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Path of Shadows, Path of Lights

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

DVD181 presents...

Path of Shadows, Path of Lights

A Naruto Story

Konohagakure, the Village Hidden in the Leaves.  For seventy-five years, it has stood strong since its' foundation by Hashirama Senju and his enemy-turned-rival-and-friend Madara Uchiha.

In the reign of Hashirama, its' first Hokage from the years 0 - 10 SG (Sengoku-go; literally "After Warring States Era"), it survived the tumultuous addition of several powerful clans in the decade after its' foundation.  The First's Era would come to an end after Madara, who had left the village after a falling-out with Hashirama, returned with the hypnotized Nine-Tailed Fox Beast under her control and laid siege to the village.  Hashirama emerged victorious after a battle against Madara that carved away mountains, rerouted rivers and permanently altered the geography of Northwest Fire Country.  After killing his rival, who was rumored to be the only woman he had ever harbored feelings for, Hashirama abdicated to his younger brother and soon afterwards died in a border skirmish; rumor has it that he was but a dead man walking by the time he was slain, and may have even died intentionally.

Under the Second, Tobirama Senju, Konoha was rapidly modernized.  For a while, all seemed well despite the deaths of both founders.  But then a war broke out between the Five Great Shinobi Villages after Kumo's economy declined due to Konoha's modernization, prompting them to attack.  After fifteen years as Hokage, Tobirama died in battle against the Gold and Silver Brothers of Kumo in the year 25 SG, but not before nominating his student Hiruzen Sarutobi as the Third Hokage.

In Hiruzen's reign as Hokage, Konoha recovered from the First War (which ended in 27 SG), only to plunge into the Second a scant twenty years later.  By this time, Hiruzen had trained a team of three ninja himself - one of them the granddaughter of his sensei, Tobirama.  During this war, the team faced off with and survived Hanzo of the Salamander, leader of Amegakure - a small nation that was caught in a three-way war with Suna, Konoha and Iwa - and were dubbed the "Sannin" - Tsunade Senju, Orochimaru and Jiraiya.  A country called the Land of the Sky also emerged at this time, but they were destroyed by the other warring nations, who settled for peace shortly after their alliance against Sky ended.

Once again, peace lasted, but just as Hiruzen was considering stepping down, war broke out again, this time between Suna and Iwa.  Before long, all five nations were drug in again, with Iwa, Kumo and Kiri on one side, and Konoha, Suna and a handful of smaller villages on the other, including Uzushiogakure, which was crushed by the Kumo-Kiri-Iwa alliance and a smaller village known as Nami.  Konoha retaliated shortly afterwards, and Nami (as well as the entire Land of the Sea) ceased to exist.

During this time, a number of new legends were created - Man-Mountain Kitsuchi, Steam-Armor Han, Red-Beard Roshi and Blast-Fist Gari from Iwa, Byakugan-Killer Ao and the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist from Kiri, Red-Sand Sasori and Gold-Dust Rasa from Suna, the A and B Brothers from Kuma, and Copy Ninja Kakashi, Yellow Flash Minato and Body-Flicker Shisui from Konoha, to name a few.  The war ended after a ceasefire with Iwa after a thousand shinobi were singlehandedly slaughtered by the Yellow Flash, making blonde the most hated hair color in Iwa for generations.

Six months after the war's end, in the year 60 SG, Hiruzen stepped down and named Minato Namikaze as the Fourth Hokage.  The three years that followed hosted a baby boom and a mass rebuilding effort - the war was finally over!  And then tragedy struck.

In October of 63 SG, the Nine-Tailed Fox attacked Konoha again.  During its' rampage, four thousand people died, including the Fourth and his wife.  But the fox was sealed away into a child, who grew up wild and rambunctious, despite his background as an orphan and the general hatred or apathy towards him thanks to his occupant.  Naruto Uzumaki may have been an orphan, but despite the odds he still had a heart of gold.  After the Kyuubi attack, things seemed well again for a few years.

Then, another tragedy.  Almost the entirety of the Uchiha clan, one of the two clans that founded the village and had been present since the beginning, was slaughtered by a single member in one night in 71 SG.  Her name?  Itami Uchiha.  The only member left alive was her younger sister Satsuki, who awoke the next morning in a puddle of her parents' blood.  The orphaned girl was immediately placed under protective guard as one of the only two Uchiha left alive, and the only one not to be a traitor to Konoha.

Now, it is the year 75 SG.  The past four years have been rather quiet, which has spooked a number of more nervous shinobi, despite the general public opinion.  Who knows what will come next?  Will this peace remain, or will it shatter even more violently than previous periods of peace?  As the grindstone of fate turns, this story as old as memory itself unfolds...on both a path of shadows and a path of lights.

Chapter Text

5 May, Year 75 SG - Konohagakure Shinobi Academy:

A notorious blonde-haired problem child raced over the rooftops of the Hidden Leaf Village, towards his destination.  He was late; delayed by a bad burner on the stove in his apartment which made his breakfast ramen take three times longer than normal to make, a number that was decidedly not the "instant" that it had been labelled with.  Even so, nothing could damper the boy;s good mood.

The previous day, he had confronted his traitorous former teacher, learned the truth about the fuzzy tenant within his body, and been given a field promotion to Genin after beating said teacher.  Hopefully his lateness wouldn't somehow revoke that promotion.  In his haste, however, he forgot to slow down enough to descend from the rooftops and treetops, and inadvertently launched himself directly towards the (thankfully open) window of his second floor classroom.  "This is gonna hurt..."

Inside the room in question, one Shikamaru Nara was lazily watching clouds when he observed the orange blur launch himself at the window.  "How troublesome" the dark-haired boy thought, just before the Great Orange Menace made his dynamic entry (across town, a certain green spandex-clad Jonin sneezed - youthfully, of course).  Several of the girls in the room shrieked in surprise, and several of the boys winced sympathetically when he hit the opposite wall of the room, before pulling himself upright as if nothing had ever happened.

"Naruto?  Didn't you fail yesterday?" asked one of the girls, the blonde Ino Yamanaka.

The other blonde awkwardly rubbed his head.  "A bit of a long story.  Iruka-sensei called them, that's not right; ummmmm, experimental...-?" he began.

Shikamaru cut him off.  "Extenuating circumstances?" the lazy boy asked.

"Yeah, those!" Naruto said cheerily.  The blonde in question was dressed in a garish jumpsuit dyed in "Kill-Me-Orange"...although despite this, he had somehow managed to evade capture by legions of Chuunin, Jonin and ANBU secret police over and over for years after crude prank after crude prank.

Naruto noticed one pink-haired girl make her way towards him and his heart fluttered.  "Good morning, Sakura-chan!" he sang, only for the girl to completely ignore him in favor of sitting next to another girl, this one dark-haired and dark-eyed as the night itself.  Satsuki Uchiha; the last member of her once-proud clan after her sister had inexplicably gone mad four years earlier and killed off three hundred and seven of the three hundred and nine Uchiha in Konoha.

"Good morning, Satsuki-san" the pinkette, Sakura Haruno, said shyly.  "Ummmmm....I was wondering, would you like to come hang out with me after we meet our Jonin-sensei?"

"Hn" was all the ravenette responded with, alongside an almost imperceptible twitch of the shoulder.

"SO COOL!" thought most of the girls in the room, the exceptions being Satsuki herself and a shy white-eyed girl in the back of the room; Hinata Hyuuga, heiress of the aforementioned clan.

"SO HOT!" thought a number of the room's boys, the exceptions being Naruto (because jealousy), Choji Akimichi (because food), Shikamaru (because he was asleep) and Shino Aburame (why?  Because he was tending to his insects).

Naruto, determined to figure out the "mystery" behind why everyone idolized Satsuki, leapt up on her desk.  "So, what's the deal with you anyway?" he asked.  "Everyone's always going on about how cool you are.  'Satsuki-chan' this, 'Satsuki-san' that.  Every girl idolizes you, and every boy wants you.  I don't see what's so special though."

The Uchiha glared right back at him, wordlessly.  "How dare he?!  Kick his ass, Satsuki-san!" Sakura growled.

Shikamaru leaned back in his seat.  "How troublesome" the Nara remarked, not noticing how he had bumped into Naruto or how everyone had suddenly gone silent.  "What the...?" one of the nameless boys in the back corner of the room started.

Shikamaru turned around to see why everyone was suddenly quiet, and even he couldn't help but let his eyes bug out.  He had inadvertently pressed the two into quite the passionate kiss.

And then the room exploded into a cacophony of shouts and, in some cases, giggles.  "This is incredible!" Kiba Inuzuka laughed at the two's embarrassment, his ninken companion Akamaru barking in agreement.

"Shut it, dog-breath!" Sakura roared, as Ino berated Shikamaru.  "Look at what you've done, lazy-ass!  Now Satsuki-san's first kiss has been taken by Naruto of all people!"

The Nara just sighed.  "How troublesome."  In the back of the room, although few noticed it, Hinata began leaking killing intent towards Satsuki, while much of the male population of the lecture hall projected their killing intent at Naruto.

Iruka Umino, Chuunin and schoolteacher, walked in a few moments later to notice the last Uchiha and the blonde troublemaker sitting as far away from each other as possible, their faces an odd shade of red.  "Huh, wonder what happened here."  "If I can have everyone's attention, please!" the schoolteacher called.  "I am very proud of you all and want to congratulate you upon becoming Genin of Konoha!  In time, you will rise to become Chuunin and even Jonin!  Now, team assignments!  One through five are being assigned in a different classroom, so we'll start with six!"

After reading off three random civilian-born students for Team Six, Iruka moved on to Seven.  "Team Seven: Sakura Haruno-" the pinkette looked up "-Satsuki Uchiha-" Sakura started gloating while several other students growled in anger and the ravenette in question buried her face in her hands "-and Naruto Uzumaki," the glares intensified even more towards the blonde, who looked vaguely annoyed "-led by Kakashi Hatake."  Satsuki's brow furrowed.  "Hatake?  I feel like I've heard that name before..."

"Team Eight: Shino Aburame-" the sunglasses-wearing boy looked as neutral as ever "-Kiba Inuzuka-" the tattooed boy grinned and scratched his ninken behind the ears "-and Hinata Hyuuga," the white-eyed girl squeaked "-led by Kurenai Yuuhi."  Iruka continued.  "Team Nine is still in use, so Team Ten will consist of Shikamaru Nara-" the lazy boy continued to snore "-Ino Yamanaka-" the blonde groaned, before elbowing Shikamaru "-and Choji Akimichi," the boy in question looked impassive as he munched on a bag of chips "-led by Asuma Sarutobi."  Shikamaru's eyebrow raised.  "The Third's son?  This could be both interesting AND troublesome."

Iruka moved through Eleven and Twelve, before packing up his scroll of names.  "Good luck, all of you!" he said as he left the room.  A few moments later, a red-eyed woman with dark hair leaned into the room.  "Team Eight?" she asked.  "I'm Jonin-sensei Kurenai Yuuhi.  Could Hinata, Shino and Kiba please come with me?"  The trio in question got up to leave.  "Have fun, dead last!" Kiba shouted at Naruto, who made a face in response, before looking to the white-eyed girl.  "Good luck, Hinata-chan!"  The bluenette squeaked and ran a little faster out of the room.

Other Jonin entered the room to collect their teams, most notably a bearded man with a cigarette in his mouth.  "I'm here for Team Ten.  Asuma Sarutobi at your service; can Ino, Shikamaru and Choji come with me?"  The trio in question left, with the blonde having to drag both her teammates behind her.  And then there were three; all the members of Team Seven sat in silence in the nearly-empty room, waiting for their sensei.

"So Satsuki-san, what do you think our sensei will be like?" Sakura asked.  The other girl remained silent, but Naruto's face took on a look of curiosity.

"I know!  I'll go ask jiji!" the blonde shouted, leaping up and racing out the door.

"Wait, come back, baka!" Sakura shouted, chasing after him.  "Who the hell is 'jiji' anyway?!"  Satsuki maintained a look of disinterest, but followed all the same, her own curiosity now piqued.

Much to the surprise of both girls, the resident troublemaker raced up a few flights of stairs, past some surprised guards, and right into...the Hokage's office?!  "Yo, jiji!" the blonde panted.

"H-H-Hokage-sama?!" Sakura shouted, while even Satsuki's eyes widened a little.

"Naruto, my boy!  What a surprise" the Third chuckled, pulling his pipe from his lips.

Naruto began to babble a mile a minute.  "-Apparently our sensei's someone named Kakashi, and I was wondering if you knew him, and-!"  Sakura bopped him on the head.  "Naruto!  This is the Hokage!  Be respectful!"

Hiruzen Sarutobi, the aged Third Hokage, chuckled again.  "Now now, it's alright, Sakura" he said gently.  "Now, I do know Kakashi - I am the Hokage, after all.  He's your sensei?" he asked, knowing well and truly that Kakashi was their sensei, since he had made all the team assignments.  "He's considered to be Konoha's strongest Jonin-" Naruto had stars in his eyes, and Satsuki suddenly showed a lot more interest "-but he's always a minimum of three hours late, unless its' for a mission, so you might be waiting a while" he chuckled.

At this, Naruto and Sakura audibly groaned, and even the ever-stoic Satsuki looked somewhat dismayed.  "While you're here, how have the villagers been treating you?" the old man asked Naruto.  The boy briefly looked downcast, but responded with a falsely cheery "All good!".

The Hokage winced a little at the lie in his voice, and the two kunoichi weren't sure how to react, but they all said nothing.  "Well then, why don't you go get acquainted with each other while you're waiting for Kakashi?  I regret that the paperwork never ends" the Hokage said, looking forlornly at the stacks of paper surrounding him, before ruffling Naruto's hair.

"Alright!  See you later, jiji!" the blonde chirped, waving as he ran out the door, his two teammates following him.  After a few moments, he popped back in.  "Say, if the paperwork is bugging you, why not have some shadow clones do it?" he asked, before popping back out.  The Third's pipe dropped from his mouth, and as the three Genin left the Hokage Tower to walk back to the Academy at the base of the Konoha Administrative Complex, they heard a thunderous yell of "DAMMIT, WHY DIDN'T I THINK OF THAT?!"

A few hours of waiting and one chalkboard eraser trap later, and the Genin heard footsteps coming down the hallway.  Much to their surprise, the masked, silver-haired cycloptic figure who stepped through the door fell for the blatantly obvious trap.  The man cleared his throat.  "My first impressions of you're idiots, but you have potential.  Meet me on the roof in five minutes."

With that, he vanished in a swirl of leaves and wind.

Chapter Text

The trio made their way up to the roof, where their cycloptic sensei awaited. "Well, now that we're all here, let's get started with introductions. Name, likes and dislikes, hobbies, dreams for the future, that sort of thing. I'll go first: My name is Kakashi Hatake. You're all too young to know what I like, and I don't dislike many things. I have a few hobbies and some dreams for the future, but that's none of your business. Pinky, you go."

"M-Me?" asked Sakura.  "Yes, you, Pinky" Kakashi responded.

"I'm Sakura Haruno. I like picking flowers, steamed dumplings and Satsuki-san. I don't like Naruto-" the blonde pouted "-and my dream for the future is to be a kunoichi that someone can be proud of" she looked at Satsuki again. Kakashi resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "A fangirl. Well, could be worse...imagine if Satsuki was a boy" he shuddered internally. "You next, loudmouth."

"I'm Naruto Uzumaki, dattebayo! I like ramen, Sakura-chan, ramen, the color orange, ramen, pranks and ramen. I dislike how popular Satsuki is, and people who look down on me. My dream is to become Hokage and protect my precious people, dattebayo!" Under his mask, the cyclops bit his lip. "That...was less terrible than I expected, honestly. He reminds me all too much of his mother though." "Very good. Small, dark and edgy?"

The Uchiha looked entirely unamused. "Hn. Satsuki Uchiha. I don't like many things and dislike a lot of things. I don't have any dreams, just one goal that I will make a kill her." Kakashi sighed internally. "Wonderful, an avenger. A lot about the Massacre still doesn't make sense; Itami was always such a sweet girl...I wonder what happened." "Well, now that that's over, I have meh news and bad news for you. The bad news is, you've still got to pass another test."

"What?!" Sakura and Naruto demanded. "Well, actually, Sakura and Satsuki do. Naruto's promotion was a field promotion, so even if these two go back to the academy, he'll be a Genin...although getting stuck in the Genin Pool generally isn't a great way to start your shinobi life" Kakashi thought.

"That's right. You're all still probational Genin, so you have to pass my test before you're accepted as full Genin. Welcome to the real world, kiddies" the Jonin said, a hint of humor in his voice - which only infuriated the trio more.

"The somewhat better, albeit kind of daunting news is that, if you do pass - which is very unlikely; all six of my previous teams failed - you have quite the legacy to live up to" Kakashi continued, the three children no longer gnashing their teeth but instead looking at him in wonder. "Team Seven's previous iterations have produced some of the biggest legends in Konoha history."

"Like who?" Satsuki asked, now somewhat curious.

"The first Team Seven was led by none other than the Second Hokage himself, Tobirama Senju. The Third was one of the three Genin on his team, as were two of the three members of the Konoha Advisory Council." The trio were now clearly spellbound, knowing that the "God of Shinobi" himself was on a team not all that different from theirs once, taught by "Genius" Tobirama Senju. "The Third then went on to teach the second iteration of Team Seven...none other than the legendary Sannin, Jiraiya, Tsunade and the now-rogue Orochimaru."

If knowing that the Third had once been on Team Seven was a bombshell, then knowing that the Sannin were once the second Team Seven was like a nuclear warhead. All three of the children were awestruck, and Kakashi internally smiled, now knowing that he truly had their attention. Hopefully that would help the next part hurt a bit less for him.

"Eventually, Jiraiya trained the third generation of Team Seven. One of the members was none other than the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze." Naruto's eyes had glazed over as a side effect of some sort of internal hero-worship. "The other two, however, should never be forgotten either. One of them was "Nighthawk" Mikoto Uchiha-" Satsuki's look of surprise was not describable by conventional vocabulary "-and the other, although he is now the only remaining member...was none other than Teuchi Ichiraku."

Naruto's jaw dropped. "Wait, Old Man Teuchi was on the same team as the Fourth and-!" he began, before Satsuki cut him off. "My mother was on Team Seven...?" she whispered, clearly shaken at this revelation.

Kakashi gave one of his patented Hatake Eye-Smiles (TM). "Right on both counts. Teuchi-san may have some stories and advice for you, if you make it tomorrow. Now then, where were we? Oh yes."

"The fourth generation of Team Seven was taught by the Fourth, before he was Hokage. At the time, it was the Third Shinobi World War, so they were sending freshly minted Genin teams into the line of battle." at this, Naruto and Sakura gasped, while Satsuki managed to remain impassive. "As you might expect, not many of them are left fact, I'm the only one."

This was enough to make Satsuki lose her composure. "Kakashi-sensei..." Sakura murmured sympathetically. "What happened to the other two?" Naruto asked, a little afraid of what the answer would be.

"Obito Uchiha. Sweet kid, if not that bright sometimes" Kakashi recalled fondly, doing his best to remain calm and not get emotional, while Satsuki's surprise at the mention of a member of her clan was apparent. "Got buried alive on a mission in Kusa. Gave me this before dying..." Lifting his forehead protector, he revealed the red glow of a Sharingan, making Satsuki's eyes widen. "A Sharingan..." the girl murmured.

"The other was Rin Nohara. She'd been captured by Kiri near the war's end and made into a living bomb set to go off in Konoha" Kakashi continued, his students looking increasingly uncomfortable. "She...she threw herself on one of my attacks as I was trying to rescue her. She decided to die rather than jeopardize this village. That's how the war was...she was a true hero" Kakashi finished, barely maintaining his composure.

"So that's how it is. Unless you show as much potential in tomorrow's test as any of them did, to be legends like them who will fight and die in service of Konoha, I will be more than happy to fail you on the spot. Be there at Training Ground Three at 0600 hours." With that warning, Kakashi vanished in a swirl of leaves and wind.

The three shinobi trainees sat in silence for a few moments, before Naruto spoke up. "We'd better bring our A-game...he was serious."

Satsuki nodded. "Think about how to impress him tomorrow; we'll strategize in the morning." With that, the ravenette stood up and stalked off, clearly troubled by the revelation about her mother.

"What's her deal?" Naruto asked. "Can't you tell? Finding that out about her mother must have been hard" Sakura said, before adding "She's still so cool though!"

Naruto snorted and stood up. "Whatever. I'm goin' to Ichiraku's, then I'm gonna think about traps. Later." And with that, Naruto ran off to go plan his pranks for Kakashi.

Unbeknownst to all of them, the silver-haired Jonin had heard all of this from a distance. "'d be proud of them, even now" he thought before leaning through the window he was standing outside - the Hokage's office window. "Hokage-sama, just so you know...I'm going to make sure to cause you extra paperwork for making me tell them about their team's history" he said to the Third.

The older man gave him a sympathetic look for a brief moment, before smirking uncharacteristically. "Well, I guess I have extra reason to thank Naruto for the idea of having Shadow Clones deal with paperwork for me, now don't I?"

Kakashi groaned, before thinking back to the earlier conversation between the two...

Earlier that afternoon...

As Naruto popped back out of the room just before the Hokage's wrathful scream at never thinking to use clones to do his dirty work before the blonde suggested it, Kakashi leisurely wandered the rooftops before leaping through the window. "Is this a bad time?" he asked, as Hiruzen turned around, forming the hand seal for the Shadow Clone jutsu.

"Not at all, you're just who I wanted to see" the old man said.

"So that's my team? Well, given that they decided to use my lateness to find out more about me instead of just sitting and waiting aimlessly, I can't say I'm exactly disappointed in them" Kakashi said. The Hokage's face crinkled in a smile. "So you see their potential too?" The silver-haired Jonin nodded.

"Well, that's good!" Hiruzen exclaimed, before his gaze sharpened a little. "However, there is something I want you to do."

Kakashi couldn't help but feel a little dread at this statement. "What do you need?" he asked. "I want you to tell them the history of Team Seven." The scarecrow inhaled slightly. "And I mean all of it. You don't get to omit your team...or Minato's team. You need to talk about it."

Kakashi growled a little. "Just as I was starting to finally bury those ghosts-!" he began, before Hiruzen cut him off.

"That's exactly why I want you to tell them. You need to talk about it every bit as much as they need to learn about it; it'll help you finally move on" the old Hokage stated firmly. Kakashi wanted to object, but couldn't.

"Fine..." he groaned. Hiruzen smiled. "Trust me, when it comes to dealing with grief, it's worse to hang on to it and let it cloud your actions and heart than it is to confront and accept it."

Turning away and making his way back to his apartment, Kakashi sighed slightly and let a single tear run down his cheek. "I hope you're right, Hokage-sama...I hope you're right."

Chapter Text

The next morning, Kakashi staked out Training Ground 3 from a high cliff overlooking it. Despite someone (probably Hiruzen) telling the three students about Kakashi's chronic tardiness, he was pleasantly surprised to see the trio show up on time. They appeared decently rested and, as he had observed earlier, had eaten breakfast. He had forgotten to tell them not to after his history lesson the previous afternoon; for a brief moment he wondered in horror if he might be going soft. "Nahhhhh" he dismissed the thought.

Even more surprising was the team dynamic. He had assumed that Satsuki and Naruto would be constantly clashing due to the Uchiha's talent and popularity, but to his surprise, the two had only had one spat during the planning session after they arrived. Even more amazingly, Sakura had played the peacekeeper that time, instead of automatically siding with Satsuki and braining Naruto with a punch (that girl might benefit from some time with Tsunade someday, assuming she passed). It seemed that the history lesson and his seriousness afterwards had left a little bit of an impression, although he still didn't hold out much hope for them.

After an hour, Naruto darted into the forest around the training ground, while Sakura and Satsuki began warming up with basic exercises. Two hours later, as the clock approached nine, the blonde returned from the forest. Kakashi was uncertain as to if Naruto was preparing for the test or had just snuck off to Ichiraku's, but he decided it was time to get started. Standing up and stretching, the silver-haired Jonin admired the view for a moment before vanishing in a swirl of leaves and wind, unaware of a presence watching him from afar.

"YOU'RE LATE!" Sakura shouted, losing her temper briefly as Kakashi reappeared following his Body Flicker.

"Sorry about that, but you see, I ran across a drowning fish on my way here and felt obliged to help - that fish saved my life on a mission once. By the time I got done helping, a couple hours had passed." Naruto snickered at this, and Satsuki rolled her eyes despite her internal amusement at their teacher's antics. Sakura still looked somewhat angry, but finally relented.

"Now then, let's get started. See these bells?" Kakashi asked, holding two well-worn bells out in front of him. "These bells have been used in this test for every iteration of Team Seven since the Second Hokage's team. They probably belong in a museum, in all honesty. You three have until noon to capture these two bells from me; you only pass if you get a bell."

Sakura did the mental math and immediately objected. "That means only two of us will pass though."

Kakashi nodded. "If you don't complete the test, yes. Remember: a good shinobi always looks underneath the underneath."

"Some shinobi philosophy should throw them off a little bit; if they can still figure out the test's meaning through that confusing language, then they're worth passing."

Pulling out an alarm clock, Kakashi set it for three hours. "The test"

The moment Kakashi said this, Naruto burst forward with kunai in hand, only to have the weapon unceremoniously yanked from his hand and be backhanded across the clearing, the weapon clattering uselessly to the ground near the opposite edge of the clearing. Naruto growled and attacked again, charging in like a maniac on speed. Kakashi reached into his pouch as if to draw out a weapon...only to pull out a little orange book with the words "Icha Icha Paradise" on the cover.

"Lesson 1: Taijutsu" the scarecrow said, as Naruto resumed his attack with first a roundhouse, then a back kick, then a right hook; Kakashi dodged each one, before backhanding Naruto away again, the boy landing on his back only to perform a kip-up followed by a flying lariat (3,500 kilometers to the northeast, two blonde men felt inexplicably proud for some reason). Kakashi ducked, spun around and placed his hands in a Half Tiger seal. "Konoha Secret Taijutsu: Thousand Years of Death!"

With a roar of pain, the blonde flew into the nearby section of the Naka River, clutching his unfortunate violated behind. "For legal reasons, I can only get away with doing that to Naruto, and even then I'm on thin fucking ice. If I did it to either of the girls, the Civilian Council would have my head - and so, probably, would the Advisory Council." In the trees, Sakura and Satsuki both winced, before the pinkette felt a presence behind her. Turning around in fear, she saw her sensei forming hand signs. "Lesson 2: Genjutsu."

Upon being confronted with an image of her teammates laying bleeding and broken in a heap, Sakura shrieked and dropped to the ground, completely unconscious. "Hmmmmm, so she cares about both of them, not just Satsuki. That's promising, even if her performance was embarrassing." The ravenette, taking this as her cue, leapt from the trees to face the cycloptic Jonin.

"Well, well, if it isn't Satsuki-chan? How nice of you to join us" Kakashi snarked. The Uchiha glared, before weaving a series of six hand seals. "A Nature Transformation at this age? Leave it to the Uchiha to raise a bunch of overachievers" Kakashi thought, performing a Kawarimi with a log just as Satsuki's Katon: Grand Fireball Jutsu shot from the ravenette's mouth, sending a wave of scorching heat across the clearing. Then, the earth dropped out from under her, as the last loyal Uchiha was sunk up to her neck in the soil. "That was Lesson 3: Ninjutsu. More accurately, the Doton: Headhunter Jutsu" Kakashi stated casually from the branches of a nearby tree.

A few minutes later in the bushes, the three Genin-in-training had reconvened after Naruto had begrudgingly dug Satsuki back up. "So...bells" Naruto grumbled.

"Bells" Satsuki nodded. "What are we going to do?!" Sakura hissed.

"I'm going to go back out there-!" the ravenette stated, before Naruto cut her off. "Look, teme, he's a Jonin and we're three trainee Genin. None of us stand a chance alone, but I have a plan."

Satsuki briefly weighed her options, before turning to Naruto and swallowing her pride for a moment. "Oi, dobe...what's your plan?"

Naruto smirked. "Well, look at this. The great Satsuki Uchiha, asking the dead last for help."

"Don't push your luck" the girl warned. "So, here's what I've done..." Naruto began to whisper.

A half hour passed, and Kakashi was once again standing nonchalantly in the clearing. Internally, however, he was a little curious. "What are those damn kids up to?" he wondered. He was answered a moment later, when Naruto charged out of the underbrush.

"Let's do this, boys!" he shouted as a few more clones popped into existence.

"Got it, boss!"


"Ichiraku Banzai!" they shouted one after the other, before leaping at Kakashi.

"This again? How droll, Naruto, but I know you can do better" the scarecrow snorted...only for his eyes to widen when he noticed the explosive tags that several of the clones carried.

"Holy shit, kid, suicide bombers?!" Kakashi wondered, flashing through a couple hand seals and substituting himself with a convenient discarded kunai at the edge of the clearing. The tags detonated in sync, causing quite the explosive effect, but as Kakashi looked on after that surprise, he noticed a tiny tug on his right arm. Looking up, he noticed that in his substitution, he had been wrapped up in the ninja wire around the kunai, as Satsuki wove the same series of seals as before. "Katon: Grand Fireball Jutsu!"

The flames traveled down the wires towards Kakashi, who substituted again with the burned log from the previous fire jutsu, only for a number of kunai to fly out of the trees. Kakashi dodged, but found himself triggering multiple volleys of shurikens, some of them relatively new, but others of designs as old as the Second War. "So that's what Naruto was, if that kunoichi from Gai's team saw this, she'd either try to kill him or propose to him" Kakashi chuckled internally, before feeling another trap trigger. Whirling around, the Jonin managed to dodge several round projectiles, but one evaded him and splattered on his flak jacket. "Eggs? Well, points for creativity."

Then, another trap triggered, but this time, the sound of a reel could be heard. In his split-second of distraction glancing towards the noise, he missed the pink blur being launched by a separate system. "SHANNARO!" Sakura roared in unison with Inner Sakura, swinging forward with a right hook that Kakashi barely dodged.

"Huh. She's subtly, and possibly subconsciously, reinforcing her strikes with chakra. Interesting." Satsuki rushed out of the treeline again, and in the split second that Kakashi was distracted, the small stone that Sakura dropped had transformed back into Naruto, who yanked the two bells off of Kakashi just moments before the alarm rang.

"Not bad, you actually got the bells. Who's getting the other one, and who's going back to the Academy?" Kakashi asked the blonde. The blonde closed his eyes for a moment, before opening them...and tossing both bells to his teammates. "You are? Are you sure?" Kakashi asked.

"These two don't need me slowing them down as the dead last; I'll gladly go back to the Academy. Maybe I'll pass the exams next time since I can finally make a proper clone" the boy responded cheerily.

Kakashi suppressed a wince at his student's self-sacrificial tone, especially remembering the suicide bomber clones from earlier. His heart ached for his sensei's son, but before he could say anything more, Sakura offered her bell back to Naruto. "No, I'll go back. Honestly...I'm a poor excuse for a kunoichi. I barely helped out with this plan, and my absence won't be noticed too much - I'm just a civilian girl with a big forehead at the end of the day." Kakashi's mood soured a little at the thought of Sakura being discriminated against for her non-clan background - this girl had natural talent, even if she didn't know about it.

Satsuki shook her head before offering her bell to Sakura. "If they're going back, then so am I. Not much I can do or learn without a team." Internally, the ravenette finished her sentence. "What would my mother think if she saw me now?" Kakashi noticed how her tone lacked its' usual edge, and how a few of her true feelings were leaking trough into her voice.

"Satsuki, Satsuki, Satsuki...nobody can wear a mask forever, not even me..." The cycloptic Jonin sighed. "Well, if you're all willing to go back...I guess that means you all pass!"

The three Genin blinked in unison, before Naruto whooped. "We did it!" he shouted, before pulling both of his teammates into a hug. While Sakura and Satsuki attempted to pry the blonde off of them, a ghost of a smile briefly passed across the ravenette's face, and Sakura's anger wasn't exactly genuine.

"Now then, who wants lunch? After we finish, I'll get you three learning one of my favorite tactics - the weaponized Kawarimi" Kakashi said, giving a patented Hatake Eye-Smile (TM).

As the three Genin and their sensei dug in for lunch, all was right with the moment for a brief moment. However, black clouds always loomed on the horizon in the shinobi world...and soon, these children would learn that the hard way.

Chapter Text

That night, Kakashi arrived at a meeting in Hokage Tower with the other Jonin-sensei. "Oh good, now that Kakashi is here, we can finally get started" Hiruzen chucked warmly, as the other Jonin glared at Kakashi. "Let's start with Genma. Team One?"

The senbon-chewing Jonin shook his head. "Fail. One of them would qualify to be part of the Genin pool, but the other two are a definite no."

Hiruzen sighed. "Very well. Team Two?"

Tsume Inuzuka growled. "Definite no; that Ami girl should probably be expelled from the Academy as a whole."

The Hokage was looking older by the second. "Team Three?"

The leaders of Three, Four, Five and Six all failed their teams, with a select handful of those students qualifying for the Genin Pool, where they'd join older Genin who had yet to be promoted. Finally, it was Kakashi's turn. "Team Seven. Kakashi?"

The scarecrow gave a patented Hatake Eye-Smile (TM). "Pass."

For a few moments, stunned silence permeated the room. "Wait, what?" Kurenai finally asked.

"Did you actually pass a team? I knew you had it in you!" Asuma joked, patting Kakashi on the back heartily.

"Now that we've dealt with that bombshell, Team Eight?"

"Pass" Kurenai responded.

"Team Ten?"

"Pass" Asuma stated.

After that, Eleven and Twelve were deemed failures, and the meeting was adjourned with three Genin teams having passed their preliminary tests.

The following day, Team Seven made their way to the Hokage's office to receive their first mission, as was Konoha tradition. "Jiji!" Naruto shouted as he rushed into the office, his teammates and sensei behind him.

"Well hello there, Naruto. Here for your first mission?" Hiruzen asked, ruffling the blonde's hair.

"Yep! What's it going to be? Fighting bandits? Rescuing a princess?" Naruto asked, bouncing on his heels.

Hiruzen chuckled. "Nothing quite so dramatic. It just so happens that I have a D-Rank here that should be a perfect starter mission. Tracking down a lost cat, to be specific." Kakashi froze and shivered in horror.

"Kakashi-sensei? Is everything alright?" Sakura asked.

"C-Couldn't be better..." the Jonin murmured.

"We'll take it! We'll track down this silly kitty in no time!" Naruto said, as Satsuki resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

"Take this pendant; it has a tracking seal that resonates with the one in the cat's collar" the Hokage said, before handing the tracker to Naruto, who in turn gave it to Kakashi. The Jonin was still a little shaken, but had calmed himself, thinking that maybe this cat would be different than the ones he had met before.

The sound of screaming echoed over the walkie-talkies a few hours later. "Sakura, report!" Kakashi shouted.

"Ahhhhhh! What is this cat!?" the pinkette screamed over the radio. Then the sound of clanging trash cans permeated the airwaves, followed by a disgruntled groan.

"Owwwwwww" Satsuki groaned, having slipped on a cat turd and been flung head over heels into a garbage can.

"Sensei! It's heading your way!" Naruto shouted over the sound of popping shadow clones.

"Shit! Where is it?!" Kakashi thought, before feeling a presence next to his face. Looking to the tree branch to his right, the silver-haired cyclops saw his current nemesis. "Clever girl..." he muttered.

Once again, the sound of screaming permeated the air, but this time it was the strongest Jonin in Konoha who was screaming like a banshee as the demon cat from hell attacked him once more.

Twelve hours later, Team Seven returned to the Hokage's tower with the cat, now finally unconscious, held under one of Naruto's arms. Every one of them, Kakashi included, was covered in filth and bleeding cat scratches. "One Tora, returned home" Kakashi groaned, handing the cat to a very large woman who was waiting in the Hokage's office.

"My sweet baby! You must have been so afraid, running off like that. Don't worry; I won't let you run away again!" the woman wailed through tears of joy as the cat woke up, immediately panicking at where it was.

As the Daimyo's wife left, Naruto turned to his teammates. "After what that cat put us deserves that, dattebayo."

"Hn" Satsuki grunted in agreement, while Sakura was torn on whether to feel bad for the cat or not.

"Now then, who wants another mission?" the old Hokage asked, puffing on his pipe as a Shadow Clone handed him another scroll.

For the next month, Team Seven performed D-Rank after D-Rank. They painted fences for little old ladies, harvested carrots for farmers, chased the cat down on three more occasions and even helped repair some of the less well-maintained parts of a few clan compounds. And that's how, after sixty-four successfully completed D-Rank missions, Team Seven found themselves standing in the Hokage's office, waiting to receive their first C-Rank.

Inside the Hokage's office, the trio and their cycloptic sensei ran into none other than Team Ten. "Shika! Choji!" Naruto shouted at the sight of probably his two best friends. "Naruto!" The blonde exchanged high-fives with the Akimishi and the Nara, and even got a surprise hug from the Yamanaka, who then turned to Sakura and started bantering with her.

Kakashi greeted Asuma casually. "Kakashi. How's your team been?"

Kakashi shrugged. "They're marginally better than I expected, but don't let them hear that I said that" the cycloptic Jonin responded, conveniently ignoring that his team was standing right in front of him.

After a few moments of silence, Naruto broke the ice. "Awwwwwww, he does love us after all!" he laughed. Sakura giggled at this, and even the ever-stoic Satsuki's face briefly twitched with the ghost of a smile.

"Now then, it looks like you're both here for your first C-Rank missions" Hiruzen said, before shooting a glare at Iruka, who looked ready to speak up in protest. "We just so happen to have two brand-new C-Rank escort missions ready for the taking today. For Team's an escort mission for a bridge builder from the Land of Waves. It'll take about three weeks. Does that sound good?"

Shikamaru looked to Ino and Choji, both of whom seemed to nod in agreement. "Troublesome. We'll take it, Hokage-sama" the Nara said, holding his hand out to take the scroll.

Hiruzen's face crinkled with a wizened old smile. "Excellent. Now, for Team Seven, we have a different escort mission for a merchant from Shimogakure. It'll take about a week and a half to get there and back. Once you reach the border with the Land of Frost, you'll hand the merchant off to a Genin team from Kumo, who will escort him the rest of the way to Shimo."

Naruto grinned cheekily. "Awesome, jiji! I'm up for an adventure!" he said, taking the scroll from the Hokage.

"Team Ten, your mission departs tomorrow from the South Gate at 0800 hours. Tazuna, the bridge builder, is waiting in conference room two. My secretary will send Sakurai, the merchant, in for Team Seven in a few moments. That mission departs at 0830 hours from the East Gate tomorrow. Good luck, all of you!" Hiruzen said, smiling at the two teams.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Team Seven gathered outside the East Gate of Konoha, waiting for their sensei and their client to arrive. After a few minutes of mostly silence (the only noise being Naruto double and triple-checking his supplies), the cycloptic Jonin emerged from the early morning fog, followed by their client.

Sakurai was a middle aged man with long, dark hair and a permanent tan, wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat and a loosely-fit off-white shirt and pants. On his back was one of the biggest storage scrolls that any of the Genin had ever seen - Kakashi mentally noted that it was of similar size to the utterly massive scroll carried around by the weapon mistress from Gai's team.

"Good morning, Sakurai-san" Sakura greeted the man.

"Good morning, everyone!" the man shouted excitably. "Konoha's been fascinating, but it's time for me to go home. I trust you can help me remain safe until we reach the border, no?"

Naruto grinned. "You can count on us, mister merchant man!" he shouted, giving a thumbs up.

The man laughed. "That's the spirit, kid!"

"Everyone ready to go?" Kakashi asked, as he shouldered his own pack. The Genin nodded, and the merchant grinned. "Alright then. Team Seven...depart!"

A few days later, and the team was passing just north of the Land of Hot Springs. The entire way, their client had been pointing out all the sights along their path, and had captured Naruto's attention hook, line and sinker with his tales about his travels. From the deserts of Suna and the Land of Wind, to the craggy canyons and plateaus of Iwa and the Land of Earth, to Kumo's Valley of Clouds and Lightning, to the Crescent Moon Kingdom and Tea Country far to the south, Naruto was utterly captivated by the man's stories.

"We're not far from Yugakure now. There's an interesting place, alright. The resorts and hot springs are as top-notch as you'd believe, and the village is one of the most peaceful places you can go!" Sakurai said cheerily, before a shadow crossed his face. "That being said, there's some weird stuff that happens in the mountains to the north of Yugakure. Some weird religious cult or something." An involuntary chill ran down the back of the Genin's necks; none of them could figure out why though.

Forty kilometers to the southeast, a silvery blonde man wearing a leather jacket and carrying a large triple-bladed scythe over his shoulder sneezed. "Huh? The fuck was that?!" he growled, now in a bad mood. Thinking that maybe he'd feel better if he gave some sacrifices to Jashin, the man sat down and waited for some unfortunate travelers to come by.

Back with our heroes, Naruto was enjoying his conversations with the merchant. "So, mister merchant man, why'd you become a merchant?" he asked.

The client's featured darkened for a moment. "Actually, the truth is...I wanted to become a shinobi" he said sadly.

"Huh? Why didn't you?" Naruto asked.

The man sighed. "There was no demand. Shimo is close enough to Kumo that we've got a protection treaty with them, so we only train a bare minimum number of shinobi. I didn't make the cut, but I still decided that I wanted to see the world, so I became a merchant instead."

Naruto pondered that for a moment. "It's not shinobi work, but it does still sound fun, dattebayo!"

Sakurai laughed. "It has been a pretty enjoyable experience, honestly. After failing to become a shinobi, I was in a depressive funk for a while, kind of like the Uchiha there."  Satsuki growled slightly. "But, I still found my place in the world. Just goes to show that, even if this is the Shinobi's World, not everyone has to be a shinobi."

Naruto pondered this for a moment, but before he could get any further, a half dozen or so bandits leapt out of the underbrush alongside the road, brandishing kunai and short swords. "Give us the scroll, and nobody gets hurt" the leader growled only to receive a kunai to the skull from Kakashi, dropping dead instantly. As Sakura guarded the merchant, who himself drew a machete in defense, the other two Genin rushed in and started fighting, Naruto's clones dogpiling two of the bandits, while Satsuki disarmed one, before driving his kunai through his neck.

A few moments later, the last of the bandits had been dealt with, but Satsuki was still staring at the man she had killed, and Naruto was shaking a little. "First kill is always the toughest, kids" Kakashi said, placing a hand on each of their shoulders. "But that's just how life is in the Shinobi's World. It's either kill or be killed, and you've helped make sure that Sakurai gets home okay to his family. You saved his life; don't forget that."

Naruto's shaking subsided. "T-T-Thanks, Kakashi-sensei..." he whispered.

Another day flew by, and as evening crept in, the team had reached a mountain pass overlooking the hilly plains of the Land of Hot Water on one side, and the three large valleys (one of which was home to a desert full of curious stone formations) of the Land of Frost on the other side. A large, flat, almost perfectly circular clearing sat atop this pass, with two large statues dominating the north and south sides.

On the north side stood a statue of a man with a peculiar hairstyle and a beard, wearing a Kumo flak jacket and wooden samurai armor. On the south side, directly facing him, was a statue of a spiky-haired man with a happuri instead of a forehead protector, engraved with the Konoha symbol, who Sakura recognized as Tobirama Senju. In the clearing's center stood a monument with an engraved history about the meeting that took place there between the Second Hokage and Second Raikage, when the Gold and Silver Brothers prevented a peace treaty by staging a coup d'etat and killing the Raikage, leading to the start of the First Shinobi World War.

Standing next to the Raikage's statue was the Kumo team in question, sent to escort Sakurai the rest of the way to Shimogakure. In the back stood the three Genin: a dark-skinned red-haired girl wearing a sleeveless olive-green dress, a similar-looking boy with spiky white hair and a sword on his back, sucking on a lollipop, and a blonde boy wearing a sleeveless Kumo uniform, with the kanji for "Heat" tattooed on his left shoulder. In front of them stood a blonde woman with an olive-green uniform, a Kumo flak jacket and a red sash around her waist.

In an authoritative voice, the woman established first contact. "Konoha shinobi, this is Team Yugito of Kumogakure. You are now entering Shimogakure territory; please state your business."

Kakashi nodded and stepped forward. "Kumo shinobi, this is Team Kakashi of Konohagakure. We have been tasked with escorting merchant Shimogakure no Sakurai to this point where we are to exchange him for our mission payment. I presume you are the team we are to exchange with?"

The woman nodded, then gestured for her team to follow her as she started towards the monument in the clearing's center. Kakashi did the same, his team and the merchant following behind him as he withdrew the mission scroll. The redhead and the white-haired boy glared at the Konoha Genin, but were shut down by their Jonin-sensei's own glare. Kakashi caught a little of their conversation as he neared them.

"Raikage-sama gave us explicit orders not to antagonize the Konoha shinobi, and we are not going to go out of our way to capture the Hatake or any of the Genin, even is one is the last Uchiha. We don't want a repeat of the Hyuuga Affair, do you understand?" the woman hissed in a very catlike manner as the blonde boy looked uncharacteristically sour for a moment.

Coming to a stop in front of each other, Kakashi handed the mission scroll to the woman as Sakurai stepped forward. "One Shimogakure merchant, safe and sound. We ran into a gang of bandits yesterday, but otherwise it was pretty quiet" the cycloptic Jonin said.

"Kakashi of the Sharingan. How pleasant to make your acquaintance. As promised, the payment of 70,000 ryo" the woman responded. "Yugito Nii, Kumogakure Jonin. None of these are technically my Genin; they're all on loan to me." She gestured at the three. "Omoi" the white-haired boy smirked. "Karui" the redhead nodded. "And Atsui" the blonde grinned.

"The pleasure is all mine, Yugito-san" Kakashi said, before gesturing to the trio. "Naruto Uzumaki, Satsuki Uchiha and Sakura Haruno."

At the mention of Naruto's name, the redhead scowled. "He's no Uzumaki. His hair isn't red like mine" she growled out, irritating the blonde.

"What was that?! I'm nobody but Naruto Uzumaki, dattebayo!"

The Kumo team blinked. "Dattebayo? Okay, maybe he is an Uzumaki...but he sure doesn't look like one" the redhead said.

Kakashi coughed. "Moving right along, we're setting up camp for the night here. I presume you're doing the same?"

Yugito nodded, before looking at the blonde boy. "Kitten, that one contains one of my brethren" a voice said inside her head. Yugito's eyes widened slightly. "You mean that he is Konoha's weapon? But he's so...childish" the woman thought. "Be that as it may, he's definitely the container for my Nine-Tailed elder brother" the voice said. "Hm. I'll find out more soon enough, Matatabi."

With that, the Konoha and Kumo shinobi began setting up their separate camps, not knowing that they were being watched by multiple presences on opposite sides of the flat...

Chapter Text

Later that night, after everyone had fallen asleep, Naruto took first watch to deter bandits and wildlife from attacking. The spring night air was still somewhat chilly, but Naruto was close enough to the campfire to stay warm as his Shadow Clones patrolled the perimeter of the clearing. After a few hours of gazing at the beautiful stars and glowing sliver moon, Yugito woke up to take the second watch, approaching Naruto as the boy stifled a yawn.

"Oh...hello, Yugito-san" the blonde said, blinking a few times to stay awake.

"Hello kid.'re Konoha's living weapon?" she asked, taking a seat near him. The boy's eyes widened - the fox's presence was supposed to be a secret. "I only know because my own Bijuu told me. I'm just like you - a Jinchuriki; the village's most powerful weapon against outside threats."

"Just...just like me? There's more people like me?" Naruto asked.

The blonde kunoichi nodded. "There's eight or nine at any given time in the world, one for each of the Bijuu. I'm one of two in Kumo; the other is Raikage-sama's brother, Bee. I hold the Two-Tailed Cat, and he holds the Eight-Tailed Ox-topus."

"I see..." Naruto said. "Were you two...treated nicely by your village?" he asked.

Yugito smiled. "Kumo prides itself on treating our Jinchuriki better than most villages" she said, noticing an opportunity to snag a powerful weapon for Kumo. "We may be weapons, but Raikage-sama makes sure we're treated well. Tell me...does Konoha treat you well?"

Naruto put on a fake smile. "It's all great!" he said insincerely.

Yugito was not convinced. "That was a lie and you know it. So tell me, how do they really treat you?"

The boy sighed. "I grew up an orphan. My life was pretty okay until I was three years old, but somehow the secret got out about my status as the stupid fox's container. After that, everyone acted so cold to me. Children avoided me, and most shops refused to sell to me. Old Man Hokage did his best to make sure I was happy...but I really wish he'd done more."

Yugito quirked an eyebrow. "Neglecting to train your village's weapon to give him a normal childhood...the Third is as soft as ever." "Sounds like your Hokage didn't do his best to train you or protect you" she said, before deciding to spring her trap. "You'd have been treated a lot better in Kumo."

The boy thought about that for a minute, but shook his head. " the end of the day, the Leaf is my home. I can't become Hokage if I live in Kumo, and Iruka-sensei always said that the best way to get back at the people who hate me is to prove them wrong."

Inside Yugito's head, Matatabi chuckled. "Man, the Old Man would have loved this kid. I wonder...could he be the one?" The kunoichi internally scowled. "How naive. It won't be that easy for him...but it looks like I won't be bringing another Jinchuriki back to Kumo after all."

"Well, good luck're going to need it" she said, as Naruto retired to his sleeping bag and the Kumo woman began her watch.

The next morning, after a brief hunt, the two Jonin returned to camp with several dead rabbits, ready to have breakfast. To their surprise, the students had not started bickering over petty international stuff and nonsense.

"Thank kami we didn't have a mission out towards Iwa - there's no way that would have ended well" Kakashi internally shuddered. "Well, my adorable Genin, are we ready to hit the road back to Konoha?" he asked his trio, who all nodded silently as they finished hydrating and ate their fresh-cooked rabbit.

After exchanging farewells, the Konoha team started walking back to the south, while the Kumo team with Sakurai returned to the north. "Well...they actually weren't so bad" Omoi said as his team continued to the north.

"I know, right? I would have liked to learn more about that Uzumaki kid though...I wanted to see if he knew any more about our family tree" Karui interjected, before taking on a little bit of a somber tone.

"Well, perhaps you'll see them again someday" Yugito said thoughtfully, as Sakurai cheerfully continued down the road and Atsui looked slightly sour. None of them noticed that they were being watched very, very closely.

As Kakashi's team neared the edge of the clearing, something made the silver-haired Jonin's neck hairs stand up on end. "Something's happening!" he said, spinning around just in time to see a trio of very dangerous-looking men leap from the shadows and surround the Kumo team.

"Karui! Atsui! Guard the client; Omoi and I will fight these three! Don't let them harm a hair on his head!" Yugito snapped, gripping a kunai in her left hand as the fingernails on her right dramatically grew in length.

Two of the three men looked nearly identical; both of them wore what appeared to be modified Iwagakure uniform pants and combat boots; one wore a red tanktop that hugged his muscular frame, while the other wore a grey tank top. The third man was a tall, bald man with a blonde goatee who wore a similar outfit, but entirely in black. The third man spoke up. "No, no, Yugito-chan, we don't care about him" he said, jerking a thumb at Sakurai. "We were hired to catch you."

As the Genin stared in surprise, Kakashi's brain went through a list of possible suspects, before determining the men's identities. "These men are high A-Rank terrorist mercenaries from Ishigakure; Kajura and the Konjiki Twins" he growled. "Each of them has a Kekkei Genkai - Etoro's is Yoton (Lava Release), Metoro's is Koton (Steel Release) and Kajura's is Jiton (Magnet Release). Each of them has a bounty above five million ryo - they're out of your league, and Yugito and I working together would have a hard time beating them."

Naruto started towards the fighting, but Kakashi grabbed him. "What did I just say?! We're not going to help them."

Naruto growled. "I'm not leaving! Yugito is my friend now...she's just like me."

Kakashi's eyes widened at that revelation. "Seriously? She's one of Kumo's Jinchuriki?" Before he could say anything more, the squirming orange menace in his arms was replaced by a log in a puff of smoke. "Really regretting teaching him the weaponized Kawarimi now..." the cycloptic Jonin thought.

As the blonde kunoichi got ready to defend herself and her students from these mercenaries, the other blonde appeared in a puff of smoke nearby and, much to her surprise, delivered a right hook to the red shirt's cheek. Before she could comment, however, the battle was on. As Kumo and Konoha nin squared up side-by-side against their opponents, none of them noticed another presence watching them from the treeline...

Chapter Text

A few moments after Naruto's punch to the jaw of one of the Konjiki brothers, all hell broke loose. Kajura clapped his hands, causing the large canister on his back to fly open, revealing a dense black powder within.

"Iron Sand? Wasn't that the Third Kazekage's signature technique?!" Kakashi thought, dodging a tendril of the material as Sakura and Karui escorted Sakurai to the far end of the clearing. Omoi and Satsuki dodged a glob of lava and landed back to back, while the brother that Naruto had punched recovered and formed a series of eight seals. "Iron Clone Jutsu!"

Four black metal monoliths rose from the ground, before molding themselves into exact copies of the brother. "So that's Metoro...but he's wearing red instead of grey. If that's their way of getting people to get sloppy and confuse them for each other, that's honestly brilliant" Kakashi thought, before substituting himself with a log just in time to avoid getting squashed by a tendril of metallic powder. Naruto conjured a couple more clones, creating a distraction for Metoro and allowing Atsui to avoid a steel-coated punch.

The two groups of shinobi regrouped in the middle of the clearing, facing the three Kekkei Genkai users at the north end. "What are you doing?! You have no reason to help us!" Yugito hissed at the Konoha team.

"What are you talking about?" Naruto shouted. "You're like me! You're my friend; that's all the reason I need to help you!" The blonde Kumo kunoichi, and her students as well, were stunned by this outburst. "I'm...his friend?" Yugito wondered.

Before they could comment though, the four Iron Clones charged the two groups, while the original and his brother wove several hand seals in synchronization. "Koton: Steel Bearing Shot!" A number of steel capsules materialized from Metoro's hands, while a line of flaming liquid curled between Etoro's arms.

"Yoton: Expanding Flame Rings!" The flaming liquid slid into the flaming capsules, before launching at the Kumo and Konoha shinobi.

"Scatter!" Kakashi shouted, substituting himself with another log in the forest just as the twirling capsules exploded, showering flames across the center of the clearing. Immediately after doing so, he was ambushed by an Iron Clone, whose punch Kakashi narrowly dodged. Noting the large hole that the clone had put in the tree, the silver-haired cyclops drew a pair of kunai, only for them to fly out of his hands, manipulated by Kajura's Jiton.

Cursing his luck, Kakashi kicked the clone away. "Damn, that's solid. That won't go down in a single hit like a Shadow Clone, and its' durability puts Earth Clones to shame." Looking for his lost kunai, the Jonin's eyes widened. "Satsuki! Look out!" Pinned down in a small crag in the rocks on one side of the clearing, there was nowhere for the Uchiha to go to avoid the two flying blades, which drew closer to her with every instant.

Then, the world turned red for the ravenette, as a pair of two-tomoe Sharingan blazed to life.

Gripping a handful of shuriken, Satsuki neatly dodged the two kunai and leapt out into the open. Taking careful aim with her newly-activated dojutsu, she flung the handful of sharp objects at the oncoming storm of steel balls, with the shuriken glancing off the balls in just the right way to deflect them all away from her, with one stray ball piercing an Iron Clone and forcing it to dispel into powder.

Meanwhile, Yugito did her best to fight Kajura in close combat, avoiding sharp spears of Iron Sand while repelling the mercenary leader with...burning spitballs? "Mouse Hairball!" the kunoichi yelled, spitting a large blue fireball from her mouth, which split into a number of smaller, mouse-shaped projectiles. Most of these splattered harmlessly on a wave of the dense powder, but one went wide and hit Etoro.

The lava user growled as he got to his feet, and looked towards the ring of flames that Atsui had created to protect Karui, Sakura and their client. "Perfect" he growled, grinning sadistically as he started towards the ring.

As Naruto charged the Koton user, he was too late to notice an Iron Clone leaping out of the ground behind him, swinging at him with a heavy fist. Eyes widening, he braced for impact...only to be shoved out of the way at the last moment by the last Uchiha, of all people, who was bodily thrown by the blow into a nearby tree with a sickening "THWACK!".

"Satsuki!" the blonde shouted, racing towards the ravenette's prone form.

"That...hurt" the Uchiha groaned.

Naruto grabbed Satsuki and pulled her back up from a prone position. "Why? Why'd you protect me?!" he asked.

"I...don't know. My body...moved on its' own" the ravenette whispered, before slipping away into unconsciousness.

"Hey! Stay with me! Satsuki!" the blonde shouted desperately, but to no avail: the girl would not re-awaken.

The silent and stoic Metoro cackled uncharacteristically. "She's dead, kid...and you're next!" he shouted, rushing forward with a fist coated in metal. "Koton: Impervious Armor Fist!"

Deep within Naruto's subconscious, something snapped, and an ancient and powerful presence raised its' head. "It's about damn time."

Red chakra exploded out of the blonde's body. Yugito and Kakashi's eyes widened. "Crap! He's losing control!" Inside the ring of flames, Etoro paused as he stood over the two battered kunoichi. Omoi and Atsui, who were engaged with two other Iron Clones, briefly lost their focus and were thrown back by their opponents, landing near the statue of Tobirama.

Metoro was too late to notice, however, and received a boot to the face for his troubles, launching him all the way across the clearing into a cloud of Iron Sand. Naruto roared as his whisker marks deepened, his fingernails elongated and his eyes turned red with slit pupils. "RRRRARRRAAAAAHHHH!" the blonde bellowed, before launching himself across the clearing and repeatedly punching the Ishi terrorist, each strike denting the man's metallic skin.

"Somebody help me, dammit!" Metoro shouted.

A tendril of Iron Sand shot out of the cloud and smashed into the blonde child, but all it did was make him angrier. "Shit! I need a diversion!" Kajura shouted; Metoro nodded in understanding and sent one of his clones to fight Yugito, distracting the blonde kunoichi enough for the Jiton user to turn his full attention to Naruto. "Iron Sand Gathering Assault!" he shouted, condensing the black particles into a massive cube. Naruto roared and lunged again, only for the cube to collide with him, throwing him backwards and knocking him out.

"Etoro, we're leaving!" Metoro shouted as he and Kajura retreated back towards the northern end of the clearing.

"Be right there! Just gonna teach these punks a lesson by killing this merchant!" the Yoton user shouted, as the same burning liquid from earlier surrounded his hands and he stepped forward over Karui and Sakura towards the unfortunate merchant. Sakurai frowned, retreating as best he could. Before he could get very far, however, he tripped and fell backwards. "Say goodnight, rich bastard!" Etoro shouted.

"No!" shouted both of the kunoichi.

And then with a loud rattling noise, two golden chains wrapped around the mercenary's arms, stopping him in place.

Sakura and Karui's eyes widened in shock at the thick chakra chains shooting from their hands, arresting Etoro's movement towards Sakurai. Kakashi burst through the flames and almost tripped over his own feet in surprise. "Those are...those are the Uzumaki Clan's Adamantine Chains! I haven't seen anyone use those since...since Kushina..." Kakashi thought, before turning his attention back to the Yoton user, weaving three hand signs and holding his right hand out to the side as the sound of chirping birds filled the air.

"Gonna...kill...this...guy!" Etoro roared, but before he could do anything more, a lightning-covered palm burst through his chest, clutching the burnt remains of his own heart in it.

"Chidori!" The Yoton user felt his life slip away, his brother roaring in rage and anguish on the opposite side of the clearing as Atsui's flame wall died down.

"They killed Aniki! I'll kill those bastards!" Metoro shouted, covering his fist in steel and racing across the clearing...only for his fist to stop dead in its' tracks against the blade of a sword, held by a new player.

The new figure wore a cloak that looked to have been stitched together haphazardly from old burlap grain sacks, and had long, dark hair. Underneath the cloak was a ratty bodysuit and flak jacket that looked vaguely like ANBU-issued armor; it was too worn to tell which village it was from though. The most distinctive thing about the newcomer, however, was the white porcelain mask in the likeness of a sparrow; a red length of cloth was tied over the eye holes in the mask.

Metoro's eyes widened in surprise. "Who the hell are-?" he began, before, in a blur of speed, the figure swung his sword silently, cutting a deep gash in the Koton user's chest. "Crap!" Kajura shouted, sending a large tendril of Iron Sand to bat away the newcomer; the black powder tightened into a ball, then burst, its' occupants having vanished.

The figure then turned to the two Konoha nin, the Kumo Genin and the merchant. "Who...who are you?" Kakashi asked.

After a few moments of silence, the figure whispered in a distinctly male voice "You may call me...Sparrow", before leaping into a nearby tree and vanishing.

Chapter Text

Naruto woke up with a pounding headache while feeling like he'd been run over by a steam engine from the Land of Snow. "Ughhhhhhhhhhh..." the boy groaned, rubbing his eyes.

"Took you long enough, dobe" a familiar voice snorted.

"S-Satsuki?!" Naruto asked, his eyed shooting wide open.

"Who else?" the ravenette responded dryly.

"But...I thought you-!" Naruto sputtered.

"You thought I was dead, dobe? Don't be ridiculous; I just got knocked out" the dark-haired girl said, before standing up and walking off coolly.

"About time you woke up, kitten" Yugito said, walking over to the blonde boy. "You've been out for the past fourteen hours."

"What happened?" Naruto asked.

"Your Bijuu wound you up pretty good after the Uchiha got knocked out by that steel guy's Iron Clone. You went crazy, attacked him and were put out of commission by one of the other two's Iron Sand. After that, your sensei killed the Lava user and the remaining two Ishi mercenaries ran off scared" Yugito explained. "But enough about what's already happened. Matatabi wants to talk to your Bijuu."

"Wha-?" Naruto began, before the Kumo Jonin placed two fingers on the blonde boy's forehead and closed her eyes. Suddenly, Naruto found himself inside a damp sewer with high ceilings and a thin layer of water on the floor. In front of him stood a massive cage with a piece of paper reading "SEAL" on it.

"Jeez kitten, this is your mindscape? It needs some serious work" Yugito said from behind him.

Turning around, Naruto was faced with a stunning sight. The sewer abruptly ended just behind him, and faded into a large valley filled with craggy mountains and shallow lakes, covered by a thick layer of clouds. The other Jinchuriki stood atop the nearest of these mountaintops, and behind her towered an enormous two-tailed feline made from blue fire.

"Whoa! Is that-?" Naruto started, before the giant cat leaned forward. "Pleased to meet you, kitten. I am the Nibi, but you can call me Matatabi" the cat purred, holding out a paw, which Naruto shook. "N-Nice to meet you too."

"Now then, where's my adorable elder brother?" Matatabi asked, peering into the cage. After a few minutes, a deeper voice groaned in...exasperation? "Go away" the voice said in a grumpy tone. "Now, now, Kurama-niisan, why so serious?" Matatabi purred, peering into the cage. The voice groaned again, this time louder.

"Great, and now the brat knows my name. You do know that you've ruined the introduction I had planned, right? I was going to scare the crap out of the kid, subtly start corrupting him and eventually figure out how to get out of this detestable seal" the Nine-Tails groaned somewhere in the dark.

"Oi, ya dumb fox! Show yourself!" Naruto shouted in irritation.

The sound of splashing water and low-pitched grumbling could be heard as a massive figure loomed in the shadows of the cage. A giant nine-tailed reddish-brown fox emerged from the darkness and regarded Naruto, Yugito and Matatabi. "Matatabi. Out of the other eight Bijuu, you, Kokuo and Saiken are probably the least annoying" Kurama acknowledged, before looking down and scrutinizing Naruto. "This runt is my Jinchuriki? Pfffft, you can't seriously think that he's worth my time, can you?" the fox laughed. "At least yours looks like she has some fight in her."

Matatabi nodded. "Yugito has a lot of fight in her, indeed. But your Jinchuriki is something special. In fact, I think he might be the one that the old man told us to wait for."

The fox suddenly looked shaken. "Him? Really? I...I need to think about this some more" Kurama muttered as he retreated back into the shadows.

"Gyuki sends his regards, by the way" Matatabi added.

The fox snorted somewhere in the shadows. "That ox? Tch. Hopefully his host is better than this one."

Matatabi sighed. "His...loves to rap."

The fox sighed right back. "Serves me right for getting my hopes up. Anyway, get out of here."

Naruto's eyes reopened as Yugito stood back up. "So, now you've met your Bijuu. Matatabi says that he's grumpy and has an inferiority complex, which isn't so bad when compared to the Ichibi constantly screaming for blood or something like that" the blonde kunoichi said, before turning to look at her Genin, who had just finished breaking camp, as had Naruto's teammates.

"It was nice meeting you, Yugito-san! Now I have a friend in Kumo!" Naruto exclaimed joyfully.

The Kumo Jonin laughed and ruffled the blonde boy's hair. "See you again some other time, Naruto-kun" she said, before turning to Omoi, Karui and Atsui, who had Sakurai with them. "Team Yugito, depart!"

With that, the Kumo team and the merchant took off running to make up for lost time. Looking back briefly, the Nibi Jinchuriki smiled internally. "Friends, eh? Maybe...maybe that's not so bad" Yugito thought as she watched the Konoha team depart out of sight. "Now...time to face the music. Who knows how Raikage-sama will react to this?"

"...In conclusion, the escort mission was a success despite being re-classified as an A-Rank due to the involvement of three high A-Rank missing-nin and mercenaries from Ishigakure, who had been hired to target Kumogakure Jonin Yugito Nii. The missing-nin were defeated, and "Flame Ring" Etoro Konjiki was killed. His bounty of seven million ryo is expected to be sent from Iwa by the end of the week. That is all" Kakashi finished giving his verbal report.

Hiruzen sighed. "Figures. As if it wasn't bad enough that Team Ten fought Zabuza Momochi on their C-Rank" the Hokage said, puffing on his pipe.

"The Demon of the Hidden Mist? If I may inquire, what did happen?" Kakashi asked, now picturing his students in the same situation.

"Asuma barely fought him off on their first encounter. Upon learning of Kiri's new Mizukage, however, Momochi opted to murder the shipping magnate Gato, who had hired him to assassinate the bridge-builder, and return to Kirigakure with his apprentice, who apparently was the last survivor of the Yuki Clan."

Kakashi ruminated on that for a moment. "For some reason, I can't say that my team would have handled the same mission quite as effectively as Team Ten did" the silver-haired Jonin said.

"I agree. Team Ten's teamwork is significantly better than Team Seven's, and each of them is...significantly more mentally stable than the members of your team" the Hokage said, grimacing slightly. "Which reminds me of something else. As you know, the Chuunin Exams are being held in Konoha in three weeks. Are your Genin ready to be entered?"

The Jonin sighed. "I will evaluate their performance after they end their week of leave, and see how their first real-world shinobi experience helped them. If they perform to my standards, I will nominate them for the exams...but I still worry sometimes. Would Minato-sensei, Kushina-neesan and Mikoto-san approve of the danger I'm putting their children in?"

The Hokage's head drooped slightly as a sad smile crossed his face. "We may never know..."

Meanwhile, 3,500 kilometers away in Kumogakure, the Raikage had called Yugito into his office. "Jonin Nii, I wish to know exactly what happened on your recent escort mission outside of Shimogakure" the muscular tanned blonde man said with an unusual calmness. The Nibi Jinchuriki sighed internally, before giving a verbal recount of the events of the mission.

After she finished, the Raikage was uncharacteristically silent for a few moments, before starting again. "So, the team you established contact with was the Genin team with the last Uchiha and Konoha's Jinchuriki, who looks disturbingly similar to the Yellow Flash?"

"Yes, Raikage-sama" the Jonin responded.

"Then your team was ambushed by a trio of terrorists from Ishigakure, who had been hired specifically to capture you?" Once again, Yugito responded affirmatively.

"Then the Konoha Jinchuriki willingly interfered in order to aid your team?"

"Indeed, Raikage-sama."

"And not only did the Uchiha awaken her Sharingan, but the clanless civilian of the team awakened one of the secret techniques of the Uzumaki Clan at the same time as Karui, making her at least one-quarter Uzumaki?"

"That is correct, Raikage-sama."

"And a mystery man wearing armor that did not match any of the major or minor villages interfered on your behalf when one of the terrorists attempted to retaliate against your party and the Konoha shinobi?"

"That is correct, Raikage-sama."

The Raikage sighed. A was a man known for his bluster and short temper - which were very much part of his personality - but he had learned that exaggerating these traits led people to either underestimate or fear him. Right now, he was letting that persona slip slightly, now knowing that Kumo was technically in Konoha's debt. "Jonin Nii, since we are now in Konoha's debt due to your mission exceeding its' parameters, I have a new assignment for you" he said, pulling a scroll from his desk and handing it to the blonde woman, who raised an eyebrow upon unfolding the scroll.

In a cavern near the Land of Frost's border with the Land of Rice Paddies, two figures sat in the light of a small fire. "Dammit!" Metoro roared, as Kajura bandaged the wounds from his scrap with Naruto.

"Be quiet, would you?" the blonde man said, as he wrapped a length of gauze around his dark-haired companion's left arm.

"We let aniki die, and we failed our mission! I'm gonna kill that one-eyed bastard like he killed aniki!" Metoro growled.

"You did not entirely fail" a powerful voice said, in a tone that exuded authority.

"B-Boss!" Kajura said, as an orange-haired man covered in piercings stepped out of the shadows, wearing a black cloak patterned with red clouds while a scratched Amegakure forehead protector sat atop his head. His eyes glowed an ethereal purple in the darkness of the cave, with concentric rings in each one.

"You may have failed to capture the Nibi, but you brought back valuable information about your target and the Kyuubi. For this, you must be rewarded." The man reached a hand out to the two Ishi terrorists, two rings within his palm. "Metoro Konjiki, Jiton no Kajura...welcome to the Akatsuki."


Chapter Text

A few days after returning from their C-Rank gone sideways, Team Seven had reconvened at Training Ground Three on Kakashi's orders. As one might imagine, the silver-haired cyclops was late again - this time by an hour and a half. "You're *sigh* late" Sakura grumbled, now too used to their teacher's antics to put any energy into complaining - a mindset that would please a certain lazy genius from Team Ten.

"Sorry about that, but you see, I got lost on the road of life and ended up delayed by road work" Kakashi said, noting the eye-rolls from all three of his students, before snapping into "teacher mode". "Now, the Hokage said that you were to have a week of leave before we did any more D-Ranks or training - but honestly? Screw that" Kakashi said, noting how his students' expressions went from dismay to excitement as he spoke. "Today, Satsuki and Naruto going to be finishing the water-walking exercise, and then we're going to be moving on to mastering elemental affinities."

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Kakashi reflected for a moment on the abysmal standards of the Academy and its' graduates. "I mean, seriously, they don't teach elemental affinities until you reach Chuunin? Screw that for a joke; it's practically mandatory to know how to use Nature Transformations to even pass the Chuunin Exam!" Pulling out a handful of small pieces of brown paper, the cycloptic Jonin placed one between his thumb and forefinger and held it up for his students to see.

"This is chakra paper. You can use it to find your affinity by channeling a little of your chakra into it to see what happens" Kakashi said, before doing just that and watching his strip of paper crinkle into a ball. "My affinity is Raiton, so it crinkles into a ball. If you have Doton, it crumbles. Suiton, it gets wet. Katon, it ignites. And Fuuton, which is the rarest in Konoha, causes the paper to split in half. You try it" he continued, handing a strip to each of the Genin.

Naruto channeled chakra into his and watched it split in half. "Fuuton? Just like sensei..." Sakura's crumbled into dust. "Doton. Honestly, for her, that's perfect." And Satsuki's crinkled, then after a few moments caught fire. "Raiton AND Katon? Dual affinities are pretty rare." Kakashi pondered this for a moment, before clearing his throat. "So Naruto's affinity is Fuuton, Sakura's is Doton, and Satsuki has a dual affinity of Raiton and Katon, which is pretty rare. Let's about this?"

The Jonin formed the hand seal for the Shadow Clone Jutsu, causing a clone to appear. "Yo, boss" the clone said, giving a lazy salute.

"I want you to keep an eye on these three while they finish water-walking" Kakashi said, pointing to the Naka River. "Meanwhile, I will go to the archives and find a few basic techniques for them to start on once they're finished." With that, the silver-haired cyclops vanished in a swirl of leaves and wind, while a hawk lazily circled overhead.

Two and a half weeks later, in the Hokage Tower, all of the Jonin-sensei for Konoha's Genin teams were gathered in a meeting. In a puff of smoke, Kakashi materialized next to Kurenai and Asuma. "Incredible; only fifteen minutes late!" the bearded Jonin joked.

A blur of green flashed up to Kakashi. "My eternally hip and cool rival!" cried Might Gai, who was arguably Kakashi's only competition for the position of "Konoha's Strongest Jonin".

The old Hokage cleared his throat. "Now that we're all here, let us begin this meeting about this year's Chuunin Exams." After fifteen minutes or so of discussion about the exams and their logistics, it was time for all the various Jonin to begin recommending their teams for the exams.

"I, Might Gai, recommend my youthful students, Rock Lee, Neji Hyuuga and Tenten, for the Chuunin Exams!" the green spandex-wearing, thick-eyebrowed, bowl-cut Jonin said, flashing Nice Gai Pose Number 22B, complete with the thumbs up and sparkling smile.

"Oh, brother" Kakashi thought, before deciding to throw his hat in the ring. "I, Kakashi Hatake, recommend my adorable Genin, Naruto Uzumaki, Satsuki Uchiha and Sakura Haruno, for the Chuunin Exams."

Several gasps could be heard in the room, most notably Iruka, who was one of the few Chuunin present. "I, Kurenai Yuuhi, recommend Team Eight, Shino Aburame, Kiba Inuzuka and Hinata Hyuuga, for the Chuunin Exams" the red-eyed Genjutsu Mistress of Konoha added.

"And I, Asuma Sarutobi, recommend Team Ten, Ino Yamanaka, Shikamaru Nara and Choji Akimichi, for the Chuunin Exams" the bearded Jonin finished.

"Hokage-sama!" Iruka interjected. "I must ask that you reconsider! These teams graduated from the Academy barely three months ago! None of them are ready for the exam!"

"I don't see the problem" said Asuma. "I mean, I took the exams as a rookie" he continued, Kurenai nodding in agreement.

"I was a Chuunin when I was half their age" Kakashi added as if it was the most normal thing in the world to be a six year old Chuunin.

"They're not any of you though! None of them are prodigies like Kakashi, or grew up in a war like Gai, Asuma and Kurenai!" Iruka protested.

At this, Kakashi actually took some offense. "You're wrong" the silver-haired Jonin said. "Naruto has raw chakra reserves that vastly eclipse everyone here except the Hokage, Sakura has phenomenal natural talent for chakra control, and Satsuki was not rookie of the year for nothing. Quite frankly, it's insulting that you think so little of them or the other students in their class, especially since you were the one who taught them. The room fell silent at the deadly calm tone that Kakashi was using. "But that's beside the point. Even if they weren't as talented as they are, they are still my soldiers now, not your students. I bid you good day, sir!"

With that, Kakashi disappeared in a cloud of smoke, leaving a dozen or so stunned Jonin, a flabbergasted Chuunin and the amused Hokage in a deathly silent room.

One week later, Naruto found himself being chased down by an irate Sakura alongside the Hokage's grandson and his Konohamaru Army Corps. None of them noticed the three figures walking down the street, one of whom Konohamaru ran headlong into. "You little brat!" the figure snapped, lifting the small boy by the back of his shirt. The figure was a boy wearing an all-black cat suit and purple war paint, and had a curious wrapped package upon his back. "I'll make you regret this!"

"Kankuro, put him down!" commanded a blonde-haired girl with a large folded war fan on her back. "We don't need you making a scene here!"

A stone ricocheted off the wrapped package from a nearby tree. Satsuki sat in the tree, bouncing another stone in her hand before throwing it at the package. "That was not a wise action, Suna shinobi" the ravenette said. "That is the Hokage's grandson after all." The painted boy paled and set Konohamaru down gently.

"Kankuro, you almost caused an international incident and are an embarrassment to our village. Do you want me to kill you?" a new voice spoke coldly. The figure in question was a red-haired boy with a red gourd on his back, hanging upside down from the branch Satsuki sat on.

"N-No please, Gaara" Kankuro choked out, as the other boy dropped from the tree and landed gracefully on the ground, before walking over to Naruto.

"What is your name?" Gaara inquired coldly.

"Naruto Uzumaki, dattebayo!" the blonde said cheerfully. Internally, however, he quivered. "What the hell is up with this guy? He's practically bathing in killing intent!"

The redhead's emotionless teal eyes scrutinized the blonde closely. "Naruto Uzumaki...Mother wants your blood specifically. I will see you during the exams." With that, the boy walked away calmly. "Temari, Kankuro, we're leaving."

With that, the three Sunagakure Genin departed, leaving Team Seven wondering just what they had run into, and what kind of trouble they may have narrowly avoided.

That evening, Sakura walked up the front steps of her family's home, and opened the door. "I'm home!" she called, placing her sandals by the door. "Welcome back!" responded a familiar voice that decidedly was not her mother or father's voice. "What the-?" Sakura wondered, entering the dining room only for her jaw to drop in surprise.

Sitting at the table with her mother, Mebuki, and her father, Kizashi, sat none other than Kakashi Hatake, the scarecrow's mask still covering his face. "Yo, Sakura" the Jonin said, taking a sip of his tea (through his mask, of course).

"K-Kakashi-sensei? What are you doing here?" Sakura asked.

"Well, you see, I've heard that a Jonin-sensei typically visits the parents of the Genin on their team. Since you are the only one of my students with living parents, however, this is my only stop on the Team Seven Parent-Teacher Tour" Kakashi responded. "It's the most fascinating thing ever, interacting with civilians" he remarked in amusement, before turning to Sakura's father.

"Anyway, Haruno-san" Kakashi started, before the vaguely red-haired man cut him off.

"Please, call me Kizashi."

"Right, Kizashi-san. Anyway, what, perchance, was your parentage?" Kakashi asked, directing the conversation in a specific route.

"Well..." the Haruno patriarch began. "My father was a merchant from the western part of the Land of Fire. He met my mother on a run to a village off the coast, near Yugakure. I think it was something like...Umi?"

Kakashi quirked an eyebrow. "Uzushio, perhaps?" the cycloptic Jonin suggested.

"Uzushio? That sounds...yeah, that's right" Kizashi said, after pondering it for a few moments.

The scarecrow laughed internally. "Check and mate!" "Did she, perchance, have crimson red hair and blue eyes?" Kakashi postulated.

Kizashi's eyes widened. "Yes, she did! How did you know?"

Knowing that he had taken full control over the course of the conversation, Kakashi continued. "I ask because, on our first mission out of Konoha, a seemingly simple C-Rank escort to the border with the Land of Frost, our team and the Kumogakure team we were scheduled to meet with were attacked by three A-Rank terrorists from Ishigakure." Mebuki looked like she was about to faint at this news. "During the battle, your daughter awakened a rather unique ability. Do you know what that was?"

Now Sakura was as curious as her parents. She vaguely remembered doing something when the Yoton user had attempted to kill their client, but she wasn't sure exactly what had happened. Kakashi gave a patented Hatake Eye-Smile (TM), then continued. "The ability your daughter displayed was the Adamantine Attacking Chains, which are an incomplete version of the Kekkei Genkai of one specific clan from the same island village your mother hailed from, Kizashi-san."

Mebuki gasped. "A Kekkei Genkai? I didn't know your family had one of those, dear."

Kizashi looked every bit as surprised. "I didn't know that either. Do you know which clan it is?" Kakashi steeled himself while internally smirking, knowing that he was about to drop a massive bombshell in this conversation.

"The Uzumaki Clan."

The eyes of all three of the Harunos bugged out. "U-Uzumaki? Like the Nine-!" Mebuki began, before being interrupted by Kakashi drawing a kunai from his pouch.

"Now, now, Mebuki-san, you should know what the Hokage's decree says, what the punishment is for breaking it...and that little pitchers have big ears" the cycloptic Jonin said, looking towards Sakura, who was still processing the revelation. "U-Uzumaki? Like Naruto?"

Kakashi nodded. "Like him indeed. It is strictly forbidden for you to know anything more, however; the specifics of the boy's heritage are an S-Ranked secret, which is far above Sakura's pay grade as a Genin, and unquestionably out of yours as civilians" the cycloptic Jonin said, before rising to his feet. "To recap, your daughter is one-quarter Uzumaki through your mother's side, Kizashi-san, and now possesses the Kekkei Genkai of a mostly extinct clan. Now if you will excuse me, a fish is drowning somewhere, so I must depart."

With that, Kakashi vanished in a puff of smoke, leaving the Haruno family sitting in stunned silence.

Chapter Text

Before long, the day of the Chuunin Exams had rolled about, and the Genin of Team Seven had made their way into the Academy and were climbing the stairs to the second floor.

"So, you two ready?" Naruto asked cheerfully, looking to the two girls on the team.

Satsuki responded with a simple "Hn", while a shadowy look briefly crossed Sakura's face, before the pinkette straightened up and put on a cheery expression.

"You bet I am!" Sakura said, just before the trio ran into Kakashi.

"Kakashi-sensei!" Naruto and Sakura shouted, as the Jonin gave them an eye-smile.

"So, you all decided to come? That's good - all members of a team have to be present to participate." The three Genin sweatdropped at their sensei's casual mention of something so crucial.

"Then why didn't you tell us?" Satsuki asked irritably.

" wouldn't do for anyone to feel like they were forced in, now would it?" the Jonin shrugged. "Anyway, good luck in the exams!"

The trio made their way up the stairs, to find a large crowd gathered around the doorway to Room 301. Two older Genin who looked suspiciously similar to two of the gate guards were standing outside the door, blocking it. "Hey, what's the big idea!" Naruto shouted.

"We're just weeding out the competition" one of them sneered.

"A Genjutsu? What a waste of time. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to the third floor now" Satsuki grumbled, walking towards the door. One of the older Genin growled, then threw a punch at the ravenette, who spun into a roundhouse kick in response.

To their surprise, both attacks were stopped by an...odd-looking individual. The boy wore a bright green spandex jumpsuit with orange leg-warmers and had bandages wrapped around his hands; his dark hair was in a bowl cut, and he had the most peculiar eyes. Nearby, a brown-haired kunoichi sighed. "Lee, we're not supposed to show off until the third round of the exams" the girl said, facepalming.

"My apologies, Tenten!" Lee responded, before standing up and looking Satsuki in the eye. "Satsuki Uchiha-san, right?" the boy asked, before entering Nice Gai Pose Number 18, with sparkling eyes. "My name is Rock Lee! I'll protect you with my life if you go on a date with me!"

Dead silence filled the hallway for a few moments, before the ravenette scoffed. "No thanks."

Tenten facepalmed again while the Hyuuga standing next to her rolled his white eyes. Lee then turned to Sakura. "What about you, Sakura Haruno-chan?" the bowl-cut boy asked, entering Nice Gai Pose 12.2.1 with sparking teeth.

"No! You're too unique for me!"

Sakura shouted. "What am I, chopped liver?" Naruto groaned dejectedly, sad that nobody had spoke to him yet.

A few minutes later, on the third floor, Lee approached them again. "Naruto Uzumaki!" he shouted, pointing at the blonde.

"Yeah, that's my name, dattebayo!" Naruto responded.

"I wish to challenge you in single combat!" Lee said, pointing at Naruto. "I can tell that you are a genius of hard work like me, and that I must fight you in single combat if I am to win Satsuki-san or Sakura-chan's love!" the Beautiful Green Beast of Konoha shouted.

Not even Satsuki could maintain her stony-faced composure at this, sweatdropping alongside Sakura. "What a strange individual."

Before Naruto could respond, a turtle shuffled into the room. "Lee!" it shouted. "This is not the time or place! Save your youth for the exams!"

The bowl-cut boy looked downcast for a moment, before smiling again. "Yosh! I will show you all my youth in the exams!" he shouted, waving to Team Seven as he left the room. The trio stood in silence for a moment, before Sakura finally spoke up. "What an odd individual."

A few minutes later, the auditorium was full of Genin from all around the continent, and Naruto was surveying each and every one while Sakura bantered with Team Ten and Team Eight. As could be expected, it was mostly Konoha and Suna teams, but there were a few others of note.

Three teams were from Ame, wearing distinct rebreathers and carrying umbrellas; two Kusa teams were also present, and among their number was a distinct red head of hair. There was also a rare team from Ishi with plenty of stone-like armor, a lone Taki team, and a single Otogakure team, wearing grey camouflage.

Shikamaru looked around the room, before one group caught his eye. "Wait a minute...Ino, Choji, tell me that team doesn't look at least a little familiar" the Nara said, pointing at one team off in the corner of the room. The Akimichi and Yamanaka both looked where Shikamaru was pointing, and their eyes widened in disbelief. "Holy crap! Isn't that-!"

The team in question was a surprise entry from Kirigakure, whose new Mizukage had decided to send a team in order to ease any international tensions or doubts about the Hidden Mist's strength. The first member of the trio was a bored-looking boy with blue-white hair dressed in purple, carrying what looked like a large scroll on his back. The second was another blue-haired boy, this one wearing glasses and glancing shyly around the room; he also carried something on his back, this one wrapped in bandages. Finally, the last one was a dark-haired kunoichi wearing a dark brown uniform with a green haori over it; on her back was a long, thin sword.

"What about them?" Sakura asked, her curiosity piqued.

"On our first C-Rank, the mission to Wave that we got the same day that you got your escort mission to Shimo, we ran into several missing-nin from Kiri who had been hired to kill the bridge-builder. One of them was the 'Demon of the Hidden Mist', Zabuza Momochi. The dark-haired one on their team was his apprentice" Shikamaru explained. The kunoichi in question seemed to notice, and waved to Team Ten. "Although, it's strange...when we fought her, Haku claimed to be a boy..." the Nara muttered.

Then, the room got a little bit quieter. "Is that a Kumo team?" muttered one of the Ame Genin.

"Wait...a Kumo team? Could it be...?" Naruto thought, whirling around to look at the door. Sure enough, there stood the same three Genin that Team Seven had encountered on their mission to Shimo.

"What the hell are they doing here?" the Hyuuga from Team Gai growled. The room remained silent for a few more moments, before Naruto spoke up.

"Yo! Omoi! Karui! Atsui!"

The red-haired Kumo Genin turned towards the source of the voice, and her expression immediately brightened.

"Naruto! Sakura! Satsuki!" Karui shouted, rushing over to hug Sakura.

"Long time no see, hot-shots" Atsui greeted, while Omoi followed behind more casually, nodding at the Konoha shinobi.

"You know Kumo-nin?" Kiba asked, while Hinata's expression darkened. Before any introductions could be made, however, a voice interrupted them.

"You all look like you're fresh out of the academy, so let me give you some tips" the silver-haired Genin approaching them stated casually. He was clearly a little older than the Rookie Nine or the Kumo team, and wore round glasses.

"And who might you be?" Sakura asked.

"Kabuto Yakushi, Genin of Konoha at your service" the Genin stated, before pointing at another team. "But look around you. See these other teams, like that one from Ame? They're all itching for an excuse to fight, and you're making yourselves targets by being noisy."

Ino eyed the boy. "So, is this your first time too?" she asked.

"Oh no; this is my seventh attempt" Kabuto responded.

There was silence for a few moments before Kiba and Naruto both started laughing. "Wow, that's bad" the Inuzuka laughed. "I'd probably just admit that I'm not Chuunin material after my fourth loss to a bunch of little kids."

Kabuto shrugged. "It's not that bad; my experience has allowed me to gather information on all the competitors" he said, holding up a handful of cards.

"What are those?" Naruto asked.

"I call them my 'Ninfo Cards'" Kabuto explained, a hint of pride in his voice.

"What's on them?" Choji pressed.

"Ninformation, obviously. Each is coded so that, if I channel a little chakra into them, a whole bunch of data will show up on anyone I want to know about."

"Then prove it" Satsuki said, pointing towards Lee. "Tell me everything you know about Rock Lee."

Kabuto shuffled his deck. "Aha! Let's see...Rock Lee. Excellent taijutsu, but unable to use genjutsu or ninjutsu. His teammates are Neji Hyuuga and Tenten, under the command of Might Gai. His team has completed one hundred and ten D-Ranks, fourteen C-ranks and one B-rank. Anyone else?"

The now-named Neji looked up and scrutinized the Kumo team with his blank eyes. "Them" he said simply.

"Hang on...there we go. Karui, Omoi and Atsui from Kumo. Normally they're under two different Jonin, but for the moment they're being lead by Yugito Nii. Since they're a special team composed of members from two different teams, they have only completed one mission together, an A-Rank...oh, what's this? Alongside Konoha's Team Seven" Kabuto explained, as Team Eight, Team Ten and Team Gai all stared at Team Seven. "Anyone else?"

Naruto raised his hand. "I want to know about the team from Kirigakure and Sabaku no Gaara." Kabuto nodded, and withdrew two other cards.

"First, the Kirigakure team. Composed of Haku Yuki, Chojuro and Suigetsu Hozuki, each of them is a member of the newest generation of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist, and their Jonin-sensei is former A-Rank missing-nin Zabuza Momochi, who is also one of the Seven Swordsmen. They're a brand-new team put together by the new Mizukage for these exams, so I don't have much data on them, but I do know that the Yuki is the last of her clan, and the Hozuki is the great-grandson of the Second Mizukage."

"And finally, Sabaku no Gaara and his siblings, Kamaitachi no Temari and Karasu no Kankuro. He has completed eight C-Ranks and one B-Rank...and he has never even been scratched on them." With those words, a chill ran down the spines of each of the Genin present. Just what kind of a monster could manage to complete a B-Rank uninjured while still a Genin?

Before anyone could say anything else, a puff of smoke at the front of the room cleared to show a tall man in a trenchcoat with a small army of proctors behind him. "Alright, listen up, maggots! My name is Ibiki Morino, and for this part of the exam, I AM YOUR GOD! You have one hour to complete this ten-question written exam; your team must have a total of 20 points to pass and you'll be docked two for every time you're caught cheating. Good luck, you pieces of trash!"

Chapter Text

The moment that the countdown started, every Genin in the room sprang into action writing their exams. Naruto looked over the nine questions and had to suppress a groan. "Great...a maths test" he moaned inside his head, before thinking about different ways to solve the problems. "How much force do you need to throw a kunai ninety meters without it falling out of the sky? You eyeball it, duh! Nobody's got time for dumb ass calculations in real life!"

Scrawling the words "eyeball it" on question three, he went down the list and spotted the only other question he would answer on the written exam. "What criminal duo was responsible for the assassination of the Second Raikage and near-demise of the Second Hokage in the Yukimichi Pass Incident? We were just there, so I know that it was Kinkaku and Ginkaku."

A few rows behind him, Satsuki subtly used her Sharingan to copy Sakura's movements. "Hmmmmm, this is...wait, all these make sense. Did she solve all these with sheer brain power? Maybe she's not as useless as I thought she was..." the ravenette thought, finishing her exam. Sakura smiled as she flipped her paper over, signaling that she had finished. Meanwhile, Shikamaru had extended his shadow to first Choji, then Ino, in order to write through them.

Gaara formed an extra eyeball out of his sand and floated it high above the examiners' heads, allowing him to copy the answers of one of the many disguised Chuunin hidden amongst the examinees. Kankuro was handcuffed and escorted away by a proctor that was blatantly a puppet, not that anybody gave a damn. Haku used one of her ice mirrors to reflect someone else's answers onto her paper, where she simply had to pencil them in.

Through careful use of her chakra chains, Karui had managed to manipulate the position of someone else's exam into a spot where she could see it without anyone being suspicious of what she was doing. Hinata and Neji both used their Byakugan to steal other people's answers, the proctors refusing to comment on the bulging veins around the Hyuugas' eyes. Even the Otogakure team was cheating; their bandaged leader, Dosu, was using his enhanced hearing to determine exactly what people were writing, despite not being able to see their paper.

After fifty minutes had passed, and a significant number of teams had been dismissed, Ibiki glared at the crowd again. "ALRIGHT MAGGOTS!" he boomed. " The tenth question will now begin, but before we start, there are some special rules. You can choose not to take the tenth question, which means you forfeit the exam and will have to try again elsewhere in six months. However, if you do take the question and get it wrong, you are barred from taking the Chuunin Exams ever again!"

"What the hell? That's bullshit!" an Ame Genin growled. "C'mon, we're leaving!" He and his teammates left of their own accord, and soon enough other teams had started dropping like flies.

"I refuse to leave!" Naruto shouted, jumping on his chair. "I'll take the tenth question, even if it means I remain a Genin for the rest of my life! And even if I do fail, I'll still become Hokage anyway!"

Ibiki smiled coldly. "Are you sure you want to risk it all like that? Risk your career, your teammates, even your life for what you must do?"

The blonde aggressively nodded, and Ibiki looked around the room at the remaining twenty-four teams. "Does anyone else wish to leave?" When nobody else did so, the man clapped his hands. "Well, congratulations, you all pass!"

The room was full of stunned silence for a few moments, before Ibiki explained. "You see, the point of the tenth question was to put you in a high-pressure, low-information situation where you had to make a split-second decision that could make or break your mission." Untying his headband, the man revealed his myriad collection of scars on his bald forehead. "If you are willing to risk it all, then you're ready to be Chuunin."

A few moments later, the nearby window broke as a purple-haired woman wearing fishnet armor and a tan trenchcoat flew through the window and hung up a banner with the words "Introducing the Sexy, Sadistic, Second Exam Proctor, Anko Mitarashi" by throwing several shuriken at it. "Wassup brats! I'm the second stage exam proctor, Anko Mitarashi, and...hold on Ibiki, there's still twenty-four teams in this thing? Are you going soft?"

The bald leader of Torture and Interrogation groaned and rolled his eyes. "Whatever. Anyway, you all have two hours to make your way to Training Ground Fourty-Four; if you're later, you'll be disqualified~!" the woman sang, before leaping back out the window.

Ninety minutes later, Team Seven reconvened just outside Training Ground Forty-Four, which was informally known as the Forest of Death. The towering trees stood far taller than most natural deciduous forests, and seemed like a place that was ancient, primal, and full of power. "Welcome, one and all, to the Forest of Death!" Anko said, standing in front of one of the locked gates, next to a concessions stand.

"Nobody is a hundred percent sure why this place exists; apparently it's the result of some experiment by the First Hokage with Mokuton, Senjutsu and some other mystical mumbo-jumbo" Anko continued, not noticing the Kusa kunoichi who was struggling to maintain a straight face through this lecture. "It's home to all sorts of hostile shit - man-eating plants, tree-dwelling leeches, giant carnivorous critters, stuff like that." Drawing a small green scroll out of her coat, the Tokubetsu Jonin continued her lecture.

"There will be twenty-four scrolls distributed among the twenty-four teams in the exam; half will be Heaven scrolls, and half will be Earth scrolls. You have to collect one of both and make it to the tower in the center of the forest, ten kilometers from any of the gates around it, in order to pass the exam."

One of the Kusa Genin raised his hand. "So you're telling me that we'll be cut at least in half?" he asked.

Anko grinned sadistically. "Damn right you will, although I'll be amazed if even a quarter of you make it through. Oh, and word of warning, people do die in this stage, so you'll all need to fill out these release forms."

"Oh, you'll all need to fill out these release forms" Naruto said mockingly under his breath. Anko threw a kunai, cutting the blonde on his cheek and drawing a small amount of blood.

"My, my, aren't you a cocky one?" she said, as the Kusa kunoichi from earlier handed the kunai back with her tongue. "Thank you" Anko said, not noticing the smile on the kunoichi's face - which could have been from evil triumph, amusement or some combination of the two. "Anyway, let's get rollin'!"

The twenty-four teams took their place around the perimeter of the Forest of Death. A random Konoha team at Gate 2, a Suna team at Gate 4, Team Baki at Gate 7, Team Shigure at Gate 8, Team Seven at Gate 11, Team Shiore from Kusa at Gate 13, two more Konoha teams at Gates 16 and 17, Team Dosu from Oto at Gate 19, Team Zabuza at Gate 22, Team Yakumo from Ame at Gate 25, Team Gai at Gate 28, another random Suna team at Gate 29, Team Dondo from Ishi at Gate 30, Team Kegon from Taki at Gate 33, Team Kabuto at Gate 34, Team Eight at Gate 36, another two Konoha teams at Gates 37 and 38, Team Ten at Gate 40, Team Oboro from Ame at Gate 41, Team Yugito at Gate 43, and one more Suna team at Gate 44.

The alarm klaxons blared as the gates opened, signalling the start of the second exam. Among the Genin hid a much stronger killer, his goal almost in sight. "Kukukuku...soon, Satsuki-chan, soon I'll give you my mark, and those eyes will be mine in due time..."

"Also, it's about damn time that Anko-chan developed a sense of humor."

Chapter Text

Less than thirty minutes after the exam began, the first fight of the day was on. Team Shigure, from Amegakure, had the great misfortune of encountering the Three Sand Siblings. One of Naruto's Shadow Clones watched from the treetops, as the three older Genin, carrying oxygen tanks and umbrellas, confronted Team Baki. "Listen kids, hand over your Heaven Scroll, and nobody gets hurt" said the leader, a tall man named Shigure, as he brandished an umbrella.

Gaara turned to stare at him coldly with his blank, emotionless teal eyes. "Will you justify my existence?" the redhead asked. Shigure and his teammates, Baiu and Midare, responded by producing their umbrellas.

"Ninpo: Senbon Shower!" A storm of chakra-propelled needles flew out of the umbrellas, but all of them were blocked by Gaara's Automatic Sand Defense, which then rose up and engulfed them, raising them high into the air. "Sand Coffin." The redhead's eyes took on a predatory gleam. "Sand Burial!"

The sand compacted with a muffled crunch, as the three men inside were crushed and mangled into bloody corpses. Their desiccated remains fell to the ground, as Gaara looked around. "Mother...Mother wants more blood!"

Before Kankuro and Temari could interfere, a wave of the silica grains flew into the nearby bushes and pulled out an older team of Konoha Genin; Naruto's clone vaguely recognized their leader as a guy named Kyube who had bullied him on occasion. Before he could react, however, the three Konoha shinobi had been crushed and mangled into oblivion by Gaara's sand.

"We're leaving" Gaara said simply to his stunned siblings, before his eyes narrowed. Another tendril of sand shot into the canopy, impaling the Shadow Clone and causing it to disperse. "Must have been my imagination..." the redhead muttered, as a tendril of sand retrieved Team Shigure's Earth Scroll.

Meanwhile, at the edge of the forest...

"Anko-san, we've found some strange corpses near one of the gates into the forest" an ANBU wearing a cat mask said, dropping down next to the Snake Mistress of Konoha. "Hmmmmm? What's so odd about them?" the purple-haired woman asked. "Their faces have all been melted off." Anko's eyes widened. "Take me to them. Now!"

A few minutes later, the Tokubetsu Jonin stood over the corpses of three Kusagakure Genin, each of whom appeared to have had their faced melted off, giving the distinct appearance of melted cheese that had cooled. "No doubt about's him" Anko muttered, before turning to the ANBU. "Tenzo, I want you to get Shibi Aburame, Tsume Inuzuka and Iruka Umino and bring them back within the next ten minutes. We're going in; this may be a matter of life or death!"

Back with Team Seven, Naruto's eyes widened as his clone's memories returned to him. "Okay, note to self: stay the hell away from Gaara and his siblings. He just dispersed my Shadow Clone, but not before killing an Ame team and an older Konoha team singlehandedly in a matter of moments" the blonde said, resisting the urge to vomit due to just how graphic the memories had been. Each of his teammates nodded in agreement.

"Now, I need to go to the bathroom. Be back in just a second, dattebayo!" Naruto continued, before rushing off into the bushes nearby. As he relieved himself, he received the memories of another dispersed Shadow Clone. "Odd...that one was pretty close to us, and whatever it was disperse the clone before I could see it..." Just as the blonde had finished zipping up his jumpsuit again, a blast of wind lifted him into the air and tossed him deeper into the forest, landing against a tree.

" head" Naruto groaned, sitting up...only to see an utterly massive snake staring down at him. "Ummmmmm...nice...big...murder...noodle?" the blonde began, only for the snake to swallow him whole.

Back in the clearing, Satsuki and Sakura waited not-so-patiently for the blonde to return from "doing his business". After five minutes or so, Naruto returned. "Alright! Now that that's done, let's move on!" the Uzumaki shouted, pumping his fist.

Satsuki's eyes narrowed in response to this. "'re not Naruto!" the ravenette shouted, leaping back as she threw a handful of shuriken at the blonde.

"The hell was that for? I'm clearly Naruto!" came the response.

Satsuki shook her head. "You don't have the scratch on your face from where that batshit insane proctor sliced him. You're an undo that Henge and show yourself."

'Naruto' chuckled. "Very perceptive, Satsuki-chan...exactly what I'd expect of an Uchiha. You certainly hold more potential than Itami..." The ravenette's eyes narrowed in anger at the mention of her clan-killing elder sister, as she drew out a kunai.

Meanwhile, several kilometers away, another fight was reaching its' conclusion. Team Yakumo from Ame had all been systematically frozen into large blocks of ice by the chillingly friendly kunoichi from the Kiri team, and their Heaven Scroll had been stolen by the Hozuki boy, who was now leaning against a tree with his large sword-scroll-thing on his back and sucking on his canteen. "So, Haku..." Suigetsu began "Since we're done early, wanna visit that Konoha team you and Zabuza fought in Wave?"

The Hyoton user smiled. " know, I am rather fond of Ino, Shikamaru and Choji...why not?" With that, Haku produced a senbon needled from her haori and held it flat on her palm, channeling a small amount of chakra into it. The needle spun a few times before coming to a stop, pointing north-northwest. "That way." Team Zabuza dashed off towards Team Ten's location, not knowing what else they may run into...

Satsuki had finally broken out of the illusion her mind had placed on her out of sheer paralyzing fear by stabbing herself in the leg, the pain grounding her and allowing her to move again. Lunging forward, she attempted to stab the kunoichi, only to be casually batted aside into a nearby tree. "Tsk, tsk, Satsuki-chan, I would have thought you were more competent than to engage a significantly superior opponent with zero preparation or strategy. Could your fear be disrupting your mind's ability to plan and fight effectively? How fascinating."

A large snake loomed behind Satsuki and Sakura and hissed threateningly. "S-Stay away!" the ravenette shouted, launching a volley of shuriken as she and Sakura dodged the snake's strike. All of the shuriken hit the Kusa shinobi, causing her to fall to the ground...only for her corpse to twitch and an identical copy to slide out of her distended mouth like a snake shedding its' skin. Sakura's nose wrinkled with disgust and horror at the sight.

Slowly clapping, the kunoichi stepped out of her shed self. "Not bad at all,'re almost perfect; let me see what else you have!" The large snake struck again, only for another snake to crash into it, thrashing and writhing. "What's going on...?" the ravenette wondered, before her question was answered as the second snake began expanding rapidly, crushing the first snake under its' increased weight.

Then, with a noise like a handful of firecrackers detonating, both snakes vanished in a puff of smoke. "Summons?" An orange blur was shot out of the smoke, flipping head over heels as he crashed into the Kusa kunoichi, throwing her down from the canopy onto the ground below. Standing up and dusting her clothing off, the kunoichi looked up to see what projectile had bowled her over.

Naruto Uzumaki, all 146 Kill-Me Orange centimeters of him, climbed to his feet and rubbed his head. "Satsuki? Sakura-chan? What's going on, dattebayo?"

The pinkette took point in summarizing what had happened. "Snake summoner. Mimicked you. Attacked us. Really strong."

The Kusa shinobi chuckled. "And little Naruto-kun takes the stage. Looks just like his father and talks like his mother."

Team Seven's attention was immediately fixed on the Kusa kunoichi. "Naruto's...parents?" Sakura asked.

The aggressor laughed. "Ah, ah, ah, that's not my secret to tell. If you impress me enough for me to let you live, maybe you should ask Sarutobi-sensei about it?"

Naruto's eyes widened. "Jiji was your sensei?"

"Wait a minute!" Satsuki interjected. "The Third has only ever taught one Genin team - the Sannin. And since this clearly isn't Jiraiya, and Tsunade is out of Konoha, this must be-!"

"Correct!" the kunoichi laughed, raising one hand to her face. "It is I, Orochimaru of the Sannin! Consider extra test of sorts." With that, the kunoichi's face was torn away, revealing pale white skin and serpentine yellow eyes. Team Seven's day had just taken a turn for the worse...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"The Third has only ever taught one Genin team - the Sannin. And since this clearly isn't Jiraiya, and Tsunade is out of Konoha, this must be-!"

"Correct!" the kunoichi laughed, raising one hand to her face. "It is I, Orochimaru of the Sannin! Consider extra test of sorts." With that, the kunoichi's face was torn away, revealing pale white skin and serpentine yellow eyes. Team Seven's day had just taken a turn for the worse...

The first person to leap into action was, rather predictably, Naruto. Weaving five hand seals, the blonde concentrated chakra in his mouth, before exhaling a powerful burst of wind. "Fuuton: Great Breakthrough!" The burst of air hit the Sannin, who looked mildly impressed.

"Not too shabby, Naruto-kun...but you're going to have to do better than that to hope to survive me!" Weaving the same five seals, Orochimaru turned the flow of the wind back on Naruto, bowling the blonde over and forcing Team Seven back against the side of a tree.

"THAT is a real Fuuton: Great Breakthrough" Orochimaru said, slowly walking towards the children. "Now, who's next?" His answer came when he found his body pulled into the forest floor, burying his up to his neck. "Doton: Headhunter Jutsu? Well, your sensei is Kakashi, and he's always been rather fond of that technique" the Sannin said, casually scratching a non-existent beard as he effortlessly escaped Sakura's technique. "None of you have impressed me much, honestly."

Biting his thumb and weaving five quick seals, the Sannin slammed his hand on the ground. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" With a puff of smoke, two more large, brown snakes appeared and struck at the Genin, forcing them to scatter. As they leapt to the side, each of the three students threw a kunai or handful of shuriken, once again forcing Orochimaru to dodge their attacks.

"Not bad, not bad...but I feel as if I need to do something drastic to get Satsuki-chan to show me those burning crimson gems..." Orochimaru muttered darkly, before a wicked grin crossed his face at the sight of Naruto dodging one of the snakes. "Perfect...people will always do incredible things to keep their loved ones safe or avenge them..." The Sannin whistled a quick tune and both the snakes stopped their attacks and focused on him. Pointing to Satsuki, Orochimaru whistled a slightly different command.

The snakes hissed and started concentrating all their efforts on the ravenette. Satsuki ducked and wove around the oncoming strikes, Sharingan blazing, but after dodging two strikes, she slipped up and fell victim to a tail whip from one of the two serpents, sending her flying into a nearby tree trunk with enough force to leave a small carter in the wood. The snakes coiled up on the two nearest branches to the Uchiha and prepared to strike, lashing out with fangs extended. Satsuki shut her eyes and waited for the inevitable...but it never came.

Re-opening her eyes, she saw Naruto standing in front of her, shielding her with his body. Each snake had struck him, and a fang had pierced each of his shoulders. "You...won't...hurt her!" the blonde growled, lifting his head and opening his eyes to reveal red irises and slit, foxlike pupils. An aura of red chakra surrounded his body as he shattered the fang in his right shoulder and twisted around so that he was now facing the snake on the left.

With a roar of pain and anger, the Uzumaki lifted the snake almost vertical to the ground, using the fang in his left shoulder for leverage. Then, with a look of burning fury in his eyes, the boy drove the top of the snake's head onto the other snake, causing both to disappear in a puff of smoke, presumably reverse-summoned back to Ryuichi Cave.

3,500 kilometers to the northeast, in Kumogakure, two muscular blondes felt inexplicably proud...again.  

Satsuki stared in shock at the dead-last of their class, who had just deadlifted and piledrivered a giant snake to save her. "What was that? When did you get so strong, dobe?"

A clapping noise resounded through the clearing as Orochimaru applauded. "I am genuinely impressed; that show of strength exceeded all my expectations for you" the Sannin said, a little less mockery in his voice than usual. Then he squinted. "Oh, but what's this? Tapping into the fox's power? While I am impressed, spawn of Namikaze, it won't do for you to play with that kind of power just yet."

And before anyone could even ask what Orochimaru had meant by "spawn of Namikaze", the Snake Sannin's tounge shot out of his mouth and wrapped around the blonde boy, immobilizing him in midair as the tongue retracted to bring Naruto's prone form up to Orochimaru. The Sannin held his hand out, and evil-looking purple flames blossomed on his fingertips. "Five Elements Binding Seal!"

With that, Orochimaru lifted Naruto's shirt to reveal the Eight Trigrams sealing pattern on the blonde's stomach, before driving his fingertips into the boy's abdomen. Naruto roared in pain as the Five Elements Binding Seal disrupted the mechanisms behind the Eight Trigrams Seal, shutting off the boy's access to Kurama's Bijuu chakra. As soon as the flames died down, the boy passed out from pain and shock.

"Now about you show me it again? Your Sharingan, that is" Orochimaru addressed Satsuki; the Uchiha was still staring in shock at Naruto's prone form.  The Sannin frowned.  "Satsuki-chan, don't you know that ignoring someone like that is rude?  Here, maybe a reminder will help.  Fuuton: Great Breakthrough!"  The blast of wind shot from Orochimaru's mouth, towards the kneeling form of the ravenette.

Two red eyes with three tomoe each opened.

And then Satsuki blurred back into action, dodging the stream of pressurized air and launching a handful of shuriken at Orochimaru, who dodged with ease, a look of glee plastered on his face.  "Yes...there they are...the Sharingan's complete form!" the Sannin laughed, dodging another storm of shuriken.  Satsuki lobbed a lone kunai at her foe, who dodged effortlessly...allowing her to cut her true objective, a string of ninja wire that was threaded between several other wires attached to shuriken.

The ninja wire wrapped around Orochimaru's arms, binding them both out to the Sannin's side.  "Never again!  I refuse to let my doubts paralyze me ever again!" Satsuki shouted, weaving several hand signs.  "Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder!"  Two streams of electricity traveled down the wires held in the Uchiha's hands and arced directly to the Snake Sannin.  "Graaaaah!" Orochimaru roared, his clothing and flesh smoking from electrical burns caused by the technique.

The Sannin snapped the wires, only to notice that Satsuki wasn't in front of him anymore.  "What the-?" he started, before looking up to see the Uchiha falling through midair, twirling around to catch Orochimaru, flip him upside down...and drive him headfirst into the tree branch below.

The wood splintered, and the Sannin ceased to move...before melting into brown liquid.  "A Mud Clone?" Sakura gasped, as she hauled Naruto's unconscious body a safe distance away.

"Very good, Satsuki-chan" Orochimaru said, standing on a tree nearby as he applauded.  "You have passed my special test with flying colors.  So, I feel like it is only right that I reward you!"  Placing his hands in a modified Tiger seal, the Sannin's neck extended an inhuman distance in the blink of an eye and bit down just above the girl's left shoulder.

"Aaaaaaah! burns!" Satsuki screamed, falling to her knees clutching her neck.

"What did you do?!" Sakura shouted, taking a protective position in front of the Uchiha.

"I gave her a little gift; a taste of my power.  If she wants more, enough to kill her sister, she'll need to come find me...don't worry, I'll wait" Orochimaru said.  "Until next time, children!  Don't forget to ask the old geezer about Naruto's parents!  Ciao~"  With that, the Sannin vanished in a simple Body Flicker, as Satsuki passed out from pain and shock, laving Sakura stranded in an outright hostile environment with two incapacitated teammates.

In a nearby clearing, the Snake Sannin reappeared in front of the three Genin from Otogakure: the heavily-bandaged Dosu Kinuta, tomboyish kunoichi Kin Tsuchi, and cocky loudmouth Zaku Abumi.  "O-Orochimaru-sama!" they shouted in unison, saluting.

"Easy there" Orochimaru responded "No need to be overly formal.  Now then, I trust you know what your next assignment is?"

Dosu nodded.  "Attack and kill Satsuki Uchiha, correct?"  The Snake Sannin nodded, knowing full well that this was a bald-faced lie.

"The truth is, they're going there to test her strength and be test subjects for my perfected brand of the Cursed Seal of Heaven.  My newest vessel had better be capable of beating these three - they're not bad, but they're no elites of Oto."

"That is correct.  Take this; as soon as you have finished with the Uchiha, you may leave the forest" Orochimaru said, producing the Earth Scroll from the Kusa team he had killed and committed master-level identity theft of.  "Yes, Orochimaru-sama!" the Genin responded, taking the scroll and dashing into the forest.

The Sannin resisted the urge to roll his eyes.  "What did I just say about formality again?  Oh well, I sense Anko-chan getting closer; I think I'll pay her a visit.  It's been far too long since we last caught up."

Once again, the Sannin departed in a puff of smoke, bearing down on the signature of his original Cursed Seal on one Anko Mitarashi.

Speaking of Anko Mitarashi, the Tokubetsu Jonin in question was racing through the Forest of Death in search of her old sensei.  "Come on, come on, come on!  Please...I hope I'm not too late!"  The woman began to pick up the pace when she noticed a large form in the shadows of the forest.  A few moments later, a massive snake lunged at her.  "Of course he'd come looking for me...just my fucking luck."

Biting her thumb, Anko flashed through five hand signs.  "Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, Ram!  Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"  In a puff of smoke, a similar-sized snake appeared, staring at the first snake.  Orochimaru's summon froze in surprise, then, after a few moments, both vanished.  "Really, really convenient that members of the same summoning tribe refuse to fight each other" Anko thought, before glaring into the forest.

"Alright, you scaly son of a bitch, where are you?" she roared.  After a few moments, the sound of slow clapping alerted her to the presence of the Snake Sannin behind her.

"Anko-chan!  It's been far too long; you've developed quite the sense of humor while I was away!" Orochimaru complimented, sitting casually on a tree branch nearby.  "Did you miss me?"

"I missed you about as much as I'd miss a dango shortage!" the woman retorted.

Orochimaru gasped and placed his hands over his heart.  "How cold-blooded of you, Anko-chan!  You break my heart, you know that?"

Anko rolled her eyes.  "Oh, poor pitiful Orochimaru.  Why don't you shut up and let me kill you already?" she growled.

Orochimaru sighed and got to his feet.  "Very well then...if you insist."  In a sudden burst of speed, the Snake Sannin was in front of the exam proctor, throwing a devastating right that his former student barely dodged.

Anko ducked under Orochimaru's attack, rolled forward and attempted a roundhouse kick, which Orochimaru leapt over.  "Hidden Snake Shadow Hands!" Anko shouted, as two serpents lunged out of her sleeves at her former teacher, forcing him to leap backwards.

"Still using what I taught you?  Are you sure you hate me as much as you claim to?" Orochimaru asked; Anko merely growled in response.  "Well, whatever."  Making a quick hand seal, the Sannin activated his original Cursed Seal, causing Anko to crumple to the ground in pain.  "Sorry about that, Anko-chan...but you're proving, as a Nara would say, a bit troublesome for me right now."

The proctor gritted her teeth.  "I know...I was only meant to stall for time."

"Mokuton: Deep Forest Emergence!"

The ground rumbled as a number of tree roots shot out of it, forcing Orochimaru to leap away from Anko into another tree.  Just as he was recovering from that surprise, another voice interrupted him.  "Hijutsu: Beetle Tornado."  A large cloud of insects, whirling like a tornado as they sliced through the air, flew towards Orochimaru, forcing him to dodge again; the attack tore apart the branch he had just escaped.  As he soared through the air, the Sannin turned around in time to feel himself get hit by what felt like a massive drill.  "Gatsuga!"

Landing on the ground nearby, the Snake Sannin surveyed his opponents.  "My, my, Anko-chan, you've got friends in high places.  The only success among my Mokuton experiments for him, the Pride of the Aburame and the leader of the Inuzuka.  Any other tricks up your sleeve?" Orochimaru complimented.

Anko's face shifted into a smirk.  "Actually, yes, there is one more" she said, pointing to a figure on a nearby hilltop.

The Snake Sannin squinted in time to realize exactly who he was looking at.  "And Konoha's Strongest Chuunin too?  I'm honestly impressed" Orochimaru said, pointing to the figure of Iruka Umino.

"Suiton: Great Waterfall Jutsu!" the scarred Chuunin shouted, expelling a massive stream of water into the air overhead, which turned into a massive, devastating vortex, tearing up large stretches of forest in its' pursuit of Orochimaru.

When the technique dissipated, Orochimaru stood atop a nearby tree.  "Well, well, you've certainly made some incredible connections.  Unfortunately, I must leave, but pass a message on to Sarutobi-sensei, would you?" he said, before his face darkened.  "If you even think about cancelling these exams, I will personally burn the Leaf to the ground."  The Sannin's expression brightened again.  "See you next time!  Ciao~"  And with another Body Flicker, he disappeared just as Anko collapsed from exhaustion.

Meanwhile, in another part of the Forest, Kabuto Yakushi and his teammates stood over the dismembered corpses of Team Kegon from Takigakure.  "Another unknown variable eliminated...Orochimaru-sama will be pleased" the silver-haired Genin said, turning to walk away, both a Heaven and an Earth now secured...

Chapter Text

Last time on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"I gave her a little gift; a taste of my power. If she wants more, enough to kill her sister, she'll need to come find me...don't worry, I'll wait" Orochimaru said. "Until next time, children! Don't forget to ask the old geezer about Naruto's parents! Ciao~" With that, the Sannin vanished in a simple Body Flicker, as Satsuki passed out from pain and shock, leaving Sakura stranded in an outright hostile environment with two incapacitated teammates.

Several kilometers from Team Seven's current location, Team Gai had just finished battling against the Ishigakure team, and had soundly defeated the Rock team. The team had been given a Heaven Scroll, which complimented team Gai's Earth Scroll perfectly. Rock Lee finished re-wrapping his hands, while Tenten picked up her throw projectile weapons and Neji obtained the scroll, when the Ishi team's leader groaned.

"Dammit..." said the Ishi Genin who went by the name Dondo. "I'm sorry, Konjiki-sama...we couldn't avenge your brother by killing Team Seven or the Kumo team..."

Neji's head swiveled around to scrutinize the partially-conscious Rock-nin. "You...what did you say about Team Seven...and the Cloud team?" the Hyuuga spat.

"We were sent to kill them to avenge one of our village's strongest, who died at the hands of Kakashi Hatake. They had been hired to catch the Kumo team's sensei...but they failed and Etoro-sama died. Metoro-sama sent us...but we have failed."

Neji's expression darkened. "I see...Lee, take us to Team Seven" the Hyuuga said, climbing to his feet...only to see Lee already running off.

"Lee, where are you going?" Tenten shouted.

"Sakura-chan is in trouble!" Lee responed, running off.

"How did you even know - you know what, nevermind" the kunoichi sighed, seeing that both her teammates had started off in that direction.

As he leapt through the trees, the Hyuuga prodigy scowled. "Team shall not be forgiven for fraternizing with Kumo..."

Meanwhile, Team Seven was indeed in dire straits. Both Satsuki and Naruto were still very much unconscious, and Sakura was all alone, facing off against the Oto team. Their leader, Dosu, stepped forward. "What do you want? Our scroll?" Sakura demanded, brandishing a kunai.

Dosu shook his head. "No, no, nothing of the sort, Haruno-san" he said politely. "We are here for one simple task: to kill Satsuki Uchiha at Orochimaru-sama's behest. If you allow us this, neither you nor Uzumaki-san shall be harmed."

Sakura's expression darkened. "Hell no! You won't touch a hair on Satsuki-san's head as long as I can still hold a kunai!"

The Oto team's kunoichi smirked. "Then I guess we'll just have to break your hands, hm?"

Dosu sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Haruno-san, but it seems we cannot negotiate further. Please forgive me" he said, before turning to his teammates. "Kin, Zaku...get her."

The Oto ninja all charged at the pink-haired girl, leaping high into the air and readying themselves to deal with the Konoha kunoichi in one fell swoop. Sakura grimaced, then sliced a wire attached to a kunai, causing a large log suspended in a nearby tree to drop towards the Oto trio. Dosu's eyes widened before he formed a hand sign and extended his right arm towards the trap, the sound waves from his Melody Gauntlet destroying the multiple tons of wood flying at them.

The trio dropped to the ground, and Zaku looked back, eyes widening at the obstacle's size. "How in the ever-loving fuck did a girl that size haul something so enormous twenty meters up a tree?!" the Oto boy wondered aloud, confusion in his voice.

"No time to wonder about that, Zaku!" Kin snapped. The trio closed in on Sakura, only to be cut off by a kunai flying out of the bushes.

"How troublesome" Shikamaru Nara said, as Team Ten stepped out of their hiding spot. "You owe us for this, Sakura" Ino added, before turning to face Team Dosu. "Let's go! Formation Ino-Shika-Cho!"

Choji munched on some chips. "Do we have to? I mean, this isn't our fight-!" the boy began, before Zaku cut him off. "Oi, Fatso! Shut up and fight already!"

Ino and Shikamaru sweatdropped. "You shouldn't have done that...but at least he's mad now." Choji growled and put his chips away. "! I'M JUST BIG-BONED!" the Akimichi shouted. "Formation Ino-Shika-Cho!"

Dosu attempted to move, but found he couldn't. "Shadow Possession Jutsu" Shikamasu said casually, his shadow holding the bandaged boy in place and preventing him from moving.

"Ninpo: Mind Transfer Jutsu!" Ino said, lining up with Kin and possessing the girl, her body crumpling to the ground.

"Baika no Jutsu: Human Bullet Tank!" Choji shouted, his body expanding like a balloon before his limbs and head retracted in, as he started to spin like a wheel towards Zaku, whose eyes widened.

"Decapitating Airwaves!" the Oto shinobi shouted, shooting two continuous compressed air streams from his hands, stopping Choji in his path for a few moments.

Ino held a kunai up to Kin's neck. "Don't move, or this girl dies" she bluffed, knowing full well that if Kin was fatally injured while she was in the girl's body, her own body would be too. Zaku smirked and jumped out of the way of Choji's attack, before shooting a blast of air at his teammate, driving her into a nearby tree. Ino's own unconscious body was battered and bruised by the impact as much as the Oto girl's body, forcing her to undo the technique as Dosu escaped from Shikamaru's Shadow Possession.

"Most impressive" Dosu said. "But unfortunately, we can no longer waste time on you. Kin, more time!" But before anyone could move, a dark, suffocating aura filled the clearing, as Satsuki rose to her feet like a woman possessed.

Staring at the battered forms of Team Ten, and Sakura's exhausted expression, the Uchiha's features contorted in rage, as dark markings spread across her skin. "You...DARE attack my team and I while we are down?" she growled, before lifting her head to reveal a positively sadistic grin.

"You will pay dearly."

Dosu's stared in shock. "What the hell? Orochimaru-sama sent us to kill the girl, but...she bears one of his curse marks? That makes no sense, unless...wait, it makes too much sense! Orochimaru-sama sent use here to test the Uchiha's powers!" Eyes widening, the bandaged boy turned to his teammate, as Kin slowly got to her feet. "Kin! Zaku! We're leaving! Do not engage the Uchiha; I repeat, DO NOT ENGAGE THE UCHIHA!"

It was too late, however, because Zaku was already on the ground, the ravenette standing over him, pulling back on his arms. "You seem very attached to these arms...let's fix that, shall we?" Satsuki hissed, pulling back in one sickening motion. With a loud "CRACK!", the Oto shinobi's arms were popped clear out of their sockets, as Zaku screamed in pain. "Now, then...who's next?" Satsuki asked, before starting towards Kin.

Inside her head, a voice hissed softly. "Yes, yes, Satsuki-chan...punish them!" it ordered, before singing. "Spike them! Poke them! Taunt and provoke them! Laugh and tease them! Mess with their heads! Score them! Gore them! Skin them and wear them! Burn them! Grill them! Rattle their bones! Bite them! Eat them! Torture and beat them! Maim them! Kill them! Cut off their heads! Slay them! Play them! Kick them and roll them! Dance on their graves, 'cause now they're dead!"

At some point, Satsuki had started singing externally, while both the Oto team and Team Ten looked increasingly more disturbed. "What the fuck...?" Shikamaru whispered softly, as Satsuki advanced, her movements unnatural and like a puppet's, towards the terrified Oto trio.

"You'll PAY!" she roared, starting to run towards the trio, when a voice interrupted her.

"That's...that's enough, Satsuki-san!" Sakura shouted. "You've done enough! They're leaving!" she screamed.

"'S NoT eNoUGH!" Satsuki shouted, her voice distorting more and more as she raced towards the sound trio.

"Oh FUUUUUUCK!" Kin shouted, turning to run away.

The sound of chains filled the air, and the ravenette stopped moving.

Three long, golden chains extended from Sakura's arms and back, wrapping around Satsuki and arresting her forward momentum. The pinkette stared in shock. "That's the first time I've been able to use these...since the Shimo mission..."

The chains drained off the dark chakra surrounding the Uchiha, causing the black markings on her skin to retreat into three small tomoe at the base of her neck where Orochimaru had bitten her. "Ughhhhhh...what happened?" Satsuki asked, rubbing her head in confusion.

After Team Ten had made sure everything was okay for Team Seven, the Ino-Shika-Cho trio departed for the tower at the forest's center, having already obtained a Heaven scroll in combat against Team Oboro from Ame. Satsuki had fallen back asleep, but Naruto finally woke up, allowing Sakura to get some much-needed rest after spending thirty-six hours awake.

A rustling noise in the bushes alerted the blonde to the presence of another, as he turned to peer into the darkness of the forest, Team Seven's campfire the only source of light in the dark of that night. "Huh? Anyone there, dattebayo?" Naruto groaned...and he found himself dodging a handful of shuriken in response. "Show yourself!" he demanded, staring into the shadows.

Out of the bushes emerged the white-eyed Hyuuga from Lee's team. "You..." Neji growled. "Give me your scroll. You have no strength to fight, so it is in your best interest to voluntarily eliminate yourself from the competition, instead of me eliminating you more forcefully."

"Why should I do that?!" Naruto shouted, clutching the scroll in question near to himself.

Neji's eyes narrowed. "Failures like you are not fated to succeed in a competition such as this...and it is my duty to ensure that anyone who fraternizes with Kumo scum be eliminated." The bushes rustled again, and Neji's teammates burst through into the campfire's light.

"Neji, what are you doing?! That's a Heaven scroll, and we've already got both a Heaven and an Earth!" Tenten protested. "Silence! It is my duty to eliminate these Cloud-sympathizers from this exam!" Neji roared, causing Satsuki to awaken.

Lee spoke up. "Neji, we should not get involved. What would Gai-sensei say?"

Neji spat angrily into the fire. "Fuck what Gai-sensei says. I'm taking that scroll, here and now!"

Tenten sighed and looked at Naruto. "Please...just give him your scroll. You're weakened and no match for him in a fight right now" the kunoichi pleaded.

"Naruto...just give it to him" Satsuki groaned, attempting to get to her feet.

The blonde scowled before handing the scroll over. Neji took it, a cold, emotionless look on his face. "Good. Consign yourself to your fate, and know that I will personally strike down any allies of Kumo." With that, Neji strode off into the night, both of his teammates staring apologetically at Naruto and Satsuki.

The next day, Team Seven was making their way towards the tower, when a commotion in a nearby section of forest caught their attention. A red-haired girl was being chased by a positively enormous bear through a small canyon, and had been cornered. Crossing his fingers in the Shadow Clone seal, Naruto ran towards the girl, who had closed her eyes and was waiting for the inevitable.

"Hey Yogi! Try this on for size! Shadow Clone Jutsu!" A number of clones leapt onto the bear's side, knocking it sideways, while the real thing grabbed the girl and helped her out of the canyon. The memory of his clones dispersing caused the blonde's eyes to widen, and he turned to see the bear charging again. "Shit! Why were there so few clones this time?" Naruto cursed, setting the girl down and preparing to fight...only for Satsuki to leap in and kick the bear in the jaw with enough force to break its' neck.

"Are you okay?" the blonde asked the red-haired, red-eyed girl wearing a Kusa forehead protector. "Y-Yeah..." the girl responded. "T-Thank you for saving me."

Naruto gave a thumbs-up. "No problem at all! Where's your team?"

The girl looked down sadly. "They abandoned me when animals attacked us. I've been running for my life for the past two hours" she said, tears running down her cheeks.

"'re safe now" Naruto said, comforting her as best he could. "What's your name?"

The girl lifted her glasses off her face and rubbed the tears from her eyes. "K-Karin. What's yours?"

"My name is Naruto Uzumaki! The broody one is Satsuki Uchiha, and Sakura Haruno is around here somewhere." As if saying her name had summoned her, the pinkette appeared at the top of the canyon's walls.

"You okay, Naruto, Satsuki-san?" she called.

"We're all good-!" Naruto began, before Karin cut him off. "You're lying! You're not an Uzumaki; no Uzumaki has blonde hair!"

The blonde scowled. "I am too! It's the only name I've ever had, dattebayo!" Karin's eyes widened. "D-Dattebayo? Nobody but the Uzumaki Clan have that verbal tic...but all Uzumakis have red hair!"

Sakura's eyes widened. "Naruto, did you find another Uzumaki?" she called down to the blonde. "Yeah, I did...but she says I'm not one because I'm blonde!" he yelled, an annoyed tone in his voice.

Sakura slid down the slope to Karin. "Not all Uzumakis have red hair though" she said, before running a hand through her pink locks. "I'm actually a quarter Uzumaki too, but my hair is pink." Satsuki spit out the water she was sipping from a canteen, while Naruto and Karin's jaws dropped.

"Y-You're an Uzumaki too? Why didn't you say something?" Naruto shouted, pointing at the pinkette. "I...didn't really know how to bring it up in casual conversation."

"Y-You're both lying!" Karin shouted. "All Uzumakis have red me...or that lady!" she said, pointing to a nearby treetop. Team Seven whirled around to see Team Yugito waving back at them.

"Yo!" Omoi shouted, as the Kumo trio descended to the ground, stepping over parts of the giant bear's corpse.

"What was that about Uzumakis?" Karui asked. Karin scowled. "These two are claiming to be Uzumakis, but that can't be true, right?"

The red-haired Kumo girl approached Karin and knelt down next to her. "I don't know about that. These two are pretty trustworthy" she said, before looking back and forth between Karin and the two members of Team Seven. "Besides...we have the exact same face structure as them, y'know?" Karui continued. Karin looked back and forth, and for a brief moment saw the face of an older red-haired woman staring back at her.

After a moment, the Kusa girl started quietly sobbing. "Family...I-I have a family...?" she said, before the arms of the other three Uzumakis wrapped around her. "Awwww" Atsui said, while Omoi and Satsuki looked on.

After a few minutes, Karin got back to her feet. "I'm coming with you" she said, addressing Team Seven and Team Yugito. "My old village hates me and worked my mother to death; I refuse to go back!"

Naruto gave another bright smile. "Awesome! We'll talk to jiji as soon as we get back to the tower!" he said, before his words sank in. "Oh right...that asshole took our scroll" he grumbled, scowling. "You can have my team's!" Karin said, pulling an Earth scroll out of her pack.

Satsuki took the scroll and placed it in her pack. "We have an Earth...just need another Heaven and we'll be able to finish."

Atsui smirked. "Another this one, maybe?" he asked, pulling one from his own pack. "W-What? You're giving us your scroll?" Sakura asked.

"We got a couple extra scrolls from the other two Suna teams we beat on our way here. We've already got a Heaven and Earth of our own" Karui said. "Just take it."

Placing the Heaven scroll in her pack next to the Earth one, the Uchiha let a small smile cross her face. " did you lose your scroll?" Omoi asked, sucking on a lollipop. Naruto scowled. "That Neji jerk took it from us for being friends with you!" he growled.

Karui sighed. "Yeah, figures that the Hyuuga would have a grudge against Kumo and its' allies" she said, before starting towards the center of the forest, the other two teams following her.

Twenty minutes later, Team Seven stood inside the tower alongside Team Yugito and Karin. Reading the poem on the wall inside the tower, the two teams pulled out their scrolls and opened them. "Summoning scrolls! Get back!" Satsuki barked, as the two teams threw their scrolls forward. In a puff of smoke, two figures appeared from the scrolls.

"I-Iruka-sensei?" Naruto asked the scarred Chuunin standing in front of them.

"Hey there, Naruto!" Iruka said warmly. "Good to see that you passed!" Nearby, Team Yugito's sensei ruffled the hair of her students.

"I'm very proud of you, and I know that Raikage-sama is too" Yugito said, before spotting Naruto. "Hello there, Kitten" she said warmly, walking towards the boy.

"Yugito-neesan?" Naruto asked, before leaping forward and grabbing the other blonde in a hug.

"Yes, I missed you too, kid" Yugito responded, trying (although not very hard) to peel the boy off of her. "Good to see that you passed. I know that those three have been itching to fight you ever since the Shimo mission" she said, jerking a thumb towards the Kumo team.

Naruto then turned back towards Iruka. "Iruka-sensei...we need to see!"

Chapter Text

Less than an hour after completing the Second Exam, Team Seven burst into Hokage's temporary office at the top of the tower in the Forest of Death, several ANBU right behind them. "Jiji! We need to talk to you, right now!" Naruto shouted, having drug both his teammates by their arms all the way from the bottom floor.

"Hokage-sama! We're sorry, but we couldn't stop them!" an ANBU with a boar mask panted, clearly exhausted.

"Now, now, that's quite alright" Hiruzen said, as his one guest turned around.

"Glad you made it, my adorable Genin" Kakashi addressed his team. "What did you need to talk to the Hokage about?"

" attacked by Orochimaru" Naruto panted.

The Hokage was so surprised that he outright dropped his pipe. "...Shit" Kakashi cursed.

Hiruzen looked to the corners of the room. "Everybody out except Kakashi and his team!" he ordered, as several other ANBU appeared out of their hiding places and exited the premises, the possum-masked one shutting the door on her way out. The elderly Hokage activated several privacy seals, then turned to face the team. "Tell me everything that happened to you" he said sternly.

Taking a deep breath, Sakura began to recount exactly what had happened to them. "Hokage-sama...upon entering the Forest of Death, we made our way towards the tower at the Forest's center, hoping to ambush another team to retrieve their scroll. However, on the evening of the first day of the exam, we were attacked by an unidentified Kusa shinobi who later revealed himself to be Orochimaru."

"He separated Naruto from Satsuki-san and I with snake summons and waged psychological warfare on us until Naruto returned. Orochimaru claimed that Naruto, and I quote: 'acts like his mother and looks like his father'."  Both Hiruzen and Kakashi paled visibly at this, and shared a look as if to say "well, that's going to bring up some less-than-desirable questions."

"Orochimaru identified himself at this point, then attacked with several snake summons. During this battle, Satsuki-san was cornered by Orochimaru's summons, and Naruto intervened at the cost of getting badly injured. He defeated the summons, but Orochimaru knocked him out with something he called the 'Five Elements Binding Seal'." Once again, the two older men grimaced.

"After that, Satsuki-san's Sharingan fully matured, and she engaged in battle with Orochimaru, even defeating a Mud Clone of him. Orochimaru left after that, but not before biting her neck and leaving behind a weird seal." Kakashi slammed his hand on the Hokage's desk, surprising everyone else.

"God dammit!" he growled, before walking over to his student and pulling down her collar, revealing the Cursed Seal of Heaven on her neck. "We'll need to get this sealed away as soon as possible with the Evil Sealing Technique."

"Please continue, Haruno-san" Hiruzen sighed, fearing the worst.

Sakura cleared her throat, then continued. "After Orochimaru left, both Naruto and Satsuki-san were unconscious, so I kept watch over them until afternoon the next day. At that point, the Otogakure team attacked us, supposedly on Orochimaru's orders."

Hiruzen sighed. "Well, that confirms one of our worst fears: Orochimaru is the leader of Otogakure."

"Team Ten intervened and fought off the Oto team until Satsuki-san re-awoke. According to the leader of the Oto team, she had activated the Cursed Seal and defeated one of the Genin effortlessly. Unfortunately, she seemed to go crazy, but I managed to use the Adamantine Chains to subdue her and de-activate the Seal. Shortly afterwards, Naruto regained consciousness and took over watch from me; while I was asleep, apparently Team Gai stole our scroll out of some kind of grudge."

Kakashi sighed. "I really need to talk to him about the Hyuuga boy." Naruto growled at the mention of Neji, but remained quiet otherwise.

"The next day, while making our way to the tower, we encountered a lone Kusa shinobi named Karin, who was being pursued by a large bear. Naruto and Satsuki-san killed the bear, and Karin gave us her Earth Scroll as thanks for saving her life." Hiruzen smiled warmly at Satsuki and Naruto for going out of their way to save a stranger from another village. "The Will of Fire burns brightly in these two indeed..."

"Afterwards, we learned of Karin's identity as an Uzumaki and her desire to leave Kusa after her mother's death."

Hiruzen dropped his pipe again. "I'll...have to take that up with Kusa's leader..." he murmured.

"Team Yugito from Kumo also ran across us, and lent us an extra Heaven Scroll to make up for the one stolen by Team Gai. After that, we returned to the tower and completed the Second Exam."

Kakashi nodded. "Excellently reported, Genin Haruno. Anything else you wish to tell us?" Sakura raised her hand again.

"Actually, yes. Orochimaru called Naruto 'Namikaze's spawn' at one point and told us to ask what he meant." The Hokage dropped his pipe a third time, then made a hand seal, activating several more privacy seals.

"I had hoped that this day would not come so soon..." Hiruzen sighed. "Everything you three are about to be told is an S-Ranked secret known only to myself, Kakashi, the clan heads and two or three ANBU. This is not to be repeated on pain of death, except to those already in the know. Understood?" The three Genin nodded, now knowing the gravity of the situation.

"To know the full truth, we must go back twelve and a half years ago, to the night of the Kyuubi attack. The official story is that the Kyuubi simply appeared and began attacking Konoha...but that is not the case. The truth is, since the battle between Hashirama Senju and Madara Uchiha at the Valley of the End seventy-five years ago, the Kyuubi has always been sealed within a Jinchuriki, just like each of the other Bijuu."

Sakura's eyes widened. "Then...that means it was sealed within someone else at the time of the attack, right?"

The Hokage nodded. "That is correct. However, the Kyuubi would not have escaped so simply on its' own...we're not sure who is responsible, but foul play was involved." The room fell silent with that bombshell, as Naruto gaped in shock and even Satsuki's eyes widened slightly.

" recap, someone managed to unseal the Kyuubi from within its' Jinchuriki, and attacked Konoha with it. The Fourth managed to drive the man away, but the Kyuubi continued to rampage" Hiruzen said. "So, the Fourth resorted to drastic measures. Using the Eight Trigrams Sealing Style, he sealed half of the Kyuubi within a newborn child, and the other half within himself before his death from using a powerful kinjutsu for the sealing."

Naruto gasped. "That baby...that was-?"

Kakashi nodded. "Yes, Naruto, that baby was you."

Both of the boy's teammates whirled around, staring at him in surprise and shock. The boy chuckled nervously, then lifted his shirt to reveal the Eight Trigrams Seal on his stomach. Sakura smacked her face with her palm. "How didn't I figure this out sooner?" she groaned. "I should have had my suspicions from everybody warning their kids to stay away from the 'fox brat', but damn, this was staring me right in the face."

Then, the pinkette chuckled. "Then again, if Shikamaru was here, he'd feel just as stupid for not figuring it out." At this, Naruto giggled, Kakashi and the Hokage chuckled, and even Satsuki smiled slightly in amusement.

Shaking his head again, Naruto turned back to the two older men. "But...why me? Why did the Fourth decide to seal the fox in me? Why would he do this to any baby?" the blonde growled.

Hiruzen let a sad smile cross his face. "Because the Fourth didn't trust anyone to do as good a job containing the beast and using its' he trusted his own son."

The room fell utterly silent for several long, LOOOOONG moments, before Sakura spoke up again. "His...his son? Naruto is-?" she began, before Satsuki cut her off in a voice barely above a whisper. "...The Fourth Hokage's son?" Kakashi nodded slowly, a sad look within his one visible eye.

"I'm...I'm the Fourth's-?" Naruto asked, dropping to his knees with a strangled gasp.

Hiruzen puffed slowly on his pipe, before addressing the boy again. "You, Naruto Uzumaki, are the only child and last remaining legacy of Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki..."

After a few minutes of absolute silence, the blonde got back to his feet. "...How do you feel?" Kakashi asked solemnly.

Naruto laughed bitterly. "I...I get why he did it, I really do. If I was in the same position, I'd probably do it too. But...that still doesn't make it okay...and I'm really not sure how to feel, knowing that my personal hero was also my father, and was responsible for the decision that made my childhood hell, dattebayo..."

Hiruzen looked quite a bit older after that declaration, Sakura was on the verge of tears, and even Satsuki winced a little. "Your father did not want me to tell you this until after you either turned sixteen or became Chuunin...but once again, I failed him. Damn Orochimaru for making you have to learn this so soon..." the Hokage sighed. "Your father wanted you to grow up known as a hero by the village, but I thought that it would be best to attempt to give you a normal childhood by keeping your status secret...of the many mistakes I have made, not honoring Minato's last wishes is probably my worst."'

After that, the only noise that punctuated the silence within the room from then until Team Seven left the office twenty minutes later was the muffled sound of a blonde child crying in anguish...

Chapter Text

Two days had passed since Team Seven returned from the Forest of Death, and since Naruto had learned the truth behind his parentage. In that time, the three Genin had managed to bond somewhat better with each other, and Kakashi had successfully managed to seal the Cursed Seal of Heaven that Orochimaru had branded Satsuki with (a painful process that everyone involved regretted). Now that the five day period had drawn to a close, the nine teams that had survived the forest were gathered within a small arena located within the tower itself, waiting to be addressed by the Hokage.

The first of the teams to arrive had been the Three Sand Siblings, who had set a new record by making it to the tower with two scrolls in ninety minutes. The next to pass had been Team Eight, who had come across the corpses of the second team Gaara had slaughtered and took that scroll into their possession. Third to arrive was Team Kabuto, who were the last to arrive on the first day, followed by Team Zabuza early on the second day. Team Ten and Team Gai had also arrived on the second day. The Oto team had arrived early on the third day, followed by Team Yugito and Team Seven as evening had drawn in. After that, the exam had continued, but no other teams managed to pass successfully by the fifth day's end.

"Congratulations to all of you on making it through the Second Exam! Normally, there are not nearly so many teams, but clearly this year's crop of examinees is quite exceptional. Now then, if Mister Gekko would be willing to take it from here, that would be excellent" Hiruzen said, looking to a somewhat sickly-looking man wearing a standard Konoha flak jacket.

"It would be cough my pleasure cough, Hokage-sama cough" the man said, turning to address the crowd. "My name is cough Hayate Gekko, and I am the proctor for cough this stage of the exam. Now cough unfortunately, there are too cough many contestants to advance to the actual finals one month from now, so we will cough be holding a preliminary qualifier round. Would anyone wish to cough drop out of the competition, now that this tournament is every man for cough himself?"

Kabuto raised his hand. "I'm out" he said. "I got injured back in the forest, so I no longer wish to continue."

"Kabuto Yakushi, your request is granted" Hayate responded, before the computer generated the first matchup.

"Satsuki Uchiha, Yoroi Akado, please cough remain in the ring. The rest of you may cough return to your seats" Hayate said, before addressing the two contestants.

"Good luck, teme" Naruto said, elbowing the Uchiha slightly.

"Like I need it, dobe" Satsuki responded, rolling her eyes slightly. Her opponent was a tall man wearing a Konoha fore head protector and a mask over his face, with sunglasses obscuring his eyes.

"The rules are cough simple: the fight will continue until one of the two competitors is incapacitated or surrenders. No unnecessary killing cough; otherwise I will intervene. With that said...begin!"

The taller man's face (what was visible of it) betrayed no emotion whatsoever, but underneath the mask he smirked. "Thanks to Orochimaru-sama's Cursed Seal, the Uchiha should be unable to use any chakra whatsoever...not that it makes a difference against my ability."

Much to his surprise, however, the Uchiha immediately wove several hand seals. "Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu!" Yoroi's eyes widened under his sunglasses. "What the actual fuck? This shouldn't be happening-!" he began in his mind, before the fireball hit him.

"AAAAAARGHHHHH!" the undercover agent screamed, partially out of pain and partially out of shock at something that should have been impossible happening. The stream of fire tapered off, leaving a burnt Genin lying on the floor in agony. The last thing he saw before passing out was the Uchiha walking away from him, the sealed Curse Mark visible on her shoulder. "Orochimaru-sama...I failed you..."

"Yoroi Akado has been incapacitated. Satsuki Uchiha cough wins!" Hayate called the match.

The Uchiha climbed the steps of the arena back into the seating area, taking a seat next to her teammates. After a few moments of silence, Satsuki finally groaned. "That...was the most boring fight of my entire life."

"I know, right?" Naruto exclaimed. "He didn't even dodge your Great Fireball! Lamest match ever!"

"Shut it dobe" the Uchiha groaned, not wanting to relive the utter letdown of a match that had gotten her to the finals.

"Shino Aburame, Zaku Abumi, please come to the ring."

With that the Oto Genin and the Aburame heir made their way to the ring. "Are you ready?" Hayate coughed.

"Born ready!" Zaku responded gleefully.

"You may proceed, Gekko-san. Why? Because I am-!" Shino stated, when the man interrupted him. "Begin!"

Zaku sprung into action, shooting blasts of air, sound and chakra from the holes in his palms. "Decapitating Airwaves!" the Oto Genin shouted, as both his blasts hit Shino head-on...only for the Aburame to dissolve into a Bug Clone. The real Shino stood nearby, eyes hidden behind his sunglasses.

"I would advise that you consider forfeiting. Why? Because-!" Shino began, before Zaku cut him off again. "Again! Decapitating Airwaves!" This time, the Aburame dodged, before charging in and engaging Zaku in a taijutsu battle, the duo exchanging rapid-fire strikes as the other Genin watched in awe. "Not bad...not bad at all" the Kiri kunoichi commented, as Shino ducked under a swing and hit a palm strike to his opponent's chest, forcing the Oto shinobi back.

Zaku hissed in pain. "Dammit! Why won't you just die already!" he growled, raising his hands again. "Using that ability again is unwise. Why? Because, your-!" Shino started, only to get cut off yet again. "Enough! Take this!" Zaku roared. "DECAPITATING AIRWAVES!"

And then the boy's elbows exploded violently.

"GRAAAAAAAAAHHHH!" Zaku screamed in agony, looking at his crippled left limb and the bloody stump of his right arm. Small black insects crawled out of the wounds as Shino approached.

"During our taijutsu battle, I snuck some of my family's signature kikaichu into the holes in your arms, blocking the air vents that you used to attack. I could have explained why continuing to fight me was unwise, had I not been interrupted" the Aburame stated neutrally.

Hayate took a quick look at the Oto shinobi's arms, and, suppressing a wince, looked towards the audience. "Zaku Abumi cannot cough continue; Shino Aburame wins! Medics - now!"

As the medics carted Zaku off for immediate trauma treatment and possibly surgery on his remaining limb, Shino returned to the stands, where all the other Genin sat in stunned silence. Finally, Kankuro spoke up. "...I didn't think you had it in you, but that was brutal!" the puppeteer said.

Shino cocked his head. "It did not seem overly violent to me. Why? Because I attempted to provide ample warning about the dangers of using his abilities." Everyone present sweatdropped at how casual and neutral a statement this was.

"Ino Yamanaka vs Karasu no Kankuro...begin!"

The blonde started off the match by throwing a number of shuriken at the puppeteer, who did not dodge. The spiked weapons embedded themselves in the puppeteer...who did not react at all. "What the fuck?" Ino said, voice just above a whisper. Then, the boy shot forward and threw the Yamanaka to the ground underneath him, Ino finding herself unable to move under his physical strength. "I surrender! Please don't let Kankuro-san do anything lewd to my innocent, virgin body!" she shrieked.

The package on Kankuro's puppet's back wiggled slightly, before a voice asked "What the actual fuck, woman?" from within it.

Hayate sighed loudly. "Ino Yamanaka has forfeit. Karasu no cough Kankuro wins!" The red-faced Yamanaka made her way back up to the stands, the very disturbed puppeteer following her.

"Sabaku no Gaara, Misumi Tsurugi...please cough come to the ring" Hayate called. Gaara appeared in a swirl of sand, while Misumi walked slowly down the stairs. The match lasted about five seconds before Gaara crushed Kabuto's teammate inside a ball of sand before Hayate could stop him. "Winner...Sabaku no Gaara" the proctor said, slightly shaken by how effortlessly and automatically the red-haired boy had murdered his opponent.

"Now, can Neji Hyuuga and Hinata Hyuuga please come to the ring?"

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights

"Now, can Neji Hyuuga and Hinata Hyuuga please come to the ring?"

Hinata gasped and shrunk into her coat, while the white-eyed Hyuuga shot a withering glare at her, then at Team Seven, then at Team Yugito, and finally at Hinata again.
"Oh no..." the Hyuuga heiress murmured, clearly on the verge of fainting. Neji strode coldly to the ring, his blank white eyes hiding a burning hatred for the Main House's failure of an heiress, the useless idiot she clearly harbored feelings for, the idiot's teammates and, worst of all, the Kumo team those absolute traitors had been fraternizing with.

Once both competitors reached the floor of the ring, Neji pierced Hinata with a frigid stare. " should forfeit now, while you are not still a complete disgrace" he said coldly, the other Hyuuga squeaking and trying to retreat further into her coat. "You have no talent as a shinobi whatsoever. All you do is hide in your jacket and fail to live up to even Hiashi-sama's pathetically low standards. As heiress, you should have the strongest Byakugan in our entire clan, yet you remain pathetic and weak in every single regard."

Hinata attempted to debate Neji's point. "N-Neji-n-niisan, I-!" she began, before being shut down again.

"You can't even complete a sentence without stuttering. You would be best off accepting your fate and remaining a Genin forever. You are fated to be a failure, now and forever." Hinata grew more and more disheartened by the second hearing Neji's words, but just before she could forfeit, Naruto's voice cut through the quiet atmosphere in the arena.


"You said it, Naruto! Kick his ass, Hinata-chan!" Kiba joined in cheering for the Hyuuga heiress.

"Ganbatte, Hinata-chan!" Ino and Sakura cheered.

"Go get him, Hyuuga girl!" Karui cheered.

Even Satsuki let a small smile cross her face. "Teach that prick a lesson, Hinata..." the Uchiha whispered.

Any doubts Hinata had about herself all but evaporated from the outburst of support from the audience. "C-Come at me, Neji-niisan!" she shouted half-confidently.

"As you wish...Hinata-sama" the Branch House prodigy said, a bone-chilling undertone seeping into his voice.

"Begin!" Hayate coughed, and the two immediately sprung into action, taking a unique taijutsu stance. "BYAKUGAN!"

Veins bulged around both their eyes, as the two Hyuugas slowly circled each other. "Byakugan?" Naruto asked.

Karui nodded. "One of the Three Great Dojutsu, along with the Uchiha Clan's Sharingan and the semi-mythical Rinnegan that supposedly belonged to the Sage of Six Paths. The user can see nearly three-hundred and sixty degrees around them, see chakra pathways and colors like the Sharingan does, and is capable of peering through solid surfaces."

"Figures that the girl from Hidden Cloud would know a lot about the Byakugan..." Kakashi thought, eavesdropping on the conversation.

Naruto pondered this for a moment, before noticing the odd stances the two had gotten into. "What with that taijutsu stance?" he asked.

"That" Shino began "Is the Gentle Fist, secret technique of the Hyuuga Clan. By using the Byakugan in conjunction with bursts of chakra from their body, they can disrupt an opponent's chakra network and close chakra points, disabling an opponent with incredible precision. This is why the idea of fighting in hand-to-hand against a Hyuuga is considered lunacy."

The blonde remained silent for a few moments, before starting again. "Then theoretically, couldn't the teme copy-!" he began, but was interrupted when the two combatants began exchanging a flurry of palm strikes, deflected chakra bursts flashing in the air before dissipating.

Hinata hit a glancing blow, damaging Neji's right side, then lined up for another strike. "'re within my range of divination!" the Hyuuga heiress thought, aiming a followup strike towards the elder Hyuuga's stomach...

Only to spit blood up when Neji struck a chakra point right beside her heart, while simultaneously shutting down the flow of chakra in her right arm. "Oh no...!" Sakura gasped. The Hyuuga heiress attempted to recover, only for Neji to sidestep and block the chakra flow in her other arm, before delivering a brutal blow to the chest, causing her to collapse to the ground.

"HINATA!" Naruto shouted in horror.

Hinata slowly climbed back to her feet under Neji's cold gaze. "Surrender" the boy said. "You were fated to lose from the moment you set foot in this ring. This is as immutable a truth as you being in the Main House and me being of the Branch House."

Hayate stared at the younger Hyuuga, worry etched on his features. "Hinata Hyuuga cannot cough continue. Neji Hyuuga is the winner!" he declared. "Medics!" Hinata, however, got back to her feet, a determined glint in her white eyes.

"'re suffering the most here...over the condition of the two families..." she said, wobbling slightly. "I...I will...change that" she managed to get out, as the cold expression on Neji's face contorted into pure rage.

"Be quiet already!" he roared, charging at Hinata readying a killing blow. "The match has been called, dammit!" Hayate called, but Neji ignored him. The other Hyuuga was too weak to even hope to dodge...

At the last moment, however, before Neji's attack could connect, in a puff of smoke, four Jonin had completely stopped Neji's forward momentum. Kurenai's bandages on her right arm had come undone and were wrapped around Neji's midsection. Gai had one impossibly strong limb placed in front of the boy's chest, Hayate had drawn his sword so that its' tip was barely touching Neji's forehead protector, and Kakashi had a kunai casually pressed sideways against the boy's throat. "When I say the match is called, the match is called!" Hayate snapped, a rare loss of composure for the Jonin in question.

As medics carted Hinata off to make sure she didn't go into cardiac arrest, Neji climbed the stairs and leveled a cold stare at the other contestants as he went to take a water break. "Those whose fate dictate them to be failures...will never be anything but. Defying fate will only result in a premature death" he stated in a frigid tone, with the venom in his words directed specifically at Naruto, the Kumo trio, Kiba and Sakura. "Of you, none of you stand a chance of beating fate in a fight against a prodigy like me except for other prodigies, like the Uchiha...and even then, we are shackled by fate in other ways." With that, he departed, ignoring the killing intent being radiated by several of his peers.

After a few moments of silence, Kiba finally spoke up. "What a fucking prick" he growled, out of an anger born from worry for his teammate.

Before anyone could comment further, Hayate called for the next contestants. "Suigetsu Hozuki, Tenten, please come to the ring."

The blue-haired shark-toothed boy sipped his water, then got to his feet. "Alright...let's break some bones" he said confidently, patting the large wrapped item on his back.

"Good luck, my youthful teammate!" Lee said, as the brown-haired kunoichi got to her feet.

"Thanks, Lee" she said half-heartedly, still conflicted after what had happened in the previous match, where she had been cheering for her other teammate. As she reached the arena floor, she tried to ignore the disturbing sharp-toothed grin that her opponent was giving her.

"Tenten, Suigetsu...are you both ready?" Hayate asked.

"Damn right!" Suigetsu said all-too gleefully.

"Y-Yeah" Tenten said, still not quite all there.


Tenten immediately withdrew two large scrolls and leapt into the air, unraveling them to reveal intricate sealing characters within. "Ninpo: Unsealing Technique!" the brunette shouted, pressing her hands against the scrolls. In a large puff of smoke, a shower of kunai, shuriken, maces, swords and other assorted sharp objects flew towards Suigetsu.

"Tenten is a master of fuinjutsu and bukijutsu - when it comes to using weapons, she's a once in a century prodigy!" Lee declared, stars in his eyes. The objects flew towards the Kiri shinobi who yawned casually.

Then the weapons passed through him like nothing had happened, and gasps of surprise rang through the arena. "H-How?" Sakura asked.

"Suigetsu is a member of the famous Hozuki noble clan of Kirigakure. They have a Kekkei Genkai that allows them to dissolve themselves into water" Haku explained politely, before he smile fell. "Kami, I hope he doesn't go too far with that poor girl...he doesn't know the meaning of 'restraint'."

"Dammit!" Tenten cursed, unraveling the scrolls further and launching another volley towards Suigetsu. This time, before the projectiles could reach him, Suigetsu pulled the package off his back, the bandage wrappings coming off to reveal a peculiar item that resembled a large scroll with a blade on one side and a handle at the end.

Omoi's eyes widened uncharacteristically. "Holy shit, is that what I think it is?" the white-haired Kumo swordsman exclaimed.

"The Blast-Sword Shibuki, of the Seven Swords of the Mist" Haku confirmed.

Down in the ring, Suigetsu lazily swung the sword's non-bladed side, revealing a long roll of paper. Shikamaru's eyes widened. "Explosive tags...a LOT of them!" he shouted, bracing himself for the worst.

"Let's shed some blood, why don't we?" the Hozuki shouted gleefully, as the tags all glowed and Tenten's face paled in horror.

Then the entire section of explosive tags detonated in a burst of heat, light and force. The entire tower shook, and the audience shouted in fright and surprise. The smoke cleared just in time for everyone to see a sickening sight. Tenten had been impaled by a number of the weapons she launched at Suigetsu, bleeding from deep wounds in her chest, shoulder, abdomen and legs.

"TENTEN!" shouted a horrified voice from the top of the arena. Naruto and several others whirled around to see Neji, face etched with horror, standing in the doorway.

"The match is over, Suigetsu is the winner! Medics, NOW!" Hayate shouted.

"Wait a minute, mister proctor" Suigetsu said, advancing on Tenten's prone form. "She's not quite dead yet, is she?" he asked, switching to the bladed side.

"Don't do it, Suigetsu!" Haku warned.

Before the Hozuki could finish off the injured kunoichi, his attack was stopped on the flat of Zabuza's Kubokiribocho. "Brat, you may be a prodigy in the art of murder like your brother...but this fight is over" the Mist Jonin warned. "Tch" was all Suigetsu had to say, exiting as the medics carried away Tenten.

"We will now have a fifteen minute intermission" Hayate declared. Several of the other Genin walked up the stairs, ignoring or shooting glares at Neji, who was still frozen in stunned shock.

As Shino passed the Hyuuga, he stopped for a moment. "You had best be regretful of your previous actions. Why? Because you clearly do not enjoy the consequence of the precedent you set in your match with my teammate." The other Genin filed out for the intermission, leaving a stunned Neji Hyuuga to stew in his own thoughts...

Chapter Text

To recap the matches so far...

Satsuki Uchiha def. Yoroi Akado

Shino Aburame def. Zaku Abumi

Karasu no Kankuro def. Ino Yamanaka

Sabaku no Gaara def. Misumi Tsurugi

Neji Hyuuga def. Hinata Hyuuga

Suigetsu Hozuki def. Tenten

After the intermission was over, the computer fired up its' randomizer again, and everyone watched with bated breath as the next matchup was generated. "Haku Yuki, Kaengiri no Atsui, please come to the ring."

The blonde Kumo boy fist-pumped. "Now this is red-hot!" Omoi and Karui clapped him on the back as he departed for the ring. "Good luck, Atsui!"

Haku got to her feet, still sighing internally about her teammate's match with Tenten before the intermission. "Good luck, kid" Zabuza called to his protege, who smiled faintly as she walked to the ring.

Once both competitors were in the ring, the Kumo blonde called out to his opponent. "Let's have a red-hot match, why don't we?"

Haku chuckled slightly. "When it comes to 'red-hot', I might not be the best person to ask" the Kiri kunoichi responded bemusedly.

"On your cough mark...begin!" Hayate called, signalling the match's start.

Sakura stared at the ring for a moment. "I know that Atsui specializes in Katon techniques and kenjutsu...but what about the Kiri girl?"

Ino sighed and shook her head. "He doesn't stand a chance. That girl is probably damn near Jonin-level, and her abilities counter his."

Karui turned her head to stare at Ino. "What do you mean?"

The arena rumbled as a pillar of ice formed in the center of the arena. Trapped in its' center. shivering like his life depended on it, was the blonde Kumo swordsman. "That's what I mean" Ino said, as Hayate called the match.

"I remember from when we fought her and Zabuza in the Land of Waves that she is the last wielder of the Hyoton bloodline of Kirigakure. It's a Kekkei Genkai that combines Fuuton and Suiton to create ice" Shikamaru said, a bored undertone creeping into his voice.

Once again, the computer whirled through its' options. "C'mon c'mon c'mon..." Naruto whispered, hoping that it would finally be his turn to kick some booty. Finally, after what felt like an eternity to the blonde powerhouse, the computer's program came to a stop. "Naruto Uzumaki, Dosu Kinuta, please come to the ring" Hayate called out.

"YYYYYESSS!" Naruto shouted at the top of his lungs, while the Sound shinobi in question nearby plugged his ears at the sound.

Before Naruto could run down to the ring, Sakura pulled him aside. "Naruto...that guy and his team were working for Orochimaru" she said, and the boy's eyes widened.

"Well...shit" Naruto muttered, before his expression brightened again. "Don't worry, Sakura-chan! I'll beat his ass up and down the ring!"

Sakura just sighed. "Be safe, Naruto. Those guys are easily Chuunin-level."

The blonde boy made it to the ring and faced off against his heavily bandaged opponent. Dosu affixed the boy with his one visible eye, before starting in a cordial tone. "Well met, Uzumaki-san. I trust your teammates have informed you of my affiliations?" the bandaged boy asked politely.

Naruto's eyes narrowed. " work for Hebi-teme, right?"

Dosu nodded slowly, before looking towards the one conspicuous absence among the Jonin-sensei sitting in the stands: his own team's sensei. "Then you should understand how important it is to me that I prove to him that myself and my teammates are no mere pawns for him. He has a vested interest in seeing you advance to the next round, so I intend to thwart his plans by defeating you here" he said solemnly, a hint of bitterness at being discarded by his leader creeping into his voice.

"Begin!" Hayate coughed, and Naruto immediately leapt forwards toward Dosu, hands already crossed in a familiar seal.

"Shadow Clone Jutsu!" The Five Elements Binding Seal on his stomach burned at this, but Naruto ignored it in order to attack. Three clones leapt forward, with Dosu dodging each one. "I'll beat you up and send you packing back to Hebi-teme, dattebayo!"

Dosu's eyes narrowed at this declaration. "I refuse. I have no intentions of being just another one of his many experiments; another sacrificial pawn in whatever game he is playing. I will prove my worth!" he growled, catching one of Naruto's clones in the chest with his right palm and forcing it to dispel with a quick burst of sound.

"What do you mean, sacrificial pawn?" Naruto asked, now curious.

Dosu sighed as he dispelled another clone with a double hammer fist to the neck. "Every one of us in Orochimaru's service works for him because we owe him our lives. Take me for instance; he saved my life after a gang of bandits killed my family and attempted to kill me by dunking me in acid. I was horribly disfigured by the attack, and would have died if not for him" the bandaged boy informed the blonde.

"But despite that...he doesn't care about any of us, it seems. He ordered us to attack your team and kill the Uchiha, but we were sent just to test her strength. He saved me from a vat of acid, Kin from a life of unspeakable acts with older men, and Zaku from starving on the streets of Kusa...and for what? To be sacrificed to test you and the Uchiha! I must prove my worth to him!" Dosu finished, swinging his Melody Gauntlet in a wide arc around him, dispelling several more clones.

"Then stop following him, dammit!" Naruto growled out, leaping over one of Dosu's strikes and kicking him in the back. "A real leader doesn't see their followers as tools to be used and discarded! Human lives aren't disposable, and anyone who believes that should never be allowed to gain any measure of power, dattebayo!" Dosu's visible eye widened in surprise at this declaration, just as Naruto formed the Shadow Clone seal, causing five more clones to form around the stunned Oto shinobi.

"U!" cried the first one, kicking Dosu in the back. "ZU!" the second called, delivering a kick to the stomach. "MA!" the third and fourth said, uppercutting the boy into the air. "KI!" shouted the first, second and fifth ones, as they launched Naruto into the air, before the fifth sacrificed itself to allow the original to maneuver into a position directly above Dosu, throwing him downwards towards the Oto boy's stomach.

"NARUTO COMBO!" the original shouted, delivering a two-footed drop kick directly into Dosu's abdomen, driving him into the floor with enough force to break the tiles on the arena's surface. Hayate walked over and checked on the barely-conscious boy.

"Dosu cannot continue. Naruto cough Uzumaki wins!" he declared.

As Dosu slowly slipped into unconsciousness, the last thing he heard was Naruto's words repeating in his head. "Stop following him? Maybe...maybe Orochimaru-sama, no, Orochimaru isn't worth following anymore..."

After Dosu was carted off to the infirmary to be treated for minor injuries and checked for any signs of concussion, the computer started up again, before landing on two more familiar names.

"Kamaitachi no Temari, Shikamaru Nara, please cough come to the ring" Hayate called, as the sandy blonde drew the war fan off her back and floated gracefully down to the ring on it, using a cushion of Fuuton-generated wind to ease her descent.

Shikamaru, meanwhile, was being badgered by his own team. "But I don't want to go" he muttered. "She looks like a troublesome woman to have to fight, and if I end up winning, that will be even more troublesome."

Choji opened his mouth in an attempt to convince Shikamaru that it was worth fighting Temari, but before he could say anything, Ino cut him off. "Listen, you lazy bastard, if you refuse to fight, I'll tell Yoshino-san all about it."

Shikamaru's eyes widened. "Well, fuck" the lazy genius thought internally, as he got to his feet and very, VERY slowly descending to the ring. When he got there, Temari looked outright murderous.

Before the sandy blonde could start spitting insults at Shikamaru, however, Hayate called for the match to begin. Temari raised her fan and channeled chakra. "Fuuton: Kamaitachi no Jutsu!" she shouted, as several wind blades shot forward towards the Nara, who narrowly dodged. Shikamaru lobbed a kunai with an explosive tag on it at Temari, who narrowly side-stepped it and unleashed more wind blades.

Forty-five goddamn minutes later...

The entire crowd audibly cheered as Temari finally surrendered when Shikamaru immobilized her and threatened her with a kunai. "Temari surrenders. Shikamaru Nara snore wins" Hayate called, internally glad that the match was FINALLY over.  "Kin Tsuchi, Choji Akimichi, please snore come to the ring."

As a very angry Temari climbed the stairs towards the Genin's seating area, Kankuro snickered at her. "That was so boring that Gaara almost fell asleep!" he cackled, as Temari paled.

Their red-haired brother stared impassively with his emotionless teal eyes for a few moments. "Kankuro's summation is not inaccurate. Mother was very bored."

Chapter Text

To recap the matches so far...

Satsuki Uchiha def. Yoroi Akado

Shino Aburame def. Zaku Abumi

Karasu no Kankuro def. Ino Yamanaka

Sabaku no Gaara def. Misumi Tsurugi

Neji Hyuuga def. Hinata Hyuuga

Suigetsu Hozuki def. Tenten

Haku Yuki def. Kaengiri no Atsui

Naruto Uzumaki def. Dosu Kinuta

Shikamaru Nara def. Kamaitachi no Temari

The next two contestants stood in the ring across from each other. On one side stood Choji Akimichi, known as being the boy whose only motivation was his stomach; arguably the only reason Team Ten was as competent as they were was because of Ino Yamanaka's tendency towards being a slave-driver to him and the equally unmotivated Shikamaru Nara.

On the opposite side of the ring stood Kin Tsuchi, the kunoichi from the Oto team. Despite her internal conflicts towards their master, Orochimaru, the dark-haired girl was determined to win her match against the Akimichi. Dosu had the misfortune to be matched against the Uzumaki, whose physical prowess and chakra pool were leagues above his, and Zaku had ignored the Aburame's warnings in his match and blown one of his arms clean off. He would be lucky if he could ever be a shinobi again. For this reason, Kin was determined to make sure Team Dosu didn;t completely fail to qualify for the next round.

"I'm sorry...but an all-you-can-eat barbecue dinner is on the line here!" Choji said, looking up at his sensei, who was already lamenting how his wallet would look that evening.

The Oto kunoichi smirked. "Then do your worst, big fellow" she said, drawing a handful of senbon, two of which had bells and wires attached. Choji looked indignant for a moment, but calmed himself. "At least she didn't call me fat..."

"Fighters ready? Then cough begin!" Hayate declared, as he leapt back.

"Baika no Jutsu!" Choji shouted, as his body expanded into a perfectly round ball, his limbs and head drawing into his body. "Human Bullet Tank!" The chubby boy shot forward, propelled by small jets of chakra from where his limbs were. Kin narrowly leapt out of the way of his attack, watching as he left a crater in a nearby wall, before turning around and popping his head back out. "Found you!"

The dark-haired girl threw a shower of senbon towards Choji, whose mass deflected it as he shot forwards again. "Dammit!" Kin cursed, dodging in another close call as Choji broke another wall. When he popped his head out again to locate her, Kin struck, throwing two senbon, one with bells attached, one without. "Gotcha" she said, smirking as she placed the Akimichi under an auditory genjutsu with the noise from her bells.

Choji raced towards her once more time, but this time, the Oto girl did not dodge. At the last moment, the Akimichi's Baika no Jutsu dissipated, and Choji leapt forward, aiming a right hook...and got a faceful of masonry wall, knocking himself out.

"Choji Akimichi is cough unconscious! Kin Tsuchi cough wins!" Hayate called, as the medics carted Choji away for a quick concussion check.

As the dark-haired kunoichi climbed the stairs, she pondered her hollow victory, conflicted about whether or not winning for Orochimaru's sake was even worth it. As the computer finished generating the next match, Hayate checked his handheld device and coughed again. "Daisoken no Chojuro, Mikazuki no Omoi, please cough come to the ring."

Omoi slowly got to his feet and made his way to the ring, still sucking on a lollipop. However, upon reaching the floor, he found that his opponent was not there. "C'mon, you sissy! Just go fight him!" Suigetsu shouted, grabbing and yanking on the other blue-haired boy's cheeks.

"But I'm nowhere near strong enough to fight him! I should forfeit now and save everyone the trouble!" Chojuro protested.

"You won't know unless you try, Chojuro-kun" Haku said, trying to encourage the boy.

"Oi, you!" Omoi said, addressing his timid opponent. "I don't know much about you, but I do know that you'll never know if you can beat me unless you try. And if you don't try, who knows what will happen? You could lack the confidence to act at a crucial moment, and someone important to you could get hurt or die because of it, and then more people might die because of that decision..." he trailed off on one of his tangents of overthinking, much to Karui's annoyance.

"A-Alright..." the blue-haired boy said, timidly making his way to the ring and pulling the wrapped sword off his back, revealing a large, vaguely sword-shaped slab of iron with two holes at the tip and a double handle at the base.

"C'mon, you can't be that weak. You're one of the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist" Omoi pointed out to his opponent. Chojuro's gaze sharpened.

"R-Right! I am one of Mei Terumi-sama's seven trusted elites! I can't fail her here by not trying!"

The white-haired Kumo nin grinned. "That's the spirit!"

"Begin!" Hayate shouted, and the two swordsmen leapt into action.

"Hiramekarei Kaiho!" Chojuro shouted, as blue chakra flowed out of the two holes at his sword's tip, forming a large hammer.

Omoi's eyes bugged out. "Holy shit!" he yelped, leaping to the side as the hammer projection created a large crater in the floor. This was followed up by a slash from Hiramekarei's longsword projection, which burned its' way into a nearby wall, slicing off a section of the sash Omoi wore around his waist.

After a few minutes of dodging and parrying Chojuro's strikes, the Kumo Genin landed on the ground. "You're damn talented, you know that?" he said, addressing Chojuro.

"I-I...thank you" the other boy stammered, as he formed a hammer again.

"However..." Omoi said. "Your self-confidence needs a lot of work, and your kenjutsu isn't perfect either." Chojuro whimpered slightly as he raised the hammer high in the air, while Omoi got into an iaido stance. "Work hard and get stronger until the next time we fight!"

As Chojuro brought the hammer down, Omoi spat the stick from his finished lollipop on the ground and tensed his muscles. "Cloud-Style Beheading..." he began, as small sparks of lightning discharged between his hand and the ground while his hand closed around his sword's grip. "Thunderclap and Flash!" In a flash of lightning, Omoi dashed past Chojuro so fast that Satsuki could barely track his movements with her Sharingan.

Omoi clicked his sword back into its' sheaf...and then Chojuro was thrown backwards off his feet, as a long diagonal gash sprouted on his chest from just above his right hip to just below his left shoulder. "Medic!" Omoi shouted, as Hayate took one look at what had happened and called the match.

"Chojuro cannot cough continue! Mikazuki no Omoi wins!"

As Omoi made his way back to the stands, he called out to his barely-conscious foe, who was being cared away on a stretcher. "I look forward to our next match!"

The randomizer stopped again, and two kunoichi paled as they saw the matchup. "Kongou no Karui (A/N: Literally "Adamantine Karui"), Sakura Haruno, please come cough to the ring."

Karui got to her feet and tapped Sakura on the shoulder. "C'mon Pinky, let's show them what us girls can do!"

Sakura snapped out of the brief trance that the idea of fighting her friend put her in, shaking her head. "R-Right!"

A few moments later, the two stood in the ring, opposite of each other. "Don't hold anything back, Pinky!" the red-haired Kumo girl said, manifesting a short length of chain from her hand. "Begin!" Hayate coughed, jumping back as the match began.

The two girls circled each other for a few moments, before throwing caution to the wind and charging in at each other. Sakura threw a punch, only to be caught and judo-flipped by Karui. Sakura landed feet-first and spun around, throwing another swing that the Kumo girl ducked under.

Changing tactics after noticing the failure of her previous attacks, the pinkette leapt over Karui's attempted leg-sweep and drop-kicked her in the back, forcing the redhead forwards while Sakura backflipped to land on her feet. Karui turned around in time to see Sakura swinging at her with another right, forcing her to guard herself. "SHANNARO!" Sakura's chakra-enhanced strike threw Karui nearly halfway across the arena, leaving the audience in awe of her strength, while the redhead struggled to regain her balance.

As Sakura pounced forward, intending to capitalize on her last strike, Karui leapt over her and forced her to her knees with a few well-placed kicks, grabbing her long, luscious pink hair as she fell forwards and using it to hold her in place.

"Listen Pinky...I know that you have a lot of promise as a shinobi. In truth, your potential rivals or even exceeds my own. But right now, you're still not living up to it. You can use chakra chains? Big fucking deal, someone can still counter that. You're clearly not all there physically either - a kunoichi can't afford to be on a diet, or worry about her looks. People die every day in our line of work, so toughen up already, and show me what you're really made of!"

Sakura reached into her kunai pouch and pulled out one of the daggers, holding it up to the light. "You'd be really hard-pressed to use that one me" Karui snorted, only for Sakura to snicker. "Who said it was for you?"

In a quick motion, Sakura sliced off the hair that Karui had been holding, causing the redhead to lose her balance. "You're right. I haven't been giving it my all; I haven't been trying very hard...but I can't be a kid forever. It's time for me to grow up!" Sakura said confidently, manifesting a chakra chain from her hand. Her opponent grinned.

"About time you figured it out, Sakura!" Karui responded, manifesting a chain of her own.

Four minutes of knock-down drag-out taijutsu later, and Karui finally defeated Sakura when the girl with a little less Uzumaki genetics ran out of chakra a little quicker, forcing her to concede. As the red-haired Kumo Genin climbed the stairs, the last match was displayed on the board. "Rock Lee, Kiba Inuzuka, please come to the ring. Time for the cough last match!"

Lee and Kiba stood across from each other, Akamaru sitting upon the Inuzuka's head. "You ready to kick this spandex-clad dude's tail, Akamaru?" Kiba asked, receiving a bark of affirmation from his ninken partner.

"Yosh! Let us have a most youthful match, Kiba-san!" Lee shouted, finishing a quick routine of stretches before their match. "Whatever, man. Let's go, Akamaru!"

Hayate signaled for the match to start, as Kiba pulled out two food pills from a pouch for himself and his dog...only to get kicked in the face by Lee, whose determined expression turned to one of apologetic dismay. Kiba bounced several times across the floor, before hitting the wall headfirst and knocking himself out.

"Kiba is incapacitated. Rock Lee cough wins" Hayate said. "Medics, please! This now concludes the preliminary round."

"Well done, Lee!" Might Gai said, as he leapt into the ring to congratulate his student.

"But Gai-sensei...was it not unyouthful of me to attack Kiba-san so?"

Gai's response to this was a punch to Lee's face. "Fool! It was not unyouthful at all to fight to your fullest! It would have been unyouthful if you had held yourself back against Kiba-san; now his youth shall burn brighter than before as he strives to surpass you!"

"You are as wise as ever, Gai-sensei!"





And suddenly, what appeared to be a sunset and crashing waves appeared in the arena as the two spandex-clad men amongst men embraced youthfully in a passionate embrace of youth. Several of the Genin attempted to dispel what they thought was a genjutsu, while Tenten and Neji, who appeared to have had experience with this in the past, merely averted or shielded their eyes.

The thirteen remaining contestants stood in the ring, as the Hokage, Anko and Ibiki joined Hayate to address them. "You have all done well in making it this far, all of you. For those of you visiting from other villages, your leaders are most assuredly proud of you, and to those of you from Konoha, I know for certain that I am proud of you" Hiruzen said, his face crinkling in a smile. "Now, if you'll draw from the box that Mitarashi-san is holding, you will learn who your opponent is in the finals, one month from now. Ladies first."

"One" Karui said, holding her paper.

"Five" Kin stated, a small smirk on her face.

"Eleven" Haku said politely.

"Thirteen" said Satsuki.

"Nine" Shikamaru yawned.

"THREE!" Lee shouted.

"Twelve" Neji said coldly.

"Six" Gaara's emotionless voice droned.

"Seven" Kankuro added.

"Ten" Omoi stated, sucking another lollipop.

"Four" Shino murmured from behind his jacket's collar.

"Eight" Suigetsu said, a sharklike grin on his face.

"Two!" Naruto called excitedly.

"Very well then" Ibiki said, as he finished transcribing the matchups onto a tournament bracket template drawn on a scroll. "Here are your matchups. You will have one month to train for the next matchups, while publicity spreads and draws the crowds for this event."

Block A:

Kongou no Karui vs. Neji Hyuuga

Naruto Uzumaki vs. Haku Yuki

Rock Lee vs. Mikazuki no Omoi

Block B:

Shino Aburame vs. Shikamaru Nara

Suigetsu Hozuki vs. Kin Tsuchi

Karasu no Kankuro vs. Sabaku no Gaara

Satsuki Uchiha - BYE

Naruto locked eyes with the Kiri kunoichi, who merely smiled in response. "She's...kinda cute..."

Karui shivered as she felt the Hyuuga prodigy staring holes in her. "Why do I feel like my days are numbered?"

Lee entered Nice Gai Pose Number Thirteen and Three Quarters with Bushy Eyebrows and Sparkly Teeth (TM), while Omoi rolled his eyes. "Yosh! This matchup will be so very YOUTHFUL!"

Shino and Shikamaru locked eyes (or sunglasses in the Aburame's case), nodded slowly, then looked away.

Kin flinched slightly at the all-too wide grin the Hozuki gave her. "Why do I have a feeling I'll end up like that Tenten girl if I'm not careful?"

Kakuro shivered slightly as his brother looked at him, then nodded slightly. "I'll forfeit when that day rolls around - I'll need every trick in Karasu's arsenal to survive in what happens after the exam."

Satsuki stood impassively to one side, but internally she fumed. "Great. I'm going on last, and if I want to fight the dobe we'll both have to get to the finals."

"Best of luck with your training, all of you!" Hiruzen stated, as the meeting adjourned and the Genin went their separate ways...

Chapter Text

Immediately after the preliminaries concluded, Team Seven met up with Kakashi near the exit of the arena. "Yo" the cyclops said lazily, as his students approached. "Naruto, Satsuki, congratulations on making the finals. Sakura, you may not have made the cut this time, but with enough time, you'll easily be Chuunin material. I'm proud of all of you." Each of the three Genin blushed slightly at the praise from their teacher, who simply flashed a Hatake Eye-Smile (TM) at them.

"Now, then...Satsuki, you'll be training with me for the next month" Kakashi said, addressing the Uchiha. "You'll need as much speed and strength as possible to beat Gaara if you fight him, and Raiton jutsu will be your friend against him, the Hozuki and the Aburame, depending on who you have to fight. We depart for an old ANBU hideout ten kilometers from Konoha at 0800 hours, North Gate tomorrow morning" Satsuki nodded slightly in understanding.

"Naruto, I cannot train you very well, so I'll send you with anther special teacher. Initially, I tried to blackmail Asuma into training your Fuuton affinity, but he wiggled his way out of that because he's helping Shikamaru train...shifty little fucker" Kakashi continued, barely even whispering the last part. "So instead, I got someone else to do it. Meet him tomorrow morning at 0900 hours outside of the hot springs in the Northeast District." Naruto nodded, although he was slightly annoyed that Kakashi wasn't training him.

Turning to the last of the trio, Kakashi finished his lecture. "Sakura, I was initially going to just have you take the month off, but I get the feeling that won't sit right with you." The pinkette shook her head at the idea of doing nothing in her time off. "So instead, I decided to humor Yugito-san's request for you to train with Karui. Be at Training Ground Fourteen tomorrow at 0800 hours." Sakura couldn't resist breaking out in a smile with the idea of training with her friend from the Hidden Cloud.

"Good luck to you all; I'm very proud of you."

The next morning, Naruto wandered down to the hot springs from his dingy little apartment just before 0900 hours. As per usual, people glared at him plenty, but it was slightly less than he had remembered from before he had graduated the Academy and become an actual shinobi. "Now, where could this new teacher be...?" he wondered aloud, looking around. At the moment, he was standing in the section behind the bathhouses, where the actual hot springs bubbled up and were tapped for hot water.

The sound of...perverted giggling? Yeah, perverted giggling, attracted his attention to a section of the fence behind the women's baths. Sure enough, a man was sitting on a large toad, roughly the size of a person, peeping through a hole in the fence. "Oh great. My teacher is a pervert" Naruto groaned internally, before walking up to the man and toad. "Excuse me" he said "But you wouldn't happen to be the teacher that Kakashi Hatake assigned me?"

The man groaned. "Can't you see that I'm doing important research?" he asked, not looking down at the boy.

"Research? You're just peeping on women like some kind of pervert!" Naruto exclaimed indignantly.

The man snorted. "Pervert? I'm no mere pervert!" he said, before turning away from the peephole and shooting a lecherous grin at Naruto. "I'm a SUPER PERVERT!"

Naruto shook his head. "Whatever. Just tell me, are you Jiraiya of the Sannin?" The man smiled. "So my legend has traveled far indeed! Savior of man, lover of women and scourge of evil everywhere! I am the Gallant Toad Sage of Mount Myoboku...JIRAIYAAAA!" he said, giving his signature introduction.

The blonde cheered up a little. "Oh good. So you are my father, Old Man Teuchi and the teme's mom's teacher, right?"

Jiraiya immediately paled. "...Who told you that?" he asked quietly.

Naruto shrugged. "Hebi-teme dropped the first few hints, and then Kakashi and Hokage-jiji told the truth when pressed for information."

The white-haired toad sage sighed. "I guess that means you know about me being your godfather then. Guess I'd better teach you after all."

The sage's expression brightened. "So, what do you want to learn first? How to summon, how to use the Kyuubi's chakra, or how to do the Rasengan?" Naruto's grin widened as each of these was mentioned. He was going to get along just fine with this pervy old man.

Ten kilometers from Konoha, in an old ANBU hideout...

Satsuki finished strapping on the training weights that Kakashi had brought for her, while the cyclops stood nearby, reading his little orange book. "So, what are these supposed to do?" the kunoichi asked, testing her range of motion with the weights.

"They're to improve your strength and endurance as much as possible, ideally up to something approximating Rock Lee's level" Kakashi responded.

"While you're improving your physical condition that way, I'm going to teach you two more Raiton jutsu. The first is this simple C-Rank one. Raiton: Lightning Beast Running!" A blast of electricity in the shape of a wolf shot from his left hand, running in a wide circle before pouncing on a training dummy, blowing the dummy to pieces. "The other is this beauty." A massive ball of electricity gathered in Kakashi's right palm, before coating it in electricity as the sound of a thousand chirping birds filled the air. Witha quick thrust of his palm, the tree in front of Kakashi exploded into splinters, as the lightning palm dissipated.

"I call that one...the Chidori."

Training Ground Fourteen...

"Again!" Yugito commanded, as Karui and Sakura engaged in a quick hand-to hand spar, chakra chains rattling as punches were thrown and kicks were blocked. Nearby, Omoi exchanged blows with his blonde teammate, the duo sharpening their kenjutsu (pun fully intended) with every strike. "They've come a long way, haven't they, Kitten?" Matatabi purred. A small smile crossed Yugito's face. "That they have, Matatabi, that they have..."

Training Ground Five...

"Alright Lee, in order to defeat the Kumo boy, I will teach you how to fully open the Fifth Gate and use a technique I developed for use with the Sixth. I call it...Morning Peacock!" Gai said an indescribably manly voice, as Lee listened with stars in his eyes.

"Yosh! I will not disappoint you, Gai-sensei!"




As an ocean sunset washed over Training Ground Five, Neji pounded a training dummy with dozens of Gentle Fist strikes. "That Kumo match with her will be the perfect way to humiliate both the Raikage and the Main House at once!"

Training Ground Thirty-One...

"Alright brats!" barked Zabuza Momochi, Demon of the Hidden Mist, as he strode back and forth in front of his three students. "Two of you three have made it to the finals of the tournament, so you'll be training your asses off here for the next month. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Zabuza/Zabuza-sama/Momochi-sensei!" Suigetsu, Haku and Chojuro responded respectively.

"Haku, you will be training your Hyoton in a series of matches against Chojuro, who is helping me teach because he lost his match - better luck next time, kid" Zabuza said, as the dark-haired kunoichi and the timid bluenette boy nodded in acknowledgement. "As for you, Suigetsu, you'll be under my direct tutelage, learning something very important: the art of self-restraint in a situation that isn't life-or-death."

The groans of the Hozuki at this declaration could be heard throughout Konoha.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the lowlands of the Land of Fire...

The last ashes of the campfire dwindled away as two individuals wearing distinctive black cloaks with a red cloud print walked away from it. One of them, a tall, vaguely blue-skinned man with spiky dark hair, gills and a large wrapped package on his back, turned to his partner. "So, where to next?" he asked in a manner that was all too cheerful for his appearance.

"Konoha" came the simple response from his partner, a woman with dark hair, eyes like obsidian and two birthmarks below her eyes.

"Konoha? Really? Well, whatever you say...Itami."

Chapter Text

Dosu Kinuta woke up with a pounding headache. At first, he wondered exactly what the hell had happened to him, before his memories came rushing back, as he checked the calendar to see that he had been out for three days. His match with Naruto Uzumaki. Zaku blowing his own arm off. Kin...actually, he couldn't remember Kin's match. And before all that, Orochimaru using them as cannon fodder to test the Uchiha's Cursed Seal of Heaven. For a moment, Naruto's words came back to him.

"A real leader doesn't see their followers as tools to be used and discarded! Human lives aren't disposable, and anyone who believes that should never be allowed to gain any measure of power, dattebayo!"

"Huh" Dosu thought. "Maybe...maybe you're not entirely wrong, Naruto Uzumaki..."

Before he could ponder this line of thought, however, the door to his hospital room opened, and his dark-haired teammate walked in. "Oh good, you're awake" she sighed. "How are you feeling?"

Dosu's one visible eye squinted for a moment, before he sighed under his bandages. "Conflicted, honestly."

Kin raised an eyebrow at this. "Conflicted? Don't tell me you're getting cold feet about Orochimaru-sama's plans?" she asked, in a tone that was full of equal parts amusement and thinly-veiled threats.

"That's exactly what I mean" Dosu said, sitting up slightly as he coughed.

"You can't be serious!" Kin growled. "We owe him our lives! He saved you from being a collection of denatured proteins in a vat of acid, Zaku from being another starved child on the streets of Kusa, and me from being a sex slave to bandits!"

"I know that" Dosu responded, his back popping as he stretched. "But at the same time, consider the Uchiha. Remember what he said? 'Kill Satsuki Uchiha'? And yet, he placed a Cursed Seal on her." At this, Kin's temper cooled, as she took on a more thoughtful expression. "Why would he have us kill her if he blessed her with that kind of power...unless he intended for us to be guinea pigs for her to test her strength on?" the bandaged boy asked.

"That's...shit, that actually makes sense, unfortunately" the dark-haired girl sighed.

"We should probably warn Zaku" Dosu added.

"Too late for that - he's already been taken back to Oto" Kin responded, a hint of sadness in her voice. Turning towards the door, she placed her hand on the doorknob. "I...I need to go take a walk to clear my head" she said, opening the door...only to see two dead security guards on the ground in front of her.

"Well, well, well, maybe you're not as mentally impaired as I'd expect pawns like you to be" a silky voice said, as Kabuto Yakushi stepped into view.

"Kabuto. Figures that Orochimaru would send his pet rat to dispose of us" the kunoichi growled, drawing a couple of senbon, while Dosu grabbed the Melody Gauntlet on the table next to his bed and pulled it on hurriedly.

"You hurt me so with your harsh words, Kin-san" Kabuto said, stepping forwards. "But your assessment is correct; Orochimaru-sama has sent me to make sure that you cannot tell any tales that might undermine the Sand-Sound Invasion." Kin moved back, still protecting her teammate as best she could.

Dosu, meanwhile, released the intercom button on the underside of his table, which recorded and transmitted the entire previous conversation to the receptionist. "Do your worst, Yakushi-san" Dosu said cordially, readying his gauntlet.

Before any actions could be taken, however, several ANBU broke through the hospital window, followed by Might Gai. "DYNAMIC ENTRY!" the spandex-clad Jonin shouted, planting his foot firmly in Kabuto's chest, sending the spy crashing through the open doorway and into the nearby wall.

"Well, well, well, Might Gai...what a pleasant surprise. Your taijutsu prowess is legendary" Kabuto remarked, climbing to his feet. "But you do interfere with my mission; however, you are an opponent I cannot hope to defeat."

With that, the silver-haired spy vanished in a puff of smoke, Body Flickering away as fast as he could. Turning to the ANBU in the room, Gai gestured at three of them. "Hawk, Tiger, Grasshopper, guard these two. Peacock, Boar, Possum, we're following that evildoer! For YOUTH!" he shouted, running off as fast as he could after Kabuto. At that point, Kin did the sensible thing, and fainted.

That evening, Orochimaru stood in one of his old underground labs in Konoha, one that the Third had thankfully failed to find. The Snake Sannin was flanked by Kabuto, and five other shadowy individuals. "All is ready then, Kabuto-kun?" Orochimaru asked his subordinate.

"Indeed it is. We have all four of the requisite DNA samples, and enough sacrifices for the technique" the silver-haired spy said, gesturing at the center of the room.

There, kneeling on the ground, were four individuals. The first was Zaku, who was now missing both arms. Next to him was a dark-haired, mustachioed man wearing resplendent robes, and a shinobi with purple hair and grey eyes. The last was none other than Hayate Gekko, who was now bloodied from a number of cuts and missing an arm of his own.

"I regret that I could not retrieve Kin and Dosu as spares, but when I met with our contact with Suna this evening, I found the exam proctor eavesdropping. I couldn't resist that opportunity, now could I?" Kabuto asked.

"You have done well, Kabuto-kun. Let us begin" Orochimaru responded, swiping a swab of tissue culture across a scroll and dripping a dropperful of water on another, while Kabuto cleaned two scalpels on scrolls of his own. A complex seal spread across the ground, surrounding the four individuals.

Orochimaru knelt down next to Zaku first. "Zaku-kun, you have my apologies for this...but you have simply outlived your usefulness. My only regret is that Kin and Dosu won;t be joining you on the other side immediately."

He then walked over to the mustachioed man. "My dear Daimyo-sama, you will have my eternal gratitude for your assistance in establishing Otogakure. Don't worry, I'll make sure to take care of your country for you."

The purple-haired man looked at Orochimaru sadly. "Arashi-kun...your sacrifice will ensure a thousand years of prosperity for the Fuma Clan" Orochimaru said solemnly.

Finally, the Sannin knelt down next to Hayate. "Hayate Gekko...I remember when you were still a mere academy student. It pains me to see that you meet your end so soon, but that is sometimes just how life goes. Besides, you intended to snitch on our little invasion...and everyone knows that snitches get stitches." Hayate coughed behind his gag, but otherwise closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable.

Kabuto and Orochimaru took their positions at the edge of the sealing array, nodded to each other, and began flashing through a quick series of seals. "Tiger, Snake, Dog, Dragon, Clap Hands!"


Dosu Kinuta woke up with a pounding headache - again. This time, however, he noticed that he was in a small, elegant room with his teammate, and no sourced of natural light. Two ANBU stood guard by the door, and sitting on a high-quality wooden chair was none other than the Third Hokage, Hiruzen Sarutobi. Recoiling in surprise, Dosu attempted to get anything he could between himself and the man sometimes called "the God of Shinobi".

"Now, now, Kinuta-san, please calm down" Hiruzen said, puffing on his pipe. "All I want to ask is what, if anything, you know about Orochimaru's plans." Kin continued to snore on a couch nearby, as Dosu calmed his nerves a little.

"Can I be assured that my teammate and I will not be executed as foreign agents if we inform you of our former master's plans?" the bandaged boy asked, doing his best to stay calm.

Hiruzen chuckled. "Kinuta-san, depending on what you can tell us, you may well be granted Konoha citizenship for your actions" the Hokage said, taking his pipe out of his mouth. The bandaged boy took a deep breath, and began to tell what he knew of the Sand-Sound Invasion Plan, or, as it was affectionately nicknamed, the Konoha Crush...

A month flew by in no time at all, and the day of the Chuunin Exam Finals had come at last! Merchants, Daimyo, shinobi and private citizens from all across the continent had come to place their bets, watch the exams, and scout shinobi to contract for future missions. There was a particular hubbub in the air this year, too; for the first time in decades, four of the Five Kage would be gathered in one place to watch the exams.

Hiruzen sat in the Kage's box overlooking the arena, thinking about what Kin and Dosu had told him about the invasion a few weeks previously. Konoha had been preparing as best they could for the Sand-Sound Invasion, but they still were on their guard, given the presence of the Raikage and the Mizukage at this event.

Speaking of the Raikage, A stormed into the Kage's box with as much bluster as could be expected of him. "Sarutobi, you old monkey! How the hell are you!" the muscular blonde man said, gripping Hiruzen's hand in a powerful grip.

"As good as a man of my years can get, Raikage-dono" Hiruzen chuckled, before turning to greet the young man who had come as Oto's representative.

"It is an honor, Hokage-dono, Kazekage-dono, Raikage-dono. My master sends his regards, and regrets that he cannot make it this year" the white-haired boy said, before shooting a quick glance at the Kazekage.

This glance did not go unnoticed by Hiruzen, who extended his senses towards the man who was ostensibly Gold Dust Rasa, resisting the urge to recoil when the familiar dark chakra of his former student eminated from the man. "Orochimaru, you bastard...I should never have let you fall so far" Hiruzen thought regretfully, before noticing a new chakra entering the seating area.

Turning around to face the entrance, he was greeted by quite possibly the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. With dark red hair, a navy-blue dress, green eyes and the Mizukage's hat on her head, Mei Terumi exuded an aura of both strength and sexiness. The Hokage didn't even realize that both he and A were staring until he noticed the thin line of blood flowing from the Raikage's right nostril onto his blonde mustache. "Hello boys" the Mizukage said. "Let's get this show on the road, why don't we?"

The sound of cheering alerted the four Kage (and village representative) to the beginning of festivities. The crowd was loud as a Bijuudama's blast, as eleven contestants made their way out onto the field. Naruto, Lee, Suigetsu and Karui couldn't resist the temptation to wave to the crowd, while Gaara, Kankuro, Neji, Omoi, Haku, Shino and Shikamaru remained stoic.

"Welcome, one and all, to the Konohagakure Chuunin Exam finals!"

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The sound of cheering alerted the four Kage (and village representative) to the beginning of festivities. The crowd was loud as a Bijuudama's blast, as eleven contestants made their way out onto the field. Naruto, Lee, Suigetsu and Karui couldn't resist the temptation to wave to the crowd, while Gaara, Kankuro, Neji, Omoi, Haku, Shino and Shikamaru remained stoic.

"Welcome, one and all, to the Konohagakure Chuunin Exam finals!"

Shikamaru squinted at the exam proctor. He wore a bandanna-style forehead protector like Hayate had, but chewed a senbon needle in his mouth instead, and looked significantly less bedraggled. "My name is Genma Shiranui, and I'm the proctor for the exam finals today" the man said.

"What happened to the last exam proctor?" asked Naruto.

Genma's expression briefly darkened. "That's classified. Now then, let us consult the bracket again."

Pulling out the scroll with the tournament bracket on it, Genma took his senbon and briefly crossed out Kin's name. "Kin Tsuchi appears to be missing, and we don't know where she went" he said, giving the cover-up story for the two former Sound Genin's absences. "Satsuki Uchiha has a bye, so she does not have to be here just yet. According to this bracket, all other matches are the same. Suigetsu Hozuki has a bye to the next round-" the Hozuki groaned "-and the first matchup is Kongou no Karui against Neji Hyuuga. All other competitors can return to their seating area."

Karui gulped as she faced the cold, white-eyed Hyuuga. Neji remained impassive, but internally he had been looking forward to this moment for at least the past month, possibly the better part of his life. "Perfect, both Hiashi-sama and the Raikage are watching. This will make it all the more fulfilling when I end this girl in front of them, humiliating both of my father's murderers at the same time." The Hyuuga resisted the urge to smirk.

Up in the Kage's box, the Raikage squinted at the Hyuuga on the field. "A Hyuuga, eh?" he asked, sighing slightly.

"The son of Hizashi Hyuuga at that" Hiruzen added, watching as a shadow briefly passed across the Raikage's face.

"Great. He's got a grudge to settle then" A snorted, before leaning back in his seat.

"His sensei has often complained about his rather fatalist outlook and grudge against both your village and the Main House of the Hyuuga Clan for his father's death in the Hyuuga Affair. He attempted to kill the clan's heiress last month in the preliminaries over it" the wizened old Hokage noted.

A snorted again. "Kid's got some serious balls to try that shit."

"The rules are simple" Genma began, lecturing both the two combatants and the other competitors in the stands. "The match ends when I say it ends. No jutsu or physical combat is allowed outside of the ring. And, no matter what, no unnecessary killing." At this, Suigetsu audibly groaned, while Neji's smirk faltered and Gaara stared impassively despite his irritation. "Otherwise, anything goes."

Neji stared at Karui, letting the smirk from before slowly creep back onto his face. "Don't surrender yet. I will enjoy this" the Hyuuga prodigy said, an edge of bloodlust creeping into his tone.

Karui's eyes widened. "Oh fuck...he's actually going to try to kill me. I can't hold anything back or let up for even a second, otherwise I could die or be permanently disabled" the redhead thought, before slapping her cheeks a few times, her face steeling in determination again.

"First match...begin!"

Karui's first move was to put as much damn distance as possible between her and Neji, because fighting a Hyuuga in hand-to-hand was just plain lunacy, lobbing a handful of shuriken at Neji in an attempt to do ranged damage to the Hyuuga prodigy. Unfortunately for her, the white-eyed boy sidestepped all the attacks and started towards her again. "Crap, crap, crap, crap!" Neji then threw a kunai just in front of Karui's feet using the visual acuity of the Byakugan to just how she would move.

The redheaded Kumo girl, distracted by the Hyuuga's advance, tripped over the kunai and faceplanted quite forcefully on the floor of the arena. In the stands, the Raikage and Yugito facepalmed in unison as Karui groaned. "Owwwwwwwww" she muttered, getting back to her feet while rubbing her head. Turning around, the redhead found herself staring into Neji's blank white eyes. Without saying anything, the Hyuuga thrust his right hand forward and plunged a single finger into a tenketsu point on Karui's left arm, sealing off all chakra flow to that hand.

"Shit!" the redhead shouted, leaping backwards as Neji launched several quick Gentle Fist strikes, the Kumo girl narrowly avoiding being incapacitated right then and there. Running into the trees, Karui barely kept her composure. "He's stronger than me, faster than me, and can negate my ability to attack. My only hope is to lure him into attacking me, then chain him up!"

Neji followed Karui at a leisurely pace, his Byakugan tracking every twitch of her muscles and the flow of chakra through her body. After a few minutes of hide-and-seek, Karui dashed back into the clear part of the arena floor, out of the protective cover of the trees. "Hopefully this will be enticing enough an opportunity for him..." The redhead came to a stop, making a show of panting in exhaustion. Several chakra chains had been spread out in thin strings around the forested area, allowing Karui to track Neji's movements.

"Here he comes!"

The redheaded Kumo Genin spun around towards where Neji leapt from the treetops and launched a single chain on a collision course with his right arm. "If I can immobilize his arms, this match will be as good as over!" the girl thought, as the chain extended closer and closer to Neji's right hand...and then cleaved neatly in half as his hand caused the chain to dissipate in its' wake. "Wait, what?!"

In the blink of an eye, Neji had landed on the arena floor and blocked the tenketsu point in the redhead's right arm too. "Surprised?" he asked coldly.

"!" Karui gasped.

"I could see the buildup of chakra in your arm, and noticed all the wires you had spread across the forest floor. Given the heightened electrical activity in your brain when I made contact with the wires, I knew you were tracking me...and that allowed me to turn your trap back on you."

"T-That still doesn't explain how you destroyed my chain!" the redhead sputtered.

"Doesn't it though? The Gentle Fist can be used to destroy any chakra-based constructs Sharpening the chakra from my hand into a blade to cleave your chains like butter was child's play...and now, you are within my range of divination." In the stands, the other competitors watched wide-eyed.

"This is bad...he's about to use that" Lee muttered.

"EIGHT TRIGRAMS STYLE" Neji began. "TWO PALMS! FOUR PALMS! EIGHT PALMS! SIXTEEN PALMS! THIRTY-TWO PALMS! SIXTY-FOUR PALMS!" The barrage of chakra-laden strikes sealed Karui's chakra points while delivering not inconsequential amounts of blunt force trauma to almost every part of her body.

As Karui collapsed to the ground, slowly going into shock, Genma rushed over. "The match has ended! Neji Hyuuga is victorious! Medics, now!"

As the medics carted Karui off to stabilize her, Neji glared at the Kage box. The Raikage glared right back, as the Hyuuga left the field to the seating area for the contestants. Upon arriving, everyone outright refused to talk to him, even his own teammate.

"Naruto Uzumaki, Haku Yuki, please come to the ring!" Genma called as the crowd started to quiet down. Naruto glanced at the dark-haired Kiri kunoichi, who simply smiled at him.

"It appears to be our turn, Naruto-san" Haku said politely, before appearing in the ring in a Body Flicker while Naruto simply launched himself over the edge of the stands into the ring like a madman, landing to mixed applause from the crowd - many of whom were still familiar with his status as Kurama's container.

"Let us have an enjoyable and honorable match, Naruto-san" the girl said politely, bowing to Naruto.

"Uhhhhh...r-right" Naruto said, slightly flustered. "Oh god, I think she's cute. Oh fuck, I have a crush. Fuck, I'm about to fight my first crush" the poor orange-clad boy's brain recited at a thousand miles a minute. Slapping his cheeks, the Uzumaki got his brain back in gear. "Focus, Uzumaki! She may be cute, but I have to defeat her to be able to beat Neji's ass in the next round!"

"Begin!" Genma shouted, and Haku immediately drew a dozen senbon out of the sleeves of her haori.

"No hard feelings, Naruto-san?" she asked, before launching the needles at Naruto.

"Holy crap!" the boy thought, leaping to the side to avoid the shower of needles. "She's not holding back, is she?" Another hail of senbon shot at Naruto...and another...and yet another.

"Having fun yet, Naruto-san?" Haku asked, her cool, polite smile staying fixed on her face.

"Multi Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Naruto responded, as nearly two dozen copies of the Orange Menace appeared in the ring, causing several civilians and seasoned ANBU hidden in the stands to nearly faint from trauma involving the boy in his younger years.

A watched the match with a little more interest at that point. "That he perchance the village's...?" he asked, trailing off with the underlying message still obvious to the other Kage.

"He is" the old Hokage responded affirmatively, lighting his pipe with a small fire jutsu.

"I figured as much. Multi Shadow Clone as a rookie Genin is no small feat" Mei said, a little sweetness creeping into her voice. "I wonder if he's taken?" she said after a moment, pondering the possibility out loud. Nearby, her retainer "Byakugan Killer" Ao sighed and facepalmed.

"Mei-sama, I must implore you, please do not make advances on foreign rookie Genin" he said, a tone of resignation in his voice.

"You're no fun at all" the redheaded Mizukage pouted.

In the furthest seat in the box, Orochimaru struggled to maintain his composure. "No, bad Hebi! If you laugh, not only will your cover be blown, but so will your evil overlord image in front of young, impressionable Kimimaro-san!" The noise of the crowd drew the rogue Sannin's attention back to the arena.

Haku had formed a unique hand seal, and now a dome of dozens of floating ice mirrors was suspended in the ring. Inside, the kunoichi peppered the defenseless blonde with hundreds of senbon from all angles. " insane...jutsu, dattebayo" Naruto groaned.

In the mirrors, all of Haku's reflections blushed slightly. "Like it? This is my signature technique...Hyoton: Demonic Ice Mirrors."

The blonde snorted. "I'd like it a little better if you weren't putting holes in me every two seconds."

Peering outside, the Kiri kunoichi looked to her Mizukage and formed an inverted half-Tiger seal. Mei noticed and closed her left eye in response. Leaping back out of the mirrors as they began to melt, Haku smiled slightly at Naruto. "Alright then. Shiranui-san, I surrender."


"Those mirrors hold a significant chakra cost for me, and I am beginning to run low" Haku said, before leaning close to Naruto. "Good luck against the Hyuuga...Naruto-kun" she said, before giving the blonde a peck on the cheek.

Naruto immediately turned bright red. "Wh-what the hell was that, dattebayo?!" Kiba, Suigetsu and Kankuro all scowled at Naruto, while in the section for non-competitors, Ino and Hinata both began radiating killing intent towards the girl from Kiri.

"Harlot" the Hyuuga growled internally.

Speaking of the non-competitor section, Zabuza began sharpening Kubikiribocho with what looked vaguely like a dragon's claw. "That blonde runt had better run..."

A few moments later, in a puff of smoke from a Body Flicker, Satsuki and Kakashi arrived in the competitor and non-competitor sections. The Uchiha looked around and noticed her red-faced teammate. "Why do I get the feeling that I should be very irritated about something right now?" she wondered.

Up in the Kage's box, Orochimaru once again came dangerously close to losing his shit. "Okay, that was actually hilarious."  Hiruzen chuckled, A unabashedly began laughing his ass off, and Mei smirked. "Attagirl, Haku! I taught you well...maybe I won't be the one to seduce the blonde over to our village's side after all."

Genma chuckled slightly at the proceedings, before looking to the competitors' section again. "Rock Lee, Mikazuki no Omoi, your match begins in two minutes. Please come to the ring!"

Chapter Text

To recap the Chuunin Exam finals so far...

Neji Hyuuga def. Kongou no Karui via knockout

Naruto Uzumaki def. Haku Yuki via forfeit

Last time on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Rock Lee, Mikazuki no Omoi, your match begins in two minutes. Please come to the ring!"

Omoi side-eyed the green spandex-clad Konoha Genin he was to face, who immediately leapt to his feet. "YOSH! It is time for my flames of youth to burn brightly!" Lee shouted, before leaping over the railing the same way Naruto had in the previous match, landing in the middle of the ring to loud fanfare.

His opponent followed him down much more slowly, exuding an aura of calmness and irritation. Inwardly, he was rather worried about Karui after her match with Neji.

"I do hope that she recovers well from her match, because if she doesn't, then she might never be a shinobi again, and then I'd have nobody else to share the pain of Bee-sensei's raps, and he'd probably write an utterly terrible commemorative rap in honor of her all-too brief shinobi career, and then the ladies in Kumo might see me as an available commodity because I wouldn't be around Karui anymore, and I'd have to reject all but one of their advances, and then they might kill themselves out of grief, and then Kumo would be weakened for a generation and could get steamrolled by a hypothetical alliance of S-Ranked Missing-Nin, and Yugito-san and Bee-sensei might be kidnapped, and then the world could end, and Raikage-sama would have my head for it..."

By the time Omoi's mental tangent had ended, he was already in the ring, standing across from Lee, who was bouncing up and down on his heels, warming up for their fight. "From a casual glance, this guy wouldn't seem like much. But I can tell, just based on how easily he beat that Kiba kid in the preliminaries, he's strong...I can't afford to give him an inch, or he'll take a mile and make me regret it" Omoi thought, placing a hand on his katana's grip.

"LEE!" shouted a voice from the non-competitor section. Might Gai gave his pupil a thumbs-up, before continuing. "IF YOU NEED TO, YOU HAVE MY PERMISSION TO TAKE THEM OFF!"

Lee's eyes widened. " mean it, Gai-sensei!?"


Genma chuckled. "Gai, Gai, Gai...same as he ever was, back when we and Ebisu were Genin under Choza-sensei. But that's a tale for another time...BEGIN!"

Lee immediately dashed forward and delivered a series of swift high and low kicks to Omoi, ending with a speedy roundhouse. "LEAF HURRICANE!" the bowl-cut boy shouted, throwing Omoi back.

The white-haired Genin skidded along the ground, but ultimately regained his balance. "Holy crap, he's fast! It can't have been more than three and a half seconds since the fight began, and already I'm losing!"

Finally getting the chance to unsheath his katana, the Kumo Genin was now on his guard enough to spot Lee's next attack, a flying drop kick from behind him. "Cloud-Style...Reverse Beheading!" Spinning around in a circle, Omoi slashed directly behind him as Lee came down to deliver his next blow. The bowl-cut boy's eyes widened, before he threw another roundhouse kick to do his best to change direction in midair, barely avoiding Omoi's slash. "Almost got you" the Kumo Genin smirked.

Lee landed and performed a back kick, followed by a series of rapid-fire punches, forcing Omoi to retreat again. Just as one of the blows was about to make contact, however, Omoi vanished in a puff of smoke, replaced by the almighty log that has bailed out generations of shinobi in times of need. Lee was distracted for a few crucial moments by this surprise replacement, giving his foe time to rush in from behind with a lateral slash. "Cloud-Style...Deception Beheading!"

Lee brought one leg up to defend himself from the surprise attack, and as Omoi's sword cut through his bright orange leg-warmer, he made contact with something metallic underneath it. "Hmmm?" With another quick slash, the leg-warmer was cut apart, revealing a set of weights with intricate seals on them. "Training weights? Seriously?" Omoi asked.

"The best Gai-sensei had for me!" Lee affirmed, flashing Nice Gai Pose 17B (TM).

"Take them off. I want to fight you without anything holding you back" Omoi responded.

Lee took a flying leap backwards and ended up standing atop the wall around the arena, looking down almost 20 meters to his foe below. "YOSH! I'LL TAKE THEM OFF!" Lee said, removing the leg-warmers and weights underneath.

"Weights? Really, Gai?" Kakashi asked.

"Lee has been spending every waking moment of his days for the past year wearing those weights. He's become incredibly strong...I daresay that someday he may have even greater mastery of the Eight Gates than I do!" Gai exclaimed.

"Alright! Now I can move freely!" Lee shouted, dropping the weights. The crowd watched in amusement as "a few extra pounds" fell to the arena floor below.

A few moments later, the weights hit the ground and created a massive crater and cloud of dust, and the jaw of every person in the audience dropped. Omoi's eyes bugged out in surprise, and he almost swallowed his lollipop by accident. "Holy shit! He was that fast with all that weight on him?!"

Then Lee vanished, and Omoi was kicked into the arena wall.

"Holy shit!" the Raikage exclaimed, standing up in surprise. "What have you been feeding this kid, Sarutobi?"

Hiruzen chuckled. "You'd be best off asking Might Gai that question."

This caught both Mei and Ao's attention. "Might Gai? Is he perchance related to Might Dai?"

Hiruzen nodded. "Dai's son." The Mizukage and her retainer both took on an expression somewhat similar to reverent awe. "I see that Gai's father is still considered a legend by Kiri for killing four of the Seven Swordsmen in a seven-on-one battle..." Hiruzen thought in amusement, and no small amount of awe himself.

Back on the battlefield, Omoi had spit the stick of his lollipop out and was now solely concentrated on finding Lee and attempting to predict his next move. A punch from the left was narrowly dodged, followed by a kick from the right. After thirty seconds of ducking, weaving and getting hit (and holy shit, the bowl-cut boy hit like a steam liner from the Land of Snow), Omoi figured out that Lee was following a subconscious pattern, but still seemed to be holding back.

Twisting slightly to the left in anticipation of Lee's next attack, Omoi channeled a stream of lightning chakra into his sword. "Cloud-Style...Surprise Beheading!" he shouted, cutting Lee deeply across the chest. Lee reacted at the last moment, his defeat assured from the deep, bleeding gash running from shoulder to hip, and hit Omoi in the head with a powerful kick, knocking him out immediately.

The two fighters both fell to the ground, and Genma rushed over. "There is no way that either Rock Lee or Mikazuki no Omoi can continue, so this match is a draw!" The crowd rose to their feet, screaming and applauding both fighters.

"I'm impressed, Raikage-dono" Hiruzen said. "Your Genin managed to draw against arguably the strongest teenage Genin in Konoha."

A snorted in response. "It's not that impressive when you can tell that they were both holding back. That Lee boy had another trick up his sleeve, and Omoi didn't get the chance to reach his top speed by a long shot."

As the medics carted both boys off to the clinic in the stadium, Genma looked back to the stands. "Shino Aburame, Shikamaru Nara, please come to the ring."

Shino and Shikamaru stared down, the Nara's face unchanging while the Aburame's remained unreadable due to the sunglasses and hood he wore. "Shikamaru-san. I wish you the best in our match" Shino said neutrally.

"What a pain" Shikamaru groaned. "I'll make sure not to let you down too much."

"BEGIN!" Genma shouted, and for a few long moments, the duo simply continued to stare.

Then, a number of insects flew from Shino's coat towards Shikamaru, who leapt back in response, throwing explosive tags for cover, which also served to distract the Aburame's kikaichu beetles. The Nara noticed the crater from where Lee's weights had dropped, and the shadows being cast by the debris that had been kicked up by their formation.

"Perfect" Shikamaru thought, throwing a few more explosive kunai, this time in a straight line. The small bombs went off, and created a long, rocky furrow in the ground, allowing Shikamaru to extend his shadow further than normal through the trench's darkness.

"Ninpo: Shadow Possession Technique" the Nara said, as his shadow immobilized Shino. "Wait, something doesn't feel right..." Whirling around, Shikamaru spotted the real Shino, while the one in the Shadow Possession dissolved into beetles. "A Bug Clone. Of course." Another wave of kikaichu forced Shikamaru to retreat again, and so the cycle began again.

After fifteen minutes of Bug Clones, shadow tricks and whatnot, Shikamaru finally caught Shino in his Shadow Possession Technique. "Well, I guess it can't be helped...I surrender" Shikamaru said.

"I understand, Shikamaru-san" Shino responded. "My kikaichu tell me that you are running low on chakra and would likely have little success against Satsuki-san."

The two Genin walked calmly towards the stands, as Genma called the match for Shino, before consulting his scroll again. "Since Suigetsu Hozuki and Satsuki Uchiha both have byes, the final match will be Sabaku no Gaara versus Karasu no Kankuro."

Before anyone could say anything else, Kankuro shouted from the stands. "I FORFEIT! NO WAY AM I FIGHTING GAARA!"

Genma sighed, then began to speak again. "In that case, we will have a fifteen minute intermission, before Naruto Uzumaki versus Neji Hyuuga."

Chapter Text

To recap the Chuunin Exam finals so far...

Neji Hyuuga def. Kongou no Karui via knockout

Naruto Uzumaki def. Haku Yuki via forfeit

Mikazuki no Omoi and Rock Lee fought to a draw

Shino Aburame def. Shikamaru Nara via forfeit

Sabaku no Gaara def. Karasu no Kankuro via forfeit

Fifteen minutes later, the intermission ended, and Genma called for the next two contestants.  "Neji Hyuuga, Naruto Uzumaki, please come to the ring" the senbon-chewing Jonin shouted, as the blonde Genin perked up.  Neji slowly descended down the stairs, while Naruto did what Naruto does and simply launched himself over the balcony, landing in what would be recognized in another universe as absolutely being a goddamn Power Rangers/Super Sentai pose.

Neji finally made it down to the ring a few moments later, and eyed Nauto, a cocky smirk slowly spreading on his face.  "You look like you have something to say" the Hyuuga said confidently.  Naruto snorted.

"I'll save all the talk for when I finish kicking your ass, Hyuuga" the blonde growled, dropping into a taijutsu stance.

Neji's smirk did not waver in the slightest.  "Very well then, Uzumaki...I'll show you why it is useless to try to defy fate."

"BEGIN!" Genma shouted, leaping back as the action began.

Naruto, predictably, charged in headfirst, throwing several quick jabs at Neji, who dodged effortlessly before hitting a quick strike to the blonde's shoulder, forcing him back.  "You really are as much of an idiot as the rumors have said" Neji said condescendingly.  "Have you not heard the saying that 'Fighting a Hyuuga in taijutsu is lunacy'?"

Naruto grinned, which Neji found slightly unsettling.  "Duh.  I wanted to get a feel for your strengths, that's all.  Now that I know what getting hit by you feels like, I can go all-out!" the blonde exclaimed, crossing his fingers to form a distinctive hand seal.  "Shadow Clone Jutsu!"

Five other Narutos popped into existence, while Neji scanned them with his Byakugan.  "Every single one is perfectly identical, right down to their chakra network.  I cannot tell the difference between them...not that it matters."

The first two clones charged forward, while the remaining four Narutos tossed kunai and shuriken at Neji.  The Hyuuga sidestepped his two close-range opponents, before delivering two quick Gentle Fist strikes, dispelling them, before catching one of the flying kunai and using it to casually deflect the other projectiles.  "Is that really the best you can do, failure?" he asked, smirking.

Naruto snorted.  "Calling me a failure?  Real original, Hyuuga" he said, rolling his eyes, before realizing his mistake as Neji raced towards the real him.  "This is definitely not my proudest moment.  Shadow Clone Jutsu!" the blonde muttered, kicking himself for his lack of situational awareness as he conjured up six more clones.

"More clones?  Is that the best you can do, Uzumaki?" Neji asked, before his visage sharpened.  "Not that it matters...ten times zero is still zero!"

All of Naruto's clones lunged forwards, but Neji sidestepped and raced towards the one in back, believing it to be the real deal.  "EIGHT TRIGRAMS STYLE...TWO PALMS!" he began, before driving two chakra-coated fists into the blonde...only for the Shadow Clone to disperse in a puff of smoke.  "How?!  How could a failure like him have anticipated how I'd focus on the one in back?!" Neji thought, panicking for a brief moment, before snapping out of it and sharpening his gaze on the damn Kumo-loving traitor.

"Lie down and accept your damn fate already!" Neji shouted, losing his cool as he charged forward, dispelling several more clones.

Three more clones leapt forwards and bounced off a whirling chakra barrier that shocked the Hyuuga clan members present.  "Kaiten?!" they all exclaimed.  Several more clones leapt forwards, revealing explosive tags inside their jackets, forcing Neji to use a full Kaiten to disperse the force of the explosion upwards.

"Not a chance!" another Naruto, presumably the real one, shouted from one of the nearby treetops.  "Fuuton: Great Breakthrough!"  A gust of wind tore forward from the Naruto's mouth, forcing Neji back and briefly distracting him for a few crucial moments.  "What don't you get about your idea of fate being bullshit?!" another Naruto shouted from Neji's left, driving a kunai towards the Hyuuga.

Naji grabbed the blonde's arm and redirected it towards the ground.  "If you really have to know...then let me tell you about the Hyuuga clan's legacy of hatred" he began, dispelling the clone with a quick palm strike, before removing his headband and undoing the bandages around his forehead.  As the last fell away, a seal shaped vaguely like an "X" with small hooks on the ends was shown on the boy's forehead.

"It all began when I was four years old, on Hinata-sama's third birthday, when my grandfather branded me with this accursed seal - not that you'd know how that feels" Neji began, as the audience began to turn towards the Hyuuga representatives - clan head Hiashi Hyuuga, his younger daughter Hanabi, and five elders of the Main House - with nearly unanimous looks of revulsion, from nobles, shinobi and civilians alike.

"On the same day, Konoha was celebrating a treaty with Kumo, but the Hyuuga clan was upholding this tradition.  Because my father was born less than two minutes after Hiashi-sama, he was branded with this seal, and so was I.  It not only seals the Byakugan on our deaths, but allows the Main House to punish any member of the Branch House as they see fit."

The looks of disgust quadrupled towards the Hyuuga elders, who only glared back, as if to say "keep your nose out of our traditions, peasants."

"That night, however, the Head Ninja from Kumo abducted Hinata-sama, and before he could get away, Hiashi-sama killed him.  Kumo demanded his dead body in exchange for not going back to war with Konoha, but Hiashi-sama was too much of a coward to he killed my father and sent him in his place!"

The crowd gasped, Hiashi wore an indescribable look of regret, and in the Kage's Box, A sighed.  "Not my village's or my own proudest moment" the blonde grumbled.  "Fucking Council of Elders...I really should have kicked them into the path of a lightning bolt years ago" he continued, rubbing his forehead.

"Now do you see?  My father was fated to serve and die for his brother, I was fated to be a slave in my own home, and you are fated to always remain a loser...and never become Hokage.  The one fate we all share death" Neji said, before refocusing on Naruto.  "And now, you are within my range of divination.  EIGHT TRIGRAMS STYLE" The blonde let out a slight curse at allowing Neji to monologue him into dropping his guard, as two chakra-enhanced strikes hammered into him.  "TWO PALMS!  FOUR PALMS!  EIGHT PALMS!  SIXTEEN PALMS!  THIRTY-TWO PALMS!  SIXTY FOUR PALMS!"

Naruto groaned in agony as he soared through the air, his sixty-four main tenketsu points sealed by Neji's assault.  The Hyuuga walked to Naruto, and stood over his prone form.  "Only an early demise awaits those who attempt to defy fate" he said coldly, before turning to Genma.  "Proctor, the match is over" he said, walking away.

But before Genma could call the match, Naruto clambered back to his feet.  "Not yet" he hissed, as red chakra began to pour from the seal on his stomach.  Something in the blonde had, at that moment, just fucking snapped.

Every hair on the back of Neji's neck stood on end as he felt angry, raw, malicious intent pouring out of the boy who should have been incapacitated.  "Wh-what the hell is that?!" he demanded, as he turned to see the red chakra of Kurama flowing around Naruto.  "His tenketsu have all been forced open!  Can...can this stuff even be called chakra?  It feels more like pure hatred..."

The blonde started forward, looking like a man possessed.  "Neji Hyuuga...I've just about had enough of your bullshit for one day" Naruto growled angrily.  "I don't know what it's like to have a permanent accursed marking on my body eh?  Tell me, what do you see over my stomach with that oh-so-amazing Byakugan of yours?"  Neji peered at the strange seal on Naruto's stomach.

"I'll tell you what that thing is, what it's really like to have a seal that defines your very existence..."  Unzipping his jacket, the blonde pulled up his shirt to reveal the black fuinjutsu markings of the Eight Trigrams Seal on his stomach.  "This seal, which has been on me since the day I was born, holds in the goddamn Nine-Tailed Fox!"

The audience gasped, Hiruzen stared sadly, and the civilians looked on with a mix of their lingering hatred for the "Fox Brat" and a deep regret that none of them anticipated.  Each of the Genin reacted differently to this news.  Satsuki and Sakura remained largely impassive, since they already knew.

Hinata looked on the verge of tears, and Ino's jaw had dropped as the guilt from how she'd treated the boy in the Academy caught up with her.  Kiba just kept muttering "holy shit" over and over again, while Shino remained neutral.  Shikamaru facepalmed for not figuring it out sooner, and Choji munched his chips sadly.

Temari and Kankuro's jaws had dropped, and they kept looking back and forth between the boy in the arena and their brother, whose normally impassive expression had turned oddly thoughtful.  Suigetsu and Chojuro both gaped, while Haku's permanent cheery expression had melted off her face like snow in the springtime.  The three Kumo Genin had already known, so they just nodded at Naruto's plight.  "Just like Bee-sensei and Yugito-sensei."

"Every goddamn day of my life, I have been ostracized by this village for what I contain.  I've been scorned, derided and in some cases outright attacked.  If I had your fatalistic mindset, Hyuuga, I'd have given up long ago!" Naruto shouted, before his angered and anguished look turned to one of confidence and hope.

"But you know what...I'm not like you...which is why I will prove myself to those who scorned me, I will make myself into a shinobi that Konoha will be proud of...and someday, I'll become the greatest Hokage in history, dattebayo!" With that, Naruto rushed forward, catching Neji off guard with his speed.  "So fast!"  A handful of shuriken heralded the blonde's arrival, as Neji deflected the projectiles with another Kaiten.  Naruto raised his fist and punched at the Kaiten, the red chakra of the Kyuubi clashing with and neutralizing Neji's barrier.

Neji immediately lashed out at Naruto with several rapid-fire Gentle Fist strikes...only for the blonde to suddenly vanish, replaced by a log.  "Kawarimi?  When did he make the seals for it?!"  Three clones rushed out of the trees and engaged Neji, their enhanced strength and speed forcing the Hyuuga to focus all his attention on them.  This was his first mistake...never let the real Naruto Uzumaki get out of your sight.

A kunai flew from the bushes as all three of the clones popped from quick and merciless Gentle Fist strikes.  Neji avoided the metallic projectile, which narrowly cut past his luscious hair...only to realize at the last possible moment that he had been duped.

The kunai vanished in a puff of smoke, replaced by the real Naruto, who was holding something that truly terrified the Hyuuga.  A ball of whirling, tearing, spinning chakra was clutched in Naruto's right hand, as he soared over Neji's head.

"Crap!  Kaiten!" the Hyuuga shouted, beginning to erect the protective dome of chakra around him.  In the stands, many of the adults in the audience gaped in awe at the sight of the familiar jutsu, which pierced the incomplete Kaiten like it wasn't even there, before slamming into the Hyuuga's back.


The Fourth's signature jutsu drilled into Neji's back, driving him face-first into the ground as the audience gasped in surprised, then roared in awe.  As Neji lost consciousness, the last thing he thought he saw was a bird escaping a cage and flying free, its' fate now as free as the winds upon which it flew.

Genma rushed over, took one look at Neji, and raised his hand.  "Neji Hyuuga has been incapacitated...Naruto Uzumaki wins!"

And as the blonde walked off the field, the crowd roared non-stop at his victory, giving the boy the first round of applause he had been waiting years for...and it certainly wouldn't be the last.

Chapter Text

To recap the Chuunin Exam finals so far...

Neji Hyuuga def. Kongou no Karui via knockout

Naruto Uzumaki def. Haku Yuki via forfeit

Mikazuki no Omoi and Rock Lee fought to a draw

Shino Aburame def. Shikamaru Nara via forfeit

Sabaku no Gaara def. Karasu no Kankuro via forfeit

Naruto Uzumaki def. Neji Hyuuga via knockout

The crowd was on their feet, still cheering for Naruto after his victory over Neji. As Neji was taken to the infirmary, Hiashi Hyuuga got to his feet. "Hanabi, I will be back's time for me to tell Neji the truth about your uncle" the Hyuuga patriarch said solemnly as he exited the stands.

Naruto arrived back in the competitors' box, unsure of how his friends and classmates would react to his revelation. "Oh god...they'll hate me even more now..." he thought, letting depression overtake him for a brief moment.

Much to his surprise, however, the first thing that happened was Shikamaru and Shino walking over to him, each placing a hand on one of his shoulders and nodding sympathetically. "I can't believe I didn't figure it out sooner, but it all makes sense now..." Shikamaru trailed off.

Kankuro stared at the blonde in an odd sort of awe. "He's a Jinchuriki? But he's so...normal! Why are he and Gaara so different?" As Sakura gave Naruto a quick hug, and the Kumo and Kiri Genin nodded in acknowledgement, Gaara himself walked over to Naruto, staring at him with piercingly blank teal eyes.

"Naruto are like myself, yet so very different" Gaara said neutrally, before his features sharpened. "I look forward to fighting you in the finals." The redhead then walked away from the other stunned Genin as if nothing had happened.

Before anyone could think too hard about it, Genma called for the next two competitors. "Shino Aburame, Satsuki Uchiha, please come to the ring."

The Aburame and the Uchiha looked at each other, silently nodded, and both disappeared from the competitors' box, reappearing in a Body Flicker in the center of the arena. "You sure showed up quick. I like that" Genma chuckled, chewing his senbon a little.

Satsuki eyed Shino cautiously. "Hn. Looks like I'm fighting arguably my only equal from the Academy."

"May the best of us win, Satsuki-san" Shino said neutrally; the Uchiha nodding in silent agreement.

"So, who do you think will win?" Naruto asked the other competitors.

Shikamaru scratched his nonexistent beard for a moment, before answering. "I think Satsuki will win, but it'll be close. She may have been Rookie of the Year, but Shino was never that far behind her - I imagine the only reason he was never as well-recognized as her was because he didn't stand out, and because of his clan's reputation."

"Begin!" Genma shouted, as Satsuki slowly began circling her opponent. "I don't want to use that just yet...I'm saving it for Naruto or Gaara, although it'll work well on the Hozuki if he beats Gaara" she thought, before hurling a swarm of shuriken. "Shadow Shuriken Jutsu!" The small, sharp discs doubled in number, so that a dozen or so were flying at the Aburame. The attacks hit head on, but Shino seemed unaffected.

A few moments later, the Aburame melted away. "A Bug Clone, eh?" the Uchiha wondered, stiffening slightly before activating her Sharingan as she whirled around, the three tomoe spinning in each eyes as she caught sight of the real Shino. "My apologies for the Bug Clone, Uchiha-san" he said politely, before moving forward with deceptive speed and engaging her in hand-to-hand.

At first, the taijutsu battle seemed even enough between the two, but after a little under a minute, it became clear that Satsuki's Sharingan and its' predictive abilities were slowly allowing her to gain the upper hand, but the crowd - and various judges whose input went into the Chuunin selections - were more than impressed that the Aburame was keeping up with the Uchiha prodigy.

Finally, Satsuki gained the upper hand with a surprise eruption of electricity off her body. "Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder!" The attack shocked Shino, disorienting both him and his kikaichu long enough for Satsuki to immobilize him and level a kunai at his throat.

The Aburame looked impassively from behind his glasses, before turning to Genma. "Shiranui-san, I surrender" he said, before nodding to Satsuki, who nodded right back. For once, the Uchiha had found someone who was somewhat of an equal to her.

A quick intermission later, and the crowd was gathered again. "This is the first match of the semifinals, and the final match for Block B. The winner of this match will face either Naruto Uzumaki or Satsuki Uchiha in the finals!" Genma announced as the crowd cheered, before looking to the competitors' box. "Sabaku no Gaara, Suigetsu Hozuki, please come to the ring!"

In a swirl of sand, the son of the now-deceased Kazekage appeared in the center of the ring, while a ball of water exploded in midair above the arena, with the Hozuki reforming from the rain on the arena floor to much fanfare. "Let's shed some blood, why don't we?" Suigetsu said, reaching for the Blast-Sword on his back.

"Yes...Mother agrees" Gaara responded, as the sand swirled around him a little more vigorously.

The two most bloodthirsty Genin in the tournament were about to go head to head, but one phrase still echoed in Suigetsu's head. "Remember the plan, Suigetsu..."


As Gaara shot a tendril of sand forward, intending to crush the Hozuki before the fight could even begin, Suigetsu drew Shibuki off his back and unraveled a short section of the exploding tags inside it, detonating them as the sand made contact. The blast scattered the sand as Suigetsu leapt backwards, throwing shuriken at his redheaded opponent. Gaara's and caught the shuriken, as it slowly formed into a Sand Clone, which lunged forward to fight Suigetsu.

The Hozuki cleaved the Sand Clone apart with Shibuki, before flashing a sharp-toothed grin at Gaara. "So, Sabaku no Gaara...they say that you've never, ever gotten hurt on a mission, and that your sand protects you from even the smallest of scratches" Suigetsu said, raising his right hand in the shape of a finger gun. His expression darkened. "Let's put that to the test, why don't we?"

A bead of water condensed on the tip of Suigetsu's index finger. "Water Gun Jutsu!" The small projectile fired from the Hozuki's fingertip with incredible force, pierced effortlessly through the sand clone, then passed through Gaara's Absolute Sand Defense like it wasn't even there...and, to the shock and horror of every Suna shinobi present, exploded through Gaara's right shoulder before embedding itself into the concrete of the arena wall, as blood gushed from the redhead's wound.

"Mother...what this...?" the redhead thought, before his brain (and the pain) finally caught up with him. "My...MY BLOOD! IT'S MY BLOOD!" he shrieked, as the sand swirled violently around him, forming into a thick ball.

In the stands, Suna Jonin Baki, who was the sensei of the Three Sand Siblings, stared in horror. "Shit! The Hozuki got through Gaara's defenses and is causing him to go insane already! It's too early!"

Through a small hole in the sand ball, Suigetsu froze in horror as he spotted a strange golden eye amongst the swirling particles within the cocoon. Then, the ball collapsed, revealing a panting Gaara, who was gripping his own shoulder. "You...made me bleed" Gaara began shakily. "...And...I can't get...your...blood." Then, a feral grin crossed the redhead's face, as he turned to focus on the crowd. "I guess...I'll take their blood instead!"

A shower of feathers descended from above the arena, slowly causing the audience to drift off to sleep just as the sound of chaos - fighting, screaming and destruction - filled the air outside the arena. Hiruzen turned towards the "Kazekage", knowing what was happening.

The Konoha Crush had begun.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

A shower of feathers descended from above the arena, slowly causing the audience to drift off to sleep just as the sound of chaos - fighting, screaming and destruction - filled the air outside the arena. Hiruzen turned towards the "Kazekage", knowing what was happening.

The Konoha Crush had begun.

"What is the meaning of this, Rasa?" A growled, as Mei got to her feet and Hiruzen merely stared down the "Kazekage".

Oh, you know...war with Konoha, Raikage-dono, Mizukage-dono. Want in?" Orochimaru responded.

Mei's one visible eye narrowed. "Hard pass on that bullshit, Kazekage" she said, drawing into a fighting stance.

Hiruzen gestured to the other two Kage. "See? Nobody here wants war except you...Orochimaru."

The Snake Sannin chuckled. "So you figured it out, Sarutobi-sensei? I will clearly have to reprimand Kabuto for not killing those two little pawns after I finish with you. But that's beside the point; why don't we take this somewhere else...just you and me?"

Grabbing the aged Hokage in a chokehold, the "Kazekage" ripped off his robes to reveal the uniform of Otogakure underneath, before leaping upwards through the Kage Box's roof, while he and Kimimaro's bodyguards removed their robes, showing themselves to be a chubby ginger-haired man, a dark-haired boy with six arms, a redheaded girl and a silver-haired boy with another head on his back. The quartet shoved Ao and Raido Namiashi out of the Kage Box, before leaping to the edges of the roof and performing simultaneous hand seals. "FOUR VIOLET FLAMES FORMATION!"

The move, while intended to exclude everyone except for Hiruzen and Orochimaru, was not fast enough to prevent the Raikage and Mizukage from slipping in, A bringing down a heavy fist coated with lightning where Orochimaru had stood just moments before.

"The Mist has been waiting for you to make your move, Snake Sannin" Mei said. "My retainer detected that you were posing as the Kazekage several days ago at our last meeting with his Byakugan, and we have been organizing against you ever since."

Turning to look out over Konoha from atop the box, the red-haired Mizukage shouted at the top of her lungs. "KIRI SHINOBI, PROTECT THE LEAF!"

Zabuza chuckled, as he finished sharpening Kubikiribocho. "I thought you'd never ask!" he shouted, immediately turning and cutting down a trio of Oto nin.

Orochimaru sighed. "What about you, Raikage-dono?"

A snorted, as he entered Raiton Chakra Mode. "Are you fucking kidding me? Kumo is in Konoha's debt for the moment...Sarutobi, consider this the repayment of our debt" he said, as the Hokage nodded.

Could this finally be a step towards true peace?" Hiruzen wondered, tearing off his Hokage robes to reveal battle armor underneath.

The Snake Sannin shook his head in disappointment. "Fine by me. In that case, I must even the odds. Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Edo Tensei!"

Hiruzen gasped at the sight of one of the most dangerous kinjutsu from the Forbidden Scroll, as five coffins rose from the ground. Two of them had the numbers "One" and "Two" on them with the kanji for "Fire", while one had the number "Two" and kanji for "Water". Another had the number "Three" and kanji for "Lightning", while the last one that slowly rose had the number "Four" and the kanji for "Wind".

A handful of shuriken flew from the God of Shinobi's hands and embedded themselves in the last coffin, stopping its' rise.

Orochimaru sighed. "Glad I prepared that spare. Rasa might not have been much help in this fight anyway." The four coffins fell open, revealing several cracked clay statues, whose featured became more defined as Orochmaru inserted talismans in their brains via kunai.

The first two were a dark-haired man in red armor and a white-haired man in blue armor - both recognizable as the Senju Brothers, Hashirama and Tobirama, who helped create Konoha. The second was a mustachioed blonde man in a high-collared grey kimono, and the last was an enormous, muscular, tanned man with blonde hair, a beard and a lightning bolt-shaped scar on his chest.

"F-Father?" A asked, as the Third Raikage turned to look towards him. "My son. It has been too long" the man said solemnly.

"Lord Second?" Mei asked in shock, as Gengetsu Hozuki nodded. "Red're either a Terumi or an Uzumaki" he said.

"Technically a bit of both. I'm the Fifth Mizukage now" Mei responded. "You certainly seem to be a competent young lady. I can tell that Kirigakure is safe in your hands. And tell me, what of my own family?"

Mei looked towards the city. "Your two great-grandsons, Mangetsu and Suigetsu, are out there fighting to defend Konoha at this very moment. They're both members of the Seven Swordsmen, and are considered the strongest members of their family since you yourself" she said, as a slight smile spread across Gengetsu's face.

Hiruzen just stared in shock at the two previous Hokages. "H-Hashirama-sama? Tobirama-sensei?"

Hashirama giggled slightly. "You've gotten old, Saru!" he joked.

"Well, admittedly, I was just a child last time you saw me..." the aged Kage trailed off.

"Ahem" Orochimaru said, clapping his hands. "I hate to break up the happy reunions and introductions, but-" he snapped his fingers "-I'm putting them back under my control. Time to fight to the death." As the three living Kage, one Kage-level shinobi and four dead Kage prepared to battle, the carnage continued to unfold, as a force of two hundred elite Kiri shinobi joined the battle, attacking Suna and Oto forces in defense of Konoha, while the few Kumo forces in the village aided them.

Meanwhile, Gaara was now being carried away in a delirious state on Kankuro's back, Temari following close behind him; Baki had sent them to regroup on the outskirts of Konoha so that Gaara could recover from his wounds after his match with Suigetsu before continuing the invasion.

Unfortunately for them, however, the shark-toothed boy was hot on their heels in a group with Satsuki, Shino, Naruto and Shikamaru, having been assigned to a task force to capture Gaara and his siblings by Zabuza Momochi, Might Gai and Kakashi Hatake. "Well, hopefully our allies from Oto will delay them enough..." Temari trailed off.

Meanwhile, eight Oto Chuunin and one Oto Jonin were standing in a wide circle around the Hozuki, whose sharklike grin had never seemed sharper. "Looks like there's enough of you here to have a good fight, eh?" he said, pulling Shibuki off his back. "Let's shed some blood, why don't we!" The sound of screaming, maniacal laughter and explosive tags detonating could be heard for almost a kilometer around, despite the din raised by the general chaos of the invasion.

Once again, the four Konoha Genin pursued Gaara and his siblings, this tie getting within line of sight of them. Pakkun, Kakashi's pug summon, sniffed the air from his location on top of Naruto's head. "It looks like they're about to split up again" the ninken warned, as Kankuro turned and unwrapped the package on his back, revealing a wooden puppet with four arms and three eyes.

"I shall stay behind and delay Kankuro-san. Why? Because Shikamaru's tactical mindset, Naruto's Jinchuriki abilities and Satsuki's speed will be more useful against Gaara-san and Temari-san than my kikaichu will" Shino said neutrally, readying himself for battle.

Reaching a section of heavily wooded lowland, full of truly massive trees, Temari stopped to take a breather, letting Gaara down off her back. Before she could catch her breath, however, her brother roared in agony from his headache, before sand poured from his gourd and wrapped around him. "This is bad! He's transforming already!" Temari thought, panicking internally as she feared for her life. An appendage of sand knocked her aside, as Gaara's right side became coated in the particles, shapeshifting partially into the form of the One-Tailed Tanuki, Shukaku.

As the three Konoha Genin rounded the corner, Gaara stared at them, eyes blazing. "WILL YOU GIVE MY EXISTENCE MEANING?" he asked, voice distorted. The battle of the Jinchuriki was about to begin.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

As the three Konoha Genin rounded the corner, Gaara stared at them, eyes blazing. "WILL YOU GIVE MY EXISTENCE MEANING?" he asked, voice distorted. The battle of the Jinchuriki was about to begin.

Naruto narrowed his eyes at the psychopathic redhead, who now appeared to be slowly consumed by his Bijuu's sand, taking the monster's form. "I'll give you something greater to exist for..." he began, before turning to his two partners. "Shikamaru...Satsuki...let's do this!"

The Nara leapt into a nearby tree, while Satsuki nodded slightly. "Hn. Just don't get in my way, dobe."

The three Konoha Genin leapt into action, with Satsuki taking point at the front, while Shikamaru and Naruto flanked Gaara - a strategy the Nara had devised on their way to the Suna Jinchuriki. Dropping weighted arm and leg bands as she ran forwards, the Uchiha's speed increased to a speed that rivaled Lee's - giving her the chance to dodge Gaara's Absolute Sand Defense twice on her journey forwards.

Forming several hand seals, the Uchiha's left palm crackled with concentrated electricity, as Temari and Shikamaru both gawked. "So much chakra...and visible to the naked eye, too..." the Nara thought, as the palm of Raiton chakra left a furrow in the ground behind Satsuki, her Sharingan helping map a route past the various sand spikes and traps Gaara's defense set up in front of her. One final layer rose up in an attempt to stop her attack, but the palm smashed right through it and into Gaara's wounded right shoulder.


Gaara roared in agony as the wound Suigetsu inflicted on him previously burned and spasmed from the electrical shock of the Chidori. "What was that?" Naruto murmured.

"I've heard of that before from my father and Asuma-sensei. It's Kakashi-sensei's only original technique; one of the most feared ninjutsu to ever come out of Konohagakure..." Shikamaru said.

"Like one thousand birds..." Temari said in shock.

Gaara's sand distorted again and wrapped around him even more, the merger between man and Bijuu becoming more and more grotesque. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!" Gaara shrieked, his voice distorting thanks to Shukaku's influence. "I will have your BLOOD!" A long appendage resembling a tail shot from behind Gaara, slamming into Satsuki's crossed arms and throwing her into a tree.

Before Naruto could act, Gaara was leaping forwards towards her...only to receive another Chidori for his troubles, shrieking again in pain as his right leg was disabled, the sand wrapping around and supporting that limb too. Satsuki grimaced as she leapt out of the way. "Dammit, I can only use that twice in a day...or can I?" The ravenette avoided a barrage of sand bullets and leapt up next to Naruto.

"Are you just going to stand around and gawk, or will you fight with me, dobe?" Satsuki goaded Naruto, snapping the boy out of it.

"R-Right, teme" the blonde said, nodding as he and Shikamaru flanked Gaara again, throwing explosive kunai in an attempt to weaken Gaara's defenses.

"Hey, Kit"

the blonde almost fell from his branch. "K-Kyu-Kurama?!" he wondered.

"I didn't say you could call me that, but whatever. You're going against my annoying littlest brother, so I am willing to pitch in and help you prove a point to him and his container."

"Well? I'm listening" Naruto thought irritably.

"The weak point of this form is..." the Kyuubi began, as Naruto shelled out more shuriken and kunai.

"Shikamaru, pin him down!" Satsuki yelled, leaping in front of Gaara.

"Eh? How troublesome..." Shikamaru commented, using Shadow Possession to pin Gaara on a single tree branch, as Naruto's explosives kept the sand defense busy.

Satsuki charged forwards, black marks crossing her skin and pain wracking her body as she activated the Cursed Seal, another Chidori forming on her left hand. "Must...protect...!" she thought, before the blade of lightning on her left palm cleaved through Gaara's sand shield, then lopped off his right appendage with ease, leaving a steaming wound down the redhead's arm.

As she collapsed to the ground, the Uchiha heard Gaara howl in pain, and as she slowly turned her body - an act that took all her strength, as she noted somewhere in her mind that she couldn't move enough to fight - Satsuki watched the sand completely deform over Gaara's body, forming a tanuki-like shell of sand that covered his entire body, almost none of his features visible - just his hair and the red kanji for "love" carved into his forehead.

"This is bad...I need backup aside from Shikamaru!" the blonde thought, biting his finger. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" In a puff of smoke...a small toad appeared.

"Sup bro?" Gamakichi greeted Naruto, remembering the boy from the first time he had summoned the small orange toad.

"Gamakichi?! Aw dammit, I was hoping to get your dad, or Gamaken, or literally any toad that could step on this guy and beat him!" Naruto griped, as the little toad shook his head.

"Well, you got me, so I might as well stick around and do what I can. Suiton: Starch Syrup Bullet!" The small toad fired a sticky blast of water at Gaara, slowing down several of the Jinchuriki's sand bullets enough for Naruto to evade them.

"Thanks for the help, 'Kichi! Here's the plan..." Naruto whispered in the toad's ear, and after a few moments the amphibian looked up, gave him a look that had "Are you serious?" written all over it, and watched as Naruto lunged towards Gaara, crossing his hands.

"Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Several duplicates of the blonde burst into existence as he fell towards the red-haired Suna Jinchuriki, with the real one running over the backs of his clones, wrapping an explosive tag around a kunai.

"Infinite Sandstorm Breakthrough!" Gaara's distorted voice shouted, as he breathed a massive wave of sand and wind from his mouth, demolishing the clones and sending Naruto falling past him towards the forest floor.

Undaunted, the blonde boy created more clones to distract Gaara while landing on the back of another, leaping upwards towards Gaara. "Now, take this! From the teachings of Copy Ninja Kakashi Hatake, Konohagakure Secret Taijutsu Technique!" Naruto shouted, before planting the kunai at the base of Gaara's tail.

"Thousand Years of Death!"

Shikamaru, Temari, Satsuki, Pakkun, Gamakichi and Gaara all shot Naruto a look that seemed to say "Are you fucking serious?!", before the sandy tail of the Suna redhead knocked Naruto backwards towards another tree. As he flew, however, Naruto smirked and snapped his fingers. "Boom."

The explosion from the tag on the kunai's hilt demolished the tree Gaara was standing in and destroyed his sand tail. The redhead roared in annoyance from the attack, before glaring at Naruto. "HOW? How did you know that the tail was my weak point?!" Gaara demanded as Naruto sat up, rubbing his head with a foxy grin.

" demon told me..." he chuckled.

Rising to his feet again, Naruto concentrated, finding himself within his mindscape again, staring Kurama in the face. "Look, Kurama, I know you want to be a pain in my ass at every possible turn-" the fox snorted in amusement "-but I'm going to need a bit more chakra if we're to kick your annoying brother's ass" the blonde said. Kurama snickered, before reaching an arm through the bars of the cage.

"You may be an annoying human, Naruto Uzumaki, but you are an amusing one if nothing else. Ask and ye shall receive...just don't go too overboard" the fox chuckled, as red chakra seeped through the bars and out of Naruto's body, enveloping him in a red cloak as he crossed his fingers. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!"

Smoke filled the forest, followed by a sea of orange, as Satsuki and Shikamaru's eyes widened. "Holy crap! How does he have enough chakra for that?!" the Nara wondered, staring at the two thousand clones Naruto had created filling the trees.

"Like hell I'll lose to him! Let's do this!" Naruto shouted,his clones cheering in agreement as they launched forward, each pulling back a fist. "NARUTO U! ZU! MA! KI! TWO-THOUSAND HIT COMBO!" the clones shouted, pummeling Gaara's transformed body with an endless storm of attacks, easily demolishing the boy's sand body and shield with their hits. As Shukaku's form coalesced around him again, Naruto attacked Gaara again, this time with four thousand kicks, knocking the Suna Genin to the ground below.

At this, Gaara utterly lost control, much to Temari's horror. "Oh no! He's transforming...we're all going to die unless we run now!" the Suna kunoichi thought, turning to run away; Shikamaru trying to grab Satsuki and pursue. A mountain of sand rose from the ground below them, destroying the clones and wrapping around Gaara and forming the body of a gold and blue tanuki with one single tail and blank eyes.

"Your life is now forfeit, Naruto Uzumaki! I shall now prove my existence!" Gaara's voice echoes from Shukaku, as sand closed around the blonde, who wiped a stream of blood on his hand and flashed through five hand seals. "Sand Coffin!" Gaara shouted, as the sand constricted.

"KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU!" Naruto responded.

And then, in a monstrous burst of smoke and wind, a massive toad appeared in the forest.


Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Your life is now forfeit, Naruto Uzumaki! I shall now prove my existence!" Gaara's voice echoes from Shukaku, as sand closed around the blonde, who wiped a stream of blood on his hand and flashed through five hand seals. "Sand Coffin!" Gaara shouted, as the sand constricted. "KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU!" Naruto responded.

And then, in a massive burst of smoke and wind, a massive toad appeared in the forest.

The toad that Naruto had summoned was gargantuan; it was the same size as the Bijuu in front of it, and wore a massive blue expanse of cloth as a jacket. Its' red hide was covered in warts, and a pipe sat in its' mouth. "What the fuck is this?!" Gamabunta, the Toad Boss, bellowed at his summoner, who now stood atop his head.

"You never cease to amuse me...Naruto Uzumaki" Gaara's voice echoed.

The blonde stared, eyes blazing, at the sand construct in front of him. "Satsuki...Shikamaru...Konoha...I will protect all of them!" he declared, before looking down at the toad beneath his feet. "Big Boss Toad, lend me your strength against this guy!"

Gamabunta squinted at Shukaku, remembered who his summoner was, and snorted. "Nah. Don't feel like it."

Naruto gaped for a few moments, before his temper caught up. "The hell?! Isn't it a boss's duty to help out his underlings?" he shouted.

"But you're not officially my underling until we've drunk sake together; whether or not you're twelve be damned" Gamabunta responded nonchalantly.

"Hey Pops!" Gamakichi added.

"Gamakichi? The hell are you doing here?" Gamabunta asked.

"Doesn't matter. What does matter is that Naru-bro has been protecting me from that guy - he was bullying me!" the smaller toad said, pointing at Shukaku.

"Bullying you, eh? This will not stand!" Gamabunta roared, unsheathing his katana. "Kid, I accept you as my underling for now!"

The Toad Boss leapt forwards, putting all his weight into a massive strike, cleaving off the tanuki's right arm, which landed nearby and dissolved into sand. The katana itself spiraled through the air and landed, carving a massive trench through the forest and startling the other three Genin from Konoha and Suna, who were currently high-tailing it out of there. "HOW INTERESTING, NARUTO UZUMAKI!" Gaara shouted.

"Damn, that fucker's dense. I could barely get my sword through his sand" Gamabunta commented.

"Let me show you the true power of the Ichibi..." Gaara growled, before placing his hands in a Ram seal. "Tanuki Sleeping Technique!" And with that, the redhead drifted off almost immediately, his snoring being the only sound aside from the rumbling sand.

Suddenly, the Bijuu raised its' head to the sky and laughed. "AHAHAHA! After so many years, I'm finally free! Time to fuck shit up!"

Inside Naruto's mindscape, the Kyuubi groaned. "Fucking great. Now that damn tanuki has been released."

"Not giving up yet!" Naruto shouted in response.

"Well come at me then, motherfucker! I'll fuck you all up!" Shukaku responded. "Fuuton: Drilling Air Bullets!"

In response, Gamabunta leapt high into the air. "Suiton: Buckshot Waves!" The bullets of air and water collided, causing a miniature rainstorm to cascade over the forest, drenching Satsuki, Shikamaru and Temari.

"What power..." the Uchiha thought to herself in awe.

Gripping Shukaku's shoulders and landing in front of the tanuki, Gamabunta addressed Naruto. "Listen kid, the only way to beat Suna no Shukaku is to wake up the host. Extreme physical violence will be a sufficient wake-up call for him, but I need to hold him still."

"Any ideas?" Naruto asked.

"Just one. If you can use your hands to form seals for me, we can do a combination Henge - one with teeth and claws, preferably."

Before Naruto could respond, the voice of Kurama echoed through his seal. "Listen, Kit, I'm willing to help...but ONLY to kick my annoying brother's ass. I'll give you and that Sage-damned toad the chakra, if you do the seals..."

The blonde responded affirmatively to his tenant, before turning to Gamabunta. "Let's kick his ass!"

The toad charged forward, as Naruto formed Dog, Boar and Ram seals. "Henge no Jutsu!" three voices shouted simultaneously.

In an explosion of smoke, a massive nine-tailed orange fox appeared where the charging toad had been, rushing forward with bared claws and fangs. Shukaku responded by launching balls of air at them again, and again, and again. "Stay still, dammit!" the tanuki shouted, launching more blasts.

The fox leapt over one exceptionally large one and landed in front of Shukaku, as its' arms and tails all wrapped around Shukaku's limbs, tail and neck. "SHUKAKU, YOU IMBECILIC TANUKI!" Kurama's voice roared from the transformed toad's mouth.

"K-Kurama-niisan?" Shukaku almost squeaked in response.

"You're damn right it's me, you little shit! Now get back in your fucking box!"

"No! I don't wanna!" Shukaku whined in response.

"Well too fucking bad! Do you want me to get Matatabi in on this too? You know she's in town, right?" Kurama retorted, and the tanuki's eyes widened comically.

"Hell no! I'll just take you out here, then deal with her! BIJUUDAMA!"

A ball of Yin and Yang chakra coalesced in the Ichibi's mouth. Before it could fire the destructive technique, however, one of Kurama's tails gripped it around the neck and yanked upwards, causing the Bijuudama to fly upwards and away from Konoha, conveniently obliterating a platoon of Oto shinobi on their way as part of a second attack wave. "Nice shot, dickhead" Kurama snarked, before the henge dispelled to reveal Gamabunta, as Naruto leapt forwards and slugged Gaara in the jaw.


Gaara slowly began to regain consciousness, but it still wasn't enough. "Naruto Uzumaki...I will not let you end my existence!" the redhead muttered, half-asleep, as tendrils of sand shot towards the boy on Shukaku's nose. Gamabunta's tongue shielded the boy, before lifting him level with Gaara's head.

"I'm not ending your existence, moron! So WAKE UP!" Naruto shouted slamming his head into Gaara's.

Shukaku wailed incoherently as he dissolved into a mountain of sand on the forest floor, while Gamabunta poofed away, his job complete. The two Jinchuriki landed on the forest floor and ran at each other, fists cocked back for one final hit. Whoever struck first would be the victor.

At the last moment, Naruto's taijutsu training, however sabotaged it was, kicked in, allowing him to duck Gaara's fist and get past his shoddy guard - from the looks of it, nobody had ever taught him hand-to-hand because of his sand defense - and land a blow to Gaara's jaw, knocking the redhead on his back as Naruto dropped to his knees beside Gaara's prone form.

"No...I will not let you end or deny my existence!" Gaara shouted weakly, panic in his voice.

"Now why would I do that?" Naruto panted.

"Because I lost...there's no utility for me, no reason to be kept alive anymore if I'm a failed weapon" the redhead murmured.

"That's nonsense. I know what it feels like, to be alone, to kill or be killed, and it hurts so damn bad" Naruto said. "But it doesn't always have to be like that. The world's a shitty place and it sucks...but maybe, if we all try our best, we can make it suck less. cheesy as it sounds, is the power of love."

This struck a chord with Gaara. As the sounds of battle died out, the Konoha, Kumo and Kiri forces squashing the Oto and Suna invaders, the redhead stared at the sky thoughtfully, as he siblings landed next to him with a couple Konoha Genin - Shino, Shikamaru, Lee and Satsuki. "Love, eh? That doesn't sound so bad...Naruto Uzumaki" he chuckled, unable to move.

Naruto chuckled. "Told you so" he said, before his mind wandered elsewhere. "I wonder how jiji is doing against Hebi-teme?"

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Ahem" Orochimaru said, clapping his hands. "I hate to break up the happy reunions and introductions, but-" he snapped his fingers "-I'm putting them back under my control. Time to fight to the death." As the three living Kage, one Kage-level shinobi and four dead Kage prepared to battle, the carnage continued to unfold, as a force of two hundred elite Kiri shinobi joined the battle, attacking Suna and Oto forces in defense of Konoha, while the few Kumo forces in the village aided them.

All four reanimated Kage started forwards, their movements unnatural and zombielike - appropriate, given that they were indeed zombies, especially now that their personalities had been removed. Hashirama and the Mizukage ran straight towards their foes, while Tobirama and the Raikage ran up the side of the pagoda-style roof to its' peak. Orochimaru himself, meanwhile, dropped to the ground and sat in the lotus position, content to watch his Edo Tensei revenants fight their successors. Outside the barrier, three ANBU Black Ops launched jutsu after jutsu in an attempt to break the Four Violet Flames Formation.

Hiruzen wove seven quick hand seals, then inhaled. "Katon: Fire Dragon Flame Bullet!" A dragon-shaped stream of fire burst out of the Third's mouth, colliding head-on with Hashirama and Gengetsu, slowing the latter somewhat due to his water-based physiology.

Hashirama, however, remained undeterred and leapt forwards, nailing Hiruzen in the face with several vicious lefts and rights, before A interrupted him with an elbow drop enhanced by lightning. "Focus up, Sarutobi!" the Raikage snapped, before tackling his father midair.

As Gengetsu regained his senses after being barbecued and partially boiled, Mei grabbed the Second Mizukage by his obscenely high collar and threw him in the air towards the peak of the roof, before following him while making sure to use Tobirama as a glorified stepping stone on the way up, before vaulting over the roof's peak onto the other side. A and his father traded thunderous strikes atop the pagoda's roof, while Hiruzen took the brief moment of reprieve to bite his thumb. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Monkey King Enma!"

In a puff of smoke, a large white ape wearing a Konoha forehead protector appeared next to Hiruzen, glaring at the Snake Sannin. "So Orochimaru has returned. You do intend to kill him this time, right?" the ape questioned, as Hiruzen solemnly nodded, weaving hand seals.

"Katon: Great Flame Jutsu!" A wall of fire exploded out of the Third's mouth, ripping up roof tiles and emitting enough heat that Mei could feel it through the pagoda of the roof as it traveled towards the reanimated Hokage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the roof, Mei had used the old Kirigakure favorite known as Suiton: Hidden Mist Jutsu to hide herself from Gengetsu as best she could. "I'm no master of silent killing like Zabuza or Haku are" Mei said, weaving a single hand seal. "But it'll have to do. Futton: Dissolving Vapor Jutsu!" Another cloud of mist emerged from her mouth, but unlike the other one, this was highly acidic, and the reanimated Second could feel it eating away at his clay-and-ash body.

"An impressive attack indeed, Lady Fifth" he complimented, before creating a clone. "Water Clone Technique: Steaming Danger Tyranny!" A deformed clone appeared next to the Hozuki, formed from the water and oil of his body. Mei steeled herself, knowing that arguably the most infamous all-purpose offense and defense ninjutsu in Kirigakure history was being used against her.

Upon the peak of the roof, A exchanged blows with his father, both empowered by their family's signature Raiton Chakra Mode. "You have grown strong indeed, my son" the Third complimented the Fourth, as he blocked a Lightning Straight.

"And your body is still as tough as ever, pops!" A responded, leaping back as the signature black lightning of the Third, an ability passed onto him from the Second, crackled around his form.

"Raiton: Black Panther!" A large beast made of black electricity materialized in midair, pouncing at the Fourth, who narrowly dodged it.

Back with the Hokages, Tobirama had used a Suiton: Water Formation Wall to endure the strongest technique of the Sarutobi Clan, fire colliding with water to create a massive cloud of steam. Clapping his hands, Tobirama returned fire with a massive wave of water. "Suiton: Water Colliding Wave!" The massive wave towered almost to the peak of the roof, as Hiruzen's eyes widened in surprise.

"Doton: Mud-Brick Wall!" the Third shouted, spitting out a stream of mud that grew into a towering stone monolith, deflecting the water around him as it rose.

Leaping to the top of the wall, Hiruzen used another technique he had developed, this one shortly before his retirement. "Katon: Blazing Meteors!" A number of small, but very hot fireballs shot from his mouth towards the two Hokage. Once again, Tobirama retaliated with more water, blowing his fireballs apart and forcing him to leap out of the way of a Suiton: Water Severing Wave, the pressure of which sliced through where he had stood just moments earlier with ease.

A loud explosion came from the other side of the roof, and Mei shot backwards out of the thick mist hanging heavy in the air by this point. "Yoton: Melting Apparition Technique!" she shouted, before spitting a large glob of acidic mud towards where Gengetsu was presumably hidden. She and A both landed atop the wall of rock next to Hiruzen.

"Mud?" A inquired. "Back in Kumo, Yoton techniques usually involve vulcanized rubber."

Mei shrugged. "It's a weird Kekkei Genkai. Not only can it be found in three of the Five Great Villages, but in addition to the molten rock anyone can use, almost everybody has some unique take on it."

A small sprout grew in a crack in the roofing tiles, followed by another, then a whole root. Hiruzen's eyes widened. "Not the time! Hashirama-sama is going all out!" he said, before looking to the impossibly sturdy staff in his hands. "Enma!" The transformed monkey grunted, before cloning several times, and forming a large box around the three Kage. "Adamantine Prison Wall!"

"Mokuton Hijutsu: Deep Forest Emergence!" The roof tiles and mud wall all exploded from the force of the trees now growing from them. The adamantine cage that the three Kage stood in rocked and shook, but refused to break, despite the legendary power of the technique that Hashirama had used to grow the forests around Konoha eighty-five years earlier.

"Not too shabby, Sarutobi-sensei" Orochimaru said casually. "Resisting one of the most feared ninjutsu in history can't be easy."

A growled. "We're all at a disadvantage. Every one of them has abilities that either counter ours or are superior versions."

Mei raised her one visible eyebrow. "Then what do you suggest, Raikage-dono?" the redheaded Mizukage asked.

"Simple" the blonde man began, as the Adamantine Prison Wall poofed away, leaving only the one staff in Hiruzen's hand. "We switch opponents!"

With that, A leapt forwards, grabbing Tobirama's neck and throwing him over the roof towards Gengetsu, intending to use his Raiton abilities to neutralize the two Suiton legends.

"I can use Fuuton, so I'll fight the Third" Hiruzen said, brandishing Enma as he leapt at the strongest Raikage in history, while Orochimaru got to his feet and followed, not intent to let his former sensei off so easily.

"I hate my life..." Mei growled, as she stared down the "God of Shinobi", Hashirama Senju. "This is going to suuuuuuuuck!"

Meanwhile, outside the barrier, Ibiki Morino ran across the rooftops, followed by a small group of Konoha Chuunin. "Kami, I hope we're not too late" the scarred Torture and Interrogation head thought, before looking back over his shoulder. "Izumo! Kotetsu! Iwashi! You know the drill!" he shouted, as the three Chuunin all saluted, before leaping into the Kage's Box, while Ibiki himself leapt onto the roof.

"Thank you, Kinuta" the scarred man thought, remembering what the similarly scarred Oto Genin had told him about the Four Violet Flames Formation. In the distance, he watched as the imposing form of the Ichibi collapsed into a pile of sand, while the massive Toad Boss facing it poofed away. "Looks like the invasion has lost its' biggest weapon" Ibiki thought, before his three subordinates leapt onto the roof behind him. "They're all in place, Ibiki-taichou!"

"Excellent" Ibiki responded, reaching into his trenchcoat and pulling out a kunai with a seal attached to it and throwing it at the barrier, where it landed next to the red-haired girl.

"Huh? The fuck was that supposed to do?!" she shouted, before noticing the remote detonation seal on the handgrip.

"Boom" was all the T&I head had to say.

The array of explosive seals on the underside of the Kage's Box detonated in a powerful blast, causing the girl to lose her concentration as she fell into the new hole in to roof. The Four Violet Flames Formation collapsed without its' fourth caster, just as Orochimaru had finished coughing up the Sword of Kusanagi, while Hiruzen and the Third Raikage exchanged blows, Mei did her best to avoid several flying bamboo shoots launched by Hashirama, and a blue glow indicated the use of some high-level Raiton by A against Gengetsu and Tobirama.

The Snake Sannin paused as he realize that the Sound Four's supposedly impermeable barrier had been destroyed, and an annoyed expression crossed his face. Looking down towards the arena floor, he realized that Kimimaro and Kabuto were on the back foot against three high-level Konoha and Kiri Jonin, and the Ichibi had been defeated off in the distance. "Oh bollocks" Orochimaru groaned, before turning to the Sound Four. "Pack it up, we're out of here!" he shouted, as the five Oto shinobi fled the scene, joined by their two compatriots as they ran like hell out of Konoha.

The Edo Tensei revenants all slowly dissolved into ash, revealing Zaku within Hashirama's body, the Rice Field Daimyo inside Tobirama's, the lilac-haired Fuma Clan shinobi within A the Third, and Hayate's body inside Gengetsu's. One of the ANBU outside the barrier slowly removed her possum mask, revealing a purple-haired woman underneath. Wordlessly, Yugao Uzuki brushed the remaining ash off her deceased lover's body, as the other shinobi all looked on.

As the sounds of fighting died down once Suna's forces realized that they'd been duped, and Oto's were destroyed, Hiruzen peered wearily out over the rooftops of Konoha. After a few moments, the Third Hokage, renowned as the gentle-hearted yet formidable leader of Konoha for over a half-century between his two terms, groaned and turned to his subordinates and said three simple words.

"I f***ing quit."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

As the sounds of fighting died down once Suna's forces realized that they'd been duped, and Oto's were destroyed, Hiruzen peered wearily out over the rooftops of Konoha. After a few moments, the Third Hokage groaned, turned to his subordinates and said three simple words.

"I f***ing quit."

The air was somewhat tense in the Hokage's office, as Hiruzen sat wearily behind his desk. Gathered in the room were the four Konoha Jonin-sensei - Gai, Asuma, Kakashi and Kurenai - as well as Ibiki, Jiraiya and Iruka. After a few moments of silence, the Third sighed, and began to speak.

"I'm sure you all want to know why I've called you here, and some of you may know what I intend to discuss" Hiruzen said, before looking at Ibiki. "Tokubetsu Jonin Morino, in recognition of your efforts to bring down the barrier around myself and my fellow Kage, which likely saved our lives, I believe you are deserving of a promotion to full Jonin." The scarred man looked slightly surprised, but quickly regained his composure, striking an imposing figure.

"As you wish, Hokage-sama, but I believe that credit is due not to me, but rather to our two young defectors from Otogakure" Ibiki responded.

Hiruzen's face crinkled slightly into a smile. "That is the next order of business; what is to be done with our three newest former foreign assets?" The others in the room frowned slightly. "Three?" all of them thought.

"I can tell you are slightly confused. We acquired a young lady named Karin, who is of Uzumaki heritage, from Kusagakure after the second stage of the exam. They were apparently using her as a healer, and her mother had died from overwork, with her own future looking much the same." Noting the slight looks of anger on the Jonin and Chuunin's faces, Hiruzen added to his statement. "I was, just this once, more than happy to let Danzo do the negotiating once the girl informed me of how she was treated."

Those in the know about the ROOT leader derived some measure of amusement in knowing that the warhawk and his fearsome reputation had actually been helpful for once. "I would like to know if any of you four would be willing to take on the responsibility of an extra Genin" Hiruzen continued, addressing Asuma, Gai, Kakashi and Kurenai.

The younger Sarutobi chuckled slightly. "From what I can tell, Dosu Kinuta is a fairly decent tactician, and his personality would fit in well with Team Ten. I'll gladly take him."

Kurenai raised her hand as well, now that her maybe sort-of-kind-of boyfriend had thrown his hat in the ring. "Kin Tsuchi's specialty is auditory genjutsu, and she seems to have decent talent in that regard. I could help broaden her horizons and polish her abilities, not to mention she'd be the only genjutsu specialist on Team Eight. I volunteer to look after her."

Hiruzen nodded, writing on a piece of paper. "That's two. Any takers for the Uzumaki?"

Before Jiraya or Kakashi could say anything, Gai raised his hand. "Miss Karin, from what I could tell of her when I first met her, is in need of significantly better physical training to compliment her natural sensory abilities. She will benefit greatly from my youthful training!"

Kakashi sweatdropped. "That poor girl."

Jiraiya, meanwhile, chuckled internally. "Gai sure is a good case of appearances being deceiving. You could think he's just a spandex-wearing, youth-obsessed taijutsu nutjob, but he's actually tactically gifted and an excellent teacher."

Clearing his throat, Jiraiya spoke up. "How can we ensure that any of them are loyal though?" the Sannin asked, raising a legitimate concern.

Hiruzen stroked his grey beard solemnly. "The two from Otogakure are both aware of and disgusted by the fact that their teammate was used by Orochimaru as a human sacrifice, and they were more than willing to sell his plans out to us despite, or perhaps because of, their near-assassination at the hands of Kabuto Yakushi. And given the Uzumaki's treatment, she has no love for Kusagakure."

Seeing this answer as acceptable, Jiraiya nodded and stepped back in line. "Now, on to the next issue at hand - my successor" Hiruzen said, appearing to age even more before his subordinates' eyes. "There are very few candidates actually strong enough to realistically hold the position, and most of them are in this room. Kakashi-" Hiruzen began, before the silver-haired Jonin interrupted. "Nope."

"Fine. Iruka?" Hiruzen asked hopefully.

"I apologize, Lord Third, but if I've been avoiding a promotion to Jonin for the past two years, I doubt a promotion to Hokage is any more appealing, given how much I enjoy teaching." The Third nodded in approval of "Konoha's Strongest Chuunin" and his willingness to forego promotion to teach the next generation.

"Gai?" The bushy-browed Jonin shook his head, flashing Nice Gai Pose 22A. "I'm sorry, Hokage-sama, but I would not be a youthful enough candidate for Hokage."

Several of the others did their best not to sigh in relief. "Thank kami."

"Anyway, that leaves only three people" Hiruzen said, pointing to Jiraiya. "You, Tsunade and Danzo." At the last one, every single person in the room immediately responded in unison.

"Fuck no."

The Third chuckled. "Then it's either you or Tsunade, Jiraiya."

The Toad Sage stroked his nonexistent beard, before a sly grin developed on his face. "Well, y'know, being Hokage might not be so bad..." he began, grabbing everyone's attention with that statement.

" mean it?" Hiruzen asked hopefully.

"Of course! Just know that, if I'm made Hokage, I will make a few changes once I'm in office" Jiraiya responded.

Eyebrows raised. "Changes? What kind of changes?" Kakashi inquired.

Jiraiya smiled as bright as the sun itself. "I'm glad you asked, Kakashi-san! On that day, all kunoichi will be required to wear...TINY MINISKIRTS!"

A slight trail of blood flowed from both Kakashi and Hiruzen's noses. Gai, Asuma, Ibiki and Iruka all blinked a few times, then sweatdropped. As for Kurenai, a dark aura surrounded her. "Pervert" she hissed, and with that, the Third was snapped out of his miniskirt-induced reverie. "R-Right. Jiraiya, you're leaving in two days to find Tsunade" he said firmly, as Jiraiya grinned knowing that his plan had worked, and Kakashi resisted the urge to moan in disappointment.

"Anyway, now for our final order of business. As you all likely know, the three children of the Fourth Kazekage were captured two days ago by a task force of our Genin, consisting of Naruto Uzumaki, Satsuki Uchiha, Shikamaru Nara and Shino Aburame. Suna has unconditionally surrendered in the wake of learning of their leader's demise, so the three are technically our prisoners of war" Hiruzen said, as Iruka looked ready to protest that they were children and didn't deserve this.

Turning to Jiraiya, the Hokage cleared his throat. "Before you leave to find Tsunade, I want you to modify the seal on Gaara, the Ichibi Jinchuriki. This move will both benefit and punish Suna, since they will no longer have a Jinchuriki with a seal unstable enough to release his Bijuu the way their invasion plans had intended, but he will be mentally more stable and capable of drawing on the Bijuu's abilities with no ill effect."

Jiraiya sighed. "I've already seen that seal, and whoever did it did an utterly crap job. I get that Suna isn't known for fuinjutsu prowess, but come on, that Four Winds Seal wasn't even applied right, and it's sealing the Bijuu into his brain - arguably the last place you want a being of malevolent chakra to be stored. I'll apply a double-layered Four Winds Seal on his stomach and transfer the Bijuu's chakra there."

Hiruzen nodded. "I expect nothing but your best work, as ever, Jiraiya. Meeting dismissed."

A day later...

Jiraiya appeared in front of Naruto in a puff of smoke. "Yo, Ero-Sennin!" the blonde said, unperturbed by the sudden arrival of his sensei.

"I told you to stop calling me that, dammit!" Jiraiya growled in frustration, before shaking his head. "But nevermind that, we're going to track down my old teammate Tsunade to be the next Hokage tomorrow morning."

Naruto raised an eyebrow. "Let me guess: jiji wants to retire again" he deadpanned, and Jiraiya laughed in response. "Damn right he does; he's still annoyed that your dad made him go back to those piles of paperwork."

The blonde snorted in response to this.

"What time do we leave?" "0900 hours, South Gate. She was last seen in Tanzaku Quarters, in the southern region of the Land of Fire."

The next morning, at 0900 hours, Jiraiya and Naruto did indeed depart in search of Tsunade, headed towards Tanzaku Quarters, located some 150 kilometers to the south. Their destination was notorious for being one of the shadiest locations in the country, home to gambling dens, dozens of bars, and prostitution, among other such things. In other words, it was exactly where you'd find one of the most notorious gambling losers in the world.

"She's gotten a very infamous nickname" Jiraiya said, watching his student's sense of curiosity build to a fever pitch. "Really? What is it?" Naruto asked eagerly.

Jiraiya laughed, thinking that it was too easy to get his student hooked on his words. "She's called...the legendary sucker!" Naruto turned red at the possible connotations, and even the Super Pervert of Mount Myoboku found it necessary to clear his teammate's name. "It's because of how bad she is at gambling, not...well, you know."

Arriving as evening fell in a small town called Karakura, halfway between Konohagakure and Tanzaku Quarters, Naruto and Jiraiya checked into a hotel. "Okay" Jiraiya instructed his student. "Here's what I want you to do this evening. I'm going to go gather information and get food for us, and you can check into the hotel room and continue training your Fuuton affinity. Understood?"

Naruto nodded in agreement and grabbed the key. "Got it, Ero-Sennin!" he said, turning to head up the stairs to the second floor. As he looked back, he briefly saw a scantily-clad woman leading Jiraiya off in some random direction, and his temper briefly ignited.

"Pervert" he muttered, before entering and locking himself into the hotel room, pulling out a ream of paper in place of leaves for the wind cutting exercise, a set of rubber balls for refining his Rasengan, and a cup of instant ramen noodles, which he set to making while several clones began the other exercises, bantering with each other as they progressed.

After a half hour or so, a knock came at the door. "Hm? One of you want to get that?" he said, gesturing to one of his clones. They all grumbled in disagreement, so the real Naruto relented and, setting his noodles down, walked over and opened the door. "About time you showed up, Ero-Sennin! I was starting to worry if you were falling into the shinobi...vices..."

The reason Naruto trailed off was because, instead of looking up at the white-haired, red-clad Toad Sage, he instead stared up at what literally any man - Naruto included - and many women would describe as a downright beautiful woman. Hair as black as midnight, with two birthmarks running down between her eyes and across the pale skin of her face, the woman was clad in a black cloak with red clouds, and wore a wide-brimmed hat on her head.

Removing the hat, the boy noticed the most striking feature of her face - the two fully-developed Sharingan eyes, glaring bright red at him. Inside his gut, Kurama growled angrily at the sight of the eyes that had twice enslaved him. Looking behind her to see an impossibly tall, blue-skinned man with a curious wrapped package on his back and the same cloak, Naruto felt a chill run down his spine, now knowing who he was looking at.  "I-Itami-neesan?!" he thought, recalling "Weasel", one of the few ANBU who was truly nice to him as a kid.

"Naruto-kun, will you please come with us?" Itami Uchiha, the genius, prodigy, and perhaps most importantly, clan-killer, asked the orange clad boy.

The Dawn had arrived. Akatsuki had taken center stage.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Naruto-kun, will you please come with us?" Itami Uchiha, the genius, prodigy, and perhaps most importantly, clan-killer, asked the orange clad boy.

The Dawn had arrived. Akatsuki had taken center stage.

On a nearby rooftop, a man clad in well-worn black armor and a burlap cloak sat, watching the proceedings, face unseen behind his porcelain animal mask and red ribbon. The mystery man known only as "Sparrow" remained watchful, uncertain as to whether or not he should interfere...

Back in the hotel room, Naruto still stared in stunned silence at the Clan-Killer, Sharingan no Itami, as her shark-like partner walked up to the door and regarded the small, orange-clad child in front of them. "Honestly, who'd think this guy contained the Kyuubi?" Kisame asked, and a feeling like ice water flowed down Naruto's spine. "They know about the Kyuubi?"

Itami knelt down in front of Naruto and reached out a hand to ruffle the boy's hair. "Naruto-kun, would you please come with us?" she asked politely, once again.

Kisame scoffed. "We need to get started, Itami. Should I cut off an arm or a leg for the sake of making him lighter?" the Kiri Missing-Nin asked his partner, who resisted the urge to sigh at the shark-man's bloodthirstiness.

Then, the window down the hall exploded, as a dark-haired projectile landed in the hallway, red eyes glaring with hatred.

The elder Uchiha got to her feet and looked down the hallway. "Long time no see, foolish imouto" she said, as Satsuki glared at her.

"You! I...I will kill you!" the younger ravenette roared. "I've spent every day since you killed our clan hating you and becoming stronger just to kill you!" Forming a series of hand seals, lightning chakra crackled around Satsuki's left hand as the Chidori formed.

"Prepare to face your judgement, Itami Uchiha!" she shouted, racing forwards. The Chidori left a long trench in the wall next to her as she ran towards her target, whose red Sharingan eyes remained as impassive as ever. On the street outside, several passerby were startled by the second-story wall of the hotel exploding, a few flashes of lightning illuminating the resulting dust cloud.

Satsuki pulled her arm out of the broken wall, while Naruto stared at the remains of he and Jiraiya's hotel room, noticing that his noodles had been destroyed in the explosion. Itami grabbed Satsuki's left arm, and in one deft movement, broke her younger sister's wrist.

"Leave her alone, dammit!" Naruto growled, as his five remaining shadow clones rushed forwards, intent on rescuing his teammate.

Reaching down into Kurama's chakra reserves, Naruto bit his thumb and began weaving hand seals. "Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey, Ram! Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" he shouted. In a puff of smoke, Gamakichi appeared on the floor, and Naruto sweatdropped. "Seriously? I thought I had enough for someone bigger!" he groaned, before realizing that all the Bijuu chakra had vanished.

Kisame chuckled. "Samehada says that your chakra is tasty" the shark-man stated, before the wrapped package on his back growled a little, and he sweatdropped. "Let me revise that: Samehada says that your chakra is downright delicious."

Naruto gawked momentarily in awe. "You can talk to your sword? That's so badass!"

"Right?!" Kisame agreed, before a loud thump and a groan of agony alerted Naruto to Satsuki getting her ass beaten by her elder sister.

"Shit!" the boy cursed internally, slipping past the surprised Kiri Missing-Nin as he formed the Shadow Clone seal.

Kisame made to pursue, but was interrupted by a green blur kicking him in the face. "DYNAMIC ENTRY!" shouted Might Gai, the Beautiful Blue Beast of Konohagakure.

"Thank you, Gai-sensei!" Naruto said mentally, as his clone gathered chakra in his right palm, forming a swirling ball of sheer force.

Itami held her younger sister against the wall in a chokehold, eyes morphing from the three tomoe of a matured Sharingan to a three-pointed pinwheel. "Your issue, imouto, is that you lack the hatred needed to beat me. Maybe this will help you hate me more...Tsukuyomi." The sky turned red, and the world turned dark, as the younger Uchiha stood in an all-too familiar room. On the floor in front of her knelt five figures. Her mother, Mikoto, her father, Fugaku, and...her teammates and sensei?

A shadow loomed behind them as Itami stepped into the moonlight, looking just as she did on that terrible night, wearing her old ANBU uniform and holding her tanto in hand. "Relive that day, and the days to come, for the next three days..." the specter said, raising her sword.

", no, no, no! Please don't do it!" Satsuki pleaded, but it was no use.

"Let your hatred grow, or this dream shall become reality."

In the outside world, the younger Uchiha screamed after a quarter second of eye contact, before falling unconscious. Itami let go of her younger sister just in time to avoid Naruto's Rasengan, which destroyed another wall on the opposite side of the hotel from the first one. "What the hell are you doing to her?!" the blonde growled, attempting to attack Itami again.

"Interesting. You care for her? This won't do, not at all..." the Clan-Killer commented, drawing out a kunai and slashing it down towards Naruto.

In a puff of smoke, a large, armored toad appeared in front of Naruto, blocking Itami's strike with its' bracers as Jiraiya entered the scene. "A transformed Shadow Clone? Seriously? I thought you knew me better than that, Uchiha" the Toad Sage said, taking in the scene. "This isn't good. I wasted too much time out there..."

"Do I though?" the Uchiha responded, as Jiraiya wove seven hand seals and slammed his hands on the ground. "Kuchiyose: Toad Mouth Bind!"

The interior of the hallway transformed from wood and plaster into flesh and blood. "What the heck is this?" Kisame asked, ducking another blow from Gai.

"I'm glad you asked! You're now inside the esophagus of one of the Giant Fire Toads of Mount Myoboku! You two wanted criminals will make excellent food for it!" Jiraiya said, as Itami's red eyes widened slightly.

"Kisame, we're getting out of here!" she said, as her partner blocked another of Gai's strikes with Samehada, before turning and running, followed by tendrils of flesh.

Rounding a corner, the two Akatsuki members found themselves at a dead end. "I didn't want to use it today, but...Amaterasu!" Itami said, as her right eye bled slightly. Jiraiya, Gai and Naruto went around the same corner to find a hole in the toad's esophagus, with black flames burning around it.

"Stay back! Those are the unquenchable black flames of Amaterasu!" the Toad Sage barked, as he pulled out a spare sealing scroll and began to write on it, before making a hand seal.

"Fuinjutsu: Flame Binding" The black fire was all sucked into the scroll, forming the kanji for "Flame" on the paper. Jiraiya wrapped the scroll up in twine and sealed it in another scroll. "I'll save that for a rainy day..." he muttered, before turning to look at Satsuki's prone form.

Naruto knelt down beside his raven-haired teammate and attempted to wake her. "It's no good...she won't wake up..." he said. "Whatever Itami did, it rendered enough mental damage to put her in a coma" Jiraiya murmured, before turning to Gai. "Thank you for the assistance, Gai-san. Could you please make sure that Uchiha-san receives medical attention as soon as possible?" Gai nodded and went over to pick up the Uchiha.

Before the green-clad Jonin could take Satsuki, Naruto wiped some of the blood off her face and rubbed it between his fingers. "Itami Uchiha...I swear that I will not let you harm my teammate like this again" he growled, staring with slit, foxlike pupils in the direction that the two Akatsuki members had fled.

A day later, Naruto and Jiraiya had made it to Tanzaku Quarters, and were currently wandering from bar to bar looking for Tsunade. "Oh, the Legendary Sucker? I heard that she was in town, yeah" a drunk old man said at one of the bars. "She was last seen hanging out at the Lucky 38, about 700 meters thataways" he continued, gesturing south down the main drag.

"Thank you, kind stranger!" Jiraiya said, before turning to the bartender and handing him 200 ryo. "Add this as credit to that man's tab, I owe him" he said, gesturing to the old man, who continued drinking as if nothing had happened. "C'mon Naruto, we're almost there!"

Rushing down the street, Naruto and Jiraiya found a small but fairly nice-looking gambling den with a sign saying "Lucky 38 Casino - Tanzaku's best since 50 SG!" over the door. As Jiraiya turned to enter, however, he ran headlong into someone else, as they both fell to the ground rubbing their heads.

"Owwww! What the hell?!" he growled.

An all too familiar voice growled back at him. "What's wrong with you! I'm in a hurry, dammit!"

The two finished rubbing their heads and sat up, looking into each other's eyes with a mixture of surprise and regret. "H-Hime?" Jiraiya stammered.

"Jiraiya? The hell are you doing here?" asked the blonde bombshell he had run into, who was none other than Tsunade Senju, the Slug Sannin.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The two finished rubbing their heads and sat up, looking into each other's eyes with a mixture of surprise and regret. "H-Hime?" Jiraiya stammered. "Jiraiya? The hell are you doing here?" asked the blonde bombshell he had run into, who was none other than Tsunade Senju, the Slug Sannin.

A few minutes later, Naruto found himself sitting next to and conversing with Tsunade's apprentice Shizune Kato, who was holding a small pig on her lap. The four people and one pig were currently in the Tanzaku Cantina - Jiraiya and Tsunade were, predictably, at the bar, while the two younger individuals sat at a nearby table, eating dinner. "So, why did you come to find Tsunade-sama and I?" Shizune asked Naruto.

The blonde finished eating his fourteenth bowl of ramen, then answered. "We came to find Tsunade because jiji wants to retire again, so Tsunade is the best option to become-!" he began, before Tsunade's voice cut him off. "I refuse! I will not become the Hokage just because Sarutobi-sensei wants to retire!"

Jiraiya laughed. "I figured you'd say that; you always refused to go on a date with me too" he joked.

The Slug Sannin groaned and finished her sake. "God, first Orochimaru, then you; it's been a regular Sannin reunion today."

Jiraiya's features sharpened. "You saw Orochimaru? What did he want?"

Tsunade glared at Shizune just before she could open her mouth and say anything. "Nothing much; he just came by for a friendly greeting." Jiraiya snorted in amusement, but left it at that.

"Anyway, I refuse to become Hokage. Sensei needs to get some other idiot to do it, who knows that they're doomed to die in office like all the other fools aside from him have" Tsunade said, and Naruto felt his temper FLARE. Jiraiya sighed, because he knew exactly what was about to happen, as the younger blonde's chopsticks snapped in his grip and he got to his feet.

"The hell are you talking about, Granny?" he growled, and both Jiraiya and Shizune backed away, knowing that shit was about to get nasty.

"What did you just say, brat?! Jiraiya, this student is even worse than the last blonde brat you had studying under you!" Tsunade said.

"'That brat' has a name, dattebayo. It's Naruto Uzumaki, dammit!" the younger blonde returned fire.

"The Kyuubi container is this kid? This is Minato and Kushina's son?" Tsunade wondered.

"Whatever, brat. Listen, Hokage is a job for fools. My grandfather Tobirama, grand-uncle Hashirama and the Fourth all gave their lives to protect that accursed village...they all died too young, because they risked their lives for Konoha. Lives can't be gambled like money can; anyone who does will die an early death like a loser!" Tsunade said, and Naruto's rage reached a fever pitch.

"Listen Granny, I don't care what you have to say about the job of Hokage itself, but don't spit on the graves of your family and my dad, dammit!" he growled. Tsunade's eyes widened for a brief moment.

"Holy shit, he knows his heritage? Who told him?!"

"So the brat knows his heritage, eh? Who told him?" she asked Jiraiya.


The Slug Sannin resisted the urge to facepalm. "That idiot is still salty about getting passed over?"

"Let's take this outside, brat" the older blonde said, marching out in the street with the others behind her.

Holding up a single finger, Tsunade boasted about her strength. "It's still years too soon for you to be challenging any of the Sannin, brat. One finger is all I'll need to deal with you."

Naruto tied his forehead protector back on in response and drew a kunai from his weapons holster. "Bring it, Granny!" he shouted, before charging at Tsunade.

In a matter of moments, Tsunade had stepped back to avoid his kunai slash, pulled the kunai from his grip, and sent him flying backwards down the street with a flick to his forehead, dinging the metal of his forehead protector. "Brat...before you pass out, tell me: why do you care about the office of Hokage so much?" Tsunade asked, looking down at Naruto's prone form as he slowly struggled to his feet. A Shadow Clone appeared next to the boy as he held his hand out.

"'s my dream!" the younger blonde responded, as the clone gathered chakra into a swirling mass in his right hand, as Tsunade's eyes widened.

"Jiraiya, you seriously taught him the Rasengan?" she asked, as another flashback haunted her - this time of a blue-haired man and a small brown-haired boy, standing alongside the silhouetted figure of Minato Namikaze.

"What can I say? The kid's a natural" Jiraiya shrugged, as Naruto charged forwards.

At the last moment, Tsunade opened a crack in the ground, causing Naruto to trip and fall, burying the swirling ball in the ground and creating a large crater as a result. "It's still incomplete though" the older blonde noted, before lifting Naruto out of the crater he created. "You know what, kid, I'll make a bet with you. If you can complete your father's technique in a week, I'll go back to Konoha and become Hokage - and I'll throw in my grand-uncle Hashirama's priceless necklace. If not, then I'll never return to that village."

"I accept your bet" Naruto groaned, just before passing out.

"Shizune, take him back to the hotel and let him rest until he wakes up. Jiraiya, we're getting more sake" Tsunade said, turning and storming back into the bar.

The blonde boy re-awoke on a soft bed in a nearby hotel, Shizune sitting near his bedside. "Ugh...I feel like Gamabunta was breakdancing on top of me..." Naruto muttered. "That old woman hits hard."

"Tsunade-sama...she wasn't always like this" Shizune sighed. "She used to care deeply about Konohagakure, and was arguably the greatest medic of all time, but she's lost a lot in her life." Naruto raised an eyebrow as Shizune continued. "Tsunade-sama has extensive psychological scars from losing people she cares about over the course of her life. Back in the Second War, she gave that necklace to her little brother Nawaki Senju, who wanted to be Hokage. The next day, an explosive trap killed him."

Naruto's eyes widened in shock. "The next person she gave that necklace to, who also wanted to be Hokage, was my uncle, Dan Kato - who also happened to be her fiance. He also met a bitter end in the Second War, and her inability to save him from blood loss has both led her to become afraid of blood and fall into a decades-long depression."

By this point, the blonde actually felt sympathetic for the woman who had beaten him up earlier. "Orochimaru suddenly betraying Konoha and the Fourth's death only sent her spiraling further down. I sometimes suspect that the only reason she hasn't gone to join them is because I'm still following her like a lost puppy" Shizune finished, a sad, bitter tone leaking into her voice, and the blonde's expression fell at the mention of his deceased father.

Naruto shook his head a few times. "I...shit, that sucks. I suppose I can relate to her a little..." he said sadly, before his expression brightened. "You know what? Fuck that. I won't just finish my dad's jutsu, I'll also get Granny Tsunade's hope back for her, dattebayo!"

With that, he tried to get to his feet to go train, but immediately fell back onto the bed. "Guess I'm stuck here until tomorrow" he laughed, and Shizune couldn't help but smile a little. "Even after everything he's been through, Naruto-kun is still so optimistic...losing Minato-sama and Kushina-neesan the day he was born, however bad the village treated him, all of it...I can't imagine living his life and still being the way he is."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"You know what, kid, I'll make a bet with you. If you can complete your father's technique in a week, I'll go back to Konoha and become Hokage - and I'll throw in my grand-uncle Hashirama's priceless necklace. If not, then I'll never return to that village."

The next day, Naruto followed Jiraiya to a small cliff with a waterfall flowing over it into a cool pool of water below, the streams of mist coming off the waterfall a welcome reprieve from the summer heat. "Okay kid, Tsunade-hime challenged you to complete your dad's jutsu last night when you picked a fight with her, so we need to get you started on that training."

Naruto raised his hand. "Wait, Ero-Sennin, the Rasengan is incomplete?"

The Toad Sannin resisted the urge to strangle his student's son. "Your dad could only get as far as advanced shape manipulation with the Rasengan. I am still amazed that you learned how to do it in two weeks while training for the Chuunin Exams, given how it took Minato three years to develop it."

The blonde shrugged. "Guess I'm just awesome like that, Ero-Sennin?"

Jiraiya sighed. "Yes, Naruto, I guess you are" he said, before getting back into "sensei-mode". "Anyway, your father could never quite figure out how to add his elemental affinity to the Rasengan. I imagine he'd have figured it out eventually, but he died before he could finish it. Kakashi also tried, but his lightning affinity didn't quite mesh well, and he invented the Chidori by accident."

Standing up, Jiraiya reached into his pocket. "Anyway, this is chakra paper. it's made from a tree that is fed chakra while it grows, and it lets you test affinities" he said.

Naruto coughed. "Ummmm, Ero-Sennin? Kakashi-sensei already tested our affinities; mine is Fuuton."

Jiraiya groaned. "Great. First Kakashi shows me up as a teacher, and then you turn out to have the hardest affinity for a Katon affinity like me to use."

Coughing into his fist, Jiraiya turned to pick a leaf. "Well, whatever. We'll start with the leaf exercise-!" he began, only to see a leaf split in half in Naruto's hand. "And you've already gotten that far" he grumbled, before slapping himself a few times to clear his head. "Okay brat, tell you what, I want you to list everything Kakashi has taught you alongside everything I've taught you."

The boy scratched his head. "Let's see...Kakashi-sensei taught me tree walking, water walking, leaf cutting with my Fuuton affinity, Fuuton: Great Breakthrough, the weaponized Kawarimi and the memory trick with Shadow Clones - which I learned that time I got tricked into stealing the Forbidden Scroll. You taught me the Kuchiyose no Jutsu, Rasengan and how to use the Kyuubi's chakra."

"It's Kurama, brat" the fox grumbled.

"I didn't think you'd want your name spread around like that, so I decided not to tell anyone unless you said so." Kurama remained uncharacteristically quiet after that.

"Okay, we'll be adding your Fuuton affinity to the Rasengan. Kakashi told you how Fuuton chakra works, right?"

Naruto nodded. "He bummed this info off of Asuma-sensei, but it cuts and grinds, right?"

Jiraiya flashed a thumbs-up. "That is correct. You're going to have to master your affinity before you can do that though, and I want you to cutting that waterfall!" he said, pointing to the nearby stream.


Four long, long, LONG days later, the blonde boy stood atop the stone pillar that Jiraiya had created for him to stand on while training. Nearby, several of his shadow clones crouched on the ground, splitting stones and leaves with Fuuton chakra in order to get the hang of elemental manipulation. "AAAAARGH!" Naruto shouted in frustration, his more childish impulses taking over again due to his inability to cut the waterfall.

Dispelling his clones, the boy sat down in the lotus position, following the advice Jiraiya had given him during the month of Chuunin Exam training on using meditation to clear your head. "Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale...wait, what?" To Naruto's surprise, he found himself in the sewer of his mindscape, staring directly at the visage of Kurama.

"Yo, fuzzball" the boy said, and Kurama resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"Foolish human, I have eaten thousands of your kind, and you dare call me 'Fuzzball'?" he growled.

"I do dare!" Naruto responded, sticking his tongue out and blowing a raspberry at Kurama.

The fox snorted. "Why have you come here, child? Finally come to release me from this blasted seal?" the Kyuubi's voice boomed through the sewer.

"Hell no!" Naruto shouted, before his face softened. "Actually...I'm not sure why I'm here, to be honest."

"You seem troubled." The boy groaned. "Well no shit, Sherlock. I just can't get this exercise right! I'm sticking my hands into the waterfall and I know I'm channeling chakra into them, but nothing is happening aside from me getting wet!"

"Have you tried pulling your arms away from each other?"

Naruto opened his mouth to object. Then stopped. Then let an annoyed look settle across his face. "Kami dammit, dattebayo! Why didn't I think of that sooner?!" The fox reached one long claw through the cage's bars and flicked Naruto in the forehead, knocking the blonde over as he rubbed his face. "Owwwwww! The hell was that for?!"

"For having quite literally no common sense. Now get out of here."

The blonde re-opened his eyes and stood back up on the pillar. "Stupid fox..." he muttered, much to Jiraiya's amusement. "Looks like he had another interaction with the Kyuubi." Naruto turned to face the falls, dipped his fingertips into the water, then pulled his arms away from each other and channeled his chakra, waiting for yet another failed attempt.

Instead, the water parted in a straight line from one side of the cascade to the other, with the Fuuton chakra carving a shallow groove into the stone behind the waterfall. Naruto and Jiraiya's jaws dropped in unison, and within the seal, Kurama smirked smugly. "Told you so, foolish human" he chuckled, much to Naruto's irritation.

Jiraiya regained his composure. "Good job, brat, but there's still more to do! Now you've gotta combine that with the Rasengan!"

Three more days passed, and Naruto was shaken awake on the morning of the seventh day by a panicking Shizune. "Naruto-kun, please wake up!" she said, as the blonde sat up.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm awake, dattebayo" he groaned.

"No time to waste!  Tsunade-sama is gone...I think she's gone to help Orochimaru!" the dark-haired woman said, and Naruto shot awake just as a loud thud sounded against the door.

Opening the hotel room door, the blonde was surprised to see Jiraiya laying on the floor. "Get up, Ero-Sennin! Granny is gonna go meet Hebi-teme!" he shouted.

"I know, brat" Jiraiya groaned. "She drugged me last night while we were drinking. I can barely use chakra and my motor skills are out of whack...even after years off duty, she's still an incredible medic and chemist..."

Conjuring two Shadow Clones to carry Jiraiya, Naruto took off with Shizune towards Tanzaku Castle...or its' ruins, anyway, given that Orochimaru had apparently destroyed it a week earlier with a snake summons. The trio arrived just in time to see Tsunade pursuing Orochimaru, Kimimaro and Kabuto outside of the wall around Tanzaku Quarters, apparently ready to fight.

The three groups - Orochimaru and his posse, Tsunade, and Naruto, Jiraiya and Shizune - arrived on a small grassy plain with a large knoll on one end, just outside Tanzaku Quarters. "You know, Hime, you could just give me the information on the Kaguya Clan that I need to heal Kimimaro-kun's terminal illness, and I'll gladly bring back Dan and Nawaki, then leave you the hell alone" Orochimaru said, a hint of disappointment entering his voice.

"Well, 'Rochi, I would do that for you...if you weren't a shifty little bastard, and if the catch for Edo Tensei wasn't sacrificing someone else's life to revive the deceased. Neither of them would ever want that, even if it was for me to hold them one last time" Tsunade said, drawing back into a taijutsu stance.

"Tsk, tsk. Looks like the old pervert is here too, though it doesn't look like he's good for much right now - your poison did a number on him, Hime" Orochimaru added, noticing Jiraiya.

"Pffft. If I'm a pervert, what does that make you for asking a little girl if you can have her body?" Jiraiya snorted, and Orochimaru immediately found himself on the receiving end of strange looks from everyone else present, even his two subordinates.

Facepalming, the Snake Sannin sighed. "I knew that introducing myself by saying 'I want your body' wasn't my best moment" he muttered, as his two teammates prepared to fight. "But enough of that...look, it's a regular Sannin Reunion!"

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The Snake Sannin sighed. "I knew that introducing myself by saying 'I want your body' wasn't my best moment" he muttered, as his two teammates prepared to fight. "But enough of that...look, it's a regular Sannin Reunion!"

Jiraiya glanced, entirely nonplussed, at his two ex-teammates. "We noticed" he said in a deadpan tone, while Tsunade shifted her stance slightly, ready to attack.

"You're no fun at all" Orochimaru muttered in disappointment, before turning to Kimimaro and Kabuto. "Kimimaro-kun, Kabuto-kun...please do the honors" the Snake Sannin said, coughing up the Sword of Kusanagi.

Tsunade drew a vial out of her...erm, assets...and tossed it to Jiraiya. "Here. This is the antidote to what I slipped you last night. It's a bit strong, but you should be back to full strength in forty-five seconds after drinking it" she said, as the Toad Sannin caught it.

"Bottoms up" he chuckled, emptying the foul-looking purple liquid into his mouth, before his eyes bugged out. "COUGH Holy shit, Hime COUGH what the hell did you COUGH put in this crap?!"

Orochimaru's serpentine eyes moved back and forth between his teammates. " he going to be okay?" he finally ventured.

"He'll be fine...wimp" Tsunade responded, as Jiraiya coughed in the background.

"It tastes like tiger piss, cheap Iwa sake and Demon Country chili peppers fermented for sensei's entire first reign!" Shizune and Naruto both drew into fighting stances of their own, intent on fighting Kabuto and Kimimaro.

A few seconds later, Jiraiya straightened up. "I feel better already! How about we get this show on the road?" he said, biting his thumb.

"Very well then, Jiraiya" Orochimaru responded, doing the same and sliding the bloody appendage up his arm in a visible streak. "KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU!"

Two large snakes appeared across from a large magenta toad with a two-pronged iron club and a sake dish-shaped shield. "Jiraiya-dono. A pleasure to see you again" Gamaken greeted his summoner.

"Likewise, Ken-san. Think you can hold those two off while we fight?" Jiraiya asked, pointing to the two snakes.

"I will do my best, Jiraiya-dono...but I must warn you, I am quite clumsy" the toad said, before attacking the two giant snakes.

With that, Jiraiya and Orochimaru leapt into battle. Tsunade, however, did she was completely paralyzed from the sight of the blood that Orochimaru had smeared up his arm. "B-Blood...oh kami, not again...Dan...blood..." she muttered incoherently, her hemophobia rendering her completely unable to fight.

"Tsunade-sama!" Shizune shouted, rushing over towards her teacher/aunt, but before she could, Kimimaro intervened, attacking her with a sharpened arm bone. "Shikotsumyaku: Camellia Dance."

As Tsunade remained paralyzed, Kabuto conjured a Shadow Clone of his own with instructions to find their objective. Kabuto fended off Naruto and his orange-clad clones, while his own clone raced over to the paralyzed, borderline catatonic Slug Sannin and began rifling through the scrolls she carried. "Let's see...Iwa Wasting Disease, nope...Iburi Clan, interesting, but nope...Cursed Blood, useful, but not quite...AHA! Kaguya Clan!" the clone shouted.

Kabuto and his clone turned and in one deft motion raced towards each other, the clone handing the scroll off to the real deal as it stopped in front of Naruto, then glowed. "Great Clone Explosion!" A large blast of smoke and fire dispelled all of Naruto's clones.

"Brat! Dammit!" Jiraiya cursed, before forming two quick hand seals. "Doton: Swamp of the Underworld!" The ground softened across a wide area, causing the two snakes to sink into the ground. Orochimaru leapt away just in time to avoid Gamaken's club, which dispelled both serpents.

Kabuto stood over Tsunade, who was still hugging herself, shivering and muttering under her breath. "Well, well, well, Tsunade. A legendary medic the sight of blood?" he laughed. "How truly pathetic. I am sure you still have much knowledge in so many aspects of the medical field, but you are also unfortunately too much of a threat to leave I regret I must end you here and now. But look on the bright side; at least you'll be able to see your brother and boy toy on the other side!"

Raising one arm, a chakra scalpel radiating from his hand, Kabuto prepared to end the life of Tsunade Senju, the Slug Sannin...only for his hand to be caught by a certain orange-clad Konoha shinobi.

"I'm not letting you touch her, traitor" Naruto growled. "Speaking of which, how long have you been sucking Hebi-teme's dick?"

Kabuto looked indignant for a moment, before regaining his composure. "I've always been loyal to Orochimaru-sama. My role in the most recent exam was to help Satsuki Uchiha prove herself to my lord, so that she may receive his gift and become his newest vessel."

"So you were a spy. Should have guessed from how you flaunted those Ninfo Cards of yours" Naruto responded, ignoring the cramps in his hands from the chakra scalpel he had caught between his palms like someone might catch a sword.

"And you seem to be becoming more adept as a shinobi. Too bad that you're still no genius like Satsuki-chan" Kabuto goaded Naruto.

"How about you shut up and get fucked!" Naruto growled, taking the bait as two Shadow Clones materialized next to him and began gathering chakra in his right hand.

Kabuto's eyes widened as he noticed the massive buildup of chakra in the boy's hand. "Holy crap! If that hits me, I'm dead!" Feeling the tug of a substitution, the silver-haired shinobi obliged, replacing himself with Kimimaro.

The last Kaguya strengthened the bones in his chest and stomach to their absolute maximum density, readying himself to tank Naruto's newest technique while Kabuto narrowly avoided Shizune's toxic cloud of poison, dodging volleys of senbon in the process. The blonde boy's eyes widened for a moment at the sight of his new opponent, then narrowed again as he raised the swirling sphere of sharpened wind chakra spinning in his right hand. "Looks like I win your bet, Baa-chan!" he shouted at Tsunade, before turning back to Kimimaro.

"Now eat this! FUUTON: RASENGAN!"

The completed technique carved into Kimimaro's body, grinding and cutting its' way through flesh and layer upon layer of reinforced bone. The last Kaguya gritted his teeth and growled in pain, feeling the effects of his daily dose of medicine for his illness start to catch up with him again. "Shiko...tsumya...ku: Larch...Dance!" he managed, as a bone jutted from his right palm and stabbed through Naruto's chest, narrowly missing the boy's heart and dealing a serious wound.

The blonde boy's attack exploded and sent Kimimaro careening back, carving a trench across the grassy plain, blowing apart two rock formations and hitting another summoned snake with enough force to make it poof away. Kabuto cursed at the sight of his comrade getting injured, slashing the tendons in Shizune's legs before running to retrieve him. Orochimaru landed in front of his two subordinates. "Kabuto-kun, take Kimimaro-kun and leave. I will remain and settle things with my old teammates" the Snake Sannin said. His sliver-haired subordinate nodded, before he and Kimimaro melted away into dirt.

Tsunade snapped out of her trance from the shock of seeing Naruto's injury. "Dammit! Brat, are you okay?!"

The blonde raised one hand and weakly flashed a thumbs-up. "I'll be fine...just need some sleep, that's all..." he said, trailing off as he began to snore. Applying healing chakra to Naruto's body, Tsunade watched as the hole from Kimimaro's attack closed, fading away as if it was never even there.

"The Kyuubi really is something..." she thought, before standing up and turning to Shizune, who had just finished healing herself. "Get him out of here, Shizune. It's about to get ugly" Tsunade said. Her dark-haired apprentice nodded, getting the message: the Sannin were about to fight.

Orochimaru lashed out with a powerful combo of punches and kicks towards Jiraiya. "Hari Jizo!" the Toad Sannin shouted, as his lion-like mane of hair wrapped around him, protecting him from his former teammate's strikes. Before he could move to counterattack, his instincts screamed at him to move, as he and Orochimaru both leapt away from a massive boulder that dropped from the sky, moments before Tsunade landed in front of them like a meteor.

"Nice little shindig you boys are having. Mind if I join in?" the Slug Sannin asked, before lashing out at Orochimaru.

Ducking under the blow and watching as almost an acre of trees behind him were flattened from the air pressure of the punch, Orochimaru smirked. "Now, now, Hime...are you positive that we can't talk things out? I'd be more than happy to bring them back for you if you help me beat up the pervert."

Tsunade snorted. "That's rich, coming from the guy who wants a teenage girl's body. Hard pass." Lunging again, the Senju struck the ground, forming fissures across the grassy field.

"Well then, I guess I'd better bring out the big guns" Orochimaru sighed, biting his thumb. Tsunade and Jiraiya both did the same, forming hand signs before all three slammed their hands to the ground,


A massive explosion of smoke covered the battlefield, vanishing after a few moments to reveal three enormous animals, with their summoners standing atop their heads. The massive purple snake hissed. "Orochimaru. I expect one hundred human sacrifices for you summoning me to deal with these two" the Snake Boss, Manda, hissed at his summoner.

"And one hundred sacrifices you shall have, in addition to whichever of these overgrown slimeballs you choose to feast on" the Snake Sannin said smoothly, gesturing at Katsuyu and Gamabunta.

After a few moments, Jiriaya started laughing. "Hey guys! This reminds me of that time on our third C-Rank with Sarutobi-sensei when we had to deal with the body-snatcher out near Uzu and we got in that Mexican Standoff because we each thought someone else had been body-snatched!"

Tsunade chuckled. "I remember that one!"

Orochimaru, however, scratched his head. "I don't remember that one, oddly enough" he said, setting off alarm bells in his teammates' heads.

"You mean you don't remember having a Fuuton jutsu aimed at each of us, while I had Katons trained on both of you and Tsunade-hime had Raitons aimed at both of us?" Jiraiya asked.

"Not ringing a bell" Orochimaru shook his head. "But enough reminiscing already!"

Gamabunta lunged forwards, Jiraiya atop his head, while Katsuyu spat out a glob of acid at Manda. The snake evaded and attempted to eat the slug, only to have the toad's sword almost slice his head off, forcing him to evade. Nearby, the summoners of the three creatures engaged in hand to hand combat. "Hebi Kata!" Orochimaru shouted, dealing several quick, slippery, vicious blows to Jiraiya, forcing him backwards.

Before he could capitalize on this, he was forced to evade a blow from Tsunade, whose fist was now encased in a gauntlet of stone. "Doton: Fist Rock Jutsu!" Tsunade shouted, dimly recalling in the back of her mind that this technique had been invented by the current Tsuchikage.

"Jiraiya! Fire!" Gamabunta shouted, spitting a glob of oil at Manda, whose balance was thrown off the moment that Katsuyu disassembled into a legion of smaller slugs within his coils.

"You got it, 'Bunta! Katon: Toad Oil Flame Bullet!" Jiraiya shouted, shooting a stream of fire, causing the oil to ignite in a massive explosion, the flames burning away even the ground itself below Manda. When the smoke cleared, all that remained was a burnt husk.

The Snake Boss burst out from underground, spitting poison towards Gamabunta, who narrowly leapt out of the way. "Fuuton; Great Breakthrough!" Orochimaru shouted, blowing a stream of wind into the poison, dispersing it into a large, corrosive, deadly cloud. The Snake Sannin leapt into the air to avoid another of Tsunade's strikes, extending his neck towards her to bite her in the hope of implementing a debilitating Cursed Seal on her.

His fangs were, however, blocked by Jiraiya's Hari Jizo, before the Toad Sage attempted to kick his face into the back of his skull with those fancy wooden sandals of his. Orochimaru cursed as he narrowly avoided what would have been a clearly painful hit, leaping back to watch as his former teammates wove hand seals.

"Suiton: Water Gun!" Jiraiya shouted, releasing a stream of water from his mouth towards Orochimaru and his summon. "Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder!" Tsunade added, shooting a crackling stream of electricity along the water.

Orochimaru narrowly avoided the hit, but Manda did not. The electrical attack, amplified by the water, stunned the snake summon long enough for Gamabunta to land on top of him, ready to slice off his head. "Screw you, Orochimaru, I'm out of here. Summon me again and I'll eat you where you stand!" Manda roared, poofing away.

"Looks like that's my cue to leave too. If you two are ever out near Oto, I'm always in the mood for a little team reunion" Orochimaru said teasingly, before waving. "Ciao~" With that, the Snake Sannin's figure crumbled into dirt, leaving Jiraiya and Tsunade standing alone on the battlefield.

Chapter Text

Naruto slowly stirred, awakening from a slumber where he had a delightful conversation with the Kyuubi no Kitsune...a conversation that basically consisted of Kurama chewing him out for being a reckless idiot and almost getting them both killed.

"What the fuck were you thinking, you stupid hairless ape?" he had said. "If you die, I die, and then what the fuck happens to this 'Hokage dattebayo' shit, eh?! Pull your head out of your ass and stop trying to fucking martyr yourself, you dumb motherfucker!" the fox had berated him.

Sitting up in the bed, he saw Shizune sitting by his bedside, while Jiraiya and Tsunade packed up nearby. "Owwwwwww, my head" the boy groaned, not noticing the pain where there once had been a sizeable stab wound right next to his damned heart all of an hour and a half earlier.

"Oh good, you're awake, brat" Tsunade said, a cheery tone in her voice.

"Yeah...I guess I am, eh, baa-chan?" he asked, as the Slug Sannin's head popped a vein. "Excuse me, brat?!"

"You heard me, baa-chan! Now, you'd better come back to Konoha with us to become Hokage, dattebayo" Naruto returned fire.

"Listen up, brat, I'm the Fifth Hokage now, so you'd better show some respect!" Tsunade responded. "Now c'mere, all I'll need is one finger!"

Naruto slid out of bed, ready to fight if need be...only for Tsunade to slip off his forehead protector before he could tie it on, place the First Hokage's necklace around his neck, then kiss him on the forehead. "You'd better grow up to be a great Hokage, and an even better man...I'm counting on you to take the hat from me when I retire" the blonde woman said, affectionately pinching the boy's cheek.

"R-Right, Hokage-sama!" Naruto responded, only for Tsunade to flick him on the forehead.

"No, no, none of that" she said, before launching into a quick family history lecture for Naruto's benefit. "You see, my grandpa Tobirama had, ah, a number of affairs before he married my grandma Mito - who was the Kyuubi's first container, by the way. One of them was with the younger sister of the guy who was Whirlpool's Daimyo at the time."

"Her daughter, my father Kawarama's - yes, he was named after his deceased uncle - half-sister, was named Shizuka. She eventually married the head of the Uzumaki at the time, Masaru Uzumaki, and they had two daughters, one of whom was your mother, Kushina. That makes me technically your mother's cousin, but I always saw her as more of a little I guess I'm your aunt in a way" Tsunade said, finishing her lecture.

After a few moments of processing, Naruto shook his head a few times. "So you're telling me that I'm a blood relative of the First, Second and Fifth Hokages through my mother, the Fourth is my father, and I'm also distantly related to the rulers of a destroyed ally of Konoha?" the boy asked, not entirely certain what to make of this.

"Correct, brat!" Jiraiya said, as he continued to seal Tsunade's belongings in a large storage scroll.

A few moments of silence filled the room, before the blonde spoke up again. "And jiji thought it was okay to not tell people this, which led to me being treated like crap for my entire life?" he continued, an annoyed tone entering his voice.

"Wait, what?" Tsunade asked. As Naruto detailed how he had been ostracized for his whole life - thrown out of shops, parents telling their children to stay away from him, and several Academy teachers sabotaging his education, as well as the two times people had attempted to attack him, although ANBU had shut both occasions down pretty quick - Tsunade's temper boiled.

"Oh, I'm going to have a few words with sensei when we get back about this" the Fifth Hokage said, irritation seeping into her voice.

"Still, it hasn't all been bad" Naruto said, attempting to prevent the other blonde from going on the warpath. "Since I graduated from the Academy, everything has been going better than ever for me! I've made friends in Kumo, Kiri and Suna, found Uzumaki relatives, learned my heritage, made it to the Chuunin Exam finals and been taught by Ero-Sennin!"

At this, Tsunade busted up laughing. "Ero-Sennin?! Holy shit, Jiraiya, this kid had got you pegged!" the blonde laughed, as her former teammate sputtered indignantly.

"I take personal offense to that!" Jiraiya responded.

"Says the self proclaimed Super-Pervert" Naruto snickered, and even Shizune started laughing at the Toad Sannin's misfortune.

"So, other Uzumaki?" Tsunade asked.

"Yeah! My friend Karui from Kumo is half-Uzumaki, my teammate Sakura Haruno is one quarter, and Karin is full Uzumaki, dattebayo!" Naruto said.

"Hopefully none of them have that weird verbal tic, dattebayo" Tsunade snickered, and this time it was Naruto's turn to be indignant as the quartet (plus one pot-bellied pig) set off for Konoha.

Three days later, the new Hokage and her entourage entered Konoha, to awe and hushed whispers from the populace of the village. Hiruzen Sarutobi, who had been Hokage for longer than most people in the village had been alive, was stepping down once more to give the hat to Tsunade Senju, a legend in her own right.

The blonde woman, who still looked as young as she had when she had left the village twenty years earlier (not that anyone had any idea that it was just an elaborate Henge), was a member of the Sannin, the granddaughter of the Second Hokage (and grand-niece of the First), and one of the most well-known medic-nin in history.

What truly surprised people, however, was the sight of Naruto Uzumaki, the village pariah himself, walking alongside two of the Sannin, and being doted on by the new Hokage as if he was her son, grandson, nephew or something of the sort. The population of Konoha, after hearing his passionate statement during his battle with the Hyuuga prodigy in the Chuunin Exam finals, his role in defeating the Suna Jinchuriki, and now bringing back the Fifth Hokage, had people wondering if maybe there was more to "the Fox Brat" than met the eye.

Hiruzen welcomed his old pupil with open arms when she waltzed into Hokage Tower, snatched the hat off his head, and said that she accepted his job offer. Danzo fumed, but this was nothing new...although the old war-hawk did find it rather entertaining to watch his friend/rival get chewed out by his old student for many of his decisions about the Kyuubi's Jinchuriki. By the time Tsunade had finished, the Third looked even older than Tsuchikage Onoki, if that was even possible, but he did not deny that he had made mistakes in regards to Naruto and his upbringing.

Naruto himself had been rather surprised when the Third personally apologized to him for keeping his heritage a secret and allowing the civilians to get away with the transgressions they had made towards him, although not all the blame could be laid at his feet - the six members of the Civilian Council had thwarted adoption attempts for the Fourth's son by the Aburame, Akimichi, Uchiha and Sarutobi clans because of their prejudices.

Tsunade, upon finding this out, had made her first decree as Hokage the dissolution of the Civilian Council. Naruto chose to forgive Hiruzen in exchange for two years of all-you-can-eat ramen at Ichiraku's - the Third had winced upon hearing this condition, but accepted, knowing that he had been forgiven maybe a bit more easily than he should have been.

The day after her inauguration as Hokage, Tsunade had visited the hospital to heal two patients in particular, both of whom were comatose due to Itami Uchiha's genjutsu prowess. Kakashi Hatake reawoke promptly, and offered his thanks to his new Hokage and his student for pulling him out of the coma. Tsunade turned to the second bed in the room and began concentrating her healing chakra on the other patient.

After two minutes of concentration, Satsuki Uchiha's eyes opened for the first time in weeks.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

...Satsuki Uchiha's eyes opened for the first time in weeks.

As the ravenette opened her eyes, the first thing she felt was an indescribable stiffness. "Satsuki/Satsuki-chan!" two voices cried. The next thing she felt was two bodies crashing against her own. "Ugh, my head..." she groaned, before her eyes widened as Itami's mental torture rushed back into her head. Noticing the pinkette and the blonde embracing her, Satsuki couldn't help but remember watching her sister murder them repeatedly in front of her.

Then, another thought crossed her mind. "Why the hell is she after the dobe? Is it because of the Kyuubi? No, it doesn't matter why..." Pushing the two away slowly, the ravenette slid out of bed, her legs readjusting to having weight put on them after nearly two weeks of disuse. "Naruto..." she began. "Yeah?" the blonde asked, his own mind moving in response to this. "Why is she taking to me? Does she want something? Is she thanking me?" After a few moments, while Tsunade and Shizune exited the room, the ravenette glared at her only male teammate. "I want you to fight me!"

Sakura and Naruto almost fell down out of disbelief. "What the hell, Satsuki-chan?! You just woke up and you're already challenging him to a fight?!" Sakura snapped uncharacteristically, a worry born of fear edging into her voice. "This is a hospital, Satsuki. Where are we going to fight anyway, dattebayo?" he asked. "Be quiet and fight me!" Satsuki growled, eyes snapping open to reveal three-tomoe Sharingan glowing red in each socket.

Turning away from her teammates, the ravenette spoke again, venom creeping into her words. "You really think you saved me, Naruto? Like some damsel in distress?" she growled, images of the blonde and pinkette being butchered by her sister flashing before her eyes. "I don't care that she's the Hokage, you didn't need to get her involved!" Whirling back around, Satsuki leaned in so close to Naruto's face that their noses almost touched.

"Besides, didn't you want to fight me anyway?" she began again. "Or did you lose your nerve, impotent bastard?" Naruto glared indignantly right back at her. "Hey! I'll have you know that my parents were married, so I'm fully legitimate!" he shouted. "But if it's a fight you want, it's a fight you'll get, dattebayo! Bring it on!" Satsuki smirked. "So predictable, Naruto-kun. Follow me" she said, gesturing as she walked towards the door, Naruto and Sakura following behind. "I'm worried...about both of them" the pinkette thought as she exited.

The two combatants stepped out onto the roof of the hospital in dead silence, Sakura following behind them. The only sounds were the bedsheets hung up on the roof's clotheslines rippling in the wind and their own footsteps. Reaching an unused section of roof, the two turned to face each other. After a few moments of staring each other down, Naruto started to laugh, prompting Satsuki to glare harder at him.

"What's so funny?" the ravenette demanded. "Nothing's funny. I'm just happy, that's all! We finally get to face each other, since the Exams were interrupted, dattebayo!" Naruto responded. "Here, I'll finally prove myself by beating you!" Satsuki's expression contorted with rage. "Don't get presumptuous, dead-last! A loser like you shouldn't act presumptuous!"

Naruto laughed. "Struck a nerve, did I? C'mon, put on your forehead protector!" Satsuki shook her head. "I don't need that" she boasted. "I'm an Uchiha, an elite. You won't be able to land a hit on my forehead anyway!" The blonde snorted. "Aren't there only two Uchiha left though? How elite is that?" The ravenette scowled, eyes glowing Sharingan red. "That's as many as the Uzumaki and more than the Namikaze, isn't it?"

The two rushed forwards, intending to end this quickly. "SATSUKI!" "NARUTO!"

Naruto and Satsuki exchanged blows in the blink of an eye. First, each threw a punch that was caught by the other. Satsuki attempted a roundhouse kick on Naruto, only for the boy to grab and block the kick. Not letting up for even a second, the girl flipped into a handstand and used her new position to kick the boy repeatedly, the last of her hits launching him upwards to the top of the fence surrounding the rooftop.

Naruto responded by leaping off the fence and hitting Satsuki with a diving kick, followed by attempting a back elbow. To his surprise, however, Satsuki used the opportunity to catch him in a rear naked choke, which the boy escaped by using his ridiculous flexibility to backflip over her right shoulder, forcing her to let go of him. Naruto attempted to capitalize on this with a leg-sweep, but Satsuki leapt over it and kicked him backwards, before the duo ran down the rows of bedsheets hung out to dry.

Ambushing her opponent with a sudden right, Satsuki shoved Naruto up against a fence while he was blinded and immobilized by one of the bedsheets he'd been knocked into. The girl started repeatedly pounding on her foe with punishing blows, to Sakura's horror. "What do you think you're hitting, dattebayo?" Naruto asked from atop the fence, where he'd escaped from Satsuki's clutches with a quick Kawarimi.

Crossing his fingers in a familiar seal, the orange-clad child leapt forwards as an army of clones exploded into existence around him. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!" He and his clones all leapt to the ground, surrounding the girl on all sides with an army of identical orange-clad blondes. Undeterred, Satsuki began to weave her way through the clones, practicing a fighting style her mother and sister had taught her almost a decade earlier, dispersing clones with quick, ruthless and graceful strikes. "So beautiful...wait, where did THAT come from?!" the real Naruto wondered as his clones' memories returned to him.

A quartet of clones ambushed the girl with a legsweep, followed by several consecutive hits into the air. "U! ZU! MA! KI!" The real one leapt behind her, executing a picture-perfect axe kick. "Naruto Barrage!" Satsuki blocked the hit with her forearms, before weaving a couple quick seals just in time to contact the fence. "Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder!" The discharges of electricity off the fence demolished clone after clone, giving the girl time to use her next attack. "Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu!"

A sea of flame poured from the Uchiha's mouth, burning bedsheets and dispersing clones, to Sakura's horror. "You two don't need to go this far, shannaro!" The flames slowly began to spin and swirl, however, and in a few moments all the fire on the rooftop had been sucked away, dissipating into the spiraling sphere in Naruto's right hand, as the clone that had aided him dispersed. "That's the jutsu he used on Neji in the finals!" Satsuki thought, weaving several hand seals of her own before leaping from the fence as her hand crackled with lightning.



"Stop it...stop it already!" Sakura thought, deciding to take action and starting forward as the two fighters slowly fell towards each other. An adamantine chain extended forward from her hand, as the pink-haired girl decided to seal the chakra of one of the two fighters and pull them out of the way. "I'm...I'm not going to make it!" At the last moment, however, Kakashi appeared in a Body Flicker between the two fighters, grabbed each of their wrists, and flung them towards the nearby water towers. "K-Kakashi-sensei?!" the three members of Team Seven chorused, as Sakura's chakra chain fell uselessly to the ground.

Satsuki yanked her arm out of the sizeable hole she had punctured in her water tank, water pouring out in a stream. Naruto, meanwhile, left a perfectly round crater in his water tank, with only a small stream flowing out of it. "Looks like I'm stronger after all" the Uchiha thought to herself, a smirk crossing her face.

A half hour later, however, as she was discharged from the hospital, Satsuki glanced up at the roof for one more reminder of her victory. To her shock and horror, however, the sight that greeted her was the massive hole in the back of the water tank Naruto's Rasengan had hit, whereas no such hole existed in the one she had hit. "If...if that had hit me, I could have ended up in the hospital even longer!" the girl thought in surprise, before her thoughts went down a much darker path.

"I must become stronger, no matter what...they won't be safe as long as she is still alive..."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

I must become stronger, no matter what...they won't be safe as long as she is still alive..."

One night later, Sakura and Naruto sat in Ichiraku Ramen, the blonde's favorite ramen stand - which also happened to be run by his father's former teammate, Teuchi Ichiraku. "Good evenin', Teuchi-ojisan!" Naruto said, waving as he entered the small shop. "Good evenin', Ayame-neechan!" The owner's daughter smiled at the boy she considered to be her little brother. "Good evening, Naruto-kun! How many bowls tonight?"

The blonde pondered this for a moment as he and Sakura sat down. "I'm not feeling that hungry tonight, so...fifteen bowls?" The pinkette's jaw dropped. "That's how much he eats when he's not hungry?!" Speaking of Sakura, Ayame noticed the girl who sat down next to Naruto. "Oh my, Naruto-kun brought a friend, did he? Nice to meet you, I'm Ayame Ichiraku." Sakura introduced herself and ordered a bowl of miso ramen, while Naruto began his order with a miso, two pork ramen bowls and a duck broth special.

A few minutes into the meal and conversation, Sakura noticed that both of the Ichirakus were staring at her with glares that seemed both curious and protective. After a few moments, Ayame leaned over the counter and stared deep into Sakura's sea-green eyes. "So, young lady...what are your intentions with our Naruto-kun?"

The blonde boy in question sputtered. "A-Ayame-neechan! It's not like that!" Sakura raised an eyebrow in his direction. "It isn't? I seem to recall you had quite the crush on me back in the Academy" the pinkette teased her teammate, as Naruto flushed redder and redder. "H-Hey! That was before I found out that we're related!" he protested, and now it was Ayame and Teuchi's turn to raise eyebrows.

"Related to him, eh?" Teuchi asked, before leaning in close to both of them. "Through Minato or Kushina?" Naruto finished his last pork ramen and got ready to start on the duck. "Through my mom." Sakura nodded. "One-quarter Uzumaki. My dad's hair is red and my mom's is blonde, hence the, well, pink" the Haruno said, running a hand through her locks. "I see. And what about your last teammate? Mikoto's daughter? How is she doing?"

At this, the pinkette's expression fell. "I'm...kind of worried about Satsuki-chan, honestly. She's always been standoffish and reclusive, but lately she's acted even darker than usual" Sakura said, sipping her ramen's broth. "She challenged Naruto to a fight five minutes after waking up from a two week long coma yesterday." Naruto finished his duck ramen and ordered two beef, another miso and a Wave Country shrimp ramen. "She'll be fine! Satsuki is just angry at her sister, that's all!" "If you say so..." Sakura trailed off.

The dark marks receded from Satsuki's porcelain-white features as she stared up at the four Otogakure shinobi that had just defeated her handily while she returned from the grocery store, despite the Curse Mark's power, as well as their white-haired leader, who hadn't even lifted a finger but was clearly more than powerful enough to whip her ass.

"Let me be honest with you, Uchiha-san" Kimimaro said, kneeling down in front of the girl to look her in the eye. "This village is holding you back. If you accept Lord Orochimaru's invitation to Oto, he can help you bring out the true power of that mark...a power that will prove more than sufficient against Itami Uchiha."

The redheaded girl of the Sound Five, who had introduced herself as Tayuya of the North Gate, spoke up. "Or, alternatively, you can stay here in Konoha and keep playing ninja with that pink-haired wench, the masked pervert and your little blonde boyfriend and never be strong enough to kill big sister." The Uchiha got back to her feet and glared at the quintet. "I'll be ready to leave in one hour. Where do you want me to meet you?"

A matter of a few minutes later, Satsuki was in her apartment again, sealing items into a handful of small storage scrolls. "Toothbrush? Check. Five changes of clothes? Check." Reaching under her bed and pulling out a small, nondescript wooden box, the Uchiha removed the lid to reveal...several pairs of lacy underwear in black, navy blue and light purple. "Mom's...heirlooms, check. Six packets of tomato seeds? Check. Anything else?"

Looking next to her bedside, the girl noticed the commemorative photo of Team Seven, as well as the commemorative photo of Jiraiya's Team Seven, featuring her mother, the Fourth Hokage, and the guy that ran Naruto's favorite ramen stand when they were Genin. Sealing her mother's photo, Satsuki held up her own photo and stared at it for a few long minutes.

Making up her mind, she sealed that photo too in a storage scroll. "Until we meet again...Sakura...Kakashi-sensei...Naruto..."

With that, Satsuki Uchiha departed her small, cozy apartment in an East Konoha suburb. She would not return to it until after it had been demolished during an attack on the village years later, and subsequently rebuilt.

The ravenette's journey out of the village took her past the Academy, Training Ground Three, and near Hokage Tower. As she made her way along the route towards the North Gate on the edge of Konoha near Kagami Park (which she recalled the Third had named after her second or third cousin Shisui's grandfather), Satsuki rounded a corner and almost walked into Sakura.

"Oh! Good evening, Satsuki-san!" Sakura greeted, but her voice didn't have any of the usual emotion in it. After a few moments of awkward silence, Satsuki responded. "It's almost 2300 hours. Why are you hanging around this part of town this late at night? You should get some rest." The ravenette made to continue along the road, only to be stopped by the unnaturally strong grip of her pink-haired teammate clamping down on her shoulder.

"This is the quickest route out of the village from your apartment. Where do you think you're going?" Sakura asked, an edge of anger creeping into her voice. "Why should I tell you?" Satsuki responded coldly. Sakura sighed, as a tear slowly slid from her left eye and she began to speak again.

"Satsuki-san. I know about your revenge obsession - how your sister killed your clan, how she is still going out of her way to make you suffer. But you don't have to leave like this. There's no need to go Missing-Nin, to follow in her footsteps to avenge your family. Remember our time together? The Bell Test...Shimo...the D-Ranks...the that not enough to convince you to stay?"

Satsuki reached up and slowly pried Sakura's fingers off of her. "Listen, Sakura. To do what I must, to avenge my clan, I simply can't follow the same road as you, Kakashi-sensei...and Naruto anymore. For a long time, I had hoped it wouldn't come to this, but the village is holding me down. If I'm going to kill Itami, I'll have to walk a path of shadows, while you three stay on your path of lights...and I hope you'll be able to save me if I go too far someday."

With that, she began to walk away again. Sakura's face steeled in determination. "Then I guess I'll just have to keep you here myself" she began, ready to summon an adamantine chain...when Satsuki blurred away, reappearing behind her before she could react. "Forgive me, Sakura...and thank you for everything" the Uchiha said, as Sakura turned to face her.

The last thing that Sakura Haruno saw before passing out were two three-tomoe Sharingan eyes glowing red in the night, tears gathering at the corners of each one.

Satsuki slipped past the guards atop the barrier wall around Konoha and onto a nearby hilltop with little difficulty, noting that she could probably have simply gone through the gate, given that both Izumo and Kotetsu were passed out on duty. "Idiots. Tsunade is going to chew them out for that in the morning." The Sound Five all stood in waiting on the hilltop, backlit by the full moon that had come out that evening.

"Please forgive our attack earlier; Lord Orochimaru asked that we test your skill first before extending the invitation to you" Kimimaro said, bowing slightly. After a few moments, Satsuki nodded slightly. "Apology accepted just this once. I don't appreciate random attacks, but I will let it slide this time" she said, before turning to look back at Konoha.

"Let's depart then."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The last thing that Sakura Haruno saw before passing out were two three-tomoe Sharingan eyes glowing red in the night, tears gathering at the corners of each one.

The next morning, Konoha Chuunins Izumo Kamizuki and Kotetsu Hagane, who were known informally as "Those Two Guys", were carrying large stacks of paperwork towards Tsunade's office, wanting to grumble about it but knowing they had no leeway to do so after passing out on the job the previous night (or had they? The duo's memory of the whole thing was rather hazy). "Hm?" Kotetsu had noticed a pink-haired girl lying on a bench outside Kagami Park, not far from Hokage Tower.

"Hey kid, wake up" Izumo said, setting his paperwork down to shake the girl awake. "Aaaah! Satsuki!" she said, sitting up abruptly, before a look of confusion crossed her face, followed by horror. "Kami dammit!" she shouted, before turning to the Chuunin. "You two! Is Tsunade-sama busy?"

The duo looked somewhat confused, but given how early it was, they shook their heads. "She's probably asleep, honestly." This answer satisfied the girl, who dashed off towards Hokage Tower as fast as her legs would carry her. "That was odd..." both Chuunin thought to themselves.

Tsunade Senju, Fifth Hokage of Konohagakure, was enjoying a pleasant dream about sake, her sadly deceased love Dan, and...Jiraiya? Yeah, Jiraiya was there for some damned reason, when the sound of someone hammering on her door so hard that she thought the Raikage was standing right outside her window doing thunder and lightning stuff awoke her from her slumber. "Ughhhhhh...come in" she said, and the door opened to reveal a pink-haired Genin.

"Hokage-sama!" the girl shouted, clearly out of breath. "Calm down, kid. You're the brat and the Uchiha's teammate, right?" The girl nodded. "Genin Sakura Haruno, yes, and my teammates are why I've rather rudely stormed into your office: Satsuki has deserted the village!" And with that, Tsunade was suddenly wide fucking awake. "Are you positive?"

Sakura nodded. "Absolutely positive. I confronted her late last night and attempted to subdue her, but she placed me in a Sharingan genjutsu and forced me to sleep until about five minutes ago. She was departing via the North Gate." Before Sakura could continue, however, the door was flung open again, this time by a breathless Ebisu. "Hokage-sama! Last night, five shinobi wearing Otogakure forehead protectors were spotted near the North Gate!"

Tsunade stood up immediately. "Genin Haruno, I have a job for you. Summon Naruto Uzumaki, Shikamaru Nara and Shino Aburame to my office immediately!"

Less than fifteen minutes later, the three rookies in question stood before Tsunade, with Sakura standing beside her. "Good work, Genin Haruno. Naruto Uzumaki, Shino Aburame, Shikamaru Nara, for our first order of business, I am pleased to announce that you have all earned a promotion to Chuunin." Shikamaru groaned, Shino remained impassive (although behind his jacket's high collar he cracked a smile), and Naruto barely resisted the urge to jump for joy and shout "Dattebayo!".

The look the Hokage shot them was enough to quiet them down immediately. "Second order of business is your mission. Every Jonin in Konoha is out on a mission, so we cannot spare any of them. Since this is easily an A-Rank mission, you three are in a position to command a squad of Genin of your choosing; Shikamaru is in charge of this whole operation and may be due for a promotion if successful. Anyone in particular you want to choose?"

Sakura tried to raise her hand, but Tsunade shut her down. "You've already exhausted yourself tracking these three down in what has to be record time, and your physical condition means you would likely pass out on the pursuit. Also, you're clearly feeling guilty about not stopping Satsuki Uchiha last night, so you may end up hindering yourself due to your emotional state." The pinkette was clearly unhappy, but reluctantly conceded.

Naruto raised his hand. "Rock Lee and Neji Hyuuga." "Granted. Shikamaru?" Tsunade responded. "Choji, Ino and our 'new addition'" he said. The Hokage's eyebrow raised. "Really? Are you sure about the last one?" "Positive" Shikamaru responded. Shino nodded. "If Shikamaru is bringing Team Ten's newest member, I would like to bring Team Eight's. Kiba is on a mission with his mother and Hinata is still in the hospital, so only she is available."

"Request granted. You have thirty minutes before you have to depart. Good luck, and may the Will of Fire be with you all" Tsunade finished, before dismissing the three newly minted Chuunin from her office.

It only took twenty minutes for the group to assemble. Team Gai's two members, as selected by the blonde Chuunin, were both training - Neji was told at the Hyuuga Compound via Shadow Clone, while Naruto grabbed Lee from Training Ground Five in person. Shino agreed to pick up both Team Eight and Team Ten's newest members from Torture and interrogation, where Ibiki and Anko had been keeping close watch over them to ensure their loyalty. Shikamaru, meanwhile, was simply lucky enough to find both Ino and Choji at the Akimichi Compound - Inoichi had decided to leave his "Princess" under the watch of Choza and his wife for the day when Shikamaru stole the duo from him.

"Okay, everybody ready to go?" Shikamaru asked, looking across the eight people working under his command. Choji nodded in agreement while munching his chips, while Ino silently fumed that "Lazy-Ass" was her boss for the mission. "All stocked up!" former Otogakure Genin Kin Tsuchi said, sliding several senbon up her sleeves while patting her weapons pouch. Her companion, Dosu Kinuta (also formerly of Otogakure) simply nodded while inspecting his Melody Gauntlet. "Yosh! We will bring back Satsuki Uchiha-chan, no matter what!" Lee shouted, and for once Neji nodded, as it seemed like Lee's youthfulness had rubbed off on his teammate.

"Well your commanding officer for this mission, depart!" The nine Konoha shinobi raced out of the North Gate as fast as they could, determined to bring back their friend...or, if need be, die trying.

Elsewhere, the Sound Five stood in a small clearing, while Kimimaro stepped forward towards Satsuki. "Satsuki-san, under Orochimaru's orders, we were told to make you this offer" he said, holding out a small bottle of brownish capsules. "These are known as Mind Awakening Pills. If you take one, it will put you in a coma and there is a non-zero chance that you could die...but if you survive, you will be able to evolve your Cursed Seal to a second stage of power, ten times greater than what you already have" the white-haired boy said.

The Uchiha took one of the capsules from him, held it up to the light for a moment, then silently nodded. "Hn." With that, the girl downed the small pill and immediately dropped to the ground, writhing in pain. "Sakon!" Kimimaro barked, and the blue-haired boy stepped forward, unsealing a barrel from the scroll on his back and setting Satsuki in it. The other four all stood around the barrel and wove two seals, then clapped their hands. "Four Black Fogs Formation!"

A dark miasma floated in the air, before condensing itself all into the barrel-shaped coffin as the lid sealed itself on. "Fuuin: Dark Sealing Method!" Sakon shouted, throwing five specialty sealing tags, keeping the coffin shut. After a few moments of rest, Kimimaro slung the coffin over his back and the quintet took off again, now aware that they were not alone; two Konoha Tokubetsu Jonin approaching from nearby.

And off in the distance, forty-five kilometers behind them, the Satsuki Retrieval Team continued their inexorable race towards their goal...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The nine Konoha shinobi raced out of the North Gate as fast as they could, determined to bring back their friend...or, if need be, die trying.

The Satsuki Retrieval Team was now about twenty-five kilometers from the Valley of the End, which itself was about a hundred and ten kilometers northwest of Konoha. At the moment, they were running across a rocky plain towards another one of the Land of Fire's extensive forested areas. Suddenly, Shino raised a hand, signalling for the group to stop.

"My kikaichu have caught the scent of blood" the Aburame said, before gesturing to their left. Shikamaru nodded. "Naruto, send some clones that way. Stealth is the main objective" he said, as the blonde signaled his agreement and sent about a half-dozen Shadow Clones in that direction. After ten minutes, his eyes widened. "It's a Konoha group!" he said, just as the bushes rustled and the Hokage Guard Platoon and Shizune stepped out of the treeline.

"Yo, brats" Genma said, clutching a large, bleeding wound on his shoulder. "Proctor-san? What happened to you?" Lee questioned. "We picked a fight with some Oto bastards. Got 'em pretty good too, before they got us" Raido responded. "What are you brats doing out here?" Shikamaru wordlessly handed the mission scroll over to Shizune, who opened it and read it, eyes widening while Iwashi looked over her shoulder. "Well, shit. May the Will of Fire be with you" the senbon-chewing shinobi said, as he caught glances of the words "A-Rank", "Satsuki Uchiha", "Orochimaru" and "Defection" on the paper.

The two groups parted ways again, with Team Genma returning towards Konoha and Team Shikamaru heading towards the border. After another ten kilometers, the group had entered another forest when Shikamaru ordered another stop. "Ino, do you sense anything?" The blonde girl closed her eyes and placed her hands in a Ram seal, hoping that her budding sensory abilities would pick something up. A few moments later, her eyes opened again. "Five or six chakra signatures dead ahead, I figure about 600 meters."

Neji nodded, before activating his Byakugan. "I see them. Four males and one female, most of them between low and mid Jonin level, except for one...that one is just a chakra monster." "Descriptions?" Shikamaru asked. "The lowest chakra level is an overweight ginger male, followed by a male with...six arms? Yikes" the Hyuuga said. "Then a redheaded female, a blue-haired male, and a white-haired male who is the strongest. They have a large barrel or coffin with them, and I cannot see into it. Several of them appear slightly wounded with burns, cuts or mild internal hemorrhaging, and the last two have an utterly peculiar body structure - one of them almost looks like two people."

Kin spoke up. "The fatass is Jirobo; he's a formidable close-combat specialist who can drain chakra and use Doton techniques. Six-Arms is Kidomaru, a tactician and long-range specialist with the ability to make spider silk - he's arguably the smartest of the bunch. The bitch is Tayuya, she's an auditory genjutsu specialist. Blue-hair is Sakon; he and his twin brother Ukon share the same body due to their utterly fucked-up Kekkei Genkai and are beasts in close combat" the dark-haired kunoichi relayed to her teammates.

"And white-hair?" Neji asked. Both Kin and Dosu shuddered. "White-hair is Kimimaro; he's one of Orochimaru's three strongest lieutenants. He can control his own bones, and is arguably stronger than even Kabuto. An utter fucking monster in both short and long-range combat." Naruto raised a hand. "He's tough; he nearly killed me last time we fought. Took my modified Rasengan to the stomach like it was nothing, dattebayo."

Just before the group left again in pursuit of their quarry, Neji grabbed Ino's shoulder. "Hold on! Tripwires!" he said, pointing towards a camouflaged thread of silk, with another one placed in its' shadow. "I also detect five explosive tags arrayed around this clearing, most likely a barrier seal." Shikamaru's eyes widened. Change of plans; we're going to have to go around this clearing.

A few minutes later, the Retrieval Team had taken up positions around the clearing where the Sound Five were resting. Kimimaro appeared to be unharmed, but Tayuya and Jirobo had significant burns on their skin, and Sakon and Kidomaru were bleeding slightly from poisoned wounds. The group gave no sign that they had detected their pursuers...until Sakon lobbed a kunai into the bushes, flushing Shikamaru and Ino out. "So there were some rats in the bushes..." the blue-haired boy said.

Then, the Sound Five realized they were unable to move. "Shadow Possession Jutsu complete" Shikamaru said, smirking, as the rest of the team leapt from the trees and other bushes.  Unfortunately for them, however, Ukon emerged from Sakon's body and lobbed an explosive kunai at Shikamaru, forcing him to release the Shadow Possession.  Naruto and Kimimaro exchanged glares for a few moments, before the white-haired youth slung the coffin across his shoulders again. "Jirobo, eat your fill, then catch up" he ordered, as the ginger-haired boy grinned viciously and stepped forward. "Doton Kekkai: Earth Dungeon Prison!"

A wave of soil flowed forwards, surrounding the nine Konoha shinobi and forming a dome around them, as Jirobo stepped forward. "It's feeding time!" he said, licking his lips. Inside the dome, Neji activated his Byakugan again. "This dome is three meters tall, five meters across and the walls are 80 centimeters thick. It appears to be passively sapping out chakra while we're in it, and has no obvious weak spots." Shikamaru nodded, before tapping their spandex-clad companion on the shoulder. " know what to do." Outside the dome, Jirobo's face was still covered by a cocky smirk, confident that no chakra-based attack could break through his barrier...

And then the top of the dome exploded, a spandex-clad blur leaping out of it and cartwheeling in midair. "Have you heard the gospel of our Youthful Savior, Might Gai-sensei?" Naruto joked as Lee connected with a diving kick, sending Jirobo sprawling across the forest floor with the attack's force. "Holy crap! How can someone so bizarre hit so damn hard?!" Lee prepared to engage the ginger, but Choji stopped him.

"If Kimimaro is as strong as everyone says, then we'll need as many powerhouses as possible to fight him...including you, Lee. I can handle this jerk" the chubby boy said, eating a handful of chips. "'d better come back alive, you hear me?" Shikamaru called as he and the others raced off into the forest. "Yeah...I hear you!" Choji said, reaching into his weapons pouch. "This guy is at least low Jonin, and if what I've been told about Curse Marks is right, he could be stronger than that...looks like I'll have to use the Three Colored Pills."

"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!" Jirobo roared, charging forward. "I'll crush you, and then your pathetic little twerp of a leader, loser!" Choji's face contorted with rage at hearing his opponent insult his best friend and popped the Green Spinach Pill in his mouth. "I said...I can handle you!" the Akimichi responded. The forest shook from a thunderous impact, and to Jirobo's shock, his charge had been stopped dead.

With a loud roar of determination, Choji shoved his opponent backwards, leaving furrows in the ground where Jirobo's feet were braced, before lifting his opponent off the ground and hurling him into the forest at the edge of the clearing, toppling several trees. The ginger slowly got back to his feet, only to see Choji wrapping himself in a chain made of kunai. "Baika no Jutsu: Spiny Bullet Tank!" the boy shouted, as his body expanded into a spinning ball covered in blades, rocketing towards his opponent.

Jirobo narrowly sidestepped Choji, watching as the rolling ball cleaved through several more trees. "That'll hurt if it hits me...luckily, it can't break my shield!" Weaving a Snake seal and slamming his hands on the ground, Jirobo raised a flat section of earth to block Choji. "Give it up, loser! Nothing you do can break through my Doton: Earthen Tatami Shield!"

To his surprise, however, his opponent cleaved through the shield with little difficulty, forcing Jirobo to catch the spiny ball with his bare hands. He and Choji skidded to a stop as kunai embedded themselves in his legs, arm and stomach. Triangular black markings spread across the ginger's skin. "I shouldn't have had to even use my Curse Mark against trash like you...Shatter Palm!" Jirobo drove a strong right palm into Choji, sending the boy flying into the air, where his transformation dissipated in a puff of smoke as he landed against a tree. "You're like were left here as the sacrificial lamb, the weakest of the group. but your leader was an idiot if he thought you stood a chance against me!"

Climbing back to his feet, Choji's eyes blazed with hate hearing Jirobo's dismissal of his best friend. "I'm going to make this guy hurt. Yellow Curry Pill!" he thought, popping the yellow food pill in his mouth. A few moments later, his entire body blazed with chakra, cracking the ground under his feet. "Come on!" he challenged Jirobo, as the ginger started forward. To his surprise, however, the Akimichi now outclassed him in raw power, blocking his strikes and repelling him with a quick one-two punch.

"Bunbun Baika no Jutsu: Arm Expansion!" Choji shouted, swinging an expanded appendage at Jirobo, crushing more trees as the Oto shinobi narrowly dodged. "Leg!" A massive axe kick left an enormous crater in the ground, sending trees flying through the air. "Once again...Arm!" This time, Jirobo narrowly caught the limb. "Don't get cocky!" he shouted, swinging and throwing Choji in the air.

The Akimichi smirked. "You just screwed yourself; try this on for size! Cho Baika no Jutsu!" Jirobo's eyes bugged out as Choji's entire body grew, until he towered over even some of the surrounding mountains. "Oh fuuuuuuuuuuck!" he shouted, as Choji landed on top of him, crushing several acres of forest and kicking up a dust cloud that could be seen all the way back in Konoha.

"Well, that sucked. Glad it's over" Choji thought, before feeling movement under him. "Wait, what? Impossible! In this state, I weight twelve and a half million tons!" he thought, as he felt his entire body lifted off the ground. "To think that trash like you forced me to use the Second Stage..." Jirobo growled. "That won't do at all! Rising Impact Palm!" An upward palm strike sent Choji's massive body flying into the air, his transformation dissipating as he fell to the ground. Jirobo's skin had turned red and warty, his hair had lengthened and his strength had clearly increased, as he ragdolled an immobilized Choji.

"Told you you were the weak trash; the fat bastard with no strength and stupid friends, only fit to be a sacrifice!" Jirobo shouted, training the last of Choji's chakra and eating the last potato chip that the Akimichi had brought. "Now then, I need to go kill your little friends, so let's end this! Pressure Palm!" A downward palm strike towards Choji caused the ground to crumble, just as the boy ate the last of his pills, the Red Chili Pill...knowing that it could kill him.

To Jirobo's surprise, Choji was no longer under his hand, but rather behind him. His entire body had slimmed down, and now two blue energy wings extended from his shouder blades. "Wh-what the hell?! So much chakra...his body has physically changed from it!" Choji smirked. "Nothing you do will work anymore! I'm now one hundred times stronger than I was before!"

With a casual backhand, Jirobo was sent careening through the forest, tearing up trees the whole way. "Ughhhh" he groaned as he got to his feet, only for Choji to dive out of the sky and crush him back into the ground. "W-Wait! Can't we talk this out?!" Jirobo pleaded. Choji snorted. "After what you've done? I can ignore being called fat, and the fact that you ate the last of my favorite snack...but nobody, NOBODY makes fun of my friends!" the boy said, raising a fist coated in blue chakra. "Butterfly Bullet Bombing!"

With a mighty crash, Choji's fist slammed into Jirobo's chest, grinding the earth underneath to powder and shaking the entire forest. When the dust cleared a massive crater sat underneath the two fighters. Jirobo's ribcage had been shattered, and the shards had driven into his lungs and heart, killing him instantly. Choji fell backwards, staring up at the sky as exhaustion overtook him. "Be safe,'s all up to you now!"

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"If Kimimaro is as strong as everyone says, then we'll need as many powerhouses as possible to fight him...including you, Lee. I can handle this jerk" the chubby boy said, eating a handful of chips. "'d better come back alive, you hear me?" Shikamaru called as he and the others raced off into the forest.

The Sound Five - errr, Four - raced through the treetops of a large forest, knowing that their pursuers wouldn't be far behind them. "When do you think that fatass Jirobo is gonna catch up?" Tayuya asked. "Not anytime soon, given that his chakra signature has disappeared" Kimimaro responded. "Huh?! Then who's that?" the redhead asked, pointing at their ginger-haired companion, who was running up behind them.

Kimimaro's eyes narrowed. "An impostor...Ten Drilling Finger Bullets!" The bones in the Kaguya's fingers shot out at blinding speeds, all of them striking the impostor in the chest, where it exploded in a puff of smoke. "A Shadow Clone..." Kidomaru murmured. "Interesting. This game might actually be fun."

Before the spider-boy could comment further, however, Naruto and Lee appeared next to him, both kicking at him. Eyes widening, Kidomaru barely had enough time to put up his Armor of Sticky Gold before the two blows rattled him, grinding his armor away and sending him flying towards a nearby clearing where their second trap had been laid. "Be safe, Neji" Lee thought, peering in the direction of Neji and his chosen opponent.

Before they could capitalize on this, however, Kimimaro took off again, while Sakon appeared next to them with a Body Flicker. "Barrage Fist!" Two more arms sprouted from the blue-haired boy's right arm, before he drove all three fists into Lee, knocking the spandex-clad teen out of the tree. "Lee!" Naruto shouted, growling in anger as a Shadow Clone formed a Rasengan in his right hand, leaping towards Sakon's right side.

To his surprise, however, another body entirely sprouted out of Sakon's back, glaring up at Naruto. "H-Huh?!" the blonde stammered in surprise. "Get fucked, noob!" Ukon shouted, grabbing Naruto's wrist and throwing him towards a tree, which fell the moment the spiraling sphere of chakra ground it apart. Before the twins could counterattack Naruto and Lee, they were kicked off the branch by Kin and Dosu.

"Well, well, well, if it isn't the little traitors" Sakon sneered, as both the ex-Oto shinobi glared back at him. "Sakon. You're as pleasant as ever, I see" Dosu commented in a cordial tone, despite the sarcasm of his statement. "And you're still a spineless wimp. Really a pity that you two didn't go join Zaku like you little fuckers were supposed to" Ukon snorted from Sakon's back...only to receive a senbon needle to the eyeball.

"Go get them, we'll catch up!" Kin shouted at Naruto and Shikamaru before she and her fellow deserter tackled Sakon and his brother through some bushes and off a cliff towards a lake in a system of limestone caverns below them. The blonde nodded, before he, Shikamaru, Shino, Lee and Ino turned to chase down the remaining three Oto shinobi.

Kidomaru landed in the middle of a small clearing in a pretty ungraceful manner. Rubbing his head and cursing slightly, the spider-like boy looked around for any signs of an enemy, but couldn't see anyone. Still, he was now suspicious as to why he had been kicked in this particular direction, instead of straight back behind them. As he started out of the clearing, still on his guard, a spray of kunai came out of the trees at him, from both in front and behind him.

Eyes widening, Kidomaru had just enough time to use his Armor of Sticky Gold, but even the metallic hardened silk substance cracked under the rain of blades. And then, just as quickly as it started, it stopped. "Tch. I hate levels like this..." Kidomaru growled, before chewing something in his mouth, spitting out a shower of small golden senbon needles into the trees around him. Nothing happened.

After a few more moments, just to be safe, he started forward again...and this time, the kunai rained on him from his left and right. Growling in frustration, Kidomaru spat an entire squall of kunai in both directions. When he thought maybe he was safe this time, the spider-like boy started forward one more time. "One step...clear. Two steps...clear. Three, four, five steps...clear!" he almost laughed.

And then, just as he thought he was home free, kunai hailed on him from all sides, including some of his own Spider Sticky Gold ones.

Screaming in frustration, Kidomaru started spitting web after web after web all around him, until the entire clearing was blocked off except for a small entry point in front of him. "Now if anyone tries to get in, I'll know!" he thought, frustration slowly being replaced by triumph. Much to his surprise, however, a long, thin line was cut from top to bottom in the webbing surrounding his position, but nobody was on the other side. Before he could attack in that direction, a pair of hands shot out of the ground, wrapped around his ankles, and drug him underground until he was buried up to his neck.

The ground in front of him cracked, before Neji Hyuuga emerged from underground, having captured his opponent with Doton: Headhunter Jutsu. "That was all too easy" the white-eyed boy said. "Now, I'm going to go catch up with my allies, we're going to beat up your allies and bring Satsuki Uchiha back to Konoha, and then Ibiki Morino is going to extract every bit of knowledge about Orochimaru from your skull."

At that, Neji began to walk away, not noticing the ground cracking around his mostly-buried opponent as small hooklike black markings crossed his skin.

With a roar of anger, Kidomaru burst from the ground and attempted to attack Neji head-on, only for the Hyuuga to glare at him. "Did you think my Byakugan would not notice your sudden intake of natural chakra? Unfortunately for you, you have now entered my range of divination. EIGHT TRIGRAMS SIXTY-FOUR PALMS. TWO PALMS!" Neji lashed out with twin strikes. "FOUR PALMS! EIGHT PALMS! SIXTEEN PALMS! THIRTY-TWO PALMS!" Kidomaru was forced up against his silk barrier. "SIXTY-FOUR PALMS!"

The spider silk cocoon around the clearing shredded as the Oto shinobi was forced through it by Neji's machine gun blows. Slowly, Kidomaru got back to his feet, his armor flaking off of him. "Your Gentle Fist is impressive. Chakra strikes emitted from the points of your fingers that allow you to shred chakra-based substances and block an opponent's network is a truly fearsome ability" he panted. "I concede that you are a worthy opponent!"

Leaping onto one of the larger sections of shredded webbing, Kidomaru bit his thumb and formed five hand seals, before placing a palm on the silk surface. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" In a large explosion of smoke, a spider similar in size to an elephant materialized under him, and began excreting a large silk sack from behind it. "Die!" Kidomaru shouted, spitting a gold kunai at the sack, slicing it open to reveal an army of baby spiders the size of a person's head. Neji remained impassive, but was internally disgusted.

"Kaiten!" the Hyuuga shouted, spinning on his heel to create his family's signature dome of chakra, expelling chakra from all his tenketsu points. Spiders were shredded into a fine paste, silk spattered across the nearby trees, and when Kidomaru shot a hail of senbon and kunai at him, they all bounced off, impaling more of the spider-lings. "Dammit, they can't get through...but a technique like that can't last forever, and the Byakugan isn't invincible" Kidomaru thought, recalling a report he read from Kumo on the Byakugan's strengths and weaknesses as he fled to what he hoped was the edge of Neji's range.

As Neji switched from Kaiten to the Sixty-Four Palms in order to defeat the spiders, Kidomaru coughed up a curved piece of gold with silk threaded across it, followed by another piece of gold - clearly an arrow, which notched into his silk bow. Drawing back the string, the spider-man got closer, and closer, knowing that he'd have to get well within the several hundred meter range of Neji's Byakugan while staying in his blind spot if he was going to pull this off.

Neij finished dispatching the smaller spiders in time to watch as the mother spider descended from the treetops onto him, in the hopes of squishing him. Neji merely stared upwards for a few moments before entering a stance that was decidedly not Gentle Fist. "Lee...Gai-sensei...this one's for you!" he thought, before concentrating an inordinate buildup of chakra in the tenketsu on his right palm. "Strong Fist!"

The spider's entire body rippled from the impact before exploding into spider silk, while Kidomaru almost dropped his bow and arrow from shock. "I do not want that to hit me. Best to take him out now." As Neji slowly turned around, the spider-boy fired his arrow, which embedded itself in Neji's right shoulder. The Hyuuga hissed in pain, but did not fall. "There he is!"

Kidomaru leapt back in time to avoid several explosive kunai flying his way. "I didn't think I'd have to go this far, but as courtesy for giving me such a fun playthrough, I'll break out my full power!" As the Cursed Seal on his shoulder drew in massive amounts of energy, escalating to its' second level, Kidomaru's forehead protector dropped to the forest floor, while a stream of gold flowed from his mouth, transforming into a gargantuan bow and arrow. A third eye opened on his forehead as the transformation completed.

Drawing back his massive bow, Kidomaru shot the arrow at Neji, knowing that it would be moving so fast that, by the time Neji noticed in, it would be too late to react. Unfortunately for Kidomaru, however, he was incorrect about this, as Neji dove behind a tree just in time to avoid the arrow, which hit the forest floor with enough force to send a pillar of dust and dirt shooting above the treetops.

"Hmmm...I missed. Oh well, 'l add some spin on the next one to make it harder to avoid and significantly faster." Pulling out the new arrow, which had a drill-shaped tip, the spider-boy fired again. This time, Neji simply couldn't avoid the attack, which speared him through the shoulder again, pinning him against a nearby tree. "It's over. He's about to die of chakra exhaustion, assuming blood loss doesn't get him first" Kidomaru noted.

At the last moment, however, Neji raised one hand to his shoulder and pumped as much chakra as possible into the string. "Gentle Fist Art: Violent Hemorrhaging!" The stream of chakra traveled back up the string to Kidomaru's mouth, before dispersing inside of the spider-boy, shredding his internal organs and forcing him out of his Level Two transformation. "He had enough left for something like that?!"

Shredding the string in his shoulder, Neji dashed towards Kidomaru's falling form, now running on adrenaline alone. "EIGHT TRIGRAMS, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY-EIGHT PALMS!" the Hyuuga shouted. "Crap!" thought Kidomaru, just before Neji caught up with him. "TWO PALMS! FOUR PALMS! EIGHT PALMS! SIXTEEN PALMS! THIRTY-TWO PALMS! SIXTY-FOUR PALMS!" Pausing for a moment as his foe roared in pain, Neji delivered the final salvo of blows.


The last series of strikes hit Kidomaru all over his body. His lungs collapsed, his heart exploded and his stomach disintegrated; but as one final courtesy Neji's last strike, which contained all his remaining chakra, hit Kidomaru at the point between all three of his eyes, just above the bridge of his nose. The burst of chakra traveling through Kidomaru's head liquefied his brain, killing him instantly and painlessly as his broken body collapsed to the ground below.

Neji himself stayed on his feet for a few more moments, before falling backwards. "Good luck, Naruto..." he thought, just before the blood loss caught up with him as he slipped into unconsciousness...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Go get them, we'll catch up!" Kin shouted at Naruto and Shikamaru before she and her fellow deserter tackled Sakon and his brother through some bushes and off a cliff towards a lake in a system of limestone caverns below them.

The two remaining Oto shinobi dashed through the trees, still being pursued by the remaining five Konoha ones. After a few moments of deliberation, Kimimaro turned to look at his companion. "Tayuya. You are to stall as many of them as possible; if you fail, I may well kill you" he said, and the redhead paled at his declaration. "U-Understood" she muttered, stopping as Kimimaro increased his speed to the greatest extent possible, calling on the first stage of his Curse Mark. "Satsuki-san's chakra has almost finished integrating with the Curse Mark. She'll awaken soon..."

Meanwhile, Tayuya turned around and stared on the oncoming group moving towards her. "Well? Come at me, ya fucks!" the redhead shouted, drawing into a fighting stance. Shikamaru glanced around at who was left with him. "Ino, you're with me. We're taking on Lady Swears-A-Lot, while Naruto, Shino and Lee go after Kimimaro and Satsuki" he said. Before anyone could protest, the lazy Chuunin grabbed an explosive tag and lobbed it at Tayuya, the resulting blast knocking her off the branch and to the ground below, as he and the Yamanaka split off to fight her.

"Naruto, you're in charge now. Get Satsuki back, no matter what!" Shikamaru shouted, descending towards the ground. The blonde gulped, then nodded. "Got it, Lazy Ass!" he shouted, to the Nara's annoyance. "Now then" Tayuya said, pulling a silver flute out of her weapon pouch. 'Which of you kids is dying first?"

In the lake at the bottom of the cliff they'd plummeted off of, where a large river emerged from a limestone cave to flow through the surface of the Land of Fire, Kin and Dosu stirred slightly. "Owwwwwwwww...that's not an experience I wanna repeat anytime soon" the kunoichi groaned, her bandaged companion silently nodding in agreement. The duo clambered back to their feet and waded through the shallows waters to the shore, at the base of another large cliff.

As she wrung the water out of her shirt, a sudden realization dawned on Kin. "Wait a minute...where'd those two bastards go?" she wondered aloud. Dosu's one visible eye widened, and he spun around just in time to see the conjoined twins appear in a Body Flicker, lunging towards him. "Barrage Fist!" Sakon shouted, as Ukon's arms sprouted from his own, tripling the number of fists swinging at Dosu.

The bandaged boy barely leapt aside, watching as the attack effortlessly demolished a nearby rock formation. A handful of senbon, some with with bells attached, flew towards Sakon from behind. Ukon sprouted from his back, catching them with ease, including the ones with no bells. "Oh please" Ukon yawned. "You think I don't know that Shadow Senbon fuckery of yours? I'm not an amateur like you fodder and your dear departed Zaku."

Dosu's eye narrowed at the insult towards he and Kin's deceased teammate. "I'd appreciate it if you didn't speak ill of the departed. Resonating Echo Drill!" Tapping his Melody Gauntlet, the bandaged boy sent a wave of chakra-laced sound towards his opponent. The soundwaves curved around, guided by Dosu's chakra, and entered Sakon's left ear, rupturing his eardrum.

The blue-haired teen grimaced, but didn't let Dosu's attack get to him. "Barrage Kick!" Both of Ukon's legs sprouted from his own as Sakon delivered a spinning heel kick to his opponent. The blow launched Dosu backwards onto the lake, where he skidded across the water's surface; Sakon had put enough force behind the hit to form cracks in Dosu's ridiculously sturdy Melody Gauntlet.

"Well, that's unfortunate...I only have two, maybe three attacks left before it breaks, so to make the most of it I'll have to use that as my last move..." the bandaged teen thought to himself, watching as Kin sent another spray of senbon at their opponents. Ukon raised his head again and snatching senbon out of midair, but one of them slipped past him and landed on the ground nearby, a bell attached to it. Kin smirked, pulling back on the wire and ringing the bell. "Check and mate."

The world blurred for the twins, before both of their opponents began to duplicate themselves as the ground rocked back and forth under their feet. "G-Genjutsu?!" Sakon wondered. "And I can't move to dispel it!" "Let me handle it, otouto" Ukon responded, sprouting from Sakon's back and glowing slightly as he pushed his Curse Mark to its' Level Two state. "KAI!" the elder twin shouted, hands in a Tiger seal. Sakon's senses cleared as the feeling returned to his body.

In a blur of movement, the twins separated as Sakon entered the Level Two state. Both of them now had red skin, white hair, sharp teeth and a single horn on each of their heads. Sakon delivered a flurry of punches towards Dosu, who evaded most and managed to press his palm against Sakon's arm. Before he could do anything, however, the white-haired boy delivered a single mighty blow to his stomach. The bandages around Dosu's mouth turned crimson red, dyed by the blood he had spat up as he was driven into the nearby cliff.

Meanwhile, Ukon had seemingly vanished from Kin's sight. "Where the hell did he go?!" the girl wondered, looking all around her in an attempt to spot her foe and shower him with more senbon. Then, a voice spoke in her head. "I'm so much closer than you'd think, Kin." Eyes widening, the kunoichi spun around and threw a senbon needle at...nothing. A strange feeling in her shoulder caught her attention, and she turned to see a horrifying sight. Ukon's grotesque head was emerging seamlessly from her own shoulder.

"Don't tell me you've already forgotten about Sakon and I's Molecular Integration Kekkei Genkai? We aren't limited to merging with each other; with the Curse Mark's second level i can merge with other people too and slowly destroy their internal systems, before absorbing their remains into myself" he chuckled, as her eyes widened in horror. 'Gotta get him off of me!" "Easier said than done. The only way to harm me is to harm yourself!" Ukon continued, laughing.

Kin smirked. "Is that right?" she asked...before driving a senbon needle into her chest, just above her heart. Ukon's eyes widened as a glob of blood dripped from his mouth. "Are you insane?!" he shouted, as Kin to flashed him a psychotic grin and pulled a kunai out of her weapons pouch. "Let's die together, why don't we?" As she drove the kunai towards her own stomach, Ukon ejected himself in a panic, only to receive a kunai to the shoulder for chickening out.

At the same time, Dosu's eye snapped open, as he placed his right hand on Sakon's chest. "Resonating Echo Drill!" he shouted, twisting his arm to generate the needed sound for the attack to activate. Sakon's eye widened in horror, but before he could react, the Melody Gauntlet's ability had blown a sizeable hole in his chest, narrowly missing his heart. "Sakon!" Ukon shouted turning towards his brother. The moment of distraction proved to be a mistake; Kin slapped an explosive tag on Ukon's back and kicked him away, hitting the deck as the tag exploded, leaving a thick smoke over the area.

When the smoke cleared and Sakon retreated into Ukon's body to recuperate, there was no sign of their two opponents except a few drops of blood from where Kin had been, leading into the river. "Looks like the little rats are getting away..." the elder brother muttered, before himself starting down the river.

Twenty minutes later, the conjoined twin brothers found themselves at the confluence of the river and a smaller side creek, which led into the nearby forest. Along the side of the creek, the trail of blood resumed. "They definitely came this way..." Ukon trailed off, stalking onto the land.

After about forty meters, the trail of blood split into two trails. Sakon sprouted out of his brother's back, their usual roles reversed. "You'll be okay if we split off, right?" he asked. The elder brother snorted. "Sakon, just because I spend ninety percent of the time riding around in your body doesn't mean I'm incapable. I won't tire out as long as I'm using the Curse Mark's power" he said. Sakon, now fully healed from Dosu's attack, nodded in agreement and split off from his brother, ignoring the strange ringing in his ears, figuring it was a side effect of Dosu's last-ditch attack.

A few minutes of walking later, and Sakon spied his prey. Kin was clearly wounded heavily, given the blood dripping from her chest and how weakened she seemed. "Gotcha. I'd stay and play around, but Ukon told me not to fuck around - Kimimaro is gonna kill us if we don't catch up soon."

Lunging forward, Sakon drew his right fist back. "Die!" he shouted, swinging with what would have been a truly devastating punch...had his opponent not blocked it. "W-Wha? You should barely be able to move, and even at your best that should have shattered every bone in your arm!" the white-haired boy stammered in surprise. His opponent said nothing, drawing their own fist back and punching at him.

Sakon caught the hit, surprised by the force behind it, then began trading blows with Kin. Punches blocked punches, kicks blocked kicks, and the two even headbutted each other once. Both of them drew back clutching their heads. "Enough of this" Sakon growled in frustration, drawing a kunai from his weapons pouch. "Die already!" His opponent seemed too tired to dodge, and the Oto shinobi smirked, confident in his victory...

And then the genjutsu disappeared, and Sakon realized he had plunged his kunai into his brother's heart.

At the same time, Ukon stared in horror as the opponent he thought was Dosu turned out to be his brother, having driven a kunai into Sakon's heart. "What the...?" Sakon trailed off, before both coughed up blood. The sound of applause filled the air, as Kin stood in a nearby tree, a senbon with a bell on each end balanced in her hand. "Wow, just wow. This is Orochimaru's elite?" she wondered aloud.

"Don't...get cocky!" Ukon growled. "You haven't beaten us yet!" Kin raised an eyebrow. "Oh? But we have" she said, as a high-pitched whine filled the air. The twins turned around to see Dosu braced against a nearby tree, his cracked Melody Gauntlet vibrating violently as he pumped every bit of chakra he could into it. The two boys both dawned on the same conclusion. "If that hits us, we'll die!"

"W-Wait! Don't be hasty!" Ukon shouted in a panic. "E-Exactly! If you come back to Lord Orochimaru, he'll reward you handsomely!" Sakon added, attempting to bargain. Dosu's eye narrowed. "Is that what you told Zaku before you turned him into a human sacrifice?" The twins' blood ran cold, as they realized that they were indeed about to be killed.

The duo attempted to merge with each other again, but as they started, a senbon hit each of them in the neck, paralyzing them from the neck down as part of their spinal cords were sliced away. "Ah, ah, ah, none of that" Kin admonished, waving a finger back and forth as if she was a primary school teacher scolding them. "Now then" Dosu said, as he finished pumping chakra into his weapon. "I am not normally a fan of such strong language, but for you, I'll make an exception. Eat shit and die."


With that, the bandaged teen flicked his violently vibrating weapon with one finger from his left hand. The damaged weapon exploded, sending a wave of pure sound ripping across the clearing and slamming into the defenseless twins, who were helpless to do anything. Sakon and Ukon were lifted off their feet and thrown through the forest the way they'd came in, before being propelled into one of the walls of the canyon they'd just walked down.

When the dust cleared, a massive trench had been carved into the forest by the force of the attack, stretching all the way to the river. Sakon and Ukon's mangled bodies lay in a crater carved into the canyon wall, their bodies partially liquefied by the sheer force of Dosu's last-ditch attack against them.

Kin slowly descended from the tree she'd been in, taking care to not aggravate her self-inflicted injury. "We...we did it" she murmured. Dosu stood nearby, the feedback from his attack having shredded off most of his bandages, revealing what would have been considered an exceptionally handsome face if it wasn't marred by angry red acid burns. "I guess we did, didn't we?" he responded, before falling to the ground, completely out of energy.

Looking up at the sky, the former Oto shinobi smiled as he slipped into unconsciousness. "That one was for you, Zaku, wherever you are..."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Now then" Tayuya said, pulling a silver flute out of her weapon pouch. 'Which of you kids is dying first?"

The redheaded Oto kunoichi stared down her two opponents, who she recognized from their appearances as a Nara and a Yamanaka. "No Akimichi I don't have to worry about the legendary teamwork of Ino-Shika-Cho." Smirking, Tayuya addressed her opponents, intent on playing a game of psychological warfare beforehand.

"You know, this mission of yours was futile" she said, a haughty, arrogant tone entering her voice. "Satsuki Uchiha came with us of her own free will; even if you get the coffin off of Kimimaro by some miracle of kami, you still won't be able to stop her from going to Lord Orochimaru." Ino growled in anger at that declaration, but Shkamaru merely raised one eyebrow.

"I mean, what is the point in going this far to save one insignificant kunoichi? You're facing certain death, ya little shits. The fatass, the Hyuuga and the traitors are all almost certainly dead, and the three who went after Kimimaro are doomed to join them. I might as well send you two fuckers to join them" Tayuya finished, as Ino fumed. Shikamaru placed a hand on one of the blonde's shoulders to calm her down and prevent her from losing her cool.

"Man, this whole thing is troublesome" Shikamaru began. "I often wish I was a cloud, drifting carefree forever across the skies. But no, I had no such luck and was born to be a shinobi instead." Ino stared with an annoyed expression at her companion after his open admission of laziness. "However...if there's one thing that I'm always willing to do, it's believe in my friends. And as their commander, I've given them specific orders for this mission."

Tayuya raised an eyebrow. "Oh? And what shitty orders did you give those pieces of trash?" she snapped. "Their orders are to come back alive no matter what" Shikamaru declared. "That's why I know...they'll all win their fights. And with that said, right now...I've got a feeling that we can't lose!" he shouted. "Let's go, Ino!" "Right!" the blonde agreed, as they both leapt backwards.

"How pathetic. You really think all that talk will change your reality?" Tayuya sneered. "Let me introduce you to the reality I'll show you; the reality I live in where I'm a mere slave to another's whims!" Biting her thumb and weaving five familiar seals, Tayuya slammed her palm against the ground as jagged lines spread across her skin from her Curse Mark's activation. "KUCHIYOSE NO JUTSU!"

When the smoke cleared, three hulking figures stood behind the girl. The first wore a green jumpsuit not entirely unlike Lee and Gai's, with a kanabo over its' shoulder and hair covering its' face. The second was shirtless and bald, wearing nothing but a pair of black pants, and scars covered its' head, giving it an appearance similar to the dreaded Ibiki Morino; two claw gauntlets adorned its' arms. The last one as the most horrifying, as its' entire body was bound in a straightjacket of bandages with its' head forced upwards. All three of them were blindfolded, wore the purple rope belts that were an Otogakure signature, and their mouths were all sewn shut.

"Do you like my adorable Dokis?" Tayuya crooned. Off in the treetops, Shikamaru and Ino turned to each other and mouthed the same thing in unison? "Dokis? What the fuck?!" "Now, prepare to hear my Melody of Death!" Tayuya raised the flute to her lips, and began to play a haunting melody, sending shivers down Shikamaru and Ino's spines. The Dokis rocked back and forth for a few moments, swaying with the rhythm of the song...

And then in a blinding burst of speed, the three monstrosities rocketed into the forest, smashing through thick,old tree branches in an attempt to flush out their prey.

Shikamaru's eyes widened. "Get to a high, safe place that you can still see us from and line up your Mind-Body Transfer; you're the key to my plan succeeding" he said, addressing his blonde teammate. The Yamanaka nodded and took off using the Body Flicker - a technique that, due to her larger reserves, she'd be able to use more easily than Shikamaru (who had the smallest chakra pool on Team Ten and knew it).

Reaching into his weapons pouch and flak jacket, Shikamaru took inventory of what he had. "Twelve-ish meters of ninja wire, fourteen shuriken, nine kunai, one flash bomb, three smoke tags and two explosive tags...I can work with this" he thought, devising a quick plan while watching his opponent's flute playing. "She's clearly using the music to control those things' movements, but I'm not musically inclined enough to figure out how they'll move based on the sounds..."

Deciding to go out on a limb (literally), Shikamaru leapt into full view of his opponent. "Come at me, troublesome Sound woman" he taunted, holding one hand out and making a "bring it" gesture. Tayuya's eyes narrowed. "You're a cocky little piece of shit, aren't you? How about you try this on for size. Ninth Symphony: Revolt of the Demon's World!"

Playing a different melody on her flute, Tayuya caused the Dokis to all rock back and forth, before their sewn-shut mouths physically ripped open as disgusting ghostly apparitions flowed out of them, opening many small, sharp mouths. The Dokis themselves leapt forward, spirit worms trailing from their mouths as they forced Shikamaru to leap from tree to tree to tree to avoid their crushing attacks. One of the ghostly presences bit him in the shoulder, leaving no mark but physically draining his strength.

The Nara managed to get back into hiding with the simultaneous use of his last three smoke tags, catching his breath. "Those things are hazardous...they appear to drain Yang chakra from their prey, which means they're likely a Yin Release technique, just like my Shadow Possession or Ino's Mind-Body Transfer. I've got to avoid getting hit by them..." Getting into his patented thinking posture, Shikamaru began to devise a masterful plan to deal with his foes.

A few minutes later, a kunai with an explosive tag on it hit near Tayuya. "Hm?" the girl wondered aloud, just before the attack detonated. "One." Another kunai embedded itself high above her head without her noticing, a flash bomb on its' hilt. "Two." More kunai came from the bushes, the bald Doki blocking all of them to protect Tayuya. "Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight."

After a few moments, Shikamaru himself dropped out of a bush section of tree, smirking at Tayuya. "So, the little rat comes out to play. Ready to get your ass beat like a real man?" The Nara shrugged. "Perhaps. I mean, for all you know, I might be into that sort of stuff" he chuckled to Tayuya's annoyance. "Pervert" she growled, playinga melody and attracting the Dokis back, where they all lunged at Shikamaru.

If possible, the Nara's smirk became even cockier as he threw a kunai into the air, cutting down the flash bomb. "Nine. Checkmate" he said, as the flash bomb detonated and his shadow connected to those of the summons. "Shadow Possession Jutsu...complete" Shikamaru said. "Y-You bastard! You were playing me all along?!" Tayuya growled. "That's how I play it. Now, I've captured your pieces, so I'll use them against favorite shogi tactic."

Leaping forward, the Dokis in front of him, Shikamaru lunged at Tayuya. Eyes widening, the girl formed a hand seal. "Dispel!" The Dokis all poofed away, and Shikamaru looked disappointed. "You thought you could get the drop on me like that, eh, you little shit?" Tayuya laughed. Shikamaru's dismayed look suddenly shifted to a triumphant one.

"Yes, actually. Shadow Possession Jutsu...complete." Tayuya's eyes widened as she realized she couldn't move, as she noticed Shikamaru's shadow trailing down his tree trunk to the ground, then back up her own to her shadow. "I win. Now, are you gonna surrender, or...?" he asked. Tayuya's face contorted with rage. "Hell no! I'm not gonna just give up my life like that; if I fail, Kimimaro will kill me!" she shrieked, as her Curse Mark glowed.

The girl's skin turned grey and her small cap shredded as horns grew from her head, her eyes turning black and yellow and her muscles becoming better-defined. "I can't believe I had to go Level Two on a loser like you...and your blonde girlfriend, wherever she went. But I won't give up here!" Tayuya shouted, as Shikamaru realized she was successfully struggling against the Shadow Possession. "What an insane strength increase..." he thought.

"Looks like I'll have to try something different" Shikamaru said, weaving several hand seals as his shadow changed shape and began to crawl up her body. "Shadow Strangulation Jutsu!" Tayuya's eyes widened as she watched the hands creep up her body. "It feels just like an actual hand on my body!" she thought, before she realized that Shikamaru's hands had reached her...assets.

The redhead struggled even more violently at this point, the grey skin of her face turning an interesting shade of burgundy that could be taken as her blushing. "G-Get off me, you perverted fuck!" she sputtered. "S-Shit! I may not be able to get her after all with this!" Shikamaru thought, panicking slightly, as he called on his remaining chakra to finish the girl off.

Before Tayuya could break out, however, her entire body stiffened and her resistance stopped. "Mind-Body Tranfer, complete!" Ino said, now possessing Tayuya's body. Her own body was laying prone in an abandoned eagle's nest in a nearby treetop. "Nice job, Ino!" Shikamaru said, smirking. "Now, how should be deal with her?" Before Ino could answer, Tayuya's body began to shudder.

"S-She's breaking out. Strangle me!" Ino said, panicking. "But if I do that, then you'll-!" Shikamaru began, before Ino cut him off. "Just do it!" Nodding, the boy extended the Shadow Strangulation up Tayuya's body and around her neck, before applying pressure. After a few moments, the girl crumpled to the ground, her Curse Mark receding to the mark on the back of her neck.

Dropping to his knees in exhaustion, Shikamaru pulled out his ninja wire and tied Tayuya's body up. "Well, that was troublesome" he commented, before looking to the north. "Naruto, Shino, Lee...good luck."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

Kimimaro increased his speed to the greatest extent possible, calling on the first stage of his Curse Mark. "Satsuki-san's chakra has almost finished integrating with the Curse Mark. She'll awaken soon..."

The trio of remaining Konoha shinobi raced through the trees as fast as they could in pursuit of Kimimaro. At some point, Naruto began subconsciously channeling Kurama's chakra into himself, causing him to speed up even more. "Interesting; I was unaware that he'd managed to learn to tap the Kyuubi's chakra at will" Shino noted, before pushing himself to catch up with Naruto and Lee, who was more than capable of outspeeding them both even with his weights on.

A short chase later, and the trio burst into a large grassy plain, roughly a kilometer across in any direction. The Aburame recalled that his was called Namikaze Field; during the Kyuubi attack, the Fourth had used a space-time ninjutsu barrier to teleport an exceptionally large Bijuudama that had been fired at the Hokage monument. The technique had teleported the Kyuubi's chakra bomb to an empty section of forest; a dozen years later, the crater had become a flat grassland.

Kimimaro stood in the center of this unnatural clearing, standing next to the coffin as it leaked dark miasma. "Oh, hello there" the last Kaguya said coolly, nodding in their direction. "Um...hello. Any chance that we can have Satsuki back?" Naruto asked, stepping forward in an attempt to negotiate. Kimimaro shook his head. "That ill not be possible; I refuse to consider betraying Lord Orochimaru in such a manner."

The blonde growled. "What's so special about him, anyway? It's always 'Lord Orochimaru' this, 'Lord Orochimaru' that with you Otogakure bastards!" The white-haired teen rolled his shoulders, before he began to speak. "Lord Orochimaru gave me a purpose; a reason to exist. He is my master, for he found me and took me in after my clan was slaughtered. For him, I would go to any length to make sure his goals were achieved."

"Oh...I'm, uhhh, sorry for your loss?" Naruto said awkwardly in regards to Kimimaro's statement about his clan. Kimimaro shook his head. "Don't be" he said calmly. "They were a clan of depraved, bloodthirty warmongers, and they believed it was necessary to lock me in a cage as a child for my Kekkei Genkai." Lee looked indignant. "How very unyouthful of them!" he shouted angrily.

"I suppose that is an accurate assessment of my former clan. Nonetheless, I am the last of my kind now, for better or for worse. Thanks to Lord Orochimaru, however, I gained a new family..." Kimimaro trailed off. Naruto drew into a fighting stance. "Well, if you're not gonna give Satsuki back, we'll just have to beat your ass and take her back, dattebayo! I've been wanting to pay you back for stabbing me!" The white-haired teen sighed at this declaration. "Must I really fight?"

"Wait!" Lee shouted, stopping Naruto. "Why're you stopping me, Lee!" the blonde growled. "Gai-sensei taught me that it is proper courtesy among warriors to give one's name before a battle! That way, when one wins, they will forever remember the loser!" Lee responded, before introducing himself. "I am the Beautiful Green Beast of Konohagakure no Sato, and a genius of hard work through the youthful teachings of Might Gai-sensei...Rock Lee!"

The impassive white-haired teen's lips briefly twitched at Lee's...unique introduction. "Very well then. I am Kimimaro, last of the Kaguya Clan of the Land of Water, leader of the Sound Five, and faithful servant of Orochimaru of the Sannin." Naruto, although he still didn't see a point in doing so, introduced himself as well. "The name's Naruto Uzumaki, future Hokage of Konoha! Remember it, dattebayo!" Finally, the last member of the quartet introduced himself. "I am Shino Aburame, faithful shinobi of Konohagakure."

"Well met, Lee-san, Uzumaki-san, Aburame-san" Kimimaro said politely. Naruto growled, eyes turning red and foxlike while red chakra swirled around him as he crossed his hands in his signature seal. "Multi-Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Nearly a hundred identical copies of the blonde appeared in a large circle around Kimimaro, lunging forwards. "Shikotsumyaku: Willow Dance."

Long, thin, sharp bones sprouted from Kimimaro's arms, legs, back and shoulders, impaling a little under a dozen clones in one fell swoop. The white-haired teen leapt into the air, cartwheeled over three more while popping them in the process, then blurred in a graceful dance, raising larger and larger clouds of smoke from the dispelled clones. After popping about thirty, the last Kaguya darted out of the crowd...only to get kicked in the stomach by Lee.

Skidding backwards along the ground, Kimimaro righted himself again, but found himself having to dodge streams of kikaichu from the Aburame. A loud whining noise caught the last Kaguya's attention, causing him to spin around to see three Naruto clones prepping a Fuuton: Rasengan. Remembering how much it had hurt to be hit by that attack in their last battle, even knowing that he was severely weakened at the time, Kimimaro shot off his finger bones, dispelling the clones and causing the spiraling sphere to destabilize, exploding into uncontrolled Fuuton chakra and taking out another two dozen clones.

"Lee, drop your weights!" Naruto shouted. "R-Right!" the spandex-clad boy responded, kneeling down to remove his leg warmers and the weights underneath. "Wait, I remember those!" Kimimaro thought, recalling Lee's weight drop at the Chuunin Exam finals, where Kimimaro masqueraded as the "Otokage", representing his village. The bowl-cut boy flung the weights at the white-haired teen, who narrowly avoided them as they cratered the ground where they landed.

"So much better!" Lee shouted, bouncing back and forth on his toes so fast that he appeared as nothing more than a vaguely greenish blur. "Hey Lee! How much weight are you carrying anyway?" Naruto asked. "Gai-sensei recently increased my weights from three tons per leg to four!" Lee responded, and everyone involved in the fight - even the incredibly stoic Kimimaro and Shino - sweatdropped at how casually the boy talked about spending every day wearing eight tons on his legs.

In an incredible blur of speed, Lee assaulted Kimimaro again, the sheer force and speed of his attacks either outright breaking the bones that the Kaguya used to protect himself, or blowing past his guard outright. Pain wracked the teen's body as Lee's punishing blows rained on him. "This isn't good...I'll have to use the Curse Mark on them..." The Cursed Seal of Earth on Kimimaro's chest activated, spreading outward in a pattern of square boxes all over the teen's skin.

Catching Lee's fist in one hand, Kimimaro flexed his muscles with enough force to shred the upper half of his uniform, before reaching up to his shoulder and pulling out a long, sharpened arm bone. "You are quite strong to have forced me to not only use my second Dance, but also to have drawn upon the Cursed Seal of Earth's powers." Naruto raised an eyebrow, as another couple clones assaulted Kimimaro. "Dances?" The clones dispersed from a casual slice of the sword. "I have mastered all five Dances of the Shikotsumyaku. The Willow Dance was the, witness the Dance of the Camellia!"

Just before Kimimaro could begin to attack again, the lid exploded off of the coffin, shaking the entire clearing. When the smoke settled, Satsuki stood there, back turned. Her hair receded slightly and her skin, which was previously greyish, returned to its' natural porcelain white color.

Naruto cracked a smile, then laughed. "Satsuki! Good to see you again! now c'mon, let's go back to Konoha for a nice bowl or ten of ramen, dattebayo!" The ravenette remained silent for a few moments, then began to laugh at the top of her lungs. "S-Satsuki? Hey, you can hear us, right? Me and Bushy-Brows and Bug-Man, right?"

Then, to the horror of the three Konoha shinobi, Satsuki dashed off into the woods, continuing north towards the Valley of the End, five kilometers away. "Satsuki!" Naruto shouted, starting forward...only for Kimimaro to lunge at him. "Muda muda. She's not coming die." Just before Kimimaro's blade connected with Naruto, Lee struck him in the chest with a vicious kick, while Shino's kikaichu swarmed him.

"Go, Naruto-san!" Lee shouted. "Only you can get back Satsuki-chan! Shino-san and I will hold Kimimaro-san off!" "R-Right!" Naruto shouted, saluting as he ran off in pursuit of Satsuki. The two remaining Konoha shinobi turned to face their opponent in what would surely be their toughest fight yet...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"Go, Naruto-san!" Lee shouted. "Only you can get back Satsuki-chan! Shino-san and I will hold Kimimaro-san off!" "R-Right!" Naruto shouted, saluting as he ran off in pursuit of Satsuki. The two remaining Konoha shinobi turned to face their opponent in what would surely be their toughest fight yet...

Kimimaro stared down his two remaining opponents. "That boy will not succeed" he finally said, after several long moments of silence. "And why not?" Shino inquired. "Because Satsuki Uchiha-san came with us of her own free will. Naruto Uzumaki-san is nowhere near strong enough to beat her at his current level of power, especially now that she can access Level would not be surprising if Lord Orochimaru's new vessel became my equal after her evolution" Kimimaro responded.

"Newest vessel?" Lee asked, clearly curious. Kimimaro nodded. "Indeed. Lord Orochimaru may be immortal, yes, but over time even the strongest of vessels weaken to the point of collapse. He has to regularly transfer between bodies to stay alive." Lee looked disgusted. "His own body is not youthful enough for him? How very crude!" the bowl-cut boy shouted.

"I see nothing 'unyouthful' about wanting to learn everything about our world, and neither does Lord Orochimaru" Kimimaro said, before a small smirk crossed his face. "By the not think I have not noticed the kikaichu you placed on me, Aburame-san." Shino raised one eyebrow behind his glasses, before noticing that almost all of the bugs had turned to stone and died, with only a handful of survivors.

"How curious, it seems most of my kikaichu are unable to consume your chakra without any harmful side effects. Why? Because it appears that some unknown form of chakra circulates through your body." Kimimaro nodded. "Very observant, Aburame-san. The Cursed Seals that Lord Orochimaru has created for his loyal followers absorb Nature Chakra from the environment around them, strengthening and transforming them in a manner very similar to my dear friend Jugo of the Scales. When absorbed in excess, Nature Chakra can petrify an individual, as has happened to your kikaichu."

The remaining two dozen kikaichu who survived consuming Kimimaro's chakra returned to Shino's hive. "Lee-san, I need you to buy me time. I can replicate the immunity of these select few kikaichu in my hive by rapidly breeding them, but I will be unable to move until the process is finished. Can you do that?" The bowl-cut boy blinked a few times, before breaking out into a grin as he flashed Nice Gai Pose 17C with Bushy Eyebrows (TM). "Yosh! You can count on me, Shino-san!"

"Thank you, Lee-san" Shino said, retreating to the edge of the field and weaving four hand seals. "Hijutsu: Insect Cocoon!" the Aburame began feeding chakra to the insects within his body, prompting them - particularly the ones immune to senjutsu/Natural Energy - to breed rapidly, spreading their genetic advantages throughout the hive. "I won't let you!" Kimimaro stated, shooting his finger bones at Shino's defenseless form - only for Lee to grab one of his leg weights and throw it as a makeshift shield, the dense metal and the seals on it deflecting the bone bullets with ease.

Reaching into his weapon pouch, Lee pulled out a small bottle. "Gai-sensei said that this medicine is only to be used in emergencies, and I believe this to be an emergency!" he shouted, before downing the whole thing in one gulp. "Medicine?" Kimimaro wondered, thinking back to the nasty concoctions Kabuto had devised to extend his lifespan enough to be cured. "This medicine always tastes strange, and it makes me feel...kinda...funny..." the bowl-cut boy trailed off, swaying on his feet before falling backwards.

"What...what just happened?" Kimimaro wondered. He had no time to question Lee's actions, however, because the boy in question popped right back up, a strange flush of red on his face. "What are ya looking at, bastardddddddd?" the boy slurred, dashing forward and delivering a flurry of punches, evading Kimimaro's best attempts to hit him with the sword from the Camellia Dance. "So fast...and unpredictable...!" "Shiko...tu..myaku: L...Larch...Dance!"

More and more bones extruded themselves from the Kaguya's skin, yet Lee continued to evade them, dodging between bone spines and landing more and more blows on Kimimaro. And then, as if nothing had ever happened, Lee fell back to the ground, snoring. "Is he asleep?" Kimimaro wondered, leaning over his opponent's prone form...only for Lee to pop back up, inches from his face. "You fell for it!"

A strong kick hit Kimimaro in the chest, breaking several of the extended rib bones as he shot backwards. "I can't believe it! I'll have to actually fight harder against him!" Kimimro thought, before his eyes narrowed on the still-meditating form of Shino. "First though...!" Aiming a hand, Kimimaro fired his finger bones at Shino, but Lee zoomed in and casually caught them in his fingers.

"Stuff like this is dangerous, bastard!" Lee slurred, before disappearing in a burst of blinding speed and kicking Kimimaro in the head. The bowl-cut boy sped up, faster and faster and faster than before, landing myriad punishing blows on Kimimaro's body. "How do ya like that, mannnnnn?" Lee asked, kicking Kimimaro one last time, sending the boy sailing into a copse of trees.

As if to answer his question, a tree flew back at him out of the dust cloud, as a figure emerged. Kimimaro's skin had turned mauve, his eyes were now black with yellow pupils, and his white hair turned grey. Six enormous bone structures sprouted from his back, and a long tail emerged just above his waist. "Consider yourself honored. I have not used the power of this seal on an opponent in a very long time" Kimimaro complimented Lee, just as the boy fell backwards, rubbing his head while the blush vanished from his face.

"Ughhhhhhh...that was weird, but now my head hurts..." Lee said, noticing Kimimaro's transformation. "It looks like I'll have to go all-out too!" the spandex-clad teen shouted, standing back up and drawing into a stance. "Eight Gates Formation! First Gate, Gate of Opening...OPEN!" Lee turned into a green blur, blindingly fast even compared to his Drunken Fist speed. "So fast! I'll have to immobilize him!" Kimimaro thought.

Lee sped around his opponent, the buffeting winds he generated reaching all the way over to Shino. "Two...more...minutes..." the Aburame thought, as Lee began his assault. Bandages off of his wrists wrapped around Kimimaro's upper body, before Lee reappeared directly in front of him. "Try this on for size!" the spandex-clad teen shouted, kicking Kimimaro into the air in a burst of speed, before getting level with him as they descended headfirst towards the ground. "Primary Lotus!"

Kimimaro crashed headfirst into the earth below, while Lee kicked away at the last moment. The body of the last Kaguya remained still for a moment, before Kimimaro pulled himself out of the ground, rubbing his head, but saying nothing. Bending over slightly, Kimimaro reached up and, in a deft motion, pulled his spine out of his back, much to Lee's disgust. Even Shino felt slightly queasy at this, and his body had been infested with parasitic insects practically since his birth.

"None before you have forced me to go as far as this before. Consider yourself honored; you will be the first to die because of my Clematis Dance" Kimimaro said neutrally, before swinging his spine, which wrapped around Lee, immobilizing him. Another massive bone structure formed on Kimimaro's left arm, while his right held the whip. "My Clematis Dance has two parts. Vine holds my quarry in place, before the indestructible drill, Flower, runs them through. This is born from the Kaguya Clan's belief that the ultimate weapon is still useless if it cannot hit its' target. Now...perish."

Lee's head was down as Kimimaro thrust his arm forwards. At the last moment, the bowl-cut boy raised his head, a grin on his face. "I'm not done yet! Second Gate, Gate of Healing...OPEN!" As energy rushed through Lee's body and his wounds healed, the boy slipped easily out of Kimimaro's hold and ducked under the drill, before shattering it with a flurry of punishing blows, much to the Kaguya's shock.

"If at first you don't succeed...try, try again!" Lee shouted, wrapping Kimimaro up and kicking him in the air again. "Secondary Lotus!" This time, as the arc of their descent reached its' zenith, Lee spun around and delivered a brutal double stomp to Kimimaro's back. The last Kaguya was buried in the ground again, this time so deep that no part of his body was visible. "Are you ready yet, Shino-san?" The Aburame climbed to his feet. "I am. Why? Because my hive has now been bred to consume Nature Chakra, such as that which our opponent's Curse Mark absorbs."

"Shikotsumyaku: Bracken Fern Dance."

The moment that Lee and Shino heard Kimimaro's voice, they were both on their guard. This proved to be a wise move, for a few moments later, bone spears began to erupt from underground, forcing Lee to leap backwards as far as possible, green vapor still swirling around him. Shino, for his part was still far enough away from the center of the clearing, but he too was spooked as the bone spikes erupted from the ground.

Lee rapidly concluded that he could no longer outrun the forest of bone emerging from underground, so he resorted to option two: destroy them. "Third Gate, Gate of Life...OPEN! Fourth Gate, Gate of Pain...OPEN!" Lee's entire body flushed red, his eyes went white and his hair stood on end like a character straight out of Kumo Ball Z (a popular children's cartoon in the Land of Lightning that doubled as propaganda, with a fictionalized Raikage A as the protagonist).

"Fifth Gate, Gate of Limit, OPEN! MORNING PEACOCK!"

Lee's fists moved, a blur of motion being the only indication that the boy even had arms. The air slowly began to glow and warm up around him, but did not quite catch fire - he would have needed to use the Sixth Gate to achieve such a feat. The bones were all destroyed under the assault of his fists, a storm of shards flying through the air. Kimimaro emerged from the ground nearby, only to be immediately beset by Shino's kikaichu, which now drained his chakra without reservation even faster than the Cursed Seal of Earth could replenish it.

"This has gone on long enough. Satsuki-san has likely escaped by now, and Tayuya is most likely already dead, so I need to escape and return to Otogakure" the Kaguya thought, noticing Lee getting uncomfortably close to him while tearing through his bone forest like it was nothing. Weaving three hand seals, Kimimaro merged back into his bone forest. "Bone Clone Jutsu."

Another Kimimaro emerged from nearby Shino, rushing towards the Aburame while avoiding wave after wave of kikaichu. At the last moment before the clone reached its' quarry, Lee dashed over and, with a swift kick, demolished the clone, making it disassemble into bones again. "Where is he?" Lee shouted, burning with energy. "It seems he has fled back to Oto. We should make our way towards the Valley of the End and provide our assistance to Naruto-san if need be."

"Yosh! We will go assist our youthful companion, Naruto Uzumaki-!" Lee began, before falling flat on his face out of sheer exhaustion, passing out from the strain of opening five of the Eight Gates. "On second thought, I shall merely send some kikaichu to monitor Naruto-san. Why? Because Lee-san needs medical treatment" the Aburame said, forming a Bug Clone which ran off into the forest, while Shino himself began tending to Lee's injuries.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights... the horror of the three Konoha shinobi, Satsuki dashed off into the woods, continuing north towards the Valley of the End, five kilometers away.

Naruto ran. In all the years that the blonde boy had been alive, he had never run quite like this. Whether that was on the two occasions where he'd had to escape drunken, angry villagers before the Old Man had gotten serious and brought the wrath of kami down on everyone involved and their families in order to set an example, or the countless occasions where he'd evaded Chuunin, Jonin and the goddamn ANBU, there was never such a sense of urgency.

Maybe it was because he was the pursuer this time, not the pursued, but who would know? After all, before the boy could ponder this question any more, the landscape opened up, and the blonde found himself confronted by a large rock formation. Leaping up the rocks, Naruto reached the top and discovered, much to his surprise, that he was standing atop a statue.

More specifically, he stood on the head of a massive statue of Konoha co-founder Hashirama Senju, looking out across a vast plain on his right. In the center of the plain was arguably the biggest lake the boy had ever seen, and off in the distance were a few mountains. A waterfall dropped into a deep canyon below, draining the lake down the Naka River towards Konoha.

The most notable feature, however, was that directly facing the statue he stood on was another statue of similar size, depicting a gorgeous woman with a mane of wild, spiky hair wearing Sengoku-style armor, much like the statue of Hashirama he stood on - the so-called "Goddess of Shinobi", Madara Uchiha. And standing atop the head of the statue, back turned to the blonde, was none other than...


At the sound of his voice reverberating off the canyon walls, the Uchiha turned around slowly to face Naruto. Half of her face was covered in the Curse Mark's black markings, and one of her eyes was black with a yellow pupil. After a few moments, one corner of the girl's mouth quirked up slightly. "Yo, loser."

Naruto continued to glare at Satsuki, while the girl herself began to chuckle. "Why, Satsuki? Why are you doing this?" the blonde shouted angrily. "Why the hell do you care? I'm done screwing around in a village that is intentionally holding me down, somewhere where I'll never be able to gain the power I need" Satsuki spoke haughtily, before lowering her voice. "So please, Naruto...go home."

The girl turned away, intending to walk away and simply leave her past behind, but Naruto was having none of it. The blonde, subtly channeling a little bit of Kurama's chakra to enhance his strength, took a massive flying leap, covering the distance between the two statues in a single leap. "SATSUKI! Just how little do you feel for your comrades back in the Leaf?" Tackling her to the ground, the duo skidded across the top of Madara's statue, before the boy landed a single blow to his former teammate's cheek.

Satsuki closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the sting in her cheek and the taste of her own blood in her mouth. Spitting out a little bit of blood, the girl turned back to her opponent, who currently sat atop her, sitting up to look him directly in the eye. If the two weren't in the middle of a fight, they would probably be blushing up a storm at the compromising position they were in, but right now, neither of them cared enough to comment on it.

Back in Konoha, both Kakashi and Jiraiya got the distinct feeling that something kind of perverted was happening somewhere. The self-proclaimed "Super Pervert" started writing something in his notes for the newest Icha Icha, and Kakashi merely giggled before summoning his ninken to search out Naruto and Satsuki. Meanwhile, in Oto, Orochimaru had the distinct feeling that something downright hilarious was happening to his next vessel, and was silently kicking himself for not being there to see it as he transferred to his new body - a Fuma Clan member of renowned strength in the former Land of Rice, now renamed the Land of Sound.

"You've wanted to fight me for a while now, right?" the ravenette asked, one hand reaching up to touch her opponent on the shoulder. "Well, the feeling is mutual." Grabbing the boy's shirt with her other hand, Satsuki sat up, then got to her feet, lifting Naruto off the ground by his Chuunin vest with raw physical strength, before gesturing around them. "And where better to settle the score than here, at the Valley of the End, where our families fought to the death sixty-five years ago?"

"What...are you...talking about?" Naruto growled out. "Let me explain in terms simple enough for you to understand, dobe" the ravenette responded, beginning her lecture. "During our month-long break before the Exam Finals, I had the chance to look up your ancestry and my own. Madara Uchiha, the strongest warrior in our clan's history, whose statue we stand on now, was the elder sister of my great-grandmother Izuna through my father Fugaku. Madara ended up raising my grandfather Kohei after your own great-grandfather, Tobirama Senju, killed Izuna in battle."

"So now do you see?" Satsuki asked. "We're standing on top of my great-grand aunt's statue, which is facing your great-grand uncle Hashirama's statue. Poetic, isn't it?" The Uchiha snickered at that. "Not that you'd know what poetic means, dead-last." Then, pulling her left fist back, Satsuki delivered a thunderous punch to Naruto's chest. The boy spit up blood as he shot through the air towards the lake behind the waterfall, skipping across the lake's surface like a stone.

As he sank into the waters of the Valley of the End, pain wracking his body, Naruto simply stared at the fading light of the sun. "What...power. She broke my ribs in...only one hit." A minute later, the boy breached the water's surface again, panting for air as he stared angrily at Satsuki, who still stood atop the statue of Madara, glaring coldly at him. With a roar of rage, Naruto took off running towards the statue, leaping onto the outstretched hand as Satsuki leapt down towards him, ducking under his punch and kicking him across the water again while stealing his weapon pouch.

"You're still too weak!" the girl shouted, throwing a kunai at her opponent. Naruto ducked behind a rock, but Satsuki circumvented this by throwing two more kunai, the trajectory of the second causing it to deflect the first downward towards Naruto, who received a cut on the cheek for his troubles. Enraged, the boy leapt up from behind the rock, only to be pinned against its' surface by a hail of kunai and shuriken with ninja wire attacked.

Weaving several hand seals, Satsuki inhaled, then blew a massive ball of fire shaped like a dragon's head. "Katon: Dragon Flame Jutsu!" The fireball engulfed the rock, and for a brief moment the Uchiha thought she'd won. To her surprise, however, a section of flame reversed course up the wires, before dissipating entirely to reveal an almost unharmed Naruto. "Satsuki!" he roared, before punching her in the face.

The boy landed several more hits on the girl, who refused to fight back, simply tanking Naruto's blows to further frustrate and intimidate him. "Why? Why is this happening?!" the blonde thought to himself, as he went in for one last hit, knuckles bruised, only for Satsuki to catch it with one hand. "Dammit!" The girl regarded her opponent coldly. "You're weak. You lack the strength, the conviction and the will needed to stop me! Look, I'm not even using my Sharingan and you're still losing!"

Backhanding Naruto off the top of the statue, Satsuki pursued him, using the Shishi Rendan in midair to kick the boy repeatedly. With one last hit, Naruto was drop-kicked into the water below, with Satsuki landing atop him and weaving several signs before grabbing the collar of his vest. "Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder!" The conductivity of the water enhanced the painful shock of her attack, resulting in Naruto crying out in pain as his muscles spasmed from the electricity flowing through them.

Leaping back to the shore, Satsuki threw his weapons pouch over her shoulder, where it landed on Naruto's chest. "You can have this back." Walking away casually, the girl was surprised when her opponent got back to his feet and glared at her, attaching his weapons pouch to his belt again. "You're resilient, like a damned cockroach" Satsuki said. "Out of respect for your abilities, I'll fight you with my Sharingan!" The three-tomoe red eyes glared at Naruto, as the Kyuubi within his seal squirmed uncomfortably at the sight.

"Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Naruto formed a baker's dozen clones and attacked his former teammate, who casually batted them aside, having long since analyzed and dissected the boy's fighting style. "That jutsu again? How many times do I have to teach you that ten times zero is still zero!" The last one attacked from above, but Satsuki caught him with a one-two punch, then roundhouse kicked him away while performing more seals. "Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu!" The searing flame burned away part of the nearby forest, but when the smoke cleared, only a charred log was visible.

The orange-clad Chuunin stalked out of the forest angrily, as Satsuki smirked at him. "Not defeated that easily? Good...I'd be disappointed if you didn't put up more of a fight!" Kicking him into the air, the girl delivered several punishing blows, before another devastating punch his Naruto's damaged ribs, sending him flying off the waterfall and into the river below. Satsuki landed gracefully atop Madara's outstretched stone hand, while Naruto slowly climbed out of the water looking like a soaked, drenched fox.

"Why? Why are you doing this?!" Naruto shouted, a tear dripping down his cheek as he glared angrily at Satsuki. After a few moments of coldly staring at him, Satsuki spoke up again. "Because, to gain the power needed to kill Itami, I need the same eyes as her...the Mangekyo Sharingan" she said. "And to do that, I have to kill the one closest to my"

With that, the two both charged at each other again, Naruto running up the side of the statue as Satsuki fell towards him. The two met halfway, briefly engaging in a vertical shoving match before Satsuki leapt over her opponent, snatching a kunai from his pouch. "Let's settle this, now and forever! I will win here!" she shouted, throwing the kunai. Naruto countered with a shuriken, the two weapons deflecting each other.

Naruto leapt after Satsuki again, but she hopped across the waterfall to Hashirama's statue, a Chidori blazing to life in her left hand, while Naruto formed a Shadow Clone to gather chakra for a basic Rasengan once he reached the river below. The Uchiha leapt down to the water below, before she and Naruto both raced at each other. The two met atop the water, as their attacks collided. For a few moments, the lightning palm clashed with the spiraling sphere, before the two combatants were blown away by their own jutsus.

As Satsuki climbed back out of the water, Naruto floated to the surface, staring sadly as he realized that she really was trying to kill him. "I'll use speedy techniques to distract him and force him to dodge, then use another one to hold him down before I Chidori him..." the ravenette thought, devising her plan as the Curse Mark's black flame markings spread across her skin. Weaving several hand seals, Satsuki blew out a number of small fireballs. "Katon: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!"

Narutp dodged, ducked and weaved, leaping over and around the fireballs as Satsuki readied another technique. The boy landed on the water with his back turned to his opponent - a bad position to be in. "Raiton: Lightning Beast Running!" The electric wolf ran from Satsuki's right arm, biting down on Naruto to distract and immobilize him. "Ow! Get off of me, ya mutt!" he shouted, swatting at the Raiton jutsu. The sound of chirping birds caused him to look up...just in time for Satsuki to spear him through the right side of his chest with the Chidori.

Naruto stared sadly at the Uchiha, as the markings on her face slowly faded. "You turned just in time to avoid getting hit in the heart" Satsuki analyzed, before a cold tone made its' way into her voice. "But it's too late for you now. You can't counterattack like that, so I only have to hit you one more time." The girl pulled her hand out of the blonde boy's shoulder and gripped him around the neck, squeezing him as tight as possible.

"Goodnight, Naruto-kun. I'll never forget you" Satsuki said, as her fingers dug into Naruto's throat. As the boy's vision darkened, he found himself standing in front of Kurama's cage, the fox glaring at him in disappointment. "Well? Are you going to let her just kill you and get away, annoying brat?!" he growled. "I don't want to lose...but she's too strong; her hate has twisted her and somehow made her more powerful, dattebayo..." the blonde trailed off. "Well then, I suppose I could lend you some chakra...but only because she's an Uchiha, and I hate those damned eyes."

Before Naruto could ask what Kurama meant, his own eyes flew open and he grabbed the hand that was choking him, squeezing Satsuki's wrist until the bones broke with an audible crack. "SATSUKI!" Naruto roared, as his opponent retreated. "I'M DRAGGING YOU BACK TO KONOHA, EVEN IF I HAVE TO BREAK EVERY BONE IN YOUR BODY!" For a brief moment, the Uchiha had a vision of a nine-tailed fox demon behind the boy. "What...are you?!" she asked in horror. Naruto's eyes narrowed, then he answered as the wound in his shoulder closed and vanished.

"The one with a hold on your heart...just like the hold you have on mine."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

For a brief moment, the Uchiha had a vision of a nine-tailed fox demon behind the boy. "What...are you?!" she asked in horror. Naruto's eyes narrowed, then he answered as the wound in his shoulder closed and vanished.

"The one with a hold on your heart...just like the hold you have on mine."

While Satsuki was still stunned by his declaration, Naruto burst forwards and landed a barrage of fierce blows on her, lifting her into the air, before he spun around into an axe kick and spiked her deep underwater. The girl snapped out of her shock and activated her Curse Mark, its' black markings spreading across her skin before she leapt upwards, breaching the surface of the river and skidding across it towards her opponent while her broken wrist healed.

Naruto met her in the middle, and despite her power boost, Satsuki was still on the back foot, with the blonde overpowering her in close combat, leaping into the air as he wove several hand seals. "Fuuton: Great Breakthrough!" Satsuki barely dodged the hurricane-like gust of wind, which hit the water with enough force to briefly create a bubble of air extending from the surface all the way to the riverbed.

Satsuki returned fire with a Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu, but this time Naruto simply roared, and a shockwave dispersed the fireball and flattened her against the water. Once again, the blonde dropkicked his raven-haired opponent deep underwater, before a chain of clones retrieved her, and, like a gigantic whip, sent her flying into the air, this time sailing above the waterfall and into the lake above it. The real Naruto pursued and delivered another axe kick, before using the rotational force to throw her into a high cliff. Naruto himself landed a few moments later, pinning her against the wall of the crater made by her impact.

"Why...?" Satsuki questioned her opponent, causing Naruto to pause his rampage. "Why do you, who knows nothing of what a family is, care so much about what happens to me?!" she shouted angrily. Naruto stayed silent for a few moments, before lowering his fist and beginning to speak. "Sure, maybe I don't know what a proper family is like - both mom and dad died the day I was born...but the past few months since we left the Academy have shown me that I do have a family after all."

As Satsuki's eyes widened at Naruto's declaration, the boy continued. "To me, Iruka-sensei is like the dad I never got to meet. Jiji really is like my grandpa. Kakashi-sensei, Gai-sensei, Lee, Neji, Shino, Shikamaru, Kiba and Choji are my big brothers, and Yugito-neesan, Sakura, Ino, Karin and Hinata are all like sisters to me. Gaara has become like family to me, and we're not even talking about Ero-sennin and Baa-chan yet, Konohamaru is practically my little brother - hell, even the Kyuubi is like a very large, grumpy family member now." Naruto finished his monologue with tears of joy in his eyes.

Inside Minato Namikaze's seal, Kurama blinked several times in surprise at this declaration. "He's...he's not lying either. What is this kid?!" he wondered. "Old Man...could Matatabi have been right? Could this boy really be the one you told us to wait for?"

"And what am I, eh? Chopped liver?!" Satsuki demanded. Naruto looked her in the eye, an unfamiliar look swirling in his cerulean orbs and etched on his face. "You're something more than even that to me."

Satsuki felt like her heart had stopped for a moment, but she snapped out of it after a few moments. "Don't be ridiculous!" she laughed bitterly. "It doesn't matter that you're the Fourth Hokage's son; I'd never go for the likes of you, loser!" As a heartbroken look appeared in Naruto's eyes and he froze in shock, Satsuki kicked him off of her back into the lake below, ignoring how the same look was reflected in her own eyes as she reactivated her Sharingan, leaping after him.

The two fighters both landed atop logs that were floating upright in the water, Satsuki tying her forehead protector on. "It's too late now. I can't walk the same path of lights as you guys anymore...the only way for me to find what I seek is to step into the shadows." With a swift kick the log shattered under her feet, before she caught and threw one of the larger pieces, which hit Naruto's own log with enough force to cause it to disassemble as well.

Raising a hand to her forehead protector, Satsuki smirked confidently. "One thing that will never change between us is that you'll never be able to scratch my forehead" she said, drawing a line with her thumb across the metal plate. Naruto responded by simply crossing his hands in a familiar seal. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!" Half a dozen or so clones formed behind him, all of them sharing the same darkened whisker birthmarks and slit red eyes.

A piece of rubble from the crater above them dropped into the water, as the two combatants rushed forward again. Satsuki once again danced gracefully though the clones, popping them left, right and center, before one ripped open its' Chuunin vest to reveal a layer or explosive tags. The force of the detonation threw the girl backwards again as two dozen clones rushed her. Placing her hands in the water, Satsuki popped them all at once using a Raiton: Electromagnetic Murder.

Naruto rushed forwards again, but this time Satsuki read his movements and dodged his blows, countering with rapid-fire punches and elbows that added up to a world of pain for the blonde boy. Leaping up a cliff, Satsuki watched the increasingly frustrated Namikaze/Uzumaki zigzag up the cliff at blinding speeds in an attempt to confuse her. "I can see him...there!" Pulling back her fist, the Uchiha waited until Naruto was right on her, then drove her right hand directly into his face, sending him head over heeld down the cliff.

Satsuki landed atop the water's surface and waited a few moments. The vibrations of the water below her told her that another attack was coming, and she was proven right when five more Narutos shot out from underwater, engaging her in hand to hand combat, only to all be popped with ease. Another half dozen cones launched from the water like torpedoes, opening their vests to reveal more explosive tags. The resulting explosions distracted Satsuki sufficiently for a pair of hands to grasp her ankles, as another Shadow Clone Chain whipped around in midair, slamming her into one of the spikes atop the Madara statue's head.

Weaving a few hand seals, Satsuki inhaled deeply. "Katon: Dragon Flame Jutsu!" The dragon-shaped stream of fire traveled down the clone chain, popping them into smoke, but to her surprise the hands around her ankles kept a firm grip on her. "Wait, that's not a clone!" The real Naruto, badly hurt by the fire, looked up sadly at her. ""

The infuriated ravenette lifted the blonde up by his Chuunin vest. "It's too late to change my mind, Naruto!" she shouted, throwing him off of the waterfall side of the statue, grabbing him in midair on the way down as she wrapped around him, piledrivering him from a drop of well over a hundred meters into the riverbank. Sitting back up, Satsuki lifted him again by his vest, throwing him in one swift motion into the river. "He's sure to drown now..."

Much to her surprise, red chakra began to bubble around Naruto's body as he slowly rose like a man possessed. "Looks like the Kyuubi is powering him up again" she thought, readying herself for another fight. Then, in the blink of an eye, Naruto was behind her, punching her square in the mouth and sending her flying as she turned around. The hot, corrosive red chakra bubbled around him, forming the outline of a one-tailed fox around his body, before he dropped down on all fours.

In another burst of speed, Naruto sent Satsuki skidding upriver towards the falls again, the ravenette finally regaining her footing atop another log. Weaving several hand seals, she fired off several Katon: Phoenix Flower Jutsu fireballs, each of which missed as Naruto ran across the water, slowly arcing towards her. The girl leapt back to shore, flashing through more seals. "Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu!"

To her surprise, the boy charged directly through the fireball as a hand of red chakra extended towards her, forcing her to dodge in midair several times before she realized she was on a direct collision course with his fist. Pushing the Curse Mark's first stage to its' limit, Satsuki braced for impact, as the boy's punch connected, sending her crashing into the canyon wall next to Madara's statue.

Whe the dust cleared, Satsuki barely climbed to her feet, before focusing the Cursed Seal of Heaven to transform to Level Two, her skin turning grey and her hair blue as her wounds healed. "Give me a break, Naruto..." she muttered. "And give up too, because my power is now greater than yours once more!" The Kyuubi Jinchuriki charged her in a rage, hand digging into the earth as Satsuki smirked.

The hit blew the girl back like a pinball, ricocheting off the canyon wall into Madara's foot. To Naruto's surprise, however, the dust cleared to reveal a large appendage blocking his hit, before it swatted him across the river into Hashirama's ankle, his left arm breaking on impact. As he stood back, the offending appendage folded back, revealing it as a large hand-shaped wing. Another one sprouted from Satsuki's right shoulder as she held her left hand out.

"This has been fun, dobe, but let's end this." Naruto responded by holding his right hand out, the tail behind him forming into a hand to gather purplish chakra into his hand, forming a modified Rasengan. Satsuki's Chidori, now enhanced by the Curse Mark's sage chakra, turned black, becoming an Onyx Chidori. Wordlessly, the two fighters leapt across the river towards each other, their two highly destructive ninjutsu on a collision course withe each other.



The two attacks collided, pushing against each other as the force of the impact rocked the canyon. After a few moments, the excess energy bleeding off the two attacks formed a violent maelstrom of chakra swirling around them , deflecting the water of the waterfall around them and blocking any outsiders from seeing what was happening inside. Inside the sphere, in one swift movement, Satsuki drove her Chidori into Naruto's chest, eyes widening as she felt her hand plunge into his body. Naruto, meanwhile, swung his Rasengan upwards, scratching out the Konoha symbol of her forehead protector.

The sphere expanded, then dissipated, with both combatants blows backwards across the river. As the dust cleared, Satsuki sat up, her Curse Mark transformation ending as she ran a finger across the new scratch on her forehead protector. Naruto lay motionless inside a small crater on the opposite side of the river, a beam of light illuminating him as dark clouds gathered overhead, slowly blotting out the sun.

The ravenette's eyes widened as she remembered driving the Chidori towards Naruto's heart, and she leapt to her feet, running across the river. "Oh no! No, no, no, no, no!" she began to panic, coming to a stop next to Naruto's prone form. A piercing pain drove itself through her left eye, but Satsuki ignored it, kneeling down next to Naruto's body. To her surprise and relief, the wound in his chest slowly began to close, her Chidori having missed his heart narrowly.

A drop of rain fell from the sky, followed by two more, then even more. Within a few moments,it was utterly pouring. "" Satsuki declared as she knelt over Naruto's critically injured but still alive body, the tears running down her cheeks mixing with the rain and washing away in a thousand tiny rivulets. Gingerly, the ravenette lifted the blonde in a bridal carry and walked over to the base of the Hashirama statue, setting him in a spot out of the rain, before removing her jacket and scarf, leaving only a layer of standard-issue mesh armor and a black base layer underneath.

Wrapping the scarf around Naruto's neck and placing the jacket over him, Satsuki untied her scratched forehead protector and placed it on his chest, before sliding his own forehead protector up and placing a delicate kiss on his forehead. "Until we meet again...please be safe" she whispered, before turning away and clambering back up the canyon wall, grabbing her pack and the storage scrolls within as she ran off into the Land of Sound.

A few minutes later, Kakashi, Shino's bug clone and Kakashi's ninken Pakkun arrived, the small pug sniffing the forehead protector and jacket before telling Kakashi and Shino that Satsuki had gotten away, the rain covering up her scent. Kakashi left a few moments later, intent on getting Naruto back to the nearest emergency medical responders, not noticing the figure standing atop the Hashirama statue high above him.

The mysterious figure known only as "Sparrow" looked out over the Valley of the End. After a few moments, he dropped to his knees. "I was too late. I'm sorry...Satsuki...Itami."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

Wrapping the scarf around Naruto's neck and placing the jacket over him, Satsuki untied her scratched forehead protector and placed it on his chest, before sliding his own forehead protector up and placing a delicate kiss on his forehead. "Until we meet again...please be safe" she whispered, before turning away and clambering back up the canyon wall, grabbing her pack and the storage scrolls within as she ran off into the Land of Sound.

Shikamaru Nara sat on a bench outside of an emergency operating room, head hung in his hands. Shino Aburame sat across from him, staring silently and wordlessly. The bug-user had been staring at his pineapple-haired fellow Chuunin impassively for almost three hours - he had passed out from chakra exhaustion about twelve hours ago, shortly after they had returned to Konoha, but the moment he woke up, he had rushed to this particular emergency room and sat, silently waiting.

Inside the emergency room, Tsunade Senju, renowned medic-nin and Fifth Hokage of Konohagakure, was pouring over a thick tome of knowledge accrued over several centuries of experimentation in the chemical and medical fields. This book was the Nara Clan's Medical Encyclopedia, which contained a number of jealously-guarded Nara Clan secrets - but only one had the Hokage's interest; the recipe for the Three Colored Pills used by the Akimichi Clan.

Laying nearby on an operation table, nutrients being fed to him by an IV drip, was Choji Akimichi - now a skinny, frail shadow of his normally robust self due to the effects of the Pills and his clan's trump card, Butterfly Mode. The boy had defeated Jirobo by the skin of his teeth even with the aid of the Pills, and now he was paying the price as the chemical compounds in the pills ate away at his emeciated form.

Meanwhile, in a nearby room, darkened for the sake of the procedure, Shizune and a team of highly trained medics had spent the past eleven and a half hours using an incredibly difficult healing ninjutsu on Neji Hyuuga, the boy barely being kept stable after having extreme chakra exhaustion, several holes punched in his body and losing an incredible quantity of blood to Kidomaru's attacks. Much of his long, dark hair - a source of pride for any Hyuuga, male or female - lay in a pile nearby him to be used (hopefully) as media for the healing technique.

Rock Lee was recovering in another room, his muscle tears and compound fractures proving relatively easy to treat after he and Shino had forced Kimimaro - apparently the strongest of the Sound Five by a long, long shot - to retreat back to Oto. Kin Tsuchi and Dosu Kinuta were recovering from moderate blood loss and severe chakra exhaustion, but had apparently gotten off pretty easy considering that their twin opponents were second only to Kimimaro. And Ino...

Well, speaking of Ino, the girl wordlessly rejoined both her compatriots, the slight contusions around her throat from being choked under the effects of Shikamaru's own Shadow Strangulation while possessing Tayuya's body to hold her still. Shikamaru felt honestly disgusted with himself - he was the team leader, the one who was supposed to make sure everyone on the team stayed alive and completed their mission, yet he was one of the only two from the entire mission - aside from Shino, who he considered vaguely invincible on some level - to have walked away pretty much unharmed.

After a few more minutes of silence, Shikamaru lifted his head from his hands. "I...I think I should quit being a shinobi" he said shakily as he rose to his feet, ready to go to the Hokage's office while she was out and submit his resignation paperwork. Ino's jaw dropped and Shino's glasses slid down his nose to the point where his surprise-filled brown eyes were visible. "Y-You're joking, right? You can't seriously be ready to resign just after getting promoted, Lazy-Ass!" Ino exclaimed in shock.

Shikamaru sighed. "I thought I knew what the world of a shinobi was like, what it was like to have to complete a mission with a team. I was wrong" he said, sadness creeping into his voice. "I shouldn't have been made captain of this mission. Anybody else - Shino, Dosu, Neji, hell, even Naruto, would have been a better leader than me. At least a team with one of them as a leader wouldn't have gotten hurt this bad, even if they did fail the mission."

With that, the Nara began to walk away down the hall, passing his father just around a nearby corner. "Shikamaru..." Shikaku began. "You screw up once and you're running away?" Shika the Younger turned around. "It's too troublesome." Shikaku massaged his nose with two fingers, clearly annoyed.

"You're acting like a coward" he said, his words stinging his son. "Even if you're not a shinobi, missions will still happen. Your friends will be given different leaders, and they'll still go on those missions. And they could very, very easily end up dead." Shikamaru stiffened, as Ino looked ready to open her mouth to protest her "Uncle Shikaku"'s claims. "But...if you're their leader, they might still live after all. Use this failure as a teaching moment, and make yourself better for their sake, coward!"

Shikamaru paused in his walk away from the doors to the emergency room, just as the red light over the doors flickered off, signifying that the procedure had ended. The doors clicked open, and Tsunade stepped out of the operating room, a haggard expression on her face. After a few moments where the two present members of this generation of Ino-Shika-Cho waited with bated breath, the Hokage's expression brightened.

"It's alright now. Thanks to the knowledge in the Nara Encyclopedia, I was able to create an antidote to the Three Colored Pills' cytotoxic side effects. Choji will have quite the appetite when he wakes up, but he'll live!" Ino and Shikamaru's eyes widened in surprise and happiness, the duo having almost resigned themselves to their teammate dying. The patter of sandals on the floor of the hallway caught everyone's attention as Shizune ran onto the scene.

"Tsunade-sama!" the dark-haired medic skidded to a stop, a triumphant smile on her face. "The Healing Resuscitation Regeneration Technique worked and the samples grafted successfully. Neji Hyuuga is stabilized and his wounds are healing!" Shizune exclaimed. "Also, Naruto Uzumaki's vitals suggest that he is about to wake; his injuries are currently fully healed!"

Tsunade couldn't help but beam at these words, as Shikamaru stiffened with the knowledge that his whole team would be okay. "Chuunin Nara, I regret that I must declare your mission a failure due to Satsuki Uchiha's departure from the Land of Fire and defection to Otogakure. However...I do not believe that any mission with no casualties can be considered a true 'failure'. My congratulations to you" the Hokage addressed Shikamaru, who couldn't help but begin to weep in happiness. "Next time...I promise I'll do it perfectly!" he swore.

Tayuya woke up with a start. This was rather unexpected, as she hadn't expected to wake up at all, given that either Orochimaru was going to dissect her or force her to repeatedly fight to the death again, just like what happened before he made her his bodyguard. The red-haired girl attempted to sit up, but discovered that she was bound quite tightly to the bed she was on.

So far, everything was all rather part and parcel for what Tayuya had expected Orochimaru would likely do for her failure. Wait a minute, failure? Hadn't she been captured by those Konoha brats she fought; the blonde bimbo and the lazy-ass shadow pervert? Then that meant...shit.

Her questions were answered when a nurse wearing medical clothes embroidered with the distinctive swirl-like Konoha logo stepped in the door. Tayuya growled loudly, and the nurse started in shock. "Oh my!" the woman exclaimed, before hurrying out the door. Tayuya relaxed and stared at the ceiling, waiting for her inevitable demise.

The scuffle of boots sounded as the door opened again, and suddenly half the straps holding her to the bed unlocked. Sitting up to glare at her captors, the redhead found herself staring at what most people would consider a nightmare given human form; a tall, bald man wearing a bandanna and a trenchcoat. Tayuya, however, knew who this man was immediately. "Ibiki fucking Morino. Just my kami-damned, shitty-ass luck" the captive girl growled.

Ibiki regarded her coldly. "Tayuya, formerly of the Sound Four and Otogakure, now a prisoner of Konohagakure" he responded, making Tayuya's position in this conversation - excuse me, interrogation, very clear. "You are currently presumed dead by Orochimaru and his men, and your Curse Mark is sealed off. Nobody is coming for you, and nobody is going to save you."

Tayuya's glare didn't falter at all until Ibiki mentioned that she was presumed KIA. "You're shitting me. The Snake Fucker thinks I'm dead and isn't paying attention to me anymore? I'd celebrate if I wasn't strapped down" Tayuya laughed. Ibiki raised one eyebrow. "Interesting. Who would have thought you'd have this kind of enmity with your own leader?" he questioned, wriggling his way deeper into her psyche. "All according to plan..." the scarred Jonin thought, pleased.

The redhead snorted. "Are you fucking kidding me? Orochimaru is no 'leader' to me or any of those other fuckers except Kimimaro. All of us were captured by him for one reason or another, experimented on and forced to fight to the death in a big-ass, twisted fucking tournament until only the four of us were left, before Kimimaro swooped in, defeated us all at once, and was proclaimed our boss" the redhead snapped.

"Well then, Tayuya" Ibiki said, knowing that his victory was pretty much assured in this battle of wills. "Why not spill everything you know about Orochimaru and his plans for Satsuki Uchiha to us?" The redhead smirked, and Ibiki himself resisted the urge to do so as well. "Jackpot." "What do you wanna know, you creepy, bald-ass, Halloween-costume-looking motherfucker?"

The scarred Jonin snorted in amusement. "Oh, I think we're going to get along just fine..."

Naruto reawoke in bed, rubbing his sore and bandaged head. "Owwwwwwww, I feel like Gamabunta just danced a prolonged polka on top of me with that damn fox and the asshole tanuki" he groaned. "Well fuck you too, brat" Kurama growled from inside his head. "Stow it, baka-kitsune. My head hurts." The fox snorted, but remained quiet as Sakura opened the door, eyes widening as she noticed he was awake.

"Naruto!" the pink-haired girl shouted, barely resisting the urge to tackle-hug her male teammate. "Yo, Sakura-chan" Naruto responded weakly, before his memories all came flooring back and he hung his head in shame. "I...I failed, didn't I?" he wondered aloud, as his remaining teammate nodded sadly in agreement.

"Ya sure did, brat" Jiraiya said, ducking through the hospital window. "Oh, hey, Ero-Sennin" Naruto said with almost no energy in his voice, and Jiraiya didn't even have the heart to reprimand him for it. "Yeah, it sucks, but that's the way it goes sometimes" Jiraiya began, before turning to the boy. "So, tell me, what lengths are you willing to go to if it means bringing her back to Konoha?"

Naruto clenched his fist. "Ero-Sennin - no, Jiraiya-sensei, I'm willing to go as far as I need to, and then beyond that, in order to bring Satsuki back to Konoha. I saw it...the pain and hurt in her eyes when she left us behind. This wasn't her first choice of action, and it means I can still get her back for us...I promise you that much, Sakura-chan" he said, as the pinkette stared in shock. "When did the dead-last of our class get so damn cool?"

Jiraiya smiled softly. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear...which is why I'll be training you to be strong enough to bring her back, protect Konoha, beat Akatsuki and keep yourself safe. Pack your stuff, brat, we're leaving for the next three years the day after you get out of the hospital."

And, before Naruto or Sakura could raise any complaints, Jiraiya vanished in a swirl of leaves and wind.

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

Jiraiya smiled softly. "That's exactly what I wanted to hear...which is why I'll be training you to be strong enough to bring her back, protect Konoha, beat Akatsuki and keep yourself safe. Pack your stuff, brat, we're leaving for the next three years the day after you get out of the hospital."

And, before Naruto or Sakura could raise any complaints, Jiraiya vanished in a swirl of leaves and wind.

Two days later, Naruto's injuries had completely recovered thanks to the unnatural healing and stamina that they Kyuubi gave him. At the moment, he was in his apartment, packing everything he'd need for the trip into a number of storage scrolls - two of which were solely dedicated to cups of instant ramen, because, well, ramen. "Ramen...check. Chuunin vest...check. Spare underwear...check."

At this point, Naruto realize that he didn't actually have a lot of personal belongings aside from a few bedsheets, some clothing, a few jutsu scrolls and an inhuman quantity of cup ramen. "Looks like that's everything" the boy said, slinging the pack of scrolls over his shoulder and exiting his dingy little apartment, giving a sad little look of nostalgia as he turned the key in the lock and walked away.

Meeting up with Jiraiya at the base of his apartment complex, Naruto began the walk to the gate at the edge of the village alongside his mentor. Much to his surprise, there was quite the send-off party waiting for him at the North Gate. The entire Konoha 14 had come out to see the blonde boy off, as well as a number of Jonin, the few civilians who were consistently fond of the boy, a few clan heads, Hiruzen and the Hokage herself.

"Wh-what the...?" Naruto wondered aloud, not sure why anyone would have come to see him leave. "Surprised, brat?" Tsunade asked. "Everyone here wanted to give you their regards before you left - we're all gonna miss you, ya little shit." Team Ten's members stepped forward. "You take care of yourself, Naruto" Choji said, munching his chips. The Akimichi was still ridiculously skinny, but he was starting to put weight back on. "You'd better put all that weight back on by the time I get back, ya hear me, Choji?" Naruto laughed.

Ino playfully swatted the fellow blonde. "Don't encourage him, dead-last" the Yamanaka snorted, but there was no venom behind her words, earning a chuckle from Naruto. "How troublesome" Shikamaru groaned. "Stay safe out there." Naruto nodded. "I...I will." Team Eight's members were next to wish the boy well. "Be safe, Naruto-kun" Hinata said, blushing. "I second Hinata-san's statement. Please be well" Shino added. Kiba laughed and clapped Naruto on the shoulder. "Don't slack off; otherwise Akamasru and I will be way stronger than you when you get back!"

Naruto snorted. "As if, dog-breath" he responded good-naturedly. "Yosh, Naruto-san! I wish you the best in becoming stronger; I look forward to sparring with you when the fires of your youth have been stoked even hotter!" Lee shouted, leaping backwards next to Gai, where they both flashed Nice Gai Pose Number 2B. "Naruto-san, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for everything you have done for me. I await your return" Neji stated, bowing to his blonde friend. "Thanks for de-assholeifying means a lot" Tenten said, dragging Neji back into the crowd.

"Naruto-san, thank you for what you have taught me. Had you not convinced me to betray Orochimaru, Kin and I would very likely be dead" Dosu stated cordially, bowing to him as his dark-haired companion nodded her agreement. "Naruto...thank you for being there for me; for giving me a new family" Karin said, hugging her relative. "Naruto stiffened at the contact, but smiled softy. "Thank you, Karin. I'll keep an eye out for the rest of our family on our travels."

The various Jonin and clan representatives stepped forward and offered their best wishes, Kakashi going last. "Be safe, oh reckless student of mine" the silver-haired cyclops said, flashing a patented Hatake Eye-Smile at him. "T-Thanks, Kakashi-sensei" Naruto said. Then, it was Sakura's turn. "Be safe, you big idiot" the pink-haired girl said, crushing Naruto in a tight hug. "I will, Sakura-chan. You take care of yourself too" Naruto responded, still unused to this kind of affection from anyone in his life.

Tsunade came last. "Don't get in trouble, brat; I don't want to deal with that kind of paperwork. Keep the pervert in check too" the blonde woman said, before bending over to kiss Naruto on the forehead. "Stay safe out there." Shizune stepped forward. "Commemorative photo, anyone?" the medic called, as Naruto suddenly found himself being drug over to the middle of the empty street by the others of his generation, the Hokage Monument forming the backdrop for the photo.

"Everybody say 'ramen'!" Shizune said. "RAMEN!" the children all called out, as their photo was taken. By this point, tears of joy were dripping down the blonde's face. "Thank you...thank you all!" he shouted, slinging his pack over his shoulder as he turned to leave, Jiraiya following behind him. "BE SAFE, NARUTO!" the entire group shouted, and the blonde increased his speed, the tears now flowing freely from his eyes.

As Naruto disappeared out of sight, Tsunade turned around. "At least we won't have to worry about any more...pranks..." she trailed off, staring at the scene in front of her. Hokage Rock was being swarmed by an army of Shadow Clones, armed with paintbrushes and buckets of paint. The clones had already drawn a confused look on Hashirama's face, a scowl on Tobirama's, a nosebleed on Hiruzen's and a gin-blossom blush on Tsunade's. Most notably, however, were the three whisker marks he drew on each of Minato's cheeks.

"That cheeky little shit" Tsunade growled, as Shikamaru smacked his forehead. "How did I not notice the resemblance before?!" the Nara shouted in disbelief, as the entire crowd began to catch on to the Fourth being Naruto's father, leaving them all in various stages of disbelief.

As the boy left the village, he caught sight of his latest masterpiece, and a small smile crossed his face.

"Please watch over"


Satsuki Uchiha had arrived at Orochimaru's secret hidden village two days prior, and was now making first contact with the Snake Sannin himself, as she stood in Orochimaru's "throne room" - a large private laboratory with the Sannin's living quarters attached.

"Welcome, Satsuki-chan, to Otogakure!" Orochimaru greeted with a dramatic flair, spinning around on his heels with arms out like a scene straight out of The Sound of Music. Kimimaro and Kabuto stood nearby with a blue-haired woman, all watching in various degrees of amusement. "Thanks for the warm welcome. Now...what kind of power can you offer me?" the Uchiha responded.

The blue-haired woman, a Kekkei Genkai uses by the name of Guren, opened her mouth to reprimand the girl for her insolence in the face of Lord Orochimaru, but a glare from Kabuto shut her down. "My, my, my, aren't you the impatient one?" Orochimaru chuckled. "We'll get there soon enough...but first, I believe that you've already gained more power than you had before."

"Are you talking about the Curse Mark's Level Two?" Satsuki asked. "Because that alone won't be enough to kill her." Orochimaru shook his head. "Tsk tsk, you have such little faith in yourself. Activate your Sharingan and look in that mirror" he said, pointing to a sheet of glass on a nearby wall. Satsuki obliged, walking up to the glass and activating the twin three-tomoe Sharingan. "I see two Sharingan" she deadpanned.

Orochimaru sighed. "Does it feel like you can draw more power from either of them? Why not give it a shot?" he asked. Satsuki cocked her head; now that she thought about it, something about her left eye did feel a little different. Pushing herself a little further, the girl felt something in that eye shift and change, and looking in the mirror, she gasped in surprise.

The three-tomoe left eye slowly twisted and distorted as it rearranged into a six-pointed floral pattern, which she shouldn't have been able to identify, but whose name she knew instinctively. "Mangekyo" she breathed. Orochimaru nodded. "Exactly, my congratulations to you. Tell me, did you do anything that would cause you great emotional distress?"

Satsuki's mind instantly flashed back to her last clash with Naruto when she plunged her Chidori into his chest, aiming for his heart. "...Yes" she responded, her throat dry. "I see...does this concern the Kyuubi boy?" the Sannin asked, and in response, Satsuki turned red as she recalled kissing him. A teasing grin spread across Orochimaru's face. "So it did have to do with him!"

The Uchiha flushed even redder. "S-Shut up! It's not like I like him or anything!" If it was possible, Orochimaru looked even more smug, before turning to his subordinates. "Oh! Looks like we've got a tsundere here, everyone-!" he started, before an intense pain below the belt cut him off as Satsuki drew her leg back and the Snake Sannin dropped to his knees. "And just like that, I'm already regretting transferring back to a man's body..." he groaned.

Guren looked ready to interfere, but Kimimaro held an arm out, while he and Kabuto both gave their boss a sympathetic look. "Lord Orochimaru, I apologize for my insolence, but you kind of deserved that one" Kabuto said. "I know I did. She's feisty...I like that" the Sannin responded, getting back to his feet. "Looks like we have a lot of work to do."

Unknown Location:

Within a shadowy cave, a massive and utterly creepy statue sitting behind them, ten figures stood in a semicircle, addressed by an eleventh. Each of them wore a black cloak with red clouds, and all of them exuded a cold aura of power - these were all clearly very, very dangerous individuals.

"The Akatsuki is now assembled" the one at the front, a heavily pierced orange-haired man with eyes made of of concentric purple rings, addressed his subordinates.


An utterly gorgeous blue-haired woman with orange eyes and a paper flower in her hair nodded.


The Clan-Killing Uchiha stared impassively at their leader, her perpetually-activated Sharingan gleaming red in the shadows.


The Monster of the Hidden Mist stood, arms crossed, facing the mystery man.


A short, hunched figure with an unnatural facial texture and a mask over its' mouth nodded in acknowledgement.


A blonde-haired woman, seemingly a mere teenager, smirked.


The man in question, a masked figure with red and green eyes, stood silently.


A grey-haired man with a reverse trigram pendant and a triple-bladed scythe grinned psychotically.


The remaining Konjiki twin grinned excitedly, although his former companion among the Ishi Terrorists was conspicuously absent.

"And Zetsu"

The last figure shown was a strange plant-man with a black right half and a white left half, surrounded by what appeared to be a Venus Flytrap.

"All of you have your own dreams and agendas, but the time has come for us to move into full-scale action. Our targets are the nine Bijuu, from the Ichibi no Tanuki to the Kyuubi no Kitsune. We ten shall accomplish this; failure is no option." The rock wall behind him rumbled as the cave opened, shedding light on the Akatsuki and the horrid statue behind them. "So begins the New Power Initiative. Welcome to the Dawn" the man finished, turning to walk out of the cave as the others followed him.

And on a ledge above them, another figure, with long dark hair and an orange spiral mask, watched the entire scene. "Now then..." the figure spoke, rising to their feet. "Let Project Tsuki no Me...begin." With that, the eye behind the one hold in the mask opened, revealing a matured, three-tomoe Sharingan glowing red in the morning light...


Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

"BE SAFE, NARUTO!" the entire group shouted, and the blonde increased his speed, the tears now flowing freely from his eyes as he left the village behind.

"Please watch over"

Six months later, somewhere in the Land of Wind...

"Ughhhhhhhhhh, are we there yet?"

The voice of Naruto Uzumaki resounded through the walls of the large canyon he and Jiraiya traversed, gusts of wind sometimes picking up clouds of sand from the sea of sand they had just left and carrying them through the canyon into the sea of sand they were about to enter.

"Quit whining, brat, it won't get us there any quicker" Jiraiya responded, obvious irritation in his voice. "But it's hot, windy and unpleasant, dattebayo!" the boy groaned.

"Look, if you have time to complain about the heat, you have time to practice your Suiton techniques to cool yourself down" Jiraiya responded, before checking an imaginary watch on his wrist. "Remember the three tenets of our training for the next two and a half years?"

Naruto groaned as he held a hand out, three fingers up. "Yeah, yeah. Goal One: teach me fuinjutsu. Goal Two: become good at using all five chakra natures. And Goal Three: learn tap into the damn fox's chakra with better control."

"I heard that, brat" Kurama growled. "You were supposed to!" Naruto snapped, looking at his stomach.

Jiraiya snickered. "Arguing with the voices in your head again, brat? That's typically a sign of insanity." A vein popped over Naruto's left eye.

"Shut up, Ero-Sennin! It's bad enough that I have to deal with one cranky old bastard sealed in me; now I have to put up with you too!" the boy growled out, as Jiraiya cackled. "Man, you're so easy to get a rise out of. I swear, if you run into Orochimaru again, that snake is gonna push ALL your buttons."

Naruto pouted at the mention of the Snake Sannin, and Jiraiya rolled his eyes. "Look, brat, I know you want to go get your girlfriend back-"

"She's not my girlfriend!" the boy protested.

"-but Orochimaru is way too strong for you, and you won't need to worry about him switching into her body anytime soon - he can only use that twisted immortality jutsu of his every three years" the Toad Sage finished.

"I know...but I still don't like it" Naruto complained crossly. "Whatever, brat. Anyway, look alive, we're only a few kilometers from Suna" Jiraiya responded, gesturing towards the other side of the desert they were now crossing. True to the Sannin's words, the small canyon and enormous rock walls that loomed above the desert were the only entrance to the Village Hidden in the Sands, Sunagakure no Sato.

"Halt, Konoha shinobi!" the two gate guards declared, their faces glowing red in the evening light. "Please state your names and business in Sunagakure."

Jiraiya chuckled as he began his kabuki entrance routine. "You all already know my name, my legend has truly spread far and wide! Men are jealous of me, women want me, and everyone reads my books! I am the Gallant Toad Sage of Mount Myoboku, and a faithful shinobi of Konohagakure...JIRAIYA!"

Behind him, Naruto facepalmed, and the two guards sweatdropped. "Yeah, yeah, we know who you are. Temari-sama should be here for you in a few minutes" the first one said, not bothering to ask why the two travelers were even there.

Several minutes later, a sandy blonde that Naruto distinctly remembered as having lost to Shikamaru in the Chuunin Exam preliminaries rounded the corner, a giant iron war fan still slung across her back. "Oh, there you are. Right this way, your lodgings are near the Kazekage Tower."

As Naruto and Jiraiya walked down the street behind Temari, the blonde noticed that there were a lot of people cleaning up the streets of Suna, shops closing early, and a feeling of anticipation among the hustle and bustle of Suna. "Ummmm...Temari-san, what is going on here? Why is everything so busy right now?" Naruto asked.

Temari looked back. "You mean Jiraiya didn't tell you why you were here?" Both men shook their heads in response, and Temari sighed. "Figured as much" the blonde said, as she stopped in front of the "Skywalker Inn".

"The reason you came because Gaara specifically requested you be here tomorrow for his inauguration as the Fifth Kazekage."

Naruto's jaw dropped in shock as he remembered the boy who had attempted to kill him scarcely nine months earlier. "G-Gaara is becoming Kazekage?!" he stammered in awe, as Temari nodded affirmatively.

Jiraiya chuckled, patting the boy on the back. "I wanted to keep it a surprise as to why we were coming to Suna until we got here just so that we could see your reaction...Temari, did you get that on film?" he asked, as the sandy blonde nodded affirmatively, putting the video recorder back in her weapons pouch as Naruto sputtered in surprise now knowing that his reaction was going to be forever recorded for the enjoyment of the Kazekage and his family.

The next day, a massive crowd gathered outside the Kazekage Tower, a large, vaguely pot-shaped building adorned with the kanji for "Wind" in the center of Sunagakure. Atop the building's flat roof stood the twelve members of the Suna Council, the Kazekage's two elder children acting as guards, and of course, the man of the hour, Gaara, now wearing the green and white robes and hat of the Kazekage.

Stepping to the edge of the rooftop, Baki addressed the crowd as the speaker for the Suna Council. "People of Sunagakure! As you all know, nine months ago, our village witnessed one of its' greatest tragedies in recent memory. Our Lord Fourth was killed by a Missing-Nin, and our forces were manipulated into attacking our closest ally, Konohagakure, as part of his depraved plot."

The crowd murmured in sadness and anger at this; they may have been bitter at Konoha for a variety of reasons, but Orochimaru was even more of a sore spot for them. Naruto clenched his fists and grit his teeth in anger; his life was hardly the only one ruined by Orochimaru's plots in the past year or so. Jiraiya placed a firm hand on the boy's shoulder to calm and reassure him.

"However, after much searching, we have determined that there was indeed another suitable candidate to be Kazekage after Lord Rasa's passing! Ladies and Gentlemen of Sunagakure, allow me to present our newest Kazekage and latest inheritor of this village's Will of Wind...Sabaku no Gaara!" The red-haired boy stepped up to the balcony and lifted his hat up to show his face to the crowd below, who all gasped at the sight.

Conversations broke out among the crowd, who all murmured in shock, wondering aloud about why the council would decide to elect the "Demon of the Hidden Sand" as their new Kage. Naruto clenched his fists in anger again. "It seems like all Jinchuriki are treated like shit, no matter where you go."

After a few moments, Gaara began his speech. "As your new Kazekage, I want to thank you all for this honor. My father and I may have had a strained relationship, but I still respected and looked up to him, and his death was a true tragedy of this village" he said, looking out over the crowd.

"I know my reputation within this village is still one of bloodshed, carnage and tragedy - I was once very susceptible to being controlled by the Ichibi no Tanuki, Shukaku, which prompted my murderous rampages as a child. From the bottom of my heart, if one of your loved ones died at my hands, I would be more than happy to sacrifice myself to make up for that transgression if it were not for my new duties to the village as a whole."

A whole new round of murmuring broke out with this declaration; all of them wondering the same thing. "Could this boy actually be that altruistic if he was truly the monster we all believe him to be?"

"I also want to take a moment to give a special thanks to two members of the crowd below - two Konoha shinobi, at that. First, to Jiraiya of the Sannin, you will have my eternal gratitude for fixing the seal that contains Shukaku within me - I have found sleeping to be a truly enjoyable experience; one that was impossible for me to enjoy previously without the Ichibi rampaging through this village."

Jiraiya flashed a thumbs up at the new Kazekage as Gaara continued his speech. "Second, to Naruto Uzumaki." The blonde boy's breath hitched at this as he realized the gravity of the situation; a foreign Kage was thanking him in their inauguration speech. "Holy crap..."

"Naruto defeated me during my attempted rampage through Konoha almost nine months ago, saving countless lives on both sides of the conflict while thwarting the plans of our biggest mutual enemy, Otogakure. He taught me perhaps the most important tenet I live by now - one's existence does not derive meaning from the number of lives taken, but rather from the number of bonds formed with other people during one's life. His determination to become a Hokage in the future inspired me to become Kazekage, and I will be thankful that he is my friend until the day I die."

As Naruto stared at the new Kazekage, now feeling the same awe as the rest of the crowd, Gaara concluded his speech. "In conclusion, I am truly honored to become the Fifth Kazekage of Sunagakure no Sato. I promise to do everything in my power to serve and protect this village until my death or my retirement, whichever comes last. May the Will of Wind blow through you all, now and forever!"

With that, Gaara's speech ended, and after a few moments of stunned silence, the crowd exploded into a cacophony of cheers and elation so loud that it reverberated off the walls of the rocky valley Suna was located in. As Naruto looked around him at the cheering crowd, some of whom had tears of joy running down their faces, a small smile crossed the boy's face. "You've got me fired up now, Gaara! I'll definitely become Hokage - just watch me!"

Two days later, Naruto and Jiraiya departed from Sunagakure's gates, the new Kazekage and his entourage seeing them off joyfully. "Come back soon, ya blonde brat!" Kankuro shouted, as his sister punched him in the shoulder.

"Don't forget that I'M blonde too when you use that to tease someone!" Temari growled, but no venom was present in her voice. A small but genuine smile spread across the new Kazekage's face as he too waved, a large hand made of sand forming behind him to do the same. "Safe travels, Naruto. I will forever be grateful that you are a part of my life."

As the two Konoha-based travelers tromped out into the dunes, the gates of Suna rapidly disappearing behind them, Naruto turned to his teacher. "So, Ero-Sennin" he began, before Jiraiya bopped him over the head.

"Don't call me Ero-Sennin."

"...Where to next?" Naruto asked, undeterred by his sensei cutting him off because of the nickname. Jiraiya scratched his nonexistent beard, pulling out a map to consult the map of the Elemental Nations.

"Let's see...first we will travel west, towards the edge of the Elemental Nations. The Red Line has long formed a natural barrier that prevents anyone from entering or exiting the Elemental Nations by land - the sheer cliffs extend upwards almost four kilometers before forming a plateau; eight kilometer high mountains extend up from there" the man said, giving a quick geography lesson about their part of the world.

"We will start near the southwesternmost corner of the Elemental Nations in the Land of Volcanoes, where we'll briefly visit Kemurigakure (Hidden Smoke). After that, we'll travel northward towards the Land of Moss, stopping by Numagakure (Hidden Swamp), then proceed to the Land of Bears and Hoshigakure (Hidden Star)."

Naruto whistled. "That's pretty far out there, dattebayo" he said, and Jiraiya chuckled. "I guess you're giving me a tour of the Elemental Nations as a whole, eh?"

The white-haired Sannin nodded. "Precisely. It'll be about nine months to go through those three regions; one and a quarter out of three years spent on the road so far. We'll detour through the Land of Stone and drop by Ishigakure (Hidden Rocks) before swerving back through Bears and into the Land of Mountains and Takegakure (Village Hidden in the Peaks) on the way to the Land of Iron."

"After that is the Land of Snow, before we detour back down through the Land of Canyons and Takigakure (Hidden Waterfall), the Land of Sound while avoiding Otogakure (Hidden Sound), the Land of Frost and Shimogakure (Hidden Frost) and the Land of Hot Water and Yugakure (Hidden Springs) on our way to the remnants of the Land of the Sea and the archipelago of the Land of Whirlpools and the Uzushiogakure (Hidden Whirlpool) shortly before we return to Konoha" Jiraiya finished, outlining their entire trip.

Naruto's jaw had dropped quite far by the time Jiraiya finished. "Damn, we really are going everywhere, aren't we, Ero-Sennin?"

Jiraiya bopped him on the head again as he put his map away. "That we are, brat, that we are..." he said as the two raced off into the desert.

Chapter Text

Nine months after Gaara's inauguration as the Fifth Kazekage, somewhere near the border of the Land of Sound and the Land of Frost...

The Snake Sannin and Eternal Otokage, Orochimaru, was arguably the most well-known, feared and universally despised missing-nin of Konohagakure. He had a reputation for killing or experimenting on his subordinates, loyal or not, was an obsessive seeker of immortality, and had killed one Kage in an attempt to get at and kill another Kage in the last eighteen months.

And yet here he was, sighing and rubbing his head in an attempt to mitigate a massive migraine, as he watched one of his favorite and most well-stocked bases in the Land of Sound burn to the ground, the entire mountain it was built under collapsing as the black flames of Amaterasu consumed even the bedrock itself with a heat rivaling the sun itself.

A few minutes of awkward silence later, Orochimaru turned around to speak to his four main subordinates. Kabuto and Kimimaro were both awkwardly biting their lips, Guren looked outright horrified, and Satsuki was still as impassive as ever.

The past eighteen months of puberty had been kind to the Uchiha, who had traded in what she had worn as a Konoha Genin in for a high-collared white shirt and navy-blue shorts that came down to just above her knees, with a length of blue cloth tied around her waist by a long purple rope - a signature of Otogakure. She now stood 160 centimeters tall compared to her previous 153, and had developed significant...assets.

After a quick staredown with the still-impassive Satsuki, Orochimaru sighed again and facepalmed. "Fuck it. We're not doing any more Amaterasu experiments, PERIOD!" he shouted, before he and his entourage left, the mountain still burning behind them.

At the same time in the Land of Stone, 15 December of the year 86 SG...

Naruto Uzumaki lay on his back, watching clouds drift by. The Land of Stone was a rocky nation located on an alpine plateau covered in dozens of lakes, with desolate, rocky stretches of countryside in between them. "Damn, Shikamaru was on to something...this really is nice" the blonde teen thought to himself. Naruto was now fourteen, having reached that birthday a little over two months earlier (for reference, Satsuki ran away in September of 85 SG).

The Kyuubi Jinchuriki had finally hit a growth spurt after years of being almost the shortest person in his Academy Class (only Hinata was shorter, and even then, not by much). He now stood 162 centimeters tall compared to his previous 149 at the Valley of the End. During this time, he had let his hair grow out a little, which made him now look strikingly similar to his father at a glance.

He had outgrown his previous coat and jacket, which had gotten shredded during Fuuton training, and had replaced it with a black ensemble with orange linings, although it was a little big on him. All in all, he looked like a fine, handsome young man.

"Oi, brat! C'mon, we've got to get to the next village by nightfall!" Jiraiya called, throwing a pebble at his apprentice, which hit him square in the forehead protector.

"Ow! Alright, fine, I'm coming!" Naruto grumbled, leaping to his feet and shouldering his pack, as the duo started down the road, following the course of a wide, shallow river dyed brown by the muddy mountain silt ground up by the glaciers that birthed the river.

An hour passed, and as Jiraiya stopped to take a quick power-nap so that they could make the push to the next village, Naruto followed a small trail down to the riverside, where the boy resumed practicing his Suiton jutsus. During the three months spent in the ash-covered crags of the Land of Volcanoes, the blonde had practiced using Katon and Fuuton jutsus until he had a good feel for both his affinity and its' natural weakness.

After that, for the four months spent in the treacherous marshes and swampy lakeshores of the Land of Moss, Naruto had practiced his mother's legacy to him: Suiton and Doton ninjutsu. The blonde was rapidly becoming a master of the former, which made sense - his great-grandfather had been considered the greatest Suiton user in history and had invented over two thousand jutsu himself, including Naruto's favorite technique - the Shadow Clone Jutsu.

Finally, during their weird two-month long in the temperate forestlands of the Land of Bears, the Uzumaki/Namikaze had sharpened his Raiton abilities until he could finally use that element. During those long training periods, countless Shadow Clones had been formed and dispelled, the only evidence of their existence being raised stones, flooded bottomlands, burnt and electrocuted sections of forest, or deep gashes carved into ash and rock by the winds.

Reaching the river, Naruto formed a Shadow Clone - at this point, the teen had become so adept at using the technique that he no longer needed hand seals to use it, similar to his skill with the Kawarimi - and began to practice one of Tobirama's many Suiton jutsu. "Ushi, Saru, U, Ne, I, Tori! Sution: Water Dragon Bullet!" The original and his clone both formed two enormous dragons out of the river's water, which clashed for dominance with each other, coiling around and snapping at each other.

"Almost there" the blonde thought. "I remember the first time Kakashi-sensei showed me this technique; I had to memorize forty-four kami-damned hand seals...blech! Now I'm down to six, and soon I won't need 'em anymore, dattebayo!" The blonde was so distracted by his training that he failed entirely at noticing that another individual was present and watching him.

After a half hour of training, Naruto figured maybe he should wake Jiraiya back up so that they could hit the road again. Dispelling his clone, the blonde teen turned around...and found himself staring directly into the eyes of a dark-haired, pink-eyed woman. "Hello."

Naruto damn near leapt out of his skin at this, landing unceremoniously on his ass next to the riverbank as he got a better look at the new arrival. The girl looked to be about his age, maybe just a little older, with short, dark hair, distinctive rose-pink eyes and sharp, well-defined facial features. She was dressed in a red uniform with no right sleeve and a red sash over her right hip, fishnet mesh-armor tights and a dark brown flak jacket, signifying that she was at least a Chuunin.

Most distinctively, however, was the forehead protector with two carvings of boulders on it. Naruto's eyes widened as he recognized the symbol on her head. "T-That's an Iwa forehead protector! Oh great, I'm the Yellow Flash's son, and I'm alone, in the woods, with an Iwa-nin. Great, just great." "H-Hi" the blonde managed.

The ravenette girl scowled. "'Hi'? Really? You get ambushed in the forest by a potential enemy and that's all you can say?" she snorted. "I knew Konoha shinobi could be pathetic sometimes, but this is ridiculous" the woman admonished Naruto.

The blonde teen snorted in indignation. "Well excuse me for being caught off guard! Who the hell are you, anyway?"

Naruto's new companion smirked. "Now that's more like it! The name's Kurotsuchi; Chuunin of Iwagakure and future Tsuchikage! Who are you, tree-hugger?"

Resisting the urge to do a full-on kabuki introduction like his mentor was inclined to, Naruto held his hand out for a handshake. "My name is Naruto Uzumaki; Chuunin of Konohagakure. My dream is to become Hokage, dattebayo!"

Kurotsuchi snorted. "You, become the Hokage? Really?"

The blonde sputtered in indignation. "Hey, it's about as likely as you becoming Tsuchikage!"

Before the duo could get in a fight, they both heard a cough. Ahem, children, might I ask what you're bickering about?"

Sitting in a nearby tree was an older shinobi wearing an Iwa uniform similar to Kurotsuchi's, but with a few differences. His uniform was full-body, including the right sleeve, and had samurai armor around his waist. A helmet with red feathers sat atop his head. The man himself was rather short, with red hair and a red beard, and he looked to be in his late 40s or early 50s. Although it seemed intentionally muted, his aura was one of incredible strength - this man was clearly an elite.

"R-Roshi-sensei!" Kurotsuchi stammered in surprise. "You need to stop doing that; you'll give me a heart attack before I ever take Gramps's job!"

"Oh relax, you're a young whippersnapper. You won't be having any heart attacks until you're older than me" Roshi chuckled, before scrutinizing Naruto. "Who's the new boyfriend?"

Both of the Chuunin sputtered in embarrassment as their faced heated up. "I-IT'S NOT LIKE THAT!" the duo shouted in unison.

Roshi unabashedly laughed his ass off. "Kami, you youngsters are giving off more heat than my Yoton does!" he chuckled, before turning to Naruto. "So, ya all alone out here, Konoha boy?"

Naruto shook his head. "Nah, I was just training here until Jiraiya-sensei was ready to hit the road again. We've got to get to the next village before nightfall" the blonde responded.

The two Iwa-nin both had their jaws drop in surprise. "Jiraiya? As in Jiraiya of the Sannin?" Kurotsuchi managed.

Naruto snorted. "Don't get all awestruck like that; it'll inflate his overblown ego even more. He doesn't like up to his reputation half the time unless you're talking about his reputation as a legendary, self-proclaimed 'super pervert'. C'mon, I'm going to go wake him up." With that, the blonde set off back up the trail through the small patch of forest, leaving two Iwa shinobi staring in surprise while still processing that they had met a Sannin's pupil, and that said Sannin was a massive pervert.

As Naruto started up the trail, the voice of Kurama boomed in his head. "Oi, brat. Just so you know, that 'Roshi' is the container of another one of my siblings."

Naruto's eyes widened. "You're kidding me. Just by chance, we ran into another Jinchuriki out here, in a random border nation between Earth and Wind."

"I'd call it plot convenience, not chance."


"What? Anyway, that man contains one of my least favorite siblings - Son Goku, the Four-Tailed Ape" Kurama stated, shrugging off his casual fourth-wall break.

"...I take it you don't want to talk to him then?"

"Are you fucking kidding? He may respect me, but he's an arrogant asshole - and there's only room for ONE arrogant asshole among the nine Bijuu."

"That's you, right?"

"Fuck off, brat, I'm talking about Shukaku."

A few hours later, the two groups of travelers had joined forces and were traveling together towards their shared destination. Jiraiya and Roshi seemed to get along well enough, but Kurotsuchi and Naruto still had significant friction between them, likely due to the friction between Iwa and Konoha, and Kurotsuchi noticing the blonde's uncanny resemblance to the "Butcher of Iwa", Minato Namikaze. However, as time went on, the two slowly stopped getting on each other's nerves quite as much.

Soon enough, a large stone wall loomed in front of them, bathed orange in the evening light. In the wall was a large gate, manned by two guards. "Halt! You are now entering Ishigakure no Sato, please state your names and business!" one of them stated, brandishing a curved dagger.

Before Jiraiya could begin his kabuki routine, Naruto interrupted. "Four travelers in need of lodgings. Our names are Naruto Uzumaki, Jiraiya, Kurotsuchi and Roshi" he said, as a crestfallen look crossed his sensei's face.

"You ruined my introduction, brat!" Jiraiya growled.

"Well, we don't have all night for your kabuki routine, Ero-Sennin!" Naruto retorted as his sensei sputtered.

The two Iwa shinobi laughed as they watched one of the most feared shinobi of their traditional rival get chewed out by his pupil for his eccentricities. The guards took note of their information on a ledger, before one of them got to her feet. "My name is Ogon, and I will be guiding you to the nearest inn" the blonde-haired guard said, introducing herself and motioning for the four foreigners to follow her to the Bedrock Inn.

As the group walked away, her partner reached into a drawer and pulled out a copy of Ishi's Bingo Book, flipping to a section on Konoha shinobi and smirking. Staring out of one of the pages was an image of none other than Naruto Uzumaki, along with a bounty of two and a half million ryo on his head.

"Perfect. Soon, our village shall be able to avenge Etoro-sama, just as Lord Suisho foresaw..."

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

As the group walked away, her partner reached into a drawer and pulled out a copy of Ishi's Bingo Book, flipping to a section on Konoha shinobi and smirking. Staring out of one of the pages was an image of none other than Naruto Uzumaki, along with a bounty of two and a half million ryo on his head.

"Perfect. Soon, our village shall be able to avenge Etoro-sama, just as Lord Suisho foresaw..."

A few hours later, the four travelers had been shown around the village and eventually checked into a decent quality inn and hot springs near the northern side of Ishigakure, nestled among a number of small stone houses seemingly carved out of the earth itself - actually the result of high-quality workmanship with Doton ninjutsu. Naruto and Jiraiya took up residence in one room, while Roshi and Kurotsuch had separate rooms located directly to the right of their room. As they settled in for the night, little did they know that others were plotting against them at that very moment...

In the tower at the center of the village, a stout stone structure about four stories tall, a half dozen or so people sat around a long table in a meeting room. The man at the head of the table wore dark grey robes and an ornate pendant with the kanji for "Stone" carved on it. He was tan, with a blonde goatee and bald head. This man is Suisho, the leader of Ishigakure no Sato, informally known as the Ishikage; he is the elder brother of Jiton no Kajura.

On his right sat a somewhat androgynous man with brown skin and silver hair, his sleek physique under a brown tanktop and grey pants. A depressed and unhappy look sat upon his face. This man is Ameyuki, Suisho's second in command and a former member of Ceramic Village in the Land of Earth.

Across from Ameyuki sat an exceptionally tall man (about 203 centimeters tall) with red eyes and magenta hair; a mask pulled over his face covering everything up to his eyes. He wore a tight black shirt under a leather jacket, thick leather boots and long black leather pants, appearing somewhat similar to a modern day biker. On his waist sat two large metal canisters. This man is known as Den Beifun; he is third in command and is considered the strongest man in Ishigakure.

The next four individuals along the table all appeared much younger. First was the blonde girl who had led the four foreign shinobi around the village; still wearing the grey shinobi uniform with stone gauntlets of Ishigakure along with two canisters like Den's on her waist. This is Ogon, daughter of Suisho. Next to her sits her fellow gate guard and twin brother, Kujaku, who looks extremely similar to her and wears the same outfit.

Across from them is a blue-haired girl wearing the same uniform, with two canisters similar to Den and Ogon. A sadistic look sits on her face, accented by her purple eyes. This is Ruri, teammate to Kujaku. Last is an enormous dark-haired boy wearing the same uniform, with a large hammer next to his chair. This is Dondo; he, Ruri and Kujaku are the same Ishi team that attempted to assassinate Team Seven in the Chuunin Exams almost two years earlier, only to be defeated by Team Gai.

Last, sitting opposite from Suisho, is a tall man wearing a blue shirt and pants with a white vest. A large orange wig sits atop his head, held in place by his forehead protector and he wears an ornate gauntlet with an eye on the back of the hand on his right arm. This is Ishidate Uemon, a former mercenary who now leads the armed forces of Ishigakure no Sato, and is fourth in the command chain.

Five shinobi clad entirely in black, wearing blank forehead protectors and armed with short swords sheathed on their backs, stand at attention against one wall of the room. "You understand your orders, and that you must either succeed or die trying, correct?" Ameyuki reiterated to them.

Their leader saluted. "Yes sir. Our main objective is the death of Naruto Uzumaki; Jiraiya of the Sannin and Red-Beard Roshi are secondary objectives, and "Quicklime" Kurotsuchi is a tertiary objective. We will succeed, in the name of our late friend and brother Etoro Konjiki." With that, the quintet left the room, determined to assassinate the sleeping foreign shinobi.

Naruto tossed and turned in his sleep. "No...don't...go...not...again!" he murmured. The boy's thrashing intensified, until he suddenly stopped, now back in his mindscape with the Kyuubi. "Another nightmare about Satsuki. Figures" he groused, as the fox rolled his eyes.

"Whatever, kit. That damned Uchiha is going to be on your mind until you see her again no matter what you do. Personally, I think you should kill her and call it good, but you're a stubborn lovestruck idiot, so I'd be hard-pressed to change your mind" Kurama grumbled, reaching a claw out of his cage to flick the blonde in the forehead.

"Ow!" Naruto grumped. "Yes, I know, you don't like Uchihas because you're scared of red eyes, blah, blah, blah. I'm leaving" he said, before exiting his mindscape as Kurama grumbled "Brat" at him again. His eyes opened see a black-clad shinobi standing over him, sword raised to chop off his head.

Naruto stared. The shinobi stared. Naruto cocked his head to one side. The shinobi also cocked his head to one side.

Then, the blonde leapt out of the sheets of his futon, and socked the shinobi in the jaw. "Ero-sennin!" he snapped, and Jiraiya leapt to his feet just as quickly, taking in the downed enemy shinobi and his apprentice, before noticing the second one sneaking up behind Naruto. In the blink of an eye, the Toad Sannin leapt forward and kicked the other shinobi in the chest, launching them through the thin wall between their room and Kurotsuchi's.

"Dammit! Revenge for Etoro-sama!" another one shouted, leaping through the door from the hallway outside, only for Naruto to blast them point-blank with a Rasengan, propelling them past the one that landed in Kurotsuchi's room and into Roshi's room, where they bowled over another shinobi in front of the Iwa Jonin. "Yoton: Magma Embrace Jutsu!" the red-bearded man said, before a large hand of magma formed around his right arm and firmly gripped both enemies over their heads, welding their burned heads to the floor as they suffocated on molten rock.

As the one in Kurotsuchi's room slowly got to their feet, the Iwa Chuunin roared in anger. "Don't underestimate me! Doton: Fist Rock Jutsu!" Her stone-clad fist hammered into the one she was fighting, launching them into Naruto's would-be killer and bowling both over, before she landed on top of them and began to ground and pound them, as the blonde boy sweatdropped.

Nearby, a thunderous axe-kick from Jiraiya dispatched the last remaining one, before he wove seven hand seals and slammed his hands on the ground. "Kuchiyose: Toad Mouth Bind!" The esophagus of a Giant Fire Toad from Mount Myoboku formed in the three rooms, the flesh slowly consuming the five dead or near-dead shinobi before vanishing without a trace.

The quartet came together in Kurotsuchi's room. "What was that all about?" Jiraiya wondered aloud.

Roshi coughed into his fist. "About that...Kurotsuchi and I's mission from the Tsuchikage, Ryotenbin no Onoki, was to come to Ishigakure to investigate the possibility of several criminals from the Land of Earth taking up residence here. Rumor has it that this village was once home to the now-deceased Etoro Konjiki and his twin brother Metoro, who is now a member of the Akatsuki. But that's not all..."

With that, he pulled out a copy of the Ishigakure Bingo book and flipped it open to Naruto's entry, as the boy's eyes widened. "Two and a half million for my head...and one of them mentioned Etoro, who got killed by Kakashi-sensei on my first C-Rank..." he muttered. "So they're after me. Now what?"

Kurotsuchi grinned. "Now, we counterattack...and I have just the idea in mind..."

The next morning, as the quartet packed up and walked towards the gate out of Ishigakure, a small crowd gathered in front of the gate, with Suisho and Ameyuki at its' head. "Now, now, fine travelers, must you leave so soon? We have so much more to offer" Suisho began. When the foreigners continues walking towards them, the jovial look fell from his face and a scowl crossed his bald head. "Oh well, diplomacy has failed. Just so you won't leave here alive" he said.

Naruto smirked...and suddenly all four figures exploded into smoke, revealing themselves to be Henged Shadow Clones. "Wha-?!" the bald man stuttered, before the real Roshi kicked him in the face, sending him rocketing into a nearby building, while Jiraiya lunged at Ameyuki, only for Ishidate to intercept him. "Make a break for it, Uzumaki!" Kurotsuchi shouted, as she leapt up from underground, her stone-covered fist connecting with Dondo's stomach as the real Naruto de-transformed from the pebble in her hand and raced for the exit.

At the last moment, however, a wall of gold dust blocked him off, rapidly forming into a giant glittering cube around him, which Ogon sat on top of, controlling with her Kekkei Genkai. "Jiton: Glittering Cube of Heaven!" As his eyes adjusted to the slightly dimmed interior of the cube, still lit by light refracted off the gold dust, he noticed the tall, imposing, magenta-haired figure in front of him. "You...who are you, dattebayo!" the blonde shouted.

The masked man opened his eyes and formed a half-Dog seal, as the canisters on his waist opened and two large balls of sticky rice cake dough flew out of them, levitating in the air next to him, before speaking in a rumbling baritone. "Pleased to meet you, Naruto Uzumaki. My name is Den Beifun...and I have been ordered to kill you. My only hope is that you will prove a worthy match for my Mochi Ninpo."

The blonde slid into a fighting stance, knowing that this was not going to be an easy fight...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The masked man opened his eyes and formed a half-Dog seal, as the canisters on his waist opened and two large balls of sticky rice cake dough flew out of them, levitating in the air next to him, before speaking in a rumbling baritone. "Pleased to meet you, Naruto Uzumaki. My name is Den Beifun...and I have been ordered to kill you. My only hope is that you will prove a worthy match for my Mochi Ninpo."

As the golden cube closed around Naruto and his opponent, the boy's allies were too preoccupied to come to his aid. This, however, did not stop Jiraiya from trying. "Out of my way!" the Toad Sannin bellowed, summoning a toad to deal with Ishidate while he raced towards the large metallic structure. Carving a path of destruction through the less significant Ishi shinobi, Jiraiya managed to reach the cube and was about to target Ogon...only for his feet to become trapped in a mud pit.

"It doesn't matter" a sad voice said from behind him, as Ameyuki rounded the corner of a building. "Ogon's Glittering Cube of Heaven won't come down until one of the two fighters inside it is beaten, even if she herself is incapacitated." True to the man's words, two bracelets of gold dust formed on Naruto and Den's wrists inside the cube, monitoring them to see who beat who. Nearby, Ishidate petrified Jiraiya's summoned toad with his Petrification Gauntlet and moved to stand next to Ameyuki.

Jiraiya gritted his teeth, before a smirk crossed his face. "So..." he began. "You want to see what a Sannin is capable of, eh?" Standing up and freeing himself from the mud pit almost effortlessly, Jiraiya rolled his shoulders as a scary look made itself at home on his face. "I'll be more than happy to show you" he growled out, and a chill ran down the spines of almost everyone around him.

Ameyuki acted first. "Deiton: Mud Golem Jutsu!" An enormous figure with simian features made of mud rose out of the ground behind him, drawing into a fighting stance. The eye on Ishidate's gauntlet opened again, and chunks of rock rose off the ground around him. "Rubble Rain!" The two attacks both headed towards Jiraiya, but the Sannin remained undaunted.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Food Cart Destroyer!" In a massive plume of smoke, Gamaken fell from the sky and landed atop the golem, preventing it from attacking Jiraiya while the man activated another technique. "Ninpo: Hari Jizo!" Jiraiya's lion-like mane of white hair grew dramatically and wrapped around him, causing Ishidate's rain of rock to bounce off harmlessly. Quickly weaving seven hand seals, the Toad Sannin inhaled deeply, then blew a massive dragon-shaped fireball out of his mouth. "Katon: Fire Dragon Flame Bullet!"

Ameyuki saw this and raised a Deiton: Mud Barrier to protect himself, but realized at the last moment that he wasn't Jiraiya's target. The blast of fire wove towards Ishidate, hitting him directly in the right arm. Superheated flames melted first his Petrification Gauntlet, then his entire arm clean off. As the fourth in command of Ishigakure howled in pain, Ameyuki growled in anger at his comrade's injury.

"Deiton: Great Mud Flow!" A massive tsunami of mud rose from the ground. "You've forced me to go this far, Jiraiya of the Sannin! This tsunami of mud boasts the fury of the earth itself; until I stop it, nothing can!" the silver-haired man boasted as the attack surged forwards.

Jiraiya smirked slightly in response to this. "Is that so?" the white-haired Sannin asked, before a swirling sphere of chakra formed in his right hand, rapidly growing bigger and bigger, until it was significantly larger than his own body. "Cho Oodama Rasengan!" The ball of destructive energy effortlessly carved through the massive tsunami of dirt, rocks and rubble, before scoring a direct hit on the shocked second-in-command of Ishigakure, grinding him into the ground and badly damaging his entire body.

When the smoke and dust cleared, Jiraiya stood over Ameyuki's prone form in a massive crater. "I won" Jiraiya said simply. A sad smile crossed the silver-haired man's face. "I had lost from the start...none of us stood a chance against a monster like you..." Ameyuki responded. "Thank you...I'll finally see Hohozuki again..." As he succumbed to his wounds, the man's last thoughts were of his deceased best friend, who he would see again soon.

Jiraiya nodded respectfully at his opponent in the man's last moments, before running off towards the golden box again...

Meanwhile, the two male members of Ishigakure Team One watched in shock as their tactician and illusionist, Ruri, was taken out effortlessly in a matter of moments by Kurotsuchi before she could even use her Jiton manipulation of lapis lazuli dust on the Iwa kunoichi. "R-Ruri!" Kujaku shouted in distress.

"WHO'S NEXT?" Kurotsuchi shouted in response, challenging both remaining members of Team One. Kujaku grit his teeth and stared at the ground in anger, clenching his fists. "You...YOU BITCH!" he roared, as the two canisters on his belt exploded to reveal hundreds of little, thumbnail-sized ball bearings, which floated into the air due to his Kekkei Genkai as he wove three hand seals. "Jiton: Dance of the Shooting Stars!"

The ball bearings all began to vibrate in midair, before suddenly shooting off in random directions, blowing holes in rock walls, small trees and paving stones as they flew. "Doton: Tortoiseshell Stone Jutsu!" Dondo rumbled, before a monolith of stone shot out of the ground and encased him. When it opened again like a petrified flower, thick stone armor covered every inch of the tall boy's body, making him look like a granite knight as the bearings bounced harmlessly off of him.

Kurotsuchi ducked and weaved, narrowly avoiding most of the ball bearings. "Holy crap, these are dangerous! They're cleaving through buildings, trees and the street itself like it's nothing!" the Iwa kunoichi exclaimed internally. Her inner monologue cost her, however, as a bearing caught her in the left shoulder, bowing through it like a musket ball.

"Alright!" Kujaku laughed, as Kurotsuchi hissed in pain. The ball bearings floated in the air again, before clumping into a long track that someone from the modern day might recognize as a makeshift railgun. One single bearing floated at the end, little sparks crackling around it as if floated in place, ready to fire. "I may not have figured out the secret of Uncle Kajura's Lightning God Self, but I created something of my own with that inspiration. Jiton: Railgun Bearing Jutsu!" Kujaku shouted.

The tiny bearing accelerated to ridiculous speeds in a matter of moments. "Die, Iwa thot!" Kujaku shouted gleefully as his projectile was bearing down on Kurotsuchi. At the last moment, the Iwa kunoichi smirked, then drove her hand into the ground. "Doton: Fist Rock Jutsu!" A gauntlet of stone formed around her hand as she caught the projectile like catching a baseball.

Weaving four quick seals, Kurotsuchi's cheeks puffed up, before she spat a gob of white powder at her stunned opponent. "Yoton: Quicklime Concrete Jutsu!" Kujaku was caught entirely off guard and couldn't defend against her next attack. "Suiton: Water Trumpet!" A stream of water caused the quicklime to rapidly harden into concrete around Kujaku, preventing him from forming any more hand seals, or defending himself from the stone knuckle hitting him in the face, knocking him out instantly.

Now, only Dondo was left, lifting his hammer high over his head in an attempt to catch Kurotsuchi off guard. Unfortunately for him, before he could even say anything, the girl's stone fist smashed his hammer into pieces, then broke through his stone armor and drove into his stomach, the intense pain causing him to pass out. The Iwa kunoichi looked over her three defeated opponents, before dusting her hands off and setting off for the golden box.

Elsewhere, Roshi had managed to corner Suisho and was now staring down the Ishikage, who was absolutely seething. "Damn you! DAMN YOU, DAMN YOU, DAMN YOU!" the bald man shouted, "Your damned Tsuchikage just HAD to send you here to be a problem right when we were about to avenge our dead comrade!" As Suisho's rage grew, the large canister on his back exploded open to reveal millions of tiny glass beads.

Roshi stared coldly at Suisho. "Your 'comrade' was a terrorist wanted dead or alive in twenty-three of the twenty-eight Elemental Nations for murder, destruction of private property, destruction of public property, killing the Jungle Daimyo, setting Takegakure on fire and attempting to burn down Tenchi Bridge in the Land of Mushrooms. His death was hardly a tragedy, and Kakashi Hatake did a great service to everyone east of the Red Line by putting a Chidori through his heart" the red-bearded Iwa shinobi responded, further enraging Suisho.

"Enough! I will hear no more of your slander of my deceased friend! Jiton: Warping Refraction Ray!" Suisho shouted as the glass beads flew out of the canister on his back and swirled around in the air, forming themselves into a giant Fresnel Lens. "Burn by the fierce light of the sun!" The beads lit up, focusing massive amounts of sunlight into a tiny area and heating the air up to two thousand degrees Celsius, creating a scorching laser that hit the spot where Roshi stood impassively, causing a massive explosion.

Suisho grinned madly at the sight. "How pathetic. He was the best that old fool Onoki could send to deal with me? Maybe Ryotenbin should come himself next time; Jinton be damned, I'll fry him like I fried that old monkey Red-Beard!" he laughed, as Jiraiya stared in surprise.

Before he could turn away, however, an amused cough alerted him to the fact that he was not alone. The bald man's eyes widened. "I-Impossible!" he stammered, as Roshi appeared again from the flames, completely unscathed. "That laser burns hotter than blue blazes!"

Roshi chuckled in amusement. "Hotter than blue blazes? Is that so?" he said, before clapping his hands together in front of him as a single red tail manifested behind him, while lava began to coat his body. "I must now they burn hotter than green blazes?" With that, Roshi inhaled deeply before breathing a stream of bright green flames as Suisho. "Yoton: Monkey Flame Arson!"

Suisho's eyes widened in horror. "Crap! Jiton: Bulletproofing Window Jutsu!" A thick wall of glass formed in front of him just in time to deflect the superheated blast of green fire, melting almost all the way through the shield before deflecting to one side, incinerating a line of buildings. Roshi began to slowly walk forward, his footsteps melting the ground beneath him. "No! No! NO, NO, NO, NO!" the terrified Ishikage shouted. "Jiton: Shimmering Glass Lance!"

A giant lance of glass shot forwards, following Suisho's intent of piercing Roshi through the heart. To his surprise, however, the Yonbi Jinchuriki was unfazed by the projectile rushing at him, as magma coated his fist. "Yoton: Great Eruption Jutsu!" An enormous fist of magma erupted from Roshi's right hand, melting through the entire lance and narrowly missing Suisho, before hitting the golden box and cooling into a rock formation.

By now, Roshi was only a few meters from the Ishikage, and Suisho was panicking. "J-Jiton: Embracing Bulletproof Cloak!" he shouted, summoning all his glass beads and shattering all the nearby windows to give him more glass to work with, before enveloping himself in the clear amorphous crystal. "You fool!" he laughed. "Not even Etoro could pierce this, and he was a much greater Yoton user than you!"

A small smirk crossed Roshi's face as he walked to the crystalline structure. "Do you want to test that?" he asked, before his entire body glowed a bright orange-yellow. "Yoton...Glowing Armored Palm!" And to Suisho's great surprise, the red-bearded Iwa Jonin brought his right hand back...and punched straight through Suisho's shields, then the man's stomach, and out his back to the other side of the crystalline cloak.

The glass beads fell away to the ground with this mortal wound. "You...bastard..." Suisho croaked out, before he began to laugh weakly as blood flowed out of his mouth. "Even if you have killed me today, even if Ameyuki falls, and even if Ishidate is defeated...Naruto Uzumaki's fate is sealed. After all, he is trapped with our greatest warrior!" With that, Suisho began to choke on his own blood, still laughing madly all the while as Roshi walked away to the golden cube...

Chapter Text

Previously on Path of Shadows, Path of Lights...

The masked man opened his eyes and formed a half-Dog seal, as the canisters on his waist opened and two large balls of sticky rice cake dough flew out of them, levitating in the air next to him, before speaking in a rumbling baritone. "Pleased to meet you, Naruto Uzumaki. My name is Den Beifun...and I have been ordered to kill you. My only hope is that you will prove a worthy match for my Mochi Ninpo."

The blonde slid into a fighting stance, knowing that this was not going to be an easy fight...

Naruto's eyes scanned the intimidating form of his magenta-haired opponent and the two floating balls of mochi next to him. "Holy crap, not even the Raikage is that tall! And those balls of mochi are responding to his chakra somehow...what is he doing to make them do that?" the blonde thought. "Oh well...Ero-sennin taught me that there's always one sure-fire way to start a battle!"

Gathering chakra in his palm, Naruto raced forwards, the spiraling sphere his father invented forming into a glowing blue orb of grinding, tearing chakra. "RASENGAN!" the blonde teen shouted, driving his right hand forward towards his opponent.

Beifun remained stoic even with Naruto's first move, forming two hand seals as the balls of mochi suddenly zipped forwards and formed into a large square block. "Mochi Ninpo: Kaku Mochi!" The blonde teen's right hand sunk into the mochi cube, and his eyes widened in surprise as he felt the Rasengan's rotational forces slow to a stop.

The massive magenta-haired man walked over to one corner of the cube while Naruto struggled and picked up an enormous trident, swinging it over his head as more mochi coated his right arm, before he brought it back with a twisting motion, the tip aimed directly at Naruto. Out of desperation, the blonde formed a seal with his free hand. "Shadow Clone Jutsu!" As the clone popped into existence, Naruto finished another seal. "Kawarimi no Jutsu!"

Swapping places with his clone at the last moment, Naruto narrowly avoided the drill-like stab Beifun made with his trident. "Mochi Tsuki!" The blonde teen cringed as the memories of the destroyed clone came back to him, as the trident blew the clone, the block of mochi and a large section of the ground under them apart with ease. "That will hurt a LOT if I get hit with it" he thought.

Forming another clone, Naruto had the clone transform into a puddle of water, before running through six quick seals. "Suiton: Water Dragon Bullet!" As the water formed into a gigantic Eastern dragon, Naruto noticed Beifun form a Dog seal with his left hand and a Tiger seal with his right, before the mochi coating his right forearm swelled up and began to glow. "Katon: Yaki Mochi!"

The fist of mochi rocketed off of Beifun's right arm, propelled by the flames from the bubble popping. Naruto watched in horror as the fist cleaved through his water dragon effortlessly and hit him square in the stomach, launching him backwards into the side of the Golden Box. As he groaned in agony, his opponent crossed the distance between them in a blink of an eye and formed several extra legs of mochi. "Mochi Ninpo: Yanagi Mochi!" As the extra limbs drove into the boy's chest and stomach, he found himself inside his mindscape.

"Well, well, well, brat...looks like you're getting your ass handed to you" Kurama snarked. Naruto rolled his eyes. "Yeah, no shit. Want to do something about it?"

Kurama pondered this for a moment. "Nah. Piss off, brat." Naruto responded by marching up to the edge of the cage. "You sure about that? I'm pretty sure this guy could take Shukaku, and I know how much you love to lord your strength over him~" the blonde sing-songed, remembering his lessons from Jiraiya and Yugito on manipulating Kurama to do his bidding.

The fox raised one eyebrow and snorted. "On second thought, take it all."

Naruto's eyes shot open again, now with slit, fox-like pupils. With a single strong kick, Beifun was sent flying backwards, landing on his feet and skidding to the opposite wall, eyes widened slightly in surprise. "Where did this extra strength come from?" Naruto held his right hand out as a red chakra cloak with a single tail formed around him, as the tail began gathering chakra into a purplish variant of the Rasengan - the same one he used in the Valley of the End against Satsuki.

Leaping forwards, the blonde teen prepared to drive the spiraling sphere into Beifun's chest. The magenta-haired man's eyes widened, before he formed three seals, his mochi balls levitating back off the ground and zipping in front of him. "Mochi Ninpo: Kagami Mochi!" The rice dumpling dough rose upwards into a humans-sized rectangle, before a reflective sheen formed on its' surface. As Naruto was about to drive his Rasengan into it, an identical copy of himself leapt out of the mirror, countering his attack perfectly and forcing him backwards.

"Not enough, huh?" the blonde said breathlessly, a slight smile on his face as a Shadow Clone materialized next to him and began gathering chakra into his hand. Slowly, a spinning ball of chakra with several blades of wind protruding from it formed in his palm. As he started forwards again, Beifun held his own right hand outwards, as a swirling ball of mochi formed in it. "Mochi Ninpo: Maru Mochi!"

The two combatants thrust their hands forwards at each other, their attacks colliding and grinding against each other. To Naruto's great surprise, the swirling mochi managed to overpower a Kyuubi-boosted Rasengan, throwing him across the enclosed box and smashing him into one wall. As he groaned in pain, Beifun capitalized on this by forming another couple of seals, as the mochi on his arm extended outwards and ensnared Naruto. "Mochi Ninpo: Tori Mochi!"

Using the long whiplike rope of mochi wrapped around his foe, Beifun began to swing Naruto around over his head, smacking him repeatedly into the sides and floor of the box, before bringing him high overhead and pulling him down towards his oncoming fist. "Tori Mochi Fist!" Unable to get out of the way, Naruto found himself punched squarely in the cheek by a chakra-enhanced blow, shooting him across the box and driving him half a meter into the wall when he hit.

Once again Naruto found himself within his mindscape, facing Kurama. "Listen, you damned brat, that last hit banged you up good. Almost every bone in your face is broken, you have multiple broken or cracked ribs, and your liver and lungs are bleeding slightly. You're going to have to go up to three tails just to recover" the fox said, before its' grin turned nasty. "Or you could go up to four and run wild on him."

Naruto shook his head. "No, I'd rather not" he responded. "Three it is." The blonde's eyes shot open again, and he slowly turned more and more feral. Outside the box, Jiraiya's eyes widened in surprise as the outflow of malevolent demon chakra - his pupil was turning up the heat on his opponent, but if he went any further the entire village could get torn down. Summoning a blank paper tag, Jiraiya began to work on a seal to calm down the corrosive red chakra if it took over the blonde teen's body.

Inside the box, Naruto and Biefun had began a rapid-fire exchange of blows, mochi countering corrosive chakra and vice versa. The blonde dispatched multiple Shadow Clones to surround his foe, but a long whip of mochi cleaved through them like a hot knife through butter. "Do you like my Mochi Ninpo?" the magenta-haired giant asked. "I control my mochi with my Suiton prowess, allowing me to manipulate the water molecules within the mochi to use it offensively or defensively."

Naruto merely growled in response. Under his mask, Beifun smirked. "Tell you what: if you can land even a single hit on me - which you have yet to manage - I will take you seriously in this battle." Once again, the blonde growled, before leaping forwards with an amped Fuuton: Rasengan in his hand. The magenta-haired giant remained still other than his hands. "Mochi Ninpo: Kagami Mochi!" As Naruto engaged his mirror duplicate in battle, a pair of clones attacked his opponent from the left.

"Suiton: Water Dragon Bullet!" one shouted, shooting a dragon-shaped water jet. "Doton: Earth Dragon Bullet!" The mud below the water dragon condensed into an earth dragon, which coiled around the other attack as they raced towards Beifun. "Mochi Ninpo: Mochi Hadan!" A tiny bullet of mochi shot from Beifun's index finger, shooting past the two dragons and piercing the clones.

With their dispersal, the techniques crumbled into mud and water, and Beifun turned his attention to two more, these ones on his right. "Katon: Great Fireball Jutsu!" one shouted, blasting the Uchiha Clan signature at him. "Raiton: Lanza del Relampago!" The other clone threw a lance of roughly similar height to Beifun himself, coating itself in the fireball as it flew. "Mochi Ninpo: Mochi Tsuki!" Nearby, a tendril of mochi coiled around the large trident, before thrusting it upwards into the lightning lance, deflecting it up into the ceiling and causing the whole structure to shake.

This distraction, however, allowed the real Naruto to trade places with a clone and bring his Fuuton: Rasengan down onto Beifun's right shoulder, causing the giant man to drop to one knee and his other techniques to dissipate. As the blonde leapt away, Beifun chuckled. "It seems I underestimated you. Please allow me to not make such a mistake again" the magenta-haired giant said, removing his shredded leather jacket and black tanktop, before undoing the clasps on the mask over his face.

As he dropped the mask nearby, the light illuminated his full face. Despite the sharp teeth in his mouth, Beifun was...surprisingly handsome. For several long, long moments, the two opponents stared at each other, before Beifun raised one eyebrow. "How curious; the appearance of my face does not seem to affect you." Naruto raised an eyebrow in response. "Was it supposed to?" he asked in response.

The magenta-haired giant chuckled, then started laughing heartily. "What a riot! When I first washed up on these shores, men and women alike found my face so handsome that I couldn't get away from them. It was so troublesome that I started wearing a mask to hide my features, before I ended up in this village seeking a cure to my amnesia. Instead, I found a new home, but even then, everybody who saw my face still was troublesome, so I continued to hide it. You are the first to not have that problem; you're even more interesting than I thought!"

Back in Konoha, a certain teenaged Chuunin from the Nara Clan sneezed twice, muttered "troublesome", and walked away, not knowing this was from somebody stealing his catchphrase.

"Now then, since I need to take you seriously...allow me to do just that" Beifun finished, before slamming one hand on the ground. "Mochi Ninpo: Nagare Mochi!" A thick layer of mochi covered the ground, gluing Naruto in place. "Shit! I can't move, dattebayo!" the blonde shouted, before his eyes widened as he watched his opponent simultaneously use a Dog and Snake seal. "Mochi Ninpo: Kusa Mochi!"

And then long, thin blades of mochi shot up from the floor, skewering Naruto repeatedly. Beifun turned to walk away solemnly. "Thank you for such a great battle...worthy opponent" the magenta-haired giant murmured, not noticing the fourth tail of red chakra slowly sprouting from Naruto's body.

Outside of the box, Ogon slowly began to re-awaken after Kurotsuchi had knocked her out, noticing that her box was still up. Nearby, the Iwa Chuunin and her master were both hammering the golden box with Yoton jutsus, while Jiraiya was scribbling away at a sealing tag nearby. Suddenly, a wave of demonic chakra assaulted her senses, and Jiraiya sat bolt upright from his tag making. "Shit! He's gone beyond three tails!" the Toad Sage shouted, and Roshi's eyes widened, before he and Kurotsuchi redoubled their efforts to take the box down.

Inside the box, the mochi user stared in horror at the sight in front of him. A black ball of smoke from vaporized blood had cracked open, and he was pressed against one wall by the pressure wave from the roar of the thing he faced. It seemed to be made from red and black chakra swirling around the boy in the shape of a four-tailed fox demon, with glowing white eyes and a similar mouth. "Are you serious? That boy was a Jinchuriki?" Beifun thought, before watching as a number of tiny light blue and dark red spheres burst out of its' body, gathering into a single purple ball over its' head between the points of its' tails. "Uh-oh."

Biting his thumb, Beifun wove five familiar seals and slammed his hand on the ground. "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!" When the smoke cleared, a large pelican gulper eel had appeared behind him, itself sporting wide eyes. "Holy crap, Den! You don't summon me for a while, then bring me in to fight a friggin' Jinchuriki?!" The tall man shook his head. "No need, Nigel...I just need your help escaping that thing for a few minutes."

The eel sighed and opened its' mouth. "Just get in and I'll reverse-summon you back to Abyss Caverns" it said, and the man obliged. A moment after the eel poofed away, Naruto ate the Bijuudama, digested it, then blasted an enormous laser from his mouth, melting clear through the wall around it and shooting off into a nearby mountain, blasting it away into dust as the four shinobi outside gasped in shock.

"So this is the power of the Kyuubi..." Roshi trailed off, before his own Bijuu spoke in his head. "Of course Kurama is being a stupid fucking showoff." Roshi scowled at the intrusion, but did not respond. Nearby, the eel poofed back into existence, and Beifun stepped out of its' mouth. Naruto clambered out of the melted remains of the golden box, hissing and growling feraly at everyone around him.

"Calm down, dammit!" Roshi shouted, going in for a hit in Yoton Chakra Mode, only for Naruto to bat him into Kurotsuchi, knocking them into a nearby building. Ogon attempted to use her gold dust to restrain him, but her tendrils melted on contact with the layer of dense, corrosive chakra around Naruto's body. Jiraiya bit his thumb and summoned Gamaken again, the toad regarding the eel summon with surprise and a hint of respect, which the eel returned.

As Naruto batted Gamaken around, Beifun leapt into the fray again. "Mochi Ninpo: Yaki Mochi!" The fist exploded harmlessly on Naruto's body, only serving to irritate the Kyuubi-possessed teenager, who batted Beifun through a row of houses with a sickening crack as Roshi barely clambered back to his feet. "Dammit! Yoton: Scorching Rock Jutsu!" As a storm of burning lava meteors shot towards Naruto, the possessed Jinchuriki roared, sending them all flying into the rocky mountainsides around the village.

"Jiraiya! Is it done?!" the aged Jinchuriki shouted. "Yeah, it's done! Just need to hold him still long enough for me to put the tag on his forehead!" the Toad Sage responded. Before Roshi could do anything, however, Naruto swatted him aside and leapt in the air, landing in front of Jiraiya. Another Bijuudama began to form in his before he could fire it, a spinning wheel of mochi shot out of the rubble at the other end of the village and raced towards the possessed boy.

At the last moment, the wheel vanished, and Beifun leapt forwards with his right arm out to the side, coated by a massive club of spiked mochi. "Mochi Ninpo: Zan Giri Mochi!" The spiked clothesline connected with Naruto so hard that the shockwave tore up paving stones all down the street behind the possessed boy, while the mochi wrapped him up. "Do it now!" the magenta-haired man shouted, and Jiraiya dashed forwards to plant the sealing tag on Naruto's forehead.

A few moments later, the red-black chakra retreated into Naruto's body, and Jiraiya turned to face Beifun, who was now breathing heavily as he sat on a piece of destroyed house, clutching his head and smiling. The next words out of the man's mouth surprised the Toad Sage, however.

"I...I remember."