Naruto took one look at Sakura and frowned.
"You look live you've been in a battle," he said.
"We have been," Sakura replied. "Come on." Without waiting for a reply she started running along the Temple's perimeter, the fastest route they could take south without interrupting the other monks at the Temple.
"We?" Naruto asked as he caught up with her. "What has happened exactly? I've only been gone for a couple of hours."
"Right after you left," Sakura reported, "we got word from some monk scouts that a clan village near here, by the Fire Country border, was under attack. Yamato-taichou offered our assistance so Yamato-taichou, Sai and I accompanied two monk squads to the village to investigate."
"The Kohaku village?" Naruto guessed.
"Hai. When we got there the whole village had already been massacred, down to the last man, woman and child." Sakura paused to give Naruto time to react but her former team mate did not. He simply ran beside her, his face an impassive mask. She continued. "As we arrived the perpetrators were leaving. It was Furido and his unit. We engaged them in combat and lost. If it hadn't been for your information we would have likely been killed. The strategist kunoichi, Fuen, changed the entire landscape and we were ambushed. We faked our deaths and with the help of your shadow clone we were able to escape the scene without being noticed. During the fight Sai was grievously wounded but I was able to heal him. It will still take him a week or so to completely heal, so for now he is out of commission, which reduces our unit's members from four to two."
"I see," Naruto replied. "What was my shadow clone doing there?" Naruto asked puzzled.
"The enemy's base of operations was the mountain overlooking Kohaku village. Your shadow clone had already infiltrated the hideout but Furido must be the paranoid type because there were no documents to retrieve. After our brief battle your shadow clone set off after Furido in order to learn more."
"Understood. Why did you call me back, then, if the situation is under control?"
"Yamato-taichou is recruiting you onto the squad until further notice. We need the manpower. Also Chiriku-sama, the abbot of this Temple, would like to speak to you about … about…"
"My mother?" Naruto said.
"Yes," Sakura replied. "He wishes to talk to you about your mother. Apparently Konoha's Council denied him access to you for some unspecified reason."
"They were fearful he would take me away," Naruto replied.
"Take you away?" Sakura asked. "Why would he do that?"
"Chiriku-sama was still a member of the Twelve Guardian Ninja at that time and had our Daimyo's ear. As Uzumaki Kushina's friend and team mate he could file to be my guardian and take me away from Konoha, which would upset the Council to no end. So they probably denied him access so that wouldn't happen, and with Chiriku-sama's duties as the Daimyo's bodyguard he didn't exactly have the time to run around Konoha appealing his case."
"But why wouldn't the Council want you to be adopted?" Sakura asked even more confused.
"I…" Naruto started to reply before he shook his head and just kept silent.
Sakura looked at him for a few seconds before it became apparent Naruto wasn't going to speak on the subject anymore.
"You've really grown, Naruto," she said with a faint smile.
"Thanks," Naruto said with a grin. "But you haven't seen anything yet! Wait till you see my new perverted ninjutsu!"
"Your new what?" Sakura asked in a dangerous tone of voice.
"… Er … I meant to say wait till you see my new techniques!" Naruto quickly back-paddled.
"That's what I thought," Sakura said. So different and yet still the same, Sakura mused to herself with an inward smile. "What's up with your shadow clone?" Sakura asked. The question had been bugging her ever since she had seen it in action again Fuka, the other kunoichi in Furido's unit.
"What do you mean?" Naruto asked with a frown.
"Well, why hasn't it dispelled yet? How can it endure such intense combat without being destroyed?"
"Oh, that," Naruto said with a smile. "I'm probably one of the few ninja who has taken it so far."
"Taken what so far?" Sakura asked.
"Shadow Clone research," Naruto replied simply. "It's the method I used to train while I was away from Konoha. As you probably know any information and experience a shadow clone gets is transmitted to the user of the technique when it is destroyed. Because of my large chakra capacity I can use the Shadow Clone technique numerous times in any given time period, whereas ninja like Kakashi-sensei can only use it once or twice without weakening themselves in a fight. I have gotten a lot stronger than I would have been able to otherwise thanks to that technique, going through several decades' worth of training at the very least. I really should write a letter of thanks to Mizuki-sensei one of these days.
Anyway, I realised early on that a shadow clone is just a mock body made out of chakra. There is a brain and a chakra circulatory system, which accounts for the shadow clone's ability to act independently and use ninjutsu, but all the other organs and tissues are not functional, which is why shadow clones do not actually need to breath or sleep, making them the ideal spying technique. But this also makes them weak. When attacked and, for example, slashed across the arm, the body of chakra that makes up a shadow clone is compromised and the chakra starts leaking. When the chakra starts leaking the shadow clone is destroyed because the chakra has lost cohesion. I researched how the technique works down to the very last atom, and then researched human physiology and anatomy, medicine, biomedical science, chakra manipulation and the chakra circulatory system, e.t.c. If it hadn't been for the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu I would never have been able to get through that much information and research material in the time frame I had. It's also why I know a bit about how medical ninjutsu, although I can't say I can use it myself. I could never actually be a medical ninja anyway. It requires constant chakra control and concentration I don't think I could keep up. But I digress.
After my research, after I had gathered all the necessary tools and information, I invented my own version of the Shadow Clone technique. Because everything is anatomically correct the shadow clone is effectively a fully cloned human body and therefore has reduced chances of being dispelled. And thanks to the seal I put on that particular shadow clone you met, the one I sent for reconnaissance, its wellbeing is independent of my own. You could kill me right now and it would still keep operating. I think. I haven't exactly had the opportunity to test that particular theory out. The only way for the clone to be dispelled is if either I undo the technique or it does. It brings a whole new range of possibilities to the table. But as you know the more complex the technique, the bigger the side effects to the user of the technique, and my Shadow Clone technique comes with greater risk and an even bigger headache. Literally. This is because when the shadow clone is dispelled it is no longer simple information I receive. I have to relieve every single thing it has, from any insect bites right down to the last injury. I have to live through what it has, and because of the mental connection even though there are no physical marks on my body, my mind believes I have been injured if the clone has been injured, and because this takes place at the speed of thought I will relieve every second of agony the shadow clone went through while on the outside only a few seconds or minutes will pass. This makes the whole information relay process last a bit more than if it was a normal shadow clone. The first time I tested it out I passed out from the surge of information so now I use it only when absolutely necessary."
"You did all that?" Sakura asked and she was unable to hide her awe.
"It was nothing really," Naruto replied with a shy smile, all of the sudden embarrassed. "To be honest with you if it hadn't been for Hinata-hime and her Byakugan I would never have achieved half the things I have. Her insight really helped me a lot."
Hinata-hime, eh? Sakura thought and she instantly shocked by the feeling those words engendered. This isn't the time! She told herself sternly.
"But it is still amazing, Naruto. Your technique could be the next biggest thing in espionage! ANBU would give anything for you to teach them! I know they would."
"You think so?" Naruto laughed.
"I know so," Sakura replied with a smile. "Although those side effects might give some people pause for thought. From the sounds of things this technique, if it is researched properly and can be forced onto someone, can be used for interrogation purposes as well, and there would never be a single mark on the target. That's slightly scary."
Naruto nodded slowly, his eyes suddenly far away. Now that's interesting… Naruto thought.
"We're here," Sakura finally said because Naruto looked so lost in thought she was worried he might not realise.
Naruto blinked and looked around just as both Konoha shinobi landed in front of Chiriku.
"Chiriku-sama," they both greeted the abbot.
The monk bowed in reply. "This way please, Naruto-kun," Chiriku said.
"I'll see you soon, Sakura-chan," Naruto said with a small wave without looking back.
"Goodbye, Naruto-kun," Sakura whispered softly. She knew that whatever happened during Naruto's conversation with the abbot would change things. Whether it was for the better or worse was still to be determined, though.
Chiriku sat on one side of the table with his legs folded underneath him while Naruto sat on the other. On the table in between them was a tea set and Chiriku was in the middle of the tea pouring ceremony. After spending a year with Hinata-hime's grandmother Naruto had learnt a lot about ceremonies and formal procedures, and he'd come to love the tea pouring ceremony in particular. The grace with which Chiriku carried himself and the look of peace on the abbot's face was enough to tell Naruto a lot about the former ninja. Chiriku was obviously a focused person who was capable of great strength but also great mercy. Chiriku was also very sharp and intelligent and unlikely to be deceived or misled. He was also an honest man. Naruto smiled inwardly. Whatever he was about to discover would be, from Chiriku's point of view, the whole truth. Chiriku poured Naruto's tea and then poured his own. Naruto picked up his cup but did not drink until Chiriku had, which was a show of respect and propriety on Naruto's part. Chiriku smiled knowingly at Naruto as he sipped his tea. Naruto followed suit.
"You carry yourself with all the formality of the Hyūga," Chiriku commented idly.
"You have sharp eyes and even sharper insight," Naruto replied with a small bow of his head. "I spent a year living with a Hyūga, and she was a stickler for protocol. Or at least she beat it into me. She didn't seem to hold much regard for protocol herself, though, the hypocrite." Naruto smiled as he remembered old lady Hinata.
"It sounds like she was a good person," Chiriku remarked as he noted the peaceable smile on Naruto's lips.
"How did she pass away?"
"Ah," Chiriku sighed. "A glorious and desirable death in this world of shinobi. That is how I would like to pass away, too, if I had the choice."
"You sound as if you know how and when you're going to die," Naruto said shrewdly, eyeing the monk suspiciously.
Chiriku laughed. "Why would I wish for such a curse? The mystery is enough for me."
"You didn't answer the question," Naruto pointed out.
"You didn't ask one, dear child," Chiriku said with an innocent smile.
Naruto grumbled before finally letting out a short laugh. "I have been through so much that sometimes I forget I am still a child. I'm just another sixteen year old boy."
"It must be sobering thought, especially after all you have been through," Chiriku mused.
"It is," Naruto replied, "but I'm a Jinchūriki and a shinobi to boot. My path was predetermined from the moment I was born."
Chiriku frowned. "Aren't you the one who defeated that Hyūga prodigy, Neji I think was his name, and said the concept of fate was, and I quote, "bullshit"?"
Naruto laughed, remembering those days. "I stand by what I said," he answered still chuckling. "But I have grown up since then too, and I have witnessed things that in the grand scheme of things just have to be fate. In this world I have discovered that coincidence is a very rare thing. It is why I started believing in a Higher Power. Life itself, from my experience, is one big puzzle, and for those lucky enough to possess the power of insight the puzzle will be that much easier to solve. I finally appreciate the saying that it is not the destination but the journey that matters. In my quest for power and knowledge I have met some amazing people and have changed and been changed by them. My quest is not even one percent complete but I imagine by the time I get to Ero-Sennin's age and have lived a rich and full life as he has, then I will truly be as wise as he is."
"Just by saying that you have shown the beginnings of wisdom," Chiriku complimented gravely. The abbot stared into Naruto's eyes and Naruto started to get a sense of dissociation with the world at large. A soft golden light seemed to be emanating from within Chiriku and Naruto felt more than saw a hand slightly caress his cheek and bestow a benevolent palm on his forehead. The feeling he got was … heavenly… He wished he could feel that way forever. He had been exposed to a life filled with raw and powerful emotions, mainly hatred. The peace he felt was the complete opposite of that, and what's more he sensed that it wasn't coming from him or Chiriku, but something else. It was a peace that had been fought for very hard and bred understanding with everything that had yet to experience that peace. It was … heavenly…
He was sitting opposite Chiriku with an empty cup. Naruto had never felt so at peace with the world and wished that feeling would never stop but they had drunk their tea and it was now time to get down to business. Naruto carefully and deliberately put his cup down and bowed his head to Chiriku in thanks. Chiriku mimicked him.
"I heard you wished to speak to me regarding my mother," Naruto said.
"I did." Chiriku was silent for a whole minute, his eyes far away. He did not speak for a full two minutes and Naruto was not inclined to interrupt the monk's thoughts. Chiriku would speak when he was ready. Finally Chiriku met Naruto's eyes. "I was in love with your mother, you know."
Naruto blinked. "What?" he asked. It was the most intelligible thing he could utter. The admission had caught him off guard.
Chiriku smiled sadly. "I was in love with Uzumaki Kushina. She was such a … primal person, vigorously alive and highly opinionated. Just like you. And even before I became a monk I was a quiet and reserved man. We were complete opposites, and yet I lost the battle for her heart to a man just like myself. I think it's the most disappointed I have ever been in myself. She was … a unique and precious person."
Naruto didn't interrupt, and to be honest he didn't think he could. Despite how much he tried to control his expression he couldn't prevent the look of absolute hunger from showing in his eyes. Chiriku, who had been talking of his past love not out of nostalgia but to test the young shinobi, felt his heart ache a little. You crave the smallest bits of information about a mother you never knew like a desert wanderer craves water.
"Your mother was the nicest person I ever met. Like you, her view of the ninja world was at times a bit too idealistic and with more naivety than would be expected from a ninja, but like you I think it is what made her a powerful soul to contend with. As you no doubt know there are a lot of pessimistic ninja out there who have lost faith in human beings, but you haven't. That, I sense, will be your greatest weapon. Never give in to despair."
"I won't," Naruto swore.
"Good. Now I have a gift for you. Well, it's more like your inheritance."
"Inheritance?" Naruto asked surprised.
"Yes." Chiriku formed a couple of seals and there was an explosion of smoke in front of him. When it cleared there was a large rectangular wooden chest inlaid with beautiful carvings of mythical creatures. Naruto's eyes widened as he made out all of the Tailed Beasts amongst the carvings. The Nine Tailed Fox was the most prominent of all the creatures with its mouth being the keyhole. Its eyes were rubies that managed to capture the hatred and bloodlust of the actual creature. Naruto had to fight hard not to put his hand over his navel.
"What is it?" he asked.
"I received this package by messenger toad the same day the Nine Tails attacked Konoha."
"Messenger toad?" Naruto said sharply, looking into Chiriku's eyes.
"Yes," Chiriku replied. "The Fourth Hokage sent it just before he went into battle with the Kyuubi. The toad explained that the Fourth had intercepted your mother's messenger summoning because it was in danger of being intercepted by the enemy. "
"I see," Naruto said frowning. "What enemy exactly? The Kyuubi is a natural disaster, albeit a conscious one. It was the only enemy."
"Exactly," Chiriku answered and Naruto' frown deepened. "I can see it in your eyes," Chiriku continued. "You didn't believe what you just said; the Kyuubi wasn't a natural disaster when it attacked Konoha. I am guessing you have been investigating the incident?" Chiriku's eyes narrowed momentarily before he regarded Naruto with raised brows.
"You know, don't you?" he asked with a slight note of surprise.
"Know what?" Naruto asked neutrally.
"You know that before you it was your mother that was the Kyuubi no Yoko's container."
Naruto didn't reply.
"There are only three people left alive from Konoha who knew that Uzumaki Kushina was the Kyuubi's host before you, although I think it is safe to assume Danzō of Root was aware of that fact as well. I know that at this point in time these three people have not and would not tell you of the Kyuubi's history. The only way you could know is if you investigated yourself, and the only place in the world you could find out such information is with your clan…" Chiriku's eyes widened. "The Uzumaki Clan still lives?" he asked in a whisper.
"Barely," Naruto replied softly. "I was just in time to stop the Kazama from annihilating each other. The Uzumaki and the Boufuu have been at war since the cataclysm, each blaming the other for the destruction of their country. I was the one who managed to make them see that there were other elements at work, along with Hiarashi-sensei's help."
"Other elements?" Chiriku queried.
"Most probably the same elements that were later responsible for the Kyuubi's attack on Konoha. I am still gathering information but it's a slow process, made even slower by the fact no one has any clue as to who or what organisation is behind these events."
"But you have an idea," Chiriku stated with certainty.
"The exact identity eludes me," Naruto said, "but I have successfully managed to link seemingly random events in virtually every country on this continent over the past eighty years."
"Eighty years!" Chiriku's reaction this time was one of blatant shocked.
"Most of these events seemed to serve no purpose except to create death and destruction," Naruto continued, "but as some of us know where there is a confluence of negative energy and emotion certain feats are possible. An example would be the formation of the Kyuubi. All these events shared the same method of operation, and if it weren't for some key members I would never have been able to divine any of this information."
Chiriku was silent for a long time before he finally spoke again. "There is a war coming."
"Undoubtedly," Naruto agreed. "The fact that it has been decades in the making is quite frightening. It will most probably make the Great Ninja Wars look like children's squabbles."
"Who knows?" Chiriku asked.
"Aside from you, only Ero-Sennin, Hinata-hime and the Great Toad Sage on Myōbokuzan know."
"And why have you told me?"
"If the scant information I have discovered is any indication, the Temple of Fire will be attacked. I don't know when, but I believe it is soon. The signs are everywhere; Akatsuki if finally and publicly on the move. There are tensions between Iwagakure, Kumogakure and Kirigakure, which happen to be the most militant-minded and aggressive of the Five Great Ninja Countries. It could literally take anything to spark up another Great Ninja War. There are other, lesser, signs that have been observed. Hi no Tera is a major component of Fire Country's military strength. The Temple doesn't get involved in wars lightly, but something of this magnitude would necessitate its participation. With the number of sōhei here and the quality of their shinobi skills the Temple is effectively a second ninja village, something unique to this country. It's what has always been the trump card in previous wars when the country itself was threatened. A person or organisation long sighted enough and intelligent enough to have orchestrated everything I have discovered so far will know this and therefore will make sure to take you out of play before making any overt moves. Your survival, and the temple's, is vital. The enemy, whoever it is, needs to be stopped before the situation escalates any further."
"You have a plan?"
"Yes," Naruto said looking at the abbot steadily. "When the Temple is attacked, all the monks must die."
Chiriku remained utterly still and it seemed to Naruto as if he was looking at a statue and not a human. After a whole minute life finally returned to Chiriku's eyes and there was an almost imperceptible smile on his lips.
"He's certainly surprising, isn't he?" Yamato said as he sat down next to Sakura.
Sakura looked at her captain and smiled. "Yes he has. It kind of makes me sad, to be honest. You should have seen him back in our Genin days. He was the stupidest, most unpredictable and downright annoying and frustrating person you could ever hope to meet. But for all that he possessed the kind of determination and brilliance in battle that most ninja have to work to attain."
"That about sums up the boy I was told about," Yamato commented.
"No, he not a boy anymore," Sakura said with a note of realisation. "He's grown up. He might act like the goof off he was before but I can see he's different. It's in his eyes."
"Yes, he's certainly grown," Yamato agreed.
"Just like a man!" Sakura said.
"What do you mean?" Yamato asked.
"All you're thinking about is his ninjutsu and physical capabilities. I'm talking about his maturity as a person … as a man. He's no longer a child, despite how he acts. That's saying a lot where Naruto is concerned."
"It sounds like you're quite attached to him."
"I am," Sakura said with a smile. "He's someone precious to me, dependable no matter what. I think that I actually-"
Both Sakura and Yamato started at the shout. They turned round and saw Naruto running towards them. As they stood up he halted in front of them, panting.
"What is it?" Sakura asked.
"Furido is going to attack Konoha!" Naruto gasped out.
"What!" Yamato asked.
"One of the shadow clones I sent out to shadow Furido and his gang just reported back to me. It intercepted a message between Furido and Fuen. He was asking her if she had everything ready for the attack. When the shadow clone dispelled itself the other three shadow clones rushed to locate all the other members of the enemy's unit. They also intercepted messages pertaining to details consistent with a large scale attack. If I understand correctly Furido plans to attack Konoha within the week."
"We need to rush back to Konoha," Yamato said. "The Hokage needs to be warned."
"You and Sakura go on ahead," Naruto said. "I can follow behind with Hinata-hime and Sai-kun. I'll roughly be a couple of hours behind you."
Yamato hesitated for a second before he nodded. "Come on, Sakura-san!"