Chapter 1: The War Against The Syndicate
It all began when abruptly, in the middle of one of the greatest conflicts within the early Elemental Nations, the great World Tree acted, and several million people ceased to live, the armies of all sides practically wiped out. The Sage Of Six Paths, Haguromo Otsutsuki, declared that the Shinju's act was a wake-up call for the world, and declared that the traditional armies would be declared illegal, and that the hostile actions that lead to it's cull of humanity needed to stop now.
He instated a form of compulsory indentured servitude, where a lord could, for all intents and purposes, buy the lifetime services of those people who wished to continue to support them, with similar contracts being drawn up for trusted assistants and the staff who worked for a land owner. While it was, to put it politely, still legalized slavery, It was regulated, and allowed for the careful management of human rights and needs.
However, These early contracts only covered the Daimyos and feudal lords, with a movement within the populace pointing out that it meant the lords had ultimate say over anyone's status. A group rose up within the ranks of the populace, claiming that it allowed those wealthy land owners to continue to keep private armies and control the populace This created resentment with the poorer population, who felt that nothing would stop the feudal lords from making it compulsory outside the labour types covered by Haguromo's requirements.
As a result, the regulations were reworked, and brought under what was soon named the Master's Guild, giving control to a group of elected officials from all walks of life. Part of the Guild's new polices was to allow for any person who employed at least one person for more than six hours a day to approach the Guild and become a Master, with the same regulatory oversight and agreements about the treatment of staff, which nullified the issues that the populace had with the expanding remit of the laws.
What happened next unsettled Haguromo, as the feudal lords began asking why he was allowing such a broad spectrum of people to claim ownership of their employees, which meant that many people no longer were potentially under their remit, their contracts rendered null and void. He could see conflict brewing, no matter what he did. Haguromo then bought out as many military contracts as he could afford, forming a group, made up of predominantly kunoichi, who became the first Enforcers.
These were intimidating combat-trained personnel, neither slave nor master, as a group known as Guild Security & Judgement, or GSJ, a globally active police force who answered to no-one. The Enforcers authority outstripped anyone, and could, without prior notice, deploy one or more officials to an area that was showing signs of anti-Guild sentiment, their first mission being to find out why it seemed like nothing could placate the people, and why it seemed like, despite Haguromo's demands, war was still brewing.
What Haguromo suspected, and GSJ confirmed, was that these pockets of abrupt unrest were not accidental or coincidental. They were caused by the Syndicate, a self-proclaimed 'protest group' headed up by Kaguya Ootsutsuki. Her agents approached those slightly inconvenienced by whatever policy changes he did, before spreading exaggerated and often effectively untrue statements about what the policy change really meant, which spread quickly and created the troubles that had dogged him so much, and forced him to make changes to placate those the Syndicate persuaded to complain.
If he favoured the feudal lords, talk spread through Syndicate mouthpieces of him planning to give the lords more authority, including the outright false claim that he'd downgrade the rights of the civilian masters as a result. When he then went over to the civilians to deal with their problems, implications were spread that he was giving with one hand and taking away with the other, burying Haguromo under dispute after dispute after dispute.
This would have remained as such, if it wasn't for GSJ. The formation of GSJ freed him from such disputes, and brought the Syndicate's true plan to light. Due to Haguromo spending so long dealing with political in-fighting within the Guild strongholds, weaker coverage areas had their Guild-appointed governors assassinated and replaced by fakes whose only purpose was to stir up unrest and suspicions about the guild.
Within Syndicate infiltrated areas, the fake governor and their supporters were the only ones to own or trade in slaves. Common rights were taken away, while regulations were drawn up that persecuted and punished the general populace, giving them the feelings that the Guild was squeezing them for every penny they owned to cover Guild expenses.
A Syndicate operation made it seem like a contract denied any further payment to the seller, was often far below the realistic value of the person, and denied them any money outside of bare essentials, while the Guild, in comparison, was actually overly generous, giving large amounts of what the owner of a slave expected to make to those who sold the slave, as well as paying the slave generous wages. Several people had actually bought out their own contract since the payments were so generous within the Guild.
What GSJ had discovered was that the Syndicate leadership were forcing places they controlled to, by Syndicate law, sell a certain number of slaves every week. These slaves were not recorded in any books, and any books seized by GSJ sting operations only listed the tribute payments, and the area's financial wealth. Haguromo was worried about the financial security of those places, and the fact they breached several regulations wilfully and with deliberate intent to deceive.
Now Haguromo was freed from handling the disputes by GSJ handling them internally, He was able to go out and explore the smaller communities that had been caught up in this 'false flag' operation. They were deserted ghost towns, Haguromo entering one to be pelted by rotten food, with the people shouting for him to return their families, their money and their livelihood, with Haguromo noticing that the shops weren't just deserted, they were empty, and had been for some time.
A check with the customs office had the clerk there state that the Guild had stopped all trade traffic into the area due to a balance shortfall, and the area was as good as bankrupt. A check with his Enforcer retinue showed that was the general way to force a community quickly into the 'right' mindset. A check with a blacksmith's shop notably had the old man in charge glare at the leader of the Guild, for him to approach in befuddlement.
"I had a son and daughter, training them in the trade, Nothing wrong with that..." The man stated, Haguromo nodding slowly, "Your lapdogs didn't think so. They fucking cut off my metal shipments, pretty much leave me bankrupt, then, when I can't cover my tribute, my kids are sold for peanuts to some foreign Master! They were skilled kids, and you gave me a few weeks before you drained even my cut of the sale! How is that a fair system? I almost think you made sure I could only just pay a month!"
Haguromo looked over the receipts from the tribute and sale of his children, frowning. The marks were very good fakes, but still fakes. He studied the valuation, and the man looked confused as Haguromo waved to one of his attendants, handing the information to the woman, who put on a pair of glasses, her fingers dancing over some kind of device strapped to her arm.
She then took out a pen, scribbling something on the valuation, before handing it back to Haguromo.
"These valuations are faked, My associate here did her own valuation, and, with the skills listed for your children, they were heavily undervalued, and certain information concerning their grading is missing." Haguromo stated firmly, "I will state that this has been happening more and more in remote areas I am unable to oversee myself regularly, where below-quality valuations are offered, ostensibly as they cover your debt to the Guild. I wish to state one thing..."
He went into one of his scrolls, adjusting some seals before he took out a thick stack of ryo, squaring it off before leaving it on the table in front of the man.
"While we were not the ones who sold them, we will repay the money effectively stolen from you by those who bore our name," Haguromo stated, the man counting the notes in confusion, before realising what Haguromo meant.
"You're giving me a small fortune for my kids… Why?" The man asked, "That's far in excess of what I got for them..."
"Sales fee for a Skilled Bronze Lineage Slave, adjusted to take into account the valuation, plus… One year's payments to you as the person listed as the previous 'owner'," The woman stated, "We have had to estimate the payments, and give you a blanket one year of earnings, due to not having a proper ledger of sale. Admittedly, The day we find one of those, this wouldn't happen..."
A few weeks later, GSJ located the children, and they were returned, thankfully having remained unsold, due to the Syndicate broker, being the usual greedy mercenary, inflating their price a bit too much, the man horrified at how much he'd been paid but the broker had offered.
"He gave me fucking peppercorn compared to what he was taking!" The man growled, "Barely one percent of his take, and you say that what you gave me was the Guild rate?"
"The valuation he'd given them was, as common with Syndicate sales, akin to an Expert Silver Lineage Slave within the Guild, while claiming to you that they were only a two or three star Bronze Lineage slave," Haguromo stated as he met with the man, "What's even worse... The highest ranking members of the Syndicate have personal fortunes of billions in ryo and the Queen Of The Syndicate is said to have a personal fortune of several trillion..."
"So, they force people like me to pay through the nose, sell our kin for vastly inflated prices after paying us a cursory payment..." The man questioned.
"Why? They want as many people as possible to resent the Guild. Protest leads to conflict, conflict leads to war, war leads to death..." Haguromo declared.
"I heard something like that being muttered by the guy who took my kids..." The man offered.
"Syndicate motto. Years ago, The World Tree turned malignant, and wiped out a hefty amount of the people of the Nations because they were engaged in pointless conflict... The Syndicate claim their god, Datara, will protect them from when the Shinju realises we are still living a life of lies," Haguromo declared, "For all it's a god of peace, it's followers just beat the war drums and profit off it,"
The family moved to Uzushiogakure, the compensation payment covering the medical aid the family needed. Meanwhile, their village was recovering, with GSJ now being wary of areas that 'went dark' over trade and other market traffic. So far, they'd managed to close down several Syndicate operations following the same pattern.
By the time Haguromo passed away, the Guild was the defacto ruling caste of the Elemental Nations, the most powerful men and women of each nation signified by their personal employment of a small contingent of Enforcers, strictly required by Guild law to only draw a weapon in defence of the Guild's interests, nothing more.
While the ranks of Enforcers swelled, this regulation meant that, even though every nation employed a small army of them, there had been no need, at the time, for the Guild to go to war. There were still areas affected by the Syndicate's ongoing attempts to stir up unrest, to draw the Guild to deploy it's Enforcers in a war footing, which they knew would just draw the ire of the Shinju, and cause the world to be forfeit once more.
The ongoing rumours the unrest was since Datara and the Shinju were the same thing... stayed behind closed doors. No-one wanted to think of what that meant...
Decades passed... then came the fall of Uzu.
Uzushiogakure had become known as the Fortress City, a nigh-impregnable walled city, a necessary evil, as the Syndicate sent their followers towards every part of the Elemental Nations, attempting to spread the unrest that followed them, attempting to become advisors and trusted associates of even the most honest Guild-appointed leaders.
With Haguromo's passing, The main family within Uzushiogakure was the Uzumaki Clan, who adopted the Nine-Tailed Fox as their totem, a giant depiction of it's face carved into the cliff below their compound, looking down upon the city not as a avenger, but as a protector.
"The Nine-Tailed Fox protects and watches over Uzushiogakure, and the Uzumaki, they work to control it and keep it that way..." Mito Uzumaki had declared, which brought the ire of the Syndicate, who declared the Uzumaki clan were using one of their totems in a way contrary to doctrine.
When a Syndicate mole managed to slip into the caverns below the compound, both were doomed.
The opening strike in the attack that brought down Uzushiogakure was the sudden toppling of the cliff face, the giant fox head brought to collapse. Subsequent bomb explosions saw the evacuation of the Uzumaki Compound as they sent the entire compound crashing down into the streets below. Even as the city fell into anarchy, it had been made patiently clear.
The leadership of the Guild, their fortress in Uzu, and The Uzumaki clan that protected it, had snubbed the Syndicate and it's rich and corrupt supporters, all too long, and without Haguromo in charge, even places like Uzushiogakure was doomed to fall eventually.
Uzu ended up passing into legend. In the short term, Those who could, fell back to Konohagakure, one of Uzu's biggest supporters, and that city became known for being even more impregnable than Uzushiogakure in it's golden age...
Which only meant that the Syndicate worked to bring it down that much harder...
Chapter 2: The Last Uzumaki
The concept of the Syndicate, a group who talks of peace but prepares for war, is based on one of the logical fallacies of Datara in canon, which I will often explore in my fiction.
According to the basic description of the Infinite Tsukuyomi, it is designed specifically to create a world without conflict, but the formation of it requires you practically need to create a massive conflict for it to stop, ergo the Syndicate creates constant unrest, so that the inevitable conflict will happen, and they'll take extreme steps to stop the conflict… they themselves started!
I also have added a small part to the first chapter, putting the fall of Uzu into the prologue properly.
No-one could truly say they understood how the phenomenon known as Master Space worked, those who first discovered and documented it killed in the fall of Uzu, their research lost in the ruins of the city. All that remained of that precious knowledge was the fact it was a shared semi-lucid dream state, a mental space that a master or slave learned instinctively to step in and out of.
Within Master Space, a slave served diligently as they did in real space, sometimes even more so, freed from the constraints and limits of what reality allowed. No two people had completely identical mental landscapes, and this carried forward into Master Space. What helped was the fact that a slave's mental world fused with their master's as they interacted more and more.
However, Kushina Uzumaki, being native to Uzushiogakure, knew it was much more than just a dream world where a slave could serve all day and night, being a manifestation instead of multiple covenants established long ago by the first Master. Deep below her, in the depths of the Master Space she shared with Minato, was the Ninth Beast, the nine-tailed kitsune.
Kushina looked at the mental copy of her Enforcer's Credentials, where a rainbow line bisected the card, a single stud near one end marking her as the one who controlled one of the legendary creatures of both Guild and Syndicate lore. A common legend said that the one whose card was marked up with all the Beasts would be named, by right of conquest, as the new Grand High Master of the Guild, effectively the one man, or woman, who had control over the nine most powerful entities in the world. A Syndicate myth was that the count was wrong, and it was ten beasts.
This mindscape, the fusion of her own mental landscape and Minato's, was based around a stylised depiction of the original Uzumaki Compound from when Whirlpool still existed, overlooking an equally stylised depiction of Konohagakure. The chamber where the Kyuubi lurked was originally the place she was sealed, a small coffin in the middle of a seemingly endless web of chains and padlocks, hidden behind the stylised fox head.
Nowadays, those chains acted to seal the Kyuubi away, and, for all intents and purposes, right now, her mortal body was effectively a blood clone, everything but her body sealed within this mindscape to reinforce the seal after a message was intercepted declaring a very real threat against her.
They were planning to break the covenant and allow the Ninth Beast to effectively become a Syndicate attack dog, allowing them to release the Kyuubi within one of the Guild's most powerful strongholds. She then heard a bell jingle in her head, as she felt the first of several links to the outside world trigger an alarm in her Master Space.
Someone was in the hospital room where she was giving birth! She was about to return to her body when she felt a tearing sensation run through her body, before she swore as the ground began to quake and fracture. Someone had exploited a weakness in her Master Space, meaning...
History repeated as the clifftop began to break apart, the fox head sent falling once more to the ground, putting the building itself at risk of falling as the Ninth Beast manifested and shattered the cliff face, a reprise of the early days of the fall of Uzushiogakure, except this time, it was not bombs, but the Kyuubi itself that was causing the compound to fall.
Her chains were summoned and used to pull the cliff back together, stabilizing the foundations, and saving the Master Space. She then worked on restoring her link to her mortal body, hoping it would not die before she could do so. It would run out of chakra and die if she didn't complete this in time.
She felt the seal restore, and rapidly sealed the returning Beast into the massive chamber that had once been her Master Space, beginning to repair the building above it. She had a strong feeling this was not Minato's Master Space any more, being only her own, but she had to repair the layers of the seal. If she didn't do this right, what little remained of the iron clad barriers around the Ninth Beast would snap, and the seal would not work.
Her form diminished, and her age dropped, as she rebuilt what she could of the Master Space. She then saw the new soul walking in the partially ruined building and swore. Minato was dead and, in a way, she was as well, her soul tethered to her child instead. Her son or daughter however, would not go without her counsel. She'd been given a second chance, and she would not waste it...
She headed down through the gaping hole in the side of the cliff, seeing how much she could salvage of the head, keeping away from the upper floors until she was needed. She knew that, due to the nature of where she was, she would be mortal once more, thanks to the one who now could earn the rainbow mark.
However, when she was able to walk the Earth once more... Whoever did this, they would suffer a thousand fold...
In the real world, Konohagakure endured. The Masters who had combat abilities had performed admirably, and the village's Enforcer squads acted in a way that was a tribute to the skills of Ibiki Morino, the paranoid local commander of Guild Security & Judgement. Unlike Uzushiogakure, who had been shaken by the toppling of their village's protector, Konohagakure was prepared for another terrorist act by the Syndicate.
While the village's leader was killed, the defence plan held firm, and the man the Syndicate sent was forced into retreat, their predecessor stepped in to replace them as Grand Master. The only notable incident came when the Board Of Representatives had tabled a motion to make an example out of the son of Minato Namikaze, branding him a slave.
It was a happy Grand Master who, as part of his forced retaking of the role, who had told them politely that the boy was basically somewhere beyond the regular Platinum in value, having a value in the billions, if not trillions of ryo.
"If he'd JUST been the son of Minato Namikaze, his projected value within the Guild would be high enough that a quarter, maybe a third of the village could make opening bids, and the sale would require GSJ approval at every step. The boy has a perfect storm of reasons that, NO, we're not selling him even to the High Lords Of The Nations. Who I think are the only ones who might win the auction… Well, most of us aren't allowed to bid or can afford the reserve..." Grand Master Sarutobi offered, "Let's see, He's potentially the last member of the Uzumaki clan, he's the chosen host of the Kyuubi..."
Discussion of the sale of Naruto Uzumaki was left off the table after that, even after they removed who his father was, only to find it didn't help. The suggestions that it might work if they removed who his mother was or the fact he was the one who controlled the Ninth instead were shot down.
After a while, they simply declared him a war orphan and sealed his file, for opening only by a Grand Master or higher, officially since only a Grand Master or higher would even need to look at it.
The boy himself didn't hear of things like this, having moved, off his own back, out of the apartment Sarutobi had supplied him originally, and into a personally restored and refurbished temple to Inari, the goddess of foxes. Konohagakure, like Uzushiogakure before it, had several of these temples, Naruto's even having the statue, representing the Ninth Beast, in a state which meant it was restored to it's full glory.
He was not to know the reason practically all those statues were destroyed, and the temples desecrated, was due to the Ninth's rampage, only knowing no-one had argued about him using the temple as a home, unaware it was since it was forbidden to argue if he ever asked that particular question, by a little known Guild law, due to the fact he was the mortal totem for Inari!
What didn't make sense even more was that, as far as he could tell, his standing with the Guild's slave markets was terrible. He had little to no credibility, and his money meant practically nothing. He wasn't sure if it was the fines for the frankly excessive amount of prank bids he'd been accused of, even if he pointed out he never hit the same person twice, and never that high, or just that the Guild didn't like him, but he couldn't get a slave for love nor money. Even a farmer in the rice paddies could get slaves easier than him, and he knew they subsidised off the rice sales!
The only sanctuary then that he had from his endless bad luck was his home. Within it's walls, there was no GSJ patrols looking for him, no angry Masters claiming he'd ruined their billion ryo transaction, no Guild Board Of Representatives summoning him to discuss the latest accusation of breaching Guild policies. Instead, he had regular visits from a small group of Potentials, like himself, including the 'honoured' grandson of the Grand Master, and his friends, as well as the heiresses of the Hyuga legacy.
The Hyuga were one of the old money clans who had lost a massive amount of prestige, no longer putting slaves on the open market, after a Syndicate scandal arrived right at their door. That didn't matter to him. What did was when two girls decided arbitrarily that a particular spot in his gardens was perfect for sunbathing.
His only interaction with the spot in particular was to erect a small gated fence, before giving the keys to the gate to the two girls, which 'accidentally' cut off one of the best angles to get a good look at them sunbathing outside of being inside the temple. Admittedly, someone else later put up a sign stating, "He who decides to cross this fence does so at their own risk", which Naruto suspected was their cousin.
An odd, but true, piece of advice, that had saved him several times over, despite being given in jest by the Grand Master, was that a good way to tell those who was not meant to be there, contrary to those who he should trust, wouldn't just 'visit' his gardens. Every time a gardening team had been sent officially by, supposedly, trusted members of the Guild, however, he had to call in GSJ when they curiously weren't able to get in.
He'd found every single one of them carrying secret orders to commit very specific acts of vandalism from people who were suspected to be working with a Syndicate sympathiser. Naruto checked every item they were meant to work on, to find complex wards that kept out those with dark intentions, but allow things like two of the cutest girls in the village to sunbathe where, if he was stood in the right place, he could watch them.
Not that he did. Much. OK, He was a young boy, and they were cute.
As a result, seemingly randomly, a team were assigned to do training drills within his garden, with cutting techniques ending up cutting great swathes of his lawn, while the fences and benches were smashed or otherwise destroyed by 'badly' aimed techniques, and subsequently repaired with an honest apology, usually after weather damage had got to the boards.
The most infamous example of this technique for working on his garden came when an argument broke out between Hinata and Hanabi Hyuga in the middle of their sunbathing spot, which had caused the felling of several trees and a rotten span of the protective fence, before ending apparently undecided.
Naruto knew what the decision had really been when a group of Hyuga branch members had arrived later that day, removing the remains of the felled trees, filling in and inducing grass to grow where they'd been, before replacing the fence panels, with the salvaged wood from the trees being credited to his account as 'Building Supplies (Guild)' a few days later.
He later, in a peppercorn transaction, sold the sunbathing spot to the Hyuga clan, before signing over the rest of his gardens as an official training field. This was done on the understanding that the Hyuga Partition and the temple itself were off limits. The former was owned by the Hyuga family, and the latter was not included in the contract.
It had got to the point, due to how the arrangement worked, he'd once, when his broom was showing signs of wearing out, tossed it to one of the students who completely destroyed it using it as a weapon, getting a replacement a few days later. He still paid for repairs to the main building, but his garden was maintained purely through the generosity of those who he trusted.
In recent times, He'd been notified about some family heirlooms which, due to an attempt to claim the inheritance as 'unassigned money and property', had any information on it secured with Guild Security and Judgement, the location of any monies and heirlooms being secured in a vault that was in an undisclosed location.
This information was further stored, along with the contents of said vault, on a random page within the standard Guild report sent regularly to the Hokage, with the previous versions being handed to GSJ to be shredded and recycled.
Admittedly, the report in question was over 200 pages long, in the smallest font readable by a human being, and included a full catalogue of every slave owned by anyone who had registered with Konohagakure's internal marketing system, in excruciatingly precise detail.
There was also an electronically stored copy, but Ibiki Morino required that the thick report was sent out regularly, so that, if there was a computer error, the Hokage could find the information… even if he needed a magnifying glass to do so.
What he had been cleared to know about his holdings within the vault was that, as an Uzumaki, he was descended from a clan who operated within the original seat of Guild power, the legendary lost city of Uzushiogakure, with assets that possibly had belonged to high-ranking and influential members of the Guild, but most of their holdings had apparently been lost when their compound was destroyed.
He'd also been notified that most antiquities sales that happened in the open markets were handled by Syndicate brokers, who had been known to find ways to fail to pay a seller, and also manufacture forgeries, which were often used to get hold of and retain the real items, due to attempting to devalue the mysticism of Uzushiogakure, which made him understand why they were held in trust.
However, he didn't care how mystical or magical Uzushiogakure was for the Guild right now, he'd have sold the master-crafted attire of an Uzu Enforcer, or other rare item with a good providence, if it would get him out of the pit he'd got himself into over affording the one mandated slave that he needed to continue as a Master of Konohagakure. He knew the regulations as much as any other Potential.
Before he could take on the mantle of Trainee Master, he had to have a processed, valid and pre-paid purchase order out on at least one slave by the end of the week to present to the Guild representatives as proof of his Master's Credentials. In fact, He only had that one week left before the deadline on his final opportunity lapsed, and he was rotated into the slave market.
"Where the hell am I meant to get half a million ryo? I have the basement to get up to current regulations, but even the cheapest slaves are six figure… Wait. The cheapest slaves, The cheapest…" He began, then thought about something, going to his examination book, and opening it to a certain page, "I knew it. I shouldn't be getting 0 results period, there's always at least one person who puts up the default sales profile… Let's see if GSJ are being their usual selves about checking for it, as in 'not at all'..."
He first entered the digits and a single line from the example listing, frowning as he did indeed get 0 matching results, before he wiped the digits, and asked it to give any value with that line in them. The text was identical… but when he checked the price, it was several times higher than the example listing had. That was why he wasn't finding any slaves in his price bracket!
If the example listing was that high on his terminal... A piece of paper and a calculator allowed him to figure out what the multiplier was, and he quickly worked out what his real price bracket was. He'd need to get this to GSJ. Someone had hacked his terminal!
"Yes, I would like to print out copies for my records, No, I do not want to buy any of these slaves..." Naruto dictated, slipping the papers into a messaging tube, checking the new requirements, ignoring the fact that he was having to deal with a lot of pop-up windows about how he'd have his credential revoked if he even thought about making the bids, finding three names which stood out.
Two of them stood out since they were not much higher than the minimum, short of doing a default listing, value, but had some interesting marks on them, and all three stood out since he could tell they were all clearly pseudonyms.
"Yes, I would like copies for my records again, This time, Yes, I would like to make a bid on these three people… Yes, I know just one of them exceeds my maximum funding amount..." He continued, "Upon completing this… I know, I know, If I'm wrong, I'll find the money, or GSJ will come banging at my door and have me up on charges… Thank you for your business… Screw you too!"
He then made copies of the stack of papers, slipping the copies into a second messaging tube, this one marked with a GSJ tag, which likely would dump it right in Ibiki's lap, both tubes including a message apologizing if he made abnormally large bids, giving his actual planned bid for each, carefully calculated, as well as a request to get back to him when they figure out who was sending inflated prices to his terminal.
Sending the normal messaging tube to Sarutobi, along with the GSJ tube to wherever it went, he headed off to get something to eat, as well as to pat himself on the back for figuring out why he couldn't afford a thing. Unknown to him, those two stacks of paper and the messages with them had, inadvertently, saved his life and saved the entire Elemental Nations from ruin...
Chapter 3: Only One Truth Prevails
Obviously, Naruto can't exactly do a ninja arts proficiency test if there is little use for combat arts in the world of Collared, so instead he has to have ownership papers for a slave that he can train as he himself learns the ropes, gags and other fun things. And this chapter will explain why Naruto's terminal was sabotaged, and yes, It involves Mizuki. Of course, unlike canon, Naruto pretty much already started the investigation that reveals Mizuki...
Mizuki smirked as he looked over at the map of the network of Konohagakure on his wall, ignoring the green and red lights, looking for an LED going yellow, which would indicate Naruto had, as far as he knew, logged off. He smirked as he saw it, smiling even wider as his terminal printed out 'UZUMAKI, NARUTO', along with his terminal's decrypted ID number. There was almost no actual security on the terminal, especially when the LED turned yellow, and the Guild-mandated firewalls dropped like tissue paper. Now, he had only a few things to do, then he could leave this hellhole.
"Initiate Phase 1 of full system lockout... Only accept commands from authorized terminals..." He listed out, watching the wall as every single LED went red, as a fault was displayed on all of them at once, which those idiots would see as Naruto bringing down the system, before picking up his phone and hitting speed dial, waiting before stating, "Lady Kaguya, If I am right, One of your kin will be coming home..."
"Mizuki, Mizuki, Mizuki, I do not sense the Ninth Spirit is in your possession, and it is still under Inari's pitiful, loose protection," Kaguya stated, Mizuki swallowing as her voice turned to ice, "Do not waste my time or yours with idle supposition. The last member to do that… thought that my state of perpetual bondage made me helpless..."
There was a pause, followed by chilling laughter. "Please remember, Mizuki… I could have you, ahem, dealt with very quickly if Lord Datara finds your work is inadequate," She finished, the phone going dead.
Mizuki sighed, since he had to hurry. He didn't want any real GSJ investigation getting into that temple. If he'd still been at the apartment, he'd just walk in and 'arrest' him for the brokerage issues, and have him out of there and GSJ declaring him to have defected to the Syndicate. They might find his headless and gutted corpse within a few days of his Beast being transferred to Syndicate ownership. By which time it would be too late. Lady Kaguya would be in communion with them all by the end of the year.
Since he was at the temple, any plans to capture him needed to find a way to get into the grounds without whatever passive protection was on the place kicking in, or for him to believe that he needed to come with them. He couldn't even install the usual method for making a terminal operate as a zombie terminal to the Syndicate ones, since he couldn't even get to the damn thing. So, he'd managed to subvert the latest of Ibiki's infamous security updates, and hopefully, it would bear fruit…
At least before Ibiki changed it again.
Naruto was completely unaware of what Mizuki had just set in motion as Naruto returned to his terminal, binning most of his celebratory ramen cups, his last one half-forgotten as he noticed that the terminal had come out of it's normal desktop screen, showing what looked, at first, like a boilerplate message about the network being under maintenance, followed by a contact number, and telling him the situation would be resolved shortly. Naruto knew for a fact it was nothing of the sort.
Naruto studied the contact number GSJ had provided if he needed assistance, opening the locked safe that had been installed a few weeks back, taking out the box for his dongle and checking the last half of the number matched, confirming that, which verified the error message was a genuine GSJ error message for Naruto Uzumaki, before opening the slim folder inside and checking the rest of the phone number, which was the actual error message, and finding exactly what he'd expected.
"Brokerage Irregularity. All Transactions Within The Past Hour Have Been Frozen," He read out, looking towards the pneumatic tube system, "I should have expected that. I pretty much showed there's a fault on the system..."
He looked outside to see a pair of GSJ Enforcers approaching from one direction, for Mizuki to cut them off from another. "Look, We're just here to check..." One of the Enforcers began, Naruto already having been ready for Ibiki's trained kunoichi.
"Let me guess… He's caused yet another brokerage irregularity… Naruto's infamous for them," Mizuki sighed, holding up his crashed terminal, "Look, Please, let me handle this one, I'm one of his instructors, and I'll get the information to you as soon as I can, since it might be benign, and just the fines talking… We don't want him to get another fine, do we?"
Naruto frowned slightly. There was a reason that they had moved to the fake contact number. It was because the head of GSJ, and one of it's few male operatives, had found that not encrypting the messages meant that a Syndicate induced error was hard to pin down, and Mizuki shouldn't have known that it was specifically a brokerage irregularity. Naruto now knew likely what was going on, his heart pounding in his chest. This wasn't his irregularity.
However, his heart then sank as GSJ seemed to have accepted Mizuki handling the problem. Admittedly, Naruto had sent off the message to both Ibiki and Old Man Sarutobi since he didn't want to deal with GSJ. He couldn't afford the fine for bringing down the network.
"Naruto… Can't you go one night without causing the entire market to go into meltdown?" Mizuki sighed, "You're lucky I was in the area. When my terminal went down, I knew it involved you somehow. No-one else has had as many reports filed against them in the village's history, and with what's happening the end of the week, I suspected you made some bids, your rating with GSJ causing them to post wrong… You did do a server snapshot?"
Naruto sighed. Mizuki had spotted the error, but didn't have the full story. He knew he forgot to send the information packet to someone, and the examination board would need to know about this irregularity as much as GSJ and the Grand Master. Why they'd need the full server snapshot, he didn't know, it was stretching regulations to just give them out, but he guessed they had other things that they needed to cross reference, and needed to check his numbers themselves. And he didn't do server snapshots. They took ages. Admittedly, this was one of the few times anyone could do server snapshots without being flagged by Ibiki…
"Look, I'll be honest. Part of the reason I was in the area was since the board noticed some pretty large bids on a few slaves, several times their list price..." Mizuki began, Naruto sighing. Yep, His bids had gone through on the value the system told him they were, likely half the instructors thought he'd buggered up the system. Again.
"My terminal's output is multiplied several fold… I have the calculations..." Naruto started, for Mizuki to shake his head.
"We need to check the numbers when you made the bids..." Mizuki stated, "Look, I shouldn't tell you this, but there's a switch on the side of the dongle, hit it once, and it will cancel out the error message. It's how they actually get ready to do the snapshots when doing a diagnostic… Well, that is since Ibiki changed the protocols anyway. Do a copy of the data, hard copy if possible, from the market screen, since it will be still be showing the data from when the error happened. Of course, Ibiki will probably remove the switch when he reissues the dongles… but I can't..."
Mizuki then looked thoughtful, before looking towards the Hokage's office in the Academy building, brightening up.
"Sorry, Was thinking how we'd get a hard copy of the last server snapshot that isn't corrupted at short notice, so we can tell GSJ that it was the terminal doing it..." Mizuki mused, "The main backup is in the GSJ building, and they're probably all over that one right now… However, if you can get me the automated server snapshot from Sarutobi's office. It will have dumped the entire server snapshot as soon as the system went down,"
Naruto's face brightened up. If Sarutobi was checking his bids, as he hoped, he'd even have the data out so he'd not need to worry about breaking into the secure storage area. Even if it was life or death, he didn't want to have GSJ down on him for that!
"Look, leave your ID with me, I'll need it to negotiate with GSJ anyway..." Mizuki stated, Naruto handing over his ID, knowing the policies over this kind of investigation all too well, "Meet me near the south exit when you've got the backups. Once the backup is done, don't worry if the light on the dongle flickers odd colours, the server is still down, and it's trying to get updates..."
Naruto then headed off, Mizuki smirking. Naruto had believed him. Admittedly, a lot of people made mistakes when in trouble…
What he didn't think was that Naruto hadn't made as many mistakes as he thought… or that the GSJ Enforcers he'd waved off hadn't been due to his fake error at all...
Sarutobi looked again at the sheaf of papers Naruto had sent him. They were the default listing alright, and they all proved Naruto had a frankly excessive multiplier on his account, that exceeded the maximum mandated by fines and similar, especially without notifications. And Naruto just got fined, and that was the end of it. Possibly, however, they'd be refunding many of those fines, if what he'd seen was right. Any Syndicate or unverified ID card always got a multiplier to try to discourage them from pirating Guild data.
This wasn't an irregularity him or Ibiki had authorised, and matched, almost exactly, the kinds of bids Naruto had apparently made then pulled off the market moments before winning the auctions. He looked over the other three bids Naruto had sent him, and what Naruto actually wanted to bid. With this information, Naruto wouldn't be getting a fine, he'd be getting slaves.
"Contact Guild Financing, tell them that Naruto was given incorrect information about how much he could afford, and give these numbers for how much Naruto is putting up as his maximum bid for these auctions..." Sarutobi stated, handing his secretary the numbers Naruto had worked out and the other printouts. When he got back to his office, the sheaf of papers he'd been looking through, the server snapshot that had caused all this mess, was missing. Taking out an earlier server snapshot, to check a theory, he contacted Ibiki.
"I was about to start checking one of the early reports about Naruto making stupidly overpriced bids, due to information that recently came to light that, if true, puts a new spin on those reports..." Sarutobi declared, Ibiki nodding.
"You and me both, but I doubt that's why you're calling..." Ibiki replied, "Oh yes, Thanks for contacting Guild Financing to put a bee in their ear. We'll be refunding Naruto several million ryo in fines once this has cleared up,"
"Someone removed the server snapshot that, with the evidence in that information he sent, exonerates Naruto from over two thirds of his prank bids..." Sarutobi offered, "In fact, I think that it's a different thing happening at the same time..."
"Well, I'll admit, I'm entering the brokerage data manually on the Guild's main server since I can't access the system… Which is incredibly odd in itself..." Ibiki mused, "Goddammit!"
There was a sound of faster than normal typing.
"I just noticed Naruto's account is the only one online, and It's currently encrypting the market data, hadn't yet sent anything. Cipher is a week old… Yes, definitely a Syndicate cipher program..." Ibiki stated, "Let's see… Stopped the dispatch. Where's Naruto now?… GSJ surveillance is showing him eating at Ichiraku's… That's very odd, he's not got his portable unit, but..."
There was footsteps in the background, followed by the sound of stereo foot stomps as a pair of Enforcers likely were reporting in.
"Master, we were met at the gate by Mizuki. He claimed that it was just another of Naruto's Brokerage Irregularity pranks..." A voice stated in the background.
"Do you remember when we rolled out the new error messaging system?" Ibiki asked the other person, "Congratulations, you pair of numbskulls! You just exposed a Syndicate mole! That's the good news. The bad news? He's got hold of Naruto's ID and just attempted to send our secure database to Amegakure! Now, I want you tracking Naruto and finding where him and Mizuki arranged to meet!"
"Are we fired, sir?" One of the two kunoichi asked.
"It depends on how far he gets before his arrest… You will work with Iruka Umino," Ibiki stated, "Oh yes, classify the Uzumaki boy as an accredited master. How the hell we missed assets that valuable, I don't fucking know… And someone, urgently, change the goddamn default listing from the one printed in the manuals! Whoever didn't tell me about that security risk will be fired! We could have had Syndicate personnel discover the multiplier if they'd noticed it themselves!"
Naruto was completely unaware of the fact he'd set GSJ Commander Morino on the warpath, simply by asking them to review and confirm the bids that he'd hoped to save him from slavery, or quite what he'd actually found with those listings. All he knew was that he was approaching the meeting point for what he thought would be a long process of confirming the data.
What he'd not totally expected was to find that the only thing Mizuki had with him was a lit fire barrel, and the terminal he was using didn't look like Guild issue. His first suspicion was right. Mizuki was bad. And he'd walked right into it. If he didn't go through the entire process, he'd be in even bigger trouble.
"You go through the backup process properly?" Mizuki asked, not needing to know. He wasn't going to keep that data anyway. Ibiki had denied him the full data, damn paranoid bastard, but Naruto had the hardcopy, which would be enough until Danzo did his part. The Syndicate loved old warhorses, they were the easiest to trick into serving their purposes.
"Went from green to yellow, then green again… Pretty much used to it..." Naruto offered, Mizuki smirking at the fact Naruto didn't notice the yellow light, which started the encryption process, removing the multiplier that was added manually by the subverted dongle, "Anyway, Here's my data..."
Mizuki made to look at it. The numbers were as he'd expected, actually being slightly higher. He also had Naruto's academy file, which had the latest copy of a near weekly blind vote done between Sarutobi's advisory council. Every single member of the council had been spiked by Mizuki, in Naruto's name of course, multiple times just to make sure that their opinions of Naruto were less than mud.
The latest one had Sarutobi be ordered to take action urgently or, when the week ended, they would not accept anything Naruto presented except himself bound on the block, and they only accepted Naruto being allowed this one period to make one serious bid on a slave, or they'd devalue him as part of Guild regulations, dropping him out of the Rainbow classification. Admittedly, they were looking at something more precious than Platinum to deal with people like Naruto, who inexplicably had a bankable value potentially in the trillion-yen category… according to the Guild. The Syndicate didn't do mark-up on people like him. They didn't need to. Mizuki was imagining the first billion yen of his cut of the sale.
"Now, I'll need the other data, to compare it, try and figure out the difference..." Mizuki offered, declaring, "We might well solve why you can't buy shit without causing a brokerage error..."
Naruto handed over the other data, feigning confusion as Mizuki checked it over, before tossing the rows of numbers into the fire barrel.
"OK, I'll be honest with you," Mizuki stated, "Those numbers are meaningless right now. I got back from a vote by the council. Unanimously voted to revoke your allowance to be a master, before anything could be verified. They were pissed, and the fact the server snapshot went missing..."
He sighed. "I could tell them anything and they'd not accept it," He stated, shedding a crocodile tear, "I'll need you to strip down and throw your clothes over here. You'll not be needing them ever again. Once, you had a value I couldn't imagine. Now, with the amount of people you've angered, you'll be lucky to be Silver-ranked, and your star rating is likely to be one if you even get ranked..."
Naruto felt betrayed. He didn't take that long in Ichiraku's, and he'd been sure to send verification long before the servers went down. According to Mizuki, he'd gone from a prominent and famous clan member… to someone who was part of a bulk slave transfer with no names given, just a stack of cards checked against chips at the destination.
Naruto looked confused and frightened, Iruka abruptly dropping down and motioning for him to stop.
"I think I've seen enough..." Iruka stated, looking thoughtful, "Naruto, you apparently wiped the market data on the main server, and then, even worse, stole the only viable backup..."
"Yes, which is why he will be going to the slave markets shortly..." Mizuki began, for Iruka to hold up his hand.
"Of course, unfortunately, Ibiki keeps his own backups. Paranoia has it's uses, which is why he's in the job," Iruka continued, "Also, unrelated to his paranoia, he has the root access password, and was able to stop the market data being pulled off the network..."
"It still has Naruto's fingerprints over every single part of it!" Mizuki almost cackled. He was silenced as GSJ Enforcers dropped down, bowing to Iruka and Naruto.
"We apologize for the delay in meeting with you. Thankfully, due to a manufacturing fault, which we fixed in a later terminal revision… and Ibiki has ordered the manufacturer to unfix..." The head Enforcer stated, "We were able to confirm that there is a genuine and long-term brokerage irregularity with your data, and wish to state that several million ryo has been credited to your account due to discovery that almost all your inflated bids matched the values the terminal was outputting, The council, upon this new evidence, that some of your irregular bids were due to you not having a clue what you were bidding in reality, overturned their vote."
"Due to this, you have been able to afford, with a sizeable margin, the bids you made and..." Their assistant stated, "Right now, are looking at three slaves, mere days before the cut off."
As Mizuki was knocked out and subdued, the two GSJ operatives sat down on a rock, looking round before masks were removed. They looked cute, not as much as the Hyuga, but not bad either.
"Here's what Mizuki wasn't going to tell you..." The head operative stated, "Every day, on your birthday, for 12 hours, someone caused every high-value auction to fail due to an excessively large bid that was withdrawn moments before the deal closed, effectively leaving the slaves unsold, and forcing resubmission, which often is expensive for all parties..."
"The council painted it as that you were showing your contempt for people who referred to you as Syndicate Property, and attempted to list you every time on your birthday..." The other operative stated, "They never learn. Any auction over a billion ryo on that date gets cancelled on principle."
"Also, every single member of the Guild council for Konohagakure had an, at that time, unknown Syndicate operative who would take over one of their major billion-ryo auctions and bid frivolously, using the same pattern as the auctions that failed during the 12 hours on Naruto's birthday, using Naruto's terminal," The first one continued, "As a result, the entire council were happy to approve your master's credentials getting snapped. When it was found both that the bids, while processed by his terminal, showed that they were submitted through the dongle, and that the only time Naruto did make wonky bids like that was on his birthday..."
"Yeah. I'll admit to that," Naruto admitted sheepishly.
"Continuing on, they wanted the person who DID make those bad bids in irons and stripped of their rank immediately," They finished.
"Unfortunately, your terminal and ID card both will need to be seized as part of the evidence for your exoneration..." The second declared, before adding, almost as an aside, "You have been issued a new terminal as well as a new portable unit, and your ID and security credentials have been reissued. Please note the number code for your reference."
"Isn't that expensive?" Naruto asked.
"Who says you're the one paying for it. Mizuki likely had a lot of money sloshing about in his account, almost every single Syndicate scumbag has unnaturally deep pockets," Iruka offered, "Naruto, I hope that, before long, you'll have a couple of beauties like the women who are 'entertaining' Mizuki stood as your own personal staff…"
Naruto smiled a crooked smile, the first one since this whole chaos began. He was a Master, he was really a Master… admittedly, Mizuki was a spy, but he still was a Master!
"Before we go, Either of you on the market?" He asked, to get a punch from one of them.
"We might have been if Mizuki hadn't stuck around..." They offered, "You're likely to end up with an Enforcer on your payroll anyway though, since one of us made an epic mistake... But no, we're not on the market."
"Shame. I'd make it worthwhile..." Naruto offered, for the one who punched him to chuckle.
"Prove it, and I'll consider a transfer," She offered, slipping a pair of cards into his pocket.
Chapter 4: Slave One
The first of Naruto's slaves will be revealed here. And Naruto was saved by the fact he proved that his terminal's output was faulty, and this evidence wasn't part of what he stole. Ibiki and Sarutobi were pretty much able to overturn the council vote by token of the fact Naruto had proven he was unable to know when he made a GOOD bid.
I will state that the slight joke at the end of the last chapter, about someone ending up sold to Naruto over the mistake with the default listing wasn't completely in jest. In-universe, It's a known retirement policy for inept Enforcers, that they literally get sold off to pay off the costs for fixing their damn mistakes, usually to whoever was most inconvenienced about the fault. In this case, however, Naruto got a reward for finding the security hole. The first name of the enforcer is a reference to a certain other masochist, who I am glad is deader than disco.
The pseudonyms of all the slaves will tell you exactly who they are long before they appear, being Nao Toyama, Mizuki Nana and Yukari Tamura. If they don't, please go look on Wikipedia or similar. It'll take seconds for two of them, but the third might need a bit more work.
The Hyuga Incident was a particularly bad day for the Hyuga clan, when a group of supposed ambassadors from a nearby region came and were caught about to process the daughter of the clan head as a slave. What the Syndicate members were able to send out publicly was the fact that the Hyuga clan very rarely sold slaves, and all of them were members who were worthless to the clan itself. The reputation of the clan was in tatters, never mind the fact that the Syndicate has been linked to several Hyuga clan members disappearing in the field, only to turn up on the open market.
As a result, the Hyuga clan no longer openly sells slaves, and all Hyuga slaves are immediately sold to Hyuga masters upon their listing being found. It has to be noted that the incident mentioned below involved the same girl who was attempted to be used to expose the Hyuga duplicity.
- The Hyuga Incident, The Hyuga Clan's Darkest Secrets, Himawari Hyuga
The following morning, Naruto walked into what could best be described as bedlam, with several of Ibiki's known staff walking about, and his Mistress of Operations yelling at various people over various things. As soon as she saw him, she rolled her eyes, muttering something about the chance to get to play, before telling him to go sit in the 'nice' chair, her own words, securing him down enough that he didn't get back up, before walking out. When she came back in, she looked positively put out when she had to release him.
"I apologize. Considering that Mizuki had us all fooled over who was really causing all of that trouble, I expected to actually..." She began, for a nearby man to ask her a few questions, then she stepped behind him as he took a card from her, handing it to one of the other GSJ operatives.
"You are the new Mistress Of Operations," He said to the operative, before turning to the former Mistress, "Good news, Junko. You will get to play with Naruto. I expect him up to speed on everything Mizuki failed to teach him. The bad news. Once he's up to speed, you're going to be his property for the foreseeable future. Well, It was on your watch that someone noticed that people actually use the default listing, so you're dismissed from GSJ, effective immediately,"
"Someone get Junko a nice straitjacket and muzzle gag, and secure her there until we are finished..." Naruto stated, pointing to the chair she'd put him in, before whispering, to Ibiki, "I want her, still secured in the chair, delivered to my dungeon. If she's so fond of that chair, she can keep it, and be nice and comfortable for the rest of her life if she so wishes,"
"That will be acceptable. Now, to business. Even without the chaos with Mizuki, A couple of your slaves caused an alert..." The new Mistress Of Operations stated, watching as the former Mistress of Operations was tightly secured down as she opened the first of four files, "Nao apparently had mislabelled her listing… She has waived her right to be relisted at her actual price, and we have respected her wish,"
She then handed Naruto a card from inside, which had her listed name on it, Naruto noticing the gleaming silvery colour of the band across it, before putting the file back with the others and taking the next one. From what he knew, they were normally very expensive. For him to get her for next to nothing... That was definitely a listing error.
"The other slave that caused an alert was Mizuki Nana," He continued, handing him the card, which had a gold band on it, "Once, she had the same pull as Nao, but, well… The nature of that is hers to tell. She admitted to using the name on her file because otherwise she'd have caused a worse alert, since her name is forbidden from appearing on any kind of slave listing..."
Her file joined the first, and then the woman grinned cruelly, as she picked up the third, taking out a card with a grey line on it, and letting the former Mistress look at it pointedly as she struggled in her new 'uniform'. Considering the folder had GSJ identification markings still on it, it wasn't hard to tell why the woman grinned like that.
"The next one is Junko Kogure. She would have made an ideal Enforcer, being a particularly cruel dominatrix, She looks up to Anko Mitarashi, which tells you anything you need to know," She stated, before picking up the final file and handing him the associated card, which had a brown line on it,"And the final slave, Yukari Tamura… We're not really sure who they are, lineage-wise, due to issues with her lineage paperwork, However, She also currently is earning a steady wage in her temporary posting, so we're having to wait on processing her fully, as we figure out the payment pattern,"
'Place your hand on Ibiki's arm. He'll seem to go to sleep, but he'll be back up within a short time,' Naruto heard in his head, Naruto doing so as he accepted Yukari's card, the man waking up shortly afterwards. He then printed out two cards, one marked with a similar strip to Nao, the other with nothing but a rainbow stripe on it, with a black stripe where the name should be.
"The information I was just given will be fully processed shortly. While the situation with these particular slaves is unique, they will be accredited to you as if they were brought in normally," Ibiki stated, "I wish to note that, even with those two slaves excluded, your net worth now exceeds most of the people in Konohagakure, including the Hokage. Please, however, avoid losing any of your slaves. The paperwork will probably be even worse than what was done processing them today..."
"Huh?" Naruto asked, for Ibiki to look at him.
"We'll discuss it another time," He stated, handing him a temporary card which had a rainbow line with no stars on it, a brown line with five stars on it, a silvery line with two stars on it, and a gold line with three stars on it, marked on the lower portion, "Anyway, Mizuki Nana… no relation to a certain… person of interest… will be sent to meet with you as soon as she is available. Once we have cleared up the irregularities, hopefully you will be a few slaves better off…"
Naruto knew what that meant. Nana had a good lineage, and accredited as a three-star slave. However, that made him curious. Who was Mizuki Nana that they had that high a ranking but went under a psuedonym?
A short time later, The latest group of masters and mistresses for Konoha arrived for their official naming as Novices, having put forward for or purchased already at least one slave. Hinata looked round worriedly. She'd noticed bidding going on for her listing shortly after her terminal had deinstalled the update which had locked her out. She was therefore there to keep some people happy, since she had been told she no longer had mistress credentials she could use.
Admittedly, a few people were looking annoyed and tapping the plastic cards that should have been their ticket to owning their own slaves fully, Hinata having got permission to keep hold of what she had bought, along with her expired credentials, so she could look like she was just as annoyed, which was half-true.
"Now, we understand that a few of you have found your terminals won't log you back in, and that you get an 'account not found' message. Due to a major security breach, the servers are down for the near future," Sarutobi stated, "The Guild system did process your escalation properly, and has sent up-to-date market data in to help us through this difficult period…"
"So, Did they toss Naruto on the market for his 'prank'? Everyone knows he's Synd-" Kiba began, for Sarutobi to cough loudly. Hinata sighed. He had to use that word.
"Kiba Inuzuka, You have a sister, right?" Sarutobi stated, firmly, silencing him with the implications of what he could do, "A Syndicate mole had set Naruto's terminal up to do zombie operations, with a check of his terminal logs showing that all his brokerage pranks were actually done when he was not physically logged in. He has changed his password, even though the program doing it was self-contained and had already erased itself..."
"If anyone does want to know my old password, It was, all in lowercase, Ramen, the number 4, then the word Ever in capitals." Naruto declared as he walked in, Hinata's eyes going wide as she noticed he had a positive stack of cards along with his ID. She could see at least two platinum cards, and the Hyuga hadn't been platinum ever since she was, even if she'd not mentioned it to her father, chipped.
"Dobe, What kind of password is that?" Sasuke snapped from where he was stood, "No wonder they were able to hack your terminal!"
"Actually, they used a backdoor of having a modified version of the standard Guild security dongle. Within the next couple of months, your security dongle will be retired, and a new system will be put in place that, hopefully, will be harder to circumvent," Sarutobi stated, looking towards Naruto, and, taking one of the cards, he replaced it with a near-identical one, before letting them look upon it, where, instead of a name, it had nine gold studs, and the normally metallic strip was a rainbow of colours, the mark of Naruto's 'ownership' of the Kyuubi, "We are aware of the cause of Kiba's outburst. Kiba, by the end of the day, I hope that you will have found an appropriate apology for me needing to show that card."
Hinata winced. They hadn't said it outright, but it was semi-common knowledge about the Ninth Beast's connection with Naruto. The Grand Master had been forced to confirm that one of Naruto's potentials is the Ninth Beast, and Kiba would pay for the fact. Probably with Hana's freedom.
"I don't have the time for you, Kiba. Don't push it, or you'll have to tell your family why your sister is chipped and zero-sum traded," Naruto stated, sitting down. Everyone cringed. A Zero-sum trade meant no-one made anything off the sale, and the slave was poison on the markets until they'd worked for their new owner for a few weeks. While they were busy contemplating Kiba's faux-pas, Hinata discreetly looked at Sasuke and Naruto's Potentials.
Sasuke had one, a Potential with a brown line with, surprisingly, five stars, and had not got out the matching Potential card. Something nagged at her about it, but she didn't know what yet. Naruto was shuffling his cards, which meant she couldn't see the names, annoyingly, and he only had a Bronze, a Silver, a Platinum and the known Rainbow line showing on his card. As she was watching, one of the Enforcers walked up to Naruto, whispering something before, surprisingly, taking a seat beside him. Sasuke noticed the encounter, and the light catch one of Naruto's cards, his eyes narrowing before he glanced at his terminal, one of the few visibly working, before abruptly leaving.
"What was that about?" Hinata asked, innocently, not wanting to get her hopes up. She knew she was Bronze or Silver. The Hyuga affair had ruined their reputation.
"I found a trio of slaves with faulty listings..." Naruto stated, holding up one of his cards, "So, I know what a brown line means... No known lineage..."
"Let's revise… Brown line, No known lineage, a slave with no stars and that is practically worthless, listed as Bronze Quality. When someone is blacklisted or sold zero-sum, they automatically end up that... Grey line, is a known lineage which has some rank within the Guild, listings mark it as Silver… Wait..." Hinata stated, the Enforcer wincing as Naruto lifted up one of his cards, reminding her, and letting others know, she was a grey line slave under Naruto, Hinata looking thoughtful, before calling to Ino, "Ino, Isn't Sakura's mother on the Guild board?"
"Yeah… Why?" Ino stated, her eyebrows raising. What had Hinata noticed?
"Sasuke has a BROWN-5 on his card, and nothing else…" Hinata declared, causing a lot of whispering to go around the majority of the girls in the room, before she continued in a lower tone with Naruto, "Gold line is a bloodline with a lot of prestige, and likely is rich and influential off it's own reputation outside the Guild. My clan used to be that, but… Finally, Platinum line, Well… Oh… Oh my..."
The Enforcer's eyebrow raised under her mask, and Naruto looked confused, getting out the card he'd been given by Ibiki after the abrupt trance, with the platinum line alongside the rainbow line.
"Within Konoha, there's two clans, who practically created the village. Members of those clans are the platinum line. The only other clan, currently known, who would get it are the Sarutobi clan, being the literal rulers of Konohagakure. I'm not sure why you'd have a platinum line alongside the rainbow line… Maybe it's..." Hinata continued, both nodding, before she paused, looking at the card, then at the door, "About this one… I can't say it out loud… But that's not their real name. The reason? You're the only member I know of for one of the two clans, the other clan though… Uchiha..."
The Enforcer put her hand to her ear, rapid fire talking into what was clearly a hidden earpiece, and getting very agitated, while Naruto's eyes almost popped, as he looked at the card for Nao. No wonder she was causing a massive fuss within the Guild. According to what was sent out on official channels, Sasuke was the only living Uchiha in the Guild! What were they next going to find out? One of his slaves was a mislabelled Kaguya Otonashi?!
After the slaves had been confirmed, and she'd had her card shredded, Hinata was taken aside and asked if she wished to reveal 'Nana Mizuki' yet, for her to request a delay while she dealt with other more pressing issues, that she had to get this done before the repairs were done, and her mistress credentials were wiped out. Annoyingly, Naruto had confirmed both his brown and silver slaves, and she wasn't either of them...
Naruto opened up his terminal, noting the fact he now was listed as having purchase orders out on three slaves, Naruto getting a quote on the basement work, filling out the information to get his status to read 'Est. Slave Capability: 4/5, Dungeon Capacity: 4/10'. Looking through the listings, he noticed a message from Sarutobi, of all people.
"One of your purchased slaves had master credentials... Reasons were accepted as to why," Sarutobi stated, "Their slaves can be accredited to your account,"
"Accredit them… After the market is online fully again, I'm near capacity for my rank anyway. Continue to show active bidding activity on Mizuki Nana..." Naruto stated back, "I have some things to look into over Nao, but close the bidding on her, and finalize,"
Naruto held all the cards, literally. Mizuki Nana likely had slaves, since Nao would have revealed herself earlier. Sasuke right now was likely telling Nao to delist herself, only for him to find that the listing had already gone into final processing, which meant Sasuke would reveal what he had been hiding just to get her back. Going to bed, he contemplated who the three girls he now owned were, and how he'd make sure they had a good life with him.
Almost as soon as he dropped into a sleeping state however, he found himself in the middle of what was some kind of demented ruin, a whirling, angry malestrom cutting him off from seeing much past the walls and ceiling. Doorways even lead to other rooms, but they were largely collapsed into the ground floor. Finding a rope hanging from the ceiling besides what he presumed were the stairs down, he arrived at the remains of the ground floor, able to see the weed-filled and torn up remains of the gardens through the shattered front door.
Dropping down to the lowest floor through one of the largest gaps in the floor, he found what he had expected, but not in this way. A massive cavern had replaced half of the floor area of the dungeon, where a hasty web of chains held down a massive nine-tailed kitsune. A red haired woman was stood with Junko, observing the chains, looking up as Naruto entered.
"I am sorry about the state of this place. It is meant to be your mindscape, as well as your Master Space. As it is, it is unsuitable for use, and is actually creating problems for you within the physical world..." A girl stated, pointing at the kitsune, "She destroyed it when she was getting out, leaving you to inherit it's ruined remains,"
"So, Is this the seal?" Naruto asked, wincing, the redhaired girl shaking her head, motioning to where there were some shattered caskets, now just twisted husks of metal.
"It is and isn't..." She stated, "That is what is normally used as the seal… They are the depiction of the seal within Master Space, This was used as a more secure method, since she was prone to popping the locks..."
"Can you help me in restoring that, at least?" Naruto asked, "I don't think we need a massive hole in the floor like that..."
"Close your eyes, and I will see what I can do..." The woman offered, the fox shrinking down to a more human state as the area shuddered, layers of rubber and leather wrapping her before the casket reformed around her. When Naruto reopened his eyes, a massive and intimidating casket sat in the place of the shattered central casket.
"I will be using a large portion of your chakra to repair your Master Space, which will mean that you may get tired easier. Admittedly, As long as you don't do any Master's Duels or similar, you shouldn't even notice." She offered, "This is required, since to use Junko's chakra or one of your other slaves would weaken your hold over them,"
Naruto then had a thought, looking towards Junko's depiction, then in the blink of an eye, they found themselves in a new place, a sadist's dungeon with a throne overlooking it. Naruto looked thoughtful, then the casket which held the Ninth Beast appeared on one wall, Junko shuddering as her Enforcer uniform began changing, the red haired woman leading her towards the throne, as her top became a straitjacket, which was layered over by a sleepsack covered in straps...
A short time later, a squirming figure was secured into the throne she'd once used to lord over her dungeon, heavy locks holding her in place.
"Congratulations, Naruto..." The red-haired woman stated, "By doing what you just did, even if you didn't plan to, you transformed Junko's Master Space into the new dungeon of your Master Space… This reinforces your mastery over the little dominatrix, and gives me plenty to use with her..."
Naruto nodded, and allowed himself to fall into his normal dreams as the squirming figure screamed as realisation set in. Later, much later, he'd see what Junko had blessed him with, when he'd repaired more of the chambers…
Chapter 5: Three Little Slaves
Hinata undervalued herself, plus Naruto kept her off his card. Sasuke, egotist that he is, showed all his prospects. As a result, Hinata was able to notice he only had a Bronze quality slave, when he should have had a Gold or Silver quality slave. That he was the one with a 'no name' slave distracted many people from the fact Naruto's card will have every rank possible.
At the same time Naruto was cementing his control over the junior Enforcer, Sasuke walked into a little known and explored part of the Uchiha compound, approaching what was seemingly an over-sized doll house, approaching it's only occupant, who sat under a parasol, dressed in a rubber parody of what the older books referred to as gothic lolita attire. The parasol moved to one side as they looked up from the book they had been apparently reading. That it's pages were blank was none of his business.
"Very clever, listing yourself as Nao Toyama..." He growled, before snapping, "Did you think that I wouldn't find out?! For fuck's sakes, Your ranking told me who it was!"
"What I do and don't do is none of your business..." 'Nao' stated, plucking another fake book from the pile next to her, "Anyway, What is it to you if I did want to get out for a while?"
"Suki, You might have heard that someone purchased you..." He stated, slowly and evenly, taking out a sheet of paper, "Please counter-sign this message stating the listing was in error, due to an incorrectly printed name, accepting the penalty and permitting the refu..."
All Suki did was put down the book, dancing over to him, parasol over one shoulder, until she was looking him directly in the eyes, her eyes twinkling merrily as she answered.
"No." Suki stated with a giggle, before pivoting on one foot as she headed back to her chair, "While I might have made this lovely replica of my Master Space, you keep hold of the keys, I'm worse than the Hyuga in that regard..."
"If you are talking about that shy, near-worthless mess…" Sasuke growled, "As your clan head, I order you to cancel the purchase, and request your delisting!"
"Oh no, I'm talking about the Hyuga clan! Do you want me to be like the Uchiha of old, a Mistress with a collection of gothic attired cuties? Even if that would be a nice thing to have..." Suki asked, tossing her parasol up in the air, before catching it and snapping it shut, "Oh yes, that's it! You want someone like Madara Uchiha or his kin to teach me my true place, as a doll under Syndicate lock and key? That's why you're invoking your 'clan head' status…"
"That is the way of the Uchiha! To be the most powerful clan in the world!" Sasuke snapped, "Our line has never bowed to no-one, we will be masters over all!"
"If that is how you feel, go. Stand at the side of Madara and prostrate yourself in front of the great Kaguya Otonashi!" Suki declared, pausing abruptly, giggling as she stated, "Oh wait, that's it… It's not that I've been sold, You'd never get into such a fuss about that to the stage of risking my reveal by delisting me so publically... It's that it's that boy. The one you won't let me talk to. The one you call... 'Dobe',"
The last word was stated in a flat, deep tone, putting unnecessary weight on it. She then took out another parasol, this one with a very obvious cat's paw pattern, setting it spinning, as she picked out a particular book.
"Of course, that's not all..." She declared, "It's all over Konoha. They know about your little kitten, even if they don't know who she is… You're meant to be some big bad master of all, but you only have Tama-neko, while he has…"
She paused, blinking as her facade slipped due to the shock of what she'd read.
"Shimatta, A full spectrum?! That is impossible. No-one alive can manage that!" She declared, her sing-song attitude dropping as the book, and it's hidden terminal fell to the floor. Sasuke knew what a full spectrum was. A Slave in the categories of Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Rainbow. He picked up her terminal.
"Yukari Tamura, Bronze, Junko Kogure, Silver (Enforcer), Nana Mizuki, Gold, Nao Toyama, Platinum, [Redacted], Platinum (Enforcer), Kurama (Kyuubi), Rainbow (Container)..." He read. Naruto hadn't even been a master a whole week, and he had done, thanks to Suki, the one arrangement of slaves that was called "The Master Of All", or a Full Spectrum. He wasn't sure what was worse.
The fact Suki was relishing the fact she didn't have to obey him?
The fact that someone had leaked out about his true slave's pedigree?
The fact Naruto had, just off his slaves to get his credentials, managed a full spectrum?
He looked towards one of the few books in the doll house that wasn't purely part of the image, with a set of paw prints on the spine, where, on the last page, instead of a paw print, it had a slave ownership card, a unmarked replica used for his accreditation. He needed to take action. Suki was right on one thing. He was losing control. Uchiha didn't lose control, they gained it, and kept it...
Naruto was woken up by Junko, who blushed lightly before going back to her duties, now dressed in priestess robes she'd found in one of the rooms, a rubber undersuit just about visible. He sighed. What he wouldn't give for the mystery Uchiha, as well as his other two potential slaves, waking him up. He looked towards a new sign placed on the wall just across from where he'd look upon awakening, stating, simply, 'Masters Command, Enforcers Control, Slaves Always Obey.'
Naruto knew that simple rule, the bedrock of the unofficial caste system within the Guild. A Master commanded, their Enforcers a controlling force, both organizing the slaves and also dealing with 'wet work'. A poor Master was one who had to get their hands dirty, an expert Enforcer pre-empted when it might happen. Meanwhile, Slaves only had one choice, to obey whatever orders came their way. A bad slave was one who did not understand that, whether a Master or Enforcer gave the command, they did their job. If they had special skills…
There was a reason Enforcers were loyal to only one person's command. Telling Junko to wait for him, he headed for Ichiraku's, sitting down in a partitioned off area, selecting what he wanted with deliberate precision. This wasn't just his breakfast order.
"I'd like a chicken, a beef and a prawn ramen, as well as some salad…" Naruto stated as he sat down, Ayame putting down her order book as he stated the last item.
"People only ever order salad when they want something..." Ayame stated, Naruto nodding. Salad wasn't on the menu officially, but was a very well disguised code phrase for asking Ayame for information. The amount you ordered was code for how much information you wanted, which is why Naruto rarely ordered salad at the same time as his main meal of the day, and he usually tapped the table and showed up to four fingers when he did want a salad order on those cases.
"More seriously, three of each of the ramen, and I need to confirm what's so off about these two slaves. I have a feeling about the pedigree on one," Naruto stated, sliding the cards for Yukari and Mizuki, "Also, Why has Sasuke got a brown slave? He's got the money to afford anyone in the village..."
"OK, Yukari Tamura works at one of the stores, Mizuki Nana recently got promoted back to gold, no-one even told her, and she owns..." Ayame began, for Naruto to cough.
"Owned..." Naruto corrected, "I'll be collecting the card later,"
"Right, owned someone close to her due to clan politics..." Ayame stated, "And Sasuke's slave… An out-of-towner he got FREE. And no, it's not zero-sum. You'd be able to tell,"
Naruto's eyebrow quirked. Sasuke hadn't even bought the slave… meaning...
"Yep, we'll go into it after the usual gossip..." Ayame stated, "Anyway, Sakura Haruno, Gold-5, Mother on the Guild Advisory Board since last year..."
"Don't we know it..." Naruto groused. Sakura had enjoyed when she'd got that gold bar on her guild ID card.
"No-one's bought her, and she's looking at getting a prestige cut and the corresponding price cut as a result. Her parents are not happy…" Ayame stated, "Anyway, Over the out-of-towner, as a last bite, Sasuke entered the listing and got the ID card printed for his slave manually…"
"So, It's not a local sale?" Naruto asked, Ayame nodding as the first part of Naruto's order arrived.
"When Sasuke starts talking slaves, One way to get him to talk is to start talking cats to him back. Anyway, That's one freebie… Hmm..." Ayame mused, "Rumour has it that Tenten, the supply shop clerk… She is adopted..."
Naruto paused in eating, looking confused. What would a…
Oh, She'd just named his Bronze, Tenten, by pointing out a seemingly useless bit of gossip.
"That's not the more interesting thing. She's been doing a lot of experimentation, outside of Guild regulations…" Ayame stated, "Weapons research is highly regulated, after all…"
Naruto nodded. She was of uncertain lineage, and possibly an Enforcer candidate in the future. "And my last piece of gossip, not that I said anything..." Ayame offered, Naruto chuckling, "Hanabi Hyuga did something very naughty, and her sister is willing to give up her greatest wish to hide their collective shame..."
"What would they be ashamed about?... Wait, A gold that... Oh my," Naruto half-asked, feeling full.
"And now the 'salad bar' is closed..." Ayame stated, "Looks like you've probably figured out some of what I told you, but if you dare tell anyone what I said, you know the rules..."
Naruto chuckled, and went about what he needed to do that day, first arriving at the supply store to look in on Tenten, and the first rumour he could follow up on. Upon entering the store, he noticed a girl putting out straitjackets, and frowning at one of them and putting it in a box next to her. Two things stuck out for him. One, they all shared a similar mix of colours, green with black highlights, and secondly, she was looking for something in the lining.
"What's wrong with that one? Looks alright to me..." Naruto stated, even if it was not his ideal colours. He preferred oranges and reds, dammit!
"Someone forgot to wash it after it was used for blind testing… It's soiled stock..." She said, slightly too quickly. Naruto looked at the size of the straitjacket, then noticed something else. A pair of letters that she seemed to be looking for, 'Y. T', which confirmed what he had suspected from his sampling of the salad at Ichiraku's.
"Mind if I help you?" Naruto asked, Tenten shrugging and beckoning for him to give it a shot, "So, the stock that shouldn't have been put out, it's all either green or black?"
"Yeah…" She offered, "Anything that looks right, hand it here and I'll check it for marks…"
Naruto nodded, hitting the jackpot a few items later, as he found 'Y. Tamura' written on a label that had been sewn into the lining of an armbinder, and, as they built up, the items she put aside...
"Seems like these make up an outfit..." Naruto declared in mock-surprise, "So, Who is Yukari Tamura?"
She froze for a split second, long enough for him to pick up and wrap the collar that was in the pile round her neck, a palmed padlock locking it in place.
"Oh my, a perfect fit…" Naruto stated, "So, I bet there's a reason these items are… well used stock…"
"My name's Tenten..." She pleaded, "I don't know anyone named Yukari Tamura!"
"How terrible would it be if the daughter of the supply store was found to be practising self-bondage…" He mused, before smirking, looking at her pointedly, "She'd have to be really careful and make sure no-one associated any of the things she used with her… say, by using a false name..."
He then paused, sliding an item out of his pocket, letting her see the name on it.
"Of course, What would happen if she made a very generic, very basic listing on the slave market, under that pseudonym?" He asked, tapping the card against his chin, "And someone was to find that listing and buy it… Hmm?"
Tenten cursed, as she realised that her false identity as 'Yukari Tamura' had finally been noticed by someone. She then mused to herself that Naruto wasn't that bad on the eyes, and he got his hands dirty with slave work...
"I'll give you one word... Kunai… and everything in that box, since it's not able to be sold in the state it's in..." Tenten stated, handing him the box of items hurriedly, "The next time you come in, We'll talk about that when it happens,"
She then guided him towards the entrance and marked the store as 'Closed'. It was only later that he realized the 'one word' was her safe word… and she'd just gave him her hand-picked slave suit. However, what she'd not confirmed was about her being adopted. Once he got back home, he had Junko put the items in the dungeon's storeroom, and asked her to look into what Tenten's last name was... if anyone knew.
When he arrived in his Master Space that evening, he actually had to go down a set of steps to get into the dungeon, and the doors in the main 'house' were boarded over. Eight hollowed out plinths were spaced across the walls, the sealed bijuu in her casket being between two of them, moved back out of Junko's 'bedroom'.
In the area that had once been a seemingly bottomless cavern now had more conventional restraints, Naruto noticing two gimps, secured on cross-beams, either side of an iron maiden, a hinged panel allowing Naruto to see Tenten's face.
"I discovered this little darling in a secure room in the deepest depths of her psyche," Junko stated, fingering a lever now built into the wall, "She makes such lovely sounds when I pull it… Please can I, Master, Mistress?"
"Every slave has an aspect of themselves so deeply hidden, so tightly secured that only a few have the key..." The red-haired woman stated, "If that was the real version of that, and the lever was pulled… 'Tenten' would not survive for much longer. She has an Enforcer's mind and a masochist's attitude… The safe word she gave you opened up that room, allowed Junko to claim her most darkest of desires… If you were to get the safe word for 'Nao' or 'Mizuki', you could learn their secret..."
Naruto was about to say something when a blond-haired girl, looking like a twin sister, arrived from upstairs, in a rubber maid's uniform.
"Mistress, I have repaired most of the kitchen... Master might actually stop using Ich... i..." She stated, trailing off as she noticed he was there. Naruto intercepted her as she attempted to flee, walking to an empty space in the dungeon, the girl's attire shifting and changing as she gained an arm-binder and leg-binder, as well as a corset, a slightly small rubber sleeve pulling over her as she was secured into a standing frame.
"Oops… I guess you need to not finish then!" Naruto stated to the bundle, "I get intel from Ichiraku's, you stupid slut! It's one of the places with the loosest lips in the village!"
"Naruto! You do not secure my slaves…" The red-haired woman stated, "However, I will not complain in this case…"
"While she has a time-out, Care to explain the 8 plinths?" Naruto asked, as the girl struggled and squirmed, Junko approaching with a paddle.
"You know how a Master's card, rather than a Novice's card like you have now, always has a rainbow line on it?" She offered, taking out one of the cards, her finger covering the name and slave ownership section, Naruto noticing the holographic tape line, which had a single star on it, in what seemed to be the last space, "When you become a Master, you will, by having the Kyuubi inside you, have the ninth star. There's talk of a tenth, the power behind Mistress Kaguya, but that isn't proven outside Syndicate material, and most Masters have obscured the place where it would be as a result."
"So, the rainbow line is indicating a master's dominion over one of the tailed beasts?" Naruto queried, the Mistress nodding, and making the card disappear.
"If you see a card that..." She declared, summoning a copy of Mizuki's card, where there was a hole punched right through the space next to where she had a star, "...has this hole, they're generally Syndicate Masters, who effectively declare that Lady Kaguya has dominion over them, and they will never doubt her role as a Mistress…"
She then created a card, marked 'Kaguya Otonashi' with a star where the hole was.
"The only time you will ever see a card with a star in that position is Kaguya's own card, if she exists and is alive..." The woman finished.
"And if someone was to have a row of ten stars across the middle of their card?" Naruto asked, almost cheekily. She then summoned a copy of Naruto's card, with the pre-requisite stars, and a positive band of gold and platinum below it, as well as a scattering of bronze and silver imperfections, the sign of a very active dungeon.
"If it was something like this one, well, the Syndicate's remit is impossible to carry out..." She stated, changing it into the Lady Kaguya one, which was noticeably bereft of the slave markers, just a band of rainbow tape, "If however, it's her card? Today, the world, tomorrow, all of existence, would bow down to her. Now, tell Junko to stop enjoying my maid. She has work to do!"
Naruto looked thoughtful, thinking about something about how he was known as the fox, and Hinata was, around him, so much a shy, scared... rabbit...
"I think I might know one of the safe words..." Naruto mused, as a key came into being in his hand, "When we find Mizuki Nana, try this key. It is the word 'Usagi'..."
"Why do you suspect that word?" The red-haired woman asked, as there was a soft grinding sound from somewhere.
"I think my third purchase is Hinata Hyuga, and she seems to fancy herself as the rabbit to my fox..." Naruto stated, The red-haired woman looking towards Junko, who disappeared down a side corridor, only to crow out in triumph.
"Mizuki Nana's door is unlocked, Mistress!" Junko declared, "The key worked!"
"Oh my... You really do know your slaves well..." The red-haired woman stated, leading Naruto to a door, to see what looked like the Hyuga compound, complete with their slaves working and Hinata walking amongst them. Naruto grinned, watching her going through the motions.
"Looks very much like a mistress, doesn't she?" The red-haired woman offered, Naruto nodding. They were in. He'd not even needed to ask her safe word, he already knew it.
And right now, he had access to the real Hinata. It was time to hunt some rabbit for supper...
Chapter 6: The Face No-One Sees
The beginning of this occurs concurrently with the end of the previous chapter. Obviously, Hinata, not knowing her slave ranking was put back up, doesn't know she's a gold level slave, so has made some mistakes in judgement...
Hinata moved away from where she'd been watching Naruto, sighing. She'd confirmed her fears. Naruto's unknown slave, the Bronze marked one, was not her. She watched him meet with Tenten, and him figure out her slave name so easily. If she knew the name she'd listed herself by, he'd have made a grand gesture out of it. He was just one colour from the rarest kind of sweep in Mastery, and she wasn't going to be that last slot. When she gave him one word, Hinata muttered 'Usagi' bitterly, aware that Naruto could have turned round, wrapped Tenten up in the contents of that box, and he'd not be in the wrong.
Hinata now knew. She'd lost him. Tenten, Junko or the mystery Uchiha heiress would be the person who would invoke Naruto's authority in the field, and Naruto's higher level card would not have her face next to his. She knew for a fact that, with the disrepute that the Hyuga clan had with the Guild, she couldn't hope to get a decent rank. She had seen her last evaluation, listing her as prone to bouts of severe deference, and her ownership of Hanabi was under investigation. If that fell through, and it looked like it would, she'd be off the main market, and Neji would snap both of them up for only a few ryo, this latest disaster sending her right into Bronze-0 ranking.
"...and that wouldn't be pretty..." She mused, "They don't complain about a Bronze ranked slave turning up in the hospital in ill-fitting equipment, near-death. Neji would be in the perfect place to elevate, and I'd never get out of the hospital..."
It was as bad as when Kumo sent a fake delegation, planning to trade her into Syndicate ownership. The nature of how that was resolved was still a mess. She trudged along, hands deep inside her bunny ear hooded coat. The coat was admittedly good for hiding when she was wearing a gag or bondage mitts. She'd hidden many experiments during the time she'd been observing Naruto. She'd anonymously mail it to Naruto, just so it wouldn't be destroyed. Hopefully, it would find a good owner in the future...
"Mistress, How did it go?" Hanabi asked as she fell into step alongside her. Hinata looked round, confirming that no ears overheard Hanabi's minor slip of the tongue.
"Badly. I wasn't even on his card, and he practically scooped his first confirmed slave off the street," Hinata sighed, slumping, "He has a former GSJ Enforcer as his personal assistant. She will be his right hand, I know it..."
"I highly doubt he found such a perfect slave so easily. You already looked into the records of the slaves within his price range..." Hanabi offered, "None were girls he'd likely meet or be interested in..."
"She is the daughter of the supply shop owner," Hinata offered, "Her listing was nondescript, and I was unaware his daughter was on the market,"
"Never mind that neither of us knew he even had a daughter in the first place…" Hanabi added gravely as they made the turning for the clan compound, before, trying to put some humour into it, "We are not perfect, sister, It's not like we can see and perceive everything..."
Hanabi split off from her, both girls adopting similar, literally, schooled expressions of distaste towards the slave caste members as they walked past them. As Hinata passed Neji, he joined her.
"I just thought I'd let you know… The Guild committee likely will be approaching you about that demotion soon, Hanabi went onto the market a short time ago, but Naruto did you a favour, in that the system is still busy dealing with the backlog of data from before the incident..." Neji stated, "I have also done you a small favour, in that the elders do not know of your transgressions. Be in my chambers, nude, by the end of the week, and they will never find out,"
"I will tell you this for the elders... I am done with that foolishness," Hinata reassured him, "Now, if you do not want me to tell the Elders that a boy born into the slave caste has a master's position, I will assure you that, as far as I am concerned, my dalliance with submission is over, and Hanabi's foolishness will be punished… Do not assume I will allow you to claim my seat, Cousin..."
"And if Naruto was to offer you a place at his side?" Neji stated, noticing her sigh and slump.
"That ship has sailed, Neji..." Hinata stated, slumping, "As I was telling Hanabi, He has found his first slave... Tenten."
Neji froze, cursing. He'd been banking on Hinata and Hanabi, or, if that fell through, Tenten being at his side when the next evaluation. If he didn't want to end up losing his credentials and ending up someone's slave, he needed the Guild to do their job, and strip Hinata's. He'd swoop in and Hiashi would have to negotiate with him to keep from having Neji dictate the future of the Hyuga. The conversation continued, Neither of them noticing Hiashi sighing as he finished eavesdropping. He doubted however this was the end of it. Neji was treading a fine line, and he was about to cross it. And Hiashi would not allow it.
That evening, Hinata entered her Master's Space, going through a practised and routine parade for her own benefit. She arrived dressed in a gorgeous kimono, every bit the heiress of the Hyuga clan, walking through and greeting the faceless figures who worked the gardens, while showing indifference and scorn she practised nightly on these copies of the slave caste, the outer appearance of this drama giving her the appearance of the Clan Heiress.
Once she passed through the doors of the Hyuga Compound's inner walls, however, the kimono was shed along with it's undergarments, and attendants forced her into slightly small rubber clothing, dimpling flesh as she was wrapped up, barely ready for the next item and the next. Words of scorn and hate bit from the attendants as the regal figure who entered vanished under layers upon layers of rubber, each one tighter than the next, until she staggered out of the other end, a thick black cloak draped over her.
If she had looked at her hooded attendant, she would have noticed it was not the one she usually had, or that her guided route was not the same as she had taken so many times before. The other cloaked figure joined her, identically imprisoned, Hanabi being lead also by a different attendant to normal. She only realised something was different when, instead of the shameful cage suspension she had done so many times before, her arms were guided into cuffs, her legs also cuffed as she was effectively suspended in an unknown place.
"Such a shameful display..." An unfamiliar voice purred, "In public, a mistress of almost royal lineage, if we ignore the absolutely massive controversy about a decade ago… But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
A smack struck against her tightly wrapped ass, the unfamiliar woman laughing. "Oh yes, YOU were the one who ruined your clan's reputation, sent them from a potential Platinum grade clan, just off it's high prestige and exemplary training, almost all the way into Bronze class..." The strange voice stated, then as she moved away, as she heard another loud crack, "And then we have your sister, just as much a lady of falsehoods as you are!"
She jolted awake, breathing heavily. She tried to see her garden, to find it locked away from her, only seeing the heavily wrapped and suspended figures, the room around them unseen. Despite her plans, clearly, she had been bought, and now her Master Space was no longer her own. Even worse, she now hung in a mistress's playroom, her true self laid terribly bare. What terrified her more was that this evil woman who had her prisoner…
She had broken past her safe word, using it to lock away both her and her one slave. When she went back to sleep, the taunts and reminders continued, her hands clutching at thin air. She couldn't escape, she couldn't get free. She was no longer paraded and caged in safe, controlled punishment. She was spanked, whipped and flogged, as she was reminded of why Naruto didn't deserve her.
It was even worse, a few days later, when she found herself colliding with Naruto as he studied his terminal, her broken mental defences causing her to slip into old habits, caused by her captivity.
"I'm sorry, Master Uzumaki..." Hinata stated automatically, "It was my fault, and you shouldn't..."
"Mistress Hyuga, It was my fault if anything. I was observing a sale that finalized earlier..." Naruto stated, "You act like a slave with taking the blame so quickly..."
"I apologize, Master Uzumaki..." Hinata tried, finding it hard to get a dominant response out, his presence pulling her in. Trying a subject change, she asked, "I don't see Junko around..."
"I'm trying to figure out one of my slaves… I've figured out three of them, but my gold ranked slave is annoying me..." Naruto grumbled, half to himself, but Hinata blinked. He'd just off-handedly admitted he had a Full Spectrum!
"I thought you had three on your card..." Hinata stated, guessing though the fourth was the one he'd been looking into.
"I think she might be a switch..." Naruto mused, "Must be why I wasn't able to find her earlier..."
"Naruto, Don't joke about switches!" Hinata hissed, "You can't just stumble into a switch! They'd..."
"Oh, that's true. Switches usually stumble into you..." Naruto mused, before whispering, "Well, you sure sound like a switch. I bet it's like with Tenten. You are expected to put up a certain persona..."
Hinata buried herself deeper into her coat, blushing terribly. Why did she have to be so quick to respond submissively? Now her shame was exposed…
Her thoughts were cut off when strong arms wrapped around her, pinning her arms to her sides.
"Mmm… I think I caught a subby bunny..." Naruto whispered, Hinata freezing on the odd inflection in his sentence, and how he'd called her a bunny, or Usagi, "Isn't that right, Mizuki-hime? Are you a subby bunny?"
He knew her safe word, by calling her specifically a 'bunny', and he'd used her listing name! How had he figured both of them out so easily?!
Hinata was soon being carried towards the supply shop, her red face buried in the hooded coat.
"Can you wrap this up in a nice rubber bunny suit for later?" Naruto declared as he placed her on a counter, Hinata squirming as she was rendered unable to escape with a strap harness. Naruto slid up to Tenten as Hinata was placed into a shipping case for later 'packaging'.
"Do you also want me to wrap you up a nice panda?" The shop assistant asked, "If you're taking away wild animals who need a good strong owner..."
"Can we deal with that later? 'Yukari' here likely would look good in black and white rubber, and even better in green and black if she had her way, but I need her to be able to help me with something…" Naruto offered, "When I bring her back, I don't think I'll be able to keep my hands off my new panda…"
Tenten blushed as her father found the right costume, as Naruto took out a familiar pile of green and black leather.
A short time later, Tenten was dressed in the outfit she'd inadvertently hand-picked stood behind Naruto, who was shape-shifted into a convincing Hinata. As she arrived within a couple of blocks of the Hyuga compound, Hanabi fell into step beside her, a very much practised manuever. Tenten was quietly thankful her suit had one-way lenses in the blindfold, a requirement for self-bondage.
"Mistress, I have some worrying news..." Hanabi stated, wringing her hands. Naruto didn't seem surprised in the least. He obviously had been observing the Hyuga more than she expected, or at least had some good intelligence.
"What's happened?" 'Hinata' asked, Tenten surprised at how convincing it was. Outside of the confidence, Naruto made a very good fake for Hinata. She almost wondered if Naruto could do others.
"I need your help in dealing with a problem… My ownership transferred while you were..." Hanabi stated. 'Hinata' nodded, and Tenten mentally thought 'Bingo'. Naruto owned both Hyuga girls somehow, but he didn't want to blow the fact before someone checked the market.
"Have they yet given you shipping instructions?" 'Hinata' asked, "We have time…"
"Not yet…" Hanabi agreed with a nod, "Mistress, if they arrive…"
"I will meet with Father..." 'Hinata' stated, "You keep the slave I loaned company. I want you in your best suit when I get back… I suspect I know who bought you, and if it is who I fear..."
Hiashi looked up as his oldest daughter came in, for her appearance to change into Naruto Uzumaki, causing him to frown. He then looked as Naruto handed him a pair of slave ownership sheets, his frown disappearing. Neji would be so displeased. Within moments, He approached his own terminal, printing off a contract. A more restrictive one had been attempted to be used by Kumo, but this one was done with the correct terms, and with the right clauses in effect.
"Once this is signed, all Hyuga titles and clan holdings belonging to the named slaves are null and void. In exchange, No Hyuga member is allowed to enforce a Master's Duel for their ownership, except as a side-effect of normal village business," Hiashi dictated, Naruto nodding, "However, if they are lost, stolen or killed due to inaction or failure of their new owner, their titles, holdings and assets, including slaves, will be integrated into the Hyuga clan holdings, and he will commit ritual seppuku with his head being put on display,"
"If I make a mistake, I will still accept Hyuga justice for that mistake." Naruto responded slowly, knowing that, with slaves of the calibre he was talking ownership of, these kinds of meetings would become routine. The only reason he wasn't doing one with Sasuke was that the slaves were Platinum ranked, but the clan… was risking Bronze rank, especially with what Sasuke had pulled.
"Did my best have to include a sensory deprivation hood?" Hanabi whimpered in her head, feeling a tug on her leash, as she was lead out of the compound. She stumbled as the leash led her, twisting exquisitely in her bonds to try to keep from overbalancing, adding to her humiliation and helplessness, "And heels as severe as this?"
She didn't include the gag that was wedged snugly between her teeth, the reason she couldn't voice her opinions. Being the Hyuga clan, they had some of the best equipment going, and Hinata always made sure to wrap her well in it. No-one would recognise her, and she barely even knew where she was going, only that she had a feeling it was not Hinata who had met her.
She was unaware of the uproar in the council chamber as the contract was discussed, especially how it denied them any way to reclaim what he had, in their eyes, stolen from their rightful owners, or how she had given Naruto the perfect way to claim her before he could handle the more pressing issues he had...
Once Naruto had dropped off Hanabi and Tenten at the supply shop, He noted Sasuke fall into step beside him. Naruto suspected this was going to be similar to the contract signing he'd just finished.
"Have you seen any wayward dolls?" Sasuke asked, vaguely, "I misplaced one and suspect it might have fallen into your ownership..."
"Not yet..." Naruto responded, adding, as an aside, "Why, Annoyed that I could call in my purchase of her at any time?"
"I'll trade you... Sakura Haruno for my sister..." Sasuke offered, clearly hoping Naruto would call his bluff.
"I think Hinata covered why I won't accept that 'trade'..." Naruto offered, "Sakura was a gold five-star slave, but right now, she's three star, and has just about kept her gold ranking for now… I spotted Sakura's listing on the way here, it's been flagged by GSJ, and I expect she's got fined. She'll be lucky to be that for much longer..."
Naruto paused as Sasuke stiffened, his 'negotiation' ruined in moments. Naruto knew he was bluffing about the trade...
"Tell you what... You can only reveal one slave, What would be the more terrible thing to reveal? Who the unknown girl, your new pet cat, on your card is..." Naruto began. The colour drained from his face.
"What do you know?" Sasuke snapped, terrified suddenly.
"...or do we reveal that your clan's future is in my hands? You reveal your real Master's Slave is, I use Junko, Hinata, Hanabi or Tenten as my Master's Slave, keep your sister deep in my basement where no-one sees her… I have ways to make sure no-one finds out your sister is my Platinum…" Naruto began, realising what kind of control he had right now over his former rival.
He then paused, before continuing, "Or you reveal your sister, and cause one helluva uproar that will keep everyone, fangirl, council, looking my way again, and your slave listing becomes yesterday's news… Yes, Your sister will become a massive bargaining chip if the council manage to find an acceptable loophole to get her from me, but those are the risks…"
Sasuke nodded. He could throw his sister, and Naruto, 'under a wagon' and keep his own reputation safe, or he could reveal that he'd not truly bought his Master's Slave, and she was a girl who he'd collared as a promise from long before he officially started on the Master's path. Sasuke took out a card, handing it Naruto, who read it, 'Tamaki', a cat's paw pattern seemingly walking across the top half of the card.
"Cute," Naruto stated.
"Now, that is..." Sasuke began, his response cut off when a pair of GSJ officers arrived with a request to report to Sarutobi, "We'll finish this later. For now, I'll track down Suki, Leave your other slaves here for now..."
Naruto nodded as he tapped the card against his chin. Whoever Tamaki-neko was, Naruto would keep Sasuke's secret, going on his reactivated terminal and calling up GSJ.
"I need you to locate a listing for me… Tamaki. She's listed as Bronze, no known lineage… OK, As a favour, for what happened with the dongle, put her down as Tamaki Uchiha..." Naruto stated, "I have her card here, Yes. The owner loaned it to me..."
A few moments later, the card was shredded and, a short distance away, Sasuke's eyebrow rose as he was asked to hand over his card, and Tamaki's line became golden, with him looking at her new card. which still retained the unique cat's paw pattern, with her now being listed as an Uchiha with Gold-5 ranking. How had Naruto known why Tamaki was on his card, the fact they were practically married...
Notably, he overheard a nearby kunoichi muttering, 'Sasuke's card had a printing error. He's got a gold slave. That must have been why he left so suddenly... There were a couple of outdated ratings used on the cards for others...'
It meant Naruto had nullified needing to ever tell of his soon to be arriving 'pet cat', since she was now a prominent slave for a equally prominent line. Within minutes, he knew they'd be discussing the fact he had some prominent Guild member's daughter on his card, not thinking the gold ranking wasn't due to that...
He contemplated actually picking up Sakura with how her rating was dropping like a rock, since her rating would be assumed to be Tamaki's.
Chapter 7: Duplicity In Wave
What happened at the end of the last chapter relied on the fact Naruto was the only one who checked Sakura's listing. No-one will ever discover Sasuke's first, and more prominent, slave wasn't Sakura. And, over the course of the story, no-one will actually learn the truth.
Also, this chapter introduces a typical Syndicate operation's public persona.
When Naruto got to the mission office, Sasuke looked at him calculatingly, as Kakashi Hatake and Anko Mitarashi stood with Sakura Haruno, Sasuke accompanied by a figure in a black cloak, clearly not his wayward cat.
"I do appreciate the third option you offered," Sasuke stated, Naruto nodding. They'd reveal nothing, and let the fangirls think what they wanted.
"Ms. Haruno is currently forbidden from being listed on the marketplace due to what amounts to fraud..." Sarutobi stated, deadpan, "No other apprenticeship trial group wanted anything to do with her, so Sasuke, you will be expected to train her until such time as your purchased slave arrives,"
"Sasuke, You will be apprenticed under me," Kakashi stated, "Any pro-Syndicate activity you do will reflect on me, so please avoid it…"
"Naruto, You will be apprenticed under me…" Anko stated, "Are you the reason Sasuke brought a slave under a cloak of shame?"
The 'cloak of shame', effectively a heavy rubber cloak that obscured the identity of the wearer, was something normally used for trading slaves of Bronze slaves who were zero'ed or 1 star level.
"Is the room secure?" Sasuke asked, Sarutobi nodding, before he snapped at Anko, "It's my only remaining relative not suspected of being Syndicate, and I've not yet signed her over to him. It's more my shame than her own that puts her in this cloak,"
Sarutobi whispered something to Sasuke, who left along with Kakashi. When he returned, he handed Naruto a receipt along with the paperwork for Suki, who removed her cloak. Naruto looked her up and down approvingly, accepting her card.
"Nice outfit... I expect you to continue using it," Naruto muttered, before stating, "For now, Grand Master, I will keep Junko on alert for deployment, while Suki, I wish for you to please meet with Higurashi-san and organize the moving of some animals that he's taking care of for me. There should be two rabbits and a panda. Please make sure that they are comfortable,"
Sarutobi nodded, knowing what Naruto wasn't saying outright, Suki putting her cloak back on before leaving. Naruto had noticed the fact that any slave needs were minimal, so had simply told her to be ready for when there were needs for them. And invariably, on any Guild operation, those happened without the masters planning for it.
"Kakashi and Anko will be taking you to investigate a Syndicate cell possibly having formed within Wave country... They have not supplied any of their required payments to the Guild, and there has been nothing imported in the last month..." He continued, "Please leave any Mastery Duels to them, although you will do simulated ones... These will not strictly require a slave..."
Kakashi and Anko accepted a set of black scrolls with white ribbons, Naruto and Sasuke recognising the type. Junko would be sealed into an orange scroll with a green tag by the time Naruto arrived at the gate, and Sakura would be in a blue scroll with black tag by then. It was not ideal to keep slaves on display unless you needed to show them off.
"These are special puppets which have been given the knowledge of a former kunoichi who worked under GSJ," Kakashi stated, Sarutobi checking something before swapping out one of the scrolls, "They are designed to simulate a knock out or kill strike done to the Master or Mistress,"
"If you get a knock out strike, the ribbon will turn green when the puppet dispels," Anko explained, "If the ribbon turns red, you have 'killed' the kunoichi. This will earn you a demerit and fine. We do not operate to kill our opponents. We capture and we control…"
"Naruto, please keep this particular training scroll safe..." Sarutobi stated, slightly sheepishly, the code on Junko's Enforcer identification identical to the code on the scroll, "The former GSJ operative is still active within Konoha's ranks..."
A short time later, Naruto slipped the scroll into Anko's set, now with a green tag, and a comment that 'Junko felt the puppet was inferior', as they stood with a balding man who was clearly drinking himself into forgetfulness. The real Junko was pretending to have a discussion with Sakura nearby, just close enough to overhear everything.
"I'm sorry about my state… Wave has been hit by a bad period of recession…" The man stated. Everyone looked at each other with worry. Recession meant that their local markets weren't pulling in sales as good as they normally did, which meant Syndicate members had subverted the market, similar to what they had planned in Konoha.
"How long has this been going on?" Naruto asked, as he rolled up a message from Higurashi's store that told him he wanted to get to see who the slave was who collected Naruto's things was, but understood the secrecy due to the value.
"At least the last month… I've not been able to afford the labor for the bridge I'm building… I'm worried they might check my accounts..." The man offered, Junko wincing at something about what he said, while Anko nodded slight approval. He'd confirmed that it was an engineered 'recession'. Syndicate members often fabricated reasons to check the accounts of people who were forced to use their services, just to make sure that they'd wrung every ryo they could out of a sale. Practically every area Syndicate had taken root in was bankrupt outside their hidden marketplaces.
Naruto arrived in his Master Space that evening to see that the ground floor of whatever building his Master Space was meant to represent was structurally sound now, the redhead who had met him on his first day the only one there.
"So, Your first mission outside of Konohagakure..." The redhead stated, "The slaves are weeding the garden. Some of them are rather vicious. The weeds, not your slaves. Only one of them is vicious, and she's got an excuse..."
"I disagree…" Naruto stated, as the mental projection of his card gained a pair of platinum lines on it, one with four stars on it, the other with three, as well as a gold line the redhead knew well, as he tapped it against the side of his head.
"Hey, I'm your advisor, nothing more… You are not permitted..." She exclaimed, Naruto shaking his head.
"Is Junko out there, dealing with the weeds?" Naruto asked, the woman nodding, for Naruto to nod right back, "So, You have five minutes to get out there with the rest of my staff, before I treat you like the disobedient whore you apparently want to be seen as!"
Looking out, he watched as Tenten and Hinata fought a particularly hazardous 'weed', which had almost completely mummified a terrified Suki, a cocoon swinging near to her obviously where Junko had gone, the redhead deploying, of all things, chains which she used as rudimentary grapple lines to cross to where her charges were fighting. Even the nine-tailed fox was there, albeit with only one tail, burning whatever plants attempted to grab for her. What he didn't know was who was the gold slave who, apparently, the redhead owned. He knew what she meant though.
She was an echo, somehow, of an Enforcer, the women who stood beside the great masters of legend, who were a mark of superiority. There was a good reason Sarutobi stood with his Enforcers flanking him so often. No slave could own slaves. An Enforcer wasn't a slave. Tenten and maybe Hinata, the latter with some time, could be Enforcers, but whoever the redhead was… She was already one, and her skill in combat with the weed that was mummifying the others showed it clearly. Naruto closed and locked the door before making the plant that was causing them so much trouble to gain spores which made them very sleepy, while making it actively protect the cocoons it had made within a chitlin casing. He was still thinking of ways to stop them as he returned to normal sleep, with the final thing being that it would retreat into the ground and return if they failed to destroy it. He didn't want such a beautiful thing to go to waste.
By the time he went back to exploring his domain, where the plant had been was a pulsating dome of chakra, tendrils leading off it to where the slaves were imprisoned. Already Hinata and Suki were unconscious in the slave bedchambers.
"The Kyuubi suggested you at least change it's punishment configuration… It is too similar to a particularly virulent creature she knows of," The redhead stated as she appeared, drained but conscious enough, "However, you have made your point..."
"I will remove the final stage, at your recommendation. However, I will add that, if you ever were to deal with something so evil, you won't fail to defeat it after several times dealing with the weeds..." Naruto had stated to her, "What is your name?"
"My name is Kushina Uzumaki," She stated, "In my previous life, I was..."
Naruto kept from being surprised. His own mother, now not much older than him, and in an outfit that made him consider incest to not be taboo.
"Who you were is unimportant..." Naruto stated, pausing before he prepared to wake up, "I have no mother. I have never had one. What I see before me is a member of my clan who shall serve me with loyalty..."
"Yes, Lord Uzumaki," Kushina stated, "And if..."
"You are beautiful, Kushina. It would be a sin not to do so... My father was smart to date you, and I do not want to be remiss in his recommendations," Naruto finished, pausing before adding, "Although, I will leave it up to you to make the first offer..."
A few days later, they arrived at the borders of Wave, Naruto's killer weed from Hell having been replanted in a new sub-basement, after they managed to subdue it enough to not end up all quietly thankful for the mental side of the landscape. Junko looked apprehensive next to him, having been summoned once they were outside of Fire Country.
"Something feels off about all of this..." Junko muttered to him, "If I wasn't former GSJ, I'd believe the client. The country has been cut off quite cleanly, and I suspect our information is inadequate. Permission to do deep intel?"
"Granted," Naruto muttered back, "We're being fed a line, and not by Tazuna. He believes what he believes..."
Returning to the present, The only boat to the mainland was crewed by a slim figure in a ragged cloak, who accepted 'two silver coins per head' as the payment, reminding everyone of the ancient legend of the River Styx and it's boatman. The ominous fog didn't help the atmosphere as the boat slid across the water with no visible means of propulsion. Even more eerie, once they had disembarked, the boat vanished as if it had never been there.
"Does this fog seem unnatural to you?" Anko offered, "Keeps anyone from noticing anything on the mainland..."
Naruto and Junko nodded. Once they'd passed through the fog, they arrived within a small village that seemed positively outdated compared to Konoha, Kakashi taking out his terminal and frowning briefly before he closed it up, satisfied.
"No-one's tagged," He observed, before motioning for Sasuke and Sakura to join him in the shadow of a building, while Anko motioned for Naruto to join her watching from a nearby fire escape, to follow up on the paranoia of his tame Enforcer. As they got into their observation point, Kakashi having 'gone on ahead', a group of men arrived with carts that had cages in the back of them. Junko tensed.
A quick check with some GSJ-issue binoculars confirmed Kakashi was nowhere nearby. He'd scanned the people and decided that the village was not at risk when clearly it was, and the fact no-one was chipped was due to the Syndicate not wanting something traceable to be found.
"Please line up with your tribute. You know the rules. You can't provide the money, you provide the merchandise." The lead man stated. Because of a smattering of paranoia, they'd spotted the intrusion.
Over the following hours, several young children were roughly secured in the carts the men arrived with, while those who didn't bring children left several thousand ryo worse off, the man shaking his head as the people jeered about how they'd only been over a couple of days ago.
"Look, we're not the bad guys here. Sales are down, We're not pulling our weight and someone needs to pay… Grand High Master tells us we need several million ryo a week, we get them several million ryo." The men stated, "We'll be back later to let you know how much you filthy lot has earned, but considering the meagre offerings you've been making recently, we'll have another week of larger tributes. We of the Guild thank you for your service!"
"Goddamit… They're forcing them to sell anything they own, including their own children, by making it seem like the guild has a quota..." Naruto snapped, shuddering.
"When actually, the Guild funds itself through the sale of slaves, as well as a small stipend off slave wages," Junko stated, "Sasuke will get about 50% of the wages from whatever Suki does, nice deal for him, for example, and Suki gets about 25% of whatever she earns, while 25% is paid to the Guild. Within about six months, you get that last 25% to assign as you wish, and the portions for Sasuke and Suki get switched over. Most slavers take a small amount, pay the rest back to the guild. Hell, a few months back, the Guild Advisory Board offered to make it 33% each, and make the guild payment mandatory. The Konoha council stated the 50/25/25 split is more than acceptable for the Guild, and the 33% was relegated to only very specific circumstances, known as an All-3, like when their employer is also their home,"
"So, What do you want to do?" Anko stated, "Go to our client, or find out what the hell is really going on?"
"No. Kakashi's hopefully already doing that. I'm going to check the Guild market area, see if there's any evidence there..." Naruto offered, stroking his chin, "Junko, keep an eye out for those fake Guild representatives, see if you can locate their base. You're reporting to Anko for now. You're too obviously Guild, and I need a local who is neither,"
At the same time, the slight figure arrived at a ramshackle hut on the outskirts of the village, knocking to reveal Zabuza, the figure revealing themselves to be Haku, his slave. The boat trick was done using a well-disguised ice boat, the trip too short for the mud layer to wash off and reveal the trick.
"Can you confirm Tazuna brought in some assistance?" Zabuza asked Haku, who nodded.
"Seems to be a training exercise. One slave, a GSJ operative and two teachers, along with two students..." Haku replied, "What do you want doing about them, Master?"
"You know full well what needs doing. Leave their ryo in the usual place, and try to be discreet. The fact they're sending the Guild's secret police with the training exercises now shows someone screwed up. It's not me, and it's not you..." Zabuza stated, before pointing to a bottle, "Also, leave this in the water bottles of Tazuna's workforce... It will cause some mild side-effects which will be mistaken easily for food poisoning, Gato also needs you to get the financial details for him while you're there..."
"Are you sure that we should put this much pressure on him?" Haku asked, "It seems a bit much. He hasn't kept any competent worker on duty for longer than a couple of days. Doesn't Gato want the bridge finished?!"
"He wants it finished, but the way Tazuna is doing it isn't to code, finances don't add up..." Zabuza stated, sighing, "Hell, Gato suspects he's part of why Wave is bringing in much less than it should be. Gato checks his financial information, ensures they work out..."
Haku nodded, understanding. She was a rare All-3 slave, due to how she ended up on the market, her family dead, meaning effectively the only people who could be paid for after-sales were her, the Guild and her owner. Admittedly, that just meant that she got paid less than a regular slave in the long term, but she didn't mind.
She was out of there before Gato entered once more.
"I am not happy with lying to Haku..." Zabuza stated as he noticed the man walk in, "I hope you can prove there's a dispute to be had. Last three bosses I had, turned out they lied, and they lost their heads..."
"How were you lying? I can provide proof that the slaves working there are pocketing a larger amount than they should off their earning from Tazuna, and Tazuna himself hasn't given the Guild any shares..." Gato stated, "Once we have his financial information, we will... correct the shortfall, then let him be. Wave is dying, and something as expensive as building a bridge to nowhere isn't going to earn us the money. Why else would I be having your little ice nymph go round pretending to be the boatkeeper for the River Styx out there if we were within budget?"
"I'll give you that..." Zabuza stated, nodding, "But you sure that he's not paying anything to the Guild? That's illegal..."
Gato knew what Zabuza meant. He had to prove to anyone who wanted proof of cooked books that Tazuna had not retained his share, which was revoked by the employment clauses of the slave charter the Syndicate used, which switched the values, a 33% earning slave earning a straight 50%, the guild taking the rest, or a 25% earning slave earned 33%, with 33% going home, and 33% going to the guild. The bridge was a lucrative opportunity for any new slave.
Gato knew full well that Tazuna didn't employ any of the former, and most of what went back into the community was taken in 'fines'. When he showed the books, his accountant would happily change the numbers so Tazuna apparently declared they were all 33% earners, and had split the money between him, the community and the slave, meaning everyone got part of the Guild's cut.
"Don't you need that money to fund recovering Mist from those who stole it from your kin?" Gato stated, Zabuza sighing, "I got approval to pay you a share of our payments, on the understanding that we paid in full… and we've not been doing so..."
"You are right, Master Gato." Zabuza stated, retiring to his own rooms. Gato sighed. He'd not even made half of what the Syndicate wanted by the end of the month. Once he'd bankrupted Tazuna, with trumped up fines for repayments that weren't needed, he'd prepare for leaving Wave, and finding somewhere which actually could provide slaves that would sell for the bare minimum.
"What do you estimate Haku to be worth?" Gato asked the slim man who stood next to him, a mechanical calculator in his hand, the man tapping out some numbers, before cranking the lever.
"If she'd not had that perfect hyoton, almost nothing. With the bloodline, Gold class, Rank 3 or 4... If we got a representative for Yuki-no-Kuni to verify her pedigree, and give us a more concrete projection, most likely we could solve the shortfall in one go..." The man stated, "I'll contact Doto right away, if you wish…"
"Before you do, ensure that Zabuza has an... accident. Seize his accounts." Gato stated, "We should be able to last out the rest of the month just off reclaiming his share of Haku's pay, as well as his own fees... and when we claim Haku, we take her share as well,"
"Yes, that will bring us back to temporary solvency. I will fabricate a reason for a higher tithe next week," The man stated, cleaning his glasses, "Possibly also turn them against Tazuna. Mighty expensive project, a bridge… And with the information Haku gets us, we can even fabricate him scamming Wave… and then, well, It's not us that will be hated for destroying a community…"
Gato chuckled. No. The Guild would. And that would just bring this region closer to open rebellion...
Chapter 8: Banking On Him, Banking On Her
And now we have the rest of the 'Guild' Operation, and the true Syndicate auctioning system.
Of course Gato's right hand slave would also be an accountant. He's a Syndicate broker. He's always planning how to make more money, and his slave calculates the best ways to ensure the money comes. Of course, they didn't plan for Naruto, who is about to blow the entire operation wide open.
Naruto looked round what had been, once, the slave markets. He recognised the building layouts, and could even identify where various facilities should have been. But there were piles of rubble, burnt out shacks, partial walls and what buildings still stood were covered in anti-Guild graffiti, the main server room hacked open and set alight, Naruto frowning as he looked around inside. There were some signs of burnt equipment, and twisted racks, but far from enough, and the smaller terminals around the market…
He initally thought they were ripped off and smashed, but the maintenance door was unlocked, and showed they'd been unplugged then removed, the ports to the outside lines still seated firmly in the walls, the wires slashed further down the line. Something felt off about all of this. The damage looked like a mob had been through, but no mob would actually carefully unplug it. There would be wires still stuck in the sockets if it had been a mob.
"You won't find any of the staff..." A girl who had walked over offered, "They moved to a new location, after the villagers showed their opinions on the Guild several months back..."
"How so?" Naruto replied, alarm bells going off in his head. Both what he could figure out from rust deposits and the state of the remains, the girl was right, meaning Tazuna's estimate was way off the mark. Admittedly, something this old would normally have GSJ swarming over the area, checking if the infrastructure that remained was solid, and would be expensive as hell.
And Wave didn't have the money for that. So they'd gone with a much cheaper option, which meant that, normally, there would only be the kind of cursory check Kakashi did. And they wondered why the Syndicate was winning...
"Hell if I know..." The girl offered, "I just have seen this before. People almost bankrupt, the Guild facilities smashed up and you even mention the Guild, well… You're lynched more often than not..."
Naruto nodded. This was a girl who had grown up probably in Syndicate owned areas before, moved here for some peace and quiet, and the Syndicate just spread further and swallowed up her new home.
"So, Ever been to an auction?" Naruto asked, "Looks like you've only seen the facilities pulled down…"
"Not the best idea of somewhere for a first date, even if you are pretty cute..." The girl quipped, "Seriously, I haven't had any reason to. It's not my lifestyle..."
"That's my line… But I'm not thinking of a date. I want to show you that the Guild aren't the boogeymen..." Naruto offered, before, considering something, "Although, if you want to make it a date… Hi, My name's Naruto, I come from Konohagakure, and I like girls who can think outside the box..."
"I'm Haku Yuki, I originally came from… Mist," She replied, Naruto hiding his frown at her pause, "I like to live dangerously, so… I know where they do the auctions, but neither of us has a slave..."
"You like to live dangerously..." Naruto contemplated as he smirked, before taking out his terminal, a light strobing over Haku's body for a few seconds, "I have to deal with something. Meet me here tomorrow..."
Haku blushed behind the blue and white rubber kunoichi outfit Naruto had acquired. When asked where from, he simply stated he knew a supplier, and that, when they heard her name, they got it shipped special delivery, and that Naruto had better make it worth it, since the supplier had been GSJ itself.
They soon had arrived at that week's auctions, the man looking as Naruto took out his card, before he waved a wand over Haku's hand, not even looking at the style of her attire.
"OK, Mr. Uzumaki," The attendant stated, "You have been debited the usual 15,000 ryo admission fee. You will be reimbursed if you do not find anything of interest, otherwise, you will have the money debited from your first purchase..."
Haku frowned as they made their way to a private booth area, and Naruto removed her mask, both of them thankful, for different reasons, the rush order from Higurashi had not included an inner gag.
"What's up?" Naruto asked, needing her opinions more than his own suspicions. He was thankful that the mission stipend easily covered that expense, as well as the fact Higurashi, as Tenten's employer, couldn't claim his 50%, so Tenten, Naruto and the Guild all got paid when she did.
"The usual fee? Really?" Haku sighed, "Why would there need to be a fee for attending somewhere that you're almost guaranteed to make them a small fortune anyway? And the amount... That's not pocket change,"
"I will admit, Most of the money goes to the slave or the previous owner, but the Guild always takes a nice big cut..." Naruto offered, "But even then, doesn't happen where I come from. Especially as steep as that. I could buy the terminal for that kind of money..."
They were then summoned to the auction area, Haku's frown deepening at the prices being quoted for the slaves that were being brought out, equally inflated. Once they came out, Naruto approached the man, for him to study something after scanning Naruto's card.
"I'm sorry, but you made an unsuccessful bid on Lot 18, which automatically had you be debited your admission..." He stated, Naruto nodding. Once they were out of the auction area, Haku glared at him.
"How could you take that crap?" Haku growled under her mask, "The bastard fabricated a bid, and likely pocketed the fee. The prices also were ridiculous! What kind of person puts kids that young up for a quarter-mil?"
"Can I have your hand?" Naruto asked, taking out his portable terminal, and placing her hand on a panel built into the back of the screen, "Let's see... No data found."
Haku rooted in the pouches of her outfit, the only concession to pockets she had, before she took out a card, with the symbol for Mist's slave markets, Haku's name and a gold strip with four stars marked on it.
"I would be Brown, Rank 2, but I have an ice-based bloodline ability, which is highly prized outside Snow Country, so I'm listed as Gold-4…" Haku mused, "Admittedly, it would be highly prized within Snow Country as well..."
"I only suggested the blue and white since you have 'Yuki' in your name…" Naruto admitted, "but it's not that, It's that he apparently scanned your hand… I need you to do something though. Run your bloodline through your hair if you can,"
A short time later, Naruto arrived at the viewing pens and discreetly scanning the slaves stood there, who didn't even have the required card. Admittedly, Naruto didn't expect to see any. That Haku had one, but no chip, it was odd, but not unprecedented. Haku's hair, meanwhile, was now an even prettier ice blue.
"Excuse me, but I believe Guild Regulation 4, Subsection 2, Paragraph 4 states that all slaves must have a verified and up-to-date chip to ensure accurate market data 24/7?" Naruto asked one of the men who was patrolling the area, while whispering, "Actually, that paragraph requires that all Enforcers must wear some form of face-concealing headgear at all times, like the mask you have on. I think the real regulations about the chips are in Regulation 25..."
"Oh right..." The man stated, looking at the fact Haku looked rather intimidating and mistakenly believing this was a GSJ probe, stating, all too smoothly, "These slaves haven't yet been put on the market. We'll implant them before the later auction,"
Haku then realized what Naruto had been checking. There was no signs of anything that could be used to implant the chips, and these were slaves ready for sale. Naruto excused himself, and then left, offering for Haku to take a look in her own time.
When Haku came back later, she was thankful for the clothes Naruto had got her as she approached one of the slave market terminals, which went straight to the market data screen without her needing to do anything. That was already highly irregular, especially since the numbers made no sense, unless they did auctions 24/7, and there was no-one on duty.
Breaking into a nearby filing cabinet, she found the standard Guild testing materials, going back to it, and checking a theory, looking under the desk to find a second, almost identical terminal, that was clearly never turned off. Unplugging a set of cables that were plugged into it, she ran the test hand routines on the desk terminal, frowning as they failed, due to having no data connection. Repeating it with the lower terminal, got a 'Check OK. If a slave has this chip, please report to supervisor, this is not a valid chip,'
When she plugged the cables back in, it showed 'Chip Found, ID: TEST OK. Please enter party size,', indicating it had read the test string as a valid ID. The card however, came up with a request about how many people were in the mythical TEST OK's party, while the lower terminal showed, 'Slave transfer approved. Please enter purchase amount...'
Entering the same as when she'd arrived with Naruto, one slave and a master, it showed on the lower screen, as the tickets printed out, 'Purchase successfully processed. If this was a real transaction, 15,000 ryo would be withdrawn from the account,' confirming what she thought. He'd not quite pocketed it, the fake purchase was done as soon as the tickets were bought. A test with different numbers showed, again, it just diligently pretended to pillage TEST_OK's money. It was a fake purchase, nothing to do with tickets.
On the desk, it printed out the tickets she supposedly ordered, and she stamped them void, before considering something. A short time later, she had gone to the nearby bathroom and flushed the poison down the toilet and dropped the bottle out of the window. She'd question Zabuza about what she learned later. She already knew, right now, someone was scamming Wave, and to a very tidy sum.
Slipping into the market area, she went to one of the terminals that people used to process a bid, opening up the terminal to find, again, a gutted computer with an automatic login set up, with the uppermost terminal outputting the data it received, and crediting an unknown account with the unfiltered bids. She then thought back to the 'original' Guild market.
All the computer equipment had been taken, according to what she'd been told months ago, by the angry mob who no longer wanted the market on their doorstep. She now knew. This wasn't a Guild market. This was a complete fake!
She'd not been working in a Guild operation that had hired Zabuza over some accounting errors, She'd been working for the Syndicate!
"It's unfortunate that you noticed this..." She heard Gato state, as a bag pulled down over her head, a zip tie sealing it in place, "Even more annoying, you destroyed that poison Zabuza gave you, as his last request. And I mean 'last'. He had a bad accident. Somewhat like you will…"
"We recovered the bottle, boss. Completely empty..." Another voice stated, "Will put something believable in it for the show tomorrow, just water and food dye, but they'll believe anything,"
Junko frowned as she observed the slavers arriving the following morning. What was even more surprising was the trolley which Gato was on with a girl who was wearing what was clearly Snow Country GSJ Enforcer attire, a quick check of the code showing it was currently issued to a unregistered Enforcer. Anko guessed Naruto had met with whoever it was, and possibly, inadvertently, had her assigned as an out-of-area Enforcer.
"I have found a Syndicate spy! She brought poison into our camp, planning, no doubt, to dispose of you all..." Gato was announcing, "Do not worry. She will be executed for her transgressions..."
Junko headed down to meet with Naruto, who was stood near to where the girl was stood, just within earshot.
"Kinda odd that they'd be saying YOU were Syndicate… Look more like you work for the Guild, specifically GSJ Enforcement," Naruto hissed, "So, what did you see after I left?"
"The ticket system is actually a purchase order… The auction system is faked… It's all fabricated off the... the equipment… they stole months ago…" Haku sobbed, "They even murdered my master…"
"Typical Syndicate trick. You follow the way it's set up to the servers, the money drains down into someone else's coffers, and any accounting errors are blamed on us," Junko stated, taking out an odd narrow V shaped wand, slipping it over Haku's hand, before pressing a switch on it as Naruto handed her the card, "Haku… You sure this is her last name? No wonder you got the outfit you did off your supplier,"
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked, for her to slide the card into the slot on the side of her terminal, Naruto noticing the new card for Haku had a different symbol and a platinum line.
"Let's just say… She's not Mist Country, Not in the slightest…" Junko stated, "I will say that you got her uniform right by accident... Ms. Yuki, You are now Platinum-3, and I'll register you with GSJ Enforcement,"
A few moments later, she added the new platinum line to Naruto's card, and put the device away, before taking an object out of her pocket, and hitting it. Ibiki would want to kill her, but you didn't normally find someone with Yuki in their name outside Snow Country. People with an ice bloodline and that particular naming quirk were all Grand Master Kazahana's personal guard...
"What do you mean?!?" Haku hissed.
"Someone majorly screwed up. Anyway, I need to make a report since someone stole one of Naruto's slaves and attempted to use them in a murder plot..." Junko stated, "Maybe you know them..."
"Am I allowed to point out I was asked to poison Tazuna's staff?" Haku asked.
"Go right ahead," Junko stated, "Well, he is a Guild-licensed contractor… Anything else you want to add to my report?"
Haku was surprisingly talkative for someone who was about to be executed...
A few hours later, as Gato was about to put Haku to the blade, dealing with what had turned into a very nasty situation, when he noticed a pair of GSJ officials approaching.
"What might be the problem?" Gato asked, for them to take hold of Haku's hand, scanning it, as well as checking a set of glyphs on her uniform. Seconds later,Gato found himself being arrested.
"You are wanted for the murder of Zabuza Momochi and for being complicit in the attempted murder of slaves belonging to Tazuna, who was contracted with us to build new trade links after the original ones were..." The first GSJ official stated.
"...blown to kingdom come using limpet mines and dynamite." The second offered as they looked at a datapad.
"I'm sure we won't see anything to do with that while investigating you..." The first one stated, glancing at their own datapad, "Well, That's very interesting... According to this scanner, This matches a trainee Enforcer from Snow Country declared to have gone missing during a guild-mandated investigation of irregularities in slave market data from Wave, who was working undercover with the former Elite Master of Mist Country who you murdered,"
Gato swallowed. He was sure that Haku wasn't chipped! But they'd just found her chip, and scanned it!
A short time later, Haku looked at Naruto in confusion.
"Why did you purchase me?" She asked, "And what's this about me being an Enforcer for Snow Country?"
"Hell if I know on the second part. Leaving that, For years, you've been living a very well crafted lie." Naruto offered, "The Guild are backroom schemers, The Syndicate are some boogeymen that don't really exist, It's perfectly fine to do mercenary work for them as long as you don't ask who you get killed..."
"So how does making me your slave fix that?" Haku asked.
"You will learn..." Naruto offered, "There are a lot of things you don't know about the real world..."
When Haku went to sleep the following night, she was surprised when she found herself being greeted somewhat warmly by a group of people including Naruto.
"Keep your hair like that…" Naruto offered, "Goes well with your new outfit…"
"Where am I?" Haku asked.
"This is what is known as Master Space…" A red-haired girl offered, "I am the first of Naruto's Enforcers, Kushina. I keep the fox over there in check…"
The fox in question growled from behind it's muzzle. "Anyway, Other than that… When I heard you say your family name was Yuki… It wasn't a family I know of, and I know a lot of families…" Kushina offered.
"I was raised in Kiri. My parents were murdered when I turned out to have a bloodline…" Haku stated, "Pretty much all of Kiri's Gold-level slaves were murdered in a Syndicate power play…"
"Kiri… Not somewhere I'd expect to find Ice Release…" A dark-haired girl observed, "The name's Suki, You won't see me much in the real world, and I wouldn't follow me to my mindscape, unless you want to be in something frilly and in blue and white for eternity… Anyway, I'd think you'd be kept securely within Snow Country, not Hidden Mist…"
"Good point…" Kushina mused, "Something's not adding up, especially since her name pretty much has 'Snow' in it… Something about that as a naming convention… Dammit, It'll come to me… I think Junko knows, but she's busy,"
"For now, Haku, make yourself at home. You'll find yourself here whenever you go to sleep…" Naruto stated, going outside, and motioning to where a traditional japanese home was, "There's where the Hyuga girls live… Please be careful you don't bring shame on yourself in there…"
He then pointed to a second compound, similar to the one they were stood in. "There's where Kushina and Kurama live… It's a recreation of her former home, and she won't say how she got trapped here…" Naruto continued, "Nothing surprising. For the first few years of this place existing, Kushina's master space was where we are now,"
He then pointed to a gothic looking manor house. "There's Suki's home. It's usually kept locked tightly, due to some problem with how her Master Space works. As she said, don't follow her in there, it won't let you back out,"
He then finished by stating, "And then we have here, which is my new home. As more people with Master Spaces fully formed arrive in here, there will be more places to go during your evening walks. Hopefully, you'll figure out your own place to belong…"
As he said this, a small campsite appeared just by the house, with a sleeping Zabuza by the fire, his sword embedded in the ground, Haku moving to sit on a stump nearby. Naruto nodded. For a few days, he knew she'd continue her vigil over her master, until the day she came to accept he was gone.
However, both Junko and Kushina had different thoughts about what her final Master Space would be… but both agreed on one thing. It would be eternally winter there...
Chapter 9: A Cold Day In Hell
Sarutobi watched as Naruto and Sasuke arrived back, frowning. They'd both sent completely different reports.
Anko's report had been that Naruto had been investigating the Guild market, recruiting a local girl to help with the investigation and had managed to discover one of the Syndicate's best kept secrets, namely how they disguised the sale and exchange of slaves, meaning GSJ could, much easier recoup the losses, and he'd already sent most of Anko's report to GSJ for dissemination, plus had managed to earn a questionable pedigree girl who seemed to be from Yuki-no-Kuni, despite what the report stated.
Meanwhile, Kakashi's report had been that he'd not seen anything of note happen around Tazuna, there had been nothing unusual to report, having found no signs of slave trading within the village, and finally, almost comically, he'd completed Sasuke's training drills with a 75% stun count. It was so boilerplate, the whole fact Sasuke had failed to register his slave properly and Sakura had ignored Guild policy couldn't be swept under the rug with a glowing report.
Summoning them both to his office, he looked grim-faced as he looked upon Naruto, with Junko and the Snow Country girl beside him, both in typical Enforcer guard position, and Sasuke, who only had Sakura, stood with their trainers.
"Anko, I notice that Naruto's scrolls are still white… Well, except the one with Junko's puppet in it, and I know she destroyed that herself before you set off," Sarutobi stated, "What, pray tell, was more important than the required training drills?"
"Naruto met with an... apparently neutral kunoichi who was working with a mercenary, the unfortunately deceased Zabuza Momochi," Anko stated, "They discovered the methods by which the Syndicate markets fabricate market data, as well as that the Syndicate may well be using deliberate mob mentality to cover for the theft of Guild equipment..."
"That is all... Ibiki is enjoying your report. He also reports that data pulled from the Syndicate market has been most useful," Sarutobi stated, before his face turned shark-like as Kakashi realised, in doing only a cursory scan then moving on, he'd missed the obvious signs.
"Nothing of note, is that right, Kakashi?" He almost growled, "Sakura, What did you do during your time in the field?"
"I helped prepare meals with Tazuna's family. Kakashi, when we arrived, did a standard check, finding no abnormalities," Sakura stated, "We did not go into town, Kakashi felt that staying with the client was our highest priority..."
Sarutobi sighed. Kakashi went with a by-the-book approach, as per policy with an area with a minor Syndicate presence, like the 'month' declaration would have expected... So completely missed anything about the likely entrenched Syndicate presence.
Meanwhile, Naruto and Junko did a typical GSJ probe, checking the markets, finding them likely looted, and traced where the equipment had gone. Within a few weeks, Wave's slave markets would be repaired and they'd begin tracking down those slaves they couldn't find in the market itself. Naruto, since his Enforcer began the probe, would be among those who profited.
"Which one of you do you think I am most angry with?" Sarutobi asked, "While Anko did not complete the training assignment, which can be easily dealt with in an hour at Practice Field 7, Kakashi, You just sat around and guarded someone who didn't need it, while Naruto went right into Syndicate-held territory and exposed some of their methods!"
"I'm sorry, Grand Master!" Kakashi stated, "I was not aware of the extent of the Syndicate operations, and felt that, if it had only been a month, it was unlikely to be entrenched…"
"It was actually closer to six months to a year…" Haku observed, "I was only aware of part of the Syndicate activity myself, having been given falsified, but verifiable, information on the Guild situation within the village…"
Sarutobi steepled his fingers. Oh this was even worse for Kakashi. If he'd just asked the right people, he'd know to use GSJ policies. Naruto, by the simple fact he was being coached by a member of GSJ, had gone for the full nine yards.
"When the slaves give better information than you, You're in trouble…" Sarutobi finished, "The untaxed share of the pay for this mission will go as follows… Sakura, Sasuke, You will be given 10%. Kakashi, you will be unpaid. Haku, You will be paid 20%, Naruto, Anko, you will be paid 25%. GSJ will retain 5% for their services, and the rest will be paid to the Guild."
Kakashi winced. To walk away from a mission with no payment was basically telling him that he'd failed to complete the mission parameters, and others would be paid out of his share for what would have been a follow-up mission. Sasuke winced himself.
An ideal situation would have been 25% for the Masters, and 15% for the trainees, and 10% for their single deployed slave, and any slaves recruited in the field went unpaid, since they had no part in the mission.
Naruto was paid a Master's wage for his successful dismantling of the Syndicate operation, and Anko was paid for the fact she did her job. Haku was paid as an informant and for more than likely 'danger money' for the fact she was working within the Syndicate areas.
Meanwhile, he got paid for completing his training, and that was it. He didn't do the intel mission and what objectives he did were less than perfect. Sakura got paid, because she was, ostensibly, their slave, and completed the one task Kakashi gave them with the requisite skill.
That evening, Haku looked at the rubber white with blue trim dress with mild distaste, before putting it on, Suki reminding her that she'd be stuck in it if she went in her doll house.
"So, she's what that rush order was about… A Yuki-onna… Yuki-no-Kuni normally won't let even one of their ice nymphs out of the country except on diplomatic missions…" Higurashi offered, Haku coming back in with her hair in a short braid at the back, and retaining the blue colour that he'd come to associate with her, Naruto acknowledging her with a simple "We shall be heading towards home…"
Haku followed him, surprised as she arrived at a temple, wincing as her hair turned dark again as soon as she crossed the threshold. One of the 'Hyuga girls' was sweeping the porch of the main temple building as they approached, Haku understanding the outfit, since she had a similar one on. When she arrived in the building proper, it clinched it. All of them were wearing the same outfit.
"Tenten, when you go back to work in the morning, be sure to transfer a generous tip to Higurashi-san's account, non-deductible…" Naruto stated, "You may choose to dress in more comfortable attire, but please retain these outfits for when I want to see you in them,"
The girls scattered, Haku making herself scarce to change into her Yuki-Onna Enforcer attire, Naruto motioning towards an overhanging part of the roof as she was returning.
"Looks about the right size for someone light to sit, and gives a great view of the street…" Naruto stated. An hour later, she was sat in her kunoichi outfit observing the people wandering past, almost a statue carved out of ice, her eyes like ice chips, her lips and hair blue, literally a yuki-onna…
That evening, Sarutobi gathered his Masters into a room, looking at them.
"We will be doing Slave Exhibitions soon, and would like to know your opinions on your trainees…" Sarutobi stated, "Kakashi isn't here due to being on notice for wasting our time, even worse than normal,"
"Naruto is more than capable of completing the Exhibitions, but I was planning on having him head to Yuki-no-Kuni to check up on a rumour we have about one of his slaves…" Anko stated.
"Yes, I am aware of Ms. Yuki. My grandson told me earlier about the really creepy snow sculpture Naruto had watching the temple. He was even more terrified when she jumped down and her camouflage disappeared..." Sarutobi quipped, "And I am aware that Naruto is getting enough slaves to prove himself worthy of becoming Konohagakure's new ace in the hole… He's collecting platinum slaves like most people collect Bronzes."
"Why is Kakashi not here exactly?" Gai asked curiously.
"He's currently in a meeting with GSJ. He basically did the bare minimum for a C-Rank mission, when Naruto, who went on the same mission, managed to up the pay grade of the mission to S-Rank while increasing his slave count..." Sarutobi stated, "Oh yes, and in other news, Mebuki Haruno has been removed from the Board Of Representatives, while her daughter was gifted to Sasuke Uchiha with a rank of Bronze-2,"
Several of them winced. To be given away and demoted that far in standing… Clearly someone screwed up. The fact she was Bronze-2, not Bronze-1 or less, suggested she'd not been completely useless.
Naruto looked up as Ibiki entered his home, looking at the girls, smirking at how Haku had created a polearm made of ice.
"I mean you no harm. Naruto, Please take me into your Master Space..." He stated, Naruto nodding. A short time later, he exchanged some information with one of the Enforcers, and his card gained a three platinum lines on it, one with a single star near the top, one with four stars on it, and the last with three.
"Your… future Enforcer helped correct some errors on your card..." Ibiki stated, pointing to the one with the star near the top, "Later, I hope to replace that with a star on the strip."
Naruto nodded. He knew what Ibiki meant by that. The Rainbow Line. When Sasuke saw Naruto's card, he glared at the three new lines.
"Oh, that's an Enforcer, one of… three I own, including Haku, who is trapped in my Master Space, my beast girl and my Enforcer's maid..." Naruto stated, smirking as he looked towards an annoyed Sakura, "You could have avoided the size of your demotion if you'd just done more than your job!"
"Sakura, We will be out of town for the next few weeks," Sasuke stated, "Please go and pack. Naruto, I thank you for what you did for me,"
"As long as you're back for the Exhibitionals," Naruto stated, waving them off. They were off to pick up Tamaki. Sakura's failure was Sasuke's gain. They'd not think that the brown line was Sakura and the gold Tamaki. And that's how they both liked it.