It was a foggy morning in the Land of Water, though the sun was just barely peeking through. It had rained the night before, leaving the land soaked and a bit icy in the early hours of the morning. Dotting the islands of the land of water was a village here and there, some great, some small. The people were a hardy folk, simple and strong. Unlike its past, the Land seemed peaceful this chilly morning. On one island stood a village larger than most, yet still smaller than one. It was the Village Hidden in the Mist, or as some called it the Bloody Mist. It was a village whose past, present, and future were bathed in blood. But today, today seemed to be different, as the mist seemed to not hold the grudge of the past, but a hope for the future. The world had seemed to wash its sins away for at least this one morning. It was a great day for new beginnings, but where would the beginning lead?
Gatou Akadou, newly minted genin and resident wild animal, was up early this misty morning. While he normally was up in the mornings, it was rare for him to be up shortly after the crack of dawn. It was especially rare for him to be in the village itself this early in the morning, as he rarely spent any time at the house he had never truly called a home. To him, his home was where the animals roamed, and that forest was where he spent most of his time he was not in the academy. He ran as a wolf, hunted as a bear, and feasted as a tiger. But right now, he was a hawk, flying through the realm of eagles above the village. He had spent the night in that house, owned by his parents but barely lived in. He had showered twice already, making sure to clean especially well behind his ears. He was not normally surrounded by humans, but today was a special day. He had graduated from the academy, and was now on his way to meet his new pack, his new team. He even had forgone his usual route through the city, in favor of a more direct route. He wanted to make sure he was on time, and what better way to be on time than to be a half hour early. This sort of behavior was new to Gatou, he had never fit in that much, and he knew it. He didn't care though, this was his chance for things to be a bit different, the young man hoped. Seeing his objective, the balcony of the Academy building's second floor, Gatou angled in for a landing. As he hit the ground, he vanished in a cloud of smoke, revealing a teen of a moderate height and weight, with heavily tanned skin for one of the mist. However he held this form for naught but a moment before transforming again, this time into a common gray wolf, before waiting for his new team, and life, to arrive...
The sound of a bell ringing was what it took to wake Kagami from her slumber. “Good morning, Madam Kirei.” a voice said as Kagami lazily rose from her bed. “Good morning, Kioto.” Kagami replied, her soft voice being a pleasant one to hear in the morning. “Your breakfast, m’lady.” Kioto stated as he placed a bowl of ramen and other edibles on her lap. A classic breakfast in bed, something the once-heiress of the Kirei Company was used to, something which had become second nature to her. The girl’s arctic white hair was in a mess, her eyes drooping. “Thank you, Kioto. You’re dismissed.” she said between yawns. Kioto bowed, before turning and leaving the room. Kigali stretched lazily, cracking her knuckles as well. Taking ahold of the utensils, she began to eat away, ingesting the luxurious dinner in front of her. Once she had finished, she left the tray on her bedside table, before beginning to dress herself. Her classic red dress, one adorned with ruffles in the structure. She fixed her hair, combing it with and expertise she had picked up over her fourteen years. Soon, her outfit was complete, and she smiled at her reflection. She made her way to the first floor of her mansion, greeting her parents. “Ah, good morning, Kagami.” her father began, smiling. “Off to meet your new team?”
“Mhm, we’re supposed to meet at the Academy’s Balcony. How’s the business going?” she said, asking her own question as she did. “We made quite some profit.” he replied. Kigali grinned in response, waving a farewell as she left her abode. She began to make her way towards the academy, whistling a tune as she did so. She knew that she would be early, as she estimated her arrival time to be ten minutes before the assigned time. “This is going to be fun.” she muttered as she arrived in front of the balcony. She made her way in the academy, waving to her previous teacher as she did. Making her way up the stair, she reached the balcony door. “Here we go.” she said, pushing the door open.
Next to arrive was Nikari, a new genin as well, and one eager to prove his skill and be promoted. Stepping onto the second floor of the Academy, Nikari found himself a bit nervous, wondering what he should expect from his new teammates. Though he had been thoroughly spoiled by his fellow clansmen and doted on by his aunts and uncles, Nikari knew all too well that this was not a time for laziness. Though he believed he could become something great, he realized that if he was to reach the pillar and goals he set for himself, he would have to put in the time. "There are no such things as handouts," his mother always told him. Taking a deep breath, he activated his sensing ability, setting it up so that he could detect the presence of chakra and hopefully his teammates. Nikari, turned the corner, focusing in on the chakra he detected, getting closer and closer until he found himself face to face with a wolf. "Hmph," was all he could think of at the moment before stepping back. Even if he was a bit surprised to be find one roaming the academy room. At least it wasn't attacking anyone. Sitting down cross-legged, he waited for the arrival of the remaining individuals.
The Lethargic Sensei Arrives!
The mist was thicker than usual that day, rising from the thick carpet of green to cover the island in a thin-spun, wispy gray blanket. It was as though the land itself were exhaling with a deep sigh of contentment, and Wakasa breathed deeply, tasting the water droplets as they entered his lungs. The sensation was calming and transient—at once he felt as though he were a part of the living world around him, even though he remained an outsider to its hidden rhythm.
With no particular hurry, he made his way through the city to the academy, checking over the notes on his clipboard one last time to make sure he was mentally prepared for the task of introducing three new team members to the world of the professional shinobi. While he had done the same task at least twice before, it remained a challenge, as he never knew what to expect from the uninitiated and oftentimes overly-eager genin. The previous two teams had done fairly well in the Chūnin exams, after which they had been transferred to another, more “experienced” jōnin instructor, albeit one who had witnessed all her own genin die in the same exams. Politics were a tricky affair in Kiri: sometimes who you knew mattered more than actual skill or accomplishments. The defection of the Seven Swordsman could attest to that, as they had been an often under-used and mismanaged group of highly elite shinobi who were capable of much more than they had been assigned. It was a sore point for Wakasa, but a complaint that he had kept to himself.
Wakasa turned a page on the clipboard, shuffling the papers methodically as he banished such quiet fears and frustrations from his mind. He also munched pensively on a cucumber, his favorite vegetable helping him to process the information contained in the otherwise dry document. Over the years he had learned to live in the moment, without allowing the implications of failure to stifle him. It was, after all, the only way to survive.
Still, despite his past experience as an instructor, his current assignment had been a surprise. He had been expecting a new mission from his superior, but when nothing came in for a week he had taken the break as a short allowance for vacation. In fact, his assignment to a new team had come at an extremely inopportune moment, as he and his family had been spending a day at the lake near the outskirts of their neighborhood.
Ayume had proposed the idea, as she had wanted Wakasa to teach Shintarō how to swim for some time, and he agreed that it would be wise to try and do so sooner rather than later. They had set off in the mid-morning after the sun had time to warm the water, and made their way towards the lake at a leisurely pace. Shintarō grasped at the dragonflies that fluttered up from the tall grass, overreaching at times and almost losing his balance on his father’s shoulders. He was in high spirits, giggling and pointing at every object that caught his attention with his small child’s hands. Wakasa held his feet so he would not fall, leaving him free to observe and explore, while Ayume carried a picnic basket with their lunch, although she was less talkative as the short trek through the forest’s fringe had left her somewhat out of breath. Five months pregnant, the baby was restless and already troublesome, at times kicking her incessantly. Wakasa saw her grab her side as she made her way up a steep part of the path, and he offered to take the picnic basket. Ayume assured him she would be fine, and that Shintarō weighed more than the basket anyway.
Located a short distance within the forest, the lake was hidden from any main byway and unknown to most living in the close vicinity. Wakasa often came here to train, but he also appreciated the lake for its secluded, untouched beauty. A small waterfall spilled over the rim of a natural rock dam, but near the shore the water was still and clear. Ayume set the picnic basket on a moss-covered rock and they spread towels out near the shore, quickly changing into their swimming gear.
Taking his son by the hand, Wakasa led him towards the edge of the lake, and they entered the water slowly. Shintarō was elated, and began to splash his feet noisily. But when the level of the water reached his chest, he slowed his pace and pulled harder on Wakasa’s arm, turning back frequently to glance at Ayume, who watched them from the shore. Wakasa urged him gently into deeper water until his feet could no longer touch, and then he supported him fully. At first, Shintarō started to shiver even though the water was not cold, but Wakasa held him tightly and assured him that he was safe.
Gradually, Shintarō became accustomed to the sensation of the water surrounding him, and Wakasa began the arduous process of teaching him to float on his back. He did his best, but eventually gave up after his son’s limited attention inevitably dissipated. For a change of pace, Wakasa swam over to a small rock island that rose above the surface of the lake, easily supporting Shintarō with one arm as he moved with slow, powerful strokes. He lifted Shintarō out of the water, setting him on the edge of the rock before pushing himself out from the island, just far enough to be within arm’s reach.
“Jump,” he extended his hands towards Shintarō, who shook his head and curled his toes as he hesitated. “I’m going to catch you,” Wakasa assured him, “Jump!”
For a moment Shintarō seemed to consider his father’s proposition, but then he made up his mind. “I don’t wanna,” he stated firmly. He looked back towards shore, pleading for his mother to intervene. Wakasa could sense that Ayume was watching them closely, but she pretended not to notice, urging him in her own way.
“Shintarō,” Wakasa said, the tone of his voice demanding attention. Slowly, he turned his gaze back until he met his father’s, and Wakasa could read the fear in his eyes.
“I know you’re scared,” Wakasa affirmed, his voice calm and strong, “But do you trust me?”
Shintarō nodded, weakly, but he crept closer to the edge.
“Ready?” Wakasa asked. He nodded again, then cautiously coiled up. The next moment must have lasted forever for Shintarō, but in reality he only paused a few seconds before he sprang from the edge of the rock. Wakasa caught him, allowing the water to cushion them both before quickly bringing his son back to the surface. His eyes were wide with panic at first, but when he stared into his father’s face he grinned, suddenly, and laughed before wrapping his arms around Wakasa’s neck.
“Again!” he exclaimed, and Wakasa’s chest swelled with pride.
The new activity lasted for a few more jumps before Shintarō exhausted himself, then they swam back to shore. By the time they had finished drying off, Shintarō had fallen asleep, so Wakasa and Ayume left him by the picnic basket to nap while they stole back into the lake themselves. Wakasa extended his hand for Ayume, and she took it as they walked on the lake’s surface towards the waterfall, where they wordlessly sank into the water. It was a rare moment when the couple was able to find time to spend alone together, and Wakasa wasted very little time as he drew Ayume close, awkwardly pressing against the bulge of her belly as they kissed, deeply. She ran her fingers through his hair and pulled him down further into the water, until they risked complete submersion. Wakasa closed his eyes, allowing the weight of the water and their mutual desire to sink into his skin. His hands found the familiar, intimate curve in the small of her back, and he pressed in even closer.
“Wakasa,” Ayume murmured when they took their next breath.
“Mhm?” He asked drunkenly as he moved in for another kiss. Ayume placed her hand over his mouth, holding him back.
“Wakasa,” she said again, “Someone is here.”
As a sensor-nin, Ayume’s particular ability to pinpoint the location of other chakra-bearing individuals was uncannily accurate. Sure enough, when Wakasa shifted his focus and listened, he could hear the soft tread of approaching shinobi, although their pace did not seem hostile.
“Probably just passing through,” Wakasa said, trying to shrug it off.
“They’ve tracked us to here,” Ayume corrected, “They’re probably looking for you.” Wakasa sighed and swore softly under his breath, but he listened to wife and trudged back out of the lake. He held out a towel for Ayume before wrapping his own towel over his shorts, just as the shinobi tracker emerged into the clearing. The man stopped when he saw the lake, and Wakasa saw him move his head like a vulture as he surveyed its layout in a wide sweep, stopping when he spotted Wakasa.
“It’s Ichimi,” Wakasa said, as his left eyebrow twitched with annoyance. He knew the sensor-nin as one of the Jōnin Commander’s more obnoxious messengers, and waited with unseen impatience as the thin man picked his way around the bank in his strange, lurching gate before reaching Wakasa.
“Mizushima,” he greeted, curtly.
“Ichimi,” Wakasa answered in kind, crossing his arms over his bare chest. He could sense Ichimi’s disapproval, and partially basked in it.
“The Commander requires your presence.” the shinobi told him, licking his lips.
“Is it urgent?” Wakasa saw Ichimi’s gaze flicker over to Ayume, and shifted his body to the side so that he stood between the messenger-nin and his wife.
“He didn’t say,” Ichimi was slow to answer. “But knowing Ao-sama I would suggest you make haste to get there.”
Wakasa sighed, “Is that all Ichimi?” The man licked his lips again and after a pause shrugged one shoulder slightly.
“More or less,” he answered.
“Alright, I’ll be at headquarters in a few minutes,” Wakasa said. But when Ichimi made no move to leave he added, more sternly, “I’ll see you there.” Ichimi seemed to take his answer reluctantly. He turned to leave and shuffled away slowly. “Oh and by the way,” Wakasa added, “Next time you need to say something so trivial, you could try sending a summon.” For a moment he thought he saw Ichimi snarl before the sensor-nin vanished from sight. “Creep,” Wakasa growled.
“That’s all he came for? To tell you the commander wants to see you?” Ayume asked once Ichimi was gone.
“Yeah, I told him to send a summons next time,” Wakasa said as he began to pull on his uniform.
“He seems to enjoy keeping tabs on you,” Ayume pointed out, and Wakasa snorted. “You’re telling me.”
Even though Wakasa had worked hard to become respected as a shinobi, and though the Jōnin Commander seemed to trust him, Ichimi remained one of the many shinobi of Kirigakure who could not get past the fact that Wakasa was related to Zabuza, or that he was an “irregular”—a shinobi originally conscripted by force as opposed to taking the normal route through the academy. Wakasa doubted Ichimi’s integrity in turn, and considered him to be among Kiri’s finest brown-nosers, constantly ingratiating himself to the higher-ups without committing to any actual work in order to receive a promotion. “Will you be alright getting back to the house?” he asked Ayume. “You can leave the picnic basket, I’ll get it on my way back home.”
Ayume placed her hands on her hips and considered the picnic basket, sizing up its weight. “I should be. It’s not far, Shintarō can walk,” she said. Wakasa nodded, trusting her judgment. He snapped his flak jacket closed over his chest and leaned over to give her one last kiss.
“I’ll see you tonight,” he said, regret hedging his voice.
“It’s alright,” she said with a smile, reading what he had left unsaid, “Maybe some other time.”
Wakasa practically flew through Kirigakure, but his hair was still damp when he knocked on the door to the jounin commander’s office. For a moment he wondered if he should have put more effort into making himself look presentable. But then the door swung open—courtesy of Ichimi, the roach—and Wakasa stepped into the room. He gave a short bow to Ao, who was more or less buried behind a mountain of paper work, and addressed the commander.
“Mizushima Wakasa, reporting for duty, sir.”
“Wakasa, glad to see you could get here so quickly,” Ao was filling out a report, and Wakasa waited patiently as his pen scratched noisily across the page in the otherwise silent room. Since the Mizukage was still young and allegedly learning to control the tailed beast sealed inside him, Ao had assumed most of the menial tasks involved in running a hidden village. In fact, most people outside the village had assumed the Kage himself was responsible for bringing on the era of the bloody mist, but in fact it had been men like Ao—members of the administration who orchestrated Kiri’s politics behind the scenes—who carried out the Kage’s brutal orders and were thus responsible for the majority of the atrocities committed in the hidden village over the past two decades. Ao, however, was an exception for his high-ranking position. In Kiri, the Jōnin Commander also served as the head of the hunter-nin, and Ao had worked hard to create a layer of insulation between the Kage’s orders and those that were actually executed. Unlike many members of the administration, Ao was hesitant to follow the Kage’s orders, and Wakasa largely shared his perspective. One of his main reasons for leaving the Anbu had originally been to serve directly under Ao, since he would thus have some say in which missions he accepted or turned down—so long as his reasons were compelling.
The only other shinobi in the office aside from Ichimi was, surprisingly, one of the remaining two Seven Swordsman of the Mist still in Kiri: the wielder of Nuibari, Tomiko Nashika. Tomiko caught Wakasa’s gaze and nodded slightly—she had news for him.
“Here’s your next assignment,” Ao said as he held up a stack of papers. Wakasa moved to take the document, but Ichimi got there first, snatching the paper from Ao before handing it to Wakasa.
“Thank you,” Wakasa told him icily. He glanced over the overview of the file, then blinked.
“Another genin team?” he asked, although his neutral tone betrayed neither excitement nor disappointment.
“Those three seem promising enough,” Ao explained, “Especially if their strengths are combined as a team. You’ve done a fair job in the past. See how far you can get with them.”
“And once they pass the exams, will they go to Terumī-san again?” Wakasa asked, his question perhaps hinting at a lingering sense of bitterness.
Ao looked up, suddenly, and Wakasa caught the caution in his eye.
“Terumī is currently occupied with other assignments,” he said. “Will this mission be an issue for you?”
Wakasa glanced quickly over the other pages, but he froze when he saw one section on the final page. For a moment he hesitated, but then he turned the page over slowly as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
“I have no objections, sir.” he lied.
From the corner of his eye, Wakasa caught Ichimi grinning smugly, and a chill ran down his spine. Maybe I should say something, he thought. Just then, the door burst open and Mei Terumī herself swept into the room.
“Ao, what is this?” she demanded as she marched up to the desk and slapped what appeared to be a letter on his desk. Wakasa caught the heading of the letter, and began putting details together despite his attempts not to probe.
“I don’t see what the problem is,” Ao started, his tone strangely deferential.
“I think you know what this means,” Mei continued, “If this...” she trailed off, suddenly aware of the other shinobi in the room. “Um...”
Ao glared at the other three, and shooed them away with a dismissive brush of his hand. Ichimi slunk away reluctantly, but was encouraged by Tomiko, who followed close behind him.
“I’ll be outside,” she said tersely, apparently addressing Ao, but Wakasa took the message to be for him. He lingered for a moment longer.
“Did you have any questions, Mizushima?” Ao asked, signifying the conversation was over.
“No sir, I’ll meet with the team tomorrow and...” he accidentally made eye-contact with Mei, who instantly seemed to forget about whatever had brought her to Ao’s office to begin with.
“Wakasa,” she said brightly, “It’s been some time, how is your family?”
“We’re doing fine,” Wakasa said as he began to inch towards the door.
“And your wife? Ayume? When is she due?”
“Still a few months to go,” Wakasa laughed nervously and rubbed the back of his neck, feeling Ao’s gaze burning into him. Mei had the awkward habit of thoroughly drilling Wakasa with questions related to his marital life whenever they met, and he could sense Ao’s growing impatience.
“And Shintarō? How old is he now?”
“Almost four. And uh, while I’d love to stay and chat, I’ve got some prep to do before tomorrow, so I need to run.”
“Oh, I see,” Mei seemed to deflate. “Maybe I can just talk to Ayume sometime then. Tell her I want to get lunch together sometime, won’t you?”
“I’ll pass on the message,” Wakasa promised solemnly before turning back to Ao, “I’ll keep you posted on the details as they develop sir.”
“That would be good,” Ao said sternly, and Wakasa quickly slipped out of the room. He nearly collided with Tomiko, who had been waiting outside the door.
“Oh, it’s you,” Wakasa glanced up and down the hallway, checking for eavesdroppers, particularly Ichimi. Tomiko motioned her head to the side, and they began to walk down the hall, away from the office.
“You have news?”
“Not much. Only a rumor that Gatō has hired a swordsman of notable skill in the Land of Waves.”
“Notable skill?” Wakasa was a bit skeptical.
“Allegedly, he dispatched a three-man hunter-nin team a few weeks ago,” she whispered, “By decapitation.”
“Oh,” Wakasa said, and his expressions darkened. “That changes things.” He stopped to contemplate what Tomiko had said as he counted out the sum they had agreed to beforehand.
“Thank you,” he said as he handed her the money, although he did not necessarily mean it.
“Best of luck,” she said, and Wakasa stiffened as she reached up to finger the hilt of the sword that was slung over her shoulder. “You’ll need it.” With that, she vanished, and Wakasa was left alone with his thoughts in the bare hallway.
Still preoccupied with thoughts related to his brother, Wakasa barely noticed as his feet stopped at the entrance to the academy. He looked up from the document, which he had barely managed to finish reading through since yesterday, and stared up at the cheery blue sign above the school’s entryway. He smiled grimly, noting that its color belied the blood-stained history that had occurred behind those doors.
“Let’s get started then,” Wakasa said as he dug out a hand-rolled cigarette from his pocket and lit it with certain nonchalance, tucking the document under his arm. Forgoing the use of the stairs, Wakasa sprang from ledge to ledge until he reached the balcony where the genin had been told to meet. He landed easily and quickly surveyed the three young shinobi who had obviously arrived sometime ago, checking his clipboard to make sure these were, in fact, the right genin. Apparently, being upwards of ten minutes late was not the least bit concerning for the laid-back jōnin, and he was still in no hurry as he casually sized up each new member of the team.
“Mhm,” he said, “You must be miss Kagami...” he muttered, mostly talking to himself, “And Nikari and...” he stared at the wolf, and blinked. “Who let the dog in up here?” But a few moments after he realized his mistake. “Oh, right. It’s you.” He cleared his throat, talking around the cigarette, which he was apparently too lazy to even draw on, instead allowing the smoke curl as the end burned. “Well at any rate there isn’t much to say, I’m Wakasa Mizushima, and I’ll be acting as your jōnin... handler,” he chuckled as he glanced in Gatō’s direction, “But you can all call me Wakasa Sensei. A nice mix of formal-informal I'd say," he drew on his cigarette slowly, and sat down on the edge of the balcony's wall. "So uh, let's see. How about each of you introduce yourself, starting with your name, your strongest abilities, and...” he paused, as if pondering which question to ask, “The one thing you care most about in your life. Anyone can start.”
That should be a good start, he hoped. The file Ao had provided had given him a good overview of the young shinobi's abilities, but he wanted to get a taste of their personality. This should be interesting, he thought, noting the diversity of the team.
"So, come here often?" the wolf said to the two genin besides him, shortly before his new sensei came in. Gatou usually enjoyed these little rises from new people who met him. After all, it wasn't everyday that dogs talked, at least in this part of the world it wasn't. He looked at the two besides him.
Gatou recognized one of his two team mates. The guy he had never met before, he was probably in a different class in the same year as him, but Gatou was unsure of his identity. He smelled kind of watery though, almost as though he was still in the shower. He smelled like... a Hozuki. Yes, a Hozuki. There were quite a few of those around the academy, so he knew their scent pretty well. His reaction upon seeing a wolf was also kind of funny. It was almost like he was expecting someone else, probably a human. Gatou just started panting as the guy looked around in confusion before settling down off towards the side of him.
The next person, a girl, he knew a bit better. Her named started with an K if her remembered right. K... K... Kaleb... no, that is a guy's name... Karina.. no... Maybe Taiga???? no... also a guy's name... Wait... that sounds about right. Kagami? that's it. Gatou thought as he wagged his tail at the newcomer. She was always towards the front of the class, sitting and writing in her notebook. He was far enough away that he never could quite see what she was writing, but her seatmates never made an effort to see what she was drawing, so he probably didn't need to. She always looked so dollish, like she should have been set on a shelf. Probably some noble's daughter or something, who knows. he thought to himself. I wonder where our new teacher is?
Which is right when said teacher walked in. Gatou sat there and listened before his form wavered, like that of a mirage, eventually turning into a young teen. "I guess I'll start. The name's Gatou. I transform into animals. Any kind really, still trying to figure out how to turn partially into one, only full ones at the moment. I can do birds, and wolves, and tigers, and gorillas, there was that time I turned into a turkey, that was weird." He trailed off for a moment before getting back onto topic. "For the last bit, Nature I guess? never really thought about it to be honest..."
Kagami looked at the wolf when she first walked in. The wolf was somewhat dozing off until she walked in. Originally confused, she realized that the wolf was a student. Gatou? she thought to herself in realization. She let out a giggle as she remembered her once childish affection she had for him. She dismissed that affection as time went on, not really caring anymore. She took a seat, adjusting her tiny red hat as she did so. She pulled out a shuriken and began to fiddle with it in her hands, making it visually appear and reappear as she did.
Then the other boy walked in. The boy's spiky black hair was an immediate signal to her, and she realized who he was. The boy was only two years younger then her. He's the Hōzuki... she thought to herself. He barely passed the Taijutsu test... she remembered. He's decent in that Hiden of his... she thought. She knew that these two boys would be her teammates for the next few years. She knew she would have to gain an understanding of them, and knew that would happen when her sensei would no doubt question them.
Of course, it was then that the sensei walked in. He was too laid back for Kagami's liking. Not only that, he smoked, something she despised...but she would have to deal with it for the next few years. As the man asked the questions, she began to quickly analyze them, wondering how she should answer them. As Gatou finished, she took the opportunity to speak herself. "My name is Kagami Kirei, but I suppose since we are a team, you can all call me Kagami. I'm good at Shurikenjutsu. I usually use that to make traps and the such. What do I care about most in life? Probably my family. They supported me through a dark time...and the only people I can truly trust."
She quickly glanced at her teammates and sensei. Time to spice things up... she quickly though before beginning to speak. "Why was I assigned to be on a team with an animal with the brain capacity of an ant, and a shapeshifter?"
Nikari straightened slightly as their sensei soon entered the room. Staring at the individual in question, he was as disappointed as Kagami felt. Their sensei exuded laxity, worrying the boy greatly. That he smoked was an even greater concern. "He's probably out of shape from all of that." Nika thought to himself. However, he patiently listened to the introductions of each individual. Finding particular interest in the shapeshifter, considering how skilled he was already; his transformations fit him like a second skin according to Nikari's observations. He also noted the wolf's mild amusement at his initial reaction. Something that he ignored.
However, he sighed heavily when Kagami opened the floor to insults. "An animal possessing the brains of ant? Really?" Nikari responded, simply shaking his head. If she was expecting a rise out of him, she would be disappointed. Nikari had seen enough pettiness in his own clan, fought against it as well. They only respected two things, strength and skill. Fortunately Nikari had the latter, and it had saved him time and time again as he utilized his intuition to defeat his clansmen. Earning their respect and attaining some peace of mind for himself.
"My name is Nikari Hōzuki, though Nikari will suffice. As my clan name already told you, I'm a practitioner of the Hydrification Technique, which I also consider my best combative attribute. I'm pretty good at other Water Release as a whole. As for what I care about, I would say this village. We have a ton of things to fix considering just how much has happened in the past." Nikari paused. While he wasn't born, he had heard of what happened during Zabuza's tenure at the Academy. Or lack thereof considering he wasn't even enrolled when he committed the massacre. It was saddening to him that this was necessary to end the blooding policy that was in place prior, where prospective ninja had to kill a friend to graduate. Part of him wondered how the village survived such endeavors, given that they raised murderers. "Or normalized murder and massacre. It's a wonder that it didn't happen sooner." he thought aloud. He knew his sensei would know what he was talking about. For him, though only a genin, what Zabuza had done was inevitable. And likely to happen again given how engrained this temperament was, even if the policy had since been abolished.
If Wakasa knew what Nikari was talking about, however, his expression did not show it, but he responded nonetheless. "Normalized murder and massacre, huh?" He transferred his cigarette to the other side of his mouth and stared a bit boredly at the genin. "Hate to break it to you kid, but being a shinobi isn't always a picnic. Not every hidden village can be Konoha." His harsh words came unexpectedly, perhaps suggesting that Nikari had hit a sore nerve. In reality, what the genin had failed to realize was that the hatred, deceit, and bloodlust he had mentioned were in fact the only things the jōnin himself had known as a young shinobi. Maybe a part of him was still living in it.
“Well," he said, shifting his focus to other things, "Now that the introductions are out of the way, I have a little assignment for you all,” he said as he stood up. “Your first official mission isn’t until tomorrow, but we can call this a test run.” Wakasa pulled three objects out of his pouch and handed one to each of the genin. They were revealed to be satellite trackers, and when the center button was pushed, the small square screen lit up, and a blinking red dot appeared in one corner of the map. “These will help you locate the target,” Wakasa explained, “I’m going to give you the instructions here, but you’ll have to go outside the city to find it. As the mission progresses I'll give you further instructions through the trackers, so don't lose them. You’ll be given a time limit, and if you don’t complete the assignment before the time is up... Let’s just say things will go south fast.” He paused, rubbed the back of his neck, and then continued.
“Anyway. That little red dot... is the bomb.” Wakasa’s tone of voice suddenly became much more serious, betraying his background in the Anbu as he continued. “Your mission is to find where it’s located and disable it before it goes off. Of course, you can choose to opt out of the assignment, in which case you will also be opted out of the team.” The jōnin sensei smiled casually, “And since you are all promising shinobi, I’m sure you know what that means. Are there any questions?”
However, before any of the genin could ask for clarification, he added, “Oh, and one last thing... whoever reaches the bomb first will be assigned as team leader for all our subsequent missions. And you are allowed to use any means necessary in order to disable the bomb. Also, it has already been activated and you currently have...” Wakasa checked one of the trackers, which also had the counter for the bomb at the bottom of the screen. “Fifty-five minutes, so you might want to get there as soon as possible. I’ll give you a tip: the bomb is inside the old rubber factory outside the west district, best of luck.”
The factory on the outskirts of the town was dilapidated and gray, with sagging metal parts and blown out windows causing some doubt of its structural integrity. Wakasa was nowhere in sight when the genin arrived, but the satellite trackers clearly designated the direction they were meant to take: inside. A few hundred yards of soft, waterlogged ground stretched between them and the factory, and while they might have been able to walk over the swamp’s surface, they would have to enter it in order to reach the entrance to the factory, which was half submerged in the muddy water. The mist around the factory seemed even thicker than it had been in the city, and there was no sound in the heavy silence.
Gatou, travelling as a bird, was the first to arrive at the factory, still haven taken nearly ten minutes to do so. He waited for them however, as running in solo was a good way to run into a trap. He didn't think the Jonin was trying to kill them, but one could never be too careful about that. He was going to make a plan, cause working together is the best plan. He couldn't always be the lone wolf, isn't that what he told himself when he decided to become a ninja?
"All right" he said as the other two showed up. "We need a plan. Cause just running in there is a bad one. Least if Sensei is actually good, which I assume he is, cause he's you know... a jonin and all."
Kagami saw how Gatou has transformed into a bird and had flown off. He'll reach there before I will...Not that I truly care. she thought to herself as she jumped off the balcony, using her Wire Strings as a safe way to reach the ground. She kept running, using stringed shurikens to cover more distance at a faster rate. She used them as a 'grappling hook'. She looked up, seeing the bird ahead of her. Continuing her sprint, she ran near a shop, grabbing a bun as she did. "I'll pay it bac later!" she yelled as she kept running. She saw the bird land ahead of her, and saw it transform into Gatou. Seeing her teammate there caused her to finish her sprint as she arrived by the factory. Twelve minutes... she thought to herself. As Nikari arrived, Kagami began to think. We need a plan.....
Nikari sighed as his teammates sped off, one turning into a bird, and the other jumping off the balcony before landing on the ground, using her shuriken to speed through the village like a monkey swinging through the trees. "And off they go," he said, jumping off the balcony as well, using the Water Release to cushion his landing. With that taken care of, he moved to join the rest, traversing the city as he watched the noble girl grab food on her run. He sighed again, wondering if he was to be resigned to the voice of reason in this team. Regardless, he joined his two teammates at the outskirts of the factory. "So what's the plan? We know that there's a bomb in there that must be diffused. At the time we left there were fifty-five minutes remaining. How much time has elapsed since then?" he asked. Noting that they arrived only a few minutes apart. Then again, every second counted. "We also don't know what time of bomb we're dealing with." Though his most pressing concern was neutralizing the bomb since most of its dimensions and properties remained unknown. It could be a harmless smoke bomb, or something far more powerful. Given the village's past, he wasn't so sure about assuming it was the former. Even if the sensei appeared on the more lax side.
As the genin stood at the edge of the marsh, debating what their next plan of action would be, the surrounding mist began to thicken. It was imperceptible at first, but gradually it grew so dense that it obscured the factory from sight. Then, their conversation was interrupted by an unearthly, animalistic howl.
Something was prowling about in the fog.
"Right then," Wakasa's voice crackled over the static on the satellite trackers, no doubt startling in the stillness, "Since you've all arrived, the next thing is to you know, go inside. Good luck crossing that marsh," he paused, then seemed to remember one last detail. "Oh and by the way, the windows are booby-trapped so it'd be best to use the main entrance."
As the genin began to cross over the marsh, they would find two difficulties. The first was that it was impossible to detect what was moving through the cloud of mist as it had apparently been laced with chakra, impeding both vision and other senses. Only the dots on the radar alerted them to the direction of the factory. The second was that the mud was thick and mixed in with the water, naturally making it difficult to use the Standing on Surface technique. Upon reaching the main entrance, they would find it half-submerged and barred across with heavy steel pipes. Before they could get there, however, the snarling and growling seemed to circle in closer. Then, without warning, three wolves leapt out from the fog, one headed straight for each of the genin's throat!
Gatou was used to moving through mud and swamps, so he wasn't honestly that inconvenienced by the swamp in from of him. The mist though, that got annoying fast. If it wasn't for the fact that he figured working together would lead to the best odds of success, he already would have been inside of the building. That and the wolves that stalked them. He already knew what they were, their howl was distinctive. He just figured that if it was a test, he should let them figure it out as well. Wolves probably couldn't hurt Nikari, his water body should protect him. As for the girl, eh, she'd figure it out. Then the wolves attacked.
If Gatou's transformation technique had a weakness, it is that it takes roughly 1.5 seconds for him to take on a new form. During this period, he can't move, rendering him defenseless. Wolves don't normally attack unless they feel like they have an advantage. Unless one's starving a lone wolf won't attack a human, as most humans are larger than them. He wasn't expecting the one on one confrontation. He should have expected they wouldn't act normally, but habit is habit.
Gatou threw up his arm between his neck and the wolf's mouth. It hurt when it's jaw snapped down on his arm, but it was better to take an injury than to die. Pulling out a kunai with his unoccupied arm, he would end it's life with one simple stab, right through its neck up into its skull. The wolf would die before it even felt any pain.
Pulling its mouth off his now bleeding arm, Gatou just walked forward again, trusting his companions to have dealt with their attackers in a quick manner. If they couldn't handle this much, well they didn't have much business being ninjas.
Wolves? Kagami thought as she saw the pack of wolves. She saw one jump towards Gatou, and another towards Nikari. The last wolf leaped towards her, and Kagami quickly pulled out shuriken, throwing them towards the wolf. The wolf awkwardly tucked its legs in, halting its pounce. This caused for the wolf to land on the ground while the shuriken flew off. The wolf rose to its paws, growling. Kagami smiled. The light shined at the perfect angle, showing the Wire Strings attached to the shuriken. Kagami pulled the strings, causing the shuriken to be pulled back. The shurikens sliced into the wolf's back, causing for it to howl in pain. Taking this opportunity, Kagami pulled out a kunai, and brought it down into the wolf's head. It howled in agony for the last time before it went limp. Seeing Gatou ahead of her, she followed him, casually wiping the blood off of her Kunai.
Shame that the wolves chose to attack in his own domain. Though Nikari supposed they had the advantage of a surprise attack. "No matter," Nikari thought to himself. The genin sank into the marsh as the wolf bore down on him, before emerging in a liquefied form to surround its head. Snap. The figure shuddered before collapsing, Nikari solidifying as he glanced at the dead animal. His heart stirred with pity considering the creature might have been a good entity outside of this affair. Nevertheless, he shrugged, making his way to the rest of the team as they continued their endeavor towards the factory entrance. He was somewhat irritated by the stifling mist as it smothered his sensory abilities. As good as they were, this exercise made it abundantly clear that they still needed work. Then again, he was only a genin so he supposed that it came with the territory. Regardless, he noticed the rather rough looking entrance, appearing both menacing and decrepit.
"Nikari, if I remember right you can sense? Can you tell me if there are any traps on the door?" Gatou asked his team mate. He didn't see any, but they were dealing with a jonin and one could never be too careful. They had a little bit of time, but soon they'd have to start moving regardless of danger. At least they could get through this first part without any further injury. "If there aren't any, I'll open the door."
The factory proved to be a bit more cooperative regarding his sensory abilities, unlike the pea-soup fog behind and above them. "Sure," Nikari said, allowing his technique to activate once more. Coating the door, doorway, and beyond with his sensory abilities. They all knew the windows were booby-trapped, so this door was their only way into the facility. Picking his way across, he monitored every aspect of the entrance, looking, searching. Finding nothing. "It's clear. Let's go, we're starting to run low on time." Ni noted.
Gatou then proceeded to transform into a gorilla, his muscles bulging in the form, though his arm continued bleeding. Old iron and steel parted like water under the power of the form as he ripped the pipes from across the entrance way.
Kagami observed as the two began to talk. Sensor... she began to think to herself. She followed her group members into the facility, Kagami beginning to carefully set Wire String in strategic locations. She got the occasional look of confusion from her two teammates, but she was able to easily brush that aside. Kagami carefully pulled out one of her shuriken, attaching it to a seperate Wire String. She threw the shuriken, redirecting it around the seemingly empty warehouse. It struck wall after wall, until it hit a certain panel. She brought the shuriken back towards her and she pointed at the nicked tile. "There. It was hollowed out. The bomb's probably there. But be cautious, our teacher is a bit crazy and he'll probably have a trap or two near that tile. Nikari, try sensing for it. Gatou, try turning into an animal with a keen sense of smell. Smell around for anything out of the ordinary." she said. She usually didn't prefer taking the lead, but she thought that this may be some useful information which she couldn't keep to herself. She may not be the Squad Leader, but she was a member. And she would help her team.
Transforming from his gorilla form into a white dire wolf, Gatou did as his team mate and smelled around. The facility stunk of industry and decay. The issue wasn't that there might not be there, but a factory, especially and old on, was not not a good place to rely on smell for issue. He did think he smelled paper though, so paper bombs maybe? "This place ain't great for smell, I think there are at least a few... lesser explosives we have to watch out for though.
Nikari confirmed Gatou's suspicions as his sensory abilities stretched across the factory floor. "Yeah, there's a few paper bombs in the vicinity. They appear to be concentrated around the bomb though, likely as a nasty surprise just as we think we're home free," he noted, creeping across the floor slowly. There was a steady drip drop from the ceiling above, indicating that this location was in shambles. He stored that information away for later as he continued scanning the area, looking for additional bombs while seeing if he could discern their type. He remained acutely aware of the clock continuing to tick, picking up his pace ever so slightly.
As he shifted his weight on the creaking floor, there was a sudden click, and without warning the empty panel that Kagami had discovered in the next hallway exploded. There had indeed been a bomb planted within the wall, but it wasn't the one they were looking for. The wad of paper bombs delivered such a concentrated blast that the hallway filled with smoke. Support beams shrieked as they collapsed in on themselves, completely barring the entrance to the hall. Shrapnel flew through the air, threatening to shred the Genin into pieces should they fail to account for the destructive force of the explosion. Then, as the dust began to settle, seemingly having escaped the worst of it, the Genin would find the floor beneath them beginning to shake. Stripped of support, the ceiling behind them began to fall! There was only one way out, and that was forwards: through a reinforced steel door that led to who-knew where.
On the other side of the door, the Genin would find themselves on a narrow metal catwalk. Before them stretched the empty space of what seemed to be a hollow silo. The curved walls of the chamber made adhering to the surface of the wall difficult, and far below them, where the tube dropped deeply into the earth, the floor was filled with water. A small metal stand rose above the surface of the floor, and a strange, bulky object had been placed on it. The device had a red light that pulsed in a steady rhythm, its blinking glow shining hellishly off the walls of the silo. They could hear a distant humming, as the pool's surface was charged with electricity.
"Looks like you all found the bomb," Wakasa's voice crackled over the static, which had grown worse since they had entered the metal-lined chamber. "One last word of advice here: the bomb is set to go off should it detect any pressure, which means you probably shouldn't land on top of it. Also, it seems all that hesitating back in the marsh cost you some time: you've only got five minutes left." His voice echoed in the cylindrical room, eventually rumbling out into silence. The chamber was empty except for the catwalk platform they stood upon, a domed skylight high above them in the ceiling of the silo, and a few thick chains that dangled down from the platform, much too short to reach the bottom. The walls of the silo were too strong to be easily penetrated by shuriken. It would seem that in this case, Wakasa was forcing them to think.
"I don't know if any of you guys know how to diffuse a bomb, do you?" Gatou responded as he took in the situation. This was the opposite of a situation he knew how to handle. In nature, not much could keep up with him, but building interiors were far from his forte. Neither were explosives for that matter. Best he could do is give them a platform to get near it. "I mean, if you guys want to hang off the wires, I can get you down there, though it's gonna hurt on my end. I'm gonna be useless as far as dealing with the bomb, however."
"I might know a few things about diffusing the bomb." Kagami said. "It's probably going to be a Kirigakure-issued bomb. Jōnin teachers are able to legally attain it, so that's probably it. I can probably diffuse it. Gatou, it'd be great if you could hold off the wires. But I need a safer way down."
"Then you'll have to diffuse the bomb." Nikari said, listening to the hum of electricity. They only had five minutes and they needed to find a way to diffuse a bomb designed to explode with the lightest of pressures. They needed a way of isolating the construct so that it wouldn't explode. "I think I have a way of dealing with the electricity, I can create a layer of water that could function as an isolator, protecting against shocks that would be transmitted easily. The high viscosity would also inhibit the bomb from being set off by pressure. However, the substance is sticky and meant to trap so I would have to risk leaving a piece of the area situated around the bomb exposed in order for you to be able to diffuse it. I'll see how deeply I can permeate the source to insulate the area while you turn off this bomb. Either way, we need to act now." he noted.
Gatou transformed into his gorilla form before wrapping a series of metal wires around his hands. These would cut fairly deeply into it, but it was their only real way to get down. "Note to self, bring rope next time." He said as he threw the wires over the side, where they stopped shortly above the bomb. "Well you got a way down, now get going."
"Well, here goes." Nikari said, concentrating as he drummed up his Water Release. He formed the layer of high viscosity water to create the insulator necessary for protecting his teammate from the electricity. Once everything was in place, he nodded, "Ok, it's all in place. Let's make this happen. We have a few minutes at best."
Kagami nodded. "Thanks boys." She said as she made her way towards the bomb. Pulling out a specialized Kunai, Kagami carefully opened the panel. Pulling out a small gourd of water, she surrounded the bomb in water, with one hand inside. She carefully examined the components. "It's like I suspected. Classic bomb used for infiltration missions. Just give me some time. Won't be that hard to diffuse." she yelled out to her teammates. She carefully removed the layer of protection covering the main wiring, and after a while of fidgeting around, she had done it. "It's finished!"
Kagami had indeed "done it." While everything seemed to be flowing along just fine, the second after she had altered the wire, a mechanism from within the bomb clicked.
Then, it detonated.
Among the three genin, it was unlikely that Kagami would be able to escape the blast, as she had been standing right next to the bomb when it had went off. But prospects of survival for the other two seemed dismal as well. The explosion filled the entire width of the silo, instantly evaporating the water and gel-like jutsu that surrounded the bomb. The condensed ball of flame shot up the chamber of the silo like a canon. Metal panels shrieked as the sheer heat stripped them from the walls, carrying them up as the roar of the inferno drowned out all sound. Penetrating light bleached the world around them until they could see nothing but white.
But then, the white seemed to dim, graying like ash and dissipating into mist-like particles as the genjutsu was slowly dispelled.
The genin would find themselves in a marshy field, very similar to the one they had started out in. In fact, it was the field they had started in. The factory could be seen in the distance, a hulking black mass within the gray, and around them lay the bodies of the three wolves they had felled earlier. But the carcasses seemed incorporeal, and as the genin watched they began to glow and drift apart in motes of glowing light that quickly flickered out and died in the clouded sky.
Wakasa himself appeared in the mist. Like a creature of nightmarish myth, he tread lightly through the thick mud of the marsh, barely visible until he was standing before them. The tip of his cigarette burned with a greenish light through the fog.
"I would say 'well done everyone,' but that'd be a lie," he began, and his tone lacked whatever levity it had been marked with before. Wakasa shook his head. "Among other things, there were three main things you were lacking in this assignment: common-sense, precaution, and perception. Let's start from the top." he crossed his arms as he began to explain.
"First mistake: you accepted the wolves at face-value. While none of you were aware of my own skills as a jōnin, obviously, the animals weren't acting like summons, were they? Akadou-kun, that would have been on you." Wakasa paused, apparently not above ascribing individual shame to each member of the team, and then continued, "Furthermore, it would have been highly unlikely that the attack was anything natural. And that should have caused some doubt. The mist was inhibiting your senses. It would have been wise to at least check if it was genjutsu...”
“Regardless, once you fell under the illusion, there are several things that should have suggested that something was wrong. What gets me is that from the start not one of you noticed how smoothly things were going right up until the end. That should have been red flag number one, especially for you, Nikari-kun. Secondly, none of you were keeping track of the time, were you?" Wakasa flicked his cigarette onto the ground and ground it out with his foot. "That makes a grand total of ten actual minutes. Time was crucial to this mission, so one of you should have been tasked with reading off the stats from the trackers I gave you. Also,” Wakasa jerked a thumb in the factory’s direction, “A sweep of the exterior would have been helpful to make sure what you saw on the outside matched what you sensed on the inside. I could have very easily twisted the factory into a labyrinth, and you would’ve had no clue that you were lost. You could have also checked for a more optimal entry point. The water at the door could had been spiked. Throwing shuriken around without a clear target where traps and bombs could be set up is probably not the best strategy either... Oh, and, Akadou-kun, typically it’s best to try and minimize casualties on the battlefield, not volunteer for them. Those injuries with the razor wire were easily preventable,” Wakasa said wryly. “Still, your biggest blunder,” the sensei said as he focused on Kagami, “Was jumping to conclusions.”
“Kirei-kun, by assuming that the bomb was a standard type, you jeopardized not only your own life but the lives of your teammates as well. You were acting on presumption, not the facts of the situation. And that is a fatal mistake. This time it was genjutsu, but next time you might not be so lucky.”
As if to emphasize his point, there was a sudden bang followed by a roar. In the distance one side of the factory collapsed into a screeching pile of scrap iron and dust as the explosion thundered softly in the distance.
“There’s no room for short-sightedness in combat if you hope to survive. I won’t allow you to make excuses for stupidity, and I sure as hell won’t hold your hand. This isn’t a kid’s game anymore: this is life-or-death. Guts and raw talent alone will only take you as far as the opponent who’s more skilled then you are, which is bound to happen sooner or later. If you’re not prepared mentally, and if you don’t engage with all your faculties,” he said as he tapped the side of his head, “You’ll die.”
For a moment Wakasa lapsed into silence. I won’t have a repeat of the last team, never again. His thoughts were tinged with bitterness and regret as he stared at the three young shinobi before him. Finally, he sighed and turned away.
“This is lesson number one. The next is going to have far more serious consequences should you fail. Like I said, I won’t tolerate incompetence. This is your last chance to back out. But, if you opt to stay in the team, then meet at the same time at the academy tomorrow.” He began to walk away, but then paused as if suddenly remembering a minor detail, “Oh yeah. Nikari-kun, you’ll be team leader,” he announced unceremoniously. And with that he was gone.