The castle in front of them was impressive against the snow-capped backdrop: it grew in size and grandeur from its entrance, expanding as it went back until it seamlessly became one with the mountain it neighbored, the stone used becoming whiter and whiter the further back it went. It was not built symmetrically; each tower seemed only to give way to more towers, creating a blossoming effect. The castle was Yukigakure's new pride, a restored ruin that had become a snow lotus at the heart of their village.
Rumors said that Yuki guarded it well. Nikku's eyes, glowing white with the activation of his doujutsu, confirmed this. The castle wouldn't be easy to infiltrate. But no one on the team had thought it would.
Suzume waved her hand in front of his eyes. "Nikkun, your eyes look so creepy when you make them go white like that, do you have to do that?"
Nikku grinded his teeth. "Suzu, stop calling me Nikkun!"
"I'll stop calling you Nikkun when you stop calling me Suzu!"
They glared at each other. Before they could unleash insults, Kyokkou broke them up. "Geesh, would you two give it a rest already? You're going to attract attention if you're so noisy. These transformation techniques won't hold up if any Yuki ninja actually take a good look at us. Nikku, you didn't even bother changing your eye color!"
The white light in Nikku's eyes faded as his doujutsu released, leaving orange in its place. "I hate the transformation technique. I prefer looking like myself, thanks."
Suzume reached around Kyokkou and tugged on Nikku's cheek. "Even when you look so weird?"
The two began fighting again as Kyokkou tried to hold them back. "Tsukiyo," Kyokkou yelled, "can't you get your lazy ass over here and help me with these two crazies?"
Tsukiyo, sitting on a snow dusted rock and rubbing his hands together for warmth, shrugged. "I don't care if they fight. You're only making them louder."
Kyokkou, exasperated, let the two go. They collided into each other headfirst, letting out simultaneous groans as they held their spinning temples.
Nikku rubbed his forehead to ease away the throb of his head. How had he gotten stuck with Suzume? Or any of these three, for that matter?
Nikku already knew the answer, though, and he didn't like dwelling on it. The thought of Konoha's collapse made him feel empty. What had happened to the land of fire that he had grown to call home?
"Jinto... Why do we have to kill this guy again?" Kyokkou asked, reading from the mission scroll they had been assigned. "It says here he's an assistant to the Yukikage. He's not going to be easy to get too."
Nikku snatched the scroll out of Kyokkou's hand. "It doesn't matter why. It's our job to do it. But if you wondering, my guess is that the Hyuuga think he knows something about their clan. I think there's a high level Hyuuga in the Yuki's ranks; if Jinto has found out a secret about he shouldn't know, then the Hyuuga want him gone."
Nikku tucked the scroll away in one of his vest pockets, underneath his leather jacket. He didn't like working with the Hyuuga, but he was scared of them. The power of the Byakugan wasn't one he could currently handle, and if he couldn't fight against it, then he couldn't exactly say no when they asked him to work for them. The price of Konoha's fall.
Tsukiyo approached him. "Do you think the Hyuuga is here?" he asked.
Of the four man squad, Tsukiyo was the least hesitant. Perhaps he didn't fear the Hyuuga, as Nikku did. Perhaps he wanted the opportunity to fight a Hyuuga, the challenge that the clan's power offered. But Nikku didn't think so. For whatever reason, Tsukiyo and his half brother Kyokkou had left Kumogakure after its fall, came to Konoha, and joined the Hyuuga's side- even though Tsukiyo was a Nara. The brother's unclear motivations bothered Nikku. He didn't know these brothers, and he didn't like being paired with people he didn't know.
But he liked Tsukiyo. "I don't think he's here," Nikku answered. "The mission said he wasn't supposed to be. The Yukikage isn't supposed to be here either. That's the point. This is one time when it appears this man- Jinta, the Yukikage's assistant -isn't with the Yukikage, and thus any of the Yukikage's guards. But we've only been guaranteed the Kage's absence until tomorrow. We don't have much time to do any recon."
"But you looked at the layout, didn't you, Nikkun?" asked Suzume.
Dear god she was annoying. It would be a strain to keep his temper in check all mission if he didn't separate himself from her. "My eyes only see heat signatures and chakra affinities. From here, I can get a rough layout of the building, and I can pick out the guards by identifying heat and chakra, but the stone walls are think and the inside is an asymmetrical mess of hallways. I can't get specifics."
"So what's the plan then?" asked Tsukiyo.
They were all looking at Nikku now. Jeez, since when had he become the de facto leader? They were all technically Chuunin here. But even Suzume seemed like she was looking to him to lead.
"The inside courtyard is public. We all get in, separately, and then I launch an assault once inside. If I make it large and flashy enough, they won't suspect its just one ninja. Suzume will use this opportunity to try to sneak into the library- when they realize its just me, they'll know its a ruse, and when they find Suzume, they'll assume the ruse was to cover up stealing scrolls from the library. Tsukiyo and Kyokkou, you two find and kill Jinto. Tsukiyo is on point; if necessary, Kyokkou, hang back and give him time to finish Jinto alone. My job will be to open up as many possible exits from the courtyard as I can. Suzume can take one of these exits, and hopefully lead a contingent of ninja to follow her. That way, even if they discover the assassination, they shouldn't have enough men to pursue you very well. And Suzume can escape easily as long as she keeps her wings hidden until then. By the time she's flying, they won't be able to do anything about it."
"It's a decent plan I guess, but I don't see how you're going to get out," pointed out Kyokkou.
"Yeah, I haven't really thought of a good idea for that yet," Nikku admitted. The others rolled their eyes at him. "I guess when you two escape, you'll just have to blind everyone with a flash of light for me, Kyokkou."
"So now its all on me to make sure you survive?" Kyokkou muttered.
Nikku laughed. "Don't get so mad about it, I'm told that's how teamwork is supposed to be."
His dark humor wasn't well received. "We don't we think of something while we wait here? And shouldn't we have a backup plan or something in case everything goes south?"
Nikku shook his head, heading towards the gate. "No time."
Kyokkou sputtered and followed after him. "What do you mean no time? It's only midday! Aren't we waiting until dark?"
Another head shake. "No, they'll increase the guards in the castle at night. We attack right now."