The days passed slowly. By night, Naruto watched for when clouds might obscure the moon. By day, he carefully ventured around the region. He, like many, was trying to find the grave of the Hakaju.

He hated to say it, but it was strangely freeing in a way, just stretching his limbs and searching anywhere. Trouble was...

"Even if I get near the grave, I might not notice it. Being giant sucks sometimes," Naruto grumbled as he stood over a lake. It was a big one, considering he could put his entire hand in it if he wanted to. Not that he had, but still. "Are you going to stare at my ass all day or say something?"

"A good day to you, Lord Naruto," a bald man said, flickering onto his nose. "Hmm, climbing up here is more difficult than I thought."

"You get used to it," Naruto mused. "Chiriku, right? Asuma's old Temple comrade?"

"I'm honored to be remembered," Chiriku said with a solemn look. "I trust you know that you are very close to the Fire Temple?"

"Hmm? Is that what that is?" Naruto asked, glancing over his shoulder, the structure just a few miles away from him. "Sorry. I thought I smelled something this way."

"Searching to find the Gashadokuro's gravesite, I take it?" Chiriku hazarded to guess.

Naruto grunted in confirmation. "You have anything new?"

"Yes, actually. Which was my main reason for visiting you," Chiriku said. "May I sit?"

"As long as you can keep yourself from falling off," Naruto allowed.

The monk nodded his thanks, crossing his legs to take a seat on the nose. It was kind of interesting, Naruto admitted. The man treated him almost normally…respectfully, but as normally as one could.

"We've been piecing through the ancient records, trying to discern truths from myths. We have found the original sealing techniques used. Thankfully, this would not require a living container," Chiriku mused.

That was an upside, even if Naruto still wasn't fond of just putting this problem off for a few decades.

"Unfortunately, it would require waiting until the moon is full and closest to the world," Chiriku remarked.

Naruto blinked. "It actually gets closer and further away?"

Chiriku raised an eyebrow. "You didn't know?"

"I'm thirteen. I've had people tell me it does and others tell me it's just a trick of the light," Naruto answered flatly.

Chiriku decided to accept that answer and not dwell on it. "Yes, well, the distance does grow and waver just like the phases of the moon."

"Hmm, and how often does that happen?" Naruto asked idly.

"Only three or four times a year. According to the daimyo's astrologist, it would still be another two months before the next one, maybe even three," Chiriku explained.

"Three-!? Shit, that's not good," Naruto growled to himself in annoyance. "Look, I don't know if this is some secret or something, but I'd suggest showing those to Jiraiya. He might be able to do something with it, make it work somehow."

"Not a secret, just one of many things we wish to protect and preserve," Chiriku assured. "There is another thing we noticed in the writing."

Naruto's ears flickered in interest.

"The Gashadokuro are made up of the bodies and souls of many fallen, but there appear to be two kinds that exist in the legends. Some have many souls united in their shared hatred and demise, making them wild and unpredictable. But others sound as though one soul takes over the rest. Through willpower, if nothing else, becoming the dominant spirit in their hellish maelstrom."

"Spooky. How does that help anything?" Naruto asked patiently.

"I'm not sure, to be honest. But many believed it was connected to your...predecessor until the reptilian nature was revealed. If that is a hint against the Kyuubi, perhaps it is also a lead to who it was and where the grave might be," Chiriku suggested.

Naruto stared for a moment, ears perking up suddenly. "I might have an idea. Thanks for sharing."

"Of course. We are all allies in this," Chiriku said as he stood up. "Good day, and good hunting, Lord Naruto."

Naruto waited until he vanished from his nose before standing, looking to the sky. Deciding he had enough time, he made a straight path for Konoha.

Well, besides going around all the small villages in the way.


"I'm growing wary."

"Of Naruto?" Tsunade asked with a frown as she regarded Danzo.

"For him, in a sense," the old Warhawk answered. "Activity on the border has increased. It's unclear if they are guarding against this creature or our Bijuu, but I doubt some Kages didn't give orders to take a chance if they could attack a weakened Kyuubi."

"That is troubling," Tsunade mused. "But there isn't much we can do. The Daimyo gave us a loan, no interest even, to cover the cost of having to put all future missions on hold. Our clients aren't even complaining. Everyone wants this handled. But we have spread out most of our ninjas just looking for a supposed grave."

Danzo nodded. "I'm beginning to worry these ancient tales were mistaken, that it will not reveal itself if the grave is found."

"Don't sell that idea short just yet!"

They had felt his approach, but they were surprised by the loud call from the mercifully distant Naruto as he approached the village.

"Naruto? Did you find something?" Tsunade called up.

"No, but I needed to talk to someone who knows their history, and I think you two will do," Naruto answered bluntly as he stopped on top of the monument, waving to the rest of the village. "Hi, Everyone- and why is the academy on fire?"

Danzo glanced over his shoulder and noted that there was indeed a small smoke cloud rising from the academy. By the size and Naruto's lack of alarm, it was likely not serious.

"They put exploding tags where?!" Naruto suddenly exclaimed in alarm- and possibly trying not to look amused.

Tsunade sighed deeply. "I can feel whatever he's talking about will be a headache for me later," she muttered. "Naruto, you were saying?"

"Right, sorry, was just worried about that," Naruto said as he looked down on the Hokage tower. "We can't find anything, but we figured out this thing has a reptile skeleton. Besides Orochimaru, is there anyone else strong who has or had a lizard summon or powers or anything like that?"

Danzo and Tsunade shared a look of suspicion and alarm.

"What is it?" Naruto asked in concern.

"A ninja named Hanzo, Hanzo the Salamander," Tsunade said with a scowl. "But it can't be him. Could it?"

Naruto cocked his head, prompting Danzo to elaborate. "To our knowledge, he is still alive," Danzo said, his eye opening a bit more to give Naruto a meaningful stare. "Alive, trying to quell a civil war against his rule."

Naruto grimaced and ignored several dozen people talking about that reaction. "Well, I think we just found our new prime suspect."

"If Hanzo is behind this, then this threat is more serious than Orochimaru," Danzo warned firmly.

Naruto paused at that and stared very intently at the two. "I need to borrow Kakashi-sensei for the night."

Tsunade nodded wordlessly, obviously troubled by this possibility.

"Sensei! Hop on! And kid, stop trying to feed laxatives to the Inuzuka dogs. They're not dumb and a lot of them can talk," Naruto warned.

"You think he'll ever tire of commenting on trivial things like this?" Danzo questioned idly as they saw a one-eyed blur rush onto Naruto's head.

"Will Jiraiya ever tire of writing smut?" Tsunade countered while Naruto turned to leave once more.

"Fat chance in hell!" Naruto called back with a laugh.


"What the heck was that about?" Ino asked with her hands on her hips.

"Must have been kind of important. He didn't even stop to talk to Sakura or anyone," Choji noted curiously.

"He didn't seem too on edge when he showed up though, just when he said he was taking Kakashi," Ino recalled with a furrowed brow before turning. "Shika, what do you think?"

"That Naruto is an unpleasant wake-up call," Shikamaru grumbled, yawning from his nap. "The higher-ups aren't sharing everything, but a lot trickles down. We know a lot of ninjas are being sent out for missions to search for a "grave" or something this monster might call home. Judging by Naruto's question, he figured that it being a reptile is somehow related. And that gave Lady Tsunade, or someone else, an idea for a potential link. One that's not Orochimaru. And I saw Naruto go around the village, heading west or northwest."

"And your point to all that?" Ino asked impatiently.

Shikamaru sighed. "I remember there was mention of a ninja in the Second Great War, one called the Salamander. I don't recall much else, just that he was from a small village near the middle of the map. Not that I particularly care to look it up. If we need to be involved, the Jonin will fill us in."

"Assuming they remember us," Ino said with her arms crossed. "Asuma-sensei is at the daimyo's palace of all places, and we're left doing D-rank missions with no one to ask-WAH!"


Both boys looked to their teammate in alarm as a golden blur dived at her from the sky, knocking her to the ground.

Ino stared up owlishly at a large golden goose that was sitting on her chest, looking at her curiously. More exactly, her hair

"Isn't that the bird that was in Naruto's nose?" Shikamaru recalled.

"Yes, now get it off me!" Ino demanded as the goose honked softly while studying her.

"You think it would taste any good?" Choji asked with great interest.

The goose's eyes turned to Choji so quickly that he jumped slightly, the animals' eyes gleaming menacingly.

"...Choji?" Shikamaru spoke up carefully. "You might want to run."

Choji gave an uncertain smile. "C-come on, Shika, it's just goo-"


Choji ran as the golden goose started to chase him.

"Am I...imagining it or is that thing faster than a normal goose?" Ino asked dubiously as they watched the scene.

"No," Shikamaru said, wincing as Choji screamed, the goose now biting at his head. "No, you're not imagining it."

"Should we...tell someone about this?" Ino asked uncertainly.

"Probably. Before it steals Choji's food...or tries to eat him."

"Not the ears! Not the ears!"

Shikamaru wasn't exactly joking.


"Okay, who the fuck is Hanzo and why is the Old Hag worried?" Naruto asked bluntly once they were a good distance from Konoha, idly treading north.

"Hanzo?" Kakashi repeated from on Naruto's head before cupping his chin. "I see. He's involved?"

"Might be, now please spill, Sensei," Naruto requested.

Kakashi sighed. "Hanzo is the man who rules the village Hidden in the Rain, a small country between Wind, Fire, and Earth. He's been a player since the Second Great War. He's the one who gave the Sannin that same legendary title."

"And how did they do that?" Naruto asked with a frown.

"They survived."

Naruto paused in misstep.

"Lord Jiraiya, Lady Tsunade, and Orochimaru were leading a force of Konoha ninjas when they encountered Hanzo. Everyone died, except them. It was said that Hanzo was so impressed that he spared them. And named them the Sannin, the Legendary Three," Kakashi explained.

"For surviving him," Naruto repeated. "Kakashi, how much stronger are the old farts now?"

"Much stronger. That said," Kakashi paused, looking to the northwest with a narrowed gaze. "We don't know much about what Hanzo can do. My wager is you'd need at least two of the Sannin, or an equal force, to safely kill him."

"And there's a civil war," Naruto recalled with a hum. "He might be behind this, or he might be part of that creature. How do we find out?"

"There way to rule out if he's alive or not," Kakashi started slowly.

"What, just go right up and knock on his front door?" Naruto asked sarcastically.


Naruto blinked rater owlishly. "Umm, Sensei? Are you being serious?"

"Mostly?" Kakashi answered. "If you head to the border, you'll be bound to find some Ami Ninja keeping an eye on things."

Naruto stood there in silence. "I will have it stated for the record, this is your idea. Somehow."

"The daimyo gave you cart-blanch free roam of the Land of Fire to find and end this threat. That includes the borders. And if Hanzo is behind it? That means we're already at war and don't know it," Kakashi explained.

Naruto hummed. "The sun will be setting before we can get there and back. And after the last attack, I'm honestly worried it'll show up there the next time the moon isn't out."

"Too bad you can't do shadow clones still," Kakashi commented.

"Yeah," Naruto agreed absently. "I guess we'll just have to wait until tomorrow."


"The Kyuubi is coming here?" Pain repeated.

Zetsu nodded. "He suspects Hanzo is connected to the undead beast," Black Zetsu explained.

"It is a funny coincidence, it being a giant old bony lizard!" White Zetsu suggested helpfully.

Pain narrowed his eyes while Konan frowned in concern. "We're not ready to capture the Kyuubi. The Statue won't contain it," Konan reminded.

"No, even if we were positive it would work with this new Bijuu," Pain agreed. "Most of the others are too far away to make it here in time. Sealing it in any form would be impossible."

"Sealing, no," Black Zetsu agreed cryptically.

Pain and Konan narrowed their eyes. "What are you suggesting?" Konan asked pointedly.

"That it takes years for a Bijuu to reform, and preparation might be complete by then," Black Zetsu explained.

"In other words, it's time to go hunting for foxes," White Zetsu joked.

"So instead of containing the Bijuu, you think we would have better luck in killing it?" Konan asked doubtfully.

"It might be the only chance we get."

The group turned to Tobi as he emerged from the shadows.

"This new creature, while unexpected, has given us a chance to put a rather annoying thorn out of the equation, until we are ready to collect it," Tobi suggested. "Besides, you have the eyes of the Sage of Six Paths. Aren't you the least bit curious to see how the power of a "god" compares in battle against one of the true demons of this world?" Tobi suggested.

Konan knew her old friend well. Such a simple form of goading and manipulation wouldn't work on him. But the issue was, she knew also that he wanted to battle with the Kyuubi. New or old, he did want to see how their powers compared.


Karin was becoming all too familiar with this feeling.

It was a pull, right at the back of her brain, just above the stem; followed by a slight yet sudden pressure from all around, as if she was being enveloped and consumed.

She sat on her bed and clenched her head. "What now? What did we do now? Why do you keep doing this to me...?" she muttered.

She rubbed her hands over her face.

When she looked up, she was no longer in her room.

She was in a clearing, surrounded by a shadowy forest. There was no sun, no moon, no stars. It felt like there wasn't even a sky. The only light, the only height was...


She shuddered, turning to see that he was looming behind her in all his golden etherealness.

"Lord Kyuubi...," Karin whispered, whimpered, pleaded.

"I'm not going to hurt you."

It wasn't an assurance. It wasn't even a promise. It was just fact. It Was, he said it and it would be so.

'But I will be coming. Not for the Grass Village. Close though."

Karin shivered. "May I ask why?"

"Why else?"

The landscape shifted, and Karin found herself standing atop a palace, watching as the figures of the golden fox and his nine tails did battle with a monster of bones and shadows.

"Right, the Gashadokuro. The undead giant we received word of," Karin said, holding her head. "I will tell the others. We won't provoke you, I swear."


There was more, there was definitely more.

"What do you know about the Hidden Rain?"

That question...explained a few things, honestly.

"Are they still in a civil war? Does Hanzo live?"

Karin swallowed nervously. "L-last we heard, yes, but he might be dead now. He's been losing the civil war."

"Has he?"

Karin leaned back and realized she had piqued his interest.

"And just who is pushing him back?"

"We only know two things beyond rumors," Karin answered carefully. "Their to be a God."

There was something dark in the air…No, in the place within her mind that the Kyuubi was currently occupying. The feeling was amused yet...disapproving? Disappointed? Something in that realm.

"He claims to be a god, and they w-wear black cloaks with red clouds."

Karin felt stillness in this place and realized she had surprised him.

"...Thank you."

With that, the dream ended and Karin awoke back in her room. She breathed in relief. She'd relay the information, as soon as she got her bearings again. Still, that was...different. More than anything, his departure left her with a soothing, calming feeling. His thanks, perhaps? It made the toll of the experience more bearable.

Still, she sat up, holding a trembling hand to her forehead, massaging her temple. "I guess this is my life now."

She was more resigned to it than anything now. She still wondered just why it was happening. Was there some connection between them she didn't know of? Did he pick her?

Or...or was it just because she tried to sense him too well that first time? Did she look too closely into something she shouldn't have, and now she was connected, marked by the experience?

She didn't know. And she was terrified to ask the Kyuubi. Risking his ire and risking an answer might be worse than remaining blissfully ignorant.


Jiraiya didn't meditate a lot, but he did it more often than people suspected. He didn't meditate to reflect on himself or the past, or even for enlightenment and wisdom. No, he was well aware of himself, his own failings and strengths. He did not need to reflect more on them.

No, Jiraiya only mediated for two reasons, to quiet his mind, and to ponder the future

So here he sat, on a tall mountain in the eastern end of Fire Country. He had followed another lead, only to find a depressing dead end.

Emphasis on depressing. There was a mass grave here, at the base of the mountain. A village had died years ago, everyone succumbing to an illness that, thankfully, died with them. When it was discovered, the bones were all buried and a large gravestone was placed to mark them.

This was not the grave they were looking for though.

And Jiraiya was, as weird as it was to say, running out of tragedies to link this monster to. So, he decided to sit and ponder while looking at a map of the nations he had placed before him.

"It can't be the Land of Water. It would be attacking them, not us. Same with Suna," Jiraiya ruled out. "If it was Iwa or Kumo, something left over from the wars, it would have gone for Konoha by now. The daimyos were only barely factors in those wars."

That ruled out four of the five major nations.

"I can't rule out Orochimaru, but I'll trust Naruto's gut for now and look elsewhere first," Jiraiya mused, taking a breath and closing his eyes. "The grave isn't near Konoha, obviously, and we've checked most other major areas of large deaths. Is there something I'm missing?" he wondered before his eyes went to the other, smaller nations. "Or, perhaps, I'm just not looking in the right place."

His eyes darted to the left and right ends of the map.

Ami and its civil war was a likely candidate. Hanzo was still as dangerous as ever, and Jiraiya had a great deal of trouble getting any reliable spying done in Ami.

But if not Ami? There was only one more overt candidate he had to check.

His eyes landed on a small island nation, one he knew to be naught but ruins now.


He had been there only once after it was destroyed. He never intended to return.

So he almost hoped this thing was linked to the Hidden Rain.

End of Chapter

Lot of moving parts now. Naruto has a lead, and the Akatsuki feel they have an oppurtunity to neutralize him. And Choji might get eaten by a golden goose. One of these tihings is not like the others.

Not much else to mention. Hope you all enjoyed this!

Early viewing of chapters 24-25 avaliable on my pat-reon:

p a treon . com (slash) akumakami64