Spiral Dragon by Greylle

* BREAK *

DISCLAIMER: Original series belong to someone else.
NOTE: REWRITE STARTED 5/2/18

Spiral Dragon, part two: At last - a C-Rank!

* BREAK *

"I officially hate you," said Sasuke to Kakashi the next morning, applying fresh salve to the bee stings covering his left arm.

Sakura merely whimpered.

"Why is she wearing a bag over her head?" asked Kakashi.

"She fell down," said Sasuke. "Swarmed."

"Oh, I guess she wasn't ready for that level of training," said Kakashi.

"Agreed," said Sasuke.

"We'll have to work her up to that level," said Kakashi. "What could I use that's a little slower than bees?"

Sakura whimpered again.

"Anko has some pretty good ideas about training," said Kakashi thoughtfully.

"Right, she's the one who came up with the bee avoidance exercise?" asked Sasuke, taking out a little notebook.

"Yes, Anko Mitarashi. What's that anyway?"

"Vengeance list," said Sasuke, writing the name down and then putting the notebook away.

"Naruto, how's the eggercize going?" asked Kakashi of his final genin.

"Eggsactly as you might eggspect," said Naruto, happy to throw puns around.

"Let me guess," said Sasuke. "You were a smash?"

"The yolk was on me all right," responded Naruto.

"Please stop," said the kunoichi in their midst.

"The voice of eggsaspiration," noted Kakashi.

"Maybe she's trying not to crack up," observed Sasuke, who didn't think losing to Naruto in ANYTHING was particularly acceptable or maybe it was just the bee stings irritation.

"Well, we've got a mission to get to," said Kakashi as he realized that Sakura was beginning to shake. "There's the Hiryu Shrine, a nice little place that's just set up. We'll work on Sakura's endurance, Sasuke's avoidance skills, and Naruto's strength control after it."

* break *

"Hello, I am called 'Keri'," said the shrine priestess. "Hello cousin."

"Eh?" asked all three genin.

"That's you, Naruto," said Keri.

"Eh?" asked all three genin again.

"I've got a relative?" asked Naruto.

"Distant," said Keri. "I'm also to instruct you in fuuinjutsu, so I specifically requested Team 7 for assistance. I expect that if you do a good job, I may have to do so again in the future."

"You're related to Naruto?" asked Sakura, taking the bag off in order to see more clearly.

"Yes, and... what happened to you child?" asked Keri.

"Training accident," supplied Kakashi.

"Come along," said Keri, shaking her head. "I can't have you greeting petitioners looking like that."

* break *

Kakashi had found a little stone bench under a tree and begun reading. It was a pleasant morning, things were going well, but he was distracted by the shrine priestess. She had the red hair that Kushina had, and it was possible that she was a relative. Uzumaki were pretty rare though after the fall of Whirlpool.

"Here we go," said Keri's voice, prompting Kakashi to look up and begin staring.

Sakura and the priestess were wearing the traditional white and red of shrine priestesses, but it was Sakura having a freshly-scrubbed look and a lack of swelling that caught his attention.

"You think I can learn to do that?" asked Sakura.

"Medical jutsu? If you've got good chakra control, I've a scroll on the basics," said Keri. "Now if you'll sweep this area? This is mainly to be obviously here and able to provide for visitors. I've already got Naruto working on some stone engraving and Sasuke is working on repairs of the warehouse."

"Really?" asked Sakura thoughtfully.

"It really is important at your age to think about specialization of your ninja skills, so you can concentrate your efforts there," said Keri, glancing up at Kakashi. "Unless of course, you're the famed 'Copy Nin' who is good at everything."

"Well, we can't all be as awesome as me," said Kakashi, smiling to indicate he wasn't completely serious. Though his mask was blocking most of that smile.

"So, if it meets your training schedule?" asked Keri, raising an eyebrow.

Kakashi hesitated. There was more going on here than just what was visible on the surface. He was sufficiently experienced that he could get a feeling for a potential opponent's raw power - and he was currently getting the feeling he was facing someone of Kage-level power. He was also getting absolutely no threat from that individual, but there was something off about her.

Kakashi waited until the woman was off instructing Sakura on what the various plaques, wards, prayer strips, and fortune telling procedures were. Acting as if he was just idly scratching an itch, he moved the forehead protector away from his Sharingan eye for just a moment.

When he pulled it back down, he was a little more confused.

* break *

"Do you think this year will be any different?" asked the old woman.

"Maybe," said the old man. "The sea monsters are new, so maybe that'll provide the excuse they're looking for."

"Maybe with the sea monsters, this is the year my group has been waiting for," said the old woman.

"That old prophesy? The dragon god?" The old man shook his head. "No, the shrine maidens are good for business, but we've got enough problems with sea serpents. No way there's any such things as dragons in this day and age."

* break *

Kakashi waited until Sakura was off sweeping the stairs before coming up behind the shrine priestess.

"Something wrong?" asked the miko without turning around.

"I'm pretty sure Naruto doesn't have any living relatives," said Kakashi.

"Mostly true, in all this world, there is no closer relative to Naruto than I am," responded the priestess. "So why not ask the Hokage about me? Or the nice ANBU across the street."

Kakashi frowned, extending his senses to find - yes there was one there. Very good at being hidden too, if his attention hadn't been called to it - he might not have detected that one until something had required movement.

"That one's 'Cat' - Yugao Uzuki. Sword-wielder," said Keri. "She's safe."

"'Safe'?" asked Kakashi.

"One of the problems with wood is that it rots, particularly wood that is kept deep in the shadows and moistness of underground," said Keri, giving all apparent attention to Sakura's sweeping.

"I don't understand," said Kakashi.

"Actually, I think you do understand, you're just fishing for more information," said Keri. "How about a brief spar after your mission tomorrow? Will that settle you any?"

"Why tomorrow?" asked Kakashi.

"Energy barrier seals have to be emplaced," said Keri. "That way we can demonstrate the skill level that they need to aspire to. I might be able to get some of those chakra-replenishing orbs if you need some."

"They're called 'soldier pills'," said Kakashi.

"Oh yes," said Keri. "That's right. Silly name though. You have conscript forces here in the Land Of Fire - but as they are not ninja don't actually use them. Only ninja use them, so you'd think they'd call them 'ninja pills' or something."

"I wasn't involved with the naming of those," protested Kakashi.

Keri merely shrugged a little in reply. "There are many things about ninja life which don't make a lot of sense to me. Though tomorrow you can work some of that frustration off."

"Why not today?" asked Kakashi, pulling the cover off his Sharingan and charging up a chidori. It was just a bluff to get this woman to reveal who she really was.

He wasn't expecting the woman to turn, grab his hand, and slam his active chidori into her chest before releasing his hand - all in an eyeblink. Really, of all the moves one would EXPECT of a potential opponent faced with an 'instant-kill' jutsu, wouldn't that be among the least expected responses?

"KAKASHI-SENSEI?" screamed Sakura, who had looked up from her sweeping to find their sensei assaulting their client.

(Poink poink!)

Kakashi frowned as the still-active chidori dented the woman's breasts under her hakama but didn't seem to be able to penetrate her skin.

"KAKASHI-SENSEI?" yelled Naruto, drawn by Sakura's scream.

(Poink poink!)

"WOULD YOU STOP FEELING UP THE CLIENT?" yelled Sakura, truly aghast at this development.

Sasuke had come running up himself, imagining any number of situations that might have developed to cause that cry from Sakura, and now merely stopped with a disgusted expression and leaned against one wall. The glowy hand technique looked interesting at least.

The shock of what had just happened caused Kakashi Hatake to drop the technique. Of course, none of his genin would recognize the chidori for what it was. And he realized that if he explained it, that really wouldn't help that much.

"Honestly," said Keri, shaking her head. "In front of children no less! Very well, Kakashi Hatake! I challenge you to a duel for my honor! You don't know me nearly well enough to take such liberties!"

"Uhm, so does that mean if I knew you better..." said Kakashi, who then shut his mouth as he realized how his gathering genin, the arriving ANBU Cat, and a few shrine-goers who were now watching would interpret that.

"Armor Piercing Slap No Jutsu!"

* break *

Next morning:

Team 7 watched from the sidelines. They noted the presence of ANBU nearby, who also watched.

Keri settled into place on one side, then made a couple of quick gestures. Blue sigils on the ground glowed brightly in response, and a blue box seemed to form over the section before fading to a barely-there translucency.

"What exactly does this barrier do?" asked Kakashi, looking over the sigils behind him.

"It's easily dispelled if one strikes one of the seals maintaining it," explained Keri. "However it will serve to contain our battle to this single field. It would not do for one of our attacks to stray out and destroy a building. Not to mention it'll make it easier to clean things up when we're done."

"I see, then shall we begin?" asked Kakashi, curious to see what this 'shrine maiden' could do. He uncovered his usually-concealed eye to study his opponent the better.

"As you will," said Keri, settling into a horse-stance then bringing her arms up into an 'X' in front of her before sweeping them out again in a technique. "Kongou Style! Demon Wind Blades!"

Kakashi dodged as the two scythe-forms of wind projectiles went sailing past him. He saw her about to repeat the technique and decided to block instead. "Earth Release: Earth Style Wall!"

Sasuke blinked as walls of rock were formed, then chopped through by wind blades. "Interesting."

"Kakashi-sensei can move pretty fast when he wants to," noted Naruto.

"He just formed spears of earth to throw at your relative," said Sakura to Naruto, though she didn't turn away from the fight. "She broke them with her bare hands?"

"She's pretty strong," noted Naruto.

"He just formed walls around her and tried to crush her with them," said Sakura. "That was impressive, even if she was able to break the walls apart."

"What?" asked Sasuke. "She combined fire and lightning to throw... whatever that was at him."

"Plasma?" asked Sakura, guessing.

"He used a substitution jutsu. That log... just liquified where the attack hit it," said Sasuke, eyes wide and wishing he knew that particular attack. That looked suitably painful.

"Looks like Kakashi-sensei has decided to try taijutsu," noted Naruto as Kakashi dove in.

"Popcorn?"

Team 7 all stared as the Hokage offered them a red-and-white striped bag of the snack.

* break *

Kakashi Hatake was impressed. The shrine maiden didn't know that much ninjutsu, but her strength was considerable. Even more so than Naruto's newfound strength.

Diving in, he slammed a kick into the woman that she was able to block but which still would have at least caused Guy to grunt from the impact.

Instead she DELIBERATELY signalled an attack which he avoided and which then cratered the ground for a good six feet. Yeah, avoiding it DID seem like a good idea.

The woman was significantly tough and powerful enough to count as a significant threat even to him, and she was also pointing out how much he'd been slacking lately.

He hadn't had gone this full out in a long time, and Kakashi could feel the burn in muscles and fatigue building up.

Here came another set of not-quite-accurate hand-seals, but it was her taking a deep breath that made it clear what was about to come.

Oh, avoiding it sounded like a very good plan at the moment. Maybe taijutsu wasn't his best choice here.

A glimpse of extra people in the audience, including the Hokage, made it clear that he was expected to show off. Well, how about... "Water Release: Water Drowning Technique!"

It was nice of his opponent to put so many water barrels off to the side within the barrier. Not that he didn't think it was deliberate, but now with the water hosing her down - maybe she'd slip up finally and reveal something.

"Kongou Style: Breath Of The Dragon!"

Okay, that definitely sounded like something to avoid. "Water Style: Water Dragon!"

Water Dragon slammed into the sparkling red-yellow blast and steam resulted. With the majority of the red-yellow crackling whatever-it-was moving onward and creating a fairly deep crater. That looked like a good cue to end the fight by using a flash move behind her and placing a kunai point against the back of her neck.

As promised, her hands came up in a surrender gesture. Which was good, as he had been running low on chakra by this point.

* break *

"You needed to see me, Kakashi?" asked the Hokage that evening, sitting back in his chair. He put the thumb of one hand against the forefinger of the same hand, then made a quick flicking gesture - rewarded with a small flame appearing around his thumb that he lit his pipe with.

"That shrine maiden... Naruto's aunt," said Kakashi.

"Activate level 4 wards," said the Hokage, making a one-handed seal which crackled with chakra.

Kakashi's eye widened slightly. Level 4 wards were pretty tough, indicating that there were S-Class secrets involved. They weren't routinely used because the fuuinjutsu required to make them was fairly complicated and always having to be updated in order to deal with the newest eavesdropping techniques.

"Do you remember the large 'boss summons' from the other day?" asked the Hokage.

"I somehow missed it, but I've..." Kakashi felt certain impossible suspicions click together.

The Hokage sat back in his chair and started making a chain of smoke rings.

"That's..." Kakashi stopped again. "No. That can't be right."

"Hmmm?" hmmmed the Hokage, letting his subordinate work it through.

"She's the boss summons?" asked Kakashi finally.

"Yes, and..." The Hokage let that trail off.

"But when I had Naruto demonstrate his summoning technique to me in private, he had the gestures right but he didn't manage to draw blood and the summoning wasn't a summoning," said Kakashi, continuing to work things through. "It looked more like a shadow clone and a substitution." It was just that the answer he kept coming up with was something his mind just balked at.

"He is indeed the child of Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki," supplied the Hokage. "However, there is more to his heritage than was originally thought."

"Naruto, who is the child of the Fourth Hokage, and the jinchuriki of the Nine-tailed Demon Fox, is..." Kakashi's voice trailed off again as his mind saw the conclusion and just did NOT want to go there.

"Able to take the form of a heavily armored, plasma-fire wielding, flies fairly quickly, dragon," said the Hokage. "It's a good thing he's a bit more thoughtful than he was in the Academy, isn't it?"

Kakashi Hatake, famed copy-nin and former ANBU captain, considered fainting. "So..."

"So Naruto still needs training, but as his sensei you should know that there may be... special needs," said the Hokage.

"When Sasuke awakens his Sharingan, he'll be able to figure it out," said Kakashi. "How far off are the Chunin Exams?"

"Another three months, why?" asked the Hokage.

"Guy will be entering his team," said Kakashi, a peculiar glitter in his visible eye.

"And you want your team to grind his into the dust?" asked the Hokage, sounding bemused.

"Who, me? The thought hardly ever entered my mind," said Kakashi, who then sighed. "This is going to cut into my reading time."

"I've got a C-Rank mission that might interest you," said the Hokage, beginning to smirk.

"A 'C-Rank'? They've barely begun 'D-Rank' missions," pointed out Kakashi.

"This is a request from Fortune Beach," said the Hokage. "The Miss Beach competition is being threatened by sea monsters."

"Fortune Beach is over a week's travel away... Ah." Kakashi tried to look disinterested and failed to pull it off to Hiruzen Sarutobi's discerning eye. "How fast can Naruto fly?"

"He can be there in less than a day, I'd think," responded the Hokage with amusement.

"I see," said Kakashi thoughtfully. "Might be a good place to have the genin train while I keep an eye on the contestants."

There was a beach with warm blue crystal-clear waters. White sand beaches. What was very frequently a clear blue sky. A warm water current kept the place comfortably warm year round.

The person who founded the little town there realized what he had found. His family still controlled the little settlement, even if it WAS technically in the Land Of Fire and the daimyo ruled it. He had been related to the daimyo of that time anyway, so it was sort of a family post. Since then, a few more families had joined but it was still a fairly small community with a few large families involved.

There was an island not too far off, it had some odd customs but was enough to provide many supplies and assistance during the rough early years. The two communities remained close long after Fortune Beach became much bigger and more populous than Okitsushima.

After the Second Shinobi War wrecked most of the place, it had rebuilt and someone had come up with the idea of a Miss Beach Contest. That person was a famous wandering author who set one of his novels in the area, further increasing the notoriety of Fortune Beach.

Kakashi Hatake had a chance to have a mission that would take him to Fortune Beach. To guard a Miss Beach Contest. While sampling their famous seafood, sitting on white sand beaches, having cool ocean air blowing through his hair, warm inviting waters. Well curved young ladies who might need their backs oiled by mysterious ninja...

"Kakashi? Kakashi? Ahem. Kakashi!"

"We'll take it," said Kakashi.

"You sure your team's up to it?" asked the Hokage, not seemingly surprised.

"Naruto is a heavily armored dragon, Sasuke is... Sasuke. We'll manage," said Kakashi.

"What about the third member of your team?" asked the Hokage, more bemused than anything else because he could tell Kakashi was already fantasizing. Of course, he was professional enough that while he was there he'd focus on the actual mission. So it was good to get the fantasies out of the way now.

"Who? Oh, Sakura..." Kakashi considered. "They have a junior division in that contest, right? I can give her her first undercover assignment."

* break *

"What's going on, Kakashi-sensei?" asked Naruto, looking around the clearing that was their usual meeting spot. "You said we have a long-term mission."

"Yes, unless you really want to catch Tora again..." Kakashi let his voice trail off.

"Heck no!" said Sakura. "For some reason that cat's scared to death of Naruto, and I always end up carrying it! The scratches take over a day to heal!"

"Okay, then," said Kakashi. "We have a C-Rank mission."

"A C-Rank!" exclaimed Naruto excitedly. "That's good right?"

Kakashi patiently explained the mission ranking system, noting that Naruto seemed to be listening and actually understanding it.

"So this mission takes us outside the village or could be dangerous?" asked Naruto, still enthusiastic. "Cool!"

Sasuke nodded and a slight smile could be seen if one looked for it.

"So we'll be going for about two weeks," said Kakashi. "Normally we wouldn't be able to do a mission like this, but because of Naruto's summoning abilities - we have the transportation covered."

"Naruto has a summons?" asked Sakura. "What's he summon - gerbils?"

"No. Do you need any special preparations for your summons to carry passengers?" asked Kakashi of Naruto.

"If not gerbils, it has to be something else pathetic, right Sasuke?" asked Sakura.

Sasuke frowned, wondering if the dobe had FURTHER uses than freak strength.

"Yeah," said Naruto, thinking. "I need..."

"A harness," said Keri, walking up with a large scroll.

"You know about this?" asked Kakashi.

"The Hokage let me know that my dear relative was going off, I wanted to make sure you got off safely," said Keri, taking a small pack off and handing it to Kakashi. "I've included some scrolls in there marked for each of them to study. In this scroll I've sealed an appropriate harness. Release!"

A large harness arrangement of thick rope with buckles appeared out of a puff of chakra smoke.

"That's... huge," noted Sakura. "But Naruto... with a summons?"

"Why NOT me with a summons?" asked Naruto, frowning.

"Because summoning contracts are some of the most powerful and versatile techniques out there," explained Sakura, eager to show off her knowledge. After all, Naruto's new freakish strength was making her look like she was less valuable to Sasuke than NARUTO. That was unacceptable, so she'd HAVE to show off where she really shone - which was information. "They're jealously guarded by those who have access to such things. Not just anyone can have the chakra reserves and access to them!"

"That's very true, Sakura," said Kakashi in an almost bored tone. "I have a set of ninja dogs that I use as summons myself, who are mainly used for messengers or reconn. However, you are wrong on one important detail."

"I'll eat your mask if Naruto has a summoning contract," argued Sakura. "Sasuke - definitely. I could see Sasuke with an awesome summons. But - Naruto?"

"This isn't a standard summoning sequence because our contract is somewhat different," said Keri to Naruto, having used the opportunity to show Naruto the appropriate hand signs. "It's a family thing. Now try it."

Naruto tried the hands signs, then clapped his hands together. "SUMMONING!"

(BAMF!) went a huge cloud of chakra smoke.

As it cleared, there was the sight of Naruto sitting atop fifty feet of heavily armored dragon.

Sakura's eyes were blank little circles as she stared, slump-shouldered, jaw hanging down and gently creaking in the wind.

"Hnn," was Sasuke's comment, nodding once at the dragon. Now THIS was transportation with style. He liked style.

"Now help me get this harness on," said Keri, lifting one section up. "Step into the loops here like this."

"Ah, I see how it goes," said Kakashi, moving to one of the other holes as the dragon moved accordingly.

Sasuke watched for a moment, nodded, then went to an appropriate section opposite Naruto and began assisting.

"Bu-bu-bu-bu-but..." offered Sakura, managing to point. "kai?"

"Ah, there are sections where bags can be tied into place," noted Kakashi as he clicked fasteners together. "That's handy."

"It can be adjusted too," Keri explained. "There's some stretch in it, and the ropes are pretty tough but it can be cut. Something to watch out for if there's airborne combat."

"Airborne combat?" asked Sasuke, pausing as he cinched a section tighter. Then patted the dragon in apology at the displeased rumble from the creature.

"KAI!" tried Sakura more forcefully as she tried to dispel the genjutsu.

"Hmm," said Kakashi thoughtfully. "In combat you could carry several high level ninja aloft. Who could then bring ranged jutsu into play, using those belts to hook directly onto the harness to leave their hands free. I can see where that could be useful."

"Hadn't thought of that," rumbled the dragon in an extremely deep and powerful voice.

"Well, it's something to keep in mind," said Kakashi.

"Ta-ta-ta-talked?" observed a still completely freaked out Sakura.

"Of course I talked," rumbled the dragon, neglecting to mention that he was still getting used to being a dragon and had only recently worked that part out. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Species-ist," complained Keri.

"She'll have to get over that," said Kakashi.

"Hnn," agreed Sasuke.

"Okay," said the shadow clone impersonating the real Naruto. "Got this part done. We ready?"

Everyone glanced towards Sakura, who was still staring at the dragon.

"I'm not putting out the dragonfear aura, am I?" asked the dragon.

"No, well, maybe a little," said Keri after considering that. She finally just sighed, went over to Sakura, and picked up the kunoichi as if she were a bundle of clothes destined for the wash. "First time exposed to dragonfear or 'killing intent' - which is different but similar?"

"Hardly noticeable," said Sasuke, who knew REAL killing intent.

"Ne ne," said Kakashi, making a placating gesture. "Give her some slack. Best she get used to it in small amounts, build up some resistance. Oh, and Sakura?"

"E-eh?" asked Sakura, who'd gone from stiff to shaky at this point as the shrine priestess set her down on the dragon.

"No, you may not eat my mask," Kakashi solemnly informed her.

Keri checked the tethers and belts that kept the ninja secured to their dragon, even the shadow clone impersonating the real Naruto, and finally nodded after checking the supplies.

Stepping back away from the group, she spoke directly to the dragon. "Curl your tail underneath you when you push off, you'll shove with that as well as your rear legs, and don't go too high. Your passengers will have less trouble breathing if you keep it to about mountain-height. Judge your altitude from the clouds. Don't go up to the highest cloud level until you're a lot older. Watch your speed too. You need to find a nice cruising speed that you can keep up for a long period of time, don't go too fast or you'll tire. Not to mention you've got passengers who need to be able to breathe."

"Got it," said the dragon, nodding.

"You catch all that Naruto?" asked Keri of the shadow clone in the most forward seat.

The Naruto clone impersonating Naruto nodded. "Thanks aunty."

"Hmph, more of a distant cousin," said Keri. "You passengers - get good grips on take-offs and landings. Those are the trickiest parts of a flight and your dragon is still young and inexperienced. Everyone ready?"

"Yes!" "Hnn." "We're really going to fly? Wait 'inexperienced'?" "Believe it!"

"Then take off!" said Keri, making a slashing motion with one arm.

The dragon leapt into the air.

* break *

This... this was cool.

Sasuke Uchiha had the excellent vision that his clan normally had. After the initial crushing g-force of the 'take-off' things had levelled out and they were soaring over a carpet of green. Those were tree-tops down there. WAY down there. You could see the horizons in all directions, at a distance that you simply could not understand when you were stuck on the ground. You could see so far, so clearly.

"How high are we?" shouted Kakashi to Naruto over the wind of their passage.

"About eight thousand feet," shouted back Naruto.

Sasuke blinked and leaned out as far as his tether would allow. That was pretty high up.

Yes, this was actually pretty cool. And they were travelling quickly. Didn't this mean that they would be able to take on missions in distant areas? Sakura was right, summons WERE useful and versatile.

He'd thought that Naruto would be the anchor that kept him from being able to spread his wings and fly, to reach his full potential. That appeared to be not the case any longer. Literally as well as figuratively. This was good.

* break *

Kakashi glanced towards the shadow clone of Naruto, then back up to the dragon's head. Easily fifty feet long, then factor in the tail length. The takeoff had been rough, Sakura had squeaked as they all felt the sudden leap forward. After getting some altitude though - things had smoothed out.

"How high are we?" yelled Kakashi to Naruto. On Naruto-clone's reply, Kakashi simply nodded and flipped open his book to start reading. At that altitude most attacks were out of range. Considering their speed, which was considerable, anyone that tried to target them would have to overcome both obstacles in order to strike. In which case they'd have to get airborne themselves and try to match speeds. If they did any of that, he'd have time to mark his place in the book and secure it before dealing with the threat.

Kakashi glanced at Sasuke, who was holding onto his tether and looking down at the ground. Probably judging their speed and altitude for himself. Kakashi also saw a brief grin there, but it was gone a moment later.

Then there was Sakura, who had been so reluctant to get on the dragon in the first place.

From the grin on her face, she'd gotten over that. Her hands were still clutching the harness in a death-grip, but she seemed to be slowly relaxing. Good.

* break *

The breed was Adamantine Dragon, but it was not a precise copy. Especially as the set of universes with the original Bytopian Adamantine Dragon had been revised and rewritten. Yes, again.

So Naruto was fifty feet long of heavily armored dragon that was currently flying at around 8000 feet in altitude and managing at a little over 100mph.

Ninja running and leaping was fairly fast, in comparison to civilians walking. Some were at least as fast as a horse would have been, some faster. There were a few who could go this fast without a dragon. Not many though.

Sakura had started out terrified nearly beyond all rationality. Naruto, not known for self-control, had summoned a creature big enough that she herself qualified as "bite-sized nugget" to it. Armored plates covering it that she was quite sure her kunai would not penetrate. Eyes that seemed to look deep into her soul and strip away secrets. Claws like daggers, teeth like swords. And when it seemed that "Sakura McNugget" was a fate for her future, the summoned beast had spoken.

The threat level had lowered as it had spoken, though the voice had been very deep and inhuman sounding. Which made sense because the chest cavity was very large and the neck was very long and the mouth wasn't shaped very humanly. Speaking meant intelligence behind those odd blue eyes, and while the voice was deep and powerful - it hadn't sounded menacing at all.

Then she'd watched, still unable to move much, while the others of her team and that shrine priestess had fitted the harness together. Tethers on spring-hook arrangements linked belts to a harness formed of a net of ropes. The dragon had looked back in concern as it was all done.

The priestess had batted her hands away at one point, using the same sort of strength that Naruto seemed to have nowadays, and linked her into the same sort of tether arrangement.

All too soon she was being crushed under sudden acceleration as their ride got moving. Once that was over, she slowly opened her eyes.

It was beautiful.

The sun was bright overhead, there were clouds above them, the sky was blue, and she could see further in all directions than she'd ever managed to do before this.

There was hardly any effort involved, just keeping a grip on the harness with a couple of loops that one leg was threaded through. The tether-belt arrangement was mainly if she slipped or fighting broke out. She understood that.

The wind passing by her, which was actually relatively still air that the dragon was passing through, made talking difficult. She heard Kakashi yell something, Naruto yell back, but couldn't make out what they said. Instead she just looked them over and read the body language that indicated nothing threatening them. Though she was unclear as to what exactly COULD threaten them. If the big armored nasty was actually on their side...

"Faster!" called out Sakura. "Higher!"

Despite the wind generated by their passage, the dragon's head momentarily twisted back to regard her for a moment. It was somewhat surprising that despite the inhuman visage that she could see surprise and then a glimpse of a friendly grin as the dragon turned forward again.

Wings beat the air again, cupping it as the dragon lifted still further.

It took less than an hour at that pace before thick forest gave way to grassy hills and the dragon slowed itself. Himself?

Leaning out as far as her tether allowed, Sakura looked down and determined that they were passing to the left of a sprawling village of some kind on the shores of an ocean. A strip of white sands and then blue waters.

Their forward momentum continued to slow, and then changed into a slow spiral down.

Kakashi slapped his hand down twice on the dragon's hide, causing the head to curl back on that long neck and regard him. Their jonin instructor said something to their ride, to which the dragon nodded. Their angle of descent changed so that they'd land further away from the village.

The reason was clear to Sakura. Keep the dragon as a reserve weapon.

Then their angle of descent changed again, with a sudden feeling of tenseness in the air.

Sakura blinked and tried to see what was ahead of them as their speed picked up and they angled into a steeper dive.

* break *

Sasuke could see it. There was a thin ribbon of something out in the ocean. It was moving though, and fairly quickly. Whatever it was leaving a wake behind it.

Then their dragon did something, a shudder going through its body and a glow building up ahead of it's head. After a few seconds of some thrumming noise in the air, a bolt of crackling energy went flying out ahead of them and impacted just behind and to the left of the ribbon. The ribbon veered away and dove below the water.

By that time he'd already figured out the scale as they continued to dive towards the water. The 'ribbon' was some sort of snake and it was huge. Bigger even than the dragon they were on. Certainly bigger than the ship that he hadn't even been able to see until they were practically there.

The angle changed, turning more shallow and decreasing their speed.

Sasuke glanced towards Naruto, frowning. The dead last loser had just proven that he could contribute more than just that freakish strength he'd developed.

Sasuke had a brief and very satisfying fantasy involving That Man, tomato sauce, and sharp teeth the size and general shape of swords.

* break *

Kakashi was ready for it and signalled his genin, remembering the words from the shrine priestess.

Sure enough, the landing was rough. Naruto would have to practice those well away from the village and anything breakable. Like buildings or people.

"Okay, we're a distance from the village, we'll walk the rest of the way," said Kakashi, before becoming aware of an awkwardness. The shadow clone and dragon were considering each other.

"Dragon-san," said Kakashi. "If you'd go ahead and investigate where the sea serpent disappeared. And Naruto, go scout around for a place we can hide the harness until we need it again."

The two looked relieved. He'd have to come up with a better way in the future though for "Naruto" to dismiss the "summoned dragon" until he felt ready for sharing the secret with Sakura and Sasuke.

* break *

The beast stood ready, detecting the movement of something getting closer through an extended antennae..

When it was within range, the beast attacked, sending tentacles with fine needles out to grab onto the prey-item. The needles would release the paralyzing venom, the prey would be quickly subdued, brought into the water, and devoured.

The tentacles grabbed on, but then the beast found itself being pulled out of the water.

Optical sensors that weren't quite as developed as a true eye came into play even as the grabber-tentacles tried to sting the prey. Unfortunately the prey had a tough armoring of scales and-

CRUNCH!

The dragon chewed idly on the beast as the bulk of its body thrashed around in its death-throes.

After a few moments, the dragon blurred and shrunk before Naruto grabbed one of the limbs and dragged it back to where Kakashi and company were.

* break *

"So, Kakashi-sensei," Naruto hefted the thing and tossed it to the center of the cleared area (said area having been cleared by a dragon who really needed to work on landings) where it landed with a splunching sort of noise. "What the heck is this?"

Sakura and Sasuke simply went silent as they stared at it.

Kakashi used a kunai to manipulate one of the tentacles. "Hmmm. Let's see. Six tentacles, with little barbs that look like they could contain a poison. A mouth that has teeth like a shark. Eyes aren't very developed. Skin is rubbery but coarse. I'd say that this is..."

There was some silence from all three genin, waiting for the dramatic pause to end.

Finally Sakura broke the silence. "You have no idea either, do you?"

"Meh, Sakura, I'm a ninja not a marine biologist," responded Kakashi. "I'll simply call it a nasty sea monster, number two."

"That giant serpent being the first," guessed Sakura. "What was that the dragon spat at the sea serpent anyway?"

"Plasma, which is lightning and fire chakra combined, I think," said Kakashi. "Very destructive."

"Hnn," Sasuke indicated his interest.

"That reminds me Naruto," said Sakura, going to an "I'm so sweet butter wouldn't melt in my mouth" look. "You ought to let Sasuke sign the Dragon Contract."

"Huh?" asked Naruto. "Why?"

"Because that way we'd have TWO dragons available," explained Sakura, trying to turn up the cute.

"There's a problem with that, Sakura," said Kakashi. "It's a clan technique. Meaning that only members of the Uzumaki clan can access it."

"Oh," said Sakura, deflating slightly.

"So that shrine priestess can also summon a dragon?" asked Sasuke, thinking of various possibilities there.

"As I understand it, yes, she can summon an even larger and more powerful one," said Kakashi.

"Is that all?" asked Sakura. "I knew Naruto didn't have a mother and father, that's one reason he's so immature. No other members of his clan at all?"

"No," said Kakashi. "Were there any more of these creatures Naruto?"

"Just the one, I think," offered Naruto.

"Did you have to drag it all the way, Naruto?" asked Sakura. "You left a trail."

"Hey," protested Naruto. "It's freakin' twenty feet long and it ain't got any bones! How the heck was I supposed to move it other than dragging it?"

Sasuke used a kunai to heft one tentacle, frowning as he had to brace one arm with the other and it was still a strain. When he dropped it, he was considering Naruto with a thoughtful expression.

"So, Naruto," said Kakashi after a few moments. "You and I and Sasuke will go into the village, you're in charge of bringing the monster."

"What about me, Kakashi-sensei?" asked Sakura.

"I have a different angle I want you to explore," said Kakashi.

* Gilligan scene cut *

"You're here for the Miss Beach contest?" asked the older man.

"Yes, that's right," said the pink-haired girl. "Where do I sign up?"

The old man jerked a thumb at the sign over his head that proclaimed that this was where you signed up for the Miss Beach contest.

"Oh, right, well - I found the right place then," said the girl.

"Junior Division," said the old man, sounding quite tired of it all and putting a clipboard in front of her. "You get permission from your parents?"

"That's right," said the girl, signing her name.

"'Sakura Haruno'?" asked the old man after taking the clipboard back.

Sakura froze for a second, as she'd automatically signed her real name and not come up with a cover identity. "Ye-yes. That's me."

"No relation to those Haruno up in the Village Of Wild Women, are you?" asked the old man.

"Not that I'm aware of," responded Sakura, honestly not knowing and now wondering herself. Though there was something about the name of that village that just didn't sound right.

"Good," said the old man, looking a little relieved. "In three days the contest is supposed to start. Just stick around. Oh, and no killing or maiming or disfiguring the other contestants."

Sakura blinked. "This is a swimsuit contest, isn't it?"

"Yes," said the old man sadly. "That was how it started and all that was ever intended. And with that last name I want to make sure you understood that."

"Right," said Sakura, then looking to the side as she saw three familiar figures and a fourth she recognized as one of Naruto's "Sexy Jutsu" but actually wearing clothes. "Are those ninja? Dragging a... what is that?"

"They came?" said the old man, getting up from his seat. "Hot damn. We won't have to cancel after all."

* break *

"So, a dragon?" The old woman frowned thoughtfully as she considered what she'd seen as she got out of the little boat.

"Maybe it was just a sea monster?" asked another old woman.

"It didn't seem equipped for anything 'sea' related actually, and was flying," pointed out an old man.

"We'll head back to Okitsushima," said the second old woman. "You go ahead and verify."

"I'm now a dragon-hunter?" asked the eldest of the three, shaking her head. "Yae Nagumo, dragon hunter. Hmph. I like the sound of that. Fine. We still have to get ready for the festival. Chie, I'm counting on you to handle the preparations."

The second old woman, nodded. "Nothing I haven't handled for a few decades anyway. At this point, being minus a single pair of hands won't be a bother."

* Gilligan scene cut, now with 100% more dragons *

"That's one of 'em, all right." The old man adjusted his cap and spat to the side. "Lessee. Eight eyes, two mouths, six tentacles, twenny feet long. That'll be 2,000 ryo. I'll give ya a chit for it. Just cash it at the bank."

Sasuke blinked, Naruto gaped. Sasuke because the amount was sufficient to make monster-hunting sound somewhat appealing. Naruto because that was more than he usually saw all at once.

"That's all?" asked Kakashi, more used to bounty-hunting.

"Well, we ain't all that wealthy here ya know," said the old man. "At least lately. We're a resort beach, but with these monsters running around - business ain't doing too well."

"How much would that big snake-thing have been?" asked Naruto.

"If it be the one I be thinking of, about 500,000 ryo," said the old man. "That one's gone after ships. The one you brought in - might have gotten some people but I don't recognize the description. Shipping companies and the like have a bigger budget than we do for bounties and such."

"Oh?" asked Kakashi, seemingly not interested.

"Yeah, shipping companies putting that much forward since monster attacks cut into their budgets," said the old man, sticking his hand out. "You're that Kakashi Hatake, right? Infamous copy-nin, sometimes known as 'Sharingan Kakashi'?"

"You know of me?" asked Kakashi, raising an eyebrow.

"I've been to Konoha a few times as a client," said the old man. "Name's Kyuujou!"

"Oh?" asked Kakashi.

"Honestly, you'd think you guys didn't want jobs," grumbled Kyuujou. "I've been trying to get you for the Miss Beach contest for a couple years now!"

"Eh?" asked Naruto and Sasuke, making aversion signs.

"As a JUDGE!" added Kyuujou, interpreting their reaction.

"Whew," said Naruto, looking very relieved.

"Very funny, Naru... you have?" asked Kakashi.

"Of course," said Kyuujou. "I've always thought you'd make a great judge!"

"Oh?" Kakashi asked, seemingly bored at the concept.

"It's said that your Sharingan eye misses nothing," said Kyuujou.

"'Sharingan'?" asked Sasuke, getting more curious everytime this was brought up.

"And it is said you appreciate the finer points and ascetics of the female form," said Kyuujou.

"There may be some truth to that," admitted Kakashi.

"Hah! That's a bowl of ramen you owe me!" said Naruto to Sasuke.

"No, he hasn't indicated for sure," said Sasuke.

"What?" asked Kakashi.

"Sasuke was sure you were gynophobic," said Naruto.

"Oh really?" asked Kakashi.

"No," said Sasuke. "Naruto has it wrong."

"I would hope so," commented Kakashi.

"I was pretty sure you just spent all your time reading porn and never actually bothering any real women," said Sasuke. "I've heard it discussed."

"...what?" asked Kakashi, pausing for a few moments. Did people really say that about him?

"Heck, everyone's heard rumors like THAT," said Naruto. "Doesn't mean it's true."

Kakashi considered that for a moment before turning to the old man. "So, is that judge position still open?"

"Sure is," said the old man.

"So I'll be the judge of the adult division," said Kakashi, sounding intrigued. "Oh, and Sasuke here has exceptional vision too. I think he should be a judge for the Junior Division."

"What?" asked Sasuke, looking almost as if he'd been slapped.

"I thought you'd appreciate me getting a little payback, seeing how you value that sort of thing," said Kakashi.

"Point," agreed Sasuke.

"Now, come along, and I'll outline our other plans."

* break *

"Nagumo? You heard?"

"Ah, Bittersmith. I was just looking for you. About the dragon? Yes, saw it myself. More to the point I saw three riders on the dragon. They were going so fast and so high that all I could really make out was their coloration, and one had the most kami-awful orange jumpsuit."

"Well, that should make them easy to find at least. Have you seen Shizuku?"

"She's here? Fate that one of the living sacrifices is here when the dragon returns."

* break *

Kakashi looked over his three genin. Or at least two genin and a shadow clone that was acting a bit... girlish.

"Naruto, why is this particular clone..." Kakashi tried to find a way to put it.

"Something weird happened when I tried the Centerfold Jutsu, Kakashi-sensei," said Naruto. "I thought it would be okay if a shadow clone did it."

"Yeah? What's wrong with me?" asked the sexy female shadow clone of Naruto.

"You're walking different, your speech patterns have changed, and your body language is very different," noted Kakashi. "Then there's your clothes."

"Well, I can't wear all orange, Kakashi-sensei," said Naruto-clone. "It really doesn't go with my coloration."

"Uhm," said Naruto. "I thought you weren't wearing it so that you would look more different from me."

"Well, that too, but honestly, you ought to invest in some local clothes too," said Naruto-clone. "After all, it's pretty darn hot. Wardrobe Change No Jutsu can only get you so far."

"Point," agreed Kakashi, but still getting a very weird vibe off the clone. "It's getting to late evening, so that's a concern for tomorrow morning. Right now I want all three of you to scout the area. There's some oddities about this situation."

"Such as?" asked Naruto.

"Sea monsters normally stay away from this area," said Kakashi. "I don't know why, but I haven't heard of them in this area before. Then there's supposed to be some ancient cult here or out on Okitsushima Island. All I've heard about it is that they sacrifice maidens, metaphorically. We'll need to see if the sea monsters are actually because someone's removing the metaphor part."

"Human sacrifice? So Sakura's in danger?" asked Naruto.

"No, but that brings me to my next point though, I'm going to be keeping an eye on Sakura," said Kakashi. "My stealth skills are just better than either of you. Yes, including you Naruto-clone. If any of you run into trouble, use those short-range headsets and head towards the hotel Sakura will be staying at. The Golden Lion."

"Lion's Pride Inn," said Naruto-clone.

"Excuse me?" asked Kakashi.

"Lion's Pride Inn - it's the one that the contestants in Junior division are staying at," said Naruto-clone. "It was on a sign back where we passed Sakura."

"Interesting, it's named after a fictional inn from Icha Icha volume 1," said Kakashi thoughtfully. "I wonder."

"Kakashi-sensei," said Naruto-clone, rolling her eyes. "She's twelve."

"True," admitted Kakashi, sounding disappointed. "Anyway, go find out what you can, Meet me there by twenty-one hundred."

* Break *

Shizuku blinked as she saw the three kids walk by, noting the forehead protectors that indicated that they were Konohagakure ninja. A brooding-looking boy, and a younger brother with older sister. An older guy following behind the three.

The three separated after their handler said something to them. Going off in different directions.

Shizuku allowed herself a brief fantasy of being able to act like a normal girl and playing tour guide. After all, these were ninjas if kids not too far off in age from herself. She'd never see them again after all...

"Excuse me!"

Shizuku managed to bite down the feminine shriek and avoid performing a counter-attack. As soon as she caught her breath, and her heartrate went down, she turned.

It was the young blonde boy, looking a little surprised. "Uhm, sorry. Didn't mean to startle you. You know this area right?"

Shizuku blinked for a moment, then put aside her usual mask to smile at the boy. If her kami saw fit to give her a break and grant this selfish wish of hers, why not enjoy it? "Sure? You need a guide?"

* BREAK *

It was the clone who reached him first, just about twenty thirty. Wearing what looked like the sort of outfit a normal girl playing tennis might wear.

"It's going to get VERY hot here tomorrow, Kakashi-sensei," said the Naruto-clone. "I picked you up something to wear to blend in more."

"I'm not exactly known for being a slave to fashion," said Kakashi. He nonetheless took the floral print silk shirt and pants, though he also wondered how the clone knew his sizes.

"Boy, you got THAT right," said Naruto-clone.

"Excuse me?"

"Nothing!" chirped Naruto-clone with a quick salute. "I asked around. May have to do this more often as guys seem really talkative around me, though they don't really seem to want to say anything interesting. Mainly stuff about where they come from and what they do for a living and stuff like that. Still, I figure I found out most of the people don't live around here and are just tourists."

"Naruto, are you really okay?" asked Kakashi.

"Ever since the bloodline activated, my shadow clones have been a little off," admitted the Naruto female clone. "Same with the Centerfold jutsu. But I kinda got used to it after awhile."

"Is that so?" asked Kakashi.

"Do you know they've got a chilled noodle dish here?" asked Naruto-clone. "They've also got chilled ramen. Weird but kinda tasty."

* Break *

"So you know this area?" asked Naruto.

"Yes, though I live... elsewhere," said Shizuku. "So you're a ninja?"

"Yup!" said Naruto enthusiastically. "A genin of the Leaf Village, Naruto Uzumaki! My goal is to become Hokage!"

"Hokage's good?" asked Shizuku.

"Hokage is the leader of our village, recognized by all and protector of his village," said Naruto, then getting a puzzled expression. "You don't know that?"

"I live in a very rural area," confessed Shizuku. "I haven't really studied about different areas that much. Recognizing your headband was about as far as I know about ninjas."

"Oh," said Naruto, realizing that there were other things besides being a ninja. Which he'd KNOWN but actually meeting someone who knew nothing about ninja brought that idea home.

"So, I showed you the movie theater, the docks, the market," said Shizuku, counting off things as she walked along.

"We found you."

Naruto frowned at the three stepping out of the alley. "And you are?"

"Dealing with the lady," said the first of the three in the black robes. "Jashin has a use for you, sacrifice."

"My faith has nothing to do with your dark god," said Shizuku.

"Dark god?" asked Naruto.

"Jashin is the Lord Of Slaughter, Emperor Of Murder, Bringer Of Pain, Sultan of Suffering, Daimyo of Dentists, and Master of Torturous Death," said the lead Jashinite. "All hail Jashin!"

"All hail Jashin!" chorused the other two.

"Uhm, right," said Naruto. "Never heard of it."

"Of course you've never heard of us," said the lead Jashinite. "We are cloaked in anonyminity and ignorance!"

"And black silk," said the second Jashinite.

"Fine," said the lead Jashinite. "We are cloaked in anonyminity, ignorance, and fine black silk!"

"Yeah," chorused the other two.

"They worship a god of torture and murder," said Shizuku. "They can't understand why everyone doesn't want to immediately sign up."

"Killing you will be a good example as to why they should join now," said the lead Jashinist. "And as a special offer, we'll throw in free sacrificial knives!"

The other two brandished their knives and smiled.

"I'll pass, thank you," said Shizuku.

"Well, then I'll..." the lead Jashinist thrust his blade forward only to have the orange-clad kid grab his hand. "Do you mind? This is the fun part."

Naruto grinned and tightened his grip. Maybe he wasn't as strong in human form as in dragon, but he wasn't exactly weak.

The lead Jashinist tried not to scream as the knife-holding hand was suddenly being subjected to pressure levels not exactly recommended for human bodyparts. As it was he went to his kneee and gritting teeth.

"I think the lady wants you to leave her alone," said Naruto. "I think that's a good idea. What do you guys think?"

"You cannot intimidate a Jashinite with your brute tactics!" declared the second Jashinite.

"Our weapons include fearlessness, bloodthirsty sadism, and a complete disregard for personal hygiene!" declared the third.

"That's 'personal safety'," corrected the second.

"Right, our weapons include anonyminity, ignorance, fine black silk, fearlessness, bloodthirsty sadism, and a complete disregard for personal safety!" said the third.

"I see," said Naruto, letting go of the first's hand, then prying the knife out of it. Then folding the knife up. What made an impression on the three Jashinites was that it was NOT a folding knife.

Shizuru merely stared at what the boy was doing.

"Beach is that way?" asked Naruto of Shizuru.

Shizuru visibly shook herself, considered, and nodded.

* break *

Sasuke was considering how best to go about his search. He didn't really have much experience with the whole 'run around looking for clues' thing.

If only something would stick out as being noteworthy.

"AIEAAA!" SPLASH!

Sasuke's eyes tracked the guy in black robes making an arc out over several buildings, then landing out in the water.

Sasuke considered that for a moment, then carefully stepped out of the way.

"NOOO!" THUD!

"Good thing that sand is soft, ne?" asked Sasuke of the guy flattened on the beach.

"Not. That. Soft," managed the guy in the same black robes as the first one.

"WAAA!" SPLISH!

"Naruto," realized Sasuke, judging from the amount of strength shown versus the lousy aim.

"Ung," said the one on the beach, as opposed to the one in the surf or the one bobbing in the waves.

"Tell you what," said Sasuke, kneeling down. "I'll get some medical help for you, but first I think I need a few questions answered."

* break *

"Naruto, Sasuke," said Kakashi with a nod. "Any information?"

"Hn," said Sasuke. "There's a cult of a god named 'Jashin' who came here after the first few monster attacks. Apparently they then heard about this dragon cult and decided to take it over."

"So this cult isn't behind the attacks?" asked Kakashi.

"No, though the ones I interrogated weren't sure if a higher level operative of theirs might have started it," said Sasuke. "Apparently they were lower level within the cult and not told all the details."

"Good job, Sasuke," admitted Kakashi. "I wasn't aware you had interrogation skills."

"I just threatened to re-introduce them to Naruto if they didn't talk," answered Sasuke with a shrug. He glanced at Naruto, directing his next comment there. "Next time: ask questions first, toss bad guys second."

"Oh," said Naruto. "Oops."

"Cool," said Naruto-female-clone, giving Sasuke a thumb's up. "We rock. I set 'em up, you shake 'em down, ne?"

"Can you just go ahead and dispel for the night?" asked Kakashi. "I'm getting a little concerned."

"If I have to," said the clone a little reluctantly, who then poofed away.

Naruto staggered and made a couple of wretching noises.

"And THAT is why I suggest dispelling your shadow clone more regularly," said Kakashi.

"Oh... man... that was..." Naruto gagged some more.

"If you're going to throw up, don't face me," said Sasuke, showing remarkable concern. Well, for Sasuke.

"While Naruto deals with that, anything else to go on?" asked Kakashi.

* break *

Shizuku Narumi considered the boy she'd been able to talk with briefly. It had been... nice.

She hadn't had to wear the usual mask, displaying the calm dignity and presence that she had to as one of the three Maidens. After all, he was an outsider she would never see again - and therefore it was all right to just put that role aside and be a normal girl for once.

It had been interesting too, as it gave her a glimpse into a very different lifestyle.

She had had no idea that ninja were as physically strong and tough as the boy had been. To crumple a knife like that without so much as a scratch on his skin when he was done - very impressive. She was sure the Jashinites had thought it equally impressive.

A frown crossed her face. With the Jashinites around here, she should just go back to Okitsushima and only return when the contest started and the three Maidens would give their ritual blessing for the event.

At least she'd gotten this brief afternoon.

* break *

"I hurt," said one of the Jashinites.

"Lord Jashin laughs at pain," replied one of the other Jashinites.

"Well, Lord Jashin must find this quite amusing."

"A kid. A kid who was all of fifteen. Tossed us around like sacks of grain."

"Kid was a ninja."

The leader of the three made an acknowledging sound. "I don't know about you three, but I can't throw a sack of grain over four houses and another thirty yards besides."

The other two made agreeable noises this time.

"We'll need to contact one of the higher-ups within the priesthood," continued the leader thoughtfully. "We can take those shrine priestesses easy. Ninja, on the other hand, that's a bit of another story."

"How's your hand?" asked the second Jashinite.

"Kid didn't break anything, but it hurts like the blazes," said the leader.

"So," said the third slowly, as if testing each word before speaking. "Who do we contact?"

"Look for pink hair," said the leader. "I heard Rossignol went rebellious and dyed her hair before she left. So Satsubatsu will be around somewhere, keeping an eye on his little sister so that she doesn't betray any secrets."

"Why not simply kill her?" asked the second.

"Idiot," said the third. "It's when she WINS this contest that she'll be a worthy sacrifice to Jashin."

* break *

Satsubatsu, not his original name which had been Alain, watched carefully his position near the roof of this lowly inn.

His sister, little brat that she was, WAS his sister. Rossignol normally had dark purplish hair, perhaps a shade lighter than black. She'd gone pink when she'd gone rebellious against his authority, then discovered that hadn't worked too well with her natural hair color. So she was now a lighter shade of purple.

If she won the contest, she would be a worthy sacrifice to Jashin. If she did not, then perhaps whoever DID win the contest would make a suitable sacrifice.

Though this rumor that Kakashi Hatake, famed Copy Nin, was here with a team of genin was concerning. The genin were no consequence to someone of his level, but Sharingan Kakashi was another story altogether. The Son of the White Fang, the student of the Yellow Flash, Sharingan Kakashi, Master of 1000 Jutsu, the Leaf's Scarecrow, and the Master of The Dance. Yes, Kakashi sounded to be a formidable opponent. Ninja who had managed to accumulate multiple titles always were because there was always someone who wanted to be known as The Killer Of that title.

Fortunately, this appeared to be one of the years that Jiraiya was not attending. If he HAD been, that might have become sufficient of a problem to avoid the beach entirely.

"Jashin grant that there are no further complications on this task," said Satsubatsu, adjusting his knives in their holsters.

* break *

Jiraiya set the bags down and stretched out his arms and shoulders. "Ah, Fortune Beach. White sands. Nubile sun-kissed bodies with little pieces of cloth barely covering anything at all. How I've missed you."

He'd set one of the early Icha Icha books here, and he knew he was always welcome. Well, in some parts at least. Yet he didn't want to have old enemies or foreign-nin lying in wait for him here, so he only visited every five years or so.

Oh, and couldn't forget the pineapple-glazed ham. Sliced thin and slow-roasted over an open fire, a regional specialty. Ah yes, he was SO looking forward to this trip.

He had an open invitation to be on the panel of judges for the Miss Beach contest, and this year he was going to just go ahead an take it. He prided himself on having a discerning eye for the ladies after all.

* break *

"My lady, maybe we should lie low for awhile," suggested Shizune.

"You see that, Shizune?" asked Tsunade, pointing at a sign.

"The 'Miss Beach' contest?" asked Shizune. "Honestly. A beauty contest in this day and age? How backward and sexist does a community have to be in order to fund one of those things? Why would any woman sign up for being displayed like some produce at the market?"

"Look at the prizes," said Tsunade.

Shizune looked closer. "Oh. Well, that explains why someone would sign up for it. That's like a B-Class mission payment."

"Yes, and that's just the Junior division," said Tsunade as she made a hand seal. (Ba-DOMF!)

"My lady?" said Shizune, seeing the transformation and coming to an uncomfortable conclusion.

The younger-looking Tsunade adjusted her clothing. "Lady Luck, come on, apprentice needs a new pair of shoes."

"True, you DID hock mine at the last gambling house," said Shizune, looking mournfully at her feet.

"Ah, it'll toughen you up," said Tsunade, making a gesture. "Come on."

* break *

Yugito Ni placed the bundle in the little hole and then wrestled the rocks over it. With that done she straightened up and glanced towards the beach.

She went over her carrycase and equipment one last time, making sure she had EVERYTHING she needed.

If all went well, she would be able to meet Jiraiya of the Leaf Village and get a few details out of him. If he knew she were a kunoichi of Cloud he'd be on his guard instantly of course. Just a random girl in the contest though - that might allow her to get close enough to get information from him. Since he was known to have a weakness for the ladies, this was a case where guile and a little drinking contest might work where strength wouldn't. As she was a jinchuriki, alcohol had a tendency to get burned out of her system quickly.

Satisfied that nobody would be able to tell who she was, unless they were a chakra sensor or something, Yugito headed towards Fortune Beach.

* break *

"Don't fail this mission," said the chunin, vanishing abruptly.

"Yeah yeah," grumbled Fuu. "What are you going to do to me if I DO fail, moron?"

Fuu of Takigakure let out a deep breath, squared her shoulders and began the walk. Fortune Beach. This was the five year mark so Jiraiya would be here. He would also be a judge. That meant this was an opportunity to ferret out information that the old monkey might have on him.

Well, she was just a disposable monster as far as her own village was concerned. Why not throw her at the old monkey, to steal his secrets?

Whatever. A beauty contest? What kind of stupid village enters a kunoichi in a beauty contest? Honestly, there were times she just wanted to go wild and trash the place.

Huh. Maybe that was why she was being given some OTHER village to trash.

* break *

"Hi, are you here for the contest?"

Sakura blinked as she found some girl leaning in her doorway. "Uhm."

"Hi, I'm Karin Nagumo," said the short-haired girl. "I saw your name on the register and had to ask..."

"No relation," Sakura assured the girl. "You're the fifth one to ask. Maybe I should just put a sign up."

"This is your first competition, right?" asked Karin.

"You can tell?" asked Sakura, wondering if she was blowing her first undercover assignment.

"Yeah," said Karin. "Anyway, I'm one of the local Shrine Maidens, not a contestant. You're going to have to watch your back a bit better. Lock your door. Some of the other contestants can get a bit vicious."

Sakura blinked as she looked over the clothing of the newcomer and tried to compare it to the single other shrine maiden she knew. It didn't quite jibe. "Uh huh. You're a shrine maiden?"

"Yeah, for one of the nearby islands, it's an old tradition," said Karin. "There's the Maiden Of Fire, Maiden Of Wind, and the Maiden of Water. Anyway, I heard that one of the Three Legendary Leaf Ninja is here - Jiraiya. However he's also pretty legendary for peeking at contestants. He doesn't bother the girls in your age bracket much, but thought I ought to give you a head's up."

* break *

Rossignol frowned from her perch on the fourth floor stairway, listening to the two below her and comparing it to what she'd observed so far.

From here she could observe a number of the comings and goings and get a feel for her competition, the reason she'd chosen this place to lurk. Original plan: find out who was the real competition and sabotage them.

There were some seriously attractive women in the Adult category, but there were also some cute ones in the Junior division.

A fair fight was something she really wasn't inclined to put up with.

It was made more complicated with the glimpse of her brother she'd gotten yesterday. Alain had joined some crazy cult. If she wasn't careful, her family ties might just strangle her in the middle of the night. That was why she needed the prize money after all - getting away was one thing. Getting away in style required cash.

* break *

AUTHOR'S NOTES:
As might be obvious to some readers, there's a degree of fusion with Umi No Misaki involved. Which, despite being an H-manga, i found myself enjoying for its character development and humor. It's available at Mangafox for those old enough to read it.