Chapter Eight

The Five Intruders

Instinct drove Naruto to push his upper body backwards to lay flat against the granite floors at the sound of the flying kunai rapidly zooming towards him. He rolled over and hastily jumped to his feet as he brandished a kunai of his own and held it tightly in a reverse-grip, heart pumping madly inside his ribcage while his mind was blank in blurry confusion.

A punch to his face met him the moment he rose to his feet and he was barely able to block it. He arched his spine backwards and did two quick back-flips to put some distance between him and the unknown assailant. When his brain finally caught up with his honed subconscious instincts and he was able to grasp who exactly was attacking him, he couldn't help but blink in confusion. "What is the meaning of this, Kimimaro, Jirōbō, and Beachboy-san?" he hollered while at the same time his eyes roamed the vaulted chamber searching for Neji and Hinata to check whether they were all right. As if on cue, both fully alert and imposing-looking Hyūga gravitated to his side, the two of them in a Jūken stance and ready to enter battle.

His attacker, a bare-chested Kimimaro, stopped his assault and calm as you please, said, "We have orders from our master to retrieve Nidaime Hokage's legacy, which was until now sealed inside that vault."

Naruto blinked, flummoxed. "Your master? What the heck did the old prune -" he gasped the moment his eyes found in the remote background the Grand Priest, whose eyes were glazed and whose body was laying on a spreading shadow of blood. Naruto did not need to check the old monk's pulse. He was undoubtedly dead.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" said Neji by his side, his bloodline limit activated. "Ashikawa Tsunesuke never was their true master. Jirōbō had even hinted at it before, Naruto." It was a testimony to how unnerved by the sudden turn of events Naruto was that he did not catch the slightly condescending tone in the deep voice of his mission captain.

An uncharacteristically fierce and poised Hinata stared at the foes before her, her lithe body unwavering under the strain of the rigid Hyūga Jūken first stance. "The question is, who their true master is," she pointed out without the slightest stutter.

Jirōbō snorted derisively with an unforeseeable arrogance, the glint reflected on his eyes reaching levels of unprecedented callousness. "We are not about to answer that, you trash," he snapped acidly. Perhaps there was something about the long-haired girl that seriously ticked him off, because he did not hesitate and charged at her faster than his obesity should have allowed. Hinata was agile in her reflexes and leapt away from Neji and Naruto, to avoid any unwanted collateral damage. Jirōbō did not pay any attention to either male and fixatedly followed the nimble silhouette of Hinata in great contempt, hurtling towards her the second she stopped.

If the situation hadn't been so serious, Naruto would have given the mean-eyed punk a few lessons on how to deal with a crush, because really, where did he get the idea that nothing shows your love better than wanting to beat the object of your admiration to a bloody pulp? However, that passing random thought was neither here nor there.

Naruto swore under his breath. He had intended to help his pathologically shy comrade, but Kimimaro had given him no time whatsoever and swung at Naruto with a bizarre-looking white sword in a wide arc, compelling him to once again curve his spine backwards. His eyes opened up in comical confusion as he watched in almost slow motion the weapon sailing over him and realised that it had not been a sword he had been attacked with, but a bone – a frigging bone. He used his momentum to rotate his falling body, then hands on the smooth floors, he spun on the momentary axis and aimed his forceful kick at his enemy's thigh.

His attack was successful and Kimimaro was obliged to take a step back to re-assess the masked-ninja in front of him. Unfortunately for him, although Naruto was not yet at the level of Konoha's Yellow Flash, he was preternaturally quick and agile. Naruto took the opportunity to hastily think of a plan and then conjured up five Kage Bunshin. His clones didn't need his orders; they already knew what to do. They rushed forward towards the still-in-the-background monks and frogmarched them out of the vault to a safer place.

Naruto needed to think, and think fast. Neji had already left his side, he noted, and was coolly measuring his opponent: a much tanned young man with a nasty grin on his face – and six arms. He briefly wondered whether the former and Kimimaro had been the by-products of some really sick scientist's drunken experimentation. Still, somehow, Naruto figured that Neji would be all right. He seemed to be, after all, the kind of person that fit the prototype of 'prodigy' to a tee.

He thanked that Kimimaro had taken a brief pause to gauge Naruto's abilities – not that he would glean anything from watching his mask-covered face, anyway – because that gave him a brief respite that would give him enough time for the cogwheels inside his mind to be oiled and start turning. He had cooked up a decent plan, or so he believed. But then again, he knew almost nothing about Kimimaro – except that he had attacked him with a bone, for the love of everything that was orange.

One of his Kage Bunshin had been created apparently to evacuate the monks, but in truth, the clone's goal was to sprint to where Lee and Tenten were, so that they could come as quickly as possible and serve as backup. They could not fail on this mission. His father's willingness to protect and even destroy what apparently was Nidaime Hokage's legacy, whatever that meant, signified that failure was not an option. And yet, he wouldn't be able to carry out such a complex fūinjutsu if he had to fight an opponent of Kimimaro's category. It was likely he could do it without the help of the Byakugan sight, but there was no way he'd be able to with his hands full with Kimimaro. And unfortunately, Kage Bunshin would not help on that front, for the original jinchūriki had to be the one to perform it.

That dilemma gave birth to yet another one: how should they proceed. Should they try to defeat the thieves, and then perform the fūinjutsu, therefore carrying out the initial plan? Or should he aim from the start to destroy the so-called Nidaime's legacy, and then beat the stuffing out of the crooks?

Before the merry band of misfits had launched their attack, a few minutes prior to his current predicament, there had been absolutely no doubt in his mind that his father wanted whatever was stored inside the vault protected, and if that couldn't be, he wanted it destroyed along with the trespassers. However, he was presently in a tight situation, and that annoying, pesky, and devious little voice inside his head made him wonder whether his previous assumptions had been correct or not. Even if they had been and he opted for the destruction of the safe's contents – what would the backlash be? Because it was one thing to set up the fūinjutsu and be years later at the end of a complaint after an attempted robbery where the valuables had been blown to smithereens; they could pass it off as an error on the sealing process and my deepest apologies. However, it was an entirely different story to outright raze the vault and its invaluable items.

How much Naruto wished he knew just what exactly was stored inside the safe could not be measured in human scales. If he had just an ounce of information about its contents, he wouldn't be so hesitating. However, he was beginning to consider that it was not some valuable belonging to the Fire Daimyō, who was rumoured to be a very flighty and empty-headed man, and more something shinobi-related.

Naruto also knew they had to get out of the building and fast for several reasons. The first of which meant that if the enemy was pushed outside, he could devote himself to his mission. The second was that should they keep fighting inside the Fire Temple, the building would more likely than not end up in need of severe repairs that would have to come out of Konohagakure no Sato's vaults, which would not endear him to his future comrades and would not impress his father. Also, he didn't think the Fire Temple monks would be too happy to see their beloved home turned into pitiful wreckage. Finally, the third reason was that if three shinobi fights took place in such a tight and cramped place, Naruto feared he could end up accidentally hurting one of his Konoha comrades.

He simply did not know what to do, and that vexed him to no end. He needed more information, and a grounded opinion. And just when the wheels inside his head started stirring, he received the information of the clone that had been sent to look for Tenten and Lee.

Except for that very deaf centenarian hermit in the far West side of Tsuchi no Kuni, the entire continent heard Naruto's dulcets. "HINATA, NEJI! Lee and Tenten have been ambushed, too!"

Sparing one sidelong glance at the contemplative Kimimaro, Naruto made up his mind. Well, that did it. He just couldn't wing it and hope for the best. "Kuchiose no Jutsu!"

A puff of smoke preceded the appearance of a small red toad with blue markings on the top of his head and around his eyes and green goggles about his neck. At the sight of Naruto, their youngest and most fun summoner, he smiled jovially. "Ah, Naruto – WHOAH!" That's when he saw that Naruto was in the midst of a battle. He spared no time and jumped to hide behind his left leg. And really, was Naruto's foe holding a bone? "Just where the blazes have you brought me? I'm a tiny, minuscule, messenger toad - not Gamabunta-sama!"

Naruto shook his head without taking his arctic eyes from his opponent. "There's no time, Kōsuke. I need you to go back to Konoha pronto and tell the Hokage we've been ambushed. We need backup and further instructions," he ordered the toad in a hushed whisper to ensure he was out of Kimimaro's hearing range.

Kōsuke bobbed his bulbous head, still in a daze. "Right. I'm on – for the love of Shima-sama's cooking, it is a bone!"

Kimimaro had thrown his makeshift and very disturbing weapon at the defenceless toad, but Naruto, who hadn't believed his white-haired foe would be content with merely staring at his proceedings while sipping at a cup of tea, had expected it and deftly caught between his hands the offending and crude weapon of sorts, thus sparing the toad from impalement. He quickly thrust the bone into the amphibian's hands, making his silent plead very clear as he pierced Kōsuke with his eyes, half infuriated, half desperate. "GO!"


Naruto sighed in relief when the compulsory pall of smoke signalled the small amphibian's disappearance. It was decided, then. He would have to stall for the time being.

Kimimaro broke the silence. "You have a contract with the toads, like Jiraiya of the Sannin and Yondaime Hokage," he dully observed.

Naruto's eyebrow rose until it hid under the shadow of his hood. "Yes. And you use a bone as a sword. On a scale of weirdness, you'd get the big prize, pal," he retorted sardonically, his foot hissing as he slid his leg backwards, settling into a ready-to-fight position.

The glimmering light flickering from the torches about the chamber coupled with the innate gilded surface of its walls, reflected the light on his opponent's bare and eerily pale skin, giving him the misleading appearance of an ethereal and gossamer otherworldly being. Frankly, it was at times like those when Naruto was glad the only visible parts of him were his toes, hands, and orbital region. It may have been simply due to teenage vanity, but he'd die if he was caught looking like an overgrown, sparkling fairy. However, the look on Kimimaro's face did not match that of a benevolent if not disturbing imp of sorts, and Naruto pushed once again all of his unsystematic and illogical thoughts from his head and focused on the previously bone-wielding man facing him, fully alert. He had not forgotten - really, he hadn't: he just about had the same thoughts constantly playing in the back of his head like a broken record in a lousy party - that he had nearly been stabbed in two neat halves before with a bone, of all things.

Naruto blinked in utter shock, too astonished to even maintain the capability of formulating coherent thoughts, the moment he watched his opponent's skin rip open to allow impossibly white and sharp bones a bloody passage. His stomach seemed to be his only functioning organ, for he was paralysed, his heart seemed too stunned to even beat and his breathing had come to a screechy halt, and it churned unpleasantly at the gruesome sight displayed before him.

As if he were able to read another person's mind, Kimimaro explained, "This is the kekkei genkai of the Kaguya Clan, Shikotsumyaku, the Dead Bone Pulse," he shifted his gaze to stare at the calcified hard and sharp appendages that were protruding from the middle of his back, his elbows, the palms of his hands, and his thighs. "You are about to witness my first move, Yanagi no Mae, Dance of the Willow." He bent his knees, lowered his upper body, and then made a point to make contact with Naruto's stupefied eyes, "Stay sharp, Konoha shinobi."

Naruto had never been the biggest fan of bloodline limits, because he never knew what to expect, and they could be deadly unless you figured out how to counteract them before a fatal blow was struck - a tad hypocritical coming from him, the Kyūbi no jinchūriki and the so-called number one unpredictable ninja, yes - but as he stared wide-eyed at the nightmarish ninja before him, he was positive he had never hated them more.

He swore loudly.


Neji had believed it had been lucky for his team and unlucky for him to confront what he thought was allegedly the most monstrous and deadliest of their foes. He was, after all, a jōnin - albeit newly minted - in the midst of skilled yet still chūnin, and he was also undoubtedly the unrivalled prodigy of the Hyūga Clan. However, when his eyes spotted the atrocity his newest and enigma-shrouded comrade was facing, he realised he had not been the one to draw the short straw.

"Yes, Kimimaro's kekkei genkai is very flashy," his six-armed opponent interrupted his train of thought, his voice oozing with a perfect and sizzling blend of irritation, long-held grudge, jealousy and inexplicable arrogance, successfully diverting Neji's attention back towards his swarthy visage. "But you'll be dead before you know it if you dare underestimate me, Tōmon no Kidōmaru."

Arrogant, that surmised Neji's opinion of his adversary. Perhaps he could take advantage of that self-inflated pride. He untapped the flow of chakra and let it rush through his ocular arteries, activating his bloodline limit to see his enemy's chakra network and tenketsu. He was team captain and had an important mission to complete, and whoever was the puppeteer who held the strings of the attack on the Fire Temple, he was not going to let them have their way. Unfortunately for his opponent, Neji had the skill to have the right to be what some would call arrogant, although he would call it being realistic.

In any case, it was paramount they lured the enemy outside. Should three fights take in place in the gilded chamber, Neji reckoned that there would only be an aftermath of golden rubble. Even more important than the chamber they were in was the vault that guarded the objects they were supposed to protect at all costs, and presently they were even more vulnerable than before, considering the enemy had waited until all security had been taken down.

Neji stared coldly at his arachnid-like adversary. He would have to take him down and quickly. He had seen how his very inept and maladroit cousin had been sent flying due to one miserable punch coming from her corpulent foe. Although he held nothing but contempt for her, she was still part of the Main Family of the Hyūga Clan, and therefore the value her life, almost useless as it was, weighed much more than his own. Whoever said that all human beings were equal was a downright fool. The only thing that united every living being was death.

Kidōmaru seemed to be on the verge of yawning from boredom, a sign of his clear underestimation of Neji. A fatal error he would not have the time to regret, the Hyūga member thought dryly. The moment he was within range, the fiend before him would meet his end.

In a flash, he sprinted towards his foe, befuddlement clouding over his mind at the sight of Kidōmaru, whose cheeks had swollen to dangerous levels, like a rodent that had put too much food for its little mouth to contain. Neji didn't know what Kidōmaru intended to do, but he was almost close enough to –

Neji's body was excruciatingly slammed against the floor. His spine arched in pain, while his head throbbed viciously. He couldn't understand what had happened, and his mind was blurry due to the hit he had received on the back of his head. One moment he had been about to finish off his adversary, and the next he was panting on the floor and – trapped?

"What the -?" Neji writhed, his clothes softly hissing against the cool granite flooring. His eyes opened like saucers in intense disbelief as his brain processed that what held his entire frame hostage was nothing else but a gargantuan spider web. He struggled against it, more so as he realised that Kidōmaru was strutting towards him with a scornful smirk, no doubt about to grant Neji the fatal blow. His heart beat wildly inside his ribcage, flooding his brain with blood and almost driving him into a frenzy, thus rendering incapable of coherent thought. Calm down, you have to calm down! He was no good in the state he was in, and he knew it.

He focused his Byakugan on the disgusting and sticky web that bound him. It didn't take long for his keen eyes to realise that flowing through the gummy substance, there was a constant flow of chakra. At first, his eyes widened imperceptibly in horror. This is impossible! A steady flow of chakra that does not vanish, even though he's already spit it? There cannot be a jutsu of this level! No, wait – there are weak points on the current – that's my target!

Kidōmaru stared down at his struggling opponent in earnest disdain. "So this is what Konoha and the fabled Hyūga Clan have to offer? Pathetic." His cheeks puffed out again, but this time, instead of the spider web he had used before, a curved and golden, hard-looking sort of weapon came out. "I hope you said your goodbyes when you left your pitiful village, scum."

Neji took a deep breath, feeing the air invade his lungs, and then smirked.

Kidōmaru did not have enough time to react.

In a flash, Neji had broken free by applying needle-like incisions on the weak spots of the web with his chakra. He bent his knees and extended his right arm before him, drawing his left backwards at one-hundred and eighty degrees from the right arm, adopting then the stance for the Eight Trigrams Sixty-Four Palms. "You are within my range of divination. Jūkkenhō: Hakke Rokujūyon Shō!"

Neji's body resembled that of a deadly snake about to strike its powerless quarry. Faster than the naked eye could follow, he charged. "Two palms!" he struck Kidōmaru's shoulders, and without giving him enough time to even grasp the concept of the sharp sting at feeling his tenketsu forcefully close, "Four palms!" his voice bellowed, guiding his stretched index and middle finger to Kidōmaru's abdomen. "Eight palms!" his precise and pain-searing volley of attacks knocked the spider-like shinobi backwards, unable to move. "Sixteen palms!" He was a blur of scalpel-sharp hands, so quick they were almost imperceptible. "Thirty-two palms!" Kidōmaru was careening rearwards, his face contorted in honest torture. "Sixty-four palms!"

Neji's last torrent of thirty-two consecutive strikes sent a quasi paralysed Kidōmaru soaring towards the entrance to the vaulted chamber, crashing in a limp heap of limbs.

Neji was panting as he straightened his legs and briefly relaxed his arms. His eyes wandered over the silhouette of an apparently defeated Kidōmaru, his brain yelling at them that they must not be as keen a set of eyes as common knowledge stated, because it wasn't possible to remain as if nothing had happened after sixty-four tenketsu had been hit. In the end, the only thing he could do was to frown. "What is the meaning of this?"

Kidōmaru used his too many hands to hoist himself to his feet, drawing Neji's eyes to the ceramic-resembling substance that covered his whole body. His hand twitched. The porcelain-like material cracked, bits of it falling lifelessly to the floor and revealing the smirking face of his swarthy foe. "You aren't half bad." Neji couldn't help the shiver that ran though his body at the sight of the eerily anticipating leer that played on Kidōmaru's lips. "Let's play, Hyūga boy."


Her left cheek was stinging badly but she didn't care she had already been wounded. It didn't hurt that much anyway. The overdose of adrenaline flowing through her arteries made sure of that. She charged recklessly at her smirking opponent with her back bent forwards, her arms drawn limply backwards due to the inertia as she dashed, blood running from her cheek to her ear until little droplets fell diagonally in her wake. She had to get him within range, and make sure she was fast enough not to be at the end of another haymaker. She could see his overstated chakra network, she only needed to hit his tenketsu and he would be done for. She had hit two of them before he had thrown her across the chamber - she had to finish it.

Jirōbō snorted in open disdain at the rapidly approaching kunoichi. He leant calmly against the wall, in an attempt to convey to her that she was nothing more than an annoying fly about to be mercilessly swatted. Two pudgy hands formed the snake hand seal. "Stupid girl. You are a Hyūga. There is no way I'm letting you near me again." He unclasped his hands and forcefully slammed his palms against the floor. "Doton: Earth Shaking Palm!"*

Hinata sprung away on instinct as the floor below her crumbled, missing being caught in the small earthquake by a hair. She landed with her knees bent on the balls of her feet, then hurtled forward again without a second to spare on regaining her breath, pushing her legs to give her the maximum speed to allow her to get closer to her assailant.

"As if. Doton Kekkai: Doro Dōmu!"

Her attempt to jump away from the collapsing circle of floors beneath her and cracking wall next to her was beyond moot. Too quick for her brain to grasp, she found herself entrapped in a wide, darkness-shrouded, claustrophobia-inducing dome of broken floorings and jagged, muddy rocks. Her breathing was raspy, filled with sudden panic as she was. She spun on her feet wildly, looking for an escape that just wasn't there. Her traitorous lungs began to hyperventilate, and despite her rational brain's loud warnings and orders, they kept doing so as her irrational part had commenced to take over. In her half-frenzied state, she got the sudden impression that the walls that surrounded her had keener eyes than her own.

She lifted the hem of her baggy zip-up jacket and reached for the pouch resting on the her iliac spine, blindly drawing out a couple of sharp-edged kunai, coated them with chakra and threw them simultaneously at the wall that seemed to mock her efforts, as if telling her that it was all in vain. She glared at it spitefully when her kunai fell floppily without having left a single dent on it. Hinata pushed herself against the opposite curved wall and pursed her lips in concentration. Swiftly, she bent her knees and hurtled forward. She brought up her right knee and almost immediately rotated her hip, snapping her leg outwards to smash the wall in a forceful roundhouse kick.

She was jolted backwards from the force of her strike, but the sight of the crack she had incorporated on the uneven wall presumably healing itself until no scratch remained made her eyes widen in surprise in midair. She bent her spine and rested the palms of her hands on her knees, panting slightly. She frowned. She shouldn't feel so exerted after just one kick, never mind her previous injuries. "Byakugan!"

Outside, Jirōbō was silently cackling with glee. His outstretched arms and opened hands glowed with the chakra he was absorbing from the kunoichi he had trapped. The meagre meal couldn't even be considered an appetiser, but at least he got the chance to squash Konoha rubbish. He turned his spherical head away from his current and very dull sight of gilded cracked walls and fixed his gaze on his associates, basking in his superiority with a malicious leer, for neither had managed yet to handicap their enemies as much as he had.

Inside the dome, Hinata's activated Byakugan had revealed that truth to her: her chakra was being sucked away from her, and with no apparent way to stop it. She looked at her palms, tracing over the birth lines on them and gave out a weary and resigned sigh. She hadn't been quick enough, once again, to realise that not only the technique soaked up the enemy's chakra, who presently was her, but it was also coated in it all around it, which explained the outset baffling ability to auto-heal. What got her mind thinking, however, was the fact that not all parts of the barrier were veneered with the same amount of chakra. Most likely, the thinnest parts were the areas furthest away from her assailant. If she could only get him to talk to verify her opinion…

"Given up already, you Konoha scum?"

Bingo. If Hinata had possessed the amazing and ridiculously rare ability to smirk, she would have done so until her muscles seized up from overexertion. However, such capabilities were beyond her, being able of only a small, satisfied quick upturn of her outer lip.

Her plan was reckless and more than foolhardy, but it was the only plan that came to mind she thought would work. Besides, she didn't really care. She flexed and stretched her right fingers in tandem, took in a deep breath, closed her fist and thrust her arm forward in a resounding punch. At the same time, her left arm drew two exploding tags and quickly stuck them to the exact spot she had just hit. Just as speedily, she shoved herself backwards and barricaded herself against the opposite side of the fortification, quickly pouring chakra from all of her tenketsu to wrap herself in a protective cocoon.

Index and middle fingers straight, she flexed the rest of them in a seal of confrontation and drew her hand to her mouth, her two outstretched fingers dimpling her parted lips. Heart skipping a beat, she whispered, "Baku."


The sensation of hundreds of small embers raging through most of her body was not one she was willing to repeat any time sooner, but as she was sent zooming backwards, the sight of the rubble of debris that had been her gritty jail drew a very satisfied if not half-crazed smile on her bleeding lips. Her foe's stricken face was just an added bonus. And oh, her explosion had been so near one of the chambers walls it was cracking towards the ceiling. Well, that wasn't good. Ceilings falling on human heads were most definitely not good.

At the sight of the fissuring then cracking roof, the other two fights stopped immediately and each shinobi sought cover. Fortunately for the somewhat demented whizzing girl, it was Naruto who caught her. He was forcefully jostled backwards and instinctually grabbed her by the waist and shoulders as he tried to regain his balance. He jerked his head in horror towards his teammate when he felt the indisputably horrifying sensation of warm liquid slithering on his arms. The masked shinobi jumped backwards and bent his knees, placing her on the ground to check her injuries. His skin paled to unhealthy levels when his eyes raked over her numerous and serious injuries.

She was bleeding profusely and the skin on her face was badly scorched. Her jacket was but a web of burnt rags. He let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding when at least her thorax and abdomen appeared to have suffered no injury, covered as they were in mesh armour. Her legs, though, were an entirely different matter. Nothing seemed broken, but the unmistakable stench of burnt flesh was enough for his stomach to churn unpleasantly. It was a miracle the reckless girl had survived the rash stunt she had just pulled, Naruto reckoned in wild disbelief. Her pupils were abnormally dilated, as if she were deeply dazed or on the verge of losing consciousness. Well, it wasn't such a far-fetched thought. The girl had after all set off at least one explosive tag in her proximity to escape the rock-strewn gaol she had been imprisoned in.

He rotated his head to take in the surroundings. The ceiling had collapsed and there was nothing left of the walls except for the sparse and jag-ended pieces randomly scattered, but the vault behind him with the behemoth crest was still intact He cursed inwardly, there was nothing at hand to use to stop her bleeding. He berated himself amongst the safety of a pile of smoking debris for not being capable of performing any sort of medical jutsu when her eyes snapped open, sparkling with life and anticipation.

"I'm fine, Naruto-san. Please allow me to stand up," said Hinata, trying to break free from Naruto's death-grip. It was, perhaps, the abnormal steely lack of fear in her eyes – and a healthy dose of utter shock - that unwittingly compelled him to slacken his hold. "My enemy does not seem to be extraordinarily skilled when compared to the one you and Neji nii-san are facing. I have to do my best," she added through bleeding lips in what seemed to be more like determined mantra than a dialogue with the stunned jinchūriki. She pushed herself to her feet with uncanny strength and resilience, the small wince skirting on her lips being the only sign of her stinging pain and left his side to fiercely charge at the obese shinobi, dark blue hair swaying in her wake.

Naruto transitorily stared after her, dazed and bewildered, and caressed the implausible theory that the Hyūga girl suffered from a case of undiagnosed bipolarity, before he shook his stupor away and raked the wreckage of a chamber for the unflappable Kimimaro. However, amidst the confusion, worry and shock, there was a tiny smile playing on his ninja mask-concealed lips. He had thought Hinata was a bit too dark and sullen and too clinically shy, a bit of an emo weirdo, to be honest. But he realised that deep down the girl had guts, even though she most likely wasn't aware of it. He did like gutsy people, dattebayo.

Unaware of Naruto's conundrum, Hinata swept and jumped over the hubris of serrated rocks in the direction of Jirōbō, whose opulent body was very difficult to hide. Perhaps it was the adrenaline rushing through her body, or perhaps it was the fact that she knew she wouldn't last much longer as she could feel the warm and enticing darkness at the back of her brain threatening to engulf her consciousness, but Hinata was running towards him at a much faster speed.

Her eyes were beginning to blur, but she could have sworn there was a rise in the chakra levels of her foe as an odd, triangular set of markings crept on his face. She wouldn't give him the time, she thought, to prepare any new techniques. He had already done enough harm. Still in midair, she bent her knees and separated her arms in a one-hundred and eighty degrees distance, adopting a pose very much like her cousin had done before.

Jirōbō paid no heed at the small droplets of sweat that rolled down his face due to the sight of the incoming bullet in the shape of a badly injured and copiously injured kunoichi. He had the cursed seal, he was undefea -

"Too slow!" she snarled. Hinata was a soaring few inches above him, knees bent and fingers menacingly drawn like a spear. "Hakke Sanjūni Shō!"


It had not been a very youthful start for a new year, Lee reflected in a glum mood, while his eyes scanned the area for any possible and unwelcome disturbances. Fortunately, the forest seemed tranquil and undisturbed, except for the few venturous critters that dared to leave their burrows.

A sudden thought - and a brilliant one at that, he believed - gripped his mind. He closed his left fist and bumped it against his right open palm in rapt determination. "Yoshi! To make up for all the unyouthfulness, I will do a thousand push-ups!" He knew Gai-sensei would be proud of him. He was a very optimistic young man, with lofty and noble ambitions. He was not the type of person who chose to brood, he always would see the silver lining. The simple combination of youth, hard work and raging fires was enough to make things right in his world.

His spirits were momentarily dampened, however, when a sudden fellow appeared at the clearing he was in for he was forced to stop his invigorating training. Years of rigorous training and honing of his skills coiled his body into an alert yet still approachable posture. The looming figure might very well be just one lost wanderer, after all, in need of directions or youth. Rock Lee was without a sliver of doubt a very open-minded fellow that held no prejudice towards the many different kinds of people that roamed the world. He was unbiased to the point that the fact that the approaching figure was a two-headed man with green lipstick did not seem to frazzle him in the slightest. Everybody had their quirks, after all.

"Ohayō, Stranger-san," he greeted cordially. "What brings you to this side of the Fire Country?"

The two-headed stranger stopped in his tracks at the sight of the spandex-clad, bowl-cut shinobi ten feet away from him and snorted in open derision. He would have to fight a flamboyant idiot, it seemed. Well, whatever, at least it would be a quick fight. At any rate his brother wouldn't get impatient and force him to prematurely end a fun fight, for Sakon did not believe that the gaudy teen would be a worthy opponent.

He cracked his knuckles and gave Lee a very derisive leer. "Make it last at least five minutes, will you?"

Lee's caterpillar-like eyebrows steeply arched down. This was not a friendly rover, he recognised. The sole of his sandal shushed against the crispy earth, leaving a small semicircular pattern as he placed his left leg behind him. Knees slightly flexed, he drew back one of his arms to rest on the posterior curve of his pelvis and brought forth his bent at the elbow right arm. Opening his palm, he strained the muscles of his hand into a rigid invitation, as if to say 'Come'.

The baggy greyish shirt whistled against the winds as Sakon lunged at the flashy, unmoving and insultingly welcoming shinobi, one arm drawn back and hand closed into a tight fist ready to strike and wipe off that grating serene look on his foe's face.

Lee brought his left arm up and blocked the incoming punch by forcefully wrapping his fingers around the other's wrist, his lips slightly quirking upwards at the stunned expression on the two-headed shinobi. Swiftly, he forcefully tugged at the clasped wrist towards him, unbalancing his foe, and using it as his axis, he kicked the ground and spun over the heads of the back-facing falling shinobi. He released his hold on the wrist and grabbed the shoulders with his bandaged-covered hands, then dug his knee into his upper spine, a couple of inches below the apparently sleeping extra head.

Sakon's body arched backwards and painfully slammed against the earth. He coughed fitfully, half enraged, half disbelieving at the fact that the glitzy teen had been able to land such a powerful blow like that, making a complete fool out of him. He bared his teeth and used his arms to push himself off the ground. He would not be the one biting the dust at the end of the day.

Sakon glared at Lee, maddened at the fact that the latter was back into his 'Please attack me' pose. He would show that trash. He only hoped that his older brother wouldn't wake up any time soon, because undoubtedly Ukon would let his impatient nature take over and would want the spandex-clad shinobi quickly dealt with. That wouldn't do. Sakon had a lesson to teach. You just do not mess with the second strongest member of the Sound Five.

"What is your purpose, Two-Headed-san?" asked Lee, hoping to glean a bit of information from his assailant. "Why are you attacking me?"

Sakon shrugged his shoulders in a nonchalant yet aloof way. "Orders are orders. But you don't have to worry about that," he spitefully added, rolling his shoulders for good measure, "You Konoha ninja will be dead shortly."

Lee pursed his lips, forfeiting his characteristically jovial attitude. "You shouldn't underestimate the youthful prowess of the Village Hidden in the Leaves, Aggressor-san."

Sakon leered at him, curling his body and tensing his muscles in anticipation. "Perhaps one of you will be able to defeat Jirōbō as the only thing he is good at is stuffing himself. But the rest of you are doomed." He paused then slowly grinned from ear to ear, sending shivers down Lee's spine at the sheer maliciousness the shift of muscles showed. "Oh boy. I would have liked to see Kimimaro in action. Whoever is fighting that beast is already dead." Sakon ran a hand through his grey chin-length hair, and his grin got even wider and nastier, if such a thing were possible. "But don't worry; I won't give you the time to mourn. You'll rejoin your friends shortly. Rejoice."

Lee blinked, confused. It was a futile quest to try to make him understand sarcasm, his teammate Tenten knew well. Therefore, Sakon watched with an arched eyebrow as confusion momentarily swam around the eccentric shinobi's even more eccentric face and then was pushed away. Sakon snorted. He really was facing an idiot. Still, that nitwit had managed to land a very powerful knee kick on his back, and it still very much hurt. He was going to pay for that insolence.

Sakon leant on the balls of his feet and sprinted forward. His arm was already outstretched, ready to land a blow, and Sakon smirked as he watched his opponent's quick moves, who raised both of his bandaged hands to parry Sakon's clout, and then pivoted his hip to elevate his right leg for another crushing strike. It's useless, idiot, "Tarenken!"

Three fists swung at Lee, who had been unable to predict the enemy could sprout extra arms and was flung backwards by the unexpected clobbering. He forced his body into a midair spin and landed on his knees. He touched briefly his sore chest while he frowned at his simpering opponent.

The sound of a bone cracking echoed in the air, and Lee gasped as he watched the extra head, come to life and shift itself in his adversary's body like as if it were liquid. Lee noticed that the two faces, not even an inch from each other, were identical except for the different expressions they bore. While his opponent's had been leering and sadistic, the new one was cross and impatient.

"Oy, Sakon. You've had your fun. Put an end to this already," ordered the extra head in a commanding voice that left no room for objections.

Sakon sighed. "Hai, hai. As you say, big brother." They simultaneously closed their eyes, taking one deep breath. "Let's finish this."

Lee briefly wondered, as he watched in a confused state as a spot-like black pattern slithered up his foe's – or foes'? – faces, whether apart from having two heads and being able to sprout at will extra limbs, they were part Dalmatians, too.


Tenten flicked a kunai in boredom. She didn't want to sound like the second coming of the infamous Nara Shikamaru, but the mission she had been assigned to was turning out to be incredibly troublesome. The sheer tripe she and her team had been forced to put up with was beyond ludicrous. On top of that, they had been sided with a new teammate she knew knowing about. For goodness' sake, he constantly wore a black hood over his head and that Kakashi-style ninja mask getup, so she didn't even know what his face was like. Still, she had to admit that she found those arctic blue eyes mesmerising.

Tenten marshalled her thoughts and brought her mind to her current duty: patrolling the perimeter of the Temple. It was a lonely and tedious job, but it was easy enough. At least she wouldn't have to endure the misogynistic priest's unbearable attitude. She did not envy Hinata's position, not at all.

She sighed, briefly pondering the state in which the Hyūga girl would return. She already had more than enough personality problems. She didn't know Hinata that well, but over the years she had gleaned enough from Neji. Her prodigious teammate gravitated towards introversion – except when he was angry. There had been a fair few times when she had seen him storm through the training grounds and thrown himself in a fit to rest against one of the punching stands. Years of experience had taught Tenten how to deal with him. Patience was a key factor if you didn't want to be at the end of his vicious remarks. Just let him brood for a little bit – or for a long time – in his customary crossed-legged, crossed-arm, and Glare of Death position. When his muscles started slacking, that's when Tenten knew it was safe to approach him.

Tenten rubbed her cheek wearily. Her teammates were all a handful. Even though Neji seemed at first glance to be a well-rounded individual with a good head on his shoulders, she knew better. Her prodigious teammate was very equable and reliable when it came to missions and ninja affairs, but when it came to friendship and social relationships, he was beyond stunted. It was preposterous. But then again, she conceded, she knew basically nothing of the stern ways of the Hyūga Clan. Having been born with unrivalled skill and flair, but never acknowledged the way he should and forced into the role of a servant under the threat of excruciating torture… Yes, Tenten could see where Neji came from, even though he could sometimes exasperate beyond human belief.

A sudden gust of wind, carrying with it an icy, ill-intended, and menacing breeze, snapped Tenten out of her musings. Her gaze slid towards the nearest copse of half-frozen trees, her features schooled into an impassive mask so as to not give away that she had detected a foreign presence. Nothing gave away the prowler's nearness except for the faint, contained aura of bloodlust and malevolence that permeated the air.

She didn't hesitate. She spun the kunai in her hand by the ring of the pommel, then slid her hand over the iron shaft and flung it with dead accuracy at the focal point she had detected in a near coppice. There was a rustle in the thicket, and Tenten knew her senses hadn't fooled her.

She bent her knees and raised her left hand a foot away from her face in a defensive stance, while her other hand moved automatically to grab one of her weapon scrolls. "I already know you are there. There's no point in keeping the pretence. Come out."

But whoever was hiding amongst the copse either hadn't heard her or had decided to completely ignore her request. Considering she hadn't been shy about her voice volume, she thought the first option was highly unlikely. Tenten did not appreciate being ignored. Her rational mind was muted enough as it was by the overwhelming and indomitable force of her quasi bigorexic and dysfunctional squad. A gift in the form of a paper bomb attached to a kunai would surely be proof enough of her displeasure, she thought.


Tenten watched impassively as a red-headed woman with soot on her face emerged from her hiding spot. She was spastically coughing, the hand covering her mouth holding a purple flute, and glaring at her in what Tenten supposed was a threatening manner promising all kinds of torture, but Konoha's weapon mistress remained unflappable. Although inwardly, Tenten wondered what kind of ninja her newfound enemy was, for there was no doubt in her mind that the girl in front of her was a kunoichi. She had never heard of anyone using a musical instrument as a weapon.

"You bleeding wench," hissed the red-headed kunoichi, wiping the soot off her stained face. "You are going to pay for that. Kuchiose no Jutsu!"

Tenten couldn't help the gasp that escaped her lips as three mammoth and ghastly figures appeared out of thin air. One had its entire head covered by sandy hair, the second was bare-chested and hand bandages covering the eye area, and the third's upper body resembled an armless mummy. Like the red-headed kunoichi, they all wore a purple, rope-like braided belt circled in an inverted bow around their waists. Perhaps more disturbing than their undead-like appearance, Tenten thought, was the fact that their mouths were sewn.

Her gaze slid towards the summoner of the three grotesque beings, wondering how she would use them. Her eyes raked the form of the older kunoichi: calm and utterly concentrated on the flute that barely touched her lips.

The sound of a strained melody filled the clearing.


Minato groaned in his office. He told himself he was never drinking again and mentally squashed that jarring little voice in his mind that promptly reminded him in that that was what everyone said before drinking themselves into stupor the following night. He snarled at the resurfacing impish squeak: could it not see that he was in excruciating pain? His head slumped forwards and raised his arms to pull his Hokage cloak over his head in an attempt to protect his stinging eyes from the infernal menace that was the unseasonably bright light flittering through his drape-less window. For once, he hated not having curtains over it.

A small puffing sound accompanied by a wisp of smoke forced the Yondaime to reluctantly lift the cloth over his face, but the gap was only wide enough for one beady, rheum-packed bloodshot eye to catch a glimpse of two webbed, red and small feet placed on his neglected paperwork. He released his hold on his cloak and let his arm collapse, placidly setting his cheek against a wad of more neglected paperwork. Only a couple of hours of sleep that was all he needed. He would be as fit as a fiddle after a two-hour long nap. Definitely.

"Happy New Year, Toad-san, and good night," he slurred, not minding the puddle of drool that was pooling on his makeshift pillow. It would be a bit of an embarrassment and a setback later to find his paperwork blotchy and smeared, but his current mammoth hangover was clouding his rational mind.

But the toad did not seem aware of the Hokage's predicament. "Yondaime, Yondaime, we have an emergency!"

Minato groaned once more, the vibrations of the talking toad's erratic jumping on his table were making him dizzier than he already was. "Oh that's right. We live in a ridiculous world where toads can talk and mountain-sized monsters can be sealed in a baby's gut. Right."

A frantic Kōsuke blinked in disbelief at the Hokage's cavalier attitude. Webbed hands shaking in distress, he forgot for a moment that he was a young tiny toad in the presence of the fabled Yondaime Hokage, and bopped Minato's robe-covered head with the bone he had carried with as much strength as he could muster, which wasn't much more than an annoying little sting, to be honest, but it was torture for the hungover Minato.

The Hokage was jolted straight on his chair and massaged his throbbing head while hatefully glaring at the runt of a toad on his desk, who didn't seem impressed. "What's the meaning of this, Kōsuke-kun?" he asked sourly.

"I'm trying to tell you, Yondaime-sama! Naruto and his team have been ambushed, and they are fighting a set of freaks of nature!" The round-faced amphibian yelled, frantically waving his hands over his head.

Minato blinked. "What? Explain. Now."

Despite his raging headache, Minato was able to push it aside as he devoted his energy and diminished concentration on the agitated toad's explanation. The red-skinned messenger seemed to be very fixated on the fact that one of the enemies used a bone as a weapon, but that wasn't Minato's priority. What raised the alarm bells in his head was that somehow, information that should only be passed from Hokage to Hokage had been leaked. Nobody but the late Sandaime, the Daimyō, and himself should know what was stored inside the vault at the Fire Temple. Not even the monks there were allowed to know. Unless… Unless the advisors were aware. It wouldn't be a far-fetched thought, as two of them had once been the students of the Nidaime Hokage, Senju Tobirama. If Koharu and Homura knew, that could only mean one thing. Minato's stomach churned.


He rubbed his temples in a soothing manner and applied a little chakra to ease the sharp sting of his throbbing headache, even if only a little. Minato tuned out the toad's frantic rambling about the peculiar weapon, but made a point to inspect the bone he had brought, even though it was just for show. However, the moment the blond leader's hands circled over the impossibly-white and edged weapon of sorts, his eyebrows frowned. It wasn't an ordinary bone; he could feel chakra embedded in it. Paying no heed to the still babbling toad, Minato hastily drew two sheets of paper and wrote two harried notes.

"Take this to Naruto, Kōsuke-kun," he ordered, handing the note to the small amphibian, while he folded the second piece of paper and stashed in one of his flak-jacket's pockets.

"What? You want me to return to a battle?" the tiny amphibian faltered, aghast.

Minato pushed back his chair and stood up, "Yes," he ordered in a stern voice that left no room for disobedience and without sparing the consternated toad another glance, he opened his window and jumped onto the tiled roof, his eyes set in the direction of the Uchiha compound.

The cold January weather hissed against his face as he rushed at a frightening speed towards his destination, but he didn't even notice. He had cast away his searing headache; the wind's scratches on his tanned skin meant nothing. Cloak billowing, he silently leapt from rooftop to rooftop, too fast for anyone other than trained shinobi to see. From time to time, in his haste he pushed his sandaled feet against the tiled rooftops with much too force, and the ceramic surface would pitifully crack under the sudden strain. Occasionally, sparse keen ears belonging to some villagers would pick up on the creaking sound and their heads would turn around to search for the source that disrupted the cosy calmness that shrouded the village, but a second later, they would be compelled to pass it off as a figment of their imagination for there was nothing to be seen, only the rustle of wind and spiralling leaves.

Although it didn't take him long to reach the Uchiha compound, Minato felt the journey there had taken him an eon and a day. His bloodshot eyes roamed the silhouette of the imposing wooden entrance, flanked at both sides by the red and white fan that depicted the Uchiha crest. The gate stood as unwelcoming and cold as ever, and he knew that even though he was the Hokage, it was very likely that he wouldn't be allowed entrance – and even if he were, it would be with grudging reluctance. It was fortunate then, he realised, that the two single Uchiha members he fully trusted and valued were talking to each other in hushed tones and worried looks at the entrance.

Both Uchiha clansmen halted their conversation in abrupt silence, shoulders tense, no doubt worrying whether they had been overheard by unwelcome ears. The uncommon brightness of the Hokage's yellow hair and his steely blue eyes put them at ease, and they both let out the breath they didn't know they had been holding. Timid rays of sunlight slithered over their faces, mockingly reflecting on the pasty and unhealthy skin of the two young shinobi.

"Hokage-sama," greeted Itachi cordially, bowing his head in respect, the hilt of his tantō protruding from his back.

"Blondie-chan," saluted Shisui n his characteristic familiar and flirty tone, a soft smile playing on his lips, almost shadowing the black rings under his eyes. "So nice to see you this morning. Are you that eager for my report that you had to come here in person, or are you finally going to succumb to my manly, manly charms?"

Minato shook his head almost imperceptibly, and Shisui knew that instant that the Hokage was there on serious business. He instantly dropped his jovial attitude and went back to his cold and serious ANBU persona.

"Itachi-kun, I need you to send this note to your brother via Kuchiose." Minato dug out the messily-folded piece of paper and handed it to the unfazed Uchiha prodigy. "Sasuke's team is stationed very close to where another team is in trouble," he explained briefly. Perhaps it was unnecessary, but he knew how much Itachi loved his little brother – for reasons Minato couldn't fathom other than blood relation -, but the tiny twitch on the corner of the face of the otherwise unflappable young ANBU captain told Minato that sharing that small bit of information had been the correct choice.

"Hai, Hokage-sama."

Minato watched next to a silent Shisui as a small eagle appeared on Itachi's left arm in a puff of smoke. Itachi murmured a string of inaudible words to the young bird, and attached the note to its talon. The fowl cawed once and nipped one of his summoner's pale fingers before vanishing again.

"Thank you, Itachi-kun," whispered Minato gratefully, the tension coiled around his body slowly unravelling and uncoiling, deflating his frame and allowing the exhaustion and sickly feeling to wash over him once again. "Sorry to interrupt you again, but would you mind if I stole Shisui-kun for a while?"

Itachi shook his head, his loose ponytail swinging behind his head. "No, Hokage-sama, I don't mind. However," he paused to send a wary and warning tone at his perplexed leader, "beware of his advances." The undignified yelp of indignation coming from his cousin brought a small smirk to his lips. "He's been rather frolicsome as of late, and we all know you are his favourite fancy."

Shisui tugged at the tips of his black hair in mock desperation. "Itachi was so cute, and now he's so cheeky. Where did I go wrong in his education?" he moaned, much to Minato's amusement.

"Yes, woe is you, Shisui," deadpanned the younger Uchiha. Pulling at the loose strap of his ANBU armour, Itachi faced the entertained Hokage, silently questioning whether his presence was further needed. Minato instantly grasped what Itachi was quietly hinting at, and with a wave of his hand, he dismissed the young captain, allowing him to leave the theatrical Shisui behind.

"Come on, Shisui, you and I are in for a long day," Minato coaxed him, placing his hand on his shoulder to steer him in the direction of his office.

Shisui perked up immediately, and Minato faltered in his steps as he wondered whether he had activated his bloodline and put him in a genjutsu, for there was no way the little hearts in Shisui's eyes could be real. Warily, he relinquished his hold on the Uchiha and put a couple of feet between them.

"Will there be bondage, and blindfolds, and cuffs involved, Yondy-sama?"

Minato's left eye twitched. "There will be – in a cell and in the company of Ibiki-kun if you keep on dallying." He turned around and began his stride towards the Hokage Tower, faintly smiling as one of his cheekiest subordinates followed him in faked unwillingness. His eyes roved over the still sleeping village, taking in the amount of garbage littered over the empty streets after the New Year's celebration. "News?"

Shisui once again dropped his playful approach. A shadow of uncertainty crept on his face while he rubbed his lower lip in hesitation. "I've got two sets of news, Hokage-sama. Bad news and I-Don't-Know-What-To-Make-Of-This news."

Minato waved at a passing villager with a gentle smile on his face, hiding from view his apprehension at Shisui's words. His gait became slower and more alert, his spine tingling uncomfortably as he resigned himself. "The bad news?"

"You look awful. Seriously. I have half the mind to leave your fanclub."

Minato walked straight into a lamppost.


He couldn't help the unwilling fond smile that crept on his lips at the sight of the doubling-in-laughter ANBU captain. He rubbed his now pink and sore forehead, applying once again chakra to hold at bay the lurking headache, and shook his head in acquiescence. Despite how out of place and inopportune Shisui's jokes were, he was glad the young man could still laugh like that, considering the ever-creeping veil of darkness that surrounded the Uchiha Clan.

"Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist it. Blimey, that was priceless. Pity I didn't have a camera to immortalise the moment our mighty and fearless Hokage crashed against a streetlamp," he wheezed, wiping the tears off his pale face. "Sorry, I'll be serious now."

Minato arched an eyebrow in disbelief.

Shisui sighed. "Nothing. There was absolutely nothing. There were still traces left of the fight, despite it happening such a long time ago, but no corpse was ever buried there." At the enquiring look from his superior, Shisui took a deep breath before launching an explanation. "When a person dies, the chakra seeps out of them. If a person is slain in battle, the spot where they died will have a blotch that can last for a very long time, depending on the strength of their chakra. If someone with a particularly strong chakra is buried, then the mark should be much stronger. And considering whose corpse you have assigned me to look for, I'm positive it shouldn't have waned in the span of fifty years."

Minato sighed wearily. "It was wishful thinking it would be that easy. Have you had breakfast yet, Shisui? We can discuss the next location over a hot cup of tea."

Shisui seemed to be in deep thought, if the crease on his forehead was a good indicator. After a few seconds, he made up his mind and smiled mischievously at Minato. "All right. But can it be in bed? And clothing optional?"


The handsome black-haired teen inspected the note carefully, the sun illuminating his slightly annoyed features as his eyes raked over the even more than usual illegible handwriting. He tore the piece of paper into minuscule pieces and cast them away, sprinkling tiny particles over the blanket of frosty grounds. He tightened his armguards over the alabaster skin of his forearm and lower bicep and donned his flak-jacket before deftly casing his trusty chokutō in its leather sheath, draped diagonally on his back.

Leaning on a tree, he turned his head to the small creek where his two teammates were cleaning their weapons and other utensils. "Sakura, Kabuto - we've got work to do."


A/N: OK, let me explain two things that I thought may bring some controversy in this chapter. The first is, quite obviously, Hinata. Before some of you may start complaining that she is much out of character, hear me out, please.

Hinata has been brought down all of her life, and in this story's case, she didn't have the little ray of sunshine that Naruto is. She did, however, still have the love and trust from Kurenai, Kiba, and Shino. In my opinion, Hinata could've out in three different ways: A) Incredibly angry; B) Clinically depressed; and C) Almost suicidal. Option A is out. I can't see Hinata behaving like psycho-Sasuke. Option B would indeed be the most logical and common choice – but I can't work with a character to whom I wish I could force-feed antidepressants. Option C is the only one left for me – so I'm going to explain it a bit.

Hinata doesn't really want to live anymore because she considers her life is worthless. However, she can't outright just slash her veins because there are three people (namely, Kurenai, Shino, and Kiba), who value her and trust her, so she can't bring herself to disappoint them. However, she still doesn't want to live that much. She may go to extremes in battle missions, because if she is KIA, she at the same time gets her wish, and doesn't think she will disappoint her team. Also, she believes that perhaps, if she dies in the line of duty and in a somewhat memorable way, her father will be able to remember her 'fondly' instead of the usual contempt.

Second thing, Shisui. Yes, I made him gay. No, I'm not changing it. I've given his personality too much thought to change it, and I really like it. No, he won't get vulgar in his advances. Some innuendo here and there is funny, but too much and it just gets gross.

Oh, Jirōbō's technique. Yeah, I can't find it in Japanese. Not even Narutopedia has it in Japanese.

I might have to up the rating to 'M' because of violence and bad language. Seriously, there's Tayuya. That alone is reason enough to use a higher rating. I wonder if using bad words in Japanese will allow me to keep the 'T' rating, although perhaps that is wishful thinking.

Second A/N (25/08/2012)

I have two important things to share with you readers.

The first is that I'm a nitwit and forgot to put in the last chapter's end note that I have upcoming exams at med school. So it's going to take me at least another month to write the next chapter (fanfiction is on hold for me at the moment).

Second thing, you might remember that I had said I had a theory about Tobi's identity that did not involve anyone descended from the Rikkudou, the Sage himself included (which obviously rules out any Uchiha, Uzumaki, and Senju)? As of this week's manga chapter, I've realised I'm running out of time. So I have modified the prologue, and added an extra scene. Many of you, I'm sure, will figure out now who I intend Tobi to be.

I don't really care if the theory is right or wrong, I'm actually hoping I'm wrong about it. I will keep the identity I had planned for Tobi regardless of Kishimoto-sensei's revelations.

Oh – big thanks to Falcon777, whose insight and knowledge of the Naruto world are invaluable.

Until next time,