, before ROOT was able to get to the hospital, the man died. The hospital reports said that he died without saying a word, and listed him as extremely senile and possibly demented.” Yoshinaka said, his posture beginning to fall. “ROOT believed it to be a dead-end, but watched the monk’s body regardless.”
Ashito gestured for someone to enter, and a masked RAIKOU appeared in the room. They lifted a canteen of water to Yoshinaka’s lips and helped him drink all of it.
Licking his lips, Yoshinaka tried to pull himself together. He’d had more difficult minds, but only because he hadn’t gotten angry before.
Yoshinaka knew he’d probably overdone it, and could only hope that his owners didn’t want more information out of the prisoner. Being as detailed as possible was vital, otherwise, he might be forced to interrogate the man’s mind again… and who knew what state his mind would be in by then.
Entering the mind of the insane was dangerous, as one could easily be driven mad as well.
“A few days after the monk died, the body was moved by the medic nins to the morgue. A funeral was held, paid for by the Daimyō. The only attendee was the Daimyō himself, though he was disguised as a civilian. They kidnapped the Daimyō’s wife a few days later and attempted to blackmail the Daimyō with her life. Instead of giving them the stone, the Daimyō attempted to save her, and she died in the fight. Afterward, ROOT attacked the Daimyō directly, and eventually, his son, but every attempt failed.” Yoshinaka said and took a deep breath before shakily releasing his grip on the prisoner’s head and getting to his feet.
“In a final attempt, Tera,” Yoshinaka said, gesturing to the prisoner in front of him, “and his second-in-command stayed back and carefully observed the fight. Similar to every attack on the Daimyō before, all of their men died. The Daimyō killed them with a Kekkei Genkai they had never seen before.”
“Explain it,” Ashito ordered, and Yoshinaka bit his lip hard.
“It’s hard to explain, Ashito-sama. Tera only caught a glimpse of it. I can only describe it as an explosion of chakra that kills everyone nearby… instantly.”
Iwata heart raced and she knew everyone was having the same thoughts as her.
This proved it. A new Kekkei Genkai hadn’t happened for well over three decades ever since the Order of Liberty was attacked by Kumo, and the Stone of Legend supposedly destroyed.
“Very good, Yoshinaka,” Ashito said and gestured to the invisible RAIKOU by the cell door. Yoshinaka lost consciousness instantly, the seal on the back of his neck activating a second later. He was caught by the RAIKOU, who hoisted him on his shoulder and walked out of the cell. Yoshinaka would be kept unconscious until he returned to Kumo.
Iwata felt the invisibility Jutsu fade away, and walked up to the bars, staring at the slumped over prisoner intently.
“Is he unconscious?”
Ashito shook his head and gestured for her to be silent. Iwata bit her tongue.
“Your organization was always a pain in our side,” Ashito remarked as he walked closer to the prisoner. “It prevented us from kidnapping bloodline children in the Land of Fire for several years.”
Crouching down in front of the prisoner, Ashito removed his matte-black mask and sealed it away.
“I’m sure you can see the irony in ROOT trying to destroy the only thing they were created to protect.” Ashito paused, but the prisoner said nothing.
“It seems your loyalty was misplaced.”
“How could the great ROOT, the protectors of the great tree, fail so utterly?” Ashito inquired, his mocking tone surprising Iwata.
“You must have let the fame go to your head, I suppose.” Ashito said as he stood, “However, I must thank you. You have provided Kumo with the information we need to obtain the stone for ourselves. We will soon capture the Prince, and then easily succeed where you’ve failed.”
The prisoner’s laugh sent chills down Iwata’s spine. It was the laugh of a man who had lost his sanity. Lifting his head, the prisoner stared at Ashito with wide eyes.
“Good fucking luck!”
Ashito smoothly stepped to the side, avoiding the prisoner’s attempt to spit at him.
“Darui-sama…” Iwata whispered, and the Commander looked at her curiously. “I know… but please, sir. This man killed my brother… please let me have this…”
Iwata would have gotten down on her knees and begged if she’d thought that would help. The complete lack of emotion Darui’s eyes was unsettling.
Bowing quickly, Iwata opened the cell door and stepped inside.
Walking up to the prisoner, Iwata grabbed him by the throat and forced him to look at her.
“What happened to my brother! The Shinobi you killed at our Embassy in Suna and didn’t leave behind?!” Iwata shouted as loudly as she dared, barely resisting the urge to crush the man’s neck.
The prisoner’s laugh infuriated her, and she squeezed tighter, making him choke.
“We hunted him like a dog for days… then I slit his throat and watched him bleed out!” The prisoner shouted at her, clearly enjoying telling her about her brother’s fate. Iwata wanted to ask where her brother’s body was, but she already knew the answer.
“Why didn’t you leave him at the Embassy!” Iwata screamed, punching the man in the jaw as hard as she could.
Spitting blood on the ground, he laughed and kept laughing.
“He knew too much! We couldn’t risk it.” The prison said, his head lolling back on the chair as he stared at the ceiling. Blood trailing down his chin. “Clearly, that didn’t work.”
Twisting around, Iwata stared at Darui.
Darui nodded, and Iwata drew a Kunai as she whirled around and buried it in the bastard’s chest.
She watched the life drain out of his eyes, savoring every single second of it.