Chapter Fifty-Six

"Very well," he clapped his hands, "You can come down now."

The three Genin assigned to him were not the crop of the crop, and they were neither the lowest of the low. They were the epitome of average fused with even more average. They knew how to launch a kunai, how to disappear in the ground —it was the requisite to passing the Academy, being able to do the Iwagakure no Jutsu— and they had the basics all down.

They were also eleven, and the fact he was barely four years older than them changed little. They looked at him with the same stern gaze they'd look at a military instructor. It was sort of nerve-wracking, having three pairs of eyes stare at him with the utmost seriousness and respect —with also a healthy dose of fear.

He had no doubt the ways of the Iwagakure academy differed from those of Konoha's, and 'stern teaching' appeared to be one of those tiny diversities.

"Kuroishi, Akaishi and Sekkaigan, right?" he asked once more, to make sure he had their names right. The three of them nodded curtly. Whoever had given them those names had to have little fantasy. Many in Iwagakure gave names depending on the type of stones or rocks that caught their fancies, and so it was that 'Black Stone', 'Red Stone' and 'Limestone' came to be his Genin.

His average run of the mill Genin, who looked at him with a worried expression etched on their faces. Kuroishi and Akaishi both had dark eyes, but while Kuroishi's hair was black and shoulder-length, Akaishi's instead stood out as ashen grey and buzz-cut short. Sekkaigan had grey eyes on the other hand, and bright green hair that descended in curls all the way to his shoulders.

That was a fun thing actually. Out of the three, the female kunoichi of the team was Akaishi, who appeared more masculine than Sekkaigan.

Albeit, if any of them spoke something more than 'Yes, sensei' or 'No, sensei', he'd actually get somewhere faster.

"So you can walk on solid surfaces. Can you walk on liquid ones?"

All three of them shook their heads while chorusing 'No, sensei'. It was somewhat creepy, as if they had wires or something attached to their limbs so that they could move mechanically in rhythm.

"You know I don't bite, right?" he asked once more, only to receive cryptic stares back. It was as if they didn't believe him when he said that. Snorting, he rolled his eyes. "Fine then, I do bite sometimes…but not little Genin."

"They said you eat your enemies alive," Kuroishi meekly said, before receiving a strong elbow blow to the stomach by Akaishi.

"No he doesn't," Akaishi hissed out as she gripped tightly on Kuroishi's shoulder. "Now apologize to sensei for believing that."

"Stop. Making. A. Scene." Sekkaigan spat out, holding on to his strained expression of seriousness.

"Are you three actually afraid of me?" Naruto blinked. Well, that was an option after all. "Ah, I see! Then how about we go and have something for lunch? I'll offer."

"He said something right? He didn't say someone," Kuroishi whispered to Akaishi.

"Shut up," Akaishi hissed, "They'll pull us back in the orphanage if he doesn't take us on as Genin, so smile!"

"You know I can hear you pretty well," Naruto deadpanned, watching with a bit of amusement as the three Genin straightened out the next moment.

"We're deeply sorry, Sensei!" all three of them said at the same time.

Naruto smiled, his gaze lingering over their slightly scared forms. He could see the beads of sweat slowly descending their temples as their neck hair rose. He chuckled then, watching them squirm as he took a step forward.

"Starting today we'll be Team Nine."

The three swallowed nervously.


"I'm the Nine-Tails Jinchuuriki, better the enemy knows who they're going against if we ever cross paths with them," Naruto nodded sagely.

"But…Iwagakure's teams are rock-named," Kuroishi meekly said, only for Akaishi to slam yet another elbow in his sides.

"Shut up," the girl smiled then, "It's a beautiful name sensei! I really like it!"

"Now, now," Naruto frowned. "No hitting one another," he took another step forward and then ruffled Kuroishi's hair. The boy actually gasped before closing his eyes in fright at the gesture, only opening them for a thin crack when he realized that no, he wasn't being beheaded.

"You are all part of this team equally, and there will be no hitting one another. You will face hardships and missions together, thus it is imperative you learn to trust each other's backs and work in harmony."

"That's…nice," Akaishi murmured, "But…it's not how it works here sensei."

Naruto frowned.

"The teams are placed together depending on their ranks and advance on it. If one of us lags behind, he'll be cut off and replaced. If one of us becomes stronger, he'll replace one from another team."

The Jinchuuriki smiled. "Well, then that's not going to happen to my team! You're all stuck together, and I'll make sure you all get strong together," then he said in a lower voice, "Or I will just have to make sure they never find your bodies."

He winked as the three Genin paled, before bursting out in a fit of laughter. "Just joking guys, can't you take a little joke on the side?"

Naruto sighed as he watched the three visibly maintain their stone-faced attitude after that. To think he'd be stuck doing D-ranks for a while inside the village. Sure, the excuse was to 'acclimatize' with the villagers, but the truth was simply that the Iwagakure's shinobi kept him under strict surveillance while Oonoki tried to convince his granddaughter to follow through with the marriage.

It had been quite the…explosive meeting. It had also ended in a predictable way with the girl running away in a sulky mood.

That hadn't bothered him at all. The less he worried about the situation, the better it was.

"Let's go take our first D-rank," he said then with a bright smile. "What dangerous adventure will we face today? Washing clothes for an elderly lady? Painting a wall for a lazy man? Ah, can't you feel it in the air, the smell of boredom?"

Kuroishi tried to say something, but Akaishi elbowed him once more.

"I saw that," Naruto chided the girl. "Is it that difficult to stop hitting him?"

"Sorry, sensei," Akaishi murmured.

Sekkaigan meanwhile mouthed towards Akaishi. 'Painting? Is he…' he proceeded to twirl his index finger to the side of his head.

Akaishi shrugged. 'Better than the orphanage' she mouthed back.

"Ehi," Naruto whispered in a low voice, "I can hear you…" he murmured out in a low hiss, "Really! Talking behind your sensei's back. You, Kuro-chan!"

Kuroishi stood uptight and tense the moment Naruto called him. "Y-Yes!?"

"What's the typical D-rank in Iwagakure about?"

"Ehm, sensei I wouldn't know very well about 'typical' but…"

"We patrol a mountain range for a week, or we send relief supplies to some village cut off by the snow," Sekkaigan said crisply. "If we're lucky, we just have to check the magma tunnels are clean of remains that could clog the pipes."

"And what about the day-to-day jobs for the civilians?"

"Iwagakure is a shinobi village. For there to be someone who isn't a shinobi…wouldn't it be better if he went elsewhere to live?" Kuroishi answered, shyly holding his head low.

Naruto shrugged. "You're telling me there isn't a single civilian?"

"Well, of course there are a few," Akaishi said, "But nothing more than a handful. When the Yondaime struck in the war, he took away more than five hundred shinobi…who in turn had families or loved ones. The Tsuchikage was forced to surrender and walk on their bodies to reach the diplomatic table," the girl looked at him warily. He smiled at her, and gestured for her to continue.

"There are a lot of people who bear a grudge for that. Tsuchikage-sama began conscription immediately after the war, and whereas Konoha rested on the laurels of peace, Iwagakure clawed with its very nails out of its situation to get back to its former height of power and surpass it."

A hand clammed down gently on Akaishi's head. "Good girl, good girl," Naruto nodded sagely. "The patriotic speech was very well done. I give it a seven out of ten."

"Why not a ten?" Sekkaigan asked.

They began entering the village proper —a kilometre away from the training grounds— talking about the correct ways to bring emphasis to a speech or another.

"You!" a shrill voice rose then, interrupting Naruto's point —one he was completely inventing on the spot.

He turned and smiled brightly, opening his arms wide. "My delicate rose!"

Kurotsuchi was in her Iwagakure Chuunin armour, tightly clenching her right hand around a piece of parchment. "What is the meaning of this!?"

"Why, it's a poem of how much love I have for you!" Naruto exclaimed back, holding a hand towards his heart. "Don't you love me too, my honey puff?"

A crowd began to gather on the rooftops and the nearby streets, their gazes on the 'couple'. Small murmurs broke out, as a few females looked with a glint of mischief in their eyes at the scene.

"I'm going to kill you, one day," Kurotsuchi snarled taking a step forward.

"Not in front of the impressionable children, I hope," he held on to his plastered fake smile all the way, until she was right in front of him. Her face red with rage, her eyes narrowed down to slits, she wasn't actually the prime example of a 'delicate' woman.

"You're taking too many liberties," she hissed.

Naruto just kept his smile up and slowly moved a hand to push a lock of Kurotsuchi's hair back behind her ear, while bringing his mouth near the side of her face —in what could be a romantic way of showing affection.

"And you can do nothing about it, little caged bird filled with weaknesses," his voice was low, his tone light. It still served to make Kurotsuchi's back stand ramrod straight however, as chills ran across her spine from the tone of threat in Naruto's voice. "Those with power rule, those without obey. I shall tear this world asunder and start a new one. You can follow in my shadow…or die in my fire. So," he clapped his hands on her shoulders and moved his face away from her, his eyes shining for a single instant a deep dark crimson.

"My delicate rose, could you truly not stand another moment away from me? I am truly sorry! We should have dinner later then, us two beneath the light of the moon, with candles and a picnic basket. You certainly know a most romantic spot, do you not?"

His left arm was now circling her neck, while his right moved in a semi-circular way gesturing towards the horizon. Kurotsuchi breathed in deeply.

"Yes, I do. I am busy however, so…"

"Oh, I'll talk with your grandfather about this," Naruto smiled again, "I'm sure he'll free you up right away."

Kurotsuchi could only smile back forcefully. "You're spoiling me."

"Well, I would be a horrible fiancé if I didn't at least try," then he cupped her chin with his right hand, and gently kissed the girl on her lips —a quick peck, nothing more. "I'll see you tonight, dattebayo."

He then turned to his Genin. "Now follow me, we're going to take a mission and do it on the double. I have a date with my sweetie waiting…and you can't make girls wait, you know?"


She watched the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki walk away with his Genin —a bunch of stuttering brats— for a moment.. Kurotsuchi closed her eyes and took one more long breath. The piece of paper in her hand turned to shreds and burned, a gust of flames coming out of her throat to remove all evidence of its existence.

Kurotsuchi tried to hold her face tightly in control. A good shinobi always knew when to kill its heart. Yet, as she touched her lips, the only thing she wished for was to retch. She had been glad when she had heard the news of the boy's death.

Then he had popped out, from nowhere, one night. Her grandfather had ordered her without any subtle hints to make sure things went smoothly. A kunoichi did missions of that type only with their personal approval. She didn't have to like it, but this was the only thing she couldn't refuse. It was for the good of Iwagakure, of its people.

Only an Uzumaki could hold the Kyuubi. She didn't know why, but it was the one thing her grandfather had insisted on. It was the reason the first Hokage had married an Uzumaki. It was the reason Uzushiogakure died away in the night.

In the end, everything revolved around the tailed beasts.

She jumped, letting her feet stick to the surface of a mountain, before running off towards its peak. She needed time to think away from the bustling village and far from the monster in human skin. That smile could not be 'human' to begin with. She knew the Jinchuuriki hid something.

If only she could find out what it was all about…especially before the day of the wedding.

What truly worried her was the way her grandfather seemed genuinely to like the boy. Her father remained deaf to her pleads too, but then again he had always been the wimp in the family —mother had to confess to him to begin with.

With those thoughts in mind, Kurotsuchi also thought about where to have the 'romantic' date. Maybe near the garbage disposal pits? It would be extremely romantic, she supposed.

Ayame Ichiraku

Her hands hurt.

Her chest hurt. Her breathing was ragged. Her hair cut and unkempt filled with lice tortured her enough, if the whips of the overseers didn't suffice. A red-haired man in a similar condition to her walked past holding a load of coal on his back. She gripped on the hemp rope again, feeling her blisters open up once more as dried blood left the place on her palms to new one.

She had bled more than once already, and the pain was nothing new.

She had to wonder why she fought on. She could just dwindle herself with hunger and die, rather than keep on working in these conditions. Deep within the belly of the mountain, she knew escape was all but possible…

Yet she still dreamed on, even though all of her dreams turned out to be lies and everything of her life was in shattered pieces.

"Move it with that cart!" a guard snarled, and she ground her teeth as she pulled. She knew the whip would come down regardless of her effort, but if she tried hard enough, then maybe it would actually make the cart move faster, and end her ordeal quickly.

The whip came down and pain blossomed on her right shoulder. She screamed as she fell on the ground clutching the spot where the rag she called cloth was now soaking the blood of yet another wound.

Her feet begged for mercy.

Her body cried out for the agony to cease…but she still stood back up, and took another step forward.

She wasn't going to fall down on the ground and die… not until she had her revenge.

On that man, who forced her to confess to a crime she had never done.

On that man, who did not believe her and condemned her.

On that man, who brought her to this place of hell.

Most of all, however…her hatred was directed towards the sole reason she was there.

Naruto Uzumaki…

It was his entire fault. She had been stupid to think otherwise. He had torn apart her family. He had been the reason she had been moved somewhere else than the simply civilian prison.

He…he had to die to atone for his sins.

Sakura Haruno

"I hate you, Ami-bitch," Sakura growled. "No one has ever been banned from the Hebi! And you managed it. It's only because the owner was a friend of my parents that we didn't end up in the Konoha Prison."

Ami didn't answer, she just nursed her cracked jaw.

"And don't look at me like that. You started it. It's only natural I would finish it by giving you the lesson you deserved."

"Sakura," Shizune chided the pink-haired Chuunin, "You broke her jaw in five points, then ripped her tongue out before her teammates could intervene."

"She's lucky I didn't eat that tongue of hers…then again, I did smash it to a pulp before they could get it back," Sakura laughed with a cute giggle. "That will teach Ami-bitch here about doing something stupid like badmouthing my love again."

"She could press charges," Shizune insisted.

"Which is why I'm here," Sakura smiled sweetly. "If she does, I'll make sure to save a special brand of poison just for her. I'm sure I can smile to the judge and get out in a couple of months. Then I just have to find her again, or wait for her…" she turned to look at Ami, "And well…random food poisoning kills even the best of us sometimes."

Shizune gazed at her apprentice with a tired stare. "You told this to me so…"

"So I'll make you an accomplice if I go through with this, Shizune-shishou!" Sakura clapped her hands after that, "And they won't let you be an eyewitness anyway…"

Ami whined pitifully.

"Now, now Ami-bitch," Sakura shook her head. "You have to understand that I'm not actually going to kill you at first. The poison will be slow acting. You'll feel cold, like being in the middle of an ice cube, and then hot as if you were being burned alive. You'll feel as if someone ripped your skin apart, and then gnawed on your bones. I'm sure that you'll commit suicide before it even starts inflaming your nerves or the poison begins to pop your eyeballs out."

The whines grew stronger.

There was a knock at the door of the hospital room.

"So listen well, Ami," Sakura whispered towards the girl. "I'm not a little girl anymore, and I don't give a damn about Sasuke. Get it straight in your head that I dislike people who call me a traitor. I do not betray, ever. Be it my village or my love, I'm never going to betray them…" her right hand clamped tightly on the girl's shoulder. "So don't you ever dare insinuate it again…"

Then she turned and smiled brightly as the Hokage and two Anbu entered.

"Sakura," Tsunade said firmly. "Would you mind following the two Anbu outside?"

"Of course not, Hokage-sama!" she cheerfully said, before waving goodbye to Ami. "See you later Ami-chan! I'm glad we solved our problems!"

Then she left, holding on to her plastic and fake smile until the Hokage left the room a few minutes later. Her arms crossed in front of her bountiful chest —she wondered what the woman had eaten to get it that big— Tsunade's gaze was firm and steely.

"She will not press charges…you are technically free to go."


"This is why I'm ordering you to report immediately to the Hokage tower tomorrow morning," she thrust a scroll in Sakura's hands, "With this on."

She frowned. "I left…"

"There are two types of persons who enter Anbu. Those who are strong enough to enter it and those that the village wishes to hide away for whatever reason," Tsunade hissed close to Sakura's face. "You have become the latter."

"What if I refuse, Hokage-sama?" Sakura retorted calmly.

"Then I put you back in the Genin ranks and have you assigned a baby sitter until the day you die of old age, making sure you will never be promoted," Tsunade smiled. "And then I order a search of all things that belonged to Naruto Namikaze, and have them delivered to his last living relative."

Sakura's eyes narrowed to fissures.

"Who dares? Naruto was an orphan, there is no way…"

"You think I will tell you after this little show you just did?" Tsunade retorted with a snort. "Take the mask, do your missions away from the public sight, and maybe I'll tell you one day when you stop being an emotional wreck."

"What? No psychiatrist?"

"Stabbing people is therapy enough for some, and I don't think you'd actually volunteer for a mind-check, would you?"

"You can always drug and force me into one," Sakura retorted, her eyes trailing towards the two Anbu.

"Konoha has enough shinobi tied down with the war against Oto's beasts, and you've got combat practice against those to boot. I'm sending you to the land of Rice Fields. You survive, and I'll tell you who Naruto's relative is."

Sakura gripped tighter on the scroll. "I want permission to hunt Itachi Uchiha."

Tsunade raised an eyebrow.

"I don't need an avenger."

"I don't need to risk my neck; you can always call me unfit for duty. You don't because you need me."

Tsunade exhaled slowly. "When was it that the title of 'Hokage' went down the drain?"

Sakura giggled. "Can I go now, Hokage-sama?"

Tsunade nodded, holding a half-narrowed glare as Sakura left without hurry, as if everything was fine.

Sakura hummed to herself as she returned home, before twirling a kunai and sticking straight through the Missing-Nin profile picture of Itachi Uchiha, which stood among many other papers on his skills and techniques, which now completely covered the entire surface of her room's walls.

A bundle of clothes Naruto had left behind was on her bed, neatly piled together to form a body pillow. She stretched for a moment before opening the scroll and summoning from within it an Anbu uniform. The mask they had assigned her was Wolf, apparently.

She snorted.

She would never forget that the Hokage had sent Naruto on that mission. Eventually, after Itachi, she would have her revenge on that woman too. She was still useful for the moment however, because she needed to know who dared to claim being a 'last relative' of Naruto.

Depending on whom it was…

She'd just have to dig another tomb in the backyard.

Naruto was going to need company after all —even though his tomb was empty. "And family always sticks together, right?" she muttered, sitting on the bed and then hugging the body-pillow closer.

"Family is really important," she croaked out.

Images of blood, claws, and of teeth rending flesh buzzed through her head as she closed her eyes. Her mother's screams came to her ears pleading her to stop.

"No, no, family is important. You don't attack family," Sakura muttered pressing her face tightly against Naruto's clothes. "Please," she whimpered. "Stop torturing me like this…" her eyes were dry now, too dry to shed tears. "I didn't do it…it was brigands."

Her neck felt warm.

"It was bandits, thieves, their bodies were rotting," Sakura murmured. "Not me, not me, not me!" she screamed in the pillow, the buzzing noise in her ears growing stronger by the second.

"Sakura? Sakura stop!"

I didn't kill them. I didn't kill them. This is a bad dream.

The smell of blood on the hospital floor was overpowering. The taste of flesh in her mouth felt so sweet. The weak were prey.

"Sakura! No!"

Eyes glazed over in death. They dried up. They became like those of the dead fishes at the market stalls.

"Take her in another room."

I didn't kill them. I didn't.

Why is your mind saying the opposite then?

"DAD! MOM! Please wake up!" she cried. "Please wake up!"

"What is real?" a male voice whispered to her ear. "What is false?" the voice asked, gently nibbling her earlobe. "I can show you, little blossom," hands gently touched her neck. "I've been waiting for this moment," the voice added. "Come…open your eyes…I'm waiting."

Sakura's eyes shot open. It was the middle of the night, and her entire body was flush with sweat. Her breathing ragged, she threw herself off the bed and into the bathroom where she retched, holding on to the toilet seat as if it were an anchor of safety.

She shakily stood back up. Her hand went to move the hair away from her face, and as she gazed at her reflection in the mirror…

An eye, from her shoulder, blinked back at her with its accusing yellow retina.

She screamed…

but she didn't wake up.


Deidara was a rambling psychopath, a bomb-strapped lunatic and the last person he would have wanted in his team. Since Hidan had kicked the bucket however, he was the one assigned as his replacement. He would have rather worked with Sasori —or not worked at all and gone bounty hunting— but he had a quota to meet.

The fact the three tails had suddenly appeared —and then began charging through the nations without a care in the world for what it tore along its path— hadn't buzzed him much.

His eyes narrowed as he watched the Iwagakure missing-nin bomb the creature from up high, avoiding the concentrated jets of water and the coral formations that the Bijuu generated. The shell of the tortoise-like beast was hard to crack, but Deidara did an excellent job in tiring it out.

"Ohi Zombie-Guy! It's your turn now!" Deidara screamed from high above his clay bird, as Kakuzu growled. He'd kill the man, if not for the fact the resulting explosion would probably get him too.

He flexed his fingers in familiar hand seals, and then he waited. The ground began to tremble and shake, before giant roots erupted from the dirt and tied down on the three tails' body. Branches sprouted leaves as the Mokuton began to seep at the chakra of the Bijuu, weakening it.

"This is actually too easy, it lacks explosion," Deidara grumbled. "How can you call this a work of art?"

"Shut up," Kakuzu retorted sharply. "Just get on with the job!"

Deidara huffed, before jumping down from his flying explosive clay bird.

Twirling in mid-air, the Iwagakure ex-ninja brought his right hand up with both middle finger and index, before hissing out.


The bird dived down, its size increasing drastically. The next instant, a humongous explosion scorched the air as the Three-Tails screamed in agony, its shell cracked open.

Kakuzu hardened his skin before the pressure reached him, closing his eyes as it harmlessly passed him by.

You, who wield one of father's powers, don't understand.

Kakuzu's eyes widened. He looked around for a brief moment, but the owner of the voice seemed…

Ignorant fool, toying with things beyond your comprehension.

Could it be the three tails?

Greed is your quest, is it not? The beast chuckled. It chuckled and its eyes gazed at him with something akin to understanding. It is something I can relate to.

Kakuzu did not reply, but with a pulse of chakra, he tightened the shackles of Mokuton around the tailed beast.

It is useless. I speak to your very soul. I am Greed, and you…you will do, I suppose.

The Takigakure missing-nin narrowed his eyes, before in front of him he watched the three tails explode. A wave of pure teal chakra erupted from the entire body of the beast, twisting in mid-air before crashing down in front of him.

Kakuzu's hands went up to protect his face as waves of water poured all around him. He jumped up, making a hand-seal to stand on a wooden platform, when a concentrated ray of water sliced through it and sent him back in the bubbling liquid.

Spinning his body, he unleashed a wave of rock the moment his right hand touched the ground. A hand formed with chakra pierced through the water around him, slamming into his chest as seals and ink slowly traced over his body.

"My name is Isobu," the chakra spoke as it poured into him, into his every pore. "I am the Greed that all needs and all desires. Together, we shall acquire all that is possible," a second hand slammed into him, soon followed by a body appearing from the waves.

It seemed human, even though it was not.

"What are you doing?" Kakuzu hissed out, trying to grab at the chakra to no avail. He could but watch as the chakra mass merged with him.

This isn't enough.

I want more.

Rob that woman!

I'll conquer them!

Kill them all and loot their corpses!

Nice pendant, now it's mine.

She's coming with me! She's mine!

This is my food, go find yours!

How does it feel?

The voice was raucous as it came from within his very head. His five hearts thrummed at the same time, forcing Kakuzu down on his knees from the sheer agony that covered his entire body.

You are lucky to have five hearts. A lesser man would have died.

"Get. Out. Of. My. Body!" Kakuzu snarled.

It is mine, now.

"No, it's mine!" he snarled, punching the ground as the water dropped down lifelessly.

"Ohi! What happened to the Three-Tails!? Did he make a run for it?" Deidara's unnerving voice reached his ears, as the blond haired man neared.

"Get. Out," Kakuzu hissed. "Out. Out. Leave my body! Now!"

"Ehi, you all right Zombie-guy?"

You do not command me.

Isobu's chakra slowly began to push out of Kakuzu's body, like flames licking his flesh they moved.

"You've gone deaf with age, Zombie-chan?"

The Takigakure ex-ninja turned his murderous gaze towards Deidara, before throwing a punch at the idiot's face. The punch connected squarely with the man's face, caving in the skull and shattering the bones. Blood sprayed out from the beheaded corpse of Deidara, who fell on the ground limp. Kakuzu exhaled, and then inhaled.

The corpse glowed of a bright light, before detonating with a tremendous force. Kakuzu shielded his face with his arms, as corals formed all over his body and flesh.

The resulting explosion tore apart the landscape, leaving behind a giant hole in the ground the size of a small water basin. Exhaling, Kakuzu's eyes opened to him standing atop a giant coral spire, in the middle of the otherwise destroyed area.

Let us cooperate, for the moment.


The hunter now becomes the hunted! Your Pain wishes to conquer the world, his greed is second only to his blindness…and I need a body to avoid the Statue…your body will do.

"So you're a bastard," Kakuzu snarled, opening his right hand as corals began to emerge from it. "What do you want?"

There is someone I need to reach, someone I wish to test.

Kakuzu's eyes closed as an image flashed briefly in his eyes.

"I don't trust you."

I don't need to be trusted. Will you cooperate, or must I tear apart your hearts from the inside?

"I'm taking your power as payment," Kakuzu growled. He took a step forward as a coral bridge formed to guide him beyond the crevice formed by Deidara's explosion.

The Iwagakure shinobi is still alive.

"Let him go," Kakuzu said, eying the horizon. "We have somewhere else to be, don't we?"

Then he jumped, leaving behind the devastated area as he made his way towards the west, beyond Konoha, beyond the Fire Country…and towards Rock Country.

"Let us see how much you've grown," Kakuzu whispered, "Naruto Namikaze."


The smell of resin, of wood, of fire…the smell of oil and the ingredients for his poisons, and then…another smell in the mix, a foreign one, one that did not belong to his own. He quietly advanced, holding his fingers ready on his chakra strings.

"It is a nice place you have here, Sasori," the voice spoke slowly, taking care to enunciate each word one after the other. "A nice hidden spot, but you always had some problems hiding from me, did you not?"

Sasori's eyes narrowed.

Tobi stood in the middle of his workshop, his mask showing only one of his eyes, the crimson sharingan.

"The army is not ready yet," Sasori remarked. "It still needs time."

"Would you tell the same to Orochimaru, perhaps?" Tobi asked, his voice filled with an underlying tone he did not like at all.

"What are you implying?"

"Nothing," Tobi shook his head, "But someone is missing from home, and I would very much have him back. He has the Box after all."

"Kabuto went rogue?" Sasori asked. "He actually was a spy?"

"He always was," Tobi shrugged. "I just hoped he was yours rather than his," the cloaked man looked to the ceiling. "Orochimaru betrayed Akatsuki…I am here for the army, to bring it to the boss."

"It isn't ready," Sasori remarked. "It needs to be completed."

"Then complete it!" Tobi snarled. "What do you miss?"

Sasori snorted, before walking forward and pointing his gaze towards an empty mannequin. "The boy, Temujin…he refuses to continue extracting the Gelel from the stone unless he can attest the safety of the children from his land."

"Can't you brainwash him and be done with his temper tantrum?" Tobi replied, tapping his right foot on the ground.

"The Gelel interferes with chakra techniques," Sasori grumbled as he stepped next to a desk littered with parts of puppets. "I could remove the stone he has in his body, but then the entire castle of cards would crumble down."

"Fine then," Tobi said. "Bring the boy here. I'll show him where the children are."

"Try and keep him safe, Tobi," Sasori mumbled. "You wouldn't want to fail Leader-Sama right now that we're so close to victory, would you?"

"Close to victory?" Tobi chuckled. "Last I checked we are still missing Tailed Beasts."

"All is proceeding according to plan," Sasori nodded sagely.

Tobi inwardly smiled. Of course, everything was proceeding according to his plan. He wasn't Orochimaru of the Sannin for no reason, after all.

Danzo Shimura

He was alive.

That simple line of thought cracked through his decades of repressing emotions, and as a broken dam explodes in fragments, so too did his composure disappear as a low and throaty chuckle escaped his dried lips.

He was alive.

The Yami of Shinobi was alive.

Someone was feeding him soup apparently, and he was still alive.

"He's waking up," a male voice said.

"Really?" the female voice that came next was…happy, he supposed.

Where was he? What had happened to the Zero-Tails? Who was the man? He tried to open his eyes, blearily taking in a shack and two figures.

One was Amaru, but the other…

Was that man's skin blue?

"You're lucky I was nearby," the man stated plainly, "If Samehada hadn't been whining about strange chakra, I wouldn't have found either of you."

He tried to put the man into focus, but he failed and thus, he closed his eyes once more.

"Don't worry," the man said to the fussing Amaru. "He'll wake up when he rests a bit more."

"Ah…I hope so, Kisame-san."

To those words, Danzo Shimura fell asleep.

It was not a restful slumber at all.

Author's notes

Deidara. Kisame. Missed them?

Ayame…ah, there she is.

Rain completely skewers my left wrist, and its agony is excruciating. I'm writing through blood and tears here gents, through blood and tears.