A New Mission
'Madara,' he said, sitting on a cold, stone bench in the centre of his room. His body was hunched over bitterly, head in his hands, and unflinching at the arrival of his new master.
'Sasuke, get up. We must get started,' Sasuke snickered, it was coarse and brimming with ugly ambition. For days he had been waiting in blindness; his heart was slowly being engulfed into obscurity. But now, the time had finally come to receive his Eternal Mangekyō Sharingan.
Tunnel after tunnel, deeper and deeper they walked into the grim, monotonous depths of Madara's hideout. Madara carefully guided him in the darkness, though Sasuke's footfalls were self-assured even without his sight.
As they went, Sasuke mused briefly about his time with Orochimaru, his previous sensei. The tunnels of his hideouts were also icy and endless, but Sasuke's intentions had evolved long since then. Unlike his vulnerable, impressionable thirteen-year-old self, this Sasuke was merciless. His lust for vengeance had increased two-fold and he was soon to become more powerful than he could ever have imagined.
Miles away, the sun was just setting gracefully over Konoha. Glazed in its mellow light, clusters of makeshift rooftops gleamed. It had been months and months since the destruction of the leaf village. Though the architecture wasn't quite as glorious as it once was, the life of it was restored, and the villagers were largely enjoying a moment of peace before the immanent fourth great shinobi war.
'It's beautiful even now isn't it,' Sakura sighed, gazing ahead as she sat next to Naruto, who was stretched contentedly across the tree branch they were on.
He looked up at Sakura. She seemed at peace too, with her cherry blossom hair blowing gently in the evening breeze as she closed her eyes and exhaled. The corners of her lips lifted gently into a smile.
'Beautiful,' he said. Sakura looked down at him.
'You're a little too quiet these days,' Her striking emerald eyes captured his. Naruto wondered what to say, which was rare in itself.
'How do you feel about Sasuke now?' Sakura's gentle smile receded at this.
'He's gone for now, it doesn't matter,' Naruto glanced away, Sakura could see that he wasn't convinced. She continued, 'The time we had together as team seven, it feels like a dream…It's strange thinking about how it used to be, with the way he is now…it doesn't seem like it could ever have been real.'
Naruto bit his lip. He found himself asking directly, 'Do you love him anymore? At all?'
'I love who he used to be,' she answered carefully. 'I barely even pity him now.'
Naruto's expression settled. She no longer loved Sasuke. The two of them looked forward again aimlessly, both deeply routed in thought. Sakura was wondering where he was now, and how much of his former self remained since he almost killed her a few months previously. Naruto was wondering how to tell Sakura he loved her.
'It's getting dark, and a little cold…' Sakura said after a time, '…So how about some Ramen?' she watched his eyes glisten and his ear perk up.
'Really? You mean it?!' Sakura nodded, giggling.
'Absolutely, I'm starving!' she exclaimed.
'Wow! Me too!' Naruto's stomach promptly rumbled. Sakura chuckled.
'When are you not hungry anyway?' the two of them exchanged a pause then, smiling quietly, and really being happy. Such harmonious moments were rare those days.
'My sharingan can see just fine,' Sasuke's Susanoo emerged about him as he drew away his eye bandages, 'even in the darkness.'
Sure enough, his eyes were now glowing with his own ripe Eternal Mangekyō Sharingan. He felt new power boiling and rising within him, erupting into life. Laughing manically, he sprang into action.
'Mmmm, just look at his potential,' Zetsu said in his usual venomous tone. Madara said nothing as he watched his new protégée from the balcony above the training floor.
'You know he is such a gamble Madara, even with his new eyes,' his grin was mischievous.
'I know,' Madara continued to observe Sasuke as he relished his newfound strength, charging a blazing bolt of Chidori and sending it swiftly and ruthlessly about the training dome floor, obliterating target after target.
'Sasuke is at the threshold of his sanity. Despite his Eternal Mangekyō Sharingan, it seems his weakness remains,' Sasuke hurled another bolt into the atmosphere as Madara spoke. 'A shinobi should repress his emotions and depend solely upon his talents to acquire true strength. Sasuke's strength on the other hand…thrives upon his fury.' And then emerged the flames of Amaterasu. Sasuke hurled them upon more training targets callously.
'Perhaps you should test him master? Perhaps, perhaps you should push him…to his limit!' said Zetsu, Madara replied, 'I have something in mind, yes,' a grin stretched wickedly across Zetsu's face.
'Enough Sasuke! I have a mission for you!' Madara called out from above.
'It might only take a little push…' Zetsu whispered. Sasuke stumbled to a halt at last, breathing heavily yet heaving with excitement.
Madara spoke plainly, 'yes, and Sasuke could fall into ruin.'
Sunlight seeped into her bedroom as the blinds began to swing in the wind, followed by the chirping of birds. Sakura grumbled, rolling onto her front. She realized that she should have shut the window.
As Sakura was just falling back to sleep, she heard a distant voice, calling her name. 'Yes Sasuke?' she mumbled sluggishly into her pillow. The calling became louder.
'Sakura? Sakura?' her front door was pounded then, Sakura jerked forward. Of course, it wasn't Sasuke.
'WHAT?' she grunted.
'Are you there? It's urgent!' with that Sakura scrambled away from her futon. Yanking her cardigan from the banister she tumbled down the stairs, putting it on ham-fistedly as she went. The door was still being hammered as she yanked open the lock.
It was Sai, he stood frozen at the entrance with his fist halted in knocking position just above Sakura's head. He smiled.
'Oh, good morning Sakura. You look a little tired today,' Sakura wasn't impressed.
'What do you want Sai?' She spoke from clenched teeth, and clenched fists.
'Urgent message from Lady Tsunade, we've been called to be at the Hokage Residence as soon as possible you see,' he chuckled. Even after Danzō's death and the end of the emotionless branch of ANBU known as 'root', Sai could still be quite inappropriate at times.
She sighed. 'Okay, I'll just get dressed.'
'Alright-y then,' Sai smiled. They both stood still for a few seconds. Sakura plodded back up the stairs, Sai began to follow.
'I GET DRESSED ALONE SAI!' he was smacked so hard that he flew out of the infuriated kunoichi's house. The door was promptly slammed, and Sai was met by the alarmed stares of passing villagers.
Sai and Sakura arrived at a wooden hut central to the village. The condition of the Hokage residence had improved significantly since the destruction of Konoha, as Lady Tsunade's office had for many weeks been a mere tent. Sakura mused at how even her own house had been rebuilt to a greater level, complete with two floors and furniture. She decided that perhaps Lady Tsunade had been too preoccupied to worry about the state of her workplace. She never had been tidy.
'Quick you two,' Tsunade ushered them inside. They joined Hinata, Kiba, Ino, Neji and Tenten. They were all assembled before the fifth Hokage, who sat pensively at her desk with her chin clasped in her hands. Kakashi and Ino's father were stood beside Tsunade. Sakura felt uneasy, something was missing.
'Is this everybody?' Tsunade glared in disappointment.
'Everybody who could make it on short notice,' said Neji grudgingly, The Hokage rolled her eyes.
'And what about Naruto?' He charged in haphazardly at that point, Lady Tsunade's head snapped towards the door as he slammed it behind him. Leaning against it, Naruto drew a long sigh before cheerfully greeting Granny Tsunade. He explained something about the wrong choice of milk that morning and eventually apologised to the Hokage.
'Anyway, thank you to those of you who were on time,' She said. Naruto and Sakura both hung their heads shamefully, Sai smiled.
'Now for the mission at hand. Inoichi?' Tsunade signalled Ino's father, Inoichi Yamanaka, to explain the situation.
'I assume you all know of our clan's coveted mind transfer technique. At best it enables us to transfer our conscience to a shinobi within range, allowing us to suppress their conscience and take control of their body for a limited amount of time.' Most of the chūnin in the room looked puzzled, but Sakura noted that Ino seemed particularly anxious.
'This is our signature ability, not a kekkei genkai. This means that our clan has endeavoured to explore mind centred techniques to their full potential,' Inoichi exhaled shamefully at this point. 'About forty years ago, before the second shinobi world war, our main part to play was intelligence gathering, and there was a call for more advanced espionage. A project went underway to experiment with a new, unlimited form of the mind transfer jutsu. This jutsu would allow the user to transfer his conscience to any being, even in any time and place, for much longer periods of time,' there was whispering amongst the chūnin in the office.
'A forbidden jutsu,' Sakura stated self assuredly,
'That's right. The project was intended to be extremely confidential,' Inoichi glanced away briefly, he then continued, 'we built apparatus on a secluded site a few miles away to harness the chakra required for performing such a jutsu. We learned that the jutsu would transfer anyone's conscience if they stood within a certain radius of the active Catalyst. However we abandoned the experiment upon deciding the jutsu was far too dangerous and could have disastrous consequences for the course of history. The problem lies here…' Inoichi placed his forehead in palm.
'Inoichi has sited an ominous glow coming from the site of the old apparatus in the Yamanaka woods, meaning someone is potentially in on the forbidden technique. However, the sited glow is at the earliest stage. It supposedly takes three days tops to reach it's peak, ready for the jutsu to be performed,' Kakashi said in place of a distressed Inoichi.
'So your mission is to act upon the Intel, stop the technique from taking place within the next three days and find out who is behind this breech of Yamanaka clan secrets, and why,' Tsunade ordered.
'How do we know when the glow reaches its peak?' Kiba cut in. Inoichi considered an answer.
'It tended to glow another colour, and noticeably brighten. It will be apparent at any rate, the catalyst was designed this way.'
'How do we stop the jutsu if we can only get so close?' Silence ensued, all eyes turned to face him. It seemed Naruto managed to ask a valid question.
'Jeez what's your problem guys?' He grumbled under his breath.
'Well Naruto we don't know exactly how dangerous approaching the site could be, but we're aiming to prevent rather than stop the jutsu. So hopefully we won't need to worry.' Said Kakashi, still displaying a hint of uncertainty in his visible eye.
'And what if we get caught in the jutsu? How can our conscience come back?' Sakura asked hesitantly. Ino and her father exchanged knowing glances. She answered this time.
'With this jutsu, death is the only way out.'
The hut became cold with apprehension at that instant. There was a unanimous realization that the lives of their ancestors, and of generations to come, were in danger. Tsunade finally broke the unease that had arisen.
'Inoichi and Ino will lead you all to the spot in the Yamanaka woods. You are to head off immediately. Stay vigilant and do your best,' Ordered Tsunade, who's face was stern with fortitude.
'Hai!' The assembled team said in unison resolutely. The Hokage dismissed them, and so the mission began.