Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I'm putting together a petition to get the government to work with me in order to procure some percentage of the rights to the series from Kishimoto.

That's how petitions work... right?


In the Elemental Nations, the constant state of conflict that befell the people who inhabited it made for terrible living conditions in many places. Countless individuals found themselves in a never-ending cycle of fear and danger; of suffering. Similar scenes of cruelty or violence could be seen all over the map, wherever one wished to look.

With that being said, for historical reference, it must be recorded that there has never existed, or will never exist an entire nation with the abject misery, strife, and conflict as could be found per capita in Mizu no Kuni.

The people there were unaccustomed to luxury. Their geographical position compared to the rest of the Elemental Nations left them isolated from the rest of the shinobi world, for better or for worse. However, the ill effects of this could still be seen, as the teachings of the Shinobi Sect also spread to this region. And decade after decade, the situation would continue to worsen. The quality of life would plummet, with seemingly no hope of improvement.

Imagine the stories of carnage, heartbreak, loss, hate, and lack of hope that one can find in stories from all over the Elemental Nations. Now imagine this all condensed into a series of islands close enough to be considered a country of its own.

When you are able to do this, then you will have an idea of what life was like during this time period in Mizu no Kuni.

Sarutobi Hiruzen – 'A Written History of the Elemental Nations: Volume XVII'

Chapter 26: Welcome To The Badlands


Naruto had been prepared for seeing ugly things when Kakashi had first told him about his interests in Mizu no Kuni. He wasn't a stranger to unpleasantness. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows in many places he ventured to on the mainland. But compared to the very first place he saw in the new country, they might as well have been.

"Oh my God..." Tenten said in a quiet gasp, "This is a real town?"

After Kaiza's ship had docked, they had taken a rowboat to move through town. The 'town' was a series of ugly shacks and other constructs, built atop a series of wooden supports that spread out more than a mile from shore. They served as the homes and the businesses. While there were bridges and other ways for people to move about on foot, small boats were the primary method of transportation.

They had seen abandoned villages that looked more hospitable.

The people had sunken faces. The merchants trying to sell their pathetic wares on the waterways seemed to be doing so in vain. The people they were selling to seemed to barely have enough money to help them break even.

It wasn't what any of the trio were used to seeing in the slightest. Port towns were bustling places. Many of them looked nice to attract visitors and business. One could normally expect lots of commerce and spirited people moving through. One could find a level of comfort and convenience in them that was harder to come across at towns and villages farther in the mainland.

Every so often, there were bodies in the water. Ugly, bloated, colorless sights. Those on their boats tried to push them out of the direct path of the waterways, underneath the wooden supports holding the town up.

"What is this place?" Kabuto asked no one in particular, his mouth hanging open as he and the others all continued to take in the sights before them, "T-This is... I don't understand."

They had made it to Mizu no Kuni. Their stay in the country hadn't even timed past thirty minutes. If this was the first thing that they saw, what on earth would the rest of the nation look like?

A part of Naruto wanted to reach out and help, but there was nothing he could do. He was a ninja, not a philanthropist. A warrior, not an economist. He'd come to one of the worst regions of the world to settle a score, not save the place.

It wasn't like he could do so on his own in the first place. His dad may or may not have had a knack for thinking of wide-sweeping reforms and putting people in the right place to implement them, but that trait hadn't been passed down. At least, not to Naruto. With Kanako, it was still too early to tell.

Maybe one day he would be able to enact some kind of decent change. But that would be in the future.

Tenten could only look around, the sight and smell of the town searing itself into her brain, "And I thought the settlement outside of The Deep was an awful place," She commented, "At least that was a refugee camp."

"Alright, so we're going in blind here," Naruto said, getting everyone's priorities on-track, "We don't know anything about the land, the people here, or anything. And I don't feel like starting any wars with the locals today."

A shiver went down Kabuto's spine at the thought of causing an international incident. The three of them were quite far away from any kind of support, "So... where do we start?" He asked, sounding nervous.

Naruto and Tenten both looked at each other before speaking simultaneously, "Bar."

Kabuto blinked emptily at the two friends who were so in-sync "You think there's a bar around here?"

Tenten shrugged and gestured to their surroundings, what amounted to a town, "You've been looking around this place just like us. I'm pretty sure the bar is the only business here that's booming."

A negative sentiment, but not entirely inaccurate, and one that Naruto also cosigned to, "Think about it. This is probably considered a safe place in Mizu," He said as their boat drifted past more refuse, "Going farther inland is dangerous as fuck... not everyone can just up and leave the country... nothing to do around here but wait for something to kill you," The more points he raised, the better his reasoning sounded, "Yeah, the bar is where it's at."

Kabuto couldn't argue that, deciding to go along with that plan of action, "Just don't touch this water. I don't think either of you are up to getting sick again so soon after the scare with the Five Elements Virus."

Naruto laughed and gave Kabuto a hearty pat on the back, almost sending the unprepared medic spilling off of the boat, "What? You don't feel like treating any dysentery? Come on, Kabuto. You're the doctor here."

XxX

Assassination jobs were bitter work. They were hard enough when one was given all of the details needed to dive into the mission. Simple things like a target's appearance, their location, what kind of defensive capabilities they had. And then there were the times when one went in blind.

All Kakashi and Anko had was a physical description of the person they were meant to kill, and a tip from Jiraiya from where they could possibly begin looking to make progress. That was fine though. Both Kakashi and Anko had accomplished assignments with less than that at the start.

The only lead they had was that this Danzo would likely do his best to get another daimyo to commit resources to prevent the allied clan village concept.

He had already tried Hi no Kuni, so they were on the move. The hope was that they would get a more solid lead before Danzo had entrenched himself with another powerful figure. That is, if his aims truly rested in a plot of this nature. Then again, that was just another thing Kakashi and Anko were meant to find out.

The two hardened shinobi conversed about their circumstances as they moved north in search of their quarry, "Why pawn us off onto the daimyo?" Anko asked, "If he wants us gone so bad, why doesn't this guy just send his own people after us? Do you think he doesn't have enough badasses to come and take a piece out of us?"

Kakashi shook his head, "I don't know. Neji from the Hyuuga Clan got the best look at someone who may operate for Danzo on the ground," Of course, then he blew himself up, so there wasn't much time for the young man to analyze the features of his enemy, "He may choose to outsource by choice, or by necessity. We don't know at this point."

Anko shook her head, "I've never even heard of a Shimura Clan."

Kakashi raised a finger matter-of-factly, "Ah, but they may not be a clan as in a family. It's likely that this is another conglomeration of shinobi. It's not a new thing."

Anko frowned his way, not quite getting what he was letting onto, "Yeah, it's not. But if clans started linking up, we'd have heard something about it, even if they were a bunch of nobodies."

"That's probably why we haven't heard of them," Kakashi reasoned, "It's harder to keep track of lone shinobi. It's why Jiraiya-sama tends to operate out in the field for long stretches of time without ever showing up."

"So you're saying they're set up kind of like what we've got?"

'Perhaps. Though, I think the way Danzo's little group is arranged is more threatening in a way," Kakashi said before dropping a new nugget of information Anko hadn't been privy to, "An assassin tried to kill Kushina-sama while she was a guest of the Nara Clan. The attacker was a Nara Clan member."

It took a moment for Anko to realize just what Kakashi was trying to say, "Holy crap. You're saying this guy flipped someone inside of a clan?" That was a bold statement with major implications. Something like that couldn't be thrown around casually, "Couldn't it have just been someone going rogue?"

Granted, these things happened throughout the ages. But normally, it was one person or a sub-faction within a clan that struck out for their own gain. They rarely lasted long, usually hunted down by their own clansmen. Familicide was quite common in these cases.

However, it was almost unheard of for one of these types to work for someone else, instead staying unaffiliated. It was even less unheard of and less likely for the someone else doing the hiring to have all kinds of similar operatives spread through the various clans and factions in the Elemental Nations.

This was why Kakashi didn't want to blow things out of proportion until they truly had an idea of the scope of what was going on, "That's one of the things we're trying to prove or disprove. And regardless, if we get the opportunity, we're going to kill Danzo."

"-Which will hopefully tear apart his entire organization," Anko said, finishing the obvious line of logic laid out for her, "...I really hope this isn't that big. Can you imagine it? When I think about it, it seems like a Bizarro World version of what Namikaze is doing."

Kakashi gave the younger woman a look of intrigue for her take on matters, "How do you figure? He could just be an enemy. We have plenty of them, after all."

Anko could understand not wanting to overestimate someone they had to try and kill, but she didn't want to underestimate him either. Given what he had already pulled off, she couldn't imagine that this would be a routine assassination, "The guy got into the Fire Daimyo's ear to come after us because he heard what we were trying to do. I don't want to know what else someone like that might be capable of in the future."

Normally, Anko was full of aggressive confidence. But at times, when she gave cause to pause, it became clear that there was a reason she had stayed alive so long performing a dangerous job like scouting locations for Minato's village.

"I didn't think you were afraid of anything, Anko," Kakashi said, "I've seen you fight; seen the kinds of missions you take," He was momentarily concerned that she would take what he said as an insult. It was quite the contrary.

"Let's get one thing straight. I'm not afraid of the guy that can wipe a village off of the map," More than anything else, Anko just wanted Kakashi to know that she was aware of what the stakes could be, "I'm afraid of the guy that can say the right thing and have someone make it happen for him."

XxX

(With Naruto – Mizu no Kuni)

Naruto shook his head as they continued navigating the maze of poorly constructed buildings elevated out of the water, "This is not a port town."

Calling where they were a port town was being far too generous. The more they saw, the more they could accurately categorize it as a slum on the ocean. Nothing but squalor and misery. No one's first impression of the new country was a good one.

Eventually, the multitude of bridges and constructs proved too much to navigate a boat through, prompting the Hi no Kuni party to continue on foot. That was good. The closer they got to land, the nastier the water got. None of them felt like standing on it with water-walking. There was a chance they would get it on their feet.

Every bar they found was a complete hole-in-the-wall. Sometimes, literally. The first one they chose to venture inside of was the best that they had located until that point, but it still counted as a major dive if any of them had ever seen one.

"Let's see if we can do this quick," Tenten requested. None of them drank, and she doubted they had much of anything else that was consumable, "I don't like the idea of hanging around in this village for too long."

Naruto nodded in agreement as he led the way through the doorway inside, "Me either. I want to get this show on the road as soon as possible."

All of the tables and seats inside looked like they were made of recycled wood. There were more people inside than any of them expected to see during the day, fifteen in total, one being the bartender and another being a girl seated at the front, playing a guitar as entertainment for the patrons. The patrons were all armed men and women, none of whom looked particularly friendly, all of whom were giving the newcomers the evil eye.

Tenten nudged Naruto's back as they walked in, "Nine carrying visible weapons that I can see. I'm pretty sure the rest of them aren't unarmed either," She said, moving back and putting Kabuto safely between the two of them.

"Are we sure this is okay?" Kabuto asked warily.

"We were expecting trouble anyway," Naruto reasoned, "We're inside already. We have to try and get what we came for," After all, who was to say they wouldn't get a similar reception elsewhere? "Nothing bad is happening yet."

"All the same, let me handle this," Tenten interjected, "Your first impressions are bad. Also-."

"-Also, you have boobs. So he might be more willing to talk to you than me," Naruto interjected, ignoring the glare he got from Tenten for his statement. She was going to say the same thing, albeit worded more delicately, "...What if he's into guys though?"

"Then Kabuto will take the lead," Tenten told him, causing Kabuto to gape open-mouthed at her. Before Naruto could argue against the plan of approach, Tenten quickly cut him off, "Your first impressions are bad," She reiterated.

It was true. As much as Naruto hated admitting to being bad at anything, cold interactions weren't Naruto's forte, "Fine. Go for it. Someone needs to keep an eye out around here anyway," He said, recusing himself from the information-gathering part of their job, "Getting stabbed less than an hour into being here wouldn't really be great for us."

Tenten and Kabuto took a seat at the bar, greeting the man working behind it. From his questioning look, he either wasn't used to the cordial type, or anyone from other countries. To be fair, they did look exotic, if only because of the condition of their clothes and equipment. Compared to what the other mercenaries in the bar were saddled with, Naruto's friends' gear looked brand new. It didn't look like anyone was going to try and rob them though. They all just turned their attention back to their drinks, their conversations, and the entertainment.

The musician sat quietly, skillfully playing a guitar. Naruto didn't know much about music, but he could tell if he liked something and could tell when a piece sounded difficult.

The girl behind the instrument had on a straw-woven hat that shrouded the top portion of her face in the bar's shadow. Underneath the hat, she had untamed hair, dark pink in color. She wore a faded red dress, black leggings, black bands around her forearms, and leg warmers that went from her calves down to her ankles.

The roughnecks surrounding her didn't seem to faze her in the slightest, her full attention being given to her own performance. Naruto did the same, allowing himself to drift into his own thoughts, at least until the being that shared his body with him let itself be known.

"Hruuuh," Naruto blinked upon hearing Kurama stir inside of his head, "What the-? Where the fuck are we? Did we switch countries again?"

'Yep,' Naruto thought to the tailed beast inside of him, 'Welcome to Mizu no Kuni, buddy!'

"Huh... interesting," Kurama said. Naruto could hear him smacking his lips as he continued to wake up, "So what does your father have you running off to do this time?"

Naruto scoffed and rolled his eyes, not that the individual it was directed at could see it, 'This isn't a dad thing. This is a 'me' thing. Well, it's an 'us' thing.'

"'Us' as in you and I," Kurama surmised accurately, "Is this about the man in the mask? Doing this again, are we?"

'Kurama, stop,' Naruto insisted, not wanting to hear a lecture.

"No, you're going to hear this," Kurama said, continuing his talk, "Is this really what you want? To confront the man who put us together?"

'I can't leave it alone, Kurama,' Naruto thought to his friend inside of his head, 'I'm not cutting and running in the middle of something to chase this guy. It's not like I have any missions for dad's stuff.'

"That's not what I mean. Don't try to divert the conversation, you brat."

Naruto shook his head at being accurately called out, 'I just want answers. I want to understand.'

"You want to fight him," Kurama said knowingly.

'I'm not gonna fight him,' Naruto thought to the biju defensively. It was unconvincing, and he knew it, '...I might fight him,' He amended, before giving up altogether, '...Alright, I'm definitely gonna fight him.'

Some things didn't change. And as much as Naruto had grown and developed over the years, at his core he was still the same stubborn boy that kept coming to try and play with him on Uzu no Kuni, "I'm not as adverse to this arrangement as I once was. You've been a good kid, and I know you'll never stop working on how to separate us," Naruto could see Kurama's toothy grin inside of his head, "There's no rush. You and I have nothing but time. Just don't get us killed."

Naruto closed his eyes and placed his thoughts of confronting the man in the swirl mask aside for the time being, the music in the bar helping him to do so. Kurama's council was also another great help. Having the grumpy old fox with him was like having a mentor in his head sometimes. He kept Naruto calm; calmer than he would have been at that point in his life otherwise. He was there to know things that Naruto hadn't even told his family or Tenten.

They shared experiences, information, and life itself. It would remain that way until Naruto found a way to free Kurama without either of them dying.

"So, what else did I miss while I was out?"

'Eh, nothing much. I saw some family. That was interesting.'

Naruto was roused from his conversation with Kurama when the music came to a sudden stop. A bottle was flung from a table that smashed off of the wall by the girl playing.

One of the armed warriors looked to the one amongst them that had thrown it, "What's the big deal, Giila? This is the entertainment! What else are we supposed to do while we're drinking?"

The roughneck in question stood up abruptly from his table and began walking over to the musician, "This ain't the kind of entertainment I came here to get," He said, leering at her threateningly, "But she looks like she can help with that too."

Naruto's jaw clicked shut tightly, and Kurama started getting excited, knowing what was likely to happen next, "Ohhh, I'm glad I woke up in time for this part."

Lips drawn together tightly, Naruto stomped into the middle of the seating area, stopping in front of the main bandit, impeding his path with his back to him. The man did not take kindly to this, "What do you think you're doing?"

As he turned around, Naruto at first feigned ignorance that he was doing anything disruptive, "Oh, sorry. I was actually listening to that. Was gonna go up to tip her and everything," He explained, a friendly smile on his face, "I just got here, and I was really enjoying her music. Could you wait at least more than one song before being an asshole?"

The entire establishment went completely silent, save for Tenten, letting out an exasperated sigh from the bar.

Giila's mouth worked itself around in irritation as he reached for the ax on his back, "Boy, shut your mouth and go get me a drink before me and my guys carve you a permanent smile."

The infuriating smile never left Naruto's face, "Wow. Not even gonna pretend like you're gonna do it yourself, huh? Well, you're that smart, at least. Sure didn't sound like it. You definitely don't look like it."

The angrier the brigand got, the better Naruto could say things were going. Get the guy mad at him, so he ignores the musician girl. Naruto could do with getting into a scrape anyway. This was as good an excuse as any other. With all the time spent on Kaiza's ship without a fight, and the series of emotions he'd gone through speaking with Karin at sea, some sort of outlet was required.

He had to fight to hide a smile as three more men stood up from their seats and moved to surround him. He formed a cross hand-seal with his fingers and formed three clones of his own into existence.

From that point on, things were set in motion that could not have been prevented by outside forces.

Kabuto's face twisted in concern as one of the Narutos threw the first punch on someone trying to draw a weapon. The ensuing donnybrook quickly escalated, "Tenten, Naruto is getting-."

"-Ignore it," Tenten droned tiredly as the fracas continued in the background. She didn't need to turn around to see it. She didn't need to listen in to hear it. It was obvious that Naruto was cleaning house, "Remember before we left? I told you, this happens all the time," Both of them leaned out of the way of a kukri blade sailing past their heads, stabbing into a nearby wall, "All. The. Time."

Kabuto's eyes went wide behind his glasses as he tried to comprehend, "What do you mean it happens all the time? Who actually wants to fight 'Red Scar' Uzumaki Naruto?"

Tenten gave him a wry smirk, "More people than you think, trust me."

The bartender walked over, choosing to stand by the only person in the building not involved in the fight who also wasn't concerned about it, "'Red Scar', huh? That's a nifty little name," He commented, trying to make conversation with the out-of-towners, "I don't get it though. There's nothing red on that kid. Is it one of those things like 'the blood of his enemies', or something?"

Tenten quickly raised her head to stare at the interloping man before her. What he'd said struck a chord, "Wait a minute. You don't know who he is?" But this was a bartender. If anyone was privy to ninja rumors, especially ones that got around like Naruto's whole deal, then it would be a person like him. And if the guy who ran the bar didn't know-, "They don't know who he is?"

Those poor bastards.

The bartender shook his head, wincing at the sound of a chair being broken over the body of one of his patrons, "No, probably not. Who is he? Come to think of it, who are all of you?"

"That's Uzumaki Naruto," Kabuto reiterated, as though that were enough to explain things. The unchanging expression on the bartender's face showed that this was not the case, "...D-Do you guys keep up with stuff that happens in the rest of the Elemental Nations?"

"Ah, you lot are from the mainland," The bartender said with a look of recognition, though not the kind that had been expected, "We don't really know a lot about what happens over there. To have your name spread over here, you've got to be a top-level big shot. That, or piss off a lot of people over here."

Tenten rested her arm on the counter, her cheek in her hand, "Seems Naruto's off to a rollicking start on that last part," She said as the sounds of fighting started to die down in the background, "Is he done yet?"

"Uh..." Kabuto turned around to Naruto knock out the last combatant and pile them all up in a corner like firewood, "...Yeah. He's done. That was fast."

"It really wasn't," Tenten said, letting out a whistle to get Naruto's attention. He jogged over with a big, stupid grin on his face, "Why are you smiling? Are you happy?"

Naruto tried to wipe the smile from his face, and failed badly in doing so, "What? No. I'm mad. Grrr. Angry. Stupid drunk jackasses. See?"

No one believed him. Naruto didn't even believe himself.

Tenten stared directly into Naruto's face for a long time before apparently finding whatever tell she had been looking for, "...You're happy that people here don't know who you are," She accused, taking a few steps back once she'd made her theory known. Naruto laughed nervously, confirming this for her, "You are! Seriously?"

Naruto rolled his eyes and began giving out in response, "Oh come on! When has anyone knowing who I am ever made anything any easier?"

Tenten pointed at the crowd that Naruto had torn through with his fists and nothing else, "It made some guys like that not bother us, despite the fact that you act like you, instead of everybody bothering us. Now we're going to have to fight our way through this country."

Naruto didn't see how that was any different from what they'd originally believed would happen, "I don't see how we could get into more fights than we were getting into on the mainland."

Tenten gave him a deadpan stare in return, "Because everyone here is a survivalist asshole who's probably packing something sharp and pointy on him."

"Can confirm," The middle-aged barkeep chimed in, "I'm smuggling like three knives on me. Also, there's a been a crossbow pointed at your junk since the moment you walked up," He said to Naruto.

Naruto stared at the man before grabbing Kabuto and forcing the medic to switch seats with him, "Why are you telling us this?" He asked.

The barkeep shrugged his shoulders, "You kids seem alright. Your friend didn't kill a single one of those guys who went at him. And he didn't disturb anyone else."

The foreign party looked around and saw that the only person Naruto didn't wind up beating to a pulp was the musician girl he'd used as his excuse for starting the fight in the first place. And she didn't seem very grateful.

"Speak for yourself, old man," The hat-clad musician girl groused, her foot drumming off of the ground irritably, "He fucked up my tips for the day."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. He thought he'd been helping, "Those guys were going to-."

"-They weren't going to do shit to me," The girl interrupted, glaring at Naruto and his crew, "Wanna see how that would have worked out for them if they tried?" She asked. As a threat, she held up the guitar she had been playing beforehand by the neck, pointing the body of it.

"Calm down, Tayuya," The barkeep said before another fight could start inside of his establishment, "As you can see, their wallets are still intact," He pointed out.

The girl's eyes brightened up, and she left her stool, waltzing over to the dozen-plus beaten down shinobi where she then relieved them of their money and any other valuables they had on hand.

"Right..." Tenten said, watching Tayuya loot the unresponsive men, "Well, this place is beat. I think we should try and get to another town and start asking questions there," If the guys Naruto had beaten up had friends, and they didn't know who he was, they would probably look for revenge, "The sooner the better. Does anyone know where we can get a map?"

Tayuya scoffed from where she was still stealing stuff, "A map? You kidding? You think any of these yokels has access to decent map-makers?" She commented, "I haven't even seen a goddamn map in six months."

Tenten threw her hands up into the air, "Maps aren't a thing people have good access to here! Good to know!" She said sarcastically. This whole endeavor was getting better by the minute, "How does anyone travel in Mizu no Kuni then?"

The bartender shrugged his shoulders, "They don't. Anyone who wanders outside of a village into the badlands is either brave or dumb. Merchants don't even head inland unless they're trading with one of the Seven and can get protection."

That explained why the town they were in was so rundown. If a coastal town was like this, what did the settlements deeper inside of the country look like? How much trouble would it take to get to any of them?

Tenten didn't expect an easy time of things, given that countless attempts from Naruto to get at the masked man had failed before. Kabuto didn't know anything about what they were into, and Tenten only had a secondhand idea. Even when they had gotten onboard with accompanying Naruto for his vendetta mission, none of them had anything to go on. They had their work cut out for them if they wanted their efforts to bear any fruit.

They were set for an awful time if they planned on doing it by themselves. Naruto knew this. And in front of him, he saw something that would make things a tad easier.

Naruto walked up to Tayuya, ignoring the glare that he received when he got within reasonable distance, which was ten feet, "Are you from here?" He asked, "This town? You a local?"

Tayuya raised an eyebrow and looked through the window with a scoff, "From this dump? Fuck no," She said as she returned to her business, "I'd drown myself in the shitty water outside if I lived here."

That was all Naruto needed to hear, "Cool. Want a job?"

Tayuya reacted with surprise, but she wasn't the only one. Tenten stepped in to conference with her best friend, "Wait, we're hiring her?"

"We need a guide," Naruto said plainly.

Tenten looked at him oddly, "What? Why? We don't even know where we're going. We don't even know if what we're after is here."

But they were going to be exploring the countryside, which the bartender referred to as the badlands. That didn't make for good prospects when wandering around aimlessly.

"We need a guide," Naruto repeated, elaborating when he saw her about to raise a fit, "Tenten, we do this kind of shit all of the time; hiring freelancers to help out."

"We don't," Tenten specified. True enough, most people they hired, someone else did it. Kushina, Kakashi, one of the senior members of Minato's cabal. They didn't do it themselves very often. Kaiza was an outlier. He was Naruto's contact, "We can't even afford it. We didn't take enough money from your dad's funds before we left. We only took enough to pay Kaiza for a round trip."

A snort of laughter brought their attention back to Tayuya, "Your dad's funds?" She directed at Naruto tauntingly, "Aww, you're a daddy's boy. That's just fucking rich."

Naruto glowered half-heartedly Tayuya's way before focusing back in on Tenten, "You're acting like I don't have money saved," He said, giving her a teasing grin, "Unlike you, I didn't piss away all I got from the Kakuzu thing on raw materials for weapons," And it would only increase, because he never really spent much.

Tenten's cheeks turned slightly red at the reminder of what she had chosen to invest large amounts of her hard-earned money into as a preteen girl, "...One of these days, when I start selling those things all over the place, you won't be able to hold that over my head."

And Naruto agreed. But that was for later. This was for now, "Until that day, I can say I have more money to burn than you. A lot more," He remarked before turning to Tayuya, "And it's not my dad's money," He said pointedly before mellowing out and addressing his best friend once more, "Anyway, I have enough to pay a freelancer."

This conversation was getting more ahead than Tayuya wanted it to. Thus, she drew it to a halt, "Wait, who the fuck says I want the job? Who the fuck says you can even afford me?" She snapped, pointing at the three foreigners. Kabuto took a step back from the intense young woman, while Tenten handed Naruto a tiny scroll for him to write on, "You mainland ninja fucks can take your ticky-tack bullshit and..." She stopped her tirade when Naruto showed her what he'd written her – an amount of money that he was willing to pay for her help, "...You're serious? I'd be good for like six months off of this."

While Tayuya appraised Naruto's written offer, Naruto and Tenten shared a glance. Apparently their money would stretch a lot further in Mizu no Kuni than it did back closer to home. That was something to keep in mind. They could make use of that, depending on how much they all had left to spend.

Kabuto tried to be the practical one, despite knowing that this decision didn't rest with him in the end, "Are we sure about this? Can she even defend herself? I don't see any weapons on her at all."

Tayuya took offense at the idea of her being helpless, "You wanna see if I can defend myself, Four-Eyes?" She threatened heatedly.

Naruto stepped in before blood could be shed. Even if she wasn't a strong kunoichi, it didn't seem like it would take much to bloody up their medic, "I think she'll be fine, Kabuto. She can't be any worse off than you are," He stopped and blinked at the content of his words, "...Wow, I just now realized how much of a dick that made me sound like."

Kabuto shrugged his shoulders, "I mean... you're not wrong."

"You're not wrong, Naruto. You're just an asshole," Tenten said, shaking her head, "And I beg to differ too. At least Kabuto can put his own guts back inside of himself if they get cut out."

"Well, that's what he's here for, to do it for the rest of us," Naruto quipped before trying to hire Tayuya again, "Do we have a deal?"

"How long is the job for?" Tayuya asked, seemingly thinking about signing on.

"Until we leave," Naruto said, providing her the details he could, "Could be a few weeks. Could be a month. I dunno."

Honesty was the best policy here. He needed her to show them around, and for whatever information she knew about the country. They had literally nothing. Minato didn't venture to Mizu no Kuni – ever. The country was mostly separated from the affairs of the rest of the Elemental Nations. That much had been made clear to them by now.

Tayuya regarded her current company and weighed her options. The pretty boy blond kid was paying, and well. Even if she had her own misgivings about working with people like them, the money was so good. Taking a moment to think for herself, she spoke up, "For what you're paying, you have me for eight weeks. Any longer than that, you better re-up, or I walk. Same price for the same length of time. Even if we find what you're looking for the day after, I still get paid for the whole two months."

Tenten raised an eyebrow at Tayuya's straightforward negotiation of her terms, "I thought you just played in bars and stuff for your money."

Tayuya rolled her eyes, "No, that's what I do when I don't feel like skulking place-to-place and dealing with all the bandits and shitty ninjas like you to find real work," She grinned viciously at her fellow kunoichi and jerked her head Naruto's way, "But Ol' Blue Eyes here is giving me an offer I'd be an idiot to refuse."

Yes it was, and Naruto was will to take the deal, "Looks like you're coming with us then," He said, extending his hand for Tayuya to shake, "If you try to rob us, I will find you," He added at the end.

Tayuya took his threat, and casually tossed it aside, "Mmm, and then what?" She said, sauntering up to Naruto, getting face-to-face with him, "You look too soft to actually do anything drastic. You didn't kill any of these guys," She gestured to the thugs Naruto had gleefully thrashed minutes before.

Tenten stared at the exchange incredulously, "God, no one here really knows who he is, do they?" She asked Kabuto. Even Kabuto, who hadn't known Naruto for nearly as long as her was taken aback, "If she did, there's no way she would have said that."

Kabuto could only nod in agreement. He knew what Tenten knew – what Tayuya apparently didn't. They knew what Naruto was really capable of.

Naruto never backed down from the dark pink-haired girl, his eyes boring directly into her own challenging brown orbs, "You know what, Tenten? You were right before. I actually do like it that way."

Tayuya backed up first. However, her gaze never left Naruto's the entire time, a vicious bite to the way she snarled at him in defiance, "No need to rob you lot anyway. Because, if you die, I will loot you," She informed them, "This crew looks like it's carrying some valuable shit."

Naruto didn't say anything or bring attention to the fact that the girl before him had plans in case they were killed, instead noticing something he hadn't before when she'd been sitting on a stool and stooping down to steal valuables, "…Man, you're short."

Tayuya scowled at Naruto in return and walked past him, making sure she bumped his shoulder roughly as she passed. She had clearly been irked. Whether that had been Naruto's aim or simply a coincidence, he'd gotten under her skin first.

As the girl stormed outside, Tenten whacked Naruto on the arm, "Hey, why are you trying to piss off the only person who knows where we're going?" She hissed in a whisper, "You do realize, if she wanted to, she could lead us into a den of bandits and pick up the scraps, right?"

Naruto lifted up two fingers, "First of all, if a den of bandits is all it takes to kill me, I probably deserve to die. Second of all, that kind of girl wouldn't respect us if we were a bunch of polite doormats."

He could see it. It was all over her, from the way she walked to the way she talked. Signs of weakness were things meant to be jumped on by this Tayuya. Naruto wouldn't give her an opening to take in the first ten minutes of making her acquaintance.

Tenten approached Naruto's instincts with a measure of skepticism, "How do you know? You're terrible with people."

Naruto seemed slightly offended, "I'll admit to the shitty first impression thing, but I'm not bad with people. I just never have a clean slate."

Tenten tried to argue a counterpoint, but couldn't really think of an example where Naruto had met someone who hadn't heard something of him beforehand. Not since they were children. She hated when he out-argued her, "Fine, fair enough. I'm just worried. We're a long way from home, Naruto. If something bad happens, can anyone get to us? Could we even call for help?"

"We can call for help, but them getting here fast enough is another problem," Naruto said, "I don't know if dad has any markers in Mizu. I'd probably say not. But we can do this."

"We don't even know what 'this' is," Tenten urged, "We don't even know what's here."

Naruto grinned, a mischievous shine in his blue eyes, "That's why we're hiring a guide!" Tenten cursed at having given Naruto's snap idea validation, "Thinking of a master plan, Tenten!" He said, walking out of the bar with confidence in his step. He still needed to seal the deal with Tayuya.

"Oh, go lick a doorknob!" Tenten replied at getting one-upped. Naruto didn't respond, knowing he had won this round, "Fuck me," Tenten muttered shaking her head.

"What?" Kabuto asked, ever the friendly medic that he was.

Tenten looked at the swinging bar door that her leader's son had passed through, "Sometimes, I forget he's actually really good at this stuff."

XxX

(Kaminari no Kuni)

Nawaki liked Kaminari no Kuni. It was never sweltering hot like it could be in parts of Kaze no Kuni or Hi no Kuni, or oppressively cold like in other places he'd been to. Plus, there always seemed to be a charge in the air, a side effect of the frequent thunderstorms that moved through most of the country. He liked that.

What he didn't like, was sharing in his travels with others. He worked better alone. He could move faster, and he only had to worry about himself, which meant that if he got messed up in some dodgy situation, it wasn't as big of a deal. Now he had to worry about two others, and one of them happened to be the niece of the person his sister Tsunade was in bed with.

The other was a student he had taken on in the last three years. A very talented researcher he had come across while he had been working on some side projects. He had been happy to get her started in archaeology and history – fields that he loved. He also made sure to train her in combat, because what he did, and obviously what he was teaching her to do, was extraordinarily dangerous.

...He just didn't ever take her anywhere. His reasons were several-fold, but the most important one was simple, and selfish.

"Goddamn you, sis. I really hate traveling with other people," Nawaki complained aloud before ceasing his swift movement. His current company couldn't keep pace with his preferred travel speed, "Oi! Hurry it up. If you can't keep up, you should have stayed back at the last outpost we passed."

Two kunoichi arrived at his position after a few moments, both irritated by Nawaki's remarks. One was a slender woman with black hair that barely reached her shoulders, dressed in a dark kimono. The other was a younger kunoichi with very bright pink hair pulled into a functional ponytail. She wore a black breastplate over a sleeveless dark red dress with mesh armor underneath.

The younger of the two women was the first to voice her displeasure, "If we stayed there, you would have just ditched us, sensei," She deadpanned.

Nawaki gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder, "Sakura, don't be dramatic. I would have come back for you."

The girl, Sakura, didn't buy it, slowly peeling Nawaki's hand off of her, "You absolutely wouldn't have."

The black-haired woman spoke up at that point, "Looks like Haruno-san has you pegged, Nawaki-sama,"

Nawaki was far from impressed, "She'd better after three goddamn years."

Sakura didn't care for her teacher's attitude. Respecting him was one thing, tolerating him was another, not that he cared too much about either, "You brought us. You actually came to get me from my family's home. I was resting."

Nawaki palmed his forehead and ran his hand down his face, "It was either take you, or get someone assigned for me by sis. Seeing as how I can turn a trip with you into a learning experience, I figured I'd just do that."

"Oh, that makes me feel so useful," Sakura said sarcastically.

The dark-haired woman took the opportunity to chide Nawaki for his attitude,"You really should be more welcoming, Nawaki-sama. We're here to give you the help you need on your mission."

The help he needed? Oh, that simply would not stand. Senju Nawaki didn't require backup, "Let's get two things straight. One, this is not a mission - it's a hunt. Two, I only brought anyone this time because my sis insisted on me not doing my hunt alone," He pointed to the pink-haired girl that stopped cold in her tracks, "You're here because you're my apprentice," He then pointed to the black-haired woman who was not amused by his antics, "You're here because sis insisted on having someone around that could put the blood I lose back in my body."

"-Which seems like a good policy to me when you're telling me that you expect to lose blood, Nawaki-sama," The black-haired woman replied calmly, a patient smile on her face.

Nawaki whipped around and stared at her dryly, "Seriously, Shizune, cut it out," He said, "You're five years younger than me. I've known you your whole life. Don't give me that crap with the honorific. I know you only do it because it pisses me off!"

Shizune didn't deny this whatsoever, "And it doesn't bother me at all to say it," Nawaki threw his hands up in defeat and continued on the path of his search. Shizune looked around at the rocky, mountainous slopes all around him, "This is a pretty desolate area. Are you sure there's anyone here?"

Nawaki snorted at her mild skepticism, "I hunt people, places, and things, and I'm really good at it," His eyes narrowed, the farther they traveled along the mountain range, "This is absolutely where I need to be."

Sakura chimed in from the back of the pack, "Uh, don't you mean 'we'?"

"No, I mean, me," Nawaki said, reaffirming his own statement, "As far as I'm concerned, Sakura, you're not ready for this kind of heat. And Shizune... well, you could probably stay and you'd be fine."

Sakura growled under her breath at being dismissed by her sensei. He was very encouraging and positive when it came to all of the academic things he had taught her to do. When it came to being out in the field, with all of the perils included, he was much more negative.

No, she wasn't some combat prodigy. No, she didn't have the support of a clan to make sure she was good enough. And the most maddening thing was that she knew he wasn't dismissing her because any of these things. He just did it because it amused him. Because being an asshole was funny.

"You've been training me for three years... when you haven't been leaving me behind," Sakura said, grousing to herself at all of the times Nawaki had run off after some lead without so much as telling her. Sometimes for months. If she had any grave deficiencies, she would blame them on that.

Nawaki nodded, entirely unapologetic for his actions, "All a part of your training. How else am I supposed to teach you how to hunt things down? By making you do it, of course."

Sakura wasn't convinced, knowing her teacher preferred being left to wander alone, "Yeah, right. And besides, it wasn't like I didn't have any training before you started teaching me."

Nawaki laughed at the reminder of the early days with his apprentice, "True. You were so cute and squishy and vulnerable back then," Now she was much less so, and it had been very unpleasant for her to reach that point, "Your parents hate my guts," He said with a laugh.

"They don't," Sakura tried to argue before backing down somewhat, "They might," She admitted before giving up entirely, "...You're right. They probably do."

Their daughter got to work with a powerful Senju Clan shinobi of great standing, related to Tsunade herself. One that had made their daughter very competent in what she did. But that shinobi was in their daughter's own words, 'a complete jerk that thinks kicking my ass or leaving me in the middle of nowhere is funny.'

As they moved farther along the mountain range, Nawaki's demeanor became markedly less playful. Both Sakura and Shizune noticed this and readied themselves for trouble. But things weren't so perilous. Moving through a pass near the summit, Nawaki brought his team to a stop, sensing the approach of two figures.

Not even trying to conceal themselves, two brothers rounded a bend and came into sight. They were burly men, tall in stature. Both had long, thick, wild hair that flowed down their backs – one was blond, the other had silver hair. They wore headbands with large horns on top, and matching purple high-collared outfits with no sleeves.

"Ginkaku and Kinkaku," Nawaki said, identifying them both. He could tell which was which. Ginkaku had silver hair and the kanji for 'silver' on his right arm. Kinkaku was the blonde, with the kanji for 'gold' tattooed on his left arm, "You are two very hard men to find."

"Yeah, people like you usually take the hint that we don't want to be found," Kinkaku said, frowning when he noticed the emblem on Nawaki's equipment, "...A Senju."

Ginkaku chuckled, giving his slightly larger sibling a pat on the back, "Brother, I told you to keep more of an ear out for upstart shinobi," He gestured forward to the man in front of them, "This is Ryoushi no Nawaki (Nawaki the Hunter)."

It made sense. A lone Senju, far away from Hi no Kuni, out looking for them for seemingly nothing. Only, it wasn't for nothing. The Gold and Silver Brothers knew exactly what he wanted, but they didn't have to admit anything, "What are you and your team looking for, Senju?" Kinkaku demanded to know.

Straight to the point. Nawaki could appreciate that. He'd done enough sightseeing. No need to waste time, "Not 'we', 'me'. I'm looking for something. A little something special. A few somethings, now that I mention it," He said, trying to be as forthcoming as he could without spilling important secrets, "I know what I'm looking for though. You see, I have the location of one identified already. Not counting the two you have, of course."

"Two of what?" Kinkaku growled irritably.

A knowing smile slowly spread across Nawaki's face, "Three of the Treasured Tools of the Sage of Six Paths!" He could feel the atmosphere between them become more hostile, "It's pretty amazing that you guys found three! Then again, you've both been alive for a long time. Plenty of time to get your hands on them."

Ginkaku scoffed, "That's rich coming from you. So you want our weapons?"

Good. They weren't denying that they had them. He had been told the Gold and Silver Brothers were quite treacherous, "I'm willing to pay a fair sum. We can sit down, have a few drinks, and work out a number that you guys like."

Sakura and Shizune stood back as Nawaki tried to initiate a negotiation. The brothers looked at one another, and for a moment, the student of the hunter figured things would remain peaceful for the time being.

"You have quite a way with words, my friend," Kinkaku said, "That's not a compliment, coming from us."

Sakura took a knowing step back, Shizune doing the same. Really, neither of them were surprised. If it was something Nawaki wanted, it was valuable, to the extent that it was easily worth fighting and dying over.

Visible chakra began to emanate from both of the brothers. It was smothering in its pressure, "Strength is gold, but words can be silver. Isn't that right, brother?" Ginkaku said, "A silver tongue can trick anyone. And there's no one fool enough to take anything a Senju says at face value."

Both of them pulled out sealing scrolls. Nawaki stiffened up, preparing for a fight, "You say you want to see our weapons, Senju?"

Nawaki spared a look over his shoulder at Sakura and Shizune. The former had made sure that the latter had been slowly moving farther away from him as the talks with the Gold and Silver Brothers seemed to break down, "Right. Good girl," The hunter said, flashing through a quick series of hand-seals, "Doton: Kiretsu (Earth Release: Fissure)!"

The mountainside was pure rock. The best weapon for Nawaki to use for this particular jutsu. The ground around him and the Gold and Silver Brothers fractured and broke, creating a massive crevice and causing the walls of the mountain pass they were in to collapse.

This had the effect of closing off the battle from Sakura and Shizune. Neither of them would like that decision, but it was for the best that they didn't get involved. Sakura was pretty damn good, but not good enough to fight a pair that had been around kicking butt and taking names since his grandfather had been leading the Senju Clan. Shizune was the medic. You didn't put the medic in danger. That was just basic battlefield etiquette.

He didn't expect his preemptive attack to have decided the fight, so he wasn't surprised to see Kinkaku and Ginkaku unscathed.

"Well-well-well," Ginkaku said, brushing dust and debris off of his bare arms, a "Just like we thought. A Senju, always quick to manipulate the situation when they don't get their way," He had a large gourd underneath one arm and a broad, flat rectangular sword with a talisman hanging from the handle.

'The Benihisago and the Shichiseiken,' Nawaki thought with a measure of revenance, "Nothing personal, guys. I just really need those weapons," Looking over at Kinkaku, he saw a thick, glowing rope wrapped around one of his arms, 'And the Koukinjou,' He couldn't help the honest smile that came to his face upon seeing the treasures firsthand, "Oh, you brought them all out. I can't wait to confirm their authenticity."

And unlike most archaeologists, he didn't have to sit down and analyze every inch of the craftwork of these artifacts to do so. He was going to fight the men holding them. More than likely, he would see them in action for himself.

From that point onward, all he needed to do was survive. Easier said than done.

"All that chakra behind that jutsu, and you didn't lay a scratch on us," Kinkaku said, taunting the man he and his brother had outnumbered two-to-one, "Heh, compared to your grandfather and granduncle, you're a no-name loser living off of their reputation."

Nawaki let out a laugh, finding some excitement in the challenge, despite the threat to his life, "Let's put that to the test then, boys? Shall we?"

XxX

(With Naruto – Mizu no Kuni)

One thing that all of Naruto's crew had picked up on early into their time on Mizu no Kuni was that the weather wasn't nearly as nice as it was in Hi no Kuni or other places they frequented around the Elemental Nations. It was cooler than they were accustomed to, and wet. Every step felt like walking through mist.

Tayuya had taken them away from the terrible port town they had landed at and into the countryside. The girl had taken to her position as guide for the group easily enough, though not without a biting response to any questions or comments directed her way.

Naruto and Tenten were used to it. Traveling and being trained by Kakashi as long as they had been as children had gotten them accustomed to people with abrasive personalities; people who took it as a personal challenge to verbally offend you at every opportunity. This girl took it to the next level, though.

Naruto could take it. Tenten could as well, though with a twitch. Kabuto though, would flinch every time he would speak, in case Tayuya directed words his way without warning, "Why are we not back on Kaiza's ship to travel around?"

This question was posed after hours on foot, headed to who knew where, under the guidance of their musically inclined escort, who led them per Naruto's request of what he was looking for. It was a valid one.

"Two reasons," Naruto offered in return, "One, we'd have to pay him to use him like a shuttle service when we can all water walk if we need to."

"-Which we are not doing," Tenten added, "We don't know how long this'll take, and we'd rather not have to freelance just to have money to use."

They left it unsaid that Kaiza would only stick around for so long. A month at the longest. Maybe less than that if he couldn't find anything worth his time. That would leave them to find another way home. Though only Naruto and Tenten were privy to this part.

"And the second reason?" Kabuto asked, though this time, it was answered from their temporary fourth.

"Unless you want your man's ship to be raided, it's probably better to travel on foot," Tayuya said, a tint of skepticism coloring her next few words, "You all seem to think you can handle yourselves. Well, we'll see about that."

Tenten took that statement to heart and took in their surroundings. She had her suspicions, but there was nothing she could voice aloud. There was no evidence. All she could do was watch and wait. Perhaps she would be waiting for nothing, but it was better to be prepared for peace than surprised by trouble, "So you know where we're going?"

Tayuya turned up her nose at the question to her competence. If they didn't think she knew where to go, why did they hire her? "You fucking kidding? I've been to all of the islands in Mizu no Kuni. Wish I hadn't been to some of 'em, but... I know where to go," She said, "The kind of information you're looking for, you were never going to get it from the island we're on. The good stuff is always farther in. Bad stuff too."

Kabuto asked, "It gets worse?"

A vicious grin formed on Tayuya's face, "Oh boy... it's gonna be fun seeing you guys react to shit. You really that soft on the mainland?"

"There's only one way to find out for sure," Naruto said confident in their ability to survive anywhere.

Tayuya turned to look back at him, her smile all teeth and mischief, "Well, goddamn. Looks like we agree on something," It was a dangerous kind of mischief, "Heads up."

Tenten had already been anticipating some form of chicanery, so she was already moving before the sound waves of Tayuya's voice had left the immediate area. She cast a net woven of ninja wire into the trees that prevented her and her comrades from being hit from all sides by kunai and shuriken.

It was a booby trap, but not one activated by them. They had done nothing, stepped on nothing. Someone who had been watching them manually triggered a mechanism from a hiding place.

While dealing with the threat from afar, another threat took form up close. Kabuto saw them emerging from slight puddles on the road, "Guys!" He shouted in warning.

Two men in dusters and masks, one gray, the other black came out, as though they had been fused with the water. Wasting no time, they launched themselves at Naruto, catching him off-guard and running him through.

Kabuto's mouth fell open in horror. Naruto had just been run through. But Tenten wasn't concerned one bit. He didn't know why until a seal array spread across its body. When the clone popped, the array appeared on the ground in a large circle around where it once stood. Anyone within it was marked with the same array, which paralyzed them in place. They were sitting ducks for two kunai to the throat, courtesy of Tenten.

The weapon-toting kunoichi ventured outside of her own protective net, putting herself in danger in order to fight their distant threat. It was a measured gamble, as the next thing that came her way was a crossbow bolt with an explosive tag attached. With great aim and dexterity, she knocked it out of the air with a shuriken, and following the trajectory of the projectile, was able to track movement in the distant canopy.

She returned fire with a kunai attached to an explosive note of her own, anticipating where her target was moving to. Tenten didn't miss. Not that she possibly could have with a weapon tied to a high explosive.

*BOOM!*

A fiery explosion in the trees was the result. She saw a body drop to the ground, or what was left of a body, at least. Good riddance.

Tenten waited, keeping her eyes peeled for more enemies. When she didn't hear a sound or feel any movement around them, she turned back to Kabuto and Tayuya. Kabuto was still in shock at Naruto's disappearing act.

"When did he-? How did he-?" Kabuto tried to put words together, looking around in alarm, "Naruto made that clone in the nick of time! But where is he?"

"Oh. He made that thing a ways back. He does that sometimes. Makes a clone to shadow us for ambushes. Sometimes he does it himself and leaves a clone as a decoy," Tenten's explanation complete, she glared over at the Tayuya, "You look like you were expecting more than three to jump on us."

"I was," Tayuya admitted shamelessly, "Normally these types don't roll with less than five guys ready to go," She looked at the dead bodies of the shinobi bandits that Tenten had disposed of single-handedly, "From these fuckers, I was expecting maybe ten. Definitely not three."

"I guess he cleaned up the rest of whatever you thought we were going to have to fight," At that moment, the real Naruto landed among them, brushing himself off. There were specs of red on his protective vest, "Happy hunting?"

"Something like that," Naruto said nodding to Tenten at a job well done, one that she returned. With that, he turned to the person meant to guide them, "Before I start... is there anything you want to tell us, Tayuya?"

Tayuya smirked and gestured to the area around them, "Welcome to the fucking badlands!" She exclaimed, "Yeah, I brought you here on purpose. What of it?" To her surprise, Naruto moved inside of her guard and snatched her up by the neck with one hand, "Get your dickbeaters off of me!" She said, thrashing in place. Before she could grab a weapon and ventilate Naruto's throat, a crushing killing intent froze her in place.

"Why don't you make me!" Naruto bellowed, his features momentarily turning wild as a strong, inhuman chakra burst from his body. Tayuya's pupils shrank in fear as Naruto returned closer to normal, "If it was just me, I'd have let it slide. Screw with me all you want to. I can take it. I'm used to it," Never taking his angry eyes off of her or letting her down, he pointed back to Kabuto, "That guy is a friend. He saved my life," He pointed to Tenten, "Tenten is my sister. No, we ain't blood. But I would die for her. You walked her into a trap."

Tayuya grasped at the grip around her neck, painful, yet not cutting off her air, "I don't have to-," A quick, hard shake silenced her.

"We paid you and you walked my family into a trap!" Naruto snapped, "This might be a shitty place to be; shittier than Hi no Kuni. But no matter where you go, that's something you get killed for!"

Seeing her life at risk, Tayuya finally found it in herself to get a word in edgewise, "How else was I supposed to see that you chowderheads can handle yourselves, Golden Boy? Because you can beat the shit out of riff-raff?" She shouted, feet still dangling off of the ground, "I'm throwing in my lot with you! So you're damn right I'm gonna make sure you aren't weaklings that'll die at the first sign of trouble! Because whoever kills you, they'll kill me too!"

Naruto's grip lessened slightly, and he set her back on the ground. But his glare never subsided, "And is this good enough?" He spat.

Tayuya realized she was being given an out, but had to keep up some semblance of backbone, "This was nothing. But it was good enough," She said, "No more bullshit; not from me. So long as you shinobi types keep up your end. You pay me, you don't fuck me over, we're good."

Tenten could hardly believe the gall of this girl, saying anything about being 'fucked over'. Naruto wasn't as animated. His patience for shenanigans was thin, "Because I need you for a job, you get one. Everybody gets one," He told Tayuya, not sparing her another look as he moved past her, "You just used yours."

Tayuya looked after him, before turning to see where he'd landed when he first returned. There were six more bodies among the two sealed ones that Tenten had put down. They had been killed fast, no hesitation. From the looks on some of their faces, they never had time to realize what was happening.

That could have been her. Naruto would have done it. He absolutely would have. Of that, Tayuya was entirely certain. Had he not been satisfied with her excuse, he would have killed her, looking dead in her eyes as he did it. He would have tossed her aside with the rest and moved along. The only reason he didn't was because as he said, she was the only person they'd come across so far capable of doing what they needed for them.

Kabuto moved in with glowing green hands to try and mend the deep bruise around Tayuya's neck from Naruto's hand, before the aforementioned jinchuuriki called out, "Don't heal her, Kabuto! She's keeping that!"

The medic moved away from Tayuya and moved along with Naruto, leaving Tenten and Tayuya behind. The latter massaged her neck, wincing at the pain left behind. It would serve as a reminder that she wasn't running around with a lightweight.

So smiling Golden Boy had a mean streak? That was interesting. Tayuya wondered if they built more of them like that on the mainland.

"Whew," Tayuya exhaled, her shoulders slumping in relief as she muttered to himself, "I didn't know he had that in him. Definitely didn't peg him as the type before," It was then she noticed Tenten staring her down, "...What?

Tenten didn't mince words, "I don't like you."

Tayuya bristled at the brazen declaration, "Well that's tough, because it doesn't look like I'm going anywhere for a while," She retorted, before realizing that something she'd expected hadn't occurred, "...Aren't you gonna threaten me yourself, Buns?"

Tenten eyed Tayuya as though she were sizing the musician up. Eventually she shook her head and walked forward, "If you haven't gotten it through your head yet, nothing I say will change that. Just don't mistake kindness for weakness. Naruto can afford to be nice, because of what he's capable of when he isn't."

Tayuya looked between the retreating Naruto and Tenten, not understanding what she was being told, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"He is his father's son," Tenten remarked cryptically, "The kind of son a man who wants to change the world needs."

She hoped that during this hunt for the masked man, no one got to see just what that entailed.


Jutsu List

Fuuin Bunshin (Seal Clone). A-rank ninjutsu, clone techniques, supplementary. A variation of the clone technique. Using a Shadow Clone as a base, the creator forms the clone with a sealing array. Any activation of chakra in the clone will activate the sealing technique. This means the clone cannot execute ninjutsu of its own. Destruction of the clone will also result in the seal being activated, making the Fuuin Bunshin an effective close-range trap.


Alright guys, that's the chapter. Naruto and company are in Mizu no Kuni looking for the man that tried to ruin Naruto's life for chaos' sake. Kakashi is on the hunt for the man trying to influence anti-unification sentiment from the shadows. Nawaki is on the hunt for the legendary weapons of his ancestor.

We've got plenty of things in motion, and there's more to come.

I've been busier than all hell lately. Trying to make ends meet, working on and editing a novel I'm trying to write, and traveling all over the place to take part in wrestling shows. It's nice to get to sit down and just mess around with some fanfiction. This is a good release valve for stress.

Eh, whatever. No need to get into all of that. You got a little something to read, so I'll just leave you with that. I hope you all enjoyed. Until the next time.

Kenchi out.