Disclaimer: Naruto, Bleach, and all other intellectual properties are the rightful property of their respected owners and creators. I am thankful to them as I play with the elements and realms that they have labored to provide us with.

This work contains elements that warrant a mature rating of 'M'. Discretion is advised to all potential readers. You have been forewarned.

Duty, Honor, and Truth

Prologue - Origin

This verse is the beginning.
We fear not death as the Shinigami has forged and blessed us.
From darkness were we created, to darkness shall we return.
Our mission is clear, shinobi shall we be, guardian spirits of the realm.
Fitting is this path for we are darkness and shadow given flesh.
Let all who oppose us beware.

-Shugorei Hideki
'The beginning'
"The Shugorei Chronicles"

Night was settling quickly, the haze of dusk already beginning to fade as the camp seemed to come alive with the hustle and bustle of its occupants. Many quickly moved about in preparation of the evening meal, making sure food was being properly cooked and the large kegs of drink were tapped correctly so that not a drop was wasted. A nervous tension seemed to permeate the air, though the only faint twitch of an eye or the quick snap of a command showed that it was at all affecting those who had busied themselves with maintaining the seamless order that was required. Part of the nervousness could be accredited to the fact that the occupants of the camp were handling food and supplies that had been taken nearly a month prior in a raid and would only last for one or two more if they rationed carefully, but this was truly of little concern as they had been raiding and foraging supplies before even the oldest person of the camp had been born nearly sixty years ago. No, the cause of the tension that gripped the camp centered about the large tent that formed the hub of the camp and the loud voices that filtered through its walls of rough canvas.

The tent was the largest within the camp and made of rough canvas cloth that had been dyed a rusty brownish-red. The sound of raised voices slipped through the slits of the door coverings and one could see a large group of individuals sitting, standing, and arguing within its confines through those same slits.

The hard look and steely resolve seen within the eyes and countenance of theses men and women would tell more than the armor and swords that they wore that these were true warriors. Their age and appearance differed as some were within the age of adolescence while others had the ravages of time openly displayed upon their faces. Currently the greatest amount of noise was coming from two men at the center of the gathering as many of the others that had gathered watched in a mix of amusement, contempt, and boredom.

One individual that was trying hard to pay attention was one of the younger members of the crowd of warriors. The boy, for he was in the many stages of adolescence, was not overly big but when standing was an average five feet tall, though to the boy he felt very short and did not like the good natured ribbing he received about his height. Possessing platinum blond hair with smoky gray eyes the boy did not surprisingly stand out because of those features, mainly due to the fact that those around him in the gathering had a myriad assortment of traits and features. Yet probably the thing that would separate the boy the most was the intense way his eyes shown as he watched the debate that was currently progressing into a shouting match.

Shugorei Jinjiro was all of thirteen years of age, yet he had been a full warrior of the clan for nearly two years now and within those two years he had already shed the blood of those deemed to be opponents of the clan. To say he no longer held any fear though would be a misgiving as he listened intently to the arguments being made amongst the warriors of Clan Shugorei. Raised voices and the tight grip on swords were causing the uneasy tension that had been present at the beginning of the discussion to be elevated to a level where blood may be spilled. The thought of blood and death was not what scared Jinjiro, rather it was the thought that the blood would come from the ending of the life of one of his own relatives is what held the young Shugorei in such a state. Nervously glancing at the others that were gathered within the stifling confines of the main tent, Jinjiro's thoughts went to the man sitting in the position of authority and power as Lord Shugorei, his eldest brother Hohiro.

The position of lord had fallen on Hohiro's shoulders almost five years ago when Shugorei Takashi and his wife, Shugorei Naomi, had fallen not in battle but to a disease that had ravaged the ranks of the clan. Hohiro as the eldest child of Takashi, who had been lord at the time, was one of the few considered for the position. Now at the age of twenty-eight Hohiro bore the full weight of the Shugorei upon his shoulders as the clan faced a momentous decision that would decide the fate of Clan Shugorei for generations to come.

"And I say that you are blind if you cannot see the danger that gathers about us as we speak!"

The booming voice brought Jinjiro back from his musings and into the present as he quickly identified the voice as belonging to his other brother, Hideyoshi. Hideyoshi was the second child of Takashi and Naomi, though he towered over his elder brother by nearly a foot and a half. Such a thing would not be that unbelievable except Hohiro stood at a respectable five feet ten inches in height. Hideyoshi was considered to be a mountain of a man, but the difference in height and muscle mass was one of the few things that marked him as being different from his brothers. All three possessed the light platinum blond hair and smoky grey eyes that had been inherited from their mother and the hard, clean shaven facial features of their father.

"We stand poised upon the greatest decision of the Shugorei since the ending of the Empire nearly three centuries ago and you continue to bring up such ridiculous thoughts," Hideyoshi continued with seemingly little regard to the person he was addressing. "One would think that you had let your brain wither away Minobu-jisan."

"I assure you that my brain is fine and would contend that your youthful ignorance has clouded your own if you find my objections to be ridiculous," countered Shugorei Minobu with a slight tinge of anger. "My brother, your father, would never have allowed our clan to fall into such disgrace that we would need to consider such courses of action."

Jinjiro could only grind his teeth as he heard the remark made by his uncle. Looking to Hohiro he was surprised to see his brother did not even seem to have noticed the remark and sat as serenely as he had since the beginning of the debate. Jinjiro could only credit this to the teachings that had been instilled in Hohiro by their father.

Shugorei Takashi had been adamant when explaining the role of the lord of the clan. While the lord was the head and ultimate authority of the clan he must balance himself. The lord had to be both warrior and diplomat, exercising military prowess upon the field of combat yet allowing for the airing of grievances by the rest of the clan through the use of council meetings. The lord could not interfere in every situation or he would be seen as being too aggressive in regulating the workings of the clan. At the same time the lord could not be too disconnected or he would be viewed as lazy and uncaring about the workings of the clan. Either case could be called upon as grounds for removal and the instatement of a new lord through either a combat duel or a vote held before all of the members of the clan, not only the warriors who made up the ruling echelon. Politics within the Shugorei were a complicated affair and Hohiro was now at the center as the current ruling lord.

"Before either of you have another outburst I think it would be good for you to both think of what is at the core of this debate," Hohiro calmly stated. "The both of you make your arguments, yet are beginning to get off track again."

It never failed to impress Jinjiro when his eldest brother was able to redirect the arguments that occurred within the clan. What was even more impressive was that it was all done without Hohiro raising his voice or implying an insult to either of the arguing parties.

"You are right Tono, forgive me for my outbursts," Minobu calmly apologized as he slightly bowed his head in respect. "I would also ask your forgiveness Hideyoshi, as you are simply seeking to preserve our clan."

"There is nothing to forgive ojisan as you are also seeking to preserve the clan," replied Hideyoshi with his own slight bow.

Jinjiro felt the tension of the gathering relax greatly with this simple exchange and could only hope that the debate would remain civil now that Hohiro had calmly put his foot down upon the petty insults that were distracting many of the gathered Shugorei men and women from the real issue.

"Good," remarked Hohiro as he sensed the tension of the situation to have abated. "Now we must redirect ourselves to the issue at hand, should Clan Shugorei accept the offer of alliance to form a new ninja village based within the Country of Fire?"

Hideyoshi immediately seemed to step forward to offer his argument yet again, though this time he seemed to be calmer and more in control of his thoughts and words as he began, "We should accept this offer of alliance. It will gain for us a true home once again and allow the clan to prosper. We have felt the losses of many warriors and though I am displeased to say it we do not have the strength to remain independent for much longer. The raiding that we have brought ourselves to do has kept our warrior edge sharp, but eventually it will dull as we will lack the challenge that actual war brings. Joining to form a village would not only allow us to maintain our traditions, but would allow us many opportunities for glory and honor. This new village will undoubtedly have to fight for its very survival and with the Shugorei at its core it cannot help but survive and grow. Also, it will give us access to much needed resources and trade skills that we currently lack."

Jinjiro nodded his head as a sign of agreement as Hideyoshi retook his seat to await rebuttal arguments. He could not help but agree with Hideyoshi. Much of his agreement though stemmed from the fact that he wished to fight in a real war, not these petty supply raids. He had heard many of the eldest members of the clan speak about the great battles that had occurred before his own birth and wished to inscribe his own name into a legendary battle.

Jinjiro had read 'The Chronicles', the written history of his clan, just as every other Shugorei had and could not help but be amazed as the passages detailed how the clan had fought to form and maintain The Empire millennia ago, how the clan had descended upon those who had attempted to usurp the throne after deceiving the clan nearly three hundred years ago, and the wars of succession that had carved up the remnants of The Empire into the Elemental Countries during the passage of those last three centuries. The only passages that the young teen did not find so thrilling were those that dealt with the splitting of the clan during the last two hundred years. The clan had come to call that period under the dubious title of 'The Schism'. Even now many of the clan felt a shiver run up their spine when they thought back to the period of three way civil war that had decimated the ranks of the clan. The conflict had turned the clan against its self and pitted father against son, brother against sister, and wives against husbands. When the conflict ended roughly fifteen years prior to Jinjiro's own birth the Shugorei were a shell of there former glory. The Shugorei ranks had been thinned to the point of leaving the clan almost unable to defend itself from organized bands of opponents. The clan had lost almost all of its holdings and wealth because it had focused upon its own internal conflict rather than the conflicts by the lords and ladies of the Elemental Countries. Now the clan had little except the elite skills that ran throughout its members and the wealth and goods that had been preserved in sealing scrolls kept by the line of differing lords of the clan over time.

Jinjiro could attest to the hard times the clan was under by simply looking at the armor and clothing worn by the assembled warriors of the clan. Though the armor had all been painted a uniform matte black that held little shine and reflected almost no light, the armor itself was a hodge-podge of styles and sizes. The clan, years ago during its peak, had many members that specialized in creating the custom shinobi armor that kept the clan's warriors safe. However, the centuries of war had stripped that set of skills away as many of the non-combatant civilians of the clan were lost. Now the armor worn by the clan was what was seized in supply raids and scrounged from the battlefield, often it was modified samurai armor that was quickly reconstructed to fit a Shugorei warrior. Jinjiro's own armor had been procured in such a manner and only with the help of his elder brothers had he been able to modify the bulky armor to fit his small adolescent frame. Even the white coat worn around the armor of Hohiro, signifying his rank as lord, had been modified from a bolt of white silk that had been captured by their father decades ago.

Once again Jinjiro felt himself pulled from his musings by the debate, thought this time he was surprised to see that it wasn't his uncle Minobu that was leading the counterargument to Hideyoshi, but rather Minobu's daughter, Mai who was only a year older than Jinjiro himself.

Mai looked similar to her father, sharing his short, light brown hair, but more importantly she had his sharp wit and tongue. The fact that she would challenge a more senior member of the clan in a council debate spoke towards her possessing either a great deal of confidence or a great deal of foolishness. Jinjiro would guess the latter and allowed himself a slight smirk as he saw Minobu twitch in annoyance when Mai managed to rise and begin speaking before he had a chance to continue debating Hideyoshi.

"Pardon me Hideyoshi-itoko, but while your words may sway many who wish for the glory and power our clan once held I perceive something else behind your words," Mai began with a slight condescending tone. "The Shugorei have never bent the knee to anyone, even when we protected the power of the Empire centuries ago we were allowed to act as an independent group and held in a position of equality with the emperors and empresses themselves. Your proposal would have us become subjects of the Daimyo of Fire Country. What is to stop those you would have us ally with from turning on us and making us into servants and slaves? No, better to be dead and free than be well off and confined to a cage like a pet!" Mai snapped quickly. "The Shugorei have always been free and we should continue to remain so and seek a country that will belong solely unto us."

Mai had made a fine point and many of the assembled warriors acknowledged her point of independence as it had long been held as a central part of Shugorei philosophy. However, it seemed that Mai was not content to leave her argument resting upon such a high point and cut off another Shugorei before he could offer his own thoughts.

Looking straight at Hideyoshi before shifting her gaze to fall completely upon Hohiro, Mai began to speak once again. "I would think that the one who is supposed to implement the traditions of our clan would have greater wisdom in making sure that our sovereignty is upheld, yet it seems you are quiet on theses matters. Have you lost the will to fight and seek only to become a lapdog to some upstart lord wanting to increase his holdings? Maybe you no longer have what is needed to lead this clan and new leadership should be preferred…," Mai trailed off in a mocking tone.

"You will shut your damn mouth wench or I will cut you down where you stand for the insult you have given!"

The outburst accompanied by the sound of steel being drawn brought silence throughout the gathering. Many looked horrified, partly because a junior member of the clan had dared to insult the current lord of the Shugorei directly in his presence. Others had there hands on their own swords because a member of the clan had dared to draw a sword during a council meeting in the presence of the Shugorei lord. Jinjiro himself was both confused and horrified, even more so when he realized that many of the looks were directed towards him causing him to suddenly glance down and realize that he had jumped to his feet, drawn his sword, and spoken the words that had silenced Mai and disrupted the entire proceedings.

Eyes wide open now Jinjiro realized that he had just committed an act that could be punishable by death if Hohiro, as the current lord, so ordered. Quickly he looked down upon the steel he had drawn realizing that he would probably have to commit seppuku with it. The sword itself was rather plain in detail, appearing like many other Shugorei swords as a simple katana blade. The only thing that set it apart was the tsuba which was not round or oval like a traditional katana's. Instead the tsuba was elongated out before and behind the blade with the ends curving up on one side and down on the other to form small roundels.

This blade was in essence a part of Jinjiro's own soul just as the blades of every Shugorei warrior were part of their master's being. One of the greatest skills of the Shugorei was related to these weapons. Like many elite shinobi clans the Shugorei possessed a skill that could only be possessed by a member of the clan. However, unlike the so called bloodline limits of these clans the skill of the Shugorei was referred to by its members as a Soul Limit. This was due in part to the fact that the blade of a Shugorei warrior was forged from the warrior's very soul and the blade itself carried a soul that reflected the warrior who had made it. This soul of the blade when unlocked could allow a Shugorei warrior access to powers and skills that were far beyond those most ninja could obtain. Because of the connection that the Shugorei had to their blades they called them Zanpakuto or Soul Slayers. When a warrior was able to unlock his or her Zanpakuto to gain the power it possessed it was classified as reaching the level of Shikai or initial release. Almost always this was accomplished by learning the name of the soul of the Zanpakuto and the word or phrase that would call that soul forth. The Shikai would almost always transform the Zanpakuto into a new weapon or device that would give the warrior who was connected to the blade a new set of far more powerful skills. When not called forth the Zanpakuto would remain as it had looked before the revelation of Shikai. Yet the power of the Zanpakuto's did not stop there. Another level of power existed that was open to those deemed elites of the clan, the fabled Bankai. This state would call forth all of the power of the wielder and the Zanpakuto, transforming the blade and sometimes the wielder to accommodate the extra power. In this state the power of the wielder could increase anywhere from five to ten times what it had been in the Shikai state. However, this final ability was so difficult to achieve that few of the Shugorei were capable and those who did were often the best the clan had to offer. This information raced through Jinjiro's mind as he contemplated his own death and regretted that he had yet to learn the name of his own Zanpakuto.

Fighting down tears of shame Jinjiro could only wait for the command from his lord and brother, Hohiro. He prayed that at least Hohiro would let him have a warrior's end so that his honor would not be tarnished and the clan would not be shamed by the actions of one whom many had already described as being one who had the potential to become an elite of the clan. His head snapped over quickly to look at Hohiro as the man calmly rose from where he had been seated in a field chair that had been used by many a previous lord when on the campaign.

"Shugorei Jinjiro," the sound of Hohiro's voice was like rolling thunder and reflected the disappointment of the elder brother towards his younger sibling.

"Tono, please if I may…he was just," Hideyoshi spoke quickly but a single glance from Hohiro quieted the protest and attempt at sparing Jinjiro that Hideyoshi had made.

"Shugorei Jinjiro, you have dared to draw your Zanpakuto in the presence of you lord during a clan council and in doing so have threatened a fellow member of the clan." Hohiro's words held a finality to them that caused Jinjiro's heart to nearly stop. "Such an act could warrant death if I so choose, however I will acknowledge that you are still young and have only been a warrior of the clan for just under two years during this time of turmoil, wandering, and raiding. As such you are still learning all of the protocols and responsibilities that are required of you. Because of this I will not require your death as atonement rather you will assist in the cleaning of all of the cookware of the camp for the next month, this will hopefully teach you the humility and respect that is required of a warrior of Clan Shugorei."

Both Jinjiro and Hideyoshi seemed to let out a sigh of relief before realizing that Hohiro was not yet finished speaking and had developed a slight twitch in his right eye that all of the brothers had seemed to develop from their father, displaying it as he had, as a sign that one was annoyed. Gulping at a lump that had seemed to form from nothing in his own throat Jinjiro quickly sheathed his Zanpakuto and dropped down to a formal kneeling bow before accepting his punishment with a quick and emphatic, "Hai Tono!"

Hohiro's twitch seemed to lessen upon seeing his youngest brother's show of the proper amount of decorum necessary to avoid a protest by other members of the council who could have suggested that the punishment was too light. Instead of concentrating on what others would think of the punishment Hohiro now turned his attention upon one Shugorei Mai, who seemed to shrink under his gaze upon realizing that she had indeed overstepped her bounds with her last quip.

"Shugorei Mai," Hohiro began. "Jinjiro has much to learn about handling himself during clan councils as he has only attended a few beforehand. However, you have attended every meeting with your father since you became a warrior of this clan. It is understandable that a young warrior like Jinjiro would immediately jump to defend the honor of his lord, however I am a Shugorei elite and lord of this clan." Hohiro's voice had taken on a tone that seemed to freeze the hearts of all who heard it. "I can defend my own honor and you should know that the words you have spoken could be construed by the members of this cabal as being a formal challenge for leadership of the Shugorei. As such I must now, as lord, ask if you or any other Shugorei warrior present wish to challenge me for the position of lord."

Silence permeated the once boisterous tent as Hohiro looked every assembled warrior in the face seeking even the slightest hint of challenge. Finally settling upon the face of Mai, Hohiro's gaze held her eyes for only a few seconds before she bowed and moved backwards to her seat in deference to her lord. Few would dare to challenge Hohiro for the position of lord, even the other elites such as Hideyoshi and Minobu would only consider such an act if the were absolutely certain that Hohiro's decisions were based upon insanity and would lead the Shugorei to extinction. It was not fear though that inspired this. Hohiro was an elite warrior and those who had witnessed the full power of his abilities and lived were few, however it was the fact that in his short tenure as lord so far Hohiro had kept the clan alive when by many accounts and rationale it should have fallen apart and been cast to the depths of history. Hohiro had done so through not only his power but also his cunning. To remove such a leader would signal to many of the Shugorei's enemies that the clan was unstable enough to be wiped out or forcefully integrated and absorbed in order to gain their power and abilities.

Hohiro seemed to let the calm that he had caused remain for a little while longer before breaking the silence as he watched the members of his clan resituate themselves in their seats as they could tell that he had more to say.

"The debate that we have been engaged in since this morning is one that our clan has dealt with ever since our ancestors realized that the wars of succession were the death knells for the Empire," Hohiro began while seeming to focus his sight as if he could witness the ancient council and its members. "All of you have brought to bare many points that need to be considered if the Shugorei are to survive. However, the debate must end as I fear the constant stalling that is created by fostering these discussions is doing more damage to the clan than any of the battles we have fought in the past. To be candid with you all, I am troubled by the world that exists around us and time, I fear, is not on our side."

Jinjiro and his fellow clansmen knew that Hohiro did not refer to the forest and clearings that surrounded the camp. Nor did he refer to how the camp was situated on the border between the newly declared River Country and the old imperial province that had taken to be called the Country of Fire. No Hohiro referred to the many enemies that existed outside the clan and the dire circumstances that the clan was constantly being thrust into.

"I see many of our enemies gathering their strength to form villages of their own so as to contend with the strength that we and others possess," Hohiro continued. "Already we have seen the creation of ninja villages in the Country of Water, the Country of Wind, the Country of Earth, and the Country of Lightning. These villages all hold groups hostile towards us and it can be assured that sooner or later those groups shall rally their new allies to settle old debts. Alone and independent, even if we are able to take control of another country, I do not foresee the Shugorei as being able fend off so many enemies."

A few members of the group started to protest such a claim and defend the point that the clan would not be defeated so easily only to have Hohiro once again level his smoky grey orbs upon them and silence them with but a single glance.

"Rest assured if we were to make our stand we would make such a stand as to be so worthy of 'The Chronicles' that future generations, when regaling each other with their own triumphs, would stop and wish that they had been with us at our final struggle. Yet, I put to you the question of how can such generations exist or a verse and passage be written if all that we are has been swept away in that final battle?" The question hung in the air and not a single member could hope to answer as Hohiro continued his speech.

"Even now I see proud and strong warriors gathered here, yet there are far fewer of us assembled here than there were five years ago, two years ago," Hohiro seemed to pause before adding, "one year ago."

All of the gathered warriors dropped their heads in silent remembrance of the members of the clan that had been lost since the passing of Lord Takashi. Some recalled those lost in battle, while others thought of those lost due to disease and other ailments that would have been easily treated if the Shugorei had been at its peak or part of an established country. Hohiro, Hideyoshi, and Jinjiro thought not only of their parents, but of the other siblings that had been lost. The twins, Shinobu and Saki, would have been twenty-two years of age this year if they had not fallen in battle against a group of rogue ninjas that had decided to attack the supply train and dependents of Clan Shugorei three years ago during a move by the clan to find a safer base camp. Even more heart wrenching was the loss of their brother Katsu, who would have been eighteen years of age in only a few months if he were still alive.

As the fifth child of seven children by Takashi and Naomi, Katsu had been a core for the siblings growing up and even more so after the passing of their parents. He had always been quick to make a joke and alleviate a tense situation with his sense of humor; he had been loved by all of the clan members. When he had died only a year ago due to a failed assassination attempt on Hohiro by an angry feudal lord it was the first and only time Hohiro had ever given the order to "kill them all".

Not a single member of the clan protested as they brought a righteous fury and vengeance down upon the now forgotten lord and his gathered allies, wiping them not only from life but going so far as to produce a constant threat that if the name of the villainous lord was even hinted at in the presence of a member of the clan then the one who made the remark would suffer the same fate as the lord. All members of the clan had felt the loss of Katsu and the brutal efficiency that the Shugorei warriors had delivered in the fulfillment of Hohiro's order. Despite this dark thought, the three Shugorei brothers thought of one of the few moments in their lives when the prayers that they had made were answered.

Shugorei Ami, all of nine years old now, had been only five years of age one year after the death of Takashi and Naomi. Yet at this young age she was diagnosed with the same disease that had taken her and her siblings' beloved parents. The clan healer could do little for her and it was only through a desperate act by Hideyoshi and the twins that a medicine had been found and recovered to prevent the death of her and many other members of the clan that had fallen ill.

Despite the personal remembrances or maybe because of them the gathered warriors quickly did a mental count of those in the tent and outside of it comparing it to the number that had existed only a single year prior. The realization was grim. A year ago the Shugorei could have boasted forty-three full warriors and fifty-seven dependents, now that number had fallen to only twenty-eight full warriors and forty-one dependants. The constant hounding by bandits, rogue ninja groups hoping to collect the bounties that existed on many of the clan members, feudal lords seeking to force the Shugorei into service or destroy them in a show of strength, and attacks by enemy clans had taken their toll and only the great prowess of the Shugorei had kept the losses as low as they were.

The moment of remembrance was disrupted by Hohiro's voice as he continued, "If we stand with others who carry similar philosophies of honor and duty I believe we can restore our clan to its rightful place of glory and power. That is why I have been in contact with a man that has been rallying clans and groups of ninja to form a new village within the Country of Fire. He has already gathered many other prestigious groups to his cause, many of which we are familiar with and some of whom we held ties to during the Imperial era."

This statement caused murmurings throughout the assembled warriors and many began to ask those sitting next to them if they had heard anything about which clans and groups might be going to Fire Country.

Jinjiro deciding that since he was already on 'kitchen duty' and that his lord and brother would probably not up the punishment, asked the question many of the others were still murmuring, "Pardon Tono, but of which clans do you refer to?"

Hohiro regarded his youngest brother with a slight smile and an upturned eyebrow, impressed that the junior Shugorei had not been completely cowed by his punishment and potential shame as to remain completely silent until it finally fell upon himself or Hideyoshi to get the young boy to participate openly once again in clan councils.

"To answer your question fully I would need to keep you all here until far past the time for the evening meal and into the quiet hours of morning," replied Hohiro. "Needless to say the most prominent clans and groups that I can recall offhand are the Akimichi, the Nara, the Yamanaka, the Aburame, the Sarutobi, the Inuzuka, the Hyuuga, and the Uchiha."

"The Hyuuga are moving to join this group?" inquired one of Shugorei towards the back. "I thought they were still trying to hold there own and remain independent against those ninja who call themselves members of Kumogakure. Aren't they also feuding with the Uchiha right now, how did someone get them to agree to this idea of a village?" The warrior was clearly looking to his fellows and his lord for an answer as to how a clan that was held in almost as high of regard as the Shugorei would be willing to toss in its lot with a village that had still to be fully formed.

"The answer is complicated and even I cannot profess as to knowing all of the reasons," Hohiro responded, "but from what I have gathered the Hyuuga have been hard pressed by this Kumogakure and had fallen back to regroup in the Land of Fire when they were approached on the issue of alliance. Apparently the Hyuuga have come close to losing their precious bloodline limit to Kumogakure and see the alliance as a way to safeguard their clan secrets. As to the Uchiha that seems to be an even stranger situation," stated Hohiro promptly.

"From what I have learned the head of the Uchiha, an Uchiha Madara, engaged the man who has been the chief architect of this alliance nearly two weeks ago on the northern border of the Land of Fire," Hohiro began to explain. "The two were so destructive in their contest that they have fundamentally altered the landscape at that section of the border, creating a new river and canyon system that is now being referred to by some as 'the Valley of the End'. One of our scouts was sent there to investigate and she reports that the destruction and power she has found there rivals that of at least a Shugorei elite's Bankai at full power, if not two elites."

This statement seemed to disrupt many of those present and unsettled them to an extent. The fact that a single battle by two men could be referred to as having the potential to rival the power of an elite if not two of the Shugorei was disturbing. Not to mention the blow to the pride of the Shugorei if others heard of the reference and began to think that the clan had either grown weak or worse that individuals now existed that could go blow for blow with the best of the clan without worry.

Quickly interjecting his voice into the thoughts of his fellows Hohiro began to speak once again. "The event was triggered when the Uchiha made a bold declaration that if someone wanted them to join in alliance with the Hyuuga than that person would have to best their Clan Head before the Uchiha would ever serve alongside the Hyuuga again. Needless to say Uchiha Madara lost and the Uchiha Clan is now working with the Hyuuga, though there still seems to be a good deal of tension and rivalry between the two."

A low chuckle seemed to rise up from the assembled Shugorei as many recalled how the Uchiha had been born of the Hyuuga and after a few generations had been able to gain independence only to fall into a cycle of intense rivalry. The Uchiha, it seemed, had an insane notion that many still viewed them as being part of the Hyuuga and inferior to their predecessors, even though the Uchiha Sharingan could be considered equal to if not superior in some respects to the Hyuuga Byakugan. As such the Uchiha had developed a long standing feud with the Hyuuga over which doujutsu was superior, though rumor had it that the feud was also based upon the highly regulatory caste system that the Hyuuga had instituted and the creation of a seal that would keep all but a few elite Hyuuga as mere servants of the Hyuuga clan.

"The fact that this proposed alliance has gathered these two groups together without either tearing the throat out of the other should at the very least intrigue us," continued Hohiro as many of his fellow clansmen nodded in agreement.

"But to enter into an alliance such as this willingly, while clans that are far inferior to us had to be forced to join…," Minobu interjected suddenly, "it would be disgraceful after we have espoused our philosophy of independence since our clan's inception centuries ago! We cannot allow ourselves the shame of merely giving in to a convenient alliance, not after all that we have fought and bled for…not after all that we have lost."

The near whispered ending of Minobu's point marked the weight that had settled upon his shoulders from all the years of seeing his clan ravaged. Minobu could claim to have seen more suffering than nearly anyone else in the clan, considering that he was now the only surviving member of his generation of Shugorei and as such the eldest warrior present. Currently at the age of fifty years nearly anyone could see that he was man that had grown old before his time. But such things often happen when one must not only bury friends, parents, and siblings, but also one's own beloved children and wife. Though all those present had felt the pain of loss, none could truly understand the degree of pain that Shugorei Minobu felt. Such is the reason that not a single jest or jeer would be made when all witnessed the elder warrior accept the comforting grasp of his only surviving child's hand.

While attempting to console her father, Shugorei Mai picked up the gauntlet that had been laid down against the idea of peacefully joining this alliance.

"Otousan's words ring with truth Tono. How can we, a clan that has held freedom and sovereignty as one of our greatest principals, hope to remain respected if we appear to simply accede to this offer of alliance merely because we see few other options that do not end with our destruction," Mai wearily asked.

Jinjiro looked to his eldest brother as he too felt the call of clan honor that Minobu-jisan and his daughter had raised. Glancing about sharply he noted that many others, including Hideyoshi, seemed to share this feeling of concern.

"I would never allow us to let our honor be tainted in a way that would speak towards cowardice," spoke Hohiro in a tone that one would take as if comforting a loved one. "No, never such dishonor…thus have I thought long and hard about the issue, only recently devising a solution that will allow us to preserve the clan while maintaining the honor and tradition that have formed our very core."

"Then you will fight, just as the Uchiha did," Hideyoshi questioned.

"Not exactly brother, rather I will propose to offer a challenge to the man who bested Uchiha Madara and seeks to bring the Shugorei into this alliance," Hohiro began. "I will offer such a fight as an option for him to choose if he does not agree to accept our challenge."

"And what will the challenge be," Jinjiro inquired.

Hohiro seemed to sigh as he readied his answer, "I cannot reveal the details to the council but must ask that it be accepted based upon my word as Lord Shugorei that it will preserve the honor, dignity, and life of the clan."

"If your word is all that you can offer us than I am afraid that we have little choice," Shugorei Minobu said as his moment of weariness seemed to pass. "I believe that we have little choice but to accept such terms, for I know the heart and soul of a true Shugorei reside within you just as they did your father. With that said I would call for a vote to allow any actions that you, in your capacity as Lord Shugorei, decide to take in regards to this matter," Minobu finished as he began to eye the others present as if daring them to challenge his words.

"If there are no objections to the taking of a vote then I call upon all of those assembled here to cast their vote," Hideyoshi said quickly as to ensure the solidarity that had been built between Hohiro's and Minobu's remarks would not be lost. "I would remind you all that a vote of 'Hai' will be to allow our lord to carry out his plan with the full blessing of the clan, while a vote of 'Iie' will deny such course of action and allow other options to be presented. You will cast your vote as your name is called from the roll…."

"Shugorei Aoi."

Jinjiro could not help but marvel at what had transpired mere moments before as he now walked with his brothers to attend the evening meal. The meeting had ended after the vote. Jinjiro had been surprised when at the end of the meeting his formal apology to Mai for his conduct had merely be shrugged off with Mai declaring before the clan that there was nothing to forgive as he had simply been doing his duty. Jinjiro had been expecting Mai to tease him and be slightly condescending as they had never been particularly close despite the two being cousins. What was the most surprising to Jinjiro was that there had been unanimous consent towards the acceptance of Hohiro's proposal.

"Niisama," Jinjiro asked questionably.

Both Hohiro and Hideyoshi inquisitively turned to regard their youngest brother and see what he wanted.

Feeling slightly awkward as he had simply meant to ask a question and not become the sole focus of attention for both of his brothers Jinjiro hesitated slightly before continuing.

"Back there, during the meeting, everyone was arguing but after you spoke they all agreed to the vote and to accept what you said," Jinjiro began. "How did you get them to all agree, your words were good but some of the others that were gathered are extremely opposed to any thoughts of merging with other shinobi clans to form a village? I was surprised that they did not contest the call for the vote or vote against your idea, but the both of you and Minobu-ojisan didn't seem surprised at all…almost as if you knew what was going to happen."

Grinning at his elder sibling Hideyoshi began to chuckle, "It seems the gaki did pay closer attention than I thought I guess I owe you that favor now Hohiro."

The lord of the Shugorei also began to softly chuckle, "Indeed, though he was not as attentive as I would have liked, so I will make it a small favor Hideyoshi."

"What…wait you had a bet going and what are you chuckling about?" Jinjiro sputtered in both confusion and anger as this was not the first time his elder siblings had decided to amuse themselves at his expense.

"Welcome to the world of politics," Hohiro stately said as his eyes twinkled with mirth, causing Hideyoshi lost all control and was now laughing out loud.

Seeing the look of confusion and slight anger still on his youngest brother's face and that Hideyoshi seemed to be enjoying himself so much Hohiro decided to explain lest a greater 'scene' occur.

"You are right ototo, Minobu-ojisan, Hideyoshi, and myself were not surprised by the turn of events because we did know what was going to occur at the meeting and how it would end," Hohiro stated as he glance towards Hideyoshi, who had begun to compose himself to add to the explanation.

Jinjiro, still showing a look of confusion, decided to further question his brother. "How could you know what was going to happen beforehand, unless…did you see into the future Niisama, is it a special technique, can you teach it to me," Jinjiro rapidly fired of his questions as his confusion bled away to excitement at the thought that his brothers may be able to teach him a new ability.

Hohiro sighed, partly because of the way his youngest brother had seemed to have lost his rational train of thought, but more so because Hideyoshi had lost his composure again and was know leaning over an empty keg so that his rolling laughter would not land him on the ground.

Eye twitching in annoyance at Hideyoshi, Hohiro decided to address Jinjiro before Hideyoshi decided to have a little fun and convince the boy that there was in fact a see-into-the-future technique and had the boy doing gods know what to learn it. The last time Hideyoshi had pulled such a prank Jinjiro had ended up being chased by nearly all of the Shugorei females after Mai had caught him going through her undergarments. When questioned after nearly being beaten to death, the then twelve year old Jinjiro said that Hideyoshi had told him to and that it was part of an invisibility jutsu. That explanation had saved Jinjiro from some of the ire that the women of the Shugorei possessed, but it had lead to nothing but a headache for Hohiro for the rest of the month. It especially didn't help that Hideyoshi had left right before the incident to lead a supply raid and wasn't around for much of the ensuing chaos.

Deciding that he couldn't take another such incident at this time Hohiro quickly interjected into Jinjiro's jutsu crazed thoughts, "I did not look into the future and despite what Hideyoshi may tell you there is no such technique in the Shugorei arsenal or in the world."

"But don't the Uchiha claim to see the future using their doujutsu?" Jinjiro inquired.

Seeing Hideyoshi launch into a new wave of laughter caused Hohiro's eye twitch to increase as all he could think of at that moment was, "Damn the ears of the young, their constant curiosity, and implacable ability to ask questions when they had just received a perfectly good answer."

"The Uchiha are able to hypnotize their opponents using genjutsu based on their Sharingan. That ability allows them to slow down the actions of their enemy enough that the Uchiha are able to predict moves before they occur. It is not really the ability to see the future, merely a subtle trick," Hohiro spoke knowledgeably though he had heard rumors that the Sharingan users could possibly see the chakra shadow of an individual and use the subtle shift of that field to see how said individual would move and attack. While not quite believing the rumors, Hohiro was still weary of the doujutsu users as he did know that the Hyuuga Byakugan could see chakra and that ability did allow the Hyuuga to have an ability to read people and their movements. That the Uchiha and their Sharingan were a derivative of the Hyuuga and their Byakugan did lend some semblance of credibility to the rumors.

"Hohiro's correct," Hideyoshi stated having regained his composure for a second time after seeing the dangerous growth of his elder sibling's annoyance and not wishing to be on the receiving end of whatever punishment Hohiro could think of. Hideyoshi shuttered slightly at how after returning and finding out about Jinjiro's 'panty adventure' he had immediately been sent to take care of the makeshift stables that the Shugorei had setup, he had had to burn the set of work clothes that he had used while he had shoveled shit by himself for an entire month. To this day he still swore he could smell the foul odor on himself despite the numerous baths he took after his punishment was over.

"There was no jutsu or anything so grand that allowed us to predict what would happen at the meeting," Hideyoshi continued. "Hohiro, Minobu-ojisan, and I simply played politics."

Seeing a new look of confusion was over Jinjiro's face Hideyoshi decided to elaborate while Hohiro got his eye twitch under control.

"Hohiro and I, along with ojisan, are some of the most respected individuals in the clan and as such many of our fellow Shugorei trust our judgment and will go along with us so long as we do not attempt anything too radical," Hideyoshi began to explain. "You, Jinjiro, most likely voted for the proposal based upon this trust and respect."

Jinjiro began to nod his head in agreement before realizing that his brother was not asking a question but merely making a statement and was not done with his explanation.

"Now on top of this trust and respect the three of us have been able to garner many political favors over the years and decided to call those favors in so as to make sure the voting went our way," Hideyoshi smiled dubiously.

"The few members of the clan who did not owe us any favors and were not in any mood to trust what we had decided to propose were informed, subtlety of course, that opposition to the measure would not be wise," Hohiro said picking up from where Hideyoshi had left off.

"Wait, you mean to say that you intimidated some members of the clan and bribed others off just so you could win the vote?" Jinjiro spoke flabbergasted.

"As I said earlier, welcome to politics ototo," Hohiro smiled slyly.

"Yeah, but words like intimidation and bribery are so harsh gaki. We merely did a little convincing," Hideyoshi said with the same smile that Hohiro wore. "Though I think you and ojisan were slightly surprised that we were able to get unanimous consent, Hohiro. I know I was."

"Hmm," Hohiro muttered in thought. "There usually is at least one or two members at council that will disregard any political maneuvering and object to proposals that are proposed, the fact that there were none is slightly troubling."

"Oh don't worry yourself about it, we just got lucky," Hideyoshi stated clapping his elder brother on the shoulder. "Remember its better to be lucky than good."

With Jinjiro still dazed at the revelation of his brothers and the Hohiro and Hideyoshi still discussing possible political outcomes, none of the three saw or heard the blur speeding towards them until it leapt onto Jinjiro's back with a loud cry.

"Niisan its dinner time come on, come on!"

The blur, it turned out was one Shugorei Ami. The young girl was dressed in a small black yukata that mirrored the color of her brothers' armor and fit her small stature and size. At all of nine years of age Ami was smaller than average as an effect of the disease that had nearly killed her. Inheriting the light brown hair that the gathered siblings' father had possessed and gathering it in a small braid, the only thing that would have denoted a relation between them to a casual observer was the same smoky grey eyes that had come from their mother.

In her little sing-song voice Ami was imploring her brothers to hurry so that dinner could begin as the clan had developed a tradition of eating together when the majority of members were in camp.

"I helped with dinner niisan, hurry, hurry!" Ami bubbled with energy and giggles while digging her heels into Jinjiro's sides and grabbing fistfuls of hair hoping for an impromptu piggyback ride.

Feeling his hair close to being ripped out by the overly energetic nine year old, Jinjiro began to yell, "Oww, ow, leggo, leggo my hair Ami!"

"Only if you promise to drink your milk tonight niisan!" countered Ami in her little sing-song voice as both Hohiro and Hideyoshi laughed uncontrollably.

"I don't like milk, oww, now leggo!" Jinjiro now almost yowled as Ami seemed to pull harder.

"If you don't drink milk you will stay short niisan," Ami giggled as she leapt off her brother's back.

"I am not short! I am at a perfectly respectable height for my age and don't call me gaki!" Jinjiro countered as his eye began to twitch.

"Sure you are gaki, whatever you say," chuckled Hideyoshi as he picked Ami up allowing her to sit on his broad shoulders.

So with Jinjiro grumbling about hyperactive little sisters, Hideyoshi listening to Ami tell of how she had helped the other civilian members of the clan make the evening meal, and Hohiro chuckling at the antics of his closet relatives the small group made there way to the cook fires where the rest of the clan had met and were waiting to start the meal.

Two weeks had passed since the night of the council meeting. During that period messengers had been moving in out of the Shugorei camp daily. The messengers worked diligently, as the documents and letters that they carried held the intentions and future of the Shugorei. Finally the day that had been agreed upon to by both the Shugorei and the allied clans had come and now the Shugorei waited for their guests to arrive on this sunny and almost perfect day.

Jinjiro stood with a group of Shugorei waiting patiently for the foreign delegation to arrive. On his left and slightly in front of him was Hideyoshi who stood directly at Hohiro's right. On Hohiro's left was Minobu being flanked by Mai. Hideyoshi and Minobu were placed as there positions of power and authority within the clan dictated, as Hohiro's right and left hands. Mai and Jinjiro stood on the flanks to denote that they were up and coming within the ranks and were expected to some day possibly take the position of one of the three. The five stood as a vanguard with five more Shugorei warriors standing formal guard behind them.

The rest of the Shugorei warriors had either been left five miles back at the Shugorei camp in the event of treachery. They would be alerted by one of the five guards that stood behind the vanguard and would hopefully make sure that the civilian dependents of the clan made it to safety.

The only other Shugorei present for the meeting was Ami. Though Jinjiro had protested her presence as a needless risk he had been overruled by Hohiro. Ami stood resplendent in a formal kimono, one of her mother's that had been resized for her. Ami had next to her a small tray from which she would serve tea and sake to the head representative of the allied clans. Jinjiro had complained that one of the servants of the Shugorei could accomplish the task just as well, but Hohiro had said that having Ami serve would act as a sign of respect and honor.

Jinjiro could not help but look towards his little sister. He could tell she was nervous as she stood next to him. Her nervousness was exemplified by her need to fiddle with the bejeweled comb that sat holding her hair in an elaborate bun. The comb had been a gift from Jinjiro for her last birthday and the flower made of brilliant red fire-opal that was the center of the comb matched nicely with the delicate orange, red, and indigo of the kimono.

Jinjiro himself was nervous as he waited impatiently. He was once again wearing his armor but it had been cleaned and made to look presentable as blue highlights had been added. All of the Shugorei warriors had done the same to their armors though they had varied the color and design of their highlights so that no two were exactly the same. Hohiro himself had silver highlights that matched well with the white robe coat that hung around his armor denoting his status as lord.

Jinjiro's musings were broken as he noticed the presence of a large group moving towards them from across the clearing that had been selected for the meeting.

From the woods on the other side of the clearing came nearly twenty shinobi and kunoichi. Jinjiro took in their appearance when they reformed from a skirmish line into one group only about fifteen yards from where his own clan stood, though he was quick to note that despite standing together some of the members seemed less than enthused about one or more companion that stood near them.

Starting from the left the first shinobi he saw could only be an Akimichi as few warriors could hope to match the size of the rotund shinobi clan. Though Hideyoshi definitely had the man beat in the area of height the Akimichi was just as broad and Jinjiro would make a solid bet that the opposing ninja was just as strong as the man carried a massive halberd.

Standing next to the Akimichi was a kunoichi with dirty blond hair. It took a moment for Jinjiro to recognize the woman as being a Yamanaka. The only thing that gave it away was the psychic aura surrounding her. The Shugorei had developed a few jutsu similar to the Yamanaka and as such were able to detect the slight shifts that represented the fluctuation of the powerful mind. It was rumored that the Shugorei had developed the abilities after one of its kunoichi had an affair with a Yamanaka ninja, though no documented proof existed to either support or deny the claim.

The slight laugh of the woman brought Jinjiro's attention to a mustached man lazily sitting in front of both her and the Akimichi. What the man had said he wasn't sure, but he would put good money on the man being a Nara. This was mainly based upon the black pineapple hairstyle, the lazy demeanor, and the extra friendly attitude that seemed to exist between the three. Knowing that the Akimichi, Yamanaka, and Nara had always been closer then most other clans made him feel confident in his assessment.

Jinjiro's attention was suddenly drawn to the right side of the shinobi formation by a loud bark. The man standing there had next to him one of the largest hounds Jinjiro had ever seen and looked to be a mix of wolf and large hunting dog stock. The man himself had dark brown hair that was in a mess. An eye patch covered the man's right eye, but what intrigued Jinjiro more were the two red fang-like inverted triangles on the man's cheeks. Considering the rather messy and near feral look of the man Jinjiro thought the man to most likely be an Inuzuka, the presence of the large hound only helped to reinforce that thought.

The Inuzuka seemed annoyed by the man next to him, though Jinjiro wasn't exactly sure if it was a man or not considering the heavy duster overcoat that the individual was wearing. The face wasn't a help either as the lower part was concealed by a scarf that trailed off behind the man's right shoulder. Dark goggles covered the man's eyes leaving his grayish-black hair to fall to either side of his face. The silent sentinel seemed to ignore the Inuzuka next to him and Jinjiro would have had no idea who the stoic man was if he had not seen the man suddenly point a hand, which was surrounded by an undulating black cloud of flying bugs, at the Inuzuka as a warning. Seeing that, Jinjiro concluded that the man or walking coat, could only be an Aburame as they were one of the few clans that could use insects as a shinobi tool.

Next to the Aburame seeming to be dissatisfied about the whole situation was a beautiful kunoichi wearing an intricate cream and brown battle kimono. Her long brownish-black hair and pearl colored eyes left no argument that she could only be a Hyuuga. Though the kimono hid much of her body Jinjiro would guess that the woman had one of the greatest figures in the world as a few of the ninja behind her seemed to leer at her lustfully. Those leers soon turned to looks of fear and apprehension as the woman glanced back at the ninja with a scowl marring her beautiful face.

The person next to the Hyuuga quickly drew Jinjiro's attention from the extravagant kunoichi. The man now holding his attention seemed to be simply pissed the hell off for the lack of a better term. The man was wearing dark black clothes beneath blood red samurai style armor complete with katana upon his hip. With long, spiny black hair and dark eyes Jinjiro felt a shiver run up his spine as the man locked eyes with him and those black eyes flashed red for a moment. Breaking from the stare Jinjiro knew that the man could only be Uchiha Madara himself.

Still unsettled by the impromptu staring match Jinjiro almost missed Hohiro and the rest of the vanguard Shugorei start forward towards the two field chairs set on either side of a small field table. Despite this slight stumble he did notice the two young men that moved to meet them at the table.

The younger of the two had grey hair held back by a small circlet that held an armor plate about the man's face. Wearing black clothes under blue armor the man, Jinjiro noticed, had two small scar-like lines moving from the his jaw line towards the corners of his mouth. Though he carried himself with great strength and confidence the man seemed to defer slightly to the older man that walked besides him. Jinjiro could not help but note that it was a trait that he had seen Hideyoshi exercise when accompanying Hohiro. That simple thought caused Jinjiro to conclude that the young man was probably the brother of the leader of the movement to form the new village.

With that in mind Jinjiro focused solely on the older of the two men approaching the table, the leader who was gathering clans and shinobi together to form this new village. The man seemed young, probably in his early to mid-twenties like Hideyoshi, though his brown eyes seemed like they belonged to a man two to three times older as they had long stress creases extending down from the inside corner of the eye to the center of the man's cheeks. The man wore black cloth underneath armor similar to the younger man thought the armor was red in color, but not the color of blood like the Uchiha's. No this red was like that of a blazing fire. Jinjiro could not help but muse that the armor and its color may have been what had given the man the title of Hokage. If he had not read the official report that the title had been bestowed by the Daimyo of Fire Country, Jinjiro would have been inclined to accept his own musings.

Jinjiro came to full alert noticing that the guest shinobi that he had already identified had flanked the Hokage while the ones he had yet to fully analyze stood back in a similar guard position as the Shugorei guards. Jinjiro felt himself tensing up even more as Hohiro moved forward the last few feet to the table alone with the Hokage doing the same.

Watching the two leaders nod their heads towards one another as signs of greeting and respect Jinjiro began to pickup on the conversation that was beginning between the two leaders.

"I am glad to finally meet you in person Shugorei-dono," the Hokage remarked. "I have heard much about your clan and its exploits, when I discovered that you were close to Fire Country I had to see if I could meet with you."

"I am glad that we are able to meet on such amicable terms Hokage-dono," Hohiro responded diplomatically. "Please let us sit and discuss your proposal," stated Hohiro while motioning to the table and field chairs.

Ami moved forward hesitantly and offered the drinks that had been prepared for the two leaders. She blushed slightly as the Hokage decided upon a cup of tea and thanked her for it as Hohiro indicated that he would prefer the tea over the sake. She quickly poured tea into the cups that had been set out before the two men and then quickly bowed before moving back to her place near Jinjiro.

After sipping his tea for a moment Hohiro broke the silence that had descended upon the clearing.

"I understand that you are creating a new village within the Country of Fire and have begun gathering clans, freelance ninjas, and small shinobi bands together for this purpose. That is why you are here Hokage-dono, you wish for the Shugorei to join your little project," Hohiro stated while maintaining an emotionless mask over his features.

"Quick to the point aren't you Shugorei-dono," the Hokage chuckled. "Many of the others that I have made such offers to have felt the need to use diplomatic pleasantries to discover my intentions, but you waste no time beating around the bush. I respect that."

Continuing after sipping his tea some more the Hokage began, "Yes I wish for the Shugorei to join the other shinobi that have I have allied together. Your prowess and elite skill as well as your long and noble history, back to the beginning of the shinobi arts, would be a great boon to the new village I wish to create."

Looking at Hohiro the Hokage seemed to be contemplating something before continuing his remarks.

"I was surprised that you responded to my messages and even more that you actually agreed to a meeting; I had thought that with your clan's history of fierce independence you would have ignored my requests," the Hokage finished.

"Times change and so do the people living in them," Hohiro suggested in response. "My clan has already reviewed what your proposal would mean to us and have carefully weighed the possible outcomes of any action that we would take in response. Make no mistake Hokage-dono, my clan may have fallen upon rough times, but we are neither foolish nor are we desperate. If you tried to forcefully integrate us we would bleed you dry and leave you so weakened that the other shinobi villages would descend upon you to pick away at your remains."

The steely tone of Hohiro's voice at that last statement caused many of those who had gathered to tense up for a moment, fearing that everything would be over before it even had a chance to begin.

"I suggest no such thing Shugorei-dono; I have nothing but respect for you and your clan. I know what terrible foes you can be and do not wish to incur your ire anymore than I have to," diplomatically responded the Hokage.

"Then we have an understanding," Hohiro stated watching the Hokage nod slightly in response.

"We do, so what is the price that the Shugorei require in order to gain you as part of our alliance?" the Hokage asked hesitantly.

Hohiro eyed the Hokage warily for a moment before calmly answering, "We have but a few provisions that must be fulfilled and I assure you that they are not too expensive."

"First, the Shugorei will maintain its right to act independently if it is felt that at any time the contract reached here is not being fulfilled," seeing the Hokage nod slowly Hohiro continued.

"Second, the Shugorei have never knelt to anyone in its history and we shall not do so now. If you think we will kneel before you, another leader, or even the Fire Daimyo himself than you are sadly mistaken. While we may be allied together and as such work together we are neither your servants nor your slaves. This point is nonnegotiable," Hohiro spoke with a crisp finality while looking to see how the Hokage would respond.

Pausing for a moment, as if contemplating a response, the Hokage nodded in agreement before speaking, "I will agree to this point but your clan must defer to decisions and laws created by the village government, as well as following the chain of command when working with other shinobi and allied groups."

Before Hohiro could respond the Hokage added with a slight smile, "This point is nonnegotiable."

Staring at the Hokage for a few seconds Hohiro nodded. "That is acceptable," he said before continuing with the requirements put together by the Shugorei.

"Third, the Shugorei will be allowed to set up and conduct the traditional businesses that have been practiced by both its civilians and warriors, so long as they do not interfere with the security and safety of the village," Hohiro continued looking to the Hokage.

Seeing the slight nod Hohiro continued, "Fourth, the Shugorei will be considered full partners with all other inhabitants and allied shinobi of the village. We shall follow your laws accordingly, but we will not be discriminated against by the legal government of the village."

"That will not be a problem," the Hokage began. "We have already begun drafting the laws of our new village as well as the system of government. The Shugorei will be part of the village council with equal representation and say just as all other members of the village will have. We are also hoping that you will have suggestions to make sure the laws will be fair and just towards all."

"Agreed," came from Hohiro while he looked at the clan heads standing just behind the Hokage. Seeing that none of them had even flinched at the last point called to his mind that they had all required a similar guarantee before they accepted the Hokage's proposal. Looking back to the Hokage, Hohiro decide to present his final concern.

"Finally, the Shugorei will maintain its own private clan area and techniques. We will help train others in the way of the shinobi so as keep the forces of the village strong and numerous, but we will not reveal our secrets and jutsus to others of the village. These are ours alone and we will only teach them to those of the clan," Hohiro vehemently stated.

"That point has already been agreed to with the other clans that are forming the village," said the Hokage. "Though I do hope that you will provide non-clan specific techniques for general usage by all of the village's forces just as the other groups have."

With Hohiro's nod the Hokage smiled and began to extend his hand across the table while saying, "If that is your last point then I would like to formally welcome you to…."

Hohiro cut the man off before he could finish his statement with, "Actually there is one last thing that we must do before the Shugorei can accept your alliance."

While looking into the eyes of the Hokage, Hohiro continued with a slight smile seeing as he had surprised the other man, "The Shugorei have long been a proud and independent people, traditionally we do not accept others until they have proven their worth. To accept your proposal outright would shame us and disgrace our traditions."

"Then what would you propose Shugorei-dono?" the Hokage asked guardedly.

Smiling Hohiro looked back at the clan heads, which had moved forward towards the table and its occupants.

"The Uchiha required you to best their leader before they would agree, anything less for us would be insulting," Hohiro continued to grin and eye the Hokage. "I have heard reports of your battle and wish to see if they are true and that you are as strong as they claim or if the Uchiha are as weak some rumor."

Jinjiro who had been listening intently was suddenly struck by a feeling of pure dread and if not for the efforts of Hideyoshi and Minobu would have collapsed underneath the wave of killing intent that poured forth from the slighted Uchiha Madara. Quickly realizing that Ami had not nearly enough training to deal with the feeling Jinjiro grabbed the hyperventilating girl and held her close as she cried silently because of the terror she was experiencing.

Jinjiro, realizing that Mai was in a similar predicament of handling the killing intent as he was and must also be suffering from the ill feeling that had crept into his stomach, looked between his uncle and elder brothers for some sort of action. He was surprised that it was the Hokage and his entourage that stopped the Uchiha head.

With a few glares and quick taunts the Uchiha's focus was diverted elsewhere and the killing intent that he had been emanating subsided while Jinjiro comforted the terrified Ami.

"You would do well to not anger my companion," the Hokage began. "I can attest that he is a dangerous and worthy adversary, even you would have difficulty in combating him Shugorei-dono."

The pained tone in the Hokage's voice drew Jinjiro's attention and for the first time he noticed that the man and the Uchiha head both still held the weariness of battle about them. Jinjiro quickly realized that despite the time that had past since the two had battled neither combatant was back to full strength and were most likely still nursing a few wounds.

Quickly looking towards the other Shugorei warriors that stood with him, he noted that they had also picked up on his observation. The fact that the Hokage was not fully battle-ready made Jinjiro stop for a moment and wonder what Hohiro was thinking. For a Shugorei warrior to challenge a still wounded and weakened opponent to a duel and then defeat him would bring little glory and honor. To throw a fight would be disgraceful, so what had Hohiro been planning when he had challenged the Hokage. Jinjiro did not have long to think on the matter as Hohiro began to address the Hokage again.

"Yes a duel between the two of us Hokage-dono," Hohiro stated before quirking an eyebrow and continuing, "Unless you would be open to another option that would fulfill my clan's honor?"

The Hokage hesitated slightly, unsure of what the Shugorei lord had up his sleeve, before inquiring, "What would you have in mind?"

Smiling like the proverbial cat with the canary Hohiro offered, "I believe that a fight between the two of us would be fruitless and cause more harm then good. A similar fight between members of my party and yours would doubtlessly have similar results. As such I would propose a small contest. If you win then the Shugorei will immediately accept the provisions discussed here and join your alliance for a new village. However, if you should lose then we will have to have a duel to settle the matter."

Slightly startled by the proposal the Hokage quickly composed himself before responding, "If I refuse we will duel and if I accept and lose we will duel, hardly a choice Shugorei-dono. I want to know what the contest will be before I accept or decline."

"Of course," Hohiro countered, "It is rather simple, you will toss a coin in the air and I will call it, if the side I call occurs than I win if not then you win."

"Such a contest eliminates skill and relies upon luck," responded the Hokage as he contemplated the idea.

"When two warriors of equal ability meet it is often luck that decides the outcome," Hohiro stated philosophically.

Jinjiro watched as the Hokage sat thinking over the proposition and listening as words of advice were given by the attending clan heads and the Hokage's brother. He wondered what the man would do as some of the advice offered was for the duel while others cautioned for the contest.

Rising up from his chair the Hokage looked at the Shugorei lord before asking, "Do you have a coin that I may use?"

Hohiro too rose up from his chair before offering a coin that he had somehow gotten in his hand without anyone noticing.

The slight flash of gold and the sharp intake of breath by the surprised Hokage told Jinjiro exactly where the coin was from. Before them all Hohiro was offering the Hokage an ancient, gold Imperial Sovereign.

The coin had at one time been the major currency of the now collapsed Empire. Since the collapse most of coins had been collected by feudal lords and large businesses so as to recast the coins into ingots that would back the paper and metal currency of the new age.

On one side was the visage of an emperor or empress, which was varied as the coins were not taken out of circulation and recast when a new leader sat the throne. The other side never changed though and held the depiction of an armor clad warrior holding up the imperial standard. It was that side that most caught Jinjiro as the depiction was of a member of his clan as the Shugorei had been the guardians of the Empire and had ensured the peace and justice offered under its rule.

Jinjiro new that the Shugorei had kept a large amount of the old coins, as well as their silver and copper counterparts, along with many of the treasures of the Empire sealed in scrolls for safe keeping and easy transport. It was almost an unspoken rule that no hint was to be given about the wealth that remained sealed away as it would only incite further attacks and the wealth was kept with the idea that it would be used to reestablish the Shugorei once they found a suitable home.

Watching the Hokage reverently accept the coin and marvel at it caused Jinjiro to feel a sense of pride in his heritage. This pride was replaced with nervous anticipation as everyone focused on the coin as it was flipped into the air by the Hokage.

The only person not watching the coin dance in the sunlight as it flew through the air was Hohiro. Staring straight at the Hokage with a mirthful smirk, Hohiro waited for their gazes to lock before calmly calling out, "Edge."

This verse is at an end.
Our path now leads to a once unthinkable fate.
We have found new allies in our once despised foes and treacherous enemies within our own brethren.
Our honor has guided us, like a pyre in the blackest night to our new home.
This Eden was foretold by the ancestors as deliverance from our own corruption.
We shall defend it to the last, let the next verse begin!

-Shugorei Hohiro
The end of 'The Wandering' by 'The Joining'

"The Shugorei Chronicles"

AN: Hello, hello and welcome to my Naruto epic. This story will be AU in many respects, but will also follow many of the canon details set forth in the series. Please note that this is in no way a crossover with other fictional realms, though some elements will be borrowed and redeployed accordingly. A few OC's will pop up, but only a few will play a significant role. The main premise behind this story was a challenge put forward a while back to develop a good story based upon the unknown history of Naruto's mother. My first ideas were alright and languished on the shelf for a few years. When I dusted them off and started reviewing them they kind of took on a life of their own and have thus evolved into this fic. Since Kishimoto has finally given us a name and description of Naruto's parents I will be weaving those details into the story. I hope you all enjoyed the prologue and don't worry; Naruto will be showing up shortly in the next chapter. I hope some of you who read this fic will leave some words to tell me what you think and if there are ways to improve.