Disclaimer: I don't own anything in Naruto.

AN : So far, I doubt there will be any pairings in this story...but well, we'll see how it goes. I aim to explore a very different Naruto - one who has been tempered by countless years. Essentially, a cool, calm and collected all-round BAMF. Enjoy and please leave feedback.

Thank you for all your reviews, follows, and favorites…your words of encouragement are truly, truly appreciated.

Senju Tsunade sighed as she silently contemplated the saucer of sake held in her deceptively light grip. A sudden shriek of happy laughter drew her gaze back to the window of her new office, allowing her to see a little kid being chased by another in some sort of game.

Tossing back the alcohol with the effortless ease of decades of practice, Tsunade returned to her desk and to the half full bottle on top of it. She knew that Shizune would not appreciate her drinking on the job, but given the high stress of her past few days, she believed she was entitled a little indulgence.

Once more, she allowed her brown eyes to rest on the scene outside her window, affording her a direct view towards the famed Hokage Monument, bearing the faces of her four predecessors. With a rueful smile, she recalled the words which she had spoken in blinding grief and loss-filled anger,

"If I never set foot back in this black hole of a village, it would be too soon."

It had been a dreadful time for her as she struggled to cope with the sudden loss of the spot of sunshine that had been her brother, Senju Nawaki. She had stewed in her grief and pain and loss for weeks, before Jiraiya had barged into the darkness of her mourning – going so far as to track her down in the town she had fled to, and dragged her out into the warm sunlight of recovery.

Her teammate, the ever loud, brash, and headstrong Jiraiya, had wasted no time in forcing her to come to terms with the loss of her brother, making her remember not the sight of his bloodied and bruised corpse, but the beaming smile that he often wore before undertaking some mischievous task. Helping her etch the laughter and life that filled her days with him in the depths of her soul, where time could not dull the memories they had shared.

After days of rebuffing Jiraiya's attempts to help her – sometimes so violently that he had been forced to seek the aid of the town's civilian healer, she had finally broken down and wept in his arms, wailing her grief out for the world to hear…and through it all, he had been there for her.

Though she had begun a journey of healing, she had still refused to return to Konoha, instead pleading with her sensei to allow her undertake a training mission of sorts – the death of her brother had left in her a burning desire to push the boundaries of the medical field and attain, nay, surpass, the level of her own grandfather, Senju Hashirama.

While she had been waiting in the town for Jiraiya to return with her sensei's decision, she had run into a fellow Konoha ninja, who had chosen to spend his weeklong leave in that town with his niece, who was a budding Kunoichi.

After a moment of thought, she recalled his name; it had been Katou Dan.

After a few days of running into him in her bar of choice, she had finally relented and gone on a few dates with him. There had been promise there, but somehow, every time she visualized her future, it was not his light blue hair she saw, nor his dark green eyes.

After their third date, Dan had tried to give her a good night kiss, and she had unconsciously turned to let it land on her cheek instead. A few beats of silence had followed, and before she could begin stuttering out apologies, he had smiled softly in understanding and said,

"It's alright; I think I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were already for another, but I chose to hope."

Fortunately, he had been an understanding guy and they had parted as friends, with Tsunade even spending some time with his niece, Shizune, and encouraging the girl's ambition as a medic.

The day after their amicable transition to just friends, she had walked into a bar to hear a familiar boisterous laugh, and without realizing it, a happy smile had spread across her face as she moved towards the source of the laughter.

For an instant, Tsunade had locked eyes with the ninja who was beginning to gain a reputation as the fearsome Toad Sage, and it was in that moment as his eyes lit up at her presence that she knew.

Surprisingly – or maybe not if one considered the two people involved – the recent revelation didn't actually change much between them: Jiraiya still went out to brothels and wrote bad porn, while she took up gambling and drinking, though neither in excessive amounts. And when the permission from her sensei came through, Tsunade packed her bags and began her journey across the elemental nations.

If she noticed that Jiraiya happened to be passing by about once every three months, neither of them mentioned it.

They had never acted on what they knew lay between them; they had never needed to. It was enough to know that at the end of the day, the other would be there, with a smile and a warm cup of sake.

Snapping out of her thoughts as her ears picked up the slight rustle of fabric, Tsunade let a warm smile spread across her face as the newcomer walked up to stand beside her, slightly brushing shoulders with her in an affectionate gesture.

Allowing some of her weight to rest against the solid and warm body next to her, she soaked in the peace currently permeating the room, content to simply bask in it for the time being.

Finally sighing as she realized that she would have to return to her work as Hokage, Tsunade moved back to her desk, donning the persona of the Godaime Hokage once more.

Turning to face Jiraiya as he too walked away from the window to stand in front of her desk, she leaned forward, hands clasped in front of her face and serious hazel eyes focused on him, as she asked,

"So, what is the situation over there like?"

Nodding to her question, Jiraiya began to give his detailed report,

"The rebel faction has finally managed to defeat Yagura, but…"

In the depths of his soul, the Yondaime Mizukage watched helplessly as the anti-bloodline army clashed with the rebels. He was powerless to keep from nodding as one of his commanders asked if the ambush squad lying in wait should attack now.

Even now, as he watched the smooth execution of a carefully planned two-part assault, he internally gritted his teeth as he waited for the perfect moment to strike.

Next to his consciousness, he felt the deceptively still essence that was the core of the Sanbi also lying in wait.

A few weeks previous, one of the last few people who had stuck by him through his changes – obviously hoping that he would come back to his senses – finally gave up on him and tried to assassinate him. Being that it was not the first time since the subversion of his will that such a thing had happened, it really ought to have been an unmemorable display of crushing might. However, the person in question, one Tatsumaki Sanosuke, had been with him from the time he had accepted the position of Yondaime Mizukage. His death at his own hands – even if he had not been in control of them – had affected him.

It had shaken him greatly.

It had shaken him…enough.

After the event, he had managed to kind of step back from the genjutsu manipulations and coercions suppressing his free will. He had essentially removed the essence of his consciousness from direct control of his body, leaving behind a puppet dancing on the strings of numerous genjutsu.

In some ways, his limited freedom was worse since he was now fully conscious of his own helplessness, no longer blinded by the haze of illusions.

In other ways, it was far better, because with the onset of his return to self, had been a meeting with his Bijuu.

The Three-tailed sea turtle had managed to escape being made a puppet of the Sharingan wielder that had attacked his host. As Yagura had learned, that escape had been thanks to two factors, the first being the Sanbi's near unparalleled ability with illusions (using mist as the catalyst), and its enviable ability to create doorways to pocket dimensions where it could hide itself.

Combining those two abilities had allowed it the chance to evade the efforts of the Akatsuki member known as Tobi.

When Yagura had managed to dissociate himself from the illusions, Isobu had wasted no time in getting in touch with him, and for the first time since they had been forcefully brought together, host and Bijuu agreed on one thing.

It was better to be dead than to be controlled.

Now, as the two armies withdrew from their clash, Yagura's body stepped forward into the vast space between the battered and bruised warring factions. An emotionless gaze took note of the fact that even with the benefit of an ambush and superior numbers, the anti-bloodline army had fared slightly worse than the bloodline rebels.

The blank gaze tracked a red splash of color in the gray landscape as Terumi Mei stepped forward to meet him in battle, Chōjūrō and Ao reluctantly waiting behind at the head of the army.

Appearing regal in her stance, despite the small number of rips in her clothing, Terumi Mei looked steadily at the man who had used the blood of her people to paint their own home red, and as she met his lifeless gaze, she vowed that her people would be free that day, even if she had to die to see it so.

The genjutsu controlled Mizukage neither spoke nor gestured, but Mei's eyes widened in alarm all the same at the sight before her.

A towering wave of water was suddenly bearing down on her and the army behind her.

Even as she molded two of her chakra natures to defend against it, she knew that it would not be enough – none of them could have fathomed that Yagura's command over water was so advanced.

Seconds before the wave would have obliterated the rebels, a pulse of chakra originating from the side of the battlefield caused gasps to sound out on both sides as the wave of water froze into a beautiful ice sculpture.

Before anyone could react to the sudden change, the ice shattered into millions of pieces which promptly reformed into lethal needles, all pointed towards Yagura's army.

With something like a whisper of song, the needles travelled across the sky as they bore down on the army, leaving in their wake a breath taking rainbow of colors as the light refracted through them.

Yagura's body didn't react as almost a third of his army was put out of commission by the reversal of his own attack. Instead, he turned to the source of the chakra source and found a short but painfully beautiful figure panting slightly at the expenditure of chakra.

Just as he prepared to crush the intruder, he noticed Mei's wide-eyed look of hesitant hope and followed her gaze to the figure suddenly standing not too far away.

The entire battlefield was silent, save for the moans of the injured and dying, as everyone took in the appearance of the new figure.

Standing casually at an impressive six feet of muscled silent death, his huge zanbatō slung across his shoulders, the Demon of the Bloody Mist smirked slightly at the looks of surprise and fear sent his way.

Tossing a fond look of pride at his apprentice, he thrust his sword forward with a blood thirsty smile on his face, and roared out,


From seemingly nowhere, a veritable horde of rogue ninja and mercenaries descended on the anti-bloodline faction, roaring in bloodlust and rage.

Zabuza had put the money given to him by Naruto to good use, hiring as many sword arms as he could. With the combination of the capital, his own reputation, and the promise of more compensation once they won back Kirigakure, he had managed to raise an army that rivaled that of the Mizukage in sheer number.

With a crash much a like the booming of thunder, the two armies collided in a flurry of blood and removed limbs. Jutsu were exchanged to lethal effect and swords sung through the air as they gorged themselves on the blood of the vanquished.

Not to be outdone, the rebel army roused themselves with a roar that shook the earth and leapt into the fray, mowing down the Anti-Bloodline coalition as they executed a reversal of the attack that had bled out their own forces.

Blurring forwards, Zabuza didn't even bother with his usual approach of hiding in the mist – against a master of water manipulation like Yagura, it would be a waste of time and chakra.

As he drew even with Mei, she seamlessly slipped in next to him, moving in tandem with him as though they had been fighting together all their lives.

With a grunt of effort, a flash of silver, and a stream of lava, the final battle for the bloody mist had begun.

Mei panted as she struggled to steady her swaying body, blood dripping from a cut above her left eye and her previously fair skin already showing glimpses of what would become impressive bruises later. Next to her, Zabuza leaned on the sword driven through the soggy soil, fighting to steady his blurred vision and regain his breath.

Across from the two, Yagura straightened from his slouched position, mindlessly ignoring the pain from his battered and bruised body.

At this point, the other combatants on the field had seized fighting, with the rebel army, and their mercenary allies, succeeding in subduing Yagura's army. Now, they all watched silently as the three Kage-level ninjas got back their fourth wind.

In the depths of his mind, Yagura and Isobu girded their figurative loins as they prepared to finally make their move, sensing that the puppet was about to pull out the trump card.

Both Mei and Zabuza tensed as they sensed a steady rise in their opponent's chakra. Paling as they unanimously drew the proper conclusion, they leapt forward as one, seeking to disable Yagura before he could carry out his next move.

With a roar of defiance, Zabuza plunged forward with his massive blade, intending to run Yagura through before he could call on his Bijuu.

Three seconds before the blade reached him, Yagura was suddenly cloaked in a bubbling miasma of potent Youki.

Two seconds before contact, Zabuza knew that he was about to die.

One second before impact, Yagura and Isobu heaved with their collected might, and the chakra cloak flickered and died.

Mei slid to a stop with wide eyes as she felt the entire world draw in a deep breath and hold it.

Zabuza stood frozen in his finishing pose as his disbelieving gaze locked with the no-longer-lifeless eyes of the Yondaime Mizukage.

In the sudden stunned silence that had descended upon the battlefield, Yagura's softly spoken last words travelled effortlessly through the air,

"Thank you…for setting me free."

Obito slumped down against one of the walls in his lair as he ignored the steady flow of blood coming from his damaged left arm, choosing instead to think about the events of the past few hours.

After his unmasking before the gathered forces of the Konoha elite, he had escaped after distracting them with a hastily cobbled together Amaterasu.

Arriving in his personal rooms in Amegakure, he had moved to tend to his wounds when a flicker of chakra had had him spinning around to meet the impassive gaze of one of Nagato's paths, the one made using Yahiko.

For an instant, they had both been silent as they locked gazes, before Yahiko had coolly said,

"I have been waiting for you…Uchiha…Obito."

Only decades of instinct had made Obito turn intangible an instant before the wave of gravitational force obliterated his room…and the four rooms beyond it.

He had hesitated for a moment, relying on his passive defense to keep him from harm.

It had been a grave mistake.

Something not commonly known, but which he himself had knowledge of, was the fact that the Rinnegan granted the user the ability to manipulate either of the two constituents that made up chakra. Less commonly known – with Obito and Nagato being the only living beings with such knowledge – was the fact that Obito's Mangekyou-granted ability to turn intangible had a basis in the manipulation of the spiritual component of chakra.

With his senses dulled from the injury he had sustained so far, Obito was too slow to avoid the fist that drove into the back of his head, glowing with the power of imbued spiritual energy.

Dazed, his training still kicked in and he righted himself as he flew through the air, landing on his feet already ready to retaliate.

With his gaze burning with hatred, he snarled out,

"Just what do you think you are doing, Nagato?"

With his iconic emotionless voice, the orange haired Deva Path replied,

"You have long since led us astray, posing as the legend you are not…as the god, you are not. You have exceeded your use, Uchiha, and now, you will know pain."

Obito was shocked to stillness as he gazed upon the man he had made a legend; upon the person who had once called him teacher.

It was the straw that broke the camel's back.

With a roar more appropriate for an enraged animal, Obito summoned the spiritual guardian of the Uchiha clan, Susanoo.

By the time the Deva Path had dug himself out of the rubble caused by the spiritual guardian, the former head of the Akatsuki group was nowhere to be found.

Now, Obito cast his weary gaze around the room in which his master had nursed him back to some semblance of health years ago.

He wondered what his next move should be; their plans had accounted for such deviations but not to such a degree.

As he sat there, his mind – fractured beyond any hope of complete healing – began to churn out ideas for dealing with the sudden turn of events. Still, a part of him wondered…wondered if it was all worth it.

I mean, I've been following his plans for the past decade, and it hasn't brought me anything but –

With a start, his thoughts were cut short as he hunched forward, pitiful sounds escaping from his mouth as he fought against the sudden mental attack besieging him.

In the depths of his psyche, the fail safes implanted there by the subtle manipulations of the Sharingan's most infamous master kicked in with a vengeance as Obito's doubts and thoughts of disobedience grew.

With a dawning sense of horror, he fought and struggled as he felt his consciousness being systematically suppressed by potent genjutsu backed commands beyond his ability to counter.

As the last of his strength failed him, he let loose one final broken wail of defeat before all the life fled his eyes, leaving behind the empty orbs of a puppet.

Rising mechanically to its feet, the body of Uchiha Obito walked over to an unremarkable wall in the underground lair and began to blaze through a long sequence of esoteric seals.

With a hiss of sound, the wall slid away to reveal another room hidden within, with two concrete tables at its center with space in between them for a person to stand.

Two preserved bodies rested side by side, one on each table.

Smoothly moving towards the body nearest to it, the scarred figure paid no heed to the complex sealing array that surrounded the table, nor to the effect its dripping blood had on the seals.

Though the puppet could care less about the seals, the same could not be said for the suppressed part of Uchiha Obito. Still reeling from the betrayal of the one he had called master, he looked through eyes no longer under his control to see the most complex sealing work he had ever laid eyes upon.

In it, he could see elements of blood seals, and medical seals, and – with a flutter of trepidation – parts of the formula involved in the forbidden technique Kuchiyose: Edo Tensei.

His attention was drawn away as his body came to a stop in between the two tables and simply laid down on the floor, facing the ceiling and conveniently positioned dead center in the complex sealing array.

Raising its hands above its chest, it began to blaze through a long number of hand seals, many of which had to have been specifically created for whatever technique was about to be performed.

Completely trapped within his mind, Uchiha Obito railed in impotent anger as he watched his body begin to weave numerous unknown hand seals, obviously in preparation for some rare and forbidden jutsu.

Obito's screams of rage abruptly turned into screams of pain as he felt as though the very essence of his being was being torn in two. He howled and fought against the pain as the jutsu neared its completion.

The controlled body completed the forty-first hand seal and prepared to do the last one, but its hands seemed to be repelling each other, as though the very air itself was fighting against its actions.

Indeed, that was the case.

As soon as the body had completed the forty first hand seal, chakra sensors spread all across the elemental nations had frozen in horror as their senses registered a perversion in the world around. So pervasive was the disgusting and tainted feeling that they were unable to pinpoint even its general location.

And now, as the puppet succeeded in bringing its hands together in the final forty-second hand seal, the universe wailed in outrage as the very fabric of nature was ruthlessly twisted and its laws, violated.

Uchiha Obito, on the cusp of passing out from whatever unholy technique had just been performed, heard his lifeless voice pronounce the last words he would ever hear,

Uzushiogakure Kinjutsu: Edo Rinne Tensai no Jutsu (Forbidden art of the Village Hidden in the Whirlpool: Impure Samsara of Heavenly Life Technique)

With one final surge of chakra, the soul of Uchiha Obito was cast into oblivion, leaving his cobbled together body to crumble into dust in the absence of its soul.

Suddenly, a whirlwind kicked up, picking up the ashes of the late Obito and funneling them into one of the bodies on the slab.

Once all the ash had vanished, the wind followed, leaving the entire room quiet and serene.

Until a gasp shattered the stillness

Surging upwards into a seated position, the cloaked figure looked around himself with wonder filled eyes; his last memory had been a world of darkness after his own power had turned on him and robbed him of his sight.

Turning his head to the right, a choked off cry escaped his lips as he scrambled from the stone table, stumbling on still too weak legs to get to the other body.

With shaking hands, he smoothed back the grayed hair of the aged corpse, as he felt silent tears streaming down his face.

Yet, before he could get lost in his grief, he picked up a symbol from the corner of his eye, which was achingly familiar.

Not daring to hope, he slowly made his way with unsteady steps that were rapidly firming the longer he walked towards the symbol etched into a desk.

Pausing before it, he ran his fingers along the scarred surface, feeling a melancholic smile stretching across his painfully handsome features.

With a sigh, his hands came up and ran through as set of hand seals that he hadn't used since the days of his childhood, when they would hide treasures in chakra puzzles that only they knew how to open.

Reaching inside the suddenly revealed compartment, he picked up the journal found inside, and his breath hitched in his throat as he saw handwriting so familiar that it hurt to read it.

Gathering his composure, he opened the book and began to read, becoming more relieved the longer he went on, red and black eyes flying across pages and effortlessly etching them permanently into his memory.

Finally, hours later, he put down the book and laughed in jubilation at what he had just read. Things were not as dire as he had thought and he finally had a direction in which to head.

Turning to a sealed closet, he pulsed chakra through its door and began to don the battle armor stashed within.

Once he was done, he made his way towards the exit of the hideout, pausing beside the other body to utter a few parting words,

"I'll be seeing you soon…nii-san."

Naruto allowed his gaze to pan across the village as he quickly made his way towards the Hokage Tower, easily noticing the looks being thrown his way from the villagers that he jumped over; one part disbelief, three parts guilt, two parts awe, and a half-part fear.

Ever since the bingo books from Iwagakure had arrived, and his parentage made public for all a sundry, the attitudes of the general public had taken a sharp turn for the better, though he found that their general fickleness about such things was slightly distasteful.

Still, he was pleased that the people around him had begun to really take him seriously, especially his fellow graduates. In fact, he considered the training session he had witnessed the day before. If Kiba kept up such a punishing pace with his sister and members of his clan, then he would easily attain chunin level in no time. Also, if the rumors were to be believed, the other members of the Konoha Twelve were also training just as hard. It would seem that all the hype surrounding Naruto had motivated them to try to catch up.

The changes from the past few days were not only constrained to his age mates though. Everywhere he looked, he could see the older generation of ninja going back to the drawing board to fine tune their skills, dust off their techniques, and remove the rust from their equipment. Apparently, getting shown up by a fresh out of school genin had really put things in perspective for them. Added to the recent talk of the infiltration by an Akatsuki member – whom Naruto also took care of, the adults were more on guard that ever before. The last he had heard, Kakashi was even training with Gai to refine his Taijutsu, after getting tips from Jiraiya on how to take his Chidori further.

So things were going good for the Village Hidden in the Leaves, though there were a few down sides. Ever since Sasuke had awoken and learned of the happenings of the past few days, he had been moody and irritable, making him a pain to be around for even his resilient fangirls. Naruto, who had millennia of experience in reading people, and Sasuke in particular, knew what was going to happen next; he was so certain that he could even guess as to why he was summoned to the Hokage Office immediately after returning from his solo mission.

Stepping into Tsunade's office after nodding at the guards posted outside it, he allowed his eyes to rest on the woman seated in them main chair, observing her for the scant few seconds before she focused on his presence and the mission she wanted to send him on.

When he had first met her in the aftermath of Obito's attack, he had responded to her far more warmly than he had ever responded to anyone the first time, leaving the Sandaime, Jiraiya, and Kakashi at a loss. Though he knew that his actions had confused them, he had found that he couldn't actually bring himself to care; how could he expect them to understand the fondness he still held for the blonde woman before him.

Tsunade, like Jiraiya, was one of the scant few people who were almost always the same in every reality he had been to. In particular, in almost all interactions with her, she had treated Naruto decently, often leading to a similar relationship between them that existed in his first life; a mix between mother and son, and brother and older sister. What had made him even warmer towards her was the fact that in the life before his current one, he had not called Tsunade Hokage; he had called her mother.

After the events of the Kyuubi attack, Tsunade, who had been more involved in the lives of Kushina and Minato, had taken him away from Konoha before Sarutobi could let loose the truth of his identity as the Kyuubi jinchuuriki. She had raised him as her own, teaching him how to be a decent person and a medic who was almost her equal. So focused had she been on his upbringing that she had gone stone cold sober for fifteen years and only ever gambled a handful of times. She had loved him unconditionally, as he had her.

Now as he looked at her talking to his godfather, he allowed a small smile to cross his face, hidden once more under his facemask.

Picking up on Jiraiya's boisterous laugh caused his focus to swing onto the white haired man. Now, there was another one of those people who usually meant a lot to Naruto in all the lives that he lived. Perhaps even more than Tsunade, Jiraiya usually went out of his way to make sure that Naruto was well cared for whenever he could.

In fact, once, after a particularly bad betrayal, a hurt and broken Naruto had actively sought out realities where his closest confidants actively hated him – perhaps in some misguided attempt at lashing out. It had taken him a few dozen to find one in which Kakashi wanted nothing to do with him. Another handful later before he landed in one in which the Sandaime couldn't care less about him. Finally, it had taken him exactly eight hundred and twenty nine realities before he found a world in which Jiraiya blamed him for the death of his student and disliked his guts; truly, the Toad Sage was a rare individual.

Shaking off his thoughts, he stepped fully into the room, garnering the attentions of the people present, and causing Jiraiya to trail off.

Standing at easy attention before the two quasi-family members, he simply said,

"Reporting in from my successful mission, Tsunade-sama"

With a sharp nod, Tsunade accepted the signed mission report, and immediately moved on to business – idly regretting that she couldn't take the time talk some more with the teen that was rapidly becoming one of her favorite people in the village.

Fixing Naruto with a steady look, she began to speak, noticing her words capturing the attention of the recently arrived Kakashi and Sakura,

"Early this morning, a report came in of a genin sneaking away from the village in the direction of Grass Country. Investigation revealed said genin to be one Uchiha Sasuke. A team consisting of genins Hyuuga Neji, Inuzuka Kiba, Akimichi Chouji, and led by chunin Nara Shikamaru was dispatched to retrieve him."

Pausing, she took in the subtle tension in Kakashi's frame, the paleness of Sakura's face, and the lack of surprise in Naruto's eyes. Filing that observation away for later and continuing on, she said,

"As you know, the other four Kage's will be arriving shortly, and it would be in our best interest to have this issue resolved before then. So, this is your mission: Jounin Naruto, you are to head out immediately to provide support to Team Nara in the retrieval of Uchiha Sasuke, to hopefully return in time to attend the meeting of the Kages."

Seeing that she was done, and knowing that they were strapped for time, Naruto nodded and spun to leave for his mission. At the doorway, he drew up short at Sakura's panicked voice,

"Wait Naruto…please…please…"

Turning his head, he looked into her eyes and saw a girl fighting between her loyalty to her village, her concern for her teammate, and her love for a misguided young man. Flicking his eyes in Kakashi's direction, he met his teacher's solemn eye. Pasting on a convincingly cheerful eye-smile, he turned to his pink haired teammate and he replied,

"Don't worry Sakura, I'll be…we'll be back soon."

With that, he was out in a flurry of black and red.

Kiba fought to regain his breath as he watched Neji furiously battling with their opponent. It had taken his team a few hours to catchup with Sasuke, and when they did, they had all tried to talk him out of his actions.

It had all been for naught.

Only the fact that Neji's Byakūgan had been active had prevented him from getting his tendons severed by the concealed Yakushi Kabuto.

After they had regrouped from the sudden attack, they had vacillated between disgust and anger as they listened to Sasuke's maddened ravings about his drive for the power to avenge his clan. Having been informed of Kabuto's status as a traitor and his apparent skills as a jounin level ninja, they had immediately prepared for one of the hardest battles of their lives.

True to form, Shikamaru had wasted no time in devising plans within plans to handle their opponents, and within seconds of their confrontation they had been locked in a furious battle that required all their skill and teamwork to survive, worsened by the fact that Sasuke was actually fighting with Kabuto for some time, before he had been told to go on ahead.

Still, between them, they had actually managed to push the jounin back and injure him some, though that really didn't do much good given his prodigious medical skills.

After getting his second wind, Kiba moved into position to take over from Neji, noticing Chouji doing the same in the periphery of his vision.

Though their battle had been going on for almost an hour, he knew that they were steadily wearing Kabuto down, meaning that it was only a matter of time before they got through his defenses.

With a surge of hope, Kiba thought to himself, we can win…we can win against a jounin, moments before a chilling monotone cut through the air, originating from just behind Kiba,

"Kabuto, why are you struggling against such trash?"

As he spun into a defensive position, the only thing he had time to see was a flash of pale white before his world vanished in an explosion of pain and blood.

Chouji crashed into the ground with an earthshaking boom as he fell to the punishing onslaught of Orochimaru's main enforcer. He only had enough strength to turn his head as another body impacted the ground beside him. After the dust cleared, he saw the barely conscious form of his team leader and best friend; battered, cut, bruised, and utterly defeated.

The slow approach of footsteps had him struggling to look up, only to meet the cool disdainful gaze of the pale haired teen standing above him, whose right hand was raised to deliver the finishing blow.

It never fell.

Chouji was sure that he hadn't blink, and yet, somehow, he had still missed it.

Kimimaro's eyes widened in pain as he felt his hardened bones shatter from the impact of the fist suddenly planted in his gut. Tumbling uncontrollably through the air, he slammed into the body of his fellow Sound ninja, causing them to crash into the ground in an explosion of sound and dust.

Coughing up blood at the damage wrought by that single blow, he looked up to find nine blond haired replicas standing in between him and the Konoha team. He watched as four of the clones moved to pick up their fallen comrades while the other four each moved to begin providing field healing to them.

With a strained chuckle, Shikamaru's pained voice rang through the air,

"Heh, took you long enough…Naruto."

Turning to smile at his friend, Naruto responded in a vaguely sheepish tone,

"Ah, sorry about that, I had to double back."

The confusion his excuse generated was cleared up by the sudden arrival of another clone bearing the brutally beaten body of an unconscious Uchiha Sasuke.

Into the sudden silence, Naruto spoke up,

"Go on…I'll catch up with you guys when I am done here."

With a nod at their creator, the clones took off, with the four unburdened clones surrounding their burdened counterparts in a diamond formation.

Gritting his teeth at the sudden change in their plans, Kabuto stepped forwards and spoke in a slightly mocking tone,

"Naruto-kun, what a surprise. Surely, you don't think that you can handle both of us do you? We are each on a level above even Hatake Kakashi you know."

Naruto tossed a considering glance in Kabuto's direction, then he considered what his sentry clone had just reported, and then finally, he shook his head,

"Sorry Kabuto, but I don't have time for this."

Eyes widening in apprehension, neither Kabuto nor his companion had time to react before their world vanished in a flash of yellow light.

Gazing coolly at the two headless bodies before him, Naruto didn't even twitch as a sword erupted from his chest, effortlessly piercing through his heart.

Hissing in wordless aggravation, his attacker twirled and sliced through the air where Naruto's head had been a scant second before.

The sound of flesh hitting flesh heralded the turning of his assailant into mud as the clone was killed by the fatal strike to its jaw.

Turning to face the other side of the clearing, Naruto spoke one word,


Landing far more silently than a man his size had a right to, the Yondaime Raikage allowed his stern gaze to take in the sight of the village laid out before him. Reluctantly acknowledging the magnificence of the village, even in light of the recent past events, he made his way through the gates, paying no mind to the stuttering gate guards falling over themselves to see his entourage in. Behind him, Darui and Team Samui curiously took in the sights and sounds around them as they made their way towards the gleaming red Hokage Tower.

As he followed the black haired secretary to the meeting room, he sensed that he was the last one to arrive, though that realization mattered little to him. Stalking into the room like a great beast, the dark skinned Kage took in his seated colleagues and their own guards behind them.

In the middle of the room, with her back to the only window, Senju Tsunade watched them all with a steely brown gaze, while behind her, Hatake Kakashi, retired hokage Sarutobi Hiruzen, and Jiraiya of the Sannin stood calmly.

To her right, the sand jounin known as Baki sat in his position as temporary Kazekage, while the now far more stable Sabaku no Gaara stood behind him, and in between his two siblings.

Beside the Kazekage, the custom made elevated chair gave away its occupants identity before his eyes fell upon the aged man himself. With his eyes closed in the patience gained from decades of leading a village, the Sandaime Tsuchikage cut a commanding presence despite his diminutive stature. Behind him, his granddaughter, Kurotsuchi stood beside her partner, Akatsuchi and her father, Kitsuchi.

On the other side of the Godaime Hokage, the red haired Mizukage presented an alluring image as she lounged elegantly in her chair, while behind her, the figures of Ao, Zabuza, Chōjurō, and Haku stood guard.

Striding forward, he took his seat beside the Mizukage and wasted no time on formalities, as was the norm with him,

"So Tsunade, what can you tell us about the Akatsuki?"

Utakata collapsed against a tree as his legs finally gave out. Panting harshly, he raised his weary gaze towards the unruffled man standing before him. Taking in the gleaming red armor and the elegant sword clutched in his hand, disbelief and denial warred heavily with the proof of the vision before him.

In a world where human beings were capable of redefining the landscape with a few hand seals, a man considered to be the boogeyman of the Shinobi world would have to be fearsome indeed.

As his fading vision tracked the casual approach of the man that had effortlessly slapped him and his tailed beast down, he had only enough time for one last thought,

This was no boogeyman…he was something far worse.

Turning his head to the side, the red and black swirling eyes took in the uncomfortable form of one of the members of Akatsuki, Deidara the Mad Bomber. Merely tilting his head towards the unconscious body at his feet, he watched calmly as the jinchuuriki of the Six Tailed Slug was loaded onto a huge clay bird for transport.

Tilting his head in consideration, he mentally tallied his targets, ticking off those that had been captured already – the Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven Tailed Beasts and their respective jinchuuriki. Giving off a low hum of approval, he turned his body in the direction of Kumogakure and vanished without a trace, leaving a devastated forest behind him as evidence of his victory over the Rokubi, Saiken.

Naruto calmly looked across the pockmarked clearing at the furious visage of the Snake Sannin. They had been at it for the past few minutes and Orochimaru's current appearance showed that Naruto was not pulling his punches. Still, the Snake Charmer was no slouch himself as evidenced by the few tears in Naruto's clothing – his injuries having long since healed in a hiss of steam. Orochimaru's performance was even more impressive for the fact that Naruto was currently on level six of his custom limiter seal; having been in the care of Tsunade while on level six, he had decided not to drop down to level seven to avoid any bothersome questions if he was checked over again.

Still, Naruto knew that the time for passively going along was fine. Though he had initially hoped to kick back and relax on this go around, he knew that things were about to come to a head. He accepted that he might have gone a tad bit overboard during the chunin exams, and further worsened things during the invasion attempt.

The intervention of Uchiha Obito had been a surprise in a world lacking surprises to one such as him. He knew that the unmasking of the person behind the Akatsuki would stir up the bee's nest, as evidenced by the current meeting between the Five Kage's in Konoha.

He let loose a silent sigh as he considered his actions so far, and the actions he would soon have to undertake.

Going from what he knew of Madara – and considering that he had, in another life, called him brother, that was a lot – Naruto could vaguely predict what was about to happen.

Knowing that his showing during the Chunin exams revealed to the world at large – and to the Akatsuki in particular – that he was not to be taken lightly, and that if anyone wanted a shot at him, they had better take it now, while he had not yet reached his full potential, Naruto could guess that the boiling pot that was the Elemental Nations was about to explode.

Sighing once more as a charge from Orochimaru distracted him from his thoughts, he wondered if he would be forced to go above level five for the battles to come.

He hoped not, because the cartographers always complained about having to correct their maps once the dust had settled.

Konan stilled as the awareness of something fluttered at the edge of her senses. Suddenly, her right hand came up in a blur, releasing a hail of paper shuriken that pulverized one of the walls of the room.

Beside her, Nagato cast his rippled gaze to a particular corner of the room as his nigh godly senses registered a powerful presence, causing Konan to switch focus as she prepared to defend the most important person in her life.

Slow and steady footsteps heralded the emergence of the figure into the light.

The first thing that greeted their eyes was the battle armor designed in a style not seen in decades.

Next was the beautifully crafted blade that hung at the figures waist, moving in such a way that his fluid gait was not hindered by it.

Finally, they saw the face of the intruder, and Konan gasped in recognition, even as Nagato's eyes widened in such surprise that it reflected in his usually impassive voice,


Feeling the raw power contained the body of the person standing before him, Nagato knew that this was no imposter. He knew that this was the real legend as he had been in his prime, and that as it stood now, the person before him wielded enough power to utterly destroy him and Konan if he so chose.

Voice and face blank of emotion, the figure spoke up,

"Come, Nagato, we leave for Konoha."

Blinking in surprise, Nagato was about to question the command when the air on either side of the Uchiha rippled and peeled away to reveal five blank faced people, all of whom he recognized.

The Mizukage, Yagura




And if his senses were any indication, they all possessed their tailed beasts as well.

With a slight shudder, he nodded in compliance with his orders.

With not even a gesture, the space surrounding the powerful Missing-Nins shuddered as reality defying forces were exerted on it.

In a swirl of color and barely detectable chakra, they all found themselves standing on a hill overlooking a partly decimated forest.

Nagato, mounted on his complicated chakra machine, spared a moment to notice that all his six paths were also present, before an explosion of white smoke had him looking back to find the boss summons of the Snake and Toad clans preparing to do battle.

Easily deducing who the combatants were, he prepared to have his paths move in and subdue the Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, only to have the armor clad figure gesture for him to wait.

Turning a questioning look on him, Nagato wondered why they didn't just capture one of their targets now. The figure, after a few seconds of silence, finally responded,

"Let Orochimaru die; he has long since outlived his usefulness. The other jinchuuriki are currently, and will be if they aren't already, in Konoha where we can capture them for the fulfillment of our plan."

Seeing the sense in that approach, Nagato merely nodded and turned back to observe the battle, before he was once again interrupted by the his silent companion who apparently still had more to say,

"Leave your Deva path here as incentive for the boy to get back to Konoha immediately. The rest of us will proceed to the forest surrounding the village, where the remaining members of the group are gathering in preparation for an assault on the village."

Eyes widening at the rapid planning and execution of the Uchiha's plan, Konan felt the beginnings of fear as she realized that the Uchiha must have captured the five Jinchuuriki, met up with and convinced the rest of Akatsuki, and made preparations for a siege on Konoha all in the space of the past few days.

Truly, the man was a Shinobi like no other.

Tsunade watched with rising frustration as the other Kage continued to bicker amongst themselves about the viability of uniting to squash the Akatsuki threat.

It had begun when the Raikage, the hothead that he was, had wasted no time in pointing out that Kumogakure was the only blameless village as far as having ties to the Akatsuki went. He had shouted about the Tsuchikage actually employing said group, as well as the fact that the group's birthplace had been Kirigakure.

That had only caused the Tsuchikage to lose his cool, and the Mizukage to become indignant. Things had rapidly devolved from there until the most powerful people in their respective lands ended up arguing like children.

Now she scowled as her sensei sent an amused look in her direction, while beside him, Jiraiya failed to properly muffle his snickers. Silently, she prayed for something to happen to interrupt her fellow Kages.

The gods must have been listening.

The opening of the door immediately drew the attention of those present, causing the Raikage's rant to trail off as they all took stock of the blond haired figure striding into the room.

The minute tensing of the contingent from Iwagakure was ignored as Naruto came to a stop before the semi-circle of assembled Kages.

Deciding to show some decorum before them, he bowed slightly and waited for Tsunade to acknowledge him, noticing the assessing looks that all the foreigners were throwing at him, though the looks from two of the Mist contingent was different.

Tsunade, grateful for the interruption, asked,

"By your presence here, I take it that there were no problems?"

Just as Naruto moved to speak, the Sandaime's voice rang out for the first time since the convening of the meeting, reminding everyone else that there was a sleeping dragon in their midst,

"I wouldn't say that, Tsunade-chan. After all, why else would we be getting the mission report from a clone?"

At his words, Tsunade cast a sharp glance at him as the others wondered how they had failed to discern the true nature of the visitor.

In the meantime, the clone decided to give a brief report,

"The mission was a success. Uchiha Sasuke is under custody and Team Nara is being seen to in the hospital. The original is not here because he stayed behind to deal with Orochimaru."

The Konoha group and a handful of the foreigners were the only ones not gaping at the casual statement; a child dealing with one of the Sannin? Preposterous

Spluttering in shock, Kurotsuchi asked,

"Oi, what do you mean 'deal with Orochimaru'? The little brat is going to get killed, no matter whose son he is."

Before the clone could reply, a small cloud of smoke and pulse of chakra erupted on the table, clearing to reveal the small figure of Gamabunta's son, Gamakichi, clutching in his hand the famed blade, Kusanagi.

The toad's greeting was met by stunned silence as they all tried to process the proof before their eyes.

As if their stupor was not sufficient, another greater surge of chakra had the Raikage leaping to his feet in alarm as the familiarity of the chakra registered.

His shouted query was almost drowned out by the loud discharge of electricity as the technique completed,


The sight revealed when the lightshow ended simultaneous chilled A's blood and inflamed it.

Yugito and Bee were lying on the floor, battered, bruised, bleeding, and barely alive.

The impressive recovery of the Kages as they took in the new development was nothing to the speed of the famed medic in their midst.

At the same time as the lightning fast Raikage was clearing the table, Tsunade was already kneeling before the two bodies, hands outstretched and glowing with the power of healing chakra.

A knew better than to interfere as he watched Tsunade effortlessly handle the healing of the two jinchuuriki simultaneously; a testament to her prodigious talent in the field of healing.

Tsunade, for her part, was wholly focused on her patients, delicately fixing the nicked blood vessels while also shunting the healing energy of their respective Bijuu towards the damages that needed more brute force than finesse to heal.

As soon as she had them stabilized she allowed herself to relax from the high level of focus she had been maintaining, causing the Kumogakure group to relax minutely as well. With a nod of her head, she motioned for A to come closer. Pulsing some of her chakra, she woke up her two patients just as the door opened to reveal an Anbu squad alerted by the commotion and chakra.

A knelt next to his little brother, body for once completely still as his volcanic rage exceeded the limit where it could be expressed.

The silence still left in the wake of the sudden appearance of two of the very jinchuuriki they had been discussing allowed everyone to hear Bee's word,


As his words confirmed what they had all known on some level, A prepared to ask for more details when the entire tower shook as an explosion of sound swept through the entire village.

With a muffled curse, Jiraiya spun to face the origin of the sound and stilled as he saw a hundred puppets rising in the air just outside the walls.

Beside the veritable army of red cloaked puppets, a towering wave of water was rushing towards the wall as well.

Immediately, showcasing skill befitting legends like them, Jiraiya and the Sandaime wove their chakra and before the astonished eyes of the younger ninjas present, a solid wall of earth rose up moments before the tsunami hit, sucking up all the water to become a wall of mud.

While those present gaped at the combination jutsu pulled off from such a long distance and at such short notice, the Sandaime was already completing another set of hand seals.

Huge serpentine dragons erupted from the wall of mud to plough through the army of puppets, taking out a handful of their number.

As the five Kages, the recently healed jinchuurikis, and their escorts moved to deal with the new intruders, Tsunade spared a moment to wish for the safety of a blond haired blue eyed ninja.

Gamabunta exhaled a relieved breath of air as the body of his foe finally stopped twitching.

Reaching out with one massive webbed hand, he gripped the tanto lodged in the skull of the great snake, and ripped it out of the place where it had pinned him to the floor.

Though he was seeing it with his own eyes, he almost couldn't believe it.

Manda was dead.

For countless years since the simultaneous betrayal of Orochimaru and ascension of Manda to the head of the Snake Clan, the Toads – and their summoners by extension – had been at war with the cold blooded reptiles.

Gamabunta knew that most of the enmity between their people was due to a combination of two factors; Orochimaru and Manda.

The combined lust for blood and all round pervasion of all that was good and natural found in their unholy union had been as a blight upon the Animal Summons.

Now, it was all over.

Manda was dead, and one of his sons – hopefully a more level headed and honorable one – would take his throne.

For the first time in over a decade, they might finally have peace.

And it was all because of a blond haired child.

Allowing his gaze to land on the child in question, he was just in time to see to Orochimaru bonelessly slide off the sword that had been thrust through his mouth in a parody of the fatal blow that had felled his reptilian companion seconds before.

Once again, the proof before his eyes did nothing to diminish his feelings of incredulity.

Orochimaru, the infamous Snake Sannin, was dead, killed by the hands of a boy barely into his teens.

Gamabunta, alongside Ma and Pa, had been told by Jiraiya of the events surrounding Minato's son some two and a half years before. After finally quelling the urge to go to Konoha and sit on a few individuals, he had listened to the incredible tale of Minato's sealing genius.

At the time, the three toads had found it difficult to believe, until they had recalled the reports of the toads that had played their part in repelling the recent invasion. Now more willing to believe Jiraiya, they had listened further as he talked about what he had been able to glean about the boy's character during the one month intermission between the Second Part of the Chunin Exams and the final tournament.

What reservations they might have had at the thought of a child wielding such power were put to rest as Jiraiya waxed on about the boy's unshakeable determination and powerful sense of justice; his drive to become the greatest ninja legend in all of the Elemental Nations so that he might be better able to help those who needed it. As Jiraiya spoke, the toads were painfully reminded of another golden haired child who had brought such light to their summoner's eyes, and such vigor to his spirit.

It was that last part that convinced them to give the kid a chance, and now, Gamabunta was pleased that they had.

It had also helped that the Great Toad Sage had mentioned that the boy would be instrumental to stopping the terrible events that were about to befall the land.

While the news of impending disaster was worrying, the knowledge that Naruto would be one of those fighting to prevent it had calmed Jiraiya down, revealing to the toads the depths of the Sage's belief in his godson.

Now, Gamabunta observed as Naruto sealed away the remains of the Snake Sannin, and prepared to offer the kid a lift back to the village when he froze in surprise for an instant.

Even as his senses registered the surge of chakra from right next to him, he was already turning to confront it.

Even as his hearing picked up the intoned words of the newcomer, his tongue was already zipping through the air to protect Naruto.

Even as his eyes widened as they landed on the newcomer's grey eyes bearing a ripple pattern, he knew that it was already too late.

Shinra Tensei!

Jiraiya absently wondered at how loud the sudden silence was as his eyes burned into the features of one of the men standing across from the Kages and their escort – well standing was a relative term seeing as how he seemed to be encased in some complex machine.

Though he might have been able to write off the red hair as a mere coincidence, the ripple-patterned gray eyes could only belong to one person.

Uzumaki Nagato

Following that train of thought, it stood to reason that the blue haired woman standing beside him was Konan.

Shocking as the proof of their survival might be, the greatest shock was seeing them wearing black cloaks with red clouds.

Beside him, he could feel Tsunade's barely hidden surprise as she took in the sight before her. Never in all their imaginings had they expected the entire might of the Akatsuki to crash down on them.

Though, he thought to himself, we should have expected this once three of the jinchuuriki ended up gathered in the same place.

He prepared himself for one of the most difficult battles he would ever have to face, feeling the other people standing with him doing the same.

Yet, he couldn't help but notice that the Akatsuki members seemed to be waiting for something.

As if on cue, an explosion went off not too far from the clearing where the two groups were facing off.

Some of the younger ninja present flinched as the backdraft of the explosion washed over them with the accompanying surge of chakra.

Just as they were regaining their bearings, a body suddenly crashed into the open space between both groups, causing them to jump farther apart as they waited for the dust to clear.

Eyes widened in surprise as the dust cleared to reveal Naruto kneeling on top of an orange haired body wearing the same attire as the other missing-nin present.

Smoothly, Naruto flipped away from the body just in time to avoid getting skewered by a black metal rod wielded by the surprisingly still conscious person.

As he landed beside Jiraiya, he heard his godfather's sharp intake of air once the pierced face of Yahiko was revealed.

Now that everyone was gathered, Nagato took the chance to speak into the silent air,

"Zetsu will be here soon, and then we will begin."

Shifting in confusion at that statement, the gathered Konoha Shinobi and their temporary allies twitched as the sound of a struggle and muffled curses reached their ears, causing their gazes to zero in on a tree not too far from the Akatsuki group, just in time to watch the bound figure of Uchiha Sasuke emerge with a black and white colored plant-like man.

Struggling futilely in the Zetsu's grasp, Sasuke was powerless to do anything to escape as he was dragged towards the group of nukenin.

The Konoha contingent, already tense at the sight of one of their own – even if he was a wayward one – in the grasp of the enemy, tensed further as they noticed a ripple in the air on either side of Nagato.

Flashing back to a similar technique being used by an orange haired masked man, they were prepared for the emergence of a figure from the swirl in fabric of space time.

They were not prepared for the identity of said figure.

Tsunade's and Onoki's exclamations of shock had gazes flickering in their direction long enough to note their pale faces before refocusing on the newcomer before them.

Still, despite his surprise, Onoki managed to bite out,

"You…how are you still alive…Uchiha Madara?"

At that question, most of the gathered ninja stumbled back in shock tinged with a heavy dose of fear at the arrival of the Shinobi World's version of the boogeyman.

Casting his cool and dispassionate gaze on the gathered Kages and their escorts, the oldest living Uchiha began to speak,

"Since there is no hurry, I will answer your question Onoki. Years ago, word came out of a forbidden technique created by the Nidaime Hokage, the Edo Tensei no Jutsu; a jutsu capable of summoning the souls of the dead and using them to animate corpses which would then fight using the dead person's full power. It was a truly fearsome jutsu but one with a few drawbacks – the necessity of a controller, the need for a part of the person you wanted to summon, and the possibility of being sealed away. Essentially, the person, no matter how powerful, was still merely a puppet."

The more knowledgeable ninja present nodded at his words, aware of the existence of such a technique, and yet, sensing that there was more to the story than that.

Everyone who was listening tensed slightly as, without any motion to forewarn them, an upright wooden box began to rise from the ground beside the ancient Uchiha. Ignoring their reactions, he forged on,

"What not many know is that the Uzumaki seal masters had managed to create a similar jutsu years before. One capable of completely bringing a person back to life at their peak condition – no controller necessary, and with no risk of being sealed away like the other technique."

Exclamations of disbelief greeted his statement, but he stoically ignored them, choosing instead to continue, silencing them with his next words,

"It was a technique that took the myth and legends surrounding the legendary Dōjutsu, the Rinnegan, which was said to have the ability to bring the recently dead back to life. The cost of the jutsu was tremendous as it required the sacrifice of a person closest to the target's bloodline – a child, or a parent. Because of the cost of the technique, it was labelled as forbidden and all records of it destroyed…except for the memory of the main seal master involved in its construction."

At this point, the listeners who had worked out where this was going were appalled at what they were listening to, and some of them suddenly recalled the Uchiha clan massacre, wondering if it was an attempt to obtain a needed sacrifice for the technique.

Ignorant of the thoughts running through a few of the minds of the people before him, the Sharingan wielder forged on, once more captivating his audience with his recounting of history,

"Years later, an attempt was made to combine these two techniques into one ultimate technique which would have all their strengths and none of their weaknesses. The Edo Tensei had the benefit of making the summoned person nigh indestructible and granting them almost limitless stores of chakra. The Uzumaki clan forbidden technique restored the targets body to perfect condition and granted the person full control of their actions – it fully brought them back to life. The attempt was a success, perhaps even better than had been expected. Because you see, now, one wasn't constrained in their choice of source material with which to perform the summoning; any direct descendant of any generation would suffice."

The Sandaime Hokage, the quickest on the uptake there, was only able to give an aborted cry of warning before a blade suddenly plunged into Sasuke's chest, pinning him to the lid of the upright box.

Before the horrified and grim eyes of those present, a mind boggling complex array of sealing scripts lit up in an unholy red light as Sasuke's blood flowed against gravity to outline the seal.

By the time the people refocused on the other Uchiha present, it was too late; he had just completed the final hand seal and was in the process of calling out,

Uzushiogakure Kinjutsu: Edo Rinne Tensai no Jutsu

A shudder ran through the ranks of the Konoha ninja as the laws of nature were once more violated with impunity.

Sasuke's body turned to ash and seemed to fuse into the box, leaving the glowing seal on the lid, which in turn faded from view after a few seconds.

After a few seconds of silence in which the assorted combatants grew even more tense, the lid was suddenly blasted off the box and the sight before them caused a few to pause in confusion, which was then swiftly replaced by dawning understanding and even more fear.

Stepping casually out of the wooden coffin, the near carbon copy of the present Uchiha came to a step beside the other – donning similar battle armor and wielding a gunbai (battle fan).

Nonchalantly, as though his companion hadn't just woken from the dead, the Uchiha spoke to the newcomer,

"It's good to see you again, Madara-nii-san."

Note: I have gotten a few messages saying that this chapter came across as choppy and rushed...I apologize, for that was not my intention. I had attempted to capture a sort of multi-POV telling of events happening over a few days...my hope was that it would read as a series of snippets, which when taken together, would seamlessly paint the whole picture...sort of like how the series 24 did a few scenes...

Well then, there it is, 11k words for your enjoyment. Now, a few notes on this chapter, as usual:

First this is the second to the last chapter of little things (though I might toss in an epilogue…)

Secondly, the next chapter will mainly be gratuitous violence and over the top ninjutsu, which is always fun to write.

Finally, once this story is done, I will put up a poll asking you to vote for which story in the collection of "Eternal Sage visits many realities" you want me to focus on…there will be Uchiha Naruto, Kaguya Naruto, Genjutsu Naruto, and so on.

Oh, and since it will be a while until next time, Happy Thanksgiving!

Thank you for taking the time to read this story. Please leave a review behind you.