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Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine, he is Kishimoto's

"Dattebayo!" - normal speech

'Dobe' – Thoughts

'{Shannaro!}' - Inner Sakura

"Ningen" - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Speech

'Brat' - Boss Summon/Tailed Beast Thoughts

"Kage Bunshin!" - Ninjutsu/Genjutsu/Taijutsu move.

Beta'd by BigCC

Chapter 43: Summoning to Nikkōyama

Three Days Later

Store Front, Higurashi Weaponry and Ninja Gear

Tenten sighed as she finished polishing a nodachi. She set it aside and grabbed the next one in the queue. She didn't know why her parents kept ordering these things; nodachi were almost never used by the shinobi corps. Sure, they had great reach and impressive power if you could get a full swing behind it, but the extra-long blades were more of a hindrance than a help in ninja combat where speed and manoeuvrability tended to trump reach. The only way to really make use of one was to combine it with Wind or Water Chakra to increase its cutting power or speed and use it as an area-denial weapon to keep enemies out of reach, and even then there were better options for that kind of approach.

The idle thoughts of combat once more pulled her thoughts back to her preliminary match. 'I really screwed up…' Tenten thought, letting a disgruntled sigh pass through her lips. She'd let her ego get the better of her and had looked down on Yamanaka Ino, which had allowed the crafty blonde to sucker her using one of her clan's jutsu.

Her own big head had cost her her chance at earning a promotion to Chūnin on her first attempt at the exams.

Neji, her teammate, had asked her to help him with a secret training program he had devised for the finals, which would supposedly let him master one of the key skills of the Main Branch Hyūga, the Hakkeshō Kaiten (Eight Trigrams Rotation). She was dithering about whether to say yes or no to him about it, mostly because she was really starting to get fed up with the way spoke about his cousin, that Hinata girl from Naruko's team, and their mutual teammate Rock Lee.

Sure Lee could be a pain in the neck, but he was still their teammate and still pretty damn strong.

And that Hinata girl had seemed nice enough from their brief interactions. If she actually acted like the spoiled princess Neji tended to describe her as she might have been less annoyed, but the girl had obviously put her best foot forward in the exams and she wasn't half-bad by Tenten's estimations.

Despite her annoyance with her teammate, she was leaning towards helping him. If nothing else, Neji was still her teammate and her own sense of duty and morals were pushing her to help…even if there was likely a 0% chance of him earning a promotion even if he won the whole tournament. A Chūnin had to be a leader, someone who could put their personal problems and issues to the side and focus on the mission. The way he acted towards Hinata, in spite of being in front of foreign shinobi, showed that he was still too immature.

Looking up as the bell attached to the door ran as it opened, a genuine smile crossed her face as Uzumaki Naruko skipped in, a mischievous smile on her whiskered face.

"Hey, Tenten-chan! How're you doing?" the redhead asked.

"Fine, just manning the shop for now. I've got some plans to head out and do a bit of training later, but nothing real serious." the bun-haired kunoichi offered absently. "How about you?"

"Training myself into the ground. Kinda have to considering I'm facing Gaara right off the bat." the Uzumaki Heiress replied ruefully. Tenten shivered at the reminder, remembering how casually the sand-user had literally crushed three Amegakure shinobi to death in the Forest of Death.

"Yeah…well if there's anything I can do to help with your training or whatever, just let me know." she offered, making Naruko break out in a broad grin.

"Thanks, but I've got a kick-ass pair training me." the girl replied. "Oh! That reminds me, here!"

She walked over to the desk, fished a piece of paper out of her pouch and handed it to a puzzled Tenten. After scanning the paper for a moment, her eyes widened.

"N-Naruko…i-is this…?!" she asked excitedly.

"Yup, an autograph from my cousin, Tsunade of the Sannin." Naruko smirked. "Don't spread it around that she's actually in Konoha though."

"Of course." Tenten agreed instantly. "So...wait...you're being trained by Tsunade of the Sannin?!"

"Nah, it's mostly Jiraiya of the Sannin for the most part." the Uzumaki Heiress corrected her. "Tsunade usually just patches me up after Jiraiya finishes kicking my ass. He's one heck of a spartan sensei, so he tends to…go overboard."

"Are you sure you should be using yobisute with them? I mean, Tsunade-sama's one thing, she's your cousin…but Jiraiya-sama…" the brunette said in concern.

"Heh, trust me, the old guy's not that big on ceremony and that kind of stuff." the redhead explained with a wry laugh. "Jiraiya actually hates it when people treat him like he's from some bigwig clan or something, if anything he's pretty proud of his 'low class' roots. Says it means he earned everything he's gotten. He tends to speak pretty casually when he's not meeting someone important or making an impression. He even calls me 'gaki' just like Anko-sensei."

"Wow." Tenten muttered in surprise. She'd never imagine one of the Sannin would be so…casual. "So, is he training you as a favour for Tsunade-sama?" That seemed the most likely reason, Tsunade asking her teammate to help get her cousin ready against a very dangerous opponent.

"Nah, at least that's not all of it." Naruko shook her head slightly. "Apparently he and my mother knew each other back when she was an active shinobi during the Third War. Apparently, they traded tips and tricks on Fūinjutsu and became pretty close friends. He's been out of the village almost constantly since the Day of the Kyūbi on some long-term espionage mission, but since he's back for a bit, he's taking the chance to train me up a bit as a favour for my mother. Said that she'd want me 'up to standards' when it comes to Fūinjutsu so he been drilling me on my seal crafting between blasting me with ninjutsu."

"Well...that's good of him." the aspiring weapon mistress offered with a nod. After she thought about it for a minute, it made sense that both the Toad Sage and the Red Hot Habanero would have known each other. Rather, it would have been strange if two of the handful of S-Rank shinobi Konoha had produced in the last fifty years, and two of the even smaller number of Seal Masters to emerge in the same amount of time, to have not know each other, at least in passing.

Taking a quick look around, Naruko leaned in to speak directly into her ear, not noticing the blush blooming on Tenten's cheeks. "A bit of advice…when you go to watch the Third Round, come armed as if you were heading out on at least a C-rank mission."

"Huh?" the brunette blinked in surprise as the redhead withdrew. "Are you serious?"

"Deadly." the redhead offered quietly. "Keep it hush, but there's something brewing underneath the exams and Jiji says it smells rotten. He's taking his own steps just in case, but…just better to not take any chances now, right?"

"Yeah…thanks for the warning." Tenten returned with a nod. If there was even a hint of trouble on the horizon, then it was only smart to take a few precautions, especially if it meant the difference between being ambushed or turning an attack around on their ambushers.

"Anyway, Zabuza was wondering when Haku-chan can come and pick up her sword." Naruko changed the topic abruptly.

"Ah, yes." the kunoichi readjusted herself to the sudden topic change. "Otou-san's still working on it, but she should be able to come in and test it out next week."

With chakra-powered furnaces and intricate Fūinjutsu inscribed on the tools, a blacksmith with active chakra coils could forge weapons at a much faster pace than a regular one and often with far better results, as long as the smith in question had the skill to back it up. Thus, a job such as making a scaled down version of Kubikiribōchō, which would ordinarily take several months, takes only a handful of weeks.

"OK, I'll let him know." Naruko nodded. "He's just impatient. You'd think an assassination specialist would have some patience, but no…"

"Just because he knows how to wait when he's on the clock doesn't mean he's going to be that patient in his daily life." Tenten shot back with an amused smirk. From what she'd heard, people who had to wait a lot when they were on missions or working tended to have even less patience then normal when it came to their daily lives.

"Fair enough, I guess." the Uzumaki sighed. "Seriously though, the Third Round of the exams coming up means I can't see Hinata-chan or Ino-chan. Heck, I can't even go see Sakura-chan."

"Missing your little harem?" the Higurashi teased.

"What harem?!" Naruko blustered, red-faced. "I've been friends with them all since I was a kid. Of course, I'm gonna miss them if we have to keep separate until the finals!"

"You say that, yet I think you practice Injutsu with your teammates at the very least." the brunette prodded, partly to tease, yet partly curious.

"Nothing wrong with that…Hinata-chan's my girlfriend." Naruko pouted.

"And Ino?" Tenten asked.

"She needs Injutsu lessons because she's so damned sensitive." the redhead replied with a sigh. "Seriously, I could conquer her in one session if I wanted to."

"Wow, boastful much?" the bun-haired girl said sceptically. "I seriously doubt that you could do that; Yamanaka women are the most stubborn on the planet."

"Only because they've never gone head to head with an Uzumaki woman." Naruko replied with a smirk and a casual examination of Tenten that sent a not-unpleasant shiver down the Weapon Mistress' spine. "And do remember, I had you hooked with an unintended kiss. You lack any kind of defence against being seduced, which is a shame, because you're very cute. I wouldn't want some foreign ninja wrapping you around their finger."

The sudden influx of blood to her face made Tenten very aware that she was indeed very much out of her depth when it came to this sort of thing, but her traitorous mouth spoke before she could stop it. "So you'd prefer me wrapped around your finger then?"

Blue eyes regarded her thoughtfully and Tenten found herself stiffening slightly under the younger girl's regard.

"Be careful what you wish for, Tenten-chan...you may very well get it." Naruko remarked airily before leaving. The bun-haired girl felt flushed and slightly weak-kneed after the very obvious flirting-slash-warning that Naruko had just given her.

'OK, I'm going to need some private time later on.' she thought as she forced her heart to something approaching a normal pace. 'And then I'm going to have to have a think about whether or not to heed that last warning of hers.'

Later

Uzumaki Estate Grounds

"Fūton: Kami Oroshi! (Wind Style: Divine Mountain Wind!)" Naruko snapped out. At her words, a funnel of wind lashed out and slammed into her target, a straw dummy that was shredded into pieces.

"Not bad, gaki." Jiraiya complemented her. "Only two days working with it and you have a fairly good grasp on how to use that jutsu."

"It's a pretty straightforward technique." the redhead shrugged before drawing Himiko. "Fūton: Kazekiri!"

With a slash, a crescent of wind was unleashed from her blade that struck another straw dummy and bisected it diagonally.

"And that one was even easier for you since it mainly a power technique." the Toad Sage nodded. "Very little control needed aside from direction and focus."

"Yeah...the Suiton ones are way harder." Naruko grimaced. "I have a couple of hundred clones working on Bakusui Shōha and Suiryūdan, but progress is slow. Stupid things need so many handsigns!"

"That's the way of it, gaki. Most of the stronger techniques require more handsigns than weaker ones." Jiraiya shrugged before smirking. "Now, once you've finished mopping the floor with that Gaara kid, here's something I'll be teaching you. Think of it as an incentive to train harder."

Cupping one hand in front of him, the white-haired man focused, and a ball of chakra appeared there, floating above his palm. Blue in colour, it looked like a moving whirl of chakra energy strings, wrapped up into a ball.

"This is one of my student's most well-known jutsu, the Rasengan (Spiralling Sphere)." Jiraiya said proudly as he let it disperse. "Of every person who has tried to learn it, only me, his student Kakashi and Sensei were able to use it. Think you have what it takes to learn it, gaki?"

"You can bet your hair I do!" Naruko said, eyes shining. The Fourth Hokage was one of her personal heroes, even if he was the one who sealed the Kyūbi inside of her. He'd had no choice if he wanted to protect Konoha, so she'd long since forgiven him for that. "Let's get down to business, old man!"

"I am NOT old!" the Toad Sage bellowed back in almost comical rage, his eyes wide, white and pupil-less. "I'm well matured!"

"Sure, keep telling yourself that…"

"Why you little…!"

Standing to the side, Tsunade shook her head in disbelief. Naruko had handled the revelation of Jiraiya's identity as the author of the Icha-Icha series fairly well, far better than her mother had at least, and wasn't afraid to poke her teammate about his age.

'Really...despite how much she takes after Kushina, you can clearly see bits of Minato poking through.' the blond Senju thought with a smile. Namikaze Minato had been a good man, a genius shinobi and had been surprisingly unaffected by his sensei's attempts to draw him to the side of the pervert. He'd usually responded by ribbing the Toad Sage due to his increasing age and white hair, which had them squabbling good naturedly whenever it happened. They really had been as close as a parent and child, which is why she and Shizune had tracked Jiraiya down after the Day of the Kyūbi and helped him get plastered, as well as sobering him up properly the next day.

What were friends and old teammates for, after all?

She hadn't seen Jiraiya this energetic, genuinely energetic and full of life, since the Day of the Kyūbi. Oh, he'd pulled his usual stupid pervert and lazy layabout acts, but it was obviously losing Minato had hurt the old sage. He'd lost that spring his step and his antics had been far less lively, even if he'd been able to keep moving forward in spite of the pain and loss.

"It's nice to see Jiraiya-sama so full of energy, isn't it Tsunade-sama?" Shizune asked from her side as she watched the Toad Sage bicker cheerfully with his god-daughter.

"...you and I are on the same wavelength so much that it's scary sometimes." the Last Senju informed her apprentice with a small smile.

"I have been your apprentice for many years now." the black-haired woman said smugly. "By the way, Tsunade-sama, do you mind if I have some time off this afternoon? I was hoping to visit Minato-kun's grave…"

"Sure, go on." Tsunade nodded. Shizune, Anko and Minato, the three pupils of the Sannin, had been on at least friendly terms with one another, but they hadn't seen one another in years by the time of the Yondaime's death, so Shizune hadn't had a chance to bid a proper farewell to her friend and village leader.

BOOM!

Watching as Jiraiya used an underpowered Katon: Endan to send Naruko flying, the Slug Princess shook her head. Even a Jonin would be at least slightly injured after a fireball exploding next to their feet, but Naruko just tumbled in mid-air to land feet first before she twitched her head once, a dozen Shadow Clones appearing around her that raced off to distract the Toad Sage.

"She's mastered my grand-uncle's jutsu to that level?" Tsunade blinked. Senju Tobirama had invented the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu, and had given it to the Uzumaki Clan to allow them to use it instead of the standard Bunshin, which had earned him a lot of acclaim with their cousin clan. Yet even he, the creator of the jutsu, had still needed to use the Clone Handsign to use it.

"Oh my." Shizune blinked as the clones used a combination jutsu of Fūton: Reppūshō and Katon: Endan to send a miniature firestorm at Jiraiya, who quickly countered with Doton: Doryūheki to shield himself from the blast, which washed over the wall harmlessly.

"That something you came up with, gaki?" the Toad Sage called over at his student.

"Nah, Hinata-chan and Ino-chan came up with it." the redhead shook her head. "I just asked permission to use it myself."

"Good, always ask permission. Some of the Uchiha never did, and you wouldn't believe the amount of shit it earned them." Jiraiya said seriously. "Anyway, I want you to try combining Endan with that new jutsu you got from that Sunagakure girl, as well as combining all of your other jutsu. Your mastery of the Kage Bunshin no Jutsu gives you a unique advantage, not only in close combat but at range. Make use of that by coming up with numerous possible jutsu combinations that you can preform. With your chakra reserves, you can literally be a one-kunoichi army."

"True…" Naruko nodded, looking deep in thought. "So what-?"

She was cut off as an array of fūinshiki appeared around her for a moment before she disappeared in a puff of smoke.

"What the…?!" Tsunade exclaimed in shock.

"That was the Gyaku Kuchiyose no Jutsu (Reverse Summoning Jutsu) in play, Hime." Jiraiya said with a sigh. "The only ones who could Reverse Summon Naruko are the Crow Clan due to the fact that she signed their contract. Looks like old man Yatagarasu has finally decided to have a look at Naruko in person."

"Couldn't he have waited until the morning?" the last Senju sighed in exasperation. "We were supposed to go and give sensei a report on how Naruko's doing later on today."

"Eh, he'll understand." the Toad Sage shrugged. "Nikkōyama's one of the most isolated of the Summoning Realms, not to mention one of the most well-defended. Naruko is probably safer there than she is here. Besides, it gives you a chance to go to the Yamanaka Clan to have your haemophobia seen to."

Tsunade looked away with a scoff. The Yamanaka Clan had a jutsu that could be used to lessen, reduce and remove a phobia from someone, but it could only be used on a single phobia per person, so it was best to make sure you didn't have multiple ones, and the effect wasn't always guaranteed to be 100% effective, not to mention it taking two solid weeks of constant treatments to work, but in Tsunade's case she needed to get rid of her haemophobia; as it was, any low-ranking genin could just prick a finger, wave it under her nose and she'd be immobilised.

With a fight against Orochimaru on the horizon, such a weakness was very much something that had to be excised.

"As you know perfectly well, I have an appointment with Inoichi tomorrow afternoon." she huffed. "Why haven't you made her sign the Toad Contract yet?"

"It's best to let Yatagarasu assess her without another contract clouding the waters; he's going to be touchy enough about the Monkey Contract that the gauntlet gives her." Jiraiya grimaced. "Kushina-chan told me that those damned birds are pretty touchy about getting to be the first contract on an Uzumaki, although as the contract is with an item, it's in a kind of in a nebulous area there. Kami alone knows what they'll make of that."

Same Time

Nikkōyama, the Crow Summon Realm

Naruko blinked as the smoke cleared around her. "Whoa…!"

Nikkōyama, or at least she presumed it was Nikkōyama, was an enormous mountain that seemed to pierce straight through a sea of clouds, both above and below her. She was standing on a small plateau that was covered in an intricate set of fūinshiki that had a very familiar style to it…that of an Uzumaki-style seal.

It was what was flying around her that was more of a concern for the Uzumaki Heiress, however…a supersized flock of crows, or a murder of crows if you were using the proper terminology, filling the air above her in a practical sea of black. All of them had some kind of talon weapon that glinted in the sunlight.

"If I wasn't an Uzumaki, I'd be in so much trouble right now." she breathed.

"You still might be." a familiar voice said as a largish crow landed in front of her.

"Kurikara?" Naruko blinked. It was indeed the grandchild of Yatagarasu that she'd summoned previously. "What do you mean?"

"Are you aware that you have a contract with the Monkey Clan?" Kurikara asked sternly.

"I don't; my gauntlet does." Naruko corrected her, holding the item up. "So long as I wear it, I can access the contract and summon members of the Monkey Clan, but I haven't signed the Monkey Contract."

"Ah, one of Enki's little devices." the dog-sized crow nodded. "That makes things both clearer and more complicated. The agreement between the Uzumaki Clan and the Crow Clan explicitly states that no mainline Uzumaki is allowed to sign the contract of another Summoning Clan before first contracting with us. You have quite neatly skirted the edges of that by possessing that gauntlet of yours. You violate the spirit of the agreement by possessing a contract with the Monkey Clan whilst keeping to the letter of the agreement by not directly signing a contract yourself."

"I had no idea that the Uzumaki Clan even had summons when I got the En'ō Kago-te!" Naruko protested. "Not knowing about laws may not be an excuse, but c'mon! The Uzumaki Clan's been broken and scattered across the Elemental Nations, and my mother died on the same day I was born! How the heck was I supposed to know about this-dattebayo!"

"Those are all points in your favour, yes." Kurikara admitted. "But what of the Uzu Archives? My grandfather dropped those off into Kushina's hands himself. They should have told you of the laws and treaties with us."

"I was raised without knowledge of the Uzumaki Clan in order to protect me." the redhead admitted. "I only got my hands on the Archive when I made genin just over three months ago, and it's an utter fucking mess. I have missions and training every day, which forces me to leave the reading to my clones, and I can only absorb so many memories from my clones before I go down with migraines."

"Hm. That is a point." Kurikara frowned, bating nervously in place. "Follow the path without taking any turns and you'll find your way to my grandfather's audience chamber. I'll fly ahead to inform him of what you have told me. He isn't happy, Naruko-san."

"I can tell by how uneasy you are." the Uzumaki Heiress said dryly. "On you go then. I'll see you there."

Nodding her head, Kurikara spread her wings and took flight, soaring into the sky once more. Naruko watched until she was out of sight before starting down the path that was very clearly marked by lines of Uzumaki spirals on either side. Seriously, did every Uzumaki Heir have to go through this kind of summoning?

'Probably not. From what little I've read, one of the first things that a ten-year old Uzumaki did was sign the contract with the Crow Clan, so there was no likelihood of some other contract interfering.' she concluded after a moment of thought.

The truly vast amount of information inside the Uzu Archives was far more than any one person could read in their lifetime, even using Shadow Clones. Moreover, a lot of the information in the more recent sections assumed that the reader had the basic knowledge of someone either brought up in, or familiar with, the Uzumaki Clan, meaning she had to read the earliest information first in order to be able to understand the later parts.

Worse, the entire Archive was, as she had told Kurikara, a disorganized mess. Naruko had to switch out clones twice daily so she didn't suffer a mental overload, and she'd stopped entirely since she'd gotten back from the Forest of Death. She was going to face a bloodthirsty Jinchūriki, so family history had to take second place to training for the moment.

Entering into a large open doorway after a few minutes of walking, Naruko's eyes bulged out as she saw, for the first time, the Boss Summon of the Crow Clan. Yatagarasu was a truly massive crow, at least three quarters of the size of the Hokage Monument, with three large legs tipped with talons. Over his pure black plumage, he wore golden armour, inlaid with strips of other metals and with sun reliefs. His head was covered by a golden helm, and the look in his eyes as he regarded Naruko spoke of indignant curiosity mixed with wisdom and a regal attitude.

"So, you are Kushina's daughter." Yatagarasu rumbled. "Welcome to Nikkōyama, young Uzumaki. I am Yatagarasu, Boss Summon of the Crow Clan, bearing the title of Sun King. I have reigned here for the last several centuries, with only Gamamaru of Myōbokuzan exceeding my age out of all other Summoning Clans. My granddaughter tells me that you were unaware of both your heritage and your family's association with the Crow Clan prior to a handful of weeks ago."

"Y-Yes...that's the case, Yatagarasu-sama." the Uzumaki Heiress replied politely, using keigo. She ordinarily didn't use keigo, as it was annoyingly formal and stiff, plus she preferred being relaxed and casual with people. The only ones she ever used keigo with were Enma the Monkey King and other beings on his level of power, for which Yatagarasu certainly qualified.

"Hmmm…do you carry Kushina's burden, child?" Yatagarasu asked.

"The Kyūbi is sealed within me." Naruko confirmed.

Eyeing her speculatively for a moment, the Boss Summon twitched one of his outermost pinion feathers and a flight of crows emerged from a small tunnel in the side of the room, carrying something in their talons. They alighted in front of Naruko, dropping their burden before flying off once again. What they'd dropped was a bag of some sort, made of white fabric and emblazoned with the red Uzumaki spiral.

"That is something that Uzumaki Tatsuya, your grandfather, asked me to hold on to until such a time came that a new Uzumaki signed the Crow Contract." Yatagarasu explained. "It contains the key to Uzu no Kuni, and to Uzushiogakure itself. When the Uzumaki fell, numerous fail-safe fūinjutsu activated, enshrouding the island in a bubble that froze the time inside of it, as well as creating powerful air currents and enormous whirlpools around the island country itself to prevent anyone from entering the area. Only this item, while used by a main-line Uzumaki, can allow Uzu no Kuni to be released from the bubble of frozen time that enshrouds it."

"Weren't there any other villages or anything on Uzu no Kuni aside from Uzushiogakure itself?" Naruko blinked.

"No, there was not." the Boss shook his head. "Before the Uzumaki arrived on the island over 500 years ago, Uzu no Kuni was barren and uninhabited. Once the Uzumaki built their Clan's home on the island and started using jutsu to improve the land, others started to covet it, and your ancestors were forced to defend it with everything they had. They made allies with other cans and drove the invaders away. When Senju Hashirama formed Konoha, the Uzumaki formed Uzushiogakure, inviting their allied clans into the fold. The ruler of Uzu no Kuni was always the Clan Head of the Uzumaki Clan, and the Clan Head of the Uzumaki Clan was always the Uzukage. Uniquely among the Elemental Nations, the Ninja were the legitimate rulers of the entire country."

It boggled her mind a bit, to think that an entire country existed inside of a single village, but there were stranger things in existence, so Naruko tried to just roll with it.

"Wow…" she said with wide eyes.

"To move on to the main reason why you have been summoned here…" Yatagarasu stated. "While the agreement between our clans has technically not been violated, I would prefer it if you would, by way of apology, agree to have Kurikara as your Personal Summon."

"Oji-sama?!" Kurikara blurted out. Naruko only just noticed that she was stood upon a golden perch on the wall to one side.

"Kurikara-chan, I am an old crow now." the Boss Summon sighed. "I have lived for an extremely long time, and done much in my life, but there is a time and place for all things under the sun, and mine is almost over. You are my Heir, and it is past time that you should be out and about in the world. Young Naruko, if you would accept Kurikara as your Personal Summon, it would be more than acceptable as an apology for going against your clan's tradition."

"What's a Personal Summon? I'm still new to all of this." Naruko admitted.

"It's basically your go-to summon, Naruko-san." Kurikara informed her, still shocked by her grandfather's suggestion. "Unless you specify otherwise, so long as you use the correct amount of chakra, I'll be the one to come out when you perform the Kuchiyose no Jutsu. A lot of the time, Summoners have a specific Summoning Tattoo to summon their Personal Summons quicker."

"That...doesn't sound too bad." Naruko admitted. "I'm going to be facing the Ichibi Jinchūriki in a few weeks though, you sure you want to hang around for that?"

"Shukaku's jailer?" Yatagarasu's eyes narrowed. "Sunagakure is Konohagakure's ally, is it not?"

"Technically yes, but Jiji…that is, the Sandaime Hokage, has found out that Suna, along with the minor village of Otogakure, are planning on invading ad destroying Konoha thanks to the machinations of Orochimaru of the Sannin." Naruko informed him. "In fact, I was slashed by the Kusanagi no Tsurugi, wielded by Orochimaru's own hand. I only survived thanks to the Kyūbi's chakra purging the poison from within me."

"The Snake Sannin is bold indeed to threaten the last of the Uzumaki's Main Branch!" Yatagarasu growled. "Now I am very much insisting that you make Kurikara your Personal Summon, complete with a Summoning Tattoo. The Crow Clan was helpless to aid the Uzumaki a century ago; I will not allow the village of the Senju to fall as well!"

"What do you mean? I would have thought most Uzumaki would have summoned members of the Crow Clan to fight alongside them during the invasion?" Naruko blinked.

"I was there, but only because Tatsuya summoned me for a spar before the invasion began." Yatagarasu stated furiously. "Someone formed a complex version of a Keiyaku Fūin around Uzushiogakure moments before the first invader set foot on Uzu no Kuni, blocking all attempts at summoning. Tatsuya, my old friend, begged me to take the Uzu Archive away, as he could tell, from the sheer number of invaders, that all the Uzumaki could do was bleed the enemy white; my presence would have not made a difference, and I could not take people with me to Nikkōyama."

"The Clans of Darkness...it had to be them." the Uzumaki Heiress hissed in a fury. "They disabled the outermost defences and created that Keiyaku Fūin!"

"Those dregs…tch." Yatagarasu spat. "I shall spread the word amongst my clan and mundane brethren to locate them. The Uzumaki shall not go unavenged!"

In short order, Naruko had a new tattoo on her body, a stylised crow in flight, running down her left forearm. It had a finger-wide stripe of clear skin down the middle that was where blood was supposed to be smeared in order to summon Kurikara.

"Wow...this looks pretty cool." Naruko said as she examined her new piece of body art with interest. She wasn't against tattoos...aside from the whole 'needle' thing, which she had enough of in the hospital, but as this was a fūinjutsu tattoo, all it had taken was Yatagarasu touching her bare arm with the tip of one of his talons. That was a very advanced technique for a Seal Master, one she was pretty certain that only her Jiji and Jiraiya of the Sannin could use in Konoha right now.

"Why, thank you." the giant crow said, pleased. "I am curious…do you wish to undergo my test? Should you pass, you'll be able to summon all of the members of the Crow Clan."

"Err…will it take long? I only have a handful of weeks to go until the Third Round." Naruko asked.

"At most, it should take two days." Yatagarasu said after a moment of thought. "My test is one of fūinjutsu comprehension and application, scaled to the skill level of the test taker."

"OK then…let's get to it!" Naruko grinned.

Later that Day

Hokage's Office, Hokage Tower, Konohagakure

"Sensei, this is…!" Tsunade growled, glaring at the scroll in front of her. "Is this report actually true?!"

"I thought that might be your reaction." Sarutobi sighed. "Yes, Tsunade-chan, it is indeed true. A possible participant in the Chūnin Exams this year was one Uzumaki Karin from Kusagakure. Jiraiya confirmed that her mother was there as well, until she died several years ago."

"This…her arms are covered in bite marks! What the hell?!" the Last Senju snarled. The scroll in her hand had several pictures; one was a Shinobi Registration File picture, featuring a pretty redheaded, red-eyed girl wearing a black-cloth hitai-ate bearing the mark of Kusagakure, while another featured an obviously candid shot of the girl's bare arms, which were covered by multiple bite marks, some overlapping others.

"I suspect that she, and her mother while she was alive, had the rare occurrance of Uzumaki Kekkei Genkai, Seimeiryoku Kikan (Life Force Return)." the Sandaime speculated. "As you likely know, less than one percent of any Uzumaki generation were ever born with this particular ability; the fact that Karin here managed to inherit her mother's Kekkei Genkai is nothing short of a miracle."

"It was also only used extremely sparingly due to how pushing the number of times it was used per day drew on the user's life force!" the Med-nin snapped. "Even a full-blooded and properly trained Uzumaki could only use it five times a day at most! Without the specialised training that the Uzumaki had, I'd be surprised if she could use her bloodline ability more than twice per day without repercussions!"

"Which is why, after we have dealt with Otogakure and Sunagakure's invasion, you will be dispatched to reclaim Uzumaki Karin on behalf of your sister-clan." Sarutobi said firmly, a cunning smile on his face. "Her 'watcher', a member of the Jonin Council of Kusagakure called Zōsui, sees Karin as nothing more than a tool according to Jiraiya's reports. He is also a member of the ruling faction of the Council which is responsible for putting a bounty of one of Naruko-chan's Spoils, Shikiki Tomoe. You will be given sufficient funds to bribe members of the Council, as well as sufficient blackmail to ensure their compliance should that fail."

A savage smirk crossed Tsunade's face. "The old carrot and stick routine, eh? I like it. But why did Karin not come to the exams?"

"She broke an arm, a leg and her right-hand's knuckles on a mission." Sarutobi scowled. "Reading between the lines, her teammates left her in the lurch and she only barely managed to make it out alive. Kusagakure is infamous for their insular nature, regarding those without strong blood ties to their village as lesser...not that they care all that much for their native-born ones all that much either."

"Tch. I'm going to enjoy this mission." Tsunade said with a dark tone. "For what Kusa is about to receive, I am truly thankful."

"Ah, Tsunade-chan…" the Hokage chuckled before becoming serious. "While you are there, kindly make it clear to the Jonin Council of Kusagakure that should they take in any more Uzumaki, not informing us of the situation could become…troublesome for them."

"With pleasure." the blond woman said with a nod. "Now, to get back to Naruko's training…"

The Hokage leaned back in his chair as his only kunoichi student talked (with barely hidden pride) about Naruko's recent training results. His eyes fell on the scroll that his surrogate granddaughter had sent a Shadow Clone to deliver to him the previous night, outlining a plan to increase his diminished reserves that combined a few dozen sessions of healing from Tsunade with a little fūinjutsu project that she'd been working on with a couple of collaborators in secret.

'Orochimaru…not only do you undervalue your pawns, you underestimate the Will of Fire of the next generation.' he thought with a sad sigh. His most technically skilled student had yet to understand, even after being alive for over forty-odd years, that the next generation always surpassed the previous generation.

Tsuchi Kin had already shown skill with Genjutsu, Fūinjutsu and Shurikenjutsu, and had hints of an untapped talent in Ninjutsu. With proper handling and training she could blossom into a shinobi that any village would be proud to have, and yet, by all accounts, his student had paid her no heed and would have simply sacrificed her on an operating table to feed his own desires simply because she had failed him once. Once she was fully rated as trustworthy, she would make an excellent addition to the Konohagakure Shinobi Forces.

Dosu Kinuta was a Chūnin in the making, possessing intelligence, calm, and a great skill in his own form of Nin-Taijutsu. With a bit of training to smooth out his edges outside close combat and the young man would already be a Chūnin, and the lad showed more than enough potential to rise to Jonin in time.

If Orochimaru wanted to burn the Leaf, he would have to get by Sarutobi, the Pillar that protected it. With all of Konoha allied together, that would not happen. As cunning as the White Snake was, he had bitten off more than he could chew this time around.

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Next Chapter: Training Montage

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