While Sasuke sulks over being left out of the hunt for his eternal rival and Sakura is reminded of why she got over him and his past incarnation, the biju's Council of Nine finally ends in the biju and their tag-alongs taking a jaunt through space-time into the spirit realm. There the rescue party split into groups, each with their own idea of where to look. Meanwhile, Roki, Naruto, and Dark Naruto have a tea party and chat about the local weather.


Dear siblings, the letter began, I hope this finds you in good health.

I am writing at the behest of Konoha's Hokage, who thought I should inform you of my plans to travel into another dimension for an unknown length of time before I run off, leaving my loyal subjects to believe I have been abducted, and start a war. Yes, I think it is a very fine idea that I write this letter, thus preserving international relations and preventing that pretty, pink haired jounin from having a nervous breakdown. I am very considerate and conscious and would NEVER DREAM OF—

No. That was all wrong. Sakura sighed tiredly. She had spent the better part of three hours dictating letters for Suna's council—by which was meant she spent three hours rewording the same letter, with various levels of rage, while desperately trying to impersonate the Kazekage. If he hadn't wanted to be impersonated he shouldn't have been inconsiderate enough to skive off to the spirit realm without bothering to tell his subjects that Konoha hadn't kidnapped him.

Sakura's real trouble was that she doubted Gaara had ever written a missive in his life. Call it a hunch, but the young Kazakage just didn't give off a 'got my paperwork in order' vibe.

And Sakura would know. Sakura had a private army hidden within the village walls made entirely out of clerical-nin who worshiped her as a guardian spirit. And that wasn't even to mention the med-nin who saw her as a minor god. But that was neither here nor there.

So after hours of a steadily worsening headache and zero luck with the wording, she decided on a straight forward missive explaining everything. Sending a note explaining that their head of state hadn't been kidnapped usually wouldn't do much good, but Suna had been Konoha's closest ally for years. Plus, they had met Naruto and Gaara. Suna would get it.

Dear Temari and Kankuro—Sakura's mind flew to the possible consequences of pissing Kankuro off by mentioning him second and started over. Dear Kankuro and Temari—Sakura froze as she visualized the even worse results of insulting Temari and quickly switched to Dear siblings of the Kazekage—too formal—Dear Gaara's sibling—too familiar—Dear Kazekage siblings-san—Perfect.

One line down already, this was going great.

After several more hours, she finally felt satisfied with her work. With a deep sigh, Sakura leaned back and said, "Okay, I think that's about right. Did you get all that, Fude-san?"

Fude-san stared myopically down at the scroll she had been scribbling the missive down on. Sakura would be concerned, but the elderly clerical-nin had been blinking at the bright light that could be found outside the deep sealing libraries since she had wandered into Sakura's office to act as her scribe. "I think I've got it, Haruno-chan."

Sakura twitched, but held the comment back between her teeth. Sakura would normally never allow a stranger to call her Haruno-chan anymore, but Fude-san looked old enough to be her grandmother's grandmother, and that won her some freedom. If Sakura were a civilian that would be because civilians believed elders should be respected because they were elders, which seemed like lazy, circular reasoning to Sakura's shinobi mind. But Sakura was a shinobi, and elders were to be respected because they had lived to old age, which was completely logically sound. For a shinobi to live long enough to become an elder, they had to be…very dangerous.

Looking at Fude-san, with her oversized glasses, messy white hair pinned in place by used ink brushes, and ponderous expression, Sakura had no idea how or why the woman had lived so long. Which just made her survival to advanced age even more alarming.

So Sakura would stay polite.

Meanwhile in the Hokage tower's inner chambers, the war council was still hung up on basic questions. Questions like: How did one go about fighting a samurai? Could those weird sword wielding guys even use jutsu? And the ever popular: Why are we at war again?

"But what I don't get," Kakashi said, "is if the phoenix possessed Naruto… why didn't it just go right back to Iron Country?" He looked around the room to see if anyone else might have an idea.

Tsunade stood to her feet and slammed her palms on her desk. "Those bastards! The nobles of Iron Country staged this whole thing and—"

"Stop trying to make the war their fault, Hokage-sama," Shizune said, anger ticking at her brow. "It's not going to work."

Tsunade crossed her arms and huffed. "I don't see why you're getting so upset over this, Shizune."

The woman shook her head in disbelief. "You declared war for no reason, Lady Tsunade. I think that deserves some censure! We actually had a chance for peace in our time, and we squandered it due to impatience and poor planning. Think of how your honored grandfather would feel!"

Tsunade snorted. "Oh please, my little blunder has nothing on the other Hokage. At least we were already on the brink of conflict. All I did was declare war on the right village."

What Tsunade was referencing was the little known series of clerical errors precipitated by the offices of the first though third Hokage that had caused either minor miracles—the first Hokage's image being carved into the mountain instead of painted in a portrait that was meant to be commission for instance—or major political fallout.

An example? How about that the reason Mist and Rock were allies had nothing to do with anything the two villages may or may not have had in common. An alliance just turned out to be too much of a good thing to pass up when they always seemed to be warring on Konoha at the same time. But why did that keep happening? Because one of the secretaries who served the first three Hokage couldn't tell the two villages apart and kept sending declarations of war to one when the village meant to make war on the other. They then had to declare war on the right village, but the council was too embarrassed to take back the first declaration, thus creating a war on two fronts. It was the deepest, darkest secret of the Konoha Clerical Association.

But, an astute listener may ask, why and how was such an incompetent secretary allowed to remain in such a position for all those years? That was over a fifty year period and the average lifespan for even a clerical shinobi was only forty-three years. Well the answers were simple and the same. Because Uzumaki Fude was the only relative brought along with Uzumaki Mito when she married into the Senju clan and moved to Konoha, and Fude was very, very good at what she did.

Mind, that wasn't being a secretary. She was horrible at that. What she did do was create privacy seals so powerful their existence was still only a myth among other villages and transportation seals so intuitive that they gave Tobirama the idea for the Harishin. She just couldn't be trusted to send a letter. And once the first few mistaken scrolls were sent, why, she was just shuffled out of the general secretarial pool and kept carefully sequestered away in the seal library where any good Uzumaki was happiest anyway. Sure, every once in a while the woman would feel duty bound to go looking for a standard clerical-nin task to do, but as long as there was a clerical-nin standing she would be quietly redirected back to her comfy sealing desk. It wasn't hard to dissuade her. Fude-san, a very good Uzumaki, and was so happy there that she hadn't even ventured out enough to figure out that her old village had been razed to the ground. And no one had the heart—or the lack of brains—to tell her.

"Oh, speaking of which," Tsunade said, snapping her fingers as a memory came to her, "I got a few missives from the other villages yesterday. We have to send a liaison out to talk to all of the other kage."

"What?" Koharu asked, frowning. "Why?"

Waving a dismissive hand, Tsunade said, "Naruto got rather close with most of them during the war, so the letters were all about the same. Something about worrying over not getting one of Naruto's letters for a while, not trusting us to treat him fairly, and threatening us to produce him unharmed or feel their wrath. You know how it is."

By the looks on the elders' faces, they did not know how it was.

Sakura though? She wasn't even there and she knew.

At about this time, Naruto's body was sitting in a tree, looking up at some crows on a higher branch and grumbling unhappily. "Stupid, good for nothing rats of the sky. Gossiping hoodlums." He looked down at his feet, swinging in the wind. "They wouldn't even talk to me, as if I'm not good enough for their conversations."

He swallowed past the lump in his throat and looked down at his hands. "What good are thumbs if I can't even fly? I thought ninja were supposed to be able to do amazing things. 'Ohhh, I can get all the way to the tippy top of a tree.' Big deal." He sighed. "This bites."

He paused, shook his head, and lept to the ground to land with barely a whisper of a breeze. "On the other hand: thumbs." He bent down, swiped a pebble from the ground, and then, with a bare glance in their direction, flicked the pebble soaring towards the gossiping twits. He didn't hit any of them, but they scattered in all directions with indigent screeches to light their way. Roki snorted happily. "There is that though." With a laugh and a renewed lightness to his steps, he continued on his way down the path.

"What I don't understand," Naruto said from the back of his mind, "is why you gave up so easy. You could've just asked them to play with you."

"I," Roki said, drawing himself up to Naruto's full height, "am a guardian deity. I don't just go around begging crows to play with me." But Naruto could feel the nervous flutter in his own gut that meant Roki was just scared he'd be turned away.

"Let me do it next time," Naruto offered. "I can show you how it's done."

"Besides the fact that I doubt you speak crow," Roki said, "I already told you: I can't leave the body because you ingested me and my cells have become enmeshed in your cells, I've been fully incorporated into this body—and because I am divine I cannot ceed control of the body to you."

Dark Naruto stirred in the depths of their mind. With a feeling like stretching out cramped limbs, he murmured, "We're technically a semi-divine being."

"What are you talking about?" Roki asked, stopping on the path. With a shrug he let himself drop back into the blond's inner world, leaving the body to stop and stare vacantly down the street.

(Several meters behind him, Thug-san and Thug-chan started a furiously whispered argument about what it was he found so interesting in the bushes.)

"Asura's grandmother was a goddess," Dark Naruto explained to the phenix as he showed up at the sewer-room table. At Naruto's obvious confusion, Dark Naruto huffed. "Asura, your past life. Remember?"

"I know that. But I don't know if that really counts," Naruto argued. "That was Asura's bloodline, not mine. I mean, I'm my own descendant—a lot my own descendant, which doesn't get any less weird—but that was way back when. Literally over a thousand years of new blood has been mixed in since then."

"What do you think a spirit is?" Roki asked, sharing a long look with the Dark version of his host.

"A…soul?" Naruto hazarded to guess.

"Exactly," Dark Naruto agreed. "It has nothing to do with the flesh you're wearing, bonehead. You were born into the same family again and again, always a direct descendent, redoubling the blood each time."

"I can't be that godly," Naruto argued. "Roki just said I can't take the body back because he's more divine than me."

"Yeah, he's a minor god and you're still only semi-divine," the other agreed. "But Kaguya was a pretty big time goddess, and your messed up psyche doesn't play fair," Dark Naruto explained.

"What are you talking about?"

There was an earth shaking tremor throughout their inner world as if something under the crust of the earth was rumbling in interest.

"Oh yeah," Naruto said, eyes wide. "That guy."

The curse of Kaguya was deeper and more vicious than it at first appeared, and not even intentionally on the goddess' part. Kaguya was a deity. And godhood is more than blood deep. Her descendants were—if only in part—part god. Semi-divine. Such a person could not be reborn into a purely mortal body. So all of her descendants could only be reborn back into Kaguya's own bloodline.

This was the first part of Kaguya's two fold curse. The second part was knowing that.

Sakura knew a lot of things she wished she didn't, partially because she was subjected to Tsunade on a daily basis and partially because the second Hokage had known a lot of things and—through a cosmically hilarious series of coincidences and ancestral schadenfreude—Sakura had grown into remembering all of them.

It was mostly her—his own fault though. Tobirama had been a genius. Worse, he had been curious. The second Hokage's most elaborate technique, Edo Tensei, was originally intended to reanimate the dead and bring back lost souls. It even worked, which was as impressive as it was terrifying. But even after such success, Tobirama never rested on his laurels. So when looking upon the jutsu that caused a thousand holy men and a hundred gods to stop and tremble in fear, instead of deciding he had gone far enough…he had a thought.

What would happen if he attempted to bring back someone who had already been reincarnated? Would the new life end? Would the old life be reformed? Could he find a way to link each life back like a chain through the cycle of reincarnation? He wanted to know. And Tobirama himself seemed like a perfectly good test subject. He searched deep within himself using his new jutsu and looked for the answer of who he had been before his current life. And he remembered.

This was the beginning of the worst of Kaguya's curse. Because it wasn't much of a curse until you considered that two of the main families of her blood had been at war for millennia.

For some, the issue never got worse than a bit of awkwardness when they subconsciously realized they were their own grandmother or that the nephew they used to babysit was now their father-in-law.

Those were the lucky ones.

As in most things, Tobirama was not lucky in rebirth. The simple explanation was that his soul didn't seem to have a preference for which side of the clan divide it settled in. Add to that a time in the Uchiha-Senju war that grew particularly vicious, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Most of what Tobirama uncovered from his memory-no-jutsu were flashes of lives too quickly lived. In the first life he remembered, his name had been Uchiha Rei. Rei was murdered in cold blood at two years of age by a squad of Senju. In his next life he was reborn as Senju Hitomi, firstborn of one of the clan's combat generals. Little Hitomi's last memory was sitting up in her crib as Uchiha Rei's father set upon her, knife raised, with tears on his face and hate in his eyes. The cycle continued like this for a time, longer than Tobirama was at all comfortable thinking about. A series of short lives cut shorter in vengeance for themselves. It left his eyes crossing to think about it.

He did uncover memories of one life where he was born into the Hyuuga clan, lived a moderately productive life, and had three children with a loving wife. Tobirama decided that he liked the Hyuuga clan right up until he remembered that he had died in that life by angering a clan elder and having his brain liquified via caged bird seal. For the rest of his life—from the time he cast that jutsu to his death—Tobirama prayed every night to his ancestors—all of them—to be reborn into a civilian family. Any civilian family.

But ancestor spirits were once people, and ninja have a sick sense of humor on the whole, and Tobirama could only be reborn as one of Kaguya's descendants anyway. That being said, even Tobirama's relatives knew the boy really had had terrible luck. And he had begged awfully politely—at least after the first few years when he got over that whole cursing Jag. So the ancestors did their best. They found a small branch of the Uzumaki clan that had married into a merchant caravan and settled in Konaha. The Uzumaki-descended merchant family was only distantly related to Kaguya, but closely enough to count. Even the coloration had stayed true to their roots. Mostly.

So at four years old, Sakura looked into a mirror and, without quite knowing why, thought to herself, "Pink hair, huh? So that's the way you want to play it."

"Gaara's been abducted," Kankuro told Tamari, looking up from a letter clutched in his hands. "I mean, I think that's what happened. That might be what happened. I would say an academy student is playing a prank, but this was written on official letterhead and delivered by the Hokage's own slug summons. So I think Gaara's been abducted and whoever wrote this might be having a stroke."

"What?" his sister said, looking up from her pile of paperwork to stare at her brother.

"This is a letter from the office of the Hokage," Kankuro explained. "Except first it claims to be a letter from Gaara, then it goes into a rambling, vitriol filled rant about people who don't finish their paperwork in a timely fashion and cause trouble for others, and then politely explains that Gaara went on a trip through dimensions and won't be back for a while. I don't know what to say. You read it."

"Let me see that," Tamari said, ripping the paper out of his hands. She read for a long second before letting the tension seep out of her shoulders. "No, Gaara's just gone and done something dumb during a rescue mission."

Kankuro raised a skeptical brow. "Are you sure about that?"

"Yes," she said, then paused. "… Let's go to Konoha, just in case. We'll bring a battalion or two."

Every few months Sasuke got sent out on a mission that he was entirely unsuited for, being neither within his security clearance nor the very narrow range of tasks he was temperamentally suited to complete. Tsunade argued the missions were arranged in an effort to get him to engage in village life, which Naruto bought hook-line-and-sinker every time. This meant that he couldn't refuse without the Dobe causing more of a fuss than Sasuke was willing or able to put up with. The truth, which everyone else knew throughly well, was that Tsunade wanted a break from Sasuke's unique mix of drama and emo sulking.

Sasuke was not amused, but this one time he was almost grateful to be included—he wanted to help find the Dobe too—so as he and Sakura headed out of the village gates with the diplomatic convoy, he tried not to cause trouble. He kept up the charitable mood all the way up to their actual arrival at their destination when he realized that not only was this the single most boring mission he had been on since the end of the Fourth Shinobi War, but that his role was basically to stand around and look pretty and Uchiha at people.

He hadn't been sent to Kumo to argue their case or act as one of Konoha's diplomats. He was Sakura's escort. Sasuke was playing the muscle. Sakura's muscle.

It was a joke. Possibly, considering Tsunade was the one to send him, it was also an insult. He would get back at the hag later, but he was doing this for Naruto.

If you asked him, Sasuke would place the blame for this whole thing squarely on Naruto. Sasuke had a bad habit of placing blame for things that irritated him squarely on Naruto, but in this one case, Sasuke was actually right.

Because as Sakura stood before the Raikage and his brother, and earnestly explained the whole sordid affair with the chicken dinner and the biju invasion and the unnecessary dimensional travel, it occurred to Sasuke that only for the Dobe would a ninja village have to go to its once-enemies and explain how they had misplaced their own kage candidate. This shouldn't have been the business of anyone outside Konoha. And yet: Naruto. And so it was.

Also, he didn't want Sakura to murder him in his sleep. So Sasuke stood tall and mind numbingly bored as Sakura tried to explain how all of this had happened without sparking off a war that they couldn't control.

From his teammate's expression, it was both far easier—it was actually a fairly straight forward series of events—and far harder than it sounded. Though Sasuke couldn't quite decipher why that might be. Sakura's face had that mask-like quality it got when she was desperately suppressing the urge to throttle someone it would be political unwise to throttle. Sasuke couldn't say way though.

Killer B had opened his mouth and said," Yo yo—" and then some kind of blaring noise had washed over Sasuke's brain that he refused to interpret as speech.

So Sasuke took that time to tune out the ongoing argument in front of him—he could look plenty pretty and Uchiha without trying—and turn back toward the wall in another attempt train his new eye to set flame to curtains by pure will the way his old one could.

And in true Naruto-fashion, random chance and sheer unpreparedness lead directly to success. But considering Sakura was also involved—unlucky Tobirama's reincarnation—the universe couldn't make it too easy.

That was why as Sasuke stared blankly out the window down on the North facing main market street of Kumo, he just noticed a bright blond head of hair wandering down the street to the South.


Author's Note: Next chapter we'll be back to see what the Duckies are up to in the Spirit Realm!

...It has been so long at this point I don't know if anyone is still reading this thing, but we're moving along toward the ending here folks. I hope you enjoyed the chapter.

In completely unrelated news (but related to why this chapter took so long), I am nearly done with my first original novel. It's an action/adventure story about a young man caught up in an ancient feud between two waring factions of vampires. I'm looking for two or three people to look it over for big picture criticism, first impressions on characters, pacing, voice, and I'd appreciate it if you tell me about any plot holes you spot. Please message me for more details if you would be interested!