Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi. Hey Matsuena, why no catch wrestling character? You had the Wrestling Boss pro wrestling character in the mask, although he didn't do anything. Come on. Those moves are cool as hell, and they work. I actually worked into a legit full-nelson to submit someone the other day in a grappling match.

It was the second most satisfying submission I've ever landed.

And come on. You're doing a weapon-user arc. Nunchucks. Do it. They'd totally be a crowd-pleaser.

Chapter 31: O Fortuna


Needless to say, after the invasion began, the tournament came to an end, and undecided as well.

Diego Carlo stood at the top of the coliseum looking down as all of the rich mafia bigwigs that had been invited to view the competition ran away for dear life to keep from being arrested by the invading military forces. Well that just solidified the fact that there was no more reason to remain there. The audience was gone, there was no one left to fight for.

He would never let Castor finish the tournament now. She would have had no adoring public to show off her talents to.

Well it looked like it was time to go. But he'd picked up quite the interesting bits of information from watching to take back to Yami. As he walked to the other side of the coliseum top and saw the devastation spreading out in five separate paths all over the island, Diego grinned even wider to himself.

When he got the chance to take down members of these so-called 'strongest', he would do it in front of an audience that would appreciate the majesty of his skill.

Oh well. At least his show got the attention it deserved for as long as it had lasted. After all, some of the most famed works in history were unfinished.

XxX

(With Naruto – Elsewhere on Despair Island)

"This island is retarded!" Naruto said, making good use of his ranged weaponry to pick off and disable soldiers from afar after his party had been noticed while trying to reach the stadium again through a side or back entrance. Specialists in stealth Kenichi and Miu were not, "I don't have that many arrows ya know!"

"How are you doing that without killing them?" Kenichi asked, wincing as he watched Naruto bury an arrow through another bad guy's shoulder, and always in the same spot if he could help it, like clockwork. That was an automatic thing that could have only been achieved via drilling through repetition.

"In the Kousaka-style there's four good spots to shoot somebody without killin' 'em," Naruto said. Not that Kenichi cared since he never planned on picking up any sort of weapon at all, "At least there's only four when you're not a master. I dunno. She hasn't taught me more yet," With another 'thoom' of the string being released, another arrow hit home, eliciting a yell from his enemy, "Made a promise. I won't kill anybody with the stuff that Shigure taught me herself."

Aww. Well that was certainly sentimental.

*Thwip!*

"AAAHHH!"

…On second thought, from Kenichi's perspective perhaps killing someone with those shots would have been more humane than burying an arrow through them like that. Those arrows went in deep.

Miu forcefully grabbed Naruto by the forearm before the bootsteps of a squad with more guns could get close enough to investigate and find them again, "Naruto-kun, stop shooting people and let's go!"

"I'm sorry, it's a reflex! I see something I can hit and I hit it! That's why I don't use this thing!" Naruto reasoned, "It was the last training we did every session! I had to shoot a traditional bow until my fingers bled and I was good enough at it for Shigure to let me leave! With a compound bow it's so much easier I can't help it, because I know I can hit what I shoot at!"

Either way, it was time to move.

"Psst!" Niijima hissed out to them behind the cover of thick brush, beckoning them over. He squealed in alarm as his quick movement almost got him shot when Naruto swung his bow over in his direction. That was Naruto's cue to put it away. An itchy bowstring finger wasn't the best thing to have around friends.

Behind the foliage Niijima had taken refuge in was the Shade Alliance, or what was left of them physically. Kisara was standing, as was Thor. The underling members of the alliance were pushing gurneys containing Takeda, Freya, and Ukita.

Miu breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of them, "You're all okay," Relatively speaking due to the fact that they were in the middle of a warzone, but the fact that they were alive was great for starters.

"Alright, this is good!" Naruto said with a grin, "Let's get to the docks and get the hell outta here before we catch a stray bullet! Where the hell are the masters?"

Yes, that was a point of necessary interest. More than half of them were hurt, and it was the middle of a warzone. Leaving hurt disciples alone in a situation like that didn't seem to be the best idea. All of those people could definitely handle automatic gunfire without trouble at all. Kenichi seen it, "Wait, you mean they weren't around in the coliseum? They just left!?"

"The silent lady with the weapons was with us," Kisara revealed, "But all of a sudden she just walked outside and told us to get ready to leave through the back. When we got out there she was gone. The halls were all sliced up and full of guys that had gotten their asses kicked and their clothes cut off," And not just regular guys or soldiers, completely legit-looking fighters way past their level.

"Yeah, that was definitely her," Naruto said, eye twitching as Miu blushed and Kenichi looked embarrassed for him, "…She always cuts all of your clothes to pieces when she beats you. Always."

Everyone not privy to how training proceeded within the walls of Ryouzanpaku stared and waited for further elaboration on just what the background behind that was, but they received none. They only received uncomfortable coughs from Kenichi.

"So, is there something you want to tell us Uzumaki?" Freya asked, sitting up from her gurney.

For once Naruto looked downright miserable at the attention he was receiving, "…I don't want to talk about it."

XxX

"Dum…mies," Shigure commented, standing over the defeated forms of over seventy formerly armed soldiers. Their guns and body armor were sliced to pieces, along with the rest of their uniforms, "Guns are just like… any other weapon. If you're awful with them they're next to useless."

Honestly, people became so arrogant when they had a firearm in hand. They gained a false sense of security that no matter what, no one could stop or dodge a bullet. Yes, because that mindset had worked out just swimmingly for them.

"M-Monster…" One of the downed soldiers said in response to the complete defeat they had suffered at Shigure's hands, "People can't do that sort of thing."

Oh if only they knew what you could do with a little hard work and a lifetime of dedication. The reason she didn't like guns, and that most martial artists didn't in general was that they were so easy to use to get a debilitating or deadly result that you found them hard to improve with. It didn't take much skill to get the most devastating effect you could with a gun.

Then again, they seemed to follow Fortuna's little philosophy of having the strongest weapon possible at hand and caring about nothing else. It was just that their impression of the best weapon possible and Fortuna's were markedly different. His was a bit sicker in nature.

Shigure kept from sheathing her sword at the sound of unified boot steps running her way. With a sigh, she turned in the direction of the oncoming enemy and prepared to run them down before they could even pull their rifles up to take a shot at her.

Before she could take the first step to launch her attack, instinct dictated she get away from them, which turned out to be the right course of action when all of them were felled by an invisible force that seemed to cut right through them.

Realizing that it could have been her had she been hastier in making her move, she looked around for any sign of who could have waged the attack. Anyone with the skill necessary to pull off that sort of move wouldn't have needed to do something so powerful to defeat that mass of soldiers in the first place. That let one stark possibility staring her in the face.

'That actually was intended for me,' Shigure thought to herself, taking to higher ground to try and seek out the perpetrator. The kinds of wounds inflicted upon the deceased had been done by a short blade, 'Fortuna couldn't have hired any master with that much skill… and they wouldn't have killed his soldiers in such a manner if they had been his.'

No, someone had taken a shot at her, with only her life as the intended target. Everyone else that died had merely been a combination of collateral damage and bait.

Well if someone really wanted a fight and they were good enough to come that close to getting her with a sneak attack, why run away? It was only fair to come out and finish what they'd started. Either way, Shigure actually had a target to go after and keep an eye out for while she was tearing up what was left of Despair Island's forces.

XxX

(Elsewhere on Despair Island)

Normally being inside of a tank would provide the crew within with some semblance of security when they found themselves in an environment where their adversaries weren't armed in the slightest. That was not the case for this particular crew.

If only their enemies were wielding tank-busting rocket weaponry. That they could handle. What they couldn't handle was a human being bending the cannon on their ride and ripping it off entirely.

"This is impossible!" One of the tank crew members shouted, the terrifying sound of metal giving way as he could see sunlight peering in through the openings that were being created, "Human beings can't do that!"

The other two not piloting remained silent and aimed their side-arms up shakily to try and fire at whatever creature managed to rip their tank open. When the top finally came off though, they'd lost their nerve entirely. The sight of a giant, blond old man holding your tank's main gun over his head, blazing with the kind of intensity in his stare that one could only wet their pants at being face-to-face with would tend to do that.

"IS THIS THE BEST FORTUNA HAS TO OFFER!?" Hayato shouted, throwing the portion of tank away as if he were hurling a medicine ball, "I HAVEN'T EVEN BROKEN A SWEAT AT ALL!"

The two handgun-wielding soldiers merely dropped their weapons and put their hands up. They weren't going to try and shoot at that thing (because they weren't going to call him a person). If that was the sort of opponent that one could expect from a master-level fighter of this degree, there was no amount of money they could be paid that would justify fighting him.

Hayato pulled them out and threw them to the soldiers to take prisoner. Even the government soldiers on Ryouzanpaku's side were in awe. They hadn't had to kill almost anyone, and they were invading a heavily fortified island of a weapons merchant.

In the distance they could see a gigantic Thai man punch straight through a brick wall, causing a breach into an armory where more of Fortuna's men had been outfitting themselves with stronger weaponry.

…Could they bring these guys everywhere? It would certainly make every combat mission infinitely easier.

XxX

(With the Shade Alliance)

The gigantic gates leading to the docks were in sight for all of the teenage fighters to see. They were so close to reaching the ship that the Ryouzanpaku representatives had taken to get to Despair Island, and that was their way off.

Only one problem stood. The gate was too big for them to open. They assumed it was mechanically locked regardless. Luckily, they had two people that could run up walls.

"Naruto-san!" Kenichi yelled, requesting Naruto defy gravity to see if there was a way to open the gate for their injured comrades.

"I'm on it!" Wasting hardly an instant, Naruto sprang into action and with great haste dove straight into the pool, much to the surprise of those around him. He didn't see why though. This was a part of his month off from school. If he was going to leave the island where the bulk of his summer was being spent, he was going to leave on a high note and swim a resort-worthy pool for ten seconds before he did, "Marco!"

"Naruto, seriously?"

"Marco!"

"Naruto the ga-."

"MARCO!" Naruto shouted over everything else before diving underwater without warning, all the way down to the very bottom.

"…"

"…"

Never let a horrific set of circumstances ruin your summer vacation. No force on the planet should ever be able to take it away from you.

"Polo."

Everyone froze, as that call to Naruto's hadn't come from any of them. The voice had been too booming and developed. Also the accent had been off entirely to have been a member of their little group.

A massive man in a tight suit with slick black and grey hair, a grey beard, and odd sunglasses that seemed more akin to some sort of goggles or a visor stood cornering them by the gate, grinning in a predatory manner, "…A father should make the time to play with his children after all," His sheer presence dwarfed theirs.

"…That sounded so wrong," Ukita pointed out, despite the judoka being in no condition to fight.

Amid all of the panic, Naruto shot out of the pool and leapt at the back of Fortuna's head, aiming a Storm Bringer kick at the base of his neck, "So that's where you went. That was completely ruthless," The proprietor of the island said, feeling more excited than ever now that the prospect of taking his chosen children seemed so close, "You'll be perfect as my son."

"I knew somebody was here! Your ki was all over the place when we got this far!" Naruto yelled at the man after finding his kick blocked, "Bad guys always like setting traps by the last gate! That's just day one stuff! But nobody can resist the call of Marco Polo!"

It was hard to tell how serious Naruto was from his half-inane rambling. The point stood though that he was either situationally savvy to an insane degree, or he had strokes of crazy-smart episodes that were too ridiculous to fail. He'd more or less kept them from being ambushed off of what appeared at first glance to be a whim.

"Sometimes I wonder if he plans any of this stuff out of if he just makes it up as he goes along," Freya mumbled to herself from her mobile hospital bed.

Naruto, still perched on Fortuna's arm from having his first kick blocked, twisted his body and threw a second kick with added waterlog weight behind it, "Ni Ryuu (Double Dragons)!" The second kick was blocked forcefully with Fortuna repelling Naruto away toward Thor's gurney only for the young ninja to land on its edge by his feet, "Alright, I'm still in a crappy mood from earlier. I wanted a piece of Pigeon-Boy or Lucha Girl and her stone-wall brother, but you'll do!"

"There's no need to fight. I don't want to harm any of you," Fortuna assured Naruto and the rest before anything hostile could truly commence, "All I want is to make you my children. You all have such vast potential," He stopped and spared Matsui, Mizunuma, Ukita, and Shiratori a glance, "…Not you, but the rest of you!" For some reason they felt more relieved than affronted to be left out.

"No way," Kenichi said, set in his stance, prepared to defend himself, "What would a crazy old man like you want with us anyway?"

Fortuna chuckled, "I believe you've seen just what I forced my Pankration Team to realize in themselves as far as ability. I see more in you than I do in them in the long term however," He then had to turn and stop an arrow shot right at his head, "…It's not nice to shoot things at your father."

Everyone stared in shock. He'd realized a silent attack was coming and stopped Naruto's arrow barehanded. None of them had seen or heard Naruto even take the shot. Naruto had been aiming at the side of his head and he'd still stopped it.

"A fine shot," Fortuna said, throwing the arrow away, "I don't deal in archaic weaponry like bows and arrows, but a man of my level can recognize talent with them."

A man of his level? Miu narrowed her eyes at the sight of Fortuna's imposing form and felt her heart drop into the pit of her stomach, "…He's master-class."

And Naruto didn't care.

The shot hadn't been a hair-trigger attempt at an opening, and having his arrow snatched from the air hadn't disheartened the shooter in the slightest. Naruto had earnestly been upset by the giant of a man, as if he needed the motivation after the day he'd had already.

Those teenagers he'd actually met and spoken with in the church, so that was why they seemed to detest referring to Fortuna as their father. His gut feelings on certain matters were usually right, and Naruto's told him that the Pankration Team members were decent people. They hadn't taken a shot at him to try and get rid of him for the tournament. That one girl had even tried to help him.

…Now he could help them even though they weren't there, or he could at least try to by beating this slob down. He felt the need to balance his karma out after the ungodly beating he'd unleashed on Sai. This time he'd be kicking someone's butt for a good cause.

"Naruto! Stop!" Niijima insisted, not willing to let his cash cow of the Shade Alliance die off now that it was getting off of the ground, "He's master-class! A disciple can't fight a master-class! You know that!"

"I ain't a disciple, I'm a genin," Naruto replied, knowing full well of his own track record against masters before grinning widely, "Look at it this way, with all of the times the Ryouzanpaku guys beat me up I should be due for a win against a master somehow, right?"

That sort of logic was terrible. It was no laughing matter, but it was enough to actually pull a chuckle out of Kenichi. Leave it to Naruto to make a joke about someone that could kill them, "Heh… well I guess we do owe you one for leaving you four-on-one in the last round don't we?"

Kenichi had realized so much. Against Three-Headed Dragon he'd learned what it meant to work together in order to get something done. Against Tanaka he'd learned what it meant to be completely outclassed in every regard by his enemy. Whether it was smart or not, in the last round he'd learned from Naruto what it was like to be willing to die on his feet for what he believed in.

"Well…" Takeda said, painfully pushing himself up out of his gurney, "If you can't run, the only option left is to fight," Freya gingerly stood up as well with the help of her staff. Still, she seemed prepared to fight anyway, "We can't really wait around for somebody to save us, can we?"

"Besides, he probably has something on him that can open the gate," Miu said with a small smile, "He seems like the type."

Fortuna was close to laughing at the professed bravery of the kids he intended to make his own, "It doesn't matter if it's one disciple or one-hundred. The difference means nothing when you're a master. This isn't the same as three of you fighting an expert."

But nothing on what he said made them back down. Even Thor pushed himself up, smiling at the prospect of fighting again, even so soon after suffering the injuries he had at the hands of Pollux, "Seven on one. Even if you are a master, these are odds we can't turn down," Especially if the only other option was to let that creepy guy take them and turn them into his 'children'.

Fortuna sighed at the sight of his chosen children choosing to stand against him, "It's such a shame to have to discipline you so soon, but spare the rod and spoil the child," With that, he rushed at them, his fist drawn back for a punch, "Just know that your father loves you kids! Poppy Knuckle!"

All of them saw exactly what happened next, but none of them were in a position to stop it or do much more than defend themselves as best they could.

A simple punch. That was all the technique that went into Fortuna's attack.

Not a one of them remained on their feet in the aftermath, and it was all from one punch. That confirmed it; yes, this man was a master.

"Did anyone get the number of that bus?" Kenichi asked woozily, his back situated directly against the mechanical gate they strove to exit through.

Naruto coughed and sat up, even from how he'd been on the ground with Kisara splayed out over his torso, "Hey, I really am stronger," He tried to jest, "…When I used to get hit by masters they'd put me through a wall or send me to the moon."

"Well that's one way to measure progress," Takeda replied, finding it hard to push himself back up to his feet in his own right, "And hey, the whole seven-on-one thing is working out already. I'm pretty sure a direct hit with that would have killed one of us," A glancing shot on the seven of them almost blacked them out as it was.

"Woo, teamwork," Kisara deadpanned, pushing herself up off of Naruto who grunted at the contact. As far as injured Shade Alliance members went, she was the healthiest one following their fight in the last round with Team Gemini, "Knowing we're fighting somebody that can hit us all at the same time with one move and have it hurt that bad doesn't make me feel any better."

As everyone got back up to their feet, something in Niijima's demeanor changed. Something important.

Fortuna as a master should have blown them all away then and there. He'd hit them with what was clearly a signature move and they were still going, or at least trying to go.

'They actually got up after one attack from someone on his level,' He thought to himself, his brain working overtime. There was a way to salvage this. There wasn't much of a choice other than to come up with a solution or go down anyway, "Alright! Everybody pair off! Yes! This will work! Stay together no matter what!"

Fortuna wasn't strong enough to kill more than one of them in a single shot. If they were caught in a situation where they had to take some punishment again, there was a better chance of two of them being able to get back up than one.

Naruto and Kisara were already basically together so they kept it that way, both agreeing to it with a wordless nod. Kenichi worked best with Miu so he quickly stuck to her like glue. Takeda and Freya paired off because they were familiar from a previous incident, and Niijima used Thor as if the massive Sumo were a mission control position, climbing up his back and looking over his shoulder.

"Ready to go," Kenichi said, figuring that dying while fighting a master was the most reasonable death he could ask for after all of the things he'd been through for the last ten months, '…Last summer all I did was garden around the middle school. Now I'm fighting to the death in a tournament on a martial arts island.' "Naruto-san this reminds me of-!"

"-Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon," Naruto knew already. He'd had the thought at sunset on the first night, and it had been a cool thought.

"Damn it!" Kenichi shouted, deciding to be the first one to make his move as he rushed Fortuna. Miu stuck close to him and prompted everyone else to approach as well.

Two halves of the same idiot.

"Miu-san!"

"Kisara, go!"

Kenichi and Naruto served as bases for their respective partners to spring into the air off of, taking their aim right at Fortuna. Both of their aerial kicks crashed down on both sides of his neck, something that should have slammed him into the dirt with two useless arms.

"Heh-heh-heh," Fortuna chuckled, grabbing the ankles of the offending kicks to hold the girls off of the ground, "You might as well have hit me with a flyswatter!" He threw the two back at Naruto and Kenichi who caught them but found their progression ground to a halt. Miu and Kisara crashed into the boys hard enough to repel them and knock the air clear out of all four of them.

Takeda used the opening to catch an angle and open fire with rapid-fire left hand punches, "Illusionary Left Rush!" Before one punch could land, Fortuna extended his knee and blocked every punch. The punching specialist could find no way through, no matter which angle he tried to cut to move past, "Oh come on! Seriously?"

Fortuna lifted his leg, kicking at Takeda as if he were flicking something and lifted his arm to catch Freya's descending staff strike in the palm of his hand. A gasp from the girl turned to a grunt as she was slammed down onto Takeda.

With a smack of palms, Thor clasped his knuckles together and swung both hands, "Mjolnir!" His hands a makeshift hammer he struck forth with a blow meant to shatter every bone in Fortuna's torso.

Looking over Thor's shoulder, Niijima's 'sensors' picked up Fortuna's attempt to counter him in advance and let out a cry of panic before knocking into Thor's shoulder from behind. It diverted his movements enough to keep him from taking a debilitating blow.

"Guuuh!" Thor knew from how he'd only caught the back two knuckles of Fortuna's punch that things could have been far worse for him. Niijima skittered away after Thor fell onto the ground facedown, "Just… give me a second."

Kenichi and Miu got back up with the former cursing their circumstances, "We can't dodge him… and we can't wait to counter him either. He broke right through the Seikuuken at the start," Kenichi was the only one out of them that could pull it off regardless, "This isn't looking good."

'Everybody's hurt from all of the fights,' Naruto thought to himself, wincing at the fresh injuries he'd received not even an hour before at the hands of Sai, '…This guy…'

"If you really want to be so difficult, I could always kill you," Fortuna said, grinning smugly, "I'll leave it up to you. Become mine or die."

Naruto wanted to think of a slimier word to use to call Fortuna than 'opportunist', but Naruto's vocabulary wasn't necessarily the vastest. Normally there was nothing wrong with getting the drop on your targets, as a matter of fact Naruto usually expected it from enemies, but when you doubled as a child predator ambush tactics were the least scrupulous things about you.

XxX

The Pankration Team figured that they would never have a better chance to get away from Fortuna than in the cloud of war that had engulfed the island all around them. With as much haste as they could make, they went straight for the only open dock at the back of the island.

They should have taken Fortuna's absence as more of an omen than a blessing, but as they tried to slip away they found him barring the only way out for them short of running between in bullets to try and somehow reach the government soldiers who more than likely would have treated them as accessories to Fortuna's illegal dealings.

Hiding themselves was the only thing they could do when they caught sight of him fighting with the Ryouzanpaku kids and that Shade Alliance. It wasn't going well either.

"What are we going to do?" Octavia asked her 'brother' who had taken it upon himself to be the leader of the group, "Spartacus? Do we help them?"

…Did they? If people they didn't know were fighting against their tyrant of a father, couldn't they? But in a battle against Fortuna, Spartacus knew that they would all die. He was a master, who had forced them to learn everything they had just to survive under his thumb. They would have absolutely no advantage to give in a fight with him, and he made a promise that no more of them would die until they were free.

But it wasn't right to let other people fight a battle against their captor and simply pass it by to run for the hills.

The sight of Naruto getting back up instead of staying down though. Spartacus wished that he'd had that kind of resolve when Fortuna had been breaking in the kids he'd purchased to be his fighters.

He took a step forward until a man's voice stopped him from issuing the order to assist.

"Your hearts are in the right place, but there's really no need."

Looking around, the five of them spotted a young man barely older than twenty sitting atop a watchtower originally intended for one of Fortuna's armed guards.

He had black hair in a low ponytail past his shoulders, dark eyes with a calm intensity to his gaze, and long pronounced tear-troughs under his eyes marking his face. His attire was simple, consisting of a simple dark, short-sleeved shirt and black trousers tucked into his high combat shoes, presumably to keep the fabric from catching or making sounds. At his hip he carried a short sword on one side and a small pouch on the other.

"Who are you?" Spartacus asked the strange man who seemed to feel nothing at the sight of all of the destruction and battle occurring around him, "You don't seem to be one of fa-, Fortuna's hired masters."

"You're correct. I'm not," The young adult said without taking his eyes off of the fight happening between Fortuna and the disciples, "The way I used to infiltrate this island isn't far from here. If you want freedom I'll take you to the mainland on my boat. It's well hidden."

"Why should we trust you?"

"You have no reason to," The cool-tempered man said, not seeming to care in the slightest at his offer being questioned, "But you also have no reason to mistrust me either. It's my mission to assassinate Fortuna, but I want to see how this plays out first. Go on. I won't be long. If you choose not to I'll simply leave you to go your own way."

It took a moment of contemplation, but in the end they listened to the advice of the mysterious stranger. It was literally a once in a lifetime chance to make a clean break of fighting for their lives. If he was offering, they were taking. All the better that he would be ensuring that Fortuna would never be a factor again.

By the time they had left, the young man stood up, a hand on his hip as he noticed a hostile presence. He almost vanished in an instant as the lookout portion of the tower was sliced off.

"Ninja," Shigure said, pointing her sword at him accusingly, the expression on her face blank, "…Why are you… here?"

"You're very good," The young man said, ignoring the attack that had been waged against him, "I just wanted to make sure of that. I don't want to fight you, but I did attack you, so if the feeling isn't mutual I believe our issue can wait until this battle is over."

Shigure looked in the direction he was indicating with his eyes and saw the Shade Alliance taking on Fortuna. She would have made a move to the scene, but a quick slash that would have been invisible to the eyes of a normal person kept her from moving in that direction.

'He really is that quick,' Shigure thought before preparing herself for a battle, "I thought… you didn't want to fight?"

"I don't. But I do want to watch this to its conclusion," The onyx-eyed man declared without shame or any other discernable motives, "You were about to interrupt."

"My… disciples are down there."

"A master isn't supposed to get involved in their disciples' fights. That's the code you martial artists adhere to isn't it?"

"Not when they're fighting against a master."

The two simply stared one another down until one side relented to a degree.

"I've been watching for this entire tournament. It's a byproduct of stalking my target. I simply wanted to see the kind of person that the broken subject of our organization's chief project turned out to be," The young man said, "And the kind of person who could love a disowned shinobi enough to teach him her skills when she didn't need to."

Two things piqued Shigure's interest. The talk of some sort of project, and the fact that Naruto wasn't this man's reason for being there. So he wasn't out to ensure that Naruto died? That changed things, but only slightly. He was still a member of the people that cast him aside like a broken blade.

"Your name," Shigure said, locking eyes with the stoic ninja. He was straight-laced and seemed to be by the book, but he didn't look to be a blank slate of humanity the way the other kids that had come to the tournament to kill Naruto were, "Or I attack. You… won't stop me."

"Itachi," His name didn't mean much to him. At least his given name didn't. If it would make it more likely that Shigure wouldn't interfere, or try to, he could throw that much of a bone, "Now, I want to see the end of this."

XxX

"You are an irritating lot," Fortuna said with an ugly glower on his face, "You refuse to be my children, and you're too stubborn to roll over and die. You're all annoying me. The gap is too great. Even if I let you all hit me, there's nothing you could do to ever harm me."

"You can't say all of that until you're the last one standing," Miu grunted, pushing herself back up off of one knee, "For a master, you talk too much about how strong you are instead of just showing it and killing us," He'd already declared that he'd do it, and a cruel man like him would have had no moral issues with doing so, "Compared to us, yes you're worlds ahead, but compared to real masters you aren't that strong are you?"

Fortuna clenched his teeth together so hard it seemed they would break.

"It doesn't matter. Even if it's to somebody like you, who's supposed to be so much further ahead of us," Freya said, her staff at the ready, "We really don't like to lose," She gestured her head Naruto's way, "He really doesn't like it," The second Fortuna turned his head in the slightest to look Naruto's way, she and Miu made a sudden attack at a 90 degree angle to one another.

Naruto made eye contact with Thor before he ran right at the resident sumo, "I've done enough losing to last a lifetime," He said, wrapping his body in his chain and sticking a kunai in his mouth before extending his arms, allowing Thor to grab both of them firmly, "I'm kinda sick of it actually!"

"Hold on tight my friend!" Thor said, gathering all of his strength as he knew what Naruto's plan was. The ninja just needed some extra force and momentum to add to his speed, and he'd chosen the right person to help with it. Freya and Miu both found themselves hammered away from Fortuna just as Naruto and Thor reached one another.

Thor spun his body around in a circle one time before hurling Naruto with all of the force the two of them could respectively generate, "I hope Fortuna's ready to party!" Naruto mumbled through the weapon in his mouth, "'Cuz it's-!"

"-Not your smartest move!" Fortuna shouted, hitting Naruto with the back of his hand and knocking him to the dirt out of the air. He grinned, knowing that he'd gotten Naruto good with all of the rings on that hand.

"NARUTO/UZUMAKI!" All of the gathered teenage fighters cried out as they saw the blow connect. His body had been hurtling right at Fortuna with the express purpose of what appeared to be an all-out attack that would have even used his mouth as a weapon if the situation presented itself.

"Mmmfffpp!" Naruto grunted in muffled pain, holding both hands to his mouth, blood trickling between his fingers, before Fortuna grabbed his wrists and lifted him up off of the ground. The kunai had fallen harmlessly to the ground after the wicked shot the weapons dealer delivered, thus making it a threat no longer.

"There isn't anything that makes me angrier than valuables that I can't possess," Fortuna said, holding Naruto in the air right in front of him, "If you all won't become my children, you'll just have to die. I guess starting with you is as good a choice as any seeing as how you delivered yourself right to me."

Naruto couldn't help himself, and despite their circumstances showed a bloody smile, even caught limply by his arms. The spreading of his lips revealed a tiny rock and a piece of metal between his first two upper and lower molars. With a twist of his jaw, sparks flew from Naruto's mouth and an accelerant sprayed from his mouth that caught fire directly in Fortuna's face.

"AAAAAAHHHHHH!" Fortuna's hands flew to his face, dropping a dazed Naruto to the ground. After his yell he couldn't bring in a decent breath. Parts of his face, his beard, and his hair caught fire from the viscous accelerant fluid Naruto had used to ignite the sparks. And of course, his eyes were devastated.

There wasn't much of a defense for flames straight to the unprotected face, especially when they were blown there by the more-than-human lung capacity of a healthy young martial artist of a high disciple level.

"-Keep that jutsu I've been teaching you in your back pocket unless you absolutely need it. The less of your moves people have seen, the better it is for you."

Well Jiraiya told him not to use it unless he absolutely needed it. If this didn't count as absolutely needing it, Naruto didn't know what did.

"Underestimate us and get burned," Takeda said under his breath with a grin, 'Heh, that one was good.'

"I guess it's hot enough for him," Kisara joked, wincing as she laughed at her own quip, "I don't know how you did that Uzumaki, and I don't really care."

"I knew he'd hit me in the mouth. I just needed to get the fluid packet into my cheek without him noticing," Naruto said, slowly standing back up as Fortuna stumbled around, trying to swat out his flaming head. Naruto glared at the man and spat the rest of the accelerant onto the ground along with a mouthful of blood.

Fortuna ran around blindly, stumbling through his own traps that littered the yard alongside the unbeaten path of his own fortress. He crashed through the fence separating the route to the back gate from the pool area and eventually fell into the water.

"This guy sucks compared to the real deal," Naruto said, "He is that much better than us, but that wouldn't have worked on Shigure, Ero-sennin, or anybody else I can think who could one-shot us," Tanaka wouldn't even have let that trick work, which was why he'd been saving it so long, per Jiraiya's orders, "Even though they wouldn't see me as a threat either, the second they saw the flint and metal in my mouth up close any of 'em would've cleaned my clock."

As if catching the tail end of Naruto's blunt, disrespectful critique of him, Fortuna pulled himself out of the pool, the skin on his face scorched to a third degree, to say nothing of his eyes, or what used to be his eyes. His breathing had even been affected, as there was an unhealthy injured wheeze to every breath he took, 'I'll KILL ALL OF THEM!'

With no words, only an unintelligible scream of bloodlust, Fortuna charged back in the direction he knew he'd come from, right at the Shade Alliance. The first thing he got his hands on would be torn apart, no matter what it was.

"He might be a brickhouse, but eyes are still eyes," Freya pointed out, given the morbid circumstances.

Naruto had just blown a fireball right into them. Sunglasses weren't enough to stop his corneas from getting scorched to high hell. If Fortuna ever saw anything again, it would be through sheer luck or a futuristic bionic implant. That wasn't their problem though. They hadn't been the ones to start the fight.

Miu handsprung back onto her feet and slid her body in the way to trip Fortuna up at the feet and ankles, 'Naruto-kun was right. He's a master in brute force only,' Even without being able to see, Miu had moved with such abandon that he should have been able to anticipate where she'd position herself, "Now's our chance!"

It was open season, and it all came in a matter of seconds.

Fortuna stumbled blindly right into Thor who'd positioned himself right in front of the master, ready to unload with his best move, "Mjolnir!" His fingers were locked together in a hammer of his own hands that he brought forward and around, smashing right into the soft spot of Fortuna's body.

"Double Tornado Nyagi!" Jumping into the air, knees raised with a spin to add momentum, Kisara brought one leg down on Fortuna's head before bringing the other one crashing down in time with her fall.

With Fortuna seemingly wide open, Takeda leapt right at him like a frog, putting all of his weight into his legs as he punched with both arms, throwing in a twist as the fists flew, "Giant Cat-Eye Frog Punch!"

Simultaneously, Freya flipped through the air, the full length of her staff bent backwards before she swung forward and down with it, smashing their common enemy right in the collarbone, "Kugatachi-Ryuu Gokui, Saishuu Idou: Sen Un (Kugatachi-Style Five Ultimate Techniques: Shining Cloud)!"

As all of the finishing moves landed around him, Kenichi landed every strike of his combo in time with another of his friend's strikes. A blade-hand strike to the side of the face, a Muay Thai axe heel kick, a single palm strike with one hand placed over the other.

All that was left was to deliver an over the shoulder throw that would slam the man right on his head and it all would have been completed with the second combination of moves Kenichi could find to create his Strongest Combo possible. It was not to be however.

"IT'S NO USE!" Fortuna bellowed, repelling them all with a sudden tensing of his muscles after receiving the full measure of the disciples' attacks, "YOU CAN HIT ME AS CLEANLY AS YOU LIKE! YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE PUNCHING STEEL!" With his lack of vision and his own shouting keeping him from noticing the silent, fleet feet of the resident ninja of the crew, he didn't realize there was one more attack until he felt his organs twist up inside his body as if they were being wrung like a wet towel.

"Rasengan (Spiraling Sphere)!" Naruto's hand was right in position on Fortuna's body, held in the post-twist position and supporting the man's weight as he slumped forward, blood dripping from his open mouth.

"It doesn't… make sense," Fortuna tried to reason against facts, "You should be nothing. A disciple's attack isn't… powerful enough to get past the muscles of a master-class… like me."

"It's supposed to be an assassination technique first. You can turn it into a safer attack if you really want to. I didn't," Naruto said, "A master's muscles might be as hard as steel to us, but your insides sure aren't. You might as well have cut open your body and let me use everything in there like a drum kit!"

You could train to move your organs, but you couldn't make them more resistant to damage. A ruptured organ was a ruptured organ, and it took the same amount of force to harm one no matter how strong you were.

Fortuna moved one of his arms around Naruto's back in a powerless effort to try and grab him, "I… could have been your master. My property…"

Naruto shrugged him off and let the massive man fall facedown onto the ground, "Bite me. Ninjas don't have masters," He wasn't sure if that would have been enough to kill Fortuna, but he really didn't care. He was spent, "Everybody saw that shit, right? Because I am not doing it again!"

Shiratori, Ukita, and the other present members of the Shade Alliance that hadn't taken part in the battle could only stare on dumbly in stunned silence. The seven of them had beaten a master. Fortuna wasn't moving. Until that point they hadn't even been able to get him down onto the ground.

Niijima could hardly believe it, and he couldn't wait to get home because he was going to drive that win into the damn ground to get them some publicity. Trying to sneak into the D of D Tournament was the best idea he'd ever had. He could see the money just being stacked up in his future.

"You just got your master-class ass handed to you by a bunch of beat-up kids!" Kisara shouted at the back of Fortuna's head, her foot planted right on his body, "…So how's your summer going so far?"

Naruto sat down on the ground in a heap by Fortuna's head when he heard the man groan weakly, prompting Naruto to lash out and kick him in the face to shut him up. Well that answered the question of if he was still alive or not.

Feeling a poke at his back, Naruto leaned back and tilted his head far enough upward to see Freya standing behind him, "Did you just breathe fire?" He learned the strangest ways to fight, but they seemed to work, "I can't imagine why you would have possibly learned that."

"Because fire hurts and is scary. It's a trick," Naruto worked his mouth a bit before revealing the two small objects in his mouth that had helped him make the sparks he needed, "I think I'll whittle the flint and the metal down to something that I can keep stuck between my teeth all the time so I can do this faster," Naruto said, wincing at how uncomfortable it had been to hold them in his mouth.

"You just shot fire out of your mouth," Kenichi said lamely, not knowing what else to point out about the situation. Honestly, you think you know a guy and then he sets someone on fire in front of you.

"You do learn odd things Naruto-kun," Takeda added on. Not that he was complaining. Odd set the stage for winning the day as far as he was concerned. If it was weird but worked, the fact that it worked was all that mattered.

"Well, I learn more than taijutsu too. It's Ninjutsu. It isn't just the martial arts part of it," Naruto explained with a reasonable shrug, "Ero-sennin says when my lungs get strong enough I can do it like a flamethrower with some range instead of just a quick fireball on one person up close," He was excited for that. As it was, it was a nice little how-do-you-do though, "…The tournament's over, right?"

…With everything that had happened, they had sort of forgotten that all of it had been for the sake of winning a tournament, and a cash prize. A hefty cash prize.

Kisara shook her head and bashfully held her hat down over her eyes, "I uh, don't think that thing's still going on. You know, with the guns and the shooting and the fact that we just beat the guy hosting the tournament into a blood coma."

"That means nobody's winning the money," Naruto grumbled, before glaring at Fortuna and giving him another weak kick, "This is your fault old man," Couldn't a rich person willing to fund a no-holds-barred fighting tournament for underage participants be of reasonable moral standing?

Everyone was then gifted with the sight of Naruto gleefully stealing the large, jewel-encrusted rings right off of Fortuna's fingers as boss loot, because of course he could sell them whenever they got back home. With a whistle aimed in Niijima's direction, Naruto flipped him what turned out to be Fortuna's universal control panel to the island.

"Ah, my Operations Commander, always the man to get the job done," Niijima crowed, rubbing the controller against his face.

"You do know he sweated and bled all over that, right?" Naruto asked with a huge grin as Niijima seemed horrified, "People don't wash controllers either so who knows where else it's been on him," Grossing Niijima out was good for a laugh.

Naruto's grin left his face when he found himself face-to-face with stern-faced Miu who somehow seemed to be taller than him in that instance despite his standing straight up. Before he could ask her what was wrong, she let him know, "You keep acting like a human shield or a distraction in fights! Stop doing that!"

Oh. She didn't like all of the gambling in battles with Naruto using his life as currency. Well he wasn't really a fan either because it tended to hurt, but when you were on you were on, and when one of those bets failed he'd be the first one to know, "But it kinda worked…"

It kind of worked because Naruto kind of knew what was going to happen.

He knew if Fortuna had realized he was coming in, he would have knocked him out of the air instead of trying to move. Naruto also figured that Fortuna would hit him in a way that would make him suffer first and foremost; notably by making sure to smack him in the mouth and break his teeth for holding the kunai, because Fortuna was a bully and an asswipe. He just loosened up on it before contact was made and cradled for his best impression of a human volleyball.

It hurt, and it could have killed him, but it worked. Sometimes you had to let it all hang out to get ahead.

"It worked because grandfather and the other masters have hit you so much you learned how to take a blow from a master and survive!" Miu insisted, waving her fists to try and get a point across, one that ran deeper than just the fight with Fortuna because she hadn't had a chance to bring it up, "If you were anyone else at our level that would have killed you. And the ninja thing! You let them hurt you didn't you?" The sheepish expression he sported gave her all the answer she needed, "You would have let them kill you if it had gone for long enough! Stop doing that!"

Naruto understood where she was coming from, but just like he said he wasn't going to promise that he'd never kill again, that was another promise he could not and would not make, "No. If it's what I've got to try to give any of you guys a chance, oh well."

"Doesn't your life mean anything?"

"Compared to the rest of you? As far as I'm concerned, no." Naruto said, the expression on his face completely serious. "You guys won't get it, but you saved me. And you won't ever understand why, so I won't explain. That's why I don't care if I've got to stop a bullet or kick back a grenade for you. If I never met you guys, I might as well be dead anyway."

*THWACK!*

Naruto seethed and the thump he'd taken on the head at his female former rival's hands. In return she gave him a sweet, if not strained, smile, "That's sweet, but you'd better realize that the same goes for us to an extent."

Naruto snorted and turned away from her, "Right, and who got nabbed by people out to get me again? I thought you were better than me princess," He was originally going to let it go, but now he really wanted to rub it in. He knew it would get to her.

"I-It was an ambush! It could happen to anyone!" Miu didn't need to be reminded of the paltry lure that wound up trapping her with explosives. Being embarrassed wasn't fun, and in hindsight, the decoy that suckered her in barely looked anything like Naruto other than the hair, "It wasn't an actual fight."

"Wait, Fuurinji got caught by somebody?" Kisara seemed far too excited to hear about it, getting right into Naruto's face to get the story out of him, "She actually lost? Well come on Uzumaki, spill."

"Someone actually suckered you in like that honey?" Takeda asked Miu in disbelief before smoothing back his hair in thought, "…I never thought I'd see the day."

"Well it wasn't that ba-," Kenichi tried to come up with something redeeming to try and downplay Miu getting caught by a Naruto lookalike with only a good wig really to their credit. Sadly, he could find nothing, "Uh, erm…"

All Miu could do was stand red-faced and curse Naruto's apparent ability to somehow always effectively change the subject. It had to be a superpower of some sort, or maybe with his own short attention span he knew how to get people to lapse in theirs.

XxX

Shigure couldn't help but smile. She hadn't known what to expect, but had to admit that she actually had been curious as well, just not curious enough to watch things play out at first. But they had actually won. Good for them.

"That's interesting," Itachi said to himself, 'Two high-level techniques on that level. Both of them require a precision that his later records in-training would have told us he didn't have,' Then again, Naruto had been incredibly promising before something stymied him mentally by the standards of the teachers, "I have to say, that was rather impressive."

From the tone of Itachi's voice that always seemed to keep the same level to it, it was difficult to tell if he was serious or not. Why was this man so hard to read?

His spectating done with, Itachi grabbed the handle of his sword, his eyes set on Fortuna once the kids walked away from him after opening the gate to where the ships were docked.

Shigure heard the slight sliding of steel, "Wait."

"No, I'm afraid I can't do that," She drew her own sword to try and stop him, but missed her attempt to slice at him. She'd expected him to block or deflect it. She hadn't anticipated him to be fast enough to outright avoid it altogether.

By the time she dashed down to Fortuna's body, Itachi had already beaten her there, his sword already buried through his target's heart. As he removed his sword, Itachi looked down at his arm, a bloody gash dripping down his forearm. She'd managed to cut him.

"You're angry?" Itachi said, finding himself at a standoff.

Shigure wasn't particularly angry per se, more along the lines of annoyed that he was able to bypass her and outright kill someone that quickly, "We were asked to capture him alive."

"Well that would have presented a problem no matter how this turned out, as I needed him dead," She couldn't tell, but she was quite certain that Itachi was politely being a smartass, "Farewell."

"Just a moment, if you would," Itachi's departure was prevented by the arrival of a curious Akisame, "It's so rare that I find myself in the presence of a full-fledged Konoha ninja," He had yet to actually meet Naruto's 'handler' face-to-face and the only one he'd really met before had been Minato, "You seem to have killed our target."

"I have."

"And what enemy of Fortuna would have enough money to hire you to get rid of him?"

"This was not about money. Fortuna has hired Konohagakure in the past. The man is a greedy fool. Were he to come into the custody of the invading government soldiers he would tell them anything to keep from taking the full measure of the punishment for his actions," Itachi said, "He would even speak of things they wouldn't even know to or care to ask him about."

"You mean your organization," Akisame reasoned, "But if you killed him, why not target us?"

"You know of us. You know nothing of how to actually contact or reach us," Itachi divulged, "Fortuna did. With his knowledge, the way we do things could have been put in jeopardy. For your awareness of our existence you know absolutely nothing of our workings. Normally a jounin would have been sent to handle this mission… but I felt the need to stretch my legs."

"So what does that make you?"

"Well there is only one level past jounin. I'm certain that you know this."

Nothing more needed to be said for the message to have been sent.

'This boy is a Kage?' But he looked so young. Akisame knew that talent and age meant little to one another, but to be at the highest possible level a ninja could be? If Itachi was even of legal drinking age in Japan it would have been a complete surprise, "Kage don't leave their stronghold. That's one thing I do know."

"Tradition allows us a small amount of time away from the Homeland every year. A vacation of sorts," Itachi said, "I don't believe in vacations though, so I took an assignment that needed to be done after we learned of this pending invasion. I'm too young to simply sit around and gather dust after all."

So he did have a sense of humor after all, slight as it was. This young man didn't seem like a cold-blooded sort of killer at all, just markedly aloof. And yet he had snuffed out Fortuna's life so casually, with the same amount of thought behind it one would have when turning on a stove or starting a car.

These people had no desire to use their arts to gain power and influence the world the way Yami did. They only seemed to want to move along with whatever flow the world seemed to be going in at the time. Killing wasn't intended for titles. Titles and honor or glory outside of their own society was meaningless to them. Killing was just one part of their business, and that was all that it was to them; business and what they deemed as necessity.

As Akisame thought about just how much they really knew about the entity that was Konohagakure, a gunshot rang out. Itachi deflected a single bullet with the width of his sword, glaring slightly in the direction that it came from.

Sakaki and Ma Kensei had finished obliterating the defenses at their portions of the island and discovered the ongoing showdown at the back gate.

With them, Jenny Grey, the top-level gunslinger in charge of the military taking part in the mission. The blue eyes of the petite blonde woman kept panning back and forth between Itachi and the lifeless body of Fortuna.

"…You killed him," She said quietly, "You actually killed him."

"It was of grave importance, I assure you," Itachi attempted to reason. He then had to avoid another bullet sent his way. The man moved like a ghost as the shell seemed to pass through him without hitting anything.

"He killed my father! I was supposed to be the one to kill him!"

"Revenge is an ugly thing."

*BANG! BANG! BANG!*

Itachi seemed to sway out of the way of the shots sent at him. He seemed to be more annoyed by Jenny's shooting at him than earnestly threatened. A sudden flick of his wrist sent a black blur flying from his hand.

Without warning, Sakaki grabbed Jenny's hands to keep her from firing another shot, "Don't," He insisted, indicating with his eyes the reason why she needed to stop shooting.

The tip of a kunai jammed the barrel of her gun, tightly. Itachi had hit the smallest opening imaginable with a fair-sized blade. Had she fired again, she would have hurt herself instead of Itachi.

"He dodged them all?" The master-level markswoman said, mostly to herself, noting that his eyes had been locked right on the barrel of her gun until she decided to fire, 'He can actually tell where I'm aiming from the angle of the barrel. That's impossible. You'd have to have the eyes of a hawk to notice something like that.'

Jenny's accuracy with firearms was not in question, it was just that no matter what, bullets moved in a straight line. All Itachi had to do was move the part of his body she was aiming at quickly enough as her finger squeezed the trigger. It wasn't about dodging the shot, it was about timing the pull of her trigger. She could be as much of a crack shot as she wanted to be, sudden movements faster than she could anticipate were the key to evading.

If the newly arrived Ryouzanpaku masters hadn't been intrigued before, Itachi had their full attention now.

"Fair warning. Do not pursue me," Itachi cautioned them all, "I have no current quarrel with Ryouzanpaku or the government you work for. I abhor fighting or killing unnecessarily, but I will do what I must to ensure I'm left alone."

"You're clearly skilled and wise, wishing to avoid unneeded conflict," Akisame said, hand under his chin as he contemplated his words, "…But do you believe you can defeat five masters on your own?"

"It's not a matter of fighting to defeat you. It's a matter of just how badly would I have to hurt each of you to escape you, how far will I have to go in order to do so, and how quickly can I do it?" Itachi assured the level-headed Akisame, "I can do that without ending anyone's life. I'm quite skilled at it."

It wasn't that they didn't believe him, it was that the way he said it could have been taken as an insult for those with hotter tempers. Enter Sakaki.

"Well let's see!" He launched forward with a powerful punch as Itachi seemed to slide back to vanish in the sunset darkness of the fortress wall surrounding Fortuna's Despair Island. The Karate master's fist brought down an entire segment of the wall, from the ground up, clearing an entire breach a pilot could maneuver a helicopter through if need be.

There was no Itachi in sight.

Out of the five masters, only Ma Kensei and Akisame remained cognizant enough to locate where he'd reappeared quick enough after he'd done it. Itachi stood on a spire at a different section of wall, looking down at all five of them.

He didn't spare them another word before dropping over the edge and departing. Sakaki scoffed in annoyance. He didn't give chase because he knew if he went over to check where Itachi was he'd wind up getting the cliché sight of absolutely no sign of him on the other side.

"Well he's definitely stronger than the guy I fought in Chinatown," Sakaki said begrudgingly. He did owe him some sort of thanks actually. He didn't want to see the kind of vengeance Jenny would have tried to gun for had she gotten to Fortuna while he was still alive, "Pretty impressive for a kid."

"You could go a lifetime and you may not find a ninja stronger than that one," Akisame informed him, "That 'kid' as you called him, was a Kage. There are literally only a handful of them at any given time, and they're usually significantly older."

"That youngster is one of the best of the best," Kensei said, "I couldn't even feel his ki until we were right here in front of him. Even then I could only feel it when he avoided Miss Grey and Sakaki's attacks. Even for a master that sort of control is rare."

And that was the level of ninja that their resident little dropout wanted to reach, that he drove himself to the breaking point trying to match.

The kid had a long way to go.

Either way, it was time to head home.

XxX

(A Few Days Later)

With his little 'vacation' over with, Shou went back to the constant tests of his body's condition. For some reason there was something about the way he was put together that scientists just couldn't study enough of. It was annoying. He wanted action.

He'd wasted a lot of his good fortune though antagonizing Castor and Pollux in front of Diego, and after he'd begged to go see the proceedings of the tournament too. Heading out just to get a thrill without being allowed to by any of his masters would have been ill-advised. He had a feeling that more than a few didn't like him as the Sole Disciple.

Well that was too bad. They'd started with him already, and too much work had been put into him to just drop him and start over from scratch with another now. They'd admonish him and punish him, but in a way he was sort of bulletproof, and the thought made him grin.

He was their best choice, and that much was clear by the fact that he fully grasped all of the styles he'd been taught well enough to blend them into whatever deadly art such a thing would wind up creating. They wanted one to inherit it all in the name of Satsujinken, and there was no one better for it than him. It was what he'd been handpicked for after all.

His thoughts had to be put aside when he felt the presence of another powerful disciple entering his quarters in that particular base, "One Shadow says good work. You're leaving with your master in a few hours. In the meantime just get some rest."

Satomi Kajima. It always weirded Shou out that he could somehow get fairly close with him hardly picking up on him. He didn't know what Fuurinji Saiga had seen in him to begin teaching him, but he'd survived so far. Barely from the looks of the scars on his body and the eyepatch covering what was probably a gross missing eye. He wasn't someone destined to ascend like himself. He was one of those sorts.

Kajima leaned against the door, seeming to be more easygoing than Shou would have liked anyone to be while in his domicile, "So what's up? I heard you went to Diego Carlo's tournament that got busted up," Mostly because Castor was still pissed off at their glorious leader. Under different circumstances, that would have led to quite the fight.

He sort of wanted to see it actually.

It was pretty big news. The whole thing was crashed on three different occasions, and Fortuna's dead body was recovered by the military. It didn't really bother Yami at all, but it still happened. They had more than enough money to achieve their goals without needing Fortuna around.

"It was a waste of time," Shou said, wiping his sweat off after his physical tests. Dodging lasers wasn't easy work after all, "The only thing that made it worthwhile was seeing my angel in action. Fierce."

Kajima was underwhelmed. All of those styles in one place fighting it out, including quite the impressive grouping of martial artists that YOMI would definitely be facing in the near future, and he could only talk about one thing, "So… just sensei's daughter. That was it?"

"Yeah," Yami's chosen disciple said with a measure of reverence, "…Really the only reason worth showing up. She was perfect. On the other hand, I can't see how those two Ryouzanpaku chumps would have kept winning without her."

"Did you ever just figure that you're way too hard to impress?" The one-eyed teenager said before looking away, an amusing thought in mind, "I never figured you to be the type to think with your dick-," He then blocked a shot intended for his throat with no loss of humor, "Now, now. It was just a joke Suparna."

"It wasn't funny then. I've heard enough crappy jokes from that idiot Uzumaki," Shou said, barely even blinking after earnestly attempting to kill the primary student of one of his masters, who just so happened to head up the most powerful association of Satsujinken masters in the world, "Between him and Shirahama, as long as no one in YOMI slacks off they should be dead in no time."

"Y'know," Kajima said, his voice sounding as if he were leading to something, "The One Shadow told me something pretty big, and apparently Odin heard it too from his sensei. Odin's a pretty cool guy."

At first it sounded boring, and Shou was about to kick him out. The curiosity of not knowing something that members of YOMI underneath him knew and hadn't reported to him yet was too much of a lure to simply let go, "Why would you two know something I don't?"

"Well… you're not really supposed to know, I don't think," Kajima's easygoing expression never left his face the entire time, "We think it's kind of funny actually. We wondered what the others would think, but we figured if too many of us knew it'd be a problem."

It was that big of a deal? Or was he just gassing something up that wouldn't live up to the hard sell he was giving it? "Just spit it out already."

"You didn't hear it from me, but that kid Uzumaki that you think sucks…" Kajima began, resting a hand on Shou's shoulder before moving back through the open door, "…He's the one that was supposed to have your spot."

"…What?"

That was the stupidest thing Shou had ever heard. He could see how something so outlandish could be funny to Ryuuto and Kajima, but to him it was such a complete joke that he couldn't bring himself to laugh at the punchline. It was impossible. He was the best. He'd been told since day one that there was no living human with the natural aptitude for martial arts that he had.

Out of every disciple in the world, he was the only one with so much potential that his one day becoming a master was guaranteed.

And the first choice was… that guy?

"It's apparently a really long story, and only a few of the masters that were here at the time know it, but it basically boils down to one thing. You weren't the first choice," Kajima then drove the knife home, "You were the first replacement option."

He closed the door as he left. And just like that he left Shou, alone.

Alone to let that information worm its way into his brain.

He wasn't the first choice. If circumstances were different, if one thing, whatever it was, had happened to change, he would have been the one taking orders from… Uzumaki Naruto.

It was entirely hypothetical. It didn't matter. None of those things had happened. The cards had fallen the way they were. He was in the position to have everything, and Naruto was some clown of a ninja bottom-feeding with Shirahama and those other Katsujinken weaklings.

But it stuck in his craw regardless, and he couldn't get it out of his head.

Naruto was supposed to have everything that Shou had now. And the one thing that Shou still wanted, as far as he knew, in his woefully misinformed mind, Naruto had it. The voice of the one thing he still wanted rang out in his head as clear as a bell, that she would not be his willingly.

"If Naruto-kun had gotten killed trying to keep me alive, and it had been because of you… I wouldn't have ever forgiven you."

"I can't ever love someone that purposely let someone get hurt like that."

It took the voice of his true master, the man who had basically raised him, Hongo Akira, to bring him back.

"Shou."

By the time he came to and found himself, his entire room had been destroyed by his own hand. How long had it been?

Standing in the doorway, a tall, slim man with long dark hair, a mustache and goatee, and sunglasses over his eyes looked in at his student. A long scar ran down the left side of his face by his eye, and he wore entirely black attire, including what Shou jokingly referred to in the past as a 'Matrix' coat.

"Are you done?" Hongo said before gesturing with his head for Shou to get up and follow him, "It's time to go."

"Sensei," Shou said, cold and callous, a stark departure from his manner of speaking, "…The next time I see Ryouzanpaku's disciples, they're dead."

XxX

Going home wasn't something that Itachi had much of a taste for. He'd only been a Kage for two years, not enough time for someone like him to truly become homesick, and before that he'd run missions, spending more time travelling and in the field than he'd spent at home.

His family had been one of the original founding clans that had come together with the others in the beginning to create the confederation that became Konohagakure. That put a lot of pressure on the ninjas who emerged from this clan to be talented. If a child didn't show glimpses of talent by the time they were to be sent to the Homeland for training, they weren't sent. The Uchiha would only let the best of their ilk represent them.

None of their family that had actually gone into training became anything less than jounin. When it came to that, Itachi was the very best their family had produced in the modern era since Konoha's founding.

Still, he did enjoy peace, and rest with his family was something that he could find a reason to cherish. As he walked through the mountainside traditional manor owned by the Uchiha, he could hear his younger brother training in the room he'd been passing by.

'That's right. Sasuke graduated earlier this year,' Itachi said to himself, flipping a switch on the wall by the door before knocking on it. Inside he could hear the slight sound of thin metal sliding before it slowly came to a stop.

"It's safe," He heard from outside before entering and finding his younger brother kneeling on his knees in the middle of the room, breathing heavily and surrounded by metal wires running wall-to-wall. The entire room looked and worked almost like a gigantic loom. It was one of Itachi's own personal favorite exercises to train evasiveness. Quaint.

Itachi's brother looked much like him, with a few differences. Sasuke's black hair stuck up at an angle instead of setting down smoothly the way Itachi's hair did. He lacked the facial definition that Itachi and their father had, but he had the same black sort of eyes.

"Itachi," Sasuke said, greeting his brother, "You're home. So are you going to teach me one of those techniques you always said you'd be able to show me after I graduated?"

"I'm afraid I can't stay for long," The older Uchiha said before things could go too much further down that path. He was certainly working hard though from the looks of the shallow cuts on his body from the wire, "It will have to be something you can practice on your own this time."

"That's fine. Father's seen enough of your techniques to know when I've mastered this one," The younger version of Itachi said with a smirk, "You wasted three days of your two weeks away from the Homeland. What were you doing?"

Itachi simply poked his sixteen year-old brother in the forehead. Nothing annoyed him as much. It was great. One of the few mundane things that Itachi had always taken joy in, "My job. Something I'm not at liberty to discuss the particulars of at home," If he even wanted to, which he didn't.

"I know," Sasuke said, glaring at Itachi for doing that childish poking him crap, "Father gets pissed because he knows you can't talk about anything above his station."

"Even the Kage themselves have rules in the Shinobi Code to adhere to," Itachi explained sagely, "The measures we keep maintain the longevity of the clan."

Sasuke scoffed and stood up from his seiza seated position, working his way through the razor-sharp ninja wire separating him from the exit to the room, "I figured I heard the last of that crap when I graduated. Rules aren't going to get me strong enough to get to where the Kage are."

He'd been working like crazy whenever he hadn't been training, occupying himself with learning every skill and ability he could, and his father was more than eager to teach them to another son that looked to be headed straight for the top. The handler for his normal team couldn't come up with missions fast enough for Sasuke's tastes.

"Spoken like a fresh genin," Itachi teased dryly before continuing down the hall, Sasuke at his side. As the two brothers walked in silence, Itachi couldn't help but look at Sasuke out of the corner of his eye and think, his mind still full of thoughts from his mission on Despair Island, 'Hm. Sasuke graduated number one in his year...'

But the nuke-nin Uzumaki Naruto killed the top student from the year before, someone who not only should have been better than him in practical skill, but who had a full year of experience in the field under his belt. Someone who had been on the path straight to a chunin promotion in another year at the pace he'd been going.

Yes, Naruto had killed the best ninja the Hyuuga had seemingly produced in years. Therefore the question stood; could Naruto defeat Sasuke? Could he beat his little brother?

"Sasuke, when I return to the Homeland I may be lobbying to send a mission your way after I try and work it out with the Kage Council," Itachi said, garnering Sasuke's full attention. A mission Itachi of all people wanted to send him on. It definitely wouldn't prove to be a cakewalk. It was exciting, "…I can't remember if it was in your year, but did you train with a boy named Uzumaki Naruto?"

Sasuke froze in the hallway, getting Itachi to stop and look back at him, finding a smirk on his face. That certainly answered his question loud and clear.

"…The dead-last is still alive," Sasuke said to himself in disbelief, knowing what happened to those who washed out and remembering that he hadn't seen Naruto in years. Not since… then, "…You're going to send me to take him out aren't you?"

He was very alive. And 'dead-last'? Well, Itachi wasn't too certain of that, but at least Sasuke wouldn't be lacking any motivation to take the assignment.

"Forget what I said I was going to teach you before. For the next ten days I'm going to train you myself," Itachi informed Sasuke, watching his smirk grow, "If I find what I see with your skills to be satisfactory I'm also going to tell you everything you need to know about the Jinchuuriki Project."

It hadn't quite taken to a satisfactory degree with Naruto, as if it had he'd have had control over his explosive ki. He did not. However, a broken weapon was still dangerous. Naruto had already proven that much. As the newest Kage, it was up to him to prove himself by coming up with measures that would clean up the messes of his seniors and predecessors.

Once he got back it would take a small amount of time to convince the other Kage to leave it to him and his machinations, but afterwards he could wind up helping to give his brother a boost to his career. A notch in his belt so to speak.

If his brother was as talented as his record in training and his current mission standings said he was, there wasn't any genin he could send that currently would be better equipped for the task at hand, especially if he went in already knowing what to expect to the fullest.

"Why? If it's supposed to be a secret I mean," Sasuke asked, "Weren't you talking about rules?"

"Its existence isn't necessarily a secret in general to Konoha ninjas. It's more need-to-know," Itachi said, staring at Sasuke with a grave severity in his voice. This was not the older brother speaking to a younger brother. This was a Kage speaking to a genin for a prospective mission, "…And if you impress me over the next week and a half, you will eventually need to know, little brother."

"Well what are we waiting for then?" More training was always good. More training from Itachi himself was even better. More training from Itachi for a specialized mission that he'd all but confirmed he'd be trying to get him sent on was the absolute best.

'Indeed,' Itachi figured inwardly. He couldn't get rid of the niggling thoughts that stuck with him. A nuke-nin shouldn't have been so damned intriguing.

How an Academy dropout managed to get good enough to survive the constant challenges against him, even with Jiraiya allegedly mentoring him. That still shouldn't have mattered. He'd defeated a front-runner for the best of his generation, and completely demolished an entire team of archetypal 'perfect' shinobi by himself.

No 'dead-last' should have been capable of that. No career washout should have been capable of that. Itachi hadn't seen a washout, merely someone that was different from what he was accustomed to.

If nothing else, whenever the mission got cleared and if it got back to Sasuke, it would serve to be interesting to allow the events to play out. Whether his brother was that good or Naruto was would remain to be seen.


So… yeah, that happened. Chapter done.

I've not got much to say this time around, so I hope you enjoyed.

Nothing other than that. Work beckons. Kenchi out.