Birds of a Feather
Chapter Three: Hunter
"So I told her, with skills like hers, she'll go real
assembled group laughed at the end of the joke, tipping sake bottles
spilling ashes all over the forest floor. The camp fire burned slowly
background, providing heat and light in the cool September night. A
roasted slowly on a spit, its meat picked at by the men as they paused
telling to enjoy their dinner.
A black Labrador nuzzled its
begging for the bit of meat there. He looked down at it and tousled its
with a smile. "Yes, yes, here you go," the owner said, letting the dog
fingers clean. "You did well today so you deserve a
anyway," another hunter replied. "I won't say I'm not glad for the
pheasants and rabbits we brought in. They'll bring us a pretty penny.
But I was
hoping for the real prize."
"Then you're a fool," the third
"No team has come back from that hunt."
"It's just a ploy to
The dog at his feet suddenly shot its head up. The
silent as the dog sniffed the air. Around them, the rest of the pack
was on its
feet, sniffing around them.
"Do you smell that?"
The dogs began to bark and growl, several started to
back up. The
hunters reached for their bows just as the trees in front of them
first it looked like there was nothing there. Then its shape became
by then, all the hunters were dead.
The Tengu Aviary loomed in front of her, its height barring the sun's
rays from blinding her anymore. Sakura attempted to enjoy the view but
already several steps ahead of her.
She moved quickly, catching
him. Ibiki arrived at the door, knocking it gently after a moment's
few seconds later, it slid open revealing a tall, skinny elderly
man's eyes locked onto Ibiki, the trace of a scowl on his face. "Good
Ibiki bowed, Sakura following suit. "Good morning,
Tengu-sama. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your
other man stiffened even more. "She died for her village, as she would
wanted." He paused for a moment. "If you have come to pay your
service will be held this afternoon."
"I have, unfortunately,
for that alone," Ibiki stated. "I wanted the chance to speak with you
Sakura watched as Tengu's grip increased on
"What matters would those be?"
Sakura could feel the tension
them. She watched Ibiki, trying to understand what he would do next.
seen the way Tengu reacted, knew that the other man was not deaf to the
whispered rumors of a conspiracy in the village.
rumors," Ibiki said firmly. "And they've reach the ears of my
Tengu blinked in surprise, the grip of his hand on the
loosening. "Anna-san?" He shook his head. "Of course, I forgot that she
cousin. Then I trust you have come here to eliminate those
wouldn't do to have the Tengu clan questioned when at the same time
they mourn a
hero to our village."
Sakura watched as Tengu's entire demeanor
It occurred to her why Ibiki looked so displeased with the list of
Tengu had married into. Obviously, his was one of them. There was a
movement as they entered and Sakura missed a step as she saw it. Ibiki
given her the signal to go ahead.
"Ano," she said, smiling
"I'm really sorry but is there a bathroom nearby?"
before nodding and giving her directions. She smiled politely and
just turning the corner as Ibiki asked for tea. That should give her
enough time to put Operation Little Lost Girl into effect.
Shikamaru kicked the defenseless rock several feet down the road. He
in a bad mood. He hated, even more, that the reason for it was a small
worry in his stomach. So rather then spend the last few peaceful
moments of the
morning staring at the sky, he was headed towards the market which
doubt be completely swamped with noisy people.
He sighed, trying
figure out who to blame. Ino for not being careful again or Chouji for
able to alleviate his fears last night. In the end, he realized he only
himself to blame.
He came to a stop in front of the obnoxiously
tent. With a shake of his head, he pulled aside the door and stepped
There was a smell in the air that he couldn't place, a
individual items he would have been able to pinpoint instantly alone.
mangled together, he could only describe it in loose
happy voice chirped out at him.
An elderly woman appeared, her
somehow matching and clashing with the tent at the same time. She
towards him, bells jingling on her belt.
"My, my, a young man.
get young ladies but it's nice to see a man take charge of finding
wife, even at such a young age."
Shikamaru's mood shifted from
annoyed quickly. "I'm not here to find a wife."
"Then a lover... perhaps a young man."
Shikamaru turned several
red. "No! I'm not..." He paused and shook his head clear. "I'm here for
Mabaroshi nodded knowingly. "I see, a 'friend'. And
this 'friend' need from the greatest matchmaker in the
fought to control himself from yelling again. "My friend, she lost an
last night." Mabaroshi looked unimpressed. "She's blonde about my
The older woman interrupted him before he could
sorry, Shikamaru-kun, but I wasn't even open last night. However, if I
I'll let you know"
Shikamaru eyed the woman's smile and then
out a begrudging word of thanks. He left the tent, ignoring the woman's
to keep him there to make a match. He had no interest in things like
Besides, he had other things to worry about. If Ino
last night then where the hell was she for three hours? He should ask
the jounin patrols if they had seen her asleep in the park, but he felt
already knew the answer would be no.
He moved towards their
place, his pace slowing as he thought things through. Where was Ino
Why couldn't she remember anything that happened?
suddenly came to a stop as he formed the next question in his mind. How
matchmaker know his name?
Sakura remembered the map Ibiki had shown her and the path to the
moved quickly, passing through halls and taking a few extra halls in
avoid the more crowded places of the Tengu compound.
aviary long before she got there, a mix of bird droppings and grain.
her pace, edging her way towards the open wooden doors. She paused,
no one was around before stepping outside.
The chain link walls
open into the sky. Large trees brushed the top, straining for freedom
birds seemed not to care that their sky was partially enclosed. The
started as soon as she entered but Ibiki had warned her about that. So
three ninja appeared in front of her, her mind was already into her
"I'm so sorry!" she cried. "I was looking for the bathroom
The ninja examined her for a moment, not sure what to
continued to look at her but it took a few moments for Sakura to
they were really concentrating on what was behind her.
Ibiki. A genin escort, nothing important. " the man at the door said.
three relaxed a bit. "Go back to your jobs or else you'll miss lunch
The three disappeared and the man returned his attention
He had golden eyes and brown hair like the rest of the Tengu clan
sharp nose and hollow cheekbones added more to the birdlike qualities.
was tall, taller then Sasuke though he couldn't have been much older
then any of
"Your name?" he asked.
"Haruno," she answered
making sure to keep up the shy and demur act. "Sakura
and responded with his own name. "Taka, assistant to the Bird Keeper.
is not close to what you are."
She blushed a bit and sighed. "I
good with directions. And when I saw where I had ended up, I couldn't
come and take a peek."
He nodded. "The Aviary is impressive.
seen any of our hawks?"
"Only some glimpses in the
paused, looking at the door. "I guess a few more minutes of being lost
hurt." He whistled and Sakura ducked as something swooped over her head
landed on his arm. The hawk ruffled its feathers a bit before accepting
of meat Taka had produced.
"He's so beautiful," Sakura
"She," Taka corrected. "This is Saya, one of younger
Sakura nodded appreciatively as she pondered how to
question to where she needed it to go. "How old is she?"
Taka said. "We train them from birth but won't let them go into the
after a couple of years of training."
Sakura looked at the bird
concern. "Do they ever get hurt?"
Taka nodded. "Unfortunately.
sometimes we're lucky and we can help them heal."
"Sure." Taka paused and looked around. "There, see that
one on the
low branch. That's Nama. She was hurt recently but she should recover
in a few
Bingo! Inner Sakura cried. Outer Sakura looked over
he indicated and let out a sad sound. "The poor thing," she said,
easing her way
towards it. She stood in front of the bird and looked at
Taka had let Saya fly off and was hurrying towards her side. "Careful.
injured, Nama can deliver a nasty attack."
while took in all the details of the bird, memorizing the pattern of
just as Ibiki had instructed her to do. Now, all she needed was a
she could go back.
The male voice echoed through
aviary and all the bird suddenly fell silent. Taka quickly fell to
the three other Tengu clan members reappeared. The older man was not
them however, he was staring at her.
"Who is that?" he
"Haruno Sakura," Taka responded crisply. "She came in
Ibiki but got lost when she went to the bathroom."
her, it seemed to make the senior Tengu even madder. "The
student? You let her in here?"
Taka looked a bit perplexed. "I
But the man was already walking towards her. Before
Sakura had a
chance to react, he grabbed her by the forearm. "What are you doing
on us to report back to your sensei?"
"I just... got lost,"
protested, trying to get free. Her eyes were watering and she wasn't
sure it was part of the act.
"I'm not as stupid as these
man yelled. "I know what you Interrogator filth are like, too bored now
land is at peace, you'd settle for turning your methods on your own
"Father!" Taka protested, grabbing his arm. "She's
"You think that matters?" he asked, dropping Sakura onto
ground. Sakura's thoughts were a blur but one was clear. Her hand
ground and she felt one of Nama's feathers there. She quickly took it
it in her kunai pouch as she stood up.
"Get her out of here and
we'll talk about your punishment, Taka."
Taka nodded and quickly
Sakura's wrist, dragging her through the maze of hallways until he
place where the Tengu leader was meeting with Ibiki.
"She got lost," Taka stated firmly. "And ended up
Tengu looked at Ibiki before replacing his cup on the
"Get out," he said firmly.
Ibiki didn't move. "Tengu-sama,
"No, I was being irrational when I overlooked your
profession in light of your cousin's marriage into our clan. I should
your intentions couldn't have been good. And that the Interrogators
think twice to stoop low enough to send a young girl to do their
"Exactly what are you implying?" Ibiki asked
out of my house," Tengu replied.
Ibiki stood up and looked at
more time before turning to Sakura. "Let's go."
quickly followed Ibiki out, neither speaking a word until they were
clear of the
compound. It was only then that Ibiki asked her whether she had
She described the bird as best she could and then pulled
feather, giving it to him but not looking at his face. He looked at her
few moments before telling her she had done a good job. Then he turned
"Why?" she asked suddenly. "Why did you really want me to
"I already told you, I needed someone to find a feather
bird named Nama and as a genin you would more then likely be
"You could have pulled someone off for a couple of
said. "There are chuunin who work for you only a few years older then
could have just disguised themselves as genin."
Ibiki looked at
nothing giving away his emotions. "Consider it your final
"Final warning of what?" she asked.
illusions about how the life of someone in my field is. Its better you
this sooner rather then later." And with that he turned and
watched him go, his words echoing in her head. All those months of
Ibiki-sensei and she had never considered exactly what he was training
be. Yes, she knew the stories about him, how his techniques were so
that sometimes the mere mention of his name was enough to make an enemy
confess. But that was not the Ibiki-sensei she knew.
though. The Tengu clan wasn't the only group distrustful of the
Kakashi-sensei hadn't been exactly pleased with her assignment to him.
Sasuke-kun had looked unhappy every time she left with
why? There were Anbu, trained killers and assassins who were known for
ruthless efficiency. Then there were the Hunter-nin, who moved like
they tracked down traitors. There had been a police force, though its
been greatly reduced in recent years, who had never failed to capture
criminal, Konoha shinobi or otherwise. What made the Interrogators that
She put her hand on her arm, already feeling the
forming there as she frowned. Her mind flashed back to the soccer game
friends yesterday and she couldn't help but wonder if in the future,
would turn against her if she followed Ibiki-sensei.
down on the
ground and looked out at Konoha, not really knowing what to do next.
"Yo," Chouji called out, shuffling towards Shikamaru. "What's
Chouji paused his munching and eyed Shikamaru
"You look real out of it, even for you."
"I was thinking,"
Chouji didn't look like he thought that that was all
with his friend, but he let it drop. "Hokage has a mission for us.
is still out so she wants you to lead it." He handed over the scroll,
as Shikamaru read through it.
"Great," Shikamaru sighed. "Some
get lost in the forest and we have to go find them."
munching. "Maybe they'll have some fresh meat for us to bring home for
Shikamaru raised an eyebrow at his friend, who simply
Shikamaru just shook his head and shuffled towards Ino's, deciding that
team needed an optimist and Chouji definitely qualified for that in his
Ino wasn't at home so they made their way to the only other
she would be in the middle of the day. As they approached the flower
Chouji and Shikamaru couldn't shake the feeling that something was very
took a while for them to place their feeling of discomfort but they
realized it was related to the silence that surrounded the
Ino was sitting at the register, looking rather despondently at the
door as they
entered. She brightened a bit as they entered and then waved at them
enthusiastically. Chouji and Shikamaru merely stood rooted at the
"Why isn't she yelling at us?" Chouji finally
stomped her foot and put her hands on her hips, trying to get their
"Remember that trip to the Inari shrine we took when
kids," Shikamaru whispered. "And that wish we made... looks like it
A flower pot was hurled at his head and Shikamaru barely
to escape a concussion. Chouji walked over calmly and read the note in
"She lost her voice last night," he stated.
possible?" Shikamaru asked, dodging another pot. "Guess she can't come
Ino shook her head quickly and tried to write
but Shikamaru caught her arm. "You're not going," he stated firmly.
your voice, how would you call jutsus out anyway?"
Ino bit her
looked like she was about to cry but Shikamaru shook his head firmly.
her eyes and looked pleadingly at him.
"Not even sexy Ino is
work this time," he said, walking away. "Come on, Chouji, we need to
"Me?" Hinata squeaked.
Shikamaru looked at her and tried not to
hadn't been his idea, really. He needed a Hyuuga and Neji would have
nicely. But then Chouji had mentioned something about how it might be a
idea to give the Hyuuga girl a chance. He didn't really argue, knowing
low level mission like this either Hyuuga would do fine. Besides,
Chouji had a
way with people so if he thought that she could use a mission like
who was Shikamaru to argue.
"It'll cut our search time in half,"
"I think we should go with you," Kiba said
Hinata shrank a bit more as her teammates shifted towards
need Hinata," Chouji said, hands suddenly devoid of food. "Unless you
she's not capable of taking care of herself."
backed off quickly. Hinata simply nodded and promised that she'd be
If he hadn't known any better, Shikamaru would have said that Hinata
bit happy at being taken along. Guess Chouji had been
quickly out of Konoha, settling into a fast pace as they raced through
around town. Throwing a look over his shoulder, he saw the veins in
eyes pushing up through her skin as she searched the area for signs of
After an hour of searching, she suddenly
had found something. "To the east," she whispered slowly, her voice
devoid of the normal stuttering. "It's not human... maybe dogs
Shikamaru nodded and sent Chouji to the right so they
circle in. Hinata stayed a few feet ahead of Shikamaru, stopping only
saw Chouji had reached his position. Shikamaru strained his eyes and
enough, saw a few dogs circling an abandoned camp sight. He signaled an
clear and the trio jumped down from the trees, searching briefly before
"There's meat," Chouji said, eyeing the
rabbits. "Not skinned, still fresh and starting to
frowned. He knew Chouji wasn't merely talking about food. The hunters
just leave behind their livelihood. And if it was starting to rot, then
have been left here since at least last night.
area?" he asked.
The young girl's head didn't move but she
the less. "There's nothing. Just..." She trialed off, her eyes suddenly
concentrating on one of the dogs that was approaching her. "There's
wrong," she said suddenly.
Both Shikamaru and Chouji slipped
defensive position, watching as Hinata slowly reached for her kunai as
"Hinata," Shikamaru said, trying to catch her
"They don't look like Akamaru," she said softly,
taking a step
backwards. The dog snarled at her words.
"Up into the trees!"
yelled, just as the dog lunged. Hinata made it, just avoiding the
attack but the
remaining dogs dragged Shikamaru and Chouji back down. Shikamaru let
string of unpleasant words as he kicked the dog squarely in the
started to make his way towards Chouji but the dog had recovered,
pant leg and pulling backwards. Hinata suddenly landed behind him and
the eye of the dog with the palm of her hand. It staggered backwards
and fell to
the ground, shaking and collapsing into a lifeless
up and turned to Chouji, only to find another Hinata performing the
The one next to him disappeared into a puff of smoke. The one near
disappeared a moment later.
If those were Hinata's clones then
she? He ran over and helped Chouji up, looking for any trace of Hinata.
no where in sight. And worse, there were still two dogs at least that
He pulled out the radio from his pocket and began to
to Konoha, asking for a squad of Anbu to get there as soon as possible,
as he mentioned the fact that the Hyuuga heiress was missing. As he and
took off, he tried not to imagine all the ways Kiba and Shino would
kill him if
he returned without her.
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