Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Naruto; if I did, Danzo would be six feet under

A/N: Sorry for taking so long to release. Life has been keeping me occupied as of late, and my motivation had been lacking.

Chapter 4: Betrayal

"Ah!!" shouted a voice down a corridor. The sound of screaming was coupled with the sound of rain pouring down onto the building the owner of the voice was in. The rain seemed to pour down harder as the person's shouts increased.

"Hm, I may have left out the detail about how excruciating this process would be," spoke the voice of a man near the first person. Both were covered in shadows in the dark corridor. One man was wearing an orange mask with a stripe pattern resembling those of a tiger, while the other person was in the middle of a gathering of flames. The flames crawled up the body of the person in the middle of them.

"Ah!!" shouted the person again, much louder than he had been.

"Hm, this seal is much easier to break past than Minato's. Good thing; I'm not in the mood to have to deal with something like that again," spoke Madara.

The screaming suddenly stopped as the body of the person in the middle of the seal collapsed. Two groups of chakra left the body of the person in the seal. One chakra form was a bright, near white blue, while the other was a deep ocean blue. The ocean blue chakra changed in color to a pastel version of the original color. The two forms solidified into a pair of demons.

"The ritual is complete. It would seem the process was a success," spoke Madara, while looking at the pair before him. Upon gaining consciousness, both created clothing from their chakra. One was boy, the other a woman. The boy looked down at his previous body, then took a hard look at Madara. The boy smiled for a second, before kicking Madara down the corridor. The elder Uchiha was quick to pick himself up, presenting himself before the boy who kicked him.

"If all of you are going to be so ungrateful, then you can learn how to perform this seal yourself," replied Madara.

"'I may have left out the detail about how excruciating this process would be,' hm? If you wanted my thanks, you should have given me the details in full," spoke the boy.

"Easy, kid, he didn't mean to upset you. He thought you might change your mind, or something, right?" asked the woman, showing anger in her last word.

"Yeah, yeah, that was it," spoke Madara.

A tail from the woman wrapped itself around the throat of Madara.

"This is pointless. I'm both thankful and angry. Perhaps when this headache goes away, I'll be able to give you a better thanks. I'm sure Pein-sama will be glad to have another powerful shinobi to aid him in this war. Hanzo's forces are just as strong as ever, while ours are starting to weaken," spoke the boy.

"Then Pein-san should be grateful, too. I've helped him out, even though I told him I would avoid doing anything to help him with his little problem. Don't say I never did anything for you," replied Madara.

"I get it, I get it. I'm curious to see how well this body compares to that one," spoke the boy.

"I'm sure you'll find it vastly superior to your other body. Now then, could you ask the lovely lady to let me go?" asked Madara.

"Just shift through it," replied the woman.

"I would rather you retract it," spoke Madara.

"Fine," replied the woman.

"So, you are spent, huh. I could see your chakra was a little weak after performing that ritual. You should be more careful. Performing two of these rituals only a couple days apart could have caused you serious harm," spoke the boy.

"Ah, so you do have some concern for my well being, eh?" asked Madara.

"Maybe a little. You are our leader, after all. War has taught me to support all your allies, even if you may not be particularly fond of them," explained the boy.

"That's not quite the truth, is it?" asked Madara.

"I don't want Pein-sama to waste that jutsu on you just yet. He said it would put much more strain on him than a full powered Shinra Tensei, even if it's only used on one person. It would be best if he wasn't forced into using it more times than necessary," replied the boy.

"That sounds more like the truth. Your loyalty to him is quite impressive, to say the least. I was hoping you would show some more of that towards me," replied Madara.

"My loyalties to you are demonstrated through my actions as an associate of Akatsuki. You know full well, though, that I would never act as a member of Akatsuki against Pein-sama," spoke the boy.

"I know, I know. I have established Pein-san as the leader for the time being. It's his organization for now, as long as he sticks to my outline, he's free to do whatever he wants," replied Madara.

"Good to know," replied the boy.

As the pair were conversing, they took note of a shadow walking towards them.

"Is the ritual over?" asked the shadow. The voice sounded distorted, like it was coming through a radio.

"It has ended," replied Madara.

"The results are rather interesting. I feel much stronger than I did before," spoke the boy.

"And you have me to act under you directly, Pein-sama," spoke the woman.

"I'm anxious to test out my abilities in this body on the battlefield," spoke the boy.

"The time for that will come later. Madara-san advised me that you would need to rest at the completion of the ritual," replied Pein.

"I'll take the field in his place, then," spoke the woman.

"No, you need to rest, as well as adjust to being in the outside world again," replied Pein.

"As you wish, Pein-sama," spoke both the boy and woman in unison.

"Madara-san, what of your visit to Iwagakure?" asked Pein.

"Nothing much came out of it. Turns out the kid has disappeared. No one knows of where he is. All I know is that he's hiring himself out as a terrorist for hire, under some alias. I can keep an eye out for such a person matching his description. For the time being, I have no idea of his whereabouts," explained Madara.

"Should we use Zetsu to find him?" asked Pein.

"No, that is not necessary. We need him to keep looking into information about the other jinchuuriki for the time being. If I have need for his services, I'll call upon him personally," replied Madara.

"Very well. You two, go rest. Madara-san, I'll await your next contact," spoke Pein, as his shadow disappeared.

"That takes care of that, then. Let us go find something to eat. It's been a couple days since I last ate," spoke the boy.

"I haven't been free to eat since I was placed in you. I forgot what it felt like to be hungry. Let's go," spoke the woman.

"Then we shall take our leave of you, Madara-sama," spoke the boy.

"Ah, yes, rest well, and win this war of yours. The you two, along with Pein-san and Konan-san, will be better able to help me with my goals once your little problem has been taken care of," replied Madara.

The pair nodded before walking off.

"That takes care of that, for the time being. Now, what to do next, hm? It's been some time since I've looked for candidates in Kumo. I'll go there for now," spoke Madara to himself, before disappearing.

On the border of Tsuchi no Kuni, a pair of shinobi wearing a cloak with red clouds were walking through a canyon. Both had Taki hitai-ate with a scratch through them.

"Hey, Kakuzu, how close are we to the target?" asked a kunoichi.

"Not too much farther from here, Shikei," replied Kakuzu.

"Good, I want to get this guy as soon as possible, before the leader sends the mask kid out to give us new orders," spoke Shikei.

"The leader knows how important these bounties are to the organization. He said it himself; we have a pressing need for money right now," replied Kakuzu.

"Yeah, I know, I know, you've said it a thousand times over," spoke Shikei.

"Tobi thinks he says it too much," spoke a person at the end of the canyon.

"Oh, speak of the devil," spoke Shikei.

"What do you want?" asked Kakuzu.

"Leader-sama says Kakuzu-senpai and Shikei-senpai need to go to Kaminari no Kuni," replied Tobi.

"I have an important bounty to seek out here," replied Kakuzu.

"Yeah, we need to take care of that first. Is our presence in Kaminari no Kuni that important?" asked Shikei.

"Money is important, Kakuzu-senpai should get his target first," replied Tobi.

"Then we are in agreement over something, now go, before you manage to piss me off," spoke Kakuzu.

"Ah, no get pissed off at Tobi. Tobi will go now," spoke the masked-nin, before running off.

"He scares too easily for his own good. Let's go," spoke Shikei.

Kakuzu grunted in response, as the pair continued on their way to their goal. Just beyond the end of the canyon lay a village at the end of the path the pair were walking.

"So, that's the village, eh?" asked Shikei.

"That's the one. Our bounty here is worth twenty million ryou," replied Kakuzu.

"Ah, a nice amount. What do we know about this person?" asked Shikei.

"He's a kenjutsu specialist. He was hired out as an assassin, and became wanted after killing several guards of the daimyou of Tsuchi no Kuni," replied Kakuzu.

"Hm? This guy sounds like someone I know… it couldn't be him, though. Let's continue," spoke Shikei.

Kakuzu held a small grin behind his mask as the pair made their way into the village. The pair drew little attention to the entry of the pair into the village. The uniform of black cloaks with red clouds had yet to become a symbol of fear throughout the shinobi world. The hats the pair wore obscured their faces from view, making it difficult for anyone to get a positive ID on the pair. They continued walking through the village, Kakuzu leading the pair.

"Do you have an idea of where this person is?" asked Shikei.

"I have a way to find out," replied Kakuzu.

The former Taki-nin walked into at the edge of the village. There were few people there at this time of day. The bar keep took a look at the pair as they entered.

"It's a bit early for me to really serve liquor. You'll have to wait until later on in the afternoon," spoke the bar keep.

"It is never too early for liquor, only too early for drunks," replied Kakuzu.

"Ah, true. Drunks do cost me a lot of money," spoke the bar keep.

"Money is valuable, as is time," replied Kakuzu.

"Time is money," spoke the bar keep, before hitting a small switch under the counter. The switch opened a door in the back.

"It is a pleasure to see you again, Kakuzu-san," spoke the bar keep.

"Indeed," replied Kakuzu, as he walked into the back room. Shikei attempted to follow, only to be cut off by the bar keep.

"Only those who have earned the master's trust are allowed," spoke the bar keep.

"Oh, is that so? What is a lady in waiting to do?" asked Shikei, as she removed her hat, allowing her long, black hair to flow behind her freely.

"A woman? I never thought Kakuzu would find a woman who could tolerate him," replied the bar keep.

"It's not like that. We work together because we have to. He's not really my type. Now you, on the other hand, may be worth a little something," replied Shikei, in a seductive voice.

"Um… uh…" stuttered the bar keep.

"This master of yours sounds interesting. You wouldn't mind allowing me to see him, would you?" asked Shikei.

"I-I'm not s-supposed to…" stuttered the bar keep.

"I'll make it worth your while," replied Shikei, while getting closer to the bar keep.

"I-I can m-make an e-exception. R-right this w-way," spoke the bar keep.

"Arigatou," replied Shikei, as she headed to the back with Kakuzu.

Shikei found Kakuzu sitting down to speak with an older man. The man was bald, and had a black patch over his left eye. There were several scars visible across the man's body.

"Oh, Kakuzu-san, I didn't think you had a woman," spoke the bald man.

"She's my partner in Akatsuki, nothing more," replied Kakuzu.

"Hai, I'm not into men like him," spoke Shikei.

"I see. How did you get past my guard?" asked the bald man.

"With the charm only a woman possesses," replied Shikei.

"Gah, that guy is too soft for his job. If you were an assassin, I would have a problem to deal with," spoke the man.

"I am an assassin, though, if it makes you feel better, you are not one of my targets," replied Shikei.

"I see. Well then, if you don't mind, you may as well sit with us, since you are going to be with Kakuzu-san in hunting this man down. If I may ask, what is your name?" asked the man.

"Shikei."

"Ah, Shikei-san, I am Kari Hitoshi," replied the bald man.

"Hitoshi-san, where did you get your information from?" asked Kakuzu.

"One of my top sources. He is in that village. He's not on the move for the time being, but that's subject to change quickly. You should be able to catch him if you move quickly," replied Hitoshi.

"Good, good. I will be back with his head," replied Kakuzu.

"Ah, is that so? Alright, I'll prepare your payment now, then," spoke Hitoshi.

"Ah, so you are one of Kakuzu-san's bankers," spoke Shikei.

"Correct. I used to be a bounty hunter. With the wealth I've collected, I run this outpost, assisting other bounty hunters in the area. Since I often make a profit when dealing with the governments who claimed your prey missing-nin, I'm able to give the posted award. It's a good system for those who are also marked," replied Hitoshi.

"This man here is one of the few people I trust in this world," spoke Kakuzu, as he rose from his seat, motioning to leave.

"But that trust only goes so far; people our age, who grew up in the era we did, know not to ever give our full trust to anyone," replied Hitoshi.

"I see," spoke Shikei, as she got up to follow Kakuzu.

"A word of caution, Shikei-san, never forget that your partner is a bounty hunter before anything else. There is no one I know who is capable of matching his talents in that area," spoke Hitoshi.

"I'll keep that in mind, Hitoshi-san," replied Shikei, as she followed Kakuzu out the door.

"Hm, I doubt I'll ever see her again. What a shame, such a waste of a beauty," thought Hitoshi, as he watched Shikei and Kakuzu leave.

"So, our target is in the next village, eh? How convenient," spoke Shikei.

"To a point. Let's go," replied Kakuzu.

"Ah, in hunter mode already? Alright then," spoke Shikei, as she followed closely by Kakuzu, remaining silent as the pair made their way out of the bar.

"Hey, wait!" shouted the bar keep, "You owe me!"

"Oh, I did promise you something, didn't I?" asked Shikei, as she walked up to the bar keep. She smiled before passionately kissing the bar keep.

"Just an appetizer for now, love, I'll give you the rest later," spoke Shikei.

The bar keep smiled in response as Shikei turned around. Shikei had a large grin on her face as she was walking. Within a few moments, a loud thud could be heard as the bar keep hit the floor. Shikei spit out a small capsule. It appeared to have been cracked open.

"Disgusting fellow. I hope he enjoys eternal slumber," spoke Shikei, as she tossed the capsule into a nearby trash can

"Hitoshi would have killed him later, right?" asked Shikei.

"Correct; he's doesn't appreciate his guards being loose with their job," replied Kakuzu.

Shikei pulled out another capsule and put it in her mouth to replace the one she had their before.

"Good thing I'm immune to this poison, or I'd be joining him," muttered Shikei, as the pair continued along. The pair replaced their hats as they made their exit of the village. The pair made their way across the rocky plains between the village they passed and their destination. Kakuzu led the pair in silence, waiting to get his bounty. As the pair entered the new village, they only served to capture a few passing glances, once again, their organization was not well established. Kakuzu led the pair to a worn down building in a damaged part of the village.

"My my, this village has seen some action," spoke Shikei.

"Parts of the village were left in ruin as a memorial to those who passed during the Konoha-Iwa conflict," replied Kakuzu.

"I see. I suppose everyone has their own way of honoring the dead. I take it our target is here?" asked Shikei.

Kakuzu nodded as the pair continued into the building.

"Who goes there?" asked an individual from the shadows. The person was answered with several tentacles going through his body.

"Intruders!" shouted another man.

"Oh my, there are quite a few in here, aren't there. I suppose I should do something. Doton: Chinbotsu Senpaku no Jutsu! (Earth Release: Sinking Ship Technique)" shouted Shikei, after making hand seals, and placing her hands on the ground. The scaffolding holding up hiding shinobi began to sink into the ground, causing the shinobi there to lose their footing. Kakuzu took note of the momentary opening, and prepared a jutsu of his own.

"Katon: Zukkoku! (Fire Release: Cranium Carver)" shouted Kakuzu. Searing flames emerged from Kakuzu, incinerating the hapless shinobi trapped above the pair. The intensity of the flames destroyed the rest of the scaffolding, forcing Shikei to dodge flaming debris. As the last of the debris fell, and the smoke cleared, the pair of Akatsuki observed their surroundings carefully.

"It would seem our target is well guarded," spoke Shikei.

"Are you so sure?" asked Kakuzu.

"So, you thought it, too. Allow me to rephrase, there exists the illusion he is being protected. Really, those were other bounty hunters, making sure we wouldn't interfere," replied Shikei.

"I'm fortunate to have a partner that can think; my last partner was not so knowledgeable," replied Kakuzu.

"Suiton: Suikawakamasu! (Water Release: Water Pike)" shouted Shikei.

"Doton: Domu no Jutsu! (Earth Release: Earth Spear Technique)" shouted Kakuzu.

Water pulled off of the ground, and converged in front of Shikei's fist, forming a pike she thrust into a hunter behind Kakuzu. Kakuzu's first hardened, and plunged through a hunter behind Shikei.

"Heh, I didn't know you cared," spoke Shikei.

"Don't misunderstand; the moment I consider you to be of no further use, I will kill you," replied Kakuzu.

"And here I was thinking I might have finally gotten you to respect me," spoke Shikei. The pair continued through the building, hunting for their target. The building appeared to be silent, with no sign of shinobi in hiding.

"Is your intel inaccurate?" asked Shikei.

"Hitoshi is never wrong. He is here," replied Kakuzu.

At that moment, the pair took note of someone moving in the darkness.

"Doton: Haji no Tsuchi no Jutsu! (Earth Release: Earth's Grip Technique)" shouted Shikei.

The person moving in the darkness was caught up in Shikei's jutsu, which made the earth rise halfway up the victim's legs, leaving the victim trapped.

"Too easy. I'll take care of this one," spoke Shikei.

"Remember, if it's our target, he has to be recognizable," replied Kakuzu.

"Yeah, yeah, I know," replied Shikei, as she pulled out a kunai, and casually approached her target.

"You know, it's been a real pain trying to find you. Even worse, seems there were a few that beat us here," spoke Shikei.

"Oh? I did take note of them. I was about to wipe them out myself. Thank you for taking care of them for me," replied the trapped man.

"You shouldn't thank me; we're here to kill you, too," spoke Shikei.

"Is that so? Well, I can take the two of you easier than I could have taken all of them," replied the man.

"Cocky, aren't we? If I had to choose between fighting a bunch of weaklings, or two high level shinobi, I would rather deal with numbers. It's far easier, you know. Quality always wins over quantity," spoke Shikei.

"Seems the only thing you are good at is talking people to death," replied the man.

"Oh, is that so? Perhaps I should show you how actions speak louder than words," spoke Shikei, as she drew closer to her target. She appeared ready to slit her target's throat. Right before she did, she put away her weapon, grabbed the man, and began to make out with him.

"That trick again, huh," thought Kakuzu, anticipating Shikei to use her Dokuyaku no Kuchiduke (Poison Kiss). He was surprised at what took place next.

"It's been five years, but we finally found each other again, Tasome-kun," spoke Shikei.

"Aye, Shikei-chan. Who is your friend there?" asked Tasome.

"Oh, him? He's Kakuzu, my partner in the organization I joined," replied Shikei.

"What is going on?" asked Kakuzu.

"Oh, Tasome here is my fiancé. We lost track of each other after we became missing-nin. We were forced to go separate paths. I was keeping track of rumors of his exploits, so that's why I've always agreed with your bounty hunts, even if they sometimes come into conflict with Leader-sama's orders. I'll still do that, as you are right about our need for money, but now, it'll be the three of us," replied Shikei.

"A bounty like his does not come up often, I can't just leave it like this," spoke Kakuzu.

"Hey, he's my fiancé, okay? You can't kill him," replied Shikei.

"You're refusing me my bounty?" asked Kakuzu, who was gradually becoming more irritated.

"He's not a bounty, he's my fiancé! I'm not going to kill him for money!!" shouted Shikei.

"I see, that is your choice, then," spoke Kakuzu, as he turned to walk away.

"There, that takes care of that. He can be like that at times, but don't mind him. You'll get used to it," spoke Shikei, as she released the jutsu holding Tasome in place.

"It will take some time, I suppose… look out!!" shouted Tasome.

"Huh… ah!!" screamed Shikei. The kunoichi was momentarily stunned by something. She looked down to see Kakuzu's blood soaked hand, which had pierced through her chest.

"You yourself are worth twenty-five million ryou. Now I'll have a forty-five million ryou bounty," spoke Kakuzu.

"B-but… why…" muttered Shikei, as she was coughing up blood.

"I told you before, more than once. No one gets in the way of my collecting a bounty," spoke Kakuzu, "And it appears the time on my doton heart is nearing its end. As a doton no jutsu user, I'll be able to put yours to good use."

"You bastard!!" shouted Tasome, as he pulled out a katana. He severed the tentacles connecting Kakuzu's hand to his body, and took a swing at Kakuzu. The former Taki-nin ducked out of the way, and made a set of hand seals.

"Raiton: Gian! (Lightning Release: False Darkness)" shouted Kakuzu. Tasome, in his rage, was unable to avoid being hit by the jutsu. The jutsu hit Tasome with enough force to rip his body in half. His bloodied torso was thrown next to Shikei. In his last moments, Tasome attempted to reach out to Shikei. A thread from the hand of Kakuzu that was still embedded in Shikei cut Tasome's throat, ending his life. The threads retracted, and reached for Shikei's heart.

"I'll see you… in Hell…" muttered Shikei, as her life ended with the removal of her heart. The hand rejoined with Kakuzu's body. A beating lump fell from Kakuzu's body. The lump appeared to be old, somewhat rotting. The beating ceased within moments of being separated from Kakuzu's body.

"I was right, it was time for that heart to go," spoke Kakuzu, as he integrated Shikei's heart into his body. Kakuzu looked at the pair of lovers he had slain in cold blood.

"Be thankful you died together, that's the best kindness you could ever hope to receive from me," spoke Kakuzu, as he picked up Shikei's body, along with what was left of Tasome's body. He sealed the bodies in a pair of scrolls, after carefully removing Shikei's ring.

Kakuzu quickly made his return to Hitoshi's station. He took note of the new "bartender," and made his way to see Hitoshi.

"Ah, Kakuzu-san, nice to see you again," spoke Hitoshi.

"You haven't been giving out information to everyone else, have you?" asked Kakuzu.

"Kakuzu-san, you aren't my only client. There's going to be competition. That's the way of the world. After all, it's bad for business to only have one client. If something happened to you, then what would I do?" asked Hitoshi.

"If I kill them all off, it won't matter. However, as a business man, I understand your actions. I wouldn't expect to see the "clients" you sent out there again," replied Kakuzu.

"I didn't expect to see them again. I knew their fates as soon as I sent you in their direction. It's their problem what they do after I inform them of the location of a target. If they're too foolish to realize high profile targets attract high profile hunters, too bad," spoke Hitoshi.

"Indeed. I have two bodies with me to claim the bounties on," spoke Kakuzu.

"Two, eh? Well, let's see them," spoke Hitoshi, as he opened two storage slots. They were arranged in a manner resembling a large filing cabinet. The inside was kept cold to preserve the bodies.

"First is Tasome," spoke Kakuzu, as he unsealed what was left of his body.

"You did quite the number on him. He was quite the tough one, hard to believe this was his fate," replied Hitoshi.

"His mistake was fighting on emotions alone, rather than using his mind," explained Kakuzu.

"Oh, did something to anger him?" asked Hitoshi.

"I killed his fiancé in front of him," replied Kakuzu.

"I didn't know he had someone like that. Interesting. Is she the other one you brought?" asked Hitoshi.

"Correct," replied Kakuzu, as he unsealed Shikei's body.

"Tch, figured as much. What did she do?" asked Hitoshi.

"Attempted to prevent me from getting my target," spoke Kakuzu.

"Damn shame. She was rather beautiful. If it weren't for that bloody hole in her chest, she still would be. I warned her before you two left not to interfere. Too bad for her," replied Hitoshi.

"I'm sorry to trouble you for two bounties. I realize you only prepared enough for Tasome," spoke Kakuzu.

"Ah, not a problem. I had a feeling you were going to kill her soon and claim her bounty, so I prepared myself," replied Hitoshi, as he sealed the two "drawers." Hitoshi made his way over to another, and tapped on it a few times. Nine combination locks appeared. Hitoshi quickly set the numbers on all of them, prompting a tenth lock to appear. Hitoshi entered the final sequence, and opened a door containing several briefcases. Hitoshi pulled out two such cases, then resealed the door.

"Here you go," spoke Hitoshi, as he set the combinations on the two briefcases. Each contained a great sum of money, twenty million ryou for Tasome, twenty-five million ryou for Shikei. Kakuzu took an hour to count up the money in both cases. When he was satisfied, he closed both of them.

"Not off by a single ryou, perfect as always," spoke Kakuzu.

"Of course, I wouldn't rip off my best hunter. Good luck on finding a compatible partner, Kakuzu-san," replied Hitoshi.

"Indeed. Until next time, Hitoshi-san," spoke Kakuzu, as he departed from Hitoshi's station.

"What a shame, such a beauty. Well, since she was taken, I don't suppose it matters. At least she was in better shape than him," muttered Hitoshi to himself.

After Kakuzu found a secluded place outside of the village, he attempted to make contact with Pein.

In Amegakure, Pein's blood covered Deva Path was returning to his base.

"Pathetic weaklings now have the pain they deserve," spoke Pein, as he entered the base.

"They won't learn until Hanzo's final defeat," spoke Konan. Her outfit was also stained with blood.

"Hmm… someone is attempting communication. At least it's someone with good timing," spoke Pein, as he close his eyes to seek out the member contacting him. Pein's eyes opened again. A shadow bearing resemblance to Kakuzu appeared before Pein and Konan.

"Kakuzu, what news do you have for me?" asked Pein.

"I have collected forty-five million ryou," spoke Kakuzu.

"Have you? Very well, I'll send Zetsu to collect the money. Is that all?" asked Pein.

"Shikei is dead," replied Kakuzu.

"Is that so? Did she die by your hands?" asked Pein.

"She opposed me in my efforts to collect my bounty. I killed her and her lover for the bounties on both," replied Kakuzu.

"Kakuzu! How many times do I have to tell you! I cannot keep replacing your partners after you kill them! Strong, able shinobi are not in such a great supply that I can find one each time you kill one, do you understand!!" shouted Pein.

"I understand," replied Kakuzu.

"Good. Remember Kakuzu, the moment I deem you in the way of our goals is the moment I'll kill you myself. Your willingness to provide us with funds is one thing, but do not forget that you are a part of Akatsuki. You are not a freelancing bounty hunter anymore, do you understand?" asked Pein.

"I understand," replied Kakuzu.

"Good. Do not make such a mistake again. Since you've killed Shikei, I'll need you to remain in Tsuchi no Kuni. There is information about a pair of jinchuuriki in Iwa. I need you to confirm this for me. Do not engage them. I only need information at this point. Avoid bringing any unnecessary attention to yourself. This is a stealth mission; conduct yourself as such. Wait for Zetsu to meet up with you to claim your bounties before you more on. I take it you also have Shikei's ring?" asked Pein.

"That is correct," replied Kakuzu.

"Then also turn it over to Zetsu. I will keep an eye out for other potential partners for you. Are there any other topics you wish to bring before me?" asked Pein.

"Not at this time," replied Kakuzu.

"Very well, you are dismissed," spoke Pein.

Kakuzu's shadow disappeared. Though it would seem as though Pein had been yelling, his expression did not change once throughout his conversation with Kakuzu. The only change in the area was the increase in the volume of the thunder from outside.

"You should be careful not to express your anger so explicitly," spoke Konan.

"I find great frustration in Kakuzu's actions. If he was not as talented in the shinobi arts as he was, I would have gotten rid of him long before now," spoke Pein.

"Do not let his actions get to you. Come, we need to wash up," replied Konan.

"You are right as always. Let's go, then," spoke Pein, as he and Konan continued on their way into the base.

Over the next couple of hours, Pein thought over who to send to Kaminari no Kuni in place of Kakuzu and Shikei. He recalled that Madara told him he had stumbled onto a rumor concerning a pair of jinchuuriki in Kumo, though he didn't have any information beyond that.

"Perhaps I should send two teams. Itachi and Kisame, along with that Naruto kid aren't too far. Sasori and Orochimaru are also in close proximity to the area. I'll send them," spoke Pein.

"If you think that is the best choice," replied Konan.

In the abandoned village, Itachi, and Naruto were having one of their spars. Unlike all of their previous fights, Naruto was able to keep up with Itachi's speed, though his lack of experience still prevented him from landing a solid hit on his instructor. Kisame was engaging the kyuubi in a spar. The bijuu used her chakra to form a sword, allowing the pair to participate in a kenjutsu fight. The two pairs suddenly stopped what they were doing, and took a look at one another.

"That was him," spoke Itachi.

"So, he finally has something for us, does he? I suppose we should listen," replied Kisame.

"Seems he wants us in on it, too," spoke Naruto.

"I wonder to what end, though," replied the kyuubi.

All four closed their eyes and focused their thoughts. Each saw the projections of the others, as well as a projection of two others, along with a projection of Pein.

"That's everyone. I have a mission for all six of you," spoke Pein.

"What kind of mission?" asked Orochimaru.

"Information. I need to know if there are two jinchuuriki in Kumogakure. If they are there, I need to know more about them," replied Pein.

"Sounds easy enough. Why send all of us?" asked Kisame.

"One target, one team. I don't assume that the two jinchuuriki would be together, that's why am sending both of your teams. Under no circumstances are you to engage the jinchuuriki if you find them, understood?" asked Pein.

"Understood," replied six voices.

"I trust you will not object to this, Kyubi-san?" asked Pein.

"It's just information gathering. I have not objections; I don't really care about the others, anyway. If gathering them all together is the only way for me to achieve my goals, then so be it," replied the kyuubi.

"Good. You have your orders, dismissed," spoke Pein.

The shadows disappeared from the cave they appeared in. Itachi, Kisame, Naruto, and the kyuubi opened their eyes to the field they were occupying.

"It would seem that we'll have to pack up," spoke Kisame.

"Indeed," spoke Itachi.

The group of four quickly packed up their training supplies and camp, and made speed towards Kaminari no Kuni. Along the way, the team met up with Orochimaru and Sasori.

"So, it would seem we are destined to work together again," spoke Orochimaru.

"It would appear so," replied Itachi.

"Are you two going to reminisce about the good times you had in your village?" asked Kisame.

"If we had good times, we wouldn't be here right now, right?" asked Orochimaru.

"You have a good point," spoke Kisame.

"You appeared to have a good time causing pain to the Sandaime," spoke Itachi.

"Oh? I suppose the look on his face as I made my escape was rather priceless. Don't tell me you're holding a grudge against me for something like that," replied Orochimaru.

"No, not at all. I did far worse," spoke Itachi. The lack of emotion in his voice at such a statement brought silence to the group for the moment, leaving nothing but the sound of light footsteps as the group continued their advance.

"Ho ho, Itachi, you are quite the bold one," spoke Orochimaru.

Itachi replied in silence.

"The mood sure died here rather quickly," spoke Kisame.

"I can't speak for the two of you, but my partner could learn to better appreciate the sounds of the world in silence. He has a tendency to speak one word too many," spoke Sasori.

"Is that so? You tend to not say enough. You need to learn to take more pleasure in the simpler things," replied Orochimaru.

"What you call 'taking pleasure,' I call a waste of time," spoke Sasori.

"Ah, that tired philosophy of yours. It is a great irony that one who has infinite time would be so impatient," replied Orochimaru.

"Infinite time?" asked Kisame.

"Sasori here turned his body into a puppet. As a result, he has a degree of immortality," explained Orochimaru.

"You have a big mouth," spoke Sasori.

"It's not as though it isn't obvious. A person of your age with such youth? No one with common sense would avoid doubting something about you," replied Orochimaru.

"No offense, but you look your age in that body," spoke Kisame.

Sasori said nothing in response.

"That is an armor shell. You've never seen him outside of it. As far as I can tell, no one has. I only know what he has told me," replied Orochimaru.

"Is that so?" spoke Kisame.

"There is no reason for me to reveal myself. I trust no one, therefore, I reveal myself to no one," replied Sasori.

"Makes sense to me," spoke Kisame.

"I suppose one who stands out as much as you could appreciate something like this," spoke Sasori.

"I do stand out in a crowd, don't I? Well, I'm confident in my strength, so that's enough for me. I don't have to worry about anything else," replied Kisame.

"Don't be too sure of yourself. Everyone has a weakness of some kind. I do my best to cover mine, as well as avoid being overly confident in battle. If you can't accept your weaknesses, you'll never be able to develop your skills," spoke Sasori.

"Wise words," spoke the kyuubi.

"I don't believe we've met before," spoke Orochimaru, "Are you new to the group?"

The kyuubi could only grin in response.

"She's not a new member, she's been with us the entire time," replied Itachi.

"I would recognize someone like that, with those ears and nine tails… nine tails… impossible…" muttered Orochimaru.

"Is it that difficult to believe?" asked Naruto.

"Come to think of it, your appearance has changed quite a bit since three months ago," spoke Orochimaru.

"Ah, so it finally dawned on you, did it?" asked the kyuubi.

"I noticed from the start. Quite the interesting turn of events," replied Sasori.

"As one who was fighting you off during your attack, I would rather avoid thinking that very demon was right before my eyes again," spoke Orochimaru.

"That is understandable. As long as you avoid taking action against me, you have nothing to worry about," replied the kyuubi.

"Very well," spoke Orochimaru.

The group made their way into Kaminari no Kuni. As they crossed the border, the sun began to set. The group found a mountainside shrine, obscured by trees, to spend the night in. The shrine itself had been abandoned for quite some time, as evidenced by the overgrowth covering the structures of the shrine. The buildings themselves were dirty, but in livable condition.

"We'll rest here overnight. There shouldn't be any patrols out here," spoke Itachi.

"We've just crossed the border. The patrols won't be tight enough to reach places such as these until we get closer to the village. Since they aren't on the lookout for us, it should be fairly easy to make it in undetected," spoke Orochimaru.

"I agree. We'll set up here," spoke Sasori.

"I'll take a look around the area just to be sure," spoke Itachi.

"I'll join you in a few minutes. There is something I need to check," replied Orochimaru.

"Very well. I will begin my surveillance on the north side of the shrine," spoke Itachi, as he left the building the group entered. Orochimaru found a room planned to use for himself, and pulled out a scroll. He unsealed the contents, and looked them over. It appeared to be theories on the workings of a specific jutsu.

"It's time, time to be free of the restrictions of this body," spoke Orochimaru to himself, as he carefully looked over the scroll in front of him.

Itachi was nearing the eastern gate of the shrine complex when Orochimaru caught up to him. Orochimaru appeared to be in high spirits as he approached the Uchiha.

"It took you long enough," spoke Itachi.

"I had to be very careful with what I was looking over. It was the summary of years of research," spoke Orochimaru.

"Years of research?" asked Itachi.

"Years devoted to the development of a single jutsu," replied Orochimaru.

"Why did you find the need to look over it now?" asked Itachi.

"I plan on using it in the near future. It's a very important jutsu," replied Orochimaru.

"Hmm… if memory serves you were researching kinjutsu. A very specific one, something to do with immortality," spoke Itachi.

"Ah, very good, very good. You are correct. It will allow me to take over the body of a person of my choosing. It will give me access to all of their jutsu, as well as their memories. The main benefit is the attainment of their vitality. As long as I rigorously perform the jutsu, I'll never die," explained Orochimaru.

"You seem rather confident in this jutsu of yours," spoke Itachi.

"I have another member to thank for my advancement. The scope of the original version of this jutsu was full immortality. I could never perfect it. The test subjects, after partially changing into a state of biological immortality, would suddenly revert. Their cell structure would break down, and they all suffered violent deaths. Then I met Kakuzu, who found immortality in his own way," explained Orochimaru.

"In what way?" asked Itachi.

"He absorbs the organs of powerful shinobi who cross his path. He uses them to replace the worn out organs of his own body, allowing him to continue living. He refuses to claim himself as an immortal, though, in reality, he truly is. That's when I decided to take a different approach to my jutsu. If I cannot make a single subject immortal, then perhaps I need only replace those parts of the body that make us mortal. I took that one step further, with the replacement of the entire body," replied Orochimaru.

"A wise approach. Such a method seems feasible, but tell me, why are you, the genius of the Sannin, so interested in immortality? Is it to prove it can be done?" asked Itachi.

"I wish to master all of the jutsu of the world. In order to achieve that goal, one would need several lifetimes. That's is the drive behind my quest for immortality. All other matters are secondary," spoke Orochimaru.

"I see. If you take an entire body, you would also gain several jutsu at the same time, so it would seem that you have taken care of two elements required for your goal," replied Itachi.

"Indeed. I would be unable to fully achieve my goals if I did not have a way of gaining access to those of kekkei genkai. In my quest for immortality, I have found the answer to that issue as well," spoke Orochimaru, as he began making a series of hand seals. The grin on Orochimaru's face widened, knowing he would easily catch the Uchiha while his back was turned. As Orochimaru completed the final hand seal, Itachi quickly turned around, his Sharingan active. He took a deep stare into the eyes of the being behind him.

"Too late!!" shouted Orochimaru, "Fushi Tensei! (Living Corpse Reincarnation)"

The world before Itachi melted away, landing the Uchiha in a dark void. The ground in this void was a soft, flesh like material.

"We are now within the confines of my mind, Uchiha Itachi. Your body will now be mine!" shouted Orochimaru.

Itachi remained emotionless as the fleshy ground began to crawl up his body. As it reached Itachi's throat, it ceased its advance.

"Interesting jutsu," spoke Itachi in a calm tone. Orochimaru appeared before Itachi. In contrast to Itachi's appearance, Orochimaru appeared to be in a state of panic.

"What's going on!? Why aren't you being absorbed!?" shouted Orochimaru.

The world of Orochimaru's jutsu disappeared. In its place appeared the world of the red sky.

"The moment you set your eyes on these eyes that you seek was the moment you lost any chance of obtaining them," replied Itachi. Several stakes appeared out of the sky, binding Orochimaru's form.

"You are no longer welcome in our organization," spoke Itachi, as he cut off Orochimaru's left hand, the one bearing his 空 ring. Orochimaru knew the pain he felt as his hand was severed was real, though Itachi was careful to mask it as part of his illusion. Orochimaru latched onto that, and was able to break through Itachi's genjutsu. Orochimaru gave Itachi a look full of killing intent, though Itachi wasn't even fazed by it. Orochimaru knew when to cut his losses, quickly recovered his hand, and disappeared.

"We'll meet again, Itachi!!" shouted Orochimaru, before he disappeared. Itachi searched for any sign of Orochimaru, but found the jutsu Orochimaru used to conceal himself concealed his chakra, as well, making it impossible for Itachi to find him.

"Damn," muttered Itachi. The Uchiha knew he had to report this sudden betrayal to the others immediately, and rushed back to the shrine complex.

"Itachi-san, did you find something?" asked Kisame.

"Where is Orochimaru?" asked Sasori.

"Orochimaru attempted to strike at me with his Fushi Tensei," spoke Itachi.

"That fool!!" shouted Sasori, "I warned him to take care in choosing his target. I did not think a genius of his level would do something so reckless."

"We must report this to Leader-sama at once," spoke Itachi.

"We need to find Orochimaru first. We cannot allow him to escape," replied Sasori.

"I've already tried looking for him. He used a jutsu that has allowed him to hide his chakra signature. I am unable to locate him," spoke Itachi.

"Very well, we will inform the leader," spoke Sasori.

"That snake tried to attack Itachi? He'll pay," spoke Naruto.

"I agree. I had a bad feeling about him since we first met him on our mission to recruit Kisame," replied the kyuubi.

"Everyone, close your eyes, and await a response from the leader," spoke Itachi.

Within a few moments, they appeared in a cave. There was a single lantern at its center.

"Itachi, you said you have something urgent to report to me? I doubt you've reached Kumo so quickly," spoke Pein.

"No, that is not it. I was just attacked by Orochimaru," replied Itachi.

"You were?" asked Pein.

"He attempted to possess my body in an attempt to gain the Sharingan and immortality," replied Itachi.

"Where is Orochimaru now?" asked Pein.

"After his jutsu failed, I cut his hand off in an attempt to recover our ring before destroying Orochimaru's form; however, he was able to break through the genjutsu I placed on him, and used a jutsu to escape. I was unable to track him with my Sharingan. He was able to take his severed hand with him," explained Itachi.

Pein's form remained silent for a moment. The silence cast dread upon the other members in the room.

"This requires a meeting of all of us, everyone, assemble," spoke Pein.

The forms of Konan, Kakuzu, Tobi, Zetsu, along with the form of a another pair who was not recognized by any of the others.

"Oh wow, everyone is here!" shouted Tobi.

"Silence, Tobi. I didn't bring you hear for idle talk. Orochimaru has betrayed Akatsuki," replied Pein.

"Did he now? How unfortunate," spoke Kakuzu.

"It would seem you were right to doubt him," spoke Zetsu.

"Even I had grown used to him after being his partner over the past several years. He showed no signs of planning something so foolish," replied Sasori.

"Perhaps he did, but you overlooked it, not wanting to believe he was capable of such an act," spoke Kisame.

"No, I kept a careful eye on him. I've learned to trust no one, especially not him. I knew he was planning to use his special jutsu, and cautioned him to be wary with picking a target," explained Sasori.

"He made his choice, and now he will pay for it. No one betrays Akatsuki. His actions are by far a greater disgrace than your repeated murders of your partners," spoke Pein, while referring to Kakuzu.

"I see, so he killed one of his partners again. That explains why you changed his assignment," spoke Sasori.

"I was able to get us a large sum of money for the death of her and her lover," replied Kakuzu.

"Oh, offed them both, did you? I could learn to get along with you," spoke Kisame.

"Quiet!" spoke Pein, bringing the group to attention again. "Orochimaru has eluded capture. He knows our secrets, our goals, and has information on most of our members. His continued existence is a threat to the organization. In addition, he has taken his ring with him, making it impossible to replace him."

"Why does it matter that he has the ring?" asked Naruto.

"The rings are an important part of our ultimate goal. They are the key of our means, and there are only ten of them. They cannot be replaced. As such, at any time, there can only be ten full members of Akatsuki. Everyone else gathered here, yourself included, are merely associates of the organization," explained Pein.

"Understood," replied Naruto.

"Zetsu, while your current mission takes priority, you are also to look into the whereabouts of Orochimaru. It is likely he'll try to target Itachi again. He may attack the organization as a whole in order to drag him out. When he makes his move, I want to be sure to get to him first," spoke Pein.

"Understood," replied Zetsu.

"The same goes for the rest of you. You are to keep an ear open for any information on Orochimaru. It is only a matter of time before he takes action. Keep that in mind," spoke Pein.

"His is no threat, we will crush him," spoke Kisame.

"Do not be so sure. He was able to elude me within the timeframe of a few seconds. His genius allows him to think quickly on his feet. If he was able to elude me as he did, he should be taken as a point of concern for us," replied Itachi.

"Itachi is correct. I know your skills well, hence your becoming a part of the organization. The fact Orochimaru was able to come up with a plan to escape Itachi in such a short amount of time says something about his craftiness. Do not forget this, should you happen to stumble across him," spoke Pein.

"Understood," spoke most of those present. The two other associates and Konan remained silent.

"Your current orders stand. Dismissed," spoke Pein.

The forms in the cave disappeared as fast as they gathered.

In Amegakure, Pein stared up at the sky set before him. He could hear a battle taking place behind him. That sound was soon drowned out by the sound of thunder, followed by a heavy downpour. As Konan watched from behind, she could tell the sky embodied the rage Pein felt towards Orochimaru's action.

"That snake has no idea what he's done," came a voice from behind Konan.

"You should return to your rest. You will soon be needed," spoke Konan.

"I couldn't sleep. I can feel the roar of anger coming from the sky. Even if he refuses to express his feelings personally, he can never hide his feelings from the sky," replied the person behind Konan.

"Your concern is noted. This storm will pass, as have all the others. It is only a matter of time before Orochimaru receives divine punishment for his poor decision," spoke Konan.

"Indeed. I will return to my rest now. I merely wished to express my concern, and to see if this was some freak storm or not. Good day, Konan-sama," spoke the person before he left.

"He's a good one. At least I know I can trust the two of you when the time comes," spoke Pein, as he stood up from his place of meditation.

"He is. You were wise to bring him to our side," spoke Konan.

"He was on our side from the start. Hanzo ensured that for us. He merely needed a hand to pull him out of the darkness," replied Pein.

"That is one way to look at it," spoke Konan.

"Let us prepare for the next battle," spoke Pein, as he gestured Konan to follow him.

At the shrine, the group gathered there attempted one more search for Orochimaru before completing their journey to Kaminari no Kuni. The group was careful to avoid running into any of the guards along the border of Kumo.

"Naruto, Kyubi, you two do not possess a full skill set that would allow you to spy with us. We will keep you out in the open. Listen to anything that may give a clue to the location or identity of the targets. Ask gently, but do not take direct action. Report to us here at the end of the day," spoke Itachi.

"Understood," spoke Naruto.

Itachi, Sasori, and Kisame disappeared, leaving Naruto and the kyuubi alone.

"Let us pick a fitting disguise," spoke the kyuubi, as her form changed into that of a twenty year old blond in a blue kimono.

"I have an idea," spoke Naruto, as his form changed into a twenty year old man with shoulder length brown hair in a black kimono.

"Trying to pose as my boyfriend, or something?" asked the kyuubi.

"Maybe, or maybe as your guard. Either interpretation works for me, though, the former sounds best," replied Naruto.

"My, my, bold words for one so young. The latter will do. You're not quite fit to be my lover… yet," spoke Kyubi, while muttering the last part, so Naruto wouldn't be able to hear it.

The pair entered the village, with Naruto claiming to be the kyuubi's body guard. As civilians, the pair were allowed entry. The pair walked around the village, looking for places where those who may know of their targets would gather.

"The best place to go would be a bar… now, which bar would gather the most shinobi," spoke the kyuubi.

"It doesn't matter, really. I would think they would gather equally in all the taverns around here," replied Naruto.

"No, there is always that 'one place' where everyone gathers… and I think I've found it. It's this place here," spoke the kyuubi.

The pair entered, took a table, and listened in on the shinobi about them. As the kyuubi predicted, there were several shinobi gathered in the place. The kyuubi ordered the pair a couple of light beers. She knew she had to order Naruto a drink, despite his age, to maintain their cover. It would seem odd if she denied him a drink on the basis of "age." The pair caught wind of an interesting conversation between two shinobi behind them.

"You hear about that girl getting the rank of chunin?" asked a man with long hair.

"Yeah, I heard. She put up quite the fight in the last round. It would have been disrespectful to her efforts not to give it to her, even though she ended up losing," replied a man with shoulder length hair and a small beard.

"I thought for sure a jinchuuriki would be able to win the whole thing, hands down," spoke the first man.

"You would think that, but you have to remember what those fights are truly about," replied the bearded man.

"Ah, that's true. It's about thinking, not fighting. I remember the raikage pounding that into our skulls over and over again last year, right before the start of the finals," replied the first man.

The kyuubi and Naruto fell silent at talk of a jinchuuriki. They were surprised to hear about a jinchuuriki being openly discussed. They were even more shocked to hear about a jinchuuriki being praised.

"You know, it's so hard to remember the strategy element when you're in the ring, with all those spectators. All you want to do is show off all your best jutsu, strategy be damned," spoke the long haired man.

"That's why the spectators enjoyed your first match so much. Good thing you won; if it weren't for that second fight of yours, you would have never made chunin," replied the bearded man.

"Yeah, yeah. I remember you yelling at me for showing off too much, right before you had your match. You put up quite the show for someone who ultimately lost," spoke the first man.

"That may be so, but knowing when to fallback and cut your losses is also important. Drive to succeed is one thing, but knowing when to quit to avoid making a small loss a large one is also important. Yugito knew that well. She didn't show off once through the entire tournament. She even held back using her talents as a jinchuuriki until the final round. It was quite the battle of wits. That final trap of hers was almost perfect. Too bad her opponent figured it out at the last second," explained the bearded man.

"Yeah… " muttered the first man.

"So, you saw that match, too?" asked the kyuubi.

"Oh, took an interest in it?" asked the bearded man.

"It lacked the thrill of some of the other fights, but as a thinking match, it was unrivaled," replied the kyuubi.

"I agree. You seem to take quite an interest in the shinobi arts," spoke the bearded man, "What about you?"

"Hm? Me? I was trained as a shinobi in Taki. I opted to leave to act as a body guard for milady," replied Naruto.

"Oh, Taki, eh? It's been a while since I last met a shinobi from your village. Even longer since the last time I was there, not since the last time they held the chunin exams. I took my first exam there. I was knocked out in the second part. Total disappointment," spoke the bearded man.

"That's right, you took it a couple times, didn't you?" asked the long haired man.

"Yeah, I did. Kept losing teammates in the second exam. Ended up losing by default. Not to mention I was believed to be bad luck because of that," replied the bearded man.

"Ah, that's why everyone was nervous about being teamed up with you. Well, it worked out for me, I ended up passing the first time around," spoke the long haired man.

"Indeed," replied the bearded man.

"Was this the first time Yugito?" asked the kyuubi, "I would think I would remember if she appeared in more than one exam."

"Yeah, it was. She waited a few years, though. Smart move on her part. Part of my mistake was taking it within a year of my becoming a genin. Rather unwise. I might have been alright if I had an experienced team, but we were all rookies. That Yugito… she really is something else," spoke the bearded man.

"It's a shame the jinchuuriki of the other villages aren't treated as kindly," spoke the kyuubi.

"Ah, I've heard rumors about how some of the others are treated. I hear the Mizukage is one, which suggests Kiri treats them with respect. I've heard some bad rumors about the others, though. I hear yours is kept locked up at all times, am I right?" asked the bearded man of Naruto.

Naruto offered a small nod in response.

"I heard Konoha killed theirs. Suna ain't much better; they kill the jinchuuriki when the person outlives his or her usefulness, and seals their bijuu into the next available candidate. Iwa treats theirs like weapons, though, not quite on the level that Suna does. We used to be like that, until the Yondaime came to power. His brother is a jinchuuriki, and, as a result, our jinchuuriki are treated with respect. We've all learned to respect Yugito-san and Kirabi-sama. Even the old geezers who followed the teachings of the Sandaime have warmed up to them. It's a shame the other villages don't follow suit. Maybe you should tell the leader of your village, eh? It would be better if it was one of the other big five," explained the bearded man.

"We do as we need to. He needs to be kept under guard at all times, lest he try to escape," replied Naruto.

"Eh? I thought yours was a kunoichi?" asked the bearded man.

"Damn it, I was doing so well!!" thought Naruto.

"Tck, he always refers to 'her' as 'it.' The fact that he assigned a gender at all is amazing," spoke the kyuubi.

"Y-yeah, that's right. 'It' is a rather bothersome thing to deal with," replied Naruto.

"Ouch, that's harsh, but I'm not trying to change your outlook on life. I'm just say'in, you know? You don't have to listen," spoke the bearded man.

"It's fine, I'll take your words into consideration," spoke Naruto.

"Very well," spoke the bearded man.

"I don't suppose you know where that young lady walked off to, do you?" asked the kyuubi.

"Who? Yugito? Off to train, I suppose. She still 'lost' the fight, so she's probably working on her strategy. Probably with Kirabi-sama. Those two train together often, since they can understand each other better than anyone else ever could, excepting the Yondaime, of course," replied the bearded man.

"I would like to see their training methods," spoke Naruto.

"Would you, now? Well, since I'm curious, I guess we can go. It's a good thing I have such an interest in the shinobi arts. If not, you would miss out. You're my bodyguard, after all," replied the kyuubi.

"Hai, milady," spoke Naruto.

"Ouch, you have him whipped, don't'cha?" spoke the long haired man.

Naruto grunted in response.

"You know, he ripped through a village before. You probably shouldn't try to get on his bad side," replied the kyuubi.

"Oh, I see. I'll keep that in mind," spoke the long haired man in a sarcastic tone. The man ceased grinning when a lock of his hair fell to the ground.

"Are you ready, milady?" asked Naruto.

"Oh, hai, let's get going," spoke the kyuubi, "It's been fun, gentlemen."

Naruto and the kyuubi left a grinning man with a beard and a stunned man with a new haircut. As the pair sought out the training grounds, the kyuubi bore a delighted grin on her face.

"Nice one, there. When did you learn how to do that?" asked the kyuubi.

"Something I picked up from watching Itachi," replied Naruto.

"Ah, the Uchiha. Of course. You should pass that one on to me when we have the chance," spoke the kyuubi.

"Yeah, sure," replied Naruto.

"Geez, maybe you drank a little too much. Guess that would make you an angry drunk," spoke the kyuubi.

"It's not that. I'm just pissed that the jinchuuriki here get the star treatment, while I was hunted like a wild animal," replied Naruto.

"I guess you used your own treatment as a basis for the assumption of how Taki's jinchuuriki is treated, eh?" asked the kyuubi.

"Yeah, I slipped up assuming it was a guy," replied Naruto.

"Good thing I saved you, though, that guy with the beard did appear to be quite knowledgeable," spoke the kyuubi.

"He might be trouble later on. I wouldn't want to have to deal with him," replied Naruto.

"He's just a chunin. He has the mind, but not the will to advance any further. I wouldn't worry about him," spoke the kyuubi.

"What makes you think that?" asked Naruto.

"The look in his eyes and his tone of voice. He's happy with his current life, as far as I can tell. The other one is a different story, but that might be due to him being younger. Now, where would the training grounds for this village be, I wonder?" asked the kyuubi out loud.

"Either up or below," replied Naruto.

"My thoughts exactly. If we go up, we hit the Raikage's tower. While we might luck out and stumble upon this 'Kirabi' guy up there, we wouldn't be able to take on a kage. That leaves down. There were several caves we passed on our way up. They must be in one of those. I felt some strong chakra coming out of them," spoke the kyuubi.

"Sounds good to me," replied Naruto, as the pair left the village. On their way down the mountainside, they ran into Itachi, Kisame, and Sasori.

"Oh, you three find them?" asked the kyuubi.

"We did. Both are here. I take it you heard about that as well?" asked Itachi.

"And more. We know which villages have jinchuuriki," replied the kyuubi.

"You did? From where?" asked Sasori.

"One of their shinobi. They're upfront about talking about their jinchuuriki. They're respected here, rather than hidden away as tools," replied the kyuubi.

"Interesting. Well we knew the Yondaime Mizukage was one. What about the others? Any of them kage?" asked Kisame.

"Doubtful, from the way he spoke of them," replied the kyuubi.

"They're treated as weapons in the other villages. Suna is supposedly the worse, followed by Iwa. Taki treats their jinchuuriki like a prisoner," spoke Naruto.

"Oh, Taki has one, do they? Didn't expect that," replied Kisame.

"We'll pass that on to the leader. We've seen what we need to of these two. We came for information, and we have it. Let us be on our way," spoke Sasori.

"Oh, that's it? What a buzz kill. I was hoping for some more excitement," spoke the kyuubi.

"In time. For the time being, we move quietly. When the time comes, we'll make our presence known," replied Sasori.

"I see. Very well," spoke the kyuubi.

The group took their leave of Kumo, and made best speed for the border of Kaminari no Kuni. As soon as the group was clear of the border, Naruto and the kyuubi dropped their disguises, and the group made up a camp for the night. Before going to sleep, the group made contact with Pein.

"Is your mission complete?" asked Pein.

"Hai, there are two jinchuuriki in Kumogakure. They are treated with the utmost respect. Capturing them may prove difficult," replied Sasori.

"I see. Did you learn anything else of use?" asked Pein.

"The one know as Kirabi almost exclusively uses ration no jutsu. He also appears to favor kenjutsu. The one known as Yugito uses a mix of ration and katon no jutsu, with an emphasis on ranged jutsu," replied Itachi.

"We also heard information on the locations of the other jinchuuriki," spoke Naruto.

"Did you? What did you hear?" asked Pein.

"The others are in Iwa, Taki, Kiri, and Suna," replied Naruto.

"I did not know about Taki having a jinchuuriki. I will send Zetsu to investigate. Even if it's a rumor, it would be unwise to ignore it. Good work, all of you. For the time being, look into finding ways to raise money. Kakuzu is tracking several bounties. I would suggest you do the same," spoke Pein.

"Are we to act as group?" asked Kisame.

"In your own two-man teams. The kyuubi and Naruto will remain with you for the time being, Itachi, Kisame," replied Pein.

"Understood," replied Itachi.

"I will contact you when I have a new assignment for you. Until then, be on guard, and stay within the shadows," spoke Pein, before disappearing. The others followed suit, returning to their camp. The team had a quick meal before going to sleep.

Over the next several years, Akatsuki would continue to operate in the shadows, tracking bounties and recovering information vital to their mission. The group also kept an ear open for Orochimaru's whereabouts, though they were unable to catch up to him, as he moved every time Akatsuki came close to capturing him.

In the forest beyond Konoha, the Snake Sannin took a look at his previous home.

"This has been a long time in coming. Old man, you and that village of yours will pay for shunning my research, as well as the other 'treasure' you have," thought Orochimaru, as he let a small chuckle slip from his mouth.

A/N: Tasome can be spelled as , which means hand, a reference to how he was "hands on" in his actions. Kari can be spelled as , which means hunt, a reference to his former occupation as a hunter, while his given name, Hitoshi, can be spelled as , which means one, which refers to both how he has secluded himself, as well as being "one" of the few people Kakuzu harbors any form of respect towards. Thank you reading, and please leave a review.