Important Authors note: Some of you may know this and some of you may not, but I'm getting ready to publish my first original novel. It should be out in about a month now. This is an exciting step for me and I hope you guys will support me by getting a copy when it comes out and letting me know what you think. It'll be available through Amazon as a paper back and (hopefully) an eBook.

For those who are curious to know what the story is about, here is the blurb that you will find on the back of my cover. For those who read the last blurb in either Devil Ninja or the Heir of Slytherin, you'll notice I changed it quite a bit.

Kevin Swift is a mature young man; he's independent, responsible, gets good grades, and is one of the star runners for the track team. The only thing keeping him from being "Mr. Popular" is this strange problem he has around girls. He just can't talk to them...at least, not without making a fool of himself.

Enter Lilian Pnév̱ma (nev-ma). She's cheerful, vibrant, and inhumanly beautiful. She's also just plain inhuman, something Kevin learns the hard way when he discovers a naked Lilian in his apartment instead of the two-tailed fox he brought home the other day. Lilian claims he is her mate and is willing to do anything―no matter how embarrassing it is for Kevin―to earn his love. Needless to say, life for Kevin Swift just got a whole lot more difficult.

So what do you think? Interested? If you want to learn more you can go to facebook and search for American Kitsune.

Anyway, I've babbled about my novel enough. Please enjoy the latest chapter of Namikaze's Return.


Chapter 27: Approaching Tempest

Morning in Kirigakure came as the sun rose over the horizon. With the first rays of light shining across the large coalition of islands, a number of people began to wake up, getting themselves ready to start another day; bakers began baking their goods, merchants started to set up shop, and a number of shinobi could be seen traveling across the roofs of buildings. A light breeze blew through the hidden village, carrying with it the scent of the sea.

It was this scent that caused Nii Yugito to stir from her slumber. Cracking a single eye open, the young woman with long blond hair quickly shut it again as several rays of light streaming in through the nearest window hit her eyes. Groaning, she rolled onto her side and shut her eyes again, determined to get a few more minutes of sleep before starting her day. It wasn't like she had anything pressing to do right now anyways.

As she rolled over her right hand came into contact with something that caused her to pause. It was soft, and round, and squishy. She recognized what it was, even in her semi-conscious state.

Opening both eyes, the first thing Yugito saw was the mass of red hair. It was spread across the bed, looking almost like wild fire as the sunlight hit it.

The second thing she saw was the woman that hair belonged to, a beautiful woman with a figure that rivaled her own, and a face that held a sensual elegance about it. Even when she was at rest, the woman looked positively alluring, with her eyes closed and her lips parted ever so slightly, just begging someone to plant a kiss on them. Yugito shook her head of such thoughts, but could not deny it had entered her mind.

The last thing the blond-haired Jinchurikki noticed was that her hand was on the woman's right breast. Yugito blinked several times, wondering what she should do. After a moment's thought she decided to slowly take her hand off Mei's well-formed chest so as not to wake her.

"You can leave it there if you want."

Startled, Yugito tilted her head to see that Mei was already awake. The woman's sea green eyes were staring at her with a mixture of amusement and mischief that reminded her a lot of the man they were going to marry. Maybe that was the reason she had allowed this woman to convince her to share a bed.

"I didn't want to wake you," Yugito said, letting her hand come back down to rest on Mei's bare bosom.

"I've been awake for a while," Mei admitted. The woman with gloriously long red hair allowed her own hand to rest on Yugito's. "I don't really feel like getting up right now though, so I decided to relax a bit."

"I don't think that's really something a Kage should say," Yugito teased. "People will accuse you of being lazy."

It was interesting for Yugito to realize how at ease she was with the other woman. Maybe it was because they had shared a sexual encounter with each other during the prelims when they both had sex with Naruto...in fact she was sure that was the reason. Still, it did not change how fascinating the thought of her and this woman being more...involved with each other than was necessary was to the blond beauty.

"They can say whatever they want," Mei countered, "I don't really care, though I doubt anyone would actually complain. With Mizu no Kuni at peace, I don't have as much to do anymore." Relatively speaking, at least, especially when compared to immediately after the war when they were rebuilding the nation. The process of not only rebuilding her shinobi forces after having them nearly cut in half, but also aiding the civilians regain their livelihood, and rebuilding Kirigakure from all the damage it had taken during the war had been a very long and arduous process. It was fortunate they had the full support of the Daimyo in this or the process would have taken much longer than two years.

"That sounds like an excuse to me," Yugito mumbled. Despite saying this, the blond-haired beauty scooted closer to Mei, allowing their equally nude bodies to conform as she used the red head's bosom as a pillow.

"It's only an excuse when there is actually work to do," Mei countered as she pulled the slightly younger woman closer. Cuddling with Yugito wasn't the same as cuddling with Naruto, but for the moment, both of them were willing to contend themselves with each other. "I can afford to rest for a few more minutes."

"Hmm..." Yugito moaned slightly as she relaxed into the other woman's embrace. Her eyes closed again as warmth seeped into her body.

She allowed herself this small moment of peace and quiet to last for several seconds before speaking again.

"So what do we have to do today?"

"There are only a few more formalities to worry about before we can finalize the alliance between Kumo and Kiri."

"...Great."

"It shouldn't take longer than an hour or two," Mei ignored the sarcasm in Yugito's voice. "The council is only procrastinating because that's how they work. They want this alliance to happen just as much as we do since it will mean securing both our northern and eastern borders from intrusion. Once that happens, we'll officially be allies with both Konoha and Kumo."

"And Suna," Yugito added.

"And Suna," Mei agreed, though the desert nation was not really important to Kiri, being too far away to for them to really effect her village. A thoughtful hum escaped her lips. "Once the alliance is finalized we'll become the largest coalition of allied shinobi villages in the Elemental Nations. Not to mention the most powerful."

Yugito could not help but agree. An alliance between Konoha, Kiri, Kumo, and Suna would make them the largest and most powerful group of allied villages. That was four of the five Great Shinobi Nations. That was a lot of fire power to bring down.

"We're going to ruffle some feathers when the alliance becomes official."

Mei nearly snorted. "We've already ruffled quite a few feathers. Some of the smaller countries have learned of the alliance and are getting restless. They won't do anything though, they know that if they were to start anything they would be crushed." The minor villages were much smaller than their counterparts in the Five Great Nations. Plus their forces were not as well trained due to their lack of funding. A war against one nation of Kiri's size would be costly, a war against four was suicidal.

"Do we know what Iwa has to say about all this?"

"No," Mei shook her head at Yugito's question, "Iwa has been silent since several of their ninja went rogue and attempted to use Koyuki as a hostage to kill Naruto. They cannot afford to make any moves right now, though I do not doubt they know about the alliance." It wasn't like they had tried keeping it a secret. Every village worth their weight likely knew about the upcoming nupitals between Naruto, Mei and Yugito. It wasn't as publicized as Naruto's close "friendship" with Koyuki, but it wasn't like they had done anything to hide it either.

Yugito did not say anything, merely absorbed the information to the best of her abilities. As a shinobi of Kumo, and one of its Jinchurikki at that, she had not really had to worry about the politics between the villages like this before. She wasn't like Mei who had to worry about running a village or Naruto who was the head of two nearly extinct clans. She was just a ninja with a giant chakra entity sealed inside of her. As such these political concepts were a little more difficult for her to grasp.

It was while Yugito was trying to work her way through the knowledge her fellow sister-wife had given her that Naruto appeared before them within a Hiraishin. Both Yugito's and Mei's eyes lit up when they saw the man they were to marry, but soon realized something was wrong when he did not smile at them. In fact, he looked rather grave.

"Koi," Mei spoke up, disentangling herself from Yugito to stand up, heedless of her own nudity. "What's wrong?"

Naruto said nothing as he walked over to them. Yugito also made to stand. She was only given enough time to sit up, however, before her husband to be sat down on the bed and pulled her into a hug.

"I'm sorry," he said, his voice a mere whisper, "I am so, so sorry."

Yugito did not know what was going on, but a feeling of dread began to well up inside of her, along with confusion. Why was he saying this? What was he sorry about?

She pushed Naruto back a little so she could look at him. The pit in her stomach increased when she saw the despondency on his face.

"Naruto...why are you sorry? What's wrong?"

When Naruto bit his lip, Yugito knew that she would not like his answer.

She had no idea how right she was.

XoX

Breaking the news of Kumo's destruction to Yugito had been much harder than Naruto thought it would be. No amount of preparation could have prepared him for the anguish this knowledge would have given the woman he shared so much in common with. The look on her face when he told her, that tormented expression she had given him was something that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Several hours had past since then. Mei was off in a meeting with her council. As much as she would have liked to remain and help Naruto comfort her distraught sister-wife, she couldn't neglect her duties as the Mizukage. She had left the man they both loved to comfort Yugito, holding her in his arms as she cried out her anguish and rage to the world. It was the only thing he could do in this situation, and it left him feeling powerless. What kind of fiance was he that the only thing he could do was console his inconsolable significant other?

He should have tried to kill Pein when he had the chance. Had he done that none of this would have happened. Yugito wouldn't be mourning the loss of her village and he wouldn't have to deal with this feeling of helplessness and guilt.

The Jinchurikki for the two-tailed Nekomata had fallen asleep several minutes ago, having expended all of her energy crying and screaming out her denial, shock, sorrow, and anger to the world. She was sitting sideways in Naruto's lap as he sat on the bed, his back against the headboard. His arms were wrapped around her in a tight embrace, as if he were trying to shield her from the world. Her head was tucked neatly in the crook of his neck as he rested his chin on the crown of her head.

It was about midday now, which Naruto noted when he looked out the window and saw the sun shining high overhead, sending beams of light down on the world below. From his position on the bed the blond Uzumaki-Namikaze was able to clearly make out the people of the Village Hidden in the Mist as they went about their business, ignorant and unknowing of the tragedy that had just taken place. Naruto felt a dissonance between the world around him and his own broiling emotions. A day in which something so horrifically tragic happens should not be this bright and lively.

The sound of the door clicking open took his attention off his desolate thoughts - something he was grateful for. Looking up as someone entered the room, Naruto was greeted with the sight of Mei Terumi walking over to him.

"How is she?" was the first thing Mei asked as she sat down at the edge of the bed.

Naruto's eyes traveled down to where he could see the shimmering blond hair of Yugito. He could not see anything else right now, but he knew that if he were to get a glimpse of her face he would see red rimmed eyes and tear stained cheeks.

"I think...the answer to that should be more than obvious," he said softly, shifting as he tightened his hold on the blond woman in his arms.

"Right...foolish question, I know." Mei scooted further onto the bed, moving to rest against the headboard right next to him. She grabbed Yugito's calves, lifting them up so she could scoot under them and then set them back down on her la[. Her hands traveled up and down the other woman's legs, which caused the female Jinchurikki to purr lightly in her sleep. It was the only form of comfort the red head could offer right now.

"How did the council take this news?" asked Naruto after several minutes of silence.

"About as well as can be expected," Mei said with a heavy sigh. "They're afraid. It seems that news of Kumo's destruction has reached all corners of the Elemental Nations, as well as the knowledge that one of the Five Great hidden villages was wiped out by a single person. It's only natural they would be afraid of someone with that kind of power."

"Yeah..."

"Is something wrong, koi?"

Naruto shook his head. "Not really...it's just..." the blond-haired Uzumaki grimaced. "I can't help but feel like this is my fault. If I had just killed Pein when I had the chance. If I hadn't run when I confronted him in Ame, then none of this would have happened. Yugito wouldn't be distraught and Kumo would still be standing."

"But your sensei would have been dead," Mei pointed out.

"I love Jiraiya like a father, but the life of one man isn't worth that of the thousands who are likely dead now thanks to Pein." It was harsh thing to say, callous almost, especially coming from Naruto. But as shinobi, both he and Mei knew that sacrifices were sometimes necessary no matter how much they hated that aspect of their lives. "How many people lost fathers, mothers, sons and daughters in that attack? Is my happiness worth the happiness of all those who lost loved ones of their own?" He looked back down at Yugito. "Is it worth her happiness?"

Mei did not answer his question. They both knew the answer, and she knew that, regardless of what she told him, Naruto would blame himself.

She tried another approach. "Do you think you could have beaten him?"

"I don't know," Naruto bit his lip, "Maybe. Pein was able to beat Jiraiya-sensei. My strength is comparable, but we never went all out in our spars, so there's no telling who was the stronger between the two of us. Still...Pein was injured from his battle. I saw that at least one of his paths had been destroyed. I also know how his paths work, I know their weaknesses, their strengths. All he likely knows about me is my affinity for wind jutsu, my use of the Hiraishin and that I can summon toads. I had all the advantages and yet I still retreated..."

"Oh Naruto..." Mei's eyes softened as she looked at the man she was to wed. He looked so despondent right now. That damn noble streak of his was acting up again, making him blame himself for Kumo's destruction even though there was no way he could have known this would happen.

Unable to do anything else, Mei let her head rest on his shoulder and pulled herself as close to him as possible. Right now this was the only thing she could do.

XoX

Naruto was jolted awake as the blond-haired beauty in his arms stirred. Looking down he watched as Yugito sniffled a bit. He could not see her face, but he imagined she didn't look too pleasant right now.

"Yugito..."

Her head lifting a bit, Yugito looked up at Naruto, who winced. When he pictured how horrible she would look he had really been underestimating just how bad it was. Yugito's eyes were bloodshot and puffy from her tears. Her cheeks had tear tracks staining them. There was even a little fluid running down her nose.

"Naruto..." Yugito's voice cracked as she spoke, as if she had not used it for a long time.

"How are you feeling?"

"Awful," Yugito buried her face in his chest. Her arms wove tightly around his torso, holding onto him like some kind of lifeline as her entire body went into a fit of shuddering. In return Naruto's arms held her tightly, trying to give her as much comfort as he could with the gesture.

The pair were silent for a moment, a long moment that seemed to stretch on without end. But end it did when Yugito spoke again. "I'm not dreaming am I?" she asked, her voice soft, conveying with it an anguish and sadness that Naruto felt did not belong in her voice. "This is really happening. Kumo was destroyed."

"I'm sorry." Naruto knew his words meant nothing, but he couldn't help but apologize. It was his fault Kumo was destroyed. Had he just killed Pein when he had the chance this wouldn't have happened.

"I can't believe it's gone," Yugito mumbled. "Kumo was my home, I grew up there my whole life and the shinobi I worked with were always so kind to me, treating me like somebody important instead of scorn like most Jinchurikki are treated in their own village." A stifled sob escaped her lips. Naruto could feel several tears dampen his shirt. "They didn't deserve to die."

"No, they didn't," Naruto agreed. "I wish I could say something that would help ease your pain, but I've never had this happen to me before. I've never lost so much in such a short amount of time. I just...I can't even begin to imagine how you must feel right now. I'm sorry. I wish I could do something for you."

"Just hold me," Yugito told him, "Just like this. Hold me and tell me you'll always be with me...promise me you won't leave me..." Naruto felt like someone had stabbed him in the heart. The woman who had always been so strong, both in spirit and body, was gone. The woman he had grown to love so much sounded more like a weak little girl than a strong-spirited kunoichi. It was enough to break Naruto's heart.

"I promise," he said even though he knew this was one of the few promises he should not make. There was no guarantee he could keep it. But he also knew how fragile Yugito's state currently was. The mere fact that she was even asking him to make this promise when she knew as well as he that the life of a shinobi was often times short and violent told him this. She needed some reassurance, even if it ended up being false assurances, right now she needed something to hold onto.

So he wrapped his arms tightly around his fellow Jinchurikki and gave her the words she wanted―no, the words she needed to hear. "I promise, I'll never leave you. I'll stay with you forever and a day. And you know how I am with promises. If I make a promise..."

"You'll never break it, because that's your nindo."

Yugito and Naruto were almost startled when another voice spoke up. But they relaxed when a second set of arms wrapped around them both, holding onto them just as tightly as they held each other.

"I also promise to stay with you, Yugito," Mei promised the other woman, kissing the blond on the temple.

Yugito allowed her body to relax into the combined embrace of Mei and Naruto, her eyes closing and her body slowly beginning to shut down once more. She was still tired, oh so tired. She needed more rest.

"Thank you," she whispered softly before falling asleep within the embrace of the two people who meant the world to her.

XoX

The day after Yugito and Mei received the news of Kumo's destruction, the trio found themselves standing outside of Kirigakure's gates, waiting. They had received a message sometime last night from Tsunade that a response and rescue team made up of Suna and Konoha shinobi, and Haru no Kuni samurai would be coming to pick them up before setting out for Kumogakure. They would be arriving sometime that morning.

And so they stood there, silently waiting as the sun rose over the horizon and painted both the sky and ocean with brilliant splashes of color. It was a positively cheerful day, a stark contrast to the trio of ninja who waited with the Kirigakure squadron that would be joining them on this expedition.

One of Naruto's arm was wrapped around Yugito's waist. He had not let go of the woman since the news had been released. Even when they ate the pair stayed in constant physical contact, with his fellow blond sitting on his lap.

Yugito did not seem to be in any rush to have this end. Even though she knew it was a crutch to rely on Naruto for strength, right now she needed to, she needed his strength because she did not have any of her own at the moment. Especially with what they were going to be doing, where they would be going. The young woman knew she would need all the strength she could get if she wanted to see what remained of Kumo with her own eyes.

The group did not have to wait long. A mere thirty minutes after they arrived at the gates with the small contingent of Kiri shinobi that were to be accompanying them did a deep thrumming sound from above them, growing louder with each passing moment.

As one the group looked up to see a speck appear in the distance. It was too far for most shinobi to see, but came closer with each passing second. One speck soon became two as the objects continued sailing through the air.

The unidentified flying objects eventually became large enough that everyone could make them out in more detail. They were large, oblong objects with complex multi-plane fins. The way they glistened in the light let everyone know they were made from some kind of alloy. The skeletal structure seemed to consist of several rings and longitudinal girders. The two flying objects were being propelled from the back by several engines, mounted in gondolas, or engine cars, which were built into the structural skeleton. A comparatively small compartment was built into the bottom of the large, cylindrical objects with tapered ends. No doubt it was where all of the passengers were located.

"So that's Haru no Kuni's new Zeppelins," Mei said, intrigued and awed by the massive flying ships. Even Yugito had snapped out of her current depression to gape at the large vessels as they set down a couple meters away. "I had heard they were impressive to see, but I didn't expect them to be so massive."

"Haru no Kuni has always been well-known for their advanced technology," Naruto said as he and the others began walking towards the Zeppelins. The doors on the massive metal monstrosities opened up and a boarding ramp was soon lowered. "This is their latest invention. I'm told it was based off the smaller blimps that Dotou created several years back."

As the group neared the Zeppelins two squads of shinobi from Konoha and Suna emerged from the massive floating ships. Naruto smiled when he saw who was there to greet them.

"Shikamaru, Sakura, Ino, Chouji," he greeted the four who gave their own greetings in turn.

"Troublesome. This is so troublesome." Shikamaru grunted as Ino elbowed him. "Anyways, we're not the only squads here, but we're in charge of this mission." He rubbed his torso. "We've got several more squads and one squad of ANBU from both Konoha and Suna."

Naruto nodded, then looked at the Suna contingent. "Temari, Kankuro, I didn't expect Gaara to send you two."

"Gaara actually wanted to come himself, but we convinced him otherwise," Temari looked at the group, her eyes surveying both Mei and Yugito for a second before moving back to Naruto. "It took us a lot of effort to keep him from leaving."

"It's probably a good thing that you did," Naruto frowned. "With what's happened, Suna is probably the safest place for him right now."

"Yeah, because Kumo didn't just get turned into a smoking crater by one guy―OOF!"

"Kankuro!" Temari hissed at her younger brother as she retracted her elbow from his torso.

"The hell was that for, sis?" asked Kankuro as he rubbed his now sore ribs. Temari just glared at him before pointing at the three people in front of them. When he turned his head it was to the sight of Naruto and Mei glaring daggers at him while Yugito had buried her face in the blond Uzumaki's shoulder.

"Ah, ahahaha...ha...ha..." Kankuro laughed nervously, trying not to shrink in on himself at the sight of two kage level ninja shooting him looks that could melt steel. Considering one of them actually "could" melt steel and the other was rumored to be one of the most powerful shinobi in the Elemental Nations his attempts failed epically.

In other words, Kankuro looked about ready to shit himself.

"I'm...really sorry about that...that was totally callous of me. It won't happen again..."

The puppet user gulped nervously when he saw Naruto's lips thin into a tight, white line. Kankuro got the distinct feeling that the only reason the young clan heir had not pummeled him was because of the blond chick he was currently holding in his arms.

Even that may not have been enough to save him, but help came to him however inadvertently from a very unexpected source.

"Naruto-kun!"

Descending from the ramp of the second blimp was none other than Koyuki Kazehana, the Daimyo to Yuki no Kuni and another one of Naruto's wives (though only Naruto and Koyuki's sister-wives knew that). As was per usual when she was out in public Koyuki was decked out in very regal garb, a thick blue kimono with light red accents and voluminous sleeves. Her hair had been styled in a pair of loops that swung behind her as she walked...well, ran towards them. The young woman, in her haste, seemed to have forgone any sense of decorum and had broken rank from the Samurai surrounding her in order to full-on sprint towards Naruto and the group.

"Yuki," Naruto greeted with a smile. Koyuki looked like she wanted to jump on him as she stopped in front of them, but withheld herself when she saw Yugito in his arms. "How have you been? It's been a while since we saw each other." About a month all told. Naruto had been so busy recently that he'd been unable to visit her weekly like he would have preferred.

"Busy," Koyuki said, "There's a lot of work involved in running a country, you know?"

He did know. She complained about it to him often enough. "I'm surprised you're here then."

"I may have used this as an excuse to take a small break," Koyuki admitted shamelessly as her contingent of samurai caught up to her. "But I thought you guys could use my help." She looked at Yugito, her eyes dimming a bit before they flickered back to Naruto. "I wanted to lend whatever aid I could."

"We could use a hand, actually," Naruto said, "Thank you."

Koyuki smiled at him, but was interrupted from saying anything when the captain of the samurai contingent with her spoke up. "Koyuki-Dono, while we are among allies here, I would like to request that you not run off like that again."

Rolling her eyes Koyuki said, "Oh relax, Aizen. No one would dare attack me here, not with three kage level ninja, two squads of shinobi and a contingent of Haru no Kuni Samurai. It would be suicide."

"Nevertheless, I would like to ask that you show a bit more caution," the man replied smoothly, his voice both articulate and concerned. "It would not do for rumors to spread around about you."

This time, Koyuki scowled. "I do not care about rumors, you know that, and it's already a well-established fact that Naruto is one of my closest friends. If people want to talk about us then let them. You would also do well to remember your station. You may be one of the best captains of my guard, but I will not put up with you disrespecting me like that."

As Koyuki argued with the head of her guard, Naruto found himself studying the older male. He was a very scholarly looking man, with square rimmed glasses, and brown eyes and hair. This did not fool Naruto though, who knew the man was very capable. He wouldn't be wearing the white haori of a guard captain over the chakra armor that all members of the Haru no Kuni guard wear if he wasn't.

Aizen Souseke was one of the newer members of Koyuki's guard detail. He had risen through the ranks from a lowly soldier relatively quickly after joining. Naruto knew this was because he had trained in Tetsu no Kuni, the land where powerful samurai are in abundance. While he had never seen the man in action, it was said that Aizen had mastered the art of Iaido and channeling chakra through his swords to enhance their power at a very young age.

"I don't think he's disrespecting you, Yuki-chan," Naruto placed his free hand on her shoulder. "He's merely concerned about your well-being."

"Thank you, Naruto-san."

"Oh fine," Koyuki rolled her eyes, "I'll be more careful and not run off anymore. There, you happy now?"

"Very."

"This is so troublesome," Shikamaru murmured again as he scratched the back of his head, his eyes blinking lazily. "Look, I don't wanna interrupt you guys," he paused, "Actually I do. This situation is troublesome enough without all this quarreling. Anyway, we really should get a move on."

"Don't be rude Shikamaru!" Ino jabbed her friend and Chunin commander in the gut with her elbow. Shikamaru grunted and rubbed his now sore stomach, but didn't react to the blond girl's maneuver otherwise.

"He is right though," Sakura said, "We really do need to get moving. The more time we spend here the more likely it is that we'll be unable to find anyone to save."

At the reminder that they were going to Kumo in order to rescue any survivors, Yugito perked up.

"They're right," she said softly, stepping away from Naruto's comforting embrace to stand on her own. "We really do need to leave."

"Yugito..." Naruto stared at the woman's eyes as they quivered. "Are you going to be alright?"

"Yes...I..." she bit her lip, "I need to go there...to see what happened to it..my home..."

"I understand," Koyuki clapped her hands together, "And in that case, we should get a move on. Yugito, you'll be coming in my Zeppelin." With that she grabbed the blond girl by the arm and began gently guiding her to the Zeppelin she came out of.

As they began walking off Koyuki turned to look at Naruto. "I'll leave you to commune with your friends and come up with a plan of action for this rescue operation. Yugito and I have some girl things to talk about?"

"Girl things?" Naruto blinked. "What kind of...you know what? Never mind. I don't wanna know." He waved them off. "Have fun."

"Don't worry, we will."

XoX

Yugito allowed Koyuki to guide her along as they walked down the halls of the Zeppelin. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. The walkways were made of metal and their footsteps created a series of loud "clangs" on the floor. Like the floors the walls were also metal, and their polished surface gleamed brightly from the overhead lights. The glare they reflected caused Yugito to wince as it hit her overly sensitive eyes.

The group soon arrived at a set of double doors at the end of the hall. They looked much more majestic then the rest of the hall; dark red wood polished to a shine with golden inlays in rose patterns running along the edges it and the crest of the Kazehana family on each door presented an ornate appearance that managed to keep from looking overly ostentatious.

"This is my personal flagship," Koyuki told Yugito when she saw the older woman staring at her door. "Whenever I travel by air I use this Zeppelin."

"I see..."

"Let's go," as two of the samurai in Koyuki's escort detail opened the door, the woman in question led Yugito into the room. The inside was just as beautiful as the door, though it was a bit more austere than the blond Jinchurikki had expected. Aside from the plush, royal purple carpet and wooden panels along the wall, the only other decore inside was the large bed, a desk, a dresser, a changing area blocked off by screens, and a mirror with ornately woven framework.

"Why don't you sit on the bed while I get changed into something a little more comfortable," Koyuki asked to Yugito as she walked towards the dresser where she began pulling out several articles of clothing. Of course, saying that she "asked" Yugito was a bit of an euphemism. When a Daimyo "asks" you anything, it is more like an order most of the time, even if you were "in" with the Daimyo doing to asking.

Thus, Yugito sat down on the bed.

"Why did you want me to come with you?" asked Yugito as Koyuki moved behind the changing screens and began getting dressed in a new set of clothes.

"We're both going to marry Naruto, but we hardly get to see each other," Koyuki said as if it was the reason was obvious. Seconds later the Daimyo to Haru no Kuni emerged wearing a pair of light blue flannel pants and a long sleeve shirt. "I thought this would be a good time to get to know you a bit better. Plus..."

Koyuki walked over to the bed and sat down right next to the other woman. Yugito watched her move. It was true she did not know the woman before her very well. They had only met a few times because Naruto's "real" relationship with Koyuki was still a closely guarded secret. Only her most loyal advisers and sister-wives knew they were more than just close friends.

It was this lack of knowledge about the woman before her that would probably best explain why she was so surprised when Koyuki pulled her into a hug.

"I also wanted you to know that I understand how you feel," Koyuki said to the stunned Yugito, who merely blinked as she found her head resting against the other woman's bosom. "I remember when my uncle usurped by father's throne, killing him and forcing me to flee everything I ever knew. While my country was still there, I could never go back to it because I knew he would kill me if I did. I remember how hard it was knowing that I would never be able to see my father again, never visit my country again. It was so difficult that there were times I just wanted to give up."

Koyuki paused, gathering her thoughts.

"Naruto, try as he might, can't understand what it's like to lose everything you've ever loved." A hand came up and gently brushed through Yugito's hair. "But I do...and I know that sometimes you need a shoulder to cry and a person who can understand what you're going through the truly help. I'm sure you already feel like you've cried enough tears, but if you think you've got anymore left, now is probably the best time to get them out."

It started with a stifled sob, then turned into a trickle of tears, before becoming a torrential downpour.

As she was held in the arms of one of her fellow sister wives, Yugito cried tears of anguish and pain.

XoX

Pein watched as the Gedo Mazo greedily sucked out the Hachibi's chakra from its host. The chakra of the Bijuu had engulfed its host, who was still unconscious, and a long tendril had snaked its way to the mouth of the Gedo. As the earthen-colored, decayed looking statue with spiky protrusions on its back continued its task, one of the nine eyes on its head began to slowly open. When the eye had open fully the task was finished, and Killer Bee was dropped unceremoniously to the ground where he lay still.

"Man..." a sigh came from Kisame, "That was a lot harder than it used to be. With only four of us left it took more than twice the time it usually did." The silhouetted figure of the most notorious criminal in Kirigakure looked at the now empty hands where the other members used to stand during this procedure. "Deadara and Sasori, the Zombie brothers, Itachi and now Konan...maybe we should think about getting new members."

"Ooh! Oh! New members sounds good!"

"Right now there are no ninja who meet the qualifications we are looking for in members of Akatsuki," Pein said without hesitation. "None of the current ninja save the kages can possibly stand up to a Bijuu."

"That's too bad. Tobi wanted to make more friends."

Pein frowned at Madara, but didn't say anything about his stupid acting. There were more important matters that they needed to attend to.

"While it's a little early, I believe the time has come for us to declare war on the Elemental Nations."

"War, eh?" Kisame gave a fanged grin. "And how are we gonna do that? We don't have all the Bijuu yet, and with only four members I don't see how we're going to be able to do much."

"Zetsu," Pein turned to the plant-like being with a white and dark half. "I want you to get in touch with the smaller nations hidden villages. Get them to agree to meet me. Tell them the time has come for the smaller nations to rise up against the five great villages. If they are not convinced, inform them that I was the one who destroyed Kumo."

"Of course, Leader-Sama," Zetsu's white half said.

"Don't worry, we'll get it done," the black half added.

"So we're gonna be using the smaller nations to fight?" Kisame rubbed his chin. "It's not a bad idea, but we're still out numbered 20 to 1."

"It will be fine," Pein said, "None of those arrayed against us can oppose the will of God."

XoX

The sight that greeted them as their Zeppelins reached Kumo was one that none of them could expect. It was a horrendous sight; the rocky spires of the mountain range that Kumogakure no Sato had been built upon were gone, the entire mountain range having collapsed. The once great village was now nothing more than a pile of rubble and debris.

Naruto grit his teeth at the destruction done. Had anyone survived that? Could anyone survive the decimation of an entire mountain range? Once more the weight of his failures struck him with guilt.

"It's not a very pretty sight, is it?" a soft voice asked in his ear. Naruto turned his head to see Yugao, decked out in her ANBU uniform, staring down at the village through the glass window. She had her mask on, so he could not see her face, but he could imagine the expression she was wearing. It was likely a mirror image of his own.

"It's a lot worse than I thought it would be," Naruto grimaced as he thought about the man who had done this. "That kind of power is unfathomable for anything except a Bijuu. I had heard that Madara and Hashirama were able to cause this level of devastation whenever they fought, but for someone to be capable of leveling an entire mountain range in this day and age is unbelievable."

'Such is the power of one who wields the Rinnegan, even if it is a mock imitation of the one the Rikudou-Sennin had.'

'So this is the power of the Rinnegan? I hadn't realized it was so...so...'

'God-like? Do not be fooled, this level of destruction is not that of a Gods. I could do this easily with an Imari, but it's definitely something within the Rinnegan's capabilities. The Rikudou-Sennin's Rinnegan was so powerful he was able to create the moon you see floating over head every night. That is the power of a true God.'

Naruto said nothing to Kyuubi's praise of the Rikudou-Sennin's powers. If there was one thing he had learned about the nine-tailed entity sealed inside of him, it was that the only human he seemed to hold any respect for was the man who had been hailed as the creator of ninjutsu, though the whisker marked young man had no idea why.

"Are the teams ready?" he asked out loud.

"Yes," Yugao answered smartly. "They're all ready and awaiting your orders."

"Good." Naruto turned from the sight of the destroyed mountain range. He didn't want to see it anymore, not when he would be getting an up close glimpse of it soon enough. "Then let's go."

"Hai!"

XoX

Hoshigaki Kisame stopped walking as the sun overhead began to set. Glancing around all he could see were trees, their trunks so thick and the interweaving branches creating an overlapping network so complex and intermingled that he could not see anything past them. His senses told him there was no one else around for miles, no enemies at least, and while he was not a very good sensor, he had come to trust his instincts.

"So what do you think about all that?" Kisame asked of no one in particular. "Pein declaring war on the Five Great Nations?"

"Foolish," a voice spoke up from behind him. There was a rustling of bushes and leaves as Kisame turned around to see the man known as Tobi walk out from behind a tree. "But it serves our purpose well enough. With everyone's eyes on Pein it'll allow us to claim the remaining Bijuu."

"The Nanabi, the Nibi, and of course, that Namikaze gaki," Kisame grinned. "Fighting that brat's going to be a blast!" As if he were already anticipating a good fight, Kisame reached for the handle of Shamehada and gripped it tightly.

"We're not going after the Nibi or the Kyuubi just yet," Tobi informed him. "Now that Kumo has been destroyed going after them is going to be difficult. I doubt they'll be separated any time soon, and taking on the Nibi with Namikaze there will be nearly impossible. At my current level, I'm not sure I could beat him."

"He must really be something if you're admitting that," Kisame observed.

"He is his father's son."

Several birds chirped as they flew through the trees. Kisame placed a hand against his shoulder, cracking his neck several times. "So what is it you want me to do?"

"Pein is going to be busy preparing for war," Tobi began, "He won't have time to watch your movements and with Konan turning traitor he's lost his second set of eyes. You'll be able to move around much more freely from now on."

"Good to know, but what do you want me to do?"

"I've just received a report that the Kyuubi has left Konoha for Kumo and taken many of Konoha's ninja in the hopes of finding survivors from Pein's attack. At least six squads containing some of Konoha's best and brightest are now gone, including the Kyuubi Jinchurikki. I want you to head to Konoha and capture the Nanabi. She's living in the Namikaze estate, but spends most of her time within the Aburame Clan grounds."

"So I'm capturing another Jinchurikki, eh?" Kisame grinned a shark-like grin."And on my own this time too. Sounds fun."

"Be sure not to cause too much of a commotion," Tobi added, "We cannot afford to lose another member. Zetsu will be helping you on this mission. He shall create a distraction for you."

"Zetsu, huh? So we're doing that, then?"

"Yes. It's a little earlier than I wanted, but circumstances have dictated that we unleash Zetsu sooner than I had anticipated."

Kisame nodded. He was curious to know what Tobi needed to do in Konoha, but honestly didn't care enough to ask. It wasn't like he would receive an answer anyways.

XoX

Within the Hokage's office one Godaime Hokage sat behind her desk, working on a large stack of papers. There were currently two different stacks: one of the unsigned petitions and reports she had yet to look over, and another for those papers she had already finished. The stack containing unfinished paperwork was the larger of the two.

The day had hardly even started and yet Tsunade was already stressing out, though on this day it had very little to do with the fact that she had more paperwork than she usual. Indeed, it had nothing to do with the paperwork at all.

She had just received a report that the airships containing Naruto, Yugito and the joint Konoha/Kiri/Suna/Haru forces had set down near Kumo and would begin looking for survivors. While that was all well and good the report had also included a very detailed description of what happened to Kumo. An entire village gone. No. Not just gone. Turned into nothing more than a large crater in the ground. Even the mountains the once proud village had been situated in were no more.

Tsunade shuddered at the thought of someone who had that kind of power at their disposal. What kind of inhuman being had the power to destroy an entire village on their own?

"Tsunade-Sama."

Blinking, Tsunade looked up to see Konan standing in front of her desk. With Naruto off on a mission, his lover had decided to lend herself as Tsunade's aid, something the busty Hokage was thankful for as Shizune was needed at the hospital.

The beautiful kunoichi with blue hair and amber eyes had a scroll in her hand, which she handed off to the busty Hokage.

"Another report?" she asked, opening the scroll and reading its contents. A frown crossed her face. "This is a report from one of our guard stations on the eastern border." She looked up at Konan. "I'm not sure why you felt this was important enough to give to me."

"It may be nothing, but that report came in two hours later than it should have," Konan told her. "Naruto informed me that all guard stations are to send reports via carrier bird every six hours."

"I'm going to have to speak with Naruto about revealing Konoha protocol to someone who isn't a Konoha ninja," Tsunade sighed. She then straightened in her chair and looked at Konan. "I doubt this is anything to worry about. The team is probably just experiencing some difficulties and couldn't get a message out sooner. Our eastern border tends to have the most trouble because it's so close to Iwa and there are a lot more bandits and highwaymen in the area due to the tension between our two nations."

Konan nodded, but didn't look convinced. She couldn't place her finger on it, but she did not think the delay was due to difficulties with bandits or anything of the sort.

"Still, I'll have a team sent to check in on them," Tsunade added after a moments thought. "In times such as these it certainly couldn't hurt to be caution."

Konan nodded, mildly reassured.

With nothing serious left to talk about, Tsunade leaned forward and smiled amicably at the younger woman. "So how are you liking Konoha?"

"It's exactly as Jiraiya-sensei said it was," Konan told the older kunoichi. "Your village is very beautiful...to be honest, I'm rather jealous. I wish Amegakure was as peaceful and beautiful as this village."

"You may end up getting your wish soon, you know?" Tsunade told the woman. "Naruto is doing everything he can to unite the Shinobi Nations through friendship and acts of goodwill."

"I know," Konan smiled at the mention of the man she had pledged herself to. "His plans on uniting the Elemental Nations are much different than Pein's. It's why I decided to follow him."

XoX

Several dozen miles from Konoha, hidden within a small hill and surrounded by shrubbery was a small outpost. It was one of many that littered Hi no Kuni. There were literally dozens of them, all interspersed throughout the nation. These outposts were built sometime after the Second Shinobi War on orders of the Sandaime Hokage, and all of them were dedicated towards keeping an eye on potential hostilities entering their nation.

"Ack!"

One of the Konoha shinobi, a Chunin judging by the flak jacket, located at this particular outpost let out a grunt of pain as he was impaled by a hand. Crimson, life-giving liquid began pouring out of the wound, trickling onto the pale white hand that had been shoved right through his chest, flak jacket and all. The Konoha shinobi grit his teeth, blood leaking from his mouth as his arms shakily moved so he could grab onto the arm that had stabbed him.

One second passed. Then two. The Konoha ninja's arms went slack, dropping limply to his sides. The man was no more.

As the dead Konoha shinobi slumped over the arm, Zetsu finished absorbing what chakra the man had left. When he was finished he tossed the now useless corpse away, letting it hit the ground several feet from him with a dull thud.

While Zetsu was looking at the now dead ninja, Kisame walked up to him, his giant blade hefted over his shoulder like always.

"That was boring," the shark-like man grumbled as he stopped a few feet from the plant man. He looked at Zetsu. "I hope that Jinchurikki gives me a better fight than these wimps." Seriously, he had just taken on a full squad of Chunin and Jounin (one that he had intercepted before they could arrive at this outpost) and they hadn't even been able to scratch him. Talk about a disappointment.

"Considering it's a Jinchurikki you're going to face I bet she'll be much stronger than these ninja," Zetsu said.

"So you're going to be my distraction, huh?" Kisame grunted, "Where are the others?"

"Oh, they're around."

As Zetsu spoke several figures emerged from the tree-line. They were all Zetsu. To be more specific they were clones of the original Zetsu. Unlike the original, these Zetsus bodies were completely white and they had no venus flytrap extension around their head. Also unlike the original these Zetsus had a strange zig-zag pattern running down their stomach and another one on each leg that were reminiscent of the flytrap extension.

More clones soon came out of the wood works, some emerging from the trees, others coming up from the ground. There were hundreds of them, maybe even thousands. More than enough to keep Konoha's shinobi forces occupied.

Of the Zetsu there, eight walked over to the original and placed a hand on his shoulder. A bright, blue glow engulfed them as chakra was transferred from the original to the clones. When the transfer was finished, the eight clones no longer looked like Zetsu but one of the eight shinobi that had been located at this outpost and killed.

The newly transformed Zetsus moved off, four going into the outpost while the other four took to the trees and headed for Konoha.

"Let's go," Zetsu said as he began walking in the direction of Konoha as well.

"Finally," Kisame muttered as he began moving again. "I was starting to get bored standing around like this." As he walked forward the Zetsu clones began dispersing one by one, some disappearing into the trees and others melding into the ground. Soon the grounds around the outpost looked just as they always did with no sign of what happened other than a few blood splatters on the grass.

Konoha wouldn't know what hit them.