Authors note: Apparently we have to actually declare that we don't own Naruto. I don't know why, I think it is obvious we don't anyway, but meh.

Sorry for the VERY delayed update, I have exams coming up, so I have been a little preoccupied. Regardless, here is the second Chapter:

Reader review replies at the end.


Chapter 2: The Slings and Arrows of Outrageous Fortune.

Naruto awoke slowly as the first rays of sun began to peek cautiously over the far away hills. For the second night in a row, his clothing was damp with sweat, from his fevered nocturnal struggle. He hugged his knees towards him, and forlornly looked at the babbling brook, its crystal waters careening over wet, slippery moss covered rocks. Above him, casting a wide shade the thick canopy of trees rustled as a restrained breeze slowly drifted through.

Naruto found himself hating it.

It wasn't that he disliked big trees, shade, or clean water, it was the fact that nature around him seemed so indifferent, whilst he felt he was suffering. Sighing he crawled over to the stream, looking into the water he noticed his appearance. Looking back at him was a slightly haggard figure; black rings encircled blue eyes, which were an unfathomable depth of sadness, horror, and hatred. The whisker marks upon his cheeks had become darker and more prominent. He grinned into the water and looked at the prominent canines. An addition courtesy of the Kyuubi. This made his grin appear more like sneer, and Naruto found himself enjoying that fact.

He waded out into the water and began to re wash himself. Kyuubi was already scheming; he needed to find a way to keep the youth occupied.

"I have a new lesson for you to attempt, child."

Naruto perked up slightly, interested in the new task he was about to receive from the fox.

The Demon grinned. "This lesson is simple enough. You are to wait in this river and catch a fish with your hands. This will help you develop patience and restraint. It will also help to develop a better strategic mindset."

Naruto raised an eyebrow; the lesson seemed easy enough. He slowly wallowed through the water, looking for the distinctive flash of silver from a fish in the sun. It didn't take him long, however, as soon as he came close to the fish, it darted away. This happened again and again. It was an agitated Naruto that demanded help from the demon fox.

"Stop chasing the fish and let them come to you." he chuckled. "Stand at a narrow point of the river and wait for a fish to swim past you."

Naruto scowled at the fox laughing at him, however he took up at a point close to where several rocky outcrops narrowed the river and began waiting for his opportunity.

The Demon fox smiled, paused, then hummed, "Strive for your next breath, Naruto. Believe that with it you can do more than with the last one. Use your breath to power your capacities: to kill, to maim, to destroy.

"And just where do your capacities come from? Why do you go where I want and do what I say?

"Perhaps you are running a fools errand, doing everything as I planned, never able to change your course. You would do well to believe that I know the outcome of your battle with Konoha already. Just as I can interpret the Technique of an enemy before they are even made.

"Or, perhaps, that is not the case.

"Perhaps you are doing what you were meant to do. Your human mentality screams for vengeance and thrives on the violence that you think you can hardly endure. As a child, your teachers always told you to fight with honour, but to fight on regardless. Do you care about honour, or do you use honour as an excuse? An excuse to exist in a violent world.

"Mortal beings are constantly fighting for life. Every breath, every motion brings you closer to your death. With that kind of heritage and destiny, how can you deny yourself? How can you expect yourself to give up violence?

"It is your nature."

The fox went silent, leaving Naruto to struggle with contemplation of the fox's words.

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Jiraiya had left Takashi late the previous night. The only concrete thing he had gained from the conversation was that he had to get to Naruto before this man.

The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon, and Jiraiya had awoken the other two Ninja's quickly. After a few grunts of protest from the still sleeping Kakashi, they had rapidly broken camp and were soon off looking for the missing youth.

Jiraiya had picked up one interesting tidbit from some of the locals at the tavern. They seemed to be angry about a neighbour losing most of his cattle in an attack by a wild animal or something. Jiraiya couldn't help but be fearful, lest Naruto became a target of such an animal. Kakashi resummoned Pakkun, and the three Shinobi were soon upon the trail of Naruto. The scent was weaker than yesterday, indicating that they were falling behind. They all noticed this but said nothing, all contemplating the repercussions they would face for failing to retrieve the youth.

The sun was well into the sky before the scent abruptly turned from the road towards the fields and meadows. Continuing on, they finally came to a scene of unbelievable violence. Bovine carcases littered the field.

"This was no predator." Kakashi spoke as the trio got over their initial shock.

"What makes you say that?" Iruka asked, as he leant down to a brutalised animal.

"Predators don't kill more than they have to, it would be a waste of energy otherwise. In addition, none of the carcasses showed any signs of consumption. Why kill all this..." he waved his hands across the field to emphasise the scope of destruction. "And then not even make any use of it?" he asked, his visible eye squinting slightly as he pondered what would cause such widespread destruction.

"Indeed," mused Jiraiya, as he too wondered why such an act had happened, when he recalled some of Takashi's words.

"A young child and yet, something else."

"Perhaps..." he began, but he pushed the thought from his mind. It couldn't be Naruto, could it?

Iruka looked at the Sannin, "Perhaps, what?"

Jiraiya looked at the young man. "Nothing." he smiled.

The presence of the deceased cattle made Naruto's scent difficult to follow; however, it was soon rediscovered trailing away between a copse of trees into a dense forest.

The three ninja looked uneasily to one another. If Naruto had sought refuge in the forest, their task was going to become much more difficult, as well as more risky due to predators that lurked within. With solemn faces, they entered the expanse of forest.

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Itachi and Kisame had stopped on their journey; they had lost any tracks left by the journeying ninja, and the preluding Naruto. With no real information to work from, they had no knowledge of where to go in their pursuit of Naruto. This inability to solve their dilemma had Itachi in a silent rage. Even Kisame wasn't foolish enough to annoy the Uchiha when in this sort of mood, and thus the pair was silent.

This ensued for a few minutes until, from nowhere, an elderly man approached them, smiling broadly.

"Ah, Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame, it is a pleasure to meet with the two Akatsuki tasked with acquiring the Kyuubi."

Both Missing Ninja stopped, looking the man over; white hair, long beard, he wore a white robe and was thin of body. Neither of the pair recognised him from anywhere.

"Who are you?" Itachi spoke, sparing the pleasantries.

"Takashi Ozaki." the old man said, the smile still on his face, he seemed oblivious to Itachi's wrathful mood.

"I have a... proposal to make to you." Takashi continued. "We are both seeking the same individual. If you assist me in acquiring what I want, I may acquest to what you want."

There was a brief silence. "How can you help us, and what do you want us for?" Kisame asked curiously.

"I can prevent you from engaging in a fruitless search, and instead have the target come to you..." Takashi let the last word hang in the air.

"And in return?"

"Ah, I need you two to provide a little muscle. Acquiring what we want may prove... difficult." Takashi stroked his beard.

Itachi pulled Kisame over, "What should we do?" he whispered, so that Takashi wouldn't be able to hear.

"Well, we've got nothing to work with right now. We've got nothing to lose by accepting the old man's offer."

Itachi was silent. He was displeased at being forced into such a situation. "Hmm, I suppose you're right," Itachi admitted. Grudgingly, he looked up at Takashi, "Alright then, tell me what you would have us do."

He turned back to Kisame, "I suppose we could always just take the child later,"

"Exactly." Kisame smiled.

Takashi's smile disappeared as he got to business. "I want you to return to Konoha and remain undercover until I contact you."

"Why?"

"Because I said so. When you need to know more, I'll be sure to inform you."

Kisame grinded his teeth slightly. No respect, he thought, and crunched his knuckles, making the displeased Itachi aware of his annoyance.

Itachi gave the man a dark look, but before anything could develop, the man smiled and disappeared, just as suddenly as he arrived.

"Damn it," Kisame growled. "I can't believe we agreed to that geriatric fool's idea."

Itachi smiled slightly, and placed a hand upon Kisame's shoulder. "We had no real choice. All we can do is see if he upholds his end of the bargain."

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Naruto sat upon a rock, happy that he had succeeded with his task. In his hand, he held a large silver fish. It had taken the better part of a day to catch it, and already the sky was tinged with orange.

"Explain to me what you have gained from this task, today." Kyuubi rumbled.

Naruto paused for a moment. "When a fish swims towards me, I had to remain still; movement would scare them away. I guess that's stealth. If I dived too soon, the fish would escape; I had to show restraint and let the fish come closer. Being in a narrow point in the river shows strategical thinking." Naruto looked down momentarily, as he realised the Demon fox had directed him to take up the position at the narrow point.

"If I didn't help you, I would be no better than your previous teachers, would I Naruto?" the Fox purred unctuously.

Naruto smiled weakly, but couldn't help but feel as though he had failed in some way.

The demon sighed. "I can barely tolerate humans; slow, stupid and irritating. Their only contribution to your existence was the chance discovery that made the sealing possible. Yet, deep down you feel some strange loyalty to humanity, don't you Naruto?" The Kyuubi pondered aloud.

"I suppose." Naruto ventured.

"Hmph." the fox seemed unsatisfied with Naruto's response.

"Living in a state of fear and persecution is not at all living, Naruto. If we are to continue your training, you will need a new ideal."

Naruto raised an eyebrow, "What about my current ideals?"

"You need to rebel against your silly human rules. Only by casting off the restrictions of human society can you be liberated, emancipated, and free."

"I don't understand." Naruto said, slightly exasperated. "Why do I need to rid myself of rules? How do I do that, anyway?" his voice rose an octave.

"Do you enjoy killing?"

"...Yes"

"Well then, you are already on the road away from the poison of humanity. Fear not, Naruto, you'll understand in time."

Naruto was about to open his mouth to speak, but shut it again. Perhaps it is just wisest to trust Kyuubi. He has always watched out for what was best for me, Naruto thought, remembering the help he had received whenever he was greatly endangered.

"Once you venture down my road, Naruto, there is no going back." he said this to himself, a toothy grin on his vulpine face.

Naruto returned his focus to the fish in his clawed fist.

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Jiraiya looked up at the sky as the orange streaked to a delicate pink hue. "We've done all we can today."

The three hadn't seen any sign that Naruto was indeed present in the forest with them; this set their plans back somewhat. This was also a hit to their pride, as Jiraiya and Kakashi being so highly regarded were unable to detect an individual so lacking subtlety and stealth as Naruto.

"We'll rest here for tonight." Jiraiya announced as the three shinobi stopped, their path halted by the presence of a river. Little did they know how close they were to Naruto, whom was planning similar things only a short way downstream across the other side of the river.

With a sigh, he leant by the river and splashed his face with water. Out of the corner of his eye he spied something lying just upon the bank. Leaning over, he picked up a stone attached to a piece of cord. It was the First Hokage's necklace. Jiraiya looked saddened, as he remembered how Naruto had acquired the ornament.

"Where are you, Naruto? What is going through that head of yours?" Jiraiya sighed, and stood. As he did so, he pocketed the necklace.

How am I going to explain this to Tsunade, he pondered, patting the pocket that the necklace was secreted away to. He returned to the place where the other two were camped. Iruka was grumbling again, as he had done for much of the last few days. He seemed to be taking Naruto's disappearance fairly hard. Jiraiya came over and placed a hand upon his shoulder.

"There will be answers when we Find him, Iruka. Wild speculation on our behalf is not going to help our search."

Iruka looked up at the slightly taller Jiraiya, "Why do I feel as though I've let him down?"

Jiraiya sighed. "We all feel that way, Iruka. But was it us who let him down, or was it Naruto, himself? Running away from problems never solves them." Jiraiya paused. "I met a man in the tavern last night. He said something about Naruto that worries me," he turned away from the Chuunin, "He said, 'A young child and yet, something else'... It worries me, Iruka." he said simply.

"What?!" Iruka said exasperated. "What did he mean?"

"I don't really know." Jiraiya said. "All I know is, we have to get to Naruto before the man does. His cryptic words were unnerving. I can only speculate why he would be interested in Naruto." Silence ensued. Finally, Jiraiya slapped Iruka upon the shoulder. "Let's go back. Kakashi will be wondering what took us so long." He smiled blandly at Iruka, trying to change the sombre mood.

Iruka sighed and turned, as he followed Jiraiya back to the campsite.

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Itachi stared at the wall of the building in which they were hiding out in. "How long have we been here?" he asked, looking at the several deep grooves that had been ground into the wall tallying the number of days they had been holed up for.

"Too long," Came the response from Kisame, "I'm starting to believe that the old man misled us." He punched his fist into his other hand.

Itachi held up two fingers. "Two days. If nothing comes, then I say damn this to the wind, and damn Takashi too." He spat the old man's name.

Kisame groaned. "I'm so sick of all this inaction."

Itachi nodded, but otherwise ignored his compatriot.

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Time had passed slowly, a time of confusion, learning and understanding for Naruto. He sat high up in a tree, his legs dangling free either side of a large branch, and he had his back to the trunk. He had a scowl upon his face, and crimson, demonic eyes shifted accusingly from object to object. He felt happy, even if it was a hollow and bitter happiness. He sat with his arms crossed; under Kyuubi's guidance, he had become more reserved, cynical, intolerant and hateful.

Watching the ground, he waited in the tree. An hour passed, and still Naruto waited on with uncharacteristic patience. Finally, something disturbed the peace, and with a rustling of shrubs, a small deer wandered under the tree as it sniffed delicately at the grass growing underneath it. Smiling, Naruto waited a brief moment before finally dropping to the ground behind the deer, almost silently. The deer stood no chance.

"What fun to watch you work," The Kyuubi spoke, somewhat joyfully. "Konoha was scared of you. They never thought of using you the way I do. What fools. That was before you could fight back against them, when they would have crushed you if they knew what you were to become."

He sighed, "I wish that I had made the Yondaime experience the humiliation that he inflicted upon me, but he died before I got the chance. Don't die before you get your chance to humiliate Konoha, Naruto."

"I won't." The boy replied. "In fact, I'm looking forward to it." He grinned maliciously. Kyuubi laughed.

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Not far away from the dining Naruto, the three ninja from Konoha were in argument.

"We're wasting our time here now, Iruka," Kakashi reasoned. "It's been so long now; the chances of finding him are close to nil. We are wasting our time here; Konoha is in need of our services, where they could at least be productive."

"I refuse to return to Konoha. I'll find Naruto, Kakashi; all we need is a little more time." Iruka retorted, stubbornly.

"Kakashi is right, Iruka." Jiraiya said, solemnly. "We are needed at Konoha. There is a line we must draw, to limit this fruitless pursuit. Much like Konoha did with Orochimaru, we must let Naruto go. He'll show himself in time."

Iruka looked at the Sannin in slight disbelief; he couldn't believe that he was giving up. "Two more days. Please, Jiraiya, just two more days and then we'll return to Konoha." He pleaded.

Jiraiya looked at Kakashi, who shook his head in disagreement. He sighed, and placed a hand behind his head. "Alright, just two more days. But no more than that, and no more arguments about it." He looked at Iruka as he said it.

Iruka nodded, complying.

Jiraiya sighed again, "Alright, where should we head today?"

"Actually I had something else in mind." Iruka said as he rummaged around in one of his various pockets. He pulled out three small, white, plastic devices. Passing them to the other two ninja, he explained, "These are simple tracking devices. They operate by beeping the closer one gets to the proximity of another tracker. However, the batteries only last for a few hours, and they aren't the most reliable instruments, so you can understand why I have been reluctant to use them." He paused before going on. "Now, I want us three to split up and search. We can cover more ground if we split up." He looked at the other two for confirmation.

Kakashi looked at the simple device, turning it in his hand. Finally, he looked up. "Alright, then."

Iruka turned to Jiraiya, whom was also examining the device. Suddenly, a beep came from the devices, and Jiraiya looked up, smiling. "Let's try this."

The three set off at a hurried pace, reminding one another to regroup within the hour to relay where they'd checked, and to ensure one another's safety.

Kakashi headed east, Jiraiya left to the north and Iruka headed westwards.

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After finishing his meal, Naruto was alerted to something noisily making its way towards him. Deciding that discretion was the best course of action, he retreated up the tree from which he'd made his former attack. Whilst the sound slowly came closer, Naruto's mind began to wander. He paused to scrawl on the tree. "Why am I here?" "Why do I exist?" "What is my purpose in this world?"

He returned to the first question. "Why am I here?" Underneath it, he scrawled, "'Cause I am". He moved to the second one. "Why do I exist?" "'Cause I do." Satisfied, he moved to the third one. He hesitated. What was his purpose? He was shaken from his ponderings as the intruder burst into the clearing. Naruto hid.

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Iruka was hurrying; he needed to cover as much ground as possible before the three reconvened. Bursting through a particularly thick group of bushes, he entered a small clearing. A large tree shadowed a dead deer. Iruka stopped and slowly walked over to the animal. There was little left of it. Whatever had attacked it had been thorough in its meal. He leant slightly towards the carcass, before only just hearing the slight sound of feet touching the ground behind him.

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Naruto watched as the man entered the clearing. Recognition was instant; Iruka. His eyes narrowed, and he bared his fangs. Kyuubi was silent, knowing that this was the ultimate test for how complete his corruption had become. Naruto dropped to the ground, much as he had with the former victim, and proceeded to attack Iruka. He was annoyed when Iruka dodged the attack.

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Iruka instinctively shifted when he heard the sound of someone behind him. He quickly turned. "Naruto?!" he gasped, quickly noticing the visible changes in the boy's appearance. Naruto smirked, "Surprised, Iruka?" The boy lunged at the Chuunin, catching him in the belly. He left deep, red gashes where the claws had torn through the jacket.

"What the hell, Naruto? Have you lost your freaking mind?" Iruka screamed, as Naruto tilted his head, smiling disturbingly. Iruka took a few steps back from the youth, a mix of horror and shock on his face. "You've gone completely deranged." Naruto laughed. As he was laughing, Iruka reached into his pouch and drew a kunai from it.

Abruptly as he begun, Naruto stopped laughing. "I'm going to kill you now, Iruka." He growled. He dove at the Chuunin, claws outstretched. However, Iruka quickly swung the kunai in a wide arc, knocking one hand away and colliding with the other.

Naruto grabbed the weapon in his fist. He felt a sharp pain as it cut his hand. Blood began to slowly drip down the weapon. Slowly, Naruto drew the taller Chuunin towards him. "Do you fear death?" he breathed into Iruka's face. Iruka looked back into the boy's eyes. They burned with a crimson fire. Iruka looked away. "What has the Demon fox done, Naruto?" he said, calmly.

Naruto released the kunai and watched with savage satisfaction as his hand rapidly healed. "He gave me what I always wanted, Iruka." Naruto felt satisfied with such a vague answer.

Again, Naruto struck, catching the Chuunin off-guard. Utilising strength gifted to him by the Kyuubi, he grabbed the Chuunin and threw him.

With a dull thud, Iruka's body impacted with the trunk of the tree. However, Iruka hung there momentarily, as his body had been partially impaled upon a small branch that had been broken off, close to the trunk. Slumping forward, the Chuunin slid down the trunk. He leant his back to the tree, and sat upon the ground, defeated.

Naruto stood still for a moment, before laughing malevolently, "This situation looks familiar, doesn't it Iruka? Feel any déja vu, back to a time when you fooled a poor boy into saving a worthless Sensei?"

"What?" Iruka's eyes widened. The boy had completely lost it. What had the Kyuubi done? "You know, Naruto, back then, I said you weren't the demon. I guess I was wrong." Iruka spat defiantly.

"You'll be pleased to know then," said Naruto in a slight monotone, "That for you, this is a means to an end." Naruto stood in front of the man, his legs spread slightly as he clenched and unclenched his fist. "Die now, Iruka-sensei."

Iruka closed his eyes. He would face death. He would not scream, or beg for mercy; he would show defiance in the face of adversity.

However, the killing blow never came.

Naruto began to run at the defenceless Iruka, when something hard hit him in the side, knocking him to the ground. Naruto was stunned for a moment before screaming angrily at having been denied the kill. "Noooooooo." He stood, his face twisted into pure hatred.

Breathing heavily, Kakashi stood over Iruka. Naruto charged at the copy ninja, anger causing him to throw strategy to the wind. Kakashi casually punched him in the face, sending the youth sprawling upon the ground. Hissing, the boy got up again and charged. Kyuubi chakra increased his strength to inhuman levels, however, Kakashi sent the boy through the air again, and he landed heavily a few metres away. Naruto got to his feet again. However, before he could attack again, he was grabbed from behind and pinned.

Twisting his head slowly, Naruto realised it was Jiraiya. Freeing himself, he swung. Jiraiya caught the punch. His face was impassive. Naruto swung with his other clawed fist; this was also caught by Jiraiya. Naruto looked at the Sannin. He was mostly powerless to do anything. He struggled feebly in the grip of the legendary ninja.

Jiraiya watched the face of the boy. He understood that the Kyuubi had had something to do with Naruto's leaving, and the boy's display had certainly proven that. Jiraiya wasn't sure with what to do with the boy, though. He looked at the boy's eyes and saw only anger, hatred and spite. Putting great pressure upon one of Naruto's arms, there was a moment of resistance before a dull snap was heard, and Naruto stopped struggling.

He looked up at Jiraiya. Cool, black eyes regarded him. Naruto exhaled. His arm was burning in agony as it hung loosely by his side, broken. Naruto grimaced. Jiraiya leant closer, and Naruto subconsciously flinched back.

Jiraiya stared into Naruto's eyes, the anger and spite slowly washed away to be replaced with fear. Naruto looked away, trying to escape Jiraiya's grip. Jiraiya let the boy go and Naruto stepped backwards, his eyes shifted from Jiraiya to Kakashi, and he stood there, indecision evident upon his face, he was torn before his want to kill them, and the urge to run away. However he never came to a conclusive decision.

Jiraiya moved suddenly. Naruto jumped. Too slow, he thought, waiting for the inevitable blow that would come.

Jiraiya waited underneath; as Naruto jumped, he needed to aim precisely if he was to stop the boy.

Naruto landed, turned slowly, and felt a sharp pain in his lower neck. As surprised eyes met those of Jiraiya, his body went limp as his eyes glazed over. He fell to the ground, unconscious.

Silence. Overbearing silence permeated everything. Kakashi leant down to Iruka to inspect the wounds he had suffered. Tears had channelled down the Chuunin's face, and he looked up at the copy ninja. His eyes said everything that needed to be said.

This was not the Naruto they once knew.

Kakashi looked over at Jiraiya, whom was standing over the prostate form of Naruto. "What are we going to do now?"

Jiraiya was quiet, he was deep in thought. "We'll take him back," he said tentatively.

"Are you sure that's wise?" Kakashi asked, as he began to bandage Iruka.

"No." replied Jiraiya, "But humanity is granted with its greatest blessing and its greatest curse." He picked up the limp body of Naruto and placed him over his shoulder.

"Hope."


The author answers the critics!:

Dattatreya: To answer your questions, I suppose 'Kyuubi' can be treated as somewhat a title, like 'Sir'... Of course the short of it is, I messed up. I had Chouji and Neji die in my fic, because (a) It was more of a tragedy for Konoha, thus, they are more likely to feel hatred towards Naruto, and (b) I had only read up to Chapter 234 when I read it, no-one really knew whom was dead or not, so I just took the worst case scenario. It was only one lie too. :P

Thanks for the constructive criticism...

Jenniyah: You raise an interesting point about Itachi and Kisame, but don't worry; they'll become involved one way or another.

Chief316 (A Halo reference in your name?): Well, you're going to find out where it goes. I never really planned on having Sasuke playing a big part, but if other reviewers would like me to, I'm open to suggestion/bribery...

HinatasBiggestFanBoy: Thanks for the support! I guess this idea sort of first popped into my head when I got sick of reading about Kyuubi being some poor misunderstood creature. Pah! What a load of Shodge! That's where my inspiration for this dark fic came from.

Also, a special thanks to; Gopu, VentMonster, keri2004, FallenDragon, Night-Owl123, Hopefullight, and RuByMoOn17