By Geor-sama

Kinai Province, Land of Fire...


Asuma blew a series of smoke rings, half-listening as his team broke camp. Thanks to the pace they had set during the night they were only an hour or so away from their respective targets. Which was why, in spite of Kiba's complaints, they had taken a short break.

Though in hindsight, as he listened to Kiba's renewed grumbling, Asuma regretted not explaining. Still he remained silent, hoping that Shikamaru would explain for him. Instead he had to stifle a laugh as Naruto explained the logic behind their beak.

It looked like Asuma would need to revise his assessment of Naruto yet again. He had done it several times over the years - starting with the Chūnin Exams from two years ago. Such was the perils of judging someone from second and third hand stories.

It made Asuma wish he had been on better terms with his dad in those early years.

Asuma's gaze drifted to a few drifting clouds struck by a bout of melancholy. He shook it off soon enough, and preceded to field strip his finished cigarette, turning to face his team.

"Are we good to go Shikamaru?"

"Naruto?" Shikamaru, in turn, asked without missing a beat.


"Good." Asuma said, making a mental note about the casual exchange. "As you know, we need to find those responsible for desecrating the Royal Tombs and fast. So we'll be splitting into two groups. One group will head to the nearest tomb, due south, and investigate. Hopefully they'll find something. The other group will head to the Fire Temple and talk with the monks, see if they can't learn anything there."

"Ok." Kiba said while scratching Akamaru behind the ears. "I take it me, Hinata-chan, and Shino are headed to the tombs?"

Asuma nodded. "Your skills are most suited for searching the tomb. Shikamaru, you'll be going with them. "

"Of course."

Asuma ignored the resigned tone of his protégés response.

"There are going to be a few guards, made up of monks and samurai from the Daimyo's court, but be wary. We don't know what's going on or who's involved." Asuma said, hating to admit that much, and seeing their uncertain looks sighed. "I know. But beyond the obvious importance of these tombs, someone has been impersonating Konoha ninja. Maybe there related, maybe there not, but its best we operate under the expectation that they are."

"It makes sense." Hinata agreed, frowning.

"That said, we should get moving unless anyone has any questions?"

"Yeah, I've been thinking about this since we set out. Why us?" Kiba asked, earning an agreeing bark from Akamaru. "I mean, this is an important mission. I get you, and Naruto even...but wouldn't our parents have been a better choice?"

"Eh? Why do you mean you expected me?" Naruto asked in confusion.

"Naruto, Team Seven and you have something of a reputation." Shikamaru said, giving the blond a flat look. "Your teams rescued the Kazekage from an S-rank terrorist group and on the heels of that faced off against Orochimaru leveling his hideout in the process."

"To say nothing of yourself. Why? Because you are known to have trained with Jiraiya-sama and before that with Kakashi-sensei. To say nothing of your personal connection the Godaime Hokage-sama, who is public very fond of you." Shino said.

"Not to mention that you walked into Kumo, bitched out the Raikage in his own damn office, and got one of his Jōnin to defect." Kiba added with a bark of laughter along with Akamaru.

"Anou, t-they're right Naruto-kun." Hinata said shyly. "It would be stranger if you were not assigned to high profile missions like this."

"Oh." Naruto whispered, scratching the back of his head with a bashful look on his face.

Asuma chuckled while he revised his opinion of Naruto yet again.

"As for why we're here and not our parents..." Shikamaru said, returning to Kiba's original question. "They are Clan heads and have duties they couldn't discard, or were already on missions."

"Shikamaru is right." Asuma said, before crossing his arms. "Now if there are no more questions, we need to move."

After a series of nods, the teams scattered with Shikamaru's team heading South as Asuma and Naruto headed North-East. But as they moved out, Asuma could not help but the smile as realized that his dad and the Yondaime's hopes for Naruto were coming true. Best of all, Naruto was now aware that he was no longer fighting for an impossible dream.



"Ready for another bowl?"

"I'd love one, but I can't. I have a meeting in twenty minutes." Yugito said, pouting at an amused looking Ayame.

"Oh well. Please, come back later?"

"Of course." Yugito said, paying for her meal before setting off down the street.

Her new found habit of having ramen for breakfast proved amusing, back in Kumo she never even considered it. In her guiltier moments she blamed it on Naruto, seeing as when they did go out to eat it was rarely any place else. Though it did not hurt that Ichiraku had the most delicious ramen Yugito had ever tasted.

Of course, as her thoughts turned toward Naruto, a spike of worry lanced through her. Yugito had participated in late night missions and they were dangerous even at the best of times. Thanks to his status as a Jinchūriki, the danger would be even more pronounced.

Yugito did not let her worry get far, crush or not, she was a Jōnin and she had better emotional control than that. Instead Yugito focused on more cheerful distractions, at least until it started to rain. Her mood souring, Yugito picked up her pace hoping to avoid ending up drenched.

Thankfully the Administration building was not too far away. Stepping inside she nodded at the Chūnin on duty as she bee-lined for the bathroom and tried to dry off a little. There wasn't much she could do of course, but Yugito still made the effort.

A few minutes later a damp Yugito was once more standing before the door to the Hokage Office. Taking a steadying breath, she knocked and when a faint voice called for her to enter she did so. The amount of paper on that littered the desk, and the harried look on Shizune's face, took her by surprise.

"Busy day?" Yugito asked as crossed the near Spartan office to stand before the desk.

"Yes." Shizune said looking up from the paperwork, and her shoulders slumped as she sighed. "It's bad enough that Hokage-sama let her paperwork pile up, but now we have this sudden crisis to deal with."

"Ah." Yugito said, knowing that the crisis involved the mission Naruto received last night. She wanted to ask about it, but seeing the worry in Shizune's eyes held back. Still her earlier worry for Naruto returned ten-fold, but Yugito kept it in check. "So, my team?"

"Ah, yes."

Shizune touched a switch on the desk and a there was a brief buzz from a nearby room. A moment later the door opened allowing a man and woman to enter the office. They were both wearing identical clothes: Green flak vests, black long sleeved shirts, combat pants and sandals.

Beyond that, their only distinguishing features were their hair and height. The woman was the shorter of the two, with long blond hair divided into four bangs on either side of her face. The man was roughly the same height as Yugito with long slate-grey hair pulled into a ponytail.

"Jōnin Nii Yugito, may I introduce your new team?" Shizune said as the two approached.

"This is Chiba Komachi, Jōnin."

"Pleased to meet you." Komachi said, giving her a faint nod.

Yugito returned her nod, noting absently the woman's surprisingly delicate features and her brown eyes flecked with gold.

"And her partner Saijou Towa, Jōnin." Shizune said, continuing her introductions.

"Pleased to meet you." Towa echoed his partner, though he seemed to pause between the first two words.

"I'm glad to meet you both." Yugito said, noting his angular features and the faded white lines extending from the corner of his eyes and down his cheeks.

"The third member of the team, Captain Nemoto is assigned elsewhere at the moment." Shizune said. "So, nominal command has been assigned to Towa-san."

"You may address me as commander." Towa said with an easy grin.

"Please don't. Really." Komachi said, sighing.

"I defer to your expertise in the matter." Yugito said, reassuring Komachi with a faint grin.

"As much as I'd like to let you get to know each other, you have a mission waiting." Shizune said offering Towa a scroll. "It's a high priority B-rank. The client is Kunijirō-san, an old friend of Hokage-sama, and Konoha's most successful bench jeweler. His son, Kunihisa-san, has developed Kepral's Fever a rare infectious disease. There is a treatment since it was caught so early...but the ingredients are hard to acquire."

"Is there a list for the ingredients we're gathering?" Towa asked as he accepted the scroll.

"Yes." Shizune said. "The treatment is complex, some of the ingredients are in Jofuku Forest -"

"Ugh, not that place." Komichi said, scowling.

"Relax. We've already sent out another team to gather the needed ingredients there. The remaining ingredients are in the heart of Akagahara, which is where you team is headed."

"Akagahara?" Yugito asked, frowning.

"A dangerous area within Konoha." Towa said. "In the early days, it was part of the Jōnin exams, and then later the Chūnin Exams. But its usage was discontinued and the area converted into a nature preserve."

"However, it's still highly dangerous. Though not quite to the level of Training Area Forty-Four."

"Ah." Yugito said, nodding in understanding. "So basically, we're going into a forest filled with nightmares and death traps, to find a bunch of weeds and flowers."

"Pretty much." Shizune said, giving them a pleasant smile. "Dismissed."

As her new team left the office, Yugito decided that she hated it when Shizune smiled.

Fire Temple, Kinai Province, Land of Fire...


"Hey, Asuma-sensei?"


"What are these ninja monks like? I've never heard of them."

"I'm not surprised, their order prefers seclusion. But they're not 'ninja'. That's just what the public calls them due to our superficial similarities. The monks cultivate a special type of chakra-"

"A special type of chakra?"

"They call it 'Senzoku no Sai'. It requires daily, unrelenting training to master." Asuma answered, before continue his earlier explanation. "As I was saying besides chakra, the monks also have techniques similar to ninjutsu, and even practice taijutsu. But that's as far as the similarity goes. Their philosophy is completely different to ours-"

But the rest of Asuma's words died as they reached the end of the forest and the majestic Fire Temple came into view. Asuma had expected to see the temple strong and proud as the last time he had visited his friend Chiriku. But instead he found thick smoke drifting into the sky and the impenetrable iron walls reduced to rubble.

Asuma chest tightened and his stomach twisted, wanting to rush in and check on his friend. But experience held him in place, watching for any hint of linger dangers. Naruto dropped down alongside him a moment later, but said nothing.

"What happened?" Naruto asked in a hushed tone after several minutes of silence.

"I don't know." Asuma said after a moment, frowning. "The temple uses 'Fūin Teppeki'. It's a powerful technique that I've personally seen stop attacks from S-rank threats."


"When I was part of the Twelve Guardians my partner was an errant monk named Chiriku and it was his specialty."

Naruto nodded, his expression disquieted, but beneath that there was a hint of unease.

Asuma appreciated the blond not prying into his past like others might. Not that it was surprising, since Naruto had trained with both Kakashi and Lord Jiriaya. Neither of man was one to poke their noses into other people's past's unless they deemed it important.

"I don't see anyone moving..."

"Me either, but we better play it safe." Asuma said. "Naruto, send out some Kage Bunshin to take a look around."

Naruto nodded and without a word created two Kage Bunshin that dropped to the ground. Each landed in silence and transformed into a pair of rabbits. They each took off, zigzagging across the clearing, approaching the temple.

Asuma grinned at the clever touch.

"Neh, Asuma-sensei?" Naruto asked after a few minutes of silence, his tone thoughtful.


"I'm sorry." Naruto said his tone low and guilty. "About Ino and Choji...Akatsuki is looking for me and -"

"No." Asuma said, perhaps sharper than he intended. At Naruto's look of surprise, he scratched his chin and sighed. "Naruto, you can't think like that. Choji and Ino were ninja, they knew that they were putting their lives on the line. I know you've heard it before, that shinobi are only tools for the village. But we're not, we risk our lives for the King."

"What do you mean by king?"

"Heh, it's different for everyone. Just like when playing shogi, everyone has a different method...but we all try to protect the king. For Ino and Choji, the King was their friends and family."

"The King, huh?" Naruto murmured, lowering his eyes before he stiffened. After a moment he stood. "It's clear, a few damaged buildings and I think they lost a few monks, but most are just wounded."

"Let's go then." Asuma said, dropping to the forest floor, Naruto hot on his heels.

Royal Tomb, Kinai Province, Land of Fire...


Kiba did not mind the brisk pace as in all honesty he preferred it. No the part he disliked was the silence they were traveling under. Shikamaru called it operational silence, Kiba called it torture.

Extremely boring torture.

Though only Akamaru seemed to agree with him. Hinata and Shino were quiet people anyway so this was nothing to them. This explained why none of them noticed the biggest flaw with this enforced silence. It gave him time to think and the more he thought the more agitated Kiba became. Until at last he could not hold his most nagging question in any longer.

"You know what I don't get?" Kiba asked, startling the others into stopping.

"Anou, what is it Kiba?" Hinata asked after a moment.

"Well, why would anyone bother to disturb a tomb?" Kiba said, glancing at her.

Shikamaru sighed while Hinata and Shino shared a look, leaving Kiba feeling defensive.

"I'm serious guys. I mean, ok, it's important and it pissed off a lot of people... but it still seems pretty pointless."

"The most likely reason is greed." Shikamaru said. "Whoever broke in was most likely looking for heirlooms."

"But it might not be pure greed. Why?" Shino said, breaking his own silence. "Because those who are poor enough will become desperate enough to take such a high risk. Not for the money itself, but the food it could provide for their families."

"True." Shikamaru said. "Though unlikely, given that it would have been far simpler to rob graves than break into the tombs."

"Then perhaps it could something else." Hinata offered. "Anou, could they be looking for evidence of some kind? I mean we guard our cemetery even within Konoha because of that."

"Hm, it's possible." Shikamaru said.

"Of course there is one other reason." Shino said. "They could be trying to prevent the dead from returning."

"What?!" Kiba shouted, as Akamaru tried to hide behind him.

"Relax Kiba." Shikamaru said, pinching the bridge of his nose. "They are not disturbing the tombs to kill vampires."

"It's unlikely." Shino agreed.

"Right. I mean, like the dead could come back or anything." Kiba said with nervous laughter to hide his unease. Akamaru offered his own woofing laugh to help.

"But zombies are possible. Why? Because there are parasites that can infect people and create mindless, zombie-like slaves."

"Dammit Shino!" Kiba shouted, glaring at his friend, while Akamaru began whining again.

"Anou, you know Shino-kun is just teasing the both of you." Hinata said, before shooting Shino a reproving look. "Which he should know better than to do by now."

Shino remained stoic, but Kiba knew he was grinning behind his high-collared coat. He could not lay all the blame on Shino, he had left himself wide open for that. Still, Kiba would be paying the other boy back in spades once he got the chance.

"Regardless of the reason, we're close to the tomb in question." Shikamaru said. "We'll switch to an elongated V formation, Kiba and Akamaru in front. Shino take the left, I'll go ahead of Hinata on the right."

Orders given, the five of them adopted the formation and set out once more. They did not travel for very long before they were stopped once more, this time by Akamaru.

{There's a strong scent up ahead.}

In response Kiba held his hand up to signal the rest of the team. As the others adopted positions in the surrounding foliage, Kiba joined Akamaru on his branch.

{Can you define strong?} Kiba whispered, crouching down alongside his partner.

{Like rancid butter, with just a hint of being sickly sweet.}

Kiba frowned, considering that answer before concentrating charka to his own nose. Almost immediately he became aware of a multitude of previously unnoticed scents. But by far the strongest scent was exactly what Akamaru had described.

One that Kiba had smell before, and for the scent to be this strong at this distance meant nothing good.

"What is it?" Shikamaru whispered from the branch overhead.

"We have a lot of dead bodies up ahead." Kiba said

"Wonderful." Shikamaru said "Hinata, can you to confirm?"

"One minute." Hinata said. "Eight dead. There's no chakra present in their bodies, but I can't tell how long they've been there."

"Anything else?" Shikamaru asked.

"Anou, they are all standing up. They appear to be staged to look as if they are on duty."

"How far away?"

"Anou, I'd say we still have another five yards to go, but the trees get smaller. We'll have to cover the last three yards by foot."

"Trap?" Kiba asked, scratching Akamaru behind the ear.

"Possible. Most likely." Shikamaru said. "Whatever the case, we still need to investigate. Shino, can you send some insect clones that look like us?"

"Of course."

"Good. We'll let them go first, Hinata I want you to monitor the situation. If nothing happens after five minutes the rest of us will move in and start our investigation. Any questions?"

When nobody said anything, the plan got underway and the minutes of tense waiting began. The five minutes passed quietly, as did the extra ten that Shikamaru decided to add to be safe. Satisfied that they were as safe as they could be, the group approached the clearing.

The team paused on the clearing's edge, taking the situation in. Whoever had killed them had positioned the bodies to appear as if they were talking or on watch for intruders. As for the tomb, it loomed in the background, helped by the two meter tall intersecting mounds.

Leaving Hinata near the trees to act as lookout, the others moved into the clearing. Shino and Shikamaru decided to inspect the corpses. Leaving the Kiba and Akamaru to patrol the tomb's perimeter for any lingering clues.

For all the good it did Kiba and Akamaru. All they discovered was that the tomb seemed to resemble an old fashioned key. That and the fact that the stone entrance had crumbled from some undefined force.

After another moment of staring into the murky depths of the tomb, they returned to the others, offering Shikamaru a curt shake of the head.

Shikamaru frowned. "Shino?"

"Given the number of eggs lain, they have been dead perhaps a little less than a day." Shino said after a moment. "More than that, I cannot say with certai-"

An ominous rumbling cut off the rest of his sentence, seconds before a fissure split the tomb in half.

A second later the ground began to undulate like a spastic snake as the fissure lanced toward Shino and Shikamaru. Despite struggling to maintain their balance, the two shinobi managed to jump out of its path. The fissure continued undeterred, swallowing corpses as it went, before stopping.

"Earthquake?" Kiba asked after a moment, gaze fixed on the fissure.

"Perhaps." Shikamaru said, frowning. "Do you see anything Hinata?"

However, before Hinata could answer, the ground erupted hurling shattered rocks and other debris into the air.

Caught flat footed the force of the eruption sent Kiba flying. At least until he hit a newly formed outcropping of earth jutting into the sky. Dazed even further by the impact, Kiba slid and tumbled back to earth, pelted by shattered rock.

Hitting an outcropping he yelped and scrabbled in a blind panic trying to arrest his momentum. But Kiba continued to slide down the steep incline until he abruptly sailed over the edge. He plummeted through the lingering debris cloud before crashing into the ground knocked senseless.

When he came back to himself, Kiba remained motionless in his awkward sprawl, every part of him hurting.

Eventually he started flexing his extremities, trying to see if he had broken anything and had to bite back a scream as he discovered that he had broken several fingers on his left hand. As he continued the painful process of assessing his injuries he discovered that his ribs were at least cracked, but that his spine and neck were intact.

Satisfied that moving would not render him paralyzed, Kiba rolled onto his side mindful of his injuries. His vision dimmed at the edges, forcing him to stop. When his vision cleared Kiba took in his surroundings as best he could in the dim light, discovering that he now lay at the bottom of a newly formed canyon.

Hearing what sounded like a whine instantly seized his attention.

{Akamaru that you buddy?}


{Good. You ok?} Kiba asked, trying to keep from coughing as he rolled back onto his back.

{I think so...} Akamaru answered, before adding after a moment {I haven't hurt this bad since Sakura punched me for sniffing her butt.}

Kiba coughed again, prompting a spasm of pain, but it did nothing to muffle his laughter.

"I'm glad to see you can retain your humor." A new, unfamiliar, male voice said. "It'd be a shame for you to die crying."

Author's Note:

First off, I meant to have this posted last month, but life kicked my butt.

Second off, as you may or may not have noticed, I haven't posted anything Naruto related for a long while and I apologize for that. All I can say is that I update when I can, and that's all I can do. Still I hate that I'm having such a hard time writing anything - as I said, it's frustrating to have these ideas and desire, but an inability to produce anything worthwhile.

That being said I have been shifting attention toward a non-Naruto project and it seems to have helped a little bit, as you currently have a new chapter in your hands.

Anyway I hope you don't hold the overdue update against me, and that it was at least semi-interesting. Again, as I've said before, I'm a fan as well, and I hate it when stories I'm reading don't update, so I understand the wide range of reactions I'll receive.

I'll be updating my Superman/Marvel fic this month as well...but I don't know when the next update will hit. But rest assured, I am still working on it.