“Thank you, Temari-san, for taking the time to teach me.”
“You’re welcome, Naruto-san,” Temari replied, smiling.
Opening the kitchen cabinet in front of her, Temari pulled out a small wooden bowl and set it on the counter before walking toward a shelf. Quickly getting out of her way, Naruto carefully watched the young Kunoichi as she picked up a jug off the shelf and turned around.
“I know you’ve been busy in your Wind Mistress training,” Naruto continued, and Temari just shook her head.
“It’s really not a problem, Naruto,” Temari replied before pointing at something behind Naruto. “Can you get the largest bowl out of that cabinet there?”
Naruto had already located the bowl, which he put on the counter next to Temari. Temari was no longer paying attention. Instead, she was crouched down in front of the kitchen fireplace.
For a brief moment, Naruto was confused as to how she was going to start a fire since he couldn’t see any kindling or fire-starter. However, his questions were abruptly answered as Temari placed her hand on one of the logs, and it promptly burst into flames.
“How did you do that?” Naruto asked as he focused his Byakugan on Temari’s hand, observing the chakra influx retreating into her body.
Wiping her hand on a cloth, Temari picked up the bowl on the counter and walked across the kitchen. “My second affinity is fire, though it’s much weaker than my affinity to wind.”
“I see,” Naruto said as he watched the flames dance across the logs. “Was that a Jutsu?”
Temari shook her head, “No, I flooded the log with fire chakra.”
“I used more chakra than I should of, honestly,” Temari admitted as she walked back over to the fireplace. Checking to make sure that the flames had caught on, Temari turned to Naruto. She’d gotten used to his strange appearance, but his blindfold still caused her to pause at times. It was just so weird to look at.
“We’re going to make Soba for lunch today.”
He’d had Soba before, but he didn’t know how it was made. While his father had taught him some cooking, mostly because he talked about it so much. The majority of what he’d learned, he learned by watching the servants in the kitchen.
However, he’d never been allowed to make any food himself.
“We’re going to start with two and a half cups of light, buckwheat flour…” Temari said though it was more to herself than Naruto as she walked toward the large pantry. “As well as a half cup of white flour…”
Naruto watched Temari through the wall as she rummaged through the surprisingly packed pantry shelves.
“I thought… I guess not…” Temari said, and Naruto had to read her lips to understand her. “It seems like we’re out of buckwheat flour.”
“What now?” Naruto asked as Temari walked out of the pantry.
“We’re out, but it’s not a problem. We just need to go by the market and buy some more. We were going to have to go there anyway for the Soba noodles. The ones I have stored won’t be ready for another month.” Temari said as she walked out of the kitchen, and Naruto quickly followed.
He wasn’t sure why the Soba noodles she already had wouldn’t be ready for another month but decided it wasn’t worth asking about.
Reaching the entrance hall, Naruto caught up to Temari, who was holding the door open for him.
After a few minutes of silent walking through the empty streets, only the occasional Shinobi leaving their homes and leaping up onto the roofs to break the silence, they reached the edge of the dead zone. Due to Gaara, most of the buildings around the Kazekage Mansion had been abandoned. A ghost town.
Finally reaching a street with people on it, Naruto and Temari joined the flow and made their way toward the market.
Naruto had seen the Suna Market before, though always from a distance. It was just as uninteresting as the market place in Kazedama, which he’d watched from the palace for hours in sheer boredom.
Realizing that he’d lost track of Temari suddenly, Naruto honed his Byakugan, locating everyone with Shinobi-levels of chakra around him.
It was a common misconception, Naruto had discovered, that civilians couldn’t be Shinobi because they didn’t have any chakra. That wasn’t the case. All humans need chakra to stay alive, even if it’s so little that it could never be used for anything other than keeping them alive.
Because of this, the difference between a civilian and a Shinobi was immense. Naruto had, at times, missed seeing civilians entirely because their chakra network was so weak, it was almost invisible.
Locating Temari standing in front of a stall a couple dozen feet ahead, Naruto began making his way toward it.
“Can I get a fresh batch of Soba noodles, please?” Temari asked as she got to the front of the line.
Accepting the roll of fabric the stall owner handed her, Temari pulled some coins out of her pocket and placed them on the counter. Naruto hadn’t even blinked, but the blonde girl was already gone, rapidly disappearing into the crowd of civilians.
Finding her again, Naruto noticed she was now carrying a bag of flour.
“Oh, there you are, Naruto-san,” Temari said as she adjusted the sack on her shoulder. “I’ve got everything we need now.”
Naruto just nodded.
“Oh, hey Temari-chan, Naruto-san.”
“Hi,” Temari replied as Naruto shut the large doors behind them.
“What are you guys doing?” Kankuro asked, seeing the sack Naruto was carrying.
“I’m teaching Naruto-san how to make Soba,” Temari replied over her shoulder, already almost to the door leading to the kitchen.
“Nice! Soba is my favorite,” Kankuro said as he walked past Naruto and opened the door before slipping outside, the door closing behind him.
Hearing Temari call his name, Naruto hoisted the bag of flour over his shoulder and hurried into the kitchen.
“Where do you want this?” Naruto asked, and Temari pointed to a spot on the floor next to her. Naruto carefully set it down and backed up. Seeing Temari collecting utensils she would need from around the kitchen, Naruto realized that if he was going to learn, he would have to pay close attention. Temari was clearly not going to explain every detail.
Kneeling down, Temari opened the bag of flour. For a moment, Naruto thought she was pointing at him as she raised her left hand into the air. Instead, he was surprised as he saw chakra pour through her arm, causing her hand to glow abnormally.
Seeing the chakra swiftly dispersing into the air as it was forced through the skin of her hand, Naruto couldn’t figure out what she was doing.
“Temari-san, why did you do that?” Naruto asked as Termari lowered her hand.
“I was cleaning my hand,” Temari replied distractedly as she grabbed a handful of flour and dropped it in the bowl that had suddenly appeared in her other hand.
“I don’t understand?”
“Chakra can be used for more than just fighting, Naruto,” Temari explained as she carefully leveled off the flour in the bowl. “Before my Kaa-san died, she taught me how to use chakra for many things. One of which is cleaning my hands. Which I do by forcing chakra out of my hand, which drives off all the dirt and whatnot.”
Naruto nodded slowly. It made sense.
“My Kaa-san once told me that before Chakra was used for war, it was used to just make life easier,” Temari said as she worked. Naruto was struggling to keep up as she mixed the flour with something he couldn’t identify. “However, Kaa-san said that most of what was used back then was lost during the Warring States Era.”
“How did your mother know that technique?” Naruto inquired curiously, though he was still careful to note that Temari had added water to the bowl. The Warring States Era had always fascinated him, but the oldest scrolls he could find in the Royal Library didn’t go as far back as he would have liked.
“She learned it from her mother,” Temari replied as she began to blend the dough beneath her hands.
Moving the now crumbly dough to a wooden cutting board, Temari quickly rolled it flat, and cut it into numerous pieces. With fluidity born of hours of practice, Temari skillfully flicked each of the pieces into the boiling pot of water over the kitchen fire. Once more expelling chakra through her hands, and cleaning them of flour, Temari unrolled the noodles.
Dropping them into the pot, Temari closed it and turned around.
“Now, we wait for a minute.”
Kumo Advance Base, Land of Wind, EN.
She was in trouble, there was no simple way about it.
After the interrogation of the prisoner had ended with Iwata burying a Kunai in the prisoner’s chest, Darui had immediately ordered her to follow him. She’d expected to be led to a cell and told to get in, but instead, she’d followed Darui to the Command Tent.
Darui hadn’t said anything to her, only gesturing for her to stand off to the side.
He would deal with her later.
Iwata felt like a child who’d eaten the candy when they weren’t supposed to. Now waiting until their father had time to deal with them. She’d known before she came back to the camp that doing so could be the end of her Shinobi career, or worse.
Seeing that bastard die… feeling his heart stop… Do your worst Darui-sama, I do not regret it.
Hearing someone step into the tent, Iwata looked over to see a tall Shinobi she’d never seen before. However, from the insignia on his jacket, she could tell he was a lieutenant. He was quickly followed by four more lieutenants, two of which she’d served under in the past.
Only when everyone was situated around the table did three RAIKOU Captains appear out of thin air.
“How much time do we have, Rikyu-san?” Darui asked as the RAIKOU walked up to the table, and the tall Shinobi grimaced.
“We’re out of time. Suna has begun war preparations.”
“How did they find out?” The Lieutenant standing next to Darui asked, and Rikyu shrugged.
“I don’t think they have definite proof, but when have Shinobi ever needed that?”
“We’re going to want to focus on the main gate, if we can get it open as soon as possible, we can get our ace inside,” Darui said, cutting off the conversation. “We need to give him as much time as we can.”
“The gate must fall within a few minutes of the first attack.”
Looking at the RAIKOU Captain that had spoken, Iwata realized it was Ashito from his voice. It was surprising how identical Ashito seemed to the two other captains next to him.
“Suna’s strongest will move to the gate immediately upon the first warning bell. They know we’re coming, but they don’t know what for.” Ashito continued. Darui nodded and moved the pieces on the map that represented Sasori of the Red Sands, Gaara of the Sand, and the Kazekage, among others, to the gate.
“I don’t believe my team will be able to get the gate open quickly enough.”
Darui looked at Ashito in surprise before looking back at the map, clearly deep in thought.
“Could we not lead the attack with your men advancing on the gate from the inside?”
Ashito shook his head.
“No. There is no guarantee that I will be able to enter Suna now. We’ve waited too long, and Suna has begun to prepare. Climbing the wall will be impossible.”
“We have to attack via the front gate,” Darui interrupted. “We will be slaughtered if we try to climb the walls. The seals embedded in the stone are not to be trifled with.”
“Goddamn Konoha…” One of the lieutenants Iwata didn’t know muttered.
Darui looked up at the Shinobi directly across the table expectantly.
“Could we not just avoid an attack on Suna entirely, and instead concentrate our efforts on kidnapping the Daimyo? Would that not cut our losses? If we know the Daimyo has the stone, then we can capture him and have the Yamanaka read his mind. Suna’s inevitable retaliation could then be dealt with from the safety of our own land.”
Darui was clearly thinking about it, but Ashito spoke up before Darui could reply.
“The Yamanaka will be out of commission for a while. I had him sent back to Kumo to undergo therapy. The prisoner he interrogated today was the man who kidnapped him from his clan and sold the boy to us. His anger caused him to strain himself, and he’s not mentally stable. He won’t be of use for some time.”
Darui nodded in agreement with Ashito’s assessment. “We don’t know anything about the Daimyo’s Kekkei Genkai either, Kuri-san. However, we do know that ROOT was no rag-tag group of ninja wannabes. Without fail, they prevented Kumo from kidnapping bloodline children from the Land of Fire.”
Narrowing his eyes, Darui stared at the map in front of him.
“Which makes their failure to obtain the stone from the Daimyo for so many years… worrying.”
“I agree with Darui-sama. We cannot afford to lose this Ace,” Rikyu said. “If we were to move on the Daimyo, it’s possible that he’d kill himself before giving up the location of the Stone. The Order of Liberty were all nutcases, and I strongly believe that the Daimyo is the last member of that order.”
Darui raised an eyebrow in surprise, as did many others in the tent.
“What makes you say that, Rikyu-san?”
Rikyu shrugged. “Think about it. The Daimyo paid for the old monk’s funeral and attended it in disguise. I think it’s safe to assume that the Daimyo knew them, which is why we need an Ace.
Ashito nodded, “the Daimyo’s son, the Prince, who is currently in Suna.”
“If we know where the Prince is, why didn’t we kidnap him when we had men within Suna?” Kuri inquired.
Iwata was surprised when Darui looked at her and gestured for her to come to the table.
“I’ll let Iwata-san explain.”
Bowing deeply to everyone present, Iwata began her report.
“A week ago, I requested a team of Shinobi to help me locate the Prince in Suna. My request was granted, and we quickly found the Prince training with the Kazekage’s second-in-command at a training ground on the outskirts of the city.” Iwata paused for a moment as she recalled the memories. “We were observing the situation from the third story of a building with an optimal view when we were attacked.”
“So Suna knows we’re here then?” Rikyu asked, and Darui shook his head before gesturing for Iwata to continue.
“We were attacked by the One-tail Jinchuriki. I was the only survivor, and only by luck.“
Kuri rubbed his eyes, as if in disbelief. “So… the Prince is being protected by Suna’s Jinchuriki? I was under the impression that the Kazekage could barely control his Jinchuriki.”
“So was I,” Darui agreed, “but it seems something changed. We have to assume that the One-tail Jinchuriki will be protecting the Prince when we attack.”
“When does Killer Bee-sama arrive?” Ashito asked.
“Tomorrow,” Darui replied as he stretched his arms.
“This meeting is adjourned. Begin preparing the men, we move on Suna as soon as Killer Bee arrives.”
Iwata quietly waited as the tent cleared until only she and Darui remained.
The silence was painfully uncomfortable, and Iwata couldn’t bring herself to look at Darui.
“You’ve seriously jeopardized this entire operation,” Darui said, his voice emotionless. “Not once, but twice.”
Iwata said nothing, only standing at attention as she awaited whatever orders Darui would give her.
“I want you to return to our Embassy in Suna,” Darui said, and Iwata’s eyes widened. “You are to meet with your team and inform them of the situation. Tomorrow, you will meet with Killer Bee here.”
Memorizing the spot on the map Darui was pointing too, Iwata nodded.
“You and your team will act as Killer Bee’s guide and assist him in locating the Prince,” Darui said, his eyes narrowing. “Is that clear?”
Kazekage Mansion, Sunagakure, Land of Wind, EN.
“Thank you, Temari-san, for being willing to teach me how to make Soba,” Naruto said as he stood. “It was delicious.”
Temari smiled and waved off his thanks.
“You’re welcome, Naruto-san,” Temari replied as she pushed her chair out and stood. “I’ll get the dishes. You said you had a meeting with Baki-san?”
“Go then, I got this,” Temari said, gesturing for him to leave before turning to look at Kankuro, who was still enjoying the warm after-effects of the meal.
“Oh… you mean I’ve got this,” Kankuro said as he noticed his sister’s expectant look. Getting to his feet, he picked up his plate. “That’s fair, I guess.”
Bowing, Naruto made his leave and arrived at the Kazekage Tower half an hour later. He’d expected to see Gaara following him along the way, but the redhead was nowhere to be found.
He hadn’t seen Gaara all day, and Naruto wasn’t sure whether or not to feel concerned.
Deciding to forget about it for the moment, Naruto walked past the two invisible Shinobi guarding the entrance to the Kazekage tower and into the lobby.
The first floor of the tower was the busiest, seemingly always jammed with Jounin Sensei and their Genin. However, there was no one around. The Kunoichi in charge of giving out missions wasn’t behind her desk. Looking through the floors above, Naruto was surprised by the number of Shinobi on the top two stories.
Quickly climbing the stairs, Naruto located Baki on the top floor and carefully made his way toward his Sensei. Baki was talking to several Shinobi standing around him, so Naruto patiently waited until Baki noticed he was there.
“Ah, Naruto-san,” Baki said as he gestured for the Shinobi he’d been talking with to go. “I’m sorry, but I can’t train with you today.”
Baki paused for a moment as he saw another Shinobi walking up to him, and gestured for them to wait.
“I encourage you to still go and train on your own, Naruto. I’m sorry, but I’m swamped right now.”
Naruto bowed his head, “I understand, Baki-sensei. Is Sasori-san free?”
“No, uhh.” Baki trailed off.
Seeing someone calling him over, he hurried over. Naruto watched him go for a moment and was about to start reading the document that Baki was holding when he remembered his promise to Rasa.
He was curious as to the cause of all the commotion, but it wasn’t his business. Turning around, he quickly left the tower and made his way to the training field he’d been using for over a month.
As he walked through the streets, keeping to the side and away from others, Naruto realized he still hadn’t told Baki and Sasori about the Shinobi Gaara had killed in Wani City.
Who were they? Naruto wondered. Were they the Assassins? Or is someone else after me? Why though?
Naruto slowed as he drew nearer to the training field.
Why are the Assassins after me to begin with? Tou-san said it was to blackmail him… but for what? What does Tou-san have that they would want… and spend years trying to get?
Realizing he was standing in the training field, his feet had carried him here on their own, Naruto looked around and froze.
Standing in front of him was Gaara, his arms folded in front of him.
The strange duo stared in silence at one another for several long minutes, the emotionless gaze of Gaara matched by the body language and frozen stare of Naruto through his blindfold.
“Who were those Shinobi you killed, Gaara?”
Gaara remained silent.
“Why did you kill them?”
“I wanted to.”
Folding his arms in his sleeves, Naruto debated whether or not to continue.
“Do you want to kill me?”
For a split second, Naruto considered asking why.
“Thank you, Gaara-san.”
Turning away, Naruto observed Gaara as he walked a few feet away. When Gaara didn’t move, Naruto deactivated his Byakugan, truly closing his eyes. Before he was allowed to begin training, Baki required that he complete the Heian Shodan, a Kata, to calm his mind and focus his body.
First bowing to his invisible opponent, Naruto looked to the left, followed by a step and shifting into a downward block. Left foot, left hand.
Stepping forward sharply, Naruto punched as hard as he could manage.
Right foot, right hand.
Looking over his shoulder, Naruto stepped back with his right foot and pivoted on his left. Downward block, then right, right, block, strike.
Finishing the Kata after a few minutes, Naruto once again bowed to his invisible opponent and took a moment to calm his breathing. As embarrassing as it was, he was out of breath, and his muscles were already complaining.
He’d memorized the entire Kata and could perform it correctly, but it never got any easier.
Letting his Chakra flow into his eyes, Naruto blinked as his vision was restored.
Gaara was where he’d been before but now surrounded by swirling sand. Several strands were connected together above Gaara’s head, forming a small eyeball-like shape.
Naruto watched, fascinated, as Gaara placed two fingers on his right eye. Chakra flooded through the sand, rapidly condensing in the sphere above. As more and more chakra flowed into the eye, it moved, turning to look at Naruto directly.
It’s like his own version of the Byakugan. It’s how he saw the Shinobi in Wani City coming, Naruto thought, amazed by the intricate layers of chakra pulsing through the artificial eye.