The destruction of Kirigakure spread fear in the other hidden villages. That nothing but grey ash and molten rocks were found on its site did nothing to ease the rumour mill. That quite a few Samurai had gone missing, their homes reduced to even finer ashes and their families bones bared of any flesh found in the ruins had added to the worry. No one realized children were missing from the carnage as it was assumed their more fragile bones had been burned beyond recognition or vaporized. To complicate things, the Daimyo's compound, the most impressive building in Water Country, had also burned to the ground, becoming a lava lake still red and cooling off. None of the surviving Samurai talked about the Daimyo receiving an order from the Shadow Emperor and the Shadow Shogun. It was ingrained in them that what happened at the Daimyo's palace stayed at the Daimyo's palace, even if it was now a thin layer of ash imprisoned in lava. Habits die hard.
Naruto spent a week assimilating what the scrolls found in the Water country's Daimyo library and locked (!) vaults revealed. It brought to light whom, amongst the civilians in Water, had worked to push their country to break the Secret Villages Concords. He sent out two hundred clones and saw to the removal of the betrayers, over five hundred families were eradicated, minus the children, whom were brought back to his deep compound and kept sealed until some thing could be done about them.
Meanwhile, the Kirigakure shinobi were guided to the edge of Fire country, after passing by the back and getting misdirected several times. The Mizukage realized what was happening, but said nothing to the clone guides. He understood the need for secrecy if what he thought he was being guided to was the real destination. Kirigakure used to have its own spy network, and at that moment, a Naruto clone was sitting with the Mizukage and his spy team, discussing what they knew.
"So, Iwagakure teamed up to attack Whirlpool and its hidden village, Uzushiogakure, and destroyed everything? With whom did it team up?"
"Sunagakure, Kirigakure, and Amegakure envied the Uzukage and his power over Fuinjutsu, the Seal techniques. Konohagakure, Kumogakure and Otogakure were allies of Uzushiogakure. Ryuchi Caves was neutral in that war. When the attack began, our reports told us that Konoha dragged its feet, coming in too late to change the battle. All indications from our spies are that one named Danzo did everything he could to make sure Konoha would come in to reap the spoils, disposing of everyone surviving and ready to put the blame on us. The thing he did not expect was that Sunagakure turned on us during the battle. Uzushiogakure was destroyed, but over half of its population escaped. And your mother was in Konoha trying to get things to move, but Danzo blocked her every step of the way."
"That means there might be a hidden village somewhere..."
"Yes. But I thought you came from that village?"
"If you consider one a village..."
"I do not understand?" asked the Mizukage.
"Boss is the sole survivor of the Uzumaki clan. He ran away from Konohagakure after the nth murder attempt. He is now living in the Shadow Castle of the Shadow Shogun."
"One does not make a great army..."
"Tell that to the Daimyo of Water and his treasonous Samurai. Tell that to the civilians of Konoha, or to the Uchiha clan, which now live nude, unable to keep a string to their dick and call it their own. Tell that to your own civilians, that were ready to stab you in the back."
"You have a point. So, do you know what the one you call 'Boss' plans?"
"No. We have been ordered to bring you to a specific point, but nothing else. Even the path chosen is given to the guide before he leaves the castle and only to him. Boss knows where we are as we dissipate once our task is done."
The next morning, another clone took the lead. The Mizukage walked with his close councillors and another clone, about the middle of the column.
"I wonder how far we still have to go."
"Not that far, but a bandit camp is in our path. Boss is sending a dozen clones to deal with them."
"What size the camp?"
"Oh, somewhere around two-hundred and fifty, give or take a dozen. The leaders are missing-nins."
"Some are in the Bingo Book, most with some price on their head. We tend to ignore them, as some get put on the book for political reasons. After all, Boss is in the Bingo Book, put in there by the Civilian Council before the Hokage disposed of them, and you know as well as I that once in, the only way out is death. And he is five! Remember Zabuza Momochi? He is in the camp, but we will not touch him. He left your village to save his own life from the shenanigans of your predecessor, whom envied his ability with the head cleaver. On the other hand, the others are common bandits and will be disposed of. Zabuza has a young apprentice, named Haku, no more than our boss' age. He (or she? We need to see in the pants!) seems to have a blood line."
"What will you do with the missing-nins?"
"Most will be invited to camp somewhere else on the Imperial lands, and get offered a job... in the Imperial army. Those that really did violate the Bushido Code, will be executed."
"Observe? Yes. Intervene? No."
Shortly, the fourteen Kage Bunshin closed in on the camp, while the fifteenth stayed with the Mizukage, more to stop him from doing something stupid than anything else. Perched on a tall tree, the Mizukage had a clear view of the camp and watched the Kage Bunshin infiltrate the bandit camp silently as the sun rose over the treetops.
The clones had spread around the camp's periphery and began walking in, Shunshin in full effect, hoping from tree to tree as black squirrels, flying, or simply scurrying along animal trails. Suddenly, one squirrel dropped from a branch, changing into a shuriken at the last second to cut the bandit's carotid before changing back to a rat and hide under a tree trunk. The rat climbed up on the other side of the tree trunk, totally invisible, and reaching the lower branches well before the bandit's body finished falling to the ground. The Mizukage was astounded by the silent killing. As he watched, more bandits met their fate as animals changed shape to kill and back to disappear. Half an hour later, the common bandits were gone, and the only living ones were the shinobi.
"Now comes the fun. Twelve shinobi, four of which have foresworn their code of honour, and therefore must lose their head. Gozu and Meizu, the Demon Brothers, Uzimi, and Zatana, two Ice country missing-nins. We tackle the brothers first, as they are the most dangerous with their chakra chain."
The Mizukage watched twelve Kage Bunshin move to encircle the two brothers. Suddenly, four real shuriken caught the chakra chain and tied it to a tree trunk. Immediately after, four clones jumped from the tree branches and, changing into kunai, cut their vocal boxes before they could alert the others. The clones then popped to where the other two cold cuts to be were busy preparing their weapons. As one lifted his head to eye a squirrel, he got hit in the neck by a kunai and fell on the ground noisily. That attracted the other and brought him within range of another kunai, but he jumped up violently more on reflex than because of intentional action. That, in turn, made the kunai hit him just above the penis, cutting it off along with the balls.
"That must hurt!"
Before the clone could reply, another kunai hit the chastised and castrated male in the throat cutting off all sounds and terminating his life.
Two clones made their way to Zabuza and called on him.
"Yes, and who are you?"
"We represent the Shadow Shogun and the Shadow Emperor. You are camping on his lands."
"And? Wait! These guys are fabled persons!"
"And you are now enrolled in the Shadow Army, along with the other five shinobi."
"But we are ten!"
"Were ten. Four were disposed for violating the Bushido code. As for the Shadows, they are real. You will meet shortly."
"And if we do not want?"
"You visit a cemetery."
"Said that way... Lead up."
The two clones led the surviving ninja off, while the others accompanied the Mizukage to the waiting column.
"Take a break and have lunch. I do not want the others to sense you on their tail," said the lead clone.
As they led Zabuza to the secret entrance to the castle, the clones talked to him, trying to gain a better understanding of his personality.
"What brought the revolt against the previous Mizukage?" asked one of the clones.
"Oh that. Simple: he was jealous of anyone powerful enough to threaten his position and he had decided to have me killed. To reach his goal, he pitched every would-be genin against me in the arena. As you know, in our village, we are to fight to the death to be promoted to genin. The thing is, he did not stop at one, he pitted every single aspiring genin against me. He did not like the result when I killed everyone, including his son, so he declared me missing-nin even if I had not yet done anything against him or even left the village. I had to cut my way out of the village through genin, chunin, jonin, and anbu. It cost him a good half of his forces."
"Okay. He is dead. No one can fight death and win."
"He is? Good riddance. I just wish I could return to the village, but that is impossible, given my status."
"The village too is dead. As is Water."
"The Daimyo of Water forgot who gave him his commission and betrayed the Shadows. He lost everything, as did his Samurai. The Shadow Shogun has now taken control of Water. As for Kirigakure, it was reduced to ashes. Its civilians violated the Imperial Shadow Village Concords governing the relations between shinobi and civilians, and thought they could back-stab them with the help of the Daimyo. The thing is, the Daimyo did not trust back-stabbers and killed all the civilians, missing his targets, the shinobi, whom had abandoned the village prior to the attack. The Shadow Emperor removed his protection from the village, leaving it open to destruction, before disposing of the Daimyo and his Samurai."
The small group progressed and reached a circle of dolmen covered in moss. The standing rocks seemed natural, leaning on each other for support, and a granitic platform sat on their top, itself covered in a thick layer of Spongiform moss.
"That's the first time I see something like that here." commented Haku.
"The Shadow Gates. Notice we have been walking on gravel for the past two minutes, gravel that covers the entire area beyond the dolmen. No one can follow us up to this. Our steps disappear. Shunshin to the top, one at a time."
The shinobi did as asked. As the top was invisible from below, those below did not notice that, as they appeared at the top, they disappeared off immediately, to reappear in a cave, just below the dolmen itself.
The cave itself was lit by shining rocks that were inscribed with thousands of thin, delicate, lines forming all sorts of complex figures due to their intercepting patterns.
"Any surface may be used to inscribe things, not only scrolls," commented one of the clones as he eyed Zabuza studying the shining rocks. "In this case, it is an Earth jutsu that derives light from lava."
"And where are we?" Zabuza asked.
"The antechamber of the hidden palace. Do you really think it was just 'ring, pull the string, and the latch will open'? We may have been in the woods, but there are more dangerous things than big bad wolves around!"
"But what if someone walks in and pops on the top?"
"Walk in, easier said than done; as to pop to the top, you do that mistake only once. You need to leave from the gravel, with one of us present, for the gate to open. And not the real Shadow, but a clone, and only a clone. It is a triple-lock system: reach the gravel, ask for entrance, pop... and we're not done yet. Follow me."
The clones led the six shinobi to a door system that seemed to be a simple lock.
"Now we're in."
"But it's only two elaborate doors..."
"Lock doors. That is all you need to know. Boss is that way."
They reached a vast rotunda, with a granitic table set in a huge horseshoe shape. At the centre sat a little kid (to the eyes of the shinobi) that seemed to be busy reading a huge scroll.
"Ah, eight-hundred twenty-one and twenty-two, welcome back. Report."
The two clones popped out of existence, their memories merging with those of Naruto. After a minute to assimilate the memories, Naruto turned to the missing-nins and invited them to sit down.
"Welcome to the Shadow Palace."
"But... But.. You are a gaki!"
"So? I am also a jinchuriki. And since when do we need hair between the legs to be able to think?"
"No buts or your butts will get hot!"
"Boss, we're done doing the research on jinchuriki and their location."
"Thanks six-hundred and sixty-six. Have you found out why the Akatsuki want them so bad?"
"Not yet. But we found that Pain, a major figure in the organization, is involved in it. We do not know if it is a nickname, his real name, or some other moniker related to his profession."
"Continue the research."
After the clone has left, Naruto took a look at the information brought by the clone. He came to a quick decision and created twenty-five clones, giving them his directives.
"Ichibi no Shikaru, the one-tailed demon, is sealed in a guy named Gaara, found in Sand, Sunagakure. Fu is the container of Nanabi no Kabutomushi, the seven-tail beetle. Split in two, capture them in body seals, and bring them here. I plan to undermine the efforts of the Akatsuki by removing as many demons off the accessible market as possible. These two are the closest to our location, apart from Sanbi no Kyodalgame, the three-tailed demon, that is coming here of his own free will. With all four, anything these criminals plan will fail. I will not stop until I have all nine safely under Imperial protection. Fu is in Takigakure in Waterfall country. Get moving."
Once the batch of clones had left, he created a three-clone team and gave them similar orders. "That one managed to hide under Fujiyama. You need to reach him, lock him in a body seal, and come back here without waking him up. Otherwise, Tokyo will end up incinerated, as the volcano where the four-tailed demon is located is a stratospheric volcano. Son Goku is ill-tempered and a light sleeper. Go."
When the last team had left, Naruto took a breath. He looked at the wide-eyed visitors at his work table. "Sorry guys, work can not wait. I still got to plan for the rest of the Kitsune. But I think collecting four and being the fifth will put a cramp in their project."
"Five?" asked Haku.
"One, three, four, seven and nine tailed. Being the nine-tailed, that will gain me obedience from the other four. After all we are family. I only need to plan how to do the same with the two, five, six and eight-tailed. These are a bit harder to access. Ah, Iwagakure is about to face my wrath." The comment surprised the visitors until they remembered the extensive use of Kage Bunshin Naruto made.
Iwagakure was calm. Too calm for its Tsuchikage, which was stampeding the rocks to tackle Konohagakure. It had been a month or so since he had any report from his spy, and he was wondering what was keeping him quiet. Rumours were that there had been a shake-up there, but its extent or nature remained a mystery to him. Son Goku, which had been captured by his Anbu and sealed into Roshi, was showing signs of unrest. Maybe sealing it while the demon was asleep was not a good idea, but Iwagakure seal masters had insisted it was the best time. Maybe he should not have believed them and simply unleashed Yonbi on the world and picked up the pieces? After all, he, as the Rock Shadow, had the power of the molten rocks, and nothing stopped him from using that power to jail Yonbi back into a magmatic prison.
As he watched the village from his tower, he spotted a disturbance at the southern gate. Finally, some action! He used a Shunshin to reach the gate to see his Anbu encircling a blonde boy of maybe five, that seemed to exude an astounding amount of chakra for his age. That he had a shinobi vest and a headband with the combined signs of the hated Whirlpool and something that tickled his memory, a yin – yang pair at its centre. But for the life of him, he could not remember where. On the other hand, the blonde looked mightily familiar!
"Are you telling me you can not capture him?" he hollered to his Anbu. "What have I done to Kami to get loaded with incompetents!"
He observed his Anbu trying to jump the boy, only to see the boy vanish and reappear all over the place, escaping kunai, shuriken, senbon and swords and what not that were the tools of the shinobi trade. His Anbu had to escape their own thrown weapons, some even managing to hit jonin, chunin and genin bystanders in a futile effort to touch the child! After twenty minutes, the shinobi had not even managed to draw blood! A powerful whistle by the Tsuchikage brought the capture attempt to a stop.
"And I was having so much fun!" complained the child, pouting. "Who are you to stop my fun?"
"I am the Sandaime Tsuchikage. And you?"
"I am an envoy from the Shadows. The Shadow Emperor and Shadow Shogun. I have a message scroll to deliver to you." Sensing a powerful demonic chakra nearby, the Naruto clone added, too quick for anyone to notice it had come as an afterthought: "And I also need to talk to your jinchuriki."
"I wonder what these two illusions might have to talk about to Roshi? Anyway, Son Goku is asleep and will not listen to you."
The Tsuchikage had supplied, quite unwillingly, three vital information to Naruto: he recognized his village harboured a demon. Second, he told him who was the jinchuriki, and finally, what demon was being held. A clone, that had been listening from the wall, dissipated and reported the news to Naruto. Naruto recreated a clone and told him to trace the group sent to recover Son Goku in his magmatic chamber under Mount Fujiyama so they could redirect their quest to the Village hidden in the Rocks, Iwagakure.
Meanwhile, at the southern entrance, the Tsuchikage was scoffing at the clone.
"As if the Shadows would use a gaki to do such a job!"
"A gaki that his ridiculed your entire forces for the past, what, half an hour?" replied the clone, popping behind the Kage and pressing a senbon at his coccyx. Naturally the Tsuchikage popped away, substituting a rock for himself, only to feel the clone's senbon right where it had been before he used the kawarimi technique. He might as well not have moved! He tried the technique five times before giving up.
"I was told you were of the stubborn type. Now, I have the proof," said the clone, still well within touching distance of the Kage. The Kage studied the signature and found the gaki did not even show he had used chakra to keep up with him!
"I see... Let me see if you like this: Doton: Kajugan no Jutsu! ". The Amplified Rock technique was one reserved for Kage – level members of Iwagakure. It imprisoned the poor target in a casket of hardened rock, strangling the victim in the process.
The clone silently invoked Suiton: Daibakuryu no Jutsu (Water Typhoon), not even bothering to use the hand-signs to align the chakra required, and washing the dirt and rocks for ten metres around them, destroying by the same occasion the gate. That happened to be the only defence against what was a speciality of the Sandaime Tsuchikage. That a child could call what was considered an S-rank jutsu silently and with no hand signs shocked everyone that was able to stand after the event!
"Now that you had your fun, can I deliver my message scroll?"
Wide-eyed, the Tsuchikage took the scroll from the clone and invited him to his tower.
"Sure. But I must bring to your attention that attacking me would end up in serious discomfort... for your people."
"Understood. Follow me." The Tsuchikage took the time to walk to his tower, pointing out the interesting characteristics of his village, including the thick rock walls, that all building were made of big boulders finely adjusted to the point you could not insert a blade of grass between them, and that the village's water supply was secure in a big underground cave, the lake itself being fed through porous rock so as to keep any poison out.
As they reached the tower, a young boy, not much older than the clone, walked in front of the advancing dignitaries and intercepted the Sandaime Tsuchikage.
"Beware of Greek gifts," he said, and then he walked off.
"Greek gifts?" wondered the Tsuchikage, not at all familiar with Greek Classics.
The group climbed up the stairs to the top of the Tsuchikage Tower and the Anbu spread around, ready to intervene should the little boy do something.
"Let me see what that scroll has to say..." said the third, pulling the ring that held the scroll closed, thus breaking the seals.
To Sandaime Tsuchikage, salutations.
That you destroyed the Shadow Emperor's family and seat of power almost to the last one is enough to consider your village in violation of the Shadow Village Concords; but that you tried to destroy, repeatedly, the Shadow Shogun's family and seat of power, going so far as to put a price on his new-born son's head has pushed the wrong button. You, your village and your country are declared in violation of the Hidden Village Concords and therefore in rupture of contract. To save your honour, you are ordered to commit hara-kiri this very instant, in front of our mandated. Failure to abide will bring instant retribution.
Uzumaki - Namikaze Naruto
As he read the terse missive, the Kage grew redder and redder.
"Who does he think he is?"
"An Uzumaki," replied the clone. "Will you abide?"
"For you! Kill him!"
This time, the clone did not even blink and eyed the Tsuchikage as an Anbu sliced his head off, immediately puffing out of existence.
"A Kage clone?!"
"So now he knows," added a councillor.
"Prepare for war. Whirlpool is not as destroyed as we thought. As to where..."
Before he could continue with his directives, the earth began shaking violently. The Tsuchikage ignored the shaking basement as he knew the seals would keep the village standing and intact... until he heard a resounding crack in the stone ceiling. Looking up, he saw, to his horror, the six-feet thick roof begin to fracture. He heard, above the almost deafening noise a jutsu being called: Yoton: Kakazan! (Earth and Fire: meltdown!).
"Out!" With that, he shunshined to the street below, followed by his Anbu. From there, he watched as the tower collapsed on itself. Too furious to look around and see anything, the Kage did not notice that buildings containing his military infrastructure were turning to dust. It was only when lava began bubbling from the tower basement that he realized he better move! The residents of Iwagakure had not waited on him to run for the four exits to the village. Once he had rejoined his people, the Tsuchikage watched, wide-eyed, as the walls of his village crumbled in a thick cloud of black dust that started burning, as the earth kept shaking violently. High on a rock, he could see, from the centre of the village, a lava flow spreading, filling every hole and every cavity before continuing its progress toward the periphery.
"RHAAAAAAAAHHHH!" hollered the Tsuchikage in a mad rage. "I will destroy the Shadows!"
"Thank you for the warning!" said a clone as it popped right in front of the Third. "Good luck with that. Ask others that tried how they fared!" The clone then shunshined out of view.
"Beware of Greek gifts!" repeated the village jinchuriki.
"You shut up!"
"Sandaime Tsuchikage, we have a problem..."
"What now?" said the third, looking at his way out of uniform Anbu.
"We have no clothes, no weapons, no food. Everything vanished the moment we left the village. No one even has a drop of ink to create a seal! All our scrolls are now ash."
"What the fuck?"
"Greek gifts, Sandaime, Greek gifts. Seals were given to us by the Uzumaki. We thought we had secured the gift by killing everyone of them, but it seems we were wrong. By using seals to not only build the village, but insure its security, we invited our own destruction in our walls. Even our weapons are now vulgar pieces of very rusty metal. Our clothes were reinforced with seals. Everything we used was seal-based, Uzumaki seals. Roshi warned you, Sandaime. Twice!"
"Where is he?"
"The last time I saw Roshi, he was behind these trees... He can not be very far."
"Search for him. Bring him to me. I want to know how he knew of this!"
"Oh that! How many do you know that have so much chakra?"
"Only another bijuu... Oh shit!"
"Now the other shoe drops. The gaki was a clone of a bijuu. They recognized each other, even if they did not exchange anything we could detect. Roshi wanted to warn you that you were dealing with one of his family and to thread carefully. He did his best."
"Why did he not tell me flat out?"
"I tell you he did his best. Demons have a hierarchy. The demon you scoffed at is of a higher rank than Roshi, so he could not ride over him."
"Ram, you seem to know a lot about demons..."
"I studied them once you had Roshi made into a jinchuriki. Roshi was my little brother, you fool. I had to make sure he felt loved even if he was now the keeper of a demon. It was not easy protecting him from the village idiots, let me tell you! Things our alleged seal-masters never bothered to look into. I learned a lot. There is a hierarchy of nine levels in bijuu. Ours was a meagre fourth-level. The imperial bijuu is a nine-tailed beast, which puts it five levels above, and power is exponential! To add insult to injury, the seal used to create a jinchuriki is, again, of Uzumaki origin, of Imperial origin! I would not put it beyond the Shadow Emperor to be able to recall them on command!"
"Then how come we managed to destroy Whirlpool so easily?"
"Over-confidence, or, more likely, Whirlpool was a lure. A lure we swallowed hook, line, and sinker!"
The Tsuchikage scratched his beard, thinking. Were they led by the nose into attacking a dummy target? It just did not make sense! Whirlpool had proven a tough nut to crack, and the Village Hidden in the Leafs was proving as hard. Konohagakure had been a spine in Iwagakure's side for years.
"Still, find me Roshi. If he is not found, I will declare him missing-nin."
"A bit difficult, there, Sandaime Tsuchikage, as he is not yet a member of the shinobi, not even enrolled into the academy. The gaki has yet to learn to read!" said Ram, disgusted at his leader's attitude. "He has yet to turn five, in a week. And you know the Hidden Village Concords specify that a gaki must be of seven to be enrolled and declared of age to reason."
"I could not care less for the Concords! Find him and bring him back, dead or alive."
The other shinobi looked at each other, disgusted.
"If you kill Roshi, expect Yonbi to come and hunt us down. He will be free, and pissed," said another Anbu.
"Goat, I did not ask for your opinion. Do what I say or else!"
The moment the Tsuchikage reinforced his order, a bird changed to a Naruto clone and yelled Doton: Yari no Ishi (Earth: Rock Lance!) and a long spike of rock rose from the earth, impaling him on the spot. A second after the A-rank jutsu was completed, the bird puffed away.
"The Shadow Emperor has spoken," began Ram, the Anbu captain. "We are to leave Roshi alone."
Meanwhile, Roshi had taken to walking between the tall menhir (standing rocks) that dotted the countryside around Iwagakure. They had always fascinated him. As he moved further and further from the doomed village, he felt a call. He followed it to an area he had never been before. There, a circle of dolmen stood, and the little gaki that had so much impressed him at the gates stood. He made his way to him.
"Who are you?"
"Naruto, jinchuriki of Kitsune Kurama, commander of the bijuu. And you are one of my family. I recall you into service, Yonbi no Saru. Come!"
The clone hugged the young jinchuriki and hopped on the flat top of the dolmen, bringing him directly into the secret entrance of the Hidden Palace and to Naruto.
"Boss, I got Yonbi safe and sound!" called out the clone.
"Thank you. Report!"
A few minutes later, Naruto took a sip of coconut juice before turning to Roshi.
"Roshi, jinchuriki of Son Goku, your brother has now taken the seat of the Yondaime Tsuchikage, not that it serves him much. Iwagakure is really hidden in the rocks, since it sank to the bottom of a lava lake. I will send him a message informing him of your safe passage under my protection. It will also inform him of the ambitions of the Akatsuki Organization to capture all bijuu. I suspect that criminal organization wants to undo the work of the Sage of Six Paths and recreate Shinju, the ten-tailed beast, for nefarious purposes. They think they can control him, but that is unlikely."
"Thank you. I am sure my brother will appreciate the news."
"I also need to verify the trustworthiness of the Daimyo of Iwa. If he is like the others... he will end up similarly. I will keep you and your brother informed of the progress of my enquiries."