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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 45: Gamabunta and Yatagarasu

The Next Day

Hokage's Office, Hokage Tower, Konohagakure no Sato

Sarutobi Hiruzen had always hated paperwork. Going back to the days when he was what would later be officially termed a genin, training under Tobirama Senju when he'd been forced to aid both him and his elder brother Hashirama with their own paperwork, he'd already developed a deep and visceral disdain for it.

It certainly didn't help that neither the Shodaime nor the Nidaime were particularly good at it.

Yes, Senju Hashirama had been a remarkable shinobi truly worthy of the title as the Second Shinobi God, but that didn't change that the man wrote in chicken-scratch so bad that it was practically illegible to most. Hiruzen was often forced to completely transcribe anything the man wrote just so someone other than his brother or students could read it.

Yes, Senju Tobirama had been a genius when it came to both creating jutsu and Fūinjutsu, but the man was also an utter mess at keeping things organized. Hiruzen would often have to spend hours sorting through stacks of notes, jutsu research, half-finished fūinjutsu and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac just to find a single form.

And neither of the Senju brothers had really had a head for bureaucracy. Hashirama had been a charismatic dreamer and Tobirama had been a cool and cunning tactician, but neither had any really experience or understanding of how to properly build or operate a new village. It had resulted in the Hokage's office often being bloated with an excess of paperwork during many of the village's earliest years and had been one of the things Hiruzen had worked hardest to fix after he'd taken the title of Hokage during the ending days of the Second Great War.

There had even been attempts to weaponize the vile substance against him, early on in the chaos following the Day of the Kyūbi. Several members of Konoha's Council had tried to simply bury him in minutia and other pointless paperwork, trying to reduce him into little more than a simple rubber-stamp leader too busy to intervene in the actual running of the village. It was only due to the fact that he'd practically designed the vast majority of the current system himself, with Minato having neither the time nor the inclination to make any severe changes during his brief term, that he'd been able to weed out the plot and cut it off at the head.

Several members of the Council had resigned from their positions shortly thereafter; claiming 'grief,' 'stress' and simple 'unsuitability' as reasons for their decision to leave office. The fact that they'd all been dragged to his office by ANBU operative mere hours beforehand had absolutely nothing to do with it. Really.

He still suspected Danzō had had been involved in that particular plot, but he'd never been able to find any proof of it. Only his old rival would be cruel and nefarious enough to use paperwork as a weapon against him.

Still, the fact of the matter remained that Hiruzen Sarutobi utterly and totally despised paperwork.

Did he acknowledge the unfortunate necessity of it? Of course, even he couldn't argue that it was a necessary evil to prevent abuses of power, or at least ensure that such abuses left a trail to find those responsible.

Was he any good at it? You bet your ass he was! As stated earlier, Hiruzen had designed much of Konoha's current bureaucratic system. Being forced to suffer through the First and Second's inadequacies in that particular field had given him a very, very strong motivation to both understand how the government should work and how to streamline it as best he could. His title as The Professor wasn't just due to his skill in ninjutsu, after all.

Did any of that stop him from wanting to set the stacks of paper he was forced to deal with on a regular basis (particularly with the Chūnin Exams bringing even more work onto his plate) on fire? No, not in the slightest.

It was one of the reason's he'd so enjoyed young Naruko's visits as the girl was growing up; she had a talent for breaking the tedium of facing down his immortal adversary. Even in her younger years, Naruko had always had a way of bringing a smile to his lips, and he was half-sure that several of her more…eclectic pranks were just ways she'd come up with to help drag him out of his office and away from his paperwork for a bit.

Sadly, there would be no such rescue this day. Naruko had been reverse-summoned to Nikkōyama, the home of the Crow Summons, and wasn't expected back for at least another day or so.

Setting the small stack of papers he'd just finished into the never-full-enough 'Out' tray, Hiruzen picked up a scroll out of the 'In' box before slowly starting to unroll it. He grinned slightly as he realized what it was; a progress report on the various participants of the Third Round and their individual training programs.

Since the young Genin participating would be representing Konoha in front of many prominent individuals, it was only natural that the village would keep an eye on their training to ensure that suitable efforts were being made. (It would also be noted when it came time to recommend actual promotions. Laziness and/or arrogance was not a trait that was appreciated in a Chūnin, no matter how skilled). Foreign contestants were monitored both to keep an eye on a foreign shinobi that were temporarily residing within Konoha but also to ensure no one attempted any form of sabotage or harm against them. Such a thing happening while they were under Konoha's protection would severely damage the village's reputation and might even lead to open hostilities given how much public attention was being focused on the exams.

There was, of course, no current information on Naruko with her currently working with the Crows on Nikkōyama. Once she returned, Hiruzen knew that she would be continuing her training with Tsunade and Jiraiya in the Uzumaki Clan Compound, which would also curtail most ANBU monitoring. Even the ANBU were not allowed to intrude on Clan grounds without dire circumstances being involved. Most of the clans were willing enough to report back on the progress of their members on their own.

Her teammates, Hyūga Hinata and Yamanaka Ino, were both making excellent progress in their own training. The ANBU had noted a marked increase in young Hinata's work in improving her Suiton-based version of the Jūken (he believe she'd dubbed it Jūho) and the notes they'd made on the style's growing efficacy were promising indeed. Young Ino was also making excellent progress in diversifying her own fighting style. She was currently in the process of learning a Gen-Kenjutsu (Illusion-Sword Style) in addition to refining her talent with regular genjutsu. Combined with adding her mother's Hana Ninpō techniques to her repertoire and the girl would soon have a skill-base worthy of a Chūnin.

Haruno Sakura was rapidly proving why she had earned her title as Kunoichi of Year. Not only had she learned several new genjutsu technique in the past two weeks, but she was also diligently training in both ninjutsu and taijutsu under her father's tutelage (a shame the man had retired before he could attain his proper rank) and had even managed to turn a single lesson in Fūinjutsu from his eccentric student Jiraiya into the basis of a most promising technique.

Hyūga Neji had managed to gain the assistance of his female teammate and was currently reverse engineering one of the Hyūga's prized techniques, the Hakkeshō Kaiten (Eight Trigrams Palm Rotation), from scratch. It would be a truly admirable achievement if Hiruzen wasn't sure that most of the motivation for it came out of spite and hatred.

'Oh Hizashi...your death has truly left wounds that refuse to heal.' the old Kage mourned. It had been Hiruzen's weakness, and nothing else, that had allowed the 'Hyūga Incident' to degenerate so badly, and Hyūga Hizashi, of his own free will, had chosen to bear the weight of Hiruzen's mistakes on his shoulders, sacrificing himself to save his brother Hiashi, as well as the secrets of the Byakugan.

After the incident was 'resolved' by Hizashi replacing Hiashi, Hiruzen had bluntly warned 'Unruly A', the newly-christened Yondaime Raikage of the time, that treaty or not, any Kumogakure personnel entering Hi no Kuni for anything more than the most necessary of reasons would be returning without their heads attached to their necks.

Hiruzen took a moment to regain his calm as he forced his old anger back down before it could start to aggravate his chakra. At his age, he couldn't risk letting himself run wild like he used to.

Letting out a huff of breath and once again cursing his age, the Hokage returned to his perusal of the scroll.

Aburame Shino was progressing very well at integrating a secondary hive into his body and was already beginning to learn several new jutsu to make use of his increased numbers under his father's guidance. The fact that the boy was already given his second hive was no-so-subtle hint that Shibi and rest of the Aburame already believed the boy was ready for a promotion to Chūnin.

Uchiha Sasuke, one of the biggest talents, but also the biggest problem child, among the recent crop of genin, was being trained into the ground under Kakashi's watchful eye in the one of the more isolated Training Fields under high-secrecy. Kakashi himself had submitted a comprehensive list of what he was planning on training Sasuke in over the month and the old Kage was pleasantly surprised to see that his famous Raikiri wasn't among them. So far, Sasuke had proven himself too power hungry and unstable to be trusted with one of the village's best battlefield assassination jutsu, or even its weaker predecessor, the Chidori.

If Kakashi could pull Sasuke from his darkness and truly teach the boy what the Will of Fire meant, both for himself and his clan's future, then the boy could be trained in such dangerous techniques. Not before.

As for the two foreign genin…Sabaku no Temari was making excellent use of the Training Field made available to her so that she could practice both practice with several potent Fūton techniques, as well as train with what appeared to be a Tessenjutsu style designed to be used with the Dai Tessen she favoured. So far, she'd made no suspicious movements and had even participated in a friendly jutsu trade with his surrogate-granddaughter to obtain a jutsu that bore her late mother's name.

Sabaku no Gaara on the hand…the boy had not trained, had not slept, had barely done anything other than aimlessly wander around Konoha whenever he wasn't locked up in one of the private rooms in the suite assigned to his team.

'Rasa…just what have you done? How could you have gotten yourself involved with the likes of Orochimaru?' Hiruzen shook his head slightly as he pondered his younger contemporary.

Sabaku no Rasa, the Yondaime Kazekage, had never been a man who excelled in politics. He was an undisputed genius in manipulating the Sunagakure-variant of the Jiton Kekkai Genkai of the Kazekage Clan that had allowed three of the clan to gain the title that shared their clan's name. He was an incredibly powerful shinobi and a natural war leader, one of reasons he was selected to replace his cousin, the Sandaime Kazekage, during the chaos that surrounded his sudden disappearance during the heart of the Third Great War.

But he was simply too harsh, too uncompromising, for the kind of negotiations that were sometimes required of a Kage. He had always prioritized improving Sunagakure's combat capabilities, even disregarding the rest of Wind Country in his focus on his own village. The crowning of that young buffoon who was currently the Wind Daimyo after his father's sudden death, had only aggravated the problem further. The man was both a penny-pincher and a paranoiac who'd taken Rasa's single-minded focus on the betterment of his village and its military strength as a clear sign of disloyalty, for whatever reason. The dissonance between Kage and Daimyo had led to more missions being sent to Konoha and had pushed Suna's already struggling economy into a full-on recession.

Rasa should have tried to appease the man's worries, built inroads or at the very least gathered allies in the Daimyo's court in order to force him not to neglect and sabotage his country's own ninja village.

Instead, he'd dug in his heels and was now allying with one of the most dangerous and treacherous men in the Elemental Nations in hopes of destroying his village's largest ally in order to prove their strength and dominance.

Yes, Rasa was not a man born to rule in peaceful times. Hiruzen would truly be surprised if the young redheaded fool was still alive after the Invasion was over. Orochimaru was never good at maintaining alliances with 'equals.'

He could inspire loyalty and enforce obedience among his subordinates with the best of them, but Orochimaru could never treat someone else as an equal for long without trying to enforce some form of control over them. It was just one of the reasons he'd chosen Minato over his former student.

Rolling up the scroll, he quickly placed it in the bottom left drawer of his desk, before tapping just above and behind the handle with a chakra-infused finger. This activated the sealing matrix his teacher had added to that particular drawer to aid in quickly disposing of unneeded or possibly sensitive papers after they'd been read, rapidly incinerating the paper before sealing away the ashes for later disposal.

With his mind turning toward his fallen student, Hiruzen allowed himself a moment to ponder the various preparations that were already underway for countering the invasion. Most were already complete and simply awaiting final checks by ANBU Command. Other aspects, such as the plan Naruko had given him, were fast-approaching their final preparations as well.

Tsunade had finally been mostly relieved of her haemophobia thanks to the skill of Yamanaka Inoichi and his clan's mental techniques. That gave them another S-rank shinobi, not to mention one of the most skilled med-nin to have ever lived when it came to battlefield triage. Her own student, Shizune-chan, was also an excellent addition to their rosters. While not a formally-recognized shinobi, having been taken from the village at a very young age, there were ways around that.

A leftover, and mostly forgotten, by-law from Konoha's earliest years allowed for those who weren't formally trained in a ninja village, but possessed the necessary skills in the shinobi arts, to be 'grandfathered' into the village's shinobi roster. It simply required a battery of tests on all the various ninja arts that the prospective shinobi knew, as well as a small written exam.

Those tests had shown some rather impressive results. Jonin-level in Iryōjutsu. Chūnin-level in Shurikenjutsu. Low-Chūnin in Taijutsu. High-Chūnin/Low-Jonin in Ninjutsu. Mid-Chūnin in Fūinjutsu. Altogether, Kato Shizune had all the skills needed to be granted the rank of Tokujō, which he had officially granted her just the other day.

As an aside, Tsunade had officially retaken her former ranking as an Elite Jonin after a brief retesting. 'Sannin' was merely an honorary title, not a formal rank, after all.

Getting back to work, Hiruzen pulled the next scroll out of the pile, which he quickly noted was sealed with fūinjutsu that would require a bit of his blood to open. With the ease of long practice, the old Kage quickly bit an incisor into the tip of his thumb and used the small droplet of blood to unseal the scroll.

'Ah, an update from Jiraiya-kun, that explains the seal.' Hiruzen thought with a nod as he began to look over the scroll. 'It appears that everything is progressing well on his end. Good, good…'

The Professor smiled softly to himself; in his later years, Jiraiya was always the student he took the most pride in. The clanless goof-ball that he'd taken as his third student had started out from a far lower point than either Tsunade, the Heiress of one of Konoha's founding clans, or Orochimaru, a once-in-a-generation prodigy, but that simply made his growth and progress over the years all the more impressive.

However, it was far more than his growth and skill that made Hiruzen proud of his former student. Even after all the years and heartaches, Jiraiya's loyalty and commitment to Konoha had never wavered (unlike his teammates). More than that, Jiraiya had chosen to conceal his skill and power, rather than revel in it like most would. Something he did with much aplomb as the village's spymaster. His student had taken to the intelligence game like a fish to water, able to blend in and infiltrate even the most well-fortified of locations, slipping in and out like a ghost if needed.

He was truly one of Konoha's most valuable assets.

'They may call me 'the Professor' and laud me for the skills I've come to possess, but I sometimes think that Jiraiya-kun deserves that title far more than I.' the Hokage mused with a fond smile. 'I was a clan heir, was practically raised around jutsu theory and was taught by two of the greatest shinobi to have ever lived. He started with nothing more than the desire and drive to become stronger and pure guts, and managed to grow into a truly remarkable ninja with only a bit of help from myself.'

After quickly disposing of the scroll in the same way as the previous one, Hiruzen stood before turning to take a look out the wide windows that allowed an almost panoramic view of the village. He had watched it grow from near the very beginning, when it was little more than a small village being held together by the Shodaime's force of personality alone. He had seen friendships grow, love and new generations be born, and bonds of all kinds forged to help it grow stronger and stronger. Now it was a well-established city where many legends had been born and where many comrades stood side-by-side to protect and call it home. A place where anyone, shinobi or civilian, could come to make a living as long as they were willing to work for it.

And yet there were still so many out there who wished to twist or pervert it to their own ideals, or simply destroy it out of either greed or spite. Sarutobi Hiruzen was born at the end of the Warring Clans Period, and he had lived through the start of the Period of the Ninja Villages; he had seen many live and die in that time, and he had seen many a small village be overrun and destroyed by their enemies. He would not allow that fate to fall upon Konoha.

The dream of the Shodaime would not die while he drew breath.

Later

Yatagarasu's Chamber, Nikkōyama

Yatagarasu, The Sun King and ruler/patriarch of the Crow Clan, found himself impressed with the last living member of the Main Line of the Uzumaki Clan. Deprived of the natural learning environment and support of her clan, with only a handful of months learning the esoteric sealing arts under her belt, and yet she was already fast approaching the same level as her mother at a similar age.

He couldn't help but wonder what she would grow into.

Oh, a part of it was most definitely raw instinct, that natural inclination of the Uzumaki Clan towards understanding the inherent nature of Fūinjutsu, that had guided her so far through her tests. But that could only account for a small portion of her progress so far, the rest was simply a solid and keen understanding of the basic laws and applications of the sealing arts.

The test he'd given the last daughter of Uzushiogakure was fairly straightforward in appearance. She'd been sealed within an interlocking series of Fūinjutsu arrays, each requiring both a unique unlocking method to unseal and which had to be unlocked in a specific order to prevent another portion of the conglomeration from detonating. She simply had to free herself without detonating any of the arrays within a set time limit in order to pass.

Uzumaki Naruko had been working her way through his test for the past day and a half, and was just over nine-tenths of the way out. The girl clearly took after her grandfather when it came to pure intuition.

He leaned forward slightly on his perch as he watched her carefully adjust one small section of script, causing a gentle chain reaction that unsealed a path along the outer edge of her cell. This was the final and most crucial juncture, only one way remained for her to emerge victorious now. All others led to an explosion.

The little redhead cocked her head to one side as she examined the final array that stood between her and freedom. A puzzled expression crossed her face for a moment before she suddenly grinned…and simply stepped over the line of script.

"Well done." Yatagarasu offered with a huff of amusement. "Even your grandfather was tricked by that one when he first attempted the final test. How did you realize that it was nothing but gibberish?"

"I could just…tell." the Uzumaki Heiress shrugged, pausing for a moment to try and put her thoughts into words. "It was either so complicated that I couldn't even begin to understand it, meaning you were trying to make me fail, or it was just gibberish. I put my money on you keeping your tests fair."

"Bwahahahaha." the massive eight-winged crow broke into delighted laughter. "Very good young one. Nearly every person who has taken my test has assumed that they were facing some incredibly complex barrier seal that they had to overcome as some form of final test. I change everything else about the test every time I enact it, but I always keep that last seal as a part of it. It is a lesson, Young Naruko, that sometimes the best way to use Fūinjutsu is to not use it."

"Sounds like something Ji-chan would say." Naruko offered with a slight scrunch to her nose.

"The one you call grandfather is very wise, then." Yatagarasu informed her. "In Fūinjutsu, in politics, and in life in general, the hardest thing one can be forced to do is nothing. It is a very painful to have the power and ability to interfere in something, but have the wisdom and insight to know when it would be best to step away. It is a very hard skill to use, even among those as old as myself."

Sarutobi Hiruzen was known among the various Summon Clans. The longest-lived Summoner of the Monkey Clan, partner to the Clan's current Patriarch, the Monkey King Enma, and a very wise and skilled human. One who had likely learned that no amount of power and skill could stop others from making stupid decisions.

"Well, all of that aside, congratulations, Naruko. You have passed my test, and can now summon any and all members of the Crow Clan." the old crow said with a nod. "There are several flocks within the Clan, each with their own specialities, but they are for your Personal Summon to inform you about. As for your upcoming contract with the Toad Clan...once you return to Konohagakure, have Jiraiya Summon Gamabunta, then Summon me. He and I will hash things out between ourselves."

"Gotcha." Naruko agreed with a nod, before looking around. "Hey, where is Kurikara?"

"She is out organizing the hunt for the Clans of Darkness." the Crow Boss replied. "Kurikara was merely a hatchling when Uzushiogakure was put to the sword, but she has fond memories of your grandfather, Uzumaki Tatsuya, who was a constant visitor to our realm and was rather doting to the chicks who were born here. Those memories have made her quite eager to find those responsible for the fall of the Uzumaki, and many of the older members who fought alongside your clan are just as eager to attain justice for their fallen comrades."

"Just hope she's careful. Those ass-hats have to know that the Uzumaki were allied with the Crow Clan, right?" Naruko responded with a frown.

"Yes, but do remember that most are likely certain that the legacy of the Uzumaki still lies locked within the ruins of Uzushiogakure. I was only able to resist the effects of the Keiyaku Fūin Kekkaijutsu that severed our bond with the Uzumaki because of both my age and strength, something that would be impossible for even a normal Boss Summon to accomplish." Yatagarasu informed her simply. "Thus, I doubt they have any idea that the Crow Contract, as well as the vast majority of the Uzumaki Clan's knowledge, were taken to Konoha before Uzu fell. I don't doubt that some will suspect that something will have escaped Uzushiogakure's fall, but I very much doubt that many would believe that the crows were responsible until they have some form of proof to that matter. Besides, Kurikara is merely organizing the efforts from Nikkōyama; the hunt itself will be left to more experienced clan members. She will be in no danger."

"That's good to hear." the young redhead nodded. "Well, I suppose I'd best get back to Konoha, I still have a lot of training left to do!"

The eight-winged crow merely chuckled. "That is one of the better attributes of your clan, young one. Your family has always been filled with those who constantly seek to grow better than they were. I shall see you soon, Naruko-chan"

Later

Isolated Training Ground, Konohagakure

"Alright, gaki. This place should cover all the bases we need. It's one of the more isolated training grounds in the village, and it's plenty big enough to fit a couple of Boss Summons as long as they don't decide to start a throwdown." Jiraiya offered gruffly. The Toad Sage had been ambushed by Naruko shortly after she'd been Reverse-Summoned back to Konoha from Nikkōyama and had quickly been filled in on Yatagarasu's requirement to speak with the Boss Toad before anything could be finalized. "You remember how to summon, right?"

"Duh. Draw blood, make five handsigns, infuse enough chakra for the Summon you're aiming for and then slam your hand to the ground." Naruto quickly rattled off. She'd taken the time to change into a fresh set of clothes, but was otherwise unchanged from her time on Nikkōyama.

"Right, just remember you're aiming for the Boss Summons, the most powerful summon a contractor can freely call from the Summoning Contract. You're going to have to pump a lot of chakra into the jutsu to summon them." the older man pressed on. "Even for someone like you kid, this is gonna take a lot outta you. Just a friendly warning."

The Uzumaki Heiress gave a serious nod. "Gotcha."

"Then stand back and give me some room, I'll show you how it's done." the white-haired man directed dramatically, causing his god-daughter to leap back a couple dozen meters, just to be safe.

Biting into his thumb and drawing a small amount of blood, the Toad Sage weaved through five handsigns with the ease of long practice. Boar, Dog, Bird, Monkey and Ram. Then with a grunt he channelled a large surge of chakra into his palm and slammed his hand into the ground.

"Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Gama Oyabun: Gamabunta! (Summoning Jutsu: Toad Family Head: Gamabunta!)" he declared, before a massive cloud of chakra smoke erupted around him, billowing up and out until it stood taller and wider than the Hokage Tower.

When the smoke cleared, a massive rusty-red toad, wearing a blue happi vest, with bandages wrapped around his waist like a belt. A kiseru pipe was in his mouth, while a really large tantō was thrust into his belt of bandages.

"Jiraiya, you'd best have a good reason for summoning me this time!" the Boss Summon of the Toad Clan rumbled as he looked up at the Sage standing atop his head.

"Relax, 'Bunta, I do!" Jiraiya retorted and pointed at Naruko. "Gaki, you're up!"

Naruto nodded, biting her own thumb and weaving through the need handsigns (albeit far slower than Jiraiya had), before slamming her own chakra-infused palm into the ground. "Karasu Kuchiyose no Jutsu: Taiyō-ō: Yatagarasu! (Crow Summoning Jutsu: Sun King: Yatagarasu!)"

Another massive cloud of smoke erupted in the training ground, and it dispersed to show the massive form of Yatagarasu, Boss Summon of the Crow Clan.

"Ah, to stand in the human world once again after so long..." Yatagarasu hummed, stretching his wings slightly. "Hello, Gamabunta. It's been a while, hasn't it?"

"Yatagarasu?!" the Boss Toad blinked in disbelief. "How the fuck are you here?!"

The giant crow pointed a pinfeather at the top of his helmet, where Uzumaki Naruko stood, grinning like a loon.

"Wow! That was one hell of a rush!" she cheered out, huffing slightly from using so much chakra at once.

"Meet the newest summoner of the Crow Clan, Uzumaki Naruko, child of Kushina." Yatagarasu replied blandly. "Your current Summoner wishes to have her sign the Toad Contract, so I decided it would be best if you and I hashed things out between ourselves, while Jiraiya gives Naruko a good training session on how to utilize Summons in combat."

"Hmph." Gamabunta huffed. He knew exactly why the girl would need to sign the Toad Contract; the key to the Seal of the Kyūbi was directly linked to a Scroll Toad, Gerotora. In order to fully master the power of the Kyūbi, Naruko would need that Scroll Toad. But Gerotora would only acknowledge someone who had signed the Toad Contract as being worthy of possessing the secret implanted into him by Namikaze Minato, even if it was his daughter.

"Aright, let's handle this on Myōbokuzan." the Toad Boss said after a moment. "I think Pa and Ma will need to weigh in on this."

"Oh, Fukasaku and Shima. It has been a while since I've had a good chat with them." Yatagarasu said before he lowered his head and allowed Naruko to jump off safely. "By all means. It might be nice to have a chat with old Gamamaru while I'm there."

"The old geezer'd probably pull out the good sake if you showed your beak." Gamabunta grunted with a smirk. "Jiraiya, you teach the tadpole how ta use the Kuchiyose no Jutsu for attackin', as well as defence. We'll be back in a while."

As both Boss Summons vanished in an explosion of chakra smoke, Naruko blinked. "Tadpole?" she parroted.

Gamabunta's Residence, Myōbokuzan

"My, my. It must have been at least a decade since I last visited and yet this place hasn't changed a bit." Yatagarasu mused as he looked around. Mount Myōboku was a large mountain, wet and humid due to the numerous fountains and the like set up around the place. Green shell-like houses were prominent, and one could even see the shrine where the Ogama Sennin resided.

"Th' place don't change much." Gamabunta replied gruffly as he sat down next to an ashtray and flicked his pipe into it. "Gamakichi!"

A small orange toad hopped out of a nearby house. "Yeah, Pop?"

"Go on over to Pa and Ma, let 'em know that Yatagarasu of the Crow Clan's here." the Boss told his son. "I need 'em here to talk about a possible new Summoner that Jiraiya has in mind."

"Wow, OK. Be back in a minute." Gamakichi replied before vanishing in a Shunshin.

"You have a son now? Congratulations!" Yatagarasu offered sincerely.

"Yeah, he's a good kid." Gamabunta said with a smile. "Needs some seasoning before he's ready to take up duties as my heir, but hopefully this new summoner will help out there."

"My granddaughter is already Naruko's Personal Summon for the Crow Clan." the Sun King informed him. "Having one for the Toad Clan would likely be possible, so long as you can reduce the size of the tattoo to fit her palm, or her underarm."

"You acted quickly." the Toad Boss said with a raised eyebrow.

"She is the last of the mainline Uzumaki, Gamabunta." Yatagarasu replied seriously. "The Crow Clan were unable to help our sworn allies during their most dire hour, and it is only through Kushina's bloodline that the main line of the clan still exists. Having Kurikara act as her Personal Summon ensures that the Crow Clan will be warned as soon as she is in over her head."

"The tadpole will need our contract to deal with her burden." Gamabunta informed him.

"The Kyūbi, yes." the Boss of the Crow Clan acknowledged. "I suppose that whoever sealed the Kyūbi used one of your Scroll Toads to safeguard the key to Naruko's seal?"

"The Hakke Fūin." Fukasaku said as he appeared and landed on Gamabunta's shoulder, swiftly followed by Shima. "It was one designed specifically to deal with the kind of malevolent chakra the Kyūbi can produce."

"Pa. Ma." Gamabunta greeted the Nidaisengama respectfully.

"Fukasaku, Shima. It's been a while." Yatagarasu said with a slight bow of his head.

"Yatagarasu. Yer getting' some silver in yer feathers." Shima offered with a friendly grin.

"Ha! I won't argue with you there. I should have retired years ago, but I still have some fight in my feathers!" the Crow Boss laughed. "I am younger than Gamamaru, remember!"

"Which means yer slightly younger than dirt." Fukasaku smirked slightly before becoming serious again. "So, what's this about a new Summoner?"

"Jiraiya's god-daughter, Uzumaki Naruko." Gamabunta rumbled. "She needs to sign the Toad Contract to be able to, eventually, get her hands on the key that Gerotora has. She's already signed a contract with the Crow Clan."

"She also bears an artefact that grants her the status of a Summoner of the Monkey Clan as well." Yatagarasu added. "Though since the Crow, Toad and Monkey Clans are allies anyway, it isn't much of an issue if she does sign the Toad Contract."

"True." Gamabunta nodded. "But there is the agreement we Summons made...the one that prevents too many Summon Clans from giving any one Summoner too many Summons to call on."

"The Summon Balance Agreement." Shima recalled with a frown. "But that only applies to full contractors. The Monkey Contract is with the artefact ya mentioned, right? So it wouldn't be counted."

"True. I did wish to confirm it with you both first, as you are more aware of the Agreement than I am." Yatagarasu replied. "I never did understand why we had to place ourselves under such an unnecessary restriction."

"It's ta prevent any one of th' human nations from getting too many Summons gathered under a single contractor's banner." Gamabunta stated blandly. "After the Hidden Villages were formed, it became too much of a risk that one of them might try and gather up as many Summoning Contracts as possible. If too many of the Clans became affiliated with a single village, particularly the Great Contracts, then it would put a target on all of us. This lets us keep a bit of neutrality in the face of the humans' constant wars. We've got our own disputes to worry about."

"So it was agreed that no single contractor could ever sign more than two of the Great Contracts." finished Fukasaku with a nod.

"I see." the Crow Boss acknowledged, neither agreeing or disagreeing with the reasoning at the moment. "Well, now that we have sorted that out, do you have any good sake available? I believe a toast to our new summoner is an idea."

"Heh, sure." the Toad Boss reached back and grabbed a large tokkuri (flask), along with two sakazuki (sake dish) and two (much) smaller o-choko (sake cups) for the two smaller toads. Pouring out servings into each dish, with Fukasaku and Shima scooping some out for their own cups, Gamabunta raised his sakazuki.

"To continued cooperation between the Toad and Crow Clans!" he said. "Kanpai!"

"Kanpai!" the others said and gulped some sake down.

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Next Chapter: Final Preparations: Eve of the Invasion

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