"Speech"

'Thoughts'

Demon/Summon/inner Sakura speech

Demon/Summon thoughts

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of the characters created by Kishimoto, but all OC's are my own creation.

Now on with the story

Author's note: I'm back!

Chapter 31: A Hokage's Wrath Part 1!

(Konoha Academy)

The hot afternoon sun beat down upon NiYal, Anika and Tsunami as they peered through a chain linked fence from atop their rooftop lookout. They looked on in a speechless awe as Gaara in his Shukaku form and Gamabunta stared each other down. When NiYal noticed Naruto standing atop Gamabunta his speechless awe turned to one of shock and disbelief. His jaw opened so wide that it looked like it would fall off and after he blinked a couple of times to make sure he saw what he thought he saw he finally broke the silence. "I don't believe it. Naruto-sama… Naruto-sama was actually able to summon Gamabunta! The Chief Toad said to have helped defeat the Kyuubi all those years ago. I knew Naruto-sama was good, but to already be at that level…wow."

A bright mischievios sparkle appeared in Anika's eyes and once all the possible outcomes for the future flew through her mind she pumped her fist into the air and shouted "Naruto-sama… YOU ROCK!"

NiYal immediately recognized the tone in Anika's voice. "Oh no…" he muttered to himself as he slapped his forehead with his right hand and sighed "… not this again."

"Hey!" shouted Anika, slightly annoyed by NiYal's implication she shot him a harsh glare, put her hands on her hips, to make her anger more apparent, and grumbled "And just what is THAT suppose to mean?"

NiYal shook his head in disbelief at Anika's apparent naivety towards his comment before he huffed "Oh come on Anika. We all know how you get when you meet a strong shinobi that's not trying to kill you. That added with the fact that he's Kushina-sama's only son makes it blatantly obvious what you have planned."

"What's the matter…" asked Anika as she swayed her hips as she walked up to him and in an effort to be as suggestive as possible leaned in until she was right up against his ear. Then with a hint of seduction in her voice she whispered "Jealous?"

This action caught NiYal by complete off guard and while he tried his hardest to sputter comprehensive words Tsunami came up and pulled them apart. With annoyance clearly written all over her face, she glared at the two and snapped "Would you two knock it off! This situation has become far more dangerous than you realize!"

"What are you talking about?" asked a completely baffled Anika and as she tried to make sense of Tsunami's comments she tilted her head to the right, arced her right eye brow and added "Now that Naruto-sama has summoned Gamabunta this fight is pretty much over."

"Don't you get it? That's what's got me worried." shot back an aggrivated Tsunami who couldn't believe that her teammates didn't see the upcoming danger. In an effort to calm herself she took several deep breaths as she walked over to the edge of the rooftop. Once there she put her hands on the warm metal of the chain link fence before she looked out at the two Titans and prayed that Naruto would be able to handle this fight the right way. After a few more moments of silence she turned back towards her teammates and said "If those two fight here their sheer size will most likely destroy what's left of this village. And let's not forget about the jutsu's they're most likely going to use."

The meaning of Tsunami's words hit NiYal like a tone of brick and gave him a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as he remembered his own past. Once he pushed those horrible memories back into the back recesses of his mind, he walked up next to Tsunami and followed her worried gaze out towards the two giants before he said "You're right Tsunami… we can't allow that to happen. Losing your home… that's a scenario I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."

"And just what would you suggest we do about it NiYal?" Tsunami snapped because no matter how hard she tried she couldn't come up with a course of action to save her life. After a few more seconds of unproductive and aggravating contemplation she turned towards NiYal and sighed "It's not like we can just go and help out Naruto-sama. We simply don't have the skills necessary to be of any help… If we went we'd just be in Naruto-sama's way."

As both NiYal and Tsunami went into an uncomfortable silence over the matter Anika noticed something out of the corner of her eye. When she peered through the chain link fence and saw several small figures moving along the rooftops. The smile that crept onto her face made her two teammates question her sanity but those thoughts were quickly shelved when she said "Looks like we don't have to worry about that anymore."

Curiosity got the best of NiYal, he arced his right eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest as he asked "What do you mean?"

Anika's smile only got bigger as he casually pointed off to the right side of the Academy and said "Take a look over there."

When NiYal and Tsunami shifted their gaze in the direction Anika pointed, they where astounded to see Asuma and Kurenai at the head of a small attack group, consisting of three chunin, on a direct intercept course with Naruto and Gaara. NiYal's shock expression morphed into a smug grin on his face as he scoffed "Well it's about damn time Konoha got off their asses."

"But you know…" He suddenly said as the knowledge of the dark aspects of Naruto's childhood buried deep within the recesses of his mind pushed itself to the forefront, and just as quickly as it appeared his smile turned to into a frown while he grumbled "With the way this village treats Naruto-sama, I won't be surprised if they waited this long on purpose."

Tsunami didn't like the accusations seeping from NiYal's words. So she balled up her fist and nailed him in the arm before she yelled "Hey cut them some slack will you!" Then after she got his full attention she decided to interject some reason into his mind; "I doubt they hate Naruto-sama so much that they would purposely take this long. I'm sure they didn't even know that Suna had a creature like that in their arsenal."

"Are you really so sure of that?" questioned Anika, as the tone in her voice gave away the anxiety and worry that she felt. But when she remembered the Intel she received about the villagers an anger welled up inside her, and as she leaned up against the chain-linked fence she callously stated "Did you forget about the briefing Kushina-sama gave us? The people of this village nearly killed Naruto-sama once. Who's to say that they won't try it again?"

Tsunami, who always tried to think the best of people, just couldn't believe that anyone would got that far and this internal confusion was plastered all over her face as she muttered "Surely they wouldn't…"

"We can't take that risk Tsunami." interrupted NiYal as his mind started to formulate a course of action, and when he finally settled on a plan he turned his gaze back to his two teammates and said "Anika, I want you to inform Akira-sensei about this and request some backup. That way we can be ready to aid Naruto-sama if the worst happens."

Anika pushed herself off of the fence and did a two fingered salute as she said "On it."

But before Anika could even move a step Tsunami appeared right by her side and placed her hand on Anika's left shoulder. "Hang on a moment!" she snapped as all the possible outcomes of this action ran through her head, and when she couldn't figure out NiYal's course of action she turned towards him and asked "Just what do you plan to do once Anika goes to inform Akira-sensei NiYal?"

"Well obviously one of us needs to stay here and continue our lookout assignment. That's why I want you to wait here until Anika and Akira-sensei return." remarked NiYal as he pointed at Tsunami to emphasize his point. He then turned around and tested the strength of the chain-linked fence. Once he was satisfied that it would hold his weight he looked over his shoulder at Tsunami and said "Meanwhile I'll head over to Naruto-sama's location just incase something happens before back-up arrives."

"Hey!" snapped a concerned Tsunami but then hesitated for a moment, almost as if she was afraid of the answer to her next question: "Why is it that you always get to go on ahead and I get stuck in the rear?"

Tsunami's words struck a chord in NiYal and as he reached to the top of the fence, he suddenly felt the full weight of his own personal burden bare down on his shoulders. He looked down with a look of a worn out old man he pointed to the sword on his back and solemnly stated "Because… if the situation goes south I can unleash Talon's full power."

That one statement through Tsunami and Anika for a loop, from they both knew full well the outcome of such a scenario. The fear and apprehension they both felt bled through into their voices when they both shouted "You, you can't serious! If you unleash that much power at your current level you'll…"

"Don't you think I know that!" shot back NiYal clearly angered over the prospect of the outcome. But when he saw the worried looks he got from his two teammates he took several moment to collect himself and once he calmed down he got a gentle look on his face he tried to reassure his team: "Hey come on now you two. You know there's no need to worry about that. After all with Naruto-sama and myself working together there's no way things will get that bad."

" Maybe…" mumbled Tsunami still uneasy about the whole idea. "But I still don't think this is a good idea." Forcing that uneasiness aside she walked up to the fence and in a last ditch effort to change NiYal's mind said "You did see who the two Jounin leading that group were right?"

"The two Jounin?" asked NiYal who just couldn't see the point Tsunami was trying to make. So in order to understand this better he decided to jump back down and question her directly "Just what are you getting at Tsunami? What do those two Jounin have to do with this?"

"Everything!" snapped Tsunami as she grabbed a hold of NiYal's shoulders and looked in directly in the eyes in the hopes that her words would make since to him "Their names are Sarutobi Asuma and Yuuhi Kurenai. Both of whom have a history of never harming Naruto-sama and have even stood up of him on occasion. So I hardly think they'd suddenly have a change of heart." After this outburst Tsunami's confidence rose and in a last ditch effort to voice her worries she poked him in the chest and in a stern voice stated "Now why don't you just calm down and think this through rationally before you cause an incident that could insight a war!"

The very thought of insighting a war made NiYal's stomach churn as memories of experiences flooded his mind. NiYal used every ounce of his training to push those memories back to the dark recesses of his mind where they belonged. Once he cleared his mind and gave Tsunami a stern look for bringing up bad memories before she said "You know damn well that's the last thing I would ever want to do. So fine! We'll play it your way for now, but I just hope your right about this."

As NiYal walked away from Tsunami an enormous amount of guilt flood her being for causing NiYal to remember the horrors of his past and as she looked off in the direction to Gamabunta she quietly muttered "So do I NiYal… so do I."

(With Naruto)

As the cloud of dust that appeared when Gamabunta was summoned dissipated, both Naruto and Gaara continued to stare each other down, neither of them daring to make a move before the other. But with the destruction of Ichiraku still fresh in his mind Naruto's patience was already worn thin, and once that wore out he swiftly raised his right hand and pointed at Gaara as he shouted "Alright Chief Toad. Let's kick his ass!"

Gamabunta glanced at Gaara before he surveyed his surroundings and saw that most of the buildings in the area were nothing but rubble. The buildings that had survived were covered in cracks with splintered wood and chunks of plaster hanging off them. He quickly determined that these buildings were no longer fit to live in. Not wanting to cause further damage to the village he shifted his gaze upward and simply stated "No thanks."

"What?" whined Naruto, shocked that the chief of the Toad contract didn't want to help him even after seeing the destruction that Gaara has caused. Still slightly shaken from Gamabunta's lack of fighting spirit, Naruto looked down at the light brown head of chief toad and stuttered "But…but I thought you were the one that wanted me to have your summoning contract? Doesn't that mean you wanted us to fight side by side?"

Completely unfazed by Naruto's query Gamabunta simply took several puffs from his black nicotine filled pipe and had one final look around the devastated area filled with pieces of wood and plaster that were at one time buildings that people lived and worked in before he grumbled "Listen here you little runt, aside from the fact that we haven't even sealed the deal with sake yet. You do realize where we are, and what will happen if we fight here, right?"

"Yeah…" mumbled Naruto as he got distracted by all the nasty memories of his early childhood that rushed to the forefront of his mind, and once he was able to push the them back he completed his thought "…I know exactly where we are."

"But that doesn't matter right now." said Naruto, who now focused on the more recent events of Haku's battle and Ichiraku's destruction. These thoughts brought forth a conflicting series of emotions, on one hand he had a very strong desire to go and help out Haku so nothing bad would happen to her, but on the other hand the recent destruction of Ichiraku's left him with an overwhelming rage at loosing the only place that ever treated him like a human being. The moment that these emotions reached a boiling point Naruto focused in on Gaara and growled "All that matters is that we take Gaara down hard and fast, for all he's done. I'll show him not to mess with my only safe haven here. Once that's done, I'll be able to go and help out Haku-chan."

The concern in Naruto's voice at the mention of Haku didn't go unnoticed by Gamabunta. This got the Chief Toad curious as to Naruto's true motives here, so he tilted his head slightly to the right and asked "Haku-chan?"

Naruto looked down at Gamabunta's head and as he thought about Haku a warm feeling washed through his body that almost erased the anger he felt for the destruction of Ichiraku. As this warm feeling increased Naruto's lips curled into a smile while he said "She's someone very important to me, and I don't want anything bad to happen to her. So are you going to help me finish this or not Chief Toad?"

The sincerity in Naruto's voice caused Gamabunta to remain silent for a few moments before he took another puff from his pipe and said "Heh, I'll help you out you little runt." Gamabunta then got a serious look on his face as he contemplated the situation, and after another moment of silence he added "…But just so you know I don't know any jutsu's that can take him down hard and fast. So you'd better have something up your sleeve. Otherwise this is going to get messy."

"You've got to be kidding me!" shouted Naruto, totally shocked that such a large summons didn't have a jutsu for this kind of situation. Still in a state of disbelief over Gamabunta's last statement he looked down at the chef toad and asked "You mean you don't have some super killer awesome jutsu you could use to win this fight?"

"Nope."

The flatness in Bunta's voice caused a deep depression to fill Naruto's being and as he slumped his shoulders he grumbled "Ah shit…" With that option closed to him Naruto's mind drifted to the only possible choice he had left. "… I guess that means I have no other choice then. But that jutsu is only fifty percent complete, and to add to that I'm not that good with it yet. So I'm going to need an opening in order to score a direct hit."

"Just an opening huh?" retortedGamabunta and as he pulled out his dagger out of his sheath his lips curled into a smile before he added "That will be easy."

(With Haku)

The swiftness of Crow's poison tipped blade was apparent when it moved several strands of Haku's hair as it passed mere inches above her head. The only reason it didn't decapitate her was because she had ducked at the last moment and went into a roll. When she came out of it she pulled out a senbon and threw it at the puppet's elbow joint. The instance the senbon lodged itself into place the joint was rendered immobile and useless. Just then Temari appeared beside Haku and in the blink of an eye moved to strike her with her battle fan.

But before the fan even came close to Haku, a devastating flying side-kick was delivered to Temari's right side. The blow landed with such force that it sent her crashing to the ground. Haku immediately spun around expecting to see that Naruto had come to her aid, but when she saw the long jet black hair and camouflaged pants her eyes widened in shock for never in a million years did she expect to see her again. And once the shock wore off Haku was able to mutter "Kin… Kin-san? But I thought you…"

"Don't get the wrong idea here." interrupted Kin as she looked over her shoulder at Haku and when she saw that Haku had a quizzical look on her face her own expression became serious as she added she added "I still think that whole happiness thing is total bullshit. I just came back for the steady meals, got it."

Picking up on the small undertone in her voice a small smile appeared on Haku's face before she nodded her head and replied "Understood Kin-san."

By now Temari had made managed to make it back to her feet and Kankuro was able to use his chakra strings to wiggle the senbon out of Crow's left elbow joint. When Haku and Kin saw that both Suna shinobi were getting ready to launch another attack they got into their fighting stances, and once they were ready Kin glanced over at Haku as she said "Now… how are we going to handle this?"

"You can have the puppeteer and his puppet." replied Haku as she fixed her gaze on their two opponents to make sure they didn't try anything funny, but once her eyes locked with Temari's she added "I'll handle the wind user. She and I still have some unfinished business."

This time it was Kin who noticed the undertone and in an effort to lighten the mood a little she rolled her eyes and pouted "Oh sure… give me one that's in hiding."

While Haku kept her gaze locked on both Temari and the puppet Crow she did a quick nod to the left before she stated "About one hundred yards behind us and to our left. You'll see one of the few remaining buildings in the area. That's where you'll find him."

Kin's right eyebrow arced up and with a look of absolute skepticism written over her face she inquired "And you know this how?"

A slight smile appeared on Haku's face and as she directed Kin's attention to Crow's missing arm she said "Let's just say that he was quite vocal about my removal of that arm."

Her smile was replicated on Kin's face as they both realized the implications of such attachments to such inanimate objects before Kin said "So the little puppeteer is fond of his toy huh? That could be useful…"

Her statement was cut short however when Crow suddenly charged forward and moved to strike the pair of kunochi with his poison tipped blade. But before the blade could even get close to either one of them, they both jumped out of the way while at the same time Haku threw half a dozen senbon at the puppet.

As some of the senbon bounced off of Crow's wooden structure Temari took this opportunity to move in and as she swung her open battle fan at the two kunochi she said "Ninpo: Kamaitachi!" (Ninja arts: Cutting Whirlwind)

The chakra laced wind that spewed forth at incredible speed, but even at this amazing speed Haku was faster, for she managed to focus her chakra and complete a quick series of hand-seals all before the wind was even halfway to her. With the extra time Haku placed her hands on the ground and said "Hyouton: Koori Hei!" (Ice style: Ice Wall)

An ice wall about three feet wide and six feet tall burst forth through the ground just as the wind slammed into its icy cold surface. The sheer force of the wind proved to be so strong that it actually caused the ice to crack. When Haku noticed this she knew it could only take a few more hits like that before it shattered. So she turned to Kin and said "This is your chance. Go!"

Understanding the situation Kin nodded her head before she turned around and bolted for the building that Kankuro was on.

Once the wind died down Temari got a smirk on her face as she got a good look at the cracks and noticed small beads of water rundown the ice wall. Prepping her fan for another attack she decided to rub in Haku's dire situation. "I see that your ability to create ice is limited in this hot weather. Looks like just one more blow from my fan and I'll turn that ice wall of yours into crushed ice. Ninpo: Kamaitachi!"

'Now!' Haku thought to herself as she came out from behind her wall just as Temari drew her fan back to strike. Haku then dashed forward and crossed the distance between herself and Temari so fast that it couldn't even be registered by the human eye. The moment she was in front of her opponent she used both of her hands to grab a hold of the fan right above Temari's own hands. As Temari's eyes widened in shock Haku twisted her body and delivered a vicious sidekick to the stomach.

The force of the blow was so great that it not only caused Temari to get the wind knocked out of her but she also lost her grip on the fan before she slammed into the ground. As she gasped for breath Haku closed the fan, focused her chakra and froze the fan like she had done to the puppet's arm earlier. Once the fan was completely frozen she snapped the brittle material in half, and as she tossed the two pieces aside she coldly said "You rely too much on that fan of yours. Now learn the price of your mistake."

Haku then used her great speed to get right up next to Temari before she delivered a powerful roundhouse kick to her torso. As soon as she stumbled backwards Haku appeared right in front of her and landed a right cross to her chin. With Temari stunned from the blow Haku took the opportunity to focus her chakra once again to bring forth as much water from the ground as she could. She then flew through a series of hand-seals and with a voice of ice said "It's time to finish this. Hyouton: Makyou Hyoushou!" (Ice Style: Demonic Ice Crystal Mirrors)

The water that now saturated the ground all around Temari began to rise up and form into long flat mirrors of ice that created a 360 degree dome around their target. By the time Temari had managed to recover her balance and with her right arm clutching her stomach in pain she took in a quick scan of her surroundings. After she got a good look around her eyes widened in shock as she noticed that all the mirrors were fully intact with no sign that the sun had any effect on them. Totally baffled by this turn of events she turned towards Haku and shouted "Impossible? Your other jutsu was melting under this heat! You shouldn't be able to do this with the sun bearing down on us like this!"

Completely ignoring the ramblings of her opponent Haku waited until all the ice mirrors had fully formed and once that happened she stepped into one and her image suddenly appeared in all the mirrors. She then looked at Temari and finally said what was on her mind. "That was just to lull you into a false sense of security. Now I'll give you this one chance. Surrender now and no harm will come to you. But if you resist…"

Temari reached down to her kunai holder and pulled out several kunai and with a defiant look in her eyes said "If you think that just because you tricked me and got rid of my fan that I'd surrender… You're sorely mistaken."

"So you've made your decision..." sighed Haku as she shook her head before she took out several pairs of senbon and when she got ready to strike her voice became as cold as ice as she deadpanned "Then you leave me no choice."

(With Kin)

As Kin approached the decrepit building that was pointed out earlier she started to scan the area and hoped to find any indication as to where the puppet user was hiding. But when she was within a few feet from the building where the puppet user Kankuro was said to be she stopped dead in her tracks as she realized that any smart shinobi would have lined the area with traps. So as she scanned her surroundings she noticed that the area was cluttered with huge chunks of rubble that had fallen from all the damaged buildings. The amount of debris that was in the area made it impossible to see any visible indications of any kind of traps that might have been laid.

So in an effort to sweep the soon to be battlefield the former Oto nin pulled out several senbon with the metal wire and bells attached. Her plan was a simple strategy, throw the senbon at certain locations through the area and then use them as a form of sonar to test for any traps. If she was really lucky maybe she'd even be able set off any rigged with some kind of sound detection. Using her chakra to amplify her hearing in order to detect the smallest sound possible set to work. With a steady and accurate throw she sent several of the bell laden senbon flying. The moment they were secure in the soft dirt, she tugged on the string and produced a visible sound wave. Much to Kin's great relief and satisfaction nothing exploded.

When she detected nothing out of the ordinary, she double checked anyway just to make sure that she didn't miss anything. After she was certain that there weren't any traps in the immediate area, she cautiously moved forward her eyes shifting to every dark shadow that lie beyond the broken windows, and with her hearing heightened to the max she listened for any noises that were out of the ordinary as she entered the building.

Once inside day turned to night, the room was covered in darkness with only a few points of light that came through some cracks in the outer walls, even the broken windows let in very little due to such obstacles as chunks of the ceiling that had fallen to the floor, the only real source of light came from the doorway Kin had just passed through. As Kin preceded further inside, her ears picked up the sound of wood knocking against each other that came from directly behind her. In the blink of an eye she turned around only to find out that… nothing was there. Adrenaline started to pump into her system and her breathing came in short staggering breaths as her eyes darted from shadow to shadow looking for any indication as to the source of the noise.

With no sign of what made it Kin started to get a bad feeling about this and mentally scolded herself for probably walking right into a trap. Without making any sudden movements Kin slowly drifted her right hand her kunai pouch, and once her fingers brushed up against the button she unlatching it. When she got a firm grip on the kunai handle she felt a little more at ease at now being at least armed for whatever awaited her. After taking a deep breath to calm her nerves she strained her hearing hoping to get any kind of indication as to where her stalker was, and that's when she the sound of wood behind her once again. Reacting on instinct she pulled out the Kunai and held it at the ready as she turned, but much to her frustration when she came to bare on her target it wasn't there.

'That bastard! He's toying with me.' Kin thought to herself as she ever so slowly took a cautious step backwards and started to head towards the entrance her eyes narrowed and focused in an effort to pierce the darkness. Then just as she was about to exit the building she noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Snapping her head in that direction she noticed Kankuro's puppet Crow lunge out of the darkness, its head and arms, of which the right arm was severed at the elbow, were clearly visible while the black cloak it wore shrouded the rest of its body in the darkness.

The swiftness and precision of Crow's attack would have proved fatal if not for all the years of Orochimaru's training Kin had gone through. Her muscles tightened and constricted as she leaned back, like she was going under a limbo pole, just as Crow's blade passed mere inches above her stomach and skimmed the rest of it way up her chest before it grazed the metal surface of her headband.

Once Crow's blade was safely away from her Kin used her fantastic muscle control to pull herself upright and reacting solely on reflex she rapidly twisted her upper body, and prepared to hurl her kunai at the puppet's head. But much to her amazement and dismay Crow had already turned around and continued to press its attack.

Metal clanged against metal as Kin just barely managed to alter the direction of her kunai and brought it up just in time to block the downward slash of Crow's blade. Even with Kin's other hand bracing the kunai the sheer power of Crow's slash brought Kin to her knees before the puppet quickly shifted its weight and blasted the former Oto nin in the gut with a powerful side kick which knocked her even further into the darkened building.

Pain coursed through every inch of her body as she slammed up against the furthermost wall from the entrance door and as her body slumped to the ground she discreetly reached into her pouch and pulled out several small balls made of glass, one of which was filled with a dark green liquid.

Shifting the dark green glass ball into her right hand she did a quick scan of the darkened room in hopes of finding a means of escape from dire position. Then out of the corner of her eye she noticed a small point of light off to her right. Upon further inspection Kin realized that the small point of light was actually an open window at the top of a staircase. This discovery of a possible escape route came just in time for Crow wasted no time and moved in for the kill.

Kin's keen hearing picked up the movement of wood, she instantly darted her eyes back in Crow's direction and as it closed the gap between them she tightened her grip on the green ball in her right hand and prepared to strike. Then when it was close enough to see the gloss in its dull lifeless eyes but not close enough to strike with its blade she struck. With great speed and precision she hurled the glass ball at Crow's undamaged arm, which shattered the glass into millions of pieces on contact. As the green liquid spread out over the arm it started to bubble and hiss, and as the acid ate its way through the wooden make-up of the arm a pungent smell of rotten eggs filled the room.

When the acid ate through the last grain of wood that connected the forearm to the rest of the body she threw the remaining glass balls on the cold hard ground. The instant they shattered the chemicals in them mixed together in a way that created a large dark grey cloud that encompassed the area. Using this cover to her advantage she bolted up the staircase and made a bee-line straight for the open window.

Once outside she noticed that she was only a few feet from the top of the building. But just after she took a step forward the chunk of wall she was just standing on broke away from the wall and went crashing into the street below. 'Great… out of the frying pan and into the fire.' Kin thought to herself as she scanned the wall and found it full of cracks and potholes.

The condition of the building became even worse when Crow suddenly burst through with enough force to send chunks of mortar and wood flying in all directions. But before Kin had a chance to react to this, her heightened hearing picked up the sounds of gears moving inside the puppets head. Suddenly its mouth opened and a spike laced with poison popped out. Not wasting any time it lunged forward with the spike leading the way. 'Shit!' was the only thought that went throughKin's mind as she just barely managed to overcome her shock and lean back into a back flip in order to avoid the spike. She used the momentum of her flip to deliver a powerful double kick to Crows chest that sent the puppet flying in the other direction. But the moment she came out of her flip her eyes widened in surprise as Crow appeared behind her and in a forward lunge tried to shove the spike right through her head.

She barely avoided having her head impaled by going into a forward roll, but she didn't escape unscathed for the blade nicked the end of her long hair. But in the middle of her roll she placed a tag on the side of the building right next to Crow's feet, and once she came out of it she got to her feet and sprinted as fast as she could towards rooftop. When she was about two feet from the top the tag exploded in a massive fireball. As the wall crumbled beneath her feet the sheer force from the explosion knocked Kin up past the top of the roof. While still in the air Kin look down and saw that her tag had completely demolished the right side of the building, the interior lay bare for all to see. After she recovered from this shock she felt gravity start to pull her back down to the earth. Not wanting to feel the hard impact of the ground she managed to pull out a kunai with a rope attached, and with pinpoint accuracy she threw it down towards an area that was a lot closer, the remains of the partially destroyed rooftop.

The moment the kunai imbedded itself into the rooftop floor, Kin yanked on the rope with all her strength, and pulled herself onto the roof. When her feet touch the roof tiling, she took several ragged breaths as she wiped some dirt and plaster dust from her chin.

"Pathetic. After that little skirmish you're already tired?" inquired Kankuro and as his lips curled into a smirk he said "Heh, I see I won't even have to break a sweat to take you out."

Kin got a defiant look in her eyes and took several more ragged breaths before she snarled "Yeah…? And just how do you plan to do that, when your little toy was just blasted into a million pieces?"

"Humph. You think my Crow can be stopped so easily?" said a cocky Kankuro as he manipulated his chakra strings. Crow suddenly leap over the rooftop ledge and landed between Kankuro and Kin. Kankuro got a half smirk on his face as he added "As you can see he's still fully functional."

When she got a better look at Crow her eyes widened in surprise, for aside from a few singe marks and the damage both she and Haku had done earlier, the puppet was still in complete working order. Kin narrowed her eyes in annoyance as she thought 'Son of a bitch! I thought for sure that move would have done some kind of damage. Just what will it take to get rid of that thing?'

"Now… I think it's time to make you pay for everything you, and that ice bitch did to my puppet." snarled Kankuro as his smirk turned into a sneer while his fingers worked their magic. This act caused the remnants of Crow's cloak, that was still draped over its body, to shred into pieces as two hidden arms revealed themselves before Kankuro had the puppet charge forward.

Kin's expression turned to one of disbelief as she muttered "Ah… shit."

(Elsewhere)

Dust, wood, and other forms of debris flew into the air as Gamabunta got out of the way of Gaara's latest sand attack. Naruto wiped the dust from his face and spit some sand out of his mouth before he grumbled "Alright, let's do this."

No further words needed to be exchanged as Gamabunta shifted his weight and crouched down. The sheer force release upon Gamabunta's leap into the air caused a massive amount of dust and debris back into the air that slightly covered their angle of attack. As Gamabunta drew closer Gaara instinctively gathered his chakra and moved to slash the Chief Toad with Shukaku's right arm. The moment Gamabunta saw movement he shifted his weight and brought his dagger to bear. Once it made contact with the arm he brazenly shouted "Gamadosuzan!"(Toad Slash)

The strength of the compact sand was just like concrete and even though Gamabunta put his full weight into the blow the dagger still slipped out of his hands the very instance he finished slicing off Shukaku's arm. As the dagger slammed into one of the abandoned buildings, completely demolishing it into a tattered pile of wood and plaster, the severed arm of Shukaku crashed right in front of Asuma and Kurenai, who had just arrived on the scene, before it dissolved into a pile of sand.

Asuma looked up at the two towering figures and once his keen mind took stock of the situation he grumbled "This is really bad. If we don't find a way to stop this soon those two could destroy the entire village."

"And just how do you suggest we do that Asuma?" interrupted Kurenai because for the life of her she couldn't figure out a single thing they could do to stop this.

Asuma took a drag from his cigarette, and deeply assessed the situation. After what seemed like an eternity for his partner Kurenai, he finally turned to face her. "Honestly, I don't have a clue. But I do know that we need to find some way to immobilize that thing A.S.A.P."

Meanwhile Gamabunta's muscles tensed as he prepared to launch his second attack but before he decided to spring into action he looked up towards Naruto and said "Well runt if you really want to save this village. I suggest that you get ready. Because when I move in it'll be up to you to end this."

Naruto for his part remained quiet and just looked at Gaara for a moment. Even though Gaara had threatened the people he cared about and destroyed the only safe haven he had here, Naruto couldn't get past how they were like two sides of the same coin. This thought also caused him to wonder if he would have turned out to be a cold-blooded killer if he hadn't found acceptance and love from Tsunade and the others. If he could have turned out like Gaara then maybe, just maybe with a little acceptance Gaara might change as well, and with that line of thought floating around in his head he decided to try just one more time. "Listen to me Gaara. This is your chance to prove you're not the monster everyone's made you out to be. Just surrender and put an end to this pointless battle."

Gaara didn't respond immediately instead he just stared down at his severed arm lost in thought 'Where…? Where does he get his strength from?'

(Flashback- Chunin Exam Tower; During the 2nd Exam)

The sadness and sorrow reflected in Naruto's eyes didn't bother Gaara at all. For he was used to seeing such emotions in his prey, but there was one thing reflected in Naruto's eyes that did bother him, pity. It was this emotion that got Gaara to respond "Is that pity? Feeling sympathy for someone is a weakness. You should love only yourself and fight only for yourself. That is the reason for my existence, I live only to kill all other humans other than myself. For as long as there are people for me to kill… then I will not cease to exist."

An aura of sadness washed over Naruto, for he knew that, that line of thinking is a cold and lonely path. In an effort to convince Gaara to go down a different path he said "So that's what you believe in huh? How sad, that kind of thinking will only carry you so far. If you exist only for yourself, you'll never be pushed past your limits. Protecting someone you care about, willing to sacrifice everything to make sure they're safe. That's the only way to truly become strong."

(End Flashback)

'Protecting those you care about? No…, no, no, no…' Gaara thought to himself as a sharp pain coursed through his temples from his inability to comprehend such a concept. As the pain subsided he got a crazed look in his eye before he glared over at Naruto and screamed "I will not lose to someone like you!"

Gaara focused all of his remaining easily accessible chakra before he sunk back into Shukaku's head. Once Gaara's body was completely submerged again Shukaku took in a large breath of air and as it slammed its left fist into its stomach he shouted "Fuuton: Renkuudan!" (Wind Style: Drilling Air Projectile)

Acting purely on self-preservation Gamabunta gathered his chakra as fast as he could and formed the necessary hand-seals before he said "Suiton: Teppoudama!" (Water Style: Bullet)

As the two attacks hurled themselves toward each other, the sheer power of the two attacks shook Asuma to his core. Thinking about the safety of his team first and foremost, he turned to face them and shouted "Take cover!"

Asuma's warning gave his team just enough time to seek shelter before the two attacks collided in midair. The impact caused the wind to disperse the water in such a way that it seemed like a heavy rain had befallen the entire area.

The water droplets rained down on Naruto, matting his hair against his forehead, and as the water ran down his face he glared at Gaara with the intensity of a thousand suns. "Then you leave me no choice." He quickly formed a cross shaped seal and channeled his chakra in preparation for what he planned to do next. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"

Two clones popped into existence, one on either side of the original Naruto, and while he started to gather the chakra in the palm of his hand the clones went to work manipulating said chakra. The gathered energy started too pick up speed as it violently rotated in its confined space. When the speed reached its apex four rotating blades of wind jutted out from the blue chakra sphere. Then to everyone's surprise the blades themselves grew several inches in size as their rotation began to pick up speed and appeared to become unstable.

But just as it seemed the orb would break down it suddenly doubled in size and sent a pulse of power out that even the most novice of Genin could feel. Asuma's mouth went agape and as his cigarette dropped to the ground he muttered "No way… there's just no way… I've only heard stories."

This little outburst completely baffled Kurenai, for she had never even heard of such a jutsu before. So she turned towards him and asked "What are you talking about? You know what that thing is?"

"Naruto… he…he" He muttered to himself as he remained transfixed on the spiraling jutsu, and once he recovered from his initial shock and regained his wits, he finished his statement. "…he's somehow managed to merge his wind element with the Rasengan. If it's as powerful as Yondaime-sama believed it could be. This fight is already over."

Meanwhile Naruto had just finished pouring all of his easily accessible chakra into the spiraling blue orb. Its blades rotated around the equator of the orb, and picked up even more speed as they completed each rotation. With its power growing by the second he fixed his gaze upon Gaara, and exuded an aura of confidence and determination that made Gamabunta feel as though the Yondaime himself was standing atop his head once again. The silence that had encompassed the fight was finally broken when Naruto calmly said "Let's finish this!"

"Sure thing kid." replied Gamabunta as the muscles in his hind legs tightened and constricted before he used all his might to leap towards Gaara's Shukaku form, which resulted in tons of debris flying into the air.

However while Gamabunta was in the air Gaara launched his counter attack and lashed out with Shukaku's remaining arm. Gamabunta managed to shift his weight in midair and get under the strike, making the sand miss Naruto's spiky hair by my mere inches. The moment he landed every ounce of chakra he could muster was channeled into his webbed hands, which allowed him to get a grip on his opponent with strength far beyond any normal amphibian. Gaara's struggles to free himself weakened Gamabunta's control over his chakra, and as Bunta shifted his beady eyes towards the top of his head he grunted "Now!"

Naruto glanced at his two clones and nodded, but the moment they leapt off of the mighty Chief Toad's head Gaara's struggles finally broke Gamabunta's concentration , and with amazing speed, that Naruo had not anticipated, snatched one of the clones out of the air. Then before anyone had a chance to react Gaara crushed the clone within the palm of his sandy hand.

As the smoke evaporated Gaara manipulated his chakra that was saturated within the sand and launched his second strike. But this time Naruto and his last remaining clone were ready of it. The clone, who was already between Naruto and Gaara, gathered the last of his available chakra supply, and focused it into the palm of his right hand. The spiraling blue orb formed quickly and just in nick of time too. For at this very instant the sand had reached it intended target and was about to wrap the clone in a coffin of sand. Then with a speed that even Naruto hadn't anticipated, the clone thrust his attack forward and screamed "Rasengan!"

The moment the two attacks collided the spiraling energy of the Rasengan caused the sand to swirl and twist before it spewed out in all directions. As the clone's attack cleared a path for his creator, a slack jawed Asuma looked on in stunned silence. It was Kurenai who vocalized what all the Konoha shinobi were thinking. "Naruto has the skill and control necessary to perform all those high ranked jutsu's simultaneously? That just doesn't seem possible. No kid his age should have the skill to pull off all those jutsu's at once."

"You're forgetting that he was trained by Tsunade-sama for nearly a decade. Who knows what training methods she used over that time to get to this result." interjected Asuma, who had pulled out a cigarette in an effort to calm his nerves. As he lit it up his eyes remained locked on the clone as it tore through the sand of Gaara's attack.

Grains of sand flew in all directions as the clone continued to pure all of his chakra into his attack and clear a path for Naruto, who was moving closer by the second. Then as the Rasengan drew the last vestiges of the accessible chakra from the clone, it's spiraling energy quickly faded and died.

Without the power of the Rasengan to blow the sand away it quickly engulfed the clone, leaving just a small portion of his head revealed, and began to constrict.. With the pressure increasing the clone managed to turn back towards Naruto and slightly nod his head, sending a silent signal to his creator to prepare for what's to come next. When Naruto returned the nod the clone began to build up the last of its remaining chakra, and once the build-up was at maximum the clone looked back at Gaara and muttered "Bunshin Bakuha!" (Shadow Clone Explosion)

The sudden release of all that chakra created a massive explosion, and while it wasn't as powerful as it normally would be, due to the lack of chakra, it was still powerful enough to blow Gaara's Shukaku forms left arm off, which sent sand flying in all directions, like exploding fireworks. With the sand blocking their view the Konoha shinobi started to wonder what happened to Naruto. As if to answer those questions Naruto burst forth from the cloud of sand and when he brought his attack to bare he shouted "Rasen Shuriken!" (Spiral Shuriken)

The swirling blades of wind tore into the area just below the jugular of Gaara's Shukaku form. As the attack the dug deeper into the sand the sheer backlash of the wind itself tore nicks and gashed in his clothing which in turn ripped through his flesh like a hot knife through butter. The pain generated from this backlash coupled with how unstable the attack had become soon became too much even for Naruto to bear. The moment his controlled slipped the attack exploded in a swirl of wind and chakra, that hurled Naruto backwards while at the same time blanketing the area in dust and sand.

(With Kin)

The sounds of a fierce battle reverberated throughout the rooftop before Kin was suddenly slammed up against the very edge, almost toppling over the side in the process. But she quickly recovered and managed to pull out two kunai from her Kunai pouch, and crossed them over her head just in time to block the downward slash of Crow's poison tipped blade. The sheer force of the impact alone made her wince in pain. However the puppet didn't let up there it balled one of its free fists and delivered a right cross directly to Kin's chin. The blow landed with enough force to jerk Kin's head violently to the side before she smacked against the cold hard concrete floor of the rooftop, leaving her a little dazed.

Before she could clear the cobwebs from her head however all of them, Kin, Kankuro and even his puppet Crow, were pelted with a massive amount of sand. As Kankuro brought his forearms up to protect his face, he turned in the direction the sand came from and muttered "What the hell…?"

When he was finally able to get a clear view of the area that the sand had come from and saw the giant dust cloud his expression immediately turned to one of shock and disbelief as he vocalized the only thought running through his head. "Impossible! No one can defeat Gaara when he's in that form!"

Meanwhile the harsh and gruff texture of the sand pelting against her face was enough to clear the cobwebs cluttering Kin's mind. The first thing she saw was that Kankuro had turned his back to her and was distracted by something. Not one to pass up an opportunity like this she gathered what chakra she could as she formed the necessary hand-seals. "Hyoushi Kusari no Jutsu." (Binding Chains Technique)

Chains suddenly burst forth from the concrete roof tiling and proceeded to wrap around Kankuro's arms, legs, waist and neck, effectively immobilizing the Suna Shinobi. The tightening of the chains around his limbs finally brought Kankuro's attention back to the situation at hand, and when he noticed his immobility he tugged on the chains as he snapped "Where the hell did this come from ?"

Kankuro first knee-jerk reaction was to use his physical strength to tug and pull on the chains in an effort to free himself. But when it became obvious that his strength couldn't even budge the chains he moved on to his next course of action. Concentrating his chakra as best he could Kankuro shot forth his chakra strings and reattached them to his puppet, Crow, but when his puppet wouldn't even respond to his commands a look of realization crossed his face before he muttered "Is this…Genjutsu?"

"In a manner of speaking it is." replied Kin as she took this opportunity to dust herself off and then got back on her feet. Once there she pulled out a kunai from her pouch and began to twirl it on her index finger. "You see I've been given the ability that allows me to physically harm you with Genjutsu. Meaning if I wanted to…" Kin made a quick gesture with her left hand and the chain links wrapped around Kankuro's neck began to tighten. "…I could end this right now."

After a few seconds the chains around his neck loosed and aloud oxygen to flow into his lungs once again. After hacking and coughing a couple of times Kankuro narrowed his eyes and bared his teeth as he growled "You bitch! When I get out of this I'm going to rip you limb from limb!"

"Oh really? Well I bet that by the time I'm finished with you, you'll tell me anything I want to know." retorted Kin as she stopped twirling the kunai and got a firm grip on the handle. But before she could take it any further the already weakened rooftop around Kankuro finally buckled under the weight of the recently added sand. The concrete cracked and crumbled so fast that all Kin had time to do was watch as Kankuro fell into the darkness below.

Kin squatted down near the edge of the hole, taking extra care not to fall in, to see if she could see what happened to her quarry. But when it became apparent that she'd never be able to see anything in that blackened hole, the frustration of losing a captive that quickly finally got the best of her and she let out an aggravated sigh before she slammed her fist into the concrete. "Damn it! How… how could I let him get away so easily?"

(With Haku)

The cold and brisk air gave no comfort to Temari as she was bombarded with another barrage of senbon coming from all directions. Temari did every evasive maneuver she could think of, she bobbed, weaved, and even did a couple of somersaults to avoid the onslaught. But there were just too many and as the sharp projectiles nicked and cut her flesh she clinched her teeth from the pain that coursed through her body. Then when one of the senbon cut through the flesh on the back of both her legs which caused her to drop to her knees in agony.

When Haku saw that her opponent had finally reached her limit she decided to end this and readied herself for the final attack. But before she had the chance to launch her final assault sand pelted against the outside of her ice mirror dome. The amount of sand coupled with the sheer force at which it landed lead her to one inescapable conclusion… Naruto must have the one jutsu he shouldn't have.

'Naruto-kun…' she thought to herself as she peered off into the distance at the giant dust cloud. It didn't even take her half a second to decide what she had to do next, and as a resolve as strong as steel reflected in her eyes she turned back towards the still kneeling Temari before she muttered "I need to finish this now."

In an unexpected move Haku stepped out of one of her ice mirrors and with a quick motion of her right hand she canceled her jutsu. Once all of the mirrors had evaporated she did a series of hand-seals and gathered the necessary chakra needed for her next move. With the chakra gathered she formed the final hand-seal before she slammed her hands on the ground as she said "Hyouton: Koori Mizuumi Hitoya!" (Ice Style: Ice Lake Prison)

Ice shot out from both of her hands and ran along the ground three hundred and sixty degrees around Haku. When it reached Temari, the ice came up over her calves which sent a shiver up her spine as it completely encompassed her lower legs leaving her immobile and trapped .

With Temari secured in place Haku turned back towards the massive dust cloud and as she disappeared in a whirlwind of leaves her voice could be heard on the wind. "Hang on Naruto-kun, I'll be there soon."

(Somewhere in Konoha)

In a desolate and abandoned part of the village the sounds of war are far off but if you listened closely you could hear the sounds getting closing minute by minute. It was this very area that Itachi and Kisame they jumped from rooftop to rooftop on their way out of the village. When Itachi landed on the next rooftop he suddenly felt a huge chakra surge coming from the east. He turned his head just in time to see that a massive dust cloud had enveloped that area. Seeing this as an opportunity to slip out undetected he glanced over his shoulder at Kisame and pointed to the east. "Change in plans. That dust cloud will cover our withdrawal."

Understanding but not really caring about the logic behind this change Kisame merely shrugged his shoulders to signal Itachi that he understood. Then without even skipping a beat they altered their course and headed towards the dust laden area.

(With Kushina)

Silence radiated throughout the area, in fact this silence made Kushina's labored breathing all the more pronounced. As a few beads of sweat ran down her forehead her eyes darted from left to right in a desperate attempt to locate Minato. That search proved futile however as Minato suddenly appeared behind Kushina in a bright yellow flash. But Kushina was prepared for this and when he went to strike her, she brought her right forearm up and was able to block his kick. She then surprised Minato as she disappeared in a blue flash and reappeared about five feet behind him.

When Minato turned to face her, Kushina pulled out several kunai and hurled them at her target. Minato waited until the last moment before he strafed to his left to avoid the kunai. But before the fight could progress any further a heavy rain of sand came pouring down upon them.

This unusual weather pattern completely baffled Minato as he examined the sand he had caught in the palm of his hand. "Sand? It's raining sand? Just what the hell is going on here?"

Kushina however instantly knew what must have happened and a frustrating mixture of anger and worry flowed through her as she put her hand out to catch some of the sand. Once she had a pile of it in the palm of her hand the frustration finally reach a boiling point, and as she clinched her fist around the sand she snapped "Damn it Naruto-kun! I thought I told not to use that jutsu no matter what!"

This little outburst caught Minato's attention and as he firmly focused his eyes on Kushina he could instantly tell that she knew what was going on. So in an effort to get the answers he sought he asked "What are you talking about? What kind of jutsu could cause this to happen?"

"Rasen Shuriken." said a female voice from behind him. Minato quickly swiveled around on the ball of his foot and saw Tsunade standing there with a grim look on her face. From her expression he could tell something was wrong but before he could ask her about it she continued "It's a jutsu that combines the wind element with the Rasengan to create an extremely powerful attack. Naru-chan must have used it against that Suna shinobi Gaara."

As this information sunk in he was astonished to say the least, Naruto had somehow managed to accomplish something that he was never able to master and thought it to be nearly impossible. This astonishment was vocalized quit loudly. "What? You mean to tell me that Naruto has actually merged the Rasengan with the wind element?"

Kushina's eyes widened slightly in surprise, but not from the outburst a few moments ago, what she noticed was far more useful as well as unexpected. For it appeared that Minato had focused almost all of his attention on Tsunade, and the statement she had just made. From her perspective it seemed like Minato wanted her to attack from behind. Well aware that this could be some kind of trap. She decided to take the risk and attack anyway. After she did a quick series of hand-seals she waited until he turned a fraction of an inch more towards Tsunade which told her that it was the perfect moment to strike. 'Now…'she thought to herself as she formed the final hand-seal and said "Ninpo: Kanashibari no Jutsu." (Ninja Art: Temporary Body Paralysis Technique)

When Minato suddenly felt his muscles tense and tighten up he knew immediately that something was wrong. After a few moments of great exertion and effort Minato noticed that the jutsu wasn't as strong as it should have been as he finally managed to move one foot and then the other. Once he managed to turn towards Kushina a sad smile spread across his face as he said "Nice… nice try Kushina-chan. But it seems like something's wrong … doesn't it?"

'Damn it he's right! I just don't have the chakra!' Kushina thought to herself as she felt the sweat run down her brow and her strength start to leave her. As her chakra reserves continued to get smaller she shifted her gaze towards Tsunade and with a desperate look in her eyes grunted "I could use a little help here!"

Tsunade for her part had already moved before Kushina's words had even left her lips, and thanks to Minato's limited mobility she easily got behind him. Once there she brought her arms around his chest and locked them together in a bear hug. As she leaned back a little to get Minato's feet of the ground he looked over his shoulder at her and simply stated "Now that both of you are keeping me immobile. How do you plan to destroy the tag within my skull?"

Tsunade's only response to this was to tightened her grip on Minato and let her lips curled into a small smirk. Completely thrown off by Tsunade's reaction he was about to question her when she suddenly shouted "Yugito now!"

When Yugito suddenly appeared beside the pair, Minato's eyes widened in surprise for he had actually forgotten that this girl was still even in the area. Then with a sickening crunch she jammed her fist right into the back of his head. She sloshed around in the soft tissue until she found the kunai, but with all the blood and organic matter on the handle it slipped from her grasp. Meanwhile Minato, who felt no pain from this intrusion into his head, just glanced back at Tsunade and let a faint smile cross his face. "Good plan Tsunade-sama." he mumbled to himself as Yugito finally got a firm grip on the kunai and yanked it out. While the blood ran down Yugito's forearm she ripped the tag off the kunai and tore it to shreds.

As the shreds of paper floated to the ground the little voice that had echoed within his head faded away while at the same time the compulsive feeling to fight those he cared about dissipated. With great effort he opened and closed his hands and looked at them as if it was the first time he had ever seen them. Then as his smile got even bigger only one thought radiated within his head. 'I'm free!'

The change in Minato's demeanor didn't go unnoticed by Kushina. Taking a big risk she canceled her jutsu and then motioned for Tsunade to release Minato from her grip. With great reluctance Tsuande eventually released her grip and took several steps back as Kushina approached Minato. When she was only a couple of feet away she leaned in and muttered "Minato-kun are you…, you?"

Minato didn't immediately respond for his brain was still grasping the fact that he was finally free. Then after only a moment his head shot up with the biggest grin his lips could manage before he quickly grabbed Kushina by the waist and began to twirler her around like two lovers who haven't seen each other in a lone time as he said "I'm free! I'm free! I'm finally free!"

Taken by surprise Kushina first tensed at this sudden course of action but when he brought her into a loving hug and whispered thank you over and over again memories of their life together before all this happened came flooding back. She found herself melting into the hug and even returning it with even greater vigor. But when she felt no warmth coming from Minato's body the rational part of Kushina's mind finally kicked and as she broke the hug she asked the one painful question that's been rattling around in the back of her head since the tag was destroyed. "Minato-kun why… why haven't you turned to dust?"

"I don't know." Minato replied more to himself than to anyone else as he closely examined his hands for any signs of deterioration. When he found no indications that he was falling apart he closed his eyes and focused his attention on his chakra to see if there was any disruption of any kind. But after an extensive check it confused him to no end that he couldn't find anything out of the ordinary. The oddity of his situation caused him to vocalize his thoughts. "Could this be some kind side effect due to the link with the Shinagami?"

The moment those words left his lips he immediately pushed them aside and logged them away for later, for he knew that there were more important matters to attend to namely a certain Snake Sannin. "Eh… I'll worry about that later." Minato said to the girls with a light shrug of the shoulders before he closed his eyes and focused all his attention on checking to see if his secret emergency plan was still in existence after all these years. A smile formed on his face as he found one seal after another and once he found them all his eyes opened to reveal an almost menacing glint "Yes! Even after all these years the seals I placed around the village are still intact."

The glint quickly turned into a hardened gaze of determination as he looked in the direction of the Chunin Exam Stadium and stated "I think it's time for a little payback." As he focused his chakra the space around him started to twist and distort, almost like one was looking through deformed glass, as reality itself bent to his will. Then in a bright yellow flash … he was gone.

With Minato gone and no immediate threat in the area Kushina let out a sign of relief before she turned towards Tsunade to discuss their next move. "So Tsunade-sama what do you say we…"

The resounding smack resonated throughout the area shocking all present, even Sarutobi was left speechless by this action. As Kushina brought her hand up to her throbbing cheek she looked over and saw a completely angry and fuming Tsuande. This utterly shocked and confused her for she couldn't understanding what she could have done to bring about this sudden action. "What the hell…?"

Her question was soon answered when Tsunade poked her in the chest and used a tone of voice that was so harsh and so cold that even the Shinagami himself would have cowered in fear. "If you EVER hurt Naru-chan like that again… you'll learn how legendary my strength really is."

This completely blew Kushina away. "Hurt… Naruto-kun?" She muttered to herself in confusion as she tried and failed to wrap her brain around what Tsunade had just said. "What the hell are you talking about? I'd never hurt Naruto-kun! "

"Never hurt Naru-chan you say?" scoffed Tsunade as the anger continued to boil inside her and was quickly reaching critical mass due to Kushina's complete ignorance on the matter. "Well then how about when Naru-chan told us about Minato knowledge of what he would go through and his failure to do anything about it!"

Still unable to wrap her head around Tsunade's point Kushina's right eyebrow arced in confusion as she murmured "Wha…?"

"You acted like you didn't even care!" snapped Tsunade as he anger had finally boiled over and she grabbed Kushina by her vest. She then lifted Kushina off her feet and pulled her forward so that their faces were just inched apart.. "You were more concerned about Minato's emotional state then Naru-chan's!"

That one statement hit Kushina like a ton of bricks as the whole encounter flashed before her eyes. In that instant she realized just how much she needed to learn in the ways of being a mother. The sense of shame she felt for not realizing just how Naruto would take her actions was overshadowed right now by the complete inferiority she felt towards the woman standing in front of her. This inferiority rooted in the matters of motherhood was why she averted her gaze when she finally vocalized her response. "I… I didn't mean for him to take it that way. I just…, I wanted to assess the situation. So I could better protect him."

"But that still doesn't excuse you from giving Naru-chan the cold shoulder!" retorted Tsunade as her anger caused her to tighten her grip and pull Kushina even closer to her.

"I know…" Kushina muttered more to herself than Tsunade as she averted her gaze while the full impact of what she'd really done came crashing down on her and made her feel like the weight of the world rested on her shoulders. When she lifted her head again the strong vibrant warrior was gone and in her place was a weak grief stricken mother. "What else can I say other than… I'm sorry."

The look of sorrow in Kushina's eyes made Tsunade take several deep breaths to help calm herself down before she released Kushina from her grasp. As Kushina landed on her feet Tsunade rubbed the bridge of her nose in an effort to relieve her anger. "Look… I'm not the one you need to apologize too. So we'll deal with this later. Right now I'm more worried about the condition of Naru-chan."

"Now why don't we have Yu…" Tsunade started to say but when she turned and saw that Yugito was nowhere to be found. Her eyes darted left then right to see if there was any sign of her as she mutterd "Yugito?"

After a quick scan of the area to confirm that Yugito was indeed nowhere in sight her temper flared. A vein started to pulse on Tsunade's forehead as she put her hands on her hips and growled "Damn it! Where the hell did she go? She was the only one that knew Naru-chan's exact location."

"Well then I suggest that we get moving then. The longer we just stand around here the longer it will take us to find Naruto-kun… right?" interceded Kushina with a sheepish look and faint smile on her face that indicated to Tsunade that Kushina was trying to lighten the tension between them.

Tsunade returned the smile and nodded her head to indicate that this discussion was over for now before she channeled some of her chakra and leapt off in the direction of the dust cloud. As Tsunade landed on a nearby rooftop Kushina let out a deep breath she didn't realize she had been holding and let her face show the worry and regret that was deep in her heart. Then as she took off after Tsunade she sighed "Man… I really screwed up this time didn't I?"

Once both of them were gone and all appeared to be quiet Sarutobi surveyed the destroyed area that had been just a normal street just a few hours ago. He reflected on how if he had taken part in this intense battle that had just ended he most assuredly would have lost his life. Suddenly feeling his age catch up with him he grabbed the tip of his hat and grumbled "Ugh… I'm getting to old for this shit."

Next Chapter: Hokage's Wrath Part 2: The real wrath begins!