Chapter 32

It wasn't often that Naruto found himself curious about something like why someone didn't like him. But he's always had the feeling that Temari didn't like him very much. It didn't as much as give him a problem, but amuse him, slightly. She didn't hate him. She wasn't repulsed by his presence, but she still didn't like him. His mind couldn't figure why it was both a curious case and slightly amusing. He'd never bothered to ask, but today he was curious.

It was a good day after all.

''You don't like me that much, do you?'' Naruto asked Temari - who was sitting on his right, inside Gaara's office.

The question didn't come as a surprise to Temari, and she wasn't in the kind of space to deny anything, but she had a kick of being sarcastic about it. Perhaps it was the mood she was that made her give such a response to the blond.

''How did you figure that out?'' Temari said, looking at Naruto with a raised eye brow, yet the sarcasm in her tone couldn't be ignored. No matter how dense a person was, it couldn't be missed. Naruto reasoned even a deaf person would've caught that one.

Naruto looked at Gaara with his head cocked to the side: Gaara stared back. The emperor assumed the Kazekage was amusing himself. ''Who knows?'' Naruto offered as a response to Temari. ''It's not nice to offer such hostility.''

Temari shrugged indifferently. ''It's not like you're going to cut ties with Gaara anyway. Besides, should it really bother you? I thought the great Uzumaki Naruto was a cold-hearted person.''

Naruto's eye brow rose when those words registered into his ears. This was a surprise. He would sugar coat in enough to say it was a lovely surprise. It was quite a bothersome surprise. The amusement he had some moments had now disappeared, replaced a look of indifference and calculating eyes. Temari noticed, and that gave her a chill down her spine.

Perhaps she'd said too much.

''I tolerate a lot of things,'' Naruto said, his eyes piercing through Temari. ''But there are limits. Something can be outrageous and I won't mind. See, I decide the limits. I'm childish that way. The limits are things I don't like. Like now, I say you've gone too far, Temari, and do you know what? I can do something about it.''

''Like what?''

Gaara thought of stopping Temari, but he fell short of saying the words. His beloved sister was a tough person who liked to have her own opinions heard. She wasn't the kind to just take in what was being said with a submissive nod. However, he should have told her to tread carefully when it came to Naruto.

''You are a disrespectful woman, Temari. I don't have a problem people who have strong opinions, but I do mind those who misplace their opinions. Gaara is what he is because of me. I gave him everything, made his father care for him, and I have been supporting this village willingly, and yet you dare speak to me like that?

I just wanted a simple response. You didn't have to be sarcastic about it. I am the Emperor of the Uzumaki Empire. You should remember that, girl. You think I can't do anything? Don't fool yourself. Now, get out of this space so that I can discuss important matters with your brother and how I will punish this transgression,'' Naruto stated, giving Temari a dismissive wave of his right hand.

The blonde woman stared at Naruto.

''But of course I'm just kidding about punishing you,'' Naruto said with a smile. ''Nevertheless, excuse your sister Gaara and please Gaara, until she learns to be grateful and some manners, she must not speak to me again,'' he gave Gaara a hard look. ''Are we clear?''

''Crystal,'' Gaara said without question. ''Temari,'' the Kazekage said looking straight at his sister. What he was telling her was clear as day light. Even though he didn't say a word. It was one of those no nonsense tone that he had used. She just had to do as told.

Temari left the office without another word.

Once his sister had left the office, Gaara looked at Naruto. ''Was it really necessary?'' As far as he could tell, Naruto was just amusing himself with his sister. Perhaps she had been out of line a little, but Naruto could have let it slide.

''Yes,'' Naruto said. ''And I'm serious. I have an image to uphold. If she continues speaking to me in such a manner, she won't show any respect when I'm in the presence of other leaders. For someone in my position, I'm sure you can understand...''

Gaara didn't say he understood. He just sighed. ''Then?''

Naruto raised an eye brow. ''I'm wounded. This is the second time. Must I make an appointment when I come to see my dear friend?''

What was wrong with these children? Now that they have grown up, they think they could handle everything and not need their parents? What's more, he had to send a message before he came to visit? They also have a neck of doing things on their own.

Naruto shook his head. Such trivial thoughts. When did he become such a person?

''I'm a Kage, and you are a King, don't you think we should follow formalities?'' Gaara offered lightly.

''Perhaps,'' Naruto said. ''I was just saying something like that moments ago,'' he added.

Gaara relaxed slightly. He hadn't realized he'd been on the edge a few moments ago. Perhaps it was because he really thought Naruto might do something. He did have a policy of doing something just to see the reaction. He never talked to his sister about her attitude towards the blond, but perhaps it was time that he did so before anything got out of hand.

If things got out of hand, it wouldn't be good for Sunagakure. Gaara was certain of it. Naruto did have a way around things. Perhaps it came with the freedom of being allowed to do whatever he could. So far, there has never been anyone to tell him not to do anything. From a young age, the blond has had the freedom of going wherever he liked, at the time he pleased.

He was almost like a child.

''What is going on in that head of yours?'' Naruto asked the Kazekage who looked to be in deep thought.

Hearing Naruto's question, Gaara shook his head. Not to say nothing was going in his head, but to shake off the thoughts he was having. He did need a clear mind when dealing with this one. ''I just thought you were like a child...'' he offered his honest response.

Naruto coked his head to the right, blinking slightly. ''You may be right. A child will play wherever he wants and will touch whatever if it looks interesting. Without a parent telling the child don't do this, do this, he will do everything good or bad. Reason? Simple, he was never taught...''

''Ironic that the same child still 'grows' up to teach other children what he was never taught and doesn't do...''

Naruto raised an index finger, smiling slightly. ''Knowledge is gained through studying, observations and experiences. I observed parents, and studied it. I merely transferred my observations and studies. Besides, what I have learned is that a man's greatest legacy isn't what dies with him, but his works and what he leaves behind,'' the emperor's smile widened slightly. ''I can be an immoral bastard as I live, but that will die with me. Its not legacy, but the legacy will be what I have left behind.''

Gaara understood it perfectly. Naruto didn't care about what people outside his cycle thought of him. What was important was what those 'close' thought of him. In his eyes, Naruto won't be the immoral person some people see him, but the man who taught him more than his father did and shaped him into a great leader.

Uzu would praise him as its founding king. People may not want to admit it yet, but Naruto had already revolutionized the Elemental Nations. Trains for transportation have become the norm, even for shinobi who were used to running all night. The Grand Games was another spectacle that would change the course of things.

But what about Naruto himself? Did it mean he accepted everything? It couldn't be that he was trying to prove that even someone 'bad' could do good. Light couldn't turn into darkness. Those two didn't mix, yet Naruto seemed to possess both. There had to be a boundary there, right?

''You know you can't play between dark and light forever. Eventually, you'll have to stick to one side. You can't keep betraying both or play in the middle. This world works in mysterious ways and eventually you'll be push,'' Gaara offered the only words he could think of after his thoughts.

''It's a curious thing isn't it?'' Naruto said, still smiling. ''No one is allowed to play the neutral party forever in this world. Many struggle but eventually they fall to one side. Up to so far, I have been able to stay afloat despite the urges. To be honest, I dislike the thought that I will be forced to choose one side one day. Where is the freedom in that? Can't I live as I please?''

''You're applying freedom in the wrong situation,'' Gaara said, his voice raised a bit. The Kazekage quickly put himself in check. ''I wish you could allow me to teach you why we must choose a side in this life that we live,'' the redhead said a bit sadly. ''For someone who taught me so many things, I don't wish to see you resigned to the corruption and finding happiness from outside. If you can't find inner peace and happiness, you'll never change, you'll continue as you are. I'd really hate it if you end your life without finding inner peace.''

''Oh how sweet,'' Naruto said smiling. ''That is the most beautiful thing one has said to me,'' he said. ''Now then, let us get down to business.''

Gaara sighed. It was going to end just like that. He hadn't held any hope in deepening the conversation with the blond, but the dismissal wasn't welcomed. Naruto was the type of person you held an intervention for with the hope of him stopping his drug problems. During the intervention, he would be nodding in agreement offering his thoughts every now and then. But once things were over he would simply say:

'Can any of you lend me 50bucks?' You needn't ask what the money was going to be used for.

''The Grand Games are just around the corner,'' Naruto took out a scroll and handed it to Gaara. ''Possible allies and Intel about them. We have Nations who will be just spectators during the event. Monday to Wednesday. Don't waste the opportunity. I won't be mad if you even prize away some of my allies. What's a world without healthy competition?''

''That is very generous of you...'' Gaara said quietly. ''Reasons?''

''I need your alliance to gain strength. Without it, the Empire will be nothing more than an overpowered nation that needs to be taken down before it gets greedy. You know how that will end,'' Naruto said. ''I'd rather not go that path. Red may be our color, but I don't to bloody the Uzumaki name.''

''Yet you have no problem with it being associated with you…'' Gaara pointed out. Knowing just the kind of person the blond was.

Naruto shrugged, ''My sins are outweighed by the good I do,'' he said. ''You want a peaceful a world as well. I'm offering a way to achieve that.''

A peaceful world. Ah, how so many people desired that? Naruto was trying to sweeten things out. It was as it was. How had missed the days the blond used to sweeten things out to take edge off. Well, he was still not always straight forward. As he would say, where is the fun in just saying things as they are?

Gaara was not afraid of any hidden motives from the Emperor. He trusted him enough to be honest with him. And besides, he really did believe that the blond was indeed trying to attain Nagato's dream.

''I will make use of this list. Thank you,'' Gaara said smiling. ''It really pleases me that we are doing this. You especially. I know that in this road, you will eventually...''

Naruto raised an index finger. ''Gaara, Gaara,'' he said standing up. ''The next time we meet, I will be the Emperor hosting the Grand Games. And you will be the Kazekage.''

''It doesn't mean we have to be hostile...'' Gaara said.

Naruto waved his right hand, giving the redhead a look. ''Do tell your sister next time she will lose one of her ears...'' with that said, the blond disappeared.

Gaara frowned as Temari nervously walked in. ''Perhaps that wasn't the brightest choices...''

''You shouldn't do that Temari. Its unbecoming for someone in your position. Do you really want that to become a habit?''

''I was just curious...''

''Even next time you'll be curious,'' Gaara said firmly. ''Ah, I just hope Naruto isn't serious...''

Temari blinked. ''You mean he could be serious? He wouldn't go that far, would he?''

''Who knows?''

Temari frowned. ''That's not funny Gaara,'' she said in a hardened tone.

''It wasn't meant to be funny,'' Gaara said handing Temari the scroll Naruto gave him. ''Get this to Baki. You heard everything, so you can explain it to him.''


Haku looked around him: he was surrounded just by trees. There was a cold breeze that was washing over his skin with the freshness of nature. His ears could hear the sound of birds chirping and the sound of water flowing. He reasoned it was the water that was making the air around the area cold.

''What is this place?'' Haku asked, Naruto who was standing beside him, and had been the one to bring him to such a place.

''Follow me,'' Naruto said to Haku. The two walked for a minutes under the shades of the trees until they came across a stream of water. ''This is just a branch of the river that passes through this land. I made several branches to stretch out here. This is your land.''

Haku looked up into the sky through the leaves: he could barely see the sky, but it was alright. He enjoyed the natural sense he received from being at this place. It was rather peaceful. Perhaps it was because it wasn't inhabited by humans. People had a tendency to corrupt the atmosphere they breathe with their morals and immorality. But this land had yet to be defiled by anyone.

Haku liked it.

''So this is where my city will be built,'' Haku said, adding a small smile. ''Why did you choose this place specifically?''

''Because its peaceful as you are,'' Naruto said, his eyes staring into the stream of water ahead of him. ''Its name shall be 'A Snow Hidden in Leaves'''

''That's similar to the Village Hidden Amongst Snow,'' Haku pointed out.

''Yes,'' Naruto said. ''Yukigakure. I have already spoken to Princess Koyuki about it and she has given her consent. It is more fitting don't you think?''

Haku smiled, ''Literally,'' He said holding out his right hand; Snow formed out of thin air and begun to swirl above his right hand. ''Thank you. Though, it will be sad leaving Uzu. I've grown fond it and the children.''

His daily life over the past months has been in Uzu, since he stopped moving around with Naruto. He had been regularly interacting with the villagers in Uzu and he'd grown to love them as his people. The children were his favorite as he was teaching them at the academy.

''I imagine so, but this is part of the journey. You'll make new bonds once you finish your city. Perhaps some may relocate to live here as well. I doubt some people would be willing to leave the security and comforts of that land, nonetheless. But who knows?''

As Gaara said, things had a way of working out.

''Neh, Naruto,'' Haku started in a quite tone. ''While you were still leaving in Uzu, you got well with the villagers. They loved you and you showed care for them. Why did you isolate yourself? You could have had the cities build much closer to your castle. That way even civilians could walk to see it...''

Naruto was silent for a few moments. ''It wouldn't have lasted for a long time,'' Naruto said. ''It's best this way. Perhaps we will expand in the near future. Yes, it would be nice to have people passing by the castle. But for now, I'm working. I don't want people.''

Haku sighed. ''These are the very same people you're trying to...'' he shook his head. Figuring it was pointless to continue. ''Does Neji hold some resentment towards you?''

That was a first. Naruto had never even given that a thought and nobody had ever asked him about it. Perhaps Haku was the best person since he has been in regular contact with the Hyuuga since he moved to Uzu weeks ago. Still, that was a good question, yet filled with holes of curiosity. Naruto could bring out an answer though.

''What makes you say that?''

''It's just a feeling,'' he said.

''He might,'' Naruto said. ''I gave him something then took it away. He has been forced to live in hiding because of me. If it hadn't been for my careless actions, he would have been happy in Konoha, giving his all to the Hyuuga clan and his family. But now he has to watch them suffer without being able to do anything. You know what the worst thing is?'' Naruto smiled. ''Like you, with regards to attachments, I taught him to value his family and clan.''

''And here you are working for your clan and family, while he has to watch his like a ghost. Being able to see, feel and understand everything, but can't touch anything,'' Haku smiled sadly. ''That is a sad.''

''I imagine so,'' Naruto said in thought. ''These are just guesses. He hasn't really been too happy to spend much of his time around me. Not that I am complaining. Still, it would be pleasant if he does visit.''

Haku raised an eye brow in curiosity. ''That is a surprise. He is always moving about... Hardly in one place...''

''He is perhaps handling missions for Ajisai and Karin. The former is likely though,'' Naruto said. ''In any case, this is your project. You will lead it. If there is anything you need, talk to Ajisai. Karin has the money. But of course, my door is always open should you require anything.''

''I doubt Karin will be very easy when it comes to money,'' Haku said with a sigh. ''She mostly focuses resources in buying equipment for her work. Because technology is like a rare commodity in some nations, the things she buys are very expensive, and the empire still has to fund the building of three cities...''

''That isn't something that I have to worry about,'' Naruto said indifferently. ''You are in the Council, Duke Yuki. Take it to your fellow Council's and they will see what they will do.''

''You are the Emperor,'' Haku said shaking his head. ''These projects have your stamp. Of course you have to worry about them. Individually, Karin still answers to you as you are the head of the Government. Her membership to the Council has little meaning when she is in her chambers at Uzushiogakure.''

Naruto clasped his hands smiling. ''I never thought of it like this...'' he said. ''Let's go harass her then...''

''What do you mean by that?''

Naruto just smiled, eyes closed. ''Remind her of her place. I didn't even realize that within the government, Ajisai holds a better standing than her. The money she wishes for me to ask is the governments', my government. Come on, it will be fun.''


Karin froze the moment she saw Naruto casually walk into her lab along with Haku. What was he doing here? He wasn't going to be like Orochimaru, was he? She'd disliked working for that snake during those bloody days she was forced to even experiment on humans. Talk about exceeding the boundaries of what is morally right. But now she was under her own roof in her own village, so Naruto couldn't say whatever he liked could he?

''What are you doing here?'' Karin asked, looking from behind a set of two small screens.

''Is this how you greet your king?'' Naruto asked, his eyes moving about the lab. There were a number of machines within. He couldn't even begin to understand what they did. The only science he knew thoroughly was the science of Ninjutsu and Fuinjutsu. Things were like these were a total mystery.

''Since when did you start pulling that card? We have had a pleasant relationship since you appeared in my life years ago,'' Karin said before putting on a thoughtful look on her face. ''I have never thanked you have I? I mean I never thought I'd end up owning things like this and getting so much freedom...''

Naruto ignored Karin's last words and chose to respond on her first question. ''Since you decided that I shouldn't sit in the Empire's Council. I must say, that hurt my feelings...'' Naruto said with a hurt look on his face.

Karin snorted while Haku rolled his eyes, ''Yeah right,'' Karin said. ''Your Majesty, what brought this pleasant visit?''

''That's more like it,'' Naruto said clasping his hands.

Karin frowned - he'd ignored her question. ''You don't have to be like this you know. I mean we just voted you out of the Empire's Council. But there is still the clan Council and you're still part of that one...''

Naruto raised an index finger, ''that may be true, but I'm just a member of clan's Council not the clan head. That mantle falls on you and Nagato. Lately, you've all become independent, so I can't stretch my hands everywhere to get things done,'' the blond looked at Haku. ''Why don't I know about all these?''

Karin blinked. ''What?''

''Why didn't I get a report about such things being built and the purposes as well as costs for all these? I am his Majesty, aren't I?''

''I wasn't aware I had to ask for your permission to do this,'' Karin said. ''If I remember correctly, this is my village...''

''That was never in question, but I'm asking why I was not informed of this? You're not using your allowance for this, but the Empire's money. You're in charge of our money, but I'm still the Emperor. You work for me, Karin. I'm the king, so should you be using my kingdom's money without talking to me first?''

Is this the sort of amusement Aika had spoken about? If it was, it wasn't funny because this was a serious issue. And Karin thought she would get away with it. Technically, Naruto was like her 'boss'. She may control the funds, but they didn't belong to her. They belonged to the Empire and Naruto was the head of the Empire so, she had to report to him.

It was ironic. A Sunday ago she was having him report to the Council, and now she was faced with this. Talk about a messed up structure.

''You're not going to answer me...'' Naruto said. ''Until I get a detailed report in my desk, no more funds will be diverted into your labs. I also expect a detailed report on how the Empire has been doing: I want it in two days as I will be living here because the guests for the Grand Games will be starting to flock in.

Sasori and Deidara may attack the village during the grand Games. Sit with Aika and come up with a strategy on how you'll deal with them. Oh, and dear sister...''

''What, dear brother?'' Karin said with a sweet smile.

''I'm just messing you,'' Naruto said turning away from the redhead. ''Or maybe not... I'll see you in two days...'' that said, he disappeared along with Haku.

Two Days Later


Naruto was sitting inside his former house, behind a small table, traditionally. He'd grown accustomed to the noble tradition that he now felt comfortable having the setting everywhere he went. The only chair that gave him comfort was the throne. While he was doing other things, he preferred being down with his legs folded with a table just closer to him.

He wasn't alone: Aika, Karin, and Ajisai were with him.

''Shouldn't both Guren and Haku be with us?'' Karin asked, feeling as though this wouldn't be a fair field with these people who lived with Naruto. Besides, those two were other high ranking officials of the government.

Naruto waved his hand. ''It isn't necessary,'' he said. ''They are members of the Empire's Council. They aren't involved directly in the running of things –Even as you sit here, you're not a member of the Council, but you're a leader of Uzu and a minister.''

Karin nodded. She wanted someone to back her up, but she decided it wasn't going to be worth it to cause any more troubles by asking too many questions. There were important matters that had to be handled anyway. So it was best to get it over with and get things in order before the Grand Games begin or before the guests start coming into the village at large.

''Aika, you're up first,'' Naruto said to the green haired.

''There isn't much to report. The other villages seem to have nothing planned up that would cause sparks to fly. Deidara and Sasori are the only problem. However, there are measures against that,'' Aika said.

''It would be problematic if they get in the village during the Grand Games,'' Naruto said quietly. ''It would give the idea that we're unable to protect the village and I'd rather not have anyone have such a low opinion of our security,'' he looked at Karin. ''Is there anything more about security I should know?''

Karin suppressed the urge to frown. She didn't set up anything about security. Despite this being her village. ''You designed the villages' security. You should know better how things will play out if those two decide to attack,'' Karin was forced to say.

''That may be true,'' Naruto said a bit seriously. ''But exercise responsibility, Karin. You're more focused on technology rather than the village. If you feel that being leader and doing your research are too much for you. Say so, and I will take back this land. You know how important this place is for the Empire.''

Was he really going to play that card? Karin shook her head. To be honest, she hadn't really been putting much effort into leading the village. She delegated much for the work to Guren and Haku. But both were going to leave soon and that would leave her with a burden to work. She couldn't relinquish control over this village; it would mean selling out her freedom.

''I will pull through somehow,'' Karin said firmly.

Naruto nodded, giving Karin a look that he was being serious and wasn't trying to make things difficult for her but just doing what was necessary as the Emperor. Karin understood by that look. There wasn't anything personal.

''I hope so dear sister,'' Naruto said. ''Ajisai?''

He truly hoped she could pull through. He did understand that taking Uzu away from her would be taking away her freedom, that was why he was giving her the chance to pull it together. Everything may seem fine now, but things would eventually fall apart if she wasn't giving doing enough to manage the village. Uzu was an integral part of the empire and it couldn't be allowed to crumble. That would also mean the fall of the empire as a whole.

A tragedy like that couldn't be allowed to occur. If it did happen, it could lead to an unlikely path and one that would force him to do the extreme. The empire was able to maintain its trade business because of Uzu's buying power and economic stability. If they lost it, all the deals would crumble. Subsequently, the balance he was trying to gain would crumble as well. It was no doubt that other villages would take advantage of the situation to further their own agendas.

''I talked to Pein-sama, and he said he would send some of his men for protection,'' Ajisai said quietly. ''That will mean we will have the necessary security to manage the people within the village during the games. There are a lot of people who will be crossing the bridge and since Uzu doesn't have sufficient man power, this is necessary.''

Naruto nodded, ''Not everyone is friends. So guards will be needed to step up if any group intends to start a fire,'' the blond paused for a moment. ''I wonder if we will accommodate everyone. The streets will surely be full for the duration of the games.''

There were a lot of people expected. It would be mostly civilians making way within the borders of Uzu, but other shinobi will be present. When is it that you usually get villages competing in the same competition not just for Chunins only, but shinobi of all ranks. Most of all, the whole Elemental Nations will be watching.

''We will accommodate everyone. The hotels of the leaders are fully ready and the place for competitors has been prepared,'' Karin said with a small smile. This next part was making her smile. ''The money used for the construction and redecoration will surely be returned. Business will be good. This tournament will surely inject something to our economy.''

''That isn't the only thing that will be good,'' Ajisai stressed the words. ''People will get to know each other. It isn't just shinobi nations who will be coming here. We have invited other nations to be of witness. Even the samurai have accepted the invitation... They won't be competing though...''

''Do they still wish to continue their neutrality in shinobi matters?'' Aika asked. Although she was the chief of Intelligence, that part of the world she never visited because it always secluded itself from shinobi matters.

''Possibly,'' Ajisai responded.

''We will try to get them involved in future events,'' Naruto said. ''Are there any problems I should know? I want the competition to be a master piece. Anything less would be disappointing.''

Karin shook her head. ''No,'' she said. ''The weapons you requested from Kumogakure have been received and the issue of final payments will be made during the games.''

Naruto smiled. ''Excellent,'' he said happily. ''The Entire bridge has to be lit with red and blue lights from tomorrow night. The city has to be shining those colors as well. So make sure you ready your gadgets.''

''Everything has been set,'' Karin said.

Uzu Train Station

The Grand Shinobi Games were soon going to start and the people were already flocking into the village. Around this time, the train carrying the leaders had been scheduled to arrive at the same time so that they could be given the tour around the village altogether instead of one by one. They'd been carried by different trains from their villagers and dropped in Moyagakure.

Ajisai felt a bit nervous. Naruto had given her the task to show everyone around the village as his second in command. Karin would have been suitable for the job as this was her village. She knew it better than she did, but both Naruto and Karin had said the latter wasn't suited for formalities. Her temper and most things about her wouldn't work well.

'Besides, this is a good chance for you to be known as my right hand,' Naruto had added before patting her on the back, wishing her well.

Even so, this wasn't an easy task. Those damn leaders would be surely giving her some looks and their presence was surely going to be difficult to bear with given that they were powerful man and women.

Ajisai let in a long breathe as the royal train stopped at the train station. No sooner than later, the guests would be stepping out and she would be called into action. This was her moment. She'd left Ame with Aika for great things. This was the time to show her mantle.

As the guests stepped out of the train and headed towards her way, Ajisai put on a smile, mustering her courage.

''Welcome to Uzushiogakure,'' Ajisai said with a small bow of her head. ''My name is Ajisai and I will be your guide as I show you around the village before heading to your assigned hotels.''

''Where is the Emperor? Isn't he supposed to be the one to welcome us?''

''This is truly disappointing. For the leader not to show up for such an important meeting.''

Murmurs like that went around the group of leaders. It was obvious that most were not pleased that Naruto wasn't here himself to welcome them. It was seen as either an insult or a lack of respect. Gaara was sure that Naruto had reasons. It couldn't be that he couldn't just make it. Perhaps he just wanted to see the reaction or he was just saving himself for last.

''Who are you?''

''Before that, what authority do you have to be in those shoes? It would've been less insulting if that woman who leads this village was here. It would've been understandable. But now it looks like the emperor has just sent us some chunin to welcome us.''

By now, Ajisai was annoyed. Her expression displayed that annoyance. ''It appears you're misinformed,'' she said bluntly, while smiling. ''Let me re-introduce myself: I am Ajisai, the Prime Minister of the Uzumaki Empire. I am his Majesty's right hand. This woman you speak of reports to me... Now do you still have any complains?''

''This is fine,'' the Yondaime Raikage grumbled impatiently. ''Let us just get to the tour already. I've had a long day and wish to rest a little.''

''I agree with the Raikage,'' Tsunade said, stepping up to take the lead.

''Excellent,'' Ajisai said with a smile. ''We will first go to the stadium were most of the matches will be held during the games...''

The village streets were busting with activities with people looking around the tall buildings within the village. It was the first time Tsunade was setting foot on this place. If she could so say herself, the village was very beautiful. The tall skyscrapers that surrounded the village made for a sight to see. It wasn't something that you saw in other villages.

But what was obvious was that most of the people who were running around the streets were not from here. Tourists possibly. ''A lot of people have come here... How many people does this village have really?''

''Not so much,'' Ajisai said. ''As you can see, there aren't a lot of 'normal' houses around this section. You will find them at the other side of the village. But still you'll find most people here. That is because around most people staying in this towers are from other villages.''

''So the Empire doesn't have much in terms of population,'' Onoki said. ''But all that it has is an economical advantage gained through monopolization.''

''Those are your thoughts, Tsuchikage-dono,'' Ajisai said pleasantly. ''Everyday Uzu registers new citizens. So within a year or two, we will be crowded. Population isn't everything. Besides, we own and control more territory than any of you.''

''Could it be true that you're really trying to buy the Sound?'' someone questioned, upon hearing the last part from Ajisai.

Ajisai clasped her hands, having ignored the question asked. ''We have reached our first,'' she said standing before a monstrous structure so big that none of the Kages had ever seen before.

''What the?''

''Please follow me to the biggest stadium within the Elemental Nations!''


Various leaders of different villages were all gathered in one room, just the leaders. The guard thing was only necessary outside the Uzu. Once inside, they were all put under the protection of the Uzumaki Empire and if anything does happen while on this land, the Empire would take full responsibility. Not everyone had been willing to go that far, but there had been some persuasive skills used and compromises were agreed upon - they would each have one shinobi from their village living with them in the given quarters.

The village was built rather well; Tsunade was willing to admit that. It also had the tallest buildings than any village, aside from Amegakure. The tallest building had been one that was said to be the Headquarters of Uzumaki Corp, followed by UzuTec – the supposed giant in technological research and development in all of the Elemental Nations.

She hadn't expected anything less from Naruto's blue print. He was a genius after all. No one could cast any doubt about his capabilities, and as much as Tsunade wished to loath his existence, this could prove to be something will forever change the face of the Elemental Nations.

Within this room, different leaders of nations who'd competing in the games were gathered. It wasn't just Kages. This was the first time that Tsunade was seeing many leaders gathered in one place with the main idea of -'fair' competition. Over history, when Kages gathered, it had been to do with war and the crumbling balance. But there would be no talk of such matters here.

Allies were going to be made. Gaara was surely not allowing the opportunity pass. Ever since he came here, he'd excused himself from her presence and went over to mingle with the crowd. He'd spoken with the leaders of the so-called small villages and was now talking with the Mizukage.

What had she been doing? Oh well, it didn't matter. She would benefit from whatever friends the Kazekage made.

Since the sake at large, Tsunade helped herself. She was watching her intake though. Just when she thought she was going to have a quiet evening, Onoki walked up to her. She frowned. This wasn't what she wanted.

''Hokage-dono,'' Onoki greeted indifferently. Tsunade just stared. ''I'm being civil here.''

''I can see that,'' Tsunade said, reigning down her rampant thoughts. ''I'd be careful with what I say if I were you. I have a short temper and I'm drinking...''

Onoki shrugged. ''You wouldn't be so careless to assault another Kage,'' he said flatly. ''We may have unresolved issues; I don't want things to reach a boiling point. At this point, war won't do my village good with this empire lurking around...''

Tsunade smiled, ''Yes. He would surely take advantage of the situation. Knowing him, there are no limits to what he can do...''

Naruto was a calculating person. Even Onoki had to know that. If he tried to test his strength with Konoha, Naruto would surely invade Iwagakure or do something about it. Iwagakure had no powerful allies to back it up, and that was a worrying fact. Konoha had allies to cover its back, so she wouldn't worry about much.

''Unfortunately,'' Onoki still managed to say that with a straight face.

''Good thing you know your position,'' Tsunade said, still smiling. ''Then, what do you want?''

Onoki took his time to respond, and even when he did, he seemed forced. The words left through gritted teeth. ''After much consultation with my Council and the Earth Daimyo, I have decided that it will be best for both of us if sit down and try to resolve our issues...''

Tsunade amused herself. ''What issues?'' She said with an oblivious look on her face.

Onoki gave the Godaime Hokage a look that clearly said he wasn't one with patience. But before he could say anything, Tsunade put on a smile. ''As long as you're willing to meet my demands, we can talk...''

''Just know that I can still refuse any demands you say,'' Onoki said. He wasn't going to accept everything because he could find himself in a bad state. Iwagakure was still capable of protecting itself even after being attacked by the Akatsuki.

Damned Deidara.

Tsunade shrugged nonchalantly. ''That wouldn't be a problem,'' she said, pointing at finger at Gaara – who was now talking with the Raikage as well as the Mizukage. ''I've got friends... And you don't seem to have any within the great nations.''

Onoki snarled, but kept his thoughts to himself. ''We will talk before the games are over...'' he said walking away.

'Well that went better than expected,' Tsunade thought to herself with a pleased smile on her face.

At least the old man would be forced to admit that Iwagakure had done wrong. Even Onoki could sense that the Elemental Nations were heading to another direction and everyone knew what his village had done - it had taken part in the invasion of Konoha. That was bound to hound him one day if he just allowed it to pass without attempting to fix it.

Waiting had been the correct decision. Now she had all the cards in her hands. No matter how stubborn the old man was, she would get what she wanted. They weren't going to shakes hands and kiss after the talks. It would take time, but at least she wouldn't be looking at him with contempt.

Konoha hadn't been just in its always, so she couldn't remain like that forever.

''You look pleased,'' Gaara said to Tsunade, A and Mei surrounding him. ''Everything went well with the Tsuchikage?''

Tsunade nodded, ''It should,'' she said before turning to her fellow Kages. ''Mizukage-dono, Raika-dono,'' she greeted the two, who responded pleasantly.

''You haven't changed,'' A said to Tsunade. ''Still afraid of blood?''

Tsunade frowned for a second, ''I'm over that,'' she said. ''Still the brute you were back then?''

A merely shrugged.

''You two familiar with each other?'' Mei asked, looking between the two Kages. Judging from the way they were exchanging words, it was obvious that there was some history between the two.

''Somewhat,'' Tsunade said vaguely. She didn't go into details about it.

''You hadn't solved your matters with, Onoki?'' A said, but didn't wait for Tsunade to respond. ''I doubt the Sandaime would've waited this long. But I guess things work better for you this way. Are you going to make Emperor pay as well?''

Tsunade frowned. ''He held out his hands, and said: my hands are clean on the matter. Everyone can testify that I fought with Konoha that day, not against it. If you want to talk to someone, go to Nagato. He was responsible. I pointed that Nagato was under his Empire, he shrugged and said he didn't control the man's actions, and there had been reasons...''

A snorted, ''Sounds just like him,'' he said.

''Had a sparring session with the emperor?'' Gaara said with a raised brow.

A nodded. ''Then? What are you going to do about it?''

''We will figure something out. Nagato will still be talked with. We just want to strengthen our position first,'' Tsunade said. ''It's likely they'd just blame it on the Akatsuki. But that won't hold out through any argument.''

Mei nodded. ''He must know about it as well,'' she said.

She may be allied with Naruto, but she wasn't going to support things that were wrong. She wasn't going to be in line with the idea that you could attack a village and just get away with it. Still, from what she understood from the situation, it wasn't Naruto's desire to attack Konoha, but Nagato's. She wasn't going to say that to the three. What she'd said was enough.

''It is a matter that we will work together to resolve,'' Gaara gave his own thoughts. It wasn't anything that would prove impossible. If he called the Emperor and told him they had to discuss this matter, he would definitely oblige. The resolution to the matter was one to leave for the imagination.

A looked at Gaara and Tsunade for a moment. ''Your villages have certainly put aside the betrayal and have become close again. For an inexperienced Kage and someone so young, its impressive that you've managed to keep things together,'' the Yondaime Raikage stated.

From his tone, it wasn't clear if he was pleased or not.

''Age hardly matters in the shinobi world, and when you're put in a position of responsibility, you try by all means to adapt and do what is best for those you lead,'' Gaara said lightly. ''Holding grudges only stops us from growing further. But when we solve our issues, it becomes easy to work together with an understanding.''

''You're certainly an interesting young man. I wish I had people who were determined as you...'' The Raikage said shaking his head.

Tsunade looked at A with a questioning look. ''I'd thought you'd be quick to brush him aside given his age...'' she said.

''As he said, age hardly matters. He's proven to be capable as a Kage - that is all that matters to me. Of course that doesn't mean I respect him, he's yet to prove himself in the battlefield,'' A said firmly.

Tsunade smiled. ''Of course, only you would say that.''

''What's that supposed to mean?''

It was around that moment that there was a clap of the hands and everyone else looked at the entrance. Naruto had appeared, alone: he wasn't wearing his usual black attire, but a crimson cloak, like a Kage robe. The robe had a visible Uzumaki swirl on his back.

The blond was also wearing a warm smile as he snaked through to the group of leaders and stood on the other side of the room. All eyes had followed him. ''Welcome my fellow leaders. As told earlier during day, I am going to discuss some details about the Grand Games and other issues. Please, if you sit where ever you like. It would be even pleasant if you sit with someone you haven't spoken to before.''

The village leaders made themselves comfortable around the large room. Tables and chairs were just put around and everyone sat where he/she pleased. Once everyone had sat down, Naruto spoke again.

''I must apologize for not being there when you were being given a tour around the village. There was an urgent matter that needed my attention,'' Naruto said, sounding a bit apologetic.

''Are we going to discuss your involvement with the Akatsuki and the fact that they have attacked my village and Konoha as well?'' Onoki questioned in a firm tone.

Naruto did the unthinkable: he ignored Onoki. Tsunade was much more amused than anything. But Onoki wasn't amused by the slap, but he said nothing further.

''This is just so like him,'' Tsunade said quietly.

''Refuses to play to someone's game, huh?'' Gaara said. Whether he shared Tsunade's amusement was up for debate. His expression remained the classic unreadable mask he usually wears.

''But that may just make Onoki furious,'' The Raikage pointed out. ''Well, if he is as smart as he is given credit for, then he must know and has other plans...''

''Most likely,'' Gaara said with a nod. ''I'm sure he will get to it. On his own time,'' he added.

Back with Naruto.

''Rules are a guideline that we must all follow. The rules that have been given and will be given are to be followed, strictly. Participants failing to follow game rules will be expelled from the games, and stripped of any points they've earned for the overall trophy. You are all responsible for the behaviors of your shinobi as leaders.

No one is allowed to be in the streets from 12am to 4am. Uzu will not be responsible should anything happen to them at that time: this is a village rule that you must follow, and have everyone else follow. We will pass the message through all hotels.

There will be no fighting amongst shinobi unless it is within the games competitions. Failure to abide will result in one being kicked out of the village. You kill someone during one of the competitors intentionally, you will be banned for life, and we may decide to take other actions. Those are just the simple rules that must be followed.

Even leaders are supposed to behave themselves. We don't live in a perfect world where we all get along and friends and the like. Some of us hate each other; some of us are holding grudges. But for the sake of the games, please forget about those grudges. I will not be afraid to expel any leader who starts trouble.

What we are trying to promote here is friendship, fair competition and trying to create an environment where we can all laugh and enjoy ourselves watching our shinobi use their skills, not to shed blood, not to make the enemy suffer, but enjoying fighting with no malice in between and for entertainment as well.

I trust you will all go through the manuals you were given,'' Naruto took a pause to let his words sink in. He continued, speaking on a different matter, still about the games. ''Before you all leave this room, you will be informed of the game's structure and how the competitions will be. You can inform your shinobi. Before that, is there any question?''

''What did you mean when you said you will take action if someone kills another shinobi?'' one of the leaders demanded.

''Exactly that,'' Naruto said. ''This is my land. Uzumaki land. If you purposefully kill someone for any reasons, we may decide to throw you in my dungeon for a number of years. Human life is precious. This is something that generations have seemed to forget. Once a life is lost, it is not regained. The taking of another life is evil, and the fact that we shinobi take another life without batting an eye makes it easy for us to pick up our weapons to solve problems.''

''Should you really be saying that?''

''Which part? I'm not known for any killing sprees,'' Naruto said. ''Perhaps you mean the miracle that occurred in Konoha? That was a once thing, and it comes at a cost. Any other question?''

There were no more questions being asked, and so Naruto clasped his hands before began explaining the format of the games and everything they would need to know. He left out only those things that they didn't have to know. They couldn't be told anything about the games. What was necessary was the competition itself and things would may or may not give their shinobi some advantage.

Once Naruto had explained everything, he stood up. ''One more thing: we have Mifune-dono. If there are any parties that are having troubles and need to hold conciliation talks, he will be there to be the referee should you require him.''

After saying those words, Naruto walked towards Onoki. There were others who wanted to speak to him, but he chose to deal with the Tsuchikage at first before anything else.

''Hello, Tsuchikage-dono,'' Naruto greeted with a smile, eyes partially opened.

Onoki glared at Naruto. He was still pissed off about being ignored like that. But he realized that he couldn't make a fuss when he didn't seem to have an ally within the room. Times were hard. It was truly the time to make new friends.

''Emperor,'' The Sandaime Tsuchikage said through gritted teeth. ''What do you want?''

''Don't pull another stunt like that again or I will escort you out of the village within a second. If you have a problem come to me,'' Naruto said in a whisper. ''Unless you wish for me to expose your past dealings with the Akatsuki, you will behave yourself and allow the games to run smoothly.''

''Giving me orders now, are we, boy?''

Naruto's smile widened slightly. ''Pleasant chat, Tsuchikage. I would return to my quarters if I were you. You don't want to expose your lower back problems in front of other fit and young Kages...'' that said, Naruto waved his hand and walked away from the Tsuchikage.

The old man just glared at the back of the blond... Thinking things...

With Onoki business done and dusted, Naruto greeted his allies from the side of the small villages. Pleasantries were exchanged, nothing serious discussed. After which Naruto walked towards Gaara's group.

''Your Majesty,'' Gaara greeted with that that expressionless mask on his face. He even bowed his head slightly as Naruto pulled over a chair to sit with the Kages.

Naruto smiled at Gaara and turned to Mei – who looked surprised by Gaara's honest greeting. She'd first thought he'd been just putting on a show. But that wasn't something the expressionless Kazekage would do. He had been respectfully greeting Naruto.

''Why do you look so surprised,'' Naruto asked the Godaime Mizukage.

''I have never heard anyone say to you 'Your Majesty' in a respective manner,'' Mei offered her honest response.

''I have done things that are worth in the Kazekage's eyes. And so, I deserve his respects. I believe other leaders prefer to call me just 'emperor' to keep the formalities,'' Naruto said before adding. ''Perhaps it is because I've been branded a criminal. Who is willing to respect a mere criminal?''

Mei shook her head, and didn't offer a response to Naruto - who turned to the other Kages, greeting them. Both gave stiff nods. He was saying that, but he certainly didn't see himself as a criminal. For now, he was just allowing things to go as they were and soon enough, he would wish turn into a pleasant corner.

''I hope you didn't say anything to antagonize the Tsuchikage,'' Gaara said, his eyes firmly fixed on the emperor. He had seen the blond speak to Onoki, and he really didn't want to speak to that old man while he was full to his throat in anger caused by Naruto.

Naruto smiled, putting on a look. ''What do you think of me, Kazekage?'' He said a bit too innocently.

Tsunade snorted at the innocence being displayed by Naruto. It disgusted her. Innocence and Naruto were two things that shouldn't be put together. He was anything but that. ''Then, what did you say to him?'' Tsunade more or less demanded.

Naruto's eyes turned to Tsunade for a moment before he looked back at Gaara. ''She doesn't like me very much, does she?'' He asked quietly. ''Oh well, it can't be helped.'' He shrugged carelessly

''Are you going to answer my question?'' The Godaime Hokage asked the blond who'd turned away from her.

Naruto turned to Tsunade once again – His smile still in place. ''I told him not to do anything to ruin the peace or else I will throw him and his shinobi out of Uzu within a second...'' he paused, looking thoughtful. ''Well... Something like that...''

''You're being vigilant in trying to keep the 'peace''' A noted.

''Don't we all want to get this over with having gained friends, allies and for once Kages to have gathered without threats being exchanged and no one being killed even when different nations have all gathered together?'' Naruto asked quietly.

''Maybe so, but you can't keep people from acting their wishes. Some people hold deep resentment and they'll likely act seeing the object of their hatred,'' The Raikage said.

Naruto didn't help matters either. If Intel was correct, he wasn't careful in his sayings. Well, he had been proven wrong as far. The blond was a little different from the man who was 'wrestling' with him in Kumogakure. He was now dealing with a leader who was trying by all means to stop anyone from doing things that would cause trouble and inconvenience for everyone.

''I know,'' Naruto said, ''But rules are there to make sure people know the consequences and what ought not be done. My eyes are everywhere in this village. Anyone wanting to start anything will be taken care off...''

''Then, are you going to participate in the 'main event'?''' The Raikage asked. He was honestly excited about crossing paths with other Kages, like in a sparring session. There will be no bad blood after which. That was something he was looking forward to.

''Naturally,'' Naruto said with a grin. ''Perhaps I will officially take away the tittle as the fastest man in the Elemental Nations...''

''You can try,'' A said standing up. ''The only man who was ever able to go faster than me was the Yondaime Hokage. No one has been able to best me in speed since then.''

''Ah, but I am his son, don't you think I can do it? I do know how to use the Hiraishin...''

''We will see in the battlefield,'' A said before walking away. He had no more time to spend chatting. He was going back to his given quarters to draw the 'battle-plans'. There was no way he was here to lose.

''You seem to have grown acquainted with the Raikage,'' Mei said idly.

''Not at all,'' Naruto said. ''He just likes the challenge and after our showdown in Kumo, I'm sure he wants to smack me in the face. If the topic had been different, things would've gone differently. You must know how to talk to people in subjects that both of you will contribute even if you're enemies.''

''You've been talking like an idealist who wishes for peace and no bloodshed. It almost masks the fact that you don't value human life, and have no problems in killing people,'' Tsunade said. ''I read Kakashi's reports on the missions he did with you. You killed everyone who was not on your side without questions.''

''Ah, you got me there...'' Naruto said smiling nervously. ''Let us just say I was young back then. Slaughtering enemies had been the goal. But the Uzumaki wish for peace, I must painfully adapt to this desire...''

''Really? Hard to imagine you following someone's rules unless it is convenient for you,'' Tsunade said before putting on a thoughtful look. ''Well you haven't been doing any killing sprees lately. Perhaps there are some changes,'' she sounded skeptical about the whole thing despite saying it.

''What brought on the change of wardrobe?'' Mei asked, trying to lighten up the conversation.

''This is just for today. Aika suggested I do this. Once the tournament begins, I will return to my comfort zone,'' Naruto said before standing up. ''Well, Princess, Gaara, Mei... I must get going...''

''Before you go, answer this question: why can't people walk through the streets at midnight?''

Naruto beamed slightly. ''That's a secret... But I will tell you this. It's a security measure...'' he walked away after those words.

''I bet it's something nasty, judging by his smile,'' Tsunade said.

''It could be nothing,'' Gaara said. ''But I doubt so. There is something. We will hear from those who ignore the rule. I'm going to get the message clear to my people. Naruto will definitely kick out anyone who doesn't follow the game rules.''

''Are you sure?''

Gaara nodded. ''100%. This is his stage. Anyone wishing to play by their own rules will be kicked out, no mercy, no apologies. When Naruto creates rules, they must be followed. He will do so as well,'' what he didn't say was that they could be followed if it was convenient for him.

End of chapter 32

There was a request to see what actually happened during the fight between Nagato and Itachi. I didn't deliver on that one. I don't know if there is anything I have missed.