Yeah - I'm still alive. Still don't own this stuff, still broke, and still having trouble finding time to write.


The first thing he was aware of when arriving was the intense heat rising up around him. Naruto squinted and shielded his eyes as they adjusted to the contrast of light and dark. When he was finally able to make out his surroundings, he noticed he was standing on a rough stone slab the bottom of an impossibly tall chamber, only meters above a bubbling pool of lava. The top of the space was lost in the dim light. A few bright spots were apparent from where he stood as magma flowed from cracks in the walls or through channels in stone viaducts to trickle down from on high to merge with the pool below.

The glow from the molten stone provided the only illumination in the chamber, casting deep shadows and coloring everything orange. It was clear that this was a built space, or at least human hands had taken part in shaping the cavern. In addition to the viaducts, stone bridges spanned at irregular intervals above him, each ornamented in the same fashion as the detailing etched into the walls.

The place felt old and dangerous. Naruto wasn't sure why he ended up here, but he had long since stopped asking that question between dimensions. His attention was pulled from his surroundings to the pulsating orb in his hand given to him from his last trip. It beat in opposition to his own heart, thrumming violently and casting a dark red light that did nothing to alleviate his fears about the object.

The stone bridge he was standing on sloped downward over the lava into the cavern wall, where the fine stonework stopped and only rough natural stone remained. A cave entrance was just visible in the distance, and the red glow of lava served to only deepen the shadows.

To protect it, he tried to store it in a pocket dimension, only to find that he couldn't. The very process of trying felt like a rasengan to the guts; the shock and severity of the sudden pain caused him to fall to his knees. It also made him drop the orb. Naruto could only watch in dumbfounded horror as it slowly began to roll away from him downhill along the bridge, towards the cave.

As the orb picked up speed, it began to bounce on the uneven stone. The sound of the glass orb ringing as it bounced down the path made him cringe. Hopping to his feet, Naruto ran after the glowing orb only to be dumbfounded as it came to stop at the tail of a very large slate-grey naga with purple stripes. It stood several times Naruto's height, and it's trunk was as thick as Naruto if he spread his arms to the side. Before Naruto could reach the orb, the naga gingerly plucked it off the ground, and staring at it in fascination, lifted it high to stare at it against the light.

Naruto yelled, "Hey, give that back!"

"Reckless mortal!" A fiery blast wave erupted around the naga, blowing Naruto back and nearly into the lava. It took him a moment to regain his feet as he was forced to spare several seconds rolling on the ground in an attempt to put out his still burning clothes. By the time he regained his bearings, he was just able to see the naga's tail as the beast slithered out of sight and deeper into the cavern.

Pissed, Naruto ran to where the naga disappeared, only to stop short as he saw that the cave entrance to the cave he'd glimpsed was in fact a huge cavern. The naga was already almost out of sight as it sped away into the depths of the chasm. That would have been fine, except for the fact that there path there was littered with giant fire elementals, magma giants, and two-headed fire breathing dogs, which had armored-hide covered bodies studded with bony spikes. A streak of flames ran down the spines of these beasts, from head to stubby tail.

Worst of all, each of these creatures was massive - easily four to five times taller than Naruto. Frowning, Naruto made a clone. The clone looked back at him and asked, "really?"

Naruto glared at his clone for the backtalk. With a sigh, the clone pulled out a sword and charged at the nearest giant, one of a pair guarding a small land bridge over a bubbling pool of lava. The clone made a rude one-handed gesture at his creator as he ran at the giant. The clone's clothes started to smoke as he approached, but before he could even strike the beast he was squished like a cockroach under the giant's foot. The clone dispelled in a plume of smoke. Miffed, Naruto made more clones, but frowned at the small number that appeared. He tried the technique again, but after thirty-nine clones, the chakra simply dispersed into the air.

Consigning it to a quirk of this particular dimension, Naruto ordered his clones to charge the giant again. The real Naruto hung back, watching the ensuing battle. Though, in retrospect, the word "battle" might have been a misnomer, as the giant trashed his clones. They got a few good hits in, but one of the clones, trying to be clever and use long range attacks, got too close to the second giant on the other side of the bridge, catching its attention. The moving with a speed that belied its mass, the giant squashed the clone and stated towards the other group.

In a few short moments, the clones were summarily wiped out, with little to show for their efforts. (AN: First time my guild raided MC back in 2005, we were super stoked. And we wiped on the very first set of giants. At least the run back wasn't problematic.) With a grimace, Naruto sat down in a corner and tried to think of how he'd get through this particular mess. He placed a teleportation seal where he sat, doing so by habit.

He was interrupted after a few moments by a large group of people, some forty in number, came lumbering through the mouth of the cave. He watched in fascination as they stood around in small groups, passing what looked to be bread, food, water, potions, and bandages back and forth amongst themselves. Some were heavily armored while some wore only robes. Those in robes were also busy casting magical enhancements, which seemed to screw with Naruto's senses.

Stranger still, at least to Naruto, was that in while the people were speaking, text floated over the heads of each person as they opened their mouths to speak. The text varied in color from green, white, and pink and none of it made any sense to him at all.

What was an epeen, and why were they so important? Why were numbers randomly interspersed into the text, and just what did 1337$p3a|: mean? The phrase "wtf ur such a fag i wuz going 2 help" cropped up more than once, and no matter how many times he read it, Naruto just didn't understand it. He didn't understand what cosmetics had to do with damage, nor why less QQ more PEW PEW was uproariously funny.

Then there were long discourses about a gentleman named Norris. Based on the conversation, he seemed extremely powerful, which filled Naruto with a sense of trepidation. He wasn't sure if he was capable of taking on a being so powerful he eradicated all signs of life on a planet he visited.

Shaking his head, he continued to watch the chaos as the group slowly got organized. A hulking brute of a man in thick plate armor began shouting in large green letters that it was time to begin. People began to cluster in groups as the armored man harangued the crowd.

A few moments later, he watched as the group began to advance towards the pair of giants. Naruto watch in fascination as the armored man charged out front to tackle the first giant alone, yelling at the beast to capture its attention. Rather than get squished like Naruto's clone, the warrior simply got battered by the giant's stone club. The rest of the group stood around and waited, except for a small group of casters who were casting spells on the warrior that seemed to be healing him and keeping him alive.

The second giant joined in the fray. A warrior broke off from the pack and engaged, but was less well equipped than the first. Once the warrior had engaged, however, the rest of the group sprang into action, attacking the first giant being held at bay by the leader of the group. Bolts of ice and shadow sprang from the hands of casters to impact the giant. Spindly rogues wielding blades of all kinds sprang forward under the cover of the fire to hack away at the giant.

The first giant fell, causing the earth to shake. As one, the group turned on the second giant, making short work of it. Once the giant fell, the group moved further into the cave to meet the first of the two-headed fire breathing dogs. The armored warrior turned the dog around so the breath wasn't affecting the group as they gradually increased the amount of damage done until the beast dropped.

The group recuperated at the foot of the bridge, not having crossed over to where a second pair of giants waited. Soon, the group was back on its feet, and a shot rang out. The pair of giants came stomping across the bridge, and this pair fell, much like the first.

A giant towering flame elemental and a rock elemental came next. Naruto watched with interest as the group engaged. He winced as a towering gout of flame rose from a strike, able to feel the heat from his observation point. Interestingly enough, a small fire elemental rose up from where the flame strike landed, and he noted that the entire party turned on the small elemental, ignoring the larger one. He realized why when the smaller elemental divided into two. The first one died, but the second one seemed almost as strong as the first had been initially.

Once the group took down the flame elementals, they turned to the rock elemental. It seemed to be easy to deal with, but annoying and fast, ploughing through the party members and sending them flying back as it charged.

Having watched how the group coordinated their response, Naruto waited until the group engaged the big, ancient core hound walking slowly up the ramp. He felt it was time to make his move.

He casually snuck up behind the healers and stabbed them in the kidneys. The deed done, Naruto teleported back to the entrance and watch as the raid quickly collapsed once the healing was taken out. The core hound savaged the group, leaving behind nothing but chewed on, smoldering corpses. Eventually, the hound got bored with the scattered remains and walked away, leaving Naruto to investigate the area. He crept down to the area and poked around.

There was little that was salvageable, but he took what he could. Teleporting back to the entrance of the cave, he sat down and convened a small clone council.

"So…" Naruto said.

"So…" The clones replied. They all sat there, staring at each other, until as one the clone group all stuck their fingers to their noses and said "Not it!" in unison.

"Damn it!" Naruto cursed. "I'm a ninja, not a freaking warrior."

One of the clones stuck out his tongue. "Too bad. You're the only one that can actually stand up to the kind of damage we'll be facing out there."

The original sighed but agreed. "That doesn't get us around the fact we know nothing about healing. Not to mention some of those other skills we witnessed would be useful to try and learn."

The clones nodded.

"You guys go investigate and see what you can track down. I'm going to start exploring this cavern."

The clones admonished him to be careful and not do anything too stupid while they were gone. They all left the cavern, and began working their way out towards the top to find civilization. As they departed, Naruto began the process of mapping the cavern. Running up the nearest wall, he took out a scroll and began drawing what he could see.

The complex was huge, and the ceiling was also nearly as hot as the lava underneath, as there didn't seem to be an avenue for the heat to escape. It made for uncomfortable and dangerous work, as he tried to find a cool spot on the wall in order to map the place. He'd barely made any progress when the first of his clones dispelled, giving him a sense of the world he was in. He quickly replaced the dispelled clone with another, who with a sigh, began the long trek back to the surface.

He'd only managed to map the first chamber, noting where the various creatures seemed to hang out, when his clones started to dispel. Each had made it to a different portion of the world, and a couple had managed to make it to some sizable cities. They'd left marker tags for transportation everywhere they went, so he now had a much better sense of the geography and scale of this place. Fortunately, the gold he had left over from his trip to Tristam was serving him well, as gold was the coin of the realm here as well. Purchasing items and spells hadn't been an issue, but learning them was another story. Teleporting back to the cavern entrance, Naruto once again summoned his clones.

"All right, lackies. We can't afford to wait around much longer, as we need to retrieve that orb. So, have you figured out how this healing business?"

One of the clones shrugged. "You know what we know. We paid the gold, and some lights flashed. Who knows it that actually works?"

"Yeah," said another clone, "what kind of world is this where you can just buy the skills you need?" The clone spat. "Seems stupid."

"Tristam was the same way." Another clone ventured. Soon it devolved into an all-out brawl, as some of the clones felt it necessary to use their fists to make the point. Before any of the clones could dispel from the damage, however, a clone in the background wearing his wizard robe and hat was subtly casting a healing spell on the participants, both to practice and so that he could enjoy the chaos a little longer.

A few minutes later, the clone in the wizard robe and hat vanished in a poof of smoke, followed quickly by the fighting clones since their source of healing had vanished.

Naruto digested the information he'd received quickly. Healing was chakra intensive, or at least the way it was done here. That clone hadn't lasted nearly as long as he had anticipated. Careful management would be needed. But this form of healing had a couple of advantages, though. Naruto knew he didn't have the control necessary to do it the way Sakura did at home, but yet his clone could do it relatively easily. He also didn't need to be touching his intended target, which was a big bonus.

With a mental command, all the clones remaining disbursed. After a few moments, 39 new clones appeared, all decked out in the appropriate gear. There were a couple of clones in heavy armor, but most were in light leather armor or cloth. Naruto himself donned the heaviest set of armor he had in his collection as one of the clones helped him adjust the fit.

"All right, you pansies. Let's go get that orb back."

Donning a helmet and pulling a giant claymore out of his storage space, Naruto led the march into the cavern. The first creature they came across was a core hound. Naruto ran up to the beast, and, in a burst of speed, ducked under the creature's head to reach its belly, sword cutting from sternum to pelvis as he ran under the creature's torso and between its hind legs.

Needless to say, it was pissed. It whirled around and unleashed a huge cloud of fire at Naruto, who bit back an oath as the wall of flame hit.

"HOT!" Naruto rolled on the ground as he felt his flesh melting. The pain was quickly replaced by a cooling sensation as the clones in the back worked their healing magic. Unfortunately, he didn't have much time to enjoy the relief, as he was forced to dodge a lunge from one of the beast's two heads. He buried his sword in the eye closest to him, but was left defenseless when the other head came from his blind side to snap at him.

Naruto dived to the side. He managed to see his clones all standing around. "What the fuck are you waiting for? Drop this thing!"

At his words, the clones opened up. Spears of earth impaled the creature from below, as shredding winds tore at its hide. Water techniques were particularly devastating, given the beast's fire nature, but took so much chakra in the dry environment that several clones burst. The techniques the clones learned in this world by simply purchasing the skills weren't nearly as effective, but at least it gave him some ideas for future jutsu.

The beast dropped to the ground with a thud, fire extinguished. Naruto pulled his sword out of the eye socket, shaking the thing off to remove some of the ichor.

Naruto made a few clones to replace the ones that had overspent themselves. "I was roasting out there. Why didn't you guys attack?"

"We were waiting for the signal. We didn't want to attack too early and get squished."

Naruto sighed. "We are clearly going to have to work on coordination. Come on. Let's keep moving."

Naruto and his clones slowly jogged towards the bottom of the ramp, being attacked by the occasional rock elemental as they moved. The things turned out to be surprisingly fragile; a rasengan to the body simply blasted the things apart. The fire elementals, however, turned out to be a little trickier, as Naruto had little in his bag of tricks to resist heat. The two handed sword was a bad idea, so he pulled out a shield to help protect himself from the heat.

One of the clones bit the dust when the fire elemental blasted him with a sustained jet of fire. Where the clone once stood, a mini elemental sprang into being. A couple of clones turned to deal with the mini elemental, but didn't kill it fast enough. It split into two, and the two split into four.

Naruto swore, and with a flash abandoned the fight, teleporting back to the entrance of the cave, leaving his clones to be wiped out. He was just able to make out the fight from his vantage point. The clones didn't stand a chance; the few that run were chased down and popped summarily.

Convinced the threat was over, the elemental returned to its place as the spawned elementals vanished into the air. Naruto waited a few minutes before summoning his clone council again.

"Alright. Tromping down the middle of this cavern getting beat on is stupid," he said. "I'm not a warrior – I'm a ninja, so let's start thinking like one. Any suggestions?"

One of the clones scratched his chin. "Well, we only need to find the orb, right? Why bother fighting, then? I mean, we should be able to sneak in without any problems."

Another clone piped up, "And when we face a problem, nothing that can't be fixed with explosives."

"Yeah, if explosives don't fix the problem, you aren't using enough explosives," said a third.

Naruto nodded. "Now we're talking. How many explosive tags do we have?"

The clones pulled out the inventory and began to count. The count revealed that the number was surprisingly low. Unfortunately, Naruto was running low on paper. He created another clone, which teleported to the nearest city to buy as much quality paper as it could find. It came back after a bit, carrying a huge stack of papers, which it handed off to some of the other clones. They quickly got to work, cutting each sheet into the proper size and prepping each sheet for use.

Naruto and the clones got to work. A group of twenty created basic tags, and remembering some of the designs he'd learned from Hermione's books, while fifteen started experimenting with tags that combined elemental affinities and shape manipulation into them. Naruto figured there was no time like the present to try out these ideas, as he wanted to find that orb quickly. The remaining five clones were on admin duty - one clone continued to prep the paper, one organized the finished tags into bundles, while a third clone attached an adhesive to the back, and a fourth attached the sticky tags to kunai for use.

Naruto busied himself storing the tagged kunai in his storage space for easy access. Even with forty clones and an assembly line process, it still took longer than he liked to make enough tags to deal with the enemies he'd be facing. Naruto resolved to leave the clones here at the entrance creating more tags while he snuck in to explore.

Heading back across the stone bridge and deeper into the cavern, Naruto crept back down the slope until he was less than a hundred meters away from the fire elemental that wiped out his clones earlier. With a smirk, Naruto pulled out a dozen bunch tagged kunai that his clones had prepared, mixing normal explosive tags with an experimental tag containing water elements.

Naruto waited until the elemental turned away from him before taking aim. Naruto primed the tags with his chakra, and then let the brace of kunai fly. The tags exploded on contact and the result was more than Naruto had hoped. A huge plume of water was sent flying upwards and outwards from the force of the explosion caused by eleven tags exploding simultaneously in close proximity.

A single smoking bracelet fell to the ground near Naruto's feet, the only remnant of the elemental left. Smirking, he sauntered further into the cavern, until he was within striking distance of a pair of giants. He noted that the pair was standing quite close to the edge; behind them was a long drop into a pool of lava. A plan hatched in his brain, and he crept closer to implement.

Naruto placed a transportation seal where he was standing, and, then tossed a single kunai with a hiraishin tag on it behind the giants near the edge overlooking the lava. He couldn't hear the kunai land, but felt when it stopped moving due to the seal on it. With a flash, he was behind the giants.

"Hey, uglies!"

The pair of giants turned as one, and immediately began running towards him. Naruto simply stood his ground. The giants broke into a lumbering run as they roared, charging heedlessly in his direction. At the last moment, he teleported back to the seal he'd placed a few moments earlier. The giants, given their mass and size, weren't so fortunate. They tried to stop, but went tumbling over the edge, diving into the lava below.

Naruto ran over to the edge to see what happened. The beasts roared in apparent frustration, but given that they were composed of magma themselves, they didn't seem likely to succumb to the lava. One of the giants hand managed to grab on to the cliff, and was starting the process of trying to climb up. The beast was glowing bright red from the additional heat it had absorbed. However, Naruto had other ideas. Conjuring up a ball of ice, Naruto sent it flying at the giant attempting to climb the cliff.

The extreme heat and cold reacted violently. With a resounding crack, the area where the ice ball had hit shattered, resulting in powerful steam explosion that took out a good portion of the giant's torso. Naruto was forced to jump back to avoid the spray of steam and shrapnel. By the time he made it to his feet, the second giant had reached the cliff face and was climbing up over the body of the first giant. Naruto repeated the process, narrowly avoiding being scalded by the rising steam.

Naruto smirked. It seemed like perhaps some of the skills he learned here would be useful after all. Taking stock of his surroundings, he had two options at this point. Three, if you included retreating back the way he came, but he crossed that one off from consideration before giving it any real thought. There was a land bridge across the lava to his left, or deeper into the cavern. He had no idea where the orb might be, so decided to try the path to his left first.

A pair of fire elementals patrolled a spit of land across the bridge, and as did a large, ornery looking core hound. There was a passage in just within line of sight. Rather than waste more supplies on these enemies when he could avoid them, Naruto simply teleported to the ceiling above the opening he saw, taking stock of the creatures below him.

The heat was a bit more tolerable here, as he was no longer over bubbling lava. But he didn't want to stay up there long, so he moved deeper into the cavern. There were packs of fire juggling imps below him, but he ignored them in favor of finding the orb. Eventually the ceiling sloped down, and there was a small opening that he crawled through, only to find himself in a large, long cavern that was blessedly cooler than the main chamber.

The end of the cavern he was in seemed to be the low point, as it rose into the distance before dropping out of sight. Seeing no enemies around, he took a moment to place a seal before dropping from the ceiling to the floor. He could just make out a pack of five bicephalous hell hounds in the near the crest of the hill.

Naruto dashed across the cavern to the far wall, using the shadows to hide his approach. Pulling out some kunai, he primed the explosive tags and let loose. The kunai hit the hounds closest to him, which exploded, leaving behind three smoldering corpses. The other two, injured but not dead, came charging down the hill at him. One fell as an exploding kunai entered an eye and blew off a head; the other beast didn't stop its charge, though.

That was okay by Naruto. He waited till the last second before dropping to a knee and using an earth technique to create a three meter spike of earth that grew out of the ground towards the beast. The dog was unable to stop as it impaled itself on the spike through its chest, the tip coming out its back near the tail.

Though the beast was dying, it was not a particularly fast death. Naruto then heard the sound of flames igniting, and saw that the first three hounds he'd killed were climbing back to their feet.

"You've got to be shitting me!"

Whoosh. Naruto's eyes widened further as the fourth dog also stood up, its head fully regrown. The four regenerated beasts all growled viciously as they advanced on Naruto, circling around to keep him with his back to the cavern wall. The fifth beast finally died, but it, too, regenerated by the time the other four slowly closed in.

As a group, the five hounds lunged for Naruto. He turned tail and ran up the wall, just barely avoiding their lunges. Naruto crouched on the wall above them, safe for the moment, but very puzzled as to what happened. He took out a kunai, and primed the tag stuck on it with chakra, throwing it at one of the hounds. It died as the tag detonated inside its body.

Naruto began counting, and after less than fifteen seconds the beast regenerated with a whoosh of flames. The five hounds growled and spit as they tried to reach him on the wall, but were unable to. Moving laterally along the wall didn't help much, as the pack simply followed him.

Figuring that they group must be tied together somehow, Naruto pulled out a huge wad of explosive notes, and began carefully wrapping them in a ball, sticking bits of metal in at random intervals until he had a ball of explosives about the size of a watermelon. He primed the mass with his chakra and dropped it right into the middle of the pack of hounds before teleporting away to where he'd entered this section of the cavern.

Unfortunately, he hadn't accounted for the fact that the simultaneous detonation of compressed tags would create a much more powerful blast than the tags alone. The shockwave blew him off his feet and into a pack of fire imps. He was saved from serious injury only because he reflexively teleported back to the very entrance of the cavern before hitting the ground.

The landing was still rough, however, as the teleportation didn't change his momentum. He bowled into and through a group of his clones, causing them to disperse them immediately. The impact helped slow his roll, though, so that he merely crashed into the cavern wall rather than hitting it hard enough to be injured.

"Boss!"

The clones not damaged by his sudden appearance rushed to help him to his feet.

"Boss! What happened?"

Naruto brushed dirt off his outfit with a grin. "Solving problems. And you were right. If you can't solve your problems with explosives, you aren't using enough." He paused. "I'm gonna need more tags. Lots more."

The clones nodded, getting back to work. Naruto reformed the one's he'd popped, and with a salute, teleported back to the cavern he'd vacated moments earlier. Where the dogs had stood nothing remained but a smoking crater; not even pieces of the hounds remained. Naruto whistled as he looked at his handiwork – the crater was deeper than he was tall, and given that it had been blasted out of solid stone, he was truly impressed. He'd have to experiment with his tags to see if he could recreate the blast without using quite so many the next time.

Movement further up the cavern prompted caught his attention. A large naga was slithering down the cavern to investigate the disturbance, flanked on either side by two smaller nagas, each carrying a trident. Naruto threw a kunai upwards into the cavern ceiling, and teleported to it so he could observe unseen.

The three nagas investigated the crater, pointing and gesticulating wildly back and forth as they discussed what could have happened. Naruto used that opportunity to position himself right above the trio, and, giving a mental command to two of his clones making tags to dispel, created a pair of clones next to himself.

The clones nodded and moved slightly away so they could concentrate on making overpowered rasengans, each pouring as much of the available chakra they had into the attack. For his part, Naruto pulled out the wand he'd received at Hogwarts, and channeled wind chakra into it. With a nod, all three dropped from the ceiling, plowing into the targets below.

The two nagas on either side exploded in a crimson spray as the combined force of the oversized ransengen and gravity reduced them to little more than a smear. Naruto's target was cleanly bifurcated as the wind chakra split the creature from head to tail. Even braced for the impact, Naruto's teeth still clicked shut from the speed at which he landed.

Kicking the corpse with his toe to make sure it was dead; he proceeded to search the body for the orb he lost earlier. He didn't find it, but did find some good gear to add to his collection. Leaving the corpse, Naruto made his way back to the ceiling and walked deeper into the chamber, avoiding four more groups of hounds that patrolled the floor below him. At the back of the cavern, a giant, two-headed core hound pace back and forth, molten slobber dropping from its jaws and leaving burn marks on the stone floor to mark its passage.

Naruto pondered the beast for a bit, trying to figure out how to get the drop on the beast to put it down without standing in front of it and taking a beating. He pondered the problem for a bit while he absently picked pieces of the exploded nagas out of his hair.

He paused, looking at a scale that ended up in his hair, then back down the cavern where he had fought earlier. He quickly ran back down the cavern to the corpse of the last naga and took in the sight. It was a mess, as most of the organs and blood had drained to floor, leaving the carcass sitting in a rapidly congealing pool of viscera and offal. He walked around the mess until he could find a relatively clean purchase, and with a tug, dragged the cadaver to a cleaner location so he could begin.

Once he dragged the remains to a new location, he carefully pried the two halves apart so that the exposed cavities faced the ceiling. With the help of a clone, he started stuffing the remains full of explosive tags. Once full, he carefully pushed the two halves back together and used some old belts cinched tight around the corpse to hold the whole thing together.

With the help of a clone, he carefully carried the body up the wall and deeper into the cavern until the giant cerberus was just below him. Naruto nodded to the clone, which jumped down to stand in front of the beast.

"Hey ugly!"

The beast snorted as both heads snapped to attention on Naruto's clone. Being a clone, the doppelganger had no sense of self preservation. It took out a kunai, and with careful aim, threw one the knife into one of the eyes of the beast's right head.

The effect was instantaneous. The beast howled, and suddenly nearly doubled in size.

The clone paled.

The cerberus lunged forward, intent to gobble the clone up. Before it could, however, the clone used the remnants of it chakra to perform a kawarimi with the corpse Naruto had previously prepped. Naruto felt the pull and released the body, priming the explosive tags as he did so.

The beast's two heads reached the corpse at the same time, ripping and swallowing it in the haste to vent its anger. The explosion was muffled, but Naruto certainly heard it from his vantage point. The hell hound whimpered and staggered after the blast went off. It stumbled forward a couple of steps before collapsing in a heap. Naruto waited until the fires that burned along its back to die before venturing off the wall.

He needn't have worried. The creature was clearly dead, its insides having been pulverized by the explosion. Naruto search the body, but found no orb. Naruto grumbled under his breath as he teleported back to the entrance to the main chamber. His clones were still busy making explosive tags, as they received the memory from the last clone on just how many he went through taking down the creatures that lived here.

He set off again through the main chamber, looking for the naga that stole his orb. There wer a few giants and fire elements that roamed the cavern, but Naruto avoided further fighting by using a combination of teleportation and performing body switches with debris that littered the cavern.

The path sloped downhill almost the entire way. Eventually, the cavern ceiling drew closer to the main floor and the path started to level out. A solid wall of rock guarded his right side, and on his left a pool of lava bubbled away, casting a dim light throughout the chamber.

He passed a pair of natural stone pillars as he continued to work his way down. Off in the distance, he saw yet another group of nagas. Grinning savagely, he threw a tagged kunai towards the ceiling and teleported to the knife, sticking to the surface with chakra.

He again dropped from the ceiling with a pair of clones. This group nagas died as easily as the other group he encountered, but still he found no orb. The cavern split at this point; to the left, there was a long spiral of stone leading to a bubbling cauldron of lava, while cavern seemed to stretch to infinity off to the right. There seemed to be nothing of interest in the cauldron, so Naruto headed yet deeper into the cavern.

The cavern opened into a large spherical chamber filled to the brim with giants and fire elementals. In the back of the cavern a large stone elemental rumbled back and forth on patrol, surrounded by eight smaller versions that rotated around the larger elemental as it made its rounds. The noise was incredible. Naruto didn't bother with the creatures, as he was on a mission to recover his orb from the naga that stole it. He quietly slipped out of the chamber deeper into the cavern, eventually into a long, sinuous cavern

The passage opened again into another chamber. Again, it was full of unfriendlies, including a giant fire elemental and another Naga at the back of the chamber, this one wandering solo.

Naruto pulled out his wand and channeled his charka into it, creating a vibrant blue blade of pure cutting wind. Holding the blade out to his side, he threw one of his tagged kunai past the ear of the naga, teleporting to the knife as the beast reacted to the sound.

The naga's head fell from its body as the blade of wind scythed through the creature's non-existent neck. The rest of the body slithered to the ground like an unspooled rope dropped from a height. Naruto searched the body, but failing to find his orb, kicked the corpse in frustration.

With a sigh, he headed further into the cavern, avoiding the large fire elemental blocking his path by sticking to the walls and teleporting to locations void of creatures. The pathway climbed considerably as he continued turning into a bridge over a pool of lava on one side and a steep cliff on the other. At the bottom of the cliff he spied a giant, one considerably larger than any he had encountered to date, flanked by a pair of core hounds. Up ahead, however, rose a towering mound with a spiral path carved around the tepui till it reached the plateau at the summit.

Naruto spotted five nagas milling about at the base of the tepui. The path towards the snake beings was mostly downhill from where he stood. Smirking, Naruto found a basketball sized boulder, and using some wind chakra enhanced kunai, shaped the stone till it was a rough sphere.

Once the stone was round enough to roll, Naruto began plastering explosive tags on the ball, laying small bits of metal between each coat of paper. Eventually, the ball was about the size of a large pumpkin, and heavy enough that it would roll down the slope unaided.

Naruto primed the tags with chakra, and then tossed the ball downhill. It picked up speed until it smashed into the tallest naga in the group. The blow wasn't strong enough to knock it over, but it did knock the breath out of the creature. The rest of the group swarmed around to figure out what happened.

Unfortunately for them, that was when the tags blew.

The sounds of pinging echoed across the chamber as the five nagas were disintegrated by the blast. The flying shrapnel shredded their bodies, while the concussive force of the blast blew the loosely held flesh apart. Naruto realized with chagrin that perhaps that wasn't the smartest move, as the orb would have been obliterated as well, given that there wasn't much left to pick through.

Giving up the search for his possession as a lost cause with this group, he ran up the side of the cliff closest too his current position in order to avoid the long circuitous route to the top. There he spied nine nagas milling about in a loose semicircle.

"Bingo."

Naruto crept back down the sides of the plateau, running along the wall until he was able to get behind the group of serpents. Peeking over the edge of the plateau to line up his targets, Naruto made eight clones. The clones silently climbed up the wall and continued upwards until they were on the ceiling above their targets.

They dropped from the ceiling on Naruto's signal, which was a thrown kuani. Eight nagas died as his clones slammed into them from above with a rasengan to the skull. Like with the previous naga he'd dispatched, Naruto teleported to his kunai, but he didn't kill this time. Using his wind chakra producing blade, he lopped off one of the creature's arms as he passed, coming to a rest on the ground nearly the same time as the severed appendage.

Naruto turned to face the remaining naga, his blade humming imposingly as he stepped forward. The naga was too busy trying to stem the flow of blood to notice, however. When he did, he immediately waved Naruto back, causing an impressive spurt of blood to flow from the severed limb.

"Impossible! Stay your attack, mortal... I submit! I submit!" Frantically, the beast returned to trying to stem the flow of blood.

"Where is my orb?" Naruto asked.

"Help me, and I'll tell you!" The naga replied.

Naruto sighed. Using one of the healing techniques he learned while exploring, he cast a spell on the naga that stopped the bleeding, but didn't restore the limb. He wasn't about to help his opponent out that much.

"This is the last time I'm going to ask you nicely. Where. Is. My. Orb?" Naruto said. He brandished his weapon to emphasize his point.

"I gave it to the Fire Lord!"

"The who?"

"Ragnaros, the Fire Lord. He is my liege, and master of all fire elementals."

Naruto sighed. "Why and the hell would you do that? Wait – you know what? I don't want to know. I just want my orb back. You are going to take me to this… Fire Lord."

"I will go now to summon the lord whose house this is. Should you seek an audience with him, your paltry life will surely be forfeit! Nevertheless, seek out his lair, if you dare!"

"Sure, sure." Naruto poked the naga in the belly with his sword, drawing a drop of blood. "Take me to you leader."

"If you have come to wrest the secrets of the Living Flame, you will soon regret the recklessness of your quest." The naga said, backing away from the point of Naruto's sword carefully.

The naga turned slithered down the ramp, heading toward the entrance of the cavern. Naruto followed closely behind, weapon at the ready in case the snake tried to make a run for it. Eventually, the creature led him to spiral pathway that lead to the bubbling pool of lava he had noted earlier.

The naga headed down the ramp without hesitation. "The Firelord and his brethren once held sway over this entire world, mortal. As a servant of the Old Gods, he fought against the Titans for domination of this planet. The victorious Titans banished my master and his brethren to the Elemental Plane - there to remain imprisoned until the end of time.

Naruto made a non-committal grunt in reply. He could care less; he just needed to get that damn orb back. They eventually reached the bottom of the spiral jetty. The terrain leveled out here, but it was still simply rough, coarse grained volcanic rock. Naruto followed the creature down to the pool of lava, where it paused to speak to him.

"Behold, Ragnoros, the Fire Lord. He who was ancient before this world was young. Bow before him, mortal. Bow before your ending."

The lava bubbled furiously for a moment before a column of lava nearly 10 meter across shot nearly 100 meters in the air. Naruto shied back from the heat momentarily, and when he looked again he realized the column of lava was an animated creature, carrying a hammer almost as big as the faces on the Hokage monument back in Konoha.

"TOO SOON." The creature bellowed. "YOU HAVE AWOKEN ME TOO SOON, EXECUTUS. WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS INTRUSION?"

"This mortal infidel, my lord. They have invaded your sanctum and seek the orb that I gifted you most recently," Executus said.

"FOOL." Ragnaros' voice reverberated throughout the entire chamber. "SULFURAS HAS BENEFITED GREATLY FROM THE ADDITION. I SHALL NOT RELINQUISH SUCH POWER." Ragnaros brandished his hammer. Though tiny, Naruto could make out the orb embedded in the top of the giant hammer's head.

"My lord…"

"YOU ALLOWED THIS INSECT TO RUN RAMPANT THROUGH THE HALLOWED CORE? NOW YOU LEAD THEM TO MY VERY LAIR, SEEKING THAT WHICH BELONGS NOW TO ME?"

"But my lord…"

"YOU HAVE FAILED ME, EXECUTUS. JUSTICE SHALL BE MET INDEED."

Ragnaros raised his hammer high and extended his hand towards the naga, ripping the life force from the creature's body.

"My flame! Please don't take away my flame!" Executus collapsed in a heap, his one good arm extended towards Ragnaros as if to beg for mercy. None was forth coming. With a last gasp, the Executus died as the body burst into flame due to proximity to the fire lord.

The giant column of lava turned to face Naruto. He gulped, and took a step back.

"NOW FOR YOU, INSECT. BOLDLY YOU SEEK THE POWER OF RAGNAROS. NOW YOU SHALL SEE IT FIRSTHAND."

The giant hammer swung. "BY FIRE BE PURGED!"

The only thing that saved Naruto was a reflexive kawarimi with a boulder that was situated nearby. Even still, the concussive force of the blast knocked him off his feet and sent him sprawling.

Naruto spent the next three minutes desperately performing body switches with debris created by the explosions Ragnaros threw at him. There was no thought at all to offense, as everything was devoted to simply staying alive and ahead of the blasts.

And suddenly it was quiet. Naruto managed to look back in time to see the towering fire lord dive into the lava, sending a wave of molten rock spilling over the low-lying ground. Naruto leaped to the nearest high ground with a yelp to avoid being incinerated in the lava, panting to catch his breath.

That's when he noticed eight fire elementals converging on his spot.

Naruto cursed. He sent mental commands to his clones back at the entrance to pack up and disperse so that he could create some at his location. Thirty-nine clones sprang into being with a mental command and charged the fire elementals.

Half of the clones died almost instantly, but in their deaths were able to detonate explosive tags that blew the elementals back slightly. Naruto created more clones to replace those that died. The immediately began to pelt the elementals with any and every ranged weapon at their disposal, using explosive tags liberally.

Even so, clones died. These elementals were different than the ones Naruto had faced before. His clones simply ceased to be when they got too close to the creatures, as their chakra became unstable and started to burn the clone from the inside out.

Explosive tags worked, but only to a limited extent. Some of clones took the initiative to run up the walls, both to avoid the elementals and to continue sniping with long-ranged weaponry. Naruto and his clones only managed to take out half of the elements present when Ragnaros reemerged from the lava pool.

"BY FIRE BE PURGED!"

Naruto gave up on his clones and concentrated simply on staying alive. Now that he knew what to expect, it was a bit easier to stay ahead of the blasts Ragnaros threw at him, but for the most part this fight reminded him of his attempt to fight the Kyuubi. He was forced teleported around the room constantly simply to stay out of harm's way. Naruto eventually felt comfortable making a clone every time he teleported, and soon he had a full contingent working in concert with him to figure out a way to get out of this mess.

The domed chamber they were in was simply too big for him to take to the walls. Even though the fire lord was literally an unmissable target due to his size, the range was too extreme for thrown weapons to be effective. The walls of the dome did offer a suitable vantage point for his clones to take out the remaining elementals, however, so they took advantage of the cover, shifting constantly to avoid explosions sent their way by Ragnaros.

It took a couple of minutes for all the elementals to die. Once they were out of the way, Naruto concentrated on figuring a way out of this mess. He stopped teleporting, relying on his clones to perform body switches with him as needed so that he could think about how he was going to get his orb back.

Approaching the hammer itself was a no-go. The thing radiated such intense heat that it turned anything it touched to ash. Kunai thrown at it were reduced to molten slag before they could impact the surface, rending seals and tags inoperable.

In essence, Naruto was screwed, and he knew it.

Before he could contemplate it further, Ragnaros dived back under the lava and vanished. Again, eight smaller fire elementals appeared from nowhere and began targeting the clones. This time, however, they clones knew what to do and began taking out their targets from safe positions high up on the walls.

Water and ice techniques seemed to be particularly effective, so the clones focused on those to take out the elementals. They died quickly as fire was concentrated on one elemental at a time. In less than a minute, the room was clear, and Naruto had a brief respite for the first time since Ragnaros emerged.

He conferred with his clones quickly.

"Look – ice and water techniques seem to be effective. Do you think we could concentrate fire on his hammer enough to cool the thing off? If so, I could do a snatch and grab with the orb, and then I can get the fuck out of here."

One of his clones shrugged. "Sure, but you know exactly how hard it is to hit a moving target that small. We can do it, but it would require stopping the hammer for a second so we can get a clean shot."

"A diversion, huh?" Naruto nodded, seeing where this was going.

"Or a trap." A clone said. "Maybe a couple of us close by to provide support. But you'll need to be the target, as we are just too fragile, even with our augmentation."

Naruto didn't like it, but agreed. He reached into his storage space and started to pull out the heaviest, most protective armors in his arsenal and strapped them on. "I'm not sure how much longer this guy will stay down there, but let's get ready. We probably will only get one shot at this."

Naruto ran toward the center of the spiral jetty, working his way to the point closest to where Ragnaros would emerge, flanked by a couple of clones who hung back a considerable distance. He was still a few meters short of his intended destination when the fire lord emerged once again. The heat was so intense that his sweat instantly evaporated and what little skin he had exposed began to blister.

He flinched and blinked to get some moisture back in his eyes. In that instant, Ragnaros noticed him and lifted his hammer high.

"TASTE THE FLAMES OF SULFURAS!"

Ragnaros brought the hammer down with a crash, causing the ground to tremble. Naruto waited until the last possible instant before teleporting away. Even still, the air around him was so hot that he suffered burns in the places where his armor made contact with skin. The spot where he had stood was now simply a lava filled pool, the hammer buried into the ground to the shank. The orb, thankfully, was still visible.

Naruto's clones struck at that instant. The two clones that had been following escaped relatively unharmed, and used the strongest earth technique at their disposal to create a pair of hands that wrapped around Sulfuras to pin it to the ground.

At the same time, the remaining thirty-seven clones and Naruto unleashed a barrage of water and ice techniques at the top of the hammer, hoping to cool it enough for Naruto to rush in and grab the orb.

Dear readers, I hope we've established on numerous occasions over the course of this story that Naruto, while suffering from flashes of brilliance, often doesn't think about the consequences of his actions before following through.

Sulfuras weathered the dramatic change in temperature easily. It was a massive magical hammer designed to withstand and cause radical calefaction. The orb, however, was not. While it, too, was a magical construct, it had never been designed to withstand extreme temperature shifts in the same way. Of course, given that it was designed by Death to withhold one of its greatest advocates, some might say that planned obsolescence was part of the original blue print.

Regardless, the crack of stressed glass was far louder than it had any right to be. The sound reverberated around the chamber, causing all activity in the chamber to cease. The chamber resonated with another crack following the first, as cracks began to spread rapidly around the orb, until the previously smooth glass resembled a frosted globe.

Ragnaros blinked and looked down at the top of his hammer.

"WHAT…?"

Ragnaros never finished the statement.

"FREEDOM!" The half of the Kyuubi's chakra that had been held by Death was released for the first time since it was sealed on the day Naruto was born. Standing as tall as Ragnaros, the giant nine-tailed fox simply grasped the fire lord's head in its jaws and savaged the fire elemental like a dog with a chew toy.

The Kyuubi wrenched the fire lord bodily out of the lava, and with a twist slammed the creature on the ground. One of its might tails followed immediately after, driving Ragnaros back into the ground.

A giant ball of black chakra formed in the mouth of the Kyuubi. The biju pumped more and more chakra into the ball, condensing it until the ground beneath the fox's feet buckled from the strain.

Naruto watched this all occur from the very back of the cavern, quivering in fear. Ragnaros never stood a chance. When the Kyuubi released the tailed beast bomb, the flash of light that accompanied it blinded Naruto, and the roar from the blast left his ears ringing.

When he could finally see again, nothing remained of the fire lord but his hammer and a giant hole bored straight through the rock to the very center of the world. Lava rushed to fill the cavity, but immediately the cavern began shaking as the world groaned in protest from the massive wound inflicted deep in its heart.

The Kyuubi slowly turned to face Naruto and grinned. Naruto did the only sensible action available to him – he teleported away to the farthest point he could think of, a human settlement far, far from the Molten Core.

Tthe Kyuubi followed. And thus the Shattering occurred.

This half of the fox, unlike the one he previously faced, wasn't content to sit back and toy with Naruto. It wanted to hurt him, badly. He had no choice but to flee. No matter where Naruto ran, the fox followed, and in the fox's wake, chaos, destruction, and death.

Through it all, half of the fox still inside Naruto's seal chuckled and heckled the poor ninja.

"Run away, little ninja. Run away. Nothing can save you in this world." The fox's laughter followed him as his other half savaged the land as it walked. Terrified and harried, Naruto jumped into a new dimension.

Unfortunately, he didn't realize that both halves were tied together. When he left Azeroth, all of the Kyuubi followed.


AN - so, having a seriously hard time getting back to the light-hearted tale this was supposed to be. I'll try very hard in the next chapter to fix that.

Yes, there is a next chapter in the works. No, I can't predict when it will be ready. However, I'm pretty confident I am getting to the end of this tale - only a couple more places I want to visit before returning to Konoha. In other news, Naruto so jumped the shark that it isn't even fun to write anymore.

As always, reviews encouraged, as they help keep the motivation to write high.

~muishiki