Episode 5: Message to the Kage! The Mission Begins
The sun was high over head for their mid-day departure. There was a general bustle in the area as siblings and friends said farewell, their voices mixing together in the hot, still air. Despite some efforts to make jokes the atmosphere was serious, the bright heat radiating around the gathering added to this. After their farewells the teams began to gather together, ready to head off for their adventures.
“Well, we might as well get started,” Kiba climbed aboard Akamaru as he spoke, looking back at his team, a warning gaze lingering upon Miki. There was no way he wanted this pervert to have anything to do with his daughter.
The Aiyoku boy, twin katana strapped across his back, went pale under the glare he was receiving, and while the others talked happily among themselves, he fell silently to the rear of the group. In front of him walked Yuudai, and the girls traveled side by side in front of the green-haired youth. Kiba and Akamaru lead the pack, the dog’s keen sense of smell scouting ahead for danger as they traveled southwest, bound for Suna.
The other groups fell into formations of their own, each setting off in a different direction, moving swiftly through the terrain that surrounded Konoha. To the northwest traveled the team led by Shikamaru, their destination Iwa, the village hidden in the rock. Kumo, hidden in the clouds, lie to the northeast; and it was there that Hinata’s team was departing for. Rock Lee’s youthful team made hast due east, their mission leading them to Kiri, which was shrouded in mists.
“It’s really pretty, even if there is a lot of sand!” Mine bubbled to her pink-banged friend, eyes glittering as she thought of the village she hadn’t been to in years, “Kankuro-oji and Gaara-oji are so nice too! I can’t wait to see them again!”
“They sound awesome, Mi-chan!” Her friend replied with equal enthusiasm, “I can’t wait to meet them! Well…I think I’ve seen Kazekage-sama before…and maybe even Kankuro-san…but I haven’t actually met them, y’know?”
While the two of them discussed their destination, Miki had gathered his courage and made his way to the head of the group alongside Kiba, where he was trying to make small talk, “So…think we’ll see any of those mystery shinobi?”
Kiba eyed him silently a moment, then, “Maybe…”
The chuunin shuddered under the beastly glare he was receiving, but tried again none the less, “Think these kids are ready? Maybe Hokage-sama should’ve sent out chuunin teams instead?”
“I’d already completed loads of dangerous missions when I was their age…I’d nearly been killed…” Came the reply, accompanied by a distant look.
“Oh…well, of course. But I’m sure you’d had easier missions first, right?” Miki continued his attempts, earning a hostile look from the man astride the dog.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing…” the older man warned, his face bearing a smirk, “It’s not about to work.”
“Uhh…” With that the redhead slunk backward to where the genin continued to talk amongst themselves.
“I heard the Kazekage is really strong,” Akina was saying, “Otou-san had to fight him in the chuunin exams when he was young, and it was really tough!”
“Yeah! The first person to actually beat him was Hokage-sama! Uchiha-san weakened him some, but Hokage-sama was still the one to actually beat him,” Mine confirmed, “Uzumaki-kun should be very proud of his father!”
“I guess…” The boy’s golden eyes fell to the ground as he spoke. Really, he’d heard the story from Naruto, and he had to admit it was kind of impressive. But the Rokudaime had a way of exaggerating things; Yuudai hadn’t really thought it to be true.
“Oh, so you’re related to the Kazekage, Mine-chan?” the Chuunin butted into the conversation, desperate to occupy himself with something other than the mental image of Kiba’s death-glare.
“Mmhmm!” the girl nodded in response, “Okaa-san’s his sister. She moved to Konoha when she and Otou-san got married. But we still go back and visit, although we haven’t since the attacks started…”
“Yeah,” the elder ninja replied, “These attacks have nearly put an end to visits between villages. It’s a shame too. It’s killing my family’s business.”
“Your family makes weapons, right?” the Uchiha spoke now, “Otou-san speaks highly of their quality.”
“Does he?” Miki grinned and let out a chuckle, “Well, the great Uchiha clan admiring our weaponry is almost as impressive as the Hokage himself coming in to buy some yesterday!”
Yuudai quirked a brow in mild interest at this statement, realizing it was the kunai he had been given that had been purchased there. Though he did not speak, he continued to listen with curiosity to the conversation going on in front of him. It seemed that business for the Aiyoku clan used to come from even the other hidden villages. Though trade within the walls of Konoha was enough to keep them in business, it was not the same profit they had known in the past.
“That’s a real shame” Mine sympathized, her arms folded across her chest, shaking her head slowly as she spoke, “I mean, even though the you’re still profiting, so much profit has to be poured back into the business, right? To buy more steel and stuff.”
“Yeah, but it’s not like we’re hurting for money. We have enough to put food on the table.” Miki responded.
Shikamaru’s dark eyes slid from one end of the horizon to the other, his ears remained alert for the sounds of approaching enemies. The Jounin had his hands shoved deep into his pockets as he strolled along, a sort of wearily intense look upon his features. Ahead of him, his students traveled close together, Kiyoshi and Utoi speaking in low voices as Shizu did little more than listen. To the front of the group strolled the eldest Uchiha, his Sharingan scanning the distance, trying to detect even the slightest motion along the treeline.
“Oi, Utoi-nii…” The Inuzuka youth addressed his cousin, who quirked a brow in response, “How’d Neji-oji take news about the mission? I mean, both my parents are sensei…so they had more than just Onee-san and I to worry about, but your parents –”
“Handled everything just fine,” The blunt reply cut off Kiyoshi’s statement. The other boy waited for the Hyuuga to expand upon his words, but nothing more was said. So the pale eyed genin took it upon himself to continue.
“I haven’t seen Neji-oji or TenTen-oba since the last Hyuuga banquet. Ah! That’s right!” He paused, tilting his head as he questioned his cousin, “You weren’t there, were you? Were you ill that day?”
“No,” Again a blunt and short reply pierced the conversation, “I didn’t wish to attend.”
“You don’t like spending much time with the family, do you?” There was a sigh as Kiyoshi made his inquiry. Why Utoi seemed to hold so much against the Hyuuga clan, he never could figure out. He tried his best to make his cousin feel welcome among the clan, though there was no reason for the other boy to feel unwanted in the first place, “You know, you should go to those things…Neji-oji is the head of the family after all.”
“No…he’s a branch family member who was given leadership by the true head.” Utoi corrected his relative, a harsh tone taking hold of his voice, “Hinata-sama is the true head.”
“Well…maybe…but she only took charge long enough to abolish the branch family. So we are all one family now. And she told Neji-oji to take over leadership!” Kiyoshi argued his point passionately, wishing Utoi wouldn’t be so grudging towards Hinata.
“U-utoi-kun,” Shizu broke silence she’d been keeping, “K-kiyoshi-kun is right.”
Eyes, pale and chocolate hued alike, fell upon the quiet girl. It was a rare thing for her to speak out so decisively, though she did hate to see her friends fighting. Kiyoshi gave the girl a smile, “Thanks, Shizu-chan.”
“Hnn,” Was the only reply that came from the long haired youth. He closed his eyes and looked away.
Feeling she may have made matters worse, Shizu returned to silence. Behind the curtain of her bangs, she looked to Kiyoshi as she reached out to her side, where the large dog Ibakaku panted happily at the contact.
Kiyoshi smiled kindly at his teammate, who blushed softly and looked away, as he spoke, “So, what about you? Did Aburame-san take the news of the mission well?”
“Mmhmm…” she nodded slightly, her bangs shifting against her face but never once revealing her eyes, “He just wants me to be safe.”
“My parents are the same way,” Came the reply. Pale eyes looked distant as the Inuzuka boy smiled at the memory of his last moments with his parents before departure., “I bet all parents are.”
“Hmph.” The pair turned their attention to Utoi, but the Hyuuga boy said nothing more. Kiyoshi shook his head and sighed at his cousin. Shizu merely looked away in silence, her gaze landing on the ground as her hands wrung nervously in front of her. She hoped she hadn’t started another fight between the two.
“Don’t worry so much,” Kiyoshi consoled his female teammate, his own hand scratching his canine companion behind her ear. Smiling kindly he joked, “Utoi-nii is always like that. He just can’t seem to be happy.”
“Yes, Kiyoshi-kun…” A soft voice replied. Shizu walked now in silence, her hands folding delicately as she looked up to the clouds gently drifting overhead.
Ever confident, Rock Lee lead his team as they bounded among the treetops on their way to Kiri, “We will complete this mission to the best of our ability! Youth is on our side! Yosh!”
“Right, Lee-sensei!” Kagami panted, the only one of the team able to keep up, “Nothing can stand in our way!”
Behind the duo the rest of the team followed, knowing full well they would never be able to keep up such a pace. Sumi called out to her sister’s idol, “Lee-sensei! Don’t you think we should move down to the path? It would be easier, and we wouldn’t have to waste energy!”
“She’s right you know,” Takara called, her pale eyes surrounded by the veins that indicated her Byakugan had been activated, “Naruto-sama warned us to be careful for a reason. With all the rogue ninja around, we could be ambushed!”
The Inuzuka girl sat astride her large canine counterpart, bringing up the rear as she scanned the area, her keen eye eager to pick out any threats. Ahead of her Lee halted suddenly, turning to look over his shoulder at her. His bright black eyes still sparkling with enthusiasm.
“Sumi, Kagami, Yasuo,” He called out to his team, each of whom looked at him expectantly, “What do you think we should do?”
“Ah! You really want our opinion, Lee-sensei!?” Kagami squealed, flushing brightly, “Really?”
“Of course! What good is a team if the leader automatically makes all the choices!” The green-clad jounin replied, his smile sparkling in the fading light, “So, is it the path or the treetops?”
Three voices rang out at once in reply.
Sumi nudged her twin in the side, a stern look on her face, “Kagami! What did you say treetops for? Didn’t you hear what Takara-san said? It’s better to conserve our energy! Besides, I’m getting tired!”
“But Lee-sensei has us traveling through the treetops for a reason, I’m sure of it!” The other replied, defending her sensei, “We really ought to go with whatever he wants! He’s got experience!”
“Well, looks like it’s three to two, Kagami!” Lee replied, interrupting their argument, “I was only traveling on the tree tops to help build balance and stamina anyhow, and we can work on that while we’re in Kiri! Besides, it’s almost time to make camp.”
“Yosh!” Kagami agreed with a sharp nod, eager to do whatever her sensei recommended “If Lee-sensei says it is time to make camp, then that is best!”
The other three in the group sighed. They were glad at least for the chance to make camp and take a rest. Tomorrow they would hopefully be traveling along the path.
Hinata made her way down the path she and her team were told to take. Pale hues glanced back over her shoulder to the ninja she lead, the group talking among themselves. They seemed so young to her. It may have just been that she was getting too old for this job. She had considered retiring and simply being a mother to her children, afterall, her own sensei had been much younger, and the parents of she and her peers had been retired, for the most part. She sighed softly, no, the children were simply young. Fourteen, it seemed such a long time ago, but when she was their age she too had been asked to risk her life on dangerous missions. Back when she had still had a crush on Naruto.
Behind her the genin and their newly assigned chuunin were talking amongst themselves, excited by the mission, though it seemed to Hinata that some of them did not fully grasp the seriousness of the situation.
“Shika-kuuuun!” Inoko squealed as she clung to his arm, her long brown ponytail swinging out behind her, “You will protect me if anyone attacks, right? I mean, you’re the big strong man!”
Shikaji rolled his eyes at this as he glanced at their intertwined arms. He was used to her clinging, and had long since stopped trying to escape, though he did find it rather troublesome. Looking at the female he gave a blunt reply, “By now you should be able to defend yourself.”
“But Shika-kun!” The girl protested, clinging all the tighter, “You’ll protect me because you care about me, right? You wouldn’t want anything to happen to me!”
There was silence on the boy’s end of things, earning a disappointed pout from the Yamanaka youth. Hinata looked to the ground, remembering well her own days of crushing, and her feeble attempts to gain the recognition of the current Hokage, then nothing more than another genin. Snapping out of her thoughts she spoke, “A-alright. Time to set up camp.”
“Chou-chan?” The voice that spoke belonged to the chuunin who had joined the team for their mission. She dropped her satchel to the ground as she came up to the heavy set girl’s side, “You seem awfully quiet tonight…”
“Oh, she’s always like that.” Inoko waved a hand dismissively, gladly droppin her own pack, “Kami’s sake, that’s heavy. Anyway, Chou-chan doesn’t talk much…too busy eating I suppose.”
Chou went pink at the accusation, but the first thing she did was pull a package of chocolate chip cookies from her pack and start to eat, “Dat’s no’ twoo!” She swallowed, “I’m just not used to people caring what I have to say…”
As the Akimichi youth resumed eating her cookies, Inoko rolled her sky hued eyes, “Maybe if you took a bit more pride in your appearance, then you wouldn’t be overlooked as often.”
“Wha’s tha’ upposed ta mean?” the chubby girl questioned through a mouthful of cookies, the crumbs sticking to the corner of her mouth. Inoko looked at her in disgust.
“First of all,” The much more slender girl replied, “Wipe those crumbs from your mouth. Second off, look at yourself! You’re wearing clothes that don’t even fit, you weight like five-hundred pounds and still stuff your face all the time. You never wear any makeup….need I go on?”
This time it was not Chou herself that answered, but rather the chuunin at her side, “Lay off, Inoko-chan. You know her clan needs to eat all the time to keep up their chakra! Besides, looks aren’t all that important.”
The Yamanaka female narrowed her gaze at the older girl, “Oh, really, Ima-chan? And just who are you trying to impress with the makeup you are wearing?”
Aiyoku Ima blushed faintly at the comment, for she did indeed have the faintest traces of lip gloss and eye shadow adorning her features.
“Could we maybe stop fighting,” Came the soft voice of their sensei, “And start setting up camp…”
The team looked over at Hinata, and saw that she was surrounded by tent building materials, poles and spikes and fabric. Ima immediately rushed over to help, followed by Chou. At a slow pace Shikaji made his way towards his sensei, yawning as he went. Inoko let out a grudging sigh and sauntered over as well. Between the five of them the camp was soon ready.
“You mean we have to sleep on the ground?” Inoko asked in disgust as she went to unroll her sleeping bag, “There isn’t even a floor to this tent!”