Disclaimer: Naruto is the property of Kishimoto Masashi.


Naruto was no stranger to being awoken in a rude or abrupt manner. Those times didn't always end in beatings though; sometimes it was just to mess with him, demonstrate what could be done to him at whim, and how little he could do in retaliation. However, this was the first time that he had been hoisted from his tousled bedding by something warm, damp, and sticky.

Inelegantly, he was flipped up into the air, whereupon he landed on his head. Completely taken by surprise, it was all he could do to splutter in impotent outrage at a smirking Jiraiya and a rather large...toad?

"My thanks, Gamashaku. I think the boy is awake now."

Nodding, the five-foot toad returned to the Summon Realm in a puff of hazy smoke.

"Get up, brat! You have a busy morning ahead of you."

Naruto glared up at the man before snarling, "Get the hell out!"

"Now now, Naruto-kun, that's no way to speak to your elders. Besides, Sarutobi-sensei was rather adamant that you not be late."

"Late?" Naruto untangled himself and stomped off to the bathroom, his voice carrying behind him. "I'm not late for anything. The Academy doesn't even open for several hours!"

"Sensei wanted to discuss your actions last night, Uzumaki. I suggest you get your ass ready."

"What actions? Yeah, there was some stupid stuff here, but I took care of it." The boy stomped back into his bedroom and made to pass the much larger male before his shoulder was snagged.

"Hold on a minute...are we on the same page?"

Naruto made to shrug the hand off, but found himself rather well rooted to the spot. For a moment, he considered being petulantly silent, before his mind deciphered the tone used: worry. "I don't know."

"Hmm...why weren't you in your other apartment? Is this just a sleeping room?"

"If you must know, my other place was ruined, so I had to move last night into a new unit."

Jiraiya released the shoulder, turning to follow the boy to the kitchen, through the other empty rooms. He had a feeling he was missing several vital facts. "Where's your stuff then? Don't tell me it got stolen or broken already..."

"No, nothing like that, luckily. It's sealed, and that's the only reason I still have anything."

"Seals?" His voice grew suddenly serious, thoughts of the boy's tenant manipulating things. "Explain, and leave little out. You are in a world of shit, Uzumaki, whether you realize it or not. Speak plainly, and I...I'll be your advocate."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"Last night, someone, or a group of someones, tossed a lot of rotted meat into the Inuzuka kennels after triggering the proximity alarms. Several of the Clan's Companions died from food poisoning. They are pointing at you as the killer. Add that to the rumors of your involvement with the Uchiha Massacre, and things look damn bleak. Now then, is there anything you want to tell me?"

Naruto had stopped cold, his eyes widening. Even as isolated as he was, he too knew of the Companions and how important those dogs were to the Inuzukas. "I didn't do anything to them...the seals, okay, look, Ocelot-sensei put my clothing into a storage seal, drawn on my bedroom closet. Anko-sensei made another one for my nonperishable foods. So I studied the seals, copied them, and used them to hide my furnishings. I even carry a spare futon on me at all times.

"Yesterday, after the Academy, I found that someone had broken into my place and had tossed in a bunch of dead animals. Hokage-sama had me stay at the Mansion during the Uchiha aftermath, so that was the first time I had been back in two weeks. You can imagine the stink. I...I couldn't go back to the Old Man...he had done so much for me, so I taught myself the Earth Clone Technique by reviewing a memory of Gai-sensei making one."

"Earth Clones? Taught by a single event memory? I find that a little far-fetched."

"I don't care what you think! If you came around more, you might've noticed that I have a new pond that wasn't there yesterday morning. I made too many clones too close together and ended up with a large pit, which quickly filled with water. I used them to bag up the carcasses." At the look of incredulity, Naruto sighed irritably. "Fine, don't believe me. Ask Aburame Shiribi if you want...he was the one who told the insects to clear out so my clones could work.

"When everything was double-bagged, and I had close to thirty large rubbish bags filled with rotted meat, I sent them off to the dump while I made a new batch to help me move."

"How...how high were the piles to account for that many bags?" His eyes widening, Jiraiya asked, "Wait, you sent them off unsupervised?"

"Obviously. It was getting late and I still needed to move. I couldn't well be in two places at once, now could I?" Naruto paused as he finished his glass of milk. "The piles...it really wasn't 'piles,' as in plural. It was just a layer of rot which was pretty consistent in every room. I'm just thankful I didn't have to clean that crap up myself. Who the hell would want memories of wading through a room hip-deep in bodies?"

Jiraiya could only boggle. Shaking his head to clear it, he motioned towards the door. "Come, I'll need to stop by your old apartment for a look and some photos, which will help your defense. So if you're done, we should be moving."

Despite the atmosphere, Naruto couldn't help but lose himself in the decor. He had never been to this section of the Tower before, and had never seen furnishings so...organic.

"This village was created by the Senju," stated Jiraiya for the boy's benefit. "Tobirama was a master at Suiton techniques, and super-fed the seedlings and roots. Hashirama, the elder brother, was the carrier of the Senju bloodline, Mokuton, creating the trees and shaping them as Tobirama kept the wood supple and nourished. Hashirama being the First Hokage with Tobirama the Second, they were Sarutobi-sensei's mentors. Tobirama-sama was his actual Jounin sensei.

"Though many do not realize this, all the wood in this council room is living. Even the chairs are a part of flexible branches, which allow them to move and adjust to fit. You will not find this type of wood anywhere else in the world, no matter how long you look."

"I can see why it's on the ground-floor then," mused Naruto, his voice lost in wonder. Trailing his fingers over the wall's carved bas-relief, he could only grin as he felt the pulse of sap, the hum of Nature.

"What are you doing?" Jiraiya, being the Toad Hermit, was sensitive to Natural energy due to his Sage training. The moment Naruto touched the living wall, he could feel it sleeting off the boy, with apparently no ill effects.

"Huh?" Naruto snapped out of his reverie, pulling his hand back with a parting glance at the wall.

"Did this Akamu teach you how to use Natural energy?" Jiraiya wasn't quite sure why he felt so angry.

Naruto blinked at the tone. "What the hell do you care, Godfather?"

"Because usually, without extensive training, those who screw up when they access Natural energy turn into petrified wood. They become stone, inanimate, dead."

"I think you're just saying that because you hate me. 'Boohoo, I look too much like Daddy!' " the boy snarked. "As I told you before, I've always been able to feel it. My chakra, his, ours and outside; it's always been there."

"What? That's...that's impossible!" More to himself, he continued, "That side was supposed to have been sealed elsewhere."

One perk of housing a Kitsune Lord was heightened senses, and Naruto had no problem at all in hearing Jiraiya's mutterings. "Sealed elsewhere?"

Jiraiya snapped up, eyes wide at what he let slip. "It's nothing to concern yourself about...it's grownup business."

"The hell? It damn well does concern me! Was there some kind of mistake during my sealing? If anyone has a right to know, it's me!"

On the inside, Akamu was fully alert, panning through his own memories, trying to sort through the varied sensations during the sealing. There were so many, mostly emotional tones and colors...it was a jumble. Now that his thoughts were on it, he could feel a part of him was missing. The 'what' still eluded him.

Jiraiya knew the boy was right. Even if the Key Toad was on Myouboku Mountain, he knew that if he could find the hidden realm of the Toads, so could anyone else. The greater cause for concern was confirming just which half was inside the scroll, and which was inside Naruto's seal.

Seeing and sensing that they were still alone in the council room, as they had wasted little time once they left Naruto's quad, Jiraiya felt it safe enough to conduct this research. "Prior to the sealing and after some rather hasty research, it was determined that the entirety of the Kyuubi no Kitsune was just too massive to contain in a single person. So the move was made to split the personality from the power, placing the power inside of you and the intelligent part in a massive and very secure scroll.

"Based upon our brief talks, and from what I understand of your personal history, a miscalculation might have been made."

Akamu was stunned, not just at the loss of power, but also at the ingenuity of the humans. He had always felt something was off, but with everything else going on had never fully had the time to puzzle it out. This buffoon had given enough pieces, and if things worked out the way Akamu wanted them, his power being locked away was a trifling matter, one easy to rectify.

Of more pressing concern was the deep rumblings from the leaning stone pillars, as well as the flakes of dust forming on the right waterfall flank. Carved into the rock was a massive portrait of Minato, true to life from what Naruto had seen from pictures. On the left was Kushina, whose face Naruto had actually seen in person, preserved though she was in death. Remembering the first time, Akamu readied himself for an upheaval.

Naruto had reeled back, finding himself pressed against the wall. The surface hummed and pulsed, welcoming him with warmth though he could scarcely feel it given how fast his mind was churning. 'They thought to split the body and mind. They wanted the mind in the scroll, but put the body there by mistake. This means they could have put both parts in scrolls. I was used as a weapon.'

"You fucker! All this...all this crap is...you could have put both parts in separate scrolls! The Fourth died in my sealing, so who died in the other?"

Jiraiya blinked, having never thought of that before. He couldn't fully rationalize away the knowledge. "Nobody."

"So...nobody died sealing away Kyuubi's bodily power when they thought they were sealing away his mental power. That means nobody would have had to forfeit their lives during the sealing, so why is the Fourth trapped in the Shinigami's belly?"

'He refers to his dad by title?' "It was required for the exchange of souls. Minato gave his so the Kyuubi's soul would be tied to yours."

Naruto paled, feeling the wood twist behind him as it felt his agony.

"I need you to step away from the wall, Naruto. Your emotions are warping things."

"You bastard...you knew. All this time, you knew. You let him die. You let my mother die. You fuck!" The walls, floor and furnishings groaned and creaked. "You wanted a weapon for Konoha...the Elemental Guardians don't have souls. They are deities, they just are. Souls are a human construct, a name given to our consciousness. You thought you had sealed that inside a scroll, so you let your beloved pupil die for nothing!"

"Im...impossible! There's no way we would have made that mistake!" Jiraiya's eyes took on a hard cast. "I see now that maybe the others were right about you after all. You have been corrupted. There's no way you can be my student's son."

Akamu was further surprised when Naruto appeared in his mindscape in a righteous fury, the ground becoming molten beneath his feet.

"Memory, mother, graveyard, toads...summoning web and the seals." The memories flickered as Naruto zeroed in on the one he sought, watching intently as his fingers sped through the chain. The experience the night prior made this much easier.

"Kit, how is it you are here? Usually you must be in a meditative state, or at rest, before you can enter."

"Attention split."

"What are you planning?"

"Summoning. That ass won't believe me, and dares to heap insults upon me for his own ineptness. You're going to have a chat with him."

"I don't think it works that way, Naruto-kun. Usually, one needs a summoning contract."

"There already is one. Fa...Father summoned the Shinigami and used that contract to seal you. That means the contract is still active, since you are still here. My contract with you is written on my soul, and within the Oath Seal on your brow. If I call you, you will come."

"I'm a bit surprised that you refer to your father as such, all things considered."

"It...I'm thinking now that it wasn't his fault. If he was a seal master, as Jiraiya had said, then he knew what could be done. Someone must've convinced him to make me into a weapon, and the only one who could have that kind of pull would be his wife, Hokage, or teacher." Naruto turned his head, giving Akamu his full attention. "You be good out there, Akamu-sensei, or this will be a one-time thing."

With that, Akamu was left alone in the forested realm. Glancing up at the waterfall, the cracks which had been moving across Minato's face were gone.

Irritably, Jiraiya snapped his fingers to get the boy's attention. He really didn't want to touch him, recalling the Dinner Incident. There was no telling in what position he might find himself. He sighed in relief as the boy's eyes flickered briefly, before he walked away from the wall towards the center of the council floor.

For a moment there, Jiraiya was almost prepared to summon a toad just to pull the brat away from the wall. He wasn't sure how they were going to fix the damage, as the carved murals of Konoha's founding were twisted and warped. It was essentially ruined, and he doubted that Tenzou would be able to fix it. The ANBU might have the Senju bloodline, but he didn't have the Senju chakra. Odds were high that the residual energy still present in the wood from the Senju brothers would reject it.

Of course, that gave rise to the question of why the living wood had welcomed and embraced Naruto, even responding to his emotions. That would require some pondering, and he heavily doubted the troublesome child would be forthcoming with answers.

His eyes narrowed as he felt a Natural chakra surge, then widened as Naruto performed the Summoning Technique on what appeared to be solidified air. By the time his brain caught up with what his eyes were seeing, the kunai had already left his hand.

As the miniature Kyuubi landed on Naruto's head, having appeared out of the airborne seal array, a steaming shaft of wood rose shot up and trapped the kunai within the grains. There was a sound of tortured metal as the steel was twisted, leaving a foot-wide gap between it and Naruto's chest.

Jiraiya found himself in a odd position. Like being caught in a flash-flood, there was no time to escape, blinking as an upside-down Kyuubi glared at him, eye-to-eye as Naruto leaned against a rough wooden pillar, in which was trapped a broken kunai within a hardened knot. Such was the arboreal way of dealing with infections.

"Quite a mess you've gotten yourself in, Godfather." The fox grinned toothily. "Naruto has asked that I behave, and I assume that includes marking your face as my property."

Jiraiya could only groan in harmony with the wood. He was on his back, four feet in the air, his taut limbs spread as a blunt pole pressed into the small of his back. His hands and feet were encased in wooden knots, his mane of hair sweeping across the floor. The pressure and pain prevented speech, so he had little recourse but to listen to the fox.

Akamu had little to actually say, the debasement done within five minutes. Passively, in the hopes that such would engender Naruto to summoning him outside again, Akamu dismissed himself after marking Jiraiya's face as his property. Gravity insured the massive white mane would wick the runoff.

A silent Naruto let him, before walking past the suspended, reeking form of Jiraiya, and out the council doors. Not fifteen minutes later, the first clan councilor arrived, followed by representatives from several Minor Families.

"You have a way of finding yourself in interesting times, Jiraiya. Care to explain why your charge is not present?" The Hokage was resting an elbow upon a rough wooden pillar, in which was trapped one of Jiraiya's kunais. They both knew it was his, but only one knew why it was there.

Jiraiya could only grunt at Sarutobi's question. Due to the pressure on his back and limbs, not to mention the fox urine which had gone up his nose, any other verbal response was quite beyond his capability.

"Any luck, Bear?"

"None, Hokage-sama. The wood is proving to be highly resilient to any of my methods. My suggestion would be to have Uzumaki-san reverse his manipulations of the floor rather than attempting to cut Jiraiya-sama free. We don't know how the bough we are inside would react to being harmed in such a way."

"If I may, Hokage-sama, I believe Uzumaki-san will be found at the Academy, once it opens."

"What leads you to that thought, Spider?"

"He is on good relations with the Aburame Clan. The clan's heir is his age and, from my understanding, his only peerage friend. I think he will seek out this person for support as they share the same class at the Academy."

"Bear, head to the Academy and wait for Naruto. You have permission to pull him from class...tactfully. Spider, fill me in on what you did last night, as I haven't had the time to read your report."

Iruka read the report again, sighing at the waste of talent. Sasuke would not be joining them again, at least not for many years. The psychological trauma which placed him in a coma from Itachi's ministrations had turned a relatively happy child into a brooding recluse who had trouble speaking. The nerve endings which ran through his tongue were still regrowing, a painful process in a sensitive area, leading to his monosyllabic grunts by which he answered all queries. Grunts and glares, the rage ill hidden in his haunted eyes, were his methods of communicating.

'There go my dream of training the Best of the Best for the Top Rookie slot. In his current state, he's just too dangerous to allow around the other children.' Clearing his throat, he addressed the class.

"Due to injuries sustained from the Massacre, Uchiha Sasuke will not be joining us this year. He is undergoing treatment and therapy for his familial loss. His physicians have denied all visitation rights, though gifts will still be accepted and delivered."

Several heads turned upwards, the glares focused on a silent Naruto.

"Eyes front! Let this be clear: Uzumaki had nothing to do with this, so get that through your heads. And Uzumaki, passing notes is not allowed."

"I am the one passing notes, Iruka-sensei," intoned Shino solemnly. "I was instructed to present Uzumaki-san with a schedule for one of our services. This is a clan affair."

Iruka cleared his throat again, this time partially due to nervousness. "Next time, ask if such missives may be delivered during breaks. If there is nothing else, open your history texts to Chapter Four." There was a gentle rapping at the door. "Haruno-chan, begin."

Opening the door, Iruka was surprised to see an ANBU on the other side.

"Umino-san, I am Bear. I have been tasked with escorting Uzumaki-san to the Council."

"He's not in any sort of trouble, is he?"

"Not that I am aware. His testimony is needed though."

Turning back to the class, as Sakura's recitation had faded once all attention shifted to the door, Iruka stated politely, "Uzumaki. The Council needs you for testimony. You are free for the rest of the day. Be sure to read Chapters 4 and 5, as there will be a quiz tomorrow."

Gathering his things, Naruto thanked Shino silently before moving carefully down the aisle. His clones must have done something, if Kiba's hostile attitude was anything to go by. Bowing to his teacher, he exited the classroom.

"Bear-san?"

"Indeed, Naruto-kun. Hokage-sama is waiting for you."

"Sorry about that. That jerk Jiraiya kept pissing me off, and I didn't see it as right that I had to wait for everyone to show up while he mocked me."

"Ah, so that's how he ended up as he did. It was a temper fit?"

"Not exactly, Bear-san. I'm sure you saw that pillar?" He got a nod. "One of Jiraiya's kunai is trapped in it. I trussed him after he attacked me."

"Why would Jiraiya-sama attack you?"

"As I said, he's a jerk."

"We all have our bad moments..."

"Bear-san, you don't have to defend him to me. He's already insinuated before that it would have been better had I died during the sealing. How am I supposed to respond to that?" Naruto raked a hand through his hair. "I can understand if he's mourning every time he sees me, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. If he's going to abuse me as a way of dealing with his personal pain, then he's no better than the average citizen."

Tenzou, no stranger to being ostracized, could find no defense for the Sannin.

Sarutobi was quietly thinking as he watched the assembled council discuss current events, as well as the contorted figure of the Toad Sage and who could have gotten the drop on one of Konoha's legendary shinobi.

There was sudden silence, before the murmurs restarted, a touch ruder and more terse than before. "Naruto-kun, I'm glad you could make it."

"Hokage-sama, you had need of me?"

"Indeed. First off, what can you tell me about this odd statue?"

"He freaked out when I summoned Akamu," Naruto whispered, adding hastily, "I needed him to say some things to Jiraiya, and I wasn't about to invite the man into my mind."

Sarutobi calmed himself, motioning the boy to continue.

"Well, he attacked me for whatever reason, and I didn't feel I had to put up with that, so I made it so he couldn't attack me again."

"That would explain why his kunai is lodged in that column. Would you be so kind as to release him? As he is now, he is rather distracting."

The council room grew quiet once more, save for the creaks and groans from as the timber released Jiraiya. Glancing from under his bangs, Naruto saw most of the faces oriented to the side, where Bear stood with his hands in the Half Ram seal. The boy grinned gently, flashing one of the few subtle hand signs he knew, the one for Thank You. He got a slight nod in return.

"Hokage-sama...um, can I ask a question before you begin?"

"Of course, Naruto-kun."

Pitching his voice just for Sarutobi, he asked, "Did you know about the scroll which holds half of Akamu?"

Sarutobi blinked. "What on earth are you talking about, Naruto-kun? I am not aware of anything like that."

"Ah...it is something Jiraiya mentioned."

Sarutobi glanced over at the man, who was busy rubbing life back into his limbs. "It would appear something very important has been kept from me. Which part was supposed to have been contained?"

"Yin, Hokage-sama."

"This is not the case, is it." He pinched the bridge of his nose as Naruto slowly shook his head. "Wonderful. There's many things on my mind, Naruto-kun, so would you be so kind as to tell me the relevance?"

"Well, Hokage-sama...nobody died sealing the yang part into a scroll when they thought they had the yin part. That means both parts could have been sealed into scrolls. My parents, my childhood, they were pointless sacrifices," said Naruto softly.

"We will discuss this further at a later time, Naruto-kun. If what you say is true, the implications...I don't even want to think about the possible implications. Take your seat," Sarutobi motioned to one between Bear and Spider, "and let's get this business settled."

He glanced at Ibiki and nodded.

"Rise!" Everyone stood from their seats, orienting on the Hokage.

"Greet!"

"Good morning, Hokage-sama!"

"Sit!" He waited patiently while the living seats were reclaimed. "This Council Session for Grievances is now open, Sarutobi Hiruzen, Sandaime Hokage of Konohagakure, presiding."

Sarutobi regarded his notes, seeing a trend. "Before we begin, I would like a show of hands. How many are here with complaints regarding insect or vermin infestations?" Every hand except for the Inuzuka, Yamanaka and Aburame representatives went up. "I see. For the sake of brevity, discuss amongst yourselves, quietly, and select a single advocate.

"Let us be clear: this is not a status move. It would be in your best interests not to have political gain on the mind, for while you lot dither in here, your problems outside continue." He checked his notes again. "Inuzuka and Yamanaka are here for complaints?" He got two nods. "And Aburame?"

"Witness."

"Hokage-sama, begging your pardon, but why is that thing here?"

Sarutobi could already feel the headache brewing. "What thing do you mean, Dosuki-san?"

"Him, that boy! He has no reason to be here unless he's the reason behind our misery!"

"Dosuki-san is right, Hokage-sama," began a man to Dosuki's left. "It must be that dem..."

"Careful what you say, Gosu-san."

"Of co..course, Hokage-sama. What I meant to say is that it's rather common knowledge that...this boy knows about his...burden..."

"Are you implying that you pick and choose which of my laws you follow?" There was a sudden heaviness to the air. "That's mildly seditious, Gosu-san."

"I...I with...withdraw the question, Hokage-sama!"

"To prevent further like-minded questions, Uzumaki-san is here as a witness and defendant. As a civilian, he has the right to face his accusers. Any other questions?" He cast a glance to the side, seeing Naruto staring at the floor between his swishing legs. Sarutobi noted the frown and clenched fists. 'They've gotten to him...how could I have missed this?'

There was a mass shaking of heads as some people moved further away from Dosuki and Gosu. It would not do to be an innocent bystander should those two idiots gain the Hokage's attention again.

"Let us continue then. The Chair recognizes the Inuzuka representative. You have the floor."

Tsume stood, regal, wrapped in righteous anger. "Thank you for your time, Hokage-sama. This morning, several of our Companions died following an incident last night. Someone tripped our alarms, which gained the attention of our Companions. Rotten meat was then tossed into the kennels, disguised as something our dogs were trained to attack. It is unclear what that something was at this point.

"Our Companions are more than pets or nin-dogs, they are part and parcel of our family and clan. We place our complete trust in them, as they do in us. They are extensions of ourselves, through which we can better serve and protect our beloved village. Someone saw fit to cripple that care.

"We hold Uzumaki responsible, as his scent, weak though it might have been, was present on several of the recovered bags of fouled meat. We, Clan Inuzuka, demand satisfaction! Life for life, through death or servitude, as well as restitution! We will settle for no less!"

Holding herself as the strong clan leader mourning subordinates, she took her seat amid the echoes of applause. There were murmurs of slurs directed at the child, though softly so as not to catch the Hokage's attention. Sarutobi had no problem in hearing them, but chose to ignore it for the sake of moving things along.

Naruto was not of the same mind, mumbling something which made the ANBU on either side of him twitch. There were several in the room with better than average hearing, including Tsume, who stormed to her feet.

"I dare you to say that again, whelp! Nobody insults my clan!"

Naruto glanced at the Hokage, who was rubbing his temples. He took that as assent. For a full year, he had been aware of everything. The glares, the remarks, the isolation even in crowds, he saw it all, and witnessed how it got passed down to his peers. He had no outlet, and he had had enough.

He stood, arms and legs akimbo, glaring up at the feral woman. "I said, why is it that I get called demon-this and demon-that when your entire family looks more demony than I do? All I have is lines on my cheeks. You, however, got slit eyes, pointy teeth, fingernails which look like claws, and facial markings...everyone in your clan has the same marking, even the babies! They grow with the person, so they can't be tattoos. So how come you lot get respected for looking demonic, and I get shat on for having lines on my cheeks?"

She barely heard the muffled snickers, so great was her rage. "You...you whore-ling...you will regret your first warbled breath, I promise you that!" She paused, confused, before her brow creased. "Shikaku, it would be wise of you to release me."

"Troublesome woman, are you actually thinking of attacking the boy, who is by the Hokage with an ANBU escort, or are you even thinking at all? You should be thanking me."

"Naruto, I think that's enough," warned the Hokage.

"It's not right, Hokage-sama. I'm going on eight with lines on my cheeks and they say such mean things to me, but lavish praise on them just because her grandma did the naughty doggy with an Inugami!" He could feel the peals of Akamu's laughter vibrating through his body.

Words failed her as the rough guffaws sounded around her. Never before had she been so insulted. To her side, Shikaku began to sweat from exertion as he strove to maintain control of her shadow.

"Uzumaki, that is enough. How do you answer to these charges?"

Naruto looked over at Jiraiya, who was chuckling while he wrote in a notebook. "I thought I had an Advocate, but I guess not. Godfather is good at breaking promises."

Jiraiya paused in his writing, before the pen resumed.

"Not guilty. Furthermore, I allege that she and her clan ruined nine of my units."

"That is a serious claim as well. Inuzuka says your scent, though faint, was on the bags. What proof do you offer?"

"Proof? I...uh..."

"If I may, Hokage-sama." Aburame Shibi stood, adjusting his shades. "Though circumstantial, a rather rare beetle was recovered from Uzumaki's apartment. Though native to Konoha, it is only found in areas with high animal populations, kennels being the predominant location."

All eyes turned to Tsume, whose clan ran the largest dog kennel in all of Fire Country.

"Do you have this beetle with you, Aburame-san?" asked Sarutobi.

"No, Hokage-sama. This is the first live specimen our clan has acquired in many years. As it came into our possession only last night, we are still examining it for possible inclusion in the Hive."

"That will be taken into consideration. Any other evidence, Uzumaki-san?"

"Um...Kumo..um, Spider-san was there..." began Naruto.

"I'm sorry, Uzumaki-san. ANBU reports are confidential and may not be used in civilian proceedings. Is there nothing else you can show us?"

Naruto got the hint. "I...I can use a memory, right?"

"The only problem, Hokage-sama, is that only Naruto can see it," stated Inoichi.

"You could as well, Yamanaka-san."

"Um...I don't think that would be a good idea, Hokage-sama," began Naruto. "As Gosu-san stated, I am aware of my Tenant, and he is rather eager for a Yamanaka to attempt entry into my mindspace. That's why I would warn against it."

"You take away all my fun!" came from within.

"Be that as it may be, without further proof, I will have to side with the Inuzuka."

"A moment, Hokage-sama. Please allow me to try something." With a nod of assent, Naruto stilled himself, tamping down his anger and frustration, letting himself be lulled by the waterfall and tinkling chimes.

'Jijii is right about the ANBU, so I will have to be careful not to implicate Kumo-san in any wrongdoing.'

The memory itself was rather easy to find, being from the prior night, not to mention the ghastliness of the situation, so all he had to do was pick it up right where he made the first batch of clones. That way, Kumo-san's instructions wouldn't be included.

Akamu watched intently, his prison and student continually surprising him. "What do you plan to do with that, now that you found it?"

"I'll take it with me, though I think I'll have to stay in here to keep the memory focused."

Akamu stayed silent, deep in his own thoughts. 'The external manipulations of his will and mind, the vastness of his mindscape...was there something I missed? The solidified air to keep me from contact with that sentient wood was a good idea, but how did he do it? The data-dump...there had to have been something in there to awaken all this, or maybe it's the Nature component. I will need time to think this through.'

There had been a growing buzz amongst the representatives. Between the allegations, aspersions, and the single stern look from Sarutobi which had stilled Tsume, there was much food for gossip and discussion. One not saying anything was Nara Shikaku, as he was in a pseudo-meditative stance to replenish his reserves through deep breaths as his mind worked over what he had seen, or had thought he had seen.

His half-lidded eyes rested on the kunai-clutching column of twisted wood, which had not been removed when the Toad Sage's shackles were retracted. They flicked over to the slumped over boy, so still as to cause wonder if breath was still being drawn. He had seen...something, a hand flicker towards the one known as Bear earlier, before these proceedings officially began.

Any other thoughts he might have had were derailed when the boy began speaking through a flickering image.

The left hand rose, going past the edge of sight, as a large group of Uzumakis moved away from a rather large hole. "Sorry about that, Kumo-san. Guess I shouldn't have made them all in one spot, eh?" There was a nervous chuckle.

The scene panned to the left, showing Spider massaging points on either side of her mask. "You have a latent talent for headaches, Uzumaki-san. Still, that is an impressive effort. Perhaps you should greet your guest now."

The scene blurred, reorienting on a tall, dark-clad figure. The view tilted downward, showing the ground. "Thank you for coming so quickly, Aburame-san."

"Thank you as well for your defense of Shino-kun. Not many would shield another with their own body at your age. I am Shibiri, Uzumaki-san."

"Well...he's my friend, Aburame-san...it's what friends do, right? Um...it's all right for him to be my friend, right?"

"I'm sure Shino-kun will be pleased to hear of it. Now then, what is your problem, Uzumaki-san?"

The view swung upwards, narrowing around the edges before filling out again. "Um, there's a mess in my apartment. Somebody thought it'd be funny to dump a bunch of dead animals in there, and I was kind of hoping you could talk to the ants and flies and whatnot, see if they could go somewhere else so my workers could bag all that stuff up."

"For all you have done for our Clan, I would be honored. Show me, if you would, Uzumaki-san."

The view nodded and turned, bobbing as it walked up stairs before stopping at a door. "It's not pretty in there, Aburame-san. Those things have been in there for a week or two, since the Massacre most likely. And, uh...from what I could briefly sense, for the first time, in like ever, my thermostat was working. It's pretty warm inside."

"I thank you for the warning, Uzumaki-san. I am prepared."

The view bobbed, then oriented on the door. A deep breath was heard and the door swung open, revealing, in vivid primal colors, the abattoir. Blood was sloshed high upon the walls and across the ceiling, but what drew the eye was the mass of pink and red, mixed with black, of the multitude of skinned animals. Amid the mammals were hints of fish and fowl, the totality several feet thick.

There was a gasp from behind. "Merciful Kami...who could have done this? There must be hundreds of dead animals in here!"

The scene shifted backwards, where a breath was exhaled. "I...I don't know, Aburame-san. This is was my first time back in two weeks, so...I just don't know."

"Give me a moment, Uzumaki-san. I was a bit shocked there. Go and ready your workers and I will talk to the colonies."

The vision blurred to look at the ground, before righting itself. "Thank you again, Aburame-san." It moved past the man, as dark swarms flowed from his coat sleeves, and down the stairs. "Oh...what are these?"

"A box of bags, Uzumaki-san. If everything you own is inside that place, then you do not have bags at hand."

"I...thank you, Kumo-san."

"This is done not just for you, Uzumaki-san. Hokage-sama will need to know, as close as possible, the loss of animal life, and how that might have affected the local ecology."

"Pardon?"

"From what I could tell, Uzumaki-san, most of the animals killed were predators, but low on the food chain. They fed on rodents and insects, predominantly. We will need an estimate of the environmental impact. Some insects can go from larva to adult in days, and without a predator to keep the population in check, without predators to control the rodent populations...it could be disastrous."

"I don't understand."

Spider paused. "I tell you this not as instruction, let us be clear on that." The vision nodded. "As an informed citizen, this is something of which you should be aware.

"The interaction between Nature and Man is a balancing act. If we catch too many fish or birds, it upsets the insect balance. If we trap too many animals, it upsets the rodent balance. Like removing spokes from a wheel, while the wheel will still roll, it will wobble, upsetting things and making for a rough ride.

"Without checks on those populations, they grow quickly and have a hearty appetite. They do more than just eat though, they despoil, rats in particular. They don't have a poor reputation for no reason. They use excrement as their scent marker, tracks and trails made of crap across any and all surfaces, even piles of feedstock."

"But...what would the animals that need that feedstock eat?"

"That is a good question, Uzumaki-san."

"How...how do you know all this?"

The many 'eyes' which filled her mask seemed to twinkle. "I am ANBU. We know these things."

'Amazing...no wonder Ocelot-sensei was so smart!'

The image sped forward in a blur.

'Twenty-seven rubbish bags. I can't believe someone would do this.' "Good work guys. I'm proud of you." The ranks of bloody clones stood at attention, obviously pleased with the praise despite their appearance. The vision turned towards Shiribi.

"I am in your debt, Aburame-san. If ever you have need of an extra hand in the Greenhouses or even in keeping the compound greenways cut just so, please let me know." The scene shifted towards the ground once more, held for several breaths.

"I will pass along your request to Shibi-sama. There is no debt, Uzumaki-san; rather the Clan is once again in your debt for your defense of Shino-kun."

"Did you...did you find everything you wanted?"

"Indeed, Uzumaki-san, and you have the Clan's thanks once again for this fortuitous find. This particular beetle," he held up an insect container, "is native to Konoha, but is only normally found where there are large quantities of dogs. We have been trying to find a live specimen for quite some time."

"Lots of dogs, huh?"

"So it would seem. I must take my leave, Uzumaki-san, and with your permission I will request a thorough insect scan courtesy of the Clan."

"Huh? That's...wow...um...how, how much will this cost me for the four buildings and grounds. I recall some prices from Shibi-sama's lectures."

"Nothing, Uzumaki-san. We never charge friends of the Clan."

The voice became shaky. "For...for reals?"

Aburame Shiribi bowed just low enough for the slight grin, normally hidden by the traditional high collar, to be seen, and peered over his shades, revealing bright green eyes. "For reals, Uzumaki-san." He straightened and collected his insect carriers. "I will have Shino-kun deliver the appropriate timetable. Be well, Uzumaki-san, Kumo-san."

As the Aburame left the grounds, the vision shifted to the lines of large bags. 'Lots of dogs, eh? I know a place with lots of dogs. Now to take this stuff to the dump.' Silently, the twenty-seven earth clones picked up bags and vanished from the property.

"Uzumaki?" There was a veiled warning in her tone.

"No worries, Kumo-san. I'm just having them dispose of the rubbish in a responsible, recyclable fashion." The right hand rose up, showing a closed fist with an extended thumb. "Believe it!"

'I know it was those bastards, and I know just the thing. I'll need twenty pounds of flour...maybe I can get the Pervert to buy it for me. Yeah, right, I'd have better luck getting it myself. Godfather my ass. His definition must be vastly different from all the ones I've read. Maybe he got it confused with Deadbeat.

'Ooooo...Anko-nee, I'm sure she could help, and those earth clones. Uh-huh...so, flour, food color...with clones I won't need the block and tackle but will need the balloons along with several gallons of cooking oil. Heh, I wonder how messed up in the head that panty-peeking Kiba kid will be when all his family's dogs turn orange!'

The fingers flexed before speeding through the seals. Obediently, an extra fifteen Narutos pulled themselves from the ground in a much wider pattern than the one which caused the hole, which was currently a respectable pond.

"Alright guys, let's get me moved."

The vision flickered and ended

There was silence, save for the creaking of Naruto's chair as he roused himself from his meditations. Projecting those memories had given him an intense headache, and he felt something trickle out of his nose. It was blood, a thin trickle, but still a trickle. He nodded his silent thanks as Bear passed him a kerchief.

Around the room, individuals began to stir, the minds busy, trying to comprehend not just what they had seen, but the manner in which it was portrayed.

"Im...impossible. How could...it's not possible..." muttered Inoichi.

"All the same, there it was...Hokage-sama, might I ask Uzumaki-san a question?"

Sarutobi roused himself. It was one thing to read a report, but quite another to actually live through the event. He could tell that the speeded up sections had been the actual cleanup of the bodies, though he still felt the stirrings of pride for what the boy had accomplished. "If Uzumaki-san agrees."

Seeing the boy nod as he blotted his nose, Shikaku asked, "What size where those bags, as in, how much could they hold?"

"Thirty gallons."

"How did your earth clones manage the weight?"

"Um...I'm still learning chakra control, so I might have made them extra strong without meaning to. It all worked out in the end though."

"I suppose so...still...that's 800 gallons worth of dead animals. If, if Yamanaka-san is willing, I'd like to broach the complaint the rest of us have."

Inoichi, still coming to grips with seeing something his own clan had failed at creating could only nod.

"Well, Hokage-sama, it seems to me that all the mess we are seeing with our feedstock is a direct result of whoever butchered all those animals. Spider-san was correct, as those varied species were low-level predators, feeding primarily on insects and vermin...the same insects and vermin which are ruining our food supplies for our herds."

"How many represented, Nara-san?"

"Across the board, Hokage-sama. Hardest hit has been grain stores. I know all the corn I had saved from the winter harvest is only good for compost now. It's going to be expensive importing the things I'll need to keep the deer healthy. And that's just me.

"I could probably give my corn to Akimichi, but Chouza has told me none of his pigs will touch his meal, now that the rats have gotten to it. You don't have to be an Inuzuka to be able to smell that musk."

"I see. So the main issue with the rest of the grievances coincides with the removal of a large section of low-level predators?"

"So it would seem, Hokage-sama. As Spider-san said, when a wheel is missing spokes, it wobbles. It is possible to import those species from other parts, but it will take time for them to acclimate, and even then, they themselves will have a population boon, leading to another wobble. It could be five to ten years before balance is restored, less time if we suffer a few very hard winters."

"Inuzuka, what is your response to the evidence?"

Tsume could have bluffed, stating that not once was an Inuzuka shown to have perpetrated any such action, and she might have done such had she not been thrown off-kilter. Seeing those rooms, those bloody putrid rooms, had shocked her, shaken her core. She was reminded of stern warnings from her own mother, to never lose oneself in the hunt. But she had.

She had roused the clan, drove them into a frenzy, and together they lost themselves to the hunt. All of it was for such a small reason, a petty reason, a surefire plan to make Uzumaki stay away from the Academy by inciting paranoia, a fear of leaving what was his unattended in case it happened again.

It was a blur, drenched in beautiful hues and scents. It was later that the piles of skins were found, skins they in turn sold for quite a tidy sum, hundreds of skins of various species. For a solid week she had racked her mind, trying to remember where they had all come from and where they had been all this time. No Inuzuka would dare trap that many animals all in one go.

They were supposed to be Konoha's stewards, the clan which maintained the balance.

"The...the Inuzuka retract all allegations of wrongdoing. We...we yield to the Hokage's will."

"Very well. The Chair finds in favor of Uzumaki. An accord will be reached later today, which should reduce, somewhat, further damage from infestation. Yamanaka-san, you have the floor."

"I...I thank you, Hokage-sama. I will make this brief, as I feel we all have much to ponder. I wish to apologize, before this body, to Aburame Shibi for the actions of my clan and heir. I humbly ask that Aburame-san reconsider their stance on our prior trade agreements."

"Denied. When we feel the Yamanaka clan is ready to be trusted with a trade agreement with the Aburame, we will approach you at that time. You would do well to remember that Uzumaki is a friend to the Aburame." Shibi paused, before continuing in a gentler fashion. "For the sake of our old, now bruised, friendship, I would advise you to burn all of your plants in your third store. If you hurry, you might be able to save your second store. You have a nasty aphid invasion."

"I...oh...um...nothing further, Hokage-sama. I...I move that we close this session."

"Seconded," droned Shikaku.

"Motion carried. Ibiki, if you would."

"Rise!"

Everyone rose to their feet.

"Bow!"

"Thank you Hokage-sama!"

Sarutobi collected his notes, rose, and exited the room.

"Dismissed! Inuzuka, stay. Hokage-sama will be sending for you very soon. Uzumaki, you said nine units. Elaborate."

"Hai, Ibiki-san...the main unit, and those around it. All the walls in adjoining units were stained, and the stink got into the rest. Three on top, either side, and three on bottom. That's nine, and the only way I can see to fix it would be to tear it all down and build fresh. Once that smell gets into those cheap walls, it never comes out."

"I see," said Ibiki, writing all that down. "Sign at the bottom after reading. Make sure the details are correct."

Naruto quickly scanned the proffered note, it detailing the shown memory along with extra details, before signing it at the bottom, remembering with pride his first signature.

"You're free to go, Uzumaki. Jiraiya-sama, stay a bit. I'm sure Hokage-sama would like to talk to you as well."

Jiraiya cast a half-hearted glare at Naruto, who refused to acknowledge him, still smarting over the varied embarrassments from being trussed to being called a deadbeat. Sighing in resignation, wondering how he always ended up saying the wrong thing to the boy, the Toad Sage settled back in his chair and perused his own notes. There was no way they got the sealing wrong.


A/N: Sealing theory was a thought based upon Naruto ch. 370. There, Naruto had Kyuubi's yang (masculine) chakra, which I surmise to be physical, while the yin (feminine/mental) was sealed in the Key Toad scroll. Here, they got the two switched.

As for combative!Naruto, though his body is going on eight, due to his use/abuse of Time Dilation, his mind and emotions are roughly fifteen. He's hip-deep in the 'rebellious' phase.

Author Update: While performing a complete story edit, in the hopes of jump starting those creative juices, the story shifted. Consequently, a direct 1:1 replacement was deemed impossible without continuity errors. As a result, this version of Belief Shapes will be closed and marked complete, with v2 becoming the main story. Updates will be each Monday.