It's been a while. Life is blah – and so here I am. By the way, anyone else think its retarded to yell out techinique names?

Notice: Someone asked me to provide translation for all the Japanese used in this fic. I will do so, but only for ones that aren't prevalent in the series. Otherwise, visit the Wikipedia page for Naruto.

Oh and, some parts of the ZnS timeline has been seriously re-worked. But you'll just have to wait and see which parts have been changed.

Enjoy.

Disclaimer: blah blah blah. I don't own Naruto or ZnS.

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Inseparable

A Naruto-ZnS FanFiction by
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Chapter 2:

Flight of the Crane

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Iwa-Kumo Konoha Warfront

Seven years after the Calamity of the Fox

Two and a half months into Iwa-Kumo Konoha War

Head offifth division,of the mighty Yonjû Raikurai (Forty Lightning bolt), Commander Kuwabara Ishin stared impassively at the great walls of Konohagakure from the outskirts of the Iwa-Kumo camp. He was absolutely unamused. No, in fact he felt like killing something… preferably anyone with the symbol of Leaf on their damned forehead.

Despite the fact that the Grand Army of Kumo and Iwa had reached the walls of Konohagakure almost a month prior, they have achieved absolutely nothing. It was disgusting, really – the way these seemingly scalable walls were everything but. The walls seemed to just repel all things made of chakra – be it lightning or chakra-infused rocks, anything with chakra was repelled back towards whence it came with thrice the original force.

It was a simple yet amazingly effective method of defense, as the chakra-repelling property prohibited enemy ninja from scaling the wall with chakra as well.

Though if you were to really think about it, it wasn't all that surprising – this was the village built single-handedly by the head of the Senju clan, Senju Hashirama - infamous for his ability to control the mighty Bijū as if they were mere pets. It would be only natural that the village he built would have such a mighty defense against chakra-based attacks, if the fearsome Senju was known for dealing with massive chakra constructs. But that still didn't change the fact that this single defense was extremely effective especially against ninjas – and because they had forgone with the siege instruments (who would need a catapult when you have Iwa ninjas who can throw boulders for you? Besides, they slowed everyone down) they had no effective way of breaching the wall, unless they somehow destroyed the large front entrance (which was heavily fortified and proved to be also chakra repelling).

Then there were the underground tunnels. Few ninja from Iwa tried to dig a tunnel into the village, but for one reason or another they found themselves losing direction underneath the village, coming right back out where they entered. Figuring it was genjutsu, they sent in a few genjutsu experts in there with them – but they were just as baffled as to why they came out exactly where they entered. It apparently wasn't genjutsu, according to those who went underneath the village. Ishin had to scoff at this, as this was becoming rather ridiculous.

Iwa ninjas were practically one with the earth – idea of them getting lost inside the earth's crust was ludicrous as hearing Raikage dying of a freak thunder storm. But the reality was that they were in fact getting lost and were unsuccessful in breaching the village defenses.

That only left aerial assault, but that route was quickly crushed as the few drop attempts ended in multiple barbequed squadrons. The Konoha bastards somehow always knew when there was a drop attempt, and had been more than ready for the drop squadrons with a few Katon experts. The attempts quickly ended when it was deemed that it wasn't very wise to jump into pit of flames that could light up the sky like fireworks.

So for a long, uneventful week after their latest attempt at breaching the mighty walls, the combined ninja army had been just staring at the impassive walls that stood between them and glorious victory.

Ishin swore loudly as he drank his portable tea.

It is shameful enough that we had to request mainland for siege assistance… but we have no choice. At this rate, we'll be here all year. Ishin gazed at the setting sun, sighing as another unproductive day went by. It is odd that they have not retaliated yet however… after the first wave of those guerrilla attacks, those Konoha bastards haven't even tried to make contact with us. Ishin rubbed his chin, as a thought occurred to him.

Either they are extremely confidence in their defense, which is always a possibility… or they have something else in store for us. It wasn't unlikely. The Hokage of Konohagakure was someone who was known as the God of Shinobi, even in the other elemental nations – he was so far undefeated in his long ninja career, and was rumored to have mastered every known jutsu in Hi no Kuni and much more. The rumor was that he was becoming rather senile in his old age, but Ishin knew from experience that older ninja were far more dangerous than younger ninja. Old ninja veterans did not make mistakes – because if they had, then they would've died already. For a ninja to live past 30 was a feat in itself – and the Hokage was nearing 70 years; that spoke volumes about the old man's skills. He must have been doing something right to live that long in a ninja village.

Someone who achieved almost mythical status like that – they don't just doesn't sit around for two weeks doing nothing. Something was coming, Ishin was almost positive.

Question is: what could possibly harm us? We vastly outnumber them; I doubt even the God of Shinobi would think twice of ambushing us. So what could possibly turn the tides for them?

Only the silent night wind answered Ishin's stray thoughts, the familiar sound of his fellow men marching about the camp being the only solace for Ishin's troubled mind. Ishin quietly shook his head, his sharp mind coming to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done as long as the walls weren't coming down. We'll have to play their game now… but we have the combined power of Kumo and Iwa at our side. Whatever the God of Shinobi has in store for us will not succeed, Ishin tried to convince himself.

But regardless of his reasoning, Ishin felt doubt in his own words. He felt something in the air, something unpleasant – the air was strangely thick, suffocating Ishin with its heavy pressure. It was as if they stood before the eye of the storm… the calm before the end. It was too quiet.

And he was right… so absolutely right. Ishin would hate himself as he died.

Ishin couldn't even scream as the first defensive line of the camp was completely incinerated by the largest wave of fire anyone has ever seen.

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White hot wave grand as the prominence covered the expanse of the Konoha forest in an instant, the peaceful dusk turned bright as the noon. The attack – if it could be called an attack - was quick and sudden; no one had noticed the wave of death until it was far too late. It was a perfectly executed attack: most of the veteran ninjas had barely detected the flare of immense chakra being used for the attack only a fraction of a second before the fire consumed them all. Iwa ninjas hastily put up their earth-based defenses, but the overwhelming heat turned their own defenses against them as earth barriers melted into mush of molten deathtraps and liquefied anyone unfortunate enough to be caught in it. Kumo ninjas, who were scattered towards the inner circle of the camp, tried to run for their lives, but humans weren't built for outrunning a tsunami of any kind – let alone a tsunami made of flame. Everyone was one way or another, incinerated alive – screams of agony drowned in the roaring flames as their flesh melted away from their bones, consuming until nothing but ashes remained.

It was Hell on earth.

The unstoppable flames finally came to a halt as it consumed the entire Iwa-Kumo encampment as well as the majority of the green forestry bordering Konohagakure. It was as if a god had decided to take a bite out of the land – with everyone in it.

And lo' and behold, there he was.

Super heated air diffracted the air around the figure, the mirage-like porcelain mask wavering within the column of heat. He was too small to be adult, limbs too thin and shoulder too narrow to be any older than a teen. He was only a child; however beyond the mask there was living fire, trails of the unearthly flames shifting out of the tiny eye slits of porcelain mask. Hot wind howled around him like a hungry wolf, the very symbol of beast amongst the flames.

This was Konoha's ultimate weapon; a mere boy wielding powers not meant for mortals. And yet there he stood, great flame simpering about him like an obedient dog – he seemed a being out of this realm.

His eyes however… filled with living fire, saw neither life nor death.

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"I must…. Get away… I must… live…" Shinji Rokubungi desperately crawled out of the hastily made cave, having barely made his escape from the monstrous child. He clutched at his burnt stump of a shoulder, where the inhuman blaze had claimed his arm like a hot knife through butter. He cannot be human… that… that thing! The enemy had killed everything as far as the eyes could see. As far as he knew, Shinji was the only survivor for miles around. He was lucky to be alive, because he was the one always quick with his hands – and that was the only reason why he had lived. Shinji was pretty sure his teammates were all but clumped carbon by now, but he couldn't help but to feel glad to be alive - he was never more thankful for his cowardice.

But even if he had gotten away with his life, it was not without a price. The fire claimed his right arm and the pain was excruciating – and because he had lost his arm he could not perform anymore jutsus. Shinji was lost and alone in the middle of enemy territory, crippled and foodless and helpless as a baby.

But he couldn't die here, because he had a reason to live.

He had a family back at home – his darling wife and a four year old daughter, his whole world – he had a place to return to. He simply could not die here! Who would feed his middle class family? Who would watch his daughter's singing performance? Who would lend his wife a hand when she's feeling fatigued?

I cannot die here, I must go on – I must get back I must move forward –

Whiii – the sharp whistle was a chilling sound that cut through the night like an arrow – it wasn't an unfamiliar sound to Shinji. With all his will Shinji threw himself to the side, barely avoiding the kunai aimed for his head.

No, I was pursued! How could this have happened? But nonetheless Shinji was no fool, and realized the grim reality with relative ease. He was crippled and exhausted – his only chance at survival was on conditions that enemies should not have been able to trace him through the ground.

But even that had already failed.

Shinji frantically searched his surroundings, his eyes darting left and right. He had so much to live for! He could not die here. He did not want to die here. This is unfair! But he knew the reality. He was the weak prey in the woods; the predator in the forest was quiet and fast.

"S-Show yourself you coward! I am not afraid of you!" Shinji yelled in false bravado, his good hand trembling with his kunai in hand. His eyes were dilated, becoming sensitive to the minute change in the surrounding light. Then he saw the dark blur hidden behind the lush leaves of the forest. There he was! Shinji knew he had to strike first if he wanted to win.

With a ragged war cry Shinji charged in with his kunai ready to rip out the jugular with a singular blow. Then he heard a sound – a familiar sound. It was a scream, and it was coming from not too far away. Shinji mused that perhaps there were others who survived.

It took him seconds to realize that he was the one screaming, cradling his now shattered hand to his chest. The kunai lay broken within his broken fist; the jagged shrapnel's serrated edges ripping his hand apart with every twitch of his mangled hand. Shinji tried to crawl away, to find a shelter, to find something, anything – and yet he knew it was futile. This was how he was going to die.

His legs shattered next in a brilliant flash of gore and violence.

The unseen blow had instantly crushed his kneecaps and tibias with a single strike, breaking his lower legs beyond any possibility of recovery. Shinji continued to scream even as blood pooled in his mouth, his throat raw with vibration of his own screams.

Then everything seemed to still – Shinji, for a split second, felt the very air around him stand still like bated breath. Figure shrouded in cloak of blood, his murderer was upon him with his deadly blade descending upon Shinji. Red eyes of tri-tomoe so grotesquely lacking in humanity reflected the calm moonlight, cased in indifferent porcelain mask – it was the very image of judgment. He knew his end was here. This was the end – he would never see his family ever again. Shinji shut his eyes closed, his heart fearful and hopeless. He cursed with all of his might, wishing terrible death and misfortune upon this demon, this monster –

And it was the last Shinji knew of this world, his eyes forever locked unto the image of his beautiful wife and child – even as his corpse turned cold, the unfeeling flesh shredded beyond recognition.

The murdering demon stood calmly in the moonlight, the unnatural stillness blending him into nature as if he always belonged there. With an uncaring flick of his wrists, his ninjato was freed of repulsive blood and with a smooth motion it was sheathed into his scabbard on his back. The teenager was the epitome of tranquility, the red in his eyes receding to obsidian darkness many were accustomed to.

Uchiha Itachi had already grown familiar with killing.

"Mission accomplished."

Whispered words hung in the air as the boy, no man vanished, as the surrounding forest echoed with death screams of unlucky survivors.

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In one night the Iwa-Kumo army had lost one third of its legion of Ninjas. In that one single night, the spearhead of Iwa-Kumo army had been incinerated into nothingness, with no survivors to tell the tales of what had happened. There were many rumors milling about: some said that the Third Hokage had delved into the forbidden realm of Jutsus to summon forth the mighty Amaterasu, the Goddess of the Sun. Some said that it was an elaborate trap made by the Katon experts of Konoha, and others said that it was a work of a demon.

But there were three men who knew of the whole truth, and a boy who stood at the center of it all.

The die had been cast.

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Tristan Magic Academy

Classroom 42: Theoretic Magic

"The Known World is covered by the mystical substance we call Ether, the medium for our magic…" Tiffania stifled a yawn as she rested her chin on her hands, her drooping ears reflecting her less-than-enthused mood. She already knew this stuff, even if it had been a really long time since she's been taught. Elves had a phenomenal memory, and it seemed that she had inherited her mother's side of the brains as she could vividly recall her magic lessons her father had personally taught to her, the few times that he had been around. The world is covered by Ether, which allows the channeling of our magic through the focus of our wands and affect the world in a physical manner. Ether is what allows Albion, the Floating Island to stay afloat and remain static in its position above the Great Sea. It had been very fascinating long time ago, but by now it was just plain old information to her – and worse, information she already knew. Being placed in first year of Magic Academy was rather redundant, but those were the arrangements.

Tiffania disliked redundancy.

But, she did have amazing amount of patience – or at least that's what people told her – and it nicely counterbalanced the impatience she felt at being forced to listen to Professor Chevreuse's lecture. It wasn't a bad lecture at all – Professor Chevreuse had a very soothing voice, and had right amount of temperance for most things going about in the class. But still, she already knew these things and she was daydreaming already.

The Evaluation Test could have gone more smoothly… Ah, the Evaluation Test. This was the reason why she was stuck in the first year. Void element tends to become explosive when combined with other elements, and her evaluation test was of no difference – she had been asked to transmute a simple cup of water into solid iron, which would have been simple enough in theory.

However when the Void was concerned, nothing was hardly ever simple. At first nothing seemed to happen, and then the water had started to glow slowly. Tiffania had been hopeful – but alas, it was not meant to be. The water had then spontaneously exploded, the innocent glass cup turning into deadly shrapnel which proceeded to imbed themselves all over the room. Tiffania was just glad that no one was hurt; everyone had enough sense to take cover when the water started to turn a strange shade of red.

Needless to say Tiffania had failed the test spectacularly, and only the assurance of the Queen herself swayed the proctor enough that he gave her a passing grade.

And so, here she was.

"…now, the prime example of use of Ether is the very wands you all use for various magic; essentially, the tip of your wand becomes the focal point…"

Tiffania could only sigh as her pointy ears twitched in irritation.

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Tristain Castle

Queen's Chambers

Henrietta de Tristain was rather feeling irked this one beautiful morning.

The morning sun had reminded her too much of Wales, her ever-present Tristain Royal Ring reminded her too much of Wales, and her teary face in the mirror only reminded her too much of Wales.

Wales Wales Wales. Oh how she loathed that man. It wasn't enough for him to break her heart, but he had to get his entire country involved? It wasn't any fault of hers that Viscount Wardes had been a double agent – how could Wales believe that she was trying to assassinate him? How could he? She had been in love with him! Hadn't she been a faithful and loyal lover, despite the political restraints upon their relationship? How could he just throw away all the evidence towards contrary and declare her his sworn enemy?

Henrietta wavered for a moment, and had to hold on to the wall for support. When she glanced up with tear filled eyes, she saw the grand portraits of those who had come before her – the Kings and Queens of the past. How could I ever match up to you, mother? How can I protect my people in this time of crisis?

Do not be weak, Henrietta. You're stronger than this. The image of her mother seemed to speak to her, her portrait firm and yet kind – and Henrietta swallowed the tears and began to freshen up to another active day in the court. But as she walked down the grand halls of her castle, she could not help but to recount the events that had led to this political mess.

It had all started with the disastrous farce of a "marriage proposal" to the Emperor or Germania a year prior. At the time, Henrietta was merely princess and all the political power was in the hands of Cardinal Mazarin, who held onto Tristain with draconian grip after His Majesty's death. It was he who proposed that she be wed to the Emperor of Germania so that Tristain may enjoy a long and healthy alliance and benefit from the larger, more powerful country.

This was necessary due to the impending threat of civil-unrest from the floating island of Albion – the nobles there have banded together to rise up against the royal family, and from what they were saying after the Albion royal family is taken care of, Tristain was next on the menu. To stand against this, Cardinal Mazarin proposed that an alliance with Germania would successfully discourage the course of war, and proposed his plan.

To be honest, Henrietta had been disgusted by the thought of being married to that pig of a man – especially because she was already in a relationship with Wales, the Prince of Albion. Of course, everything was very hush-hush – only her closest advisor knew of her relationship, and obviously if the word had gotten out that Henrietta de Tristain, the Princess of Tristain was already a taken woman… Germania would not have taken the offense lightly, especially because Tristain had been the one to make the offer. So it was of utmost importance that she let Wales know about the situation, so that he could return a certain letter she had sent to him which could jeopardize her diplomatic status as well as the reputation of her country.

Even if… it was something that contained a piece of her heart. The letter Wales possessed was the only letter she had ever written to him, professing her love with every fiber of her being. To take such an item back… it was an act of Oath Breaking, but what choice did she have? This was a very hard choice for Henrietta – this was essentially her way of letting Wales know that the status quo had changed – that they could not be together anymore… she hoped that he would not take it harshly, and understand her position on the matter.

For this important task of deliverance and retrieval, she had chosen two of her favorites – Hiraga Saito (or Saito Hiraga, was it? He was such a strange boy) and Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière, one of her dearest childhood friends. To guard them on their journey, she also allowed the Captain of Griffin Knights, Viscount Wardes to accompany them to the windy slopes of Albion.

This was her most fatal mistake.

Drama between the Viscount and Louise aside, the fool traitor Wardes had tried to assassinate Wales while trying to gain possession of her love letter. The scariest part was that he had indeed succeeded… but only for a short time. From both Saito and Louise's accounts, apparently Wales had indeed taken a most fatal strike to the chest delivered by none other than the Viscount himself. He had collapsed on the altar, his hand clutching his bloody armor as he fell over dead. Saito had stated that this was when Wardes had turned his attention to them both, Louise in her wedding gown and all. Saito had fought Wardes for a short time, but apparently the Viscount was too much for the familiar, and he had been almost bested in sword-to-sword magic combat.

But this is where things stopped making sense.

Suddenly the corpse of Wales had sprung up, as if guided by invisible strings, and had joined the battle. If it could be even called a battle, that is. According to Saito, Wardes had stood no chance – Wales' golden sword had sliced cleanly through Wardes' wind sword like butter through hot knife, and the next thing you know he was "sliced onions", as Saito put it.

Wales had then accused the pair of assassination plot, and proceeded to attack them - both Louise and Saito had barely managed to escape with their lives intact through the resulting encounter.

The next thing she knew, Henrietta was hearing news of the Albion Rebellion being ruthlessly quelled by the "Righteous King", apparently a god-like warrior who is unable to be killed in battle. In matter of weeks, Albion had a new king and sovereignty was declared – Wales Tudor, the apparently immortal King had officially taken charge.

Henrietta was happy at first – Wales' victory meant that the imminent threat of Albion attack had been vanquished, and therefore ridding her of the need to marry the Germanian pig. The love between Henrietta and Wales could be now materialized, now that she had no opposition to fear – everything was looking right for once, and she had been truly happy.

That is, until Wales had officially called her out in a diplomatic meeting on the port of Albion, with great urgency. She had taken a few of her Griffin Knights as well as the legendary Gandálfr as her bodyguard, not expecting trouble but the Cardinal had insisted on it.

If someone had told her that night that she would owe her life to the Cardinal, from the sword of Wales of all people, she would've had them locked up for mental instability.

The meeting itself was a disaster – Wales had proclaimed that he was cutting all ties with her. He had said such harsh words to her; his bitterness had come off in waves to Henrietta's disbelieving ears. He had accused her of cheating on him, and assassinating him when he became a liability to her – he had told her that he was finished with her, and that Tristainians are to be considered enemies within Albion. Henrietta could only ask one thing - she had asked him that if he truly thought that she hated him enough to order his assassination. She pleaded for him to embrace her passionately as he had done so in the past – but Wales was not to be moved. His silence had spoken volumes – and she would never forget the sight of his monolithic back as he silently walked out of the meeting…

…and forever walked out of her life.

And the moment he left, she immediately felt the flare of magic around the building, and had barely escaped through the open window just as flame magic consumed the building she was just in. Henrietta had recalled the words Wales had said, and knew that he meant them effective immediately. She was in grave danger, and her Griffin Knights were just holding back the armed foot soldiers threatening to break through the hastily raised defense line. Henrietta had felt true shame as she ran that day, as Saito and her Griffin Knights sacrificed themselves to get her to safety.

But Saito is alive, and in good health: Louise isn't mad at me anymore… it really is a good thing that he lived. May the Progenitor forgive me for the sacrifices of my Griffin Knights – I loved each of them dearly. As she faced the two massive doors that led into the main Court of Tristain, Henrietta breathed deeply as she don her personae as the "Iron Gauntlet Queen": immovable and unflappable, she was sword personified.

This is for the future of my country – I am not the silly lovesick girl anymore. I will do right by my people, and lead this nation to greatness.

Henrietta de Tristain, the Queen of Tristain majestically strode into the Grand Court, her eyes shining with determination.

But for this to happen, Gallia must fall.

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Konoha had launched a sharp counterattack following the destruction of the Iwa-Kumo army's frontal assault forces. Previously the Iwa-Kumo army had encountered almost no resistance in marching through Hi no Kuni, and had assumed that they had fled out of fear of fighting such a large army entirely made of ninjas. In reality however, it was all part of Nara Shikaku's plans – the Flight of the Crane formation. The formation is akin to a crane unfolding its wings to fly; from the tip of the wings to the body of the crane forms a perfect circle outlined by the wings of the crane.

In the same sense, Shikaku's strategy was to allow the enemy deep into their territory and have them encounter the body – Konohagakure – while small but elite forces enclose the enemy from all around the land of Hi no Kuni. This was the reason why the Iwa-Kumo army had encountered little to no resistance in their prideful march towards the Village Hidden in the Leaf – many Leaf forces were dispersed throughout the outskirts of Fire Nation, very few were stationed in the path of the unstoppable army.

The "Wings of Crane" squadrons were all given but one order: to capture or eliminate all who tries to escape the circle. They would engage in guerrilla-type warfare where they would harass the enemy and dwindle the numbers little by little. The mission began when the signal was given – no one was told what the signal was, but the higher ups had assured them that they would know what it was when the time came.

And sure enough, the signal was given.

Without warning, the night turned into day – all squadrons had felt the inhuman level of chakra flare from where the "Body of Crane" lay, and visually confirmed the large column of fire bright as the sun decimating the Iwa-Kumo army. This was, without a doubt, the signal for their mission to begin.

The Prominence, as they came to call it, had only eliminated the bulk of Iwa-Kumo army's spearhead, the frontal assault forces. These forces were approximately made of mostly elite Jounin and Chūnin forces – it was the standard battle formation adopted in the Ninja Wars. The complete annihilation of such a critical portion of the army had dealt deep dent in the effectiveness of the Iwa-Kumo army as a whole, as well as the psychological fear that they were facing something immense.

No one in the Wings of Crane knew what had exactly transpired at the Body of Crane – all they knew for sure was that the enemy was on full retreat and they had a mission to accomplish.

So the Crane soared with a great beat of its wings, and all impurities cowered before the cleansing wind.

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Kumogakure, Tower of Heaven

Seven years after the Calamity of the Fox

Four months into Iwa-Kumo Konoha War

Raikage, the undisputed power in all of Kumogakure, was not a happy man.

Theoretically, it should have been an easy campaign – their foe had been (supposedly) weakened by their previous brush with the Kyuubi no Youko, so many in his council agreed almost unanimously that the Konoha shouldn't have lasted more than half a year at most against the might of their Kumo Nins. Combined with the might of sturdy Iwa ninjas, who did not need a reason to wage war against the Leaf, victory seemed imminent…

…Except, the old Sarutobi apparently had an Ace in the hole.

They should have been weak. Those bastards should have been on their last legs, recovering from the Bijū… Raikage grit his teeth as he surveyed his active village from the high vintage point of his tower. Who would've thought that they had enough power left to crush the combined army? We are worseoff than when we've started. It was the sad truth. So far, this war had accomplished nothing of what it was supposed to. What had happened to regaining our honor, to gain revenge against the shame Konohagakure brought upon our name? All that remains is the tattered fragments of our armies and widows without husbands!

The large death toll on both Iwa and Kumo villages were heavy burdens, economically and mentally. The war economy was already expensive as they were, and it would take another generation or two to revive the Kumo military might to what it once was. But Kumogakure did not have generations to spare – and Kumo Daimyo's patience was steadily running out. Tsk, the ignorant old fool. He who understands nothing of war thinks he could order me around, me! The Raikage fought the urge to spit, as he wouldn't do anyone favors by dirtying his own office. Two villages' combined might had produced almost no results, other than the disgraceful defeat it had suffered at the hands of Konoha master tactician. Raikage's temple throbbed with thick veins as his teeth grit hard enough to break stones.

Whoever it was will be getting a warm greeting soon from me...

The Raikage sighed as he turned back to his desk, where the current ire of his life lay innocently on his grand mahogany desk. The latest report of head count of his army was dismaying, but that wasn't what disturbed the mighty Kage – it was the method of defeat that irked him. It seemed that the Sandaime Hokage was done beating around the bush of their secret game.

It was a common 'secret' among villages that every village held a dirty secret of their own, a trump cards of sorts. The damned Hashirama had given away the mighty Bijū as a sign of trust, the foolish man – and as expected, the beast were caught and subjugated… or at least, there have been attempts to subjugate them anyway.

The lure of power was too great for any village – to have a walking super soldier capable of moving mountains and destroying armies with a single blow! It was any leader's wet dream.

The Kumo had not one, but two of these monstrously powerful beings – his own brother and the child of death – and so Raikage wasn't foolish enough to think that the other villages wouldn't have trained 'deterrence of war'. If he had two, then he had to assume that his enemies have three. But the obvious truth was certain:

Every nation had a monster of their own… the question was, which one?

To bring out the Jinchūriki out on the battlefield meant one of two things, perhaps both – it was an act of desperation, or a calculated risk. The actual public use of Human Sacrifices was highly frowned upon, but no one cared as long as they won the war for them. Disgusting things, we humans are. But that was the nature of things, and Raikage embraced it whole heartedly.

This was why his great imposing face set into a stony frown as he read the disturbing report. Raikage's battle formation was a simple, yet effective one – he had squadrons consisting of Chūnin through Jounin (most of them specializing mainly taijutsu) in the frontlines, where the main combat would be held. They were the shield of his army – and behind them were the genjutsu users as well as the long-range ninjutsu users who were the backbone of Kumo's army. Genins were the last in the hierarchy of Kumo army, as they provided support from the very back of his squadrons with provisions and acting as the messengers between the main capital and the front line.

It was a time-proven strategy – while the shield defended the bulk of the army, the genjutsu and ninjutsu users would eradicate the opposition with ruthless precision. The precious next generation of ninjas – the genins – would be both protected and being useful at the same time away from the battlefield. The formation was akin to a turtle, except on a wide scale – there were sub formations within this formation, but this was the overall structure his army held as a grand whole. This formation was also very fitting, as Iwa nins both reinforced and improved upon this formation. The Iwa nins and Kumo nins complemented each other in offense and defense, making up for where the other lacked.

But the strongest formation in the world could not have accounted for what happened in Hi no Kuni.

With a pained grunt Raikage reread the damning report.

The status report was a short, and to point – just the way he liked it: 65% of our Jounin population MIA or deceased; 42% of Chūnin MIA or deceased; 98% of Genins returned without much issue. Further inquires underway. - Respectfully, Captain Hiroshi Ryochi of San Raikurai, part of of Yonjû Raikurai.

Additional note: The 5th~34th divisions of Yonjû Raikurai disappearance is being investigated in full.

The entirety of Assault Divisions, obliterated without a trace… This was almost reminiscent of the Third Great Ninja War, where reports of absolute decimation of Iwa forces were daily news. But that man is dead and gone, for certain... The Yondaime Hokage, the Yellow flash was confirmed dead almost a decade ago. There was no need to bring back bad memories… so the only possible conclusion for such a grave loss was the deployment of a Jinchūriki.

It was the only logical conclusion.

That was the easy part of this particular conundrum however. What the Raikage really wanted to know was how exactly did this Jinchūriki bypass his entire army of trained veterans and cause this disaster, without leaving a single trace? It could not have been an inside job; Raikage knew this without a doubt. The two aces of Kumo were under his control, and as much as he knew of Yugito's hatred towards him he knew the girl wasn't foolish enough to blow up an entire army for the enemy. Aside from them, there wasn't anyone who was capable of blowing up an entire army right under his very nose. And besides, Yugito was currently grounded under his ANBU compound anyway. Ungrateful child needs to learn her place in this world… sooner the better.

But incompliant Jinchūriki aside, this single event was an extremely debilitating blow to his campaign. For the loss of battle itself, it was not irreversible damage. Men could be trained, and clans can be repopulated. It was the nature of this attack that dealt the most damage towards the most fragile part of men – the mind. To have bypassed all odds and completely annihilating the assault squadron without a trace was no easy feat, and soon the people will start talking of another Yellow Flash in the works. And of course, that had to be prevented at all costs.

"Ku ku ku… I see that the Old Man Sarutobi is feisty as ever." The unwelcome slithering voice shifted through his quiet musings, and Raikage almost attacked him on reflex. It was Orochimaru, one of the Densetsu no Sannin. Raikage personally detested the man – he was far too scheming and slithering for his own good – but he had to admit, the slithering snake had good information and a good brain on his shoulders.

Of course, that didn't stop the Raikage from almost turning him into a smear on the wall.

"If you want to live, Orochimaru, I advise you to announcer yourself when in my presence. It is only by my grace that you are able to stand on my lands – but this hospitality is quickly growing thin, Snake." Raikage grimly chuckled as he stroked his large mustache. "Tell me, did you know this would happen? Your information proved invaluable in trekking through the tree-infested Hi no Kuni, and the retreat that transpired after… what happened. However, the Iwa-Kumo army suffered crippling losses." The Kage's imposing eyes narrowed as electricity started to arc around his massive form.

"If you want to live, you had better tell me some answers."

Despite the imposing figure of the Raikage, Orochimaru never lost his composure to fear. He seemed almost amused instead – his long slimy tongue tasted air as if tasting the ozone. Then he began to laugh almost hysterically, the snake Sannin clutching at his robe as he laughed. Then he suddenly regained his calm as if he'd never lost it in the first place – then without warning, a large snake emerged from his wide mouth.

His only answer was the unsheathing of his legendary sword, the Sword of Kusanagi.

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Dun Dun Dun. Orochimaru vs Raikage? Wha??

What's going to happen now?!