Author Note

Just for information purposes, I have recently closed the poll. The result, which surprised me in a positive manner, was for me to work on the challenge story between Naruto and Senju Tobirama. I was expecting that the winner would be a sequel for either Tired or Lone Wolf. I will post this chapter for Meshii and then start the first chapter of the challenge story right afterward. Thanks everyone for the immense help. Now, without further a due, here goes the chapter.

Chapter 22 –Road to Improvement

Beta: Kyuubi123

After all the events that took place, shinobi from Konoha and Suna went back to Sunagakure in order to deliver the somber news that Akatsuki had achieved its goal of capturing the Ichibi Jinchuuriki. Along the way, the elite appeared distraught while the chunnin were busy trying to comfort the still sobbing Temari. Ever since she had woken up, she kept repeating that she was to blame for this entire situation. Gaara's situation in the village would have been nicer had she opened up to him when they were children. She should have at least pushed her other brother Kankurou into doing the same or at least kicking the living crap out of him for walking away from them.

===At the Hokage's Office===

Meanwhile, since they were not part of the official Gaara rescue mission, Sasuke and Naruto quickly returned to their home village, carrying their respective reports of what happened out there.

It took a while for them to report everything that occurred in Kakashi's mission, resulting in Gaara's death, the Ichibi's capture and the death of two Akatsuki operatives. Jiraiya had listened to everything and released Sasuke, leaving only Naruto in the room. The reason for that was simple, as Jiraiya had given Naruto a side mission to perform. Responding to the silent question, Naruto simply grabbed a scroll from within his pockets and gave it to the Hokage.

"According to this Intel, you believe that councilman Yuura of Sunagakure was the one who betrayed Suna." Naruto nodded as he explained what was inside the report.

"I managed to sneak inside the Kazekage's chambers and secure a front line seat to a very unique meeting where the Kazekage and his councilors were debating the very reason of how Akatsuki managed to infiltrate the village. The council, from what I gathered, is composed of seven members; however, one chair was unoccupied at the moment of the meeting. The name Yuura was given to me by the very own Kazekage who ordered his men to find him. After getting the name, I found their shinobi archives and even Yuura's file. The minute I grabbed the file, a rather impressive genjutsu immediately invaded my senses. Anyone who opened the file would read exactly what the illusion caster wanted. I was rather pleased to have witnessed said technique as I intend to use it with our own encrypted messages."

Jiraiya nodded at the report and his mind could already form the missing link between the evidence brought forward and the actual culprit.

"An important lesson you must learn Naruto…while Yuura could have been the traitor, you weren't able to irrevocably prove to me that it was him who allowed Akatsuki to enter the village. You only managed to prove that the man was up to something." The boy frowned at the comeback, but nodded gravely. Indeed, the Hokage was right. He was on the right track sure, but the clone should have dug deeper than that. Right now, he felt ashamed and even bowed slightly.

"You're right…I should have continued the investigation instead of stopping right after the clue in the archives." The Hokage nodded with a smile on his face.

"Your job is a delicate one, Naruto. No one likes to be accused of a crime. You must possess all the necessary proof before incriminating someone, some organization and even some village. Lucky for you, I happen to know the identity of the man who invented the genjutsu that you managed to crack in the archives. The man you managed to defeat, Akasuna no Sasori, used this very method in the last great shinobi war to protect encrypted messaging between Suna and Konoha. This is the last link of evidence you needed. Yuura had somehow entered into some agreement with Sasori of the Red Sand and pulled some strings to allow the organization entrance to the village."

"I see…thanks for the lesson Hokage-sama, it won't happen again…I can guarantee." The sannin nodded again.

"Do not worry about it…we're not in times of war right now, so it's much harder to get a hold of sensitive information. Anything else you have to report?" Naruto nodded and reached for the ring he took from Sasori.

"I managed to find this peculiar ring on Sasori's finger. When I tempered it with my chakra, I felt another presence…perhaps ten times as strong as Sasori's. From what we learned from the organization thus far, Hoshigaki Kisame was the member with the largest chakra capacity in the group. I'm afraid that Kisame only pales in comparison to what I felt." The news was indeed troubling as Jiraiya inspected the ring as well as the engraving. This was fuuinjutsu and a rather powerful one at that.

"Could it be from the leader?" Naruto nodded at the Hokage's question.

"It very well could be and quite frankly, I shudder to think that there is another one more powerful than this. Above this level, it would reach bijuu level."

"I will ponder about this ring later on…good job acquiring it. There is a reason that Sasori had this ring and I can take a guess here and assume that it is required for the bijuu's extraction from the host." Jiraiya said before taking an empty scroll and sealing the ring inside for later experimentation. "Now Naruto, I have received an invitation for some lunch. Would you care to join me?" The young spy waited a while to respond, wondering why the Hokage would ask him this. "I bet the person that invited me would not mind having your company as well." The blond ended up accepting with a simple nod, although he was still confused about what was going on here. Normally, he would be dismissed after the report and be on his very way. Perhaps even take to the road once more and visit some of his contacts. He very much preferred it than being confined inside the village for longer periods.

===Konoha's Commercial District===

In the end, Naruto had accepted the Hokage's invitation for lunch. He tried asking for the place and time, but Jiraiya insisted that Naruto walked alongside him to the place instead. As they walked throughout the busy streets, the spy could not help but feel exposed right now. For an infiltrator specialist, being out in the open like this with pretty much everyone looking at his direction, was indeed a frightening experience. He hid it well, but any experienced shinobi could tell how tense Naruto was right now. Jiraiya was able to see it, but it was the man's intention all along. He had to learn it the hard way since he was a spy during wartime.

"If you keep acting like this, you're likely to slit a child's throat just because he or she looked at you the wrong way." Naruto flinched but said nothing.

He was far away from his comfort zone now and his body just could not help it.

"For a long time, all I ever did was hide in the shadows. Being spotted means the same as being killed." Jiraiya nodded. He knew the feeling…probably more than anyone else in Konoha.

"I know the feeling, believe me I do. However, there is a reason that I deliberately asked you to accompany me instead of meeting you at our destination." They kept walking as Jiraiya explained it. "For now, all I asked of you was to keep my spy network and aid Konoha in acquiring Intel from the elemental nations. You've developed excellent skills in infiltration. However, I have yet to assign you on long-term infiltration missions. Those require this very feeling you are facing right now…to hide in plain sight. It is actually what some of the members of our spy network are currently doing. You would of course receive a fake identity and even a fake upbringing. With those, you can infiltrate a village or a country without needing to use the shadows. People would see you, but they would not see the real you, do you understand?" Naruto nodded, already relaxing his posture somewhat. The Hokage was testing him right now.

"So the lunch invitation was merely to see how I behaved out in the open like this?" Jiraiya smirked at the question.

"Oh no…the lunch is real…I just killed two birds with one stone." Jiraiya ignored the slight spike in Naruto's chakra indicating his disapproval with the entire situation. He stopped in front of a small café that looked empty. The only person that appeared through the window was a woman bartender who appeared to be enjoying herself while cleaning some of the dishes. Naruto's circumstances allowed him to look past the illusion as they walked inside the restaurant. The female bartender did not even register their presence and kept working on the dishes. She had gray hair tied in a long thin ponytail; however, Naruto could not see a single wrinkle on her face, so the hair alone was no indication of her age (just imagine a young Sarutobi Biwako). Naruto felt two strong presences seating in the farthest table as they walked throughout the café hall. He flinched upon remembering his past encounters with one of the presences.

Jiraiya, for his part, saw both Sarutobi Hiruzen and Enma sitting next to each other and sipping some tea.

The sannin could not help but laugh every time he saw this scene.

"What's going on Hokage-sama?" Jiraiya turned to the spy and smirked. The boy was not surprised to meet his grandfather here.

Naruto's ability perhaps was not affected by the two-layered genjutsu.

"Allow me to answer my grandson's question, Jiraiya-kun." The pervert nodded, already taking a seat and asking the sexy bartender for some tea as well. "Naruto-kun, the reason I've called this meeting was for us to discuss your future as a shinobi. Considering the skills you have showed me when we sparred and the numerous threats against your life, I believe it is imperative that we…shall we say…up the scales a bit. Right now, you are considered a low A-class shinobi, which is good for one your age. However, if you were to face any of the Akatsuki members in open combat, you would lose. I bet you only defeated Sasori of the Red Sand because he was engaged in another fight."

Naruto, upon hearing his grandfather's report, could choose between, blatantly and in a childish manner, denying everything or accepting the report quietly.

The second choice was much wiser. However…

"Is that why Enma-sama is here as well?" At the question, the monkey king smirked viciously. The summon did enjoy his tor…training sessions with the kid.

"Sarutobi asked me for a favor and I see no ill consequences in complying."

Sarutobi and Jiraiya smiled at the same time at the comment as the bartender brought and served Jiraiya's tea.

"What I propose, Naruto-kun, is for you to accompany me on a small training trip if you will. I do not have a destination in mind; rather I will be following you during your duties as head of the spy network. Throughout the trip, we will be focusing on the skills you have left unchecked, shall we say, in favor of the most subtle ones that are required of you." Naruto heard everything and frowned. While it was true he was not at the same level as the Akatsuki, it did not mean that he neglected anything. Of course, taijutsu and even kenjutsu were not considered his top priority as opposed to genjutsu, poisons and ninjutsu. Nevertheless, the boy did not react to the jab.

"I have no objections to you accompanying me Jiji…it's him that I have a problem with." If possible, Enma showed an even bigger smirk upon seeing the brat's finger pointed at him.

"Come on kid…what's the matter? Are you afraid of some beating?" A single twitch in Naruto's eyebrow indicated how he felt about Enma's comment.

"The last time we fought, you broke two of my ribs and dislocated my right shoulder. The only reason I'm alive today is because of the fox." The most annoying part of the story was hearing Kyuubi complaining about Naruto having his ass kicked repeatedly by the old monkey, but Naruto did not feel the need to let everyone know about it. Jiraiya and Hiruzen were just seating there both showing amusement smiles on their faces. Enma eventually got serious, which Naruto caught on immediately.

"I also wanted to know, brat, why exactly haven't you summoned Sarubo lately? I know he complains a lot sometimes, but the contract is not to be used at your convenience only."

Naruto said nothing and performed the ritual before Enma's eldest appeared next to the spy. Naruto could very well see the brown monkey's eyes glaring daggers at him. He also felt his chakra rising, so the anger was there all right. The spy let out a sigh in dismay, figuring that he could have at least explained his reasoning to Sarubo much sooner. Something he planned to rectify now and perhaps call upon his aid when his reason stopped being a factor.

"You better have a very good reason Naruto."

Naruto nodded at his partner's question. He only summoned Sarubo here, because he did not feel like explaining himself twice.

"I know I am at fault here Sarubo, but my duties as spy consists of sneaking inside territories and not getting caught doing so. Summoning you would show two things. One, the chakra spike would alert the entire village I was in and two; everyone knows the Sarutobi Clan works along with the Monkeys. People would make the link and come to the Hokage asking questions…questions that Jiraiya would not have an answer to." After Naruto's answer, no one had anything to contradict. The blond took that as a sign that Sarubo and Enma actually believed that he did not care about the summoning contract. For some reason, Naruto felt insulted at that.

"Okay brat, I concur with your reasoning. As rectification, however, I asked Sarubo to accompany us on this trip." Naruto's eyebrow twitched once more.

"You really do enjoy seeing me getting my ass kicked don't you old geezer?" Both monkeys this time smiled cruelly. Hiruzen could not hold himself and started laughing.

"As amusing as this is Naruto, since you already accepted, I will be on my way. The paperwork must be growing as we speak." They all saw Jiraiya finishing his tea and leaving the store, leaving the Sarutobis and the Monkeys alone. Naruto, after that, took a seat next to Sarubo. The table was then filled with discussions concerning how to strengthen one Sarutobi Naruto. In the meantime, inside his stomach, Kyuubi was lying down with its eyes half closed while hearing the conversation. Considering the amount of damage received by Naruto by the monkeys, Kyuubi would have to heal him more often. Although that constituted more work, the fox was feeling rather excited at the prospect of the outcome of said training and how much stronger his host will be when it is done.

===Two days later===

At the break of dawn, Hiruzen and Naruto said their respective goodbyes to everyone and together they marched outside the village for their training trip.

Enma and Sarubo would be joining them for training only as it was too taxing on them otherwise. Akatsuki could very well show up at any time.

"So Naruto, you're the spy here, where to first?"

"I need to investigate a new location someone has brought my attention to. It should not be far away from here, based on the directions." Hiruzen could immediately tell that his grandson was being elusive about it, but that may be because he did not want to say the name of his contact. However, something about it seemed off for some reason, but Hiruzen just nodded along with a smile.

The entire trip took about three hours at ninja speed. They were still in Fire Country, but very close to the border with Wind Country as Hiruzen could see the desert in the horizon. They were standing in front of what appeared to be a cave of some sort, blocked by a humongous sized rock. Hiruzen said nothing along the way, but he was getting more and more suspicious of his grandson's actions. Naruto would not have a need of a spy inside Fire Country, just inside the capital, which was far away from their location. The old war veteran heard a sigh escaping from Naruto, before the boy spoke.

"I know you're suspicious Jiji, but please bear with me for a second, okay?" Hiruzen was no stranger to Naruto's ability, but nodded. He saw Naruto focusing his chakra for a while, before the boy walked towards the heavy rock and smoothly felt the surface with his hand. He could fell chakra resonating within the stone just like the scroll described it. The feeling was getting closer by the second, before Naruto stopped just inches below the center point. Much to Hiruzen's astonishment, Naruto began using hand seals, before slamming on the rock.

Fuin Kai (Seal Release)

The stone immediately lifted off the ground as if pulled by an invisible force. Naruto walked inside completely sure of himself that there was nothing inside that could hurt him. Hiruzen was more hesitant, but followed his grandson, knowing that Naruto had the ability to see in the dark using his skills. As soon as he entered, the rock closed once more as fire torches illuminated all of a sudden, showing the once dark path. If possible, the former Hokage was even more suspicious. Someone had done all this and he was certain that it was not his grandson.

"Naruto-kun, would you care to enlighten me on the man's identity? I will not take one step further until you do." Essentially, this could be a trap and Hiruzen needed to prepare accordingly. Naruto stopped at his grandfather's question and nodded. Now that they were inside the cave, it was safe to reveal it.

"Sasori of the Red Sand." Hiruzen immediately summoned his bo-staff but Naruto explained further. "If this was a trap from Akatsuki, I would have sensed them by now, so please relax." Hiruzen seemed to relax his shoulders a bit, but he still held the staff firmly. At least Naruto had the benefit of the doubt. "After I defeated him, Sasori spoke something about praising my methods which according to him were of a true shinobi. He saw my skills with poisons and gave me the scroll that contained the location of his secret base. I know that in here, I will find mostly puppet material, but also I could find his research on poison and even other possible skills I could use like genjutsu and advanced chakra control."

Hiruzen heard everything and could not help but feel some pride at the praise. Sasori may be a criminal, but he was an S-ranked shinobi and one with good pride at that.

Hiruzen remembered a few meetings with Sasori when he was still a loyal Suna shinobi.

"Okay Naruto, let us proceed but with caution." Naruto nodded before proceeding.

Despite the fire candles illuminating the path forward, Sarutobi could not see the path clearly. It seemed that the fire candles dimmed as they walked. In time, the seasoned shinobi recognized it as outside interference, possibly a disorienting genjutsu. Paying little mind to the white fog that crawled on their legs, Hiruzen attempted to release the genjutsu, but nothing seemed to happen. His seasoned mind quickly thought of possibly double layered genjutsu, that being Itachi's way of doing battle. He began to disrupt it once more when he was startled at the needle lodged in his neck. He looked at Naruto in alarm, only to realize that the needle was his grandson's doing.

"I assumed it to be genjutsu as well, but I did not sense any. Moving to the next possible scenario, I focused on the white fog that crawled up our legs and it had the same feeling as the poisons used in our fight. It is probably a defensive mechanism in case someone found this base." Hiruzen nodded, feeling quite lost, since poison was not an area he found any interest in. Moreover, it seemed that with Sasori gone, Naruto was perhaps one of the best poison users out there, with the exception of perhaps Orochimaru of the Sannin. Therefore, he trusted his grandson to know what he was doing…however…

"I do not feel my body moving like before, though…" Naruto smirked at the comment.

"Yeah, the antidote works like that. It's focusing on ridding your body of the poison. Once the antidote works its magic, your chakra is free to fill up your coils once more." Hiruzen snorted at the information, but said nothing as he used Naruto as a crutch throughout their path. When Naruto smiled back then, Hiruzen could not help but recollect his own conversations with a certain snake sannin. At the time, his team had just become chunnin. When the path ended, they walked inside what appeared to be a four-wall room, with puppets hanging from the roof. Despite being a war veteran and witnessed a great number of atrocities, Hiruzen was rather uncomfortable. The room was barely illuminated and it gave an eerie feeling as they walked inside. Puppeteers were loners by nature, Hiruzen knew that much, from reading a report made by Inoichi of a Suna missing-nin they captured once. That being said, this room perhaps appealed to Sasori's nature of solitude.

Looking at his grandson, however, he could not tell if Naruto felt the same way.

The circumstances of his life growing up was not exactly a walk in the park and Naruto also showed signs of preferring solitude.

"Can you walk by now jiji?" Naruto asked, earning a nod from Hiruzen as he saw Naruto walking much further down the room where a desk and shelf could be seen, filled with scrolls it appeared. Being referred to as the Professor, a sudden glow appeared in Hiruzen's eyes at the accumulated knowledge that these scrolls must possess. Naruto did not waste time going through the information in each scroll and simply picked an empty scroll from within one of his vest's pockets. He extended it on the ground and Hiruzen could see the familiar seal arrays meant for storage. The spy in training simply grabbed all the scrolls and placed it on top of the storage scroll, before sealing everything inside.

"Jiji, I'm going to need your help going through the information in these scrolls." Hiruzen nodded with sympathy at his grandson. Despite the fact that Tonbo had taught Naruto how to become a shinobi, Naruto was still blind and could only read Braille written scrolls. The Sandaime Hokage also grabbed a notebook that was in the middle of the desk. If this place was Sasori's haven, then this must be his life journal. Getting in Sasori's mind can also aid him in understanding any hidden meaning that may be inside the scrolls. Not to mention the fact that Hiruzen could use a nice book to spend the time away from the village. After everything was taken care of, grandfather and grandson walked outside the cave as Naruto stopped walking all of a sudden.

"Jiji, I think we need to destroy any evidence of this base's existence." Hiruzen looked at his grandson for a while, wondering about the reason. "If Akatsuki had knowledge of this base and even about the information contained inside the scrolls, they may come here. We need to erase our tracks here." Hiruzen nodded resolutely at the foresight and walked closer to the cave entrance. Indeed, if Akatsuki knew Naruto was here, then chances are they would come after him. Despite Hiruzen being a former Kage, he could not fight against more than one S-ranked shinobi and still protect his grandson. Thus, he initiated a hand seal sequence.

Doton Doryuu Taiga (Earth Release: Earth Flow River Technique)

The ground in front of Hiruzen transformed into a mud wave that travelled inside the cave and filled up every empty space inside. Immediately afterward, Hiruzen formulated another seal and expelled a fire steam from his mouth, hardening the mud inside. After Hiruzen's ninjutsu combination, Sasori's hidden base was gone for good. Once the deed was done, Naruto and Hiruzen turned their backs to the cave and started walking once more, in search for a more secluded place where they could sit down and open the scrolls. The sun had slowly begun its descent, showing a comfortable orange glow in the horizon as grandfather and grandson found themselves sitting by a small water current. It could not even be considered a river and Naruto could see that Hiruzen felt at ease just by being in this place. Little did the spy know that this very place was introduced to Hiruzen by the very own Senju Tobirama, the Nidaime Hokage.

Hiruzen was truly feeling nostalgic now, thinking about his predecessor's ideals and behavior. Senju Tobirama was the epitome of the professional shinobi, ruled by pragmatism and logic. His skills were even more varied than that of Hashirama's, as Tobirama was talented in taijutsu, kenjutsu, ninjutsu and genjutsu. There was not much out there that the Nidaime was not a master of or at the very least did not know how to counter. Hiruzen was hailed as God of Shinobi, but that only because neither of the previous Hokage got to live as long as he did. Come to think about it, Naruto did resemble the Nidaime in both personality and even how varied his skill set is.

Tobirama-sensei, I feel like I have barely tapped Naruto-kun's potential. Please guide us on this trip'

Naruto, in the meantime, just kept looking at his grandfather, wondering what the man was thinking about. When the Sandaime turned, Naruto felt completely baffled at the peaceful smile on Hiruzen.

"I apologize Naruto-kun…this place does bring me back. Now, as I have told you before, our focus will be to build up your more offensive attributes, shall we say. Taijutsu and ninjutsu will be our focus as well as the material we recovered from Sasori's cave." Naruto gave a simple nod, urging the teacher to continue. The smile was still there, though. "As I understood from your file and background, you need little help regarding your bloodline and even raiton ninjutsu, which Kakashi helped polish a long time ago. I believe it's high time you learned a new element as there may be a time when every skill you possess is nullified by the enemy or a group of enemies. You need every skill available to you, so that you may use it against an enemy who has the natural advantage."

Naruto frowned at the prospect of the trip being on taijutsu only.

"Kakashi had already done the paper test with me and I only have lightning affinity. Learning another element from scratch would take more than this trip's duration." The smile in Hiruzen never went away.

"Normally, you're right and we shall cross the bridge when we get to it. You did find a lightning affinity, but that was three to four years ago. Your chakra coils are still under development. It's not uncommon for a second affinity to appear at a later time. Please appease this old man and do the test again, only this time hold one paper in each hand. We will devise your training regimen depending on the results." Shrugging his shoulders, Naruto grabbed both papers and did as instructed by Hiruzen. Like it happened three years ago, the one on the right hand wrinkled, showing Naruto's lightning affinity. Both showed surprise and Hiruzen smiled even more when a droplet of water fell from the paper on the left hand.

'Tobirama-sensei, it is nice to have you with us' Hiruzen thought seeing Naruto's surprised look while facing the drenched paper.

"What did I tell you Naruto. You also have a water affinity, a very good element both for defensive and offensive purposes. Plus, you can use a lot of techniques meant for infiltration purposes." Naruto nodded.

"Jiraiya taught me a couple of earth techniques to use for infiltration. I believe we can focus on battle-oriented techniques only." Hiruzen looked surprised, since he did not know about it. If possible, he was even more excited at the prospect of seeing a fully-grown Naruto.

"Okay, I did not know about this, but it's fine. Training your water affinity will allow you control over three elements. Now, why don't you set our camp here while I go through Sasori's scrolls? After dinner, we can converse about it." Naruto nodded as he handled the storage scroll to Hiruzen, before going hunting. Meanwhile, Hiruzen released the scrolls and immediately sorted through the topics of each scroll. He found information about Sasori's spy network and information he acquired about the other hidden villages as well as the capitals. Sasori was quite thorough and thus quite dangerous in Hiruzen's mind. The man had information about Konoha, for instance, that Hiruzen only knew because he became the Hokage. It was too bad that Hiruzen could not find the name of the spy that Sasori had in his village. As it appeared, the man was suspicious about pretty much everything and thus did not record the spy's names. The information unfortunately was out of his hands now. Other scrolls he found contained knowledge on chakra strings, which could serve as excellent chakra control exercise for Naruto and advanced poisons.

Hiruzen knew how deadly Sasori's poison were, perhaps even worse than the ones his old student had knowledge of.

Naruto could use this to improve his already existing knowledge.

It took a total of an hour to sort through the scrolls, so Hiruzen took the time and simply watched the sunset, as he heard Naruto approaching with a bag filled with fish he caught from the stream. Actually, this sort of experience was long since forgotten by the former Hokage, as the man had been behind his desk seat for far too long. Moreover, when he travelled, an entire squad of shinobi accompanied him for his protection. Now, he was all alone on a trip with his grandson. It felt quite exhilarating to be out once more just like the time when he was an active shinobi under the Shodaime and Nidaime's rule. He watched as the spy proceeded to clean the fish using a kunai, before setting the fire. Within minutes, the smell invaded Hiruzen's nostrils and it brought a content smile on his face.

"Seems quite tasteful, Naruto-kun."

"Yeah, I could not find other animals in the region, only fish. So about Sasori's scrolls…?" Hiruzen took the fish offered by Naruto and ate it, content to eat like this once more. The taste was nothing special, but then again Naruto did only clean it and nothing else. It made Hiruzen remember of a comrade that was the best cook while on missions. However, Hiruzen digressed as his grandson had just asked him a question about the scrolls.

"They were quite informative indeed. Sasori was renowned for his information gathering abilities. Aside from shinobi skills, I also found secrets from all of the hidden villages, secrets that only a Kage would know".

"Kaori-sensei did tell me that Sasori had quite an extensive spy network…she knew it because the man tried to contact her once to be a part of it, but she refused to work with him due to their past encounters. It was just a hypothesis but both Kaori-sensei and I believed that Akatsuki used Sasori's spy network for their missions and even the jinchuuriki's locations, though nothing was ever found. I trust the man had spies on Konoha as well?" Hiruzen nodded. The Hokage had two types of burdens in his life. One was easily the amount of paperwork. The second one dealt with situations that if made public, would be disastrous, to the village or the clan that was involved. The Uchiha Clan's coup immediately came to mind as well as other secrets that would be buried together with Hiruzen when Kami decides it was finally time for his much desired rest.

"Any chance Sasori wrote the identity of the spy he had in Konoha?"

"No, unfortunately. That would be on a 'need to know' basis and it could ruin Akatsuki's plans, if someone managed to find these scrolls."

The two then began their conversation about Naruto's training material over dinner.

===With Orochimaru===

Ever since the snake sannin knew that Uchiha Sasuke was out of his grasp, the man's patience had been running thin lately. Orochimaru was never forgiving before, but right now, the man was extremely unreachable. Before, he would give one of his goons a second chance to be of use to him. Now, just a mere word that Orochimaru did not like to hear and he would slice the subordinate's jugular without even hearing about the circumstances. These last three years, many events occurred with the Kyuubi brat roaming around the elemental nations as replacement for his former teammate Jiraiya. Upon hearing about it, Orochimaru found the news laughable. To believe that a mere chunnin would be able to take over, but much to his ire, the Kyuubi brat managed to do a good job. The kid even had the audacity to try monitoring the snake sannin, going as far as changing some of the spies that Orochimaru knew about and had convinced them to keep their mouths shut.

Orochimaru did not like this situation at all. It could shape up to be worse than the fact that he could not find any hints of what that goddamn Jiraiya had done with Sasuke.

Right now, the only possible outcome that would sooth his patience will be seeing his old partner Sasori's look of shock upon seeing him.

The snake sannin was spotting his subordinate Kabuto as his second in command stood right in front of a bridge located in Grass Country where Kabuto was scheduled to meet Sasori. Kabuto was in fact the spy Sasori had chosen to spy on Konoha. The sneaky puppeteer had a way of controlling his spies in order to do his bidding, but the truth was that Orochimaru knew about the details and managed to override said control, gaining an A-ranked shinobi as a second in command and even someone inside Akatsuki as well. However, something about the situation began to irritate the sannin as he saw Kabuto standing in front of the bridge for ten minutes now. It there was one thing that Sasori despised it was to wait for others or even make others wait. That being said, if the master puppeteer was not here now, then Orochimaru was certain that he would not be showing.

That alone told the snake sannin, one thing. Sasori was not the type to make pitiful excuses, so there was valid reason for his absence.

A smirk suddenly appeared on his face at the notion that perhaps the puppeteer met his demise at someone else's hand. Suddenly, his mood improved even if a little bit. He would ask Kabuto to investigate further.

===With Akatsuki===

Inside an unknown cave in an unknown location, five astral projections and two individuals were busy discussing the events that occurred during the Ichibi's capture.

They were indeed successful in capturing the demon, however they encountered interference as a group formed by Konoha and Suna broke inside the extraction location and engaged in combat with Deidara and Sasori. They all believed that both shinobi would appear before them now, to discuss their plans, but they did not. All of a sudden, something appeared to be coming up from the ground itself, before Zetsu appeared.

"Both Deidara and Sasori perished in their battles." Stated Zetsu's dark half, resulting in silence from the gathered. Pein, the one with the rinnegan, simply asked one simple question.

"Who killed them?" A question that Zetsu just could not answer, at least not in regards to Sasori.

"Deidara was decapitated by a fast and precise raiton, it appeared. That being said, Hatake Kakashi was the only one with a similar ability." Everyone processed the information and nodded, though one of the projections, who possessed the sharingan, doubted that Kakashi the author of the attack. His old senpai's technique, the Raikiri, targeted the enemy's heart. To this date, Itachi had no record of Kakashi using raiton in the manner described by Zetsu. However, Kakashi was indeed the only one from the group that came to Gaara's rescue that used lightning. Perhaps another person was there. When Itachi stalled the group, he had sensed another presence nearby, though he could not identity it.

"And Sasori? Who killed him and how?" Pein's voice interrupted Itachi's wonderings. For someone to defeat Sasori, one must be even better than Hatake Kakashi and from the group, he was the strongest one.

"We do not know…" "We found nothing indicating the cause of death". Both halves of Zetsu gave their report.

The news of Deidara's defeat was of no importance compared to this new one. Sasori had enough resources to use that even Pein himself doubted he knew all of them. Not only that, but the one who defeated him even managed to do so without scratching him. The news itself was troubling, as no one in the rescue group had the skills to hold their own against him, much less defeat Sasori. Itachi's mind worked a mile a minute in order to understand this situation, but for the live of him, he could not figure it out. Puppet users were always a problematic enemy for the sharingan. Even if the sharingan could see the chakra treads linking puppet user to puppet, an Uchiha could not fight multiple puppets at the same time. Even genjutsu would be unwise, considering that Sasori always hid his body inside a puppet.

"What about their rings?" Pein asked, remembering about the time when he sensed another chakra other than Sasori using it.

"We managed to recover Deidara's, but not Sasori's." The news was quite unsettling indeed, as the identity of the one responsible for Sasori's death eluded the organization.

"Unlike Deidara, Sasori's death is quite a blow to this organization. Without his spy network, finding the other jinchuuriki will be much harder. It will be up to everyone here to follow their leads."

Everyone listened as the leader issued his new set of orders.

===With Naruto===

Unaware that his actions had baffled many S-ranked criminals, Naruto was terribly busy as he started training with the Sandaime. Hiruzen opted to make good use of his time and urged his grandson to make ten earth shadow clones. Since Naruto had extensive knowledge on the theory behind lightning and earth ninjutsu as well as chakra control, Hiruzen commanded two of Naruto's clones for each task. The other four clones were also divided in pairs as the first duo would practice the chakra strings control method. The other duo focused on water chakra control. Meanwhile, the real one trained taijutsu. Hiruzen thought about it, but chose Sarubo as Naruto's first opponent. Naruto's familiar was the weakest of them, with Hiruzen being slightly better and Enma being the strongest. Hiruzen was actually on the same level as Enma at one time, but that was twenty years ago.

Nevertheless, Sarubo would be the same level as Kakashi. So, in essence, right at the beginning, Naruto was pitted against a jounin-level opponent. Needless to say that Naruto was not thrilled as he barely evaded one powerful punch from the human-sized brown monkey, who seemed to be smiling the entire time. The spy in training was hoping to at least use a clone while he received pointers from Hiruzen in his fighting form. As if reading his grandson's mind, Hiruzen commented with an amused smile on his face.

"We have very little time in our schedule here Naruto-kun…if you keep this up, you won't improve at all." Naruto grumbled a couple of nasty words at his grandfather. If Hiruzen wanted him to even the odds, Naruto was more than happy to oblige. Because of his bloodline, Naruto needed to keep his emotions in check so as not to alert the enemy of his presence. However, in here, control meant very little. Both Hiruzen and Sarubo noticed the change in Naruto's facial features, seconds before the spike in his chakra levels. The spy in training wasted little time and charged against Sarubo, this time faster and stronger, since his skills and body were augmented by meiton chakra. Sarubo blocked the strikes, but he began to feel the strain by doing so. Hiruzen quickly analyzed with a frown on his visage. It appeared that Naruto's sudden change is linked to his ability to use dark chakra at will. A quick debate issued in his mind as he saw Naruto's fight when aided by dark chakra.

Normally, Hiruzen was against using emotions in the middle of a fight, because it leads to rash decisions that could cost lives, even the fighter's own.

However, it appeared that the change was only in his speed and strength. Hiruzen could not see any change as far as judgment is concerned.

"What do you think, Enma?" The Monkey King was taking a seat on top of a leafy tree.

"The amount of malice is staggering. However, he seems to be controlling it quite well so far, Sarutobi. In any event, this training will only serve to improve his fighting skills without resorting to meiton energy." Hiruzen nodded, thinking amongst the same line. However, something inside him stirred as he paid attention to his grandson's facial features. Before, Naruto had a calm visage, more like collected, reserved. Now, Hiruzen's old heart could barely come to terms with what he was seeing. Hiruzen was safe from having a stroke, as he knew that Naruto was in full control of his actions. One can only hope that this ability did not consume the boy.

Well, I guess is enough for now.

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