Elements of War

Chapter 19


"The nine tailed beast's each correspond to the nine chakras of the ten-tailed beast."

"Wait a minute, Guru," Naruto said. "What about a 'ten-tailed beast'?"

"The ten-tailed beast," Pathik explained. "Was created by the first holder of the Rin'negan…"

"The Six Paths Sage, you mean?" Naruto said.

"No, that was the last reincarnation…" Pathik chuckled softly to himself. "Be patient and I will explain. The first master of reincarnation began the Avatar cycle, but also created the ten-tails out of the spirit beasts he was meant to subdue. His only way of defeating them was to reincarnate all their spirits into an infant beast. Each spirit became associated with one of this beast's nine chakras."

"But aren't their only sev—"

"In humans," the guru said, holding his hand up to stop Naruto's interruption. "In other beasts it is different, especially those with a stronger connection with the spirit world, such as dragons. Six of the chakras represent a combination of the four elements the human chakras represent. There are the Sand, the White Fire, Steam, Lava, Mud, and Bubble chakras. The higher three chakras of the throat, brow, and crown are the same as in humans, and represented by the last three tailed beasts. Your nine-tailed beast is of the Thought chakra, and that is why your attempt to unlock it has caused you difficulty."

"I… see," Naruto said.

"I can tell by your face you don't," Aang said. "Your chakra isn't releasing because that's where the tailed beast is. It's the blockage."

"Wow," Naruto said. "So what happens if I… clear it?"

Guru Pathik rolled his eyes to the sky thoughtfully for a moment. "Hmmm… I don't really know. It's never come up before."

Naruto scowled."Well, how does telling me all that help?"

"In order to overcome a problem, one must first identify it," Guru Pathik said.

"Okay… so you've identified the problem," Naruto said. "How do we overcome it?"

"The best way," Guru Pathik said. "Would be to remove the kyuubi."

Naruto sighed. "Well. If that's all…"

"I can do it,"Aang said. "I removed the one-tailed beast and the four-tailed beast without hurting the people they possessed. I can do the same for you."

Naruto scowled. "I… I would like to be free of the fox. It's helped me before, but I know now it can be dangerous to others. I can't control it well enough. But… I don't want it falling into the hands of Akatsuki."

"They have a way to seal it," Aang said.

"I don't care!" Naruto said. "They shouldn't have control over all nine beasts. Think about it. What organization can be trusted with that kind of power, regardless of their intentions?"

"I understand…" Aang said. "I won't let Akatsuki have this one." He approached Naruto and put one hand to his head and another to his torso. He breathed deeply and concentrated all his spiritual power on the demonic aura within.

A minute passed. "Am I exorcised yet?" Naruto asked.

"Gyah!" Aang shouted. "I don't know how to do it!"

Guru Pathik nodded. "It was done before while you were in the Avatar State. In order to do it at will, it seems you will have to master the Avatar State, yourself."

"So I have to wait till you finish your training before I can?" Naruto said crossly. "Great!"

"It is still possible for you to clear your Crown chakra without removing the kyuubi," Guru Pathik said. "It will just be… much more difficult. With uncertain results."


"Well, clearing the chakra could destroy the beast. Or it could release it from your body. Or it could kill both of you. Or… perhaps…"

"That's enough," Naruto said. "I'll do my best, but we'll need Captain Yamato to oversee us. If the fox tries to come out again, he can suppress its power."

"Help! Help, daddy!"

Cloud ninja were tossed aside as the little girl on the floor struggled. Hot flames leapt from her body. The dark skinned, blond haired Lightning Shadow turned to Fire Lord Azulon with a typically angry expression. "I told you she couldn't handle it! It takes a certain kind of inherent strength for a child to contain a tailed beast!"

Azulon scowled at the writhing form of his granddaughter. "A child of the royal blood incapable of handling a mere beast?" He turned disdainfully to his youngest son, who looked to his daughter tensely. "But it should be of no surprise coming from a weaker stock."

"This solution was proposed by you, Father," Ozai hissed with civil anger. "When you took it upon yourself to kill the Cloud girl…"

"Silence," Azulon said. "Your tone is bordering on insolence."

"We have to strengthen the seal," the Raikage said. "But it's dangerous. All that power locked up with nowhere to go… the pressure in her body could eventually kill her. Violently."

"The Nibi is coming out, now!" Ozai said. "It will kill her if we don't do something…"

"Perhaps…" Azulon said. "It would be best if we simply kill her and save ourselves the trouble. Young Lu Ten will marry soon and will undoubtedly produce a more suitable host."

Azula's screams intensified as a ghostly feline face began to form over her body. Some of the cloud ninja used jutsu in an attempt to suppress the demon chakra, but it only slowed the leak. The flames still issued forth from her body, burning her flesh.

The Raikage leaped into the chaos and ripped the tunic from Azula's chest, beginning to etch new symbols around the sealing jutsu already there. "This is going to take too long… Bee! Help me out here!"

A teenaged ninja stepped up and began etching symbols into the floor around Azula. "I help you out for Yugito's sake/this sealing jutsu we will make/and after we save this girl this time/I'm gonna keep on bustin' my rhyme."

"Shut up and write!" the Raikage said. "Dammit, it's coming out too fast!"

The demon beast's form was becoming more complete and substantive now, and it yowled angrily. It fixed its empty eyes on Azulon and roared.

"I don't think it likes you," Raikage remarked. "It must remember you."

Azulon's face contorted as he watched the beast form. His fists clenched. He rose from his throne and inscribed a quick circle with his fingers. Ozai saw this and in an instant was in motion. Lightning arced from Azulon's fingers toward his granddaughter, but Ozai had already put himself between them, and the bolt struck his shoulder, launching him across the room.

"Foolish boy," Azulon said.

Raikage backed away from Azula as the Nibi's aura intensified. "I can't… can't continue! It's too strong!"

Ursa burst into the room at that moment, pushing past the guards. The young prince, Zuko, tried to push through, as well, curious as to what was going on, but his mother ordered him back, and he was more effectively barred by the guards. "What's going on?"

"Get back, Princess!" the Raikage said. "Your daughter… she's about to…"

"Get out of the way and let me kill her before we all die!" Azulon shouted at his daughter-in-law.

Ursa looked back at him murderously. "Quiet, old man!"

Azulon reared back, affronted. "I've never been spoken to in such a manner! I'll attribute it to your accursed blood, but…"

Ursa ignored him and turned to her daughter, a tinge of fear in her eyes as she stared down the demon. Her daughter was still conscious, but panicked. "Calm down, dear!"

"Mommy, I'm scared!" Azula cried. The cat laughed horrendously and the girl screamed in agony.

"Damn you, you monster!" Ursa cursed the beast.

"M-monster…?" Azula mumbled, confused.

Ursa locked eyes with her daughter. "Focus on me, Azula. Focus on my eyes. You have to control it. You must… have… control."

Azula stared into her mother's golden eyes, the flames flickering in them. The eyes turned a red hue as she relaxed, and the cat demon began to dissolve into smoke. In her mother's red left eye, she saw a dark seed sprout in the iris. And another… and a third… and…

She was staring into Sasuke's sharingan eyes, but now they faded to their normal deep, eternal black. She couldn't help but admire those eyes, so full of command and cold calculation. The eyes of true royalty. But she tore herself away from his face and heaved deeply. She was still in chains, unfortunately.

"Did… did that really happen?" Azula asked.

"I don't know," Sasuke said. "But it's one of your memories."

"So… my father knew the whole time." She clenched her fist. Her own father had kept such a great secret from her. But on the other hand… he had saved her from her grandfather. And her mother… she wouldn't think of that woman. That woman had wanted nothing to do with her, she knew, and she had nothing to do with that woman.

"It was best you didn't know," Sasuke said. "At the time. The vessels are always feared and hated. They become isolated because of that. You were lucky."

Azula grunted. "I was lucky, huh? I don't see it that way. I want to be feared. I'm destined to be the Fire Lord. Fear is a useful tool for a ruler."

"You're so sure of becoming Fire Lord," Sasuke said with a slight smirk. "You don't think your brother might still have a shot?"

"Zuzu?" Azula said. "You forget. He's wanted. And even if he did something amazing to get into father's good graces, like actually capturing the Avatar, I'm better than he is. I deserve it more. That's what Father cares about."

Sasuke smirked coldly. "Of course. That's how it should work." His face became impassive once more and he heaved a deep breath. "Your inability to control the Nibi is troublesome. You're missing something..."

"If that blond brat can do it, so can I!" Azula said, gritting her teeth.

"He can barely control it, and yet he has far more control than you."

"Silence. I'm far more skilled than he will ever be, and I'm of royal blood." Azula pouted. "I am missing nothing."

"All the skill and power in the world," he said. "Won't give you what you need to live in harmony with your tailed beast."

"Who does he think he is, telling us what we should do?"

Tsunade turned to the Lightning Shadow and said, "He is our Lord. And more than that, it is not just Ozai telling us what we must do, but the very treaty that ended the last war between our villages."

"Lady Tsunade is right," the Fifth Water Shadow said. "It is vital to the peace among our villages that we remain neutral in this war. After all, even if all the nations fall, we shinobi will remain."

Gaara remained silent, but he seemed displeased with this. The four Kage of the five great shinobi villages were now gathered to discuss the impending war on the Hidden Rock, though none was particularly keen on the idea. They had sent a message to the Earth Shadow to invite him to discuss the possibility of diplomacy, but the only response they received was a package which contained the severed head of a man with a fu manchu and a queue. Gaara had been able to confirm that this was Yondaime Tsuchikage's.

"The question now is, 'who is in command of Iwagakure?'" Yondaime Raikage said. "Are we going up against a successor? Has Sandaime taken the reigns again? Or has the Earth King finally taken over the village?"

"The Earth King," Gaara said. "Would not take control of Iwagakure..."

"You say that based on what?" the Raikage demanded.

"In any case, Ei," Tsunade interrupted. "That's not the real question. The real question is 'why?' The Fourth is dead, possibly assassinated, and suddenly the Hidden Rock joins forces with the Earth Kingdom. There may be something deeper here that we need to figure out."

"So you're saying we shouldn't go to war, now?" the Raikage said. "I agree with that, but the reasoning: I find suspect."

"That's not what I'm saying. If the Hidden Rock intend to break the treaty, then we have no choice but to go to war," Tsunade explained. "However, we must be sure of their intentions before jumping to conclusions."

"Their intention seems fairly clear," the Mizukage said. "They've responded to our request for diplomacy by sending us the head of their Kage."

Tsunade sighed. "That may be... but it could also be a misunderstanding. We need more intelligence. No matter how much the Fire Lord demands that the Hidden Leaf go to war, we must first have definitive proof..."

"And I have it."

The four Kage turned to look in astonishment as the scarred Danzou entered the room. "Hey! This is a private meeting! Kage only!"

The old man grimaced, and Tsunade knew he didn't like being so acutely reminded of the fact that he was not a Kage, himself. "I apologize Lord Raikage. I've only come at the behest of our country's Lord. I have received new intelligence concerning Iwagakure, proving that it has been taken over by rogue ninja who are openly colluding with the Earth Kingdom forces to destroy the Fire Nation."

"I don't believe it for a moment!" Raikage growled. "It's more propaganda from the Fire Lord!"

"Careful, Lord Raikage," Danzou said. "You may be part of the Lightning Country to the north ruled by a local viceroy, but that is still part of the Fire Nation."

"Owing to the genocide of the Air Monks who inhabited it previously, of course," Gaara said quietly.

"With all due respect, my young Lord Kazekage," Danzou said. "We are not here to discuss history. Allow me to demonstrate my proof." He reached his hand up to his face and adjusted his bandages.

Minutes later, the Kage reached their final decision.

"Regretfully, I must concede to the Treaty of Amegakure and declare war on Iwagakure until such time as they withdraw their support from the Earth Kingdom or any other nation in this war," Tsunade announced.

"Kirigakure concurs," the Mizukage said simply.

Clenching his fists, Gaara also spoke up. "By law, Sunagakure has no choice but to declare war as well."

The Raikage growled and grit his teeth. "I don't like this! Something doesn't feel right. I'll throw my lot into this, but I'd like to make it clear that not one of us is doing this to support the Fire Nation at all!"

"Of course," Danzou said. "The Fire Lord is only interested in keeping this war fair. After all, the odds are already against the Fire Nation as it's merely one nation against two, one being so much larger and with more vast resources." With that, he left the meeting of the Kage as they began to discuss their strategy for dealing with the Hidden Rock.

Danzou rendezvoused with the Fire Lord, who was waiting for him. "All went according to plan," he stated.

"Really?" Ozai said with a hint of skepticism. "I must say, Danzou, I would not have been convinced by such obvious forgeries and circumstantial evidence as you provided."

"My Lord," Danzou said. "I have my own special talents..."

"Or, rather," Ozai offered. "Someone else's special talents."

Danzou remained stoic. "You are shrewd, Fire Lord."

"And you are treacherous, Danzou," Ozai replied. "A trait which will assure you the title of Rokudaime Hokage very soon."

"A secret war?" the Earth King said with dismay evident in his voice. "That's crazy."

"Yes, Your Highness," Sasuke said. "But, I'm afraid that's the case. The former Kage have been keeping the war from the public for decades. Tsuchikage Azula had planned on revealing the truth, herself, but recent attacks by the Avatar's Fire Nation allies have left her indisposed."

"I can't believe I never knew," the Earth King continued, obviously shocked. "We're at war... with the Fire Nation!"

"The Council of Five have already been actively coordinating the efforts against the Fire Nation and the Avatar. Not only that, but we have reason to believe that the other four major shinobi villages have thrown their lot in against us. The Tsuchikage and the rest of Iwagakure would like to formally assist in the war effort now that we are no longer forced to keep up a masquerade here."

"But why the Earth Kingdom?"

"The same reason it's always been," Sasuke said. "Land. Resources. Money. The Earth Kingdom is richer than any other nation in all of these. It's no surprise that the Fire Nation and even the other shinobi villages covet a piece of this nation."

King Kuei was pensive for a long moment. Then, decisiveness set firmly on his face. "Very well. Inform the Council of Five that they have a new resource in their fight."

Sasuke bowed and disappeared in a pop of smoke back into the depths of Iwagakure. He was quickly joined by his allies. "Everything is going according to my plan. You all know your roles?"

"I think we got it, boss," Suigetsu said.

Mai sighed. "I guess... but why should we go along with this? What's happened to Azula? Why can't we see her?"

Sasuke looked impassively into Mai's eyes. "She's in an unstable state. Orochimaru did something to her, and it's made her dangerous. I'm the only one who can safely interact with her right now."

Mai looked skeptical, but Toph cut in. "After what that old freak did to me, I can understand what you're talking about. Azula's kind of a sour apple, but if there's anything I can do, just ask."

Sasuke nodded, and walked away.

"Um..." Toph said. "Did he...?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure he forgot you're blind," Ty Lee said.

Sokka thrust his sword at Itachi, who parried with little effort. He followed it up with several slashes which were brushed off equally easily. Itachi had removed his bandages and his eyes were regaining normal function.

The water tribe boy backed up and surveyed his environment. He noticed a bright spot on Itachi's robe. He quickly realized that the spot was from his blade reflecting the setting sun, and he immediately formed an idea. He rushed Itachi in a zig zag pattern, and right before striking angled his weapon so the reflection of the sun hit Itachi in the eyes.

Itachi flinched, dazzled by the light. Sokka's blade sung as it struck at him. However, before the water tribe boy could finish his strike, an explosion rocked the temple grounds. Sokka stumbled and found Itachi's sword at his throat. "Concede."

"Alright, ya got me," Sokka said. "I almost had you, though."

Itachi regarded the boy flatly. "You show creativity and shrewdness in your fighting style. You have the potential to be a great swordsman."

"Is that how you were?"

The two turned to see Sakura standing under an archway, her arms folded and a pensive look on her face.

"With Sasuke, I mean. Did you train him like that?"

Itachi's face was unreadable as usual, but there was a hint of discomfort. "My father was often... too busy to train my younger brother. Therefore, I took that role. He had potential and it was my duty to see it fulfilled. It still is."

Sakura frowned. "So... was daddy not attentive enough as a child? Is that why you did it?"

"I'm afraid my father was quite attentive," Itachi said. "To me. I was the prodigy, you know. The heir and the one who had to be the best. Sasuke... was the backup."

Sakura bristled. "Oh, I see. The lament of the over-privileged."

Itachi smiled lightly. "I imagine your reaction would be the same no matter how I grew up. Your ire is irrelevant, however. It doesn't effect me at all."

"No, Itachi," Sokka said, stomping up to Sakura. "Listen, Ms. Cherry Hair, you may think you've got Itachi all figured out..."

"Sokka..." Itachi said in a low voice.

"But let me tell you something! This man!" He pointed dramatically at Itachi. "Is as sweet as a cabbit!"

"Please..." the Uchiha pleaded quietly.

"Have you seen this guy with Momo when he thinks no one's looking?" Sokka asked an appalled

Sakura. "Rubs his tummy while making kissy faces!"

Sakura's face twisted into one of acute discomfort. "That's... not exactly..."

"And not only that," Sokka said smugly. "I caught this guy crying at this romantic play Katara forced us to sit through."

Itachi raised his hand meekly, "I just have an eye condition..."

"Anyway, point is this guy isn't just some man eating bogeyman like you guys think he is," Sokka concluded. "I'd appreciate you lay off my teacher!"

"Uh..." Sakura said, her face flushed pink. She suddenly found that she had trouble looking the boy in the eye. "S-sorry." She spun around quickly and left, wondering to herself why her heart was beating so fast.

"Showed her," Sokka said triumphantly.

Itachi sighed and shook his head. "I think I'd have rather done without the help..."

Elsewhere in the temple, Naruto and Aang were conducting their own training. Filling the high peak of the mountain on which the temple was built were a hundred clones of Naruto, each attempting to meditate on the Crown chakra. Yamato was also there, suppressing the occasional kyuubi outbreak.

Lower down, Aang was taking a break from his own meditations by leading another group of one hundred Naruto clones in the form for the Air Scooter technique. The clones had gotten the formation of the swirling ball of air down, but the stability of the scooters left something to be desired, not to mention the occasional self maiming an overpowered scooter would cause.

"I guess I'm lucky these are only clones," Aang said after seeing one of his "students" break his legs after a failed attempt at mounting an Air Scooter. "I'm definitely going to have to refine my training techniques once I get real students."

"Planning on teaching airbending after the war is over, huh?" the real Naruto, overseeing his clones' progress, asked.

"I'd like to," Aang said. "Even if there aren't any airbenders left, the fact that there are still ninja who can use Wind Element means that the Art may not be completely lost with me."

"There's always your kids," Naruto said with a wink.

Aang blushed. "That's... not something I should really be thinking about."

"What?" Naruto said. "Just because you were born a monk doesn't mean you have to stick to the whole celibacy thing."

"It's because I'm twelve!" Aang shouted, his face tomato red. "Besides... Air Monks still... you know... had kids. Starting at sixteen for about ten years some monks and nuns were given leave to... mingle."

"Huh..." Naruto said. "You think they'd have let the Avatar out for a little fun?"

"... Probably not," Aang said. "I mean... as far as I know, no recent Air Nomad Avatar has ever had kids. At sixteen, most were too busy mastering the elements, anyway."

"Still, must be hard," Naruto said. "Especially with that hair loop girl giving you doe eyes everywhere you go."

Steam rose from Aang's head. "I-it's not like that. We're just good friends."

Naruto looked at Aang skeptically. "Really. And I guess that's why you're having such an easy time with that Crown Chakra, huh? Nothin' stopping you from letting go of the material world."

"And what about you?" Aang said. "I guess that pink haired girl isn't..."

"Hey, hey," Naruto interjected. "I have a tailed beast connected to that chakra. I have an excuse!"

"Sure," Aang said.

"Listen..." Naruto said. "Sakura... I like Sakura a lot, I'll admit it. But she loves... someone else. And I made a promise to her, and that promise is more important than anything. Even though I'm really selfish inside and want her to think of me the same way... I'll protect her love with everything I have. I'll protect everyone's happiness!"

Aang looked thoughtfully at the blond shinobi. "Huh... that was... a little dramatic."

Naruto shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah, well... I can't help it. Anyway, never mind. I've been getting an idea about that Air Scooter." He dismissed his hundred clones practicing the scooter and rocked a little with the sudden exertion that washed over him.

Aang perked up at this sudden change in topic. "Oh, yeah? Let's hear it!"

Utakata oversaw the conglomeration of ninja before him and sighed. How he had been convinced to come back to Kirigakure he didn't know. It was helpful that the Yondaime and Sandaime weren't in charge, it had definitely helped that the new Water Shadow was known to him as a very progressive shinobi, and that they had literally gotten on their knees and begged. However, even that had given them a 50/50 shot. It had all come down to a whim. It had probably helped that he had the company of a fellow outcast; someone who knew how he felt.

"Don't look so grumpy, general," Fuu said coyly. "You've been given a great honor. Isn't that what you always wanted?"

"This honor is dubious, at best," Utakata said in a low voice. "Being brought back to help lead an attack on Hidden Rock isn't how I imagined my homecoming. Besides, Iwagakure has their own bijuu."

"Not as strong as us! Besides, I hear the old Four Tail was... decommissioned. And Five Tail hasn't been seen for awhile," Fuu said.

"I wouldn't put absolute faith in intelligence reports," Utakata chided.

At that time, Gaara entered Utakata's tent. "We're ready to begin operations, General Utakata."

"Thank you, Lord Wind Shadow," Utakata responded. Utakata had been pleased to discover that a former jinchuuriki was one of the Kage in command of this operation. It most likely changed nothing, practically, but it was reassuring to have someone who might understand his position in charge.

"Alright!" Fuu exclaimed. "Let's get this party started!"

Utakata rolled his eyes as they left the tent. Fuu was an outcast like him, but in many ways their personalities couldn't be more different.

Tsunade, the Fifth Fire Shadow, greeted the two jinchuuriki. "Everyone has worked quickly. Our people are infiltrating Ba Sing Se and the village beneath it. With a simultaneous attack from within and without, we should be able to topple Rock." She narrowed her eyes and stared intently at Utakata and Fuu. "We're relying on you to be our strong punch. Even though the Raikage has refused to endanger his own village's Hachibi, I believe that you can do it."

"Thank you for your faith in us, Lord Hokage," Utakata said.

"While you prepare you forces," she said to Utakata before turning to regard Fuu. "I have a request for you. Naruto, the container for kyuubi, and his team are currently stationed at the Eastern Air Temple. We need you to bring him back. With your powers of flight, you would be the quickest messenger."

Fuu looked as if she was considering it, and then smiled and said, "Sure, why not."

Jiraiya's body cooled next to Pein's Animal realm. Pein's other five bodies were already welcoming a new Animal realm into the world, the body of a female from Jiraiya's past. "He figured it out... toward the end."

"It's of no consequence, of course. He's dead."

"And even if he managed to send a message, it will do no good."

"His machinations are coming to fruition."

"The remaining containers will gather soon."

The female Animal realm rose. "We will have the ultimate weapon with which to raise the veil of pain and death from this world."

Sasuke reeled from the chain strike to his cheek. Even with the advantage of the sharingan, his opponent was a match for him, with skills and physical ability exceeding his own by far. Fortunately, he wasn't alone.

Suigetsu harried the red clad Dai Li agent with heavy sword strikes while his subordinate Dai Li surrounded him, maneuvering to bind him with their own chains. Finally, they incapacitated him, the Dai Li holding him down with their bonds while Suigetsu held his huge blade to the red Dai Li's throat.

"You're as powerful as I was led to believe. More so, Han," Sasuke gasped, wiping the blood gushing down his face. "Will you fight for the new Tsuchikage?"

Han's expression beneath his mask was hidden, but it was clear he wasn't impressed. "I was candidate for Tsuchikage under Third, until Fourth betrayed us and locked him away. Knowing Long Feng would tolerate no rivals, I've stayed out of the way, unlike that old monkey. Why should you want me? And why should I trust you enough to go back?"

"Understandable. The new Earth Shadow is one of your kind, but she cannot yet control her tailed beast. You have control of the Five-tailed Whale-horse unparalleled by any current container save, perhaps, Hachibi, if rumors are true. We would be in your debt."

Han seemed to consider this. "Perhaps. But the question remains: why should I submit to a whelp Tsuchikage and her young, inexperienced lieutenant?" With that, five energy tails exploded from him, breaking his chains, as his whale-horse cloak wrapped him in a protective sheath. He galloped toward Sasuke, screeching.

The sharingan activated and the young Uchiha projected his will into the Gobi. With great exertion, he overwhelmed the whale-horse within Han, forcing the cloak back.

Han found himself back in his normal state, the Sound ninja's sword to hid throat. He considered it, and right off the top of his head he could think of twenty different techniques he could use to reverse the situation. However, he chose none of those options. Instead, he laughed. It seems what they say about the Uchiha is correct. I am impressed."

"So...?" Sasuke said curiously.

"So," the Dai Li commander said. "Let's meet our Fifth Earth Shadow."

The attack began without much warning. There was enough, however. Though her combat ability was hindered by the massive imbalance the newly unleashed Nibi caused, her cold, analytical mind could still make sense of the various reports she received. When the surprise attack came, the Rock ninja were ready. Some of the opposing assassins were successful, but most of the Rock ninja were able to successfully repel the attack. The use of the Earth Kingdom soldiers, whom the ninja were forbidden to harm unless directly threatened, made Iwagakure's defense complete.

The Dai Li commander, Han, had been suitably impressed with this Earth Shadow as well as her bodyguard Sound ninja. With the sneak attack successfully averted, all the four other villages could rely on was a brute strength attack. That would make up for the difference in numbers quite drastically.

Han was overseeing the combat at that time. The sensors could gather the information quickly, and the battle was reproduced on a scale model of the battlefield with earthbending.

The first group to infiltrate from the outside was a group of Cloud shinobi. Fitting. They were as fast as the province of their namesake. While his ninja and the Earth Kingdom soldiers scrambled to contain them, the heavy forces from Konohagakure hit.

Azula looked appraisingly at Han as he coordinated the Iwagakure forces. Sasuke was, in turn, receiving reports from both Han and the Council of Five and doing an exemplary job of coordinating their efforts. The princess imagined that if these two had been in charge of the Fire Nation forces one hundred years earlier, the world would belong to the Fire Nation today. Of course, she was ultimately responsible for the success or failure of this skirmish. After all, her father was still counting on her to keep his plans on track.

Close to the front lines, Hinata and her team came across Ty Lee, who had just downed two teams of Cloud ninja single handedly. The Fire Nation girl turned with a bright smile on her face.

"Oh, hello," she said. "We're going to have all kinds of fu..."

"You're with Iwagakure?" Kiba growled, noting her Dai Li outfit.

"You're one of the Hyuuga, right?" Ty Lee said, her voice going cold. "Main branch?"

"Y-yes..." Hinata said. "How did...?"

"You people killed my master," Ty Lee said, voice cracking. "I watched the head of the Hyuuga clan torture Master Hitsurugi before killing him. I'm going to do the same to you!"

Hinata's teammates rushed to protect Hinata as Ty Lee charged, an uncharacteristic glint of murder in her eyes. She was dangerous normally, but as flashes of the old blind man who had taught her independence went through her head, she brutally attacked her opponents' vita' points, shutting down their chakra flow in an instant before striking like a snake at Hinata.

The Hyuuga princess, the veins around her eyes bulging, blocked the Fire Nation girl's fingers. They exchanged blows swiftly, Hinata a formidable challenge for Ty Lee. But while Hinata managed to strike a few good hits and weaken Ty Lee's chakra flow, the dangerous lady's superior flexibility and knowledge of her anatomy meant that she could easily avoid decisive strikes while delivering more of her own. After about thirty seconds of furious motion, Hinata collapsed to her knees.

"Now..." Ty Lee said, her eyes watering and voice quavering. I'll make sure the main branch suffers like I have." She raised her hand for a lethal strike, but then leaped into the air as several long, pointy weapons embedded themselves where she had stood.

"You'll not touch Lady Hinata," said Neji, as his teammates stood to his side, Tenten rolling up thew weapons scroll she'd just used.

Ty Lee landed a distance away. "You're from the branch family, like my master, right? Why would you...?" She trailed off. "Brother Rock?"

"Little sister Ty!" Rock Lee said with shock. "What are you doing with the Rock ninja?"

Ty Lee laughed, her murderous mood suddenly disappearing. "I know. It seems like you'd fit in better, right?"

"N-no," Rock Lee said. "I mean... we're from the Fire Nation..."

"Style's very Earth Kingdom," Neji said.

"We're ones to talk..." Tenten said.

"This doesn't matter," Neji said. "If she's from our country, she's working for Iwagakure now. Look, she has the uniform of tye Dai Li Black Ops and attacked Lady Hinata and her team."

"I don't understand," Ty Lee said. "After all the main family has done to the branch, why not just let me take care of her. Do you love her or something?"

Neji fidgeted uncomfortably. "She's... my sister."

"She'll tire of you or you'll displease her eventually, and then it's just one..." her hand came up. "little..." she formed a familiar seal.

Neji's eyes narrowed. "Even if you're kin to Rock Lee, you're not of the Leaf, and certainly not of the Hyuuga. That knowledge is forbidden!" He settled into a fighting stance and his byakugan activated. "You're within range of my Hakke Rokujuuyonshou!"

Ty Lee smiled. "No. You're within range of MY Hakke Hyakunijuuhachishou."

"Impossible," Neji scoffed. "No one without an exceptional byakugan..."

"Be quiet!" Ty Lee shouted. "I'll show you what my master taught me!" She began to perform the technique of the 128 Palms of the Hand as Neji mirrored her movements. Their fingers dueled each other as they struggled to hit their tenketsu.

Neji was shocked to feel the first few hits connect, and Ty Lee masterfully blocked his tenketsu. His own strikes connected, but at the moment of impact, as if she knew instinctively where and when he would strike, and her body twisted fluidly and sinuously, deflecting his attacks enough that he couldn't quite shut down her tenketsu. He used his own bloodline ability to expel chakra from his tenketsu to stop her attack, knowing it would be useless to continue. The wave of chakra energy exploded outward and knocked Ty Lee into the air, where she performed a back flip and landed on her feet.

"Ichigekishin," Ty Lee observed. "Desperate of you. Are you finally taking me seriously?"

"Wow, sis, that was amazing!" Rock Lee said.

"Don't compliment the enemy!" Neji scolded his teammate. He turned to Ty Lee and frowned. "You're dangerous."

"I hear that a lot," Ty Lee said coyly. "And you're cute. I bet you hear that a lot, too." She crouched, ready to attack again.

Neji readied himself, knowing that it was a more even match than he'd thought.

"Neji, we've got your back," Tenten said. "Don't we, Lee!"

Rock Lee jumped. "Oh... yeah, yeah."

"No," Neji said. "This is now a Hyuuga clan concern. I don't want you two involved."

"Don't be such a stubborn ass!" Tenten growled, unleashing a scrollful of weaponry at Ty Lee.

"You heard the kid!" Toshiro interrupted suddenly, countering the weapons with his own barrage of kunai. He and two of his former students, now jounin, stood before Ty Lee.

"Alright!" Rock Lee said with a grin. He leaped into the fray, taking on Toshiro one on one while Tenten fought the two jounin.

Ty Lee and Neji continued to maneuver around each other, Neji keeping Ty Lee on her toes with his hakke kuushou air blast. When she got too close, he used his hakkeshou kaiten spinning technique to keep her back.

"You can't beat a full blooded Hyuuga!" Neji said, pushing her back with his air blasts. "Even if you have the techniques, you don't have a Hyuuga's talent!"

"You're right!" Ty Lee conceded. "But there are things you can't do on talent alone." She held out a hand, in which she handled two glass spheres filled with liquid. She dropped them and they shattered on the ground, and the liquid began to vaporize instantly into a thick yellow gas.

"Gas?" Neji laughed incredulously. "My white eyes can pierce stone. What is gas to...?" He gasped as the gas engulfed him. His throat was burning and his all encompassing vision blurred.

"Poison gas," Ty Lee said. She had wrapped her mouth and nose with a wet cloth, blocking out most of the respiratory effects. "You really have an ego problem, don't you? Did you really think with all I know about your clan, I wouldn't know how to incapacitate you? And you just walked right into it."

"You... you can't... see... either!" Neji said between coughs. "You're... helpless!"

Ty Lee giggled. "My master was Hitsurugi! Before he was killed by your grandfather-his own brother!-he had his eyes stolen by a joint Mist and Rock ninja ambush in the last ninja war. He was a master of your techniques... a branch family prodigy, just like you, and he spent almost two decades blind and on the run from you Hyuuga trying to dispose of the evidence." She smiled underneath her cloth mask. "How important do you think sight is to me? Oh, by the way... you're in range."

Neji jerked back, but he felt the girl's iron-hard fingers dig into his flesh, precise streams of energy flooding his tenketsu, blocking his chakra flow. He couldn't dodge, and he couldn't counterattack. His eyes had been his strength; what he could always count on.

They failed him, now. His tenketsu were completely blocked and his organs badly damaged, besides. The gas was already disappating, and he could see the blurry outline of Ty Lee standing over him, palm reared back to strike.

"Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you," Ty Lee said. "You can't help what the main family does."

A torrent of water struck both Neji and Ty Lee, though the latter twisted her body a moment before the attack struck, lessening the impact.

"Never thought I'd see a normal human beat a Hyuuga one-on-one," Ao said jovially, as he adjusted the eyepatch over his right eye. "Remember, Toshiro? It took both of our teams to take that Hyuuga down in the last war. We split the spoils back then, even though he escaped."

Toshiro let Rock Lee's limp body crumple to the ground. "I remember."

"This time, it looks like we're on opposing sides," Ao said.

"Well, that girl there does hold a grudge toward the Hyuuga," Toshiro said. "Surely two byakugan would be better than one... and we can always say Ty Lee killed him."

"Hold it," Ty Lee said, rising from the ground. "Who said I would agree to that?"

"That's right," Tenten said, the two jounin laying prone at the end of a huge column-like pole. "I haven't given my approval to that plan."

Toshiro eyed the enemy kunoichi warily. "Impressive work beating my students, but you've been injured badly."

"Rock Lee did a number on you, as well," Tenten said.

"She's right," Ao said. "I hate to say it, but we'll have to be enemies for now, Toshiro."

"Very well," Toshiro said with a grin. "Let's begin."

At the same time, Utakata was leading the main force of shinobi from Mist and Sand. His bubbles floated idly around him, seemingly harmless to those who didn't realize the shinobi's power to contain super condensed air within the thin skin of water. The smallest disturbance would cause the skin to break, and a concussive force as great as any bomb's would render an attacker incapacitated.

Several shinobi found out the devastating effects of Utakata's techniques the hard way. In spite of the struggle, this main force was managing to penetrate deep into enemy territory. It wasn't until they were practically on the Tsuchikage's doorstep that they finally ran into a problem.

"You must be Roushi," Utakata said calmly as his main force was nearly decimated by a sudden surge of magma, with an old man at the center of the technique.

"'S right," Roushi said. "Old Han's come back for this fight, so I figured I'd get involved, too."

"For a container of the yonbi, that attack was pretty weak," Utakata said.

Roushi looked uncomfortable. "You'll find my lava techniques formidable just the same."

Utakata's demon slug cloak enveloped him and he smirked. "It will be interesting to see which is stronger: the solid ambition of your combined fire and earth elements or the spiritual calm of my combined water and air elements."

"We'll see," Roushi agreed. With that, their combat was joined.

In the rear, Tsunade cursed. "This isn't going well for us."

"We're making progress," Gaara said reassuringly. "In spite of our failure to surprise our enemy, we're making steady if slow progress."

"And taking heavy losses," Tsunade said. "I hate to put him in danger, but we need the kyuubi's power. We need Naruto."

Gaara nodded. "Naruto will be here. We can count on him."

Terumii Mei scoffed. "If Utakata can't handle it, I doubt some green jinchuuriki will. I place my faith in our village's container."

"Still," Tsunade said. "The addition of Naruto—not to mention Fuu—will greatly swing the fortunes of this fight in our favor. We don't want this turning into an all out war."

Fuu hovered over the temple grounds, her wings buzzing furiously to keep her aloft. She could feel the power of the kyuubi in the air. Her shichibi was urging her to either attack the source of that evil energy or flee. She ignored it and kept going forward.

Before her was an interesting sight. Several kunoichi from Kyoshi island seemed to be training with a masked man who wore a Leaf insignia in the courtyard. An old man watched them while drinking tea. A pale shinobi and a darker skinned boy in water tribe blue were painting with a man in an Akatsuki robe looking over them. The water tribe boy seemed to be having more trouble with the task than the shinobi. Higher up, however, she could see scores of boys training.

At first she assumed they were simply boys from two different schools or groups, because one group wore orange and yellow monk's robes while the other wore identical black and orange clothing. However, upon closer examination, she realized that they were, in fact, just two boys with at least a hundred clones.

A large group of them seemed to be training with some kind of wind technique. They were spinning chakra and wind around and around between their palms, the monk's clones providing the wind while the other kid's clones provided the chakra energy. A smaller group seemed to be meditating. A shinobi—young, though probably old enough to be a jounin—with black hair and protective headgear was among that latter group, watching over them, as well as a thin old man wearing way too little for Fuu's tastes.

Fuu landed in the midst of this group, and the jounin glanced at her. "I hadn't expected another jinchuuriki to join us."

"I'm here for the kyuubi kid," Fuu said. "Leaf, Cloud, Mist, and Sand have joined forces to discipline Rock for joining forces with the Earth Kingdom."

The original Naruto rose from his meditation. "You mean 'the Fire Nation,' right?"

Fuu paused. "No... I'm pretty sure I said 'the Earth Kingdom.'"

"That doesn't make sense," Yamato said. "Azula, the princess of the Fire Nation, was made the Tsuchikage, though it was through deception. We've been training to help the Avatar remove her."

"The Avatar, eh?" Fuu said, looking toward the tattooed boy. "Hmm... well, anyway, you really should have made that report, because from what I hear, the Fire Lord himself is the one who was pushing for this kind of action. Of course, we had little choice given the treaty..."

"The Fire Lord," Aang shouted, springing up. His clones continued to meditate, but their unrest was noticeable, as well. "This must be part of some plan to use the ninja villages to destroy Ba Sing Se for him. You're all being played!"

"The report was made," Yamato said. "But... it would have gone through Danzo. I can't believe he would deceive the Hokage and Leaf this way, but... then again, he was always unscrupulous when it came to what he perceived to be the village's interests."

"If that's true, you should definitely come with me," Fuu said. "They'll have already begun the attack. We were supposed to be back up in case we ran into trouble."

"Aang," Pathik said. "You must complete your training. If you go now, your final chakra will be locked, and you won't be able to enter the Avatar State at all."

"But..." Aang started. "If I stay it could mean the end of the war in the Fire Nation's favor. What good am I even as a fully realized Avatar if that happens?"

"You are very close," Pathik said. "You just need to take the final step to unlock your chakra."

"Wait, wait, wait," Naruto said. "What about me? No 'don't go, Naruto, your training is not yet complete,' for me?"

Pathik grinned at the boy. "Oh, no. Your training is complete. There is nothing you can do now to unblock your chakra. It is the blockage, itself, whose training is not complete."

"Are you seriously telling me that the fox is the one who should be meditating?" Naruto asked glumly.

"That's right," Pathik said.

"Avatar," Itachi said, walking into the training area. "You should stay. Naruto and everyone else can handle things for awhile. I will help you achieve control over your Avatar State."

"What?" Aang said. "Itachi, not you too!"

Fuu raised an eyebrow. "So... we're really not freaking out right now that an Akatsuki is in our midst?"

"It's fine," Naruto said. "He can't harm me. He made a promise."

"Which can be broken," Fuu said.

"Then he'd lose an arm," Naruto said, gesturing toward the older ninja, who held up his sealed arm.

"Ooh," Fuu said, recognizing the technique. "Well, fine, we should head off quickly, though."

Aang looked pensive.

"I can make another promise," Itachi said to Aang, and held up his index finger. "One hour. Within one hour after everyone leaves, I can unlock that last chakra."

Aang sighed. "Alright. One hour for ultimate power. I suppose I can do that."

"Then let's get going," Naruto said, letting his clones evaporate in a puff of smoke. He wobbled a bit from the sudden influx of experience and strain, but remained upright. "I think I've got that new technique down."

Aang dissolved his clones as well. "Me, too. Should be fun to try it out on Azula or Sasuke."

Naruto nodded. "That's right."

Fuu cocked her head. "Did... did someone seriously teach the Avatar, of all people, the kage bunshin?"

She was known to the members of the village as Madame Shijimi. To a few trusted souls she was also known as the Fire Lord's wife, and she meant to keep it as few as possible. Though it did seem that in a village of ninja, it was more difficult than she thought to keep that little tidbit a secret. It seemed that ninja were occasionally a little more chatty with each other than one would like. Even some of the kids knew she was the Fire Lord's wife, even if they didn't know her real name.

At this moment, she was skulking along the dark alley near the main offices of the Hokage and her staff. The drapes were drawn almost closed in one of the offices, but she had positioned herself in just the right place that she could see his lips. They were moving. They were saying treacherous, murderous things, just like she had years ago. And Madame Shijimi was very good at lip reading.

"'Take over the village,'" Shijimi whispered to herself. "Danzou? He's going to be installed as Hokage? Dammit!"

"Madame Shijimi," a voice said from behind her. "I'm afraid the Fire Lord would not take kindly to being spied upon."

"But you would know that, wouldn't you?" said another voice.

Shijimi turned around and glowered at the shinobi behind her. They were ANBU. A Yamanaka and an Aburame clan, respectively. "You're going to tell him about this, boys?"

"No," the one she knew to go by "Fuu" Yamanaka said. "The Third Hokage made it clear that we were to offer you protection from the Fire Lord. After all, your family was once one of us."

"However," said the Aburame known as "Torune" continued. "We cannot allow you to interfere with Lord Danzou's plan."

"Ah," Shijimi said, lowering her eyes. "Well... an old lady knows when she's beaten."

"I'm glad you won't make this hard on—"

Shijimi suddenly spewed forth a torrent of flame, causing the two to dodge out of the way. She then leaped with surprising grace into the air away from her discoverers.

Fuu snorted and made a hand seal and performed the shintenshin no jutsu on the retreating figure. Shijimi paused in midair and landed, turning around and coming back to the ANBU ninja. "Well," Fuu said from Shijimi's body. "She wasn't as much trouble as I thought."

Torune bound Shijimi and then Fuu returned to his own body. Shijimi blinked and smiled. "Oh, you got me. Too bad, though..."

The ANBU smirked from behind their masks.

"You got the wrong me."

Fuu gasped as Shijimi's body disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

"Kage bunshin," Torune said. "Imagine that."

"Well..." Fuu said. "I'm not writing this report."