Side Chapter: Alliances and Payback, Part 1

Snafu's Notes: I revised Naruto's profile and edited the chapters, adding Hinata to them. Feel free to look. Also, this will be the first of several side stories detailing certain events in Naruto: Rise of the Emperor. The first part will deal with Naruto making alliances with Suna and Mist, as well as training Maru Sarutobi, Moegi and Udon. The second and third parts will deal with Naruto's plan to unite the Jinchuuriki against the Akatsuki and his run-ins with the Konoha ninja, concluding with the Akatsuki Invasion of Suna and its aftermath.

About the Elite Guards: Following Naruto's ascension to Emperor, Sonshi had warned him that as Emperor, he will always be a target for those opposed to his rule. Naruto's first order was the creation of an elite group of warriors, both samurai and shinobi to serve as his bodyguards. The number originally was at six, but with the arrival of Yahiko and Konan, the number grew to eight. Each member of the Elite Guard are classified as S-Rank combatants and are tough enough to face down even the most battle-hardened Jounin, Danzou's ROOT ANBU or even the Akatsuki. When Hinata becomes Naruto's wife and the Empress Consort, four of the Elite Guards are assigned to protect her.

The Imperial Complex - Office of the Emperor, one year after the Unification Wars...

"Aagh...I don't see how the old man can go through with this when he was alive. If I knew that being Emperor had this much paperwork, I'd have refused."

Inside the Office of the Emperor, Naruto Uzumaki-Namikaze was seated behind his desk. The sixteen-year-old former Konoha jinchuuriki-turned-Emperor was at the moment going through the bane of his existence - paperwork.

Fortunately for him, most of the paperwork was already completed, as he was hard at work reading and signing them off. Most of them were minor and petty disputes. One major perk about being the Emperor was that there was less paperwork than that of the Hokage. The young Emperor paused for a moment to regard a picture of himself when he was younger, taken back in Konoha. A picture of himself and Hiruzen Sarutobi, the Sandaime Hokage. The picture was taken shortly before the Chuunin Exams, Naruto wearing the Kage hat and grinning like a maniac while 'The Professor' smiled, pipe in his mouth. Next to that picture was a photo of his parents, Minato and Kushinna Namiakze.

'Old would be proud,' Naruto thought, smiling fondly at the memory. 'I may not be Hokage, but the people look up to me...respect me as a leader.' He then turned to the photo of his parents. 'I hope you two are proud of me. I promised to make good to honor your memories. And I've kept that promise.'

One year had passed since the Unification War. The Empire has just celebrated its first anniversary, Naruto celebrating his first year as a leader of the Unified West. Since that time, Naruto has settled into his role as Emperor of the West. Despite this, he never lost track as to who he once was. Kitami, Yugito, Zabuza and Sonshi made sure of that. He didn't see himself as a ninja or a samurai. More like a combination of the two.

One document attracted his attention. It was from his informants located in Water Country. Apparently, there was a new Mizukage in power, and she had ended the bloodline wars which had plagued the country. Even more surprising was the fact of who was currently the Kazekage of Suna.

"Well, I'll be...Gaara's the new Kazekage," Naruto muttered to himself, smiling broadly, reading the report from the Pekara Branch in Suna. He looked at his watch.

Five minutes before the meeting of the Council. This could prove to be quite interesting indeed.

The Emperor rose from his seat. Retrieving his jacket and slipping it over his shoulders (i.e., his Shippuden uniform, only all black), he exited the office, making sure to take the reports on Mist and Suna with him.

The meeting was straight-forward. Aside from a uprising of malcontents loyal to Oda which was quickly crushed before it could gain steam, and the financial situation concerning the southern badlands, there was nothing worthy to report. Good thing that they only met three times a month.

The council hall inside the Hall of Sovereigns was as big as the council chambers back inside Konoha. The council chambers consisted of three long tables; the first containing the seats of the Emperor and his chief prime minister. Two tables located on either side of the Emperor's table faced each other, each containing six seats for either side.

Six of the members were hand-picked by Naruto himself, while the other six were voted in by the people of the Western Empire. The six that Naruto had chosen were from the West's most respected samurai and shinobi clans. Emperor Namikaze sat at the head of the table. Kitami sat at his left, the council, not to mention the people of the West knowing full well about the redheaded woman's true nature. The council hall inside the Hall of Sovereigns was as big as the council chambers back inside Konoha. The council chambers consisted of three long tables; the first containing the seats of the Emperor and his prime minister. Two tables located on either side of the Emperor's table faced each other.

On Naruto's left: Sonshi, the elder samurai warrior and philosopher who had taught Naruto the ways of the samurai. In his youth, as Naruto had found out, he had fought Hiruzen Satutobi to a draw and had respected Naruto's father figure a great deal, and grieved silently when Naruto had told him about his unfortunate passing. During the Unification War, he had invited Naruto to his village and Naurto became so impressed with the old man, that he asked to be trained in the ways of the samurai. When the Empire was created, he was the first that Naruto had invited to be on the council. Despite his old age, Sonshi was well-respected by samurai and ninja alike. His granddaughter, Sana Sonshi, who was a member of Yugito's Hellcats, served as part of Naruto's Elite Guards.

Next was Eiji Kibagami, also from a respected samurai clan with connections in Iron Country, as he had family there, which was helpful when Naruto negotiated a trade agreement between the Empire and Iron. A hard-punching, hard-drinking samurai with a mouth that would make Tayuya blush and Hidan green with envy, he was the first to join up with Naruto in his ambition. Despite being a foul-mouthed samurai, he was fiercely loyal to the young Emperor, honorable and carried himself as a true samurai. It was also a known fact that he and Kasumi Aihara were romantically involved. His pet wolf, Bijoumaru was at his side. Like Sonshi, Eiji had a member of his family as part of the Elite Guard - his nephew Hideo Kibagami served proudly.

Next to Kibagami was the the head of the Chiba clan, Kouda Chiba. The Chiba clan was a line of ninja who practiced a deadlier style of Taijutsu that would put even Rock Lee and Maito Gai to shame, the Taijutsu used originally as an assassination technique. Like Sonshi's granddaughter and Eiji's son, her eldest son, Takuma, served as one of Naruto's Elite Guards, a high honor for the Chiba Clan. In most ways, the Chiba clan reminded Naruto of the Inuzuka - fiercely loyal to the pack.

Sitting next to Kouda was her childhood friend and fellow ninja, Kokoro Yamada. The eldest daughter of a former nobleman and a Mist refugee, she was the diametric opposite of Zabuza's partner Haku, as her attacks were fire release attacks. In an interesting sidenote, her bloodline allows her to endure an opponent's fire attacks unscathed. The Yamada clan also had a reputation for being top-notch healers whose skill rivaled that of Tsunade in her prime.

Next to the fire-wielding mistress was the regal Kasumi Aihara. The Aihara was the most powerful samurai clan on the southern continent (in both influence and skill), and aside from the elderly Sonshi who resided on the northern continent, was one of Naruto's major supporters. Kasumi herself was a legendary warrior in her own right, having led troops into battle. Every once in a while, she would propose a marriage between her eldest daughter and Naruto, of which Naruto had graciously declined. He told Lady Aihara that he would marry for love, not for honor or prestige. That, Lady Aihara could understand, as she and her late husband were the same. When her husband was killed by Oda's hand, he was about to claim Aihara for his own. Thankfully, Naruto's arrival put a stop to those plans.

Seated next to Aihara was the head of the Okajima Ninja Clan, Hayate Okajima. Nicknamed 'The Tengu' because of his habit of wearing a Tengu mask to battle, the Okajima clan were skilled in ninjitsu, assassination techniques and recon and were the natural rivals of the Shainto clan, who favored open combat over covert assassinations. Naruto had approached the Okajima clan head for an alliance. Hayate was impressed by the boy's bravado and tenacity that he signed on to Naruto's side. Once the War was over, Naruto had returned to the Okajima clan their lands which were taken from them by one of the more corrupt Damiyos. In return, the entire Okajima clan swore their eternal loyalty to their new Emperor.

On Naruto's right: Ryuji Shinzen and his wife Haruka Shinzen, the heads of the Western Empire's premier mercantile guild, Pekara Merchant House. Ryuji was originally a mercenary ninja, while Haruka had a gift for business and management, they were the first to back Naruto in his ambition financially following the death of Rokubungi Oda. When the Unification Wars had reached its conclusion, they created the merchant houses which had two purposes; providing imported and exported items across the Empire and in the East, while at the same time, keeping a close eye on the more unruly villages in the East. Thanks to Naruto, they now had branches all over the country, as well as several locations in the East, some of which served for gathering intel, as in Iwa, Fire Country and Kumo.

Next was Shinoda Wakaba, former pirate captain, now a close business partner and longtime friend with the Shinzens, since his ten-boat fleet was originally used to harass and plunder both Oda's and his allies' supplies. It was Haruka who had pointed out the perks in having a fleet of ships backing up his ambition to Naruto. Now, with the war over, the fleet was now used to transport goods all over the continent, as well as in the elemental countries. In an interesting sidenote, the Shinzens and Wakaba were both in-laws, since the Shinzen's son had married Wakaba's daughter, which had brought their families into a close alliance.

Seated next to Wakaba was Katsumoto Kitahara. A Damiyo from the Southern Region who supported the people and working class, he was overthrown by a power-mad Warlord and condemned to wander the lands, until Naruto found him. He was one of the key members in the civilian council in which thanks to Katsumoto, that his major support base was the civilians themselves. Katsumoto's lands were restored unto him, as well as his title as a reward for his service and loyalty.

Next to Wakaba was Shin Akizuki. His home was the southern part of the continent. Shin was the youngest of the council at age twenty-three, and trained as a samurai. The son of Shinji Akizuki, a retired Warlord who had fought with Naruto, Shin had made a name for himself during the Unification Wars as a formidable swordsman, and can hold his own against Naruto in their occassional spars. In some cases, he reminded Naruto of Shikamaru at times: brilliant, but lazy.

Last, was Rumika Todo. Like Katsumoto, she was a Damiyo, but hailed from the North's mountainous Lahja Region. Todo was one of the Damiyos whose land the late Rokunbungi Oda had an eye for, since her lands contained iron mines deep within the mountains, but once Naruto had eliminated him, she saw the wise decision in backing him in his war of conquest. Her husband was the original Damiyo, until his death during a raiding party from Oda's men, forcing her to assume the role. But despite this, she was fiercely loyal to both her people and to the Emperor.

Aside from the Imperial Council, Naruto had requested that Zabuza Momichi and Haku Momichi be present for this meeting. The former Mist Swordsman and his female partner stood before the Imperial Council, both curious as to why they were summoned to this hearing.

"General Momichi," Naruto began. "First off, neither you nor Haku are not in any kind of trouble, so you can relax. I've asked you and Haku to come for a reason."

Zabuza raised an eyebrow. "That reason being, Chief?"

Naruto raised the sheet of paper from the Pekara's Mist branch. "This came in from Mist. The Mizukage is dead."

Zabuza took the news well, given the fact that he had failed to assassinate Yagura years earlier. "So Yagura is finally dead, eh? Well whoopty-fucking-shit. I was hoping that I would return and do the deed. But it's still good news. Yagura was always unbalanced. Who's in charge now?"

Naruto looked at the sheet of paper. "Her name's...Terumi. Mei Terumi."

That caught Zabuza's attention. "Mei's the Godaime now, huh? Wish it could have been me, but I like my current position."

"What can you tell us about this woman?" Sonshi inquired.

"She's strong, Lord Sonshi. Very strong," Zabuza replied. "Has a sunnny disposition, even when she's threatening kick your ass. If she was able to kill Yagura, then she is more than capable of stabilizing the Mist after so many years of war."

Naruto leaned back in his chair, pondering the information he has received. Sonshi caught the look on his Emperor's face. "Are you planning on making an alliance with Mist and Suna?"

Naruto smiled at the old samurai. "Am I that predictable?"

Sonshi smiled back at the young Emperor. "No. You're just that easy."

That got a good laugh from the council, Naruto included. Even Zabuza laughed while Haku giggled. Once everyone has calmed down, Naruto confirmed his intentions. "To answer your question, Sonshi, yes, I plan on inviting not only the leader of the Mist, but Suna as well. The Kazekage of Suna is an old friend of mine. He is a jinchuuriki, like I once was. His beast is the One-Tail Raccoon."

"Ah, Shukaku," Kitami said. "He was always a bit unbalanced of the bunch. Then again, I'm willing to bet that Sanbi was the driving force behind Yagura's murderous reign."

"What about the Kazekage, Your Majesty?" Lady Aihara asked. "Aside that he is the jinchuuriki to the Two-Tails, what else can you tell about him?"

Naruto went into detail about how he and Gaara met during the Chuunin Exams back in Konoha, all the way up to the point of the ill-fated retrieval mission of Sasuke Uchiha. Afterward, he put it to a vote.

"All in favor of inviting the Godaime Mizukage and the Godaime Kazekage to the Imperial Capital for terms?" Naruto intoned.

The vote was unanimous. The council voted yes.

Naruto smiled. "Motion passed. This meeting is adjourned."

Sunagakure no Sato, Wind Country - several days later...

"Lord Kazekage, there is an envoy here to see you."

Gaara looked up from his paperwork. "Are they from Konoha?" he asked the Suna jounin that stood before him, obviously annoyed. Baki, Temari and Kankuro both held curious looks as well. If they were from Konoha, then they would be escorted back to the country's borders.

"No, sir," the Suna jounin replied. "They are from the Western Empire, by way of the Pekara Merchant House."

The Empire. That was a pretty hot topic in the Elemental Countries. No sane ninja had ever ventured there, yet someone around his age was able to conquer the northern and southern continents of the war-torn West and brought about peace, having been declared Emperor. The other Kages knew about him, yet no one knew his name. And now, the Emperor of the West was reaching out to him.

The door opened and a courier ninja stepped inside. Bowing to the Kazekage, he produced a scroll with the Imperial seal - a fox's head in front of a swirling whirlpool. "Lord Kazekage. May you have a long and prosperous reign. I bring word from my lord, His Imperial Majesty of the Unified West."

Temari took the scroll and handed it to her brother, the courier ninja bowing to the trio before turning on his heel and leaving. The Suna jinchuuriki's curiosity was piqued when he saw the insignia. He broke the seal and unrolled the scroll. There was no invite, but a note, brief and to the point.

Gaara. Come to the West. There will be a boat at the port in Wind Country in three days upon reading this message. I'll be waiting.

The note was not signed, but rather had a crudely drawn picture of a certain blond knucklehead flashing a peace sign.

Gaara closed the scroll. Turning to his former sensei, he said, "Baki, you're in charge until I come back."

"What it is? What's wrong?" Baki asked.

"The Emperor has invited me to come to the West," Gaara replied calmly. "Temari, two are coming with me. One more thing. Bring Cell Three."

"Sarutobi and his two friends?" Baki asked. "Why them?"

"I have a feeling that the Emperor is someone we know very well," Gaara replied. "Have Sarutobi, Moegi and Udon report here in five minutes. We leave within the hour."

It took Gaara and his envoy three hours to reach the sea. And nearly a week to the Western Empire by way of boat.

The boat had stopped in Water Country first before moving on to Wind. Upon boarding the ship, the Suna envoy was surprised to see an envoy from Mist as well. They had heard reports about someone eliminating the insane Yagura and bringing the bloodline purges to an end.

The Mist envoy, led by the Godaime Mizukage herself, Mei Terumi, was also invited. Escorting her was the reformed Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. Suna and Mist had some bad blood between the two villages, as several of Suna's clans were refugees from the Mist, having escaped from the village during the worst of the bloodline purges. Yugara had demanded that Suna release those who had fled back to the Mist. Gaara's predecessor refused. It was because of the first uprising back in Mist that Yugara had backed off.

After several days at sea, the envoy had finally reached the Unified West. Instead of docking at Kurata Port, the boat instead headed upriver. Mei was concerned and flagged down a sailor. "I thought we were going to disembark here," she said.

"Not here, Lady Terumi," the sailor replied. "Kimon City, the Imperial Capital. We dock there in thirty minutes."

As the sailor went about his business, Mei turned to Gaara, who stood along the bow. The boat passed Kurata Port, and headed inland. The Kages of Mist and Suna took in the scenery. "To think that just two years ago, this land was locked in a constant state of civil war," the Godaime Mizukage said. " really can't tell. I always thought that the Mist and Water Country had it bad when Yagura was in charge. But the stories I've heard about the West while I was a Jounin about the West...whoever the Emperor is, he has done something that is nothing but miraculous."

"Mmm..." Gaara agreed.

The two Kages stood in silence as the boat made its way upriver. Within minutes, the Imperial Capital soon came into view. Mei and Gaara took notice of the Imperial Complex, the home of the Emperor, rose above the city.

From a distance, the home of the Emperor and seat of the Imperial West was imposing, reminding Gaara of the Kazekage Tower back in Suna. The sun had set and night was about to fall. Gaara felt a kind of anticipation that he has not felt since the Chuunin Exams, back when Suna and Oto had invaded Konoha.

Only difference was that he had the feeling that he was going to see an old friend.

At the port, Zabuza Momichi and Yugito Nii watched as the boat slowed to a stop, then was secured by the dock workers on the ground and the sailors onboard. The Emperor had assigned them to act as escorts to the Imperial Complex. Who better to escort the Kages of Mist and Sand than a ex-Kumo kunoichi/jinchuuriki and a former Mist swordsman.

The two generals who fought alongside Naruto were dressed in their respective uniforms; Yugito in her old Kumo uniform and the khaki Jounin flak vest, a signature trademark of the Hellcats, the all-female fighting force which she founded; and for Zabuza, his favorite camo fatigues from his days as a missing ninja. Like Yugito, he also wore a Jounin flak vest, only his was dark blue, the trademark of his own black-ops unit, the Demon Squad, of which he founded alongside Haku. His oversized sword was slung over his shoulder.

The gangplank was lowered, and the two Kages and their envoys started to disembark from the boat. Almost immediately, Yugito's senses went haywire.

'Kitten...' the Two-Tails hissed. 'He's a jinchuuriki.'

'I know. Naruto told me,' Yugito replied. 'It's Shukaku.'

Nibi was surprised. 'Shukaku? That oversized rodent? He managed to get himself sealed?'

'Looks that way,' Yugito replied. 'Keep it down.'

The monster cat went silent as the two Kages and their respective envoys approached the pair. Almost immediately, the seven Mist swordsmen went for their swords, but Mei ordered them to stay their hand.

"Do not attack him," Mei ordered.

"But...he is still a missing-nin!" one of the swordsmen objected. "Granted that he tried to kill Yagura, but still a missing nin!"

"And he is in the employ of the Emperor," Mei pointed out. "I will not see the Mist wiped out because you tried to kill a ninja who answer to the Emperor."

Once that situation was defused, Mei turned to Zabuza. "Zabuza Momichi. 'Demon of the Mist.' I thought you were dead."

"One of these days, maybe. I almost came close," Zabuza replied, bowing. "Lady Mizukage, welcome to the Capital." He introduced Yugito. "General Yugito Nii, commander of the Hellcats. Yugito, Godaime Mizukage Mei Terumi."

Yugito bowed in greeting.

Gaara's eyes narrowed slightly as he recognized the aura surrounding the blonde ninja. "You're a jinchuuriki."

"That I am," Yugito replied. "So are you, Lord Kazekage. Nibi identified yours as the One-Tail."

"Nibi...the Two-Tailed Monster Cat," Gaara confirmed.

"So what's a kunoichi from Kumo doing here in the West?" Temari asked, ready just in case that Yugito attacked.

"I no longer serve the Cloud," Yugito replied. "I was betrayed by the Kumo High Council without the knowledge of A and Bee. The Council sold me out to the Akatsuki. The Emperor saved my life. I've been at his side ever since."

Temari calmed down after that. The Akatsuki was also a hot topic aside from the Emperor. They had went underground following the disappearance of Naruto and Yugito, but there were reports of them resurfacing. Any village who had a Jinchuuriki were in a state of high alert, or those Jinchuuriki who were wandering had went underground.

"The Emperor sent you two meet us?" Gaara asked.

Yugito nodded. "Yes. Consider us your personal escort to The Boss. He is waiting for you at his home."

"I always thought the people of the West were different," Mei said as Zabuza and Yugito walked through the open-air market of Kimon. "Now I see that everyone's the same, from the style of clothes to the same food."

"The Boss and I thought the same thing when we first came here," Yugito said. "Of course, this was back when Oda had ran the place. It wasn't as lively as it is now. The living conditions were horrible. Oda was leeching off the people, demanding tribute upon tribute. He killed the men who did not comply and raped their wives and daughters. One girl he used as a sex toy after cutting off her limbs and tongue...after eliminating her family who dared to oppose him. When he got tired of her, he tossed her to his troops. When The Boss found her after we had killed off Oda, even he was appalled at the barbarism that Oda had done. He did the right thing and granted her a mercy killing."

Temari and Mei paled at Yugito's story. Even the Mist swordsman and the other Suna ninja looked sick.

"The Boss spent three months consolidating his power base here," Yugito continued. "It was then he decided to launch his own war. A war to unify the continents. Most of the warlords here fought only for land and to subjugate the other. He fought to unify the lands under his banner, to bring about an everlasting peace, something that the West has not seen since the era of the Six Paths Sage."

"From the look of things, he has succeeded," Temari noted. "This place feels so...alive."

"Only took the Chief two years," Zabuza said. "I was one of the many who came to his side. All of the tyrannical warlords were wiped out, while those who were smart enough not to fight flocked to his side, while others supported him financially. One year to unify the Northern Region, and another year to unify the Southern Region. We just celebrated our first anniversary of the Empire Unification a couple of weeks ago. He should have invited you two here earlier. You would've had a blast."

"I'm sure we would have," Mei said as the party passed two members of the Hellcats, identified by the same type of flak vest that Yugito wore. The two Hellcats greeted their supreme commander, to which Yugito responded with a nod.

"And here we are," Zabuza said as they approached the Imperial Complex. The massive doors were open, but were guarded by members of both the Hellcats and the Demon Squad. Passing by their subordinates, Zabuza and Yugito led the visiting party inside the complex.

"Wow," Mei said, looking around. "Nice setup the Emperor has."

"The Imperial Palace sits at the center of the complex," Zabuza explained. "As you can see, the place is heavily guarded by both ninja and samurai. Not only does the Emperor live here, but he also meets with the Imperial Council inside the House of Sovereigns and entertains guests inside the Reception Hall. We even got some barracks here for them to stay in. Since the Emperor's a seal master, his main home is warded off from intruders. He should be inside the House of Sovereigns now. We're heading there now."

"In that case, lead the way," Gaara said.

House of Sovereigns, Throne Room.

Dressed in black, complete with his black Kage-style hat concealing his face, Naruto sat on his throne, Kitami at his side. He had received word that Gaara and Mei had arrived safely and had just entered the House of Sovereigns. General Kazuma had verified that both kages were accompanied by their personal escorts. Naruto, however, was curious as to why Gaara had a squad of genin tagging along. Temari and Kankuro, he could understand, but a squad of genin?

Naruto shrugged it off and straightened himself in his seat, as the Kage of the Mist and the Kage of the Sand entered his throne room, followed by their respective escorts. Naruto was thankful that he was still wearing the Kage-style hat, otherwise, he would have been surprised to see Konohamaru, Moegi and Udon among the Suna envoy. Even more surprising was that they wore the hitai-ate with the Suna hourglass identifying them as Suna ninja.

Gaara, in the meantime, narrowed his eyes at the redheaded woman that stood beside the throne. Shukaku was speaking to him, but he ignored the rodent.

As their respective entourages remained behind, the Kage of the Mist and the Kage of the Sand stepped forward. Stopping three feet before the throne, they bowed. The Emperor responded with a nod of his head. "Gaara of the Sand, Godaime Kazekage of Suna...Mei Terumi, Godaime Mizukage of Mist...welcome to my home."

"We are honored to be here, Your Majesty," Mei replied.

Naruto rose from his throne. "The look on your face says it all. Why are the both of you here, and why did I invite you to my lands, correct?" he inquired as he stepped down to face the two Kages. "In that case, prepare to be enlightened."

The young Emperor reached up and removed his hat, tossing it to a valet that was standing nearby. Gaara had his suspicions when he was delivered the invite, but despite the missing whisker-like marks and his hair taking on a reddish tint, this had all but confirmed it. Temari and Kankuro were at a loss for words, since they were facing the last person they would expect to be Emperor of the Unified West.


"Oof!" Naruto grunted as he was tackled to the floor by Konohamaru, Moegi and Udon. The guards inside the throne room couldn't help but to chuckle at their Emperor's antics. Despite being the most powerful person on the continent, he was still a teenager. Even the Mist swordsmen had a laugh. Kitami cracked a smile at the sight of Naruto being dog-piled by the three junior ninja.

"Knock it off, you three," Gaara ordered. "Give him some breathing room."

Once Naruto manage to pry himself from Konohamaru, Moegi and Udon, he straightened himself off and faced the two kages. He greeted Mei first. "Lady Kazakage. Welcome to Kimon. Zabuza's told me quite a bit about you."

"He did, didn't he?" Mei replied. "Good things I hope. Anything bad would ruin my reputation. Although I am curious as to how you know the Demon of the Mist."

"We met four years ago, back when I was a genin," Naruto explained. He then gave both Kages a quick summary of the mission to Wave Country and of his run-in with Zabuza and Haku. "I later found out that both were alive. Turns out the Zabuza and Haku my team and I fought were nothing but advanced blood clones. Zabuza had taken off when the Mist hunter ninja arrived sooner than expected. He was one of many that helped me unify the West."

Mei turned to Zabuza. "I am honestly impressed, Momichi. Of course, you will give me the whole story later on," she said, smiling sweetly, yet her tone showed that there was no room for argument.

Zabuza gulped. "Of course, Lady Mizukage."

In the meantime, Naruto had turned to Gaara. The two leaders shook hands. "Gaara. Congratulations on your promotion to Kazekage."

Garra smiled. "And you, Uzumaki. It's clear that you have once again outdid me. I never thought it would be you who would unify the West. Congratulations to you on accomplishing such a feat."

"The people here are not unlike those back in the East. They never knew peace," Naruto explained. "Not since the era of the Six Paths Sage. At least back East we had some sort of peace and order." He gestured to the three genin. "How'd you end up with those three?"

"It was after you were banished, that the Suna Council sent an envoy to Konoha," Gaara explained. "Temari was with them. When the Konoha Council explained why you were banished, we terminated our alliance with the Leaf. Sarutobi and his two friends had caught up with Temari and asked to come with her. They knew about your burden as the jinchuuriki and when the banishment order came down, decided to desert the village in favor of Suna."

"How did Asuma take the news?" Naruto asked.

"He tried to stop us from leaving, pleaded with me to stay," the young Sarutobi said. "Said that family should stick together. But we couldn't stay. Not after how the council treated you after you brought back that traitor. I haven't spoken with him since that day."

Naruto tapped the hitai-ate that his former protege wore. "So you're a genin of Suna now? Congratulations. I always had faith in you, Konohamaru. In all of you."

"It's Maru now," Maru corrected. "I changed my name when I arrived in Suna, Boss. That was the last thing that connected me to that village. Whenever people called me by Konohamaru, it reminded me of you and of your sacrifice. It brought back so many bad memories."

"Maru, show some respect," Temari scolded.

Naruto waved her off. "It's okay, Temari. Maru's been calling me Boss ever since Konoha. It's his way of showing respect towards me."

"In any case, it's good to see you again, Naruto," the wind mistress said as she hugged the younger man. "You're grown too. Last time I've seen you, you were nothing but a sprat."

It was indeed true. Naruto barely stood over five feet back in Konoha. Now, he was clearly a foot taller. "Four years of hard training and fighting tends to work wonders." He turned to Kankuro. "Still into your puppets, I see. Improved any?"

Kankuro grinned. "You can be more than happy to find out, kid." He shook Naruto's hand. "Good to see you're still alive."

"Can't die just yet. The people need me." He then introduced Kitami. "My Chief Prime Minister, Lady Kitami Akashiya."

Kitami bowed in greeting. As she did so, Shukaku recognized her aura immediately.

'She is the Nine-Tails!' Shukaku screamed in Gaara's mind. 'She is the Kyuubi in human form!'

Kitami saw the look on Gaara's face and could only guess as to what the One-Tail was saying to its container. "So Shukaku figured it out, huh?" she asked, smiling meanly. "How is the rodent?"

'Hey! I resent that!' Shukaku shouted.

"Shut up, Shukaku, you're giving me a headache," Gaara muttered. To Kitami, he said, "Is it true? You're the Nine-Tails?"

"That I am," Kitami confirmed.

Temari and Kankuro blinked. They looked at the female redhead, who was looking on with a smug look. This was the same Nine-Tailed Fox that they seen during the Suna-Oto invasion? Maru, Moegi and Udon already knew about Naruto's secret, but was surprised to find out that the Nine-Tails was a woman.

"Are you sure, Gaara?" Kankuro asked. "She can't be the most powerful of the bijuu."

That was when Temari tapped him on the shoulder, before pointing at the Empire's Prime Minister. When Kankuro looked in her direction, he first felt the wave of killer intent directed at him.

Then his jaw hit the ground, as did everyone else's save for Gaara and the Neo Maru Corps.

"You were saying, Kankuro?" Kitami asked sweetly as her nine tails snaked around her, her eyes glowing an inhuman red, the pupils slitted.

The puppet master waved his hands in a placating manner. "Okay, okay. I'm convinced. Please don't kill me."

"Well, since you said please," Kitami replied as the tails vanished, her eyes reverting to normal.

'Showoff,' Shukaku muttered.

"It's true that Kitami is the strongest of the tailed beasts, but they are not demons as most people would think," Naruto explained.

"We bijuu are are more connected to nature," Kitami seconded. "But after we were seperated from the Ten-Tailed Beast, some pompous little pedant had the brilliant idea to turn the tailed beasts into weapons by sealing them inside humans, creating the jinchuuriki. As to how Kitami is free, I studied the seal and reversed-engineered it. I freed her with all nine tails of power."

'That much is true,' Shukaku confirmed it. 'One thing about us bijuu is that we are incapable of lying.'

"Okay enough talk," Naruto said. "You must be hungry and tired from your trip. Consider yourselves guests in my home." He summoned a valet who was standing nearby. "Take them to the guest quarters. See to their comfort."

"Yes, Your Majesty," the valet said.

Later on following dinner, Naruto entertained his guests with past war stories. Mei, on the other hand, had hauled Zabuza off to raid the Imperial Palace's sake stash. It would be late night when a shit-faced Mizukage and a equally sloshed commander of the Demon Unit staggered into the Imperial Palace's guest room. Zabuza did a face-plant into the couch, while Mei staggered to her guest room. Rather than retire to her own chambers, Kitami shifted into her fox form and founded a shaded area within the complex's grounds and fell asleep there.

Naruto and Gaara were on the balcony of the guest quarters, overlooking the city.

"I think it's safe to say that Temari has fallen in love with Kimon City," Gaara noted. "You've proven to be the most unpredictable ninja once again, Uzumaki."

"You think the city's nice, wait till I tell her about the hot springs resort in the mountains," Naruto replied. "She'll never want to leave then."

The Suna jinchuuriki cracked a small grin. "I'll bet. Temari always loved hot springs. The ninja back home always talked about the West...that going there is for the foolish and the crazy. Not even Orochimaru or the Akatsuki would even dare to come here, let alone Konoha."

Naruto frowned. He knew that this would come. "What's been happening ever since I left?"

"From what I managed to hear, the council pardoned the Uchiha for his attempted defection," Gaara said. "They place the blame on both his Cursed Seal and on you. After your banishment, every single alliance and trade agreement that Konoha had because of you were dissolved...Wave...Snow...Hot Water...Konoha is a virtual pariah in the shinobi world. Wherever they go, they are not welcome, in some cases, they are not allowed entry into some of the towns, forcing their ninja to go in using henges and aliases."

"I bet they blame me for that too."

Naruto was not the least bit surprised with Gaara's reply. "They do," the redhead replied.

After talking for several more minutes, the two leaders decided to retire for the night. After all, tomorrow would be a big day for all parties involved.

The following day, a special meeting was taking place inside the House of Sovereigns.F The Emperor had convened his Imperial Council, and this time, the two Kages were present.

Two more chairs were placed at the head table. Gaara and Mei sat on Naruto's right, while Kitami remained on his left. Naruto himself dressed for the occasion; his white shirt, black vest, longcoat, pants and boots, while Gaara and Mei were in their respective Kage robes of state.

"This meeting of the Imperial Council is now called to order," Naruto announced. "It is my honor and my pleasure to introduce to this council, Godaime Kazakage Gaara of the Sand..."

Gaara rose from his seat and bowed.

"...and Godaime Mizukage Mei Terumi."

Mei followed suit.

Once both Kages were seated, Naruto continued. "This is the Imperial Council. You already know my Prime Minister, Kitami Akashiya." After Naruto got through introducing the council members to the two Kages, the meeting was underway.

"Thanks to our Emperor, the Empire is strong," Sonshi began, "but even the strongest of the nations can use an ally or two. His Imperial Majesty spoke highly of you, Lord Kazekage and General Momichi also praised you leadership abilities, Lady Mizukage. Which is why we are here to discuss terms of a military and trade alliance."

"Go on," Gaara prodded.

At Naruto's nod, a valet approached the head table and placed two binders in front of Gaara and Mei before retreating back to his original post.

"The terms are agreeable and very generous," Sonshi continued. "We already have branches of the Pekara Merchant House in both Suna and Mist, which is already covered in the trade agreements. As for military aid, it's really quite simple. If you ever need a hand, then the Empire will come to your aid."

"There's a catch, isn't it?" Mei asked, leafing through the document.

"Yes," Naruto replied. "Only one condition. That the both of you will allow an Imperial Consulate in your respective villages, and in response, I will allow a Suna and Mist Consulate to be placed here in the capital. Of course, my representatives will follow and honor the rules of your respective villages and your representatives will honor and respect the rules of the Empire. The representatives you appoint will answer directly to you, and the same applies with my representatives. As an added bonus, you get your products at a reduced price through the Pekara shops."

"Can we assign a garrison of ninja to defend the embassy if necessary?" Gaara asked.

Naruto nodded. "I see no problem with that, as long as I can do the same. There's two compounds in the city that are empty. You can use them if you wish. we have an agreement?"

Gaara and Mei exchanged glances. It took them only a moment to decide. Within seconds, their signature and their hanko seals was on the documents, followed by Naruto's own.

One month had passed since the Unified West, Suna and Mist had formed their alliance. Their respective consulates were in place in both East and West. In Kimon the Suna representative was Temari herself, having volunteered for the position. Her reason: she wanted a change of scenery and she had grown quite attached to the Imperial Capital.

Naruto suspected that the hot springs resort in the Lahja Mountains may have had a influence in Temari's decision. At least Gaara sent someone he trusted.

Mei had sent a former Mist swordsman who was also a relative of hers as the Mist representative. In truth, her family had adopted him and he took on their family name. Takeshi Terumi.

Naruto had emerged from a meeting of the Imperial Council in high spirits. Ever since Yukie had started to film her movies here, the Western Empire has seen a major boost in tourism, particularly at the resort towns of North Tomoe in the Northern Region and Tears' Point in the south. Even the annual tournaments were beginning to draw in ninja from the east, hoping to make a name for themselves by taking on the best the West has to offer.

They all failed. Miserably.

The main reason for Naruto's good mood was that he had no paperwork to do. Actually, he did, but he left that to the shadow clones, allowing him to meditate and train. He was a hands-on type of Emperor, but even he needed a break from the paperwork.

Upon exiting the House of Sovereigns, Naruto was met by a Suna Jounin, one of many who was part of the Suna garrison assigned to the Suna consulate He was accompanied by Maru, Moegi and Udon.

"Lord Emperor," the Suna ninja greeted, taking a knee.

"Hey, Boss," the three genin greeted, bowing to the older teenager.

"Maru? What are you three doing here? I thought you were in Suna," Naruto said. Ordering the Jounin to rise, he asked, "What is it?"

The Suna ninja produced two scrolls with the Suna seal. "From Lord Kazekage," he said before vanishing in a poof of smoke.

Naruto looked at the scroll for a moment, before breaking the seal and opening it. It was a note, from Gaara to him.

Lord Namikaze,

If you are reading this, then Sarutobi and his friends have arrived safe and sound. The Chuunin Exams are six months away and their Jounin sensei was injured in a minor skirmish with ninja from the Cloud. I have no other Jounin to spare at the time, which is why I have sent them to you. Sarutobi and his friends look up to you and respect you a great deal, as I have seen back during the Chuunin Exams in Konoha.

I am asking that you train these three for the upcoming Chuunin Exams, which will be held in Suna. Enclosed in the second scroll is their files and their specialties and weaknesses. I have already notified Temari at the counsulate. Consider this their first S-ranked assignment. I know that you will not disappoint me, Lord Emperor. I am expecting great things from these three.

Gaara of the Sand, Godaime Kazekage of Suna

"Well, Boss?" Maru prodded. "What does it say?"

Naruto smiled at the younger genin. "You three are as of this moment, on your first official S-class mission."

"Really? AWESOME!" came the reply from the trio.

"Your mission is a six-month assignment from the Kazekage himself," Naruto continued. "He has left the three here in order to train for the upcoming Chuunin Exams."

As the three genin cheered, Naruto flagged down a passing valet. "These three are considered guests in my home. Show them the guest quarters and get them settled in."

The valet bowed. "Yes, Your Majesty."

Naruto turned to the three genin. "Follow her inside. She will get you settled in."

Maru and his teammates nodded eagerly and followed the valet towards the Imperial Palace. The Emperor turned on his heel and entered the hall. As he headed for his office, he undid the second scroll and began to read it.

'Hmm...Maru's specialty is ninjitsu, just like Old Man Saturobi...Moegi knows the basics of medical ninjitsu...and Udon shows promise in hand-to-hand combat,' Naruto thought as he continued to read. 'They're a bunch of misfits, but they show promise. Kinda reminds me of myself when I was younger. This can be interesting.'

Rounding the corridor, he saw Sonshi chatting with Hayate Okajima, Kokoro Yamada and Kouda Chiba. Before they could say anything, Naruto had beaten them to the point.

"You four, my office."

Curious as to what their Emperor would want, they followed him inside.

Ten minutes later...

Maru Sarutobi, Moegi and Udon stood before the Emperor, the boy that they had long since admired since their days back in Konoha. And he was not alone. Standing alongside Naruto were four people that they recognized from their last visit.

Naruto had explained the request from Gaara in regards to the three kids standing before them, and had requested that they assist in their training. Not one to back down from a challenge, Sonshi and the three council members agreed.

"Gaara's entrusted you three to my care, to train you for the Chuunin Exams," Naruto intoned, his face serious. "But I cannot do this alone, which is why I enlisted the help of these four upstanding warriors. I fought with them during the Unification Wars, and I trust them with my life. Mondays, I will teach you taijitsu, as well as chakra control and endurance training. Tuesdays, Sonshi will train you three in basic weapons combat and tactics. Wednesdays and Thursdays...I got something special planned. Maru, you will learn Ninjitsu from Okajima."

At that, 'The Tengu' bowed.

"Moegi, as you are studying to be a medic-ninja, you will spend time with Yamada."

Kouda bowed as well.

"And Udon, you will receive intermediate and advanced Taijitsu training from the Chiba clan, mostly from Takuma."

The Chiba clan head followed suit.

Sonshi sized the three Suna genin up. "So...this is your little pet project? Train these three into battle-ready ninja? You got your work cut out for you, Chief."

Maru puffed at that insult. "Hey! I'm gonna be a great ninja! Like the Boss and my grandpa!"

Sonshi looked at Maru. "And who are you?"

"Maru Sarutobi."

Sonshi recognized the name immediately. "Sarutobi. Your grandfather was Hiruzen Sarutobi?"

"You knew him?"

"Knew him? I fought him when I was younger," Sonshi replied. "The Chief admired him a great deal. As did I. Good man, good ninja. Although it's a bit late, the Chief's told me about his passing. You do have my sympathies."

"They're a group of misfits, but they got heart and guts," Naruto added. "That goes a long way. I see in them plenty of potential. Potential to even surpass me."

"They got spirit, too," Okajima added. "I'll send in one of my best ninja to assist in the training. You have the full support of the Okajima clan in this, Chief."

Naruto turned to the three Suna genin. "I will warn you in advance. These four are not to be taken lightly, as am I. We will push you to the extent of your abilities. We will be hard, but we will also be fair. I will not make the same mistakes as Hatake did with myself, the emo and the banshee. You will receive equal training. And I will be in contact with Temari, who will be passing on your progress reports to Gaara. By the time the Chuunin Exams come around, you three will be the talk of the town. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, Boss!" Maru, Moegi and Udon shouted in chorus.

"You three will have the weekend off," Naruto said as he dismissed the four council members. "Come Monday, your training will begin. There will be risks, but the rewards will be great."