Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, and neither is Final Fantasy. I just own my personal copies of the manga/games :)

Dance of the Pyreflyes, Chapter 38: Kimimaro's decision

by Chronodt

Naruto's clone, while riding Ixion, analyzed the memories he received from the three clones Kakashi-sensei ordered the original to create, who were then destroyed by one of the enemy ninja a few seconds later. He was a little worried about the original's White Chakra reserves, now, because even if most of the residual split up chakra returned to the creator after the dispersal of a clone, a good chunk of his chakra had been used to create the clones themselves and he suspected that a fraction of the remainder went to all the clones currently active, to update their memories as well. Creating and then dispersing those three clones had probably put the original's White Chakra full regeneration in his Celestial Gates behind schedule by at least an half-hour.

-It was worth the lost time, Naruto-sama.- said Ixion, and the clone after a little thought agreed. If that ninja fired that jutsu on the main group, Kakashi's team would have been forced to separate and then engage that fire jutsu user to get away. He wasn't even sure if they actually managed to slip away even with those clones' help or if they had still been forced to help Anko's team.

The clone returned his attention to the Shino look-alike nin-dog, Akino, because his canine companion raised a paw, indicating he wanted to dismount. Ixion stopped immediately, following the clone's mental order.

Akino turned his nose on the ground and said: "They just joined up again. Now all four enemies and the captive are together. We are just a few minutes behind, so we should start veering out of their path and get ahead to prepare our surprises."

The clone nodded, as those were his orders. It was now time to start nudging their path toward that Valley of the End Kakashi spoke of.

The dog returned on Ixion's back while Naruto unsealed a map of the area. Marking their current course and with Akino's pointers about the Sound Four's likely route, they planned the trap layout to give them their personal little corner of hell, as well as convince them it was in their best interest to deviate in direction of his choosing.

Putting the map away and sealing it back in his quick-access vest slots, they resumed their run, this time without any prompting by the dog, as they were no longer trying to follow tracks.

Tsunade was in her office, filling up paperwork. She never imagined how bureaucracy could bleed all the joy out of her work before being appointed as the Head of the Konoha Hospital. Why did they need so much paper? Most of it was useless! She should put together a commission to cull away all the excessive or redundant paperwork, without compromising security. "The last time it has been done..." she though, consulting a large register. The frown on her face increased as she flipped the pages. She spent well over two hours skimming the headlines of the various edicts regarding the hospital paperwork, and she came to a shocking conclusion. No one has ever checked out the current bureaucratic load in the last thirty years!

"How come nobody ever questioned the need of all THAT?" she asked to the empty air pointing out the mountain of paperwork. She also thought about all the security holes such heavy bureaucracy could hide. She would point it out to sensei as soon as the current emergency was over. She was pretty sure he would be actually eager to implement it.

Her introspection was cut short suddenly, as she heard fast running steps approaching from the corridor. She hoped it wasn't a medical emergency.

"Tsunade-sama!" yelled Shizune, opening the door and entering her office in such hurry she didn't even knock. "Lee is no longer in his bed or even in the hospital area and no one saw him since this morning. Most of his medicines are also missing, as well as one of the small sake bottles you forgot in his room yesterday!" she said with an accusing glare.

Tsunade ignored the little barb about her drinking habits after a long day even while he was visiting an underage boy (and forgetting to clean up after herself) and personally left for the Tower. If Shizune came to her, she had probably already looked all over the hospital after conscripting a good deal of the paramedic personnel to help in that task. Considering what his friends and teammates were doing, she had a good idea where the boy was, by now, and her sensei had to be informed before the backup squad left that there was an additional genin to assist and retrieve.

She was also already preparing a scathing lecture for the unlucky junior taijutsu maniac.

Naruto's squad was still traveling at their pursuit pace, when the small nin-dog, Pakkun, said: "Anko's squad incoming from behind, but she's missing one member, the genin girl."

"Tenten!" thoughtNaruto, worried, as it meant that at least one of his precious friends was too injured to continue.... or worse. Maybe he should have left behind a clone even against orders to ensure he could use Life if needed...

-Don't worry, Naruto-chan, she is probably still alive, I just checked on my side.- said Kushina, trying to calm down her son, who was visibly relieved from that information. He knew that a human soul would leave the body and reach the Farplane within five or six minutes after its death. The sound ninja probably injured Tenten enough that she could no longer continue their mission, but not so much that she was dying or in danger of doing so, or Anko would have sent either Chouji or Shikamaru to bring her back to Konoha to let her have medical help as quickly as possible.

"I see them." reported Neiji, as soon as Anko's squad became visible at the extreme range of his byakugan. One minute later, Anko, Shikamaru and Chouji rejoined the chase.

"What happened, Anko?" asked Kakashi-sensei.

"Those three were very well trained to work together. Lower jonin in skill, under the effect of a 'last stand' drug that put them on a solid jonin level. The fire user that attacked you was out before he could significantly contribute to the battle, though, thanks to the Sloth Duo. Weapons Girl was knocked out by a powerful Raiton jutsu, but we left her hidden beside the battlefield for the backup squad to pick her up because she was just unconscious. Weapons Girl sustained extensive electrical damage so even if she woke up she could no longer help us in this mission. Other than that, we all used up a good chunk of chakra and Big Boy here is a little bruised. Lazy is completely uninjured and I suffered only a few minor scrapes. We already ate a soldier pill each, courtesy of Big Boy."

Kakashi nodded to Naruto, who cast a couple Cure jutsu on Anko and a few more on Chouji. Seeing that, Chouji and Shikamaru looked at the blond boy as if he had suddenly sprouted a second head. Neiji instead just nodded, refraining from saying out loud what he saw with his byakugan. Through his eyes, he saw Naruto opening a bit the first Celestial Gate, and in doing so a good deal of that strange white-colored chakra he saw glimpses of during his match flowed in his system. He then reached with it on the patient's coils and crafted something in their bodies, causing a sudden increase of their self-healing abilities. A long-range healing jutsu, something Neiji never imagined could exist.

"Thank you, Naruto." said Chouji, massaging his now healed ribs once he overcame his surprise. The 'big-boned' boy then opened and ate a pack of chips to further replenish his chakra.

"How did you do that?" asked Shikamaru, now very curious.

"Family jutsu, coupled with the natural healing abilities of my bloodline." answered Naruto. "For the moment this is the only general healing jutsu I know and it was designed to heal injuries up to cracked bones or a few bruises. I also know a jutsu capable of purging most poisons as well as dispelling genjutsu, so if you suspect being under the effects of one of them, you can come to me." Naruto hesitated for a moment, then he added. "If someone is critically injured in this mission, to the point where they are dying, I have also a very powerful healing jutsu, but I will need five uninterrupted minutes of complete concentration to perform it, where I won't be able to defend myself. I won't be able to use clones either and I will probably need to dispel existing ones to gather all the chakra I can." He didn't dare to add that it worked only on recently dead people (or animals); that was an information he wanted to keep quiet to the general public as long as possible. He would probably tell the truth to Kakashi-sensei after the mission, but he was pretty sure he already recognized it as soon as he heard the description. His mother, after all, told him that Kakashi-sensei was one of the few who knew about the specifics of her bloodline because he was his father's student. He would also tell that specific detail to his teammates only when he had mastered that jutsu, it would be better that way, unless Kakashi-sensei ordered him otherwise, naturally.

"So troublesome..." said the lazy boy after being forced to add a few new clues to the mystery that was Uzumaki Naruto since the chunin exams. "Would you have been able to heal Tenten?" he asked.

"No." answered Naruto. "Nerve damage, even just slight electrical overload, is above me for the moment, so if she had been rendered unconscious by a Raiton jutsu I couldn't have done anything for her, except maybe heal the surface burns." answered Naruto.

Kakashi-sensei intervened at that point: "Anko had been briefed on his abilities, even if the five minutes one is new and probably not mastered yet."

Naruto nodded in confirmation, then added: "If I had already mastered that jutsu I would be able to perform it in a few seconds. I can now complete it reliably, but I am still too slow in its crafting."

Shikamaru nodded back, making contingency plans to keep Naruto safe if he was forced to use that jutsu on Chouji or someone else in their group in the middle of a battle.

A few minutes later, Gamakichi appeared again in a puff of smoke.

"Yo, 'Ruto." greeted the small toad.

"What's the message, 'Kichi?" asked Naruto, carrying the small toad on the top of his head while they ran.

"The two enemy groups rejoined about fifteen minutes ago. Your copy also needs another vial of blood, but he has already placed the traps in their path. He is waiting to see if the sound ninja change their path as planned."

Naruto nodded, pulled out another small glass phial with his blood and gave it to the toad to bring it back to the clone.

Kakashi said: "Tell them that we are one hour behind the Sound Four and to warn us immediately if they go for the Valley. If they do, we can take a little shortcut and reach them in half that time."

Gamakichi nodded and disappeared.

Kimimaro slowly opened his eyes while he was immersed in a medical fluid of some kind. Over his mouth and nose was a strange device that allowed him to breathe. He also felt numerous probes and needles planted all over his body, probably to monitor his life signs.

He heard a couple of voices slightly distorted by the flow of the liquid he was in as well as the machines all around him. He barely understood a few words (or segments of them): "...chimaru-sama........ Sasuke.......within the day....Sound Four will..."

He concentrated a bit more on his sense of hearing and recognized the voices of Orochimaru-sama and Kabuto. How long had he been unconscious? From the pain he felt all over his body, he guessed that Kabuto had not been able to cure him and that meant that he could not offer his own body to Orochimaru-sama as Kimimaro himself wished.

"... they are coming back, they sent a messenger bird a few hours ago. " said Kabuto's voice, as Kimimaro concentrated on recognizing what they were saying. "Apparently their contact arranged for a few safe routes back without pesky patrols to delay them, but they still have a few pursuers on their trail. One of them is almost assuredly Copy Ninja Kakashi, and I'm sure that Naruto-kun is there, as well."

"Interesting, but what worries me is the fact that Sasuke-kun refused to come of his own free will. That is... unsettling. I was sure the boy would have been greatly tempted by my offer." replied Orochimaru-sama. Kimimaro felt ashamed on eavesdropping on his Master, but he knew his time on this world was now very short, and wanted to know if he could do something for Orochimaru-sama before his disease killed him.

"From their planned route back here and the distance between the pursuers and our squad, Sakon foresaw an 80 percent possibility of crossing the border before the pursuing squad from Konoha manages to intercept them, bar any complications. I suggest increasing patrols in the assumed crossing area to avoid any possibility of infiltration." said Kabuto, a bit smugly.

"Yes, I agree. Send three full patrols in the area. Once Sasuke-kun crosses the border he will be mine and will stay so."

Kimimaro heard footsteps leaving the area, and so he let his tired consciousness simply drift back to sleep.

Ino coughed slightly, despite her makeshift damp cloth mask she wore over her face to block the smoke. Beside her, Kiba wore a much better mask and she looked at that plastic device with envy. A few hours ago, some idiot threw a few hundreds small stinking bombs in the Inuzuka kennels as well as something poisonous in the Aburame compound. If it wasn't for the latter, she would have believed Naruto was behind it all; the stink bomb attack was something he would have loved to do when he was at the Academy, but she could not believe that the blond boy would willingly kill millions of Aburame bugs just for a prank.

Coughing a bit more and promising herself again to personally kill the culprit, she bagged another one of those small smoking pellets, after dousing it with a bucket of water. Hokage-sama called all the free genin to clean-up the Inuzuka Kennel, while the free chunin were issued true gas masks and sent to clean up the poisonous gas in the Aburame Compound.

"Ino, are you all right?" asked Kiba, his voice slightly muffled by the plastic mask covering half of his face. He had a small sack half-full of those damned tiny stink bombs. Akamaru was probably in a safe place, away from this horrible stench that was almost making her throw up.

"No, I'm NOT all right! I'll stink for a WEEK after all this, I'm about to throw up right here and I want to kill whoever did this slowly, with a rusted kunai!" growled Ino, angrily.

Kiba looked a little worried (and also a bit scared) due to her angry retort and said: "Uh.. ok, Ino." then he hurriedly left.

Ino grumbled something under her breath and gathered another stink bomb.

After almost three hours of work, most of the bombs were either out of fuel or collected, so a few genin who knew wind jutsu were able to clean up the air a little. She saw that the Inuzuka clan members were now spraying some kind of foam in the kennels, probably to clean them even more throughly. Ino grimaced when her imagination, working a bit too well, thought about being forced to live in that stench-filled kennels while having a sense of smell thousands of times more sensitive than the human norm, or even more sensitive than that for their dogs, who could not turn off their even keener noses. It was no wonder they had some kind of super-cleaner stuff for these kind of emergences.

"Where are Sakura, Tenten and Chouji?" asked Ino to Kiba, approaching him after looking around for a bit while noticing the lack of her fellow club members. As a chunin, Shikamaru would have been sent to the Aburame compound, instead, so she didn't worry about her other missing teammate.

"They are all away on a mission." said Kiba. "I overheard my uncle saying that all this was a deliberate act of sabotage so that a sound squad could leave the village undisturbed, leaving us unable to track them." Kiba grimaced a little and added: "Unfortunately, it worked too well. Akamaru is sick and will be out of commission for at least a week, as are most of our dogs. The adults are making a great fuss, now, about adding a few more security seals to the area. I say it was damn time! My sister had been harping about that possibility ever since Naruto-baka threw a makeshift stink bomb at me when we were at the Academy, but it would have been too expensive to implement adequate countermeasures back then. Idiots."

"Weren't there any protections?" asked Ino, now intrigued by this new gossip material.

"Yes, but they were absolutely inadequate for an attack of this magnitude. They were designed for a few stink bombs, not a few hundreds! The seals they had as protection worked by dispersing the smoke in a wider area to make the smell tolerable and the smoke useless, but with so many bombs all those seals did was spread the stench even further. I bet even Naruto in his Academy days would have discovered that weakness and used it against us if he had the means to buy that many stink bombs."

Ino laughed a bit, trying to forget the permeating stench still present all around her, or on her skin... or in her clothes.... urgh! "It's funny that you specify 'in his Academy days', Kiba."

Kiba grumbled a bit, then said: "After what he did against Akamaru, Neiji and me can you honestly say he is the same Academy dead last?"

Ino shook her head.

Kiba continued: "After our match, I tried to look up the seals he used to defeat me, but I barely understood them. My sister told me that they were just training seals and that Naruto had been apprenticed to a Seal Master right after that fight, probably because that old guy recognized his talent. It's evident his strengths weren't in fields we were tested on at the Academy."

"Such as seals and tactics?" Asked Ino, with a hint of mischievousness.

"Yeah..." said a grumbling Kiba.

"I have a bit more info on Naruto's Master, he is no less than the Toad Hermit, Jiraya, the best seal master we have in Konoha, but also the greatest pervert ever to inhabit our lands." said Ino, still in her gossip mode.

Kiba's eyes bulged out: "J-Jiraya of the Sannin?"

Ino narrowed her eyes. Could he be one of the readers of that book, even if he was way underage? "What of it?" asked Ino, with just a hint of venom in her voice.

"Uh... my sister always rants about him... and I don't know if she wants to praise him or skin him, because she usually smells very angry mixed with a hint of lust just before she starts complaining."

"Does that usually happens as she returns from the hot springs?" asked Ino, her head whirling from way too much information about Kiba's sister apparent hidden exhibitionism.

Kiba thought about it for a while, then he exclaimed: "You're right, it usually happens right after she returns from there! But...that means...." Kiba apparently connected the dots about the rumors about the peeping tom at the hot springs and 'the greatest pervert ever to inhabit our lands' and became angry.

"Yes, you understood pretty well." she said, a bit relieved that Kiba wasn't one of his readers. "After we finish here, I think it's time we have a little chat with a certain Ero-Sennin, as Naruto calls him."

"Oh, yes, we certainly do!" growled Kiba, throwing angrily another small burned out stink bomb in his full sack.

The Third Hokage was consulting a map of Konoha when Aburame Shibi, announced by his secretary, entered in his office.

"What is the situation in the Aburame Hives?" asked the aged Hokage, his eyes never leaving the map while he made annotations and placed marks on its surface.

"The poison is now under control, Hokage-sama. We lost fifteen queens, but my clansmen are already selecting a few surviving eggs from those colonies to raise as replacements, so there will be no lasting damage to our breeding program. The poison may have even culled a few of the weakest eggs, granting a possible advantage to the next generation. Unfortunately, by an initial estimate, about 60 percent of our unimplanted bugs have been lost. The projected time to recoup from those losses is about three to four weeks. The losses amongst the implanted colonies, instead, are slight in comparison, barely reaching 10 percent due to the protection granted by our bodies and chakra."

"What's your opinion of the strategy behind this attack?" asked an apparently calm Sarutobi.

"It was a calculated strike to force my Clan to remain locked in our Compound, Hokage-sama. Only our expertise with the hives allowed us to keep the casualties in our colonies to such a low level and we needed every clansmen we had to do it, including even a few of the Academy age children. We are now able to provide a tracker, but the enemies' main goal was probably to cause this delay and ensure no Aburame would be sent in the initial pursuit party. The same could be said for the Inuzuka, but due to the higher projected recovery time they may fear their dogs' abilities even more than ours. If I may suggest, Hokage-sama, if there is an Inuzuka away on a patrol to recall him or her and assign it to the backup squad."

"Inuzuka Hana is on a patrol route on the Sand border and we sent a recall order with the first messenger bird that recovered from whatever they have been dosed with. Who can you spare from the Hives for that mission?"

"My son Shino should be acceptable, Hokage-sama."

"Approved. Send him here in two hours ready for the mission, Hana should have arrived by then."

"Yes, Hokage-sama."

The Aburame left the room as quietly as he entered, and the old Hokage turned his full attention to the map, depicting the routes of the Sound Four for the few days they had been under surveillance.

There was no doubt about it, they had internal help, and if his suspects were founded, a few heads would roll soon. He would have to act with caution, though, because if he was right just cutting the head of this betrayal would not be enough to purge away the rot in the Leaf.

It was with a bitter smile that the aged Hokage thought about the reversal of Danzo's favorite motto. Instead of protecting the great tree of the Leaf while hidden inside the soil, when the roots themselves were diseased, they had to be extracted one by one from the ground for the good of the tree. And it would be necessary to get them all at once, else they would heal and continue poisoning the tree.

Naruto's clone riding Ixion smiled when Akino, the nin-dog, told him that the Sound Four just altered their path in the direction they wanted. He had been forced to exhaust most of his chakra to create about forty clones and build enough traps to discourage the kidnappers from proceeding in their planned route. Ordering one of the clones beside him to disperse himself and relay that information to the Boss, he summoned Gamakichi again and through him the clone sent a note to Ero-sennin, so that the Hokage would receive an update on the current situation of the chase. After that was done, he mentally ordered Ixion to resume their chase, while the other clones would simply run at their own pace. They now had to ensure that the sound ninja remained on that path.

Kimimaro woke up again. He could hear Kabuto's voice speaking to one of his underlings: "Yes, I just received an update from the capture squad. Apparently they had been forced to deviate from their path due to a staggering amount of lethal traps on their chosen route. They are going to cross from the Valley of the End and they have at least two squads on their heels. There is probably also an off-schedule patrol between them and the border, due to all those unexpected traps. The Sound Four may need reinforcements, but don't stray any farther than the Valley from our borders or you'll draw the attention of all nearby patrols on Konoha's side."

"Yes, Kabuto-sama." said the voice.

Kimimaro heard multiple footsteps leaving his room, but he had already decided. Knowing his death was imminent as well as inevitable, he resolved to do a last service for his master. He would stop Hatake Kakashi, the greatest ninja on Konoha's pursuing party and donate his sharingan eye to Orochimaru-sama as his leaving present. Furthermore, without that legendary ninja, the other members of the rescue party would be easy prey for the Sound Four.

Using his bloodline to break the glass around him, he stepped outside, walking by himself for the first time in weeks and simply ignoring the pain he felt in every cell of his ill body. Gathering his clothes he calmly walked out of Kabuto's lab and left the Sound Village, in the direction of the Valley of the End.