Author's Note: Well everyone, two and a half years have passed since Naruto left on his training trip with Jiraiya. It's six months or eight before he returns to Konoha, but before he does he has one big mission to take part in. So let's get things started with the Shippuden Movie 1 arc.

Enjoy! :)


NARUTO

Drifting

New and Improved

Three days later…

There was nothing more satisfying in the world then watching your enemies get incinerated by a tornado composed entirely out of wind and fire style chakra. At least, that was the initial response of the man standing on the sidelines and watching on as his subordinates executed the four soldiers that had been standing guard over the gate that was the entrance to their main objective. Even though it was a spectacle that filled him with a sense of delight and approval, this was but a small privilege on the path leading up to his final reward, which the sinister figure was now determined to acquire.

After watching one of the four shinobi at the bottom of the chasm extinguish the raging flames with a single swipe of his hand, the leader of the group, a man with long dark hair, light tan eyes, a facial goatee, adorned in grey attire, a black trench coat and wearing martial artist shoes, leapt down from his position at the top of the cliff to rejoin them. With the four men, all of them wearing similar white robes and battle gi's, moving to flank him on either side, the group then approached the temple that stood as the main barrier between them and the labyrinth beyond.

Stopping at the doors, the boss instructed two of his subordinates to open them up and once the large stone gates were pushed out of the way, they were immediately greeted by the sight of a dark hallway, which became lit up by an ambience of tiny flames along the walls. These mystical bulbs lit the pathway for the group, revealing a tunnel at the other end of the entrance chamber.

Stepping into the shadow of the temple, the mysterious man frowned, "So… our time has finally come." Making out his path, he then spared a furtive glance to the Gang of Four standing behind him. "Wait for me here. The boundaries of the underworld lie just up ahead. Only I, who bears the name of 'Yomi', may proceed further."

"Yes, sir," the man with long pink hair replied affirmatively.

Upon receiving nods of acknowledgement from the others, the leader moved into the cave.

Following the path down the corridor, which continued to light up with small flames to guide him down the steps, the figure now identified as Yomi soon passed into an even larger chamber several levels underground. It was here the shinobi found a circular room stretching for many yards in all directions with a single path to its center, the latter of which consisted of a raised platform and a shrine, surrounded by four pillars, all of which were lit up by an ethereal light from above that originated from what appeared to be some sort of seal unlike any other that existed in the current shinobi world. This made up the ceiling of the technique.

From this aura, the man also made out several regiments worth of boulders arranged around the platform in military fashion, with seals strung up all around the place, keeping whatever secret this place held in check.

Ignoring the boulders as well as the darkness that drowned the rest of the chamber, Yomi silently approached the platform. Moving through the light and up the stairs unhindered, the man faced down the shrine with a firm, unwavering expression. "You've been waiting here all this time, Moryu?" Analyzing the conventional sealing arrangement as well as all of the elements making up the rest of the tomb, the man then proceeded on with the next phase of his plan. With the sounds of muscles popping and bones creaking, the sinister leader then held his palm towards the door and focused all of his chakra into a single point, "Unsealing ceremony… commence!" A loud hissing sound and a blast of dust then came off of the shrine's stone wall, an obvious response to the foreign chakra that began drilling into the seal's face.

Once he had a hold of the door to his master's domain, the man shut his eyes and began to chant, reciting a series of words that was the combination to unlocking the barrier around this safe. The effort to do so placed an obvious strain on the man's body. A sweat broke out across his face and his entire body began to tremble as he focused all of his energy on penetrating the box. Eventually, upon uttering the entire incantation and gathering all of his chakra in the right place, Yomi then executed his technique, his eyes flying open followed by a blast of purple chakra that struck the shrine's entrance.

The paper seals placed all over the gate burnt away in the blink of an eye, leaving the door defenseless as its final latch gave way. Then, after several cracks formed in its face, the barricade exploded outwards with a howl of rushing wind that nearly knocked the spell caster off his feet. Once the aftershocks and gales eventually died down, Yomi looked up to the now open container, where he saw a black, sifting void staring back at him through the gap he'd created. The black clouds and sickly, purple aura within pulsed and crept across the hole, presenting an almost haunting sight.

But Yomi was unshaken.

A low sigh of relief followed the opening of the shrine, followed shortly by the disembodied voice it was attached to. "How nostalgic… the human world. It's been a while."

Lowering to his knee, Yomi bowed to the black void with an honest smile spreading across his lips, one he was not afraid to cast, "After so many years, it is an honor to finally be in your presence, Moryu-sama."

"And… you are?"

"Have you forgotten? It is I, Yomi; a descendant of the clan of shinobi that used your dark power to create the ghost army."

The voice murmured thoughtfully before speaking up again, "Why have you summoned me?"

Yomi smirked and raised his head up higher, "The stars are aligning. It is time for us to join forces again… and at last create the thousand year kingdom that both of us have been dreaming about."

"But where is my physical self? With only my spirit intact, I will scatter to the winds. I cannot leave this place, lest I wish for my soul to continue returning here."

"Do not worry. You may use me as your temporary vessel," the dark ninja replied while rising to his feet. Still smiling, Yomi unbuttoned his top and pulled back his trench coat, revealing a series of surgery equipment stashed in his pockets. "Using my dark medical ninjutsu, I will take hold of your soul and transfer it to the confines of my body." Spreading his clothes and exposing his chest and stomach, the man drew a scalpel from his arsenal and, without even flinching, stabbed it into his chest. Drawing the blade and cutting a straight line down his front, the man then used a pair of small hooks to peel back the skin and open up his body, showing no organs underneath his flesh, but another black, swirling void. "Now come!"

"Very well."

Permission given, a dark mist then suddenly shot out of the stone box, slamming Yomi in the center of his gut and pushing him back along the ground. The fast moving spirit and blasting winds hitting the shinobi nearly shoved him over the edge of the platform. However, with steadfast forcefulness and balance, Yomi stopped himself from moving until the purplish-black cloud that was the soul of Moryu had completely entered his chest. Upon which he then took a pick, needle and thread, and sewed his chest and stomach shut, making it seem like he hadn't even been cut.

A proud smile then drew across Yomi's face and his eyes shone with a new, eerie light, "Ceremony complete." With a wide grin coming into play, the man then let out a manic laugh that bounced off of the surrounding walls before turning his attention to the rest of the chamber, throwing his arms out at the same time, "Arise! Arise… MY ARMY!" His holler echoing across the room, purple chakra exploded from his body in beams, causing a shockwave to visibly ripple across the legions of boulders littering the cave.

The surge of energy reverberated off of every object in sight, causing an earthquake to start shaking the entire valley. With these tremors, the boulders began to chip and break apart, the excess chunks falling off and giving shape to the inert masses of stone. Eventually, enough of the rock fell away to reveal concealed within each and every single one of them an army of terracotta warriors composed entirely of granite, all of them fashioned and outfitted for war.

As soon as the regiments of soldiers unveiled themselves from the rock, spears, swords and all, white eyes flashed into view underneath the visors of their helmets, before their heads jerked upright at attention. The sight of the hundreds of warriors giving him their attention brought a smirk to Yomi's face, before he gestured grandly to them all and held his hand up.

"On your feet!"

With a thunderous rumble, the entire army rose from the ground and brought their weapons to bare in almost robotic fashion. As soon as every single one of the stone soldiers was present and accounted for, Yomi approached the edge of the platform to properly address his legions of followers. Even though they were fashioned from rock and seemed like they acted without consciousness, the commander didn't shirk or stammer, and spoke to them like how a general would speak to their troops.

"Let us embark to the shrine where our master's body is sealed!"

"No," the voice of Moryu suddenly echoed throughout the chamber, drawing the shinobi's and the army's gaze toward the upper levels where his words descended from, "First, there is an enemy you must destroy. Seek out the priestess of Oni no Kuni(Land of Demons). She alone has the power to undo me."

Frowning, Yomi nodded and turned his gaze back toward the army, "Understood, my lord."

"Good. Once I have been fully resurrected, I shall annihilate the Five Great Shinobi Nations and establish a single kingdom to rule over all of the world!"

As if responding to their master's will, the entire army of soldiers slammed a foot into the ground with a loud, earth shaking stomp, saluting their commander in chief. Like the chime of a bell, the powerful demon from another world proclaimed war upon the rest of the world, along with the decree that the Five Great Nations would come to kneel at his feet.

Like the villages didn't have enough problems to deal with already…

OOO

Later that day…

Elsewhere…

It was winter and as expected for a country like Yuki no Kuni (Land of Snow), the conditions were simply unforgiving, especially this high up in the mountains. Against the howling winds battering them from all sides, the fog of cloud cover drifting in from the west and the blasts of snow hitting them on the slipstreams, the two men that were trekking up this part of the mountain ranges were now beginning to have second thoughts about coming all the way up here. The fact that they were thousands of feet above ground level on a narrow ledge and could barely see five meters ahead of them gave the daring duo even more reason to be concerned.

However, it was at the insistence of the head scout that kept the two intrepid explorers on course, even though the weather was absolutely dreadful. And it wasn't just any head scout that was leading this mission either.

Recognized for his work in cinema and with the great Yukie Fujikaze, the sunglasses wearing Director adorned in a thick winter coat, gloves and boots, along with his assistant and head of DOP of years past, marched along the path they'd chosen while at the same time hugging the wall running alongside them. With their backs loaded with hiking equipment and spikes keeping them pinned to the icy wall, the two valiant adventurers were ideally dressed for the conditions. In spite of all of their preparation and equipment however, one of them was still uncomfortable with their current situation.

"This storm came out of nowhere!" the assistant shouted, at the same time keeping his eyes trained forward where he could see his chief scaling the path just a few feet ahead of him. "Boss! We should stop and rest for a bit! Wait for the winds to calm down a little!"

"What? You want us to stop while we're so close to our objective?!" the Director yelled back, at the same time glancing over his shoulder at his assistant. "Nonsense! How can we call ourselves the best film crew in the world if we let a little blizzard slow us down?"

"B-But," the DOP gulped, at the same time bracing against the wall when a particularly strong gust of wind hit them. Shivering at the cold, the man shook off the snow from his head and looked back at his boss pleadingly, "Sir, we can't even see where we're going! And the winds are just getting stronger! I know you want to find him as soon as possible, but it'll be a lot easier if we hunker down and wait for the skies to clear up. Shinobi are difficult to find even in good weather."

Murmuring distastefully, the Director nevertheless listened to his assistant's plights and turned to fix his gaze on him once more, "Alright! We'll set ourselves down around the next bend… and wait for this blizzard to settle!"

Brightening up at his boss finally seeing reason, the DOP gave a nod of delight before starting to shuffle over to where the man was waiting for him. However, just as the two crew members were about to get moving again, a distant explosion followed by an earthshaking tremor suddenly drew their attention towards the storm around them. Bracing up against the wall when the ground beneath them shook violently, both of them stared off into the distance where, through the howl of the blizzard and the white of the veil, they saw one of the many enormous mountains surrounding them erupt in a massive explosion that completely took out the impressive natural landmark.

The sight of the thousand meter high chunk of rock blasting high into the sky, sending huge slabs of rock, ice and snow in all directions, had the two men gawk in awe, until the earthquake caused by the unexpected calamity caused the path beneath the Director to give way. The man hurriedly tried to grab hold of something, but the floor disappeared too quickly, resulting in the project leader dropping like a stone and his cry echoing out over the ranges while his DOP dove for him.

"DIRECTOR!" the man shouted, reaching out as fast as he could, only to see his boss and the head of their Princess Gale movies plummet to his death, disappearing into the mist.

Stunned, the DOP remained lying as he was, staring over the side of the damaged highway they'd been following in silent shock, until a loud rumbling sound reached his ears and caused him to avert his gaze. When he did and looked up, he saw the mountain above him give way and a wall of ice and snow start thundering towards him. Eyes widening in horror at the approaching avalanche, the man was about to get up to move. However, as if reading between the lines of the metaphorical script perfectly, the road the DOP was lying across made his decision for him and collapsed just as the section beneath the Director's feet did, dropping the man down the side of the mountain.

The orange haired adult cried out in terror as he plummeted, followed closely by the avalanche. Arms flailing, the DOP attempted to reach out and grab something, but when he found himself spinning with no signs of stopping, he closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.

However, the moment the man resigned himself to his fate, the falling crew member then felt a light weight crash into him and catch him in their arms, before the direction of his fall was changed several times in the span of just under a second. In the blink of an eye, the yellow blur that had been traveling through the air with the DOP in hand landed against the side of the cliff the camera operator had fallen from, before springing off of it and away, barely avoiding being wiped out by the avalanche altogether.

With one last flip, the mysterious figure landed upon solid ground, their feet burying in the snow before rising up and focusing their attention on the person whom they'd just saved. At the same time, they completely ignored the sight of a thousand tons of snow and ice crashing to the ground safely behind them.

The feeling of his fall ceasing had the DOP open his eyes and look to see what was going on, where he quickly saw he'd been caught by the very person that he and the Director had been sent out in search for.

Whisker marks emblazoned upon his cheeks, short, spiky blonde hair waving on the high winds and sapphire blue eyes fixed firmly upon him, the DOP could do nothing but grin in sheer relief when he recognized the young adult face of one Naruto Uzumaki hovering above him.

"Oh man, am I glad to see you!"

Hearing his friend's exclamation, Naruto grinned, "I get that from a lot of people… mostly from the ones I end up saving. You'd be surprised how much the chicks dig that material." Without another word, the boy set the man down and watched him stumble away, before straightening up and giving the poor camera operator his full and undivided attention, "Anyhow, what brings you all the way out here, Hideo?"

Panting and adjusting his snow hat, the orange haired DOP and coworker to the blonde turned to the shinobi behind him. Looking him over through the fall and the snow, Hideo saw that the blonde he'd been working for these past couple of years hadn't changed much from the last he'd seen him. Aside from the fact that he was now no longer the boy he once was when they first met, he was also taller, appropriate for someone around sixteen years of age, healthy, and strong. His build suited an obvious increase in strength and power, with the noticeable outline of abs and powerful, athletic muscles, and a firm upper and lower body making up the bulk of his new, cut form.

What was even more obvious of course was the fact that the young man was wearing nothing but a pair of tight fitting spandex shorts with orange trim on them. The fact that they were all the way up here in the mountain ranges in the middle of a blizzard had the DOP do a double take before chuckling weakly.

"A little bit drafty, don't you think?"

Blinking and looking down at his frame, Naruto quickly saw what the problem was and laughed offhandedly, "Ah. This? Don't worry. It's part of my endurance training. I've been doing this for so long the cold barely even affects me anymore." Breathing in and out and taking in the surrounding air, he then looked back at the sheepish appearing Hideo and grinned, "But enough about me. What about you? Snow expedition much?"

Spreading his arms and looking down just as his colleague had done, the orange haired DOP smiled, "Yeah… I might be a little bit decked out, but I'm not as used to the cold as I am to the heat. I'm more of a spring weather type of guy, ye know. The mountains are no place for a man like me." Hideo then remembered the exact reason as to why he was here in the first place and quickly shot back into panic mode, rounding on the jinchuriki with wide eyes, "Oh no, the Director!"

"Huh? Oh," Naruto blinked before a grin pulled across his lips and he thumbed over his shoulder, "You mean this guy?" The teen then stepped away and revealed a still slightly winded movie Director approaching the pair from behind. Seeing the grey haired head of production shake his head and look up to show his crew member that he was alright drew a relieved sigh from Hideo.

"Thank Kami."

"Man, I thought I was done for," the ambitious team leader murmured, stepping over to the blonde that'd saved him and clapping him on the shoulder gratefully, "Thanks for the save, kid. I owe you one."

"Don't worry about it, director. I was in the middle of training and you guys just happened to walk right into the middle of it. I was only able to sense you two after my attack went off and by that time it was already too late," Naruto replied with a smile, looking between the two while placing his hands on his hips, "Sorry about that. Next session I'll be a lot more careful about where I launch it."

Staring at him silently for a moment, Hideo then pointed in the direction of the explosion that'd rocked the region just minutes ago. "Wait… was that… you?"

"Yeah," Naruto said with a proud smile, "I was trying out my new jutsu and using the mountains as target practice." He then looked up when he felt another strong gust of wind and snow hit them, prompting him to fix his gaze on the skies above, "Hang on a second. This storm is getting kind of annoying." Wordlessly, the boy lifted his hand towards the sky and began focusing his chakra, an action that the two men responded to by quickly pulling out one of the cameras from their carrier pack and using it to film the Jonin.

If this was anything like the material they'd captured before for the last Princess Gale movie, then they definitely wanted a shot of this.

After a moment of concentrating, Naruto then seized control of the wind blasting into them from the sides and willed it to begin circling the area around the group, forming a twister that blocked out the entirety of the storm and cut through the other surrounding slipstreams effortlessly. Moments later, the jinchuriki then fired a massive tornado up towards the clouds, a blast that acted like a drill that was able to pierce the heavens themselves.

When the head of the technique struck the thick cover in the atmosphere, the grey fields of the netherworld were parted, the masses of cloud separating like a ripple in water, which immediately revealed the clear blue sky above. Moments after the anomaly, the blizzard raining down upon the region cleared up and the storm dissipated, leaving the hikers and the shinobi standing in the pristine winter wilderness left behind in the wake of the squall. The Director and the DOP gawked as they gazed up into the now sunny sky above, before turning their attention back to the mountains.

It was then they spotted the field of rubble a few hills away that marked the remains of one of the many enormous monoliths circling the valley. Judging from how large and imposing the other surrounding mounds were, they were simply astonished that one of them had been transformed from a once great landmark to a canyon the size of an entire village. It was simply gob smacking.

"Whoa," Hideo breathed out, holding the camera as steady as possible while at the same time surveying the dramatically altered landscape.

"There. That's better." Grinning at his handiwork, Naruto lowered his hand, turned and nodded toward the crew, "Well, seeing as you guys came all the way out here to meet me, why don't I show you to my home." With a gentle wave, the young man bade them to follow him, which the crew members ultimately did.

For the next hour the blonde led his two clients across the valleys of snow and up into another distant mountain, nestled comfortably between two larger ones that blocked it from view of the rest of the world. When he eventually guided them through a narrow pass down a winding highway and through a chasm, they inevitably exited into a place that could only be described as a quarter of Shambhala; a small village nestled inside a forested paradise. The winter snow storms didn't even come close to touching this area, as the clouds and changing air pressures were blocked off by the walls of towering rock, making this the ideal training place for the jinchuriki.

Leading the pair through the main boulevard, which the Director and DOP couldn't help but admire and appreciate for its architectural significance, the blonde eventually harried them up the steps of a large temple at the end of the main road. Nudging his way through the open doors, the jinchuriki dried off, while his two guests took off their coats in order to adjust to the sudden increase in temperature.

"Hey, boss. We should really think about shooting our next movie here with Yukie."

"Hmm… you're right, Hideo-kun," the Director responded, rubbing his chin thoughtfully while his assistant removed his boots. Grinning, he then held his hands out and formed a metaphorical banner, "Yes. You're absolutely right! I can see it now; Princess Gale: Raiders of the Lost City!"

"Yeah!" the DOP chirped, his eyes also shining at the prospects of the abovementioned title. "It's perfect; a story about our little wandering princess discovering a fiendish plot to uncover an ancient treasure in a lost city that would bring about the destruction of the entire world. It'll be the next, big summer blockbuster!"

"Starring Yukie Fujikaze and Naruto Uzumaki!" the project leader shouted gleefully, "Their next epic installment! It'll be a spectacular hit!"

"Agreed!"

Chuckling, the blonde Jonin looked back towards the temple entrance where he saw the two filmmakers radiating with excitement. It was something that had the jinchuriki grin, "I think it's a great idea guys. Thinking of continuing the partnership between me and hime?"

The director nodded, "Of course! It'll be a continuation from our last film. Your character Sanada Nobunaga will be taken along with the princess on her next adventure, where your 'hatred' and begrudging admiration for one another culminates in your feelings for the other eventually being realized, and the two of you embrace passionately in the hotel segment!" With stars in his eyes, the man then struck a pose with his fist raised, "The female audience will be flocking to the theatres!"

Naruto smirked, "My fate is in your hands then, Akira… Hideo-kun. Just don't make any death scenes look ridiculous like the last movie I watched. Apparently the special effects guys working for the company made the blood in all the gory bits pink because the film was so 'unapologetically violent'. Seriously, if they wanted to make murder scenes look anymore ridiculous, they may as well have colored the blood white to make it look like the victims got bukkaked to death." Nodding to the two men respectively, the jinchuriki marched further into the temple and smiled when he eventually arrived at the enormous courtroom, its cracked ceiling and many statues allowing light from the outside world to bleed into their midst. Descending the stairs and feeling the heads of his work colleagues follow soon afterwards, the boy turned his attention to the figure in the center of the hall and addressed him with both fondness and enthusiasm. However, this wasn't any normal figure, nor was he one that was hard to miss, "Yo, Saito! I'm back!"

The moment his announcement was made, the voice of the enormous swallow lying in the center of the temple rang out with a yawn and a grunt, "Hmph… you were causing quite a racket outside, runt. Problems?"

"Nah. Just training. Didn't I tell you I was going out to work on my stuff?" the blonde asked, collecting up a rice ball he had lying on the table at the foot of the stairs and popping it into his mouth. Passing the desk completely, he continued his trek across the room, where he saw the large, winged form of his boss companion lying in a large bed of pillows he'd set for himself. Since the last time he'd seen him Saito had grown much larger, about half the size of the boss toad Gamabunta, showing that as a summon he was still capable of ageing and developing. It was quite an extraordinary spurt if he did say so himself. Anyway, when the blonde eventually made it over to the large avian, he gave the imposing form of the bird a grin and a courteous nod, "What? Don't tell me you got bored waiting around for me to get back? I figured somebody as lethargic as you would prefer being left alone."

With one of his sharp eyes open and his head resting in the groove of his shoulder, the large king of the swallows gave a light chuckle before moving his beak away. At the same time he sensed the two men his partner had been known to associate with on a regular basis approach them from the stairs. "Believe it or not kid, but even I can get a tad bit restless when I'm left sitting around in the open with nothing to do." Saito then looked across when he saw his partner reach his spot and hop up to lie against his folded up wing, where the blonde then rested back with his hands behind his head. "You summoned me here and told me to wait for you, so I did."

"You didn't have to. You could have gone outside and circled the region, yah know, instead of being cooped up in here."

"I could've, but since you were so busy working on bending the weather to your will again, I decided it would be best to stay indoors and out of your hair. I'm a strong flyer, there's no question about that. But ruffling my coat by gliding straight into the heart of a raging hurricane isn't exactly my idea of recreational."

"I thought it was."

"For the hawks, maybe, but I'm not them. If you haven't realized it yet, I'm a flyer that focuses on grace and form over rugged toughness and endurance."

"But that's never stopped you, has it? The only thing that can really put you down is a massive dragon made out of diamond-hard crystal."

"Not the proudest moment in my distinguished career, but an honorable battle nonetheless."

As the pair sat there chatting away with one another, the film crew members Akira and Hideo approached their stage and watched the pair with interest for a bit. Once they'd had their fill of observing the famous jinchuriki conversing with his most recognized summon animal and partner, the two men walked up into their line of sight and waited for the young man to acknowledge them. Once he did, the ever energetic Uzumaki sat up and rested his hands upon his lap, while Saito decided to sit and listen.

"So… seeing as how you guys went through all the trouble of coming this far north, I'm assuming that Koyuki-chan has another mission she wants me to do for her."

Hideo smiled and nodded, "That's right."

"An S-Rank one… and it's a doozy," Akira followed up, pulling off his pack and beginning to rummage through it.

Hooked on the S-Ranked part, Naruto hopped down from Saito's back and walked over, taking the scroll the Director then handed to him. Rolling it open, the blonde began reading the contents of the article while the other men stepped back to give him some space.

"There's a commotion going on to the south west of the continent in Oni no Kuni (Land of Demons). Apparently, an army that isn't aligned to any of the Five Great Nations has emerged there and has started a slow march in the direction of Numa no Kuni (Land of Swamps). They've destroyed several villages in their path and are crossing borders one after the other without opposition. Everything that's tried to stand in its way has fallen… and it doesn't look like they'll be stopping anytime soon."

Drinking in this info, the jinchuriki looked up, whereas Saito perked to this news with interest, "What… is it some kind of Ghost Army or something?"

Akira smirked, "In a manner of speaking, yes. Actually, it's an army composed entirely out of stone, making conventional weapons and tactics against them useless. They've already repelled squalls of regular army forces and have practically strolled through several ambush attacks that'd been mounted by the five great nations. However, seeing as how their path or course hasn't changed in even the slightest, it appears it's going to take a lot more than a few avalanches and explosives to stop them."

Clicking his tongue in thought, Naruto tapped the scroll as he read through it. When he eventually reached the bottom, his lips turned up into a smile, "So… Koyuki-chan doesn't want me to head over to the front lines to help them in destroying the enemy."

"Nope," Akira shook his head, at the same time adjusting his sunglasses, "Your job is much more important. She wants you to head down to the Land of Demons to collect a very important package for her. Well… when I say package, I really mean person, and when I say person, I really mean Princess Shion, ruler of the Land of Demons and, for the duration of your assignment, your new charge of charge. You're to head down to her palace to collect the priestess and escort her to the Land of Swamps."

"I'm to assume that it has something to do with this Moryu character," Naruto chirped while holding up the open scroll in his hand.

Head rising up from the ground in surprise, Saito stared at the group of men for a moment before his expression reflected his sudden realization of the information, "M-Moryu?" The bird's head snapped to his partner when the adults turned to look at the giant bird, "Are you saying he's back?"

Naruto frowned, "You know him, Saito?"

The bird nodded as his expression became grim, "Every creature on this planet knows who he is. Moryu is a powerful demon from another world that tried to destroy the five great shinobi nations and create a new, one thousand year kingdom. But before his plans could be realized, he was sealed away by a priestess woman and had his soul separated from his body." Saito then narrowed his gaze and turned away. "Had he succeeded in his endeavor, he would have wiped out the entire shinobi continent and covered this entire planet in darkness, but thanks to the efforts of the priestess, his evil was kept in check."

While the two crew men working under Koyuki appeared stunned, Naruto wasn't swayed in the least by this information and simply stared back at his friend. "The information in the scrolls says that his spirit was sealed away in the Land of Demons and his body was sealed away in the Land of Swamps. Seeing as how the sealing was done in this way, I'm assuming that the guy was so overwhelmingly powerful that they weren't able to find a permanent way to kill him."

Saito nodded, "This demon is the embodiment of darkness and possesses chakra comparable to that of any one of the nine biju. Conventional sealing techniques don't work on him since his spirit is so potent it can cause its host's body to rot from the inside out, and that's not just limited to humans. He has incredible regenerative and telekinetic powers, and could even resurrect himself when killed. As I understand it, the five great nations came close to permanently killing him at one point, but the priestess that faced him was forced to seal him away and died as a result of her actions. Ever since then, Moryu has been lying dormant, locked away from the world… but now it appears someone's decided to bring him back… just like before."

It was this bit of information that had the three men glance up in surprise and the jinchuriki to narrow his gaze. "Like before?" Naruto asked.

"When he was first discovered, a clan of shinobi attempted to use his powers to try and take over the world. However, the five great nations learned of this plot and destroyed them, while the priestess who went up against Moryu defeated the one who was in possession of him," the swallow king then closed his eyes and lowered his head, "As far as we know, the only people who can possibly defeat this demon are members of the priestess's bloodline, as they are the only ones that possess the knowledge and chakra capable of destroying his kind."

"Huh… well that's a snap," the jinchuriki said, looking down at the scroll and tossing it up and down like a ball. After several moments of contemplation, Naruto looked back up towards his partner curiously, "Judging from what you've already told me, this priestess I'm supposed to escort to where the demon's body is sealed is the only person standing in Moryu's way of total world domination."

"It seems that way."

Hideo, listening intimately on the sidelines to the pair's conversation, swallowed nervously and moved forward. Though this man was accustomed to tumultuous conditions and getting into the thick of things, the stuff he was currently hearing being passed between these two was serious material, exclusively for supernatural beings and shinobi of the highest order. Even if it wasn't his domain or area of expertise to step into, it was still a story he wanted to be a part of, even if it was in some small measure.

"So what are you going to do, Naruto?" the DOP asked curiously, while at the same time his director stood behind him with his arms folded and game face on as per the usual routine.

Remaining standing in place, still decked out in his figure hugging shorts and scarcely even feeling the cold wrapping around him, the blonde meditated on the issues and the weight of his new assignment for several moments in silence. Eventually, after carefully processing the information and giving it the necessary amount of appraisal, he then strolled over to the side of the chamber's floor and towards one of the many statues in the area, where he had all of his stuff, including his clothes, laid out next to an open sleeping bag. When he reached his bed and material, he gave it all a once over before kicking the sheathed katana, Crow's sword, he had lying next to his bed into the air and caught it in his hand. Spinning it around his body and arm all cool style, he then turned back to the other three individuals in the room and grinned at them.

With Jiraiya having headed off on his own assignment and leaving the jinchuriki to his own devices, this meant the Jonin's diary was pretty much freed up until further notice.

Holding the sword firmly at his side, the jinchuriki spoke, "Sometimes… shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who you gonna call?" Naruto asked, earning a smirk from his summon friend and smiles from the film crew heads alongside him. "Pack your bags, Saito. We're going hunting."

OOO

Meanwhile…

Somewhere in the Land of Fire

The one thought currently going through the mind of a certain mask-wearing Akatsuki member was 'how the hell did I get dragged into this shit?' Well, it was a question that was easy to ask and even easier to answer.

It's because his partner was a massive shopaholic and he couldn't do a damn thing about it.

With annoyance that was almost palpable due to the way his eye was twitching, Kakuzu remained standing in his spot by the changing room doors with his arms full of shopping bags as he watched his female partner toss more clothes over the gate to land in the pile forming on the rack beside him. Already finding it hard to ignore the strange looks he was getting from other customers, including the staff, the bounty hunter, adorned in the symbolic colors of his group, and self-proclaimed treasurer of the Akatsuki organization, breathed an irritable sigh before asking the question that he normally uttered whenever he found himself stuck in this situation.

"How much longer are you going to take?" the man asked, obviously having been dragged through this shtick countless times before yet having suppressed all memories of them due to how insufferable his new partner was.

And here he was thinking he'd never meet anyone as annoying as Hidan.

Now he wished he still had the mass murderer as his partner. That guy's dragged out rituals and prayers to his imaginary friend Jashin were far more bearable than these shopping sprees his rookie associate took him on.

Hearing the delightful giggle of his teammate come back to him in response to his little inquiry, Kakuzu then saw the girl's head pop up over the top of the door and her dazzling smile fall upon him like the moon itself, "Would you relax, Kakuzu-kun. I only have five more articles to sort through and then I'm done for the day."

A tick mark forming on his head, the masked man narrowed his eyes and allowed a low growl to escape his throat. "You said that fifteen mini-skirts ago!"

"Yeah… but then I found even more cute looking things to try on and I just couldn't help myself. Come on." She then ducked back down behind the door and threw up another shawl over the top, "Lighten up a little."

Clenching his fists around the bags he was already holding, the red and green eyed man lowered his head when he heard the girl start humming a cheerful tune, "Why do you bother spending your money on useless clothing that you only ever wear once? It would be far better spent on other essential items or sitting in a vault somewhere and accumulating in wealth from having it properly invested. What you're doing is such a waste."

"Well, unlike you, iron man, I believe that living harmoniously and beautifully is the only way to coast through life. After all, we only live once on this big blue ball of water and earth, so why not make the most of it while you've got the chance?" She then opened up the changing room door and, no longer adorned in her revealing white sheets or Akatsuki cloak, emerged wearing an incredibly short, blue jean skirt and a white, loose fitting sweater with her midriff exposed, complete with necklace and vans. Tossing her brown ponytail over her shoulder, the woman grinned toward her seething partner and continued, "It's not how long you live, but how you live and what you make with your years that really counts."

Looking the young woman over once and noticing how her legs just went for-freaking-ever, Kakuzu gave a low grunt and looked away, "Hmph. Whatever."

Blinking in confusion and wondering why her partner had turned away so suddenly, a cheeky smile then formed on the beautiful supermodel/kunoichi's face as she then struck a very seductive pose, hand behind her head and another on her hip, accentuating the delicious curves of her frame from top to bottom. "Oh… do you like me in this outfit, Kakuzu-kun?"

"No. It's unsightly," the masked man begrudgingly replied.

Giggling at the shinobi's abrupt response, Misora sauntered up to her partner till she stood directly beneath his shadow, her cheeky grin fixed on him in an attempt to make him feel uncomfortable. "Now come on, you old duffel bag you, I know there's a lot more going on in that thick head of yours than money, murderous intent and sawdust." She ran a finger through her bangs and tucked some behind her ear, while at the same time giving the bounty hunter an alluring look. "Just admit it. You think I'm smoking hot too, don't you?"

Frowning, Kakuzu turned back to the young woman to give her his most hostile glare, one that was filled with both seriousness and impatience. Had he put killing intent behind it, no doubt he would have cracked the floor with its intensity, "Showing interest in a tart like you is just a waste of valuable time and energy. So hurry up and finish sifting through this garbage so we can get moving."

This drew a childish pout from Misora, who then stuck her bottom lip out and feigned a hurt expression, "Party pooper. No cake for you." She then whipped her hair into his face when she turned heel and headed back into the changing room, swaying her hips at the same time in a teasing manner.

Watching the girl shut the door behind her earned another growl from the intimidating shinobi, who then looked off to the side again. When his eyes fell upon two young girls whispering to each other and looking at him warily, the man stared back and them with his unnerving gaze before inevitably snapping, "What the hell are you looking at?!" His sudden question and manner in which he asked it caused the girls to 'eep' before rushing out of sight, leaving Kakuzu to stew where he was and wait for his partner to finish with her hobby.

She eventually did and, with an even bigger pile of clothing in hand, a new set of clothes on her, and her usual sheets and Akatsuki cloak tossed over her shoulder, began paying for the stuff. While Kakuzu stood to the side and watched her pack her new gear with the most miserable look you'd ever see on him, he then balked when he saw a group of girls in the shop pass him by in a hurry and flock around Misora, who quickly acknowledged them when one of them tapped her on the shoulder.

"Oh, hello," the Akatsuki member chirped happily. "What can I do for you?"

"Uhh, Misora-san… w-we saw you over there by the jeans section and, umm… we were just wondering… may we have your autograph, please?" one of the teenagers asked tentatively, having recognized the woman when she entered the store even though she was adorned in a whole other outfit.

Blinking, the brown haired woman beamed brightly and nodded, taking the pads of paper they had and quickly beginning to scribble in them. "Sure. No problem." Seeing the hopeful and cheerful looks in their eyes, the kunoichi acknowledged each of them with a smile as she moved from one person to the next, signing away, "You girls look so lovely together. Are all of you fans of my work?"

Hearing the group giggle and answer the woman, Kakuzu rolled his eyes and looked away, "Oh, good grief." He just wanted to get the hell out of this village and go kill somebody. Since they were all supposed to be in hiding, he unfortunately couldn't get away with it here. Thus, he'd placed restrainers on his temper until the time they either came across a group of bandits or were going after a bounty.

Because of all the torment he'd had to go through today, he was holding out all of his stress for the next poor bastard they came across.

For the next few minutes the masked bounty hunter watched in silence as the manager of the store came out and asked Misora to pose for a photograph for their business while she was dressed in one of their newest articles. As well as having a few more photos taken with several other girls that came swarming to the entrance of the establishment when they heard that the supermodel was in town, the kunoichi then went back to paying for her clothing.

It was quite an amusing sight to see the billion ryo supermodel flip open her wallet, fish out several hundred ryo from a several thousand ryo bundle, and hand it over to the star-struck customer servant agent like it was nothing. Not to mention it was an even more hilarious sight to see Misora walk away with bags in hand, and Kakuzu remain standing at the front counter for an extra minute in unnerving silence and watching as the female clerk slipped away the cash, before being man-handily dragged out of the store by his partner.

All that beautiful money… gone.

He was just this close to grabbing that money right out of the woman's hands. It was absolutely criminal how much they were charging.

When they eventually left the store after bidding goodbye to her fans and admirers, Misora was simply bubbling with joy, whereas her teammate was as stone cold and stagnant as ever.

"I don't see how you guys can wear such depressing colors all the time," the kunoichi remarked while shrugging at the Akatsuki cloak she had slung over her shoulder like a towel, "It's so… dark and moody. I'm thinking of redesigning mine and giving it a bit more of an artistic flare to it. I'll turn the bottom half into a mini skirt and the top portion into a long sleeved item with a shawl. Maybe then it'll be more comfortable to move around in." She then turned to smile at her teammate, "Do you want me to do something with yours as well?"

The man growled, "No thanks. I'm not interested in being a subject of your experimentation."

"Aww… why not?" Misora whined before giving the man a teasing grin, "It'll be good for you, I promise."

In response, the masked shinobi took a step away and glared back at the woman when she tried to poke him in the arm, "Touch me… and I will eviscerate you from behind."

Freezing in place and seeing the man's menacing glare fix on her, Misora gave the dangerous rogue formerly from Takigakure a wary look over, before her surprised visage then turned into one of mischief. She then cheekily grabbed his cheek and pulled on it, like an adult would to a child who was trying to get on their better side.

"You're so cute," she cooed.

Snarling dangerously, Kakuzu dropped the bags he was carrying to the ground and stepped forward with his hands extended to strangulate his grinning partner. The moment he moved in for the kill however, he was forced to block the girl when she conjured a long sheet of white fabric from out of nowhere and struck him from the side, resulting in the two intercepting each other's attacks and standing in stalemate; one with his arm coated in its black, diamond-hard armor while the other ground her diamond-hard sheet against his limb.

The pair remaining silent in the middle of the street and being watched on by swaths of nervous onlookers, a smirk formed on Misora's face as she tilted her head towards her companion, "Looks like it's a draw again, Kakuzu-kun."

Hearing this resulted in the infamous bounty hunter grunting indignantly and narrowing his gaze. At the same time, the rogue watched as one of the sheets his partner had conjured up wrapped protectively around her arm where it had originated from and blended in with her skin, leaving the two remaining in place with their attacks still grinding into one another. "Consider it a blessing that neither one of us is able to mortally wound the other in any way, otherwise I would have ripped you to pieces a long time ago."

"The feeling is mutual," Misora replied.

Before the pair could disengage from their scuffle and move on to their next course of action, business suddenly beckoned in the form of a person clearing their throat. Looking to the side and away from the ninja they were coming to blows with, the pair saw a man dressed in a purple shinobi uniform step forward, carrying a briefcase and a mission scroll with him. When the eyes of the two Akatsuki members fell upon him, effectively placing the stranger in the spotlight, they saw the masked figure look between them before speaking up.

"Excuse me… but are you two Kakuzu-san and Misora-san by any chance?"

Frowning, the bounty hunter stepped away from his partner, who also relinquished her hold over him and the two deactivated their respective jutsu. "That depends on who's asking."

Smiling at them pleasantly, the man stepped towards the more imposing of the duo and held out the scroll to him, which he snatched out of his grasp before the individual set the briefcase in front of them. As soon as he did so, he stepped away and bowed to them.

"With my master's compliments." Goods delivered, a pair of mechanical wings suddenly sprouted from a device on the strange ninja's back, both of which were similar in design to the stolen glider technology used by the shinobi of Yukigakure, before the individual took flight and disappeared from sight.

Staring after the escapee, the fashionably dressed Misora returned her attention to Kakuzu, who'd also taken a moment to watch their messenger vanish above the clouds before glancing down at the suitcase he'd had placed in front of him. Kicking it onto its side, he then opened up the latches with his foot and pushed open the lid, where he was met with the beautiful sight of hundreds of gold pieces neatly arranged inside of it, a sight that even had his partner staring. Eyes crinkling with notable delight, the Akatsuki treasurer then turned to the scroll he'd been handed and, after a moment of scrutinizing it, pulled it open to read the contents.

After a minute of waiting and admiring the gold in the case, Misora turned to her partner with a curious look of her own. "So… what's up?"

Brow furrowing, Kakuzu rolled the scroll back up and shut the case. Picking it up and ignoring the shopping he'd dropped, he then turned heel and began to move, "We've got a mission. Let's go."

"W-What?" Misora responded with a start, quickly jogging after him. When she realized she'd left her bags behind, she threw her hand towards the articles on the ground and cast the same sheet of fabric she'd summoned earlier over them. When she wrapped the shopping up in her cloth, the packages and clothing all vanished in a puff of white smoke when she sealed them up inside her material. After which she quickly retracted her hand and moved to follow her partner. "What kind of mission?"

Kakuzu smirked underneath his mask, "Assassination."

"Ooh? Sounds exciting," Misora commented, bringing her Akatsuki cloak around and slipping it on. When she did, she threw her hands out and produced more veils and sheets, which fanned around her protectively, while one particular piece of cloth covered her head in a hood. Once her battle attire was adorned, the young woman grinned, "So… where are we headed."

Lowering his gaze, the bounty hunter formerly of Taki frowned, "A place you probably know. We're going to intercept our target at the Land of Swamps."

It was a long walk, but neither of them were in any kind of rush.

XXX

The very next day…

Land of Demons…

It was still early in the morning and inside the large castle that served as the beacon and throne of this nation, the courtyards and walls were all a bustle. Everywhere you looked, you could see countless guards and soldiers running about, running drills and moving all of their best shooters into position. Most of these men were made up of standard archers and lancers, all of whom marched in perfect sync with one another and took to their posts with all of their sights set on the horizon of the country beyond. It was an impressive collection of assets and equipment that was for sure.

But why the commotion? Why the sudden rise in activity within the palace's barriers?

Well, ever since news reached their ears that the Ghost Army under Moryu had risen and started its march from their land in the direction of the Land of Swamps, the commanders of the forces knew right then and there that a great calamity was approaching them. So, mustering up all men fit and able to battle, the soldiers rallied to the gates and walls, coming to the protection of their priestess and leader without thought or hesitation.

As men charged with preserving the peace and protecting, not just their lands, but the entire continent from the threat that their demon enemy presented, they were all prepared to fight and die for their leader. That's why many, even the most drained, remained at their posts until they were cycled out with the next batch of troops.

This was an act that one soldier in particular, an officer and one of the leading commanders of the castle, was currently in charge of overseeing. Having seen to the changing of the guard the entire half hour, he soon arrived on the level not too far from his priestess' quarters and gave the soldier standing wearily beside one of the shogi doors a momentary look over.

"Susuki," the glasses wearing archer spoke, gaze narrowing when he saw the man sway on the spot, "Susuki!" His sudden rise in volume eventually jerked the trooper out of his drowsy state, drawing his attention to him in an instant. "Shift's over."

Shaking his head to clear his mind, the valiant young man stood back to attention, "I… I could keep going. Would that be okay?"

"You haven't slept in three days," the young man with glasses replied, before gesturing over his shoulder, "Go get some rest. That's an order."

Lowering his head and giving a moment of pause, Susuki hesitated at first. Eventually, the archer gave a nod of affirmation and smiled at his friend, "Alright. I'll leave things here to you." With a bow of respect, the tired warrior then headed back down to the barracks, his feet dragging along the floor with every step. The soldier wearing the square rimmed spectacles watched his friend descend the stairs; at the exact same time the sun peeked over the horizon and shed its light across the valleys making up their small country.

Unbeknownst to the regiment at the castle, not only did the rising ball of light mark the start of a new day, but also the start of things to come…

OOO

Meanwhile…

On the edge of a ridge overlooking the castle far below, the same men that'd been by Yomi's side when he infiltrated Moryu's domain could be seen gathered on the precipice. After admiring all the sights and sounds that the country had to offer them, as well as taking stock of the defenses encompassing the fortress, the men dressed in white battle robes and garb, with similar trigram markings emblazoned upon each of them, all formed up and turned their attention to their squad leader and second in command under their main boss.

"Come on, brother! Let's get this show on the road," the albino member of the team, a man with long white hair, long sleeves and a cloth mask exclaimed as he fixed his gaze upon the pink haired man behind him.

Seeing the enthusiasm burning in all of their eyes, especially the white haired one's, the medic nin Kusuna chuckled and cracked his fingers. Stretching his neck out, he moved closer to them, watching as all three members of his squad formed up in front of him with their backs turned. "All in good time. Just hold still and let me work my magic." As soon as he said that, three black snakes suddenly appeared from underneath his collar, wriggling through the air like demonic tendrils.

With the heads hissing loudly and writhing about erratically, the pink haired shinobi gave a low chuckle before hurling the three serpents at his compatriots, watching each of the creatures impale the backs of their necks and burrow into them. In the blink of an eye they were gone and after a moment of dramatic pause, shit started to happen.

The three members of the Gang of Four jerking upright, the infected trio then cocked their heads back as a surge of chakra suddenly shot through them, causing them to groan and their pupils to expand till their eyes were jet black.

"Oh yes… that's the stuff!" the masked member exclaimed as his face suddenly transformed into a more beastly one, followed by a purple aura of foul chakra exploding from his body like a flame. His fists enlarging and the rest of his body changing shape, the man then let out a howl of a laugh when blue markings formed on his mug and slammed his now enormous fists into each other. The impact of his knuckles resounded with an echoing thump, seconds before he threw his arms out and his wild transformation reached its climax, the energy fluctuation fading in an instant.

The same went for the other two. The other male with blue hair had his mane spike up into three points as markings also formed on his face, which had turned devilish in appearance. Manic grin in play, he then threw his hands outwards and compelled the transformation to cease. His compatriot next to him with the short orange hair continued to bend over backwards as the purple chakra blasting off of her caused blue lines to creep across her face and spikes to protrude from her arms. As soon as her body was done twisting and reshaping, the kunoichi struck an almost graceful pose, arms out as the chakra flame faded from around her.

"Yeah! That's what I'm talkin' about!" the orange haired ballerina shouted with an excited tone of voice, obviously pleased at the steroid injection she'd gotten.

Thrilled at the results of the shots, Kusuna stepped forward, "You've all got the chakra strains as promised. Be sure to pace yourselves so you don't burn it all up in the first few minutes. That goes double for you, Gitai."

"Don't worry! These soldiers are nothing compared to us!" the large-handed one responded with a leer, at the same time raising his fists to show off his changes. "We've got this one in the bag!"

"Let's just get down there and take care of business," the blue haired one known as Setsuna responded, flicking his hair back at the same time.

"You all know what to do," Kusuna continued, looking between them all, "Don't screw up." With that warning given, the four of them took flight, leaping over the edge of the cliff and traveling towards the castle at an accelerated pace.

It wasn't that long of a trek to make either. A skip and a hop through the evergreen forest that stood in their way and in just a few minutes they were knocking on the castle's wall. Well, when they said knocking, they really meant running up its side before flying over the barrier, right past the first row of guards keeping watch over the area. The poor archers got the shock of their life when they saw the four shinobi in white soar right past them, all of them traveling at a devilish speed and causing the troopers to gawk in momentary shock.

As soon as they realized that their defenses had been breached, they sounded the alarm.

OOO

The sounds of emergency bells ringing and men shouting outside roused the sleeping priestess from her sleep. Sitting up from underneath the blankets that draped over her and glancing up through the veils and blinds that sheltered her from the world beyond the confines of her futon, the blonde haired ruler of the land remained where she was with the most faraway look you'd ever see on a person. Though the commotion outside of her chambers did prompt her to move, there was absolutely no immediacy in her actions.

No rush to get out of there. No attempts to make haste for the nearest exits. The only thing she did was sit there, draped in her sleeping attire and staring across her dimly lit chambers. When the rumbling of battle outside eventually made its way to her floor, the girl cast her eyes to the ground, even when the cries of approaching death echoed into her midst.

This was soon followed by another sound, one that she most definitely knew.

"We're entering, my lady!" the voice of her Captain of the Guard Taruho reached her, followed shortly by her doors flying open and the light of the rising sun outside hitting her floorboards. Along with a contingent of guards, the glasses-wearing head of security rushed into her room alongside his friend Susuki, who had also decided to come along the moment the alarm bells rang. Despite his commander's attempts to dissuade him, he came anyway. "Lady Shion! We have intruders! They've broken through our forward lines! We must get you to safety!"

The soldiers hurried to her side, but while they were about half way across the room, the entire ceiling suddenly collapsed on top of them. The rubble and debris crushed the archers in the rear, sparing Taruho and Susuki who spun around to face the cloud of smoke now blocking view of the entrance. When they skidded to a stop and drew swords, they suddenly saw the fog in front part violently, and a monstrosity of a man with enormous hands and wearing white robes rush out at them at a ridiculous speed.

The masked man let out a manic laugh as he darted toward the stunned men, decking Susuki with a single swing and sending him flying across the room. The guard let out a cry of pain and, trailing blood from his mouth, crashed into the blinds veiling Shion's sleeping area, causing the veil to fall away when he dropped to the ground in a heap. This act revealed the priestess to the intruders, with the one that had busted through the ceiling making 'small talk' with his one remaining obstacle.

Effortlessly slipping between sword slashes from a furiously attacking Taruho, Gitai giggled before blocking one of his downward strikes with his rock hard fist and backhanding him away, like he was just a fly. Upon sending the archer to the ground, the assailant set his sights on the princess, "So there you are." Lowering his hand, the man was then joined by his compatriots dropping down through the hole in the roof. As soon as they formed up, all four of them drew weapons before, without warning or hesitation, hurled them across the chamber straight towards the still seated priestess.

Taruho, shaking himself out of his daze, watched the barrage of deadly projectiles fly right over him and converge on the nation's ruler, a sight that had his eyes widen in horror. "LADY SHION!" At that exact moment, the sound of knives and shuriken impaling a human body echoed throughout the room, with silence soon falling.

However, it wasn't the princess that'd been struck.

Blood dripping from his mouth and his form thrown protectively over the blonde haired young woman, Susuki had managed to rise up from the floor after the big hit he'd taken, just in time to intercept the hail of projectiles. Opening his back to the assault, the young man had ended up impaled by kunai, ninja stars, sickles, and a blade attached to a cable. The result was his vertebrae being cut and his organs struck, resulting in a slow end.

Smile on his face, the valiant guard that had given up days of sleep watching over the princess, dropped his arms to his sides before keeling over. "Taruho… protect… Lady… Shion," Susuki uttered through a hoarse voice. A second later, his body hit the floor and the cackle of his assailant reverberated throughout the room.

Withdrawing the blade from the corpse's back, the orange haired Shizuku caught the cable and retracted it back into her sleeve. Once the way was clear, the Gang of Four then formed an orderly row and began marching across the room, prompting Taruho to jump back to his feet and stand at his priestess's defense once again. He held his sword steady and, with an intense glare in play, blocked the path of the powerful assassins advancing on his ruler's bedside.

In spite of his bravery however, it was quite obvious at this point that it'd take more than will, determination and his sword to stop these guys.

They were just too much.

A smug grin on his face, Kusuna shook his head in amusement as he and his gang proceeded to within several feet of their target. What with the level of 'danger' that the guards of this palace presented to them earlier, the four of them had little to fear from the courageous captain blocking their way.

Following their overwhelming victory over the soldiers and with only one left standing, there really was no need to hurry.

"Pretty little priestess," Kusuna chuckled as the four of them advanced at a comfortable pace, "Your life is ours now."

However, just as they were about to take the chamber, a shadow darting over them suddenly had them stop and look up. All of a sudden, the curious gaze of Gitai was suddenly clawed out by a tiny bird swooping down on him from above, the man letting out a cry of shock and attempting to swat the little pest away. His teammates then proceeded to duck when the swift little creature smacked all of them, going for their heads and brows, before watching it fly toward the door. When it landed on the railing outside, the four shinobi saw that it had been a pair of red-breasted swallows that had attacked them.

The little avian chirped as the enemy ninja stared across at them, earning a frown from Setsuna.

"What the hell?"

"Birds?" Kusuna murmured, before his senses suddenly picked up something else in their midst. Hearing the flutter of a sheet that didn't belong to any of them, the man jerked upright in surprise and spun around, where his eyes then landed on a figure that had definitely not been in the room before.

There, standing in the light of the sun at the foot of the platform that supported the priestess' futon, a blonde haired figure with spiky hair, sapphire blue eyes and whiskers on his cheeks, faced the four of them down. Dressed in a hooded, long-sleeved orange jacket that was unzipped with blue trim and arrow marks on both his shoulders, revealing a cut upper body and stomach, orange pants with two pouches on his back, a holster on his left leg, blue sandals, and a Konohagakure headband on his head, and armed with a katana that was belted to his side, the young man stared across at the assassins with a glare. Once he'd managed to draw all four of their gazes to him and saw them balk in shock when they realized they were no longer alone, the newcomer then gave a wide grin and saluted.

"Hello!"

"Wha… Where the heck did he come from?" Shizuku asked, narrowing her eyes on the stranger dressed in orange.

Setsuna gritted his teeth, "Forget that. How the hell did he get past us?"

"Simple. Your backs were turned and I slipped right between you guys. It wasn't that hard," the chipper looking Naruto responded while tilting his head. Cracking his neck a couple of times, he then breathed a relieved sigh and beamed back at his befuddled opponents. "Anyhow, now that I'm here, I think it's about time I got down to business. Who wants to get their ass kicked first?" He then began pointing at each of them, "Snowflake? Bounder Fists? Retired Gymnast? Cross-Dresser?"

This little point to the pink haired one had him bristle, "Cross-Dresser?" It was a comment that had Gitai, Shizuku and Setsuna snicker.

"Whoa! Hold on. You're a dude? Sorry. That was mean," Naruto chuckled sheepishly while scrubbing the back of his head, "I'm a little bit jet-lagged from my flight down here, so you'll have to give me a few seconds to clear my head. I'm surprised I haven't passed out yet."

Growling irritably, Kusuna threw his hand forward and across, giving his order a voice, "Screw you! I don't know who you are or where you came from, but no one crosses us and gets away with it! You're dead!" Noticing over the meddler's shoulder a secret entrance in the wall behind the priestess's bed open and close, indicating that the one remaining guard in the room had used that opportunity to get his ruler out of dodge, the pink haired team leader looked over at his comrades and pointed, "Get rid of this clown and go after the priestess!"

Seeing the three buffed up super ninja step forward all at once brought a grin to Naruto's face. After acknowledging that he'd stalled long enough, the jinchuriki brought his hands out and focused all his attention on the fiends standing before him, "I'm sorry to say this to you four, but you ain't going anywhere!"

Hearing this from the lone shinobi had the three subordinates look at one another before laughing. When they each got their fill of chuckles out of the way, Gitai straightened up and pointed at him, "Are you kidding? You're not planning on fighting us all by yourself, are you?"

Setsuna smirked and lifted his nose arrogantly, "Who the hell do you think you are, kid?"

It was then the group of four saw a dark grin form on the blonde's face, a sight that had all of them stop and stare.

Chuckling in amusement and running a hand through his hair, Naruto then set his eyes firmly on the squad before him while peeking under the gap of his palm. When he did, his chakra flared and a strong gust of wind suddenly picked up around him, framing the manic look that suddenly came to his face.

"The devil."

OOO

While the swaths of wounded palace guards outside were struggling back to their feet following their crushing defeat at the hands of the four intruders, they were suddenly caught completely off guard when an explosion unexpectedly ripped through the entire front part of the castle. The blast tearing through rock like paper, the entire forward section of Shion's palace began to collapse in on itself, with the Gang of Four that had been caught inside of the blast leaping out through the crumbling entrance for dear life.

Looking behind them as they sailed through the air, a slightly bruised and cut up Kusuna blinked in shock as he stared wide-eyed at the collapsing structure. From the way the four were sailing through the air and looking back, it was quite clear that they did not expect to be hit by an attack like that.

"Holy shit, that was close," the medic nin choked out.

"I almost got hit," Shizuku also exclaimed in shock, the kunoichi glaring back at the room they'd once been standing in, which they could only see half of due to the fact that the entire front of the building was gone. "Geez. Where the hell did that come from?"

"This kid is more powerful than he looks. Watch your backs," Setsuna stated before all four of them eventually made land fall in the center of the courtyard.

When they all turned back to the palace, ignoring the dozens of soldiers picking themselves up around them and gawking at the now ruined castle, they suddenly saw their mysterious attacker flash into view several yards away across the quad. Materializing out of the air in a shunshin, the orange wearing Jonin smirked in the direction of his opponents where he then saw all of them glare back at him heatedly. Now that they'd been given a taste of what he could actually do, it wasn't surprising that they were now starting to take him seriously.

"Well… got the hint?" Naruto asked, slipping his hands into his pockets and tilting his head, "Or do I need to do a little bit more before you buffed up idiots decide to turn tail and run?"

Spitting to the side in annoyance, Kusuna smirked and raised his hand, a gesture that had the other three behind him take crouching stances in preparation, "We'll see who'll be running at the end of this fight. Gitai, Setsuna, Shizuku! Hit this punk with an earth, fire and wind com-"

"You know, for a Jonin, your reflexes are pretty shocking."

Straightening upright and eyes widening in shock, Kusuna remained standing frozen in place and staring ahead of him in disbelief when, while his eyes had been fixed squarely on the blonde twenty meters in front of him, the jinchuriki actually stepped out from directly behind him, hands still in his pockets and eyes closed. The other three didn't even notice he was there until he'd spoken, which had all of them jump in surprise, as he was standing right in the middle of their formation.

After making the untraceable jump in between the group's circle, Naruto allowed his eyes to open and smirked at the pink haired man's back. "You four really need to work on your basics."

The second Kusuna spun around he got a fist to the face when the blonde standing behind him plowed a punch right into his mug, with the impact sending the man rocketing across the courtyard where he then struck the temple steps on the other side three dozen yards away. The moment the man crashed into the stairs, his brothers and sister responded by jumping the jinchuriki all at once, with Gitai moving in with a swinging overhand.

Seeing the other three enemy ninja advance on him with blows primed, Naruto frowned and leapt towards one of the attackers in a blur, mounting the masked man's punch as he sent it forward and kneed him right between the eyes. The blow was strong enough to smash Gitai's head back and crack the stone encasing his face, before the jinchuriki bent over backwards to avoid the kick from Shizuku and slammed a hand into the ground. Hiking off his foe and using his palm as a pivot, he then spun like a top and slammed a kick into the ribs of an attacking Setsuna, knocking the wind and dragging him around through the air, before mashing him into his orange haired partner. The force of the kick sent the two of them barreling across the courtyard to slam into one of the surrounding walls on the far side.

Upon dispatching them with his kick, the jinchuriki leapt back to his feet and focused his attention on Gitai, who'd recovered from the blow and brought both his fists up in defense. With a roar, he dropped them down on top of the jinchuriki, only for the blonde to lunge forward with blinding speed and slam a hand into the man's chest.

The second he did so, an ejection point for air exploded against the shinobi's stomach and sent the enemy nin rocketing to another side of the castle grounds, with Naruto's signature Jet Hand coming into play. Gitai's body passed over a squad of wounded soldiers who immediately dove for cover at the sight of the human projectile, before the rock hard shinobi crashed into the defensive barrier of the castle with the force and speed of an artillery shell. When a decent section of the wall collapsed on top of him, it was clear who the victor of the first round was.

Kusuna, who'd watched the whole thing from his place sitting in the man-sized crater at the bottom of the stairs, stared in disbelief. "He's… so fast." He didn't even care that he was bleeding from the lip.

The teen had taken all four of them down before they could even mount a proper response against him. Not only that, but it was obvious from the way he'd fought them off that he could have killed any one of them at any given moment.

However, for some reason he was giving them openings to leave by not striking them down with a weapon. Why?

Was he toying with them… or was he being merciful and giving them a chance to back out?

Whatever he was doing, it wasn't sitting well at all with Setsuna and Shizuku, who managed to pull themselves back to their feet after their flight across the field. Both snarling angrily and glaring, the pair focused all of their ire across the court towards the person they were fighting. When they got up, they saw the jinchuriki lower his extended hand and straighten up, before resting his hand on his katana.

His eyes still focused on where he'd buried Gitai, Naruto frowned. "I'll give you this one chance to leave quietly. If not…" Gripping the top of the sheath, the blonde then pushed his thumb against the handle guard and drew part of his sword from its scabbard. The base of its blade flashed under the sun as the young adult held his position.

Seeing the shinobi ready his weapon immediately put the shinobi and kunoichi across the way on guard, with Shizuku hissing menacingly.

"He's just playing around."

Agreeing with this observation, Setsuna stepped forward. "Don't mess with us, you miserable rat! We're the loyal servants of the almighty spirit of Moryu and Yomi's most trusted bodyguards! It'll take more than an explosion and a kick to the chest to bring us do-" The man then stopped mid-monologue when he realized he could no longer see the jinchuriki standing in the middle of the courtyard. Recoiling in shock, the blue haired shinobi then looked around in bewilderment, "W-What? Where did he go?" He then turned to Shizuku next to him, "Hey… did you see where he-" For a second time he was cut off.

Not because his sister had vanished into thin air. She was still standing there as still as a statue. No. It was because the moment Setsuna turned to look at her, the top half of his teammate's head fell away, followed by a spurt of blood. The sight had the blue haired man step back with a look of horror slapped across his face and a shout of terror escaping his lips. When Shizuku's lifeless body collapsed to the floor to join the rest of her cranium, she revealed Naruto standing on the other side with his back turned to Setsuna and his sword still sheathed in its scabbard.

Stunned into silence at seeing his sister killed right before his eyes, Setsuna quickly shook himself out of his shock and, with a roar of anger, hurled a series of kunai at the blonde's back. Naruto turned his head just as the man threw them at him and vanished in a shunshin.

"You bastard!" the man shouted, flying through hand seals before throwing his hands forward across the courtyard, where he spotted his opponent's form shimmer into view, facing side on to him. When he did, Setsuna formed a miniature tornado between his palms and launched it in the form of a blast towards the blonde, "Futon: Kami Oroshi!" (Wind Release: Godly Wind from the Mountain) The vortex of wind shot towards his target at an incredible speed…

Only for Naruto to once again vanish in a shunshin, his form condensing into a tiny speck of orange zipping through the air like the beam of a laser pointer against a wall. This little firefly traced the air around the wind attack as it tore apart the entire courtyard, sending rubble, debris and dust flying everywhere, before the tiny speck eventually flickered directly in front of Setsuna and Naruto materialized out of thin air in a flash. The boy stared right back at the man who recoiled in disbelief, mouth agape and eyes wide.

When he eventually realized his enemy was right in front of him, the blue haired assassin growled and lunged forward with a kunai, aiming to stab his opponent. The second Setsuna moved however, in the blink of an eye the jinchuriki in front of him drew his sword, sprang into the air and struck out with a series of lightning fast, aerial slashes, performing an acrobatic flip at the same time before landing perfectly on his two feet directly behind his opponent, all in a split second. The maneuver cut Setsuna's attack short, with the shinobi staring ahead of him in awe while his opponent spun his sword to remove the blood and slowly began to replace it back into its scabbard.

"I-Iaido?" (Way of Iai) Setsuna murmured in response to the kenjutsu style, unable to believe the speed his opponent was capable of achieving. It was unlike any he'd ever seen before. First the young male was standing dozens of meters away and then the next thing you knew, he was just a few inches behind you, having already finished attacking before you could even mount any sort of defense. The fact that they lost sight of him completely even when they were staring right at the guy and at the ready, showed that his combat skills were on a level far above their own. It was inconceivable. "We never… stood… a chance."

These were the last strained words Setsuna was able to utter, because the moment Naruto fully sheathed his sword into his scabbard and the 'click' of his blade rang out, the man's head split into four segments before falling free. Blood splattered across the floor along with the quartered pieces of his head, followed shortly by the shinobi's dead body dropping to the ground with a dull thud.

With his sword back at his side, Naruto remained where he was staring ahead of him. When he sensed the eyes of others drilling into his back, he glanced over his shoulder toward the spot where Kusuna was, where he saw the man staring in abject horror at what he'd just witnessed. It's obviously the first time he'd ever seen someone's head get quartered before, so it made perfect sense that when the blonde turned to look at him he nearly shit himself. There hadn't been a single person in history that had stood up faster than he did.

Even Gitai, who'd managed to dig himself out of his rubble pile, gawked in shock at seeing his other two teammates get snuffed out.

The guards scattered across the courtyard on the other hand, they were stunned.

Clenching his fists when he saw the blonde turn on them, Kusuna spat in fury, "Damn you…"

"I warned you guys what would happen if you fought me," Naruto stated, narrowing his eyes while stepping forward, making his stance on the matter as clear as possible. "If you don't want to end up like your friends, I suggest you turn around and get the hell out of here… NOW!" He flared his chakra warningly, sending a gust of wind across the yard and hitting the two man flush.

Staggered by the wave of killing intent that came with the sudden power jump, Kusuna quickly reconsidered their chances against this guy. After seeing him handily dispatch both Shizuku and Setsuna in rapid succession without so much as breaking a sweat, there was no way only two of them could take him on. Even when there had been four of them, fighting him had been impossible. The guy took them all down one after the other and lopped the heads off of half of their group.

Well… not in the conventional sense. The way he'd done it had been quite brutal.

Nevertheless, it was obvious this guy was in an entirely different league to them and with the amount of dark chakra he'd dispersed to each of the Gang of Four for what was supposed to be a simple mission; there was really only one reasonable course of action the leader could take.

Decision finalized, Kusuna's attention snapped towards his remaining subordinate, with sweat clearly staining his brow, "Gitai! Fall back!"

"Y-Yeah," the stone covered shinobi replied in a shaky voice, before both he and his partner vanished in a shunshin. They took off over the wall and, within seconds, disappeared over the horizon.

Watching the pair vanish under the rising sun with a satisfied gleam in his eyes, the blonde haired teen breathed out a sigh of relief and relaxed, shifting the katana at his side so that it sat comfortably behind him and adjusted his jacket's collar. Once he was certain the pair were long gone from the region, he then returned his attention to the reason he'd flown all the way down here in the first place.

Upon surveying the damages done to the courtyard and seeing the wounded soldiers that were still alive pick themselves up from the ground one after the other, Naruto then began retracing his steps to where he remembered the priestess' chambers were. Recalling the secret passage she and her guard captain had taken, the blonde then whistled in a very birdlike manner and held out his finger. A second later, the two swallows that had attacked the four intruders earlier fluttered down to land on his outstretched appendage, allowing the blonde to look between them fondly.

"Hey Swift-chan… how's the view?" the young Jonin asked, before hearing the smaller of the two swallows on his finger sing in response. Seeing her head jerk to the left several times and listening to her words carefully, Naruto gave an understanding nod and focused his attention on the ruined castle. "So the back door to the castle is that way, huh? No problem." Moving his hand to his side, with the two finch-sized birds flying off, the blonde kicked the ground with the edge of his sandal once before vanishing in an orange flash, surprising the soldiers that had started to approach him.

Damn.

OOO

At the back of the castle, far out of sight of the main courtyard and nestled safely under the shadow of a high cliff, there sat what looked like a private garden of some sorts. A small courtyard enclosed by a protective wooden wall, with a gate on one end and a reflecting pool being fed by a waterfall on the other, this small, quaint little area sat as both a place of concealment and meditation. It was a peaceful setup and with the way the waterfall cascaded into the waters, filled the air with a fine mist and reflected the sun's rays as the orb rose higher into the sky, it was also the ideal place for contemplation.

Exiting the castle's secret tunnels and through the main gate, a still slightly shaken Taruho looked over his shoulder warily, as he could no longer hear the sounds of battle taking place on the other side. Whether it was because the enemy was gone or had finished dealing with the castle's guards he couldn't say, but whatever it was, he knew he couldn't stop now.

Fearful that he was being followed, the courageous guard turned back around to continue his hasty retreat. Upon shouldering the priestess further up his back and making sure she was okay, as the blonde haired girl was still in an unresponsive state, the young man then turned his attention back to the waterfall. It was only when his eyes landed on the pool before him he jerked upright in surprise when he saw the same blonde haired young man from earlier sitting on the edge of the pond surrounded by a small contingent of swallows.

Reacting instinctively, the man reached for a blade, a reaction that had Naruto quickly get to his feet and hold his hands forward.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Take it easy," the jinchuriki replied with a kind smile, "I'm a friend." Seeing the man continue glaring at him, the blonde slowly made his way down the steps and onto level ground, at the same time allowing his friend Swift to land on his shoulder, "My name's Naruto. I'm a shinobi from Konohagakure, sent here by Koyuki Kazahana of Yuki no Kuni."

Hearing this and seeing the symbol carved into the headband the blonde was wearing, Taruho soon relaxed and looked up in realization, "The hidden leaf? Oh." He then relinquished his hold on his blade and gave the newcomer his undivided attention as the Jonin stopped in front of him, "You must be the escort we sent for. I… was expecting more."

"The Hokage has dispatched all available units to the front lines. Since all of their troops are occupied with dealing with the enemy forces, they'd asked Yukigakure to send me down here to pick up the slack from behind," Naruto replied with an affirmative nod and a smile. "Apparently, this ghost army problem is much bigger than they originally thought. There are terracotta soldiers appearing all over the damn place."

Knowing exactly what was going on, the Captain of the Guard gritted his teeth and lowered his head, "Moryu." Murmuring uneasily at the news, Taruho then fixed his glare on the ground and shook his head as he considered the things that have happened so far, "Then it is worse than we feared."

"Th-That's…"

Hearing the soft voice of the girl currently resting on her guard's back, both Naruto and Taruho looked towards her in surprise. When their eyes landed upon the leader, they saw the blonde haired priestess raise her head and her lavender eyes fix ahead of her in concern. It was something that did not go amiss by the two present with her.

"Lady Shion?" Taruho murmured, relieved that she'd finally regained consciousness.

Shifting uneasily, the young princess frowned. "It's happening. He's… trying to resurrect himself once again." Upon saying that, Shion curled up and hid her face into the shoulder of her loyal protector.

When Taruho and Naruto faced each other after hearing the girl's unnerving assertion, the latter then turned to look at her thoughtfully. Though news like this would have normally come as a concern for others, it didn't affect the jinchuriki one bit as he looked back at the girl with an expression reflecting curiosity and thought.

With Swift perched comfortably on his shoulder, the tiny bird chirped and ruffled her feathers, before returning her attention to the priestess as well.

Even the smaller critters could sense something amiss and that was saying a lot.

TO BE CONTINUED…


Author's Note: Hope you guys enjoyed the chapter. Naruto has gotten much stronger now and has mastered a few new tricks, including Crow's Sword. If anyone's wondering, his fighting style with Crow's Sword is the same as Vergil's from Devil May Cry.

Hope you're all looking forward to the next chapter.

And also, Kakuzu putting up with his new partner, lol.