On a bright afternoon hundreds of miles away from the unmourned and un-noted death of a nameless Iwa Chuunin, who in the very few seconds he'd had, failed to cover enough distance in his shunshin to escape from the shockwave of the meteorite strike inflicted on the Fourth Division by a resurrected Uchiha Madara, Terumi Mei was sitting at her desk in the royal palace of the Fire Nation Capital, absently twirling her hair with her right hand in an empty, empty room. She was supposed to be signing off on a supplies acquisition – that and a mound of similarly menial but absolutely essential paperwork for the war effort.

Why was she twirling her extensive mane of hair? Because the famously beautiful kunoichi was testing for split ends. Because, why the hell not?

I am so bored. Of the five Kage, why do I have to be the quartermaster…? Ao is at the headquarters busy co-ordinating the sensor-nin, Chojuro-kun is still outside – he has been since yesterday, that young fool; he needs some sleep - using Himamekarei to keep the Black Zetsu restrained while our interrogators work on him, and according to all of Ao and Inoichi's messages relayed from the field, Uzumaki Naruto has basically won the war all on his own. All that's left is the masked man who calls himself Madara…

There is no way that it's going to be this easy. Madara has, as far as we know, been preparing for this war for seventy years. He's likely to have more surprises aside from the statue that he wrecked the First Division with, and this army of Zetsu. Where did he even get those..? And supposedly he's wearing a different mask than the one we saw at the Gokage summit, and he now has one Rinnegan? Was he hiding it for this entire time? And what is he planning with the artifacts of the Sage that he stole from the First Division?

Enough of this. I'm sick of not being in the field. I understand why A-dono and Shikaku of Konoha agreed that it was best to have my men and I guard the Daimyo – not even Tsunade's clan is considered to be as noble as mine - but it's so boring. I was tired of being a princess by the time I was six years old…that's why I chose to be a kunoichi instead of going into the family shipping conglomerate or politics. And look at me! I still wound up becoming the thing I most despise in the world….a politician. I never wanted to be Mizukage! But by the time we defeated Yagura two years ago, there was literally no one else qualified to take the job. They were all dead or had gone traitor. Why did Zabuza-kun have to die….? He managed to defeat or evade Yagura's hunter-nin for over five years, before getting killed by Hatake Kakashi only a few months before Yagura's final defeat. He was one of Kiri's greatest loyalists, to the true ideal of Kirigakure and not the monster of a village it became under Yagura. Despite his beginnings as the "Demon of the Mist", by the end of his tenure, he was the only member of the Seven Swordsmen who wasn't dead, evil, or completely insane. The only decent human being from among them. He was supposed to rule alongside me….that's why we agreed on that night, eight years ago, that if our coup failed he would take the blame and flee the village, while I continued to work in the minor islands, rallying support from the survivors and refugees of the bloodline purges. He was the only man who was ever brave enough to call me beautiful to my own face….goddamnit. In time, I could have come to love him, if we'd only had a chance…

Bitterly sighing in regret at the things that could and should have been, Mei looked up. Some pipsqueak grandson of the Fire Daimyo's had entered the room, accompanied by his Ninja Guardian, a particularly large example of Konoha's Akimichi clan…the young lord couldn't have been older than eight.

Mei asked brightly, beaming, "What can I do for you, young lord?" Mei had always had a soft spot for children, even if they were related to one of her nation's greatest enemies.

The child shifted nervously. It couldn't have been easy for such a young child to introduce himself to the leader of the Bloody Mist, even if she was a guest in his own home.

"C….can you make Naruto nii-chan stay here? I know he's really busy, and he's not really a part of the Ninja Army, but can you….?" The child looked up at Mei, who was still sitting down, arms crossed and hands folded under her chin, with wide and hopeful eyes.

Mei considered him, tilting her head in a questioning glance. Naruto hadn't been in the Fire Capital for that long. He'd only arrived during the battle against the Black Zetsu yesterday afternoon. How did he know the first grandson of the Daimyo of the Fire Nation?

The child seemed to gain some confidence, after taking a gulp. "My friend Inari, from Wave, has been telling me all about Naruto nii-chan for months, ever since the Battle of Konoha. Naruto's so famous here in the Capital, and now that I'm able to meet him, he's even cooler than I thought he would be! He's so nice! And he showed me all kinds of cool moves, and told me all about his adventures. I know he's really busy, and you can't really order him around, but can you please ask him to stay for a while longer?"

Mei considered this, she really did. The circumstances of this meeting were now clear. The name Inari was known to her…the only grandson and male heir of Tazuna, the carpenter and self-trained engineer who, with Hatake's and Naruto's help, had freed the Wave Country from Gato almost four years ago.

Oh, Zabuza-kun….

The prior Daimyo of Wave had been completely complicit in Gato's extraction of all movable value from the country, and after the rogue capitalist's death at Zabuza's hands, the people of Wave had unceremoniously thrown the rotten, self-serving bastard and his supporting staff out of the country with only the clothes on their back. Even to this day, the only foreign nations that officially recognized Wave's new leadership were Konoha and Kiri, the former diplomatic recognition taking place some months after the fact due to personal pressure from the Sandaime Hokage and the merchant class of the Fire Capital who found access to Wave's Great Naruto Bridge to be a much more profitable relationship than aiding a fallen Daimyo who had, in any case, stolen much money from them, with the latter diplomatic recognition taking place only once Mei took charge. Wave was still officially without a Daimyo, but was under pressure to appoint either Tazuna or his daughter Tsunami as the next one – the lesson being that no Elemental Nation, no matter how minor, could be permitted to entirely forgo the Daimyo system, which had been self-perpetuating for countless centuries. Daimyo were, as a general rule, deathly allergic to popular uprisings and would go to incredible expense to suppress all of them, anywhere in the world, supporting even their own worst enemies in the process so long as it meant that they weren't overthrown and killed by mere rabble peasantry. It was an "I scratch your back, you scratch my back" status quo that had persisted for centuries and quickly defeated all attempts at imposing a new governing order, with the exception of Uzushiogakure's democracy – a powerful reason for the alliance of Wind, Kumo, and Iwa, who blasted Uzu from the face of the earth by unleashing several Jinchuuriki in a surprise attack – no attack of normal shinobi would have been sufficient to overcome the small nation's fuinjutsu defenses, whatever their numbers. Wave Daimyo's problem was that he had been such a petty, short-sighted bastard that he'd managed to alienate his foreign allies – if he hadn't managed that, he would probably still be in charge, despite his crimes against his own people.

It seems as though the principal heirs of Fire and Wave countries have been getting to know one another…makes sense. Wave is now by far the quickest growing economy of the oceanic Elemental Nations. Access to its bridge and superior ports has quickly become essential for any merchants importing goods into the Fire Capital – the Piraeus has been at capacity for generations and its ports cannot be physically expanded any more than they already have been, acting as a bottleneck on the Capital's growth. The merchant advisors of the Fire Daimyo must be wanting to solidify the relationship between the two countries by making the two heirs friends with one another. Clever of them. Disgustingly manipulative, politicking and playing with the emotions of mere children, but it looks like some good has come out of this regardless.

Her considering finished, Mei brightly smiled at the child and asked "what is your name, young lord?"

The child, who had been starting to fidget under Mei's inquisitive stare – she had taken her time in answering, responded, "Raiden, pretty lady. My name is Raiden."

Mei laughed. "It's good to see that you know how to compliment a lady at your young age, young lord! It's interesting that the Daimyo of the Fire Nation chose that of all names for you. To answer your question, I can't really order Uzumaki Naruto to stay. He's outside of the Shinobi Alliance's command structure – he never officially received a headband of the Alliance, and no one is brave enough to tell someone as powerful as him to start following orders – even if he's still officially a genin."

A genin still? How ridiculous….

Mei continued. "Also, that's not really Naruto. It's a Shadow Clone of his." Seeing the black haired and blue eyed child's curious and slightly disturbed look, she clarified, "Oh, it's Naruto's personality all right. If you meet the real Naruto, he will know and remember everything about his visit to the Capital, including you. The Shadow Clone technique is a powerful forbidden jutsu that allows the user to imbue a chakra construct of themselves with a…echo of their soul, is the best way to describe it. Unlike every other kind of clone technique we know of, it allows to user to duplicate their very personality, putting it into a new, but weaker and temporary body, while keeping any memories of their clone's experiences after it dies. As you've already realized," she said, seeing the child's astonished look "it's an incredibly powerful technique. A frequent user like Naruto can't really be said to be a single person….a legion of one person, perhaps. Because the Naruto who is here is a clone, I have to admit, it would feel a little strange to give a clone orders – no matter how much like the real Naruto he is."

The child, who had been growing more and more astonished as he listened, eagerly asked "How can a jutsu so powerful exist?! It sounds like you could use it to do anything…have your clone read books, go to meetings instead of you, do your chores…why is Naruto nii-chan the only person I've ever heard of using it?"

Mei liked this child's curiosity. Hopefully he would grow up to be less of a bastard than his father. With Naruto's influence, he probably would. "Naruto, because of the demon he has within him, can use the jutsu in unique ways. For most genin and chuunin shinobi, using the technique to create even one clone would kill them outright, and even powerful jounin like me can only use the technique a few times, because every use splits half of our chakra. We can get some of the chakra back if the clone dies, but the loss in transmission is very large and increases with distance. Because Naruto has so much chakra though, he only needs to put in a relatively small amount of his chakra before the clone is filled to the brim – the technique doesn't have the capacity to split his chakra in half before it overloads – and because his chakra is so powerful, he doesn't lose much if any chakra due to the transmission loss. You can compare it a little to how a high voltage current will lose much less electricity due to heat radiation than a low voltage current, even if the wattage is the same…." Mei trailed off, seeing the child's glazing eyes. "I see this is going a little over your head." Mei smiled. "Don't worry about it. You just need to know that, as far as you need to be concerned, that's the real Naruto. But the only one who can ask him to stay is you – but please don't distract him too much. He's meditating in the courtyard to gather chakra for the real Naruto hundreds of miles away, and he shouldn't be distracted too much while he's doing that. Bring him candy or ramen – something with lots of calories. I'm sure he'll appreciate it."

The child answered her smile with his own. "Thanks, pretty lady! I'll go to Naruto nii-chan, but I won't disturb him too much." Raiden looked up to his guard "Sorifu-chan, let's go!"

Mei inwardly laughed, her amusement clear in her eyes. The young lord was comfortable enough with his six foot eight, six-hundred-pound guard to call him chan. How amusing.

As the two left the immense office, Raiden looked back at Mei "Thanks, pretty lady! I like you. Come visit again sometime after this war ends!"

Mei beamed at the child. "That I will, Raiden-chan. Hopefully someday."

As the door closed, with the Akimichi guard Sorifu still looking sheepish at how the young lord called him chan in front of the Mizukage herself, Mei inwardly sighed happily. Children unspoiled by war truly were the hope of the future. If there was a hope of a lasting peace in the Elemental Nations that didn't involve Madara's arrogant and skin-crawlingly disturbing methods, it was in children like Raiden – the thing in the Elemental Nations most worth protecting. Mei knew that the War of the Bloody Mist had ended too shortly ago for a generation of children like Raiden to really begin emerging, but given the outpouring of babies in the misty village after their long nightmare had finally ended, she knew that that time would come soon. It was for them that she would remain Mizukage for the foreseeable future.

Hopefully I can find a husband myself at some point...and on the subject of Naruto….

After we stopped the Black Zetsu from taking the Daimyo hostage yesterday, the Naruto clone used his sage techniques to feel out for more enemies…and he couldn't sense any for hundreds of miles. The clone is now gathering chakra for the real Naruto…or trying to, anyway, when Raiden-chan and the Daimyo aren't pestering it with questions. Naruto needs more of an education on how to deal with nobles, at least enough to tell them as politely as possible to go away. You'd think that after what he pulled off in the former Snow Country, Tsunade would arrange for her all but official successor some training in feudal etiquette…especially given that the country's Daimyo, the former actress Koyuki Kazahana, is according to my spy preparing to court him once he turns 18. Lucky kid. Spring Country is one of the wealthiest of the elemental nations for its reserves of natural resources and oil. The country could earn an even greater fortune if they started selling their chakra armor…but they are keeping that technology locked up tight for their own use. My spy still hasn't gotten any of the blueprints. If anything though, Koyuki would be marrying up. If we can trust what we're seeing in these reports coming from the field, Naruto is probably the most powerful man in the world except for Madara – and at the age of sixteen, even if he's nearly seventeen! If I was younger myself….

Shaking her resplendent mane of hair, Mei of the ancient and powerful Terumi clan finally stood up from her desk overlooking the grounds of the palace of the Fire Nation's daimyo, built into the side of an extinct volcano overlooking the Capital. After standing, Mei turned around and faced the forty foot wide window taking up an entire wall of this office – the facility typically used by the Hokage when visiting the Fire Capital.

It's nice to be able to see the entire city from here…but I can see why a man as noble as the Sandaime Hokage tried not to visit the Capital too often, no matter how nice this office is.

The office wasn't to her taste, decked out in mahogany and furs from the royal forests raised by Senju Hashirama himself for the Fire Daimyo's personal use. The austere architecture of her home, typically relying on water-cut and polished volcanic rock like obsidian and granite, was much more to her tastes.

If Mei could appreciate nothing else about her inglorious posting in this war effort, she could certainly appreciate her first time ever visiting the Capital – the greatest port city in the elemental nations, prospering from its great and ancient hub of trade, the Piraeus. The Fire Capital was one of the oldest cities in the elemental nations, and had become hugely wealthy from its business-friendly tax policies and benevolent policy towards corporate corruption and espionage. The business community was dominated by law, banking, shipping interests, real estate, and other similarly parasitic sectors. Entrepreneurs could never survive in a city where the rule of law was written by and for wealthy monopolists. As a matter of necessity, the Terumi clan, overseeing the world's most powerful shipping company, had a major branch office in this city. Mei's older brother, heir to the clan itself, was currently in charge of this branch office and had been for the past decade. Competent leadership of this, the most important regional headquarters for the Terumi shipping conglomerate aside from the true headquarters, which had recently been moved back to Kirigakure itself after Yagura's death, had for centuries been the test to determine the clan's future leader – though the clan was roughly split between shinobi and civilians, only the civilians could take charge due to the work load of handling the capitalist enterprise. Though her brother possessed one of her clan's Kekkai Genkai, and could to some extent manipulate it and his chakra, he was at the end of the day a civilian – a very politically powerful one who was somewhat capable of defending himself, and heir to one of the greatest clans in the history of the Elemental Nations – but still a civilian.

I don't get to see him often enough…and except if he chooses to drop by, I don't think that I'll get the chance to see him until after Madara is defeated. I'm stuck in this palace until the war ends, or if something so exceptional comes up that I'm personally called to the front lines….and I'm not sure I want that. I'm the greatest kunoichi of my generation, but I'm not eager to fight someone who was once so powerful that the very geography would alter in his wake. He called himself a shell of his former self at the Gokage summit, but he controls seven of the nine bijuu now – that surely adequately makes up for his loss of personal power.

It was to this palace, overlooking the wealthiest and best-protected city in the world, that the daimyo of the Five Great Nations and the daimyo of the lesser vassal nations aiding in the war effort had been recalled by the Shinobi Alliance for their own protection. And even with Mei and her dozens of shinobi, they'd still nearly failed in their task. They wouldn't have been able to detect the Black Zetsu at all were it not for Naruto's timely arrival. Apparently this Naruto clone, one of dozens currently active in the war, had only showed up because it could feel the Black Zetsu from hundreds of miles away, and came in pursuit of him.

The shinobi at the Fire National Capital had been speculating how this could be possible ever since the Zetsu had been dealt with and captured. Sensory abilities of this caliber were many orders of magnitude beyond those of even the greatest tracking-nin sensors to have ever lived. The leader of the Guardians of Fire, a senior member of the Hyuuga Clan's main branch who had hadn't been a Konoha ninja for decades, had some experience dealing with Jiraiya, the only other fully realized sage of recent decades in the Elemental Nations. He told Mei, her shinobi, and the other Guardians at the general meeting after Zetsu had been captured that not even Jiraiya would have been capable of such extreme long-distance sensing. The Naruto clone admitted at the general assembly that it was only possible because he wasn't sensing chakra so much as he was emotion and intent, a legacy of the Nine Tailed Fox. The Hyuuga remarked that this ability must have been how the Fox, in past ages, had been able to find and hunt human settlements with such accuracy.

Starting several centuries after the death of the Sage of Six Paths, the Fox – which had formerly been unknown to the Elemental Nations – had emerged from the Unknown Territories on the warpath for unknown reasons, and slaughtered anyone and everything it encountered, including – especially including - Jinchuuriki. The methods then existing for sealing the other Bijuu simply could not work on a being of the Fox's power, meaning that there was simply no way to restrain or even slow down the great beast. The Fox, according to the history books, had singlehandedly suppressed human development for centuries before, one day, it disappeared as abruptly as it had first come, some three hundred years ago – before reappearing with Uchiha Madara seventy years ago on his one-manned invasion of the Elemental Nations, and subsequently disappearing until sixteen years ago for a final encore with the Yellow Flash, who, Konoha said, had killed the beast once and for all in a suicide fuinjutsu that cut off the Fox's chakra from the natural energy of the world, preventing it from reforming. As events of the past few months had made clear, however, the Fox had never really died – Konoha was just awfully skilled at keeping the identities of its presumably multiple Junchuuriki secret. Were it not for Pain's attack on Konoha, the world may have never found out about this secret – which explained once and for all why Hashirama was content to give the Hidden Villages eight of the nine bijuu during his attempts to bring about peace in the Elemental Nations – he'd been keeping the greatest of the Bijuu, said to be more powerful than all of the others combined, for himself. How fitting.

It was only after the Shinobi Alliance had been formed and the Hidden Villages began to share formerly classified information with one another that Mei found out how woefully inadequate Kirigakure's intelligence services had become under Yagura's reign. Apparently, every Hidden Village aside from Kiri had known for years that Naruto was the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki – his burden was apparently nearly public knowledge in Konoha and had been ever since Naruto had been born, due to the very public nature of the Fox's defeat and sealing. Yagura's network of informants and spies had, during the Bloodline Civil War, been the terror of the loosely united nation of islands, but were apparently incompetent at learning about the Village's actual enemies. Brother had been known to betray brother, often, destroying countless clans and families throughout the islands. And now there was so little to show for all of the suffering, all of the death. Just broken families in a war-weary land. Mei had promised at her coronation speech that the Bloody Mist was no more, that the village would forever more govern itself with a decency and professionalism that would have been considered anathema to most of the prior Mizukage – but not to Yagura, if he hadn't gone insane. She intended to do everything in her power, and sacrifice everything – including her life if need be – to lay Kiri's demons to rest and bring about a more decent future for her village.

Considering this, Mei frowned. The memories of the history that had led to her becoming Mizukage weren't pleasant, but she still hadn't had the time to really consider the implications of Yagura's descent into insanity, which she now knew beyond all doubt could be pinned squarely on the masked man, "Madara Uchiha." At their final confrontation with the insane Mizukage and his loyalist forces of war criminals and genociders on the outskirts of Kirigakura, Ao was able to use his stolen Byakugan – secretly obtained shortly after Yagura's ascent, at immense cost, from a Main Branch Hyuuga who'd gone rogue – and confirmed that Yagura was in the thrall of an immensely powerful Uchiha genjutsu.

Yagura, grandson of the Shodaime Mizukage, had been a child prodigy of unheard-of proportions, and the only successful Jinchuuriki of the Sanbi – or so it had seemed at first. Yagura was descended from the arranged marriage between the Shodaime and a woman of Uzushiogakure's governing clan, the Uzumaki. Kirigakure had allied with the Uzumaki, ancient friends and strongest vassal-clan of the Senju, in order to better control the shipping and trade routes connecting the Eastern elemental nations and the Unknown Territories beyond, and secretly, in order to secure the Uzumaki's aid in controlling their Jinchuuriki. Yagura and Utakata were shortly after birth secretly affixed with powerful fuinjutsu of the Uzumaki, and both subsequently gained a measure of control over their Bijuu that was completely unheard of in the history of demon-sealing – though Yagura's control over his demon was far greater, due to the much weaker chakra potential and personality of the Sanbi. In its rampages, the six-tails had been, on occasion, known to speak to the ninja of Kiri, generally expressing its hatred for the ninja who enslaved it - but the Sanbi never spoke, and had never displayed any particular cunning in battle beyond that of a normal turtle - which was why, after the Sanbi was released when Yagura died in the final battle, Mei was content to allow the bijuu to take over an inland lake on one of the minor islands of Kiri - so long as no one bothered it, it would wallow there like any other turtle. In the hectic times immediately following her ascension to Mizukage, she in no way could spare the time or forces to control or re-seal the rogue demon. She'd actually been thankful on that day a few months ago when the demon had inexplicably disappeared, but once she learned from Konoha that Akatsuki had stolen it, the implications had become much more sinister. Getting back to Yagura...

In defending the village as a young genin from rampaging cetacean summoning tribes, Yagura had gained the acknowledgement and respect of a village that had previously despised him for his burden. After he personally killed the Kumo ninja who had tried to abduct from the village scores of bloodline-carrying children, Mei had, as the Jounin shinobi representative as Kiri's bloodline clans at the age of sixteen, sponsored Yagura to undergo one of Mist's most honored traditions – single combat against the Mizukage – to determine his worthiness as a potential successor to the aging man, who'd taken over decades beforehand after the Hozuki Nidaime Mizukage had died in single combat defending himself against the Skulking Ghost, who'd infiltrated the village in order to assassinate him. Although Yagura had lost to the Sandaime, the honor and graciousness displayed by both men at Kiri's arena had whipped up Kiri's patriotism and resulted in a standing ovation lasting for nearly half an hour – a fantastic conclusion to one of the most intense battles seen for years in Kiri. This act solidified Yagura's status as the next Mizukage, despite his young age.

Such potential, wasted. I liked Yagura. I respected him, despite his being even younger than me. He was supposed to lead Kiri to a new and brighter future, yet mere days after his ascent, he starts behaving more and more erratic, and only occasionally slipped out of whatever had been controlling him when confronted by an old friend or in the midst of battle.

We thought at first that Konoha was somehow responsible…none of the other nations had genjutsu users capable of such long-term manipulations. Such a thing wouldn't have beyond Uchiha Itachi's prowess, but Yagura's insanity started before he defected from Konoha. It wouldn't have made sense for him to continue sabotaging Kiri even after he left Konoha…all that we few conspirators knew at the time was that only an Uchiha could have been capable of so manipulating someone without his even realizing it….Uchiha Shisui was legendary for exactly this kind of manipulation, but he told me personally that he wasn't responsible…and I believed him. He said that although there were Uchiha capable of whatever was happening to Yagura, none of them in the village were responsible – and there were no known Uchiha missing-nin. We only know for certain that he didn't go insane due to influence from his bijuu – from what we could see, it was just as much a thrall as he was through that bloody, bloody time. Over a decade of genocide…cleaning that history up will be my legacy.

It was only towards the end of Yagura's reign, after his descent into insanity had become complete, with or without the genjutsu, that Mei and her increasingly strong conspirators and rebels began to understand the purpose of the bloodline purges. It didn't even remotely make sense why Yagura, who had always been a friend and hero to Kiri's clans, would so turn against them. Due to a number of sick, sick clans like the Kaguya, the people of the island nations had never quite trusted Kekkai Genkai holders, but their contributions to the history and culture of Kirigakura and the surrounding island nations was beyond question. For example, the Terumi clan had played the central role in unifying the island nations into the loose confederacy that eventually became Kirigakure, and various bloodlines had saved the nations from foreign invasions of man and creature on countless occasions.

It was all a mask, a sham. All of the genocide was meant to cover up the true objective of the masked man. Kiri's clans were the greatest scholars in the world, since the islands had for countless centuries served as a refuge from the wars on the mainland. Yagura cut off Kiri's diplomatic relations and foreign trade not only to cut down on foreign interference, but primarily to keep the scholars from leaving – we had formerly had dozens of clans, some with kekkai genkai, but many without, whose primary task was the recording of history and the passing of knowledge. That's why our nation more so than any other was known for being a repository of knowledge – our libraries were world famous, our manufacturing industries without peer, and our shinobi better educated and more deadly than those of any other nation, despite our smaller numbers. "Madara" used the cover of his genocides to ransack the secret stores of knowledge of these clans, no doubt searching for information on the Sage of Six Paths. Some of our scholarly clans – the Hozuki, for example – were said to possess scrolls written in the Sage's own hand, though not even the Mizukage or the Daimyo were ever permitted to inspect such treasures! We gave our clans a significant degree of autonomy...too much, in retrospect. It was that autonomy that led us to willingly alienate ourselves from the common citizen, which is how they were so easily deceived into murdering us.

Madara used us…he turned us against ourselves, consuming our best and brightest, in order to find whatever the missing links were in his plan to create a planet-wide genjutsu – that surely has to be a technique either developed by the Sage or derived from his writings. I see it all now….Yagura's final words make sense now. Should I tell my ninja though? Their hatred would give them power in this war, but, I don't want to see my ninja, yet again, throwing their lives away by the hundreds to gain revenge on one insane man…..even if Madara is the man who all but destroyed Kiri….our true Yondaime Mizukage…

poor Yagura.

Mei, still staring out of the window, had had a steadily darkening expression on her face as she for the first time really considered the implications of Madara's guilt in the Civil Wars of the Bloody Mist. If an observer had been nearby, they would have been growing steadily more alarmed at the cloud of killing intent that Mei was releasing. Madara's role had been pieced together piecemeal from Yagura's nearly incoherent final words and the meager results of the interrogation of Kisame – the Konoha interrogator Aoba had gotten little out of Kisame, aside from a vision of a meeting of Kisame and the masked man in Kirigakure, who in their meeting called himself Madara and confirmed his control over Yagura. Her top jounin, privileged to the information that had come out of that interrogation, had been up in arms – but none save her had yet realized the true purpose of the genocides.

Mei sighed bitterly, still staring out of the massive window overlooking the Fire Capital from the upper slopes of the royal stratovolcano. The beauty of this place was almost poetic in the rot that it concealed. Mei didn't doubt that the Kyuubi, if it wasn't sealed in Uzumaki Naruto, would have taken especial pleasure in purging this city in a holocaust of demon-fire.

It's sick that this pampered, corrupt capital can live so freely while the ninja and samurai of the joint army are dying by the tens of thousands…do these bankers and parasites even know that Madara intends to end the world as we know it? Do they even care? Would they care at all about the suffering that Kiri has gone through….? So many of them were complicit in Yagura's slaughter, helping themselves to the assets of Kiri's most ancient clans and greatest scholars…

My clan barely survived that war. So much of my family died. Even my clan's company, our second birthright along with our kekkai genkai, barely survived - especially after Gato's betrayal of us – we who invested in his company when it was only getting off of the ground. He wasn't such a bastard back then, merely unusually ambitious. After he betrayed us, I heard that he and the Fire Daimyo's advisors got along fabulously…the reason why an island nation so close to the Capital could be so oppressed for so long. When Naruto saved that island nation, he did more good for Wave, and for Kiri, than he could have possibly known….

Kiri back then, before Yagura had gone insane, had been filled with such hope. The Sandaime, a friend of the similarly numbered Hokage, had been taking full advantage of the peace and disarmament agreements following the Second Shinobi World War and had been making fantastic progress in destroying Kiri's bloody legacy as a village of murderers and thugs. Kiri had little interest in ever getting involved in the World Wars – it was difficult enough to govern its own uniquely geographically and culturally fragmented territory even in times of peace, even without considering the frequent natural disasters and attacks by creatures from the Unknown Territories. Adding war on top of those pressures had nearly split apart the nation several times, both before and after the Founding. The Sandaime's accomplishments, as Kiri's first Kage who was a decent human being, were legion. The evil Academy tradition of killing a classmate in single combat – something Mei herself had gone through – had been phased out, brutal clans like the Kaguya cast out from the main island of Kirigakure, and even the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist were being encouraged to only accept as apprentices more humane and honorable shinobi – Kiri had grown sick of the elite institution after Zabuza murdered an entire graduating class and was still accepted as an apprentice. Granted, in one of Kiri's lesser-sung miracles, Zabuza had still managed to become a decent person, largely due to his fantastic master in the Seven Swordsman, but his demonic reputation earned from killing a hundred children in cold blood – while he himself was still a child – had never really gone away.

In the aftermath of the Civil War of the Bloody Mist, one of the only questions anyone cared about was why? What was the point of all of this bloodshed? Without the knowledge that had been recently obtained about "Madara," Mei figured that that question would have never been answered.

Enough of considering our past. I'm going to drive myself insane in hate if I keep going down this rabbit hole. So many vile acts were committed. How many were done under Madara's will, how many were the product of whatever concealed hate Yagura had had in him, and how many were the product of mere pointless, incoherent insanity? I'm done with this. I'll think about this some more after the war if ever.

And then the door to the Capital Office of the Hokage was being frantically pounded on.

Good timing!

"Come in."

One of her Kiri Jounin, a man who had proven his loyalty beyond all doubt as a survivor of one of the scholar clans – Mei had personally saved him from Yagura's genociders - spilled into the room, a panicked expression on his face.

"Mizukage-sama, it's a disaster! The Fourth Division has been almost completely wiped out and –"

The office started to quake. Mei and her Jounin subordinate kept their footing by applying chakra to their feet, but the room's mahogany paneling began obliterating itself in a symphony of cracks. A full thirty seconds later, the quaking stopped, and Mei finally looked outside through a now window-less wall. Mei could see that many buildings, even skyscrapers, in the Capital had collapsed – no doubt due to endemic evasion of construction codes. She was fortunate that no one would dare to go cheap on constructing the earthquake-resistant foundations of the Daimyo's personal residence, but it looked like, for hundreds of thousands of people in the Capital, their misfortune and tolerance of business corruption had brought their lives to an end.

Recovering, Mei brought herself to her full height and brushed the dust and debris from her battle-dress. Her jounin did the same, and she ordered "continue with the report. Afterwards, take every shinobi from downstairs who can be spared and put them to disaster relief in the city. We go through earthquakes all the time in Kiri and we've got the experience to –"

Her Jounin, incredibly, had the balls to interrupt her when she was in her no-screwing-around Mizukage mode.

"Mizukage-sama, forgive me for interrupting, but this was no natural earthquake. As soon as the Yamanaka downstairs relayed what happened to the Fourth Division, he ordered us to take cover and prepare for the shockwave. We had about thirty seconds of advance warning – that's when I started running up here." Mei, who had been becoming steadily more alarmed, told her jounin to continue.

"What in the world is going on out there?"

"It's Uchiha Madara, Mizukage-sama. The real one, the red warrior of legend. He was brought back with Edo Tensei and battled the Fourth Division for a time before unleashing, if I can trust what the Yamanaka told me, an asteroid on the army – a hunk of metal several kilometers across. Out of nearly twenty thousand ninja, it sounds like there are only a few hundred survivors – people with bloodline limits or powerful ninjutsu that served as absolute defenses, and a few ninja who could make themselves temporarily ethereal. It sounds like not a single person escaped using shunshin. It's an absolute disaster…."

Mei, looking at her Jounin's now truly fearful expression, told her jounin to go on once more.

"Madara has the Rinnegan – the same eyes as the man of Akatsuki who destroyed Konoha all on his own a few months ago. And, when I trailed off just now….that was the Yamanaka telling me telepathically that Madara can also use the First Hokage's Wood Release….it sounds like the Naruto clone at the battlefield managed to stop that particular attack. Yeah, the Yamanaka just told me now that Shikaku, Konoha's top jounin commander, has taken over operations at headquarters. The Hokage and Raikage are both being teleported to the front lines to face Madara, and they want you to come along. A team from Konoha has the ability to use a bastardized version of the Yellow Flash's teleportation technique and they're outside right now preparing the jutsu. The battlefield is almost eight hundred miles away, but this can bring you there in an instant."

"What of the masked Madara….the one we now know is a fake?"

"The Yamanaka told us that Uzumaki Naruto – the real one – and Kirabi of Cloud are about to intercept him, a few hundred miles south of the Mountain's Graveyard. This is almost four hundred miles away from where the Fourth Division got wiped out in south-eastern Stone Country. The masked Madara has apparently resurrected six of the Jinchuuriki, and they're fighting alongside him….this includes Yagura and Utakata, Mizukage-sama."

Mei recoiled. "God damn Kabuto. Why are so many powerful enemies coming from Konoha?! Kabuto was a merely former Konoha medic-nin and apprentice of Orochimaru, and now he's resurrected the last Seven Swordsmen – including Zabuza – two of our former Mizukage, Madara, our Jinchuuriki….is there any moral boundary he won't spit on?"

She continued, seeing her Jounin's helpless look. "Yes, I'm going to report to the field. It's about time. If anyone can stop Madara, it would be the five Kage – and I'll just assume that Gaara and Onoki are both still alive?"

Seeing her Jounin's affirmative nod, Mei continued again "Let's get downstairs and outside. Have Chojuro-kun take over my paperwork after getting some sleep. He could use the practice, since he wants to be Mizukage so badly. Like I said, everyone else who can be spared should be put on disaster relief."

As they left the room and went down the wide, sweeping stairs – now heavily damaged – her Jounin responded, "We anticipated that saving the people of the Fire Capital would be one of your first orders. Everyone who can be spared is already out there."

In response to this, as they stood before the exit leading to the primary external courtyard of the Daimyo's palace, Mei gave her Jounin a small smile. "What would I do without you Kiri ninja….you're so loyal to me that you can anticipate my wishes before even me."

"That's because you're our Mizukage, the woman who saved us from Yagura's darkness. We'll follow you to the ends of the earth, whether or not you ask it."

Mei nodded. Even after having heard similar words hundreds of times before, such displays of loyalty always deeply affected her.

"I understand. Let's go outside – let's end this war."