Chapter 37: Destined Encounter

A/N: I suspect you've all grown weary of me apologizing for how late chapters have been coming lately. Since the last update, there has been a significant change in my life that has demanded my attention. And to those that read my Ninja Clash story, you already know this, but for the Quest-only readers, here we are:

I have acquired a job.

And so, unfortunately, real life must come first. I no longer have the free time or energy to devote to my projects as I once did. At this time, there are no plans to abandon Quest to be the Greatest (or Ninja Clash for that matter) and I hope to never abandon those works, but I can only work on it when opportunity arises and those are few nowadays since it's not just my job that has changed. I have a nephew that I help babysit, among other things. So I can only continue to ask for your much-appreciated patience and humbly thank those that are still sticking with the story.

Arc – Captured Rain Genin Part 17

All eyes are on the table, which is showing the Telesnail, now sporting a mask similar to Hanzo's.

Subtext: Deal Accepted. For now.

XXXXXXX – East Blue, Konami Archipelago, Arlong Park

Only twice had Naruto really felt angry in his life. Over the years, he had felt ticked off, annoyed and irritated, but only once had ever been truly angry. That was the time when the villagers tried to burn down his home with him still inside. Haku's cruel death at the hands of Krieg would have constituted the second time the boy broke out in a rage if not for Luffy's calm actions and Zabuza taking the initiative himself.

But this time? This time, Naruto had no such outlets to divert his anger. Nor did he want them. Right now he didn't care to weigh the differences between Meadow Village's actions and Orochimaru's, if one was worse than the other, or even if one had more merit to it than the other.

The only thing going through his mind right now was that this was the creep responsible for Iruka's disappearance that led to the next few years of his life spiraling into a living hell. The anger was boiling so furiously within that he could nearly swear he could hear that same voice from the time at Baratie, saying – almost in a chant-like manner – 'anger gives you power. Use that power'. Over and over.

And Naruto had every intention of obliging.

He gave a loud, feral, roar-like yell, his chakra surging out like it was completely unplugged. Nami seemed frozen in position, as if hardly believing her eyes. The Fish-Men all recoiled from the sight, many retreating inside the compound or behind the perimeter wall. Kuroobi, Chu and Hachi's faces were etched with pure shock, hardly believing this little boy was human. Arlong himself went wide-eyed (though none of his crew witnessed this), gripping the sides of his chair to keep himself under control.

And peeking around the corner from behind the main compound itself, two familiar eyes were watching everything.

Orochimaru remained still, his long black hair swaying back and forth. Whether it was from the gentle breeze or as a result of Naruto's outburst, it was hard to tell. Arms crossed casually over his chest as if he didn't have a care in the world, he watched the boy with the same interest one might have in the sea.

"… is that all you have…?" Orochimaru asked, disappointed.

"WHERE IS IRUKA!"

Orochimaru gave a completely blank face. "Who?"

If Naruto had been pissed off before, he was absolutely livid now.

"Oh…" Orochimaru drew out as realization hit. "I remember now; your little caretaker. The man with the scar across his face." That evil smirk returned. "Are you so sure he's still alive?"

"HE'S ALIVE!" Naruto yelled out. He would NOT accept any other alternative.

"So sure you are," the man taunted, holding his gaze firm. "Very well." He held up a single finger. "If you can lay one strike on me, I shall tell you what – "

"TAJYUU KAGE BUNSHIN NO JUTSU!"

Cutting Orochimaru off with the command, one thousand Narutos burst to life. They filled up the empty space all around the original, standing on top of the water and perimeter wall behind them. A thousand gruff-looking blonds with murderous intent in their eyes. The sheer number of them actually made the Fish-Men squirm, many looking ready to bolt.

And that's when Orochimaru gave a subtle gesture, engulfing them further with his own killing intent. That was the last straw as all the Fish-Men scrambled off, fleeing into the refuge of their compound. Nami herself lost the strength in her legs, falling to her knees and just looking on. That small action got Naruto's attention, reminding him she was there and what she had done to Usopp just moments ago.

"HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO USOPP!?"

One thousand voices shouted those words. One thousand blonds full of complete disgust and betrayal all directed at that single orange-haired navigator. The girl herself just looked on at the small horde, like she was in the middle of a dream.

Or perhaps a nightmare was more accurate.

"LUFFY TRUSTED YOU! YOU KILLED USOPP LIKE HE WAS A BUG! THE REST OF US HIGHTAILED IT HERE LIKE CRAZY TO HELP YOU! HOW COULD YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON ALL THAT!" There was a slight silence, just the wind swaying between them. "ANSWER ME, DAMMIT!"

Finally, the girl stood up. Her face was hard, like it was etched from stone. If she had been cold before, she was completely sub-zero right now. Though if the Narutos had been paying more attention and not so mad, they might have noticed that damp areas around the girl's eyes. Instead, all they could focus on was what thieving witch said next.

"You wouldn't understand."

Climbing to her feet – which must have required significant effort – the navigator looked directly at the blond horde and surprisingly, pulled out Naruto's frog wallet, holding it up for the blond to see. "Thanks."

She turned around and began walking back into the compound, the Naruto horde demanding that she stay right that and answer for her actions. Nami just kept walking, prompting the first few rows of Narutos all to grab shuriken from their holsters and hurl them directly at the girl. "YOU CAN'T RUN FROM WHAT YOU DID!"

"You would do well…" There was a flash of movement and the dozens of projectiles all clattered harmlessly to the ground. One, however, managed to continue on, striking Nami across the face and leaving a shallow cut across her right cheek, almost a mirror image of Luffy's own scar. "…to remember I am still here." Orochimaru continued with his same cool confidence. "As fun as your little squabble is, I hate taking second place instead of being the main show." Deciding to twist the knife some to make sure Naruto focused on him, he added, "For instance… that night I visited you in your little home… didn't you ever wonder why I never came back to finish the job?"

The response was another flare of chakra amongst the Naruto horde, so angry they couldn't speak right now as Nami completely entered Arlong Park. Memories came flowing back… Meadow Village… the attack with Iruka's traps all going off… the bitter aftermath that resulted in the next few years of hell, to where only the old mayor would stand up for him… but even he still had that look of utter disgust in his eyes.

So all one thousand Narutos acted. Over a hundred just ran forward, while the rest leapt into the air to get a better angle. Every single one of them held as many kunai and shuriken, with exploding tags attached to the kunai. Almost a literal wall of deadly projectiles came flying right toward the snake man, who just flicked his tongue out in anticipation.

"SHIHOUHAPPOU SHURIKEN!" (Everywhere Shuriken)

Orochimaru just gave a sly smirk as the projectiles came flying toward him. Many of the exploding tags began exploding prematurely, covering the entire area in smoke. The literal rain of kunai came crashing down, with the aftershocks of the attack shaking the entire area. The ground itself splintered and cracked from the barrage.

A gust of wind came along, blowing the smoke away and revealing the snake. Completely unharmed. The kunai and shuriken embedded all around him, the closest being a foot away. "Please tell me that throwing children's toys is NOT the only thing you can do after all this time."

Naruto's response was for every single clone to charge forward. Many picked up the littered kunai for weapons as they charged forward as one.

"Mundane," Orochimaru uttered as he stood his ground. He began kicking out, tearing through entire groups of Narutos all at once, or even kicking them onto themselves. Nearly a hundred jumped into the air, intending to converge on him like a dome. Orochimaru simply narrowed his eyes at this and suddenly each of those Narutos began spazzing out, like they were suddenly engulfed in horrible nightmares, before all crashing down. Puffs of smoke appeared upon the defeated clones, but more and more rushed in to take their place.

"Unimaginative," Orochimaru continued as he decimated more of them. He moved like a demon, arms and legs swinging out in utmost proficiency as more and more clones were destroyed, wisps of smoke filling the air but the man continued on as if it were nothing. "It seems the years the old mayor bought you have turned out for naught."

"HE NEVER DID ANY SUCH THING!" Naruto roared, the memories drifting back. He hadn't bothered remembering those years for such a long time, having finally been able to put it out of his mind by his fruitless solo adventuring, and more successfully while part of the Straw Hats.

The only support he had in the village was from the Mayor. The Mayor would chase away any people who would try to physically harm him (he never tried to silence the remarks though). The Mayor would always drop off food, supplies and money at his house. Naruto would always be grateful for him and once when he was seven, he tried to thank the Mayor. That's when reality slapped Naruto in the face, quite literally. Tears ran down Naruto's face over as he stared at the Mayor is pure disbelief. "Don't ever think that I'm doing this for you. The only reason why I'm not with them is because I made a promise to Iruka. Only that is why I allow you to stay in this village. Now get your damned self out of my sight." Those had been the Mayor's exact words as he left a weeping boy, who hadn't cried so hard since the day Iruka went missing.

Enjoying the reaction his words caused, Orochimaru merely shook a dismissive finger while simultaneously using his free hand to whip around and destroy another batch of clones while picking up a leg to avoid a sliding attack by another Naruto and stomping down on it. "He said you left the village."

"WHAT?" Several Narutos were hurled by their fellows directly at the snake.

"After my little encounter with your would-be protector, I came back to your home," Orochimaru answered. His arm struck out in a blaze of speed and grabbed the first clone, bashing it against the others, then tossed the first one over his shoulder like dirty laundry, blocking several new projectiles.

"I returned to your house a little after three hours, after everyone was done standing like statues looking at the place. I was certain you would return, yet you did not. So I decided to get some answers directly from the mayor's own mouth. After all…" That sly grin returned. "Your little protector was no longer in any condition to talk."

"YOU BASTARD!"

"I do well to live up the name," Orochimaru agreed as nearly a hundred Narutos all attempted to dogpile him, only to be met with a series of flashes of something lashing out and demolishing them. Encased momentarily with smoke once again, the sight of Orochimaru peeking through really did look like a demon depicted right out of fiction.

"I accepted the mayor's "hospitality" of his own home for a week. An entire week of inflicting various incentives for him to talk and tell me what I wanted to know. The entire week he insisted that he didn't know, that he had chased you away and saw you leave by boat. I was sure he was lying, that he was hiding you somewhere. And after a week's worth of efforts… I finally became convinced he was telling me the truth."

As the smoke started settling, the stone ground began shimmering, revealing Henge'd Narutos. Before they could be fully unveiled, Orochimaru stomped down on each of them in turn, resulting in new puffs of smoke into the air. Out of the original thousand Narutos, less than a hundred now remained. "But it seems to me he did manage to deceive me after all, judging from your reactions. Quite unexpected. But alas, it seems to have all gone to waste."

The last of the Naruto clones all charged forward, half of them leaping toward the man. "You had all that extra time and security to hone your skills and become truly dangerous," the man said as if completely unaware of the latest attack wave.

Suddenly he glanced over his shoulder and reached out with his right arm, snagging one of the Narutos out of thin air by the throat. Giving a tight squeeze, the Naruto squirmed in his grasp as the last of the clones all dispersed.

"Since you are utterly predictable…" Orochimaru finished, giving a chuckle. "The real you was obvious from the start. Looks like you have yet to grasp the fundamental concepts of what shinobi means." He held up a single finger. "First lesson: Never create hordes of clones against opponents of superior caliber. All you do is needlessly waste chakra."

"What would YOU know about it!" Naruto demanded, no longer able to yell in fury on account of his throat being compressed. A back part of his mind wondered what gave him away.

Orochimaru gave a dry laugh this time. "Kukukukuku. Well, I do know that ninja don't wear bright orange that shouts 'Here I Am; Please Kill Me.'"

This time, Naruto retorted by throwing out a punch to flatten the man's nose. A hand flew up, catching his strike with pathetic ease. "Come now, if you truly want to challenge me, use your furry little friend already."

"Stop talking… crap! Tell me where Iruka is!"

Orochimaru's reaction wasn't one that Naruto expected. It wasn't another mockery or smirk. His eyebrow just rose. He looked genuinely bewildered. "What? You mean…" Now that laugh came about. "Oh… this can't be true." His gaze seemed to intensify and Naruto found himself paralyzed. He could practically see himself having his head torn off with violent ferocity. His squirming stopped, his rage vanished… even breathing was becoming a chore. He could feel true fear threatening to creep right on in despite Naruto's best efforts to will it away.

"Oh…" the snake man drew out. "But it is true, isn't it? You really have no idea what you are. Who you are." A look of pure delight appeared on the man's face. "Perhaps I shall enlighten you to – "

He suddenly cut off, hearing something behind himm. Orochimaru peeked over his shoulder, looking at the source. Seeing him distracted, Naruto tried to summon the will to lash out, but his body wasn't listening. Images of his bloody demise kept replaying in his head over and over. It wasn't fear like before… it was something far more problematic.

Curiosity; the desire to know just what the snake here was hinting at, what he knew. Again, he could hear that little voice in the back of his mind just snickering.

"No," Orochimaru said at last, giving the blond his full gaze again. "I think I shall not spoil things for you. That would be so wrong of me." That mocking laugh appeared again as he clutched Naruto's throat tighter, making the boy go blue in the face. "After all, it would be far more beneficial for you to realize it yourself."

He held up his left hand. "But fear not, Orochimaru-sama is not entirely without mercy." The tips of his five fingers all began glowing, a shinobi character appearing with each finger – Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. "For I shall give you a push in the right direction. If you wish to survive and learn… you'd best overcome this."

Orochimaru reared his glowing hand backwards. "Gogyou Fuuin! (Five Pronged Seal!)"

His hand slammed against Naruto's stomach with enough force to knock what little breath that was left out of his small body. He felt exhaustion rapidly coming on, to a degree he'd never felt before. Almost like both of his lungs had been ripped out. His eyes began closing, the man's smirking face becoming more and more out of focus until the young boy blacked out.

"All too easy," Orochimaru uttered, looking at the unconscious boy in his grasp. He then lightly tossed Naruto into the pond. "But consider this your first lesson in controlling that power within you," he went on as he watched the boy's still form sink into the blue depths.

"Struggle. Survive. Overcome. Break through that seal if you want to become strong. Only then will you learn your heritage… and your curse." Orochimaru turned around, looking at Arlong Park. "And if perchance you don't… well… you'll probably thank me since you won't have to tangle with that group."

XXXXXXX – Behind Arlong Park

Hinata watched in horror as this Orochimaru tossed the unconscious boy into the water. Her mind was screaming no at the injustice of it all. She shouted at her body to move, to do something. But her legs wouldn't respond; she was just glued there.

She was still amazed at what she had seen, what she had witnessed. What this… Naruto… had just done in the middle of Arlong Park, a place few dared to come to and fewer still dared to attack. The legion of clones, the various tactics used, how Orochimaru had casually dealt with it all.

And then there were his unusual words and actions after he had caught the boy. From her position, she hadn't heard everything, but thanks to her Byakugan and some skill at lip reading, she was able to get the crux of it.

It was hard to tell who was more mysterious of the pair. The large snake-like man… or the orange-clad boy he just threw into the pond.

The boy who dared to face down the entirety of Arlong Park on his own… while she just stared and watched. Just like how her clan just stood and watched every day in Arlong's territory. She briefly conceded to herself that her inability to do something about something she saw as an injustice more than validated her clan's criticisms against her.

A tear would have followed if not for the fact that she saw Orochimaru leaving. Her heart skipped a beat. She assumed he would have stayed there to gloat, but no, he was leaving. As if he had already completely forgotten about the boy.

He walked directly into the compound… and the Fish-Men were still inside. She could barely hear the voices inside, but it sounded like all the Fish-Men were warily confronting Orochimaru, who responded about the extent of his skills as a crux to why their alliance should be sealed. A scene that her eyes confirmed for her where her ears were not enough.

She could feel… fire… flaring within her. Orochimaru had left. He was also taking the opportunity to gloat to Arlong and his crew… which meant that all of them were now completely focused on the snake…

… and no one was watching the pond. Or the two sad souls within its depths.

She felt the flare within her grow and she acted on it. She quickly tossed off her coat and kicked off her sandals. Running barefoot across the courtyard, the sun showed a navy blue training shirt and pants, standard to her clan. She tried not to think about Arlong or his crew, or the off chance that one of them might look out the window at what she was doing.

Quickly, she crossed the courtyard took a deep breath and dove straight into the pond. Her bloodline still active, she easily found Naruto, just only now touching the bottom of the pond, a small stream of bubbles escaping from his mouth. He was still out like a light.

Concentrating with her eyes, she searched for this 'Usopp'; she was surprised to see that he was nowhere. The current was too docile to have carried him out to the open sea, and Momoo was not here to gobble the young man up either. Hinata felt she knew what had truly happened upon the confrontation between Usopp and Nami, but the first pain of her lungs demanding air forced her to return her attention to Naruto.

Trusting in her instincts – and sending silent prayers to the patron Hyuga gods that she was not wrong – she swam down. Having spent years around Arlong Park as part of the deal, she was an expert swimmer. By force of need over anything else, but the skill was there. Her feet touched the bottom of the pond as she scooped up the boy's body and shot back up to the surface.

Seconds later they emerged from the water, Hinata gasping for breath. She was a great swimmer, but was horrible at holding her breath. Shifting her weight and figure to better support the boy, she began swimming back to the compound. Placing her hand on the edge, she propped herself up to the ground, then pulled Naruto himself out of the water, almost losing her grip on him.

She laid the young man on the ground, amazed at what she had done and that she hadn't been caught. Yet, a quiet corner of her mind offered. With the deed done, she could feel that flare starting to diminish, but she held on to it. Knowing she had to get Naruto and herself out of here before their luck ran out… and to accomplish one other thing.

Mustering what was left of that drive within, Hinata bent over and put her mouth to Naruto's, breathing life back into him.

XXXXXXX – Arlong Park Compound

This day was turning out to be one of the worst days for Arlong since he had established Arlong Park and his Empire. Usually there were just mild unpleasantries. A rebellious ignorant human here, a town needing to be put down there, some Marine growing a backbone and trying to alert Marine HQ to the truth, etc. Little things here and there that would just rub one the wrong way.

But this day was swiftly becoming prime contender for Worst Day during his rule. First Zoro was right under his nose and no one had recognized him; then the pirate hunter had not only escaped, but had killed nearly half of his fellows at the Compound. Some Long Nose had made a fool of him when trying to deal with the scum Genzo, though at least that had come to a pleasant end with Nami. And then came this… wild golden-haired boy. He had made even Arlong himself twitch in fear from the… aura? Scent? Presence? Just what had that boy been?

Orochimaru had explained that the boy had been one of his runaway experiments. A failure at that, and why he had taken steps to clean up his own mess.

Arlong believed that like he believed islands could be found in the sky. Still, there was one memory… one hint he did recall. It was during the time he had spent in Impel Down nine years ago. It had been during their ritualistic 'sterilization' upon his entry into the prison. It was the prisoner in front of him; a rough-edged human, like it had been forcibly shaped out of diamond, and crudely at that. And worst of all was that it had the face of a child, as if mockingly suggesting the human was no more a freak than Arlong was a Shark Fish-Man. When that human was about to begin his own entry, he'd shot a single look at the Fish-Men, and Arlong had nearly broke due to that human's own imposing presence. And not just him; the prisoners behind them and even many of the guards had been shaken by it. It had taken Impel Down's Warden himself to deal with the prisoner.

An aura, Arlong felt, that had been nearly identical to the one that boy had given off. But this orange-clothed fool was a mere lamb to that humans' lion. They simply weren't the same caliber.

And during his solitary year of imprisonment, that had been the only prisoner – human or otherwise – that Arlong had been genuinely terrified of. Even more so than Vice Admiral Borsalino, who had been responsible for Arlong's capture in the first place.

Whatever the case was with the brat, he had seriously dampened Arlong's pride to both himself and the rest of his crew, all fleeing like frightened rats into the compound while Orochimaru dealt with it.

And then said snake wasted no time in rubbing that fact in Arlong's face when he was finished with the boy. Arlong and his crew had to endure nearly two hours of their supposed ally's exploits and why sealing their alliance was now more important than ever, saying that the time to seal their alliance was now, lest something unfortunate like that boy happened again. The implications of the threat were clear enough.

Finally, Orochimaru stated he had some other business to attend to and looked forward to a favorable response come sundown.

Upon the snake's leaving, Arlong felt the need to vent. He tore through the entire first floor of his compound, leveling tables, destroying seats and tearing off entire chunks of the walls, nearly causing the foundation of the entire Compound to collapse. His subordinates normally would have tried to stop him as they did after the Long Nose Encounter.

This time, however, none were willing to get in the way of their Captain's warpath.

As Arlong destroyed another portion of the wall, he wondered when they would arrive. As customary for him whenever Orochimaru showed up, he always made sure to have his A-Team ready to go, just in case things went south. Normally, Orochimaru announced when he intended to drop by which gave Arlong ample time to have things ready. But on occasion, Orochimaru did show up out of the blue, most likely just to mess with him. And upon seeing that the snake was here, Arlong made sure to contact his other crewmembers, having dispatched runners to alert them while on the road to Cocoyashi Village to deal with Genzo.

Not to mention, if they all had been here, they would have been able to stop Zoro's murder spree with ease.

That's when Hachi came up, waving his numerous arms around and announcing they were here. This caused Arlong to pause in his path of destruction, with a bored smile taking the place of his raging scowl.

Four Fish-Men walked into the compound, much to the pleasure of those already inside. For these four were the territorial commanders in charge of the other conquests of Arlong's Empire. Each was responsible for more than a hundred villages.

The first was a short turtle Fish-Man, of the green sea turtle species. Which made him a bit of an oddity as those types were considered large, not short. He wore a purple vest with red shorts, each of them decorated with numerous balls and games, but still allowing his hard, ridged shell to be fully displayed. Each decoration had a tally to it, ranging from single digits to the high hundreds, as well as commonplace straw sandals on his feet. Instead of arms, he had two long paddle-like flippers and was bald.

Snapper. Commander of the Eastern Territories.

The second was a tall, lean crab-like Fish-Man of the red rock crab species. Streaking red, as per the norm of his species, though closer inspection revealed that it wasn't all natural as some areas were of a deeper red than others. He displayed two long white ponytails from either side of his head. This one only wore a pair of long black pants, as well as sandals, leaving his upper body exposed. And on that body were numerous scars of various sizes, the largest running down from his neck almost all the way down to his stomach. He had two slender arms twice the length of normal ones, and instead of hands, he had two large pincers that were constantly snapping open and shut.

Pincer. Commander of the Western Territories.

The third was an electric eel Fish-Man, with sparks constantly flying around her every few seconds. A head taller than Snapper and more wide than Pincer, she was a dark gray-brown color, sporting what looked like a wetsuit that extended over her entire body, colored entirely black. Like the others, she wore simple straw sandals. She had short black hair matching her outfit. Her most noticeable feature was the long slender tail that extended from the base of her back, whipping around like a living snake.

Menace. Commander of the Southern Territories.

The last one was a whale Fish-Man, of the blue whale species. This meant that she was by far the largest and biggest of the group. Easily twice the size of Arlong himself and wider than four other Fish-Men combined. She wore a very large white karate-like gi, but left her arms and legs exposed. On the chest of the gi was a large red sun on the right side and the Arlong Jolly Roger on the left. Around her waist, she wore a large belt with a golden lion face. Long silver hair extended all the way down to her back. And like the others, she wore straw like sandals. Unlike the others, she sported an eyepatch on her left eye.

Princess Pearl. Not her real name, but anyone that said otherwise often found themselves flatter than a pancake. Commander of the Northern Territories.

"Brothers and sisters," Arlong greeted, his foul mood lifting. "Welcome home."

"Is it time to play?" Snapper asked, looking quite eager at the prospect.

"A lot has happened," Arlong affirmed. "And it may very well be time to cut loose."

"Cutting loose," Pincer replied, his pincers snapping rapidly at the phrase. "A fine time for it."

"Orochimaru is here." That got the four commander's attentions. "Early."

"Does this mean we're finally ready to eliminate the snake?" Menace asked, looking intently at Arlong.

Arlong knew better than to answer the question, so instead he stated, "There have been other little nuisances around the island, outside the snake. Roronoa Zoro."

"The Pirate Hunter?" Princess Pearl asked. "He's come for your head?"

"So it would seem. And he's brought his own little band of misfits," Arlong said. "Now sit down, there is much to discuss on what has happened."

The four did as they were bidden, though Princess Pearl's sitting resulted in a large shockwave that knocked Arlong and his other three commanders flat on their backs.

"… Princess… you may remain standing."

XXXXXXX – Outside Arlong Park

Once the territorial commanders had arrived, Hachi, Kuroobi and Chu gathered the rest and left the compound so Arlong could talk with his commanders. They knew that Arlong would want an update on their respective territories, as well as setting their contingency plan for Orochimaru.

Which meant it had fallen on themselves to keep a watch out for any disturbances.

They also began cleaning up the courtyard, repairing the damage and tending to the bodies of their fallen comrades. Work that was dubious in nature, as well as humiliating given they had been so utterly defeated and outwitted.

Just as Hachi was putting Take's body in a body bag, he heard 'There's a Navy Ship!', halting all of their actions. The Octopus Fish-Man looked up to see Shioyaki, a salmon Fish-Man, had spoken. He was currently sitting on top of the wall to keep a lookout. Halting their actions, Hachi and the rest walked over as Chu took out some binoculars.

"Navy Branch 77," Chu reported, seeing the ship in question. "What a rarity; that's a Law-class ship. *chu*"

Unlike the Order-class, known for swift mobility and numbers, or the Justice-class, known for sheer firepower and size, the less common Law-class was a hybrid of the two. Capable of hosting a crew of two hundred, it was an attempt by the Marines to create a vessel with the speed of an Order and the firepower of a Justice. Unfortunately, issues of weight and speed constantly contradicted each other, making it less cost-effective. Still, those that were finished prior were now commissioned as sharpshooters among the Marine fleet, undergoing precision operations of stealth and secrecy.

Making those few Law-class ships the snipers of the Marines.

"Branch 77 isn't among the bases we've bribed," Kuroobi stated, taking the binoculars from Chu. "Looks like just some do-gooders that got suspicious… or just grew a spine."

"So what's to parley with them? *chu*" Chu asked. The standard order was to pay any Marines a standard 2 million in bribes. And if they didn't accept, then they got a one-way trip to Davy Jones' Locker. And given Arlong's mood, the last thing any of them wanted was to interrupt his meeting and risk fouling it up again.

As if to answer, a single cannon shot rang from the ship.

"HOLY SEAS!" the Fish-Men Pirates all cried out together, as they watched it. It was far too high for any of them to intercept, even if they had reacted in time. They watched the cannonball slam through the wall to where Arlong was holding his meeting.

"ARLONG!" Had he been hit?

There was a loud snapping sound in response. "What the hell was that?" came Arlong's voice. Though it was garbled, like he was in the middle of eating.

"Navy ship, sir," Chu answered. "Fired without warning or before we could parley with them. *chu*"

"Sink them," came Arlong's reply.

The Fish-Men all cheered in joy. After the various humiliations from the Long Nose, the Pirate Hunter, and even that strange orange brat, the Fish-Men were eager for some payback, and those foolish Marines just volunteered!

Arlong's officers, however, had other ideas. Upon seeing this, the rest of them all agreed. Knowing full well that the Marines wouldn't even last three minutes with Kuroobi, Chu and Hachi's combined efforts.

The three of them jumped into the water, each heading towards a separate destination. The Marines must have realized that their first attack failed because they were preparing another volley. Shooting out of the water, Chu appeared in front of the cannon, spitting out several high-velocity squirts of water, as lethal as bullets against the humans. The first few struck the cannoneers before they could finish while the last one hit the human commodore right in the neck, taking him down before he even had a chance to introduce himself.

At the same time, Kuroobi had swam to the stern of the ship where the rudder was located. With ease, the ray Fish-Man tore off the rudder, preventing the ship from being able to turn in any direction. While in the calm shallows of the sea, this wasn't so much of a problem.

Which left Hachi's role. Using all six of his arms, he pushed a large rock easily ten times his size and weight over into a nearby current. The diversion forced the current to start changing, becoming a full-on maelstrom. A very powerful whirlpool right in front of the Navy's ship, the powerful waters pulling the vessel right into it. And without a rudder, it had no means of diverting course.

Seconds later, the ship reached the maelstrom and was utterly crushed by the unmerciful pressures, with both the wreckage and the men aboard being sucked under to the depths below.

Such was the power of the Arlong Empire. The secret to its power, the means to secure its borders against its aggressors, such as the Navy of the Grand Line. And how the Fish-Men acquired this knowledge, to know accurately where all the currents were, the way they moved and their colossal power; how were they able to possess such knowledge? Their anatomy was a huge asset, no doubt, but the real game changer was something else entirely.

Nami's sea charts.

And why she could never be allowed to escape Arlong's clutches.

XXXXXXX – Nojiko's House

Nojiko had been out picking tangerines from her orchard when she heard crashing from inside her home. Giving a sigh, she placed the fruit she had in her hand into the basket and headed to her home, already knowing what she would find.

Opening the door, the interior was a wreck. The window had been shattered, chairs had been overturned (one even in pieces) and books laid scattered like autumn leaves. The offender was currently sitting on the table with the only chair left intact, laying her head down on it and covering it with her hands, her left one sporting a black glove.

"Wrecking the house again?" Nojiko asked as she entered, setting her basket down. "Someone's in a bad mood."

"Shut up," came Nami's response. "I just want to rest."

"It's my house you're tearing up," the elder sibling reminded the thief as she picked up a chair and sat down on the other side of it. "Besides, you promised you'd always tell me everything."

"Something happened that made me mad!" Nami retorted, still not moving. "When all my efforts are about to pay off! That little boy has NO RIGHT TO JUDGE ME!"

"Oh?" Nojiko asked, resting her head on her hand. There was something different about Nami this time. She had her little tangents before, but this was more mellow than the other times. Almost like her dear sister was ashamed of what she had done.

"… it's done." Nami said quietly. "… I've got the hundred million I needed. I've made arrangements for the last seven million to be delivered. He'll be here shortly with it… and at last, this nightmare will end."

"He?" Nojiko repeated. Then she sported a smile. "It's another one of your shipmates, isn't it?"

That made Nami jerk right up. "You know?"

"I know." Nojiko confirmed. Now that Nami was facing her, she could see there was actual makeup on her sister's right cheek, like she was desperately trying to hide something. A new tattoo she was ashamed of, perhaps?

"I met the Captain. His story struck me as a little… colorful," Nojiko told her sister. She folded her hands. "And it seems you've got at least one other running around, doing your bidding."

Nami put her head down on the table again, groaning.

"So who's the other one?" Nojiko smiled. "A lover, perhaps?"

"Don't gross me out!"

Nojiko raised an eyebrow. "Is there someone our resident witch fell for? I've been saying that our little runaway rogue was bound to steal more than treasure sooner or later."

"Knock it off! I'm just manipulating a little shinobi who thinks he's more cunning than he actually is to get the last bit of money! That's all! I dumped the others a ways back! And none of them are good-looking enough." Nojiko raised an eyebrow again at the words. "To even consider that! Especially not - !"

She seemed to realize what she was saying and immediately clamped her mouth shut.

But Nojiko was not about to let this go. Not by a long shot. "So let's hear it. Who exactly did you 'hook up' with this time around?" She used the words deliberately. "The only way you're gonna get a chance to rest is to satisfy my curiosity."

There was another groan from the younger woman. "… I hate you…" Next came a sigh. "… his name is Monkey D. Luffy, alright? I hooked up with him to steal the treasure from a dumb clown pirate."

She began telling Nojiko more about her recent adventures, with the elder just smiling fondly through this, wondering if Nami had even realized what she had just said.

XXXXXXX – Navy Base 16

Nezumi was sitting inside his office, decorated with a lot of pictures and fine paintings, many of which depicted his pet, Nijima the rat. Even the expensive rug on the floor was gray, much like the fur of a rat. The Marine Captain was currently examining a large map on his desk.

"And then?" Nezumi asked.

Nijima moved across the map. The map was a large interior layout of Arlong Park sketched with information, from where Arlong and his officers resided to the shark Fish-Man's vaults and the girl's chart room at the top. The rat moved from the drawing of the compound itself towards the bottom, then past the bottle. Using its tail, it tapped the area.

"So, that's where it is," Nezumi mused to himself as he leaned back in his chair. "A special underground level to Arlong Park." He shook his head. "Oh, Arlong, Arlong. You just had to get too ambitious for your own good, didn't you?" He gave a sigh.

Nezumi may have been a lover of money, but he wasn't stupid. He was aware that Arlong's actions would eventually mean he would come out into the open, terrorizing and conquering beneath his heel and completely do away with bribery. It was just his good fortune that Arlong wanted to cement his power first.

So he had used that time to gather information. Each visit, he made sure to drop off his pet beforehand and Nijima would scout out the park. Little bits at a time. It was the real reason he went in person to collect his money as opposed to it just being sent. Every month, he gained another piece of the puzzle. Piece by piece, bit by bit. Over the years, he gained more and more information, ferretting out the Fish-Man's secrets, like that one human scientist Amachi that Nezumi wasn't supposed to know about… and especially not what Amachi was doing for the Fish-Men.

After all, he wasn't known as Sniffer Nezumi for nothing. He had achieved his rank not by power or cunning, but by his ability to ferret out secrets and knowing the best way to utilize those secrets.

Originally, he thought he would have about five more years of milking Arlong's money before having to take action, but Orochimaru's arrival had forced Arlong to speed up considerably. The fact that like-minded Fish-Man groups back at Fish-Man Island were willing to come forward now certainly didn't help matters. And to cap it all off, ties between the Fish-Men and the Hyuga Clan seemed to be growing stronger. Not that that surprised Nezumi; the two leaders were remarkably similar to each other. A match made in heaven, if you believed heaven had a caste system to exploit the unfortunate and grind them beneath their heels.

"Couldn't just be satisfied with the Konami Archipelago, could you?" Nezumi went on to himself. "Couldn't just stay within that little backwater corner of the world that no one cares about. Couldn't just keep your privateering to a measly twenty villages that no one would look twice at." He tsked to himself. "Couldn't just sit there like a good dumb pirate for me to rack up riches. But your expansion plans… conspiring with outlaw Shinobi… and criminals like the White Snake… and what you're doing under the noses of all of us… that simply cannot do."

Oh well. It had been fun while it lasted. Not to mention profitable. As soon as he got back, he checked up on his sources and learned his plan was already in motion. A civilian vessel with 'questionable' cargo was going to be found by a certain member of the Shichibukai, along with certain intel pointing to Arlong's actions. Indeed, perhaps the one individual in the entire world that could yank the heart out of the Arlong 'Empire' with just his mere presence and end this entire situation without a single drop of blood being spilt, save perhaps Arlong's own.

It was no coincidence that the Shichibukai member was in the East Blue. Nezumi had been subtly manipulating the situation and the individual in question for over a year now to make sure he'd be here when the time came. Originally to deal with Arlong, but Orochimaru's presence was something Nezumi needed to get rid of, so he knew it was time to adapt his plans and deal with Arlong. And Orochimaru too, if he could manage that. The bounty on his head nearly made Nezumi weep in joy.

Nezumi couldn't help but chuckle at the irony. Any casual onlooker would naturally think to be suspicious of the pact between the Hyuga and the Fish-Men, feeling that any treachery would come from there… and completely overlook himself.

But then again, Nezumi could hardly fault them: Staying in the shadows and being overlooked was one of his greatest talents.

All he had to do to set his plan in motion was to contact one of his operatives and alert the Warlord to the cargo vessel. The Warlord would be at Arlong Park within half a day.

"Good work as always, Nijima," Nezumi congratulated his pet, scratching the rat under its chin. He then got out some fine grade cheese and put it on the desk, which Nijima began munching away at immediately. "You have certainly earned your reward." He pulled out a baby telesnail. "Now to set the – "

There was a knock at the door before one of his subordinates entered. "Sir!" The Marine reported, saluting. "Apologies for the intrusion, but Arlong has sent word!"

Nezumi paused and set the baby telesnail down. "Oh?"

"Yes sir. He has another job for us!"

Another job? So soon? Nezumi smirked. Fine with him. One more job wouldn't hurt. One more opportunity for money before he put Arlong in his place.

XXXXXXX - Omake: What REALLY happened behind the smokescreen

"SHIHOUHAPPOU SHURIKEN!" (Everywhere Shuriken)

Orochimaru just gave a sly smirk as the projectiles came flying toward him. Many of the exploding tags began exploding prematurely, covering the entire area in smoke. The literal rain of kunai came crashing down, with the aftershocks of the attack shaking the entire area. The ground itself splintered and cracked from the barrage.

As soon as he was obscured from sight…

"OH CRAP!" Orochimaru shrieked out like a little toddler, his eyes bugging wide and turning even a paler color of white. Panic driven, he bit his thumbs. "SHOOTSHOOTCRAPCRAPCRAP!*BEEP**BEEP**BEEP*! SUMMONING! HURRY HURRY HURRY! RASHOMON!"

The large iron gate erupted from the ground, taking the brunt of the rest of the attack. Practically wetting himself with relief, he placed a hand on the gate to support himself as he breathed heavily. "What is WRONG with that kid?" He asked himself as felt the gate shake from the various impacts and explosions that made Orochimaru jump a foot in the air. "Oh, good. It's holding." He sighed in a relief. He shook his head. "Does he have some sort of kunai fetish? Who on earth uses so many at once? Sadistic weirdo."

That's when he noticed the attack ended and the smokescreen began receding…

"SH*T!" Orochimaru cried out as he began refreshing himself at lightning quick speed. "Alright, alright, composed. Menacing glare." Pulls 'How to be a Villain for Dummies' book. "Have some taunts ready… act like he's lower than dirt… have a war face prepared… give ideal praise to make it seem like there's more to my character… GOT IT!"

Smoke clears as Orochimaru crosses his arm, puts on his 'War Face'. "Please tell me that"

"What is that?" Naruto asked, pointing at the Rashomon gate, making Orochimaru face fault.

"CRAP! I FORGOT TO DESUMMON THAT!"

XXXXXXX – End of Chapter 37

And so ends the next segment in the Arlong Arc here. Hope it was worth the wait. Part of the reason it took so long is that I ended up rearranging events to accommodate for progress, especially when the Naruto and Orochimaru skirmish went longer than I anticipated. So it took awhile to reorganize and still make sure I'm getting everything covered.

Still allowed me to get to a few scenes I've been wanting to for awhile. Such as Arlong's commanders (way more territory here than in canon, only makes sense. Nevermind the Konoha 11 characters) and Nezumi's scene. Have BIG plans for that guy, heh heh.

And you all probably know just which Warlord Nezumi has schemed to bring.

Shihouhappou Shuriken (All Directions Shuriken/Everywhere Shuriken) is a Ninjutsu utilized by Uzumaki Naruto. After using Tajuu Kage Bunshin to create an enormous amount of clones, the Narutos will surround their target and then launch their shuriken at them. A-ranked Ninjutsu. Canon Technique.

Gogyou Fuuin (Five Pronged/Element Seal) is a Fuuinjutsu used by the Sannin Orochimaru. Orochimaru forms an elemental seal on each of his fingers, one for each of the following five "elements": water, metal, earth, fire and wood. He used this odd numbered seal to disrupt the affects of the even numbered Shiki Fuuin placed on Naruto's stomach by the Fourth Hokage. The Gogyou Fuuin would disrupt the Shiki Fuuin's ability to let the Kyuubi's chakra blend into Naruto's chakra. A-ranked Fuuinjutsu. Canon Technique.

Side note: According to my sources – that being Leaf Ninja site and the Naruto Wiki – the five elements represented here are in fact the five classic Chinese Elements of Fire, Metal, Wood, Earth and Water rather than the five Naruto elements of Fire, Wind, Lightning, Earth and Water. One of the few times the canon story actually uses the classic Chinese version. Rather interesting when you think about it.

Kuchiyose: Rashomon (Summoning: Rashomon) The sealed gate Rashoumon can serve as a barrier when needed by Orochimaru. Subordinates of Orochimaru are also under the belief to be able to utilize this. Orochimaru himself can summon three of these gates by drawing blood on both his right and left thumbs. Widely considered to be one of Orochimaru's strongest, if not the strongest, defense in his arsenal at this time.

Nami's Ultimate Idiot Competition – Luffy: 49, Naruto: 58. Currently on hold due to Nami's departure.

May the Kage Bunshin and Gomu Gomu no Bazooka be with you!

Disclaimer: I do not own One Piece or Naruto. They belong to their respective owners: Eiichiro Oda and Masashi Kishimoto. Big thanks to Paintball Gamer for beta-reading this!