Chapter Three: Infiltration and Plans
Snafu's Notes: Despite the minor number of flames, the story is progressing very nicely. I'm surprised no one hasn't picked up on the numerous references I made in the story, such as the Hall of Sovereigns, where the Imperial Council meet, that I picked up from Gears of War. The Lahja Mountains, for those who grew up with Nintendo, came from Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos. And for this chapter, I hocked in a Resident Evil 5 reference.
Five days after Kakashi's party had left for the Western Empire...
The Konoha Council received an unwanted guest in the form of an envoy from Oto.
Escorted by guards enhanced with the Cursed Seal and ready to attack at a moment's notice, Kabuto Yakushi scanned the faces of the Konoha High Council, both shinobi and civilian. The Konoha ANBU stood close by, along with several of Danzou's ROOT ANBU, katanas drawn.
The right-hand man of Orochimaru smirked to himself. Even Konoha had to follow the rules when it came to visiting diplomats, and despite being from the Sound, Kabuto was no exception to the rule.
"What are you doing here?" Tsunade demanded from her seat.
"Now, now," Kabuto chided. "There's no need to be rude, Lady Hokage. I bring greetings from your former teammate, Lord Orochimaru...as well as a message. In three weeks' time, Lord Orochimaru will return to Konoha...and finish what he had started, along with the Tsuchikage and the Raikage backing him up as support. In other words, this is a formal declaration of war on the Leaf."
"The will of fire will extinguish your master!" one civilian shouted. "Konoha is the strongest of the shinobi nations!"
Kabuto scoffed. "Konoha is a disease. Face it, you basically alienated each and every single ally you had when you banished your trump card. Oh, yes...Lord Orochimaru knows that you have banished the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. Because of that, no other village will not come to your aid. In any case, Lord Orochimaru and his allies from Stone and Lightning are hereby giving you a chance to save your pathetic village."
"Orochimaru offering terms? How thoughtful of him," Tsunade sneered. "Name your terms."
"Four simple requests...no, make that demands," Kabuto replied, knowing full well that Konoha would not accept the surrender offer. "First off, Konoha is to surrender Sasuke Uchiha to Oto. Second, Kumo wants a Hyuuga. Not one with the Caged Bird Seal..." At that, he paused so that he could face Hiashi when he told him of the demand. "...but one from the main branch. Your remaining daughter, Hanabi."
In a rage, Hiashi was out of his seat. "You will not take my daughter!" he bellowed as Tsume Inuzuka, Asuma Sarutobi, and Shikaku Nara restrained him.
Kabuto ignored Hiashi's outburst. "Third...Iwa wants the Forbidden Scroll of Sealing. As it was the property of Minato Namikaze, Iwa wants the Scroll so that they can destroy it, and with it the legacy of Konoha's Yellow Flash. And finally...Konoha must recognize the Sound as a major Shinobi power...while at the same time, step down as one of the five major villages."
With a roar, Hiashi threw off the other jounin and despite his bad leg, charged at Kabuto, who made no move as Hiashi grabbed him and was preparing to turn his brain into jelly from a Jyuuken strike.
"You kill me, Lord Orochimaru will find out," Kabuto threatened. Pulling down his shirt so that the shoulder is exposed, he showed Hiashi the Cursed Seal, which was activated. "Yes, strike me down, and you will condemn your daughter...your clan...and all of Konoha to the sword by the end of the day."
With a growl, Hiashi released Kabuto, who merely adjusted his clothing. "Good, Lord Hyuuga. No one doesn't have to die today." To Tsunade, he said, "These are our terms. The choice is yours - destruction or sacrifice." He mockingly bowed to Tsunade. "You have three weeks to make your choice. Failure to comply...well, you know the consequences."
Imperial Complex, the morning after Jiraiya's visit.
Naruto was in the training hall of the Imperial Complex. He was alone. A day had passed since Jiraiya's visit and Naruto had a lot on his mind. Which is why he was meditating in the dojo at six in the morning.
He had long since closed the book on Konoha. His life as a Konoha shinobi was long over. He was even more powerful than the Hokage, and both him and Hinata were seen as heroes to the people of the Unified West. And yet, half of him wants to protect Konoha, while the other half wants to see it fall. The proverbial angel and devil were on his shoulders.
"A ryo for you thoughts?"
Naruto opened his eyes. Kneeling in front of him, in his robes of state, was the Sandame himself, Hiruzen Sarutobi.
"Sarutobi-sensei," Naruto whispered.
"You seemed troubled," the old man said.
"You can say that," Naruto replied. "But I got to know. You knew that my father was the Yellow Flash, yet you kept that from me. Why?"
Hiruzen sighed. "I suppose you have every right to be mad at me, Naruto. But I did it to protect you. Had Iwa found out that their most-hated enemy had a son, then you would be in danger. So I had you take on your mother's last name in order to throw them off."
"I guess that's understandable," Naruto said, his rising anger dissipating. "Dad was pretty infamous during the last Shinobi War."
"And now you're trying to avoid a fourth Shinobi War by decapitating the head of the snake," Hiruzen said. "You may not be Hokage, but you are a true leader. The people here look up to you and see you as something that Konoha has failed to do – as a hero. And sometimes being a leader means you have to make the most difficult of choices."
"And here, I thought paperwork was bad," Naruto sniped.
"That's what the Shadow Clones are for," Hiruzen said as he lit his pipe. "I wish I had figured that out sooner. You may hate Konoha, but you are still divided over what to do."
Naruto nodded. "I can just as easily do nothing, and let Orochimaru raze the Leaf to the ground and kill everyone...or rescue the clans and grant them asylum. Shikamaru told me why the clans betrayed me and voted for the banishment. All because of Danzou."
The elder Sarutobi sighed. "In some cases, I agree with you. The corruption within Konoha is far too deep. Minato had planned on reforming the civilian council and to strip it of its power, but those plans had died with him when the Nine-Tails attacked. You once asked me what was the Will of Fire. Remember what I told you?"
"That it was the life philosophy of Granny Tsunade's grandfather, Hashirama Senju, the Shodaime Hokage," Naruto replied. "The Will of Fire states that every ninja, from the lowliest of Genin to even the most experienced Jounin must believe, cherish and fight for the village's sake, just as their predecessors had done before them. The Will of Fire gives the ninja the strength to fight against overwhelming odds, while at the same time builds willpower and strength of character. It also symbolizes the hopes and dreams of the previous generation being passed on to the next."
"Whether you believe me or not, you are the very essence of what the Shodaime had fought for," the old man pointed out. "Even when you were banished, you never lost your way. The Will of Fire is all but diminished in Konoha, but it lives here. It lives in the people that you have united. It lives in your wife. And it lives in you. Minato and Kushinna would have been proud of you, had they lived."
Naruto smiled. "Thanks, Old Man. I know what to do now. I know that what I am doing is the right choice."
Naruto opened his eyes. He was still in the training hall, but this time around, he was alone. 'A vision?' he wondered as he rose from his kneeling position.
From the look of things, he had been inside the training hall for an hour. That and his knees were sore. Hinata and Kitami would be awake soon and today was an important day.
Hall of Sovereigns, Imperial Capital
Naruto Namikaze sat at the head of the table. Hinata Namikaze sat at his left, while A was on his right. Kitami sat next to Hinata The gathered council members sat at their usual positions, only with a slight difference.
Seated on the left side, was the Suna representative, Temari. Sister to the Kazekage Gaara and Kankurou, she was chosen by Gaara to act as Suna's representative while in the West. The Suna Consulate was located several blocks away from the Imperial Palace and was guarded by a garrison of Suna ninja. On the right side, was the adopted brother of the Mizukage, Takeshi Terumi. Takeshi was a former ninja who was forced to retire due to injury. The Mist Consulate was located on the same block as the Suna consulate, and guarded by a garrison of Mist ninja as well.
As part of the alliance with both Mist and Suna, the Imperial Empire also had two consulates set up in both villages, the Imperial representatives were hand-picked by the Emperor himself. So far, none in the East knew about the secret alliance between the three of them.
Aside from the Imperial Council, Naruto had requested that the Jinchuuriki - save for Gaara, who was still in Suna - should be present for this meeting. Standing before the Emperor and the Imperial Council were the six Jinchuuriki which Naruto had rescued. First up was Yugito Nii, container to the Two-Tailed Monster Cat, formerly of Kumo, and commander of the elite all-female fighting force known as the Hellcat Unit. Because of Naruto's actions years earlier, she was his biggest supporter, as well as having fought alongside him during the Unification Wars. Her base of operations was in the Imperial Capital.
Next to Yugito, was Roshi, former Iwa ninja and container to the Four-Tailed Monkey, and his partner, the brooding Han, also from Iwa and the container to the Five-Tailed Dolphin Horse. Imagine their shock that the young Emperor who had saved them from a gruesome fate was the son of Iwa's most hated enemy. But once Naruto had told them his story of how he came to be the Emperor, the older men could easily sympathize with his plight.
And given the choice of trusting the son of the Yellow Flash or facing certain death at the hands of the Akatsuki, the two ex-Iwa ninja chose the former. After all, the old saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend does ring true. While Han made his home in the Lahja Mountains (he serves as a guardian for one of the mountain towns there), Roshi was the leader of a shinobi village in the Southern Region, training and practicing his arts.
Next to Han were Utakata, former missing-ninja from Mist and jinchuuriki to the Six-Tailed Slug, and Fu, formerly of Waterfall and the container to the Seven-Tailed Horned Beetle. While Fu worked with the Empire's spy network, Utakata had decided on a more peaceful life, training his student, Hotatu. Utakata had fought Naruto once when he was younger, but even he owed the Emperor his life for saving him from the Akatsuki. Fu, on the other hand, was the only member of the Jinchuuriki to seek the Emperor out, having enough of her hellish life back in Waterfall. She found him in Suna, where he was a guest of Gaara while Suna hosted the Chuunin Exams, and requested that he take her with him. Naruto agreed.
Last, was A's brother, Killer Bee, the jinchuuriki to the Eight-Tailed Giant Ox. While A served on as Naruto's senior adviser, Bee was assigned to look after the trading town of Rara, located at the base of the Lahja Mountains. Like his brother, Bee owed Naruto big time for saving both their lives.
Following Jiraya's visit the previous day, Naruto had convened an emergency meeting of the council and of the jinchuuriki, nicknamed the Imperial Six. Unlike the East, the Jinchuuriki were seen as genuine heroes, protectors of the people, something that was foreign to Han and Fu, given their past experiences back home. But they warmed up to their new status of protector instead of pariah.
For the past year and a half, Naruto and Hinata had came up with a plan to neutralize both Konoha and Orochimaru without destabilizing the East. Using Hinata's original plan as the base, Naruto and Hinata had added on to it. The spy network inside Earth and Wind Country were quite useful in gaining information in regards to the movements of Kumo and Iwa's shinobi forces.
Orochimaru did not step foot out of Oto, leaving his right-hand man to act as proxy. Apparently, the snake was occupied with burning Konoha to the ground once and for all, and dismissed the Pekara Merchants as a threat, allowing them to conduct their business in peace. That would prove to be his fatal flaw.
It was shortly after their first wedding anniversary that word came from the Pekara Branch in Earth Country. A new Tsuchikage was in power, and he too was a puppet ruler, Orochimaru pulling the strings from behind the scenes. Fu herself had verified the reports and passed them on to both Roshi and Han. The two jinchuuriki had respected Onoki a great deal and were outright furious upon hearing of his assassination.
With the death of Onoki, Roshi and Han's last known link to Iwa was destroyed.
The plan was then revised when it became clear that Orochimaru had two powerful shinobi nations under his control. The way to stability became clear for Naruto and Hinata: sabotage the fragile alliance between Orochimaru and the two villages. If Orochimaru was killed in the ensuing crossfire, it would be a bonus.
Naruto brought meeting to order. "Council members...Representatives Subaku and Terumi...fellow Jinchuuriki...I thank you for coming on such short notice."
"So what's the problem, Sire?" Lady Aihara asked.
"Yeah, Chief," Eiji Kibagami said. "You got all of us up here cooling our heels." That earned him an elbow to the side from the Chiba clan head.
"An old...acquaintance of mine has passed on grave news. There is war brewing in the Elemental Countries, a three-on-one attack on Konoha. The reports I've received from Kumo and Iwa have all but verified it."
"Konoha?" Lady Aihara parroted. "The same place that has banished you? If anything, you should just let the place burn for the slights against you. Even a blind man can see that you are not the Nine-Tails reborn. Otherwise, you would have long since destroyed that place."
The other members nodded at her statement.
"Believe me when I say that the thought crossed my mind," Naruto replied mildly, "but my source told me that I owe my life to the Fire Lord, as he was the one who stopped the Konoha Council from placing me into the Bingo Book, as well as sending hunter ninja after me. That I already know, since the Fire Lord told me himself, but he remained silent as to who was the one who kept me out of the book. No, my main concern is our allies in Suna and Mist. They may be dragged into this war against Kumo, Oto and Iwa."
"But my brother is not allied to Konoha," Temari pointed out. "Not after what they had done to you. Why would Oto, Kumo and Iwa attack Suna?"
"You of all people know that the snake is petty, and will not let grudges go," Hinata explained. "That and since Suna despises Orochimaru for killing your father, Orochimaru may try and destroy Suna before it can ally itself with Konoha."
Temari knew exactly what he was talking about. "You think that the hebi would attack Suna before moving on to Konoha as payback for botching the invasion eight years ago?"
"If I was him, I would," Naruto replied. "I'll send word to Gaara and tell him to be on his guard. The same with Terumi as well. If the snake attacks either one of them, then our consulates will be in danger."
"Excuse me, Sire, but who is this snake you are talking about?" Ryuji Shinzen asked.
Naruto replied by creating a shadow clone in the middle of the room and placing it under a henge to make it look like Orochimaru. "This is the person who is spearheading the invasion: The Snake Sage, Orochimaru. One of the three Legendary Sages, the others being the Toad Sage, Jiraya and the Slug Sage - and current Godaime Hokage - Tsunade Senju. All three trained under my mentor, the late Sandaime Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi, but Orochimaru held the most promise. He was also the most corrupt of the three. Sarutobi found out that Orochimaru was conducting illegal experiments involving the Cursed Seal, as well as trying to find the secrets to immortality. Orochimaru escaped, and after a brief stint as part of the Akatsuki, seized control of Oto and Rice Field Country, changing the name to Sound."
The Emperor paused for a moment. "This...man killed Sarutobi during the chuunin exams eight years ago. Every three years, he needs a new body in order to live forever. With the snake, it's always personal for him. He may have either Iwa or Kumo attack Suna and Mist to knock them out of the war before moving on to Konoha."
"The snake has a plan," Bee said. "Forget destroying Konoha. He wants to rule the Eastern land."
"That could be a possibility," Han said, stroking his chin in deep thought. "He could also subjugate the smaller villages like Rain or Waterfall to his side. Given the fact that most of us are either shunned or have death sentences on our heads, Orochimaru can also see us as a threat."
"You're thinking about going to war, aren't you?" Sonshi asked.
"Not to save Konoha," Naruto replied. "I was thinking of something a bit more subtle. As you already know, I have a prior agreement with Tsunade Senju, as she is not only my godmother, but also the granddaughter of my great-grandmother, Mito Uzumaki. I will not save Konoha. I will cripple it by other means, while at the same time, eliminate the threat of Oto without raising a sword."
"Iwa and Kumo may have puppet kages that answer to Orochimaru, but the alliance is still a weak one at best," Hinata continued. "The Cloud and the Stone have always been bitter rivals, but are only united in their hatred towards the Leaf. Our original plan was to in fact unleash Kitami upon Konoha to finish what she had started, but after what we had learned in regards to my husband's banishment, we decided on a second course of action."
"Which is...?" Lady Aihara prodded.
"'Operation Susanoo's Wrath,'" Naruto replied. "In the Pekara Branch of both Earth and Lightning Country are two sleeper cells consisting of members from Zabuza's Demon Brigade and Yugito's Hellcat Unit. On my command, the cells will attack both Iwa and Kumo in a sneak attack designed to eliminate the senior members of Iwa and Kumo without eliminating the kages themselves."
It was a protocol which Naruto and Hinata had been planning on ever since the Suna-Akatsuki War. They knew that Orochimaru was a threat to the region and both had planned accordingly. Using the spy network in the East, they had gotten detailed accounts of Iwa and Kumo's shinobi forces.
"It's a brilliant stroke of genius, if I may say so myself," Yugito added with pride in her voice. "The cell in Earth Country will be disguised as Kumo ninja and the cell in Lightning will be disguised as Iwa ninja."
Kibagami put the dots together. "And when the shit hits the fan, one side will blame the other, and Orochimaru can't hold the alliance together if the two villages end up fighting each other," he guffawed. "And you hope that Oto would be either wiped out and Orochimaru killed, or crippled to the point that he would never be a serious threat." He cackled. "You were always a sneaky little shit, Chief. Glad to see you haven't lost your touch."
"Coming from you, I'll take that as a compliment," Naruto replied, used to the older samurai's foul-mouthed tendencies. This, coming from the same guy that came up with a thoughtful, albeit crude description about his wife's demeanor: "The only thing bigger than her tits is her heart."
That comment earned him a whack on the head by Kasumi Aihara.
"What about Konoha?" Haruka Shinzen asked.
"I've been in contact with the Fire Damiyo and he agrees with me. The village is beyond hope, beyond saving," Naruto replied. "As per our agreement with Senju, I will allow the shinobi clans and any ninja that support the Godaime asylum within the Empire. Someone once said that no one is beyond redemption. I will put that to the test."
Hayate Okajima rubbed his chin. "And by allowing a sizable number of ninja to resettle here would all but cripple Konoha's ninja forces overall. Maybe to the point that they would no longer be recognized as a hidden village." He smiled. "Boss, have I ever told you I like how you think?"
"Actually, the idea of offering the Konoha ninja asylum was her idea," Naruto said, gesturing to Hinata. "I can't take credit for something my wife has done." He pulled out a second report. "One of General Kazuma's men stationed at the Pekara Merchant House in the Fire Capital had sent this to me. Orochimaru has sent in an envoy to Konoha to negotiate terms of surrender to Konoha, led by his right-hand man, Kabuto Yakushi."
"Now would be a good time to strike," Sonshi suggested. "While the envoy is away, you should give the order."
"There's no need to," Naruto replied. "I gave the order yesterday. Operation Susanoo's Wrath will be executed as per to our orders come midnight, when the Unification Festival concludes. The spy network has gotten the routines of both Iwa and Kumo down to a tee. After all, no one will ever suspect the Empire of pulling off such a feat."
"Is there any other business?" Kitami asked.
There was none.
"We will see all of you at the Unification Ball," Hinata said. "You are dismissed."
The council and the Jinchuuriki piled out of the room. Naruto and Hinata remained behind, the former thinking about his encounter with Jiraiya.
Hall of Sovereigns, the previous day...
If anyone was present, they would have seen the Emperor of the Western Empire on the floor, laughing his ass off at the fact that Jiraya was one second away from having a heart attack for being in the same room as the Kyuubi no Kitsune. Hinata, in the meantime, looked amused at her husband's antics, as well as the fact that the Toad Sage was about to have a coronary.
"You...the Nine-Tails?" Jiraya managed to get out. "How...how did you get out of the seal?"
"Easy. The kit here broke it," Kitami replied, giving the man a fanged grin. She then turned to Naruto, who had finally gotten himself under control. Good thing that the room had a soundproof seal, otherwise anyone who had entered would have been greeted with the sight of the Western Emperor laughing his head off. "You okay there, kid?"
"You...you almost made Pervy Sage shit his pants," Naruto cackled.
"Naruto...you know that this the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox, right?" Jiraya said cautiously. "The same Nine-Tails that turned Konoha into its personal stomping grounds? The one your old man sealed inside of you?"
"Of course I know," Naruto replied, rising to his feet. He dusted himself off and took his seat. "And for the record, the tailed beasts are not demons, as most people would think. As one would think, Kitami is the post powerful of the bijuu. She, along with several others, helped me in my quest of unifying the continent. The people here know about my past in Konoha and do not treat me like a monster."
"What do you know about Madara Uchiha?" Kitami asked the older man.
"Madara Uchiha?" Jiraya repeated. "The same Madara who had fought Tsunade's grandfather for the position of Hokage? I thought he was dead."
Kitami shook her head. "Hardly," she replied mildly. "At least until two years ago. Madara was the leader of the Akatsuki." A sadistic smile crept across her face. "That is until I tore out his heart and destroyed his eyes. It was because of his hatred that Madara had brainwashed me into attacking Konoha in an attempt to destroy it. Prior to that, Kushinna Uzumaki was the jinchuuriki."
Seeing as how Jiraya was paling visibly at Kitami's sadism, Naruto gave Jiraya the entire story, with Hinata and Kitami putting in their two cents.
Naruto told Jiraiya about the first jinchuuriki to the Ten-Tailed Beast, the Six Paths Sage, and of Naruto's connection to the Senju, to how upon his death, he split the power of the Ten-Tails into the nine jinchuuriki and left the Ten-Tails' body on the moon. Kitami continued where Naruto had left off, about how the Akatsuki were hunting down the jinchuuriki and Madara's Eye of the Moon plan and it was Nauto who had reached out to his fellow jinchuuriki, offering them protection and asylum from the Akatsuki (save for Gaara, who was the Kazakage), which led to the Akatsuki's full scale invasion of Suna. While Kitami was credited with killing Madara, Naruto was the one who had killed Itachi Uchiha, Saskue's older brother and had decimated Nagato, while Hinata had killed Deidara. Half of Suna was left in ruins, but in the end, all of the members of Akatsuki were wiped out.
Jiraiya was impressed. Very impressed. 'Minato...if you had seen what your son has done...' he thought wistfully. 'He is truly a leader.' He then decided to get back on subject. "Naruto, about Konoha..."
"My answer still stands, Jiraiya. I will not aid Konoha, nor will I outright destroy it...but I will not give Orochimaru the pleasure of destroying it either," Naruto replied.
"But you just said..."
"I know what I said. You didn't let me finish. I will not let Orochimaru destroy Konoha. I will simply cripple it instead."
"But...why? What would Tsunade say if she knew about this?"
Naruto smiled. "Tsunade supports the idea, as does the Fire Lord."
Jiraiya blinked. "Huh?"
"Only three other people know that I am the Emperor, aside from you. The Fire Lord, Granny Tsunade and Shikamaru."
"The slacker? How did they find out?"
And Naruto told him. How they stumbled upon Naruto's identity in the wake of the failed Akatsuki Invasion of Suna. How no one would suspect Shikamaru as Naruto's inside man. And of how Danzou, Koharu, Honmura, Asana and Hiashi had orchestrated Naruto's banishment through bribery and blackmail.
That pretty much made Jiraiya very angry. Naruto had never seen the super-perv angry. But Jiraiya looked pissed enough to summon Gambunta and the rest of the toads and raze Konoha himself.
"And just how do you plan on dealing with Konoha and Orochimaru?" Jiraiya asked.
"By turning Iwa and Kumo against one another and fracturing Orochimaru's alliance," Hinata replied. "If they end up killing Orochimaru, then that's a bonus. Second, we allow the shinobi clans and any chuunin or jounin that support Tsunade asylum into the West, therefore crippling Konoha's shinobi force."
"And the Fire Lord?"
"As it turns out, the Fire Lord has been making some plans of his own. He sees that Konoha is not worth saving. Once the exodus is complete, he will notify the Leaf that he will strip them of their remaining financial aid and strip them of their hidden village status. The Fire Lord has been secretly constructing a new hidden village near the capital for the past five years and is actively recruiting shinobi and civilian alike, mostly refugees and mercenary ninja looking for a new home. This time, he is making sure that the civilians do not get themselves involved in Shinobi matters."
"And Konoha does not know about this?"
"They will soon find out...after the Fire Lord notifies them of the change," Hinata said. "The corruption in Konoha is too deep. This is the only way it can be stopped; by stripping it of its so-called honor and allowing a new breed of ninja to defend Fire Country. Clans hand-picked personally by the Fire Lord himself."
"Mist refugees with bloodlines, ninja from defunct villages, mercenary ninja and even samurai looking for a permanent home, the like," Naruto said. "As long as they swear loyalty to the Fire Lord and follow the law, they can stay."
"I knew things were bad..." Jiraiya shook his head. "Do you have a timetable for when Tsunade will arrive with the others?"
"I told her to wait three days after I dealt with Orochimaru and his alliance, then resign the seat of Hokage," Naruto replied. "By that time, I will be ready to get the clans out of Fire Country. The Fire Damiyo's given us a fourteen-day window for the clans and ninja to make it to Wave Country, more than enough time."
"What about Kabuto?" Jiraiya asked.
"Same as Orochimaru. He's also a credible threat," Naruto replied. "Sooner or later, he will have to be dealt with. But first, we must cut off the head of the snake. My informants in the East has notified me that Kabuto is on his way to Konoha to deliver Orochimaru's ultimatum. By that time, the two sleeper cells in Earth and Lightning will strike."
"And you made sure that no one will suspect the Empire?" Jiraiya asked, concerned with the risk that the Emperor and his wife were taking.
"Positive," Naruto replied. "The sleeper cells are Special Jounin-level ninja, whose specialties are Genjutsu, Earth and Lightning jutsu. All are veterans of the Unification Wars and they have been briefed on their mission." He smiled meanly. "They can and will wipe the floor with Danzou and his ROOT ANBU."
"That tough, huh?"
Hinata nodded. "Very. By the time of the Unification Festival, Orochimaru will no longer be a threat...and soon, Konoha will fall."
Jiraiya had left Kimon City to prepare, leaving Naruto and Hinata to oversee the final preparations for Susanoo's Wrath. Once everything was in place, the order was given, Hinata using a fox summon to deliver the classified messages to the sleeper cells in Earth and Lightning.
Now, all they had to do was wait.
Most of the day went by with Naruto and Hinata going through their paperwork for the rest of the morning, followed by lunch in the town. The Unified West were in the final preparations of the Unification Festival.
On a boat, en route to the Western Empire...
The Konoha team led by Captain Kakashi Hatake and Captain Kurenai Sarutobi traveled for three days, crossing the bridge into Wave Country. There, while in Wave, Kakashi received a cold reception from Tazuma and his family when Kakashi greeted them. Tazuma refused to allow them to enter his home, slamming the door in Kakashi's face. Come to think of it, the people of Wave Town were cold to them, as they were the first to drop their trade agreement with Konoha once their debt for the mission was paid.
Dejected, but not deterred, Kakashi and the others bordered a Pekara merchant vessel heading for the West. After a brief layover in Tea Country, where the crew picked up supplies and tourists for the trip home, they were on their way to the west. It would be four more days before they would reach the Imperial Capital.
The Konoha team only knew about the Emperor from either secondhand knowledge or from when Tsunade had ordered them to bring him in for questioning. He was a skilled fighter, as most of the ninja who had fought him could attest to that fact. And given that there were branches of the Pekara Merchant Houses in most of the villages (save for Konoha, but rather at the Fire Capital), the Emperor was very savvy when it came to business agreements.
They had been out on missions before, but never this one of such great importance. No one in their group has ventured out of the Elemental Countries and into the West, and for good reason. But now, things had changed, as they were on a mission of great importance. Of course, sneaking in was a bad idea, but Kakashi took nothing to chance.
The Imperial Capital loomed in the distance. The sun was starting to set as Kakashi and the others gazed in awe over the thriving port.
"Attention! We will be docking in thirty minutes," the first mate shouted as he moved along the deck. "Upon docking, you will be asked to produce identification, so have your ID cards out and ready. Anyone who does not comply will be taken to jail for the night, and you will be sent back East the following morning. Let's not get arrested tonight people, it looks very bad on my record."
Kakashi Hatake was on deck, standing at the ship's bow, watching as the port drew ever more closer. He was already in disguise, dressed as a tourist. He was unmasked, his hitai-ate gone, the Sharingan eye covered with a headband.
"The others are getting prepared," Kurenai said as she approached Kakashi from behind. Like Kakashi, she was also dressed incognito. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, while she used a genjutsu to change her eye color from red to brown.
"I never told anyone this, but I screwed up big time," Kakashi confessed. "Being in the ANBU is a lot easier than taking on a squad of Genin. Obito and Minato-sensei would be ashamed as to how my team ended up."
"So what caused this change?" Kurenai asked, curious.
"After we had left from Suna. Sasuke and Anko were both right. I am an asshole," Kakashi admitted. "After returning back to Konoha, I had time to think...about Naruto. And to tell you the truth, we did abandon him. I guess it took more than enough time to realize that I royally screwed up by focusing solely on Sasuke instead of the entire team. I just hope that we do see him again, if only to apologize for how I treated him...how we threw him away."
The copycat ninja sighed. "At least your team came out somewhat okay. Hinata's stronger from what I have heard about her encounters with her former clan, despite being labeled a missing-nin. Kiba's on his way to becoming a Special Jounin, and Shino's expertise in recon and medicine is the best I've ever seen. And look at my team...Sakura's a certified sociopath, Sasuke hasn't spoken to me ever since the Suna-Akatsuki War, and Naruto was banished for doing his job."
"Can't say that I've haven't gotten out of this unscathed," Kurenai said. "You were there when Konohamaru abandoned the village for Suna. Asuma took it pretty hard. In his mind, he sees this as failing Konohamaru's parents and the Sandaime." She looked out at the approaching port. "If you ask my personal opinion about this, Konoha has fallen from grace for what they had done to Uzumaki. That kid was a hero, not the fox reborn. He didn't deserve to get screwed over the way he did. If he is here in the Empire...maybe we can see him again...to apologize for what we had done."
From below deck, Ino, Kiba, Shino and Shikamaru emerged. Unlike the elder Jounin, the younger ninja simply removed their Jounin flak vests and hitai-ates and used several sealing scrolls to hide them.
"Everyone ready?" Kurenai asked.
The younger ninja nodded, while Akamaru barked.
The boat made its way into port. Once the boat was secured and the crew began to remove their cargo, the passengers disembarked. Walking up the harbor, they reached the gates that would allow them to enter into Kimon. However, as with Konoha, there were guards at the gates. One was immediately identified as a ninja, given by his flak vest, while the other was a samurai. The ninja was older than his counterpart, and the two men were chatting each other as Kakashi and the others approached.
The ninja saw them coming. "Caravan, citizen, pilgrim, tourist or...?"
Kakashi did the talking. "We're tourists from the East. We heard from some of our friends who had visited here before that the West is a pretty nice place for a vacation, and since our boss has given us some time off, we decided to come and visit, check out the sights."
The ninja chuckled. "Well, you guys came at the right time. You guys showed up during the week-long Unification Festival. We're celebrating the unification of the Northern and Southern Regions of the Unified West. As for attractions, we got a couple in the North. If you like to gamble, there's North Lahja Town about 70 miles from here. The Lahja Mountains also has a nice hot springs resort. Then there's the Dragon Temple and Gardens in the city, and the Imperial Palace. In the Southern Region, if you plan on staying that long, we hold an annual martial arts tournament in South Ichiyama. And there's the Tears' Point Memorial."
"What's the Emperor like?" Kurenai asked.
"For someone so young, he rules with great wisdom and patience," the samurai replied. "He is skilled in the samurai arts as well as in the arts of ninjitsu. Aside from being a skilled fighter and master tactician, he is also a brilliant politician, charismatic and at the same time, cunning like a fox. We have been blessed to have such rulers, both the Emperor and his wife, the Empress Consort."
"The Emperor is married?" Shino asked.
"Yes. They've been married for two years now. His wife was originally from the East as well," the samurai replied. "A former heiress who was forsaken by her clan. She's nicknamed 'The Lady of War,' given how she is a trained ninja who fought alongside The Emperor during the Suna-Akatsuki War. Beautiful, but deadly."
"Then there's the Prime Minister," the ninja replied. "She's been with him ever since the Unification War – a redheaded woman with green eyes. She also trained the Empress Consort in the six months before their wedding. Both the Emperor and Empress Consort trust her with their lives. The Prime Minister herself is a skilled fighter and answers directly to the Emperor and Empress."
"Can anyone gain an audience with the Emperor?" Ino asked.
"You can try, but not going to happen," the samurai said. "But he does come down to the city for the festival. One thing about the Emperor is that he may be the ruler of the Unified West, that doesn't stop him from having a good time with the common folk. But enough talk, can I see some identification before I can let you pass?"
Kakashi and the others handed their ID to the ninja. The ninja took down their names and handed them back to them. Upon asking for a map of Kimon City, the samurai produced one and handed it to Kurenai.
"Welcome to the Unified West, and enjoy your stay," the ninja said cheerfully.
Once Kakashi and the others were gone, the samurai went to perform another identification check on another visitor. The ninja, on the other hand, turned to a figure that was hiding in the shadows.
General Kazuma, of the Shadow Company.
The ninja – himself a member of the Shadow Company – excused himself and walked over to Kazuma. "Report," the commander ordered calmly.
"Sir, six Konoha ninja posing as tourists has just entered the city," the ninja replied. He had worked at the Imperial Consulate in Fire Country and had recognized the ninja instantly, as the spy network in Fire Country kept detailed files on Konoha's finest.
Kazuma nodded. "Good work. I will inform the Emperor and his consort. Return to your post."
The ninja bowed and returned to his duties, while Kazuma sank into the shadows.
Imperial Complex, Hall of Sovereigns.
Hinata Namikaze was on her way to the visitors' room, where her husband was already entertaining Yukie Fujikaze. The reason why she was running late was because she had a sparring session with a clone that had lasted a bit longer than expected. After a quick shower, Hinata was clad in a fresh indigo-colored ninja uniform (think Ayane's C1 from Dead or Alive 4), and was walking down the corridor.
Hinata stopped and turned around. Kazuma rose from the shadows. "General Kazuma," Hinata greeted with a nod of her head. "What is it?"
"There is a squad of Konoha ninja posing as tourists in the city," Kazuma replied.
Hinata's eyes went wide. "Konoha ninja? Here in the capital?"
Kazuma nodded. "It has been confirmed by one of my ninja at the harbor. Seven in total, all Jounin-level ninja." He then gave the Empress Consort detailed descriptions on the ninjas' appearances.
Hinata nodded. "I will notify my husband of this matter. Thank you, Kazuma."
Kazuma bowed and decided to remain on standby for further orders.
Inside the visitors' room...
"So the Toad Sage decided to drop by for a visit?" Koyuki Kazahana asked as she sipped on her glass of Western red wine. The Spring Damiyo, known by her screen name Yukie Fujikaze, was a frequent visitor to the Imperial Complex whenever she had time away from running Spring Country and working as an actress. "I sure hope you didn't try and kill him, Naruto."
"The thought crossed my mind," Naruto replied mildly as he sipped on his own wine. "But he's still alive."
"That's good to hear," Yukie replied. "I would hate to see him die, after he convinced me to star in his Icha Icha movie."
Naruto looked at the older woman as if she had grew a second head. "Jiraiya did what?"
"He convinced me to take the lead role for Icha Icha Paradise: The Movie," Yukie repeated. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
"You have no idea, do you?"
"What? That Jiraiya is some kind of pervert?"
"No," Naruto replied. Once Yukie calmed down, Naruto dropped the hammer. "He is a super-pervert. His favorite hobbies include peeping inside the womens' baths and checking out the hot springs. My personal nickname to him was Pervy Sage."
Yukie raised an eyebrow. "You're joking, right?"
"I wish I was," Naruto replied.
"So...you and Hinata have been married for two years, and yet, you have no kids."
Naruto sputtered on his wine. "Yukie! That's personal!"
The Spring Damiyo grinned. "Just remember. I call dibs on being the child's godmother."
"Yeah, yeah," Naruto grumbled just as Hinata entered the room. Almost immediately, Naruto caught the look on her face. "'Nata? What's wrong?"
"Kazuma reports that a six-man squad of Jounin ninja from Konoha has entered the capital," Hinata said.
Yukie winced as she saw Naruto crush the wineglass in his hand, spilling wine all over his pants and onto the floor. Then she gasped. "Konoha ninja? Here?"
"Who are they?" Naruto demanded.
"Kurenai Sarutobi, Kakashi Hatake, Kiba Inuzuka, Shikamaru Nara, Ino Yamanaka and Shino Aburame. Oh, and Akamaru," the former Hyuuga reported.
In an instant, Naruto summoned Kazuma. The Shadow Company commander entered the room. "Yes, Chief?"
"Who is in Kimon City at the moment?"
"General Nii and a squad of her Hellcats are present, as is General Momichi," Kazuma replied.
"Inform them of the situation and have them to escort the Konoha ninja here," Naruto ordered.
Kazuma bowed. "Right away, Chief."
Kazuma quickly departed from the room. Then Naruto looked at the shattered glass in his hand. "Ow."
The Imperial Capital was bustling with activity. Not even Konoha had a such a thriving night life, not even during the Kyuubi Festival. As the two port guards had explained, it was the tail end of the week-long Unification Festival. As the team from Konoha took in the sights, they saw that this place wasn't as much different from Konoha, from the shops to the manner of dress. Even the money was the same. The only difference was that there were patrols of samurai and ninja in the streets. Squads of two, sometimes three. They even identified ninjas by the same style of flak vests.
"You hardly even see samurai back in the East," Ino noted.
Kakashi nodded. "The last Shinobi War wiped out most of them. What's left are now in Iron Country. Same thing could happen here. But from what I can tell, even our most seasoned Jounin and ANBU units would have a hard time eliminating these samurai. If the Imperial Forces are capable of destroying the Akatsuki, then they would be invaluable to Konoha as allies."
Kurenai nodded as well. "I can sense their chakra. Very strong indeed."
Akamaru, in the meantime, was whining softly. The large dog did not like the crowded streets. Kiba patted the dog on his back. "Don't worry, boy. The crowd is thinning out," he said, reassuring the dog.
"So what's the plan?" Kurenai asked as Kakashi looked at the map.
"We find a hotel for the night," Kakashi explained. "Then we head for the Imperial Palace and see if we can gain an audience with the Emperor."
Kurenai nodded. Then she felt her senses going haywire. Kakashi sensed it as well. Rapid movement, both from the rooftops and on the ground, coming in fast. Five kunoichi, armed with steel ninjato and kunais and clad in the standard ninja uniform with khaki flak vests, similar in design of the same type of vests that Konoha uses, landed and surrounded the Konoha ninja, who quickly got into a defensive stance. As the civlians backed away, five onna-bugeisha - female samurai - rushed in, katanas drawn. Like their ninja counterparts, they also wore the flak vests which identified them as the Hellcats, the all-female fighting force under the command of Yugito Nii.
"Stay where you are!" one of the Hellcats shouted, ready for anything.
Kiba growled and was preparing to fight his way out, when Ino stopped him. "Kiba, no. Fighting will only make things worse," she warned. "We're here for an alliance, not to make war."
Kiba understood, and backed down.
Two of the ninja parted, allowing the Commander of the Hellcats to step through. Blond hair, brown eyes, mean expression. There was no hitai-ate identifying her, as she needed none. She was dressed like the others, save that her flak vest was solid black. The two women who had parted for their commander closed ranks again.
Kurenai recognized the woman almost immediately. "Yugito Nii, of Kumogakure no Sato. Jinchuuriki to the Two-Tails. Looks like the Emperor is friends with Kumo."
Yugito nodded. "And you are Kurenai Yuuhi. My reputation proceeds me. I am honored. However, you are mistaken. I no longer serve the Cloud. My loyalty is with the Emperor. Make one wrong move, Konoha Ninja, and my Hellcats will rip you to shreds."
At that declaration, the captured ninjas' eyes went wide. Not because of Yugito's threat, but they knew that they were from Konoha, and that they were caught.
It was then, Kakashi received a second shock.
The copycat ninja felt something sharp on his neck. Looking down, his eye widened as he recognized the blade.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Copycat Hatake. Looks like the boss was right. This is my lucky day."
Kakashi's eye went wide. The owner of the blade was none other than Zabuza Momichi, former Mist swordsman, thought to have been dead back in Wave, was alive...and had Kakashi at sword-point.
"Zabuza...you're alive," Kakashi muttered. "How..."
"For a ninja who tells others to look underneath the meanings, you sure are dense," Zabuza said. "Let's just say that I knew that runt Gato was going to betray Haku and me, so I had a little insurance policy in the form of a blood clone." He grinned maniacally. "You and I have some unfinished business, Hatake."
Before Yugito could reprimand her bloodthirsty comrade, a third party made their appearance. Emerging from the ground by way of the gathered shadows, was the General of Shadow Company, Hideo Kazuma.
At that moment, the villagers knew that if the head of the Shadow Company was involved, then usually, it meant bad news for the offending party.
"It's a member of the Shadow Company...the eyes and ears of the Emperor...here, in this town...what are they doing here..."
At that moment, a wave of demonic killer intent washed over the warriors present, both Imperial and from Konoha. For the ninja of the Leaf - especially to Kakashi and Kurenai - it felt awfully familiar. With a roar, the Nine-Tailed Fox made its grand entrance in a geyser of flame, standing next to the Seeker. Instead of her normal size, the most powerful of the beasts was around Akamaru's size, if not bigger.
Most surprising, was the fact that the townspeople did not run away screaming in terror at the sight of the Nine-Tails.
The Hellcats stood at attention and bowed, as did Yugito and Zabuza. "Kyuubi-sama," Yugito greeted. "The ninja from Konoha have been apprehended, as per the Emperor's orders."
The massive fox nodded. "Good work." Then the Nine-Tails turned to the petrified Leaf ninja. "Just like you Konoha scum," the Nine-Tails sneered. "You have a very bad habit of coming into places where you are not wanted."
Kiba was the first to get back his voice. "Oh yeah? What's it to you demon? Or would you rather be called Naruto?"
"Now you done it," Zabuza muttered as he inched to the side. Even he knew better than to raise the ire of the vixen, as he had learned the hard way. As the townspeople wondered that the idiot was saying Kitami quickly reacted. One massive tail lashed forward, catching the dog ninja by the throat and lifting him into the air.
"Kiba!" Kurenai shouted helplessly as she watched her former pupil being hanged from the air.
Then the Konoha ninja watched as the Nine-Tails transformed from a demonic-looking fox to a shapely woman with long red hair tied into a single braid, and clad in a crimson ninja uniform with black trim (ala Dead or Alive's Kasumi), and sandals. A black fox's head was on the back of the uniform. Her eyes were still red, as the tails snaked around her form.
"This is the only time I will tell you this, you little mutt, so pay attention," Kitami snarled. "The kit and I are not one and the same. We are completely separate entities. Just like you people to get the jailer mixed up with the prisoner," she concluded as she slammed Kiba to the ground, the dog lover bouncing on the hard street once upon impact.
From the sidelines, Zabuza winced. "That's gotta hurt."
As Ino rushed to heal the bruised Kiba, Kitami willed the tails away, her eyes shifting from a demonic red to emerald green. Despite this, Kitami still had an angry look to her face. "Under any other circumstances, I would kill you where you stand. However...the Emperor and Empress Consort wants all of you alive and in one piece when I bring you to them. Any resistance from any one of you...and I'll let Zabuza have his fun."
The Konoha envoy gulped. Despite it being the wrong reasons, they had gained an audience with the Emperor and his wife. The only problem was whether or not they would survive the encounter.
Kitami turned to Kazuma. "Inform the Emperor and Empress Consort that we will arrive with the Konoha ninja momentarily."
Once Kazuma was gone, Yugito had her Hellcats escort the captured ninja to the Imperial Complex. On the way, the Konoha ninja passed the Suna and Mist Consulates, of which were easily identified by the ninja guarding the compounds, as well as the flags of their respective villages that were flying from the entrance.
Following the pathway out of the city, the group reached the Imperial Complex, the nerve center of the Unified West. Beautiful, yet intimidating. The guards bowed to Kitami, to which she replied with a single nod. Turning towards the House of Sovereigns, the Nine-Tails led the prisoners and their guards there.
It didn't take too long for the group to reach their destination. Beyond the wooden double doors was the throne room. The doors themselves were guarded by a samurai guard, who bowed their heads in respect to the bijuu queen.
"The Emperor and Empress Consort will arrive shortly, Lady Akashiya," one of the samurai said.
Kitami nodded and turned around. "Zabuza, Yugito, you are no longer needed. The rest of you Hellcats remain here." Once Yugito and Zabuza disappeared, Kitami turned to the Konoha ninja. "Watch what you say around the Emperor and his wife," she warned, of which was directed to Kiba and Ino.
The throne room's guards opened the doors and the Konoha ninja were ushered inside. Kitami walked up the steps and stood beside and behind the throne on the left.
At the far end of the throne room, the doors opened and in stepped the most powerful couple in the Western Empire. His clothes stained with the wine from earlier, Naruto had changed into his black vest, pants and boots. He wore no shirt underneath, which showed off his muscular arms. The black kage-style hat was on his head. Only this time, there was no mask to conceal his face.
Hinata was at his side, looking at the gathered ninja with genuine disgust. The Konoha ninja were in shock, especially Kurenai, Shino and Kiba. Hinata was the wife to the most powerful man in the Empire, the Akatsuki Killer himself!
Husband and wife sat down on their thrones.
"Even after eight years, the Leaf continues to mock us by sending you here," Naruto said, his voice hard enough to cut steel. He looked at the prisoners that stood before him and Hinata. "Kakashi Hatake...Kurenai Sarutobi...Shino Aburame...Ino Yamanaka...Kiba Inuzuka...and Shikamaru Nara. Two Special Jounin and four members of the Konoha Eleven." He turned to his wife. "Or should the number be...six. Isn't this the little reunion between old friends, Hime. And here I thought they would be happy to see us."
Now Kakashi was puzzled. "Us? What do you mean by us?"
Naruto raised one hand to his hat and removed it from his head, allowing the article to fall to the ground. "So slow to catch on, Hatake."
Kurenai's eyes widened in total shock, as did Kakashi. For a moment, the elder Jounin thought that they were looking at Minato Namikaze himself. "Min...Minato-sensei..." Kakashi whispered.
Naruto shook his head. "I am not my father. I am the one Konoha had thrown away." He looked at Kakashi. "Remember what you said to me the day I was banished following the retrieval of the Uchiha? I most certainly do, as you told me off in front of the Konoha 11. 'You are worse than trash. You are scum.'"
The reaction was instant. Even Akamaru was shocked. And at that moment, they knew. The dead-last, the Demon of Konoha, Kakashi's former student which he had all but written off as worthless and abandoned him in the aftermath of the Uchiha Retrieval Mission was the Emperor of the Unified West. The same person who had taken down the majority of the Konoha Eleven, as well as several high-ranking Jounin, and earned the nickname Akatsuki Killer for his actions which had brought about their destruction in the Suna-Akatsuki War.
The hair was reddish and the whiskers were gone, but there was no mistaking his identity.
"No...freakin' way," Kiba whispered.
"It...can't...be..." Ino gasped.
"..." Shino was silent, but despite everything, he was in the same state as his comrades. His former teammate, labeled as a S-class missing ninja was the wife of the banished Kyuubi jinchuuriki.
"Naruto..." Kakashi whispered. Then his eye widened in horror as he came to a realization. 'Oh, my God. Sensei...your son...what have I done?'
"The one and only," Naruto replied. "I am the Emperor of the Unified West, Naruto Uzumaki Namikaze."
"And I am the Empress Consort, Hinata Namikaze," Hinata finished.
Only one thought was going through the Konoha team's minds – save for Shikamaru. 'Oh, shit."