Mitarashi Anko stirred the dregs of her conspicuously non-alcoholic drink sulkily. She was alone at the bar counter. The other occupant of the room, an older man, ignored her stolidly as he mechanically ate in the corner. Anko spared him a glance in between stirs, but found nothing to note or react to. They ignored each other with the ease of long custom.
Outside Anko could hear the running feet and excited shouts and unquiet whispers of civilians and ninja alike. The few ninja she could identify whispering about the next and final stage of Chuunin exam. The Kazekage's son, the last Uchiha, the little demon brat, heady stuff.
"Me and Ibiki both let through too many Genin in our stages", she told the man in the corner, who showed no sign of listening, "they'll have to cut down the numbers a bit."
She tried drinking the sludgy remains, finding to her horror that it no longer flowed easily, sticking to the bottom of the glass with viscous tenacity.
"They'll probably make up some preliminary matches to make the losers feel better.", she announced, after accepting defeat. "Pair up some of the Genin with more glaring weaknesses to get a better show later on."
She ticked a few names off her fingers, glancing in the direction of the Forest of Death.
The man, a retired ninja whom Anko had been needling for a reaction for almost a week had finished most of his food, and had now set on drinking the sake in the bottle in front of him. He filled his cup carefully, again and again. Regarding each pour before raising it to his lips and drinking with little ceremony.
"We'll have the most in the final stage, of course", she continued, "Although Sand and Sound will probably sneak some in. They have a strong team each left in."
The click and pour of sake into cup continued unabated behind her.
"I saw my old sensei again during the last stage. I think he came to look for more apprentices and traitors. His new village is likely feeling pretty weak now that Mist and Stone are starting to get more active again. The Hokage has ANBU on alert, but they feel that stopping the Exam would only provoke him further against the village."
"He's picked the perfect moment to show up again. We can't afford the disruption to make us look weak to Sand, and while we're strong in mid-rank, we don't have enough S-rank to engage him safely without turning it into a war. Jiraiya and Tsunade are gone, off being hermits. The Yondaime is dead, the Uchiha all gone but that kid. Hizashi was the last S-rank Hyuuga in active duty, and they handed him to Cloud. Maybe if Kakashi was still head of ANBU...", Anko trailed off.
Anko stood, feeling the man, now making no attempt to hide his shock, stare in silence at her back. His cup and bottle sat forgotten. She smiled, face hidden from him, a tiny bitter victory. Checking to see what the man's previous rank and clearance were had opened a whole new vista of conversational gambits.
She carefuly lay her money for the drink, and walked back outside the bar, leaving the silence for the bustle of an excited Konoha.
"An apprentice is responsible for choosing her master", she quoted from memory.
Stretching her legs to find a rooftop path that would have her at the North Wall entrance soon, she muttered and grumbled to herself about old men and clueless Genins, and nobody responsible.
"It's looking like I'm going to have to do something about this myself."
She sped along the buildings alone, the Cursed Seal of Heaven a cutting pain in her neck, pulsing and clenching in time with her chakra; as it did every second of every day.