Konoha: At His Fingertips by MegaB
Chapter 5: Council of the Five Kage
The Sun's rays shone brightly through his curtains, the fabric shifting almost lazily like a sunbathing cat. As he turned in his dreams, a spoke of light caught his eyelid, jolting him awake. Sudden consciousness like that was hard to shake off and most of the time one would not be able to regain the peaceful slumber that had been lost. Naruto groaned languidly, sitting up with bleary eyes squinting at the illuminated bedroom that seemed to mock him for no reason he could discern.
He remained perched at the back of his bed for more than a few minutes simply staring around without any real purpose. Nobody would be able to tell that the short blond-headed teenager was the military leader of one of the five world powers in the Shinobi Continent if they'd seen him now. His gaze drifted idly to the simple calendar he'd taped the wall so long ago. Immediately, his eyes caught onto a large red circle someone had penned onto the current day.
He remained staring at it for a while, unable to understand just why the words 'Council 5K' were generating such alarm in his groggy mind.
That is, until someone slammed a fist on his bedroom door.
"Naruto, wake the hell up you lazy Hokage! To think I'd have to come get you because you slept in on the most important day of your measly life!"
Ah, he thought, that must be Anko. And what does she mean by the most important day of my life? Wasn't that a week ago when I was forced into being the new Hokage?
Sadly, the term of his emplacement had a startling effect on his mind and suddenly he remembered just what his calendar had meant to remind him of.
Throwing his duvet off, he raced into the hall, bowling Anko aside on his way to the bathroom, sparing a moment to wave at Shisui who was calmly perusing the morning's paper and Kakashi who seemed content to lean against the wall trying to look cool.
An interesting start to what would no doubt be an interesting day.
Izumo and Kotetsu had been given guard duties again. Of course, the world was scheming against them since it was all they ever seemed to get, not that they'd realised just yet. Most probably they never would too.
"So, in about 15 minutes, all five Kage are gonna walk through that gate, huh?" Izumo pondered.
"Yeah, seems like we've finally got the honour we deserve now that Naruto's the Hokage. I knew we'd be rewarded for slacking off all those times we didn't catch him for his pranks," yes, they would never notice.
The first to arrive was the imposing form of the Raikage. Kumogakure no Sato had cut all ties with Hi no Kuni after Naruto had left, stating anti-trust agreement which nobody quite understood. To those close to the Uzumaki Scion, it was quite simply that the only person the Lightning country natives liked had left and that was that. The Hyuuga had breathed a collective sigh of relief although some said Hiashi's sigh was because of the reason and not Kumo's alliance at all.
The Raikage stepped steadily through the gate, his large body shadowing his entourage, all of which had been seen at the Chuunin Exams three years prior. Killer Bee now sported strange headgear which looked to be a tea towel wrapped around his cranium. His many swords were a terribly frightening sight however, so Kotetsu nudged Izumo in the side and they both glanced onwards.
Following up behind them were Kumo's infamous Sanken, Samui, Karui and Omoi and behind them was the Nibi's host, Yugito. The six of them stopped beside the guard booth and as the Raikage turned to enquire after their lodgings, the rest slouched around. Samui massaged her shoulders, complaining all the while about her two teammates while Karui and Omoi broke into another argument over something mindlessly inconsequential. Bee seemed to find rapping as loud as he could to himself amusing and it was only Yugito who edged herself calmly away from them as if she really didn't want to be associated with the oddballs she'd been forced to travel with.
"Go straight to the Hokage's tower and you'll be met at the door. They'll lead you to the meeting room where you'll see the rest of the Kage and their bodyguards. A word of warning though, our new Hokage is not to be trifled with," Kotetsu recited, scarcely believing his last few words and glancing fearfully at the man who was the strongest fighter in all of the northern lands.
The Raikage's dish-like hand shot out and grabbed him by his collar.
"Do you know who you're talking to, little man?" He growled.
"S-sorry, th-that's just what I was told to say," Kotetsu stammered. Izumo simply stood stock-still as if he'd seen a ghost.
"Bah! C'mon guys, let's go see Naruto!" to which all five cheered. The Raikage released him and after a single contemptuous look backwards, started off towards the centre of the Village. Luckily, there were two ANBU squads attached to each country's leader, leaving the entire force on duty that day.
Kotetsu had a few moments to compose himself before the next group arrived, this time bearing the hitai-ites of Suna.
This was maybe, even more frightening than the last; Gaara's exploits and fixation with holes made even his own countrymen quake at the mere mention of his name. They'd all taken to calling him 'the Kazekage'. The Suna entourage was smaller than Kumo's, comprised of four people including the Kazekage himself. To his right and left were his siblings Temari and Kankurou, and just behind them, reading from an unfurled scroll was their old Sensei Baki.
They too paused beside the guard house with their own enquiries.
"Where is Uzumaki Naruto?" Gaara asked, his unblinking, unflinching stare boring holes into the poor Chuunin like they were bugs before him. Izumo hurriedly clamped his mouth shut, sucked air quickly through his nostrils to have the skin seal around them and thank the stars that Kotetsu was ideally placed to answer the Kazekage's questions.
"U-Um, p-please head to the H-Hokage tower where you'll be g-given further instructions," He spoke haltingly.
Gaara continued to stare at the pair for a moment, quirking his head ever-so-slightly at Izumo's rapidly colouring, oxygen-deprived head before turning on his heel with a sharp nod and continuing onwards towards the balustrade entering the Village proper. Temari and Kankurou snickered as they walked past, though Baki simply remained with his face stuck within the confines of his parchment and whatever he found so interesting on its surface.
Izumo expelled air in one explosive rush, falling to his knees at having held his breath for so long.
"What is wrong with you?" Kotetsu asked, shivering comically.
"Y-you're not one to t-talk. I seriously thought he was going to plug any holes he saw with that blasted sand of his. If that meant my nose and mouth…" Izumo said breathlessly.
"W-well, that should be the worst of them, r-right? I mean, the other Kage are sane people aren't they?"
"Excuse me," someone said.
"I hope so. There was a war in Kiri up until last year so we'd probably get a serious Mizukage this time around-"
"Excuse me!" the same squeaky voice called out.
Izumo and Kotetsu glanced around in confusion before shaking themselves. There was nobody in sight.
"True, and the Tsuchikage's really old and tiny, I've heard-"
"Well I apologise for my old and tiny body you measly weasels!"
The two glanced down to find an old man with twin wisps of white hair flying angrily on either side of his head and a nose that was so red, he looked like he had a terrible cold. He stood about four feet above the ground, a flowing moustache upon his lip and a pointed beard almost to his sternum. The crimson and emerald robes of his station as the third Tsuchikage stood out like a sore thumb however, and the two Chuunin gawked with obvious surprise.
"Now would you, please, hurry up and stop insulting my height and tell us where to go while you're at it!" he growled.
"Oh relax Tsuchikage-sama," a deep, rumbling voice said, originating from a stomach that seemed just as deep in girth.
"He's right Oonoki," the other bodyguard responded. "You don't want to get your blood pressure up do you?"
"Silence, Kurotsuchi! How dare you insult me like that?!" the Tsuchikage replied angrily.
Said Kurotsuchi simply smiled in a placating manner as if the sight of his curved lips were the answer to everything and Kotetsu began to wonder that maybe the only people who became stronger than everyone else were actually the people who were crazier than everyone else too.
"Follow the main road into the city till you reach a large circular building with the word 'Hi' on it," Izumo said quickly, wanting to alleviate the pressure on his friend.
"About time children! My old bones are creaking because of your time-wasting!" Oonoki wheezed, beginning to hobble down the street slowly, his two companions beside him. As soon as they were out of earshot, Kotetsu cast a disbelieving eye at his teammate.
"That…tiny old man is a Kage?!"
"What tiny old man?" and suddenly, a bandaged face swam into view before them, not but an inch from Kotetsu's nose.
The new Mizukage, it seems, had just arrived.
"How intelligent you are Hokage-sama; everyone turns up to see you and you rub it in by turning up late! I wouldn't be surprised if we have a war on our hands! Iwa already hates us!" Anko complained, trying to keep up with her sprinting companions and talking at the same time.
"Hey, I never said I was the right person for this job anyway! Try telling Jiji that Anko-nee!" Naruto replied.
"Oh yeah, blame it on the dead guy," she retorted.
"Maa maa, Sandaime-Sama was responsible, so maybe he does have a point," Kakashi snuck in. Shisui began to snigger as Anko happily glared at everyone.
"What she's really irked about is that she has to pull bodyguard duty on 'Ruto," Shisui offered.
"What if I'm attacked?!" Naruto asked indignantly.
"We won't even be able to pick up all the pieces," Anko snorted. "And I mean of the guys who attacked you, not you."
"Can't we all just feel the love?" Kakashi smirked.
Naruto ignored his squabbling companions as he hit the ground running, Hokage cloak streaming behind him and his hat askew as he charged through the double doors at the base of Hokage tower, not even sparing a glance for poor Ren whose head was buried under towering stacks of paper that he should probably have been processing. Taking the stairs three at a time, he cut into the first floor and only had time to stop and take in a couple of breaths before slamming the door to the conference room open with a huge bang, and swaggering right in as if he owned the place.
Which he did, but those are details best left forgotten for ego's sake.
Of course, he was totally unprepared for the sight his eyes were met with.
"Gaara! Since when did you become Kazekage?" He called enthusiastically, his head only then beginning to take in the rest of the room. "Bee! How's it goin'man?...who's the old guy?"
The Tsuchikage's gaze immediately turned frosty and Anko cringed as she only just entered the room. That was a bad start for Iwa-Hi relations already.
Sitting beside Oonoki was a sight nobody had expected to see at all. Perfectly balanced, long black hair elegantly flowing from his head, this time a hitai-ite adorning his forehead sat none other than Haku. Behind him stood the infamous demon of the Hidden Mist; Zabuza remained his imposing self, glaring at everyone and fingering his Kubikiri Houcho as if he were simply itching to chop somebody's head off.
"So Momochi Zabuza-san, how did you make it to Mizukage?" Kakashi said, he and Shisui sidling up to stand beside Anko.
"You think I'm the Mizukage?! Bah! Don't make me laugh!" he snarled, his pointy teeth peeking through the bandages around his mouth. "The gender-confused brat's the Mizukage, I'm his attack dog."
"Did he just call himself a dog?" Shisui whispered.
"Oh yes, and I'm perfectly alright with that as long as I get to kill people," Zabuza retorted, a dangerous glint in his eye. "And there are no shortages of people to kill in Kiri right now. Makes for a good breakfast."
Kakashi eyed the man for a while longer, not sure he trusted him in Naruto's presence until he hollered for all to hear.
"Oy Gaki! How's life been as life's little rebel eh? Keeping in trouble I hope?"
Naruto smiled in delight, clapping Haku on the back as he turned to the Demon of the Mist.
"You're not looking so bad yourself Saw-tooth!"
"Who you calling Saw-tooth, midget? I've got more than enough to spare on the likes of you!" Zabuza yelled.
"Oh, but they're so pretty!" Naruto crooned. That seemed to shut him up. Naruto turned back to the young Mizukage.
"So Haku, how come you're the Mizukage now, huh, huh? Naruto asked excitedly.
"Is it just me, or does Naruto have way too many friends in high places?" Anko muttered.
"Are you kidding me, Anko? He practically rules the world at this point," Shisui replied. "Three of the four other Kage either have a vested interest in him, or are his friends. At the rate he's going, he'll have carnivals set up in each of the hidden villages with all those extreme sports!"
It was a testament to just how frightening that thought was when Anko gaped in horror.
"Naruto-dono, Zabuza-sama refused to become Mizukage after the rebels retook the country from the feudal lord and his followers. He decided I was the best person for the job," Haku said bashfully.
"Well, definitely better than Saw-tooth over there; he'd probably just end up killing all his ninja. And hey! What have I told you about being so uptight?" Naruto said.
"How…do you know Naruto?" Gaara chipped in, his monotonous voice causing silence to reign once more. His reputation was known so well that even the bodyguards present shuffled uneasily at the sound of his voice.
"Me and Haku go way back, Gaara!" Naruto said, slapping the Kazekage on the back and causing everyone to gasp and wince and move as far away as possible. If Gaara became annoyed, nobody wanted to be within a fifty mile radius.
"Naruto-dono's Sensei, Jiraiya-sama, helped us during our victory over the old Mizukage and his Shinobi. All the free citizens of Kiri are indebted to them," Haku spoke softly.
"I see," Gaara replied. "Do you like holes?"
If the escorts were scared before, they were practically quivering by now. Kankurou and Temari began to edge their way out of the room. Haku, however, was very confused.
"Holes? I can't say I do. What significance does that have Kazekage-dono?"
"Good," Gaara said with a decisive nod as if he'd gotten the precise answer he was looking for and approved of it. "All holes should be plugged, should they not?"
"Ah, I suppose," Haku muttered, glancing at Naruto in bewilderment.
"Oh don't worry about Gaara, Haku. He's just a bit crazy about holes, that's all. Nothing wrong with that!"
There was something very wrong with that, of course, but everyone was too scared to admit it.
"So Naruto, how goes your training?" The Raikage boomed jovially. "Smashed any more trees recently?"
"Haha, funny question. Ya know what, man? Ero-Sennin told me it was all for learning this damned cool Jutsu my dad knew back in the day. It even has a name and everything! How cool is that?!"
"What kinda Jutsu makes you slam into trees though?" Omoi asked around the toothpick he seemed to forever chew.
"It's called the Hiraishin!" Naruto chirped.
Anko shivered at the silence that fell in the room. It was an unearthly silence, a silence that wrapped itself around an environment filled with people, but those people could not be heard, could not move, nor did their hearts seem to beat.
And it lasted a while too. Until, of course, it was broken by an old man with a grudge spanning many decades and a red nose to boot.
"H-HIRAISHIN!?" The Tsuchikage squeaked. "Y-YOU CAN'T LEARN THAT! YOU'RE NOT ONE OF THAT BLASTED NAMIKAZE'S BLOODLINE!"
"Did you even hear him man? He just said his dad was the Yondaime Hokage," Kankurou offered in awe.
"Naruto's strong, yo! His dad don't mean no!" Bee said, but everyone ignored him.
It took a while for them to digest that tidbit of information, in fact, it seemed as if the Tsuchikage would never recover from the indigestion.
"Maa, I think we need to get down to business," Kakashi cut in.
They landed softly, wind playing through the quaint, long grass as if a many fingered hand were gently brushing itself across the field. However, the breeze reached a hollow bowl stretching over a large expanse, the surface of which was entirely glass.
This was, after all, the last known location of Higurashi Naoto's trade caravan.
Jiraiya whistled lowly, passing a critical eye over the environmental anomaly.
"That had to be one hot fire," he remarked, glancing over at his on-again teammate. For her part, Tsunade never broke conversation, only flicking her eyes casually to the left to announce the presence of their pursuer.
"You can come out now, Sou-Taichou-san," Jiraiya called.
The figure materialised almost imperceptibly; one moment there was nothing and the next a human was standing not two paces from the Sannin-turned-duo. There was neither a sound nor any other warning to announce its presence.
"Jiraiya-sama, Tsunade-sama," the figure greeted, not in the slightest abashed at being caught out. In fact, they'd probably known they were being shadowed since before they had left Konoha's hallowed walls, but neither of them would point it out either.
Tsunade maintained her Chakra net as the three advanced cautiously, stepping carefully onto the surface that was mildly warm to touch. They could still feel traces of the heat that had turned the sand plane to glass through the soles of their footwear.
"Uchiha handiwork, no doubt about it," Jiraiya muttered.
It was early morning, mists from the sleepy beach towns floating down from Kiri and invading the countryside outside of Bassai. The sun had not yet risen and the air was still a murky navy blue, with tints of grey swirling low across the ground. Ever more unsettling was the effect this had on the surface of the glass bowl; the fog having condensed in patches, glittering ominously though not lit enough to reveal anything below its surface.
They poked further along, stopping infrequently to stare ponderously down, attempting to make out anything within the flash-baked structure below their feet. Jiraiya almost shivered; if they were fortunate, or maybe truly unfortunate, something might still be alive down there even though it had been over two years since the event had occurred.
"Right about here," Tsunade announced. "The largest Chakra signature is right below our current position so it either happened here, or some damn strong guy went down all guns-blazing."
Jiraiya settled onto his haunches, peering below just as the first of the sun's rays touched the surface of the glass. Before, he would have said the construct was disconcerting; a material that appeared to be slightly hollow, shifting ever so slightly as if an unknown creature was moving around down there. The answers it held but refused to give up granted it an air of mystery that creeped the hell out of him.
But that was nothing, nothing compared to what happened next. There was a brief flash of light, reflection bursting upon the unexpected eye, but that faded as fast as it came. Tsunade gasped involuntarily and made to hastily step back until she realised what she was seeing.
There were bodies down there, at least, parts of bodies, and the light, as it struck at its angle, couldn't penetrate the depths of the crystalline glass completely, and so the onlookers were left with fleeting glimpses of heads and eyes and errant appendages.
The sand had crystallised faster than a human body could burn.
They shook off their shock after a few moments as best as possible, Jiraiya touching the surface with a shaking Chakra-coated finger. The glass rippled like water yet held firm.
"Chakra glass," the ANBU member said softly. "As long as elemental fire is used, the trace of chakra will be visible."
Tsunade was worried now. She'd cancelled the net and was running through field diagnostics at an impressive rate. The ANBU captain unsheathed a worn Chokuto and pressed the tip into the ground. The sword slipped easily through its surface though it made no visible hole nor blemish on its surface.
"No doubt about it, it's definitely been done using a Katon or two," Jiraiya remarked. "This would have to be Itachi's work. There's nobody on the earth who could pull this off but him."
"Well, except Sarutobi, but he was verifiably in Konoha," Tsunade said distractedly. "There's clearly something down there though. I think the Chakra signature is still here because not only did whoever burn the whole place do it from here, but also…"
"Also what?" Jiraiya asked.
"There's something else. Something I can't quite put my finger on. It's almost as if…a tenketsu, that's the best analogy I can give."
"Like an unopened gate channel?" Jiraiya inquired.
With a mighty flare of Chakra and a dull gong, the air around them suddenly shone with an otherworldly light. Jiraiya hastily stood and backed up until the three of them stood side-by-side, staring wondrously up at the huge sigil that blossomed into view like a magnified diamond. Glowing fog flitted around its curves, lines swirling until they met up with the centre of the sign, spinning slowly as if it had always been there.
"Uzu…" Tsunade breathed softly.
"No," Jiraiya said faintly. "That's not where Uzu got that from."
Tsunade turned to stare at him in bewilderment but it wasn't he who answered.
"The Eddian Library," the ANBU Captain-Commander answered. "Higurashi-san found an artefact."
Slowly, the ANBU member reached up to remove the mask that had stood unerringly upon stiff shoulders. As it came away, it revealed locks of dark red hair that spilled from the strap that had held it up all this time.
Uzumaki Marina breathed slowly at the implication.
"It doesn't make sense, Marina-chan," Jiraiya said.
"Please don't use my name," she whispered, stepping forward and tracing the structure with her hand almost reverently. "I was banished for a reason."
"Wasn't the library completely destroyed? Kushina told us there wasn't anything left."
"Perhaps not," was his only reply.
Marina was Kushina's cousin, where Kushina had been flighty and brash, Marina was calm and collected. She had entered Konoha many years before Kushina had, though no one knew quite how she had become exiled from Uzu no Kuni before the war had torn the country to shreds. They hadn't been close, her and Kushina, Marina had spent more time with her Chokuto in ANBU than with another human being.
Jiraiya couldn't begin to imagine what was going through the woman's mind. Anger at her exile? Or just relief that there was something of her origins left in this world?
"Well it was probably triggered by my prodding," Tsunade confessed, glancing shakily at the shifting floor. "Whatever it was, it was damn powerful. Someone wanted to cover this up, and didn't mind blowing up the whole place to do it."
"Maybe not Itachi then? I can't see Akatsuki not wanting to get their hands on it if it's that powerful," Jiraiya effused.
"No, it was Itachi," Marina murmured, her gaze still riveted to the glowing talisman floating above them. "This would be under the scope of his mission."
"His mission?" Tsunade asked sharply. Sarutobi had hidden many things from them once the Sannin had split, understandably so given his position. But this sounded too important.
"Yes," Marina whispered. "His final mission."
"So lemme get this straight," Naruto groused. "This hurt guy-"
"Pain, Naruto. That's his actual name," Anko said exasperatedly.
"Yeah him. So he's coming to kill me or whatever, just because Tobi couldn't?"
"That's right little man," the Raikage intoned. "Guy's got a grudge cause his underling got snuffed."
"And how do you know this?!" The Tsuchikage squeaked, though everybody knew the fight had gone out of him since Naruto's previous proclamation. He was just an annoying old man by nature.
"Because we've been monitoring them, how else?" the Raikage sighed. "I've had recon teams pulling fortnightly runs across the border since the Konoha Chuunin Exams. We haven't always seen them, but having most of the last team eliminated and one guy let go for a madman's ego is enough proof for me."
"Well, that does sound convincing," Shisui offered.
"Which way did your spy say he was going?" Gaara pulled their attention back to the most important point.
"Let's assume he's coming from Ame no Kuni," Samui said, stepping forward quickly. "Pain would have to loop through Kusa to get into Hi unnoticed. The border is too heavily guarded after the civil war and Salamander's death for him to have come straight in."
"What if he didn't come from Ame? I've heard rumours that their base is off the coast from Kiri," Kakashi said.
"We've heard that too," Samui acknowledged with a tilt of her head. "But the team he took down was running patrol up the edge of Kusa since Hi's Shinobi have been practically relocated elsewhere."
The subtle jab at Danzou's leadership was simply ignored at this point.
As the adults began to discuss the latest emergency, Naruto was feeling very bored. The threat of sudden, violent death no longer affected him now that Madara was dead. He'd come through such a frightening ordeal that he no longer felt scared because another crazy was after him again.
"Psst, Haku! Oiiii Haku!" Naruto whispered quietly, tapping the young Mizukage on the knee.
You see, the Hokage tower attendants had passed through five minutes before, bringing with them trays laden with a triple layered cream cake. This cake was Naruto's favourite thing about the Council, in fact, it could be said that the only reason the date had been circled on his calendar was because of the cake they would serve.
Apparently, the cooks only made the cake for visiting Kage and Naruto had seen the Sandaime eat it only once, the day the old Kazekage had passed through on a trade meeting when he was little, and yet he vividly remembered the old leader almost passing out with a blissful look on his face with the first spoon.
He'd saved the cake so as not to embarrass himself eating in front of the Kazekage.
And so, Naruto had gobbled his up as quickly as possible. It was every bit as good as he thought. There were three slices of butterfly cake, each interspersed with a thick filling of sweetened double cream of the purest white. The top layer of cream was completed with a fine coating of roasted almonds and peanuts.
It was the best thing he had ever tasted, and he wanted more.
Anko was the only one who saw him mutter something into Haku's ear and point beneath the table. As the dainty boy bent over to check underneath, Naruto had snatched up Haku's cake and was quickly spooning it into his mouth.
Haku cried out in surprise.
"My Cake!" He cried.
Everyone stopped talking once again, pausing from discussing Naruto's death in gory detail and what else Pain might do to his body.
"You stole my cake!"
"Thish ish my cake!" Naruto said between mouthfuls.
"You had your cake already! Naruto, that was my slice and you know it!"
"Just what is-" the Tsuchikage tried to interject.
"I am the Hokage and this is my cake!" Naruto exclaimed, pointing his spoon to the ceiling as if warning the skies.
"Wait, so Pain controls clones using some black rod-things?" Shisui said, attempting to restart their previous important conversation. Anko was doubled over laughing so hard, but something occurred to her then that made all the mirth sort of disappear.
Well not disappear. But it was so profound that it was almost too funny to laugh at.
"Wait, wait. Naruto. Did you become Hokage because you wanted that cake?" She gasped. "Is that why you said yes when we told you they wanted to hold the Council here?"
"Now that you mention it," Shisui muttered, scratching his chin idly. "It was strange that he accepted so quickly."
Naruto peered around frantically, looking for support among the amused, angry and insulted faces around him.
Except Gaara; Gaara had a fiendishly excited glint to his otherwise impassive face, but that only worried Naruto even more.
"You guys suck! This meeting's so boring anyway!"
And before anyone could stop him, be blasted out of the room as if his life depended on it.
"Truth: The Rokudaime Hokage only leads us because of Cake," Shisui said proudly.
The Raikage threw his head back and roared with laughter, tears trailing down his cheeks. Kankurou, Temari and Anko were splitting their sides trying to hold theirs in while Kakashi sort of looked non-plussed.
"Well," he said. "I kind of guessed that already."
Once they'd gotten their respective plans ironed out, the military leaders of each major country moved onto lighter topics much to the chagrin of the Tsuchikage. Meanwhile, Anko, Shisui and Kakashi decided their time was better spend looking for their frustrating Hokage and young friend. They found him out back of the Hokage Tower in a small clearing that had been old Sarutobi's favourite place for training his grandson, Konohamaru, during his long tenure as the Sandaime.
Naruto tensed imperceptibly before throwing the three-pronged Kunai his erstwhile father had been famous for. With a thunk, it embedded itself into a large tree heralding a black-and-blond flash that lit up the area briefly. Unfortunately, Naruto hadn't fared so well with his latest attempt of the Hiraishin; for he toppled over with dizziness almost as soon as he reappeared in the shade of the tree.
"Still can't get it 'Ruto?" Shisui called.
Naruto shook his head, attempting to dispel the disconcerting effects on his senses as he turned to regard his friends.
"Gah! It's so bad! Every time I try it, the speed is just too much! It'll be no use in a fight if some guy can easily stab me between the eyes when I use it, will there?" Naruto complained.
"True," Kakashi commented. "But remember, it took your father almost ten whole years to perfect it. The tag on the Hiraishin Kunai is a very complex summoning seal but not the way you're thinking. It also has its drawbacks which you should be aware of."
"Drawbacks?" Anko echoed.
"Exactly," Kakashi returned. "Sensei always told us to be careful where we stuck them because the seal physically yanks the user to it when it pierces a surface. This means that if an object stands between the user and the Kunai, said user will end up crashing through a tree – which would be quite uncomfortable."
"Hey, so are you telling us," Shisui piped up, curiosity piqued. "That all those stories you've told us about Minato giving you and your team his Kunai's to chuck around whenever you want was actually a lie? I mean, what would be the use if he couldn't just appear from anywhere? Why give them to you in the first place?"
"Hmm," Kakashi hummed. "Well, I can probably think of two reasons really. Firstly, because he could somehow track us using them. No doubt his own adjustments to the sealing property. But also because if he caught up to us in time, he could get the drop on the enemy through his line of sight. In fact, I don't think he ever used it in a situation where he couldn't see where they landed. It was just too risky."
"What about at Kannabi bridge?" Anko asked, ignoring the sight tightening of the ex-ANBU's eyes at her prompting. "You said the Yondaime saved you when you threw it and passed out right?"
"Yeah," Kakashi muttered gruffly. "I never asked him about it, but I think he must've arrived just after I got out of the cave where Obito died and decided to see how things would play out.
"At any rate, Naruto," Kakashi continued. "The very nature of the Jutsu means your body experiences speeds that the human body cannot fully comprehend. It wasn't the seal that made Sensei take so long to use it, he was a fuinjutsu master after all. It was the conditioning."
"So you're reflexes have to be up to it huh?" Naruto finally said.
"Yes," Kakashi nodded. "It's why I created the Chidori actually. Sensei warned me not to use it in battle because my eyes couldn't react fast enough to actually strike with it. At the time I thought Sensei could teach me how to gain his sort of reaction speed. I guess the Sharingan gave me a way out back then."
"Did he ever tell you what he did?" Naruto wheedled.
"Sorry Naruto," Kakashi said ruefully. "You're on your own on this one. Maybe Jiraiya-sama could help."
Naruto groaned unhappily, raising himself unsteadily and turning to the tree to yank the Kunai from its place.
"You could always use it while it's still in the air though," Shisui mused, looking thoughtfully at the Kunai in Naruto's hand. "I mean, does it have to land for it to work?"
"Probably not, but I wouldn't want to try messing with that seal. Well, unless Jiraiya-sama wants to take a look at it," Kakashi intimated.
"Reflexes huh?" Naruto considered. "Wait just a damn sec!"
Excitedly, he raced back to the middle of the clearing, tossing his utility belt to the side before relaxing into a slouch and raising his arms until they were parallel to the ground.
"Shh, lemme try something here," he whispered urgently, eyes closed.
Slowly, he began to spin like a top, faster and faster until he was nought but a blur. It was almost uncanny, the trio thought, how a peaceful summer's day could certainly turn so chaotic due to the presence of a single individual. A dull roar rose in pitch to mimic the speed of Naruto's rotation, Wind Chakra visibly screaming around his body as it propelled him further, kicking up all manner of debris as he almost literally drilled into the ground.
And then he suddenly stopped, quivering like an arrow slammed into the ground, centred in a deep gouge up to waist level. But his eyes were alight with delight.
"He was teachin' me that all along!" he gasped. "Man, he knew exactly what I needed! How-"
"Naruto, what are you talking about?" Shisui questioned bewilderingly, still awed at the blatant show of power not moments before.
"The Ojii-san I met in Mori!" Naruto said haltingly, struggling to pull in enough oxygen to voice his thoughts. "He couldn't speak, but somehow he knew I wanted to train and he used to draw these funny drawings with his stick and-"
"NARUTO!" Anko cut in. "Calm the heck down and get to the point!"
Naruto gulped in air, steadying himself before continuing.
"See, Jiji couldn't speak. So when he found out I wanted to train and I was a Shinobi, he came up with some exercises for me to try."
"And that was one of them?" Kakashi asked.
"Yeah," Naruto confirmed. "It was. He used to tap me when he thought I'd had enough. But don't you see? This, this is what I need!"
"What are you talkin' about 'Ruto?" Anko enquired in confusion.
But Naruto didn't reply, too excited to be delayed from his seeming epiphany. Jogging over to his fallen pouch, he pulled the Kunai from its resting place and tossed it, handle first, to Kakashi.
"Chuck that at the tree when I'm spinning alright?" he said before returning to his gouged circle of earth.
Sharing a glance, the three friends shrugged and Kakashi prepared to throw the Hiraishin Kunai. Naruto quickly picked up speed before Kakashi thought he'd gotten fast enough. Deftly pitching the Kunai at a random tree, Kakashi pondered on the effect of the technique Naruto was using and how it would change by being yanked at high speed in a linear direction. Simple mechanics dictated that his spin would lead him straight into the thing, especially if he wasn't focusing on stopping as he usually was and that always left him disorientated.
But Naruto, as he was wont to do, defied all known laws of mechanics as a flash of yellow left his quivering in the shade of the targeted tree, eyes slightly vacant but a happy smile stretching his features regardless.
"He did it," Shisui breathed.
"Or so it would seem…" Kakashi returned.
"THIS IS IT!" Naruto exploded, turning to them with a manic grin. "I just have to get used to the speeds involved right? I can do this!"
"I see," Kakashi acquiesced. "But you can't do that every time you'd need the Jutsu, it's too time consuming for a pinch."
"True, but with practice?" Anko shot back.
"That's what I was thinkin' too Anko-nee!" he said happily.
"Who was that Ojii-san?" Shisui asked sceptically, voicing the question everyone had been thinking, even Naruto.
"I dunno. But whoever he really is," Naruto sobered. "He's a genius."
By the end of the day, the five Kage had come to a majority on what the likely plan of action would be to deal with the looming threat of Akatsuki's leader. Much to everyone's dismay, Naruto had declared that since Pain was after him, it was his business and no-one else's. That had earned him further respect in his fellow Kage's eyes, even Oonoki, but left them feeling unsatisfied.
Gaara had then announced his plan to seek out Akatsuki's base of operation in order to destroy it, although his exact words had something to do with sand and lots of it. The other three leaders had quickly jumped in and pledged their own contingents to the cause. As a final insult, Naruto had returned to find more cake on the table and upon attempting to eat it, had realised Gaara had purposefully filled his mouth with Sand.
The Suna delegation had zipped out of the gates to Konoha in stitches with an irate Naruto screaming after them and alternately attempting to rid his tongue of the stale, dry taste lingering behind.
Oonoki had slipped away grumbling, followed by his happily waving bodyguards leaving the leaders of Hi, Kaminari and Kiri to say their goodbyes and go their respective ways, which for Naruto, meant his flat.
"Well gaki, it was a pleasure doing business as always," Zabuza rumbled. "You just tell that perverted Sensei of yours that I said hi."
Naruto shook his proffered hand. "I'll definitely tell him that, Sawtooth," he grinned. "You take care Haku!"
The two waved as they set off. Well, Haku waved, Zabuza seemed to be trying to chop Naruto's head off if he'd remembered to use his Zanbatou.
"We've got your back whenever you need us," the Raikage said, his imposing form stepping up to hug the boy. "Konoha's gonna be a fun place to watch."
"Yeah Naruto, just be careful not to kick any rocks, ok?" Omoi warned, only to be slapped upside the head.
"Stay safe kiddo," Samui smiled as she touched him on the shoulder and leapt for the trees, her team following her. Bee and Yugito caught up the rear, the former having slapped Naruto on the back as he passed and the latter favouring him with a small smile.
"My band of misfits, eh? Seems like you got your own, Naruto," and with that parting shot, the Raikage took off after them.
"He called us misfits?!" Anko stated indignantly. "We're normal compared to those buffoons!"
"Omoi's a buffoon," Kakashi said. "But Samui and Karui are not to be trifled with."
"Yeah," Shisui agreed. "Except Karui's so blatantly got a crush on him! I won't deny Samui though. That woman's a beast on the battlefield."
"Or so they say," Anko muttered.
"Jealous?" Shisui smirked.
"Yeah right," Anko snorted. "I could so totally take her."
"Sure you could!" Shisui crowed triumphantly, poking her in the side.
"I could! Easily too! What could she do without that sword of hers? Nothing if snakes have stolen it!"
"Give it a rest you two," Kakashi cut in. I'm sure they're strong enough to give each of us trouble. Well…"
"Except Naruto," Shisui chuckled. "If they're not squashed in a moment, they'd be blown up or buried or drilled into or railgunned into oblivion."
"Hey! You don't get to cuss me when I'm stronger than you!" Naruto cried.
"Why not?" Shisui said. "I mean you'd never do any of those things to us, right?"
Anko visibly gulped and Naruto noticed, a devilish smile spreading across his features.
"There was this one time…"
"WHAT?!" Shisui asked, alarmed. "He did something to you Anko?"
"When he first figured out that dratted Railgun thing of his…well, after his cutlery stopped attacking him!" Anko chortled.
"Aww, Anko-nee! You promised not to say anything," Naruto whined.
The four of them turned back to go home, their light-hearted banter giving way to chuckles as the sun slowly set behind them. What would come, would come. And when it did, they'd be ready for it.
That they could guarantee.
Don't kill me!
So yeah, I've been humongously busy for the last year or so. In fact, first my final year of education started, then I thought I might have to stop writing altogether, in fact, I DID stop writing altogether…
And then I read this one story called The Girl With Red Hair….
And suddenly the urge to write was so overpowering that I opened up this chapter after ten whole months and actually made some progress on it.
So yeah, I'm back in the game for now. How long? Who knows. But I'm going to try and finish this series with all my heart, and I think it shows in this chapter. While many of you may have noticed my slow loss of interest in the Naruto Anime and Manga, the characters I've built here…let's just say I'm emotionally invested and I want them to reach their end just as I started and shaped them into how I saw them all this time.
I hope I can share that all with you.