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Chapter 44: Infiltration and Pawnage.
When Naruto regained consciousness it was to discover that he was lying on his back, with something soft underneath him. There was no pain, no tiredness from combat, no aching muscles. Nothing. Just the soft feel of whatever he was lying on.
His face scrunched up. The last thing he remembered was fighting those three enemy shinobi, using Kyuubi's chakra, then nothing. Where was he?
"Are you finally awake?"
That voice...ah, now he understood. He was within the seal. Pain and other physical ailments from the outside world couldn't reach him.
Opening his eyes...Naruto was greeted by another pair of eyes.
"Holy shit!" He screamed in surprise, even as his body instinctively made to scramble backwards, if only so those eyes would not be so close.
"Well that was rude," Kyuubi huffed as she watched Naruto press his back against the head of the bed. She was sitting in a position that was almost seiza, except her legs were spread further apart...which was due to the fact that she had been straddling him before he'd freaked out on her.
"Kyuubi?" Naruto clutched a hand to his shirt, feeling his heart rate settle down. He was still breathing pretty heavily from the surprise of having the red-haired woman practically touching noses with him. "What the heck were you doing so close to me!?"
"I wanted to see how you'd react."
Naruto's right eye twitched. "So you were screwing with me?"
Lifting a hand, Naruto used said appendage to tired rub his face. "Whatever," he sighed, running the hand all the way down the length of his face. He then looked at Kyuubi with a frown. "I think we need to talk. What happened back there? How come I couldn't use your youki?"
"Ah, that," Kyuubi coughed into her hand a couple of times. "Yes, well, it seems your body is no longer capable of using my youki."
"No longer capable of using your youki?" Naruto parroted. "Why? How come?"
"Because your own youki has now fully integrated with your body," Kyuubi answered. Knowing Naruto would not understand what she meant, the red-haired female continued. "When your body first took half of my youki, it began an integration process, turning my potent energy into something a little more malleable and usable for a human. Except for the instances in which you did that strange transformation when you were fighting the snake man, the youki in your body remained mostly unused. It was a separate power from your chakra."
Kyuubi paused and looked at Naruto to make sure he was following along. When she saw him sitting there, staring at her intently, she continued
"However, now that power, your chakra and your youki have fully combined to form a single power composed of about one-fourth chakra and three-fourths youki. And because your power is composed of a fourth of youki, my own youki is no longer compatible."
"I'm not sure I understand," Naruto scratched the back of his head. His was confusion was rather evident to Kyuubi. "Wasn't that youki originally yours? How can it not be compatible with your power."
"Because it no longer is my power," Kyuubi explained, "It's yours. The thing you have to understand is that two such potent powers cannot be used at the same time." She paused, her head tilting. "Think of our powers as magnets. Back when your chakra was entirely human, your polarity was negative while mine was positive. However, now that your chakra has fully integrated the youki the seal took from me, the polarity of your energy is now also positive. Two powers that equal positive cannot combine. They reject each other, pushing each other away. In your case, that rejection was violent and painful because the two separate energies inside your body were pushing against each other, causing the two powers to run rampant through your body."
After taking in everything Kyuubi was telling him, Naruto only had one question. "So what are you saying?"
"I'm saying that you can no longer rely on my youki to get you out of tough situations. Even using it passively to heal your wounds out of the question as it could very easily lead to your body being torn apart."
"I see," Naruto sighed as he leaned his head back to stare at the ceiling. "Well, that sucks." Kyuubi's youki had been one of his aces for when he found himself running out of options. It had also been instrumental in keeping his body in top shape whenever it had been injured. The healing factor her youki provided was invaluable. He would never have been able to beat the likes of Gaara during the prelims had it not been for her youki.
"It's not all bad," Kyuubi informed him. Naruto perked up. "Now that your youki has become fully integrated with your chakra, you should have increased control over it. Your youki should also provide you with a healing factor similar to what you had when you used my youki." She shrugged. "I doubt you'll be growing arms back any time soon, but things like poison and minor wounds will heal quickly. You can probably even regenerate from losing fingers and toes, maybe even a hand or a foot."
"But not an arm or a leg?"
"Not until you learn to master your youki," Kyuubi said, "Your control over it might improve, but youki is very different from chakra. It's much more potent, as you well know."
Naruto blew out a long, slow breath and closed his eyes. It seemed the problems were just adding up today. "So how would I go about learning to control my youki?"
"I imagine you would do so by entering that transformed state of yours, but I can't say for sure." When Naruto opened his eyes to stare at her, Kyuubi frowned. "What? It's not like this has ever happened before. We're in completely new territory. I'm just as much in the dark about all this as you are."
"So I guess I'll be figuring out how to control my youki on my own." Naruto had never been one to turn away from hard work, but he really wasn't looking forward to the prospect of trying to do something as dangerous as learning to control a power no other human had before now.
"I'll help where I can," Kyuubi informed him, "I'm just not sure how much help I can be...what? What are you staring at me like that for?"
"Sorry, it's just," Naruto chuckled a bit, "I guess I never thought I'd see the day where you would offer your help so readily. Even when you helped train me during the Chunin Exams, you did so begrudgingly."
"W-Whatever," Kyuubi turned her head away from Naruto. "Don't look too much into it. I just don't want a weak vessel. That's all."
"And don't act so patronizing either!"
"You let them get away!" Shabedaba screeched at the top of his lungs as he glared daggers at the group of ninja under his employ. He couldn't believe it! These three, three ninja he had paid for with his own money—his own money!―had let not only Princes Michiru and Hikaru escape, but hadn't been able to kill either one of those two ninja that had come with them. "If you can't even kill a single one of my enemies, then what the hell am I paying you for!?"
If they were going to be this incompetent, he might as well not pay them at all. Failures like this didn't deserve even a cent of his hard-earned coin!
"The brat was more competent then we thought," Ishidate said through slightly clenched teeth. He was doing his best to keep his composure, but it was difficult when his employer was acting like an ignorant and spoiled prick. "Not only was he immune to our poison, he was easily at the same level I am. He also has a strange power that I've never seen before."
"I don't want to hear any of your excuses!" Shabedaba shouted, pointing a quivering, fat finger at Ishidate. It took everything the villageless ninja had not to cave the mans face in.
Standing on either side of him, Karenbana and Kongo looked like they were also having trouble trying to keep themselves restrained. Kongo was visibly shaking and Karenbana had clenched her fist so tightly her already white knuckles looked like they might start turning translucent.
Shabedaba turned away from the trio of ninja and walked towards the window that showed a splendid view of Tsuki no Kuni, his kingdom. He clasped his hands behind his back as he surveyed his domain. Ah, his domain. He really did like the sound of that.
Seeing his land before him helped calm Shabedaba down, at least enough to think rationally.
"Because I am so magnanimous, I am going to give you three another chance," he told them, never taking his eyes off his kingdom. "You are going to kill those two shinobi who are guarding the prince and bring both Michiru and Hikaru to me. Do this and I shall forget all about your failure."
Ishidate glared at his employers back. His left hand was clenched into a fist so tight his knuckles were turning white and several pops could be hard from the joints in his fingers cracking. After a moment, he allowed his hand to relax.
"Very well," Ishidate said, shocking his two companions. "We shall exterminate those two ninja and bring both Prince Michiru and Hikaru to you."
"Ishi―" Karenbana started, only to be silenced by her leader raising a single hand.
"Good, good," Shabedaba nodded, seemingly pleased. "I'm glad to hear that. However," the portly man turned to give Ishidate and the other two a look that would have been fierce on anybody who wasn't shorter than five feet and wider than two. "Know that I will not tolerate any more failures on your part. If you fail to accomplish this task, you'll not receive a single cent from me."
"Understood." Ishidate placed an arm in front of his stomach and bowed slightly at the waist, just enough to be respectful, though the fact that he was doing so in such a condescending manner took any respect the gesture may have had away. "We shall take our leave now. Come on Karenbana, Kongo."
Their leader turned around and swept past them, his long cloak billowing out behind him. After several seconds of staring, they also rushed out of the room, leaving Shabedaba alone.
The group walked down the hall in silence. Candles were spaced every meter, lining the walls and casting a pale orange on the ground, floor and ceiling. Their forms cast eery shadows that flickered as if alive every time they moved past a candle, and their footfalls gave dull thuds as they hit the crimson rug that lined the center of the hall.
"Ishidate, do you really think it's a good idea to continue supporting Shabedaba after what happened?" Karenbana asked. She did not like the idea of facing that blond-haired brat again. Just remembering how those crimson irises had looked at her while radiating enough bloodlust and killing intent to fill a lake made her shudder.
"Don't be ridiculous, Karenbana," Ishidate almost snorted. "Our only shot at getting rid of those two was when we had the element of surprise." They had been counting on Jiraiya's guard being down and the poison hampering the Sennin's ability to fight. The moment where they might have been able to win had long since passed. "Now that Jiraiya is aware of us and knows that we have an odorless, tasteless poison, he'll be on guard. Our moment of surprise is gone, and with it any advantage we may have once possessed is gone as well. What's more, I doubt it'll be just Jiraiya we'll have to deal with. We'll also have to take care of that blond brat too...and he has proven to be every bit as difficult to take out as Jiraiya. Then there was that strange power..."
"So what do we do, then?" asked Kongo.
"We'll stick around for a while longer," Ishidate said after a moments thought. "Jiraiya and that Naruto brat will no doubt come here with that army of their to retake the palace. We'll use the chaos caused by those two to make our escape, but not before helping ourselves to some of Shabedaba's riches." After the way they had stuck their necks out and nearly been killed for it, it was only fair.
Jiraiya sighed as he sat in seiza beside the fuuton he had placed Naruto in. The cave the two of them were currently located in was dank and dark, moisture coalesced on stalactites lowering from the ceiling. The "drip, drip. Drip, drip" of water hitting the ground sounded several decibels louder than it should and was working on Jiraiya's already frayed nerves and patience.
As the Sennin looked at his apprentice, a growl tore itself from his lips. He smashed a fist onto his knee, cursing himself for his stupidity. To think someone of his caliber would be so off-guard that he allowed himself to be poisoned! It was disgraceful! He was one of the Densetsu no Sannin and spy master to boot! This type of thing shouldn't happen to him!
A grimace crossed his face. He only had himself to blame for getting poisoned. He had been so preoccupied by the current estrangement with his apprentice that he'd been caught completely off guard and allowed himself one of those girls―he had no clue which―to slip him a mickey. It just went to show even the most experienced of ninja could still be taken by surprise.
"This is all my fault," Jiraiya muttered to himself as he closed his eyes and clenched his fists. His apprentice was lying there, dead to the world, completely comatose. "If I hadn't been so stupid..."
A groan made Jiraiya halt mid-sentence. He opened his eyes and looked at Naruto. The blond teen was finally beginning to stir. His eyes fluttered open. He blinked a few times, then tilted his head until his eyes landed on Jiraiya.
"Ero-Sennin," he muttered lowly. Jiraiya sweat-dropped. He wasn't sure if he was pleased his apprentice was calling him "Ero-Sennin" again, but figured it could only be a good thing. "Where am I?"
"You're in a hideout that the...rebels?" Jiraiya paused in thought before nodding slowly. "Yeah, I guess that'll work. We're in the hideout the rebels are using to hide Michiru-dono and Hikaru."
"Ero-Sennin." Jiraiya furrowed his brows. There was something strange about the way Naruto said that, an unusual inflection in his voice the Sennin had never heard from the young man before. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Jiraiya blinked. "Sorry for what?"
"For the way I've been treating you," Naruto sighed. Jiraiya stared at the boy in surprise. "I've been thinking about it a lot. I know how much my old man meant to you; you always talked about how he was like the son you never had, and I imagine it must have really hurt when he died. It probably hurt so much that you had to get away from Konoha because it reminded you of him, sort of like how baa-chan left because the village reminded her of her lost lover and little brother."
"Look, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I understand why you never came to see me...and I can accept that. So," Naruto turned his head away from the Gama Sennin, "I'm sorry for being a jerk to you."
Throughout Naruto's little speech, Jiraiya could only stare at the young man in shock. Naruto was apologizing. Naruto, the loudest, most obnoxious person he had ever known, someone who was more stubborn than anyone he'd met in his entire life, was apologizing. Jiraiya wasn't sure what he should do.
This must be a dream. He pinched himself. Nope, not a dream.
"Ah...uh...it's okay." Jiraiya rubbed the back of his head, an uncomfortable expression on his face. He had never been good with this kind of stuff. "I should have come to visit you, at least once in a while. I knew life in Konoha wasn't easy for you, I got the occasional report from Sarutobi telling me as much, but I was so consumed by my own sorrow that I never thought about coming back."
"Ha...I guess we're both sorry then," Naruto said.
"Yeah, I guess so."
"So what now?"
"Now?" Jiraiya's expression hardened. "Now there are a few things I need to tell you."
It took a bit of searching; the person he was looking for had not been in the cave the rebel faction still loyal to the king was hiding out in, but Naruto eventually found Hikaru. The young prince had climbed on top of the small cliff that was situation by the cave. He was sitting with his back against the cliff face, his legs curled into his chest and his arms wrapped around his legs. There was a despondent expression on his face and still wet tear tracks on his cheeks.
Naruto sighed as he walked up to the young boy, who had not even acknowledged his presence despite not making an effort to mask his approach.
He sat down next to Hikaru and looked out at the view. It was very beautiful, the sun was setting, casting a brilliant, multicolored glow on the earth. The trees were a mix of reds, yellows, blues and purples. He could see the sea in the distance. The sun coruscated off its surface and the rippling waves made it look almost alive.
"I heard about what happened...to your grandfather, I mean," Naruto said softly. Hikaru stiffened. "I was told that your grandfather was the one who sent you and your dad on that tour, that he did it to protect you when he went to confront the ministers he'd been disagreeing with on the path your kingdom should take." When the boy didn't respond, he sighed. "Wanna talk about it? It's not good to leave this kind of stuff bottled up."
A sniffle. "He said that...he said that happiness and wealth weren't the same thing." Another sniffle. "He told us that he wanted a place of peace and harmony. And...and he kept talking about what really matters." More sniffling. "My grandfather was always very kind to me. He made that boat for me, and he always used to watch me practice." Tears began flowing down Hikaru's eyes as he sniffled some more. He tried to wipe the tears away, but it was futile gesture. "And whenever I made a bulls eye, he was even happier than I was. I loved him so much."
Naruto sat there silently for several minutes, listening to the young boy pour his emotions out. Night had fallen now, the sky was growing dark and the moon and stars were out. It wouldn't be long before the last vestiges of light left this world.
"Do you think you understand what you're grandfather was trying to say?" The sniffling stopped. Hikaru looked over at Naruto, who was staring back at him. The young boy shook his head. "I think I've got a pretty good idea of what he was talking about. He was talking about what happens here," Naruto thumped his chest, "Right here in your heart."
As Hikaru touched a hand to his chest, Naruto stood up. He placed his hands on his hip and stared at the darkening sky. "Back in Konoha, Sandaime-jisan was a lot like my grandfather. Back when he was alive he would look after me, and when he died, it was like he left everything for me to look after. That's one of the reasons I promised to become Hokage and protect the village in his stead."
Turning his head, Naruto looked down at the young boy, who was staring at him, listening to every word he spoke.
"What your grandpa left is something very precious, and it's up to you and your father to keep it safe."
"If it's really that precious...if it meant that much to my grandfather, I'm not sure I could protect it." Hikaru looked back down at the forest below. All he could see were silhouettes now. "I'm not sure I'm ready for that."
"You may be right." Hikaru looked back at him and Naruto grinned. "You're a little young. Maybe you're not ready to handle that kind of responsibility, but you will be when you grow up, and hey, if you don't even try how can you be sure? Maybe you are ready right now and just don't know it. The only way to know for sure is to get up and go for it."
"We're friends, right, Hikaru?" Naruto knelt down until he was eye level with the younger boy. "That means if you become the Daimyo of Tsuki no Kuni and I become Hokage, Konoha and this land will become friends just like us."
"Yep, and that means that whenever you or your country is in trouble, Konoha will be there to help you." Naruto grinned widely at the young boy, who stared at him in confusion. "Of course, if Konoha was ever in trouble, I'd like to be able to count on you. So how about it?" He held out a hand, his pinky extended. "Friends for life?"
Hikaru stared at the pinky finger in front of him for several long seconds, after which, a smile appeared on his.
"Yeah," he extended his own hand and grabbed Naruto's pinky with his own. "Friends for ever."
Naruto and Jiraiya stood around a very small table with a map on top of it. Korega and several other men were also standing around the table.
Now that Naruto had woken up and Jiraiya had updated him on their situation, the group of soldiers loyal to the true Daimyo decided it was time for them to reclaim their home from Shabedaba. A number of plans had already been thrown around, ideas had been bounced between all those presence. But so far none of those plans had been accepted as feasible, even though Naruto was sure they could get it done. Hell, he was sure that just he and Jiraiya would be enough to defeat Shabedaba and all his forces, including those three ninja.
"A frontal assault is impossible. There are simply too many soldiers loyal to Shabedaba. Even if we were capable of mounting a full-scale attack, we'd be overwhelmed."
While the adults spoke and tried to plan out their attack on Shabedaba's palace, Naruto studied the map in front of him. It was an intricately detailed map of the palace. Looking it over he could see the map included even hidden passages. There were at least sixteen.
"Does Shabedaba know about the hidden passages?" asked Naruto. The adults all paused and looked at the youngest of them all. Jiraiya glanced at Korega with a raised eyebrow.
"He may know about some, but I doubt he'll know all of them," answered Korega. "There are many hidden passages located in the palace that are only known to the Daimyos and their royal guard. All the royal guards are here," he finished by gesturing towards his men.
"Good," Jiraiya smiled grimly, "that means we'll be able to use one or more of these hidden passages to sneak some soldiers in. With some luck they should be able to make it to Shabedaba undetected while we launch some kind of distraction from the front to keep the main forces attention occupied." The man with the spiky white main of hair cupped his chin in thought. "The question, though, is what kind of distraction should we use?"
"Why don't we use the circus Michiru brought?" asked Naruto, finally looking up from his studying of the map to stare at the other people there. They were all looking at him in surprise. "We could join their troupe and have them perform at the palace. When everyone is busy watching the show, we have several people sneak in from one of these secret passages."
"That could work," Jiraiya murmured. He looked down to study the map intently. His finger traced across the surface before stopping on top of one of the hidden passages. "We can use this one in the south wing to enter. It's the farthest from the palace entrance, which means it'll be the least guarded when we launch our distraction. Now the only question is how are we going to convince the carnies to go along with our plan?"
Naruto gave Jiraiya a large grin that spoke of mischief and mystery. "You leave that to me."
To the average observer, it would look like an ordinary day; the citizens were going about their business, shops were open and selling their wares and products, and children were running through the street. It looked like a peaceful day.
Too bad it was all an illusion. The citizens attempt at getting on with their daily lives was merely their effort to hide their unease at the recent string of events that had taken place in the last few weeks. First there was that strange commotion at the palace where a rebel faction had attempted to kill their Daimyo, and now they had learned that Princes Michiru and Hikaru were traitors to the crown. It was early that morning when the announcement had been made, stating that Prince Michiru had been the one responsible for the attack on his own father.
The citizens were understandably shocked. Prince Michiru had been responsible for the attack on his father!? How could this be!? There had been no indication that the prince was dissatisfied with his father's rule or that he wanted to usurp his father's throne. And hadn't he been out of the country until just recently?
According to the new ruler, the attack had been planned that way to cast suspicion of Prince Michiru. To make matters worse they had learned that the attack actually succeeded and the Daimyo had died from poison just last night.
Amongst those who had been shocked by the announcement, none were more shocked than the circus troupe Michiru had brought from the mainland. Their reasons for being surprised were far different from the normal citizens though. They did not believe for one second that the prince was the one responsible for killing his father. There was no way someone who acted so goofy and joyful would kill their own father. This entire situation smelled fishy to them.
Despite learning of this, the troupe tried not to let their suspicions get to them. Maybe Michiru really had attacked his father. What did they know of royalty? Nothing. And so they tried to put it out of their minds and focus on their next big gig. They had been contacted by the palace, who wanted to bring them in for entertainment in order to celebrate the rise of their new Daimyo, Shabedaba.
The troupe had just finished practicing. They wanted to pull out all the stops to make this gig the biggest success they'd ever had. If it was successful and the new Daimyo enjoyed their routine, it could really put them on the map.
All of the animals were currently being put back in their cages. The gig wasn't until later tonight so there was no need for them to be outside when they weren't practicing. The only animal not in his cage was Chamū, and that was simply because the big saber-tooth had taken to lounging on top of the cage. Even now, the taskmaster could see his most popular attraction soaking up the sun like some kind of big, lazy house cat.
"Let's move it people!" The taskmaster said as his troupe swiftly and efficiently moved around the small space allotted to them. It was outside of the city grounds, there simply wasn't enough space for them in the city. That was okay though, they were at least located next to the gates. "I want us to be rested and ready to move at a moments notice!"
It was while the taskmaster was directing his troupe that Chamū raised his head and began sniffing the air. Without warning the saber-tooth leapt from his perch and began running off.
"C-Chamū!?" the taskmaster shouted in surprise. "Where are you going!? Come back!"
Grumbling in complaint, the taskmaster followed Chamū as best he could. Several others had also seen Chamū run off and followed after him. The troupe chased after the giant tiger as he dove into the copse of trees, doing their best not to stumble over roots as they moved as fast as they could. Eventually, the group managed to catch up with the star of their show, but that was only because Chamū had stopped running.
"C-Chamū, that tickles!"
As one the troupe dropped their jaws as Chamū smothered Naruto in affection, licking the blond teens face and leaving a wet, slobbering trail.
"Alright, you big lug." Naruto pushed the tiger off him, grinning as he scratched behind the saber-tooth's left ear. "I think that's quite enough."
"N-Naruto!?" the taskmaster shouted in surprise. "What are you doing here?"
Petting Chamū one last time, Naruto stood up and addressed the taskmaster, his expression more serious than any of them had ever seen it. Considering he had been brooding almost the entire time they met, that was saying something.
"We need your help."
Shabedaba was sitting on his throne, enjoying the day, or at least trying to. While he loved his new throne―it was a very comfy throne with a lot of amenities and a really soft cushion―it was indisputably difficult to enjoy when there were so many lose ends that needed to be tied up.
Despite making the announcement about Prince Michiru being a traitor who had killed his own father when the man refused to hand over control of the kingdom, there were many people who were still skeptical. He had done what he could to silence dissenters, but this was a precarious time for him right now and he couldn't just silently "deal with" the people who did not believe him.
Even worse was that Michiru and his brat were still out there somewhere, being guarded by samurai forces loyal to the king and those Konoha shinobi. They were not going to stay quiet for very long. No doubt they would try something, which could disrupt all of his planning and plotting.
Shabedaba slammed his left fist against the arm rest. Damn those Konoha ninja! They were always sticking their noses in where it didn't belong! First they had killed Gato, thereby ending several lucrative business deals he had with the man, now they were protecting that fat, useless fool of a prince and his spawn!
"Those three had better hurry up and dispose of Michiru and his spoiled son," he muttered to himself. He had paid damn good money for those three to do his dirty work. Shabedaba did not like giving away money to begin with, he hated it even more when he gave away money with the expectation of the people he was paying getting the job done and not having those expectations met. If something didn't change soon, those three were going to find themselves out on the street with not even a ryu to their name.
The loud clanging of the door opening brought an abrupt end to Shabedaba's thoughts. The portly politician turned Daimyo looked up to see several of his guards entering the throne room. While most of them stopped a meter or so away, one of them dressed in the uniform of a guard captain, continued walking up to the throne.
A second later he was kneeling in front of the Daimyo, one knee on the floor, the other thrust into the air and being used to support his right arm that lay across it. His head was bowed in deference.
"My lord, the circus troupe you requested for entertainment has arrived."
"Ah, good, good," Shabedaba sat up a little straighter, excitement coursing through him. With all the planning and backstabbing he had been doing, he'd not had much time to relax. With luck, tonight's entertainment would serve to temporarily relieve him of the stress he was feeling. "Let them in."
Standing up, Shabedaba made his way to the veranda. The throne room had it's own balcony which allowed him to look over his kingdom. It would serve as a good place to watch the coming festivities.
Jiraiya grinned underneath his disguise. Everything was going well. The guards had let them in through the front gate and none of them suspected a thing.
Not that he could blame them. As a spy master he was well-versed in the art of disguise, though even Jiraiya had to admit this particular disguise was incredibly well done, probably even his best one yet.
Not that he expected any less. His disguises were just plain awesome.
His outfit consisted of a large pair of bright red pants and a green vest. He wasn't wearing a shirt, allowing his awesome pecs and abs to be seen by all. The only thing he disliked about his disguise was that no one could see his awesome lions main of hair. Instead there was a large red and green striped hat on top of his head. Still, stupidly large hat aside, Jiraiya had to admit his costume was pretty awesome and allowed him to showcase his awesomeness to the world.
"Ladies and gentleman! Allow me to introduce you to the greatest show in the entire Elemental Nations!"
As the taskmaster did his introduction, Jiraiya glanced around at all those who had come to see the palace's entertainment. He spotted Shabedaba sitting up on the large balcony, looking every bit the spoiled, disgusting politician he was. Surrounding him were several other politicians, advisers most likely, and located around the palace grounds were the many soldiers charged with protecting the palace. He counted at least five dozen. According to Korega there were exactly six dozen squads worth of samurai guarding the palace. That meant twelve samurai were not present.
That was okay. Naruto, Korega and the other Samurai going with them could handle a dozen samurai. Of more immediate concern were those three shinobi. One on one, even two on one, Jiraiya was confident Naruto could win, but according to his apprentice they always worked together, and that was a problem.
An even bigger problem was that he could not see them amongst the crowd.
'Stay safe, Naruto.'
Darkness. Naruto was surrounded by darkness as he, Korega, several samurai, along with Hikaru and Michiru traveled through the small passageway leading into the palace. It was a very tight space, very cramped. The group had been forced to walk single file because of this, and it had caused a good deal of problems when deciding who would go first.
Naruto won by stint of being able to see in the dark.
Korega had not been very happy, but then, he'd been angry since Michiru and Hikaru told them they were going with them.
The addition of the two princes to their company had been a big surprise to all of them. No one had any idea why the two had decided to accompany them and neither one would say. Prince Michiru's only response was he needed to confront Shabedaba about his actions.
A large scale argument had broken out between Korega and Michiru about whether or not they should be allowed to go. Korega had argued that it was too dangerous, and he had a point: there was no telling what kind of dangers they would face once inside the palace―those three ninja Naruto fought came to mind―and there was a good chance of them getting injured or even killed. Despite this, neither Michiru nor Hikaru were deterred.
In the end, Korega had been forced to accede to their demands.
It probably didn't help that Naruto had vouched for them and all but said he would protect them from every danger they faced.
That really hadn't been one of his smartest moments, but then, despite his increase in intellect since becoming a genin, Naruto still didn't have that much common sense. Go figure.
With his now fully developed Yokai being channeled to his eyes, Naruto surveyed the area around them. His purple irises flickered about, looking at the walls that almost felt like they were closing in on him, the dank and wet floor, and the low hanging ceiling that was just a few feet above their heads. This definitely wasn't the type of place someone who was claustrophobic would want to walk through.
"Keep a tight grip on me, Hikaru," Naruto said softly as he felt the boy's grip on the fabric of his shirt slacken.
"Right," the grip instantly tightened again.
"Hey, Tana-san, how much farther until we get out of here?"
"It's Korega," Korega's annoyed voice snapped at him, "And it shouldn't be much farther. Maybe another minute at most."
"Good, I was getting tired of walking through such a dark place...and my eyes are getting sore."
'That's because your body is not used to your Yokai yet,' Kyuubi told him, 'Even though your chakra and Yokai have fully mixed, your body does not recognize it as yours. Thus, it's rejecting your own energy.'
'Is that bad?'
'I doubt it. Your body should adjust eventually. Just give it time. Until then, you'll have to deal with some mild discomfort.'
'Good to know.'
"How can you even see in this place, Naruto?" asked Hikaru. "I can't see a thing." The only reason he hadn't smacked into a wall or tripped on something was because of Naruto. In fact, Naruto was the one leading the entire group because he could somehow see in the dark while they could not.
"It's my eyes," Naruto told him, "I'm channeling Yo―chakra to my eyes in order to enhance my vision." He turned his head to look back at the young prince and the rest of the group following behind them. His irises were no longer blue, but a purple that glowed brighter than most oil lamps.
Naruto grinned at Hikaru's awestruck expression. "Awesome, right?"
"Quit talking you two!" Korega once again spoke out of annoyance. "We're almost there."
Indeed they were. Just a few seconds after Korega finished speaking they reached a black space of wall with no discernible opening. It was a dead end.
Well...it looked like a dead end, but it was actually the entrance/exit that allowed people to move in and out of the palace without being seen.
"Move it," Korega grunted as he pushed Naruto out of the way. The younger of the two stumbled a bit. Straightening, the spiky-haired blond glared at the older man who was even now holding a torch up to the wall, searching for something.
"The hell was that for?" asked Naruto. "Don't tell me your still angry at not getting to lead. Your shitty torch can't beat the awesomeness that are my eyes...and wait, is it just me or did I sound like an Uchiha just then?"
'You did. Please don't do that again.'
"Damn," Naruto shuddered. "I don't even have monkey eyes and I sounded like an arrogant SOB. Better be a bit more careful." He shook his head and focused on his newest target, someone who never failed to amuse him. "So, Tana-san, why are you upset at me again?"
He was ignored.
"You're not still upset over the nickname, are you?"
Korega continued ignoring him.
"Oh, come on! Tana-san is a great nickname! You use a katana, don't you? It works, see?"
Several tic marks formed on Korega's head.
"Though I suppose I could call you katana-san," Naruto admitted thoughtfully, "But katana is just way too long to say every time I want to talk to you."
A loud grinding sound emerged from Korega's mouth. It reminded everyone of those machines that are used to grind up minerals.
"That's why I think Tana-san works best," Naruto nodded sagely to himself. He completely ignored the strange grinding noises that came from Korega. "Mm, mm, yes, it is definitely the best name for you. Wouldn't you agree?"
Korega still didn't answer.
"Oi! I'm talking to―"
"Would you shut up!?" Korega shouted, whirling on Naruto and casting him a fierce glare. "Can't you see I'm trying to find the catch that will let us enter the palace!?"
"Oh, is that what you were doing?" Naruto scratched the back of his head. "Sorry, you were just taking so long I got bored."
Grumbling to himself, Korega turned back to the secret entrance and once again began searching for the catch. It took a bit longer than it should have―his frustration at Naruto's annoying blathering may have contributed to this―but he eventually found it. After pressing on it, he and the others watched as the door slid open and light spilled into the tunnel.
Naruto grinned as he walked out of the secret passage and into the hallway. "Ah! Finally! I was getting tired of being in that stupid tunnel!" he said, stretching his arms high above his head. "It was so damn cramped in there." He turned to Michiru, eying the fat prince up and down. "I don't know how could you stand it."
Michiru frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, nothing," Naruto dismissed the man's look with a wave of his hand. "Anyway, let's get going. Ero-Sennin's probably started the party by now." As if on cue, a large explosion rocked the entire palace. While Michiru and several others raised their hands over their head, as if expecting debris to fall on them, Naruto snickered. "See what I mean? Ero-Sennin's starting the party without us, so we need to get going."
"What we need to do is move cautiously," Korega countered, "It won't do any good if we rush headlong into this situation and find ourselves overwhelmed."
"Ah, you worry too much!" Naruto slapped the much older man on the back, causing him to nearly plant his face into a wall. The blond-haired boy with whisker marks on his cheeks grinned as the swordsman glared at him. "Don't be such a sour puss, Tana-san. This'll be a snap!"
The show had gone off without a hitch so far. Shabedaba and the other ministers and politicians appeared to greatly enjoy the circus routine the troupe had put on. The group of greedy merchants and double-speakers had clapped and cheered and "oohed" and "awed." They appeared particular enamored with Chamū, the troupe's saber-tooth and pride of the circus. Unfortunately, it was time for the curtain to fall on this charade.
"And now I would like to introduce one of the newest member of our circus, a man known far and wide for his incredible feats! Jiraiya!"
Shabedaba looked startled. "Jiraiya!?"
Indeed, it was none other than Jiraiya who walked onto the makeshift stage the circus troupe had set up for their act. He was still in costume, but that all changed as he grabbed a hold of his clothes and threw them off, revealing his normal shinobi ware of green short kimono shirt and matching colored pants, red haori with mesh undershirt, geta sandals and spiked headband with the kanji for oil on it.
"For my next act, I'll be showing you how real fire breathers roll!" The man with spiky white hair and an indomitable spirit performed a series of hand-seals. "Katon: Endan!" His chakra spiked as oil gathered in his mouth. His cheeks bulged before he shot out several globs of oil at speed. Each ball of the black, viscous substance ignited in the air before it struck the ground. The earth all around them combusted in a brilliant blaze as the balls of flaming oil exploded against the gravel, sending chunks of earth, grass and cobblestone pavement flying. Several samurai also ended up getting caught in the explosion and were sent packing, their broken and burnt bodies hitting the ground with dull thuds.
"Seize them! Kill them!"
Amidst the chaos Jiraiya's jutsu had caused, Shabedaba began shouting orders in an attempt to bring the situation under his control. If he could just kill off some of those fools from the circus, he should be able to bring everyone to heel. Those people were not fighters and Jiraiya was a well-known bleeding heart. His chivalrous nature wouldn't allow him to let people die if he could help it.
Unfortunately, what the traitorous former politician didn't count on was the circus troupe fighting back. From his position on the balcony, Shabedaba could only gape as his soldiers were smacked around by a pair of kangaroos, or getting trampled by the heard of elephants. Running across the courtyard like a bolt of white lightning, Chamū was also carving soldiers up with his claws and teeth. On his head was Kiki, the monkey, who was currently throwing rocks at the heads of soldiers.
"What are you idiots doing!?" Shabedaba's screech went ignored, not that this deterred him from shrieking some more. "They're just a bunch of circus freaks! Kill them! Kill them all!"
"I don't think so!"
Shabedaba turned his head just in time to receive a powerful kick to the face. The fat and greedy politician was sent flying, his body smacking the stone floor harshly before rolling across it like a rag-doll for several more feet. All of the senators and soldiers gaped at the young shinobi who'd just popped their leader a good one.
"Yatta!" Naruto clenched his fists together in excitement, the grin on his face so large it split his face in half and forced his eyes to squint shut. "I've always wanted to do that at least once! It was so cool whenever bushy brows and bushier brows sensei did that!"
'You're taking way too much joy from accomplishing something so simple.'
'Kyuubi, when will you learn? I am just a simple man who enjoys the simple things in life.'
A snort echoed within his mind. 'I don't believe that for one second.'
'Really? Yeah, me neither.'
"Michiru," Shabedaba winced as he sat up. A large bruise was forming on his cheek, along with some serious swelling. That attack had really hurt. "How nice of you to join us. Now I can finally kill you and your brat of a son."
"You're not going to kill anyone today, Shabedaba!" Michiru actually sounded pretty intense there. Naruto was impressed, just a little bit. "You're under arrest for crimes against the throne and the murder of my father!"
"No, no, no, no, that's not what will be happening," Shabedaba said, standing up. "It is you who will be dying this day. Ishidate! Kill these fools!"
"Ishidate! I said kill these fools!"
More silence. Naruto looked around with a frown on his face. After a second, he chuckled and looked back at the usurper. "It seems those three have abandoned you."
"No!" Shabedaba's eyes widened. "No! I paid those three good money to do my bidding! How could they betray me!?"
"Money can't buy everything," Naruto shook his head, "They probably knew they couldn't defeat Jiraiya and myself in a fair fight. After their failed attempt at getting rid of us, they most likely knew we would be ready for anything else they could try and decided to cut their losses." The blond shrugged. "It's a pretty smart move of them if you ask me."
"Damn them!" Shabedaba grit his teeth, his anger boiling over. "Damn you, Ishidate!"
"Shabedaba, in the name of the true Daimyo, you are under arrest," Korega declared, brandishing his sword.
"NO!" Shabedaba looked at all of them with wide, insane eyes. "I won't allow you to take me! KILL THEM! KILL THEM ALL!"
Those soldiers who were loyal to Shabedaba all unsheathed their swords and charged them.
"Heh," a large smirk appeared on Naruto's face as he crouched down low. "Leave this to me, you guys."
Before anyone there could say anything, Naruto was blasting off the floor. He flew towards the charging soldiers at incredible speeds, his body a mere blur that could not be tracked by regular forces. None of the samurai even knew when Naruto had appeared among them. One second he was standing there, that infuriating smirk plastered on his feature, the next he was amidst them and already taking down his first opponent with a palm thrust to the chest.
Grinning with a savage joy, Naruto spun around on his heels and moved to the left. A sword pierced the air he had been standing on. As the offending limb gripping the sword came into his view, the blond young man grabbed a hold of it in a vice grip.
Continuing his spin, Naruto lifted the soldier off his feet and used him as a bat to knock several other samurai away. He only let go after the last soldier had been knocked for a loop. The dizzy enemy swordsman was then sent flying straight into a wall, which he became imbedded into head first, his legs dangling out of the large hole the upper half of his body was stuck in.
"Anybody else want some of this!?"
When all Naruto got were groans, he grinned and nodded to himself.
"I thought not."
The battle to take control over the palace had been relatively short. With the disappearance of Ishidate, Karenbana and Kongo there was no one with the strength to stand up against either Naruto or Jiraiya. Regular foot soldiers were just not a match for shinobi, especially ones of their caliber.
There was much to do after the battle. All those who had turned traitor had to be sentenced. Most of the normal soldiers had not known the truth about Shabedaba's ascension―which Jiraiya confirmed through interrogating them―and were given a one year prison sentence on the condition they swear their loyalty to Michiru. Those who did not would be given a life sentence.
The politicians, merchants and ministers were another matter entirely. All of them had been aware of Shabedaba's treachery and even lent their support to overthrow the king. They were all given life imprisonment.
Shabedaba, on the other hand, was given the death penalty for not only acts of treachery against the crown, but the murder of the former Daimyo as well. That was a crime of the highest order and not something that simple imprisonment would rectify.
Prince Michiru, now the Daimyo of Tsuki no Kuni, had also been forced to make an announcement letting the citizens know what really happened to their former lord and of Shabedaba's betrayal. The people seemed to take the knowledge well enough. Most of them were aware of Shabedaba's greed to some extent not therefore not very surprised.
With nothing to do, Naruto spent most of his time training. With Kyuubi's yokai no longer being a usable trump card, the young man was forced to turn to other methods of increasing his power. The first thing he attempted was to do was enter that strange state he had achieved during the battle with Orochimru.
It hadn't turned out too well. It seemed that Naruto's body was incapable of handling the stress of that transformation for more than ten seconds. Kyuubi theorized that because his yokai and chakra were now truly one, it was much more powerful than it had been, and that all the power he now possessed put extreme amounts of stress on his body. This meant the only way he could increase the amount of time he was in that state was through constantly putting stress on his body to increase its durability.
It was a lot harder than it sounded. Not to mention painful.
While his relationship with Jiraiya was not what it had been before learning about his father, it was much improved from what it was at the start of this mission. The fact that it was Jiraiya who had saved Naruto from those three shinobi when his body had been essentially poisoned by Kyuubi's yokai was a serious point in his favor.
And with Naruto no longer pushing him away it meant they could get in some serious training. Say what you will about the man, Jiraiya knew his stuff. He was not considered a legend among shinobi for no reason, as Naruto quickly found out during all of their spars.
Nearly a month after the execution of Shabedaba, peace had returned to Tsuki no Kuni, and Naruto and Jiraiya were ready to hit the road once again.
"Do you really have to go?" asked Hikaru, sniffing as he looked up at the older male. Naruto grinned down at him, feeling a strange sense of nostalgia―he couldn't help but think he had been in this situation before―as he ruffled the boy's hair.
"Yeah, I do," Naruto answered, "But don't worry too much. I doubt this is the last time we'll see each other. After all, if I become Hokage and you become Daimyo, we'll have to meet if we want to finalize our alliance."
"Promise you'll come back to visit?" Hikaru held out his left hand, pinky finger extended. Chuckling, Naruto wrapped the pinky of his right hand around the extended pinky.
"Come on, brat," Jiraiya called, "We need to head out. There are a lot more places I want us to get to before the end of this trip."
"I'm coming, Ero-sennin! Stop being so impatient, ya damn pervert!"
"This coming from the boy who created a jutsu that transforms him into a naked chick," Jiraiya shot back.
'He got you there.'
"Whatever," Naruto muttered, a small blush staining his cheeks. He looked back at Hikaru. "I'll see ya around, kiddo."
As Naruto ran off to catch up with Jiraiya, who he began arguing with not long after, Michiru placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "I doubt this will be the last time we see them, Hikaru. I'll have to remember to thank him the next time we meet. While I still don't know what my father meant when he talked about what was important, I think I'm beginning to."
Hikaru looked at his father, then back towards where the blond and his sensei were disappearing into the distance. He hoped this would not be the last time they met as well.
Several miles from Tsuki no Kuni's capitol city, Ishidate, Kongo and Karenbana sat around their small camp site. The trio of ninja had managed to get out of the palace with a good deal of treasure thanks to all the chaos the circus and Konoha shinobi had caused. While it wasn't enough for them to retire for life, it would hold them over until they found their next job.
"Looks like you were right to leave them, Ishidate," Karenbana said. The fire she was sitting near crackled and popped, the light from the flames cast an orange glow upon her pale face and created stark, contrasting shadows that danced across her pale skin.
"Of course I was," Ishidate said, "Going up against one of the Sannin and his apprentice after our first failed attempt would have been foolish." He was confident in his own skills, but he also knew his limits. He would have stood no chance against the fabled Gama Sennin. "Better to retreat and fight another day than die under the services of some pompous fool."
"Whatever," Kongo grumbled angrily as he slammed his fist into the ground, "I still want to smash that damn brat for making us look like a bunch of fools!"
"Do you now?"
At the sound of the unknown voice, all of their eyes widened. How had someone gotten that close!? They hadn't even sensed anyone approach their camp!
Despite their surprise, the three were still experienced ninja and responded accordingly. Each one leapt to their feet and prepared to destroy whoever had dared to intrude upon their camp.
"Ku ku ku, there is no need for violence," a figure stepped out of the shadows, one that caused all three to quake. The smile on his face did not help ease their fears. "I have no intention of fighting you three. Rather, I have a proposition I think you would find very...beneficial."
I have to admit, I'm kinda disappointed you guys thought I would leave you on that cliff hanger like that. I might be a jerk, but I'm not an asshole. Anyway, I do hope you enjoyed this chapter. It marks the end of the Crescent Moon Kingdom arc and the beginning of the last of the 3 year training arc.
And on other thing. I just posted my question and answer form on my blog. For those who are curious to know my thoughts on this story and the answer to questions you may have asked.