Naruto: End of Attrition

Naruto: End of Attrition

Sixty years after the fourth shinobi war, tensions are rising between Konohagakure and Kumogakure.

1,924 readers have visited this universe since Nephilim created it. Dynamite are listed as curators.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

http://naruto.wikia.com/

Introduction



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The Letter Black || Fire with Fire



After the fourth shinobi war and the deaths of Madara and Obito Uchiha, tensions between the villages ceased, and the world came to know peace. In order to ensure that the peace lasted, the tailed beasts were once again used as bargaining chips. Each village would receive a tailed beast only if the village signed a peace treaty to ensure that a fifth war would not take place. New Kages were appointed to lead and rule when the old ones died, or stepped down. Naruto Uzumaki was one such Kage. He achieved his dream of becoming the Seventh Hokage, and with that, brought his long time friend and rival, Sasuke Uchiha, back to the village, however; not all was well with the Uchiha's return. Some believed him a traitor, despite his role in the defeat of Madara, and would not hesitate to turn on the village again. In order to quell these rebellions before they began, Naruto imposed a condition of sorts, one that the villagers, and Sasuke himself, agreed to. Though it was not the most pleasant of conditions, it brought a sense of security to the village.

For nearly sixty years, the villages knew peace, and each one flourished underneath its Kage. But even peaceful times do not always last long. The assassination of the Seventh Hokage, Naruto Uzumaki, with a particular jutsu known to be practiced by only a few shinobi, caused tension between Konohagakure and Kumogakure. Kumogakure, believed to be responsible, denied responsibility for the end of the Hokage's life. With all evidence pointing towards Kumo, a war broke out between the two villages, and Konohagakure ordered a retaliatory invasion. The war waged for nearly three years, each side taking causalities with no one side emerging victor. Though Kumo was superior in terms of military strength, Konoha had more allies, and the right of the victim on its side.

It wasn't until the death of the Fifth Raikage in battle that the war finally saw an end. Talks of a new peace treaty have emerged between the two villages, and the new Raikage, Takehiko Yamamoto, has agreed to meet with the new Hokage. Arrangements have been made, and a team of Konoha shinobi have been assigned to keep an eye on the delegation from Kumogakure. This team is led by Kiyoko Uzumaki, granddaughter of the late Naruto Uzumaki. It is her job, along with three others, to watch over this group, and ensure that the fragile ceasefire between villages is not disrupted by either side. The visit of the Raikage and his team of three trusted underlings is viewed with suspicion and mistrust, and some still outright hate the ninja of Kumo for the death of their most beloved Hokage.

But not all is as it seems, and in the background of these most necessary negotiations, darker forces begin to move. And they have no interest in peace.


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This is for all of your collaborative needs. We highly encourage the use of this as it does come in handy when working with group posts. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have any, or if you need a tutorial, Dy and I will be glad to help!

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First Rule: Read the rules || Simple rule. Read them. Rules are there to let you know what a GM is expecting of you and what they want from you. I am not expecting much from anyone however; I do expect these rules to be READ and followed. If my rules are not followed, I will not hesitate to remove you…permanently from the role-play.

Second Rule: Commitment || Now, I know this is a major major issue with group role-plays, however; I am not going to impose any sort of rule here about commitment. Just, if for any reason you find yourself unable to reply, or you are no longer interested in the role-play, let me know somehow in one form or another. We can come up with ways to remove your character without it becoming a big issue. I am not going to impose any sort of how many times a week you should post. For one, school has started for most of you and that should always come first. Post when you can, when it is relevant. I have a full-time job, and that will always come first. Not to mention some of you may be in other role-plays already so those should come first as well.

Third Rule: Literacy | I am not asking for a lot for this rule. If you cannot make a proper sentence, please do not join this role-play. While I do not expect you to be an advanced literate role-player, I would expect you to know how to use spell-check and have basic grammar skills. Should you have problems, ask for help. There will always be someone willing to help you. This role-play is meant for you to grow as a role-player and hopefully expand your writing skills as well.

Fourth Rule: Characters || Characters are to be based off of their character sheet. A character sheet is there to give the GM a heads up of what to expect from a potential role-play partner. Feel free to get creative with your character when it comes to the skills and abilities section of your character sheet. There is a specific guideline for creating your character, so please read them before you create your character.

Fifth Rule: Reservations || All reservations will last for 24 hours only. Should you need more time, let me know and I will extend it an extra 24 hours, or longer depending on how long you will need. If you have read the rules, when reserving your character, just let me know you read them. I think it's a little silly to have you put a favorite movie/song/whatever down so that a GM knows you read the rules. Just say "Btw, I read the rules," or something along those lines... even "Rules" is acceptable. What I will require, however, is the village your character will be from, when reserving your character. There are a total of four spots per village, meaning two more characters can be from Konohagakure, but the other three must be from Kumogakure.


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Character Creation Do’s and Don’ts

Yup, there’s a specific set of rules for making your toons. The reason for this is that the plot centers around a few of the big features of the Naruto-verse, and in order for it to work out logically (and to avoid a ton of OP characters that nobody will like), there have to be some limits in place. That’s just the way of it. They really shouldn’t restrict your creativity too much though. Your character can still be awesome/strong/great/funny/whatever even if you follow all the rules. Trust me on that one. That said, said rules are majorly important. So here we go:

  • DO take a look at the Genealogical Information Thread in the OOC. This is going to be our “canon” of who married/reproduced with whom. It exists to avoid confusion for those of you who want to play characters related to canon characters, which is completely possible in this RP. Stick to the information provided, so that we don’t have a weird situation where Naruto had kids with like… three different people. That would be really awkward.
  • DO NOT create a character with access to the Sharingan or the Rinnegan. Just don’t. They both have very specific roles to play in the plot, plus there aren’t many Uchiha left anyway. See the genealogical notes on that.
  • DO NOT (with one exception) give your character a Chakra Beast. We are taking AT MOST one more Jinchūriki. If you’re going to go for that spot, make sure you have a reason justifying how that tailed beast wound up in the village your character hails from. Two-tails and Nine-tails are already taken. This does not mean that your character won’t end up with a Chakra beast later in the game—we like to leave our options open. But we are starting off with no more than three total, and two are accounted for.
  • DO NOT use every jutsu under the sun. Your character is allowed two Chakra Natures. These determine their natural elemental affinities, and therefore which ninjutsu they can use. Try to not be the same as everyone else’s affinities, and only pick jutsu which match your chakra natures. So if your combo is earth/fire, no water prison jutsu for you.
  • DO NOT make your character good at everything. The types of jutsu available are: ninjutsu, taijutsu, nintaijutsu, kenjutsu (Kumo only), medical ninjutsu, genjutsu, kekkei genkai, and fūinjutsu. Pick four and only four. Unless for some reason your character is older than 35, and then you can have five because they’ve had additional training. The total number of individual jutsu in your character sheet should be around 20. This is because keeping track of too many more than that is madness. If you really need 25, give us a good reason and some justification, and we’ll probably let you do it. We’re not mean, just pretty serious about keeping the playing field reasonable.
  • DO contact the people who have characters from the same village as yours. At least Nephilim and Dynamite, preferably the other players as well. These people have been through a war together—they’re going to have some history. It’s good if you can work that out between yourselves in advance.
  • DO inform us of any character-related subplots or side stories you want to try. We’re understanding and encouraging of these, but both Nephilim and Dynamite have to know everything that’s going on in our RP. Maybe that makes us control freaks, but we want to make sure this goes smoothly and that everyone has a chance to shine.
  • DO feel free to create your own Kekkei Genkai if you want to. Just be aware that we will need to approve them, and we won’t be taking overpowered ones for obvious reasons. The same goes for other general jutsu. For a list of canon techniques, check out the Naruto Wiki. It’s super helpful.
  • DO NOT hesitate to ask us if you have questions. We may sound kind of mean right now, but we really are invested in the success of this RP, ad we hope that you will enjoy it with us, and make something really awesome out of the story line we have planned.


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WARNING: This is my character sheet. Please do NOT use, or alter, without my permission.
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Kiyoko Uzumaki | Played by Nephilim

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Akira Aburame | Played by Renbokoji

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Katsuro Uchiha | Played by Dynamite

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Naomichi Yuhara | Played by Koromaru

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Ryuu Tsukino | Played by Equilibrium
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Takehiko Yamamoto | Played by Dynamite

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Zetsubo Kosan | Played by Taunbon

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Nariko Kaneshiro | Played by Nephilim

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Kiriko Gekkō | Played by JokerofSpades

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Rei Hinode | Played by Dynamite


Toggle Rules

The GM of this roleplay hasn't created any rules! You can do whatever you like!

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 7 authors

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Mizuki Kawagure, Eighth Hokage, surveyed the young shinobi before her with a critical eye. They were Konohagakure’s best and brightest, in one way or another, though to call any of them ideal for this mission was a stretch. She’d had to balance her need to pick the people most likely to be able to handle the Raikage’s party with the competing need to encourage diplomacy rather than violence. The Council was insistent that these peace talks go well, and she knew the newly-minted Raikage had scored himself serious points in the eyes of the rest of the world by being the first to extend his hand in this fashion… and by agreeing to a negotiation scenario that would be against he and his people from the very start. It was on her turf, surrounded by her people, and almost entirely on her terms.

She fully planned on taking advantage of that.

But in order to make sure things went as they needed to, his people would have to be watched without being caged, and for that, she needed these personnel. Kiyoko Uzumaki was the youngest, but also the most likely to succeed at being diplomatic and controlling herself, so she was nominally in charge of the team. The rest were there because they were either exceptionally talented or else because they had some ability that would be advantageous in such a scenario as this one. The Aburame’s bugs, the Tsukino’s eyes… and well, to be honest Yuhara was there because he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them if he needed to and the Uchiha present because the Hokage took great pleasure in watching him squirm… and because the Raikage was a Jinchūriki.

Folding her hands behind her back, the Hokage tossed back her rose-colored ponytail and stared them down silently for a moment. “I trust,” she said slowly, her voice on a lower register for a woman, so calm it could only be the kind of thing that masked something else. “That I do not have to remind you that the future of your village rests on this.” And because of how important their village was, the future of much of the world, not just its ninja. There was no overestimating the importance of it. “You are to be as hospitable as you possibly know how,” the sardonic inflection, ever so slight, gave away that she knew some of them weren’t capable of much in that department. “And as polite as you can pretend. Until such time as any of them act untowardly, they are honored guests. If they make trouble, you are authorized to use exactly as much force as is necessary to stop that trouble. You will meet them outside the gates, escort them to the guest facility, and see that they eat. Then, you will bring them here. Other than that, do as Uzumaki tells you. Am I understood?”

She wouldn’t usually be so stern about it, but she had a reputation for not suffering fools lightly, and she certainly would not tolerate any foolishness here. These shinobi were ANBU, medics, members of village nobility, and sometimes even teachers. Now, they would have to be diplomats. Difficult as it may be for some of them, it was imperative. Obtaining what she deemed to be the required amount of assent, the Hokage nodded. “Then you are dismissed.”

Kiyoko stood before the eight Hokage, her lips pursed deeply together as the older woman surveyed the team. Being the youngest of the group, would have normally caused her to be a little more temperamental, however; this mission required her to be at her utmost behavoir. She was to lead one of the best teams at the moment, to ensure that everything went as smoothly as it could possibly go. She wasn't sure she was exactly the best person to handle the situation, but then again, it might as well be her. Naruto was, after all, her grandfather, and that alone should have stripped her from even leading this team. But a part of her was glad that she was being given that chance to do something good, something he would have wanted.

She remained quiet as Mizuki spoke, her eyes focused on the Hokage. She absorbed the information, sorting it out into the proper order before she nodded her head. They were going to escort the Kumogakure shinobi to their facilities, feed them, and then bring them here to her. Seemed simple enough, however; she glanced over the group that was under her guidance. Akira, Ryuu, Naomichi, and Katsuro. She almost snorted at the last face she landed on. Katsuro didn't seem too pleased to be here, but she was glad he was, in a weird sort of way. She focused her attention back to Mizuki and saluted the Hokage, a grin settling on her lips.

"Leave it to us, Mizu," she replied, standing out in front of her team before folding her arms against her chest. "You heard the woman. Everything and anything I say, goes, and if any of you have anything to say about that, well," she spoke, her head tilting to the side as a bright smile crossed her face. "You are free to express it, but I don't guarantee I'll take it into consideration," she stated, the smile never fading from her face. If they had anything to say about her and her leadership, they were free to state as such, however; it didn't mean she had to listen to it. For all she cared, they could take it and shove it, even if they were all on good terms. Or at least somewhat on good terms as far as she could tell.

"Unless Mizu here has anything else to say, shall we go meet our new friends?" she questioned, taking a glance over her shoulder towards Mizuki before turning her attention back to her comrades, her eyes lingering just a moment longer on Katsuro with evident amusement.

The Hokage rolled her eyes, but waved a hand anyway. Uzumaki was like that—and probably the only person who could get away with calling her Mizu. Probably because her grandfather had been Mizuki’s teacher and so she’d been around a lot when Kiyoko was growing up. The nickname was an old one. “I already told you to leave, Uzumaki. Don’t be late—we could hardly make a bad first impression on our guests. That she was not especially happy that the Raikage and four of his best would be in the middle of her village for an unknown period of time should have surprised no one.




In sharp contrast to his counterpart on Konohagakure, the Raikage wore a big smile on his face. In all fairness, pretty much everything about him was big, and so his smiles should probably be no exception. The journey here from Kumo had taken the better part of a week, even moving at the pace of very highly-trained, very fast shinobi. It was, after all, quite a distance from one country to the other. He didn’t mind the inconvenience, though—the people he was travelling with were among his closest friends and strongest allies, and that made the distance seem shorter, at least to his mind. Perhaps some would say that mind was just simple, and in truth, perhaps Takehiko would even agree. He didn’t really see a problem with simple, after all.

“What do you think, Rei?” he asked the kunoichi immediately behind him, tilting his head back over his shoulder to glance at her from the corner of his uncovered eye. The smile didn’t disappear, even if it might have been a shade unnerving, given the fact that his eyeteeth were slightly larger than normal, and pointed. It was all Mata’s fault anyhow.

“We’re close,” the medic-nin replied, flexing one of her hands. The thin white scars on the back of her hand pulled taut, then eased when she relaxed her fingers. She was the one who had most recently been to the place, and the only one who would remember its exact location. None of the fighting had ever quite reached either village. “I don’t expect they’ll just let us walk in through the front gate, though… not by ourselves.”

“Mm… probably not,” Takko consented easily enough. “But you never know… we might just make ourselves some friends out of the deal, hm?” His grin widened, and that was how she knew there was more to what he said than a simple, naively-optimistic sentiment. Simple he might be, but Rei knew very well that he was a far cry short of stupid.

"Yeah, well you guys have your work cut out for you then. I don't need to make friends, I already have friends," Nariko replied, shoving her hands behind her head as she stared up at the sky. Her mother was related to the Nara of the Konohagakure village, however; give that she was his grandchild, she might not be as welcomed as she thought she might be. She, after all, did fight in the war too. She killed her fair share of shinobi from Konoha, and she wouldn't be able to wash that away. "Oh look, here's the welcome party now," she stated, lowering her gaze to spot the gates of Konoha in the distance. She could see the outline of five people, and one in particular caused her to grin.

Kiyoko stared at the group coming into view, standing with her arms crossed against her chest. She narrowed her eyes slightly to get a better look, and sighed. She could make the faint outline of something large, and human. If she had to guess, he was either a body guard, or he was the actual Raikage of Kumo. She was going to go with body guard. That left one of the others to be the Raikage, though it ruled out the three kunoichi. If she remembered correctly, the brief said he, not she. That left the shorter, less large male of the group. Sighing, she waited for the group to approach, glancing back towards Nariko and frowned. It had been a while since she'd seen the Kaneshiro, but now was not the time fore reminiscing.

"Alright guys, you know the drill. Be nice, introduce yourselves, and be nice," Kiyoko stated. She shifted so that her arms were at her sides now, and waited for the shinobi from Kumogakure to approach. Once they did, she remained silent for a moment, tilting her head as she regarded the large one, almost tempted to ask about the eye, however; it would be unprofessional and she couldn't exactly just ask. Instead, she cleared her throat and placed a hand on her hip. "Welcome to Konoha. I trust that your trip was pleasant," she started, putting an emphasis on the last word before glancing over her shoulder.

"Kiyoko Uzumaki, at your service. This is my team," she stated, jabbing her thumb in the direction of the others. "We are here to accompany you into the village," and in some way, babysit them, though she wasn't going to say that. She glanced back at her team, waiting for them to introduce themselves. It would be good to know everyones names first, rather than just saying hey you all the time.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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For all the failures and faults of Konohagakure that Kosan was able to drag forth from his bitter memory, there was one thing he could not fault them. Their land was beautiful. It was almost mockingly so as Kumogakure was a pale comparison to the magnificent forest and green grass that swept the landscape as far as his sharp blue eyes could see. It was almost as if the land itself were mocking him as they were walking through it, the grass bending and sweeping under their feet, carrying them towards their destination, to talk of peace in their enemies' village. Kosan did not consider himself to be an expert in diplomacy, but he understood that meeting someone in their power base instead of a neutral location was a clear sign of dominance.

They were asking for a peace treaty from Konohagakure, and it revolted him. But there was nothing he could, or would, do to stop the talks. If Takehiko desired peace then he would do his best to see it done, but there was something far more important waiting in that village. Every footstep brought him one step closer to where the being that had haunted his dreams for years lived. Whenever he pondered on it, it brought upon a odd mixture of emotions from rage to anticipation and even fear of the confrontation.

Kosan snapped out of his thoughts when Takko spoke to Rei. He hadn't caught what, only her name and his voice had reached him from the dark corners of his mind. From their small interaction, he was able to hear the words he had been anticipating and dreading in equal measures to hear, they were close. Turning his blue eyes forward, he chose to ignore Takko's comment on making friends as he had no desire to make friends, if he had it his way, the city would be burning and the skies filled with the screams of newly created orphans, but perhaps that is why Takehiko was his Raikage, he was strong, but he had a good heart.

Turning his eyes to the left, he glanced at Rei for a second briefly wondering what she was thinking at this moment. How did she feel as they got closer? He knew a little of what she went through at the place, and Kosan felt remiss that he had not given her the attention he should have had as she must have felt something at returning to a place and people that had tortured her, but even if he had, what could he have given her save for empty words? The sudden spike of chakra nearly had Kosan reaching for his hilt, but he stayed his hand as he was on a mission for peace. He ran his blue eyes over the group before him, a few stood out instantly, one with an eyepatch that almost made him want to see him and Takko get in a staring contest, a red headed woman who, given her speech, was obviously the leader, and a very large blond man. Without measuring, it seemed he was a few inches taller then he was. Kosan turned his head to look at his Raikage, waiting for him to give his own introduction.




While the main pack continued their descent on the forest like nation that was the Hidden Leaf Village, Kiriko brought up the rear for obvious reasons: as a sensor, she could tell when others were approaching from behind. As the ‘Guardian’ of the Raikage, it was her duty to make sure that all sections were protected; even if she knew well enough that not many of those selected would need it. Nevertheless, she continued her duties correctly and without hesitation - especially since she had been assigned it by Hiko himself. It was probably to make sure she didn’t start a conversation with one of the others and start an inner war with those that she didn’t know entirely. Her kimono flowed with the wind as her head continued to swerve and observe the landscape - she had initially refused to care about its beauty, but ultimately had to give the place some credit.

The mission gave her much time to ponder her worries, but mostly attempt to figure out just why this mission existed. Why bother attempt a peace treaty, when it was obvious that the Leaf would attempt something shifty? Hiko had gone out of his way to make sure that it looked one sided, and Kiri knew that if she were the Leaf, she would take advantage of that power instantly. Granted, she wasn’t one to really talk: she cared for no village. Villages were simply a collection of people with the same ideals under a ruler that was deemed strongest. The idea that they would fight against another village simply because the leaders have different symbols on their foreheads was absurd. Yet she knew that patriotism was a thing amongst others, so she would have to factor it in if a blood bath was destined to occur.

Of course, Kiriko heard what Hiko and Rei spoke of, and focused on the arrival that was deemed imminent. There was only a sliver of nervousness, simply because she had been told strictly by Hiko to ‘keep her mouth closed and not stare at like you want to kill them so often’. She could even hear the hint of laughter in his voice, which had made her nostalgic. The fact that Hiko was so carefree and full of life made her envious of him, but she knew that he didn’t have it any better than she: the only difference was that she was labeled a monster, and he a hero. However, her thoughts were torn as the chakra she had sensed a while away finally came into focus, and she began the chakra signatures. For a supposed welcome party, the amount of raw power that emanated from their beings did not make her feel any more welcome than when she tried killing them in the war.

They arrived in front of the Leaf nin quite rapidly, and then she began to profile them from the back, and already deemed herself to be the smallest one of them all. Not that it bothered her, as being the smallest always had perks in the ninja world: fitting through small spaces, lighter footprints, hacking at their ankles. Yet despite this, she couldn’t help but shrink at the size of them, even their one woman was massive. Nevertheless, the one named Uzumaki - most likely the descendent of the deceased - addressed the Raikage. Only she addressed Kosan, the swordsman, instead. Kiriko couldn’t help it as she snaked her way beside Hiko to stare the woman straight in the eye and speak - breaking the rule she was supposed to keep. At least she tried her hardest not to harden her eyes - but that didn't stop her voice from sounding a little dead.

”It would be wise for you to address the right person as Raikage if you wish to discuss a peace treaty, don’t you think?”




From the way Uzumaki-san was positioned just slightly oriented towards Kosan, Takehiko suspected that she might have come to the conclusion that he was the Raikage. He did look more the part, perhaps, with a bit of refinement to him, like an actual leader was probably supposed to have. Takko… well, he looked more like someone’s hired muscle, really, and it was perhaps just one more sign that he wasn’t really suited to this job. But… nevertheless, it was his and he had to do it properly, so he would.

His thoughts were interrupted by movement from behind him, and for a moment, he just blinked down at Kiriko next to him, and down was the operative word, considering the difference in height between them. He’d half-jokingly asked her not to say much, if only because he was afraid that she might be a little too… forthright and get herself in trouble, but he wasn’t upset with her, not in the slightest. Instead, he smiled, and reached up a hand to lay on her head, an old gesture from their shared youth. “It’s all right, Kiriko,” he said mildly, directing his attention to the redheaded woman who had spoken first. “I’m still quite new, after all.”

Clearing his throat, he raised his other hand to about shoulder level and waved it almost sheepishly. “Nice to meet you, Uzumaki-san. I would be Takehiko Yamamoto.” The emphasis was only very slight, indicating a lack of offense. Perhaps his name had made it into whatever briefing they’d been given. Then again… perhaps not. He supposed the Hokage must have no great like of any of them. But this was exactly what he was here to fix, and so he wasn’t here to let it bother him. “These are my very best ninja, and I’m pleased to be here.”

From the opposite side of him to Kiriko, Rei spoke up, inclining her head slightly. She was… not disposed to bow, even if it might have been a little more polite. There was still a little too much tension for her to dare taking her eyes off anyone for that long. “Rei Hinode.” She decided against saying anything else, and instead simply adjusted the sleeves of her uniform.




Nariko kept a clamped hand over her mouth, trying to stifle a laugh at the misconception of who was Raikage. Really, it wasn't Takehiko's fault he was so damn huge, but she couldn't really put it past her friend for the mistaken identity. If he wasn't so large, maybe it wouldn't have happened. She blinked, instead, when Kiriko spoke, and raised an eyebrow. Still the ever mouth on her. Nariko shrugged her shoulders lightly, and waited for everyone to speak. It wasn't as if she needed an introduction though. She knew Kiyoko, slightly knew the Uchiha (if barely), but the others, she didn't know. She rolled her shoulders slightly and mimicked the Konoha kunoichi by placing her own hand on her hip.

"Nariko Kaneshiro, but you already knew that," she stated, folding her arms behind her back and rocked on the heels of her feet. "Though, I really wouldn't say the best," she muttered beneath her breath. They were all good, granted, but she wouldn't go so far as to say the were the best. Takehiko was nice like that, she supposed. But to say they were the best? Now that was just being modest. She'd let it go for now, though. It wasn't worth her thoughts. "It's been awhile, Koko," she stated, smirking just lightly at the old nickname she'd given the redhead years ago. She could almost see the scowl on Kiyoko's face, but had turned her attention towards Kosan.

"Silent beauty over there," she stated, jabbing her thumb towards Kosan, who had remained silent through most of the talking, "is Zetsubo, or Kosan, whichever you prefer." Might as well introduce him now. Still, one of these days, her mouth was going to get her into trouble. She knew she shouldn't just speak for people, but an old habit was hard to kill.




Kosan was able to pierce together that Uzumaki seemed to think he was the Raikage, he was by no means a fool, but he didn't wish to draw attention to it as the thought of him being the Raikage was a terrifying enough proposal enough. He never fancied himself being anything more then he was now, he had no desire nor inklings for more responsibilities when he could barely keep up with the ones he had. He was going to let Takehiko vanish that idea as it only seemed, but it seemed someone else had other plans. He couldn't help the slight tug at the corner of his lips as his blue eyes watched Kiriko step forward to correct the mistake. Her stern words made Kosan's hand twitch expecting it to cause some trouble, but he wasn't sure what he had been expecting from Kiriko. He did not know her very well, but he had high regards for her abilities which was often enough.

He would be lying if he said he did not feel disappointment when Takko answered Uzumaki, Kosan had been hoping this would cause a tension that would have ended in a fight. He knew his mission, and he would do his best to help his Raikage complete his mission, but he wasn't opposed to shedding some blood with the Konohagakure, in fact, quite the opposite. It seemed Rei was on board as well as she spoke her name. He wasn't sure what he felt at Rei bowing her head slightly to the Shin, he knew it was more of out social courtesy then anything else but even that felt like too much. Kosan turned his eyes back to the red head and opened his mouth to give his own introduction when Nariko stepped forward, and it seemed the two had met before, well, wasn't that information that would have been nice to know before hand? In fact, it seemed Nariko went the extra step and introduced him... for him?

"At least I am beautiful. Whatever would I do if I was hideous? I wouldn't be half as interesting and no one would bother with learning my name," Kosan said raising an eyebrow at his 'companion'. He always enjoyed straight-forward and brash natures like hers. It was always refreshing to not have to worry about secret thoughts and agendas, half truths and lies, while the truth could be a cool breeze on a summer day, it could also be a knife in the heart, but he preferred both so long as the person plunging the knife into his heart looked him in the eyes.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Ayaka Satomi Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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A blonde figure towered over most of the current shinobi present. Only two were taller than her, one significantly and one just barely. Of course, the only person in the entire world she would expect to tower over her was in fact that man, the Raikage himself. Contrary to many others around her, she was not dressed like a ninja. She wore a black suit adorned with white pin-stripes. The white shirt underneath was untouched in color, save for the red tie right down the center. Across her forehead was a string that tied down her otherwise messy blonde hair. That string tied to a mask in the shape of a fox, clearly identifiable as an ANBU Black Ops mask. Eyes of red looked over everyone arriving from Kumogakure. Her look was not one of malice, but not one of trust either. Even if she was not under orders, she would not have outright attacked them. They were here to create peace, end the killing of each other's comrades. For that reason alone, she would be civil.

Anyone standing near the blonde giant would faintly smell strawberry. It was from the strawberry brandy she had sampled from the night before that helped her keep a smile plastered on her face. A fake smile, and one certainly not caused by her visitors... but a smile nonetheless. A couple of introductions went over Akira's head as she wasn't quite paying perfect attention until someone from Kumogakure had spoken up and told the Uzumaki girl to address the proper guy. Her eyes focused around those talking as she would finally begin paying attention. First to Takehiko Yamamoto, the Raikage. It seemed like she chose the right time to pay attention. Then came the introduction of Nariko Kaneshiro, who in turn introduced Kosan. She wasn't quite sure how she felt about any of them thus far, but at least the Raikage seemed charismatic.

At this point, nobody but Kiyoko from Konoha had introduced themselves. It would seem that this would be up to her. Stepping forward, she puffed out her (regretfully small) chest and adjust her tie. With a clear of her throat, she spoke up. "My name is Akira Aburame, next in line for head of the noble Aburame Clan. I am..." She could not think of a polite and honest adjective to describe it, so she would lie. "I am absolutely happy to have you in our village. In my home." She seemed to assert that point. "Me casa es su casa. If you need anything, do not hesitate to ask. It is my job after all to make sure that you are all well-taken care of." She also seemed to assert that it was her job, and that she took little pleasure in it. Looking to the sky, a purple-winged butterfly fluttered by and down. She held out her finger for a perch for the beautiful insect. Smiling at it, she let the genuine smile from the bug carry over to the Raikage specifically. "Welcome to Konohagakure."

As Naomichi approached the designated meeting place for the meeting of the peace treaty, his mind began to wander as the cool breeze blew past the relatively plain looking shinobi. How was he selected to go on such an important mission when he himself was only good at slaughter? Could it be for protection if things turned sour? It couldn't be since he clearly expressed his distaste for anymore violence than is necessary. And he wasn't the brightest or the most socially adept of anyone in the village - in fact he was one of the worst. I guess they only wanted me for killing then... Naomichi quietly thought to himself as he heaved a light sigh and lowered his head in a sorrowful manor.

By the time he reached the Kumogakure shinobi he regained a professional look about him. Despite being a top assassin for ANBU, he didn't really look the part. His black, tattered trench coat sat open on his defined muscles, and his eye-patch didn't serve him any better to look more normal. He looked more like a street thug than anything, and the only thing that defined him from being one was the white wolf mask resting on his belt loop, the eye slits giving an intimidating glare towards the others. He felt gross compared to how nice his companions looked around him.

As he scanned the the Kumo shinobi, he found relief that there was another man with an eye-patch like him. Phew, I don't look like a crazy freak now! Thank you Mr. Patchy! Despite his relatively innocent thoughts, Naomichi looked serious and threatening like he would be ready to take on anyone that even stepped out of place. All he was doing was staring down the man with the eye-patch, giving off a vibe that he really wasn't comfortable with the guy. Unfortunately for Naomichi, all he was doing was trying to have a staring contest with him - which he wasn't noticing.

When the man stepped forward though, Naomichi snapped from his trance and listened to what he had to say. Takehiko the Raikage huh? The man definitely matched his predecessors before him in every sense of appearance. He couldn't see anything wrong with him. In fact, there seemed to be nothing wrong with any of them. They all seemed perfectly nice, despite some obvious hostile looks. They probably were not as bad as Naomichi, and if he wanted to be forgiven of his past actions, he must treat them with the kindness and respect he feels they deserve. He even chuckled quietly at their jabs at one another. He felt that they all were just a happy family... something he always wanted.

When Akira introduced himself, Naomichi felt comfort that the only person who he had any relations with was first; Plus he wasn't first to begin with anyway - that would have just been weird with him. He knew that because of their solid teamwork he would be able to springboard off his introduction with enough grace to earn him a perfect score from the Kumo shinobi. After his sincere greeting to Kohana, Naomichi felt it was time for him to step in. He was proud, strong, and ready for anything. He raised his right hand to give a polite wave to the Kumo shinobi as he stepped forward. "Yo..." And then he choked for a moment. He hadn't planned beyond that. He was sweating bullets and he knew it. "I'm... Naomichi Yuhara?" His lip began to twitch at this moment. He wanted to be strong but he didn't even know what to do. "Welcome to our humble village where we plan to have peace one way or another..." And after saying that he just clammed up and slowly slid back into the line to drift back into obscurity.

Akira noticed the partner of many of her missions step forward and introduce himself. In this moment he said more than she had probably heard him speak in her entire time with him. Countless missions he generally remained silent and distant, listening to her plans and generally only confirming them with a nod. Smirking, she gave him a firm pat on his left shoulder as a way to commend him. Naomichi let a soft sigh come out as Akira patted him on his shoulder, slumping his shoulders down and letting his head hang for his failure.

A stretch to the right. A stretch to the left. A shake to the legs. A big yawn to finish it all up. Yes, that is what the infamous Jōnin known to many as Ryuu Tsukino was doing as Mizuki (never the kind to do with titles and honorifics) was explaining why he and the quadro-muppets (likes giving nicknames) were there right before her or even why they were gathered as a team. Really, he could care less about the details or the pleasantries which are needed to be abide. Furthermore, this was a repetitive scene to him. It was like a broken skit which played over and over again until the audience could not bear it anymore. So, do expect some tomatoes to be thrown. That was probably the only reason he had come at all to catch the tomatoes and make some nice ketchup for his omurice. Ah... this was making him hungry.

"I have something to say teacher!" Ryuu eagerly raised his hand with the accompaniment of a broad smile. It only made his handsome face be a bit more than ever. Kiyoko did after all say they can speak freely, so he will take the opportunity to do so. He even waved his hand in the air vigorously akin to a child and he was far from that. Whether he was fully aware or ignoring the the mission they were being entrusted with, no one can tell for certain. "Can I be excused? I'm hungry..." There it is... His fickle sickness known as laziness. This was one of the primary reasons he had not been designated to be an ANBU despite his skill sets being viable for such an occupation. He was also too unpredictable and has a clear disregard for authority even towards their own Hokage which causes her no ends of grief.

"You can handle those Kumo guys by yourselves... So, too--" He was immediately cut off as someone grabbed his ear and literally dragged him away. There were even a few reprimands along the way. Technically, that is how he had come to be in front of the one called Raikage and his entourage. Well, he could also say groupies. They were also told to be nice. Come now, nice was overrated in his personal opinion. However, he did not voice that out and instead held the ear which was still red. As he stood there, he released yet another yawn, clearly uncaring about the significance of this endeavor. In truth, he was already aware what this would entail. So, why not play along in his own way.

Kiyoko stepped up to the plate by introducing herself first. He shrugged his shoulders at this. This is why he called her Teacher. It reminded him of classroom introductions. More than that, he has no need for such things really. He already knew who the Raikage and Kumogakure ninjas are which was not shared by their esteemed redhead leader. As a result, there were a few chuckles on both sides, on their part? It came from him with a smirk on his face. Anyway, their visitors introduced themselves matched with a comedy routine. Well if the peace treaty does not work, they could always find work in entertainment. That's an upside, less death, more money too.

Anyways, it was their turn as Akira started it off with a lie. Then, it was followed by the socially-awkward Naomichi. For now, he still needed those training wheels in conversing. Still, not bad at all. Ryuu then noticed the eyes of his teammates on him. His turn, huh? Among them, he was the tallest and was not hard to spot with his mismatched colored eyes of blue and gold. He wore the standard Jōnin uniform but even then, it fitted him in a way a model would. After all, he is one of the pretty boys. Taking a step forward, he gave a smile. This one rather than a lie or an empty one. It held a blurry meaning. "Tsukino Ryuu. We're here to babysit you guys. Because let's face it, scars will always be scars."

Unlike Kiyoko who would withhold her tongue under the pressure of professionalism, Ryuu was not that kind. He had always pushed the borders and that would not change anytime soon. But then again, things had already been decided as far as he is concerned.

“Tch,”the scoff at Ryuu’s words came from the Konoha ninja furthest away from him, also in the ANBU uniform, a hawklike mask attached to his belt. Katsuro didn’t like standing anywhere near that guy, because he creeped him out, mostly. There was something off about him, like all that careless laziness was some kind of sickly saccharine illusion over something else. Personally, Katsu thought the Tsukino was just as much of an asshole as he was, but covered it up with that act of his. It was stupid. At least Uzumaki was really like that, annoying as it may be. Crossing his arms over his chest, he flicked a grey-eyed glance over the assembled nin. The eyes narrowed and he tilted his head slightly to the side.

Eventually, he shrugged. It was pointless trying to form opinions on someone from just an introduction, anyway. What kind of idiot would only rely on the first impression of someone to reach a conclusion? People were certainly more complicated than that. Of course, he’d seldom met one that he didn’t hate, but he supposed even that didn’t mean he never would. “Uchiha,” was all he gave by way of introduction, and then he threw an aside glance to Uzumaki. Standing out here making awkward small talk wasn’t going to help them any.

As all of the members of her team introduced themselves, Kiyoko could feel a light twitch on her eyebrow. She turned, slowly, to stare at Ryuu, her eyes narrowing just slightly. One of these days... just one of these days she was going to break something. Shaking her head, she sighed softly and turned back to the group, and raised a brow at the kunoichi who had spoken before the actual Raikage spoke. She made to shrug her shoulders, but caught herself, and instead, rolled them back. Couldn't be too disrespectful, not yet at least. She did, however, roll her eyes at the nickname, Nariko produced. She would not fall for that, she had to keep telling herself. Once everyone was finished with their introductions, Kiyoko cleared her throat once more and glanced, properly this time, at the Raikage.

"Now that everyone is formally introduced, I think it's time we show you to where you will all be staying. After that, you, I assume, may be hungry. We will show you to the cafeteria where you and your team may get something to eat, and for the record, Kiriko," she stated, turning her attention towards the dark-haired kunoichi. "I am not the one discussing the peace treaty. That would be your Raikage, and the Hokage, so no, I do not think I should have to do either of that," she replied, a bright smile lingering on her face. Not exactly the most ideal thing to say to the Kumogakure shinobi, but it was true. She wasn't the one going to discuss anything; that was the Raikage and Hokage.

"If there is nothing else to be said," she paused and glared at Ryuu, "then if you follow us, we shall show you the way."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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For the most part, Takehiko absorbed what was said without much discernible reaction. He was not a man who prided himself on being unreadable, as there honestly wasn’t much of a point to subtlety and dissembling when you were made like a sledgehammer anyway. But just because he didn’t make a point of showing off how clever he was didn’t mean he couldn’t see the implications behind some of the words, read a little into the way people stood or talked. He wasn’t the best at it, but his position would soon demand that he became very good. It was something he liked to think the others might help him with a little, or at least the ones any better off than he was. He couldn’t say he was especially pleased with their reception, but it was better than he was expecting. He knew he should be grateful it hadn’t already ended in bloodshed, though that was not to say it wouldn’t.

Choosing to ignore the varying implications, including the one that they needed babysitters, of all things, Takko smiled affably and nodded. “Well, now that we’re all introduced, some food sounds excellent. Lead on, Uzumaki-san, and we shall follow.” The kunoichi did just that, though the route took them through a good portion of the village itself. He had to admit, it was a very beautiful place. The homes were built almost exclusively from wood, which he supposed must be in abundance, given the natural forest surrounding them with all its resources and greenery. Kumogakure was by contrast very austere, the facades carved mainly into the stone of the mountain that kept them so high up in the air. What forest they had was much sparser and more hardscrabble, and the colors of his youth were more grey and bleached-out red than all this green and rich mahogany.

He had the thought that this village would burn much more easily than his own, but he was not sure how it made him feel. It was a fact, he’d been taught, that the things that were nicest to look at were often the most fragile. Not always, but often. Austerity, by the philosophy of the first Raikage, was a form of strength. Have no more than you need to survive, and all living will eventually become living well. Or something like that. But… the people here wore softer faces than those he had seen around his own village. Many of them, he suspected, had never needed to worry where their next meal was going to come from. He doubted the Hokage ever had to send her people on resource retrieval missions when trade became too slow. Takko’s jaw tightened, but he shook himself out of it. Envy didn’t become him, and he didn’t like it, besides. He was here for peace, because more than anything, that was what his people needed now, and as their Raikage, it was his duty to put them first, to provide for that need.

“It’s as nice as I’d heard,” he remarked to the kunoichi leading the procession. He found himself strangely glad it had not been destroyed in the course of the war, despite his jealousy of its abundance. After all… the people here would not wear such content expressions if the war had reached their doorsteps.

Kiyoko nodded her head and led the Kumogakure team through the village. It had been a relatively silent leading, something she was a little grateful for. She knew Katsuro would remain silent, and Naomichi wasn't exactly talkative. Akira could be a little talkative when she needed to be, but Ryuu... Ryuu was a different story, and she had to keep checking over her shoulder to ensure the Shinobi wasn't causing any trouble. Satisfied, she blinked slowly when Takehiko's voice brought her out of her stupor. She raised an eyebrow, her lips pursing into a fine line, and tried to decide how to respond to it. As nice as he'd heard? How was anything as nice as he'd heard? Instead of asking that, though, she sighed softly and slowed her steps so that she was walking beside him. It was a little odd, really, standing next to someone who was almost twice her size.

"It's Konoha, I don't see what's so nice about it," she replied with a shrug of her shoulders. She didn't see it as he did, perhaps because she'd never actually seen other villages. The only village she could recall ever seeing, was Sunagakure when her grandfather used to take her to visit his old friend. Even on missions, it hardly required going to another village. It was more of going to towns to do their business than the actual village itself. "Once everyone is fed, we will be escorting you and your team to the Hokage's office," she stated, instead, resisting the urge to stare at the eye patch. One, it was rude, and two, it would not go over well with the Hokage if she knew that Kiyoko poked at it.

"Before that, though, you will be shown your living quarters for the remainder of your stay," she stated, stopping momentarily to gaze down the streets, before taking a left. "Once everyone is shown, the eating area will be next. It's not quite that large, so I'd advise telling your team of seating arrangements. Sounds odd, but," she stated, shrugging her shoulders in the process. They weren't children, they could sit wherever they wanted, however; they wouldn't all be able to sit together. Konohagakure wasn't built for large people, after all.

The quarters they were staying in turned out to be in what was apparently formerly the Uchiha compound, or so Takko assumed based on the fact that the crest on the gates matched the one the self-proclaimed Uchiha wore on the sleeve of his uniform. The buildings were quite well-crafted, as far as he knew of such architectural details, but he guessed it had been chosen mostly for the fact that it was relatively apart from the main part of the village, presumably to contain their damage if they caused any. He wondered how the man whose home they were invading felt about that, but decided not to ask. Everyone in his party received a room in the same hallway, though none of them were forced to stay in the same one. It was a small courtesy, but one he appreciated all the same.

Once they’d had a chance to stow their unnecessary belongings, they were led to a mess hall, whereupon food was laid out on a long table, still hot enough to consume. There was, despite Uzumaki-san’s worries, plenty of room for everyone, and Takko did not bother to legislate where his people chose to sit—he was not a micromanager in that sense. They were all smart enough to decide what to do for themselves. He personally bypassed the head of the table and sat to the right of it. The extraneous trappings of his authority had never sat well with him, after all.

When everyone was situated, he took note of the fact that the Konohagakure shinobi still stood, loosely arranged around the room in a way that could only be described as “awkward.” Frowning to himself, the Raikage tipped his head slightly to one side, declining for the moment to pick up his chopsticks. “I’m, uh… not really sure what rumors you heard about us,” he started, looking at the truly massive quantity of food before them, “but we certainly won’t be eating this much. Now, if I have my guess here, your mission is to make sure we don’t do anything… rash, and I’m guessing you can do that just as easily if you’re sitting here eating with us instead of standing there making things feel awkward as all get-out.” He shrugged, half smiling. “So… eat. Drink. Try not to kill each other for a few more minutes. I figure we can manage it if you can.”

"Depends exactly on what you mean heard. I, for one, have head a lot, but that doesn't play into this, now does it?" Kiyoko started, allowing a small tilt of her lips to grace her face. It wasn't a smirk, and yet it wasn't a complete smile. She glanced at her team, noticing what Takehiko seemed to have, and sighed. This was supposed to be as smooth as possible. If tensions were already rising, then she would have failed her mission. And if there was one thing Kiyoko Uzumaki didn't like, it was failing. It was a trait, perhaps, inherited by all Uzumaki, or from what she heard of her grandfather's clan. Stubborn? Not so much. Resilient? Maybe. "Well, you heard the Takko," she replied, staring at her group with her head lightly tilted to the side. She wasn't going to say no, she loved food. She could eat almost as much as the Raikage looked like he ate, if she were to be honest. Food now would be, perhaps, a good thing. Wouldn't want to take on shinobi on an empty stomach, now would she?

"Go eat."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Former enemies or not, Akira was not one to turn down an offer when the word "drink" was used. Without hesitation, she shrugged and sat right down in a rather sloppy motion that looked more like falling straight to her bottom. Sitting across from her was the woman named Rei. Dark skin was not something she had seen too often, save for her spy missions near Kumogakure. She thought to herself that it was honestly rather pleasant to look at as she poured herself some of whatever alcohol was in front of her, she cared not what it was. "There's a goddamn elephant in this room. Maybe some of this will help clear it out..." She said this loud enough for those around her to hear as she finished pouring. To anyone who would hold out their cup to her, she also poured it for them, Kumo or Konoha alike. It was only after that she quickly downed the contents of her own cup and begin pouring another. It wasn't sweet, and burned a little bit going down. But at this point, if it helped her loosen up a bit, she didn't care if she was drinking acid. "Thank you for complimenting my village, by the way. It's the same as complimenting my home. I work hard to preserve it how it is..." That was a decent enough attempt at initiating some small talk, right?

Naomichi's only orders from the Hokage were to fight back if they were to strike, not to go and interact with the Kumo shinobi. So when he was told to go and join them for dinner, he was really unsure how to handle himself in such a situation. He had never really had dinner with anyone else before, so he followed Akira like a frightened child clings their parent on the first day of school. While he may not have shown it in the way he walked to the table, strong and unashamed, he was terrified inside. With a comfortable thump onto the cushion, Naomichi crossed his legs and immediately grabbed his cup and took whatever Akira was offering to the group. Alcohol would calm his nerves and at least make him a bit more manageable if anything. He immediately downed his first cup, grabbing the bottle and quickly refilling it again. With his second cup, he was willing to take his time with it as he listened to the Kumo kunoichi's analysis of who they were.

Heard the Takko. He wasn't sure why, but Kosan found that remark oddly amusing. It wasn't incredibly clever nor did it hold a large amount of wit, but he couldn't help the small tug at the corner of his lip, at least the red headed Uzumaki seemed to have a sense of humor. Of course, the entire situation was almost laughable. As far as he was concerned, they were wasting their time; he had never desired to see their village in any shape save for in flames. The people had looked so.. content, as if the war was some far distant thought to them that it had been a harsh blow. Kosan wasn't sure what he had expected during the walk. Stifling silence, perhaps, but the odd looks he was given from the villagers was not what he expected. Having things thrown at him, being called a monster, those were things he expected and could handle, but indifference was something else entirely. Almost as if the people were doing their best to not stare at him. It was disconcerting if nothing else.

The building, itself, was large, if he had to guess, it seemed nearly six times as large as his own small, modest home that he shared with Seiko. If it weren't for the Raikage's bulk, it would, indeed, be very roomy, but one couldn't demand so much when sitting next to a mountain of muscle except to not be crushed when they feel the urge to move. Kosan didn't consider himself a small man, but the Raikage had a way of making everyone small and this did include the two Konoha Shinobi who had more then a few inches on him as well.

Still, all his pondering could not stop him from his current problem, where in the world was he to sit? His blue eyes ran over the forming groups until they landed on Rei. Although he was not close enough to truly see, his mind instantly placed the small scars on her body that she had gotten during the war marring her once flawless skin, but the scars suited her. His kimono moved around his legs as he made his way over to Rei's table, barely taking note of the tall blond man and other man with the eye-patch, his reasoning for coming over purely selfish. If he was forced to 'indulge' himself with these Konoha shinobi then he would do so with Rei nearby. He trusted himself more in her presence.

‘Elephant’ might well have been the correct word, but Rei at least was not comfortable enough to imbibe, though she appreciated the gesture, insofar as she could. It was easy to forget that it was not these people who had wronged her—or insofar as it was, they had been acting in a time of war. Just as she and her comrades had been. So she told herself—but nevertheless, the instinct to distrust was a difficult one to tamp down on. Even so, she managed something polite by way of declination, and did not glower at the Konoha shinobi as they settled themselves across the table from herself and Kosan, who was on her left.

The girl - possibly named Rei - looked... cute to Naomichi? She definitely was an attractive woman and her forwardness was definitely a good quality too. He had no idea why she was with the Raikage on this mission though. He never heard a single thing about her during the war - like she never existed.

As for the man, Kosan, Naomichi recognized him instantly. The Blood Lotus was someone he observed when sent out on recon and he would need to be someone that was watched. He wanted to put faith into everyone around him, but this man was just... unstable. Naomichi was more than intimidated by his presence since he knew the man wouldn't hold back on him even if he tried to talk him back down.

The topic of the village itself did seem to be innocuous enough, and Rei supposed that going with it would be better than eating in oppressive silence, so she raised an eyebrow slightly. “You said your name was Aburame, right? I suppose that would make you kind of a custodian of the place.” She referred, of course, to the fact that the Aburame were one of the four noble lineages in Konoha, a fact that any half-educated Kumo shinobi would know by this point. “Come to think of it, I’ve heard the name Yuhara somewhere, too…” Not in the same context though. Perhaps it was a battlefield reputation rather than a family one.

Akira seemed to be in thought a moment when asked the question, but eventually nodded. "I suppose that is one way to call it. Not the term I would use, but it's not entirely inaccurate."

Naomichi was snapped back into the dinner when Rei brought up his name. "My name is fairly common lady, It could be someone else that was a demon or somethin" The thought of someone knowing how cruel he could be made him down another glass. He didn't want to be known as a monster or anything.

Kosan waved off the offered drink, he was not one for alcohol. While he would drink under special circumstances, he did not consider this a special circumstance. Any one of them could be the ones he was looking for and, more so, he did not have a desire to drink in the midst of his enemies' seat of power. Reaching out he brought a small cup to himself and poured some of the heated water conventionally placed at the center of the table, in an unassuming little pot, into it before lowing a bag of tea leaves into it. He gently tugged on the small string, lifting it out of the darkening water just to slowly lower it back in.

He looked up from his work, his blue eyes watching the eye-patched shinobi, Yuhara as Rei so helpfully supplied, just finish watching him. Kosan had a few ideas as to why, although Yuhara did not look like someone he knew or heard about, given his job in the ANBU it fit that he would not be aware of the man's history as it would defeat the purpose of being in ANBU if everyone knew of their exploits, or at least, it would render the mask pointless. Kosan, on the other hand, as the 'Blood Lotus' wasn't someone who could be so unassuming.

On reflex, his eyes followed Yuhara's one to Rei, running over her body as he did. Rei was attractive, to deny they was to be blind, and at this distance, he could see the scars, both large and small, that marked her skin, each holding a story of their own, each adding just another interesting piece of the puzzle that made Rei who she was.

The clan name of Aburame caught his attention, and Kosan snapped his blue eyes to the tall, thin blond man that was seated and away from Rei's figure, "Aburame? I have heard of your clan's abilities, and they have always sounded impressive. I do not believe I ever met with an Aburame during the war, but I must admit I have always been rather curious as to how their abilities truly look," Leaning forward over the table, Kosan pushed his tea out of the way, forgotten for the moment in the pursuit for an interesting subject for his next tale, not even his distaste for the village in the leafs could stand in the way of a good story. "Would you be willing to give a small demonstration?"

When Naomichi heard Kosan's request, he set his drink down and repositioned himself to watch his partner at work. If it was one thing he was good at, it was working with bugs. He was proud to be his partner and wasn't ashamed to hide it.

Rei sighed softly, having a feeling she knew where this was going, and judiciously set down her bowl and chopsticks, covering the first with an upside-down plate and the second with a cloth napkin. She really didn’t want any stray insects in her food.

Akira looked up at Kosan as he addressed her, only to meet his conversation with a smirk. "Of course you didn't meet any Aburame, doll. Like our insectoid friends, we try not to make ourselves known too much... In fact, many of my clansmen complain that they never get noticed. Even by their own teammates. My great-uncle Shino Aburame especially..." She said the name and immediately realized right after that doing so had absolutely no point to it. But she shrugged, leaned back and cracked her fingers all at once after weaving them together and pushing out her wrists. "Of course, I do this for the sake of improving relations. And not showing off or anything."

"Of course," Kosan said almost on reflex as his blue eyes watched her movements, his attention hers to command.

She sat up on her knees and unbutton the pin-striped suit jacket, then unbuttoned the lower buttons on the white dressy shirt beneath it. Lifting up the left side revealed several holes on flat, smooth skin. Four bugs crawled out of four different holes and climbed onto her finger. "Meet the Bikochu, Kidaichu, Kikaichu, and the Nano-sized Venomous Insect. Not proper names, but the names of the kinds of bugs. They all feed off of my chakra and obey my whims in return. Pretty sweet, huh?" The bugs returned through the holes, though Akira kept the shirt lifted up. Looking to her partner, Naomichi, she gave a playful wink before making one more command to the bugs. From the revealed holes, and many hidden holes all over her body, masses of insects began flying out, coagulating into a purple-colored cloud along the ceiling. Buzzing of all sorts of kinds would fill the room, replacing any lingering silence before they would fly behind Akira.

"Incredibly so," he replied unsure of how to respond to something said being 'sweet', but it was fascinating. He was a little disappointed that the holes were not on her arm or some other less personal area as he would have liked to feel them.

The purple cloud of insects began taking a shape behind her, at first a purple silhouette. Quickly, details would be added as the Insect Clone took the appearance of Kosan himself. Nodding, she would speak. "Check this out, though." She stood up with a soft grunt and turned to face the clone. Clenching her right hand into a fist, she shot it straight through the clone's head. She pulled her hand away and watched the detailed head turn into a purple coagulation again before reforming to mimic Kosan again. Turning around once more, she smirked and held up her hand to the clone, which slapped hers back. Akira sat back down as sloppy as she had the first time and let her insects return to a cloud and begin filing back into her body. She also decided to leave her pin-striped jacket off as well. Her tie became looser as well as she tugged on it and poured another drink. "Enjoy your demonstration?"

Both of Rei’s eyebrows ascended her forehead as she watched the Kosan-shaped mass of insects reform itself after being damaged. “Interesting. But… wouldn’t they be very susceptible to ninjutsu? Fire and water and all that?” It was asked with a tone of genuine curiosity, academic and pragmatic more than anything. There was, indeed, no hint of a threat in it at all.

"It's a clone, you know? They're not exactly built to be sturdy. Losing them is not a big deal... Bugs don't live long and they reproduce more than rabbits." She let out a laugh with this explanation. "They don't like water at all, and they do like fire. Not that it's particularly good for them..."

Rei actually managed a small smile at that, then shrugged. “Fair enough."

"And that's what makes Akira such a good partner. Kickass bugs with a brain to boot. What's not to like?" Naomichi sat smugly with one arm propping him up. With a few drinks in him at this point he was allowing himself to become looser and more talkative with the group. He was slightly worried with the person who the bugs took the form of, but he knew Akira had reasons for doing it so he wouldn't object.

"I did, I truly enjoyed the way you hit me in the face, very good form," Kosan said leaning back once more to lift his once forgotten tea to his lips, pausing only for a moment to check the contents to ensure no stray bug had 'accidentally' been left in his cup. He wasn't quite sure what to make of the clone having been made to his likeness. A statement or was he the choice because he was the one who asked the question? Well, it didn't truly matter, his curiosity was somewhat sated for the moment.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro

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Not bad at all. It would be his description of the food which was presented for their treasured guests. However, he was also going to eat it as well as stated by Kiyoko who had been eyeing him ever since the beginning of these introductions. It would have been wonderful if her stares were wrapped with complete adoration. He would have a wonderful time dissecting each of her feelings into something more substantial. It was already assured. Too bad, it wasn't but there was also another form of fun in that. Anyway, he has a bone to pick with the current spread before them. As a result, his opinion changed direction as quick as that of a hurricane. Yes, he is truly whimsical. Ryuu could care less about the others appearing to have a good time with the bug entertainment, because clearly he was not due to the indiscretion done to him. His eyes of gold and blue narrowed with disgust. "Teacher!" Yes, he is implying Kiyoko. He raised his hand with vindication. "I don't like the food. May I be excused?"

It might be seen as another one of his schemes to ditch everyone and go on about his own way. This was not a farfetched idea. He was rather known for such instances. Furthermore, the notion of making the Hokage mad or creating a bad impression towards the Kumogakure ninjas did not weigh into his priority at all. Actually, they do not even register in his spectrum of interest. He has other better things to place his attention on than such trivial matters. Technically, he sees this treaty as another inevitable situation where their connections are more of a catalyst to ensure the gears are to move in linear direction. Well, they assume it will. Regardless, he was getting ahead of himself. Right now, his main reason of wanting to leave was the very fact he does not like anything sweet near his prepared meal. An odd thing and a bit excessive, but this is how he is, the kind who never relents or hold himself back no matter what kind of environment he may be. If not, can I have Katsu-chan's oranges instead?

Ah yes, how could he forget? There was an alternative. He could always have the taciturn Uchiha be a balm to his displeasure. His eyes shone ever so brightly as he smiled at Katsuro. It was so out of place yet, it appeared to be the most natural thing for him. Unfortunately, it depends on who is assessing the situation. The two were seatmates as he made a move to take the Uchiha's oranges.

Katsuro’s generalized frown of displeasure deepened into a scowl. Of all the annoying people to end up sitting next to, it just had to be this one, didn’t it? Damn stupid smiley bastard. It was all so fake it made him a little sick, and now the smarmy idiot was attempting to make a move on that most precious of all sustenance, his oranges. Katsu wasn’t the type to really care about a lot of things, or people even, but hell if he was gonna let the flighty fairy have his citrus fruits. The hand that made for the nearest one was swiftly allayed by a kunai, slammed into the wood of the table millimeters from the tender spot between Ryuu’s thumb and first finger. Assorted china and eating implements rattled from the force of the blow, the knife buried several inches into the wood, a sturdy midpoint between the encroaching hand and the orange.

“Back. The. Fuck. Off.” Katsuro’s tone scarcely deviated from the flat, dull one he used typically, only slight emphasis giving truth to just how serious he was. Perhaps, if it were someone else, he wouldn’t have been so direct about it, but the unctuous little weasel was the kind of person who could and probably would pretend to miss one’s implications if one were in the least bit subtle about anything. Using the beat of silence that followed to snatch up the orange himself, he peeled it as though he hadn’t just nearly impaled a man’s hand in defense of a piece of fruit (he wasn’t aiming to hit anyway) and popped the first wedge into his mouth, glaring at the Tsukino from the corner of one silver eye.

Honestly, Katsuro didn’t even care if the little shit did leave the mission. Hell, he could leave the entire damn village, and the Uchiha wouldn’t count them as having lost much. Might even be for the better, in all honesty. He didn’t like him, he didn’t trust him, and if anyone else had half a brain, they wouldn’t either. The fact that he was an annoyance and a would-be orange thief just made matters worse.

Nariko, having the most fortunate seating arrangement, stared at the two Konoha shinobi. She glanced over her shoulder towards Kiyoko's table, watching as the redhead twitched at Ryuu's statement, however; it did not stop the large grin that spread across her face. Instead of focusing on her food, like everyone else was, she leaned against the palm of her hand, tilting her head sideways and cocked an eyebrow at the Uchiha. He must really love his oranges if he was willing to nearly maim a fellow shinobi. That, or he was just easily agitated. A slow smile crept over her lips as she continued watching the interlude between the two before snorting softly.

"Either you really love your oranges, or you just don't like people touching your stuff. I'd say a little of both," she stated with a light shrug of her shoulders. Not that she cared, really. She was here with her Raikage to ensure that everything went well, and no one attemtped to take his life. She knew Kiyoko's team was here to do the same, and in a sense, they all shared a common purpose. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and turned towards the other one whose hand was almost impaled to the table. "And I take it you just like touching things that don't belong to you. Perhaps you should be more considerate if you wish to keep your limbs. Unless you can regrow those limbs, then by all means keep pissing him off. It's amusing," she continued as she smirked.

"If you wanted an orange so badly, you could have just asked. I would have given you mine instead, otherwise I'd be tempted to just throw it at Koko over there. She needs a good orange to the head," she stated, a mischievous glint tinting her eyes. She shrugged her shoulders though, and resumed poking at her food. It looked edible, but she wasn't all that hungry, and if she forced herself to eat it... she'd just make herself sick. No sense in doing that.

Someone with common sense and self-preservation would have took the kunai as a firm warning to not intrude into one's own space. Normally, people would have no need to do so without the faintest trace of permission. However, this is Ryuu we are talking about. So, a further implication was made by Uchiha through the use of such well-arranged words. To anyone, this might be considered as an achievement. After all, the so-called stigma of Konoha had only shown responses to Kiyoko or even remotely to the Hokage. As for the recipient of the knife, he was undeterred. The intended effect was rather more of a passing breeze than anything. "Selfish as always, Katsu-chan. It wouldn't kill you to share." Taking hold of the kunai, he began to twirl it with his fingers. His eyes of azure and topaz held a certain shimmer of unknown origins. "Look right here, Kaneshiro Nariko-chan is telling us off." He said with a deflated tone and a matching pout. It is a well-known fact to him that the scion of the Uchiha did not only have trust issues but it was heavily laid upon him as well. That was good and he had no intentions of changing it.

His eyes were now directed towards the only female among their table. This was one is a person very familiar to him. Of course, she wouldn't know that. None of them will yet. "I'm a very considerate person, you know." He stated as he stopped twirling the kunai and tapped its blade across his cheek. "And if you are offering, I wouldn't mind it one bit. After all, it is from a pretty girl." His other hand already stretched out waiting for the citrus delight to be placed upon it while those eyes of him held a specific interpretation, something akin to that of a looming mystery. "As for Teacher..." He threw the kunai in a specific path which was actually towards the Raikage's head. "Takko-bell needed to do some slicing." Yes, his words appeared to be of innocence. Yet, it did not reflect the gravity of his actions. And really, he could care less about it as he began doing small talk with the Kumogakure kunoichi. "Anyway, Nariko-chan not eating your food would not be an issue at all." There it was again his care free smile which hid everything that he is.

It would appear that this meal which would have been a means to raise rapport was walking on a thin line especially when the two-toned Dragon is involved. "So, how about you Nariko-chan, I am very curious about you and Koko over there. Care to share?" He added with great interest. "Since sour-puss Katsu-chan is sooo... selfish."

Katsu watched the trajectory of the knife with something almost disbelieving passing over his face. He didn’t give a single damn about the Hokage’s orders, or really even the village in general, but he knew for a fact that if the war had continued, they would have found themselves at a major disadvantage. On average, Kumogakure ninja were just better than their Konoha counterparts. Of course, exceptions existed, but when individuals were taken out of the mix and it was left to the general force, it was an undeniable, objective truth. So, in other words, starting the war back up, especially when it was the Raikage, and not Konoha, who had made the overture of peace, was basically asking for the village to get destroyed. Either Ryuu was an idiot, or he didn’t care either.

The Uchiha was betting on both.

Perhaps fortunately, what could have been a disaster for the mission was averted by the Raikage himself. When the knife whistled through the air towards him, he leaned forward slightly, blocking any chance it might have had to hit anyone else, and caught it… between his teeth. Katsuro blinked. That… was not something he was expecting to see. As though the whole thing had been intended from the very beginning, the big man took the knife into one of his hands, shrugged, threw the group a bright grin, and used it to slice into one of the plums on his own table, casually as though there was no possible offense at all.

Well, if Yamamoto wasn’t going to make a production of it, Katsuro certainly didn’t see the need to either. Muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like lackwit, he resumed eating his orange, choosing to ignore the fact that either Nariko or Ryuu existed at all.

Nariko blinked, raised both eyebrows as she stared at the man. One brow ascended higher than the other, though, and she tilted her head to the side. "Well aren't you the cutest little thing," she stated, tossing the orange in her hand as she turned her attention towards Ryuu, however; she immediately stopped and glared at Ryuu. She may have been of this village, once, but her loyalties lie with her Raikage now. And that kunai had passed dangerously close to him. She was about to say something, however; it seemed that the Raikage managed to play it off, and it only caused her to frown. Kiyoko, however, had started laughing, perhaps a little too loudly. Nariko only shook her head, however; his question caught her off guard and she smirked a bit.

"Oh? Didn't you know? She and I used to be lovers. She was so in love with me that I had to let her go, and she was devastated because of it," she replied casually, taking a drink of water from her cup. She chanced a glance at the other tables, and almost smiled when she spotted Zetsubo's table. It seemed like things were going smoothly, despite the minor incident, and she returned her attention back to Ryuu. "She is, or rather was, a good friend of mine. I kind of grew up with her, but then we moved to Kumo. And Uchiha-san isn't being selfish, he's being grumpy and moody. I wonder how Koko manages that," she stated, a sly smirk crossing her features. Kiyoko had always challenged the Uchiha boy, that was a given since their childhood. She wondered if she still challenged him. She tossed her friend a glance.

"What's the ratio now? Ten to one?" she asked. The last challenge she remembered Kiyoko issuing was a game of paper-rock-scissors. She lost, naturally. "Oh, I almost forgot about the orange," she stated, leaning to place it in Ryuu's hand, however; she changed the position and placed it on Katsuro's plate instead. "I think Katsu-chan needs it more than you do. It makes him smile," she grinned.

A sliver of nonchalance echoed within those heterochromatic eyes of his. It would appear that his little stunt had received accolades on both sides of the equation. He did notice that frown marring that face of Nariko. Well, he was simply giving a hand and all. Now, weren't they supposed to be wonderful hosts? He was doing his part if the rather exaggerated laughter of his team leader was anything to go by. It will not be a far-fetched thing for him to be praised about that feat of his. At the same time, he did not need to hear accurately the muttered word care of Katsuro. It was a common term associated to his personage which he had never once denied or even approved. After all, people are derived by the necessity of identities or reputation. As such, he also spoke of it as another means of entertainment. Anyway, he closed his eyes with a smile which sparked such mischievous play.

"Childhood friends... How quaint." Ryuu mused over to himself. It is a relationship which he has no one to attach with. Of course, he does not see it as something as regretful. After all, he has no room for such matters. "As for love... Gender does not factor in such things." He stated with a singe of sing-song tune as the thoughts of romance and feverish passion had always been a curious topic. "I don't judge." Those eyes of his were revealed once more holding a twinge of serious intent as he looked at Nariko but then again, his smile seemed to deliver another message. Then, the subject was directed towards the sullen Uchiha. Ah yes, the infamous challenges issued by Kiyoko had reminded those old souls of a certain rivalry which seemed to allude with their grandfathers. "Katsu-chan isn't tired from winning yet."

His eyes glancing over to where the dainty redhead is. (almost everyone is dainty to him) Ryuu's attention did not linger as he was taken aback by the mention of orange. The one he was being given of but as fickle as a woman's mind is, it was gifted to Katsuro instead. A noticeable pout was present on his lips which made his expression rather adorable in a sense. "Not fair..." He noted with clear dejection as he stared at his fellow Konoha shinobi. But as quick as the wind he is compared to, he took the cup of water which Nariko was drinking from earlier. Taking a delicate sip, he had a rather satisfied smile on his face. "Well, I'll be satisfied with this." The cup's rim touching his lips ever so faintly as his eyes fluttered like a butterfly's wing before having a rather calm expression as his preferred mask for the day. "For now."

In the end, this is just another episode in his life... Rather, their lives.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Kiyoko smiled softly when she spotted her team actually immersing themselves with the Kumo nin. Things were tense, she could tell, but at least there was an effort to pacify it, if only temporarily. She was worried, still, that someone would say something, or worse, do something. She knew she certainly would say something. Curiosity was not a trait she inherited that she could control, and it got the better of her at times. She shook her head, sighing heavily as her shoulders slumped. This should have been easier than it was turning out to be. Well, the least she could do was follow her team's example, and take a seat with the other Kumogakure shinobi. She scanned the area, a frown pulling at her lips as she noticed the only other spot available, was with the Raikage himself, and Kiriko. She had nothing against the Kunoichi; she was just doing her job. There was nothing wrong with doing one's job, and Kiyoko made the conscious decision to sit with them.

"Don't mind if I do," she stated, putting herself in between the Raikage and Kiriko. She glanced at both of them, first Kirko, then the Raikage, before turning to her plate. She took a few bites from her plate before turning to face Kiriko first. Her eyes stared at the girl, almost as if she were trying to read her, however; she merely shrugged her shoulders. "You know, you have really weird eyes, but they are pretty," she stated, shrugging her shoulders again in the process. Kiriko did, actually, have a pretty set of eyes, and Kiyoko wasn't going to not say that. She was just... modest didn't seem like the proper word to use. She turned her gaze back to the larger male beside her and regarded him with a flat look. He was huge, and Kiyoko wasn't so sure she'd ever seen someone as tall (or bulky really) as he was.

"How is it that you are even a shinobi? I mean, you don't look very shinobi-like," she stated a little too forwardly.

Kiriko was more than irritated when the redhead decided to sit between herself and Hiko. It was just something she had done with his becoming of Raikage, and yet this Yoko character decided that she could just show up. However, Kiri knew that inciting a few death threats usually didn’t end well, so she didn’t say a word and instead stared at the meager food she took. Many usually considered her lack of interest in food as a disorder, but it really wasn’t: just an uncaring attitude. The little jab at her eyes, made her turn a little to stare at Yoko, and she couldn’t help herself but mumble out a few words as the girl turned away. “They help me see idiots.” Kiri knew that she shouldn’t be insulting people already, but to be fair Yoko did call her eyes weird.

If the question was too forward, Takehiko gave no indication of it, glancing down at Kiriko for a moment and then shrugging. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard something like that, and it wouldn’t be the last. It was actually a comparatively mild way of putting the observation, really. Sometimes, it occurred to him that maybe he should be somewhat embarrassed about his size, but he couldn’t seem to muster the shame. He was as he was, and there wasn’t really any shrinking himself. He supposed he could lose muscle mass if he really tried, but this was the shape his body took when he trained in the ways necessary to maintain his skillset, so… why would he do something like that just to fit the impression of what a ninja should be?

“I was actually a runt, when I was a little kid,” he admitted with a shrug, careful not to knock his elbow into the flame-haired kunoichi beside him. He wasn’t sure why she’d chosen to sit between himself and Kiri rather than across from them, as seemed to be the pattern elsewhere, but he didn’t mind. He could hardly expect people to accept that he had his own ways of doing things and then not accept the same about them, now could he? Of course, there were always those little seeds of doubt… about whether what he was doing was really the right thing, but he supposed those were inescapable. “Shot up like a weed when I was a teenager, and then grew out after that, yanno?”

It was at this point that he noted that the mild confrontation a few tables over had resulted in one of the Konoha ninja tossing a kunai in what he supposed was meant to look like a careless manner. Moving so that it wouldn’t hit either of the other two, Takko casually caught it between his teeth, raising an arm in a friendly gesture, as if of thanks, and grinning as he extracted it from his jaws. Iron was not the most pleasant of tastes. Picking up a plum, he sliced into it with the edge and offered Kiyoko a wedge. “But on the more interesting topic, yes. Kiri’s eyes are beautiful, aren’t they?” He smiled affably, content to ignore what he could have taken offense to. It would take much more than an effort like that to shake his resolve in what they were doing here. Hell, though he wouldn’t say it, especially not to his own people, they could try to kill him and he’d stay.

Because none of this was for him or even about him. And that was just Takko’s way of being Raikage.

Kiriko watched as the knife soared through the air, and Hiko caught it with his mouth - seemingly without a care in the world. Kiri, however, thought otherwise - her death stare instantly searched over towards the table that housed Nari, the Uchiha (his chakra was sickeningly beautiful) and that weird man with two coloured eyes and odd chakra signature. Kiriko stared at all three, regardless of whether or not they were looking at her, and spoke low. “Next person to throw a kunai at the Raikage gets three to the eye.” While it probably wasn’t audible to those all the way over by Nariko’s table - unless they had acute senses, of course - Takko and Yoko most definitely heard her. She didn’t care at the moment if she started a war: not many tried to make a petty attempt at the Raikage’s life and got away with it. In fact, nobody had gotten away with it yet, until now. But then Hiko had to go and pull another stunt: calling her eyes beautiful. As always when it came to compliments, Kiriko instantly began to blush a light pink and quickly turned her eyes away. While the burning hatred for the man who threw that kunai was still apparent, she was trying hard not to giggle at how stupid his comment was, or how out of place it was. Damn that Hiko, always making stupid comments when they should be focused on the fact that there was an attack on his damned life. With that notion, she brought herself back to normalcy, but not before turning to Takko. "I appreciate the compliment, even if it is uncalled for."

Takko resisted the urge to sigh, shaking his head slightly. Uncalled for, was it? He didn't see how. Was it really such a bad thing for him to compliment people? Well, perhaps she would think so, given the situation. “Ah, sorry Kiri," he said, though he didn't sound all that apologetic when it came right down to it. He knew she was likely to think that he wasn't taking this seriously enough, and in truth it was a fair assessment. But Takehiko wasn't a statesman or a diplomat--he could only do things the way he knew how, and what he knew more than anything was that he didn't want to risk harm to them by making a scene. “I'll make sure all my compliments are called for from now on." He grinned facetiously, but hid it with the rim of his bowl, raising it to scrape out the last of his rice.

Kiriko narrowed her eyes towards Takko as she resettled back into her seat; he really did have a perfect rebuttal for everything, didn't he? It wasn't that she didn't enjoy his compliments, it was that she usually found them quite... out of place, like he was trying to make fun of her or something. Or worse, was actually trying to compliment her: like that actually could happen. Nevertheless, Kiriko couldn't leave the conversation hanging on a thread - well, in reality, she couldn't let Hiko have the last statement and make a fool out of her. So Kiriko gave Hiko a rare lopsided smile before speaking. "Very well, but only if you actually take something in the office seriously for once." While her smile faded just as fast as it arrived - they never lasted long on her face - she was obviously making a point about his work ethic.

If Kiyoko had been insulted, it did not show. Instead, the kunoichi grinned broadly before clasping her hand over her mouth. A snort escaped her and she giggled into her hand. "Well then, I suppose you're right. Though, fair warning, we are everywhere," Kiyoko replied with a shrug of her shoulders before turning her attention back to Takehiko. She opened her mouth to reply to his statement about being a runt, however; immediately, she closed it and glared at Ryuu. Did he just throw a kunai at the Raikage? She felt a shiver go down her spine as a small vein pulsed on her head, clenching her plate tightly. She had half a mind to throw it at Ryuu's head, however; Takehiko caught it with his... teeth? Kiyoko raised a brow in almost astonishment, and frowned when he played it off.

"For once, I will agree with Kiriko, here," she spoke, her voice flat as she referred to the three kunai to the eye. Of course, she wouldn't be so nice about it as Kiriko had made it sound. She would deal with it later. There was a reason some people actually feared her temper. She rolled her eyes, instead, and glanced back to the two Kumo shinobi conversing to each other, and grinned lightly. At least no one was killing each other so far (accident excluded), and poked at her food. "Well, if she can see idiots with them, then yes they really are," she countered to Kiriko's eyes. She chuckled lightly again and turned towards Kiriko. She raised a brow when the Kunoichi had blushed at Takehiko's statement, and the grin on her face only grew.

"Oh, so that's why you said that. I didn't know," she continued, grinning larger if it were possible. Maybe she was jumping to a conclusion, but no one really blushed like that unless there was a underlying meaning behind it. And maybe she was jumping to the wrong conclusion, but it was oddly... cute? Maybe not the right word, but that's how she saw it. "You should have said something sooner, otherwise I wouldn't have sat between the both of you," she continued, the grin never leaving her face.

Takko, being Takko, missed the implication entirely, and shrugged as if to indicate that her presence was not especially bothersome. It was debatable whether he found anything especially bothersome, actually. “Don’t worry about it?” He blinked, glancing around the room and noting that the meal seemed to be coming to an end, for better or worse. “Looks like it might be time for me to face the Hokage, huh? I hear she’s a pretty terrifying lady.” This didn’t faze him at all, really; he’d been raised by a terrifying lady, and his female friends and companions all had various degrees of the trait themselves. He could hack it. More importantly, he had to. He may have come here and ceded the territorial advantage, but that didn’t mean he was going to roll over and expose his throat to the wolves.

Easygoing and genial as he may be, after all, he wasn’t especially pleasant to deal with when his ire was roused, and little did that like the thought of his people being exploited.

Kirko turned to the Leaf nin as she spoke, an annoying grin forming on her face: it reminded her too much of Hiko's grin. The kind that was stupidly likeable to most people around, and seemed to be infectious. Good thing Kiriko had a strong immune system to that sort of thing. Nevertheless, at the redhead's words Kiriko raised an eyebrow in aggravated confusion. Just what on earth was she commenting about? What other reason would she have for saying that she would butcher another simply because they endangered the Raikage? Yet it was Yoko's statement about how she wouldn't have sat between the two of them that everything in her brain clicked, and a groan of irritation nearly slipped her lips. Of course, to one that was not aware of the relationship between Hiko and Kiri, naturally she would jump to a conclusion. It certainly didn't help that Kiriko's face lit up like a flame, which wasn't entirely her fault; she just naturally blushed at any attempts at compliments and when those that she trusted spoke of her. Not that she would admit if she ever did have feelings for Hiko: besides, it would be a little odd seeing as how they practically grew up together. Nevertheless, Kiri gave Yoko a dead stare as Takko completely missed the innuendo as he naturally did. Ignoring Yoko for the time being, Kiriko turned to Takko to acknowledge his departure. "Very well. Please do remember to at least try to listen; I will not be available to catch the important bits should you accidentally doze off." Her tone held a slight smug air, as it had happened before that Takko would zone out completely of one important piece of information, simply because meetings weren't really his thing.

Once he left, however, she addressed Yoko. 'Before you continue to make any other brash assumptions, I grew up with the Raikage; I serve as his partner, and that is the extent of our relationship. Is that clear?" Kiriko hadn't meant to, but a slightly harsh undertone crept into that last sentence, as if she had become a team leader commanding her students. She cared not how this redhead would view the two of them, but she would have rather set the record straight now before a fight broke out because of a misunderstanding.

"But don't they always say to marry your best friend?" Kiyoko retorted as the grin turned into a smirk. The undertone beneath the other kunoichi's tone was not missed, however; Kiyoko merely shrugged her shoulders in the process. It's not like it bothered her. The Uchiha was much worse and he was the closest thing she had to a friend. Sure she had friends, but it wasn't quite the same. Maybe it was because he was her rival more-so than her friend. "You say that now, Kiri, but just you watch," she stated, pushing herself away from the table as she stood. She glanced at Kiriko before turning her attention to the Raikage.

"Mizu isn't all that frightening. A little temperamental, but not frightening," she replied, or maybe because she was the only one who say Mizuki that way. Very little scared Kiyoko, and Mizuki was not one of them. Maybe she should be just a little more wary of the Hokage? "Ah, but I suppose you're right. We shouldn't keep her waiting for too long. Shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Rei Hinode

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And as that evening ended, so would the next several days pass. Perhaps it was the Raikage’s initial invitation that had made the difference, perhaps not, but either way, mealtimes consisted of all ten of them eating together in the large dining room in the compound, unbothered by the few other Uchiha who nominally inhabited the location. Outside of that, the ninja from Kumogakure were allowed to move about the village as they wished—so long as they were accompanied by an equal number of their guards. Takehiko was kept from morning to evening with meetings, and despite his complaints—something he usually only voiced to Kiri or perhaps Rei—he felt like he was getting somewhere, if not especially quickly.

Regardless of the relative uneventfulness of the peace talks so far, ninja were not the kind of people who tended to appreciate standing idle, those with grudges least of all…


The days that had passed would have been pleasant if not for his inaction weighing on his mind. Every hour that passed with him in the compound was another hour that he was not out looking for clues and for the person who murdered his wife. Every day that passed, a reminder that he was sitting idle as they continued to draw breath, but the shinobi of Konoha were not fools and wouldn't let them leave without guard, and Kosan did not trust any of them enough to reveal anything. Yes, they ate together, but that did not absolve them of suspicion. So far, only Akira Aburame was someone he doubted heavily was the murderer as his skills did not match up, but he did not trust the tall blond man enough to tell him anything. The man was still a shinobi of Konohagakure.

His patience, he hoped, would pay off. By waiting a few days, Kosan was betting that their fellow Konoha shinobi were becoming lax as he had not given them any reasons to be suspicious of him besides his status and reputation which was a hurdle all on its own. It was at breakfast, when his Raikage was going to yet another meeting that he decided today was the day. Well, if he were to be honest with himself, he wasn't sure he could bear waiting yet another day. He had almost spoken to Rei about his plans, to give her a warning, but he decided against it. Rei could try to stop him in order to protect their village and himself, but this was something he had to do. He doubted her or anyone could ever understand, not unless they held someone they loved in their arms... what was left of their loved ones and watched the tortured light fade from their eyes.

Kosan looked up at the dark night sky, the moonlight, oblivious to the whims of mortals, casting its soft light over the peaceful village and the Uchiha compound, more importantly, its tall walls that created the sensation of imprisonment and segregation rather then protection. Taking a breath, he closed his eyes and stretched out his awareness trying to pick up any fellow shinobi nearby, but he couldn't sense any, but sensory was never his strong suit, if the alarm was raised, it would become apparent that he was discovered. If it did not then he had a short amount of time to find the information he needed. Set on his decision, he bent his legs and shot off into the night sky, moving from rooftop to rooftop until he came to crouch upon a small water tower as he overlooked the village. The obvious place to look was the Hokage's compound as he was betting they kept a record there, but how he was supposed to sneak in was something he would need to plan out and observe the compound and what guards were there, he would have to wait and time the guard shifts which could take.. time, but he had no other choice. Much like everything in his life, it was do or die.

It wasn’t too long afterwards that another presence did appear behind Kosan, but it was a familiar rather than foreign one. A heavy sigh accompanied the near-soundless impact of a second pair of feet on the top of the water tower. Rei kept herself low, not desirous of casting a perceptible shadow over someone on accident, and moved up in a crouch so that she was directly beside her friend, looking out at the same view of the village he saw.

She wondered, for just a moment, what it looked like to him. Was it simply an enemy fortress, to be infiltrated? Did he see the people moving around as though they were automata, incapable of their own thoughts and feelings, as one must sometimes make one’s enemies so as to be capable of killing them? She was willing to bet that whatever he saw, it did not elicit in him the same reaction it did in her—an old thing, an insidious and cold thing, creeping under her marred skin and threatening to lock her muscles in place. It was dark and foreboding and alive, somehow, palpable and tangible, but untouchable all the same. No jutsu would banish it, no trick of mental discipline. It could not be destroyed, only managed.

She was ashamed to realize that when she looked at this place, she was still afraid. The fear was easier to ignore, in the light of day and surrounded by people she could really see as people, who gave odd demonstrations of insect jutsu and praised their partners and fought each other over food and bantered back and forth with real expressions on their faces. It was harder now, when night was at hand, and the scant illumination in the sky could not suppress the reminder of utter oblivion, of sitting on a cold, damp stone floor for days she lost count of, trying not to wonder when next the pain would come. When next she would see the ones with no faces, with no words, only lashes and knives and chemicals she was thankfully not nearly so susceptible to as they had hoped.

“You could have told me,” she said, her voice scarcely more than a murmur. It carried less than whispering, that way. “You know I won’t stop you.” It was true that she did not approve of his quest to utterly destroy the person who had taken Shizu from the world. Partly, that was her own instinct, not out of mercy for the killer but out of the desire to keep her friend from succumbing to the darkness that would surely consume him if he continued on his path. But part of it was also for the memory of her friend: Shizu would not have wanted this, either. Even despite her reasons for wanting to stop him, though, she never would. That was not her right. She was not him, she was not Shizu, and she was not that murderer. This was a matter between only those three people, and her right to interfere was nonexistent.

“I’ll help you, though. With this part. You know that, right?” She glanced to the side, golden eyes flashing slightly under the irregular lighting conditions. She’d help him figure things out, and then if he went through with it when he knew the answer, well… she’d be there to patch him up afterwards. That was what friends were for. Even when they disagreed. Besides… she knew a little girl who’d be stricken by grief if she lost her father, too. And it was a feeling Rei knew all too well.

Kosan did not turn around when he heard that all too familiar sigh, when her presence washed over him. Rei. He almost felt a tug on the corner of his lips, how foolish he was to think he could have done anything without her notice. Rei had always been too clever for her own good, or perhaps, he had always been too easy to read for his. Either way, it seemed he had failed in sneaking out undetected, but a part of him was glad for her presence; it was soothing to be near something familiar when he was looking at the unknown that awaited before him, but that unknown held the answers he had been longing for.

He kept his blue eyes on the compound, his eyes scanning each floor, every window, for any sign of the guards as well as the shift change that had to happen at sometime or another. If he missed it he would have to start all over again, and Kosan highly doubted he would get more then one chance at this for the night, and he had no desire to try it again in the coming nights as it increased the chance of further detection.

Kosan turned his head slowly turned his head to face her, yes, a part of him knew she would not try to stop him. He had been trying to justify why he did not tell her, but it would not have been fair. To force her to pick between himself and the village, even if the decision would be an easy one for her. It was his burden to bear, and she did not deserve to have him lean on her anymore then he already had.

Her golden eyes seemed to shine with her declaration, and he knew he could not dissuade her once she set her mind on something, turning his head back to the front, all he could think to do was whisper back one simple phrase, "Thank you." He saw a few shinobi enter and leave and looked up to the moon once more, "They seem to change every three hours for five minutes, at most, that is not a large window."

“No,” Rei agreed. “It’s not.” She chewed her lip thoughtfully for a moment, casting her senses out over a wider range. She wasn’t a sensor either, but she was fairly decent at reading the fine details of chakra networks. Like the one that had just revealed itself—suppressed, but now detectable—a short distance behind them. “Damn.” She whirled around, her stance low and guarded, and found herself looking into a pair of eerily red eyes. These weren’t like Akira’s, something the color or rose petals. They were rubies and blood, some kind of black shape identifiable in them.

For a moment, she recalled what little she knew of the Sharingan, and wondered if she might not already be caught in some exceedingly subtle genjutsu. Was that why she’d not sensed him until now? It was hard to say. But the eyes faded back to their light grey color thereafter, and the Uchiha shoved his hands into his pockets. “Don’t stop on my account. I’m only here to make sure you don’t kill anyone… tonight. She didn’t say anything about stopping you from doing recon.” His indifference was obvious, and indeed, he seemed to dismiss them from his immediate attention thereafter, glancing down and away at something on the other side of the tower.

Rei raised a brow, and looked skeptically at Zetsu, as if to ask him what he wanted to do now.

Five minutes to infiltrate a place neither of them have ever seen, slip through whatever security measures they have in place, locate their mission reports, pray they did not black them out, and get out before the shift change is completed. It was near impossible, but it was something he had to do. If he had to pick, the room they wanted was going to be on the top floor or underneath the building for security purposes, even with their paltry five minutes, they would only have time to search one of those, if they looked at the wrong one, or worse, he was incorrect about its location then all of it would have been for nothing, and he would have to try again and try to keep his Raikage here if needed. They could split up, but he wasn't going to leave Rei alone in there.

Lost in his observation, he did not feel the Konoha shinobi sneaking up on them, his instincts instantly trusting Rei, who was superior at him in that field, to keep a watch out, but her muttered curse was enough to make him spring into action, turning on his heel remaining low to the ground, he placed his hand on the hilt of his rapier prepared to draw it, but he stopped when he noticed who it was, Katsu Uchiha. If it had been another shinobi, a chunin or a lesser jonin, Kosan would have taken the chance and tried to kill them before they could raise the alarm, but while he had never seen the Uchiha in action, the fact they chose him as one of those to keep watch over them meant he was far from a normal shinobi, and he very much doubted Katsu would go down before he raised an alarm, or at the very least, caused a ruckus which would prompt someone to investigate. It was a no win situation.

Kosan raised a dark eyebrow as his blue eyes scanned the Uchiha's face, his eyes having reverted back to normal from the fabled Sharingan and his odd... comment. Kosan turned his head to Rei who seemed to be waiting for his decision on the matter, "It seems we do not have a choice in this matter," He said turning back around to face the compound. He did not trust the Uchiha, but he had little choice in the matter, "Katsuro Uchiha," He said keeping his voice low as his blue eyes scanned the compound, "You are an odd man Uchiha, but you wouldn't happen to know where they keep mission reports would you? There is someone I must find."

It was a gamble as the Uchiha could betray them, but he could do that anyways, and he could lie to throw them off, but the chances of this succeeding was very low as it was and if there was even a tiny chance he could increase those odds; he would take it.

Mission reports? Well, Katsuro really hadn’t gone into this with any particular expectations about what they might be looking for, but he was still a bit surprised to hear that was all they wanted. Not that he thought they’d been planning to assassinate the Hokage or anything so stupid as that—one thing he could say for a majority of these Kumogakure ninja that he could unfortunately not say for many of his own comrades was that they rather lacked a certain element of stupidity. Thought the intelligence of attempting even this much was debatable. Blinking owlishly, he thought for a moment, then shrugged. “Depends on what kind of mission you’re talking about. Most of the lower-level stuff is filed in the archives below the Hokage’s office, the war stuff is kept underground. Most of the top-secret documents are kept in her office itself, when they’re kept at all. What kind of report are you looking for?”

Rei was almost incredulous. Was this guy for real? A Konohagakure shinobi, just telling people—with the stated intention to go through things they shouldn’t be able to see—where to find mission reports? He hadn’t seemed especially dedicated to his Hokage or his village, but he’d certainly been doing his actual job thus far without complaining, unlike that Tsukino guy. “Not to look a gift horse in the mouth here,” she said, pronouncing her words deliberately, almost as though she were still trying to get used to the idea that she even needed to use these particular ones, “but why the hell would you tell us that? You have no idea what we’re looking for.” He could, of course, simply be lying, but it didn’t really feel that way to her. Her intuition didn’t have a very logical basis most of the time, but that didn’t stop her from being right, and she had the feeling tha he was being perfectly truthful right now.

Katsu removed one of his hands from his pocket, but did nothing more aggressive with it than scratch an itch on the bridge of his nose. “Does it matter?”

Rei’s jaw tightened for a moment, but in the end, she sighed through her nose. Technically… no, it didn’t. She supposed she could respect his desire not to spill his motives… for now. “It’s probably going to be with the stuff about the war.” She couldn’t imagine that Shizu’s death had been a mission on its own. Rei’s best friend had been a skilled medic-nin, but she would not have been a high-priority target, not when the battlefield was filled with people like Takehiko, Kiriko, Kosan and other damage-dealers on a similar scale. Therefore it probably wouldn’t be the subject of a file so important the Hokage needed to keep it in her actual office. Which was a good thing, because a simple shift change wouldn’t help them much if that was where they wanted to go.

The Uchiha considered this fact for a moment, tipping his head a bit to the side, then nodded slightly. “In that case, you’ll want to follow me.” With no more than that, he leaped off the water tower and onto a nearby rooftop, already gathering his legs underneath him for the next jump before Rei made the decision to follow. For better or worse, this was probably their best chance.

Kosan looked back and forth between the two. While he was also interested in the Uchiha's motivations; it truly made little difference. His motivation could have been something as simple as he felt like he wished to and that would have been more then enough for him. He was committed to his current course of action, and the situation and odds were never in his favor, this was no different. The only other purpose he could have would be to lead them into a trap so they could be caught red-handed, but that would not stop him. They could not reject his companionship even if they wished, and even if they were to return, the Uchiha would keep a closer eye on them from now on.

While trust had nothing to do with it, Kosan did not trust the Uchiha, in fact, his seemingly non-existent loyalty to his village only made Kosan distrust him further. How could someone trust a man who was not loyal to his own people? But when walking into hell, did it matter whose hand one held?

Kosan nodded his head forward slightly acknowledging that he too believed the information would be with the rest of the war reports. Shizu was not a critical target or someone that would have been a assassination target or someone whom had valuable intel would be worth keeping. It was a harsh reality, but in their files, he expected nothing more then a brief description of a dead medical-nin on the date and location where she was, the most he could hope for was that he would find a name that wasn't blacked out, and he could continue his search from there.

Casting his blue eyes once more at the large hokage building, he followed Rei and Katsuro onto the next building. If the Uchiha knew another way in that worked for him as waiting three hours for the guard change would have been taxing as they would have had to move to avoid detection. Kosan could not stop the feeling of anticipation that was filling his heart, he was getting closer. Finally, after all these years, he was finally getting closer to his goal.

It turned out that the Uchiha’s plan wasn’t especially complicated; all he did was lead them to a concealed entrance. Considering the point of something like this was rather defeated if it was guarded, there was nobody near. “This doesn’t connect to the Hokage’s building, if you were wondering,” he explained, gesturing for Kosan to hop down first. He went in the middle, and Rei followed behind, closing the entrance behind her. He wasn’t especially fond of this place, but he wasn’t stupid, either, and he wasn’t going to give potential assassins a route into the most important building in town. If only because it would be inconvenient to himself.

“This is the underground portion of the archives.” It was naturally cool and dry down here, which helped preserve the documentation not important enough to get its own sealing jutsu. “The war reports are the whole room to your left.” Three years only it might have been, but it was a busy three years for Konohagakure ninja. “It’d take you a long time to go though all of that, though. What are you looking for?” He could at least point them to the right section. It wasn’t like he wanted to spend the whole damn night under here, after all.

Kosan did not hesitate, entering the dark portal and down in the dimly lit archives. The cool, dry air was a shade colder then the night air above, but besides that, there was not much of a notable difference. He knew that if there were traps, he would be the one running into them, but it was a small price to pay and so far this was working far better then his original plan as looking for secret entrances like this would not have been possible as it would have taken too much time, and he doubted he could convince the other Konoha Shinobi that he just enjoyed pressing his ear to every odd shaped stone and wall he came across.

His blue eyes traced the surroundings, the flickering candle lights offering very little illumination to the rest of the dark hallway that stretched out before him. Kosan glanced over his shoulder and nodded before moving to the left door and pushing it open slowly, listening for the slightest tick or jerk as he had no desire to have gotten so close only to be foiled by a single trap. Satisfied, he pushed open the door which gave off a small creak echoing in the large expansive of the archives and ominous greeting to the small group.

"So it would seem," Kosan said his eyes scanning the shelves stacked high with scrolls, while he could not say he often visited the archives in Kumo, there was certainly a large assortment of scrolls gathered. If he spent all night, he would barely get through a quarter of them. For the first time since deciding to accept the Uchiha's help, Kosan hesitated, he had no desire to talk of it to an outsider, but he had brought them this far, "In the beginning of the war, barely months in, a medical-nin was killed, she had small holes in her neck and her body," He kept his back turned to them, but his blue eyes were glazing over as his mind called up the memory perfectly as he saw it nearly every night, "Her body was shriveled up. Almost as if the moisture had been drained from her body," She was so fragile, his mind continued recalling how he could barely grasp her for fear of her falling apart in his arms, yet he still could not stop her from dying, slowly and painfully.

"These scrolls are ordered by dates, yes?" Kosan asked half turning to face them, it would speed up the process greatly if the Uchiha happened to know where the scrolls began as picking a shelf at random did not seem to be a very quick route.

Katsuro had heard such a thing mentioned once or twice, but he’d never seen it in person, so it stood to reason that the jutsu was one only one or a few people knew. He didn’t know it himself, nor did he know what might. “My guess would be some kind of water release, but I couldn’t say for sure. The dates you want are right around here.” He led them slightly inwards, to a few shelves of scrolls, though he let them do the searching themselves. It had the flavor of something personal to it, and he wasn’t the sort to get involved in anyone’s grudges but his own. Too exhausting.

It was Rei who found the document most likely to correspond to Shizu, and she tapped Zetsu on the shoulder after reading over it. “Hey. I think I found her.” The mission report was brief, and there were multiple names indicated for the Leaf shinobi that had been involved, though a few were redacted with black bars as well. Some, however, were not. “Who’s Heisuke Takarada?” she asked, giving the first name listed on the document to the Uchiha on the off-chance that he would answer.

His brows furrowed together. “Let me see that.” She handed over the scroll willingly enough, and he scanned it quickly, his frown growing more pronounced. “I have no idea who the redacted parties are, but the rest of these people are missing-nin now. They were thrown out of the village by the Hokage for their actions during the war. Officially, they were allowed to leave because nobody could amass enough evidence of their guilt for war crimes, but if they had, we probably would have executed them. The rumors were heinous.” He didn’t sound especially disgusted, but then, most shinobi were trained not to express their emotions overmuch, so who could say how he felt? Whatever the case, she took it to be true that he was unfond of Takarada at least.

“None of these ninja reside in this village anymore, unless one of these two redacted names does.”

It took everything he had to not rip the scroll from Rei's hands; he had to be content with reading over her shoulder, he committed each to memory as each name could be the one to put to the phantom face that haunted him, but all of the names on paper had become the most important men in his world. It was a grim satisfaction, but it wasn't enough. It was a drop of water for a dying man.

Kosan lifted his head up to watch the Uchiha as he looked over the scroll, Missing-nins. It had to be missing-nins. While it did help ensure he did not put the peace talks into jeopardy, it made finding them nearly impossible as they could be in any nation using any name and that was assuming they stuck together which was doubtful. The last two names were blacked out which did not help him in the least. There was the off-chance that he could look through other scrolls for the same names and try and see if the squads matched up to find the missing names, but he doubted it would be so easy, and he doubted he had the time to pour over them and find a pattern.

It would take time, but Kosan would send out some feelers for now, and see what he could find about the names. Heisuke Takarada was the first on the list, so he would be the one he would concentrate the most on finding. In the morning, he may try to wander the village with one of the Konoha Shinobi and investigate more about the names at various locations, but for now he wanted to know something,"Rumors? What exactly did these rumors imply?" The medical shinobi had been vague with him when he asked them what, if anything, had been done to Shizu prior to her death.

Katsu locked eyes with Kosan for a moment, silver meeting blue, then shook his head slowly. “Postmortem mutilation, mostly. Experimentation with corpse reanimation. Vivisection. Illegal medical ninjustsu. Whomever you’re doing this for… there are worse things than just being dead, that’s all I can say.” He didn’t say it out loud, but frankly, if the worst this man had seen was the dead or dying body of someone he cared about, then he was fairly lucky, as far as Takarada’s bereaved victims were concerned. It could have been much worse than that.

They were out of time though. “There will be a patrol through here in a few minutes. If you have what you came for, let’s go. I really don’t want the Hokage chewing me out over this, thanks.”

Kosan met his gaze until he was finished, only then did he allow his shoulders to fall and his eyes to close. She had been tortured. He had thought.. hoped that they had gone for the kill, and it was only her knowledge in medical-ninjutsu that kept her alive that long, but they had wanted to keep her alive, and it was Heisuke Takarada who had done it to her. Kosan wasn't sure if he was the one who killed her or took her down, but Heisuke Takarada tortured her and the others had let it happen or even watched. He would find them and get what he wanted to know from them, and he would kill them. Every single one of them, and he would drag out the information of the blacked out names from their dying breaths.

"Very well," Kosan said, his blue eyes snapping open, "Thank you for your assistance," Kosan stepped around him and towards the door. While he wished to stay longer even if the chances of him finding anything were nonexistent, he had gained enough for now. It was time to go.

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Character Portrait: Akira Aburame Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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"You're really quite bad at this, you know. I don't know why you even try for Sagehood, Akira." A rather dark, feminine voice spoke at the giant blonde woman meditating. Akira had taken herself to a grassy patch somewhere on the edge of the small river that ran through the village. The moon was high in the sky and rare was it that a creature stirred at this hour. It was at this peak hour that Akira could attempt some mastery over her Sage Form. With everyone sleeping, it made it easy to not worry about being seen if she failed. And she did fail quite a lot. To this date, she has had zero successes with achieving a full sage form. "Anyone can summon, you know. Few can attain Sage Mastery. There's no shame in it, you know." "Arachne, babe, you know I love you. But for the love of everything, could ya wait until I actually try before you start belittling me?" Akira laughed to try and calm herself down, as she could feel herself getting legitimately upset. Sober Akira did not take too kindly to this kind of behavior while she was trying to focus. "I'll take that as permission to continue when you do fail, then." The large arachnid figure beside her grinned and said nothing more.

Akira scoffed at the Drider and closed her eyes, trying to sort out her chakras. What bits remained that had not been eaten away at by the bugs had begun balancing each other, Mental and Physical energy. When she felt that was stable, she had found stability and began remaining completely still. It took a while before she actually became still, but she had been through the process of taking in Nature Chakra before. The only issue was...

"No, that's way not even close to enough, you dunce. Really, now. I'll ask again. Why do you bother trying to attain Sage Mode? Utterly useless." Arachne was not a very forgiving teacher. Especially when her student turned herself into a literal giant tarantula with her head in front where the eyes and fangs go. "Really now. If you want a body like mine, you have to PROPERLY take in the chakra."

Akira groaned at the Drider summon's chastising. She really seemed to enjoy scolding. Though given the nature of the Spider Bosses, it was not incredibly surprising. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. Can you just help me get back? That's why you're here in the first place..."

Arachne did not do so without a few more minutes of ridicule and shaming. Shortly enough though, she reached down and sank her fangs into one of Akira's eight legs and begin draining out the Nature Chakra. Within a half minute's time, Akira was back to her large, fully-human self. She was breathing deeply from the chakra expenditure. "There has to be something I'm doing wrong..." She muttered to herself, crawling to the river to splash some water in her face.

"I'm telling you, Akira, you just aren't capable of Sage. Get over it, doll. Stick to summoning me and my babies to do your work for you, I say!" This was Arachne's way of trying to get Akira to keep trying, ironically. It seemed to be working thus far at least. Arachne truly did like Akira, and if anyone were to become the next Spider Sage, she wanted it to be her. In a pout though, Akira pressed her hands together to unsummon Arachne and spread her large self out in the grass.

"There's got to be some missing factor... Something I'm not taking into account. I balance out my chakras... I intake the Nature chakra... It always seems like enough... What am I doing wrong?" She reflected on herself after failures. Unfortunately, no answers ever came. It certainly was not like the wind around her was going to deliver the answers...

“Perhaps it is because you have yet to see all of the factors.” A small yet deadly blunt voice came from the few trees that surrounded the river to reveal a petite form sitting on a branch staring longingly out towards the moon. Kiriko had been out of the Uchiha residential area for some time, forgetting to inform her guard of desired destination; while she did check in with her guard, she had a feeling that the poor soul was out searching for her somewhere else while she suppressed her own chakra. Nevertheless, she had accidentally stumbled across Akira while watching the water flow, who was seemingly chastised by a grotesque arachnid thing. Kiriko had never truly seen a creature of that stature before: even in her studies of summoned animals, this one stood out as an oddity. Where did it come from, and how did it not get documented? Kiriko could hardly think that the Aburame girl had simply created a summoned creature, and then created her own Sage Art; mostly because she looked as if she was struggling immensely with the task.

Kiriko finally turned her gaze to Akira, and explained herself promptly. ”I had no intentions of finding you, before you ask. I enjoy moonlight, so I decided to descend upon Konohagakure and see the moon. Besides, I was beginning to feel cramped within the quarters given to me.” Her eyes reflected the moonlight in a perfect shimmer, as if they were meant for collecting moonrays as she swung her legs to look down on the Konoha ninja. ’You were attempting to unlock the Sage Arts, yes?”

Akira's rhetoricals were interrupted by an answer. It was a small voice for sure, and looking up it belonged to a small girl. It was that short one from Kumogakure, and Akira just barely recalled her name as Kiriko. "Of course that's the case. I just don't know what it is yet... Ah well!" She sat up in one swift motion, crossing her legs and resting her hands on her knees. "It'll come in time, right? I'm a patient girl."

Akira was not exactly jumping at the sight of her company being from Kumogakure, especially one without their guard. But since the girl was doing no harm to anyone, she decided to let it go. She really wished she had remembered to bring along some sake or something, though. Akira simply shrugged off Kiriko's explanation as to why she was there as Akira already didn't care as long as she wasn't causing trouble. "Yeah. It's something I have been working on in secret. If you saw any of that, you'll understand why. My teacher's kind of rude and I'm kind of really bad at it. But it is what it is, I suppose... I'll take my time with it, you know? No real rush. I have a lot of life left to live and now that you Kumo shinobi are here, I have more free time than usual. I haven't been called off on any missions because of that. So uh, thanks for the break!" Akira gave a half-salute with a laugh to hopefully lighten any unpleasant atmosphere. She loathed awkwardness and made it her goal to ignore it at all costs.

Kiriko's eyes shimmered beautifully. Akira could not deny that, even if she didn't find the girl herself to be super great. As if they trapped moonlight, they just seemed to glow with some alien beauty. Akira liked that. "Sorry the accomodations aren't to your liking, I guess. I'll be blunt with you here, but if I trusted any of you Kumo shinobi, I'd make some proper accomodations at the Aburame side of town. But that's my family. I have to play nice. I don't know if they will be so willing... Can't have you waking up in a room filled with bugs... Hokage'd be on my ass quicker than you can call me a pest."

Kiriko watched as the girl named Akira began to explain a few things to her: her ‘gratefulness’ to them for allowing her to practice more, her ungrateful teacher, more and more exposition and words that Kiriko cared little to nothing about. What Kiriko did find interesting was the size of Akira, and the unique attempt at a rare Sage Mode. It was a real treat for a curious girl such as herself to witness something so rare - though the inclusion of the failed Sage Mode wasn’t something considered pleasant. ”I can appreciate the offer, but I do not believe that it will change much: no matter where one goes, if they remain within a village, they will be surrounded by people constantly which is something I could do without.” Her voice was flat as she swung her legs a little, looking back up at the moonlight before falling to the ground gracefully.

It wasn’t until she was on the same playing level as Akira that she was reminded of how gargantuan of a woman she was: seriously, breaking 6 feet didn’t seem natural in the slightest for somebody barely breaking 5 feet. Craning her neck even at a distance, Kiriko directed her thoughts to Akira. ”I must take your teacher’s word, however, at your current state: with those kinds of attempts, you may barely pull of a Sage Mode before they put you in the grave for old age." She was unapologetic with her harshness, for she felt that if she was at least going to give this woman advice, it better be correct. “Then again, your mentor is of no help either. She seems to have forgotten not only that your larger than average size can affect how chakra flows internally. Not only that, but since you are Aburame, have you taken into consideration that you may have to not only balance out your own chakra, but the natural instincts of your insects? After all, if what I’ve heard is correct, they are just as much a part of you as my eyes are to me.” Kiriko really was only speculating on much of these, as she had never truly seen a Sage Mode performed. Sage Mode was something that seemed to be always appearing in the Land of Fire, and rarely anywhere else: Naruto, Hashirama, Jiraiya were just a few of the past to access this, and all originated in Konohagakure. The only real knowledge Kiriko had was that she was a sensor, and could read chakra signatures extremely well.

Akira's once-joyful expression turned sour quickly when Kiriko began talking again. "You must be a real joy at parties, hm?" Akira was kind of sarcastic when people were being blunt with her. She was not exactly angry, but she would be lying if she said that she wasn't bothered. "But I guess I can't deny that you're probably right. Arachne isn't being too helpful. She just scolds me when I fail. And--"

She cut herself off in realization. "What was that you mentioned about... Hey! You might be on to something here! I am a pretty big girl. Hell, I've got a lot of the village's men beaten in height. And I've got lots of bugs in me that feed on chakra. They may be taking to the Nature Chakra as I take it in... Yeah, that's got to be it!" She snapped her fingers to mark her epiphany. Akira stood up to full height and quickly came up on the Kumo ninja. In excitement, she tried to snatch her up into a hug. "You may have just helped me get that much closer to perfecting my Sage Mode! You're like, the second-best thing to come out of the Kumo visit!" That was apart from the peace treaty, of course.

Kiriko hadn't planned on really helping another: she was just pointing out the facts as she saw them. And yet, apparently, according to Akira's remark of excitement, it seemed that Kiriko had gotten something right about the nature chakra and sage mode. However, Kiriko didn't have to be a genius to realize what Akira's intentions were as she bound for her. Naturally, Kiriko began to backstep rapidly to hopefully deter the girl from hugging her; yet her massive strides and long arms caught Kiriko in a massive hug before the poor girl could get fast enough away. Normally, Kiriko would throw people around if they even touched her, let alone hug her - but that was a tad too difficult for Kiriko to throw a girl twice her own size over her head. So she endured the squeezing of bodies, but not before mumbling "Okay. Let go." She had hoped that this would deter the girl, make her realize that Kiriko was dangerously close to shanking her with the kunai closest to her free hand. Kiriko had nothing against Akira - well, at the moment, she had one thing against her, and that was that she was holding her.

"Err, right. Sorry there." Akira relinquished her hold on Kiriko and took a step back, a big grin spread across her face as she rubbed her left arm in a somewhat nervous gesture. That, too, stopped quickly as she shrugged. She did not seem to be bothered by anything anymore, thinking that Kiriko's suggestion had to be the answer. She had never taken her stature and insect guests into account when testing Sage Mode before. "I get excited sometimes. And I've been trying to figure this out for a long while, y'know? Dang this realization feels good." She gushed about it for a few more seconds before turning to Kiriko. "I gotta repay you for this idea. Do you drink? Because I could really use one. Come on, I'll buy. What do you say?" If anyone were to squander money on an excuse to drink, it would certainly be Akira. She decided that if she were to be up in the middle of the night and not training, she may as well have a drink or two. And drinking alone is a hell of a lot less fun than drinking with someone else. "It'll help improve, uh... You know, Kumo-Konoha relations and all of that if we get along, right?"

Kiriko was at an impasse that she didn't like: while she really had no need for Akira to be in her debt, she'd rather not upset a woman so enthralled. Would it be rude to decline a drink? Then again, since when did she care about being rude to others? Kiriko paused after opening her mouth to think for a second. She would rather not consume alcohol, for the only time she had done that was with Hiko; needless to say, she was rather a mess after that day and more than one embarrassing moment came out of it. She had been reluctant to drink even before then, and was quite reluctant now. Yet this Akira seemed so intent on having a drink and sharing in her happiness that Kiriko almost felt sorry for her. So would she accept out of pity? That wasn't her thing. Yet she felt compelled to at least accompany her, if only for an accuse to give her 'guardian' that she was with a Konoha ninja. "While I'm not one for a lot of alcohol, I will accompany you for a drink" She did not acknowledge that she had helped the girl, for she felt no need to: she was excited at the idea that Kiriko had given, and Kiriko personally cared not if she decided to utilize it or not. However, she was wary that if she did achieve Sage Mode, it may come back to bite her later if they became enemies. But that was what the drinks were for, right? "Well, lead on."

Setting

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Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto

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Takehiko fought back the urge to sigh. Despite what Kiri thought, he could definitely stay awake in meetings if he had to. It was just that they bored him to tears. All of these old ninja, talking about things that really didn’t matter in the long run. He wasn’t here to discuss where to put the border between the lands—that was something the Daimyō could decide on by themselves for all he cared. What he wanted was simple: a guaranteed end to the fighting and hopefully a decent trade agreement that would do everyone some good, or at the very least assuage the risk his people ran of starving this winter. They had the very best weapons and steel implements in the world to trade for it—Konohagakure would be getting the better end of almost any possible deal. He wasn’t even going to be fussy about it; he just wanted his people to be safe and fed.

But apparently that was not as important to some as posturing. At the moment, several of the elders were engaged in a very spirited debate abut whether the peace talks should even be happening at all. They were bringing up the previous Hokage’s assassination, again, something which he knew his people had not done but could not prove. In fact, the balance of the evidence was quite against him. Though not everyone was getting involved. Hyūga, Aburame, and surprisingly Shōsuke Uchiha, Katsuro’s father and current head of the family, were all in favor of allowing the negotiations to proceed. Yamanaka, Hatake, and Nara, as well as Seitenshi, had all been quiet. But they together comprised only about half the Council in total, and the other half—excluding the Hokage, who was not technically a member—were vocally against the proposition.

It was enough that Takko wanted to hit somebody, but that was exactly the kind of instinct that would ruin everything, and so he suppressed his irritation, tightening his jaw and crossing his arms over his broad chest but otherwise remaining impassive. Presently, however, they stopped arguing amongst each other and the loudest of the lot—one of the many famous Inuzuka, he took it—rounded on him. “And just how is it that you have the gall to come here and ask this of us? Have you forgotten your history? What he did for us? For all ninja? And then he is slain by your village’s technique, and you expect us to just stop seeking justice for that because you’re tired of fighting?”

Takehiko pulled in a long breath through his nose, fixing his one visible eye on the man. For a long moment, they simply held their gazes locked, neither wavering. In the end, Takko acknowledged that he had to speak here. “As many times as you accuse us, I will continue to say it: he was not killed by Kumogakure’s black lightning. Only two people alive knew that technique when Uzumaki-san was killed. One of them is me.” A direct accusation of murder with no more than a jutsu as proof was perhaps not the wisest of ideas, but then, he knew very well that many of these people had grown up looking up to Naruto Uzumaki, and wisdom wasn’t really entering into it at this point.

“Then it looks like there’s a fifty percent chance that you killed him,” retorted the Inuzuka. “Snuck into our village and assassinated our Hokage while he was still recovering from the kyūbi’s extraction!” Several of the others were looking a bit uncomfortable by this point, probably because someone was accusing the Raikage of murder.

Takko, though, only cracked a surprisingly-gentle smile. “You would agree, I hope, Inuzuka-san, that the Hokage was well-guarded?” He could only assume so, after all. Looking suspicious, the man nodded. “I think you’d also agree, wouldn’t you, that Konohogakure ninja are among the most well-trained and loyal in the world?” Another nod; it was really somewhat difficult for a person to deny a statement like that, made about their own village and comrades.

Takehiko’s smile widened. “So what are the chances of someone like me just… sneaking past those people, and using what I have to tell you is a very noisy jutsu, without being caught by one of those very skilled ninja?” He uncrossed his hands and spread them, as if defenseless.

He was pretty sure the Hatake woman was smirking under her mask, and even the Hokage snorted, choosing that moment to intervene. “Cool it, Inuzuka, we’ve been over this. If it’s the other one you’re worried about, the Raikage confirms that she died during the war, so if it was them, what you claim to want has already been done.” Inuzuka had the grace to look faintly abashed, and retook his seat.

“Well, are there any other matters anyone would like to attend to, or should we begin with the peace terms?”

Shin listened carefully to the parley of his fellow elders in regards whether to proceed with the peace negotiations or not. They were divided into two factions, those who agree and not. It was understandable as people do have different views. He did not see any reason to retort as he also believed it would be better for people to voice out their opinions. That is the point of this meeting per say. Of course, it was fine as long as it does not cross a certain line. That is why he was rather pleased with the Raikage's choice of words against Inuzuka's accusations. Well, his fellow elder was not known for subtlety that much he could say and he could not blame for such point to be brought up. "I believe that everyone would agree that we should continue with the main topic at hand." He noted as a reply to the question of the Hokage.

"I would also take the opportunity to apologize in behalf of Inuzuka-san, Raikage-san." His words were as calm and soothing as a mother's lullaby. Among his fellow elders, Shin had always been the kind of person in which no one would find the necessity to argue with. It also does help that he partly also looks the part of an angel which would be keeping true to his clan. "But do consider, the Seventh Hokage is much beloved not only by Konoha but others as well." His lucent blue eyes held a degree of sadness which flickered like that of candle. He glanced at Inuzuka briefly and then returned his attention to the Raikage. "May I raise a term? The death of Naruto Uzumaki is a tragedy yet to be solved. As such, to serve as proof of commitment. I would like to suggest a task force between Konohagakure and Kumogakure which will reveal the true hand to his death."

His reasoning for such proposition was to satisfy both sides in what would be called a compromise. Kumogakure had been labeled as the villain due to the technique which ended the life of his beloved sensei. Yes, Naruto Uzumaki was a teacher to him and soon became a friend which cannot be replaced. He would be a hypocrite not to admit the anger he had upon hearing such death. However, he did not allow it to cloud his vision. However, this was not shared by many. Konohagakure was filled with passion to right this wrong and to avenge. In that light, to prove innocence and to serve as witnesses, these two forces must merge. He knew well that the war had caused scars among the shinobis who fought in it. This would be hard, but it is a start to see through the fog which had been cast upon them. What do you say, Raikage-san and Hokage-san?" He gazed softly at both of them.

Takehiko looked thoughtful for once, tipping his head to the side, almost like a very large cat staring down something that had caught its eye, though the manner was lazy rather than excessively intense, which were basically Takko’s two modes of being anyhow. He blinked his one visible eye slowly, then shrugged a bit. “Don’t get me wrong here, Seitenshi-san,” apparently he had been paying attention when everyone was introduced to him after all, though he suspected he could have fooled most of them into thinking otherwise. “I’d love to know who thought they could use my village’s signature jutsu to kill a close ally, but… it’s been three years. The immediate evidence is long gone, and I don't know any more than you do who could possibly have mimicked the Kuroi Kaminari well enough to pass in the eyes of your investigators. I’ve got a hell of a sensor on my side, but not even she can track a three-year-old chakra trail.”

The news wasn’t exactly welcome to those assembled, but it was obvious that they agreed. Still… Takehiko did want to know what had happened. Partially for Naruto Uzumaki and all he’d done for the world, but also in no small part because it was important to clear his village’s name, once and for all. “I don’t know if I can agree to a formal task force, but… the least I can do is put together a list of everyone who ever knew the jutsu. We’re not supposed to teach it to just anyone, but… if maybe someone made a mistake once and taught it to the wrong person, we should eventually be able to trace it back to one of them, and it might help eliminate suspects if nothing else.”

This was met with several nods, even from Inuzuka. The Hokage looked thoughtful for a moment, her brows furrowing, but then her expression eased, and she began to write, tucking a strand of rose-colored hair over her shoulder. “The Council closed the investigation into Naruto-sensei’s death when it was agreed that Kumogakure was responsible. I will unseal the investigation files and provide the Raikage with a copy in exchange for his list. In this way, we can all be on the lookout for any leads. The investigation will reopen, and I will call it a partnered mission, between myself and Yamamoto-san, for official purposes. Will this satisfy everyone?”

There seemed to be no immediate dissention, and so the Hokage finished her writing, handing off the scroll to her senior aide, who exited the room to file the appropriate paperwork. “Very well. Now that this matter is settled, let us move on…”

Setting

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Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro

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Nariko took a breath of fresh air, stretching her limbs as she stood outside one of the homes she had been given. She had been tempted to go visit her grandparents since the last time she saw them was well over ten years ago. She had purposefully avoided being on the battlefield during the war so she wouldn't have to fight them. Not that she hadn't been on the field, she just tried to avoid it where possible. Now, though, she was back in Konoha, and she wanted to see it. It didn't look much different from the last time, but she wasn't exactly that naive to believe things hadn't changed. Maybe she should go visit her grandparents then? She scoffed slightly to herself as she glanced around the empty compound. She was sure the Konoha shinobi were around somewhere, and if there was one, she could drag them with her. They had been told they couldn't leave without an escort, something she had found mildly offensive at first, but she could understand just a bit.

"Alright Nari, let's go find us a shinobi!" she stated, walking with an extra skip to her step.

Naomichi found himself alone in one of the Uchiha bedrooms, pacing around the perimeter of the room, which wasn't totally uncommon for someone like him. He never really was one to actively engage with friend or foe in any sense of the word. It wasn't like he didn't want to though, but he just didn't know how to ask someone if they wanted to do something. He pushed himself against the wall next to the door and slowly slid to the floor, his frustrated expression clear as he buried his face in his hands. When he looked up at the empty room though he had a sort of forced smile and unnatural enthusiasm in his appearance, like he was trying to match what he thought was a normal human but way off.

"Pardon me madame, but would you want me to give you a fine tour of our facility? There are many things that make this place run the way it does, but it can all be tied to our dedicated work force and materials." He froze with the forced expression of happiness on his face, smile twitching at how unnatural his statement was. He then dropped his false smile and smacked the side of his head with his open palm a few time. "You're an idiot Nao! This isn't some factory! We are in a village, so make it seem like ya come from one!"

Naomichi lowered his head again to go through another mental reset. When his head raised, this time he was trying the cool guy look. His eyes were much more relaxed and his posture seemed to be more natural. "Hey girl, why don't you let bad boy Asura here show you a good night on the town. Bring your friends along if you want, I got enough to make everyone's night one to remember." With his last remark he threw his thumb out and gave a proud smirk. That slowly faded away though and he was left even more frustrated - smashing his head against the floor feverishly.

No matter how hard he tried to rack his brain, Naomichi just was unable to make any small talk to himself for practice. He couldn't be anymore unnatural than the instant noodles he normally ate every night. In order to calm his nerves, he figured it'd be better if he went for a walk out in the cool night. Despite the Uchiha's horrid taste in decor, Naomichi loved the look of their courtyard. It just looked a lot more beautiful compared to the plain furniture that decorated every room.

As he exited the room he gave a deep inhale, then a slow exhale as his nerves were calmed. He was able to give a brief smile, but even that slowly faded away to his loneliness. I wonder what Akira is doing? I never see him outside of missions much and it'd be pretty awesome if we could discuss something other than tactics. Naomichi let his thoughts of Akira's whereabouts wander for a few moments before they froze in place when he saw Nariko come up towards him Shit-shit-shit-shit what do I do!? Don't panic! What if she heard me in my room?! She couldn't! Absolute turmoil in Naomichi's head was going on despite his statuesque appearance.

The grin on Nariko's lips grew wide when she spotted her first victim, escort and waved towards Naomichi. She walked towards him, perhaps more like power walked, and was immediately standing in front of him, leaning forward slightly as she continued to grin. "Nao-Nao! Good mor- er, evening?" she stated, stopping to correct herself. She straightened herself back out, bringing up her forefinger and middle finger to right eyebrow, giving him a mock salute in the process. She blinked slowly, tilting her head to the side as she noted his expression. Was he nervous? Why would he be nervous? A slow smirk crossed her features as her eyes narrowed just slightly.

"You were having dirty thoughts weren't you," she almost cooed, poking his cheek in the process. She pulled back and shrug her shoulders. "It's alright, I think we all have them once in a while," she continued, snickering a bit in the process. A sudden realization dawned on her, and she hit her fist in the palm of her hand, reaching out to lace her arm with his. Perhaps not the best idea she's ever had, but then again, most of her ideas weren't all that great. Since he was the only one around, she would drag him with her around the village. With that in mind, she began pulling on his arm, however; she paused momentarily.

Naomichi's strong presnece immeditely crumbled away at her mention of dirty thoughts. His eye widened, and his jaw dropped - his entire body even had a small shiver roll up past it. How cruel... someone treating me like I'm a no good horny animal! I'll prove her wrong. Naomichi quickly regained his composure though and looked back at Nariko, and he tried to look confident as he reached out to pet Nariko on the head. "Haha, yeah right. Like I would ever think of your sexy curves or stunning eyes..." It took Naomichi a minute to process what he said - and as he processed it, his hand just rested on her head like a dead weight. When he realized what he was saying though, he slowly pulled his hand back and let it hang limp like his head was. Not only did he say possibly the worst thing he could to a girl's face, but he just made it sound like that was what he was doing.

Nariko blinked, her face pulling straight as she stared deadpan at Naomichi. For a moment, she stared at him, her eyes unreadable and the rest of her body going rigid, however; the shaking of her shoulders gave way to the fact she could no longer hold her straight face, and she let loose a fit of laughter. "You... are adorable," she stated, trying to catch her breath as she held onto her stomach as it began to cramp. After taking a few gulps of air, she wiped at her eyes before shaking her head."Oh, I suppose I should ask you for a tour before just assuming you'd take me on one. How about it Naochiki? Wanna give me a tour of the village?"

His head quickly rose when he heard her offer. "Yo-you're asking me?" Naomichi took one of his limp hands and made it point to his stupified face. "You wanna ask me to take you out somewhere? Am I hearing this correctly or am I just dreaming this?" He straightened his shoulders and made himself look like a strong man again in her presence. No way was he gonna let an opportunity like this pass by him. He was feeling ready for this kind of situation and needed to take the opportunity to see what he needed to fix about himself. He felt that everything about himself was ready: his mind, his ego, and his body were more than ready for whatever Nariko was gonna throw at him.

"Sure, why the hell not. I have the most best place to bring a girl from out of town. You're gonna love it more than anything that you've had back home. " Naomichi made a waving motion to call Nariko along to follow him as he began to coolly walk out towards the exit of the Uchiha compound.

Oh she doubted that. She used to live here after all, however; she would remain quiet until the tour was over with.




Naomichi made a few brief remarks about the popular locations around town. He mentioned the Hokage's office, what he called "The Great Wall of Faces", the four noble clans of the village - especially emphasizing the Aburame's history since that was really the only other person he knew in the village, the academy, and the memorial stone. He tried his best to give something better than what any normal history book would tell her, but he was only able to produce a little more than the bare minimum of interesting facts for her. When they came up on the place he was talking about, the largest grin spread across his face as he stopped his tracks. He extended both of his arms to the point where he was making a 'T' with his body. He spun towards Nariko and exclaimed, "Alright, here it is. The moment we've all been waiting for! Please give a round of applause for..." As he began to trail off with his speech, his arms spun around until they froze pointing at a plain looking restaurant on the side of the road. "Ichiraku Ramen! Hold your applause, wait until you get their food inside you. You won't regret it at all. Come-on, let's sit!"

Nariko stared and made awe noises every time Naomichi spoke, pretending to be interested in the topics he was speaking of. She managed quite well, however; she didn't have it in her to tell him she already knew most of the history of Konoha and the four noble clans of the village. Hell, her grandparents were probably having a stroll right now and she'd be able to point them out to him in a heartbeat, but luckily they were not out. At least, she didn't see them and counted that as something. She soon found herself at the old ramen stand she and Yoko used to go to as children, and a nostalgic smile crept across her face. It turned into a full grin, however, when Naomichi stopped and produced a letter with his body. She did as he said, clapping lightly and giving a faint whistle in the process.

"Is it just their food going inside me?" she spoke, the smirk taking a wicked turn as the innuendo was dropped. She snorted softly though, and grabbed Naomichi's arm, dragging him into the stall with her in the process. She forced him to sit in one of the seats before taking the one to his right, draping her arm over one of his shoulders, which was something considering their height differences. "Oi, shop keep! Four bowls of ramen for me and my new baby daddy!" she spoke, the grin on her face never leaving. She turned towards Naomichi and gave him a wink.

Baby daddy... can she possibly mean... no, it's not possible... I-I mean how can that happen? Don't tell me it already happened. Naomichi's mind was fixated on her statement about him being her 'baby daddy,' something he wasn't ready for in the slightest. As their bowls of ramen were placed in front of them and Nari began to eat, he couldn't help but stare at the bowel in front of him and not move a muscle. He needed to actually figure out what she meant by her comment, no matter what would befall him. "Um, Nari, if I'm your... um, baby daddy, we need to talk about what to do with our kid." Suddenly he was given a big boost in energy and looked towards her with a mix of both excitement and utter fear in his eyes. "I wasn't planning this at all and have no idea what happened, but I promise to be the best I could possibly be for all of our kids!"

Nariko stopped eating her ramen to fix Naomichi with a bewildered gaze. Did he believe that she was telling the truth? Did he not know how the process of making a child was? She felt her shoulders lurch in an attempt to cover a laugh, and instead, slowly placed her chop sticks down, turning to regard him with a serious gaze. She clasped her hands over his, and stared him dead in the eye. She took a deep, steady breath and released it just as slowly as she inhaled it. She continued to remain silent, letting the anticipation settle in before she finally opened her mouth to say something.

"Naokichi, I am sorry you had to find out this way, but yes. You will do every thing in your power to raise this child right, but just know," she stated, leaning dangerously close to his face, her own pulled into something serious. "I will cut you if you don't," she stated, however; she couldn't keep a straight face any longer and pulled back, laughing a little too hard that she fell out of her chair. She didn't seem to mind as she stayed, covering her eyes with her arm in the process. Once she let it pass through her system, she sat up, stood, and dusted herself off. She took a seat next to Naomichi again and shook her head.

"Naokichi, we are not having a child. I just met you for one, and there are certain... activities that must be performed in order for me to have your child. I take it you weren't educated on that sort of thing? Huh, I thought they made that one of the classes here. Things sure have changed since I last lived here," she stated, picking up her chop sticks again to take a bite out of her now-cold ramen.

If anyone ever wanted to die where they were sitting, it was Naomichi. Nari's laugh was like a thousand needles that struck through his pride, emasculating every aspect about himself. He felt like he just wanted to shrink inside his skin until he disappeared into a void of nothingness, but he didn't want to fade away. He had to push himself back into the conversation, no matter how ashamed he was or he wouldn't be able to get the happiness he wanted.

Naomichi gave a little chuckle to go along with the end of Nari's laugh, just to defuse how he personally felt. "Yeah, I guess you're right there. You gotta do all sorts of things huh - haha." He sat in a sort of awkward silence for a moment as he quickly ate one bowl of ramen and started on his next. Cold ramen was still food to him and he was grateful for having it. He needed to do something to not let the awkwardness sit and stagnate over the both of them.

It then clicked in his head on how to propel the conversation. When he sat in bars around the village he would eavesdrop on conversations from other groups just to entertain himself in his loneliness. Asking about the other person's life definitely earns the asker brownie points because they showed interest in their life. After making a huge slurp of noodles through his chopsticks he asked her,"Hey, you said 'last time I lived here.' What do ya mean by that? Were you a spy during the war or were you actually born here or something?"

"All sorts of stuff?" she repeated, however; she wasn't able to ask what he meant by that (she could only take a guess). She blinked slowly, placing her bowl down and folded her hands in front of her. She gave a melancholic smile and sighed. "No, I wasn't a spy during the war. I was actually born here. I think you may even know my grandparents. Hell, everyone knows them," she stated, scoffing slightly. Though, her grandparents were known, they weren't exactly known like Yoko's were. She allowed the silence to remain between them before taking another breath.

"My mother is actually originally from here. She's Shikamaru and Temari's kid," she stated, shrugging her shoulders gently before twirling in her chair. "We didn't move until I was about," she paused, tapping her finger to her chin as she thought about it. "I was ten years old when we moved to Kumogakure. I... participated in the war like everyone else, but," she continued, her voice growing solemn as she played with her ramen. She didn't like thinking about it. She hadn't wanted to go against her fellow shinobi, even if she grew to have loyalties to Kumogakure. She just... it wasn't pleasant to bring up those memories.

"I'm actually glad Takko agreed to come here, even if he's a big oaf. Still have to love him though. I hope things go well between the Hokage and himself, it'd be a shame to not get to know you better as a friend," she stated, a large grin plastering itself on her face as she crinkled her nose in the process.

As Nari's upbeat attitude started to drain away into a pool of sadness around the two of them, Naomichi couldn't help but feel bad. He put down his half-finished second bowl and bit his lip with a worried expression on his face. He was biting his lip and he cupped his hands while twiddling his thumbs trying to look for something to say to her to make her feel better in any way. Could he ask who her grandparents were to bring the subject back? No, that'd just make him out to be an oblivious asshole. What about her friends in Kumogakure... it is probably a rough subject surrounding the war that would only put her even more down. In the end he was only able to say a few words without even looking her in the eye. "I'm sorry about that all. It's not like we all wanted to do what we did anyway."

But when she mentioned being a better friend with Naomichi, his heart skipped a beat. No one ever said that word to him - ever. What even is a friend to be honest? He had to ask her just to clear up any confusion between the two of them just so he didn't make another stupid mistake again like he did before. He continued to look down at his hands as he took to a sad tone of voice. "Hey Nari... I don't think you want to be a friend with me. I am not the best person in any reguards, especially with my history. Plus I am just a buffoon when it comes to everything. Ask Akira, he is more my babysitter than anything. As much as I appreciate what you said, I'm worried I would hurt you like I did everyone else."

Naomichi reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills to pay for their meal together. He was about ready to end his day anyway. He messed up too many times to count and it would just be better if he reset himself and worked on it again tomorrow. She deserved someone better and he was, especially when it comes to something as fragile as the peace treaty going on.

Nariko tilted her head in slight confusion, her brow ascending her forehead in the process. Not a good friend, huh? She leaned in slowly, her eyes narrowing as she came dangerously close to his face. There was a hint of something serious behind her eyes, replacing the jovial light that shined. She pursed her lips together, her brows knotting in place before she took Naomichi's hand, clasping the other one over it. "You are worried about hurting me? Because you don't think you'd be a good friend?" she almost stated rather than questioned. Honestly, that made her kind of angry. Who did he think he was thinking such things like that? She was Nariko, her own person and she made those decisions of who was good or bad for her. Those would always be her decisions.

"Nao-Nao, you don't get to make that decision. Whether or not you'll be a good friend will be determined through our courtship as one. If you are the buffoon you think you are, then I shall be here to be a buffoon with you. History may make a person what he is, but it does not make a person who he is. Those will always be two different things. Only a person can define who he is by the things he chooses to do after. We are allowed redemption, are we not?" she stated, pulling back with a large grin forming back on her face. Seriously, though, he was going to be her friend whether he liked it or not. She'd make sure of that.

"Besides," she began, the grin turning into something sly as she turned back towards him. "We aren't finished with our date!" she stated, smirking in the process.

Naomichi was nothing short of stunned by what Nari was saying to him. As she spoke with her passion he couldn't help but look into her golden eyes. Naomichi tightened the grip of his own hands and stared he couldn't help but have a goofy smile. It wasn't like it was cool or intentional, but rather it looked funny - like he was moments away from crying and was trying to hold it back. She was the first person to ever say something that kind to him and he wasn't ever going to forget it. I can't cry - I can't cry - I can't cry.! Don't let yourself cry whatever you do! Naomichi, even after trying to force himself not to cry, had tears flowing out of his one eye. Dammit Nao! You had one job!

It took him a minute to compose himself, which involved deep breathing exercises and furious rubbing of his left eye to stop the endless flow of tears being produced from it. Once he at least looked like his old self, he began to softly pat Nari's back with his right hand, attempting to show some camaraderie despite not really knowing what that action meant. He saw some other people do it so he figured why not try it himself - see where it got him. "Well this must be the worst date that you ever had then." Naomichi couldn't help but chuckle to his comment - he knew it was true and yet she still stuck it out. "In order to make it better then, I think you should take me to some of your favorite places around the village miss village-two-timer. I think you'd have some fun places in mind yourself." Nao quickly thanked the cook and made a generous payment when he stood up to leave, giving a playful motion for Nari to follow him. Despite being a Kumo kunoichi she seemed like she could be a good friend for life.

Spill her blood 'Nao-Nao...' You will do it soon anyway. Don't fight what you know is right...

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Rei Hinode

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It was a peaceful night or so. Ryuu did not want to bother with their guests for now. They do need to get acquainted with each other because those bonds will be required of them in the long run. So, let them mingle and enjoy it. As for him, he preferred to be alone at the moment. Finding a rather remote place, there he took interest on a lone apricot tree. He climbed and rested himself on one of its branches as its pink blossoms wavered around him like silken curtains. The wind blew scattering the drops of carnation across the blank canvass of the night. Some fell on him, but it was fine. Actually, it created an enrapturing picture.

This was indeed comforting in a sense as he leaned back on the trunk. His mismatched eyes gazed into the evening sky. There were no clouds in sight allowing the moon and stars to shine brightly. "It would have been perfect if there is a storm." He muttered under his breath. It had been one of the things which he shows adoration towards without the affect of a mask. An unclouded smile was present upon his lips as he allowed the lullaby of the night soothe him. However at the middle of his relaxation, he felt the ever-familiar nauseous feeling coming over him. His eyes of gold and blue glowed eerily and soon meshed into a unified white hue. The irises were changed into a glowing golden insignia as his body entered into a stiffen stupor as images only visible to him flashed.

Soon enough, it was done as he lowered his head and covered his eyes with one hand. His breathing was ragged and his body was wracked in a series of phantom pains. Another series of images which sapped another portion of his life. It was his so-called fate as the one entitled to be Time's Vessel. The mere thought made him smile with such dejection. Sensing his body had become stable, he took a deep breath and eased himself. He allowed his hand to fall to his side. "Might as well draw it." With that decided, he procured a sketch book and began to flip through the pages. There were some incomplete sketches of people, scenery, and other things. Finding a blank page, he began drawing what he had seen. It started as a mere gray-scale, but then, he stopped midway. He tore it, crumpled it and threw it away. "Hideous... Truly Hideous."

Rei sighed slightly and lifted her arms over her head, stretching them out. In the week and a half or so since they’d come here, Takehiko had apparently handled himself well enough that the Leaf shinobi were not immediately convinced that her team was actually there to burn the whole village down, and so it was no longer necessary to go absolutely everywhere with an escort. She was taking the opportunity to have a walk, reclaiming the comfort of solitude as much as one could in a place like this. There was a sense of proximity here that she hadn’t always felt in the more sparsely-populated Kumogakure, but then it was entirely possible that she was just the slightest bit homesick. Not that she was overwhelmed by the feeling—in all honesty, she’d brought most of the important parts of home here with her. Her best friend, her only other close one (who also happened to be her commanding officer)… and even though she couldn’t claim especially significant friendships with Nari or Kiriko, she liked both of them quite a bit, and respected them, so there was that.

Really, there was only one other significant person in her life, and one did not bring small children to places like this. So while it was definitely false to say that she was relaxed—she doubted she ever could be, here—she was at least not taking her second visit as poorly as she could have, given the circumstances of the first. The night air smelled nice, at least, and was cool on the scant bare skin that her uniform allowed, which really wasn’t a whole lot more than her hands and face.

She was perfectly content to ignore the ambient chakra signatures around her, as there were several, at least until one of them started fluctuating strangely. Pausing midstep, Rei cocked her head to the side, spilling the dark purple strands of her ponytail over one shoulder. That was… irregular. At first she thought it might just be someone practicing a jutsu or something, but it seemed… stranger than that. Different in a way she could not quite explain. Being very familiar with chakra networks, she was immediately suspicious of it, though whether because she thought it dangerous of someone or to someone was not something she could quite pinpoint. Either way, her instincts as a medic-nin kicked in, and she redirected her steps in that direction, when the fluctuations abruptly stopped.

Now thoroughly convinced that something weird was going on, she continued in the same direction, albeit with less urgency. Until, as luck would have it, she caught the sound of someone disparaging something, and then the crumpled up paper that the breeze was carrying towards her face. Vaguely recognizing the ninja in the tree as the one who’d thrown a knife at the Raikage, she considered just leaving him to whatever problem he had, because she didn’t generally take well to people aiming pointy things at her friends. That said… she could almost hear Takko in her head, urging her to be kind even when the same was not received in turn. She wasn’t sure even she was capable of that in the same way he was, but she figured she could at least make the attempt, as a favor to him. She owed the big lug a lot, after all.

“Hideous, huh? I’m not gonna find a naked picture of the Hokage if I open this, am I? I mean, she looks pretty good for her age, and if you’re into that, I won’t judge you. It’s just not for me.” She was almost one-hundred percent certain that was not whatever was on the paper ball, but she’d been wrong before. “Seriously, though… something bothering you, Tsukino-san? I’m not much of an art critic, but I can take a look if you want.”

And here she is, Ryuu would have laughed at the irony of his situation right now. Here he was desiring to be in solitude. It was to give himself a release even for a moment. However, it was not permitted so. Really, he would have liked to kill the ones responsible for such events in his life. Still, he knew best that it would be futile. In any case, he did not want this one person, this kunoichi, her to see him. It was due to the threads which had been revealed to him. At the very least, he wanted to be spared from this fate. Yet again, useless, huh... He has no choice as the path had been prepared no matter what.

"A nice offer Hinode-san." He noted as his eyes were now fixed upon her form. Not a bad sight at all. "Why not take a look?" There was a small smile on his lips as his words were wrapped in ambiguity. After all, the image drawn upon was incomplete but one could see that it is a depiction of a bloody field due to its aesthetics. "Perhaps, I need a new inspiration." He added as he closed his eyes and the images he had received earlier played once more in his head. It irritated him but, it never showed on his face as it remained placid and whimsical in a sense of a word. "Do you have any suggestions?"

Dark hands, nicked with pale scars, unfolded the crumpled paper, studying the subject matter with a raised eyebrow. It could have been any battlefield she’d ever been on, really, blood and gore smeared over the ground like that. She could almost smell the blood and death just by looking at it. Technically, the art was very accomplished—she doubted anyone she knew could draw this well, actually. But there was definitely something unfortunate about what it portrayed, she would agree with that much. Shrugging her shoulders slightly, she tipped her head to the side and flashed a white grin up at the man in the tree.

“Maybe don’t draw something so familiar? I mean, at this point blood and death is probably getting a bit old, ne? Pick something that… doesn’t remind you of this.” She captured the paper between the sides of her index and middle finger and waved it lazily back and forth. “Pretty obvious advice here, but… draw something that makes you happy. There’s something like that in the world, no?”

The advice was at best common. It was as common as dust being blown by the wind. However, he could not help but lightly chuckle at that. "What makes me happy, huh?" It was more of a question to himself than anything else. He looked at the night sky and contemplated on anything which would be label as such. Unfortunately, there were none... or specifically, he wanted to have none, because he knew well the repercussions of such things. "If I do that then I will have to take the future of this world including yours, of course." He stated with a chesire cat-like smile upon his lips. Those eyes of gold and blue gazed at her as if engulfing anyone into the unknown.

"Would that be fine?" After adding that, Ryuu jumped down from the tree with a grace much like that of a feline. He walked towards her and took the paper she was waving back and forth. It was a vision which will come true. This is something he must assure to be of reality. He took back the sketch she was waving back and forth. Once, he did. The paper was rippped into shreds by a sharp passing breeze. "Thank you for the advice, Hinode-san." He smiled at her endearingly as if to shift the vague meanings of his words. Of course, another mask set in motion. A hand reached out towards her as he flicked her ear playfully. "A question, would you mind if I draw you?"

“The future of the world?” Rei echoed, huffing an amused breath. “A little dramatic, aren’t we?” Then again, quite a number of the people she lived with were fairly dramatic themselves, if in different ways and with varying degrees of seriousness or farce. It wasn’t exactly a surprise. She relinquished he sketch willingly, inwardly shrugging when it was shredded. Maybe the artsy types were really as eccentric as she’d always heard, who could say?

“The future, huh?” she repeated, slightly softer this time. “Can’t say I have much use for it.” Her life had, in some ways, been a slow process of learning to live only in the now. Dwelling on the past tended to hurt too much for comfort most days, and the future, well… that was nothing more than the consequences of the present anyway, so why bother thinking about it too much? It was the kind of thing that leaders and prophets had to do, and Rei, happily enough, was neither of those things. She rolled her eyes when he flicked her ear, but his question produced a short, light laugh.

“Draw me? You must be more starved for happiness than I expected, ne?” She kept her tone light, but there was some truth to the words. “I’ve never been a muse before; it could be fun. Sure, draw me if you want to; I don’t care.” It wasn’t like she was self-conscious or anything; what was there to be embarrassed about? Artists practiced drawing on all kinds of things, people included, and she didn’t really look like anyone from around here, so it might even be a half-decent exercise, she didn’t claim to know differently. Her lips pulled back into a catlike grin. “Just don’t go falling in love with me pretty boy; I’ll only make you cry.” Her amusement with the situation was rather obvious—she’d been asked a lot of strange questions in her lifetime, but never that one. So her choices were really either make light of it or ask intrusive questions, and she wasn’t usually one for the latter. It kind of went hand-in-hand with living in the present, after all.

It should be like that. The future should be left in the category of the unknown. If it was like that for him, then he would not have to abide by invisible strings wrapped around him like unbreakable chains. However, it is what it is. He would not complain about something which is already done. After all, he had already decided to walk this path. With that, he would have to bear everything and happiness was always as synonymous as a burden to him. Although, her point of view was at best enticing and at the same time, he had been viewed as dramatic. Well, that would be good. Life does need flair once in awhile to make things interesting.

Speaking of which, she seemed amused by his question and retorted with a comment about him being starved. Oh, how right she was at that point. "You have no idea." He noted as a glimmer within his mismatched eyes showed the intense desire he has. Of course, it was much akin to a hallucination as it ceased to exist replaced by a trivial matter known as mischief along with that vague smile of his. He nodded with approval as she was fine with the idea of being a muse. She then added much like an afterthought, a warning of not falling in love with her. Now, there is another twist with that. "That could go both ways my sun-kissed muse." He stated as he leaned closely towards her as if he has an intent to kiss her.

"But then again, this is as close we are going to get." His words were wrapped in an air of ambiguous mystery and undetermined intent. It was like he had already know what was going to happen, but then again, he acts as if it was nothing more a but a whim. "Thank you for your acceptance, Hinode-san." He pulled away as an apricot pink blossom could be seen in his possession. It was something he had taken from her hair. Now standing at an acceptable distance, he winked at her and released the blossom into the night. "A gift to commemorate." He said as he opened his sketch book and tore another paper which was notable found at the beginning which is an odd thing. Why? "Here." He handed her another sketch but this time it was a complete one, a drawing of her with a beautiful smile at Kumogakure.

Being a medic-nin left one with little option to be uncomfortable with proximity, and she wasn’t. Mostly because she knew what it looked like when someone actually intended to kiss a person, and this was not it. She tipped her head slightly to the side at his words. It seemed he was categorically incapable of just saying what he meant, without obscuring his meaning. Well, it wasn’t like that bothered her—she was just the opposite. One thing he certainly didn’t have to worry about, however, was her romantic affections. That was a road she stayed well away from, and with good reason. You don’t watch what happens to your best friend after he loses the most precious person in his life (your other best friend) and think it’s a good idea to risk that. Especially not after what happened to her parents. Fact.

She watched curiously as he tore the first page out of his sketch book, and the content actually, truly surprised her. It was her face, to be sure, but in a setting he should never have been able to see. “I don’t understand,” she admitted honestly, torn between being simply curious and the faintest bit disturbed. “You’ve… you’ve never been to this place, have you? Is this some kind of jutsu?” Her brows furrowed, and she glanced up at him, perplexed. She wasn’t accusing him of anything, it was just… very strange.

Yes, this would be the normal reaction to such an illustration done by him. Others who had been given such a duty similar to his would write the dictated timeline which will be presented as history when it has been accomplished. For him, it is done through a series of drawings which he had opted to keep himself. It was not something he had conjured through the means of a mere imagination, an imitation, or even a dream. Her visage was imprinted in a vision which made his life inexplicably short. Well, it has become something he had grown accustomed to. After all, it was his fate to see, to preserve, to ensure it all until he is able to.

"To answer your question..." He kept his sketch book and then looked at the evening sky instead. The apricot blossoms waved through the air like glimmering stars. "Nope." It was stated without a hint of insincerity, but with a rather superficial joyous tone which seemed to say otherwise. He looked at her with those mysterious blue-gold eyes of his. This woman from Kumogakure had a significant role to play. It was something he was certain of. But at the same time, she also has a part in his brief existence. "I could tell you, but..." He took a step back. "I will die." There was a bright smile on his face as he stated that as if it was not important anyway. "Well, then I will see you around." He then turned his back at her.

Looking over his shoulder, he gave her a wave. "Let's hold that modelling session for some other time." His eyes softened a bit before returning to its vague density. "Good night, Hinode-san." With those words, he walked on and soon vanished with only a swirl of pink, apricot blossoms left in his wake.

“What a weirdo," she murmured to herself after he'd left, glancing back down at the drawing in her hand. Shaking her head slightly, Rei folded it up neatly and slid it into a pocket. There was something... sad about that guy. Or at least, that was the feeling she was getting, and her intuitions were rarely wrong, even if she only infrequently understood them. Still, it wasn't like it was any of her business, so she shrugged to herself and continued on her walk.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Kiyoko sighed softly, running a hand through her crimson locks to get the tangles out. Once the tangles were gone, she pulled the long strands over her shoulder, pulling them up so that she didn't trip while she walked. She pulled her hair into three sections, threading them together so that they were braided. She then threw it back over her shoulder, nodding in satisfaction that it was no longer touching the ground. She released another sigh, glancing up towards the sky to watch the clouds roll by. She didn't have an assignment today, and had been wandering the village a majority of the day. Most of the Kumo ninja seemed to be blending in rather well in the compound, even getting acquainted with the Konoha ninja. It was something that had caused her to smile, when she had learned of some of the excursions that had happened.

To know that they were even attempting that, meant that at least something was going good, right? She didn't how the meetings were going, and only hoped they were going as good as the socializations. Shaking her head softly, she allowed her feet to carry her with no particular destination in mind. She stopped occasionally to say hello to a few of the people she knew, but nonetheless, continued forward. She blinked owlishly when she found where her feet led her to, and pursed her lips together. She was at the Uchiha compound where the Kumogakure ninja were currently housed. Well, it wouldn't hurt to check up on them, would it? With her mind made up, Kiyoko trekked forward, a bright smile on her face as she walked, not paying much attention to where she was going.

Kiriko had recovered from her night out with Akira a while ago, having returned to the Uchiha residence not that long after the fact to 'fix' herself. She had only had one drink, but it felt like the world around her was slowly crumbling into a disorganized, chaotic mess of unhappiness and bubbly attitudes. It had been horrifying, hence the reason she had stayed within her room for so long to make sure she was presentable. Nevertheless, Kiriko watched the world from the edge of the residence, in which she sat on a branch not far from the wall surrounding the compound. It was still restrictive, being stuck within these walls, but she would be able to manage for now.

However, this had seriously begun to bore her after a while: it was intriguing to watch other people as they continued their business, and yet she found it too mundane to be doing so. What was the point of being here if all she did was steal information and watch out for her Kumo-nin? It didn't bode well that the others were gleefully joining in with the crowds, leaving her as an odd duck of sorts that didn't overly care to make friends. So you could guess her confusion at the large chakra signature as it bounded towards the compound, one that seemed to be the redhead Yoko from earlier. She seemed to be the one in charge, and yet the group had always done their own thing and disobeyed her. Was it because she was a bogus leader, or perhaps another reason?

Needless to say, Kiriko was silent as she watched the redhead intently. Just what exactly was she doing at this time of day anyway? There was no reason for her to be there, as most of the Kumo-nin seemed to be behaving themselves for the most part, and she seemed to disappear quite often. Kiri's curiousity got the better of her as she swung down from the tree and landed softly, only to ruin the peaceful silence with sound. "So what does the Jinchūriki of the Nine Tails owe this visit to?" Kiriko had landed quite a bit behind Yoko, but spoke loud enough for her to hear. To be honest, she had no real reason to aggravate or tempt Yoko, but her curiousty got the better of her - even though it made her sound suspicious of her movements.

Kiyoko, happily content to stare at the sky, craned her neck back to regard the new presence, and grinned. "Well, I don't really need a reason to visit do I? I am, afer all, in charge of keeping an eye on all of you," she replied, the grin disappearing and replaced by an owlish stare. She blinked slowly, then tapped a finger to her chin in a thoughtful manner. She shrugged her shoulders in response before slumping them. "Honestly, I was bored. All of you seem to be getting along well, so there really isn't much for me to do. Taking a walk is the only way, I suppose, that I could feel useful," she continued, placing a hand on her hip and releasing a deep sigh in the process. She really didn't have anything better to do, and with everyone getting along, she felt like she was shirking her responsibilities.

"What about you, Kiri-chan? How are you finding everything? I hope everyone is treating you well. You could tell me if they weren't... though I can't be too sure why anyone would want to bother you. You just reek of Back-off," she continued, speaking a little too forwardly. She folded her hands behind her back, and rocked on her feet. "Not that it's a bad thing," she quickly added, rubbing the back of her neck in a sheepish manner. She released a nervous chuckle as well, before sighing dejectedly.

Kiriko narrowed her eyes at the nickname, finding it not only unamusing but also slightly irritating. Was she trying to mock her name by adding the adorable suffix, or was she just trying to be cute? Kiri wasn't sure, but one thing was certain: Yoko did get the metaphor of her apparent smell correct; back off, while effective, was a little weak in explaining the vibe she usually gave people. However, Kiri would have rather she didn't speak the way that she had, as if having a harsher exterior was a bad thing; with the ninja world that they lived in, how was being upright and strict a bad thing? Being a 'hard ass' got missions done and saved lives. Being soft killed people.

Nevertheless, Yoko attempted to take back her statement, even though Kiriko knew that she really was just trying to cover for herself. There was no need though: Kiri noticed it, and planned on calling her out. "To be quite clear with you, I would rather have an attitude that causes dislike than one that creates a false sense of security. Nothing worse than creating a false sense of hope or peace for the people if they all have to lie to themselves in order for it to happen." Kiriko was quite bland in her words, which probably would either throw off Yoko or possibly infuriate; she wasn't sure. Kiri rarely cared for how others reacted, which was solidified in the next sentence. "To be fair, however, my mannerisms are not meant to be used nor liked by everyone; I could care less if they were enjoyed. They are there because they need to, or else many things might have not been accomplished." In hindsight, Kiriko could have left out the last statement, for it felt a little open ended as to what she meant; it could either mean that she was the one that executed missions, or executed her people. Regardless of which way, Kiriko stood silently afterwards, pondering the different responses that one might give to such a statement.

Kiyoko's smile dimmed, something sad pulling behind her eyes. It must have been quite a life for Kiriko to believe the words she spoke, and Kiyoko could only disagree with them. One didn't have to be like that, if the world they lived in had not been the way it was. Her grandfather had wanted nothing more than for the world to grow together, to be as one, however; all of it was shattered when they killed him. Perhaps, in a way, she should hate these Kumo nin, for taking away the one precious life she had cherished above all others. But she didn't, and she knew she couldn't, even if she should. She took a slow breath in, and shook her head.

"You know, I know someone like you. Just like that person, I bet you used to have a beautiful smile," because as a child, he did. It was very rare, and very little could make him smile, but when he did... Kiyoko shook the thought from her head. That was a long time ago now, and to have changed so drastically, a part of her wondered if the world would ever turn out the way her grandfather wanted it to be. Instead, she turned to fully face the Kumogakure kunoichi, her face pulled away from the light demeanor it had held. It was replaced by something serious. This wasn't her best idea, however; there were more than a few ways to bond with someone.

"A wager then," she spoke, her voice strong with conviction. "I propose a spar of sorts. If you win, you may ask anything of me, however," she paused, glancing into Kiriko's eyes to search for something, anything really, a flicker of her former self. She found none. "If I win, you have to smile. Just once," she stated, the corners of her lips tugging up just lightly.

Needless to say, Kiriko was taken aback by almost everything that was spoken by the redheaded girl in front of her. For starters, she seemed to become visibly saddened by her response, something that Kiriko hadn't expected; after all, how was she to know that the other girl would suddenly feel sad after hearing one answer? It was, however, made clear soon afterwards when she stated that she knew someone similar to herself, which caused Kiriko to pause. Was that the source of the sadness, or did she naturally get depressed when she remembered those that she cared for?

It was the comment about her smile that caused her to fumble through her own thoughts until they grinded to a halt. Never before had people thought of her smile as beautiful; in fact, the last time she did, Kiriko was deemed a monster and a psychopath by those around her. While it was most likely because it was on the battlefield, that was besides the point. What was the point was that Kiriko could not think of any rebuttal to that statement. How could she? To Kiriko, her face was nothing of importance: in fact, it was less than beautiful, for no monster could ever be considered beautiful. Kiri's thoughts were interrupted by a stance change that accompanied a tone change. Her body language shifted to something Kiriko was more familiar with; seriousness.

It goes without saying that Kiriko was more than a little confused by the wager offer, and her eyes narrowed profusely at what she would have to do if she lost. Why was it that she got a free question from this red head, and yet she demanded that she give up something as precious as a smile? Smiles were rare from her for a reason: she never found anything was worth smiling about in public, unless she wasn't within a large group. But Yoko knew what she was doing, and Kiriko nearly bit her lip in frustration. On one hand, she could decline and leave, but that would not help her pride nor her image whatsoever - besides, she was itching to fight something. Then again, if she lost to this woman, she would be entitled to give away a smile in front of possibly more than just Takko. The thought alone nearly caused her cheeks to begin to burn, but she was lucky enough to avoid the embarrassment.

A sigh escaped her lips before the one side began to tug into a deadly smirk. Her stance changed as well, as the kimono drifted across her body as she shifted. She instantly returned her face to normal and her tone to flat to speak. "Very well. I accept the terms of this agreement, and shall uphold them if I am deemed the loser. Her stance continued to shift until it was in a comfortable position for fighting in a kimono before finishing. "I would like to add, however, that I am not one for friendly spars. Your overall health at the end of this is not my responsibility." While it sounded weird, Kiriko was essentially warning Yoko that she had the possibility of dying because of a friendly spar, simply because she rarely saw sparring as friendly.

“Uzumaki’s pretty used to that, actually,” came a new voice. Katsuro hadn’t made any special effort to conceal himself as he approached—doubtless, both of them were aware that he was headed in their direction, but that was not the same thing as being expected to contribute to the conversation, if it could be called that. Kiyoko was pushy and annoying, but those traits made it possible for her to speak with others that generally preferred to hold silence. “Because her sparring partner is usually me. That wager’s one of her favorites.” He did not appear to be joking—in fact, his face was every bit as grim as Kiriko’s. Needless to say, he had a collection of weird and irrelevant facts about Uzumaki—since he never really asked her anything important—and as far as anyone knew, he was completely incapable of the muscle movements required for a smile.

“Don’t mind me; I’m just here so that if she dies, everyone will know she asked for it, and there won’t be a lot of…” he made a generally dismissive gesture, probably to indicate the absolute insanity that would result from one of the Kumo ninja killing or severely injuring Naruto’s very own granddaughter. Well, there was another one, but the younger Uzumaki was only a Chūnin at the moment, and thus nowhere near here.

As good as his word, Katsuro hopped into a nearby tree, crouching on a low branch and draping his arms over his knees. He’d give an official signal to start, if they needed one, but he somehow doubted they would, really. He wasn’t exactly as indifferent to Kiyoko’s fate as he seemed, but he was nobody’s knight, nobody’s protector. What Uzumaki got herself into, she got out of—or not—by her own strength, and nobody else’s. It was one of the reasons he could stand her at all in the first place.

Kiyoko opened her mouth to accept the terms, however; Katsuro's voice cut in, and she turned and frowned at him. He was right, though, she was used to terms such as those. He, like he said, was her sparring partner, and he certainly didn't go easy on her. She wouldn't have it any other way, though. Why should someone hold back just because they are sparring? Pushing the thought aside, the frown turned to a grin as she cocked her head to the side, sparing Katsuro a glance before turning her attention back to Kiriko. She took a slow breath, clearing the rest of her thoughts as she too, took a stance. It was evident she was going to use the Jūken, or otherwise known as the Gentle Fist.

"Katsu-teme is right about that, I am used to it. I would not expect anything less from a Kumogakure shinobi. I want only the best, and if this friendly spar turns out more than just that, well..," she paused, shifting in her spot before continuing. "Then that'll be on me and no one else," she stated, the smirk on her face never leaving. "Katsu-teme can tell them, if you kill me, that it wasn't out of ill intent," though it probably wouldn't look that way. Plus, she had no intent on dying today, nor any day after this. She had a dream, after all, to achieve that required her to be alive. She would see her family again, but not today, and not any time soon.

"Shall we?" she stated, the smirk widening. Instead of waiting for Kiriko to make the first move, as she should have, Kiyoko moved first, relying on her taijutsu for now.

Kiri had noticed the Uchiha from quite a distance away, but had originally thought nothing of the man: after all, she had assumed that he would simply continue on his own path. Instead, however, he decided to join in on the festivities and create his own input. At least he was blunt on his stance for the fight, and went to the nearest tree to watch instead. In all honesty, Kiriko would rather interact with said man that decided to opt out of the fight than fight the brat in front of him. His mannerisms just seemed so familiar and blunt, as if Kiriko could actually connect with such a man or something. However, it didn't seem to be likely considering she accepted the challenge, and the redhead was beginning to talk again about how she would take full responsibility for everything that happened. Kiriko especially enjoyed the touching 'if' that she added, as if she felt that Kiriko wouldn't be able to hit her.

Nevertheless, Kiriko could sense the movements in the young lady as she moved towards her, against most normal fashions that he who started a spar would attack second. It seemed that even basic class was lost on the woman, but Kiriko would forgive her for now. Instead, she simply sidestepped Yoko's first move gracefully before speaking. "I never said anything about killing you." Kiriko mumbled loudly, referencing to her usual problem with incapacitating her opponents in a spar, rather than killing them as some psychos did. To hopefully avoid such problems, Kiriko refused to activate her Lightning Armor, as well as relied solely on her sight rather than her sensory abilities. Hopefully she could avoid drawing blood from her opponent, so that she wouldn't get into a bit of a crazed frenzy. Too bad she couldn't make any promises, as the spar was already getting her blood pumping as she counter-attacked through taijutsu as well. Best not to use anything violent.

Kiyoko merely smiled when Kiriko side-stepped, twisting her body so that she could bring her arm back around. "But it was implied when you said my overall health wasn't your concern, meaning you might kill me even if it's done unintentionally," she retorted back. She managed to block a few of Kiriko's attacks, however; there were some that landed, causing her to drop her guard a bit, and cringe. The smile, however, never left her face. She hadn't had much time with the Kumogakure ninja as the others seemed to have, and if this was the only way she'd be able to spend something with at least one of them, Kiyoko would take the beating. It's not like she couldn't, given who her usual partner was. Even if she lost, she would do so with a smile. Though, there was only one person she ever lost to, and she didn't plan on losing to anyone else. If she did...

"You just might be my new rival if I lose to you," she stated, sparing a glance towards the tree Katsuro was in, a smirk crossing her features before she brought her arms up to block another attack. She pondered, for a moment, whether or not she should implement some of her ninjutsu to these attacks, however; it was just a friendly spar. It wouldn't be too wise to start blowing places up with their ninjutsu. She didn't even know what Kiriko's chakra natures were to be able to provide a decent defense against it.

Kiriko narrowed her eyes, the persistence in this woman's need to always correct something that wasn't needed was beginning to annoy her. Implications were for people that had to beat around the bush: Kiriko thought she had made it obvious that such things were not needed with her. However, it seemed that Yoko was one to imply too much, and apparently miss the obvious. What made it odd was the freaky smile that was planted on her face: it wasn't like hers, one that was full of violence and a sadistic pleasure, but instead of true happiness. That bugged her extensively - what in the world could this woman be so happy about to feel the need to smile throughout a spar? Was she trying to prove a point or something? Even when hits were landed, she kept the smile on.

Kiriko nearly lost focus of restraining herself when Yoko spoke of becoming her rival. She had no need for a rival, so who did this woman think she was to simply superimpose herself as her rival? Kiriko's next attacks were easily blocked as she tried to refocus, allowing for Yoko to land on on her, effectively throwing off her chakra control as the Gentle Fist did. If this kept up, she would start using ninjutsu, or even her Lightening Armor, and that wouldn't end well for anybody. She either needed to end this soon, or find a stalemate. "I have no intentions of taking a rival, regardless of the outcome of this petty contest.". This was going to get out of hand soon, and Kiriko would rather not have that.

"Intent or not, you would still have one depending on the outcome of this battle," and she meant it. She had only ever lost to one person in particular, and he could attest to how serious she was about taking on a rival. If she wasn't strong enough to defeat someone at least once, she would train and spar until she could. This would be no different. Kumo shinobi or not, responsible for her grandfather's death or not, she would still take the Kumo kunoichi as her rival. They continued to exchange blows, the hits landing a bit harder with each passing one, and Kiyoko was finding herself a little drained. She sighed softly, turning to block another in coming attack. It wasn't a petty contest.

"It is not a contest, Kiriko. A contest entails that the we are competing. Is that what we are doing here? Because I could have sworn it was just a sparring session?" she retorted, really not mindful of the way she said it. To her, that was all this was. Perhaps, it might seem like a competition, because Kiyoko was certainly competitive, however; she didn't see the spar that way. What this was, was two people merely training, and honing themselves against each other. Whatever the outcome, it would only make them that much stronger against each other. She could feel some of her muscles becoming sore from the length of the spar, but she wasn't going to relent, not quite yet. But that didn't mean it shouldn't end soon.

"How about we finish this then?" she stated, the smile vanishing from her face as she took one last defensive stance. Inhaling a deep breath, she held it until Kiriko made one of the last moves.

Katsu could only wonder if Kiyoko's persistent need to have the last word (sometimes by saying things that made very little sense) was half as annoying to Kiriko as it was to him. Well, he'd probably be finding out in the next few seconds, anyway.

Kiriko was starting to realize why the man known as Katsuro talked as little as he did: with a girl such as Kiyoko in his presence all day, how could one even get a word in? Her constant need to comment on everything was pushing Kiriko over the edge, and her need to maim or break something was starting to really push through her mind. She needed a release, and she needed it soon: else somebody was losing a limb. It certainly didn't help that Yoko was starting to talk about contests, which made Kiriko desperate for some form of competition - at least then she would be able to blow off some steam. With a 'friendly' spar, Kiriko had to focus on not maiming her partners, which was so much more difficult than just letting her go wild.

Nevertheless, Yoko sounded as if she was beginning to wind down, even though her chakra levels seemed to be fine. Either she was doing this on purpose, or her muscular system was starting to get slightly fatigued. Either way, Kiriko wasn't finished yet. Leaping out of her sandals, she flew through the air towards the Konoha-nin, kimono gracefully remaining on her body as she spun into a kick towards the woman's head. The woman blocked the attack easily, but that wasn't what Kiriko wanted, and it wasn't until she heard a snap within the arm bones of her opponent that she truly felt the stress leave her body. Call it sadistic, but Kiriko could feel satisfaction and a peace of mind wash over her as she confirmed that she had broken the other woman's arm. Pushing off and landing a few paces away, Kiriko began to regain her breath from a ragged pattern. One would mistaken it for fatigue, but in reality it was from her amount of concentration in just trying not to take this fight to a level of dangerous proportions. After all, control wasn't usually within her best interests.

Looking slightly shaken - though not for reasons one might think - Kiriko regained her composure to speak. "I agree; ending this now would be wise." Kiriko let the guilt and shame wash over her as her face steeled itself as it always did, as she knew that Hiko would be most disappointed in her once he found out. Hopefully he would at least understand that she tried to restrain herself.

The crack was all she needed to know that her arm was broken, and Kiyoko bit hard on her lip. She'd broken worse parts on her body thanks to the war, but that didn't mean it didn't stop hurting. She was lucky enough she didn't scream out in the pain, but instead, merely grimmaced through it. Kiriko pushed back, and agreed to ending the spar. Kiyoko lost, in a way, but she merely shook her head and smiled. Her arm was pulsing, and it hurt, but she could take care of it in a minute. She was, after all, a medic-nin, and it wouldn't be too much to heal herself. Though, she might actually need another set of arms to completely heal her arm. She glanced down at said arm, then back up at Kiriko, a bright smile still plaguing her lips. She smiled too much, if anything, and she knew that. Still, it was something she felt the need to do. That was why she had named her terms. Even if she gave them often to Katsuro, she just wanted to see people smile more. It was almost sad that people were forgetting how to do that with everything that has happened.

"Thank you, Kiriko, for the spar," she stated, bowing in respect towards the victor. "It seems I have lost this wager," she stated, shaking her head softly. "Don't worry, though. I am not going to pursue you as a rival, but... thank you for at least this much," she continued, waving her good hand in front of her.

Kiriko was more than confused when Yoko gave her another one of her smiles, and then proceeded to bow and thank her. There was no honor in her win; there was no real victory there. It was more or less finished before it even started, and yet here Yoko was, calling it a victory for her. Kiriko stood somewhat flabbergasted as she continued to speak, not sure really what to say until Yoko finally stopped talking. Kiriko let the silence sink in for a second, before looking at her opponent with somewhat softer eyes than she had originally intended. "While I personally disagree that there even was a victor, I shall take what I have been given." Kiriko paused, still not bowing to her opponent even though she had earned a small dose of respect from the girl. She turned to leave, but turned back around when she remembered the other part of her statement. "However, I shall remain ahold of the question that I am allowed to pose to you for now. You never know when something like that might come in handy. A small smile threatened to creep onto her face, but it was dashed away a few moments later as she spun around to leave.

"Good day, Kiyoko Uzumaki. May we never attempt another spar."

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Nariko Kaneshiro

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About a week and three days had passed, the meetings were still not done. Progress was being made, but on some days, it was much slower than others. Today it had been especially glacial, and Takko’s frustration was testing the limits of his courtesy. All this putting on of polite manners wasn’t in his nature anyway—he was a nice enough guy, maybe, but he preferred to be direct rather than coy and political, and the days where he felt like he was just chasing his own tail were increasing in frequency as the Hokage’s Council dithered about this or that. Without any real way to get past that besides stretching his patience and digging his heels in when he could, he decided that it was high time sake was brought into the equation. And some of that fancy imported liquor, too.

Which was how he found himself headed back to the compound, loaded down with a sack full of alcohol jugs. Beside him, the Uchiha, who had picked him up from the meeting this time, grudgingly carried another sack, slightly smaller, with various bottles clinking around inside. Still, it was all paid for with the Raikage’s money, so it wasn’t like it was a drain on his family’s resources, something he supposed he could appreciate. Whatever the case, it was full dark by the time they made it back to the compound, and it happened that most of the others of both village groups were there anyway.

“Well,” Takehiko said, at just enough volume to get the attention of anyone who hadn’t focused on the new person entering the room. “Seems I have a lot of sake here, and not a lot of time. Who wants to help me drink it?” He grinned, toothy and feral, and set his sack down in the middle of the room, near a low table, urging the Uchiha to do the same with the slightly more exotic brews.

Naomichi couldn't help but want to be outside at night. As he walked along the courtyard of the Uchiha compound, whistling a gleeful tune as he enjoyed the commonly warm air that Kohana had to offer. It was a beautiful day and he couldn't help but find nothing wrong with it. His mind was at peace, he was still on a high from his night with Nari, and the place just looked beautiful. He couldn't help but look at the gorgeous design of the buildings around him - elegant but strong - and the finely trimmed greenery that showed the love and care that was put back into the clan's home.

As he was rounding a corner though, he saw Takko come into the compound with a sack full of... something. Naomichi was unsure what could be in the bag, so he figured he'd do a little recon work just to make sure it wasn't filled with something suspicious. He threw himself against the back wall and peaked around the corner at the Raikage - his ANBU skills coming out at the moment of suspicion. What is he doing? Why does he have that bag? What is in it? So many questions and so little time. As he analyzed the movements of his prey, he came to the conclusion that he was not suspicious - or was being very good at hiding it. Nevertheless Naomichi wanted to continue to follow him.

As the Raikage traversed the compound, Naomichi attempted to remain less stealthy just in case he was caught. He probably wouldn't be happy if he had a Kohana shinobi stalking him down like prey, so Naomichi attempted to do the more natural look. Leaning against walls, pushups, rearranging flower pots, holding cats (in all the wrong ways), and anything else he felt would seem normal if he was ever approached on the subject.

Eventually when the Raikage went into a meeting hall and made his exclamation, Naomichi lost the cool stealthy attitude and immediately charged into the room and snatched a bottle up from the bag. With a huge grin across his face he popped open the top of it and looked towards Takko. "So this is what you've been hidin' in your bag huh? You coulda said something sooner!" Naomichi immediately started to drink the bottle down to its halfway point, but still maintaining a semi-sober state of mind. He wanted to feel the alcohol but not become a bumbling idiot.

Katsuro sighed, but Takko only laughed, hitting Naomichi on the back with one large hand. It wasn’t a violent gesture at all, more one of camaraderie than anything else, but the Raikage was not always especially good at remembering how strong he was, so there was that. “The stalker over here has the right of it,” he said with a grin, plucking out a few of the bottles for his own use. “Anyone interested in trying to drink me under the table?”

A window sill was far more comfortable then most people believed, a fact Kosan had learned from a very young age especially at night when the thin plank of wood was the perfect mixture of heat from within the house and cool to the touch from the night air. Kosan leaned back against the side of the window, as he looked up at the star filled night sky. It was comforting, in its own way, as the stars were always the stars no matter where one was in the world.

His mind had been occupied since that night. Since Rei, the Uchiha, and him found the list of names. Even now, he could call up the scroll and every name on it with perfect clarity, if he desired to, he could even count the strands of Rei's hair that rested on her shoulder as he had looked over it. The image had been seared into his mind, but unlike the past hours... or was it days? Kosan mind was his own, and he chose to pass his time to watch the night sky. While not as interesting as spars and other odd habits he was sure the others have, it held a certain charm all on its own.

Kosan's blue eyes watched the large moon, and he almost wished Seiko was looking at it too. Almost as if she was watching it then she wasn't tucked in and sleeping which she should be doing as she had to go to the Academy for instruction in the morning.

His sensitive hearing picked up a familiar voice, that of his Raikage and something about Sake. Kosan leaned his head against the side of the window. A part of him just wanted to stay and continue in his self-imposed exile, running over the same things in his head, driving himself insane with the fact that everything was still so far away from him. One step forward in a travel of a lifetime, but, on the other hand, it could be amusing to watch his Raikage drink himself in a stupor after the all the talks with those elders had to build up a stress. Kosan had never been bothered to accompany the Raikage, but he trusted him enough to not hand over the key to their gates.

On that note, he had not had a chance to sit down with Nari for awhile, and if she was in a ten mile radius, the sake would summon her. Decision made, Kosan pushed himself off the ledge and back onto the wooden floor, his socks providing a nice barrier between him and the cold floor. Moving to the kitchen, Kosan filled a small pot and set it on the burner to boil for his tea. He had never been much of a drinker, and he was intent more on watching them drink then partaking himself.

With his preparations done, Kosan entered the room they had first sat together and ate in, the 'dinning' room, was it? Or perhaps a sitting room? His eyes ran over the three occupants, Naomichi, Kosan had not spoken to him much, his Raikage, and the Uchiha. Kosan offered a small nod to the Uchiha in the form of a personal greeting, or as much as Kosan was willing to give the other shinobi. He did not know what the Uchiha thought about their little trip or if he even cared, but Kosan was still grateful none the less.

"I will be sure to get my glorious Raikage a pillow when he has fallen under the table," Kosan said offering a small smile before sitting down on the floor and sliding his legs under the table, "Can you imagine what our Konoha brethern would say if a Raikage was sleeping, stone drunk and without a pillow? I fear we would never hear the end of it."

“Assuming I’ll lose already? Woe is me, who has lost the confidence of my closest supporters!” Takko bemoaned dramatically, placing a hand over his heart and pretending something had hit him there. The goofy grin still firmly in place gave away his actual thoughts, however, though it was but a moment before the glint in his eye turned a bit more sly. “You know, Kosan, a drinking contest with only two people is a pretty poor showing. You should participate too, and then we’ll see which one of us ends up under the table, hm?”

Kosan raised an eyebrow at the thinly veiled challenge. While he was never much of a drinker, he did not like letting challenges go unanswered. An odd desire to prove himself that was born many years ago that had never left his system. Still there was the chance he would make an utter fool of himself. He was glad it seemed there was no women there which would lessen his chance to make a fool of himself, or worse, wake up in the wrong bed.

"I suppose," Kosan said slowly, rolling the words around in his mouth, "that I don't have much of a choice, although I bemoan what they will do back in the village when they find out that lowly Zetsubō out drank the Raikage."

Kosan glanced at Nao who seemed quite taken with the entire bottle, "But I think I may have to use a glass." With an ungraceful snort, Takko handed him one, taking another for himself.

Nariko walked with a large grin on her face, the cool breeze of the air washing against her face; a welcomed antidote to the harsh warmth of the weather. She tilted her head side to side, humming a light tune before something in the air caught her attention. She might not have been an Inuzuka, with their sense of smell, nor their hearing abilities, however; when it came to the scent of that, she could smell it a good distance away. And Nariko had never been one to turn down a good drink. With large grin on her face, Nariko made a bee line for the source, coming upon it within a few seconds. She wasn't too far from the compound to begin with. She arrived just in time to catch the last sentence of Kosan's, and shook her head. Rolling her eyes, she came upon Kosan and drapped an arm over his shoulder.

"Ah, but what would the village think when the lowly Zetsubō is out drank by a kunoichi? Surely it would be a blow to not only Takko-chan, but Ko-chan too, no?" she almost cooed, leaning in so that her lips were close to the shell of his ear. She pulled back suddenly, laughing as she patted his back in the process. "But you know me, I'm never one to turn down a challenge," she stated, grinning almost from ear to ear. "So, shall we see who is the better drinker?" she stated, flashing a predatory smile around the group. She couldn't hold her liquor, she knew that, and almost everyone else from Kumogakure knew that, however; she didn't care. A good drink and having a good time were all that mattered to her.

Naomichi silently drank as he watched almost all of the Kumo shinobi come into the dining hall, drowning the awkwardness away in himself with the bottle of sake. He decided it'd be best to push himself to the brink of tipsiness and only humor them with drinking after that. Gotta keep it a fair game and all. "Well now it's a party! Come Nari-kun, Katsu-san, Takko-senpai, Ko-san!" Naomichi let out a little snicker at the play on words he made there. "I bet none of you are gonna beat someone with the stature of the Raikage. He's so much larger than the rest of us I'm sure he can take his liquor by the barrel load and still be able to balance on his toe!" Naomichi was able to keep his abilities secret to the entire group throughout the week-long period that they were together, and he wasn't going to let them in on what he was like just in case Kohana needed the upper hand at all.

"I like this idea for a game though. Tell ya guys what," Naomichi stood up and placed his arm around Kosan with Nariko as well, bottle residing in his other hand. "How 'bout last man standin' gets bragging rights and a weeks worth of free meals out of everyone else? Eh, whadaya say guys? Kumo shinobi can't back down from such an easy challenge or rumors will start to spread." Naomichi grew a devilish grin across his face as he took another swig from the bottle and then heaving a heavy sigh. If everyone was gonna have fun tonight might as well make it interesting.

"Ko-san, I bet you can't even outlast poor Nari-kun right here. You gotta prove your manhood to the rest of us here." If anything, Naomichi wanted to see what such a calm and collected person was like under the influence. He never had the chance to see anyone like him be so far gone, so egging him on was his best strategy for the situation.

Kosan couldn't stop the shiver that ran down his spine when her hot breath caressed his ear. He closed his eyes as his mind was thrown into a world of confusion. Such personal contact wasn't something he was used to anymore, and it had caught him off guard and left him feeling momentarily vulnerable. So lost in his own inner confusion and raging thoughts over what just happened, he did not have time to really answer Nari's challenge like he normally would have done. Maybe he would have something akin to 'She was never one to turn down, or win, a challenge' but his wits had abandoned him. Fleeing in terror at the gentle warm air that had brushed by him, an action that was probably nothing more then Nari seeking to tease him and the others.

His back went stiff as an arm wrapped around him and pulled him closer to Nari, the devious heavy breather that had put him in this precarious position in the first place. Feeling his body crushed against hers did not help his wits return to him. It was hard to hear Naomichi over the sound of Nari's heartbeat that was filling his ear as it was crushed against her chest.

"...Of course," Kosan said almost on reflex, but his mouth moving did seem to restart his mind, as he slowly came back to himself, doing his best to ignore the woman being held against him. Nari was like a puppy, he had to remind himself, a fluffy, hyperactive puppy that was still in the middle of learning to not use the carpet as a restroom.

"I can outlast Nari-chan in anything, but I fear she could not handle it," Kosan said with a soft sigh. He was dead set on turning this around. He did not enjoy being caught so off guard and out of his comfort zone. It was time to turn the situation around.

“Uhh…” Takko put in, not really understanding the implications of what Kosan had just said but sensing that there might be some. Katsuro had clearly caught them, if the fact that he was rolling his eyes was anything to go by, but then again, he seemed like the sort who did that with regularity, so it could have been nothing. “Anyway! Let’s go. Mikkun, put down the bottle. We’ve gotta do this all official-like! One cup at a time, everyone drinks together!”

As it turned out, Nariko, for all her big talk, was looking awful by the fourth cup, which Takehiko polished off with relish and no seeming change to his physiology at all. Kosan looked all right, and it was hard to say with Mikkun—the man was an odd duck normally, so who knew what he was like when drunk?

One thing Nariko could do well, was talk. She could talk, but she could never really live up to it. Even as she downed her fourth cup, her face was already contorting into something uncomfortable. She really shouldn't have taken the challenge, but she couldn't really resist the call of it. She glanced around the room, watching it spin as she grinned with a lopsided smile. She turned to Kosan, blinked slowly at him, and allowed the grin to spread further across her lips. "You stay right there, Ko-chans. One of you will be enough," she slurred, out patting his cheeks before her eyes closed. Her head fell onto his lap as she passed out.

Four drinks in, and his mood was dimming. Everyone else was having fun, so he supposed that was something. He constantly moved his blue eyes from one to the other, smiling when appropriate, a reflexive response more then anything, but he was only half there. The other half was swimming through memories, of drinking with friends who died in the war, of his Shizu falling into his lap when she had drank a little too much...

Kosan snapped his eyes to his right watching Nariko weaving back and forth and giving him a very, very odd look. He was a little surprised she had lasted this long. He instinctively leaned into the soft pat of his cheeks, his eyes closing... before he felt a sudden weight on his crossed legs. Opening his eyes, he looked down to see her head on his thigh. Well, at least he had not spilled his drink, but looking down at her, he couldn't help the small smile that tugged on his lips as he reached down to lay his hand on the top of her head, "It seems our puppy is out."

“Her bark was always a bit worse than her bite,” Takko replied definitively, smiling with amusement at his own extension of the metaphor into an appropriate idiom. He was definitely smarter than people thought he was, right? Right. His thoughts were only the slightest bit fuzzy, and there was a pleasant warmth in his stomach, but that was really it. Other than that, he was only a slightly-more-boisterous than usual, and that was it.

The next three drinks went down nice and smooth, and though his grin was wide enough to split his face now, nothing about his state of mind had become especially different, as far as he could tell. “Hey—hey Kossan,” The ‘s’ slurred slightly, but he was comprehensible. “Don’t look sso down, my friend. Thiss iss a celebrashun!” Of what, he wasn’t sure. Fixing his eye with utmost seriousness on the other man, he asked in a grave tone of voice:

“D'you need a hug?”

After the next three drinks, Kosan could not, for the life of him, remember what he had been just thinking about. In fact, nearly all his attention was being consumed by the little puppy sleeping in his lap. His head was down, causing his long black hair to hide his face, and most of hers, in a black curtain.

Reaching down, his long fingers turned her sleeping face to his. Her mouth was hanging open letting out short even breaths, and he could not help but stare... before reaching down with both his hands, putting them on the side of her face as he moved her mouth open and closed. 'Ah....' 'Um' 'Ahhhhh' 'Um' his mind filled in the sounds that her mouth was making through the hard work of his hands.

Lightly, he started to bob her mouth with his palm making soft popping sounds fill the air. Nariko must have been really out of it to not have felt his touch, and he was a little annoyed by that prospect. She should be awake and enjoying it! But she just looked so adorable! Even if her passed out face wasn't her most attractive one, she just looked so cute! He just wanted to wrap her up and steal her away.

Takko's voice made him snap his head up... and cause his head to swim a little from the sudden movement that caused his inebriated brain to slosh around in his head. A hug?

Instead of speaking, all Kosan did was hold his arms up, like a child asking to be picked up. Of course, he didn't want to be picked up as he had such an adorable puppy sleeping on him, but it was an acceptance of the hug from the man who would probably snap his spine in two.

"Isn't she just so adorable!?" He asked a few shades too loudly, "She is so much cuter when she isn't talking."

Takehiko was as good as his (implied) word, and though the hug was slightly awkward, given the need to consider Nari-chan, it did indeed happen, the Raikage offering his friend a pat on the back to go with, though he might have accidentally used a bit too much force. Three glasses later…

Nari's face was almost taunting him in how she slept there looking so adorable and there was nothing he could do about it! Somehow, someway, she had planned this! That deviously cunning Nariko! Oh, ho! She was trying to trick him again!

That half smile was not one of pleasant inebriation! That was one pure evil! Reaching down, he grabbed her nose with his fingers, pulling it left and right, forcing her head to rock in his lap. No.. maybe she was really asleep?

Blinking a few times to try and clear his cloudy vision, he was aware of two facts, his stomach was starting to hurt, and he was really, really tired. Throwing his hand into the air, he proudly, and loudly, announced to the small room, "I am tired and I am going to bed!"

Pushing up on the table, he climbed to his feet, either ignorant or uncaring to how Nariko's head plummeted to the floor with her pillow removed. Turning on wobbly legs, Kosan leaned against the wall and motioned to the sleeping Nariko, "Takko," Kosan said stressing the o for as long as he could, "Take care of my puppy."
With that, he started to stumble towards his room, trying his best to disrobe on the way without falling down at the same time.

The Raikage blinked, glanced down at Nari-chan and shrugged. She looked fine to him, for the moment. “So... Mikkun. Just you and me and the sake now." He nodded sagely, as if this were some kind of significant statement, but even drunk he couldn't maintain solemnity for very long. His face cracked into a broad grin. “Let's do this."

Naomichi took the challenge on like every other person in the room, downing drink after drink and watching his companions fall from their graces like the sun falls for the moon. When Nari was gone just after a few drinks Naomichi knew it would be easy to take down the rest. The way she curled up onto Kosan's legs made him slightly jealous, but it'd be better if he just let the group do what they are used to since they all know each other better than he could ever. As he watched Kosan's slow descent from calm and stoic master into cuddly and adorable child looking after their 'puppy,' Naomichi couldn't help but smirk and chuckle at how completely different he was acting with so much alcohol in his system.

As Kosan stumbled out of the room Naomichi scooted towards Nari so at least he was able to keep an eye on her, softly rolling her to her side just in case of something bad happening. He couldn't help doing this - he knew it was wrong and weird to do so - but he softly pet the back of Nari's head in a caring manner. He just wanted her to be happy and well in this situation, despite probably not remembering anything that happened that night.

"Well Takko-san" Naomichi said, fire in his eye as he looked at the Raikage. "It looks like it's the battle of the eyepatches then. This proves we are the manliest of men and no one can take us down. Now, let's see who the victor is!" Naomichi raised his cup to the ceiling in a cheers motion, clanking it with Takko's. After downing what Naomichi assumed was his eleventh glass (he had no need to count them unlike everyone else) he sobered himself up almost immeditely and decided that it was as good of a time as ever to gloat about how much better he was than the Raikage. "So you realize you'll never win this, right?"

Takko couldn’t seem to be bothered, not even by the gloating. “Yer pretty good at thish,” he slurred, his voice a fraction too loud for the size of the room. He blinked his single visible eye at Naomichi and grinned, shrugging. “Yanno, I really don’t mind loshing in an honorable contest between men. Or women. Women are shome of the toughesht people I know.” He seemed especially delighted by this, and continued to down drinks—he’d lost track of his count by this point, but Katsu hadn’t, and honestly, he was surprised the man wasn’t dead, even considering his size. He must have a serious metabolism to be able to process that much liquor.

“Too bad Naomichi’s cheating, then,” the Uchiha put in. It wasn’t too much of a contest if one of the parties was doing something to remove the negative effects of the alcohol. It was really the only logical conclusion to come to, given how much they had already consumed. He sipped his own sake decidedly more slowly—someone had to stay reasonably sober and responsible during this escapade.

Takko looked aghast. “Now thash not… not… ish mean, Katsu-kun!” The Raikage switched his sentence when he couldn’t find the word he’d originally intended on losing, swaying just slightly back and forth in his seat. “Mikkun wouldn’t cheat at a drinking contesht! Being washted is half the fun! Dun go… impugning hish honor that way.” How he’d remembered a word like impugning when he couldn’t manage nice was one of those mysteries that may never have an answer.

“Is that so?” Katsuro replied, raising an eyebrow in Naomichi’s direction. “Looks like the Raikage’s defending your honor, Yuhara.” He was ever-so-slightly curious as to how the other Shinobi would respond. He didn’t exactly seem like the smooth liar sort, but then, Katsu didn’t know him very well. Which probably explained why he couldn’t think of a reason to hate him, which explained the fact that he was actually using complete sentences to speak to him. Funny how that worked.

Naomichi gave a hearty laugh when Katsuro pointed out his little trick. After taking down another cup - matching the Raikage's pace - he turned towards the silent shinobi with a big smile plastered across his face. "Aww, now Katsu-san... why'd ya go about saying that? I wanted to be the one to make the 'big reveal' to Takko-senpai." He was a little bothered by the fact that there was still someone standing - sober even - that would dampen the fun of the evening.

He turned towards his drinking partner and gave a humble bow, paying his respects to the man he wronged by cheating. "I'm sorry senpai~" Naomichi said in a playful tone. "I can't lie to a man as spectacular and powerful as you, so I feel I must proclaim you as the winner!" He couldn't help but feel guilty for using his kekkei-genkai as a crutch in such a simple game, but he just wanted to see everyone enjoying themselves. Never really witnessing anyone having pure fun without any motives behind it was something he always wished to see; and so he owed it to the Kumo-shinobi for giving him the chance to be more natural without panicking about what he was going to do or say.

Naomichi raised his cup for what he assumed was the Raikage's last time. Every man had his limits and the fact this man could still form words without them crumbling out of his mouth was a miracle in itself. He wanted the Raikage to be out of the room itself either in mind or matter so he could have a private conversation with the man who so kindly interrupted him. "Now, let us drink one final cup to the winner of the evening... Takko-senpai!"

For a moment, Takko looked a bit disappointed that the downer Uchiha had actually been correct, but he perked up again at the praise, nodding agreeably—though it made the room swim—and downing the last cup. He could hold no more, however, and stood with considerable unsteadiness from his spot. Still, he managed to throw Nari over his shoulder okay; he at least had not quite managed to forget that she was present. “Shure, shure, I’ll be winner if you shay sho. Jus’ don’ be too hard on Katshu-kun here. I think being cranky and depreshed ish in hish genes.” Picking up a tuneless hum, he wobbled out of the room, depositing Nari on her futon—on her side, not her back—and briefly contemplating just curling up in there himself, because his own seemed so far away. But, well, there was a reason he shouldn’t do that, he was almost sure. Kiri would know what it was. Kiri knew everything.

“Shoulda made her Raikage,” he mumbled to himself, half asleep already, flinging wide the sliding door to his own room—with unfortunately enough force to take it out of the frame.

“Oopsh.” Well, at least he was here now. Time to sleep.

Katsu, meanwhile, narrowed his eyes suspiciously, but drank for the purposes of the toast anyway. “And did you enjoy watching them all make fools of themselves?” he asked blithely.

With the Raikage's exit Naomichi immeditely sobered himself up, losing the excitement and jest he had with the group to adapt to a more serious tone with Katsu. With a soft chuckle he set down his cup and stared at the finely crafted wooden table, fixated on how simple it looked and yet how it still had a sheen of beauty with it as well. "Ya know something Katsu? I enjoyed having fun with those guys - and you should too. While they may have acted like idiots it was pure fun. You shoulda joined in... I mean we can't be ruthless killers all the time right?" As calm as Naomichi tried to sound, deep down he was breaking out in a cold sweat. Katsuro was someone he just couldn't figure out - more so than others. He just came off more inhuman than anyone else he had ever met due to the fact that Naomichi couldn't figure out his desires in the slightest - assuming he had any in the first place.

Katsuro blinked just once, slowly, as though processing what was being said. “I wasn’t feeling especially like a ruthless killer at the moment,” he replied flatly, his left eyebrow inching just slightly up his forehead. “Now if Tsukino were here, that might be different.” It was very, very difficult to tell just how serious he was being, because neither his voice nor his facial expression modulated in the slightest, but it might just have been a dry joke. Maybe he had had too much to drink.

With the slightest of sighs through his nose, he stood, flicking a glance at Naomichi. “If I resented this, you’d know.” It was perhaps as close as he ever got to admitting that not everything was a complete chore for him to deal with. At least… not today. Nodding tersely at the other shinobi, the Uchiha too took his leave for the night.

Setting

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Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Rei Hinode

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#, as written by Taunbon



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As a frequent sparring partner of Zetsu, Rei was rather accustomed to him being up at a certain time in the morning, ready for training. As his best friend, she felt no qualms whatsoever in simply walking into his room when he was considerably later than usual. She found him still passed out on his futon, clearly having only gotten halfway through the process of disrobing to sleep. To say that this was funny to her would be an understatement. For most of the time she’d known, him, he’d been a soul that nobody would hesitate to call fastidious, but from the look of things, he’d definitely participated in last night’s debauchery. She’d found Takko nursing a hangover earlier and gotten the story out of him. Well, she wasn’t using her medical jutsu to help. They could suck it up and get out of their own messes.

Zetsu, though… this wasn’t like him at all, and it amused her to no end. Leaning back on his doorframe for a moment, she tilted her head to the side and crossed her arms over her chest, a slow grin spreading over her face. Might as well have some fun at his expense, ne? Tugging at the tie that held her ponytail in place, Rei shook out the locks then ran her hands through them a couple of times, mussing them up. Peeling off the outermost layers of her uniform, she deposited them on the floor, not too far from his. Decency was preserved, but it might take him a while to notice. It wasn’t too hard to find a spot on the futon, laying her head close to his such that their noses were almost touching.

This was going to be fun.

“Zetsu,” she intoned in a slight sing-song. “Rise and shine sleeping beauty.” She shook his shoulder slightly and plastered a half-asleep look on her own face. Now she just had to wait a bit.




He was used to sleeping with others from his marriage with Shizu to the few nights that Seiko wanted to sleep in the same bed due to nightmares, either hers or his own, and so he did not instinctively feel any difference when a presence he was comfortable with had slipped into the bed, in fact, subconsciously, the second he felt a warm body next to him, he moved closer to the source and sought to wrap his arms around his new bedfellow.

Kosan's eyes flicked behind his eyelids as a voice, a soft voice, called out to him. His mind, still groggy from the night before, was not yet ready to force him awake, his shinobi training utterly failing him compared to the warm bed and whatever he had in his arms, but that soft voice spoke again, and his mind wasn't quite able to comprehend what was said, but it was enough for him to open his eyes. His bright blue eyes met ones of gold, half-lidded with sleep and... something else.

His blue eyes traced her face from her gold eyes, to her wild onyx hair, to her dark skin, and finally down to her lips which he traced with his mind... until his mind realized who he was looking at and his eyes snapped open, his brain jolting him awake, Rei.

Kosan blinked a few times, his body frozen solid, trying to remember anything from last night, but all he could remember was Nari sleeping in his lap, and after that, nothing. His eyes traced down her neck to where the rest of her body was being obscured by his blanket, from the feel of the blanket on his bare chest... well, he was tired not stupid. They had... Kosan closed his eyes for a second before opening them to meet her bright gold ones, his mind running a thousand miles a minute trying to sort through his turbulent thoughts and emotions, all he could do was give out a meek and mumbled, "Rei.."




It took pretty much everything she had to maintain her face instead of cracking up right then and there. Oh, that face! The bewilderment and faint traces of burgeoning guilt… poor, poor Zetsu. He had to have a terrible best friend like her. Time to see just how badly she could fluster the guy. He needed a little more levity in his life, after all, and she wouldn’t deny that it was also true of her. “I was just about to say good morning,” she murmured, reaching forward to curl a strand of his hair around her finger. Huh, it was as soft as it looked. She’d have to tease him about that later, ask him how much time he spent taking care of it. “But you don’t look too pleased to see me here.”

Her pout was only slight, but definitely present. The coup de grâce, however, was the motion she used to bring her hand, his lock of hair still gently held, to her lips, brushing them softly over it before she let the strands slide through her fingers and away. “Should I go?”




Kosan wasn't sure what to do or say as he was so far out of his depth in this situation that he had never dreamed would happen. Much to his embarrassment and shame, he had nearly leaned into her touch when she snagged a strand of his hair, but she also snagged his attention. It was hard to imagine himself as anything more then a shambling teenager that just received his first kiss, a far cry from the grizzled widower he was.

Was he pleased to see her? There? In his bed, in his arms... He didn't know. A part of him.. a part him he had thought forgotten thought it felt right, to have a woman, to have Rei, in his arms when he woke up, but the rest of him was in turmoil. He felt he betrayed Shizu. That he betrayed Rei by, somehow, convincing her to join him when he wouldn't even remember it and that burned him as well, that he didn't even remember being with her. Was he pleased to see her? He... didn't know.

"No," Kosan was surprised with himself as the word escaped him instantly, "Don't leave.."

Rolling to his side, he pushed himself up on his elbow, as he pushed his thoughts aside to face her,"Rei, I didn't," He paused, "I don't think I am ready to move on."

Reaching, he gently stroked a strand of loose hair back behind her ear, "But I.. With you," Closing his eyes, Kosan tried to think about her again, of Rei, she was beautiful. She always had been, but he... Seiko loved Rei, and he did too, but did he love her? The sudden image of Shizu dying in his arms flashed through his eyes, "Rei, I... do not want to lose you. I cannot lose you too. No matter what I feel about you, it cannot be you. It just... "

Kosan let his blue eyes fall from her face to the bed, it couldn't be her. Not Rei. She was like a sister to Shizu, and in some way, he felt it would be betraying her. Trying to replace her with Rei even though the two were very little alike. Or perhaps he was simply a coward looking for a way out of happiness that could threaten his self-imposed obsession?




Well, that had escalated quickly. It hadn’t been completely lost on her that this sort of reaction was a possibility, but she had been hoping it wouldn’t happen. Not for any especially deep reason—she just knew that her friend was still in mourning in some ways, and had hoped that someday, perhaps today, that sadness would not be the first thing he thought about when waking and the last thing he thought about before he went to sleep. Apparently, however, it was still too soon for such hopes to come to fruition.

This time, the melancholy on her face was genuine, and with a little half-smile, she reached up and ruffled his hair, nothing of the implied intimacy left in the gesture. Well… perhaps that was not quite true. It took a certain level of intimacy to be this close to a man like Zetsu and not have him inclined to kill you. Personal space was an issue for people like them, in different ways. But that aside, it was a touch neither romantic nor sexual. Nor was the butterfly kiss she feathered over his forehead. “I wouldn’t want to lose you either, Zetsu,” she told him quietly, as though it were some kind of secret. Perhaps it was—to feel that anyone in your life was irreplaceable was a weakness for a ninja. As far as that was concerned, Rei had always been weaker than just about anyone, given her tendency to form attachments to others.

Her eyes softened—in one sense, she supposed she couldn’t fault him for mourning still. Shizu had been an amazing person, and the love between them had been obvious. The other kunoichi had been one of the people Rei admired most, almost a surrogate sibling in truth, for she’d had so few close people in her life after her parents. She still mourned her too, though in a very different way. “But come on, now.” She sat up, the blanket falling away and making evident the fact that she was, indeed, still very much clothed. Her smile grew, the spark of life flaring back to vibrancy in her bright eyes.

“You can’t possibly believe you’d ever forget a night with me.” Her grin crinkled her nose slightly, and she raised a brow at him. “I just came to get you because you were late for training, you silly man.”




Kosan was rendered speechless when she ruffled his hair like he was a child. The intimacy and tension that filled the air was washed away almost instantaneously, and he could not remember the last time anyone had just ruffled his hair like that. Still, that was not the reaction he had been expecting.

His eyes closed as she got closer, and a shiver went down his spine at the feather light brush of her lips. Well, that was closer to the reaction he had been expecting. It was an oddity. When someone says something personal that they already knew, like telling someone they loved them or liked being near them, it was obvious from actions, but for some reason, once said, it was touching.

Kosan craned his head back, his eyes mesmerized by the cascade of falling blankets and then... he almost coughed when he saw her clothes. It would be a little unbecoming to admit, but he was disappointed at not seeing her body. Then there were a surprising mix of emotions that he was surprised he felt. He was relieved that they hadn't slept together, but at the same time, he was disappointed they hadn't. It was... and odd mixture that he had no desire to examine further.

"No, I suppose not," Kosan said trying to regain a sense on his sanity and other parts of his being, "I would acquire a lovely set of scratches and scars, we would make a lovely matching pair," he said pushing away the blanket and sitting up, letting the cold air touch his naked chest.

He felt he should say something about what just happened... but he couldn't, so he closed his eyes, his body soaking in the ray of light coming from the nearby window. He could tell it was going to be a very long day.

Something that was only confirmed when a raucous, rolling boom reached their ears.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Katsuro had been on a morning patrol route around the perimeter of the village with Uzumaki when the explosion happened, so closely that it actually picked the pair of them off their feet and threw them into the air. The Uchiha himself twisted so as to land on his feet rather than his ass, dropping into a crouch. He hadn’t sensed anyone nearby, which either meant they were especially good at hiding or the explosives had been planted at an earlier time and detonated from afar. The strangest part was that there didn’t seem to be a reason to let them off here—they’d destroyed part of a wall and rained shrapnel on a few outer buildings, but there was nothing important here.

He was left to assume that it was some kind of diversion.

“Uzumaki—the Kumo ninja.” Though he was not a man much given to trust, he trusted that Kiyoko would take his meaning. Either the Kumo shinobi were likely to be targeted by this… or they were responsible. Why else attack now, during the treaty negotiations? “I’ll handle this part, just go.” Katsuro’s eyes darkened, the color morphing from a light grey to deep red, the tomoe in his irises taking the characteristic pinwheel shape of his kekkei genkai. He could still spot nobody, at least not until Uzumaki was gone, whereupon five figures seemed to materialize from thin air.

“The Total Concealment jutsu. Useful, wouldn’t you say?” The voice came from the central figure, though they were all dressed the same, covered head to toe in robes, with color variation. One was black, two red, and two gold. The garments had hoods, which made it difficult to discern their facial features. Well, difficult for ordinary eyes. Katsuro wasn’t having quite as much difficulty, not that being able to discern their features was very helpful.

He supposed this was the point where he was supposed to engage the man in conversation, perhaps get a name or a purpose out of him, but in all honesty, he didn’t really care. They were invading the village on his patrol, so they were going to die. The Uchiha’s hand went to the blade sheathed at his waist, and he lowered himself into an iaido-like stance. “Sure,” he muttered. “Right until you stop using it.”

Kiriko had decided that her best duties would most likely to not be hovering over Hiko throughout the day - after all, while she did know her duty, she did know the man was a grown up, and could take care of himself. Yet it still felt weird scouting out the village folk throughout the day, as if she were planning an invasion. Granted, the looks she got from some of the villagers suggested that they thought the same idea: after all, a few of them probably remembered her face from the war, given the dirty faces she received.

Nevertheless, she continued her recon expedition - that is, until an explosion occurred not too far off from her location. She was close to the perimeter, finishing up the rest of the recon when it happened. Instantly, her mind raced towards Hiko, and why she couldn't sense anybody within the area besides Yoko and the Uchiha. Was this a distraction to bring the Kumo away from the Raikage, and then assassinate him? Seemed like too farfetched, honestly, but she couldn't be certain with the Leaf now; in reality, she only wanted to simply race to Hiko to serve and protect-

A rustle of the leaves near her caught her attention, and something moving deadly fast swung towards her head. She managed to block it just in time, but it still connected with her small body, sending her flying towards the explosion. Regaining herself, she landed nimbly around the explosion site to the site of her attacker, who appeared out of thin air. Odd, she couldn't sense the man just a moment ago, which previously had been deemed nigh impossible on many levels due to her sensory abilities. Yet here was a man who could; correction, there were multiples, as many signatures appeared suddenly behind her as a man spoke of the Total Concealment technique, one she had never heard of. Mind racing, she narrowed her eyes as her lips curled into a snarl. "You'll regret this, you lowlife." She knew that this wasn't going to be a simple battle of wits, but a full on brawl, one that she was most accustomed to and always sickeningly enjoyed in the past: it just depended on whether or not she retained her sanity throughout.

What a wonderful way to wake up in the morning, the smell of burnt toast and the sound of thunder. Well, it would have been wonderful if that was really it. With one eye opened, Ryuu looked at the smoke coming not far from his current position. Unfortunately, it was the cause of an explosive planted by someone who was either completely bored of the calm or just wanted some attention. It could even be both. ‘Who cares?’ He released a rather disinterested sigh. Such a sight only meant that there was trouble brewing. Despite the most popular reputation of his to always be in such mischief and to plunge into danger, he was not that enthusiastic about it. Because quite frankly, he is not really a morning person by choice. He wanted to sleep in more than anything. The futon was far more enticing than any object or reason combined. Anyway, he was pretty sure the guys and gals could handle it. That was the best idea ever. He is very satisfied with that decision.

And so, he turned his back from the view from the veranda where his room was located. It seemed he had left it opened as he covered himself in his blanket and allowed the sandman to return him to dreamland. But, he seemed to have been born under the star of adversity. Why is that? The building he was in was suddenly devastated by an invisible force which acted much like a guillotine. As such, it cut through the wooden manse effectively. At the same time, it certainly woke him up in the worst possible manner. Those mismatched eyes glazed in irritation as he stood from his now destroyed futon. Actually, an ominous presence was surrounding his form. Something which is rarely seen by anyone at all. After all, he is the kind who always fluidly places a mask on his face in any given situation. His true intentions and blatant emotions are hidden with ambiguity. Perhaps, the only exception would be the mornings.

“Water Dragon…" He started as a very large water dragon formed behind him. To be noted, there was no water available at such close vicinity which boasted his skill in harnessing such great amount of liquid. He went towards the demolished veranda where the debris was falling to the ground. Those gold and blue eyes held a very sinister look within them. Something akin to that of a demon, no, it is of a demon. His yukata was in a disheveled state as his right shoulder was exposed as the sleeve stuck precariously to his flesh. Well, there was also his chest, but regardless, he was clearly woken up and was in a bad mood. He looked for the likely perpetrator of such an act, because right now he was going to devour that person until not even a bone remains. Uchiha and Gekkō were present along with five hooded individuals below. He was certain the latter group was responsible. The other two would rather die than have anything to do with him. Good call for them. “Bullet Technique.” His voice held great animosity as the water dragon plunged towards the aforementioned group with great power and rage.

Power and rage or no, it was clearly not just any amateurs that the bullets were leveled against, and the ninja being targeted simply moved out of the way of the flashy attack, breaking ranks for the first time. One of the red-robes went to join the gold-robed figure that had stopped Gekkō from leaving, presumably to see to the Raikage. Katsuro would have even believed that wise, but it seemed it was impermissible for now. The other two flanking figures split off and headed for Tsukino, one of them already forming a handsign that Katsuro recognized as belonging to an immobilizing jutsu, one that used earth as the conduit. The other seemed to be trying to pin him into the trap with a barrage of abnormal numbers of weapons.

The ones going for Gekkō, on the other hand, seemed more inclined to press her with taijutsu, probably due to her size disadvantage. He wasn’t really in a position to be offering either of them any assistance, however, because predictably enough, that left the chatty one for him to deal with. His sword rang free of the sheath in a flashing arc, aimed for nothing more sophisticated that to take off the man’s head, but it was stopped, not by another weapon, but by the thumb and first two fingers of the cloaked man’s left hand. His head tilted to the side, and for the first time, their eyes met.

He almost reminded Katsu of Tsukino, the way his eyes were two different colors, one blue and one gold. The golden one, however, also sported a black sclera rather than the usual white one. “Tch,” The Uchiha wrenched at his sword, which the other man seemed willing enough to let go, then used his chakra to surround the blade with lightning. The characteristic chirping sound identified it as the Chidori Kōken technique, and this time when he swung, the man ducked rather than attempting to catch it, as the same maneuver a second time would result in a rather nasty shock.

Blurringly fast, the man’s fist slammed into Katsuro’s chest, sending him flying backward into the wall of the nearest building. The impact was loud and destructive to say the least, and robbed Katsu of his breath for several seconds as he tried to process what had just happened. He’d seen what was coming, if only barely, due to his Sharingan, but… he simply hadn’t had enough time to react. It was rare that he was outmatched to that degree in speed, and if he’d been even a second slower, that hit might well have caved his ribcage in. Hopping down from the crater he’d made in the wall, he shook himself off and stalked back to his foe, who seemed disinclined to press his advantage. “Who the hell are you?”

The man smiled, a close-lipped thing that resembled the rictus of a corpse more than anything alive. “I am Nobuo, and we are Kyūkanchi.” Well, that was direct, if terribly uninformative. Katsuro supposed it wouldn’t matter in the end, because one of them would be dead, and then his name and purpose would not matter anymore.

The amount of research that these hooligans had done on her was more extensive than she had thought, for instead of engaging her one at a time from a distance with ninjutsu, two goons came at her with taijutsu. How absolutely ludicrous that these thugs somehow knew her dossier well enough; either that, or they were assuming that since she was small, they would be able to thrash her. Wrinkling her nose in absolute disgust, she evaded both of their attacks as she tried to weave signs, only to have them block her. It seemed that they refused to let her even use one handed signs, for they made sure that both of her arms were kept busy with constant barrages of attacks. While they were by no means fast enough to land more than a few bruising hits on her, it was evident to anybody watching that she was increasingly aggravated, curses constantly being spoken under her breath at their very existence.

After one scraped her across the head, Kiriko had had enough - their existence no longer mattered, and her ability to care for their lives became null: it was time to go to war. While they went for an odd technique that required both of them rushing her, she muttered a simple phrase: ”Lightning Release Armor.” Instantly, her body was coated in a flash of lightning, and she dodged both of their attacks instantly to the side. They had underestimated her ability to perform taijutsu, and they were going to pay with their lives. Changing direction at a perilously fast speed, she charged both of them while they were caught off guard, and ran right through them, sending both flying. She knew that this wouldn't kill them, but it didn’t matter: her hair was slowly beginning to stand on end as her wicked grin slowly formed on her face. ”Get up! You wanted this!” Her words spat poison as she moved towards the enemy as they were returning to a standing position. Kiriko knew they were no ordinary ninjas, so there was no need to hold anything back: they could be elite forces, so there was no point in trying to reason with either her or them right now. She could sense them, and she planned on changing that for good.

Ryuu clicked his tongue in annoyance. His intended desire did not come to pass. It meant he had to work and really, he does not like doing so, especially when he is in a very very bad mood. He really hated it when his meal jumps around and do unnecessary things. Because in the end, all they had to do was to stay still and to be devoured by him in every delicious manner of such a deed. His eyes did not relent from its deathly gaze as two robed individuals, the hell he could care about their preference for color, went towards him. Well, this would save him a lot of trouble from the get-go. He would not waste his energy chasing them around as if they were worth it from the very beginning. For honestly, they do not.

A rain of weapons hurled towards his position as he did not move without even a hint of fear in his form. He was not going to dodge anything. Due to such decision, all of the weapons hit him without missing a spot. This meant certain death; no one could survive being a human pin cushion. ”Idiots.” That was the only word he muttered with irritation as his body disintegrated into water. It was nothing more, but a dummy. As for the real one, he was now behind the two robed figures. ”Beast Tearing Gale Palm.” Once that was said, a massive demonic-claw infused with his chakra appeared and extended towards his two assailants. He grabbed them as if they were a tube of toothpaste and then dragged them across the ground without much finesse or care. Why would he care anyway? Then, he smashed them on one of the remaining intact walls with great force and sealed with his anger. Although, he did destroy the walls in the process. But, he could care less. Right now, he simply wanted to end the existence of the ones who disturbed his wonderful sleep.

Of course, the enemies Ryuu hit were also clones, these ones composed of lightning, which upon impact lanced up the claw he had been using to drag them. One of them suddenly appeared behind him, delivering a solid roundhouse kick to the side of his head, propelling him to the side and into a wall. Or rather, it would have, had the other not had a water prison jutsu waiting to catch him in the air. Rather than relying upon it to hold him, however, the first ninja just shot more lightning at it.

Kiriko’s opponents, on the other hand, backed off quite quickly when she released her lightning armor. One of them seemed to be nursing a wound from the initial impact, when she’d sent them both flying, but it didn’t look like anything was broken, and indeed with an uncomfortable grinding noise, he popped his shoulder back into the joint. Wisely choosing not to engage at close range when there was so much electricity around, they moved back to mid-range, one of them launching a barrage of fireballs to try and force her left, whilst the other bit her thumb and summoned forth a nest of large, venomous snakes, warping the earth beneath their feet so that it swallowed them up and allowed them to travel without fear of being hit by the release armor.

They did not reappear for some time.

Kiriko stood as she watched her opponents run off from her to recover from the initial attack, and began to study them rapidly. Something about them was off: perhaps it was the fact that she could feel nothing from them. She wasn't talking about their chakra, as she could sense that: but after that? Nothing. Their chakra gave off nothing, besides the fact that they had quite a bit of it. There was no affinity she could sense, no warmth, no feeling; only power. She narrowed her eyes in annoyance at the entire situation. Of course, it had to be ninjas that had some special defect that were attacking; who else would be bold enough to cause an explosion during the day? Granted, their leader's chakra signature was still jarring her senses. Kiriko wasn't sure what was up with him, but even she was a little timid of the enormity of his signature; something about him wasn't right, wasn't normal. Then again, the whole situation wasn't normal.

Nevertheless, her opponents recovered and decided to attack midranged with ninjutsu instead of risk the taijutsu. A smirk came to her face as she watched the fireballs expell from the one's mouth and snakes tunnel into the ground. Perhaps she had overestimated them before, as they couldn't have completely read her dossier if they thought they could beat her with this. Remaining in her lightning armor, she began to quickly weave signs with her hands and spoke. "Water Release: Formation Wall." The fireballs were instantly hit by the massive wave of water created from her mouth, dispelling them and creating a hefty amount of steam as they were dispelled. Using the wave as a distraction as it roared towards the two enemies, Kiriko quickly began to weave more signs for her next jutsu: "Lightning Release: Electromagnetic Murder!" At her words, lightning ripped from her hands in the desired direction: all around her. She deduced that much of her technique would catch the water and race towards her enemies, while the rest would enter the soaked earth and flush out many of the snakes that resided within. The exact number, however, was not something she could determine.

Upon the collision of the lightning which was intensified by water, the expectation of a bloody and a burned corpse was rather high. Even more so when a scream of pain echoed. After all, the attacks connected without hindrance. This should signify effective incapacitation whether permanent or now. However, there was a sound resembling that of a balloon popping and smoke scattering about. It was but a mere clone and another four of him appeared with two on each enemy. ”Imbeciles.” Those eyes of blue and gold held a certain glint of malice and at the same time a predictable reckoning. But then again, it could also just mean that he is simply very angry about being rudely awakened, especially, when he could care less about what is going on around him for today.

The four Ryuus began to tackle their chosen enemies by releasing another set of claws infused with wind chakra. One of each pair grabbed hold of the enemies and the other pairs ensured that there would be no escape in any way. ”Flight of the Obliterating Water.” This technique resonated with all four as the area around them began to solidify and form thousands and thousands of needles. In addition to that, he had infused a certain trait in this chosen technique. It would only target the two enemies before him and would not stop from forming until the targets are dead or Ryuu had been exhausted from his chakra. The latter part was a bit debatable at best when that would be.

Indeed, Kiriko’s technique was a direct hit on both foes, one of whom proved to be nothing more interesting than a log, used for a substitution jutsu, but the other was indeed the real ninja. The one she had not hit, on the other hand, charged her from behind in what must have seemed a suicidal rush, moving in close to interrupt her with a barrage of kicks and punches. Though he did seem to be susceptible to the electricity of the armor, he fought through it for the most part, his motions occasionally erratic but not entirely without threat even so. The kunoichi that had been hit with the combination attack fell to her hands and knees, using the distraction her partner provided to regain her breath at the jutsu’s termination. Her frame was wracked with shudders, but even despite this, she stood, directing the snakes that had not been outright killed by the electricity to drive upwards at Kiriko’s feet, to ensnare and bite.

Neither they nor either of Ryuu’s opponents ever gave the slightest inclination that they were feeling pain. It was true that, when they were injured, their injured body parts would function suboptimally, but never once did any of them cry out or pull a face or in any way indicate that they felt what was happening to them in any significant way. The ones aimed at by Ryuu simply chose to endure the barrage, each cloaking himself in fire to soften the blows, but aside from this, they made no effort to dodge, and even when hit, did not fall. Due to the cloaks, neither took any hits to excessively vial areas, though their arms and legs became quite bloody.

Glancing once at each other, they seemed to mutually shrug, then both moved together, this time one making his hand signs and causing a column of earth to wrap around Ryuu’s feet, once more pinning him, while the other shot a point-blank lightning bolt for the spot. His words and insults fell only on deaf ears, as though they were just as impervious to the discouragement that another might feel at persistently targeting clones as they were to physical pain.

It was a property that Katsuro was currently wishing he had. To call what was happening between himself and the leader of these people a fight was to be quite kind. It was more like a thrashing, and the Uchiha was not used to being on the receiving end of those. From very early in his life, it had been made rather clear to him that he was just better at the ninja arts than most of those around him could ever hope to be, but that hypothesis did not seem to be holding much water in this particular field test at all. On the contrary, he was sporting a broken wrist, several large, bleeding wounds, and at least one cracked rib, but his opponent was thus far entirely unscathed. The accuracy of Katsu’s Sharingan was all that was presently keeping him alive, as it allowed him to generally dodge well enough to blunt the blows so that they were not fatal, but he was not fast enough to attack and succeed.

“I’m disappointed,” the man called Nobuo admitted, lashing his wrist such as to flick some of Katsu’s blood off his fingers. “I’d been told to expect more of you, Katsuro Uchiha. Could it be that you’ve become complacent in your quest for strength, assumed it was enough to be able to match the people here? To be able to overcome obstacles by working with them? How unsavory.”

Kiriko has miscalculated how brash her opponents could get: granted, the numerous tricks that these people seemed to be pulling out of their sleeves was messing with her. Looking towards the two opponents to whom she had hoped to fry, she was more than disappointed that only one really existed, and that the other was a log. However, that quickly lead to another question: where did the real ninja go? She couldn't sense anything yet, and since she couldn't pick up on the warmth of their chakra it made it even more difficult to find them. She didn't wait long, however, as she quickly spun around to see the missing nin appear and charge from behind her. Kiriko had barely enough time to react as she blocked his attack rather than using her superior speed, as she had no idea that they would bother trying to attack through her lightening armour. Then again, nothing about them was ordinary, so they did anyway.

It became obviously clear then that Kiriko was going to get outmatched if she couldn't either get some range: while the man wasn't as large as Takko for instance, he was big enough to easily flatten her into the floor if he so wished, and his attacks were getting stronger as he kept hitting her blocks. It was a miracle how he wasn't in serious pain from the lightening armour, but apparently they seemed to not care for pain at all. If I don't get some range soon- Her thoughts were cut off as she heard an eruption from the ground as snakes poured out. They had no chakra signature, so how was Kiriko supposed to know that so many were still alive? Now the fight was going sour fast, as she knew that she had to jump now, or face being strangled and bitten from below. Only problem was that her other opponent wasn't giving up, and if she tried to jump away now, her best guess was that he would capitalize on her opening and clock her hard.

Kiriko did the only thing that she could do, naturally: hit the guy ahead of her and hope the lightening armour would hold off the snakes long enough to let her escape. Capitalizing on the harsh blow the man landed to her blocked arm - he placed more power since she was startled, which takes longer to recover - Kiriko quickly ducked and spun around so that her dominant arm was now turned into a backhanded chop, and she roared as she crossed him in the ribcage. "Lightning Oppression Horizontal!" Kiriko knew she did some serious damage, as the man instantly was thrown back quite a few feet by the simple backhanded attack. While she wasn't nearly as powerful as the Third or Fourth Raikage and their nintaijutsu, it still hurt like hell. Thing was, Kiriko didn't have time to worry about the amount of damage done, as two fangs pierced her ankle; the armour held off many, but ultimately one snake found its way through and bit her.

Muffling a scream, Kiriko turned her attention to the female and bolted at her with surprising speed, although she was feeling slightly off balanced. She wasn't sure what the snake's venom potency or effects were, but she knew she would have to attempt to finish this off quick, or else the effects of the venom may drag her to the abyss below before she could finish her objective. Kiriko's smile returned to her face, although the venom made it slightly pained as she charged at her enemy with the attempts of performing a Lariat. She wasn't sure how fast her opponent was, but she knew that if she wasn't fast enough, her enemy would be toast.

Kiriko’s opponent tried her best to get out of the way of the Lariat, but the Kumogakure shinobi, while comparatively lacking in physical strength, was in fact faster than she was, and she was forced to take the hit, albeit at a slightly-awkward angle that meant it didn’t do its full damage. Still the technique was a devastating one by its very nature, and the electricity surging through her body from be brutal application of lightning dropped her where she stood, and she lay on the ground thereafter, unmoving. Whether she was dead or just unconscious was hard to discern, and whatever the case, Kiriko did not have time for a coups de grâce, because the woman’s counter part was back, and furthermore, the poison in the snakebite was beginning to take effect. It was a neurotoxin, in fact, and would make it very difficult for Kiriko to move. For some reason, however, the male shinobi did not take advantage of her incapacitation, rather using the opportunity to scoop up his counterpart and throw her over his shoulder.

He looked over Kiriko’s head at something, the angle such that she would be able to make out his features beneath the hood. He was young-looking, somewhere above twenty five but under thirty, perhaps, and his face was as carefully blank as an ANBU mask was meant to be. Whatever he saw when he looked behind him caused him to glance back at Kiriko for just a moment with flat blue eyes, but then he took off, using her hampered state to make a clean getaway, his partner in tow.

Heterochromatic eyes narrowed in observation. It would seem that these opponents of his were either invulnerable to pain or zombies. Yes, he had been reading some comics about an apocalyptic end. It was interesting really. Anyway, there were no signs from his enemies that they were bothered by the damages rendered to their bodies. Normally, he would not be bothered by it. In truth, he would have enjoyed it because that meant the fun would last for a very long time. However, he was in a sullen and terrible mood. So, he found such reactions completely annoying and edges his temper to a higher level.

But of course, as everyone who has a sound mind would know, an emotionally driven psyche is not advisable against enemies, no matter how strong they are. Recklessness was also not prudent. Well, these sagely sentiments were thrown long ago by Ryuu and were only exemplified more at this very moment. He allowed more of his chakra to be taken from him due to the endless barrage. However, there was a certain folly to this choice. His awareness now lack in its refinement. He was caught unaware as a pillar wrapped around his feet implanting him heavily to the spot.

Despite that, he should be able to deflect that lightning bolt directed to him. However, his chosen actions had interfered with an integral balance. His eyes glowed eerily merging into one unified color and the archaic symbol once more present instead of his irises. Instinctively, he covered his eyes from anyone’s observation and his chakra fluctuated very dangerously. A warning and a vision overtook his entire being as the clones disintegrated into smoke and the rain of needles was put to stop. And without interference, the bolt hit its mark as he a surge of electrifying and burning pain flooded his senses.

He fell to his knees but it was not mainly due to the attack. Rather, it was mostly from the exhaustion and complimentary intake of his life. His breathing ragged as his eyes had now returned to its normal visage. There are notable damages inwardly to his body that much he is certain. After all, he could feel blood coming out of his throat. Looking at his opponents, he gritted his teeth and his hands closed into tight fists. The path had already been set. Earthen pillars which held him in place crumbled away as he managed to regain his bearing and stand on his feet once more. Blood dripped from his lips as he wiped it away with a thumb. ”I guess, we know what to do now.” He raised his right hand towards the sky as a screeching sound began to fill the area. Someone was going to be very angry at him. He could already imagine it. Enormous amount of chakra began to form around him along with the howls of wind echoing and a vortex forming around him.

The two ninja facing Ryuu appeared to examine the forming jutsu, though neither had much visible reaction to it. One cocked his head to the side, however, and met the other one’s eyes, motioning with a jerk of an injured hand to the left, closer to where Katsuro was fighting the leader of this little party. Both nodded, and with simultaneous handsigns, sunk deep into the earth, away from their would be killer.

A hand came down on Katsuro’s head, the fingers weaving dispassionately into his hair and hauling him upright by it, depositing him on increasingly-unsteady feet. He swayed dangerously, his vision fading in and out as he struggled to keep his chakra output even enough to maintain the mangekyō. It went out in one eye anyway, and he closed that one against the peculiar double-vision that resulted. With his other hand, Nobuo ran a thumb along the edge of the new cut along his cheekbone, the digit coming away with a smear of blood on it. It would seem that the Uchiha had managed to injure him after all, though not nearly so much as he himself was even now suffering. He was actually somewhat impressed that the boy was still conscious, considering just how much of him was broken, twisted, or ruptured. Still, it was disappointing. He was far from ready to fulfill his purpose. None of them were. Nobuo would have to drive them to it, like a shepherd drove sheep.

“Pathetic.” A hand shot out to wrap around the Uchiha’s neck, the feeble attempt to dodge rendered entirely moot. He squeezed the child’s windpipe until he was wheezing, one Sharingan eye defiantly glaring at him even as the precious oxygen was denied to his body. He’d been told to expect that much, at least. “If I so desired it, I could raze this pathetic village to the ground, and slaughter every last person within it. Including you. Fortunately, there are yet other designs for which its purpose can be greater than as a heap of ashes and bones.” He squeezed tighter, and the second Sharingan eye faded back into that keen, flinty silver instead. “Grow stronger, Katsuro Uchiha, you and the rest, else next we meet, all of you will perish.”

Sending a signal to the rest of his organization within the village, he signaled a withdrawal. The test had proceeded as planned, but the results had been a complete failure on the part of this place to live up to its reputation. Was this really what a ninja village was? How easy, then, it would be, to destroy every last one of them. Their complacency would do them in.

And he would be only too happy to help.

Dropping Katsuro to the ground, Nobuo made a series of signs, and then he and his entire battle party simply disappeared from the senses.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame

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#, as written by Senpai



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The Hokage sighed through her nose. Her attendant and her young student were both currently unconscious on the floor in her office, but alive, she’d moved them safely out of the way, but that left all six of the assassins focused on herself, Aburame, and Yuhara, the latter two of which had come to deliver a report on the Kumogakure visitors. They were faced with a strange arrangement of people, most of them wearing green or blue, but the woman in the center was swathed in black. There was little point in demanding an explanation of their presence—their intent was clearly to kill her.

Well, that was no simple task. The Hokage made a hand sign, and chakra flooded her system, stimulating her bioelectricity and nerve endings such that when one of the blue-cloaked fires threw a barrage of shuriken at her, she was able to swat all of them out of the air and safely to one side or another with a single kunai. “Yuhara, Aburame. Deal with the ones in blue. The rest are mine.” That gave them a total of three of six to contend with, and herself the same.

It had been a while since she’d been in an actual fight like this—she might even enjoy herself.

Naomichi stance shifted so his legs were spread apart with his knees bent, his hands forming the Ram sign as he gathered chakra throughout his body, flowing in unison with his blood and boosting his strength. His pupils shrank and became focused on one of the three blue members, the muscles in his body all tightening, ready to spring him forward at a moments notice. With a lick of his lips he said with a gravely voice, ""With pleasure Hokage."

At that moment he threw himself forward, trained on the blue assassin who was on the outside of the group, his tight fist striking the target straight in the stomach with an uppercut, doubling him over and sending him flying into the wall - shattering the smooth curve into hundreds of cracks. He then trained his gaze upon the other two targets he had, and with a smirk he confidently said, "If your buddy was that easy, I'm gonna be really bored of you t-"

He was cut off with a kunai striking him right in his right forearm, sinking itself deep into his veins and severing the arteries. He coolly looked down at the fresh wound he received, and then at the target who already recovered from his 100 Meter Punch. With a hard tug, he ripped out the kunai and threw it on the floor. Examining the gushing blood flowing from his wound and down his arm, he couldn't help but laugh. "Ohohoho, you just made the biggest mistake of your life buddy. Now I am serious."

Suddenly the blood stopped flowing from his wound and started to bubble out of it. Within half a second a smooth broadsword blade came shooting out, taking form using his blood. The blade lay parallel to the palm of his hand, with a handle midway to allow him an extra thrust or slice if necessary.

Rather typical of the Aburame clan, and rather atypical of Akira, she stayed completely calm during this assault's beginning. She was used to fighting alongside Naomichi and knew that trying to jump in beside him would ultimately result in her own demise as well as theirs. With him it was best to stay back and provide support. From the back she took in her surroundings as best she could. Attempting some of her more grand techniques could destroy the Hokage's office further and potentially endanger her allies. What to do...

Her first course of action was to prepare a Bikochu bug. This one flew behind the woman clad in black and stuck herself to her clothing. If there was an escape, Akira could track her down if needed. It probably would be needed, given that they were an assassin come to kill the Hokage. The question now was how could she properly support Naomichi given her limited space? Sage Mode was nowhere near ready. Many of her attacks were too wide-scale and might hurt or even kill allies. She had few options at this point and decided to utilize all remaining options until she was just useless or the battle could be taken somewhere more open.

Akira ripped off her long-sleeved shirt, exposing a tank top beneath and arms coated in holes. "Don't know who you bunch are, but you're a real bunch of pests." She smirked and began making commands to the bugs via her chakra. Slowly, the sound of buzzing began roaring up bit by bit as the skin on her arms began bustling, arcs and bumps revealing themselves and going back down as the insects traveled through her body to her arms. One offensive group from her left arm and one oppressive group from her right arm were preparing themselves for combat. Her left arm's group struck first. The Parasitic Giant Insect Bug Bite technique would finish one of them off easily if they successfully attacked. The group of five Kidaichu flew towards the mook furthest from Naomichi. She would command them to begin their attack directly upon impact with the body. Should they land, the insects would burrow deep into the victim's skin and devour their flesh and chakra, rapidly expanding and growing to destroy his body from the inside-out. It was one of the quickest and deadliest weapons in the Aburame arsenal.

Once that group had flown into battle, she turned to face the one between the to-be target and Naomichi's victim. The skin on her right arm contorted and jumped as an explosion of insects began racing their way out of her arm's holes and towards that man. This was an attempt at Akira's Insect Sphere. The swarm of insects would seek out their target and surround him in a small sphere. To suppress him, they would simply begin eating away at his chakra. These Kikaichu had an insatiable taste for chakra, and a swarm this size could easily drain him dry.

With those two incapacitated, hopefully, she would be able to assist Naomichi and the Hokage right after. Even if she asked not to be interrupted, Akira was ready to leap at a moment's notice. "Nao! Spindle Slicer! Get ready!" She called out to the man she had worked with many times before during their time in ANBU. They worked together often enough to simply know each other's plans with a name. There was no need to work anything out. This time it was not her arms that contorted and stretched before exploding with insects, but her back and upper shoulders. Three different arced waves of insects erupted from her and made a bee-line for Naomichi's target. The lines of bugs were positioned around Naomichi, one on each of his sides and one above him. Should Akira's bugs hit, the bugs would grab hold of the assassin and hold him in place for Naomichi's strike. This was one of their most simple and most efficient techniques. It was impossible to dodge a blade if one could not move.

With madness behind his eyes, Naomichi immeditely jumped towards the assassin that struck him - his movement almost instantaneous and invisible to most normal shinobi - his blood blade readied to slice the target in two as well as split the wall. If it was one thing he learned while training, in order to break something with ease he needed to imagine hitting behind the target, not the target itself.

The first barrage of Akira’s bugs hit what seemed to be a clone, which upon impact exploded, raining water down over the office. The real shinobi appeared thereafter, a general lightning jutsu frying the sodden insects—or most of them—that had been released to attack her. The suppression barrage was not fended off quite so easily, however, and several of them were growing fat with chakra before the ninja upon whom they preyed enveloped himself in a flame cloak jutsu, attempting to burn them off before they could do him any permanent damage.

It was the third ninja, however, that had the worst run of luck. Successfully pinned in place by the third round of bugs, he was at Naomichi’s mercy for the most part. The blood-blade wound up missing a fatality by dent of the blue-robed man’s last-ditch pull to the side, and instead of cleaving him in two, the attack sliced his left arm off in a gout of welling crimson blood. With a grunt, he pulled himself free of the other bugs, using a fire-cloak technique similar to the other one’s.

It was at about this time that the black-cloaked figure fighting the Hokage missed with the explosive tags on her massive sword and blew a hole in the side of the office building. Seeing the opportunity for her ninja to take the advantage, Mizuki immediately leapt out of the opening and onto the nearest roof, drawing all of the assailants with her. Two of the blue-cloaks, the ones with their limbs still intact, whirled around collectively at the edge of the new design element in the office building and released twin jutsu, one fire and one water, aiming not to hit Akira and Naomichi, but rather one another’s attacks. The result was a massive cloud of steam that obscured visibility and blocked their exit from being seen.

Using this to their advantage, they laid a trap—somewhat simplistic, but nevertheless effective. The first step either Naomichi or Akira would take onto the rooftop would trigger an explosive tag, which would hopefully thereby open them to further damage whilst they recovered.

"Tch, bastard." Naomichi grabbed the detached arm that hung in the air and pulled himself back by springing himself off the back wall and back to Akira's side, retracting his blood blade back into his wrist. Gripping his new 'prized' arm from the wrist, he waved the amputated stump in a playful fashion, his free hand placed daintily on his hip while his other spun the arm around in small circles. "This thing is so light, I can tell why you didn't want this anyway. Damn near useless." Spitting in disgust at how useless he saw the arm to be, he tossed it on the floor in front of Akira as he watched two of his three targets escape outside.

With two of them out of the room, his eye trained upon the last blue cloaked enemy, his initial target, then up towards the steam cloud hovering above them. Without a single word he decided to mimic his opponents and use Thick Steam Flow to shroud the entire inside office. All he was thinking about was making the playing field even again, even if their views were obstructed. Despite his knowledge of the enemy's location being completely stifled by the mist, he knew he could rely on Akira to point him in the direction of the last enemy.

Naomichi then flexed his right arm, swelling up the slashed arteries and causing what looked like a buildup of blocked blood from the wound. Aiming it forward he looked back towards Akira and quietly said, "Tell me where he is and he is a goner."

Akira only smirked at the arm tossed in front of her and kicked it off to the side. "Gross, Nao-Nao. What makes you think I want a man's arm so dainty and scrawny? How discourteous of you." She whistled softly and held her arm up, bent at the elbow and palm up to her face. Before a moment passed, a lone little bug made its way out of a hole in her wrist and up to the palm. "Hello, little one. It's mating season. Go seek out your beloved." The insect turned this way and that before taking off into the smoke. "Follow him, Nao. He'll take you right to the black one. I assume her lackeys are with her."

Nao was the one who could take the hits between them. In fact, he made practical use out of getting injured. If Akira went first and got caught out into a Taijutsu assault, she was easily going to be out of the fight. But once they were out there, they'd be able to do some of their more crazy combo attacks. Not only that, but Akira could use some larger-scale moves with no problem. Her knuckles met her fist and cracked all at once, hands swapping to crack the other set. "After you."

With a devil's grin he sprang after the bug, leaving his partner in the steam filled room as he broke through the open part of the ceiling. As soon as his body reached out into the open a bright explosion engulfed his body, creating several gashes and wounds that covered his rough skin. Landing on the the side of the roof oposite to his opponents, Naomichi cooly threw off his duster as his smile only grew with more madness as the seconds passed by. "Damn that Akira for sending me out into a trap like that. I'll get him back later for this. "

With his well-defined arms covered in wounds ranging from small gashes to large wounds from the results of the explosion, he figured it'd be a better time as any to flush out his other opponent to Akira before taking on his other prey. Aiming down towards the ground he began to rain down a hellfire of blood bullets piercing several floors before stopping. If these didn't kill him they would at least cause him to move in the direction of Akira who would take care of him.

During Naomichi's unrelenting fire, one of the enemy assassins attempted to make their approach on Naomichi for some close range combat. For him though, it was a mistake since Naomichi -while still firing with his left arm - swiftly swung out his bulging right arm from the buildup of blood and released a giant wave of blood coming from the wound he blocked up, bursting out like a dam breaking from water pressure. With this wave he would be able to disolve anything that it touched, including the man that was trying to approach him.

As it happened, however, blood, much like the human body, was largely water-based, and also carried iron, a conducting metal if ever there was one, and the ninja who had been homing in on him at close range threw a bolt of lightning at the wave of blood headed in his direction, evaporating a great deal of the liquid portion of the substance and sending arcs of electricity in a direct shot for his foe. Strangely, this seemed to be the very same ninja who had only moments before been missing an arm… but it was now intact again. Or perhaps, considering that the severed limb was still laying where it had been left, it would be more accurate to say that it had regrown.

Three of the other ninja, including the woman in the black cloak with the massive sword, were still fighting the Hokage some distance away, though in all fairness their motion could hardly be seen. Mizuki, after all, had been chosen as Hokage in a time of war, when strength was the primary criterion for the position, and it was no exaggeration to say that of all the ninja in Konoha, she was likely the most formidable. One of her foes, a man in a gold cloak, lay prone some distance from her and unmoving. Even Mizuki herself was not unscathed, however—a cut just above her eyebrow leaked blood into one of her eyes, forcing her to keep it closed and fight with only one.

The two that had created the steam flow, however, were as yet unaccounted for, but whether they had perished under Naomichi’s attack or evaded it entirely was unclear.

Akira's figure lunged out from the steam in between the electrical attack and Naomichi. It was fortunate that Akira was a borderline giant of a woman, as she was able to take all of the arcs my maneuvering her arms and legs this way and that. The instant each strike hit, Akira's body ceased to exist in that spot and instead turned into a purple buzzing cloud that only reshaped itself to mimic her appearance again. "That's one more you owe me, Nao-Nao." The clone made from bugs dispersed completely, purple completely obscuring Naomichi's visage for a complete seconds as the mass of insects returned to Akira behind him.

Naomichi straightned out his position, maintaining some control over himself not to slaughter Akira on sight. She was one of the few people he knew not to attack no matter what - everyone else was expendible to him. With a violent spit onto the ground he beared a toothy grin and gave Akira a lazy flick of his right, bloody hand. "Well you gotta stop sendin me headfirst into damn battlefields without a heads up! I swear, you give me more scars than the enemy does! What kind of support ninja does that, hmmm?" He sounded dead serious, but he knew Akira understood the playfulness to his comment.

She made her way up to him, not seeming to mind that he was injured. Injuries became strengths to Naomichi, this much she had come to learn over every mission with him. "You almost killed me with those damn blood bullets, you know. Think about me before you go doing stuff like that." She was obviously being sarcastic. It was just who she was. She took her time now to observe the scene in front of her. The man they had fought before had his arm back? It was unmistakably him. She had left his arm down there, though. They had been up here a fair while. "How... in the hell... did he do that?" Shaking her head, she let loose a small stream of hand seals before telling Naomichi, "Hold your breath."

Her cheeks began puffing up as a poison filled her lungs. With a mighty exhale, a lavendar-colored poison began spreading through the battlefield. One of Akira's many breath and/or poison-based techniques, this was her Genjutsu: Poison Moth. This long-range gas makes those affected by it see whatever she wants them to see. Right now she wanted to affect the three mooks, make each of them think that the other two were Naomichi and Akira, while the real Naomichi and Akira were their allies. Hopefully this worked to let Naomichi and Akira set up for their own new offensive strategy. Right now this was her best bet to buying some time.

With a deep inhale Naomichi took what precious air he could to protect himself from the poison cloud. If he were to run out of air, not only would he become incapacitated, his blood wouldn't flow correctly, leaving him lost without his kekkei-genkai. Springing back so he knew he was out of range of the Genjutus, he gasped for air, sounding like he just threw down something extremely heavy that he was carrying for a few hours. Not taking his eye off the mist, he extended two bloody sickles from the top of his forearms, bloody blades so fine and sharp that they could slice faster than someone could blink. "I don't know, and personally I don't care. In the end I'll keep cutting it off and you'll keep getting your present of a bloody arm everytime I fetch it." He strolled in front of Akira as he spoke to her. Akira was the brains, he was the expendable body, so he figured the body needed to protect the brain no matter what.

"So what do we need to do now boss? Few more moments and we're gonna be screwed once again. We lost two and the other guy is currently playin' around in the fog." He shifted himself into a battle ready stance, just in case projectiles came flying towards them at any moment. With a devilish smile spreading across his face he quietly mumbled, "Shall we burn him down to the ground?"

"What a good puppy you are then, hm?" She mocked his little fetch metaphor before trying to think up a strategy. His calling her boss seemed to spur something of an idea as he walked in front of her. Having her meat shield in front of her added a feeling of security, allowing her to think easier. "Burn... I think I know what you mean. You thinking about the Executioner's Coliseum routine, Nao-Nao? Doesn't that seem a bit extreme for a little mook?" She laughed before patting him on the back. "Sure. Let's nuke 'im."

With Akira's cheerful comment giving him the greenlight to beat the pulp out of his target, Naomichi quickly made the remark, "Well it isn't overkill for a guy who seems to regrow his shit. Better leave him a pile of ash so there is nothing left to regrow." With that remark, the mist faded away and the assassin stood before them, staring them down like they were helpless prey. Within an instant, Naomichi lept forward at a breakneck speed, cocking his left leg back for a mighty kick aimed right at his target's hip. If anything he wanted to shatter the pelvis to limit his movement to make for an easy kill. The assassin was just fast enough to shift his position so that Naomichi's knee made contact with his lower ribs, breaking three of them as he sent his target flying towards the ground.

As the assassin fell though, he was able to throw several shuriken into Naomichi's right arm and leg, sinking a few inches into his skin. He paid no mind though as he jumped down into the streets of Kohana after the crippled assailant. Landing a good distance away from his target, Naomichi didn't take a moment to gloat or relish in what he assumed was his inevitable defeat. He just closed his eyes and flexed all of his muscles. Suddenly all the shuriken stuck in him shot back out as streams of blood began to from a thick shield along his side. This shield would be able to block most of his basic attacks, leaving Naomichi to focus on his first duty. Making the tiger hand seal, he started to run around his target in a clockwise fashion, giving him a radius of about 20 meters, leaving behind a trail of fire reaching ten meters high. As he ran the assassin tried any projectile he could think of, but all bounced of the shield Naomichi made for himself. Once Naomichi made a ring around the target, he let his shield dissolve back into his body, and lept back up towards the roof where Akira was waiting.

With Naomichi back up with her, she formed her hands together in a Tiger seal of her own. ""Fire Style: Heat Wave Drought!" Had she not controlled it to this more specific area, the entire village would have been without water for a very, very long time. However, when her cheeks puffed up she released a visible flame-colored breath from her mouth that made it to that ring of fire that Naomichi had made. "I have enough chakra to get me through a couple more techniques. Enough to finish the combo, Nao-Nao. After that, I will have to rely on my bugs." When the breath finally reached the ring, the flames erupted and rose to about twenty-five meters high. The entire area became dried out, grass decaying and dying away, the heat in the area rising up to blistering summer conditions. The coliseum was constructed... Now it was time to set up the executioner.

Akira used her canines to bite into a scabbed area on her palm, opening the wound fresh up and letting blood peek out from under her flesh. "Summoning: Jumping Spider!" In a puff of smoke, a hairy arachnid large enough to carry three people took up the rooftop long enough for the two to get on. "Here we go, Nao-Nao. Executioner take the stage." Patting the spider's head, he jumped up and forward. The duo's timing had to be perfect to execute this rather flashy move... but they were ANBU of the Hidden Leaf Village. They were a duo experienced in working with each other and had their prey trapped in a 25-meter tall prison. There was no escape from this combo... Especially as Akira formed another set of hand signs, ending again in Tiger. "Mist Blaze Dance!" Precision was key. Her cheeks puffed up again and released a clear gas that flew into the arena and filled it up. It stayed away from the edges of the coliseum and began spreading... but by the time it reached it, Naomichi will have already shown them why the technique is called Executioner's Coliseum. Akira gave Nao's rear a quick slap. "Go! Now!" The spider was still moving through the air. Naomichi had to jump then and there to finish executing it, else the velocity of the spider's jump would take them over the coliseum and out of range...

Naomichi sprung forward on Akira's command, retracting all blood based weaponry back into his body as he was meeting the spider in the air. Once he met the spider at the apex of its jump, he sprang up again, making a few swift hand signs and calling out "Fire Release: Fire Armor". As he flew high into the sky, easily 250 meters above the village, he had his right leg become engulfed in a raging inferno. This technique was new enough to Naomichi that he still hadn't perfected it, but all that mattered was that his leg was burning. With a few frontflips in the air to build up rotational speed, he began to plummet back down towards their coliseum. With a loud battle cry, screaming out "Guillotine Drop," the spinning Naomichi flew into the gaseous ring of fire, his leg igniting the fuse and sending an explosion skyward that could be seen anywhere throughout the village. If his leg hadn't made contact with his target - shattering any bone it touched - the result would have burnt up any remain of their target. Unfortunately for Naomichi though, he was running on the fumes of what was left of his chakra since the attack required so much of it.

The combination, lethal as it was, was indeed enough to drop their opponent, and the ninja seemed to be bleeding sluggishly out of several wounds, though mostly the extent of the injury was the fact that his right side was largely crushed. Sporting several patches of charred skin, he appeared to have been skilled enough to either avoid most of the flames, or else… if either Akira or Naomichi looked closely enough, they could observe something strange happening to his skin. Slowly, the burn marks were receding, to be replaced with fresh skin, but the target remained unconscious.

There wasn’t much time for them to contemplate what that might mean, however, because the two missing ninja chose this moment to reappear. One of them drove a shortsword into the side of the jumping spider’s abdomen and dragged it with great strength, essentially eviscerating the bug. The other went right for Naomichi, cloaking itself in fire and drawing two kodachi from there the sheaths were crossed beneath her overrobe, at the small of her back. Her attacks were brutal, and considering how fresh she was compared to Naomichi, who had been bleeding for a prolonged period of time and was almost out of chakra, it was hardly a match at all. She swept low, taking him off his feet, then drove one of her blade through the soft flesh between his deltoid muscles and collarbone, twisting the sword even as she staked him to the ground with it. One of her feet was planted on his chest, hard enough to snap a few ribs, her second sword too close to his throat for real comfort, when suddenly she stiffened and glanced towards where her leader and other counterparts fought the Hokage.

The other, about to move from the spider to Akira, did the same, then met eyes with her across the intervening space. With little visible change in expression, the woman picked up the formerly burned shinobi, who still smelled heavily of charred flesh, and the two made their way back over to their leader at blurring speed. The Hokage, who had noticed this change, narrowed her eyes.

“Retreating already?” she asked her opponent, who appeared significantly more winded than she was. All three of the mooks who had attacked her were unconscious at the very least, and unmoving on the ground. These too were retrieved by the other two, leaving the woman with the large sword, one of the Seven, if Mizuki was not mistaken, to reply.

“We’ve done what we came to.”

The Hokage’s lips pulled back from her teeth in something angry, almost a snarl, and she was half a second from leaping forward when all of her potential targets simply disappeared. “Tch.”

Well, the only thing for it now was to see to her village, it seemed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Rei Hinode

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Kiyoko was not so graceful as Katsuro had been, however; she had managed to land on her feet, stumbling only slightly. Shaking the initial confusion off, she turned her attention to Katsuro, nodding her head in a hesitant manner. "Right," was the only response she gave before she left, taking off as quickly as her legs could carry her. She, on the other hand, trusted a little easier than Katsuro did, and trusted that he would be okay. He was, after all, her friend even if he didn't regard her the same. The explosion, however, took over her thoughts. Who would attack Konoha, and in the middle of the day? Sure, day attacks weren't unheard of, and villages didn't really pay attention to time unless it was necessary with their plans.

She found herself in the Uchiha compound as quickly as she had left Katsuro's side, and immediately scanned the area. It seemed untouched for the most part, and she walked briskly into it. How hard could it be to find one Raikage, especially one of his size? He was like a giant! She inwardly groaned when she found no trace of Takehiko and pursed her lips in frustration. Now was not the time to lose her cool. She had to find someone from Kumogakure. This attack, it couldn't have been planned from them, could it have? There was only one way to find out, and so far she wasn't having any luck. It wasn't until she spotted a particular set of white spikes (almost mistook it for Hatake) and released a breath of relief.

"Takko!" she called out, perhaps not the best way to begin a conversation, but that wasn't the priority of her thoughts. "Where's the rest of your group?" she questioned, tension building in the air. It wasn't that she suspected them, of anything; she just didn't like the slight chill that was going down her back. Something just felt off.

Takehiko was attempting to nurse a cup of tea; after Rei had refused to assuage his massive headache with her medical ninjutsu, he’d turned to more traditional remedies, and after too much water, he was now trying to soothe the ache with something gentler on the system than sake. It was sort of working, but mostly it would just take time. Time that, it would seem, he did not have.

The urgent tone of Yoko-chan’s voice drew his attention immediately, and Takehiko stood, setting aside the tea he’d been drinking. “Nari-chan went to see the Hokage, and Kiri-chan is out,” he said, “but Kosan and Rei-chan are still here. What happened, Yoko-chan? What was that explosion just now?”

“The least of your concerns, Raikage.” The voice that answered was feminine, but it was not Kiyoko’s. Rather, it came from a woman cloaked all in white, a hood drawn up over her features. She was flanked by six other people, all wearing some combination of blue, green, and gold. The woman threw back her hood, revealing hair that was an unusual shade of pale green. She had a very pretty face, Takko supposed, but he wasn’t exactly happy to see her.

“Oh look. An assassination attempt.”

Of course, the universe would deem it fit to act upon his feelings as it would hate do disappoint him so. The loud explosion caught Kosan by surprise and made him spring out of his bed, the blanket flung from his body. It was a shame the universe did not see fit to do this after he had gotten dressed, but he was wearing pants which it seemed was going to be the furthest courtesy the universe would allow him.

Moving to the side of his bed, he reached down and gripped the sheathed rapier that lay beside him as he was loath to leave it behind for any reason. His mind was racing with the implications of the explosion, had Konoha betrayed them? Was it another party attacking? Who was being attacked? Where were Nari and Takko? A small part of him was almost thankful for the attack as it allowed him the opportunity for much needed bloodshed and a way to vent his frustration over his wife as well as provide a wonderful distraction from Rei and the... tense atmosphere. Despite his rather poor jest, Kosan could not shake the oppressive weight that had been weighing on his chest.

Blade in hand, Kosan turned his head, his wild hair spilling over his bare shoulder, "Where are the others?" he asked, his fierce blue eyes holding a feral gleam that was not there moments ago, he was assuming and hoping that she had an idea where some of them were. Considering the situation they would need to regroup, preferably with their Raikage, so they could do their job. Keeping him alive.

“Follow me,” Rei replied immediately, scooping up her uniform vest as she ran from the room. Sliding it on while moving was not the easiest procedure, but she managed it fine, using her limited chakra sensing abilities to find Takehiko and what seemed to be Kiyoko. They stood out like bright stars amongst the other chakra signatures, likely because of the biju that resided sealed in their bodies. They weren’t too far away—still within the compound, actually, though in the courtyard, where the gardens were.

She felt bad now, for not taking care of the Raikage’s hangover. Even a small distraction in a fight was a disadvantage they did not need, but if anyone could handle himself whatever was thrown at him, she had confidence that Takko could. He was practically a force of nature when he needed to be, and that was why he got to be in charge. Even so… the chakra she could feel now from the others in the area was not inconsiderable, though something about some of them seemed… off, somehow. There was hardly any time to think about it, however, because she and Zetsu burst into the courtyard thereafter, Rei immediately stepping in front of Takehiko.

“Another one?” she replied to his quip, but though her lips tilted into a dry smile, her eyes did not leave the array of would-be killers.

“What can I say?” Takko replied, lowering himself into a stance she and Zetsu would both recognize—he was going to use his Lightning Release Armor. “I’m a popular man.”

Kosan was a step behind Rei, the scabbard of his blade still held in his right hand as he tried not to shiver as the cold air ran past his skin and the annoyance of strands of his long hair that occasionally blew across his face obscuring his vision and tickling his skin. It took a bit as he was not as good as Rei at sensing, but finally, he could feel their presence and sense their Chakra. It seemed they made no effort to hide it anymore which was odd. It was almost like they were declaring where they were for the rest of the world. Either they were bold and powerful or rather foolhardy.

He slid to a halt in the courtyard, coming to a stop off to the side to guard the right flank as it appeared they were outnumbered. He noted the woman in white with the odd pale green hair, the way she stood at the center, showing her face in a display of arrogance and confidence told him that she was the leader of this colorful group of assassins. Still, he could not help but feel this was odd. In the war, he was not one to ponder on the situation too much, preferring to jump in and slice into flesh and pierce bone, to feel the warm blood wash over his hands as the smell of death hit his nose and the light drained from their eyes, but he was not the Chihasu anymore, or at least, that is what he told himself.

Why had they waited? It would have been better to attack the Raikage all together and attempt to overwhelm him before reinforcements could arrive... Kosan was drawn back to his earlier though either they were bold and powerful or foolhardy. Looking to his left, he saw his Raikage about to enter his lightning armor, a technique he had seen him use during the war and against him during spars, so they were jumping in head first? Kosan assumed he would be fighting the leader which meant it was his duty to keep the others off of his Raikage, he was tempted to go all out, but he could not afford to use up all his Chakra should the worst happen. The only other wild card in the fight was Kiyoko, it was time to see if she could keep up with the rest of them.

Kosan moved his blue eyes back to the group and drew his rapier tossing the scabbard aside. Holding the blade loosely in his right hand, he left it hanging by his right leg. From a casual observation, he looked at ease almost unprepared, but his body was taut and ready, his knees slightly bent, and his arm ready to flick the blade at anyone that got too close. "Dead or Alive, Raikage?" Kosan asked, his blue eyes switching from one colorful assassin to the next trying to catch a hint of their ability from their appearance.

Kiyoko had to resist the urge to roll her eyes at Takehiko's statement, however; her focus was on the would-be assassins. Of all the times they picked to attack, it had to be during peace negotiations. "Talk about the irony," she muttered quietly to herself. Still, she positioned herself in a stance, choosing not to use her Jūken quite yet. Instead, she released a bit of her chakra, summoning it to her hands as she sized up her opponents. She may not have been as proficient at sensing chakra, however; every hair on her neck stood on end, and it was a feeling she did not like. She waited, glancing once at Takehiko as he took a stance as well. Rei and Kosan both took one as well, and it was apparent this fight was going to be a little challenging. Either these people knew exactly what they were doing, or they were just plain ignorant. She was going to bet on the former despite their appearance.

"At this point, Kosan-san," she mentally laughed at that, "If they try to kill you, should you not return the courtesy?" she simply stated, answering instead though it wasn't her place to do so. Instead of waiting for her opponent to strike first, Kiyoko made the first move, charging one of the would-be assassins, and throwing a chakra-filled fist in their direction. They managed to dodge, and her fist collided with empty air, pushing her right leg in front of her to twist herself around. The man (could have been a woman, she didn't know), caught her elbow, and flipped her over his shoulder, kicking her away from him in the process. The other would-be assassins each followed suit, going after Kosan and Rei while Kiyoko dealt with hers.

Kiyoko, however, had winced when her arm was grabbed. It was no longer broken from her spar with Kiriko, something her own healing abilities had taken care of, not to mention a Jinchūriki's ability to heal. But it was still sore, and part of her wished she had fully healed it. She should have known better, however; she twisted herself in order to catch herself, and landed on her hands and feet. Her fingers dug into the earth to keep herself from falling further back, and she glanced back up at her opponent, who had taken the liberty to charge as she fell. She brought her arms up in an attempt to block his kick, however; her hand collided with the back of his foot, and she smirked. She grabbed it and twisted it, bringing her elbow down on his calf in an attempt to sever his foot.

Instead of making contact with the leg, however; the man twisted, jumping so that his free foot was in the air and aiming for Kiyoko's head. She released his leg to protect her head, listening as her arm gave another cracking noise, and she winced. He'd kicked her pretty hard, and in the same arm Kiriko had broken not too long ago. That wasn't good. Ignoring the pain, she summoned chakra to her hands, molding it so that it took on a particular property. When the assassin attacked again, she managed to strike him, flooding his system with her chakra. "Ranshinshō," she spoke, smirking as the assassin writhed on the floor, trying to take control of his body. "It's a pain isn't it?" she stated, completely caught off guard when another body flew into hers.

Takehiko turned his head just slightly to the side, such that he was looking at Kosan with his one good eye. “Do what you have to,” he said solemnly. “I’ll take responsibility if it comes to that.” That was part of being Raikage, after all; all of the actions his people took were his actions by extension, and he was the place where responsibility stopped moving down the chain. He was accountable for everything they did, in the end, but he believed in them. He believed that when it really came down to it, they wouldn’t do anything that he could not accept the consequences for with his head held high. And if they did, well… he wasn’t just their Raikage, he was their friend and their brother. So he would carry that weight anyway.

The air around him shifted, taking on the scent of ozone, and his already unruly hair rose slowly to stand on end, sticking out in silvery tufts in all directions from his scalp. With a crackling sound, several tongues of lightning flickered around him, bursting at last into the full Lightning Release armor. The area it occupied was wider than average for such a jutsu, and he had to be careful not to put too much chakra into it, else it would expand too far and injure his allies as well as his foes. That was why it built slowly rather than simply appearing. He could feel Mata stirring, her interest piqued by the taste of the chakra outside his perception, but not hers. For the moment, however, he ignored her. They were not on the best of terms, to say the least.

Rei, meanwhile, sized up the situation and clucked her tongue. Though her teamwork would be better with Zetsu most and Takko after, she could see that the intent of the leader was obviously to take on the Raikage herself, and she could sense a dangerous amount of chakra in the woman, cool like water, but in constant flux, like the air. The others were formidable, but not nearly as much as that woman was. “Zetsu—I’ll help Uzumaki.” The implied end of the sentence was clear enough: so you protect the Raikage.

There were four other ninja besides the woman, two of whom were clearly going after Kiyoko, probably to keep her busy. Rei supposed that meant two for her—but only if she played fair, which she did not intend to. “Uzumaki-san. I like two on four much better than one on two." It might divide up evenly, but there were definite advantages to fighting with a partner, including the ability to cover the other when they really needed it. Such as now, when the second fighter crashed into Kiyoko, carrying her to the ground in a reckless taijutsu move that obviously meant to take advantage of the fact that the woman was small.

Rei wasn’t going to allow that. Sketching out a quick series of signs, she generated several lightning release clones, and one planted its foot in the side of the ninja trying to keep Kiyoko down, pushing him off enough to allow the other woman to regain her feet. Two of them drew over the remaining assassins, though they were cut down nearly immediately, the bursts of lightning backlashing into the faces of those who eliminated them, to only minimal effect, it would seem. “What have you got in your repertoire, because I’m not liking the looks of this,” she admitted.

Point. Clever. At least she didn't make a, 'it must be chilly' joke as he wasn't sure how he would respond to that one. Perhaps, under a different circumstance, he would comment on her clever choice of words, but his attention was taken up by the group in front of him as his mind ran through its options. He could take the two on the left leaving Rei behind in support while Takko handled the center, but there was the off chance that these colorful assassins weren't foolish and had a reason to be confident.

Kosan opened his mouth to voice his idea when the fiery red head proved true to her nature charging off to face them head on, well, it seemed like they were roughly on the same page. But, since Takko gave the go ahead-- dead it was. It was far easier to simply kill them then try to take them alive, he would try to take one alive for questioning.

He had nearly took off himself when Rei caught him by surprise, Kosan knew her well enough, fought beside her long enough, to understand her meaning. He would be looking after their Raikage then who had already activated his lightning armor which slowly grew larger until Takko had it of suitable size. He was sorely tempted to activate his Tempest, but this early would only hinder him if these people were half as good as they pretended to be. He needed to feel them out first.

Flicking his rapier, Kosan rushed forward, covering the ground between him and the green haired woman near instantaneously as he let out a barrage of thrusts from his rapier, stabbing at her shoulders and hips to try and box her in, to feel out her movements and speed, perhaps give an opening to Takko should they be lucky enough.

"Well, there is the Rairyū no Tatsumaki, but," she stated, dusting the debris off of herself when she was given the chance to stand. Kiyoko didn't have very many jutsu's in her book, and a majority of them were either medical ninjutsu, or a fūinjutsu of some sort. Still, she could make due with her taijutsu if need be, and then there was the Chidori. The technique she learned when she found out the nature of her chakra wasn't exactly the most desirable to use at the moment. It had a major drawback for her as she did not have a Sharingan like some jerk she knew. She would have to make it count for her, and if she didn't, it would not be a good outcome. "But I could use this instead," she stated. She would have to make it work for now.

She summoned her chakra to her hand, wincing slightly as the pain shot through her broken arm. She would have to fortify the strength of her arms if she didn't want them to break so easily, again. The sound of birds filled the area as the chakra kneaded into the palm of her hand, her eyes fixed on one of the assassins. She had to get this right, there were no failures. Taking a deep breath, she charged the assassin, running as fast as she could with an extra burst of chakra to her legs, however; the assassin was a smidgen faster, and dodged her attack, causing her eyes to widen in slight surprise. The assassin took the opportunity at the opening and attacked. Could this day get any better? First her arm was broken, again, and now she was getting her ass handed to her. She grit her teeth together as she managed to collect herself.

There was only one person she ever lost to, (though technically there were now two people) and she didn't like losing to people who were not him. Even with Rei's help, it didn't seem like they were making much progress through the assassins. "You know, I don't remember assassins being this... difficult," she spoke. Most assassinations were not well coordinated as this one seemed to be, and perhaps most assassins were just testing the water so to speak. Send in the grunts to do all the heavy work before sending in the hard-hitters. A flawless strategy, no? That, or these were the grunts, and the hard-hitters would be coming in soon. "Well... crap."

“They’d better be damn good, to be confronting us in the open like this,” Rei replied, but she took the cue from Kiyoko and let off her own Lightning Release armor, and her clones did the same, such that it was impossible to tell which of the three Reis was the real one. Flowing in when Kiyoko got knocked back, she aimed a roundhouse kick for the side of that assailant’s head, only for the hit to be caught in midair and her ankle twisted—hard. She felt several of the bones in it snap before she managed to wrench it out of the man’s grip and backspring, one-handed, into a crouch, careful not to place any weight on the leg he’d broken. Her kick had been fast and aggressive—to just be able to stop it with a hand was no mean feat at all.

Her clones engaged the other three, but there was little hope for them, and another bit the dust, though the resulting explosion caught a robed woman in the face. Gritting her teeth and rising into a standing position, Rei made a series of handsigns, readying the jutsu to follow. This was going to hurt, but if she could just succeed in doing it, then they might be able to drop at least one of these people. Ram, boar, dog, bird, hare—and then she smacked the ground with her palm, a pillar of earth erupting from the ground right beneath her. Pushing up off that one she landed hard, only to repeat the motion, in a rough square around where Kiyoko was going at two of them with Taijutsu. “Move!” Rei called, and as soon as the Uzumaki’s feet cleared the affected area, lightning lanced between all four pillars, trapping the two ninja within, even as her last clone was brought down by a third. “Four Pillar Bind.”

“I don’t know how long that will hold. We have to get rid of the others, as soon as we can.” Golden eyes flickered to Kiyoko, indicating that she’d follow her lead.

Takko, meanwhile, started moving, trying to flank the woman Kosan was engaging. She didn’t seem inclined to play his game, however, smacking aside his rapier with more force than would be expected of someone of her size, even a ninja. The rapier sliced into her sleeve when she did, but drew no blood, and Takko could just barely make out that the skin beneath the robe seemed to have turned green and shiny, as though scaled, for just a moment before it reverted back into pale flesh. Her counterattack was just as physical, and just as brutal, a step forward in one smooth motion, carrying her knee into Kosan’s stomach. Before she could make the natural follow up blow of her elbow to the back of his head, however, Takehiko intervened, a fist crackling with electricity driving with great speed for her head.

She bent backwards with flexibility almost on par with Rei’s, his fist whistling by just over the tip of her nose, and fluidly, she turned that into a back handspring, getting clear of the radius of his damage.

Kosan's sharp blue eyes did not miss the odd way her skin seemed to change before his eyes as his rapier did nothing to her skin. That wasn't too odd in itself as his rapier was not the most suited to cutting, and he had met other Shinobi during the war who could harden their bodies enough where a slice would not hurt, but he could not recall ever seeing scales... that was new.

The green haired woman's knee lashed out faster then Kosan could react, smashing into his stomach and knocking the air out of him. Instinct forced his body to bend down with the blow, and while he was a trained enough shinobi in close combat, he was not going to be able to dodge the follow up attack that he knew was coming. Luckily, it seemed Takko picked that time to make his entrance, Kosan fell to his knee to catch his breath, the air filling his lungs in large gulps, "Faster then I imagined," Kosan admitted.

Kosan looked up at the woman who had managed to dodge most of his attacks and Takko's attack; if they were going to take her down then they had to do so fast, otherwise she could escape and leave them with nothing. It seemed like he did not have a choice, feeling her out any further would waste what little time they had left, and he was beginning to doubt he could do much without tapping into his more draining abilities. Moving his rapier in front of his face getting ready to use his Tenpesuto, he could only assume Takko would cover him until he gathered the Chakra. He did not have the massive amount that Takko had at his disposal, it took him a little more time to gather it.

Kiyoko nodded in agreement. If they didn't finish this soon, they would be out of options, and they wouldn't last much longer. She clenched her fists together and inhaled softly. Her arm was still throbbing lightly from where it was currently broken, again, and she had to shake of the feeling. She didn't have much of an option if she wanted to help end this. With that in mind, she took off after one of the other assassins, refusing to use anything but her taijutsu for now. She missed, was kicked a few times, punched a few times, and almost stabbed. She was pretty sure she was stabbed, actually, however; she shook the pain from her mind. She managed to knead a good amount of chakra in her body before amassing it to her fist, a small smirk covering her face in the process.

"Let's finish this, shall we?" she stated towards Rei. She turned back to her target and charged one of the assassins, unmindful of the one that was charging her. It was a moment too late that she had noticed that one, and she had to stop herself, but it wasn't quick enough. The blade they had slipped in between the juncture of her collar bone and shoulder. It slipped clean through, and was protruding through her shoulder. Wincing, she grabbed hold of the blade and swung her hand around as best as she could, the one that had the chakra kneaded in it. The Ōkashō wasn't a friendly attack, and could likely kill the assassin if it landed. But as they were, the assassin was quick, and jumped away, the resulting attack landing on the ground where he once was, and splitting the earth in small pieces of debris as they scattered.

Their attempts to finish anything were going extremely poorly, to say the least. With Kiyoko temporarily down, Rei found herself facing down two by herself. They initially came in fast with taijutsu, and while she was able to avoid most of the hits by dint of reflex and flexibility, contorting around blows in ways that most people were simply not capable of, one good hit did eventually take her off her feet, and she landed hard on the ground, lashing up by instinct and catching one of her assailants in the jaw with her good foot—at least before the other one stepped right on her broken leg.

She couldn’t help it—she cried out, a hoarse yell more than a scream, equal parts pained and frustrated. Her lightning armor, while surely doing them some damage, was apparently not enough of a deterrent, and she lost a hold on it anyway when the man standing on her leg ground his heel down into it. The scraping of her bones against one another was clearly audible, and she gritted her teeth to keep from biting her tongue on accident. Reaching for her chakra, she tried to focus on the man for long enough to weave her chakra with his in an instance of Unmei Saiken, but the concentration required was simply not possible with the pain ricocheting up her entire body this way.

She jerked to the side in just enough time to avoid the Shuriken that would have taken out her left eye, but the kunai that stabbed through her hand and into the dirt of the courtyard was impossible to avoid. Rei hissed, pouring more chakra into the Raiton no Yoroi in hopes of repelling them with the sheer force of it, though given their tolerance to pain there seemed to be little chance of that. Well, she was tolerant to it as well, which was probably the only reason she wasn’t screaming bloody murder right now. Instead, she glared up at them both. “Is that really all you’ve got?” spat. “Konoha interrogators are worse than this.”

Takko, meanwhile, was doing his best to give Kosan a chance to build up his chakra, most likely for his signature technique, the Tempest. For the most part, he and the woman were exchanging chakra-infused nintaijutsu, but that scale trick of hers, now coating most of her skin as far as he could tell—made her very durable, moreso than even he was, perhaps. Or at least, more durable than he was, until he invoked his kekkei genkai and his arms, legs, and torso were covered in what looked to be granite. It crept up his neck as well, in overlapping plates, just reaching his jawline before it faded back into flesh.

Her next punch, thrown right for his abdomen, broke her knuckles. Apparently completely incapable of being totally serious in any given situation, Takko barked a sort laugh at the surprise on her face. “What? Nobody ever told you about the Raikage’s rock-hard abs? What good is a reputation, then?”

Kosan could hear and sense the fighting going on around him, feel the sudden flare of chakra from his Raikage as he gathered his own chakra. He could do this and still fight, but it would take him some time. Normally, he would do so after opening a few gates in order to have a larger amount of chakra at hand, but using gates would drain him further, and he would need to save as much chakra as possible.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, he gathered the amount and reflexively mixed the nature chakra to the perfect ratio and flared it to life, his body seeming to explode as could feel the lightning surging down his spine, and the sudden torrent of wind that swirled around him throwing his loose strands of hair into the air around him.

His blue eyes snapped open to see the assassin and Takko exchanging blows as well as the chakra that moved to cover his rapier, the lightning dancing along the surface and ripples within the chakra as the wind moved through the energy. With his technique finally unleashed, Kosan shot off, the ground cracking beneath his legs, as he joined Takko in the offensive, utilizing his quick thrust and timing them with Takko's blows, moving almost in a dance next to the large granite Raikage, two different fighting styles suited to one purpose, to destroy the Assassin.

Kiyoko pursed her lips together when both assassins went after Rei. She picked herself up from the ground, breathing a little heavier than normal and frowned. There was no way she was going to let this go. She's said it once before, and she'll continue to say it. She doesn't lose, to no one but her friend. And though they were probably stronger than him, she wasn't going to just lose without more of a fight. Gritting her teeth together, she forced herself to move closer to Rei and the two assassins, holding her broken arm in the process. It still throbbed with pain, but she'd deal with it later. With her the way it was, what she was about to do would only last a few seconds. She wouldn't be able to keep it for long, but it would give Rei a chance she would need.

"Rei! You've only got once chance!" she shouted to the Kumogakure kunoichi, hoping she would catch on quickly. "Fūinjutsu: Seidō Fūjin!" she shouted, allowing her technique to be released. She managed to seal the chakra of the two assassins, but time was passing rapidly, and she could feel her injuries creeping up on her. Odd, she didn't remember being kicked around so much, why was her body aching like it had been?

The assassin moved as fluidly as water, keeping herself well out of the way of both men and focusing her aggression on Kosan, as the Raikage was going to require more creative maneuvers to injure, ones that may not be possible while two people were after her at once. So mostly, she just ducked and twisted around Takehiko, dancing just at the edge of the range of Tempest, and making mid-ranged attacks against Kosan, mostly consisting of earth-based maneuvers that sought to throw both men off-balance and damage them with blunt impact. Her scales inched up her neck, coming to the bottom of her jaw, a strange mirror of the Raikage’s granite, and they seemed to stave off the worst of the damage from those few times Kosan got close enough to damage her with the unique release.

She was distracted enough by this exercise that Takko managed to get a few good hits in, succeeding in breaking one of her wrists with a shattering, chakra-infused punch, but thankfully his follow-up lariat missed by a few inches as she slid by underneath the trajectory, stabbing the kodachi she carried towards his face, since it was the only unprotected part of him that she knew about. The blade passed close enough to catch in the tie of his eyepatch, and it fluttered to the ground, blown away soon enough on Kosan’s wind, and suddenly the was looking at the most curious case of heterochomia she had ever seen. His other eye was a peculiar gold-green, but the pupil was slitted, like one would see in the eye of a cat or reptile. The grin stretching across his face, however, was entirely feline, pointed incisors and all.

“Bit of a secret: Mata and I don’t always get along so well,” he confessed, though it was more in a tone of dark amusement than anything, and when he next swiped for her, he did it with claws. Midori leaped back just in time, but this time right into the rapier-blow Kosan was aiming for her. At the last second, she twisted, and it only just scraped her side rather than piercing her abdomen, as it had doubtless been aimed to do.

Rei, meanwhile, had taken advantage of the opening provided by Kiyoko as much as she could, though that was admittedly not much. At least the managed to get out of the way of the two ninja while they were struggling to free their chakra, though, and it gave her the opportunity to use her Kekkei Genkai, which she did. It was a subtle thing, and not at all flashy. In fact, unless a person was sensing chakra at the time, it was impossible for anyone but the other party to tell that she was using it at all. It was considerably more interesting for someone who was, however, because it was the process of two chakra systems becoming meshed, something which was not usually possible for even a medic-nin.

It activated just as the two broke free of Kiyoko’s fūinjutsu, leach leaping to the side. Rei allowed the one that rushed her in the aftermath to hit her full in the stomach, because the unpleasant realization that he himself had just felt the same pain was a little amusing. It was an unfortunate side-effect of the damn technique when she used it to heal, because she could then feel the pain of the person she was tethering to life, but fortunately, her pain tolerance was high enough to still be effective. She’d been good at resisting torture long before she’d actually been tortured, after all. As it turned out, however, there was little chance to capitalize further on what might have become an advantage.

Time to go. The words were as clear to Midori as if she had thought them herself, and in the end, it was basically equivalent anyway. Jumping further away, she slammed a fist into the barrier Rei had used to hold two of her soldiers, and it shattered on impact releasing them. They and their fellows moved with her, and only she glanced back for even a moment. “You may tell your friends that this is not over,” she informed them, the first time she had spoken during the entire fight. Her voice was musical, but held a low note of something melancholy in it. What that meant, it was impossible to say, but the warning was delivered with neither arrogance nor relish—simply stated, as though it were fact.

Moments later, they vanished.

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Character Portrait: Naomichi Yuhara Character Portrait: Akira Aburame

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In the aftermath of the attack, the Hokage dispatched any remaining uninjured medic-nin to take care of the wounded parties, but it was assuredly a tall order to fulfill. The death toll rested at somewhere around fifty, most of those Chūnin, though no few Jōnin of Leaf were among the number as well, a testament to the skill and strange, foreign dauntlessness of their opponents. Other casualties were being brought into the hospital at an alarming rate, and she was beginning to suspect that they would lose more simply because there were too many to treat in a timely manner, given what she was working with in terms of staff. The architectural damage, while less important, was also vast. Not counting the hole in her office wall, more than half the buildings in the village had been damaged to at least a moderate degree, and it would be a significant drain on village resources to repair everything. In the aftermath of a costly war, well… she would have to see the final numbers to be sure, but they may well need to borrow from the Daimyō to cover everything, something that any leader hated doing, and for good reason.

It was, in short, a crisis situation, but that would be manageable if there was any guarantee that it would not repeat the very next day. But it would seem that their foes had retreated rather than press their obvious advantage, and this inexplicable mercy was the only reason the damage was not much worse. The first step, after the immediate aftermath was taken care of, had to be getting as much information about the group as possible. Hopefully, some of her ninja had learned something, in addition to what she had gathered from her own opponents.

But triage care had to come first. As a medical ninja herself, Mizuki was well-equipped to do this, and the closest parties were Yuhara and Aburame, so she made her way to them first. Yuhara was clearly in the worse condition of the two, so Mizuki dropped into a crouch beside him, observing that the worst wound seemed to be one in his shoulder, whereby he was presently staked to the ground. “Aburame, report,” she said, flicking her reddish eyes up to Akira for just a moment before she looked back down at Naomichi. “This will hurt,” she informed him honestly, and then took hold of the hilt of the sword in his shoulder, tearing it out in a single, swift motion, then immediately applying pressure to the wound, using a clean swath of fabric from her own uniform. Her free hand signed out the motions for a diagnostic jutsu—his wounds may have been obvious, but she also needed to check for poisons, interference with his chakra networks, and other, similar effects.

Akira stood at attention once Mizuki approached them and began tending to Naomichi. "Lady Hokage! Report, right. Well, uh, Nao-Nao and I pursued this one guy. He was... crazy weird. Nao-Nao ripped his arm off right in front of me. When we found him again he had his arm. The severed arm remained where it was. It was really peculiar. I didn't know what to make of it until Nao-Nao and I attacked him with our biggest combo..." She seemed rather distant as she tried to recall it. "Nobody has ever survived Executioner's Coliseum... When the flames died, I saw his flesh regenerating. Any damage we did to him was just healing itself. I have no idea what the hell it was, but I've never heard of something like this...

With a sigh, she dropped her head. "They spared me for whatever reason and cut Nao-Nao down, probably because he had the better potential to stop them. They collected their comrade and left before I had a chance to send any bugs after them. I think they might be out of range for me to track them with the bug I placed on your opponent as well. I decided to stay behind and take care of Nao-Nao rather than chase. I know I couldn't do anything to them. I apologize, Lady Hokage..." It was unlike Akira to be so formal and down like this, but given the circumstances and whom it was she was addressing, she made sure to speak with respect. "Did you learn anything? Do you know who it was that attacked us? I didn't see any headbands to identify where they were from... You don't think that they were Kumo ninja, do you? We did let them into our village... this would be the best time to attack us. Lower our guards, cut off our heads... To think I was trying to be friendly..." She seemed rather upset with herself now. Her fists clenched tight and pressed against her thighs at her own frustrations. To think that she had been so friendly with them, invited them into her home and shared drinks with them. She had done her best to be welcoming and courteous to the people she once thought her enemies. If they were really behind it, she could never forgive herself...

"They weren't behind it, I can bet my life on it..." Naomichi struggled to speak, his body going cold from the amount of blood seeping out from the wound. Since his chakra levels were so low, he couldn't pull it all back into his body, leaving a powerful flow of red blood flowing out and over his bare chest. Still lying flat on the ground, Naomichi looked over towards the Hokage with his brow furrowed and face emotionless - hiding all the pain that he actually was in with a severed artery, several deep gashes up and down his body, and a gaping hole in his shoulder. "If they really were the Kumo... wouldn't they have sent someone on the level of the Raikage to take you down? I'm sorry and all, but there was no way these guys could have beat you. These guys were damn strong - look at what they did to me -" Naomichi's eye glanced back down towards the sword wound where the Hokage was applying pressure. Somewhere, deep in his mind, he wanted to shoot a blood spike through the Hokage's hand. It just seemed so easy. Before he became too lost in thought though, he let himself continue his defense of the Kumo shinobi - grunting softly as he tried to reposistion himself. "But we aren't pushovers ourselves. I know I could've easily taken two of them on at least; plus we've been with them so much we should know how they work and all. The amount of shit we've done over these days doesn't make them seem like bad people at all..."

Naomichi's bloodlust was slowly settling, his mind shifting more off of killing others to defending them. He didn't understand why he was defending those he once called an enemy, cutting them down without a second thought, but he felt they needed someone to be there to defend them while they aren't there themselves. He had more fun with the Kumo shinobi than he had his entire life, and to know it was all a lie would have just been crushing to him. Until proven wrong he would try to give them the best defnese he could... which coming from Naomichi didn't mean much.

Naomichi couldn't help but feel bad for his partner either. Akira was usually so full of energy, and seeing him like this made Naomichi feel a rock in his stomach. In an attempt to try and lighten the mood, Naomichi gave a little slap to Akira's boot, just light enough for her to notice that he was calling her attention. "Hey, since when did you become so polite? Ya gotta be more like yourself if you want to get the point across... and don't worry. We'll come up with an even BIGGER move to wipe them out. They won't even see us coming next time - eh partner?"

Akira seemed rather surprised at Naomichi's speech. She was less surprised at how it actually got to her and more surprised he did so quite as eloquently as he did. He was never much of a talker, even around her. Being able to be so motivational right there took her by surprise. Her fists unclenched and turned to loose fingers, one of those hands covering her face for a brief moment as she shook her head. "It's the Hokage, Nao-Nao. I have to show her some respect, you know. I can't be as informal with her as I am with you, idiot."" Calling him an idiot was less rude and moreso just a playful jab, like a hidden kindness.

Her head decided to give another shake as well as she found a response to his declaration of war to them. "Bigger moves? Nao-Nao, if we get any more powerful with these combos, people might think a rampaging Jinchuuriki was passing by. I have no idea how someone with as little discretion as you made it into ANBU... I love it. We'll show them that this duo from the Hidden Leaf is not to be messed with! I've been working on a few things in private too that'll only help our combinations... Just you wait, Nao-Nao. Even you'll be gawking at my power!" She flexed a half-sarcastic muscle and looked him in the eyes. Her gaze somehow blended concern and determination. "Hurry and heal up, idiot. I'll buy you a drink and we can discuss more ways to take down the ene--" Her gaze averts to the Hokage for a moment before Akira changes her wording. "We'll come up with new ways to defend the Hidden Leaf. With you and me protecting it, we could protect our home from all the other villages by ourselves!" It was just that kind of bullheaded determination that should be expected from this duo.

The Hokage seemed rather unfazed by all the dramatic resolutions going on, and in the end was mostly silent while they spoke, apparently either thinking over the information she had obtained from the report or else needing the focus to work on stitching Naomichi back together with her chakra. He’d still need more recovery time, considering the blood loss, but his bones were set and on their way to fully mended and his wounds were closed over, with little evidence of their having been present at all. Standing, she dusted off her hands and glanced from one to the other.

“I may have you repeat all of that to the Council, Yuhara,” she said, but a sly half-smile pulled her mouth up at a corner. Asking Naomichi to speak in public was a catastrophically-stupid idea, and of course she wasn’t going to miss that. She also hadn’t missed Akira’s verbal slip, but it wasn’t like she gave a damn. Functionally, destroying the enemies of the village and defending it were usually the same thing anyway. “For now, both of you get some rest. You’ve earned it.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Katsuro Uchiha Character Portrait: Ryuu Tsukino Character Portrait: Rei Hinode Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Kiriko revelled in the connection between her fist and the other nin: it was something she was missing, the ability to literally rip apart her opponent, even if her opponent was still in one piece. Panting more heavily than she was used to, Kiriko gave one last smile before taking an attempt to walk forward, only to collapse. Her eyes wide, Kiriko barely got her hands down in time in an attempt to catch herself, but ultimately just fell down. What... What's going on? That was her last thought before the feeling in her legs disappeared completely, only to be replaced by an intense buring sensation. Another muffled scream was emitted as it felt like her legs simply had erupted in flames; or more specifically, the chakra of her legs was replaced with fire. Kiriko could feel the fire slowly creep past her legs and slowly make it to the torso, all the while her body was slowly losing motor function.

Kiriko was finally able to tilt her head enough to see her opponent, who instead of finishing her off like any normal person would, instead grabbed his partner and vanished. His face was still ingrained in her mind as she swore at him profusely; she had dragged her limp body towards where he had taken off before her arms simply refused their master, and she was stopped. All she could do now was muffle her screams with the ground itself while the poison continued its conquest of her body, seemingly setting her insides on fire while disabling her ability to move. She simply laid there now, unable to writhe in pain, unable to see anything as she was only able to stare at the unchanging dirt.

As her vision blurred and her speech began to slur, all she could think of was Takko and her failure. Was there any real point in continuing now that she had failed? Was this an attack on the two Kages to remove the talks of peace? Kiriko didn't really care what their motives were; it didn't matter now anyway. She was no longer fit to be the partner of the Raikage: she was supposed to be his protector and partner, his eyes where he could not see. If she could not beat rogue ninjas that threatened his life, what good was she? As the poison overtook her once again, she couldn't muffle her scream this time as her jaw no longer completely followed her directions. Her mind was cleared, as if the poison burned her thoughts away, and left her with only two words which she struggled to say. "End.... Me...."

“Not today.” The voice, as it turned out, belonged to Rei. Her team had suffered damage, certainly, including impressive cracks to the Raikage’s granite armor and her own broken leg, but a quick application of healing chakra and she was at least functional enough to go check on the other members of her team, leaving Takko and Kosan in care of Kiyoko’s abilities. But she wasn’t taking the chance that some Leaf medics would arrive and not prioritize the treatment of Kiriko or Nari, wherever they were, and let them die for that reason.

As it happened, she’d found Kiriko first, and from the state of her, that was a good thing—she didn’t look to be in good shape, and someone with as much willpower as she had wouldn’t be down like this unless there was just no way she could possibly stand again. Her pride wouldn’t allow for it, or at least that was how Rei saw things. The cause of this state was evident enough when she saw the bite wound on Kiriko’s ankle, and the medic-nin grimaced. A quick scan of the area revealed that Katsuro was unconscious—she’d have to check on him next. He had helped Zetsu out in his information hunt, after all. Ryuu was also there, but considering that he was conscious and not facedown in the dirt, she’d have to wait on asking after him either.

“Takko’s fine,” she said, knowing that Kiri’s first priority would likely be the Raikage. That was as it should be, and Rei understood it perfectly. “So is Zetsubō, but I’m not sure where Nariko is. She may have gotten caught up somewhere in the fighting.” Never one to waste time, Rei worked as she talked, reaching into the pouch tied to her thigh and drawing out a small vial of a dark fluid. Usually, this technique required that someone be restrained, because of the pain of it, but judging from the way Kiri wasn’t moving anyway, thrashing was not going to be an issue.

“Sorry, Gekkō, but this is going to hurt,” Rei informed her calmly, using a chakra scalpel to open the bite wound wider, connecting the two points of entry on her teammate’s ankle. The painful part, though, was when she had to force the fluid into Kiri’s bloodstream, using it to draw and suspend all of the poison in her arteries and veins. It was not a nice process, not in the slightest, but it did draw out the remainder of the toxin, and Rei ushered it back into the vial, which she corked. The whole thing took extreme precision even for a medic, but it worked. “I’ll have a proper antidote in a few hours tops, so take it easy until then.” Most of Kiri’s motor function would be back already, but for full recovery, the antidote was advised, but she’d need time to make it, even after she’d finished checking over everyone else.

Kiriko was genuinely surprised when she heard a voice from overhead, especially one that she recognized. She would have moved her head to acknowledge the voice, but it didn't matter even if she could: Kiriko recognized Rei's voice even if she couldn't see her. Kiriko didn't know how to respond to Rei's counteractive statement to her own -she remained motionless as Rei continued to work, unable to really focus on the words that Rei really spoke besides the fact that Takko was alive and well. While the feeling of relief washed over her, guilt instantly replaced it as she realized that she had been useless to him; her job was as his protector, and if she couldn't manage that task, what good was she? Kiri's whole life had been dedicated to finishing missions flawlessly to protect those she cared for, and yet here she was: basically a dead weight.

Kiriko heard another mumble from Rei - the word 'hurt' was used, if she heard correctly - before a dull pain ripped through her ankle near the cut. What happened next, Kiriko could not aptly describe with words: all she felt was searing pain, as if her insides were being forced out of her body through a narrow tube. The pain instantly caught her off guard, and her screams pierced the previously still air until she was able to muffle them. The next few moments of searing pain were in muffled silence as Kiri's body writhed weakly in distress, until it suddenly stopped. Panting, Kiri heard words in the distance, as each word became more and more clear; something about a proper antidote and taking it easy if she recalled correctly. Slowly, her body began to revitalize itself, and the feeling that she was actually alive began to creep its way back.

Not one for taking advice from others, as soon as Kiri felt she was strong enough to raise herself, she struggled to prop her head up from the ground so that she could see the world, and Rei as she left. Before she was out of earshot, however, Kiriko mumbled out a few coherent words: "I.... Thank you, Rei." It sounded much more bashful than she had anticipated, but it mattered not; she could always use the excuse that she had just been poisoned. Nevertheless, she wanted to get to Hiko as fast as she could - then again, it was hard to do so when your legs felt weaker than the leaves of the trees in autumn. She would have to wait, no matter how hard she pushed herself.

Rei, sensitive to Kiriko’s attitude towards such things, didn’t make a big deal out of her tone, nor of the circumstances under which she’d found her. “Not a problem, Kiriko.” At this point, she figured the other woman was best left to decide how she wanted to handle the situation herself, though Rei was sure that Takko would be glad to see her. Rather than saying this directly, however, she simply moved onto the next patient—the Uchiha.

He was in shit shape, to be completely honest, and she could hardly fault him for the fact that he was barely conscious. Kiriko’s screaming had produced some kind of instinctive reaction in him from the look of things, as he seemed to have been trying to orient himself in that direction, as if to help. Of course, there was nothing to help with, but he was hardly in a position to know that. Still, looking at him now, half-curled in on himself, bleeding from no fewer than two dozen wounds, unfocused eyes still locked in the direction from which he’d heard the pained cries of another human being… she wondered if he was really so cold as he wanted everyone else to think. Well, perhaps it wasn’t any of her business in the first place, but she couldn’t help but feel that it was when people were really trodden down that they showed you their true colors, and his just looked more red than black to her.

She put the thought from her mind, though, as she knelt at his side, talking even though she was uncertain whether he’d even be able to process her words. A voice in the proximity, lacking panic, was sometimes enough to be of assistance. “Hang in there, Uchiha, I’ve got you.” She wondered where his own village’s triage teams were, though honestly they were probably overtaxed, working from the inside out, and wouldn’t be this far to the edge of the village for a while yet.

She didn’t want to risk moving him too much, for fear of aggravating his injuries, but she did need to get a look at them. The uniform shirt he was wearing came off easily enough under the edge of a chakra scalpel, and the fact that she had to peel it off his skin was not a good sign. She heard him make a sound, something like a hiss, when she removed it as efficiently as possible, and she winced at the crosshatched wounds. Whomever he’d been against had not been kind to him—this looked more like ritualized torture than a real fight, and Rei swallowed thickly. She knew the difference better than most people would ever have to. “I’ve got you,” she repeated, the words Shizu had once spoken to her the only ones easy to her lips in this particular moment.

Putting him back together as well as she could wasn’t quite the advanced process that poison extraction was, but she had no doubt that it was taking a lot out of her. She’d used a considerable amount of chakra already today, and while she was always working on increasing her reserves of it, she was only a bit better than the average ninja in that area at the moment. By the time the worst of Katsu’s wounds—the largest slashes and the most shattered of the breakages—were done, she’d had to use her chakra to empty his lungs of blood three times, and that took a bit more than healing the average cut.

He was out cold by then, the strain no doubt more than his body could really take at present, and she was just glad he had so much chakra of his own to work with—almost as much as Takko had, actually, when he claimed Matatabi was being a bit more cooperative than she usually was. That much meant that however brutal the battle, it had not been all used up, and she could put some of it to work helping heal his body.

Rei sat back, exhaling in a sigh and wiping the back of a hand across her head, turning to the last of the shinobi still present. “Anything I can do for you, Tsukino?” she asked, though she was showing signs that her fatigue was catching up with her. Her breaths were steady, but abnormally deep, and she’d forgone the crouch to sit seiza, so as to conserve energy.

Ryuu looked towards the voice who addressed him. His mismatched eyes were glazed with something. However, it quickly dissipated and reflected the visage of someone he knew well about. It was none other than her. He noticed that she was not exhausted by physical effort, but of tending to the wounded shinobi present in the area. She apparently used her chakra intensely and judging by that, it only meant those two suffered heavy injuries. In any case, his answer to the question did not come easily as he prioritized looking at the others who had been treated already. Uchiha was still alive as well as Gekkō. Of course, they should be. It was expected on his part.

"I'm fine."It was a short answer as he turned his back on her and began to walk away. Right now, he would like to be alone and get some sleep which had been unceremoniously disturbed. Yet, he ignored the fact that he has some internal bleeding and more importantly, his hand and arm were now sporting cellular damages from the jutsu he was about to use earlier. It was a backlash he had expected when it was not thrown away or even stabilized. That is why he had concluded before that there would be a furious scolding from that person. Well, he would accept that.

Midway in his walk, he stopped as blood came out of his mouth. He covered with his other hand as the other was now unusable until proper treatment had been done to it. If not, he would probably be maimed but that was not his concern at all. "Tsk." He clicked his tongue as he wiped his mouth with the back of his uninjured arm and continued to walk on. It would seem that he needed some medical assistance, but, he would not be seeking the one who had offered if she can do anything for him. Instead, he would be seeking the help of another. That should not be difficult, however; the question is if he will reach there with enough provisions of his present condition.

He was simply being stubborn at the wrong time. It seemed his bad mood was still a continuing process.

Rei didn’t miss the faint splash that accompanied a few drops of blood hitting the ground, nor could she mistake the sound for anything else. Sighing, she glanced down at Katsuro. “Are all of you Konoha shinobi this stubborn, or did I just get stuck dealing with the proud fools?” Being unconscious, there was of course no way he could answer her, and she sighed again, knowing this was going to be murder on her still-tender foot. But it wasn’t like anyone else was in a fit state to do it. So it was with some difficulty that she lifted the taller—though not much taller, thankfully—Uchiha, slinging him over her back and leaning forward slightly so that gravity would do some of her work for her.

Glancing over at Kiriko, she pressed her lips into a grim line. “I’ve got to get this one to the hospital for more treatment. Do you think you can go check on Takko?” She expected that the Raikage would be fine, in all honesty, but Kiri really needed to see that for herself, if Rei’s intuition about her current mental state was anywhere near correct.

Fortunately, the hospital, located near to the Hokage’s building, seemed to be the general direction in which Ryuu was heading as well. Birds, meet stone. Jogging a bit so as to catch up, she tried not to wince when the pressure on her foot sent little needles of pain up from her ankle. They really hadn’t been kind with that one, had they? “Oh for goodness’ sake,” she groused, shaking her head upon observing the blood streaking across the back of his one arm and how the other hung uselessly at his side. “It’s fine if you trust one of your own village’s medics more than me. I won’t be offended. But at least let me stabilize you so you can make it to one of them.”

Kiriko did not acknowledge Rei's first comment as she went to help out the other fighters that were just as unlucky as Kiriko, but in a completely different manner. Kiriko struggled to keep her head up as she watched Rei walk over to the absolutely battered Uchiha, and studied the reclusive man. He reminded her of herself, really - only with a chakra that was so potent with potential it was sickening. The fact that she was able to sense his chakra once again meant that she was regaining a lot of her cognitive abilities as well, even if the sense was somewhat dull for the amount of chakra she had read off of him earlier. Kiriko used that as a marker that she should be able to move soon, and made the mistake of attempting to prop up to a possible standing position. Instead, her body collapsed on her, and she was instead on her elbows, panting. Seemed as if the poison's effects felt like holding on for the fun of it, and weren't the speediest to give her back the strength to get up yet.

As she struggled to get to a standing position, her mind wandered into some seriously dangerous territory - almost as dangerous as after the war. The faces of her new enemies kept going through her head as she finally made it to a sitting position. Their every feature would be engrained into her mind as she knew she would hunt them to the ends of the earth. She had no other purpose if she didn't; Hiko would find somebody more suitable to guard him, seeing as how she failed miserably at performing a simple task, and she would devote her life to the extermination of those that dared to ruin her reputation. Kiriko's mind continued to dwell as she finall pushed herself up into a shakey standing position as she began to envision how she would find them, what she would do to them: she could even taste the blood that they would gush after she was done-

Rei's comment took Kiriko out of her dark corner, to which she was silently grateful for. That was a place in which she rarely came out of, for it required Hiko to make a comment, her mother scolded her for brooding or some sheer willpower, which she had none currently. Kiriko made a stern nod in Rei's direction - as stern as one coming off of the effects of a neurotoxin could, anyway - and watched as Rei hobbled off with the Uchiha. With her sensory ability limited, Kiriko had to guess that Hiko was still in the Compound, and began the slow walk over. For onlookers, Kiriko probably looked like a frail old woman with little to no ability to walk; her head was only tilted up enough to make sure she didn't run into things, her back hunched over, her pace slow and jagged. Each step was exhausting, but at least her legs were obeying her and moving at a pace, instead of lying limp beside her. Count the small blessings, she guessed. Her train of thought began to wander a bit as the walk painfully continued forward, as she mulled over how horrid her kimono must look from the outside, with its new stains and tears as well as her missing sandals.

When Kiriko thought that she would have been out of the village by now, she looked up a little more to realize she almost ran into the pole to the Uchiha Compound, and gave a ragged sigh of relief. Putting up a hand on the pole to stabalize herself, Kiriko caught her breath before moving towards the building she had been sleeping in for a while now. She couldn't really see the destruction that had been caused, nor did she care. Her thoughts became narrow as she reached the door and nearly collapsed in exhaustion, panting profusely as she thought of only one thing: finding Hiko.

There it was again, the persistence which Ryuu currently does not appreciate at the moment. If it has been any other day or perhaps even time, he would have taken such a trait as an interesting note. Unfortunately, he was not in the mood to say at the very least. His wounds? Injuries? They were inconsequential to him. Really, they were. He was not going to die from them. That fact was pretty much he was certain of. So to effect, there was really no need for her pestering. Yes, he was starting to see her as a pest. "Should you not treat yourself first?" He stated with a tone wrapped in concession without even looking at her direction as he continued with his pace. It would appear that he had noticed her condition even if it had appeared that he did not care about anything around him right now.

His two-colored eyes reflected the visage of the hospital which meant that they were near. All he had to do was to endure a bit more and soon enough, this will be over. However, his body failed him a bit as he made a sudden stop. With his available hand, he covered his mouth as blood spilled forth much like a riveting fountain. As it would appear, the internal damage caused by getting hit directly by that lightning jutsu did more than he had anticipated. Really, he would like nothing more but to crush those attackers until there would be no traces of them even bones. Yes, that would be fun. Yet, there was a different intended course for them to take and he must allow them.

There was another fit of vomiting blood as he ultimately sat on the ground unceremoniously. He was getting tired from such actions and soon enough made himself comfortable by lying down. Closing his eyes, he felt the aches, pain, and the tiredness engulfing his entire body. It was probably due to the adrenaline pumping within him earlier had already dissipated. "Hinode-san." He stated with a voice akin to that of child with a dislike of waking up early. "You shouldn't force yourself too much." There was once again his mask put into place that even beyond those fictitious smile provided a tint of concern. "I just need rest." He decided on that as his breathing seemed to endure a normal pace. However, his wounds would not heal without the needed stimulation by the medics. "So do you."

She wasn’t sure what was the cause of this stubborn insistence on being fine. Sometimes it was a pride thing, usually a male pride thing, though women could have it too. Sometimes, other shinobi considered the skills of medical nin to be somehow inferior, because their skills were not the flashiest or most straightforwardly combative, and apparently some people took that to mean they were less respectable. Still others had a paranoia about others interfering with their own bodies. While this might just be some kind of pride, she was pretty sure it had nothing to do with the other possibilities, leaving the other option to be that he just had some personal issue with her.

Well, fine, but whatever it was, it wasn’t a good reason to refuse help, and she shook her head. They were both heading to the hospital anyway, and she just decided that if something happened on the way, she’d address it, and if not, she’d let him have his way. Shifting the Uchiha slightly on her back, she responded with the sort of calm straightforwardness that characterized her medical training. “I have treated myself. My leg’s a bit tender, but if you’d seen it before, you’d understand.” She left it at that—there was no need to whine or waste too much breath. It would probably only annoy them both at this point.

She drew the line, however, when he collapsed into a seated position on the ground. Lowering herself a little more carefully, mindful of her passenger, she eased Katsuro onto the ground so that she could move a little more freely. “Sure we do,” she agreed readily enough. “And we’ll both get it—when we walk into the hospital under our own steam. I can’t carry two of you.” She raised an eyebrow and half-smiled, but it was pretty clear that she was entertaining exactly no objections about whether or not she was allowed to stem that internal bleeding. Her hands were already encased in the needed chakra, and she splayed her fingers over his back, where his lungs were located, such that her hand was lodged against the ground, and her other hand mirrored the positioning in front.

It wasn’t a full heal by any means, just enough to stem the flow of his internal lacerations. She could not help but notice, however, the extensive cellular damage he’d undergone, and traces of scarring from the same, over an extended period of time, as though he repeatedly did something that caused him serious internal injury. It was similar in principle almost to a technique she knew for rapid cellular regeneration, one that called on the body’s ability to replace all of its cells early. There were a finite number of such things in any person’s lifetime, just like there was a finite number of times he’d be able to do… whatever it was, before he expired.

He had to know. There was no way you could do that to your body and not be aware that something was terribly wrong. She could only assume it was the side effect of some jutsu or another, but it seemed a steep price to pay. Her lips pressed together, but she remained silent on the matter. It wasn’t really any of her business—he owed her no explanations. So once she was sure he’d stopped bleeding and could breathe more easily, she withdrew her hands. “There. Wasn’t so terrible, I hope?”

That was pretty much useless for having his bravado about not receiving any kind of her aid. There are certain reasons in which he did not like her to help him. Of course, he could not say that outright to her. Which would be odd if one is judging of his persona, well, it was just temporary. Eventually, he will be able to say it or she would find out. But, it was not now. In any case, he could not help but sigh in light irritation as he closed his eyes. This time, he did not resist nor say anything against her initiative to stop his internal bleeding. Actually, it truly helped as his body felt a bit better. He could not deny her an answer as she asked about his opinion in regards to her assistance. "You just can't keep your hands off me, can you?" There was a smile filled with mischief upon his face and a tone which insinuated a certain matter.

Regardless, he stood from his position. It is true that she stabilized his condition. So, he was not a person without manners. Actually, he really was as it is more fun. But then again, he is aware of his responsibility. Instead, he looked at the unconscious Uchiha. The prodigy was beaten rather badly. There was no doubt in his mind that Katsuro's pride had been damaged. Anyone will suffer the same outcome as the enemy group left them in a complete bind. It seemed like they were nothing more, but a toy when they are bored. Well, it was fine. The people will rebuild what was lost. So, there should be no problems. For now...

"I will be taking him." With one arm, he heaved Katsuro to his shoulder without even an ounce of delicacy. Well, he was knew that Uchicha was tough. So, that should be no problem. In addition, he would not be taking any complaints from her, this is simply how it is needed to be done. His mismatched eyes glanced at her form. He knew that she had been presented with something odd about his personal health. But, this would remain a secret and he does not owe her anything to explain. Moreover, he has no intentions for anyone to know about his odd condition. So, it will remain the same. Although, there will be something he will do. "Thanks." Without much warning, he placed a kiss on her forehead and then fluidly went on his way to the hospital.

Rei sighed, bringing a hand to her forehead for a moment before she dropped it again. “Weirdo."

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Character Portrait: Kiyoko Uzumaki Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Zetsubō Kosan Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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Kiyoko sighed, allowing her shoulders to slump as she scanned the area. Rei had left to take care of the others, leaving her with Kosan and the Raikage. She could at least tend to their wounds while she could. She applied the necessary means to at least fix her arm so it wouldn't be completely useless. She'd need both arms regardless to heal whatever injuries Kosan and the Raikage suffered. She glanced at the both of them, assessing which one would need treatment first, and decided to heal Kosan. The Raikage was a Jinchūriki, he'd be fine for now. A Jinchūriki's ability to heal on their own was good enough that she could tend to the ones who weren't so lucky. She approached Kosan tentatively, tilting her head to the side and raised a brow.

"You get to be the first one receiving treatment," she spoke, casting a side glance towards Takehiko before returning her attention back to Kosan. "And don't say 'help him first because he's the Raikage,' either. He will be fine on his own until you are taken care of first," she stated, jabbing a finger in Takehiko's direction in the process. She blinked mildly, glanced towards Takehiko, and waved, assuring him that she was going to work on Kosan first.

Kosan waited a few moments to ensure she was not coming back for letting his Tempest fall, the crackling and howling of wind dying down as quickly as it had erupted which left his hair in quite the state of disarray. He had not had time to tie it back as he normally did, and he could only wince at the thought of brushing it later and the sheer amount of knots that he would find. But the hair was his, and he was loath to cut it.

The assassins had been... odd, but it seemed they weren't the only ones attacked, but he still could not grasp the why of the situation. Why had they announced their presence so boldly? Why hadn't they used the element of surprise? Why hadn't they all sought to overwhelm them? Why? The woman... her power was impressive, and Kosan was sure she was holding back as he and Takko had been doing, the idea that there could be more people of her level was distressing. He was pulled out of his musings by the sudden flare of pain in his ribs, the adrenaline no longer dulling the pain to where his mind could ignore it. Looking down, there was a large purple bruise covering a good portion of his right ribs, moving his hands down, he probed them feeling for any broken bones before pulling his hand back as he let out a sharp hiss through his clenched teeth. Nothing too serious, seems she had hit him with one of her Earth Jutsu, he was no medic, but if he had to guess, a few of his ribs had hairline fractures.

Kosan's blue eyes snapped up to Kiyoko as she closed the distance between them and made her demands clear. He could not help but think, once again, that her hair truly did match her personality. He let his blue eyes roam her face before meeting her own, yes, it seemed he wasn't going to be able to tell her off even if he could, "I would never turn down your offer," Kosan said his half smile falling to a hiss of annoyance as the words causes his ribs to expand and shake, putting pressure on the fractures, "I value my life far too much to risk it against your... fiery wrath."

Takko only chuckled at the medic’s demands. Kosan wasn’t nearly as stubborn or prideful as some of the others when it came to accepting the help of medic-nin, perhaps because he’d been married to one and his best friend was another. Perhaps it was only because his quest for vengeance tended to injure him a lot, and he’d simply accepted that needing their assistance was the price he paid for that. Whatever the case, he was not at all difficult to convince, and the Raikage was glad. It pulled at him in a way little else did to see his friends in pain—and that was what most people would think was his first mistake. To him, they were not and never had been purely subordinates. They were his friends, his family, even, and that made him vulnerable in ways no amount of stoneskin could protect him against.

But there was little he could do about it, and nothing he would. He preferred things this way, even if he was more vulnerable because of it. Takehiko fully and genuinely believed that a person fought better when they were fighting for the things they truly cared about. Maybe not with better technique or more elegant execution, but better in the sense that defeat was not accepted. And that willpower was worth whatever pain he had to endure, because they were worth it.

Glancing down, he examined himself in a cursory fashion. He had a tendency not to notice when he was becoming injured, so it was always important to check. He noted that his granite “skin” was cracked in a few places, and raised an eyebrow. That was impressive, and took much more strength than the average shinobi would ever possess. “Would you look at that,” he murmured. It would seem that his life really had been in considerable danger. He counted himself a fortunate man that things had ended when they had. This whole exchange struck him as more of a feint than an actual blow, but he wondered what they were supposed to be missing, when their attention turned to it. What was the real attack to be, and why?

He let the jutsu fade, his flesh returning to normal, as unblemished as it ever got, considering the number of scars he sported, most of them white lines crosshatching his tanned, callused skin. A few of them were blotchier, like old burns, or pink in color instead of pearly. He flexed his hands a few times, about to glance back over at the other two, when a small noise caught his attention. Turning, his visible eye widened in surprise when he caught sight of Kiriko, looking much worse for wear and leaning against the architecture to support herself. “Kiri.” The word was spoken low and urgent, entirely lacking his usual bombastic cheer, and he was beside her as fast as he could be, which considering just who and what he was, meant nearly instantaneously.

A large hand found its way carefully to her shoulder, providing additional support for her to lean on, though gently enough that he wouldn’t inadvertently aggravate any injuries. “Are you all right? Have you been treated?” His expression was one of undisguised worry, and why should it not be?

Kiriko had barely entered the building before a large hand grasped her shoulder gently, which caused her to stiffen instantly until relaxing at the knowledge of who the other person was; it seemed that Hiko would find her first, rather than the other way around. While she wasn’t normally one to use him as a giant, vertical bed, Kiri found herself leaning against him to keep her balance. She was still panting a little heavy, but a small smile found its way to her lips as she relaxed just a little against him. The words he spoke were low and troubled, and Kiriko had difficulty not giving a bark of laughter from the situation, even though she knew it would seriously hurt if she did. "I don’t recall seeing that face whenever a meeting was going on. How the tables have turned, huh...” The sarcasm and harsh undertone she threw at herself was subtle, yet blatant. The fact that she was requiring another to stand was obvious enough that she wasn’t good enough for the job.

Her legs got weak again as she tried to look up and focus on Hiko’s face, but got a little dizzy and decided against it as she thought of how to actually answer Hiko’s question. ”Being all right is subjective; I don’t think I’ve been alright for a while. Pretty sure Mom knew that too.” Kiri’s mind was wandering again, her path of interaction diverting at the smallest change in thought, as it seemed to do. She finally met Takko’s eyes, the piercing blue now seemingly clouded as she couldn’t think straight still. "Currently, I’m not fine. I...” Kiriko’s mind clouded over as she recounted all of the details again, and her head fell back down to look at the dirt. "I failed, Hiko. I... failed. Hard.” The words came out softly, almost painfully, but they were the truth; she had failed.

Kiyoko raised an amused brow, the corners of her lips tilting up slightly as she regarded Kosan. "Fiery wrath?" she questioned, rolling up her sleeves in the process. "My wrath shouldn't be what you are concerned about," she stated, a small smirk forming at her lips. "And you'd better not turn down my offer. I only offer it once," she continued, smirking fully as she placed a hand on her hip. She shook her head softly and sighed, moving her arms so that she could fully assess the situation. It was a good thing he wasn't wearing his shirt, otherwise she'd have had to ask him to remove it. This way, she could see the damage already and get to work quickly. She could see already, on his right side, the large bruise on his side forming. She pursed her lips together, placing her forefinger and index finger along the side to feel against it.

"Well, I'm sure you're already aware that your ribs are partially broken," she muttered more to herself than to him. She continued feeling against his ribs to find how far the damage went, and was satisfied that the damage wasn't too severe. Her eyes glanced towards Takehiko as he walked away, spotting Kiriko off into the distance, before returning her attention back to Kosan. She sighed and summoned her chakra to her hand, waiting for it to manifest correctly before she began applying her Shōsen Jutsu. Once his ribs were taken care of, she grinned broadly and placed her hand back against her hip. "There, that should do it. Anything else I can do for you?" she stated, raising a brow in the process.

Kosan raised an eyebrow in curiosity, not afraid of her wrath? Well, did that mean he should tremble at her generosity? He opened his mouth to tell her something truly witty, or at least, it sounded so in his mind, but his thoughts were cut off when she touched his rib with her fingers, the light pressure earning a small hiss that escaped from his clenched teeth. It was easy to ignore pain in battle or when he was focused on it, but he had not been prepared for it which was more his fault then hers.

The pain was short lived, and his attention was quickly nabbed by the appearance of his fellow Kumo Shinobi, Kiriko, she did... not look well. If anything, she looked far worse then either Raikage or himself. It confirmed his belief that they weren't the only group targeted which made the situation slightly more... complex if nothing else. Still, he was surprised to see her in such a condition, she was a fierce Shinobi.

Kosan eyed the two of them, ignoring the feeling of the alien chakra entering his system, or the slight unsettling feeling that came with bones being fused back together. It was a fairly short process, and it wasn't his first time being injured, so it was something he had grown accustomed to coping with.

He turned his blue eyes back towards Kiyoko, "Unless you have a spare shirt and a cup of tea hidden somewhere on your person, I believe I shall be fine. Kiriko, however, does not look to be in prime condition."

Takehiko looked less than pleased; in truth it was Kiri's words that upset him most of all. Still, here and now was not the time to be having this discussion. She was obviously in need of rest, and he still had to find and ensure the safety of the rest of his cohort. Then there would probably be meetings, and accusations... he wasn't looking forward to any of it. But first things were first.

“Okay, well... everyone go rest. I'll find Rei and Nari and get them back here, too. In the meantime, focus on recovering, and don't answer any questions without me here. I'm not sure who is responsible for this, beyond those people we just fought, but it's clear that they knew where we were, and probably why, so we have to be careful." He looked down at Kiri, feeling very strongly the urge to pull her into a hug, but he was also worried about what that might do to her injuries--and perhaps her dignity. She took her duty very seriously, and he didn't want her to think that he was any less serious about it than she was. He'd never invalidate the effort she or anyone else put forward, especially not when it was on his behalf.

So for now, it was business. But later... later he would be tracking her down. Because she hadn't failed at all, and she needed to understand that.

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Character Portrait: Takehiko Yamamoto Character Portrait: Kiriko Gekkō

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A day and a half after the attack, Takehiko was finally free for more than five minutes at once. There had been a lot of tense negotiations to deal with, including the painstaking process of establishing that he and his ninja had nothing to do with the attack. They’d figured out, once Katsuro had woken up and been able to give a statement of what he’d learned, that even between all of them, there wasn’t much information. But there was enough that they had great reason to be concerned.

Those ninja not only possessed large amounts of very strange chakra, as Kiriko reported, but also seemed to be capable of recovering very quickly from wounds that should have been fatal. There was no accounting for it—even the Hokage’s own rapid cellular regeneration techniques weren’t that effective. It was also difficult to get a handle on the group’s goal—they’d attacked an entire village with about thirty soldiers and three commanders, and in truth, they’d only been repelled because they’d chosen to leave. While a few of the most experienced and powerful shinobi here had held their own relatively well, that was definitely not the case for the vast majority—even skilled jōnin and ANBU operatives. In total, more than fifty Leaf shinobi had been killed, representing a significant dent in their fighting forces. The village, like his own, was simply not that large.

It was clear that, whatever else might be true, they were going to need all the help they could get to figure this out and stop it from happening again. It was Takehiko’s first instinct to offer his help and that of his people, for there was no reason to believe they would not become targets as well. But… he also could not forget the reason he was here in the first place, and so he’d been forced to place a price on his aid: namely, a neutral peace treaty and a trade contract that left both villages better off but neither at a significant advantage. He hated negotiating like that, but he had to keep the security of his people in mind, and at the very least, this attack had the benefit of making the Council much more amenable to his requests… and much faster at deciding things.

So, done with that for the time being but with the promise of more meetings looming over his head for tomorrow, Takehiko decided to spend his evening addressing something that had been nagging at him the whole time. For now foregoing much-needed sleep, he searched for Kiriko. He wasn’t a sensor by any means, and his chakra-reading abilities were a crude metric at best, but he knew hers better than anyone’s, for obvious reasons, and so he was eventually able to find her, through a process of refining his directions as he got closer.

The evening was cool, and rather quiet, absent the usual drinking parties or clandestine excursions of lovers or sneaking children out past their curfews. Everyone was spending too much time working to restore what was destroyed to have much time for leisure. When he found her, Takehiko strolled to a stop beside her, crossing his arms casually over his chest. “Feeling any better?” He inquired, stealing a sidelong glance down at her from his uncovered eye.

Kiriko, during the last day and a half, had spent most of it recovering; and basically being the prime example to their case that the Kumo nin had nothing to do with the attack. Rei had eventually given her an antidote, which caused enough of a disturbance within her stomach to cause her to puke not too long after it had digested. Kiri assumed that it was to purge her body of any remaining poison, but she certainly wished that it didn't have to burn that much. While Kiriko hadn't planned on sharing any of her knowledge outside of her select few, it became obvious that she was going to be needed to report to the Kage about the interesting nin. She hadn't been feeling the greatest throughout her report, which became obvious when they released her as she began to sway from weakeness. Sure enough, Kiri left the room promptly, and fell asleep soon after returning to her room.

Today had been not that much different - only instead of weakness, she felt despair. The weakness had left most of her body, but it began to remind her of her own shortcomings. She watched from above as mere civilians gave their assistance in the reconstruction, while she did nothing. Sure, Hiko had negotiated that the Kumo nin were allowed to help (Kiri was actually shocked at his sudden dipolomatic skills) yet Kiriko refused to assist. There was something about how the villagers looked at her, or how she looked at them; she looked at them with indifference, they looked at her with distrust. So she assisted them from the shadows, resupplying items that she knew she could, and musing over her own thoughts.

Her musings took her deep into the night without her knowledge, and she only truly noticed the world around her at the familiar tone of Hiko's voice. She had already known he was coming, but had never bothered to register it nor pay attention. "Physically, yes. Realistically, no." She looked down in her silence, noticing that she was hugging her kneels. Her kimono looking a little better now that it wasn't caked in dirt. She began to relive the moments of the battle from those days ago, her anger at herself and those that hurt her welling as she stared forward. "I failed. I lost against two pathetic excuses for ninja simply because they know their neurotoxins." Obviously, Kiriko was bitter about it - even if the two ninja she was fighting weren't as weak nor as pathetic as she was making them out to be. Her stubborness and pride, however, refused to let her see them as anything but lower rank.

Her hatred continued as she seethed internally, as she mused over the next time they fought; she would train effortlessly, day and night until she saw them again. She almost started to visualize what she would do to them, but realized what she was doing and stopped cold to hang her head, the images not entirely leaving her. "I'm a failure at being a protector; yet I can't stop thinking about the next time I see them, what I would do to them. I just..." Kiriko stopped midsentence, knowing that she wasn't helping her case, and just kept her head down in annoyance. The whole situation was messed up, and it didn't look like it was getting better.

Takehiko sighed heavily, dropping down in place so that he was sitting next to her rather than standing. While it cut his height effectively in half to do so, he was still at a pretty lofty altitude compared to her. The palm of his large hand found the crown of her head, and his fingers mussed her hair a little, the calluses catching just a little on the strands. Well, what could he say? He was made for rougher things than trying to help people feel better. He somehow always managed to feel like bull in a china shop in situations that were more about diplomacy. Even a lot of what he’d managed here had come from old advice from his teacher and more specific suggestions from Rei, who was much better at getting people to do what she wanted than he’d ever been.

But still… it was this stuff that was really important. More important than being able to take a guy out or master a new jutsu. At least… he was becoming increasingly convinced of that. “There’s no need to beat yourself up about this, Kiri,” he said, his tone patient and careful rather than inflected with his usual careless boisterousness. “I mean, if you think about it one way, nobody really succeeded this time—none of us were prepared for what we were facing, but they clearly knew a great deal about us. It’s enough that we survived.” It was certainly true that not all the Leaf ninja had, after all. Things could have gone much worse.

“But if you prefer to think about it differently… your mission was to protect me, right? To make sure I didn’t die? Well…” he spread his free arm out to his side and shrugged, a subtle smile playing at his mouth. “Here I am, alive and well.” And who was to say? Perhaps those two she had fought, if they’d reached him, would have made the difference between his life and his death. Battle was far too chaotic and unpredictable to know these things for certain. Even the strongest shinobi could be overwhelmed by another, if the circumstances were right. “And, just as importantly, here you are, and you’re alive too. That means there’s still a chance to put things right.” Or so Kai had always told them, anyway. As long as they lived one more day, they had one more chance. It was important not to squander them, because everyone ran out eventually.

"Since when did your diplomatic comforting skills suddenly spike?" Kiriko's words were dry as she gave him a half hearted smile, jabbing at his usual inability to form words that represented anything close to a diplomatic mindset. Granted, Kiriko didn't either; the difference was that Kirko knew how to and had before, while Hiko always seemed to bumble it up. His hand did feel nice on her head though, even if he could easily pick her up if pressure was added by his gargantuan hands. The scenario reminded her of the days before he had left to transverse the world - it felt like a different timeline, parallel to the current events that she was forced with. "You almost sound like Mom when you do that." Her way of being blunt while weaving her words around in a clever way had always been something Kiriko envied, but was never able to completely comprehend.

However, Kirko gave a sigh and dropped her head lower into her own knees as she stared out at the world. "You don't get it, do you? In my line of work, if I don't complete the objective, I fail; there is no draw. The fact that you are alive is not because of my abilities, but because of your own; ergo, I failed." Kiriko stared out at the world, her eyes burning at the stars. "If this were the past, I would be dead for this kind of failure; but since I'm not dead, I can still remove them. I can still repay their kindness for keeping me alive." Her tone dropped as the sentence wore on until her voice sounded like a deadweight. It was then that a shiver ran through her spine as she mentally shook herself; she had almost forgotten that Hiko was there, she was that mad. "I... nevermind." Kiri mumbled the rest, crestfallen at her situation; she was losing it again, just after she thought she was on the mend.

“Hey now,” Takehiko replied, managing to sound vaguely offended and not at all serious at the same time. “I’m not bad with people generally, you know. Just boring old people.” He grinned for a moment before it faded again, his head tilting to the side as she continued to speak. So that’s how she thought this worked, huh? If she didn’t save him herself, she’d somehow failed?

He made a sound suspiciously like a scoff at the back of his throat. “And what am I? Chopped liver? Just because your Raikage’s an idiot who prefers to throw himself into the fight instead of waiting for the cavalry to come by and save him doesn’t mean you’ve failed at anything, Kiri.” He probably did sound a lot like Kai right now, the one they both sometimes referred to as their mother. He dropped the hand on her head to her far shoulder and pulled her slightly sideways, into his side. He knew she wasn’t exactly the hugging type, and to be fair, he couldn’t exactly say that he was, either, but that was with other people. She was Kiri—and for him at least, that meant she wasn’t like other people at all. They’d known each other practically all their lives, been raised together, more or less. And though every last one of his friends and subordinates was important to him, she’d always be different because of that.

Leaning over and down, he propped his chin on her head instead, sighing heavily. “Well, in that case I’m sure glad I’m not them. You’re kinda scary sometimes, Kiri.” Despite his words, he didn’t sound afraid of her at all—and why should he be? It was definitely true that she had her issues, just like anyone did. The war, and their lives in general, had left none of them without scars. Some wore them on their skin, and some… some wore them in their minds and on their hearts. Huh—that was pretty good. He should write that down. “Just don’t forget to come back after it’s done, yeah?” That was the thing about her lapses that actually bothered him—the fear that one day, she wouldn't return from that state. That she’d leave him as surely as Kai had.

And then where would he be?

Kiriko tried hard to resist the urge to punch Hiko lightly in the side; after all, he did just call the diplomatic side of being Raikage boring, which wasn't a light offense to many. Yet a small, crooked smile appeared on her lips as she lowered her fist, happy to hear the humor that Hiko could bring about when he was bored. He continued to sound like Mother, as he even did the scoff to sound offended; then tried to piece what she had said together into a rebuttal, which wasn't as strong as Kiri had hoped. Granted, Hiko never truly understood her job, or her loyalty towards it, so she should have known that he would create many reasons why she hadn't failed.

Nevertheless, Kiriko's shoulder felt the brush of another hand as Hiko pulled her towards him. While normally this would have gotten the man flipped, Kiri almost fit into the large contours of his stomach perfectly, as she had done before. Hiko was the only person to ever truly hug her constantly, so Kiri had gotten used to the man's touch - even if it was rough, in a nice, soft way. Kiriko felt Hiko's chin on her head, almost boxing her in to his large physique, but she relented easily, as if she was melting into him. Perhaps it was due to her fatigue, or just because they hadn't done this in a long time, but Kiri relished in the contact, content to simply disappear into the world for the time being.

Her tiny body shook with her soft laughter when Hiko called her scary with such a monotonous voice; truly, how could he say such a thing so deadpan? It made it hard to truly trust whether or not he was telling the truth, but Kiriko didn't mind; Hiko was known for getting the wrong verbal annotations and expression. However, it did make her think slightly as he continued about her coming back, causing the reverberations to slowly dwindle into deep thought, a crease forming on her face. Damn straight she planned on getting it done. There was nothing that would stop her, besides her training to accomplish the mission at hand. She would be silent, and she would be deadly; without mercy, and without any hesitation.

Yet something dragged her out of that dark place; perhaps it was the warmth of Hiko, perhaps it was simply because she knew he was around. Regardless, Kiriko returned to the real world, and spoke after a few seconds of daze. "You're awfully stiff, Hiko - but that's what a lack of sleep does to you." She mused softly, as she seemed to lose train of thought as she could tell he hadn't slept for a while as she began to melt into his ribs. However, she was still rigid enough to support his head, as his chin was still on her crown. A moment passed, before a soft voice came from her once again. "I shall return, as there will be no stopping me." Kiriko stared at the world with hard eyes, only softened by the situation and her slight fatigue. She knew that to extract what she wanted from those that had beaten her, she would have to have every skill she could posess, every talent honed to a point; every lineage exploited.

"Hiko. Teach me the Black Lightning."

Takehiko was unusually silent for a long moment, before he nodded slowly, a motion she would not be able to see, but could feel considering their positioning. “If you want,” he replied, “we can start tomorrow, first thing in the morning.” But not just then. He needed a bit of a break, and more than that, she did too, whether she knew it or not.

Yawning after the manner of a large cat, he let his eyes fall half-shut. “You’re warm, you know that?” he half mumbled, apparently pleased with this observation of his.

"Good." A soft murmur came from her mouth, sounding slightly pleased with his decision. In truth, she had never understood why Kai had never taught her the Black Lightning; while they had technically taken it from the Raikage of the past, her bloodline inherited it as their own. She brushed the thought away though; it mattered not now, as by tomorrow she would begin her training to learn it.

Whether Kiriko meant to or not, her eyes drooped slowly as Hiko yawned, as if his fatigue was contagious. At his words, Kiriko was nearly asleep, but heard them still and gave a sad smile; it had been years since anybody had ever considered her warm - in any way. A soft laugh rumbled her body as she felt herself slowly slip into sleep, but not before adding a little word before doing so. "Hard not to be when I'm attached to a massive furnace." A pause, before she fell asleep completely. "Thank you, Hiko." were her last words before falling asleep, using him as her massive pillow.

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