Seven years and nine months later, in a classroom of the Academy, on a bright July afternoon,

"Class! Before we dismiss for the day, who can tell me why shinobi aren't normally tested for elemental affinities until they're either seventeen years old, or a veteran Chuunin – whichever comes first?"

The class grumbled en-masse.

The instructor speaking was an older woman named Kaede Minarishi, a veteran of the second and third Great Wars and a former Jounin commander. She was the head teacher, officially the commandant, of the Shinobi Academy and had been for half a decade. The woman was nowadays a renowned historian and a sitting member of the Council in her spare time. The eyepatched woman was handsome in an aged way, despite the three parallel scars that ran down the right side of her face – which had taken her eye. A few months ago, Kiba, summoning his courage, managed to ask the woman what had happened to her. Minarishi had laughed it off and told Kiba that she'd been the victim of a panther-summoning nukenin from Tea Country, one of the Fire Nation's vassal-states, some two decades ago. The woman had in the aftermath refused to have the scars removed or sign to up for an ocular organ transplant, citing the effectiveness of the injuries in intimidating and maintaining discipline in her soldiers.

Naruto could believe it. Naruto didn't like the woman – she was just like nearly all of the other adults, ignoring that he even existed – but he had to admit that it was funny to see her turn Iruka-sensei, the new teacher who was just starting his first term, into her whipping boy whenever she damn well pleased.

As expected, Sakura spoke up first with all the erudition of an eight-year-old bibliomaniac, first raising her hand and waiting for her "Kaede-sensei" to call on her.

"Because elemental affinities don't emerge until a shinobi's chakra pathways have began to harden with either maturity or experience, which doesn't happen until a shinobi has gone through puberty or has already had several years of ninjutsu practice. In addition, learning to shape raw chakra into elemental chakra without the use of hand signs – what you do with an elemental affinity - is very difficult, and can normally only be accomplished by shinobi who have gone through puberty, or who have been using their ninjutsu so much that their chakra pathways mature more rapidly than normal. Shinobi with kekkai genkei are an exception to those rules."

Kaede-sensei beamed and smiled at the pinkette, her one eye crinkling. "Exactly right, Sakura-chan! As expected of the classes' most advanced reader!"

While the abashed Sakura blushed and smiled prettily, Naruto grumbled, his head resting on his crossed arms on top of his desk. He looked at the pretty pinkette through his bangs, admiring her cuteness while Ino and the other girls in that part of the room congratulated Sakura on her textbook-perfect answer. Naruto admired Sakura – she came from a large, respected, and wealthy civilian clan, and she herself was pretty, popular, a top student, and unfailingly polite. Naruto knew that he had none of those things going for him.

Naruto internally amended Sakura's answer. According to what he'd been reading, which went beyond the Academy's textbook, there was a second part of the answer to Kaede's question. Going through puberty was necessary to determine a person's final chakra affinities because that was when a person's personality began to harden and approach its final form. The reasons were poorly understood, but the shaping of elemental chakra and ninjutsu had just as much to do with mental fortitude and personality type as it did physical fitness. A shinobi's personality could help to determine chakra affinities, and in rare cases, if their personality changed, their chakra affinities could change with it.

Naruto's reading had explained this as the distinction between Yin and Yang energies, both of which were required for the use of most jutsu, but Naruto suspected that no one honestly understood the true nature of chakra. What was chakra? Why did it exist? Why wasn't chakra as understood as the physical sciences, which benefitted from fancy theoreticians and pages-long equations? Naruto didn't know, and he'd never seen an answer in his book – and he knew that it was pointless to ask in class, just like it was pointless for him to raise his hand and add to Sakura's answer. Kaede, just like Mizuki-sensei, who she was filling in for today, would just ignore him, without end. Even the class would ignore him.

Naruto knew that it was pointless for him to raise his hand. He'd tried many times before, but the instructors would always, always, ignore his raised hand until his arm got tired. If Naruto shouted to protest, the instructors would give him cold looks, as though he was a murderer or some other kind of scum that they were being forced to put up with. The instructors would then give him detention or other punishments.

The other kids in the Academy class had initially wondered why, of all of them, Naruto was treated in such a way. They wondered if Naruto had done something really bad, but the adults would never answer any questions on the topic. Over time, the other children of Naruto's academy class, taking cues from their teachers and their parents, simply ignored Naruto. Ignoring Naruto was something as basic and unquestioned as gravity, as Fire Nation law. You just did it, and if Naruto set pranks or acted particularly boisterous to attempt to gain attention…you just ignored him even more. What did it matter if your parents, seeing that you'd done as you were told to do – ignoring Naruto no matter what if you had to be close to him, and staying far away from him at all other times – would give you candy and pat you on the head if you told them that you hadn't spoken to Naruto in weeks?

Naruto sighed as the congratulations for Sakura died down. Judging from the look on Kaede's face, there was going to be more to this class before they were allowed to leave for the day.

Then Iruka-sensei walked into the room.

"Class, pop quiz!"

I knew it…

Universal groans ensued.

Iruka and Kaede, looking around the room, – clearly these kids wanted to go outside and enjoy the beautiful day – chuckled and clued the brats in.

"Class, you can leave as soon as you finish the quiz. You don't need to wait for the last students this time."

Universal cheers. Even Sasuke Uchiha looked cheered by the news.

Kaede laughed. "Don't get too happy, class. It's an essay pop quiz. No multiple choice today!"

Groans once more ensued from the class.

As Iruka began to pass the quizzes out while Kaede kept a firm watch for any horseplay or disruption of the quiz, Naruto looked to Shikamaru, the boy he was sitting next to.

"Neh, Shikamaru, any idea what'll be on the quiz?"

Shikamaru grumbled.

"You've been paying attention in class, right, Naruto?" Shikamaru said this with a doubtful look on his face. "We've mostly been reading history lately. This is what you're good at – just go with it and get this troublesome quiz over with."

Naruto looked down at his quiz after Iruka dropped it on his desk, grumbling under his breath as he went through the ten questions. The world around him deadened to his senses as he focused on the paper. History. This was something that Naruto knew that he could do well on.

One hour later…(see the questions, and Naruto's answers, in a few days at the story in my profile titled "Naruto's pop quiz!"– it explains a lot of the background details of my version of the shinobi world).

Naruto, confident in his answers, turned his quiz in. He wasn't one of the first to hand it in like Sasuke or Sakura, but he was still ahead of dog-breath and Choji. Kaede didn't even deign to look at him when he put his quiz on top of the class pile. Without further ado, Naruto left the room, taking his knapsack with him.

Iruka, seeing the head teacher's behavior – or lack thereof, didn't protest. He merely fidgeted nervously. Kaede was his superior to such an extent that, frankly speaking, he was lucky to even be in the same room as her. She had once been a genuine A-rank ninja, was a contemporary of the Sannin, and had earned her cushy appointment as the head of the Academy as a reward from the Hokage himself, in acknowledgement and reward for her lifetime of service through multiple wars.

Half an hour after Naruto left the room, minutes after Nara Shikamaru and Akimichi Chouji turned their quizzes in – they'd been the last, behind even the civilian children – Iruka asked Kaede something that had been on his mind for weeks. The two of them were cleaning up after the messes left behind by the children.

"Minarishi-san, why are you so uncomfortable around Naruto? I know what he is, but still, he's a good kid. Anyone can see that, if you ignore his occasional antics."

Kaede, seeing that this was a topic that the young Chuunin had been stirring over for a while, sighed and sat on top of her desk – one of the luxuries of being a teacher. Folding her hands under her chin, she looked Iruka in the eyes and spoke clearly and with deliberation.

"Iruka-san, you're young. You're a fine teacher with a bright future ahead of you in Konoha's military forces, but you have never seen war as I have. I've seen several Jinchuuriki in battle, and I've even fought against Roshi of the Hidden Stone. I was lucky to have survived…" Kaede, steeling herself, continued. She had no desire to recollect the friends she'd lost on that day, on that S-rank mission during the Third Great War to the lava-spewing abomination. "Jinchuuriki are not human, Iruka-san. I've seen what they can do. So few of them are mentally or morally stable, and the ones that are are usually hosting the weakest of the nine demons. Do you remember the first law of sealing, Iruka-san?"

"Yes. It's, 'the lifespan of a seal is negatively related to the strength of the seal." Iruka then continued, slightly raising his voice. "But Jiraiya-sama and the Sandaime himself have both told us time and again that that isn't a worry in Naruto's case!"

Kaede sighed.

"Iruka, Minato Namikaze was a truly amazing man…he was invincible in battle, the most powerful man to have lived since Senju Hashirama and Uchiha Madara themselves. Had he lived longer, he probably would have surpassed even them. And yet, for all his power, he was honorable. We shinobi are dirty beings, Iruka. We don't have the luxury of the morals or the honor of the Daimyo's samurai armies. And yet, for all that, Minato was a human being of nobility and kindness second to none, despite his nonexistent family background."

Kaede sighed again, in bitterness this time.

"Do you understand, Iruka? Minato was supposed to be Konoha's future. Konoha barely survived the Third Great War, despite what the daimyo's propaganda," Kaede sharply pointed to the teacher's copy of the Academy's textbook on her desk "may tell you. Especially with the death of Hatake Sakumo, we were on the ropes. The other Great Nations had grown sick of Konoha after our overwhelming victory in the Second Great War thanks to the Sannin, Sakumo, and all of our other S-ranked heroes like Danzo Shimura, Uchiha Kagami, Akimichi Torifu, our Council leaders Homura and Koharu, and more. Not even our loss of Tobirama at the start of the war to the Silver and Gold Brothers did anything but slightly delay our crushing of all opposition once we had our forces in position. It is thanks to those elite men and women that we so dominated in the second Great War. However, by the time of the Third War these heroes were mostly either gone or had retired from the front lines, and the generation that rose to succeed them…wasn't powerful enough. Especially with our fucking daimyo having cut back too quickly and too much on the Hidden Leaf's subsidies during the time of 'peace' in between the second and third wars. Between those factors, and because Hashirama was a fucking idiot and gave the other nations the Bijuu that Madara and he had tamed without keeping an answer to the Bijuu in our command, we were at a dire disadvantage in the Third War, when the other four Great Nations did the unthinkable…."

"They broke the Balance of the Tailed Demons en masse and began unleashing their Jinchuuriki on the front lines! Do you understand, Iruka? We were getting our asses kicked even with our Daimyo's unprecedented support when he realized his earlier folly. We were losing! All four other Great Nations had allied against us and were using their Jinchuuriki against us in battle! What was our answer to them? We had none! We had no Jinchuuriki of our own and no Uchiha or Senju powerful enough to suppress them! Even Kagami could do no more than temporarily delay them! We were being pushed back into our own territory! For all of the accolades that Hatake Kakashi and Uchiha Obito received in the propaganda, even the Battle of the Kannabi Bridge was merely an operation to cover our own asses as we retreated from the Hidden Stone's immense and invincible army, which was supported by two fully matured Jinchuuriki!"

And then Kaede sighed happily, thinking of the greatest victory that the Hidden Leaf had ever had.

"And then Minato, who was perhaps the only S-ranked ninja of his generation, unveiled his new techniques. The man had been gone from the village for months at a time for years, training with the Toads at Myobokuzan when he wasn't with Jiraiya or his genin, and when he returned…."

Kaede's voice trailed off, as she recalled a happier time.

"Minato was invincible, Iruka. He had mastered dozens of techniques of overwhelming power, like the legendary Rasengan. He found ways to use seals in battle that no one before him had even thought possible. And when he unveiled the Flying Thunder God Technique…he could face down entire armies alone."

"I was there, Iruka. I was at the final battle against the Hidden Stone, when it was just us thirty or so surviving ninja versus hundreds of the Stone's elite, including Ryotenbin no Onoki's own eldest son and both of Iwa's Jinchuuriki. And then Minato appears among our ranks in a yellow flash, and he gives us thirty ninja thousands of those tri-pronged kunai of his, and orders us to spread the things throughout the battlefield."

"Once we did that, Iruka….it was glorious. Minato's speed…it was indescribable. Even the Uchiha in our ranks didn't have a fucking clue what they were looking at. Minato was cutting down Hidden Stone's greatest generation, a generation including dozens of A-rank and several S-rank ninja, at the rate of several per second. Onoki's own son was supposed to be the greatest ninja in the Hidden Stone aside from his father; he had fully mastered the legendary Dust Release and was supposed to be even more powerful than the Jinchuuriki. He was an S+ ranked ninja! Nearly the equal of his father! And Minato murdered him on the battlefield in less than half a second. Minato murdered every last one of them except for the Jinchuuriki, who went so far as to transform into their demons – and Minato instantly demolished them both with five-elements-seals, suppressing their demons on the spot. He spared their lives only so that their demons wouldn't be released!"

Kaede spat. "Fucking Jinchuuriki."

She continued. "Minato was the first SS-ranked ninja in history, Iruka. Not even our own Third Hokage in his prime achieved that! Granted, had the Bingo Book existed back then, Madara and Hashirama would have definitely had that rank, but their time is long past. Minato was so powerful that he could defeat even Amegakure's Hanzo in single combat – a man who eats S-ranked ninja who intrude into his country along with his daily breakfast! The man who gave the legendary Sannin their title for merely surviving against him in combat."

"…every last woman in the Fire Country wanted him, Iruka."

Kaede spoke quietly. "I was nearly two decades his senior, happily married….and I can honestly say that had I been younger, even I would have been tempted. Minato was that majestic, that heroic."

Kaede looked Iruka in the eye once more. Iruka had sat down in one of the children's desks – for he was the student here – and was listening quietly, enthralled.

"You should have seen Minato at the post-war 'peace' conference, Iruka. It was held at the Iron Country's samurai fortress, with dozens of daimyo, the leaders of dozens of vassal hidden villages, and every Kage save the Mizukage – their Kage was busy dealing with a natural disaster back in Kiri, but they still sent a representative, the leader of Kiri's greatest clan, the Terumi. The new Yondaime Raikage, A, was there, as was the Iron Sand-wielding Sandaime Kazekage. Onoki himself was there! I was serving as one of Minato's guards, and you should have seen it, Iruka. All three of those men were S to S+ ranked ninja, each capable of demolishing an army on his own. And they were quaking in their boots from merely being in the same room as Minato! They couldn't even touch the man and they knew it! The daimyo of all of the Elemental Nations represented there were falling all over themselves to kiss Minato's ass, even the daimyo of the other Great Nations that we'd just crushed! There was talk of a permanent peace - the end of all wars! Minato was the one who brought that up, and all of the greatest daimyo of the world listened!"

Kaede laughed, a dram of cruelty intruding into her tone.

"In retrospect, that 'dignified and far-sighted' conversation that the Daimyo of the world had with Minato in Iron Country was a merely façade for cowards. The fucking daimyo were trying to save themselves from Minato through advance peace negotiations before the Fourth Great War, in which everyone assumed that Minato would get tired of defending the Fire Nation and would decide to come to them, conquering all of the Elemental Nations by himself if need be, casting down every single one of those fucking daimyo and their hidden villages and their samurai armies! That's how powerful, that's how feared, Minato was!"

As Iruka's eyes widened, Kaeda got up from her desk and walked to the second floor window overlooking Konoha's main thoroughfare, crossing her arms behind her back as she turned away from Iruka. She spoke quietly, in a tone full of regrets and memories and things that could and should have been.

"And, yet, Iruka…for all that, Minato was no god. I served alongside him. I saw him weep and laugh and grieve and bleed. He was merely a man…the greatest man in the world, but still just a man. No mere mortal can over-write the laws of sealing, an art passed down to us by the Sage of Six Paths himself! The greater the demon that a Jinchuuriki holds, the sooner it is that that Jinchuuriki's seal will weaken, with the vessel eventually going insane and then dying, releasing the demon once more, for the cycle to be repeated, once more. Of the hundreds of Jinchuuriki to have lived, there has only ever been one exception to this law – the current Raikage's brother, Killer Bee, the Jinchuuriki of the eight-tails. Killer Bee somehow reconciled with his beast, and the two are now brothers in arms. Supposedly."

Kaede, turning back to Iruka, chuckled.

"I've met him, you know. Killer Bee, the current Raikage's younger brother. He was at the peace conference. Damned rapping womanizer." Kaede sighed, thinking back on what might have been a fond memory.

"The man was insane, Iruka. He was controlled, almost docile even, but to understand the connections going on in his mind, to understand how he got from A to B to C…simply impossible. His demon probably drove him insane, but he, likely some kind of savant, managed to maintain some poor semblance of human conduct and emotion, thereby resulting in his not being killed outright by his demon. The Council of Kumogakure probably came to a similar conclusion…they haven't allowed Killer Bee nearby any sizable human population for the past decade. No doubt they also fear that he never truly mastered his demon, but instead became something else, something more and less than a Jinchuuriki, some kind of near-to-exploding abomination with a very short fuse that could be neither trusted nor controlled."

"Do you know what the lesson from Killer Bee probably is, Iruka? There has never been a true exception to the law of Jinchuuriki, not even in his strange case."

Seeing Iruka's worried expression, she laughed lightly, continuing. "You're such a fine teacher, Iruka, that I forget how young you are…only nineteen, right?" Seeing Iruka's nod, she continued. "Yes…I forget that it wasn't so long ago that you yourself were merely just another student prankster walking these very halls. No doubt you see something of yourself in Naruto. Trust me, don't. It will only bring you grief when he, just like all of the other Jinchuuriki of powerful demons, goes insane and dies, taking many fine men and women with him to the afterlife when the Fox goes on its next rampage. You're in your first term as a teacher, full of great ideas and idealism like all the rest of the new teachers I've seen walk these halls. Usually I would tell you go to knock yourself out pursuing your ideas, to the betterment of the village and everyone in it, but, if you will ever trust me in your life, do it now. Don't invest yourself in Naruto. When he dies in exactly the manner that I've predicted, despite your aid…you will become a burnout, which would be a tragic waste of a fine young man full of potential, and a grave disservice to the other students that you've sworn to serve."

Seeing Iruka open his mouth to protest, Kaede raised her open hand in a gesture of silence, so that she could continue with her lecture.

"You were about to ask, how can I be so certain that that will be Naruto's fate?" Seeing Iruka nod in confirmation, she continued.

"Because of what the nine tailed fox is, Iruka. To some extent or another, all of the other eight Bijuu could be negotiated with, reasoned with. Even their legendary forefather, the Juubi, could according to myth, to a limited extent, be reasoned with, or at the very most be redirected or distracted. It was not like this with the Kyuubi. We have no record of the Fox ever speaking, ever negotiating! Not one person ever succeeded in distracting or redirecting or even delaying it, let alone defeating it! During those centuries when the Fox singlehandedly suppressed the entire human race after it emerged from the Unknown Territories on the warpath, we tried to reconcile with it! We offered it food, territory, servants, even our worship! None of our tactics worked! When we tried, in desperation, to negotiate with the other eight Bijuu – our race's former greatest enemies before the Fox emerged from the unknown wilds - to ally with us against it, even that failed. Why, do you ask? Because the other eight Bijuu admitted that the Fox was more powerful than all of them combined! They told us what we'd long suspected, that the Fox was a true being of hate that was so sensitized to hate that it could sense hate and the other negative emotions from distances of many thousands of miles. The Fox slaughtered humanity by the millions, destroying every settlement that ever became larger than a medium sized hovel in the entirety of what we now call the Elemental Nations, for centuries, because human hate was, to it, an itch that it had to purge from the world! Our race's very existence was to it a perpetual source of itching mosquito bites! How could we ever hope to negotiate with, to reason with, such a being? Would you negotiate with the lice in your bed? Or would you simply destroy them all, so that you could get on with your life? That's what all of humanity was to the nine-tailed fox! Even the other eight Bijuu only felt safe when they were on the opposite side of the continent from the beast!"

Kaede held her hand up again, seeing Iruka about to speak once more.

"You're about to ask, 'but how does this all tie into Naruto?' Think, Iruka! Jinchuuriki become more and more fragile over time, a weakening that is accelerated by orders of magnitude as you proceed up the totem pole to the most powerful of the demons. It is said that the most powerful demons are also the most intelligent…that their abilities of comprehension, their spiritual powers, their capacity to learn increases along with their power. This means that of all of the demons, the Kyuubi is the one most suited, more so than all of the others combined, to defeat the Fourth's seal! It alone has the power and the intelligence to succeed where all of the other demons would have probably failed. It alone has the capacity to sense emotions, meaning that of all of the demons, it is the one that will best know how to exploit Naruto's emotional weaknesses and turn him against his own seal! And when that happens, the Nine-tailed Fox will be released once more, right here in the center of Konoha – and this time we won't have another Minato to sacrifice his life for us! No one has risen to take his place…not even Hatake Kakashi, who we all had such hopes for before he became an Anbu burnout…"

Kaede trailed off, doubt clearly visible on her face – clearly a rare emotion for this of all women to display.

"Iruka, the Kyuubi and its powers are beyond mortal comprehension. It will never be controlled or tamed by a Jinchuuriki. The only person who ever succeeded was Uchiha Madara, the strongest Uchiha to ever live…and even he was forced to delude and confound the beast with genjutsu. Can you imagine, if you had the beast inside you, where it would know you and your weaknesses better than even yourself, where you would have to face the full might of the beast's mind, without any hope of weakening or confusing the beast with tricks of genjutsu? The Fox is probably more intelligent than the greatest geniuses that humanity has ever produced…to defeat such a being in a war of the minds?"

Kaede sighed.

"It's impossible. It's utterly impossible. That poor boy doesn't stand a chance. When he fails in his task – which will probably be in the next few years – we are all going to pay for the Sandaime's weakness."

Kaede didn't bother stopping Iruka from speaking his voice. It was about time that the young man contributed something to her monologue.

"How can you talk like that about the Sandaime?! Konoha owes everything that it is today thanks to him. He's reigned longer than the other three Kage – whatever their heroism – combined, times two! If the Sandaime and Jiraiya-sama both assure us of the seal's integrity, don't we owe it to them to trust them, to trust in Naruto and the sealing skill of the Fourth – the greatest prodigy of the sealing arts to have probably ever lived?"

Kaede laughed, without scorn – she was simply amused.

"Iruka-kun, you are so young. I would be the last person to normally speak ill of the Sandaime – my own commanding officer. However, after having served the man for over four decades, I've earned the right to speak my voice – something that he would cheerfully admit if he were here in this room with us." Kaede eyed the room suspiciously, as though expecting the aged man to step out from under a closet. She muttered something about "…damned…he…ervert…scrying orbs."

"Um, what was that, Kaede-san?"

Kaede smiled brightly, though the expression seemed rather forced.

"The Sandaime has in his possession an extremely powerful tool of observation and surveillance that is functional throughout the entire city and the surrounding region. It was invented by Mito and improved upon by the Fourth. Let's just say that the kunoichi suspect that he doesn't always use it for its intended purposes."

"…So, the Hokage might actually be listening in on us right here and now?" Iruka studiously avoided thinking of his commanding officer, the God of Shinobi, who had in his prime been the most powerful man in the Elemental Nations, in that kind of way.

"There's a damned good possibility that he is. He keeps a close eye on Naruto, doubly so when he's in the Academy. I don't mind his spying, though. It keeps us teachers on our toes, and has helped to weed out…undesirables, in the past."

Kaede said this in reference to foreign children who had attempted to infiltrate the shinobi forces from the bottom up, and in reference to teachers who had committed criminal acts. The Sandaime tended to never intervene in mere pranks and typical Academy antics.

"This is your first term as a teacher, and I can see that you're not going to be dissuaded in your trying to teach Naruto. Hiruzen will only admire you for your hardheaded foolishness." Kaede sighed. "One of the things you learn as you become an older and a more experienced teacher is that some children are just lost causes, and the effort of breaking through to them isn't worth the time that would be better spent on all of the other students that you have an equal responsibility to serve. "

"In any case, regarding Hiruzen, you, and by extension the children and the Academy will benefit if I clue you in to the mutterings going on in the circles of the older, former shinobi." Kaede chuckled lightly. "The 'dried up and useless old retired coots', as your own Kiba would describe us."

Kaede composed herself, speaking seriously.

"We surviving members of the older generation that fought in the final battles of the Era of the Warring Clans, the shinobi who fought in all three of the Great Wars at the side of the three Kage…we can tell that Hiruzen isn't the same man that he once was."

Kaede spat bitterly. "The entire Hyuuga affair was a disgrace. Merely four years after Minato's death, A Yotsuki – a man who trembled in Minato's presence, a man unworthy of licking Minato's boots, whom he would have crushed like a cockroach in direct combat despite A's S-rank – thought so little of Konoha's power that he thought that he could get away with stealing our village's second most powerful bloodline – and when that failed, he still had the balls to threaten us with war if we didn't give him Hyuuga Hiashi, one of our greatest."

"The Sandaime was forced to sacrifice Hiashi's twin brother Hizashi – a young man who served under me on a few occasions. Hizashi was a noble young man, every bit the equal of his brother in battle – and Hiruzen was forced to sacrifice his life in a coward's ploy to deceive the Hidden Cloud for long enough to call up our forces and our allies before the Cloud could wage war on us!"

"It was a disgrace, Iruka! Merely four years beforehand, we were far and away the most powerful of the Elemental Nations, led by one of the strongest shinobi to ever live – a man who was still only beginning to plumb the depths of his potential. And there we were, four years later, brought so low by a rampaging Bijuu and a spectacularly arrogant and overly emotional cockroach."

Kaede, seeing the look on Iruka's face, clarified.

"I don't blame Hiruzen for what happened. He did the best he could in a delicate situation, where he had a choice between two options – the disastrous and the merely distasteful. We were not ready for a war back then, so soon after the Third War and the Kyuubi attack. Hiruzen and Hizashi saved many lives with their ploy. That we had to make those choices, though, that we were forced into such a situation, merely four years after Konoha's ascendency…it was a low blow to our pride, Iruka. It reminded us in the older generation of just what we'd lost when Minato died…"

Kaede trailed off, rage and regret playing across her features.

"Minato died too soon, Iruka. He wasn't even thirty! Jiraiya told me, after the funeral, that he was soon going to be teaching Minato how to draw upon natural chakra, how to become a sage. Apparently Minato hadn't had the right mindset earlier in his life, but after he became Hokage…something in his mind clicked, removing whatever the final barrier was that was holding Jiraiya off from teaching his student what is perhaps the most powerful path of study in existence. Senjutsu! Only a dozen or so men in recorded history have achieved mastery of that! I cannot even begin to overstate how fortunate our village is that the only currently living fully realized Sage in the Elemental Nations is aligned with our village. If Minato had had that at his disposal…they may as well have given him a triple S-ranking."

Kaede sighed.

"Minato was supposed to be the future, Iruka. He was supposed to lead Konoha and achieve a true and permanent peace in the Elemental Nations, casting down the corrupt daimyo system everywhere! No one could have stood against Minato if he'd lived and kept on growing, not even the Fire Nation's daimyo! I saw it at the peace conference, Iruka! The daimyo of the world, who have been the hegemons of humanity for countless centuries while we shinobi of the hidden villages serve as their glorified dogs, were terrified of Minato! If he'd had more time….he could have extracted from them whatever he damn well pleased. He could have made himself the daimyo of the Fire Nation, and no one would have opposed him – he was practically already being worshipped as a living god in most of the Fire Nation. The worms and eunuchs of the Capital were quaking in fear awaiting the day when he finally turned his gaze upon them!"

"And now, look at us…Konoha isn't even the strongest Hidden Village any longer. We've been cutting back on our military forces thanks to the daimyo's budget cuts; us and every Great Hidden Village save Cloud, which has been re-militarizing and stealing bloodline limits by the dozen from throughout the Elemental Nations – an objective that Mist's idiotic civil war is only aiding. They had had more bloodline limits than every other nation combined…all ripe for the picking now that their Kage, Yagura, has apparently gone utterly insane."

"Hiruzen shouldn't need to be Kage any longer. The man was tired before he stepped down and allowed Minato to take over. He'd spent two generations sending practically everyone he'd ever known and loved on some damned suicide mission or another. I saw the man on the day he stepped down and retired! You could feel his happiness, his relief, from the other side of the village! The man was so worn down from the Second and Third Wars…"

"With the Kyuubi attack, his wife Biwako, who was his pillar of strength…she was slain by some unknown assailant who battled Minato himself to a standstill! Whoever this assailant was, he was capable of controlling and summoning the Kyuubi, a beast that hadn't been seen once since the Battle of the Valley of the End, where Hashirama stopped Madara's one-manned invasion of the Elemental Nations. No one has a fucking clue who the attacker, the controller of the Kyuubi, was, but it must have been an Uchiha. We who were battling the Fox eight years ago, we could see that it was in the thrall of a Sharingan genjutsu. We don't think that there are any currently living Uchiha capable of such power. Not even Kagami, the clan head prior to Fugaku, would have been remotely capable of such a feat. But, with how secretive that that clan has always been, with how much more secretive they became after the Kyuubi attack…who knows? I don't see how it would make sense, but it might have been an Uchiha in the clan who was responsible for the attack, since we don't know of any Uchiha missing-nin, and because no man with a transplanted eye like Kakashi could ever hope to achieve such control over the bloodline limit. If it wasn't for the fact that Hashirama confirmed Madara's death at the Valley of the End, and if not for the fact that Madara would have in any case died long ago even if he had somehow survived, that's who we would first suspect…."

Kaede, seeing Iruka's worried features, sighed. "I digress. I don't mean to bother you with speculative political bullshit. You would not believe how nasty Council meetings have gotten ever since we found out that the Kyuubi was under the influence of a Sharingan. Getting back to Biwako Sarutobi…"

"The woman was a saint, Iruka. One of the most beloved figures in the village and the founder of our medical-ninja corps. She taught Tsunade herself! She saved tens of thousands of lives throughout her long career. She never retired, not even after her husband stepped down. It was she who kept Hiruzen from walking down the easier, but darker paths that Shimura Danzo and his allies promoted. Her advice and limitless love kept Hiruzen sane throughout the years. With her death…Hiruzen has never been the same. The man is tired. He wants to step down, but no one from the younger generations is worthy of taking the hat. Right now, Iruka, our numbers of S-rank ninja are at all-time lows, while the Hidden Cloud continually rises in strength, while the Hidden Stone rebuilds itself from Minato's wrath. Kirigakure is an absolute clusterfuck….they're not going to be bothering anyone beyond their own borders for a generation. The Hidden Sand….their daimyo has perhaps been cutting the budget rather too enthusiastically. We know better than to trust their halfhearted "alliance", but they're in no position to challenge the Leaf in any case.

The point is that, eventually, we're going to have a Fourth World War on our hands, and I'm not seeing any obvious choices for the Godaime Hokage in the village, particularly given that Orochimaru went insane, Tsunade may as well be a nukenin – she's avoided that designation only through Hiruzen's mercy and the countless favors that she is owed, and Jiraiya simply refuses to take the office. Hiruzen and Jiraiya have been in shouting matches over Jiraiya's refusal to become Hokage…but personally, I think that Jiraiya's right. Keeping a man of his talents cooped up in Konoha would be a grave waste of his talents, and he's not suited for politics, not suited for the art of being forced to compromise with second rate men to make third rate decisions. The man enjoys being a wandering sage perhaps a little too much for his own good, but, as a sitting Council member, I've got to admit, he gets the job done. His information network is second to none. He's saved countless lives and played an invaluable and irreplaceable role in keeping the peace throughout the Fire Nation for the past two decades. We're lucky to have him…even if he actually visits the village only once in a blue moon. I've only seen him twice since the Kyuubi attack…he and Hiruzen seem to be especially upset at one another over something that has something to do with the aftermath of attack, but I don't know what."

Kaede chuckled.

"It's ironic that, of the three Sannin, it's Jiraiya – the forsaken orphan whom Hiruzen initially had the least hopes for, the dead-last of his class – who became the most powerful and the most loyal of them all. Hiruzen invested so much of himself into Orochimaru and Tsunade – though his wife may have had more of an influence on the latter than even he – only to see them both leave our village. Jiraiya really did astound us all…"

Kaede trailed off wistfully. "Jiraiya is a truly spectacular man, his side antics aside. Tsunade was a fool to reject him, and he was the equal fool to pursue her for so long. I don't think that he ever realized how admired he became in the eyes of the kunoichi of the village – and how much more admired he would be if he wasn't such a blatant and shameless sinner. The man would be an amazing father….."

"As for his team-mate, Orochimaru….his defection was a black day in Konoha's history. He would have been Hokage if Minato Namikaze hadn't been Hiruzen's obvious successor, and merely three years after the Kyuubi attack, the man goes rogue – but not before abducting and gruesomely murdering dozens of our shinobi and scores if not hundreds of civilians. Though, judging from the findings in his laboratories, he had been planning on going nukenin for a very long time prior to the attack – for at least six and a half years…the exact amount of time since Minato's ascendency. I wish that I could tell you more, but most of the information regarding Orochimaru's defection is A-rank classified, as in, privy only to Jounin and those on a need to know basis."

Kaede sighed tiredly. After a full day of meetings, teaching, and this conversation, her voice was beginning to feel strained. She needed to get home in time to cook dinner for her family.

"In any case," said Kaede, standing up from her desk and staring into Konoha's main thoroughfare, which was now painted red and black with the light and the lengthening shadows of the sunset, "it's getting late, and I've taken enough of your time with my fool ramblings. Just, ask yourself…given all that I've just told you, if we take it as a given that Minato's seal will soon fail, why doesn't the Sandaime take the boy and assign him to a team with flight capabilities, and drop him off on the other side of the planet, and count our blessings while it takes the Kyuubi a century or two to make it back to the Elemental Nations on foot? It's not like we've got the Uchiha or the Senju left powerful enough to control or suppress the Fox without a Jinchuuriki, like Madara and Hashirama were both capable of. We older shinobi think that the Sandaime's hand is being forced by the Capital, compelling him into keeping the Kyuubi in some fool notion of maintaining the Balance of the Tailed Beasts, and an even greater fool notion of controlling the Kyuubi. That Hiruzen seems to have feelings for the boy just makes this even more difficult. Regarding the Balance…I admit that Konoha needs an answer to the Jinchuuriki of the other nations, especially after the Third Great War, when the other nations all abandoned the Balance in an attempt to finally destroy us…but I just don't see how the Kyuubi can be that answer. What good is a weapon that you cannot control, that would sooner destroy you than your enemies?"

Iruka also stood up, tiredly. This conversation had been a thoroughly interesting and enlightening, but profoundly dark, window into aspects of Konoha that Iruka had only rarely dealt with before. As a young and recently promoted Chuunin who had been, at his Jounin-sensei's recommendation, diverted to becoming an Academy teacher rather than an active-duty ninja, Iruka had only rarely been privilege to any real responsibility and the knowledge that came with it. Even his appointment at the Academy was still based on a temporary contract while his skills were evaluated…he was barely a step up from being an intern. Because of that, Iruka knew that he could not afford to screw this opportunity up. Becoming an Academy teacher was a particularly coveted duty in the shinobi forces, and Iruka didn't intend to screw it up. Iruka spoke in his 'official' voice.

"Minarishi-sama, while your arguments are extremely compelling, the Sandaime has given me his personal assurances that the Seal's integrity is absolute. Therefore, despite what happened to my parents, I see Naruto as just another student, one particularly in need of help. This first year of the Academy is nearly over…I was wary of Naruto at first, but from what I've seen this year, he is clearly not the demon, and there hasn't even been the slightest flare of demonic chakra even when he was at his most angry. As far as I can tell, he appears to be fully in control. Until, and only until, I see some reason to think that he isn't control, I must trust in the Third…and in the Fourth. "

Iruka slumped a little, the stiffness leaving his shoulders and his voice.

"But, in all honesty, Minarishi-sama, thank you for telling me all of that. As you know, we've been having complaints from parents about Naruto being allowed into the Academy, complaints that become ten times worse than Naruto is in the same class as their children. You've helped me better understand the parent's motivations…they aren't satisfied when I tell them that it's out of my hands, that the Hokage isn't divulging the identity of Naruto's anonymous sponsor for Academy admission, the person who is funding Naruto's tuition. No doubt much of the village would beat this person's door down if they knew who he was…"

Kaede responded, in a tone of curiosity.

"Indeed. Not even I have even the faintest idea who Naruto's sponsor is. The transactions are handled through the office of a high-caliber lawyer, sworn to secrecy, who is known for handling the affairs of elite shinobi who wish to remain unknown. I don't think we're ever going to know who the sponsor is."

Kaede, rolling her shoulders to work out the stiffness after a long day of work, went to the room's exit. Looking back, she said her goodbyes.

"I'll see you tomorrow, Iruka-san. Just keep in mind what I've said."

She left without waiting for a response.

Iruka stood along in the darkening room. He spoke in worry. He'd been masking many of his emotions regarding the revelations that Kaede had shared.

"I…have a lot to think about."

In a darkened guest room of the Fire Nation's volcanic royal palace, hundreds of miles away from Konoha,

Jiraiya POV:

A certain Sannin, currently in his late forties, was about to be a lucky man. In gratitude for recent information regarding the ongoing civil war that was still spreading throughout the eastern island nations, the Daimyo had provided for Jiraiya's exclusive, all night usage of two elite courtesans. The Fire Nation's most powerful living shinobi currently had both of the voluptuous women sitting on his lap and nibbling at his ears. The man sighed in pleased contentment. Nothing could beat this life, earning fame and fortune as a wandering sage, and being wined, dined, and serviced, all in patriotic service to his country.

Sarutobi-sensei can take his job and stuff it. This, this, is how life should be lived.

Jiraiya, again, sighed in contentment as he reclined into the luxurious pillows of the guest room's couch. The good part was going to come soon. And then he, without preamble, nearly sneezed. Someone out there was talking about him.

"You know, they say that for every sigh, you live for a day less."

The woman speaking was a lightly muscled, fair-skinned, brown haired, green eyed beauty in her late twenties. She was in the personal service of the Daimyo, but had never had the blood status to become a member of his harem. And so here she was, servicing Jiraiya, and not for the first time.

Jiraiya, amused, grabbed the back of the woman's head and gave her a full kiss. Pulling back a centimeter, he spoke hoarsely.

"It's a good thing that I don't intend to live forever, then."

The blonde courtesan, abandoning her ministrations, began slowly stroking Jiraiya's highly experienced manhood. She gave the room's immense bed a pointed look, her partner, a black haired and blue eyed beauty, taking position next to it.

The woman stood, pulling Jiraiya to his feet. They walked to the bed, where both women began disrobing Jiraiya, before doing the same to one another. Both women pulled Jiraiya with them onto the furs of the luxurious bed, which was worth more than most shinobi earned in a decade.

"In that case…let's make this night one of the most memorable of your mortal life."

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Writing Kaede and Jiraiya is such a joy. For reference, Kaede doesn't have a clue that Mito and Hashirama captured the Kyuubi at the Valley of the End after they wrested control of it away from Madara. The Fox's capture by Konoha had been a closely held secret, known to maybe half a dozen people in the village at most before the Kyuubi attack. The Council was never told, just like how they were never told of the details of Minato's seal - that it was actually, literally, created via an act of divine intervention, defeating the normal laws of mortal sealing. They also weren't told that the Kyuubi probably can't escape from Naruto at all given the loss of its Yin chakra - which means that the Fox absolutely needs to have a host with considerable Yin chakra of its own to continue existing, which forces the Fox to back off from its most vicious Jinchuuriki-destroying tactics and instead use a more...delicate approach, aimed at corrupting and subverting rather than destroying Naruto by exploiting his darkest emotions. The Fox will wake from its torpor soon.

Hiruzen, Jiraiya, the Anbu General, Danzo, the Fire Daimyo, and a very small number of elite persons know of the details of Minato's seal on a need-to-know basis, but the Council itself thinks that the Kyuubi is sealed with a normal, if particularly powerful, seal - which would fully and absolutely justify their fears if it were so. Only a very small number of people know of Naruto's parentage, even fewer than those who know of the truth of the seal. Danzo is not one of those people. As far as most of the village knows, Naruto is a random Uzumaki descended from the refugees of Uzushiogakure's destruction, who was abducted specifically to serve as the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, which the village would have needed to do given the loss of the Senju - the only other bloodline that the village had which would have served to contain a powerful tailed demon.

Killer Bee isn't actually nuts, but with his...personality...he made for a very unusual first impression that Kaede, at first charmed, misinterpreted more and more as time passed and as she learned more about how Bee, as a fully realized Jinchuuriki, was kept on such a tight leash by the Kumo Council. That, in short, summarizes much of Kaede's view - she's a profoundly intelligent woman who honestly only barely understands the Naruto situation better than any typical villager, so, she lets her interpretations and conclusions based on sparse information run wild and deeply prejudice her against the boy, as is the case for most of Konoha. Of course the villagers would hate something that they could neither understand nor control, that they thought was being forced to live among them by a far off, arrogant Capital!

The villagers aren't really so bad, as we see later in the canon manga where Naruto has succeeded in winning them over. We can see in canon that Naruto only began to be accepted by the villagers when he proved to them that he could control the Fox, which he did versus Neji and Gaara, and spectacularly did so in Pain's invasion, when he released an immense amount of power without harming a single villager, even if unintentionally - who among the villagers would know that it was unintentional?

I wrote Kaede primarily in order to show the stereotypical, but in her case, particularly well spoken, reasons behind the village's distaste for Naruto. Again, Kaede has little more information than any villager. She isn't a bad person, but has what are to her very good reasons for refusing to accept him as a member of society. Her views largely represent those of the village's common people. I am NOT writing the villagers to be the stereotypically hateful bunch that they are in most fanfiction, because that is clearly not true in canon. It takes good writing to really show this viewpoint, much more so than relying on the stereotypical hatred of most fanfiction. In time, as Naruto matures and proves that he can truly control the Fox's chakra, Kaede, like the rest of the village, will be won over. There are reasons for the village's hate and distaste...good reasons, which can be defeated if the villagers are provided with good information and proof of Naruto's physical and mental stability.

To envision Kaede, simply envision Lin Beifong wearing an eyepatch.

The third chapter is pretty much done. It'll be out in the next few days, as will be the standalone 'story' that consists of Naruto's quiz in this chapter. This chapter will conclude the 'world-building', arc, which one reviewer aptly noticed the existence of. After that, I will be focusing almost entirely on Naruto's POV, moving the story along to the main events of Part 1 quickly - for that is where Naruto awakens the Rinnegan, begins to control its powers, and learns of his new quest - one completely aside from defeating Akatsuki.

If you have any questions about anything, just ask via PM or in a review.