AN: Hey guys! I hope you liked the last chapter. While there was no badass fight scene, it did take me a while to come up with a scientific and logical way for Naruto to understand the curse mark. I'm pretty proud of the way I managed to connect the various pieces.

On another note, I hope you all don't expect my Itachi pursuit arc to be the same as canon. In fact, I shouldn't even be naming it as such. But there are some things that will coincide, so I figured why go through the trouble for coming up with a whole new name? Enjoy!

As Sasuke made his way to Orochimaru's room, he mentally reflected upon what he was about to do and questioned himself whether or not this was the correct course of action.

He shook his head. No use asking himself the same question again and again. Orochimaru had nothing left to give him anymore, nothing left to teach. Ever since Sasuke had joined forces with him, Orochimaru had closely monitored his progress. He quickly became the sannin's personal favorite, which meant he had access to the custom techniques created by the Sannin himself. Sasuke was all for learning any technique he could get his hands. The more options he had in his hands during his fight with Itachi, the better. Orochimaru even used chemical and drugs to enhance Sasuke's body, increasing his physical abilities and his resistance to toxic materials. Sasuke had improved a lot since coming here, and he didn't regret leaving Konoha behind at all. But there was one thing he failed to take into account.

His lips twitched at the thought of his teammate. Even when they were kids, Naruto was miles ahead of him. Now, he was strong enough to send Sasuke's master running back to his den on the verge of death. This meant that Naruto had surpassed the snake Sannin, and most probably Jiraiya as well. The man was Naruto's master and if the blonde's bingo book entry was right, Jiraiya was also one heck of a teacher.

Sasuke didn't know whether Naruto would become a thorn in his side or not. Sasuke had trouble understanding the blonde; Naruto had beat him within an inch of his life and brought him back to the leaf. Did that mean that he meant something to the blonde, or was Naruto just fulfilling his duty to the village? What would he do should he meet the blonde again?

He briefly shuddered, remembering how painful the process of sealing Naruto's Hiraishin mark had been. Orochimaru had tried many procedures, heck he even tried scraping off the skin where the seal was, leaving Sasuke in pure agony for hours. Ultimately, Orochimaru had to resort to tweaking Sasuke's curse seal. The Sannin had linked Naruto's Hiraishin marking to the cursed seal of heaven. Given how the Hiraishin marking held little more than a drop of Naruto's chakra, Orochimaru theorized that his own seal, which held his chakra and had completely merged with Sasuke's chakra, should manage to "dim" the sensory signature of the Hiraishin seal. In short, Naruto would have extreme difficulty in pinpointing Sasuke through the space-time jutsu.

Sasuke took comfort in the fact that Naruto didn't have an instant kill over him anymore.

Sasuke acknowledged this to no one, but a part of himself knew that should they fight again, Naruto would win. The blonde had a lot of raw power on his side, something which Sasuke was lacking compared to him. That, and Naruto had probably trained for more time than Sasuke. Sasuke himself had a few aces up his sleeve, but should the battle become a battle of attrition, he would lose. Which is why he believed that he needed to cover that weakness.

I can't afford to be weak when facing against Itachi.

He soon found himself facing the room in which his master was resting. Given how the man was coughing, it meant that he needed to change bodies soon. Orochimaru had wanted Sasuke to grow a little more so when the time came to possess him, the body would be in its prime.

Sasuke was having none of that. His pride argued that this wasn't a "true" fight; he was fighting Orochimaru at his weakest. But if the snake had taught him anything, it was to strike when the enemy was weak.

Orochimaru knew his condition was deteriorating, even more so after his fight with Naruto. He knew he had greatly underestimated the blonde in their fight. To think he was now capable of putting him on the ropes like that. His face curled into an ugly sneer.

Jiraiya taught him well.

Even three years ago, Orochimaru had seen the limitless potential that resided deep within Uzumaki Naruto. He had forgotten that in his fight, and nearly perished. But no matter, he thought, because the time to change bodies was upon him once more.

Sasuke had a great darkness within him, and it delighted the Sannin. He knew that tempting Sasuke with the power to defeat his brother would work in his favor, and it had. He exploited Sasuke's hate and made him attain heights that the Uchiha would not have reached otherwise in Konoha's care. In fact, they wouldn't have allowed him to progress at all, fearing that he would go rogue once more. It was fortunate that he was able to take Sasuke back once more.

He had never comprehended before this just how valuable his right-hand man had been. Tending to his every need, Orochimaru was now forced to survive with the help of mediocre assistants. Every instruction had to be given out in such a way that they had to understand completely, and it was vexing. With Kabuto, he had hardly needed to say anything. Kabuto would have known what to do during these times, but now he was forced to seek second-rate help.

So lost in his thoughts he was, that he was just barely able to react to the spear of lightning that struck him through the door of the room. Crossing his arms and gritting his teeth, he shifted his arms to save his head.

Lightning nature…but in this form? I've never seen anything like this before, so who is it?!

The answer soon came when the door was slashed open in expert strikes, revealing the very subject of his thoughts. He shouldn't have been surprised, but rage filled his entire being.

How dare he?!

"Orochimaru….you are weaker than me. Therefore, there's no longer any need for me to give you my body."

Orochimaru glared at the Uchiha's betrayal and gloat. Sasuke's arrogance had never left him, and his ego had only gotten bigger.

"You sure have some nerve….for a mere Uchiha fledgling!" If he wasn't sick right now, he would have made the Uchiha pay for this insolence. To think he was stronger than Orochimaru was the height of his arrogance.

Although, I wasn't aware he could manipulate lightning with such precision. Just how much of his strength has he hidden from me?

"You think you had me bound with your mark, didn't you? You tempted me with power three years ago, when you sent your sound four after me. In the end, you had only wanted a sharingan. But you couldn't defeat Itachi, which is why you chose me. Isn't that right, genius Sannin?"

Orochimaru just glared as Sasuke picked his plan apart piece by piece. His rage flared even more when he was mocked with his own title. The body he was in right now wouldn't stand much more damage, so he would have to make his move soon.

"But in the end, you just turned out to be an ordinary prodigy. Even the best prodigy is next to nothing in front of an Uchiha."

For all his patience, Orochimaru wanted nothing more than to tear the little upstart piece by piece. But given his precarious position, he could do nothing but bide his time for an opening. He began molding the chakra for the soul transference technique. Time was of essence.

"You just kept hopping around the world, conducting experiments on people, all in the name of science. You killed people, without batting an eye. You have no regard for life at all. You sicken me." Throughout his monologue, Sasuke spoke in a flat tone, conveying nothing of his feelings.

Just as Sasuke made to stab him, Orochimaru moved. A small blur escaped from the body's mouth, but Sasuke saw it clear as day. Turning, he saw a gigantic serpentine body composed entirely of snakes, with a hideous, horribly disfigured face that was a mix of human and snake. The only identifying features were the hair and the eyes.

Sasuke smirked. "Conducting experiment after experiment on yourself, and this is what you arrived at? Pathetic."

"Now Sasuke-kun, let me take your body!"

Ten minutes later, Sasuke walked out of the room fixing his robe. His work here was done. Now, it was time to make good on a promise made long ago. He needed a team, after all.


Naruto lay on the ground in his home's backyard, eyes closed and limbs spread in a star position. If anyone were to try and look over their wall, they would say he was sunbathing. The truth was something else entirely.

He was really bored.

There were no missions currently, no weapon orders to prepare, no seal ideas to work on. Even Temari was not present in the village since she had gone to visit Gaara.

This day sucks.

The only good thing about today was that Anko was expected to wake up. But what was he supposed to do until then?

He sighed as he got up, propping himself on his hands. Boredom was more lethal to him than S-rank missing-nin who wanted the bijuu in his stomach.

Oi Kurama.

What is it?

I'm bored.

He could almost feel the disbelief coursing through the fox's being. What the hell do you expect me to do about it?

I don't know. You got any stories to tell?

Even if I did, I wouldn't waste my time in storytelling.

This boredom would kill me Kurama, and you know what happens when I die.

Tch. If you have so much time to complain, how about you figure out a key to my seal? It's time to finish my training.

That was…huh. Why didn't he think of that?

In all of his father's notes, Naruto hadn't come across the key to the Eight Trigrams Seal on his stomach. From an objective or rather, a shinobi's point of view, the key would be almost invaluable. Anyone who was armed with the knowledge of Naruto's burden would have a sure chance of opening his seal and letting Kurama out. Therefore, his father had kept only one record of the seal's key, and that too was under the protection of the toads.

Naruto glanced at his hand and frowned. Kurama had spoken to him about the final step of mastering his chakra. Bijuu mode, the ultimate form a Jinchuriki can use. All the power of their bijuu would be at the host's disposal to use as they see fit. Given how Kurama was the most powerful of all, Naruto's bijuu mode was bound to make him the most powerful Jinchuriki yet. In retrospect, he would be the first human to master the power of the Kyuubi. However, in order for that to happen, the host must be completely synchronized with their bijuu. Otherwise, there was a risk to both of them. Naruto didn't even want to imagine how gruesome his death would be if that possibility came to pass.

Of course, Naruto couldn't demand the key from the toads. Jiraiya was still acting paranoid about that.

He debated for a few more moments whether or not to take the easy route and just pester Jiraiya until he gave in, but he decided otherwise. With Jiraiya, it might take too long to persuade him to hand over the key to Naruto. The sooner he can sync up with Kurama, the better.

Besides, this might prove to be a challenge.

He rushed inside his study and opened up his notebooks, losing himself in the intricate Uzumaki seals. He lost the track of time, and so wasn't aware that five hours had already gone by with him working on the key for the Hakke fuin.

He sat back on the chair, running a hand through his hair. Hakke fuin was a complicated seal, its key was bound to be equally complicated. "Man, the Uzumaki really were something."

The sheer number of variables that had to be balanced in order to successfully open the lock of the seal on his stomach was unbelievable. And that was excluding the contingencies that his father had built both into the seal and the key. Once this key was completed, there was no way he could fit it on a normal sealing scroll.

It was quite fortunate for him that Minato had left at least the notes for Hakke fuin.

"Just how long were you planning on sitting in there?"

Naruto raised his head from his notes to see Anko, in her usual outfit standing in the door of his study. He gave her a cheerful smile as he stood up. "Sensei!"

He faltered when all he received was a raised eyebrow. What was the matter? Wasn't her awakening a happy occasion?

Seemingly reading his thoughts, Anko answered him. "I woke up an hour ago, and imagine my surprise when you didn't come to see me at the hospital. I waited there for an entire hour and you still didn't come. How dare you?!"

He hurriedly raised his hands in defense. "H-Hold up! I would have totally come but I wasn't aware!"

That seemed like the wrong thing to say. "Brat! Aren't you supposed to be a sensor?"

"You know I can only sense when I switch to sensory mode!"

No sooner had he gotten out his excuse, Anko had grabbed him by his collar and pulled him to her. "This isn't the time for you to make excuses!"

Damn, why was he saying all the wrong things today? Just as it seemed Anko would drag him out to fight, she released his collar and pulled him into a one-armed hug. But given how he towered over her now, it was significantly less uncomfortable.

"It's time to celebrate my freedom Naruto!"

Naruto simply stared at her, dumbfounded, as she did a full one-eighty. Even after training with her for years, he was unable to understand what went on inside her mind. Nonetheless, he took it in stride and smiled, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Damn right it is!"

"We'll start with-"

"Not dango."

"How dare you?! After all that I taught you-"

"I will never abandon ramen in favor of a mere snack!"

"As if wet noodles could be compared to dango!"

"You take that back sensei!"

"Never!"

By the end of the brief verbal spar, Naruto and Anko were glaring at each other so heatedly that anyone who might have seen them would have thought that the next moment would involve a fight breaking out. Anko was the first to break, a snicker escaping from behind her lips. After the first one, she just couldn't hold them back and broke out in laughter.

"Hahahaha…..oh man. I never felt so….free in my life before! No longer do I have to keep looking out for that bastard to take control of me!"

Naruto just snorted, but he smiled reassuringly. "I would never let Orochimaru of all people get to you!"

He huffed out in surprise when Anko grabbed him in a tight hug, but he hugged her back. "Thank you Naruto. You have no idea how much this means to me."

Naruto just rubbed her back. "It's alright. I'm just glad I was able to help."

He released her from the hug and jovially exclaimed. "Now, let's celebrate your freedom with ra-"

"Dango."

"Dammit!"

After witnessing Anko eat ridiculous amounts of dango at his expense yet again, Naruto retreated to his study for the night. He plopped down in his chair, gazing at the various scrolls, notebooks, and ink spots on his table. He groaned in exhaustion as his head hit the back of his chair.

Naruto's eyes flickered to his notes. The creation, or rather, recreation of the key was progressing quite smoothly. He had managed to decode nearly forty percent of the key and at the rate with which he was going, he would be able to decode the rest of the key in the next week. Even now, he marveled at the masterpiece his father had created. Like most would assume, creating a key to a seal would be like a locksmith creating a key for a lock, but as the masses had demonstrated, people had less than no knowledge of how the sealing arts worked.

The Hakke fuin was a lock, but looking at it from a mathematical perspective, the seal was like a solution. Creating a key to that would be trying to find out the original question, word for word. Going backwards, integrating a derivative again and again until he arrived at the question. It was a tedious process, but the feeling of satisfaction that came when he solved a particularly difficult equation was worth it.

No use trying to solve this right now. It's time for sleep anyways.

As he trudged his way to his room, he thought about how he would spend his day tomorrow. Working on the key was fine, but he had to get some training in as well. But who to ask? Kakashi would be a good choice, as would be Yamato. But just how long would their training last? Naruto needed something stimulating, something that would get his blood pumping. But what? Kakashi alone couldn't give him much of a fight, not Yamato, not team 10, not Lee, not Neji, not Tenten, not-

His thoughts skidded to a brake. No one alone could give him much of a fight, so why not all of them together?

A battle royale sounds like a nice idea for tomorrow's training.

The next day, Naruto sent shadow clones to members of all the teams he was friends with. He even sent one to Anko, for she knew exactly how to make everyone run away from her. The shadow clones were to inform everyone of a joint training session between the members of all teams. Of course, Naruto didn't expect anyone except maybe Shikamaru to figure out what really was going on given how he worded the message.

Joint training session involving members from all the currently operating teams. HA! Their faces will be worth seeing once they figure out what the training session will be!

Naruto looked up from his notes to see the clock on the wall of the study. The training session was supposed to take place at nine, and currently it was eight-thirty. He could spend twenty-five more minutes on his current project before heading to the field.

This training session wouldn't just benefit him, and he wondered why jonin sensei didn't make their genin do anything like this. The best way to keep yourself on your toes was to fight an opponent who outclasses you, or fight superior numbers by yourself. Naruto had heard of the brawls when the jonin of the village occasionally went wild in their training sessions with each other. And this would benefit everyone.

Team 8 wasn't one for heavy combat, thanks to Kurenai. Kiba was the heavy hitter of the team, Shino was the strategist and Hinata's byakugan was mostly used for reconnaissance. While she may have gotten over her insecurity issues in the last three years, her pacificism was still quite prevalent. Kurenai's specialty was genjutsu, but besides that she didn't have anything else. Kiba was always eager to prove he was the top dog, Hinata was hesitant to use Jyuken techniques against fellow comrades, and Shino relied too much on his bugs.

….now that he thought about it, all the clan heirs relied way too much on clan techniques.

Which is what makes them predictable, I guess. No one would expect a Hyuga to use anything other than their clan techniques.

Team 9 was a very competent team. A weapons specialist and three powerful taijutsu specialists. Sadly, no one on the team knew any elemental ninjutsu; Tenten could have tried to learn elemental manipulation but chose to focus on expanding her skill with weapons, Neji was a Hyuga (enough said), Lee was limited due to his circumstances and very susceptible to genjutsu now that he thought about it. Gai was a sorely taijutsu focused fighter and like any other, would face problems with competent long-distance fighters like Deidara.

Team 10 was made up of clan heirs, enough said.

The point was, his friends don't really seem to be used to fighting outside their comfort zones. And as a good friend and comrade, it was his duty to improve their perspective on life.

Twenty-five minutes passed quickly and he put his pen down, cracking his knuckles. He could already feel himself tremble in excitement. "This will be fun."

He disappeared from the room so fast that one would have only heard a whisper of wind displacement.

Arriving at training ground 21, a nice and large open field with little space to hide, his grin widened even further when he saw that everyone was there. All the chunin from team 7, team 8, team 9 and Neji, and team 10. Anko was there too, and she seemed to be doing a great job of intimidating the weak-minded.

"So glad to see that everyone believes in arriving early."

All the heads turned to him. Surprisingly, it was Kiba who greeted him first. "Naruto, why have you called us here?"

"My shadow clones have already told you. It's a joint training session, more like a spar if you will, between the members of all currently active teams."

Neji stepped forward. "So this will be each team fighting against each team?"

Naruto tsked, wagging his finger. "Wrong. This will be each shinobi, fighting against each shinobi. This will be a battle royale, where you will only fight for yourself."

Shikamaru just rubbed his ear with his pinky and sighed his catchphrase. "What a drag…and just who gave you this idea you troublesome bastard?"

Naruto shrugged. "I've heard about some jonin brawls. Now, before we get started, rules! You cannot pair up with anyone obviously, but a momentary assist is allowed. This training session has a very specific purpose."

He paused to confirm that everyone was listening. "Fighting against overwhelming odds is the best way for you to adapt. One on one is good, but when you face twelve people on your own, all of them being your enemies, you do anything you can to survive. Your body is forced to adapt faster, your mind is forced to work beyond its limits to ensure survival. Fighting a superior opponent is always a sure way to get stronger. You may not win, but you will learn.

"Rule number two: no playing a hero. That means if your own teammate is in front of you, you better sock him in the mouth rather than letting him go."

He gave a pointed look to Hinata, who wore a worried frown. "Rule number three: Anything aside from killing or crippling blows goes. The aim is to push your limits, and work on your weaknesses. Any questions?"

Sakura raised a hand. "How many opponents are we to fight at a time?"

Naruto smirked. "You could all twelve at once if you want, but I'm sure it won't come to that. Anything else?"

It was Tenten who asked next. "But how can anyone defeat you? Your Hiraishin is too fast!"

"Then I won't use Hiraishin. As if I need it to be faster than you guys. Another thing, the first one to drop out of the fight will pay for everyone's meal at yakiniku. Any more questions? No? Then begin!"

Naruto began by blowing up in an intense explosion, one that caused everybody to jump back. Lee seemed ecstatic. "Yosh! A type of training where we increase our youthfulness by a meeting of the fists! Naruto-kun is truly a-"

Something snaked around his leg before he could react and Lee found himself thrown violently into Chouji, both of them flying a good dozen feet before violently crashing on the ground. Haruto grinned as he brought his chains back, then extended them again in a wide arc, sending his fellow chunin flying back. But while everyone retreated from him, Neji charged forward fearlessly.

"Your chains are chakra constructs and therefore shall fall to my Jyuken." Neji observed, systematically attacking the links in the chains as they came towards him. The chains fell apart piece by piece as they failed to withstand the precise onslaught, until Neji was right in Haruto's guard. They began to fight and Neji began gaining ground and just as he was about put Haruto down, he was forced to abandon his assault to block the attack from behind.

"Konoha senpu!"

Neji's hastily erected guard went down easily and he found himself pushed into Haruto. Lee knew better than to stand and talk after the initial attack, so he pressed his advantage. But even he could not complete his attack as a hail of kunai descended from the sky, forcing all three of them to jump apart and evade. Tenten grinned as she closed distance between them, a sword in one hand and kunai in another. "You better block these or you will get some nasty cuts!"

"Nikudan Sensha!"

The huge rotating ball that was Chouji made his way towards them frighteningly fast, threatening to crush all of them beneath him. The Akimichi was fired up at the thought of eating a full meal at his favorite restaurant. All of them jumped out of the way, and that's when Tenten found herself immobilized.

"This is….!"

Shikamaru wasted no time in making her throw her kunai at all four of them. Chouji's and Neji's rotation blocked everything, while Haruto covered himself in chains and Lee deflected the kunai with pure speed. Shikamaru cut his losses and jumped away, leaving them facing each other. They remained unmoving for several seconds, waiting for one person to move. In their minds, a counterattack was a better option than an attack.

All of them moved in the same instant. Chouji enlarged his hand, Neji and Lee slipped into their stances and Tenten took out her explosive tags.

"SHANNARO!"

No one accounted for Sakura jumping right into their middle and punching the ground, and they definitely didn't count on her destroying the field around her in a twenty-meter radius. Neji and Lee got out just in time, as did Haruto, but Tenten and Chouji were not so lucky. An errant boulder to the face knocked Chouji to the ground, and the impact from Sakura's punch sent Tenten flying into a tree, knocking her unconscious.

All three chunin collectively sweat. Best to avoid getting hit from her.

Haruto made the first move again, physically grabbing Lee from his flak jacket and throwing him right at Sakura. Lee, like Sakura was only momentarily surprised but quickly adjusted his body to deliver the maximum power in his strike. Both their fists connected, creating a shockwave that traveled a small distance before dissipating.

On the other side of the field, Naruto was having the time of his life. He was jumping and weaving between attacks, occasionally throwing shuriken and a kunai. He saw Shikamaru cursing and jumping away, as Anko wouldn't allow him to sit still for a moment to activate his jutsu.

"Troublesome woman…if I can just activate my jutsu…." Shikamaru complained as he put some distance between him and the snakes.

"HA! See, this is the problem with you clan heirs! You literally don't have anything in your arsenal besides your clan jutsu!" Anko was downright gleeful that she got to torture green chunin such as these. "Any elemental jutsu would give you some space. Fire, wind, water, lightning or even earth! How you made chunin without learning a single elemental jutsu is beyond me!"

He knew that. The problem was he knew that and he couldn't do anything about it yet. Nature transformation training was hard and consumed too much time, and with Asuma's death, very few people were around for him to ask to train him. There were other chunin, experienced chunin maybe, with whom he could-

"Pay attention slacker!"

Damn. If only Shino could step up his attacks, he might get some breathing room.

On the other side of the field, Naruto was impressed by Hinata's show of ruthlessness. The girl was initially hesitant, but she squared up her shoulders and took Ino out with just one strike. After Sakura and Chouji headed to the other end of the field, the fight divided between him, Shino, Shikamaru, Kiba, Hinata and Anko.

Kiba and Akamaru had first tried to take him out with clan jutsu, but Naruto had quickly knocked the dog out of the fight with a well-placed strike to the head. From then on, it became pretty clear that Naruto had hit the bullseye in his hypothesis about clan heirs. A formidable bunch, but their weaknesses were obvious.

"If you're just going to keep using that clan jutsu of yours on me Kiba, just don't. It didn't work three years ago and it won't work now. Come on man, don't you have anything else? How the hell did you make chunin?" Naruto grumbled, easily dodging the slash at his chest.

Kiba only snarled in response; the Inuzuka was far too busy being enraged at his partner's knock out to stop and think. Naruto easily exploited the openings in his guard, catching a slash in his hand, deflecting another, and slamming his palm into his throat.

Kiba went down coughing and wheezing, releasing a pained whine as Naruto lifted him up by his hair. "Next time, try to at least look like you're thinking."

A punch to the gut and Kiba was out of the spar. Naruto felt a small amount of pity for his friend- a throat palm strike followed by a solid punch to the gut was a painful way to go down.

"Hakke kuushou!"

But Naruto was moving before she even finished announcing the attack. A flash step saw him standing to her far right. Hinata quickly closed the distance between them and began to try and hit him with a Jyuken strike. Naruto whistled mentally; Hinata was going straight for his vitals, points that would drop him with just one strike. The girl had come far in her confidence issues.

A sensory check revealed Anko coming out of the forest, having incapacitated Shikamaru and Shino. Just for the sake of chaos she threw a fireball their way, no doubt advancing right behind it. Naruto and Hinata dodged it pretty easily, and Naruto found himself alone as Anko decided to test Hinata. He was basically separated from all the fighting for the moment.

Perfect.

Katon: Gouryuuka no jutsu!

All the fighting momentarily paused as three giant heads of a dragon raced towards them, threatening to swallow them whole. Dodging was out of the question given how quickly they closed the distance, and how wide they were spread.

"Kaiten!"

Neji and Hinata both spun in place, dissipating two of the dragon heads with bright explosions. The others piggybacked on their defense, allowing the third one to pass by without hitting anything. Once they stopped spinning in place, they saw Naruto standing at only ten feet from them, hands clapped together.

Suiton: Suishouha! (Water style: water colliding wave)

Everyone warily backed up as water started swirling in the air around Naruto, the quantity increasing by the second until the water exploded from the top like a fountain. Hundreds of liters of water were rushing towards them with the force of a waterfall. Everyone jumped up and let the initial onslaught pass underneath them, landing on the small pond that Naruto had managed to form. They knew that the water was entirely Naruto's territory, so they had to get off fast. But the blonde still wasn't done. Three seals were all he needed.

Suiton: Suiryudan no jutsu!

An enormous dragon formed out of the water, giving out a gurgling roar. Haruto gulped down his nervousness. "That bastard's going overboard."

Naruto smirked to himself as he directed the dragon towards the others. The dragon is not what you should be worried about.

"Katon: Ryuka no jutsu!"

Of course, a fire came out of nowhere and hit the dragon head-on, generating a large amount of steam. Naruto didn't wait to see who it was; the voice already gave it away. Although he cursed himself for not sensing him sooner. The others also saw the steam as a chance to put some distance between each other.

"What the hell?!"

"Who was that?!"

All the exclamations were drowned by the extremely loud exclamation. "Long time no see!"

The steam gradually cleared to show none other than Jiraiya, standing there with his palms facing outwards and arms at an awkward angle, clearly one of his kabuki poses. "From now on, this brawl belongs to none other than the toad mountain sage, a.k.a. the sensational novelist, Jiraiya-sama!"

A pause hung in the air after Jiraiya completed his dance, no doubt waiting on their reactions. Naruto could understand why they were unable to react; Jiraiya was a little…too much at times. His personality was so bright that it shone over others completely, leaving them slightly blinded and caught off-guard. After the shock wore off, came the weariness. Everyone was aware what caliber of shinobi Jiraiya was, and if he had decided to join in on their spar, fighting between themselves seemed small compared to what they now had to face.

"Bring it on!"

Most watched incredulously as Naruto went to engage Jiraiya without a shred of fear on his face. After a moment, Sakura copied her teammate and spinning in a roundhouse kick, she caught Lee right in his face, the force of the kick knocking him out. That was the cue for everyone else to resume and once more, chaos ensued.

"You're back early!" Naruto commented as he blocked a kick and countered with a low spin.

Jiraiya spun with the force of the kick and landed on his feet. "I had some urgent reporting to do. And I see that you removed Anko's mark." He then followed up with a Rasengan, which Naruto countered with his own. The two forces clashed, but then Naruto grinned.

A second Naruto burst from the ground, fist connecting with Jiraiya's chin and sending him painfully to the ground. The original pounced on the opening, but Jiraiya quickly retreated. He was about to use a jutsu to blow away the kid, but one voice stopped him. That same voice froze everyone in their place.

"What is going on here?"

The smooth but powerful voice of the Godaime Hokage flew across the field, her demeanor radiating annoyance at the destruction caused.


Naruto and Jiraiya stood side by side, the former looking at the ground in guilt and shame while the latter just smirked at the Hokage. Tsunade's face was set in a scowl that would've sent any other shinobi running in the opposite direction.

"What were you thinking?"

Sensing the question being directed at him, Naruto answered. "I thought that training session like that would benefit everyone. Jonin brawls happen all the time, and fighting in a battle royale is a really good form of training! Ero-sennin said so!"

"Don't try to pin this on me brat!"

"ENOUGH!"

Both shut up after feeling Tsunade's killer intent. Tsunade just sighed as she rubbed her brow. "Naruto, the next time you have such a training session, warn me beforehand so I can have medical staff on standby. Jiraiya, you should have done the responsible thing and stopped the spar right then."

Jiraiya scoffed. "Stopped it? The kids were having so much fun beating each other up! You should have seen your own apprentice. She looked happier than a kid in a toy store! And why should I let them have all the fun?! You should let them let loose like this once in every while Tsunade!"

Tsunade slammed her hands on her desk. "Not when they destroy a training ground like this! Do you think restoring a training ground is an easy task?! And you are the last person who I'll go to for advice on matters like this!"

Jiraiya wisely kept shut, knowing that Tsunade's temper was nearing the breaking point. At such times it wasn't wise to test it. Tsunade took a few deep breathes to calm and sit back down. "Alright Jiraiya, back to important business…..why are you back so early?"

"I've received important information from my contacts….Orochimaru is dead."

A pin-drop silence washed over the office. Naruto gave a sharp look to Jiraiya, while Tsunade seemed shocked at hearing about her former teammate's death. Rightfully so, he mused. Orochimaru was one of the Sannin, an extremely powerful shinobi. More slippery than anyone he knew, and ridiculously clever. For him to have been killed, was a jarring shock to the system.

"Wait. When you say dead, do you mean-"

"He was killed, by none other than Uchiha Sasuke."

That was another bomb drop. Sasuke killed his own master? Granted, Orochimaru was a deplorable….thing- can't even call him human anymore- but for what reason did Sasuke kill him?

Three years ago, it became pretty clear that Orochimaru wanted the coveted sharingan. But Orochimaru targeted Sasuke because he knew taking it from Itachi was next to impossible. Over the course of three years, Orochimaru must have treated Sasuke like getting a meal ready for a banquet. He must have wanted to assimilate Sasuke when he was at his strongest. His recent encounter with Naruto must have pushed his current body to the limit, which meant that he was close to switching bodies at the time of their meeting.

"He must have wanted to switch." He muttered in contemplation.

Tsunade looked towards him with a frown. "What do you mean?"

Naruto folded his hands. "When I fought Orochimaru at the bridge, I must have pushed his current body to the limit. If Sasuke has killed him now, then the only reason could be that Orochimaru must have finally wanted to switch bodies with him. Of course, Sasuke wouldn't have wanted to give his body over without having his taste of revenge."

Jiraiya nodded. "That's what I thought as well. Orochimaru must have been pretty weak at the time Sasuke managed to kill him. Because from what Naruto has told me, Sasuke couldn't have become stronger than Orochimaru in just one and a half years."

Tsunade raised an eyebrow and pointed at Naruto. "Why not? Naruto surpassed you early, didn't he? And the Uchiha brat has the sharingan."

"That's because Naruto is a genius. One like Minato, Itachi, and Kakashi. Sasuke at best is a fast learner. A prodigy, who isn't that uncommon. Anything he's taught, he would pick it up faster than the average shinobi. Orochimaru would have undoubtedly taught him a lot, but Sasuke's learning curve isn't equitable to Naruto's. He also hasn't trained for three whole years like Naruto has. I would, on a rough estimate, put Sasuke around jonin level right now if he was chunin level when Orochimaru broke him out."

Tsunade pursed her lips, tapping her finger on the table. "What does this mean for us though?" Her eyes flickered to the other blonde in the room. "What do you think Naruto?"

Naruto looked to the side, trying to think. "What this means for us?...I say nothing, as of right now."

Tsunade was intrigued by the choice of his answer. "Why nothing?"

Naruto shrugged. "We all know what Sasuke's goal is. Now that he's free of Orochimaru, his next stop would be his brother. Which means he'll either hunt for him, or go after the organization his brother works for."

"Akatsuki won't hand over such a valuable member though."

"Exactly, which is why the former is much more possible. Either way, Sasuke doesn't have anything to do with us right now. For all intents and purposes, he is a missing-nin of Konoha right now which begs the question, why haven't you put him in the bingo book yet?"

Tsunade raised an eyebrow at him. "I don't know if you are aware, but hidden villages don't put genin in their bingo books. It looks bad on us that a genin left the village to become a missing-nin."

Naruto frowned. "Well, Sasuke was a chunin level threat when I fought him if you don't count the power of the curse mark. Also, him joining up with Orochimaru warrants a bingo book entry if you ask me."

"Are you sure? With me putting a price on your friend's head?"

Naruto scoffed. "He has a funny way of showing his friendship. Right now, he's a traitor to the village. If we cross paths, I'll follow the orders posted in his entry."

Tsunade looked at the blonde, trying to find some hole in his argument. From what she understood, Naruto and Sasuke were somewhat like friends before she came to the village. Sakura told her that Naruto was the only one Sasuke had allowed himself to get close to. Now, for Naruto to say that he will treat Sasuke like any other missing-nin, it was….not exactly surprising.

Naruto was pragmatic, that much she knew. He lived in the reality, with just the tiniest pinch of idealism. Tsunade could respect how Naruto wasn't willing to make Sasuke his immediate priority now that there was finally an open channel to get him back. This meant Naruto understood that Konoha had bigger priorities right now, bigger than his wayward friend.

Just like a leader.

At this rate, I just might be able to pass the hat on in a year or so.

Tsunade gave a sharp nod. "Fine. I believe it's about time I put that brat's name in the bingo book then. He will no longer be protected by anonymity. Naruto, I will put him down as an A-rank threat to be captured on sight. Is that fine with you?"

"You don't need to ask me what is fine. I will go along with whatever you have in mind." Naruto assured her.

"Good. My orders still stand; currently, Konoha is responsible for taking out four Akatsuki members out of the total nine. Which means only five remain. Out of that, we already know two of them so logically, Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame will be our next targets. Naruto, your team's success rate with the Akatsuki elimination missions has been four for four so far, so I'll be sending out your team in a few days. Make sure they're ready. Dismissed."

"Hai Hokage-sama!"

Tsunade nodded in approval and turned to Jiraiya. Whatever she was about to say to him was interrupted by a knock on the door. The door revealed a ninja from the T&I department looking frantic. "Urgent news Hokage-sama! Yakushi Kabuto was assassinated!"

Tsunade was up on her feet in an instant. "What?!"


In a dark cave, the Akatsuki were having a meeting with their remaining members. Pain, the leader of the organization with unique eyes, was addressing news to the rest of them. With four members gone, only five of them remained.

"Orochimaru has been killed. Uchiha Sasuke was the one who did the deed."

The leader specifically looked towards Itachi as he said the last part, but as usual, Itachi didn't grace anyone with a reaction.

"Oh, looks like your little brother has grown quite a bit, hasn't he Itachi-san? Still, it looks like that we've been spared the trouble. I would have loved to see him die as much as I would have loved to see the Zombie duo die."

"Hidan and Kakuzu were our comrades Kisame. Don't say such things."

"Apologies. But they were done in by-"

"Konoha no sato. The squad with Kyuubi no jinchuriki and Hatake Kakashi."

Tobi added in on this. "That squad is pretty powerful! That Uzumaki Naruto was the one who took out Deidara-senpai, and even Hidan and Kakuzu-senpai!"

"Indeed. Kyuubi no jinchuriki has grown quite powerful, so we will focus our attention on him the last, as was intended. Itachi and Kisame, be careful. I assume that Konoha will now focus its attention on you two, given you are the only known members remaining at this point of time."

"Hn."

"As you say, Leader-sama."

"Also, Konoha is not the only one who will be setting their sights on you. Zetsu has informed me that Uchiha Sasuke is assembling a team. You might be his next target, Itachi."

"….."

"Everyone except Tobi, dismissed. Tobi, I have your next assignment."


Sasuke stood with Jugo, Suigetsu, and Karin on top of a cliff as it rained. Sasuke would have never thought that he would assemble a team by himself, but he gave credit of his actions to his maturity. One and a half years with Orochimaru had taught him that even a Sannin like Orochimaru cannot do everything alone, which is why he had assistants like Kabuto.

Sasuke had given careful thought over the course of his training as to which members would constitute his team. He had promised Suigetsu a while ago that he would free him, and he made good on that. Plus, Suigetsu would make a valuable ally, given his decent kenjutsu skills and kekkei genkai from the Hozuki clan.

Jugo was a surprise. Sasuke had expected little more than a killing machine. But Jugo surprised him by begging him to kill Jugo. Who knew the monster was so innocent at heart? Jugo was aware of his own problem and begged Sasuke to kill him so he could be free of his mindless rage. All Sasuke had to do to dissuade Jugo from suicide was to tell him that he will keep Jugo from killing the others. That, and he was Kimimaro's will. Sasuke wasn't planning on the latter working so well, but if Jugo's respect for the former Kaguya was this much, then Sasuke had no problem banking on it.

Karin was an important member of this team. Sasuke was sure that Orochimaru didn't mean to make him aware of Karin's abilities, but they were dead useful. Sasuke didn't know why, but Karin's chakra was capable of healing wounds at an accelerated rate. All one had to do was bite her and suck in her chakra. Sasuke couldn't imagine just how many times Karin must have been bitten, and it was not a pleasant experience for her. But he needed her on this team if he wanted to survive.

"Let's go."

It was finally time to track down his brother and finish him for good.

AN: Pretty short chapter, but I didn't have much to write. Most of the story after this will have to be changed, so I might take longer to work out an update. Leave your thoughts about the latest chapter in the reviews! Later!