Reading Time: 125 Minutes
Title: From the Ashes
Relationship(s): No Pairings – Character Focus: Sarutobi Hiruzen, Jiraiya, Senju Tsunade
Content Rating: PG-13
Warnings: Violence – Graphic , Canon Level Violence, Child Kidnappings (mentioned – canon), Human Experimentation (mentioned – canon), Minor Character Death (offscreen), Mention of suicide (past canon event)
Beta: BlueMelodie. Alpha: AriaIno
Word Count: 60,238
Summary: The Yondaime was dead and Konoha was now at its most vulnerable since the village’s founding. Sarutobi Hiruzen must face how he will shape Konoha’s future for generations to come in the hours after the Kyuubi’s defeat. Will he simply react to the threats they face now, or will he prepare for their future for years to come?
It had been a couple of days since Tsunade was last in the hokage’s office and had taken a twelve-year-old home with her. The situation surrounding the last several days had continued to be an emotional roller coaster due to her own history and was compounded by the child’s own experiences. This had left her even less patient with her sensei’s shenanigans and now, here she was, once more sitting in that same office.
She eyed Sarutobi Hiruzen carefully over her teacup as she took a slow sip. The tea was good and while she didn’t like to admit it, better for her at this time than sake. She reserved the right to change her mind on that fact depending on just what the old man wanted to manipulate her into this time.
It would be a challenge going forward to get Tenzo to respond as a well-adjusted shinobi of his age. Raising shinobi children to be well adjusted was a challenge enough without adding in everything Tenzo had been through. She and Jiraiya planned to introduce him to Naruto and Kakashi before the week’s end to help him develop more normal emotional responses. Kakashi could use the help himself and having someone who showed every sign of being a child prodigy like he had been, would give them something of common ground, at least Tsunade hoped so. She was less certain about introducing Tenzo to the baby but could not introduce Kakashi without the baby at this juncture.
“How is Tenzo settling in?” Hiruzen asked, breaking the comfortable silence as he set his tea mug back down on his desk.
“Well, enough. He has gaps in his education that Shizune and I are already working on correcting. Nothing that is surprising based on everything he has been through. I’m honestly surprised he’s not worse. I am concerned about his desire to stay with ANBU. Jiraiya and I are going to introduce him to Kakashi in hopes the two will help each other. Kakashi will probably be a brat about it, but I think it will be for the best, long term.”
Hiruzen hummed in agreement. “We have another Clan Council meeting planned for tomorrow. I would like your thoughts on Project Phoenix.”
Tsunade relaxed a little. “Jiraiya and I talked about this quite a bit over the past few days since I would require his help if we were to go ahead with it. As much as Konoha is a military-run city-state, I do think it is something the council as a group must approve of going forward. Having a new Hokage fully instated in office would be wise as well.”
Hiruzen nodded. “I actually agree with you on both points.”
Tsunade felt a sudden apprehension building, “Who do you have in mind?” She asked coolly, staring at the crafty old man.
Hiruzen hummed and took another long drink from his teacup. “As much as I wish anyone who loved the village and wanted the best for it could fulfill the role and duties, there is unfortunately a strong level of politics involved in it at this point. The loss of Minato and Kushina is a crushing blow as both earned quite the reputations for themselves in the third war. Orochimaru’s betrayal followed by Danzo’s has also made things more tenuous. Strong ties to a founding clan and a reputation to match leave only one real possible choice at this juncture.”
Tsunade cursed long and hard. She immediately got up to raid the sake stash, then cursed some more when she realized it was still not there. She whirled in a fury of blonde pigtails and all but snarled at her old teacher. “How dare you! You are lucky I’m even here now! There is no possible way I could ever serve this village in that role. I don’t want it. I’ve NEVER wanted it. You know this!!”
Hiruzen waited out her rage calmly. “That is precisely why you are the best and only choice.”
“Make Jiraiya do it!” Tsunade snarled back. “He taught the Yondaime. That should be enough!”
“And you would then take his job?” Hiruzen asked calmly.
Tsunade considered exactly what it was Jiraiya truly did for the village. He traveled constantly, and while he had not left the village entirely for the last ten years as she had, she also knew he was out traveling more than he was ever home. She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she considered the fact that she could not slip into his own cover story and take over her teammates’ information network. Jiraiya’s cover as a well-known writer of graphic erotica novels was too well established. Tsunade’s own fame would work against her in trying to establish a covert information network of her own. Had she started such a thing in earnest in the last ten years as she traveled from gambling hall to gambling hall, perhaps then she would have something to work with. However, building such a network had been the last thing on her mind.
She huffed in annoyance. “You know I can’t.”
“And so Jiraiya cannot so easily move out of his role without having a backup in place. A task he will be required to see done now. We cannot afford to go forward without redundancies in such key roles. Never again will the role of Hokage sit without a clear successor chosen in advance. Jiraiya is my choice for that backup position now.”
Tsunade muttered several more curses darkly and considered what he was asking, but not saying fully. She paced frustrated as she worked through it. To accept the position of Hokage, as her grandfather and great uncle had before her. Both had died while holding the rank and in the middle of a war. She reached a hand up to clench at the necklace that had once belonged to her grandfather, the crystal gem capable of helping subdue a tailed beast’s chakra. She thought of her younger brother, who she’d given the same necklace in support of his dream to be Hokage, who then died just days later. She thought of her late fiancé, who had aspired to take the position someday. She had supported him, given him the necklace as well, then he too was taken from her.
She fought back the tears threatening to build and felt desperation build in a wave throughout her entire body. She sank slowly back into the chair in front of his desk. “I can’t do it.”
Hiruzen rose from his desk and came to kneel before her. “Tsunade, I have always hoped you would lead the village someday. You have such strength and wisdom. Of my three students, you were always my choice for this path. I did not press you after the second war, seeing what it did to you, but the time to let grief rule you, has passed. It will always hurt, but you cannot let it define who you are anymore. Already, you have risen above it. Just being here and taking back your clan, as has always been your right, has set you on that healing path. Help me protect and nurture your grandfather’s legacy.”
Tsunade pushed the chair back and quickly rose to her feet. “I’m sorry, Sensei. I can’t do it.” She vanished in a familiar swirl of leaves a moment later.
Tsunade didn’t even flinch as she felt Jiraiya slide up onto the stool at her side. She chose to ignore him and instead focused all her attention on pouring and then draining her cup of sake.
“I introduced Tenzo to Kakashi. Prodigies one and two are now prodding each other for weaknesses.”
Tsunade felt a pang of irritation that she had forgotten about the planned introduction and then let it go in favor of the amusement at the situation her old teammate described.
“I told them not to wake the tadpole, and no bloodshed before I left.” He reached over and purloined her sake bottle. She glared at his hands as he poured himself a cup.
“Hmm. very nice. Natsumi-chan always serves quality.”
“No flirting with my vassal members,” Tsunade growled as she stole the bottle back to refill her cup.
Jiraiya huffed in amusement. “Been productive this afternoon despite acting the lush, then I see. Even eaten something too by the look of you. I’m almost disappointed. I was hoping to find you wasted away and in need of my gallant assistance.”
Tsunade snorted in derision. “I’ll never need your gallant anything.”
“Ack, I’m wounded. Natsumi-chan, don’t let her bully me!”
“It’s nice to see you again, Jiraiya-san. Would you like a bottle of your own?” The cheerful brunette said with an easy smile as she set a bowl of edamame between the two.
Tsunade swatted his hand away as she helped herself to the snack. “You are such a child.”
“Says the princess herself, who ran off in a tantrum.” That one earned him a full-out glare that he just met calmly, raising an eyebrow in inquiry. Tsunade turned away after a moment and refilled her cup again, realizing she’d need another bottle after this cup.
“So, Shiranui Natsumi and Shiranui Genma have agreed to swear vassal oaths to Clan Senju? Genma-kun always did have the biggest crush on you, Nade-chan.” Jiraiya said, amused as he accepted his bottle of sake from Natsumi.
“He got over it eventually after she left,” Natsumi chimed in. “Then he started trying to chase after Namikaze-san, for all the good it did him. That man had eyes for one kunoichi only. Still, it did help keep him driven to reach his current rank.”
“What is Genma up to these days? Do you run the stand yourself?” Tsunade asked then, realizing she hadn’t done more than offer the vassal oath to Natsumi after the woman had put her foot down about serving her more sake until she ate something to go with it. There were so precious few people willing to stand up to her in such a manner that the offer had just tumbled out without further thought. Shizune would have laughed at her if she had been present.
“He’s a special jounin now and has been serving assignment directly with the Hokage for quite some time,” Natsumi said with a smile as she set down another bottle between Jiraiya and Tsunade. “Our parents both were killed while out on a caravan trip sourcing a new supplier during the last war, so it’s just the two of us now.”
Tsunade slumped a little further. She remembered the older two members of the Shiranui family fondly. They had often taken care of her when she had shown up at their stand, much like she had today, heartsick from the war and injuries she couldn’t heal. Both Natsumi and her brother had been welcome distractions then as well since they often helped their parents run the stand back then. She had known the boy had pursued the shinobi academy but had not paid the knowledge any further attention.
“As for the vassal oath, I will have to consult with Genma still, but our grandfather had talked about it with Hashirama-sama years ago. At the time it was always thought it would happen some years after that first war, but then both Hashirama-sama and Tobirama-sama were killed, and nothing more came of it. At least that’s what is in grandfather’s journals.”
Tsunade looked up, stunned. “I had no idea.”
Natsumi smiled at her. “Even better. Just proves we’ve been doing our jobs well all these years. We’ve always enjoyed having you visit our family stand and would gladly serve your clan as vassals.”
Jiraiya chuckled. “Some things are just meant to be.”
Tsunade stared at the cup before her for several long moments before giving Jiraiya a measured glance. “You knew what he was planning.”
“I suspected,” Jiraiya admitted. “I’ve always known you were his favorite. Old snake-eyes knew it too.” Jiraiya refilled his sake glass and took a long swallow.
Tsunade huffed. “And yet he named Minato the Yondaime.”
Jiraiya shrugged. “You weren’t here and had made no signs of coming home. Sensei made a judgment call. That doesn’t change what it is now, though, Nade-chan.”
Tsunade huffed, irritated and upset all at once.
“You won’t fail them,” Jiraiya said calmly as he poured himself a fresh cup and drank it down. “As I’m sure Sensei already told you. You are too strong for that.”
Tsunade almost shuddered as anxiety tried to creep back in.
“Besides, you can’t fail. There is no way I am fit for the job no matter what Sensei thinks. I’d fill all the missions with my novels. Hmm, actually…”
Tsunade groaned. “Stop.” She could hear Jiraiya smirking at her side.
“I knew you would see it my way.”
“I hate you.”
“Love you too, Nade-chan.”
Natsumi lost her fight with the giggles at that point and smiled helplessly at them and shrugged. “It really is good to see both of you again, here like this.”
Tsunade’s eyes softened, and she smiled a bit too. Her insides still churned and railed at the looming decision that was likely already made, but she refused to acknowledge it right now. She would enjoy this moment now and worry again later.
It was the second full council meeting since the death of the Yondaime, and like the first, this one was full of reports related to the village’s current status after the attack. The upheaval and challenges the village was now facing as a result of the events of the night of October 10th, and everything that had been happening afterward was creating a tangle of new issues that both simplified and complicated the original issues.
“Shimura Danzo was found in his home office, dead. Upon investigation, it was clear that whatever punishment his violation of oaths had extracted led to the immediate and severe failure of several critical organs. Not the least of which was his heart and brain.” Uchiha Fugaku reported to the group in a follow-up on the events of the last meeting. “It is worth mentioning that there were extensive journals found about all he had… accomplished, as well as in progress and future plans.”
Yamanaka Inoichi continued with his own follow-up report. “We have identified the seal used by Danzo on his ROOT operatives and Jiraiya-san was able to develop a counter to it. While we were unable to prevent all the ROOT operatives we found from triggering the suicide feature of the seal, we have saved many. The identified agents range in age from Academy students to seasoned ANBU operatives. All will require specialized attention and retraining to undo the brainwashing of Danzo’s operation. His focus was to create tools that would follow orders, not question him.”
“Furthermore, this has taken a full fifty percent of ANBU out of commission so far. The required evaluations have unfortunately uncovered quite a few agents compromised by means other than the seal. These are also being addressed.” Inoichi explained.
“We have good news from the clinics and hospital.” Hyūga Hiashi offered next. “Thanks to the timely arrival of Shizune, Tsunade-sama’s apprentice, a successful treatment for the corrosive exposure of the Kyuubi’s chakra has been found. There is still some long-term risk to those who have already overextended themselves, but further damage should be avoidable.”
Relieved comments echoed around the room at that news.
“I wish I could offer more good news concerning the recovery efforts surrounding the Akinaya Greenhouses and Shinobi Reserves District.” Akimichi Chouza began his portion of the follow-up report. “All plants were destroyed completely. If they were not burned, then the exposure to the corrosive chakra and damage done to the greenhouses which caused loss of shelter, did the rest. Everything will have to be started new from seed or fresh plants brought in from other sources. If any of you know of private greenhouses that can help us source these plants, particularly the medicinal plants, please contact me for a meeting.” He said as he surveyed the room, making eye contact with several who nodded at his request.
“Thank you. Now, has anyone made any inroads into accepting vassal members?” Hiruzen asked.
“Is now really the time for the clans to be accepting responsibility for more non-combatants?” Inazuka Tsume growled. “This all paints a very bleak picture for our immediate future. None of us are strangers to hardship, but this feels more like limping along and leaving a clear blood trail for the enemy to follow.”
“That is completely dependent on if this council decides to support moving forward with Project Phoenix.” Tsunade cut in before arguments about the usefulness of civilians could start again. The room went silent as several clan heads shifted uncomfortably, frowns appearing as many tried to recall something that they felt they should know.
Kurenai frowned in confusion from across the room. “What is Project Phoenix?”
“Project Phoenix is the greatest fujinjutsu work ever created by my late grandmother, Uzumaki Mito. It is designed to give Konoha hope in the face of untimely disaster. While we are still far from the devastation she feared we might one day face, we are also far more vulnerable than the founding clans ever set out to make us.” Tsunade began her explanation. “I won’t go into the detailed mechanics of it, as even what I understand just barely scratches the surface. What it would do in simple terms, is give all the oath-bound members of Konohagakure a protected home that could not be assaulted or invaded by an outside force. Mito combined the imagination and ingenuity of the Uzumaki with the strength, flexibility, and sheer stubborn need to survive of the Senju into a failsafe plan. A failsafe plan, that even now almost became obsolete.”
“Mito-san never foresaw a time where there wouldn’t be Senju or Uzumaki, even after Uzushiro’s fall,” Hiruzen added in softly.
“Just so.” Tsunade agreed.
“You still haven’t explained what exactly this has to do with vassals, or what exactly Project Phoenix would do,” Fugaku interjected, his face impassive.
Tsunade threw an irritated glare at him before facing the full group again.
“Project Phoenix would upon activation grow, within just a few days, thousands of senju trees. These trees would grow within the village, around it, and further spread throughout Fire Country. All of them will grow as if they had been growing for centuries and not just mere days. It will completely change the landscape of Konohagakure and, to a lesser degree, all of Fire Country.”
“If such trees grew where the village stands, the village would be utterly destroyed!” Koharu of Clan Utatane, gasped in shock. She had apparently reached her limit on holding her tongue in these meetings. Tsunade met her gaze steadily.
“Yes, it would. It would be as if Konohagakure had been given back to the forest and abandoned decades ago. The village would vanish into the forest from which it takes its name.” Tsunade continued.
“And what of those who live here?” Aburame Shibi asked calmly, speculation in his tone.
“As you should all know, the senju tree is a natural chakra conduit. The Senju Clan in particular has been attuned to them for generations and this symbiotic nature is the origin of our clan name. Mito-obaasan took this several steps further. She encoded senju tree seeds using fujinjutsu and linked them all together with the chakra signatures oath-bound into The Charter of Konohagakure. This means that the seeds, upon growth, will protect, nurture, and live in harmony with anyone who is so bound to the charter. To try to approach these senju trees without that oath is to invite yourself to be food for the tree’s nourishment. Konohagakure and the forest would become one. Nourishing, living with, sheltering, and protecting each other. No enemy would ever be able to invade or assault without taking out the entire forest.”
“Ho… How many seeds did she create?” Chouza asked, his voice trembling ever so slightly in shock.
“Thousands before it was done,” Tsunade explained.
“And they are already in place?” Nara Shikaku asked, eying her speculatively.
“They are. Planting them was the duty Mito charged both myself and Kushina with before her death. We ensured it was completed.”
“I don’t understand. Where would the people live? It is one thing to grow a barrier forest, but the trees could still be cut—”
“No, they couldn’t.” Fugaku cut Homura off. “You clearly do not understand the magnitude of growth Tsunade-sama is describing. A senju tree that is centuries old would take upwards of 10 men to encircle. The height of it would be five times that. If grown guided by chakra, they could be even larger, with great sweeping branches that could support entire structures hidden from those below.”
“I’m impressed, Fugaku-san,” Tsunade said, smirking.
“Our clans have a long history, Lady Senju. And as you said, your clan’s affiliation with the senju tree is very old.”
Tsunade nodded in agreement. “Your clan history serves you well.”
Fugaku nodded to her in acceptance of the compliment.
“Fugaku-san is correct. Konohagakure would literally be hidden amidst the leaves.”
“How could that be any more secure than our current valley and walls?”
“As much as our valley protects us, it also traps us, and its location is secret to no one,” Jiraiya interjected. “Had Iwagakure made successful inroads with enough forces strong in earth-based jutsu, they could have buried us, literally.”
Quiet murmurs of unease filled the room. This was not something many had realized.
“Would not a treetop dwelling leave us similarly exposed to attacks from Sunagakure or Kumogakure? Trees are known for the vulnerabilities to wind, fire, and lightning after all.”
“If these were normal trees, yes, I would agree with you. Senju trees are different. With their own inherent and natural attunement to chakra, they are resistant to manipulations from outside forces. They are also extremely hardy to weather phenomena. A fully grown senju tree, historically, was known to emit a sort of natural buffer around itself that protected it from such dangers.”
“If senju trees are such a natural defense, why have they not been used more extensively in our defense before now?”
Tsunade glared at Mitokado Homura. “My grandfather, the Shodaime himself, may have been able to grow trees infused with his own chakra with ease. However, growing multiple full-scale senju trees of this nature would have taxed him greatly without the proper preparation. They would have drained him and possibly anyone else nearby dry.”
This revelation triggered another wave of concerned murmurs throughout the room.
“Am I right to understand that the senju trees require chakra to thrive and grow, like the kikaichu swarms that many of my clan host?” Shibi of Clan Aburame inquired.
“Yes, and no,” Tsunade answered, ignoring the murmurs of the rest. “The senju trees once grown are fully capable of generating their own chakra and a healthy tree can, in fact, provide it to those it has bonded with. If a tree that is going through rapid growth, is injured, or even threatened, however, it can also turn parasitic, much like the kikaichu. This is why such care in the planning of their growth is necessary.”
“You said there would be hundreds grown within the village borders alone!”
“I did.” Tsunade agreed.
“How will this not cause deaths amongst our own people?”
“Before activation, Konohagakure and several other key locations will have to be evacuated until the growth period is complete.” Tsunade shrugged as she spoke, unbothered by the issue.
A new clamor of discussion filled the room. Tsunade let them debate, rant, and even start yelling at each other. She calmly poured and prepared her tea as she liked, unphased by the sudden chaos that filled the room.
Jiraiya leaned over beside her. “You enjoyed that.”
Tsunade shrugged helplessly. Their upset over this part of the discussion was unavoidable. Surprisingly, it was the Aburame Clan that brought the debate to an end. A silencing seal had been thrown up into the air and activated. It had taken a surprisingly long time for some of the council members to realize that sound was no longer moving past their mouths.
“If you are all done acting like toddlers debating over snack time,” Shibi stated dryly. “This very issue is likely the driving reason behind Sandaime-sama’s pushing of the vassal clause.” His piece said, he canceled the seal and looked to Hiruzen.
“Thank you for that, Shibi-san, and you are right. Not only would the village have to be completely evacuated as Tsunade described, but only those bound to the village by oaths of blood and chakra would be able to find homes within the senju trees themselves. Anyone who tried to settle even near them without that oath would find themselves growing ill quickly as the senju tree naturally viewed them as an interloper and a threat.” Hiruzen explained before the room could devolve into chaos again.
“Now, this is not a matter that will be decided on today, or possibly even when we next meet. It will need to be decided on soon if we are to make the proper preparations for our future in either eventuality, however.” Murmurs circled the room, but the chaos of before did not return. Hiruzen nodded. Good: they were paying attention, then.
“This matter is one I cannot enact as acting Hokage, nor would I choose to fully take up the position again, regardless. I believe doing so would just be more damaging for the village in the long term. I have asked Tsunade to consider accepting the mantle of Godaime. She has not yet given me her decision.” Hiruzen paused, surveying the room, and allowing everyone to fully take in that statement before he continued. “On this matter, I would also like to enact a policy that requires there always be an alternative available to take over in the event of the current Hokage becoming medically indisposed or killed in action again in the future. We have lost three in-office Hokage in our short history as an organization and it has caused upheaval and confusion each time. I have been working closely with the Yondaime’s Advisory Council to create the policies that will allow much smoother transitions in the advent of future disaster.”
Nods of agreement from around the room greeted this proposal.
“Pardon me, Sandaime-sama, but if I may?” Fugaku interrupted.
Hiruzen frowned but nodded.
“Tsunade-sama, you have returned to the village now when many thought you never would, taking up the role of clan head on top of that. What is it that makes you hesitate to also rise to the position of Godaime? I know for a fact your name was considered for Yondaime after the second war, so such an offer should not be a surprise.”
Tsunade sat quietly for several long moments. “I have a lot of history with the idea of becoming Hokage, the people who have held the position itself, and the cost it extracts from those that serve in such a role. I would not accept such a position lightly or for selfish desire, nor would I make light of those who have wished to rise to it before me. These reasons alone have, in turn, caused me personal strife.” She raised her gaze from where it had been focused on the small table before her to meet the room at large, a fierce intensity now blazing in her honey-brown orbs.
The air in the room seemed to charge with anticipation as she considered her next words carefully.
“Yesterday, I all but flat out refused to consider taking such a position. The thought of it nearly tore my heart to pieces. However, I was reminded that true strength is not found by giving up when faced with the challenges placed before us, but when we rise above them.” She turned to meet Hiruzen’s gaze steadily. “So yes, I will accept the position of Hokage of Konohagakure and the rank of Godaime.”
Hiruzen smiled and nodded to her. Excited exclamations filled the room. “Does this council concur with the appointment of Senju Tsunade as Godaime Hokage?”
The vote was over in barely the time it took the rest of the council members to cast their lots, and it was unanimous.
“It seems we also have an inauguration to plan.” Laughter spilled through the room.
“Teuchi-san! How is my favorite chef?” Jiraiya called out in greeting as he sat down on an open stool at the small ramen stand.
“Welcome back, Jiraiya-sama. Your usual?” The younger man asked with a smile.
“That would do nicely, along with some sake, please.”
“Of course. Will anyone else be joining you for lunch today?”
“Not today. Hiruzen-sensei and Tsunade are tied up in paperwork now that she has officially agreed to take up the mantle of Godaime.” Jiraiya explained.
“Tsunade-hime is really back in the village to stay, then? That is good news.” Teuchi said as he deftly combined soup base, noodles, and finishing ingredients all into a steaming bowl. “Here you go one tonkotsu ramen with extra pork.”
Jiraiya hummed in appreciation as he inhaled the rich aroma and took a satisfying and appreciative slurp. “The best in all the elemental nations, no contest.”
Teuchi only laughed as he continued his work and soon served up another set of bowls that were picked up by a waiting customer.
Jiraiya calmly watched the exchange and then leaned on his elbow, studying the man. “Say, Teuchi, would you be interested in becoming a vassal of Clan Uzumaki?”
Teuchi froze, looked at Jiraiya, and then started laughing.
Jiraiya frowned. He didn’t see what was so funny about his question. Maybe he had spilled? He studied his front, but no, there was nothing. “Oi, what’s so funny?”
Teuchi just pointed to the spiral design proudly displayed behind his counter. “I don’t display the clan symbol just because most of Konoha does in honor of Uzushiro, Jiraiya-san. Kushina asked me that very question several years ago. I agreed before my daughter was born. She’s turning two this winter, you know?”
Jiraiya blinked in surprise. “That sneak. How many vassals did she take in?”
Teuchi shrugged, “That I couldn’t tell you.”
Jiraiya grumbled and returned to slurping up his noodles, his mind puzzling over the question.
“Ah, Tsuchi-san, here for your regular?” Teuchi greeted as a man, who most would mistake as a warrior sheerly due to his upper body size and visible musculature, sat down beside Jiraiya.
“That would be nice, Teuchi-san. I actually came in the hopes of catching Jiraiya-san here today.”
Jiraiya grinned, “Oh? I don’t think we’ve ever officially met?”
“We haven’t.” Tsuchi agreed. “You’ve never needed any specialty work from my shop, which would have led to us formally meeting. My sister tends our store front, so you probably remember her, Huiru.”
Jiraiya beamed at the name. While he took his shinobi tools seriously, Huiru had always been a fun conversationalist and loved his harmless flirting. “I do. Your sister barters like she was born to it.”
Tsuchi laughed freely, “That she does, and I’m glad you remember her. Did Namikaze-san ever talk to you about how and where he developed his specialty kunai?”
Jiraiya shook his head, “No, he worked that entire skill of his completely without my input and then surprised me with it. It was quite the shock during our spar when he first used those three-pronged kunai, I can tell you that. The balance on them is quite remarkable.”
“I’ll thank you for the compliment, but that isn’t why I’ve sought you out today. Not directly, anyway. As a result of that project, Minato and Kushina both spent a lot of hours at my forge and in our family shop. Kushina eventually offered our family a position as vassals of her clan. We were quite honored and accepted.”
Jiraiya blinked in surprise, a bit stunned that the very issue he had been considering was already proving true.
Tsuchi nodded to Teuchi as his order was placed before him, but continued his explanation, “The problem now is, I’ve already been approached by three other clans interested in our family, but they don’t seem to realize or recognize, the prior oath we have with Uzumaki. Our shop and my forge both clearly display the Uzumaki Clan spiral, just as Teuchi does here in his shop.”
Jiraiya let out a surprised hum as he considered that thought. “The source of the issue comes from the Uzumaki Clan symbol being used as a mark of remembrance and honor for the fallen village of Uzushiro amongst most members of Konohagakure. Are the other clan’s being disrespectful in their requests?”
Tsuchi frowned, “Not exactly. We just weren’t certain if we should be the ones to tell them we already have a vassal oath, or if we should refer them to you about the matter. We heard that you are serving as regent for the Uzumaki Clan. We haven’t heard much beyond the official statements that were released, so we hoped this meant Kushina’s child survived. This is good and we want to keep our oaths. However, we don’t want to offend any of the clans who have approached us as we do a fair bit of business with all of them.”
Jiraiya winced. “Yeah, I could see where that might be a bit of a touchy issue. If you can provide me with a list of the clans that have approached you, I’ll see to the matter. Regarding any future offers, tell them your family has sworn vassal oaths to Clan Uzumaki and roughly when. Speaking of, just when did your family swear the oaths?”
Tsuchi quickly accepted a small pad of paper and pencil from Teuchi and wrote down a list of names before folding it and sliding it over to Jiraiya. “It was just before the big battle that led to the end of the last war. Namikaze-san had put in such a large order for his tri-kunai and we had to put in extra hours to get them all done by the time he needed them. Namikaze-san and Lady Uzumaki were picking up the order, and she just asked us casually. We were stunned but honored. Being asked to take that oath by such a clan as Uzumaki, even diminished as it was? There was no way we would have turned such an offer down. The oaths were sealed that night.”
“Ah, If you get any more offers, just politely tell them you have already sworn oaths before the end of the third war if you don’t want to be so specific,” Jiraiya said with a decisive nod. “I’ll have a conversation with the clans you listed here, so they’ll know you don’t want to
cause offense by refusing their offer.”
Tsuchi gave a relieved smile and then tucked into his ramen.
Jiraiya set his bowl back up on the countertop for Teuchi to collect and gave a farewell wave to both. “I’ll be off then, Teuchi, Tsuchi!” Both men waved goodbye as Jiraiya exited the stand and stepped out into the street fully. He glanced at the list of names and grunted. No wonder Tsuchi had been worried about causing offense. Inazuka, Uchiha, and Sarutobi were all high up in the village’s political status chain. He considered how best to handle this and wondered if he shouldn’t check the Uzumaki Clan roster just to check for who else Kushina had taken vassal oaths from. Otherwise, Teuchi and Tsuchi were unlikely to be the only surprises.
He planned his travel path to meander back to the Uzumaki Clan complex. As he walked, he let his mind drift to the problem of convincing the rest of the council of the necessity of activating Project Phoenix. Tsunade had made more headway than she realized in that opening meeting and had only furthered her case by accepting the role of Godaime. The clan leaders had been shocked and had reacted with a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to needing more information as they felt their homes suddenly threatened. Which wasn’t unreasonable an unreasonable response, for there was no disguising the fact that, as much as Project Phoenix could help ensure a safer and more secure future for Konoha as a whole, for everyone individually in the short term, it meant a fair amount of loss in terms of stability and security. That was not something the clans were willing to give up after so carefully gaining it with the founding of Konoha in the first place.
Jiraiya was surprised to find a familiar kunoichi waiting for him outside the gates of the Uzumaki Clan complex. “Mikoto-san, I wasn’t expecting you. I hope you haven’t been waiting here long.”
Mikoto Uchiha smiled warmly at Jiraiya and bowed briefly in his direction. “Good afternoon, Jiraiya-san. I had an opportunity to come meet you and get out of the house for a little bit, so thought it best to take it. I’m sorry for not sending word ahead.”
Jiraiya raised his hands in a calming gesture. “Not a problem. I apologize that I can’t adjust the complex security at this time to allow you entry to meet with me. Would a nearby teahouse suffice?”
Mikoto smiled and seemed to relax further. “That would be lovely, thank you.” Jiraiya offered his arm to her, and she laughed lightly as she accepted his arm and allowed him to start leading the way. “Still maintaining your gallant image, I see.”
Jiraiya chuckled in response, “I find it hurts nothing to offer a little chivalry and courtesy, and often, in fact, can do much for me.”
Mikoto hummed in agreement. “My husband told me about this vassal business. Are you able to take such oaths for the Uzumaki Clan?”
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow at the question, “I can, though Kushina was very active on that front in her adult years. Not that she told anyone what exactly she was up to. I’ve already come across several Uzumaki vassals that I had not known about previously.”
Mikoto looked at him in surprise. “Really? Our records indicate the practice was set aside at founding to allow for a more balanced feeling amongst the clans.”
Jiraiya nodded as he led the way into the small tea shop just outside the clan complex quarter. “Yes, my research shows much the same, however, there are also records clearly that indicated setting it aside was only meant to be a temporary measure. Kushina had no intention of letting Clan Uzumaki fade away and she evidently had plans.”
They both quickly placed their order and once the server left Jiraiya placed a privacy seal down that would cover their immediate table area. He gave a sharp nod to Mikoto once the seal was placed.
“Our clan investigation into the matter we previously discussed revealed some unexpected results. It was discovered that a security array was put in place around certain archives within the Uchiha complex that is only accessed when an investigation is needed into just what a particular clan member may have been researching and when.”
“That sounds like a pretty robust bit of seal work,” Jiraiya said, surprised.
Mikoto nodded in agreement. “It is. Apparently, the clan elders and clan head requested Mito Uzumaki’s aide in its design after Madara’s exile and banishment from the clan. They wanted a way to make sure they knew if he ever returned for the family histories and other clan secrets.”
Jiraiya winced inwardly at the thought that Madara may have had access to Konoha at all after his exile but was also realistic enough to know that keeping him out completely if he chose would be near impossible with their current security setup. It seemed Madara’s former clanmates had been aware of this fact as well.
“No one in the clan is told of this arrangement until they are made an elder of the clan. In this manner, some youths have often been caught trying to access things they shouldn’t. As such, it is not something Obito would have been aware of since it was passive in its tracking in the areas in question. There were indications of just such access in the records dating as recent as two months ago.” Mikoto and Jiraiya both paused as their server entered the range of the privacy seal and delivered their orders.
Jiraiya took a long slow sip of his tea, staring down into the cup and its nearly translucent liquid that steamed up with false comfort. “So that’s the proof, then. Somehow, Uchiha Obito survived the cave-in that from all previous reports crushed him. Not only, survived, but recovered, and is now actively working against the best interests of Konohagakure.”
Mikoto nodded as she wrapped her hands around her teacup gently. “Yes. The elders have already taken the necessary steps to mark him as a traitor and permanently exile him from the clan. He also left his chakra signature behind in those records so we have sealed a record of it into this scroll so that it can be used by the village security to add counter measurers into the border barriers.”
He accepted the small scroll she passed to him and grimaced. “I’m both relieved to have a specific target for the cause of our recent assault, and very upset that this happened to the student of my student.”
“There’s one more thing. The chakra samples had traces of another’s chakra signature clinging to it.” Mikoto said, a very hard and serious edge creeping into her tone. “Uchiha Madara recently had a significant amount of contact with Obito.”
Jiraiya gave a low whistle. “I don’t know if that makes the situation less or more horrifying.”
“I understand the sentiment. There has been much debate amongst the clan members who are now aware of the situation. In the meantime, is there anything else you need further from the Uchiha Clan, Jiraiya-san?”
“Any suggestions on a way to block the connection between Kakashi and Obito? Leaving it in place puts everything Kakashi knows at risk, and the nightmares are not doing that kid any favors.”
“I am uncertain, but I will pass that request on to the elders to look into further as well.”
Jiraiya nodded in acceptance. “Oh, one more thing. Can you let Fugaku and anyone else involved in the current vassal interviewing process within your clan know that Tsuchi and his family have already sworn vassal oaths to Clan Uzumaki? Tsuchi and Huiru did not tell the clan member that approached them immediately as they were unsure of the proper protocol to reject such an offer without causing upset.”
Mikoto frowned in thought. “But shouldn’t they have been displaying… oh, the Uzumaki Clan spiral; yes, I could see where that would become confusing.” She smiled then, “I will pass your message on along with the note to verify any vassal potentials are not already oath-bound before an offer is made.”
Jiraiya nodded. “Thank you, Mikoto-san. Now, if you will excuse me, I have some research and messages of my own to see to.” He laid enough money on the table to pay for their orders then stood and gave a bow of courtesy before heading on his way back to the Uzumaki Clan complex once more.
“There is no possible way all that paperwork is actually necessary for me, specifically, to do!” Tsunade growled as she pointed at the large stack of documents topped by scrolls that were held in Chuunin Tatami Iwashi’s arms.
Hiruzen chuckled from where he sat with a cup of tea on the lounge sofa on one side of the spacious hokage’s office.
“Due to the currently restricted access protocols and mission access limitations, a lot more of the normal day-to-day mission paperwork requires your review. Until those limitations are lifted, you cannot delegate the ‘busy work’ as it was previously filtered by others.” Iwashi explained. Then he got a rather innocent smile on his face. “Unless, of course, Tsunade-sama wants to allow others to do her job for her?”
Tsunade accepted the pile with a muttered curse. “And the Yondaime liked you?!”
Iwashi just shrugged and smiled as he turned to leave the office.
“If only it was possible for there to be more than one of you working at once.” Hiruzen idly mused as he sipped his tea.
Tsunade gave her old mentor a level glare. “You can go bother Jiraiya if you are just going to be a troll.”
Hiruzen arched an eyebrow at her with an expression that made it clear he was wondering about her current intelligence. “If you meant that, you would have chased me out already.”
Tsunade huffed as she performed the required jutsu, which created not illusionary copies that had no actual substance, but solid copies that could interact and act independently of her, if at only a fraction of her strength. The best part of the kage bunshin no jutsu in this case was that she would have memories of everything the clone did when it was done. Tsunade huffed, the negative of the jutsu was that the clones tended to be sarcastic assholes, or at least hers did.
“You had to have a bleeding heart in the end, didn’t you?” Her clone asked with a sarcastic smirk as she took the top half of the pile and headed over to the open conference table. Hiruzen chuckled around his teacup.
“The paperwork will improve when you have a proper administrative team working again. Unfortunately, Inoichi-san has found several of Danzo’s operatives hidden amongst the previous staff and so all of them are being interviewed, just as the ANBU have been. Realistically, all our forces should go through such a review at this point, but we will have to continue to do it in sections. Hopefully, we can complete such a review on all active-duty forces before Project Phoenix is put into play.”
“You really think the clan council will agree to it?” Tsunade asked as she reviewed the stack of routine, but critical, mission scrolls before her. The missions themselves were simple enough, routine border patrols mostly, but they were critical as they fulfilled a requirement in the Treaty of Fire between Konohagakure and the Fire Daimyo. To neglect these missions would be to reveal a weakness that would have them besieged in a very short time frame. This didn’t even take into account the security factor that these missions played for both Konoha and Fire Country as a whole as well. It would require a careful balancing of their diminished forces to see all the required border outposts and patrols staffed long-term.
“I do.” Hiruzen set his teacup down. “No one has brought it up yet, but our current village defense is worthless. The walls will do nothing to protect us from a serious targeted attack. Furthermore, there are way too many hidden paths into the village created by Danzo’s operatives on top of the more traditional ones used by ANBU and other forces. I’ve asked Fugaku-san to set a team or two specifically to the task of cataloging all those paths to present to the rest of the council.”
Tsunade considered the implications of such a report. “That… that could be the final push we need. The Uchiha, in particular, I believe are already there after what Jiraiya uncovered about Kakashi’s teammate.”
“I think the clan as a whole is both relieved to have a specific name to pin the blame on, and yet also horrified that specific name is, in fact, an Uchiha.” Hiruzen mused. “Fugaku’s concerns about the fallout of that is valid. The information will have to be handled very carefully to avoid the Uchiha Clan as a whole being slandered. It is not the first time a shinobi has been thought lost in battle, only to be found later by an enemy. It is why we must avoid leaving our dead behind on the field when it is at all possible without dealing with the bodies in a more permanent fashion. That practice had previously helped avoid this type of scenario and the enforcement of that policy was, unfortunately, let slide all too often during the last two wars.”
“There were a lot of things that happened that never should have during those wars.” Tsunade half growled as she finished approving the last of the border mission requests. “Poor medical training is one of the worst in my opinion. Did you learn nothing from the second war with all the field medics we pushed onto the different squads and teams?”
Hiruzen exhaled heavily. “Our enemies started targeting our iryou-nin. Particularly when they realized that none of them were trained to your own unique combat standard. It was no secret how you pushed for excellence in both combat and medical skills in order to be on a front-line team. Unfortunately, the squad leaders did not enforce those requirements, and it was just another terrible sign of where corners were being cut.” Hiruzen raised his hands in yield before she could start to rant. “I know. I fully expect, and hope, you and Shizune will completely overhaul the entire program.”
Tsunade’s clone muttered darkly under her breath across the room before pulling another file from the top of her pile.
Tsunade eyed the clone, then her teacher. “Any one of these tasks you’ve dragged me home into would have been enough work to keep me busy. You are giving me the work of entire squadrons with this.”
“Why do you think I look so worn out?” Hiruzen said with a shrug. “We have good people in this village, but the bureaucracy that everything was getting tied up on was making accomplishing anything positive a near impossibility. Yet one more reason leveling the field with Project Phoenix will be good for us. Everyone will be so focused on getting re-established and secure in our new circumstances; they won’t have time to cause you problems fixing the rest of the political and bureaucratical nonsense.”
“You are very optimistic about all that,” Tsunade stated wryly. “I’m not exactly subtle.”
Hiruzen smiled, “That’s the point. You won’t pander to their egos and any complaints you do get. You are more likely to argue to death because you are more stubborn than the rest of them combined.”
Tsunade’s eyes narrowed. “Really? You expect me to what, just out stubborn them?”
Hiruzen shrugged. “It will be easier than trying to compromise and win them all over. They won’t be willing to push you to the same limits they have tried to push me in the past. You have already proven that you would leave this village if you felt it needed. They want you here too much for that.”
“Are you sure you aren’t projecting?”
“Why do you think they all caved so easily in that meeting?” Hiruzen said, amused. “You have a lot of personal political weight thanks to all your efforts in the Second Shinobi War. Then include your medical advancements, even if you aren’t currently practicing, and finally, your clan and family reputations and history only add to your personal political value. Really, Tsunade, you have a stacked deck in this situation. Use it to your advantage.”
Tsunade didn’t answer him but pulled open the next file and let her mind mull over all that her mentor had said as she worked. She would have to reconsider her next moves with a bit of a different perspective.
“Our investigation uncovered four hundred and twenty-six different methods used by various individuals to circumvent the main gate entrance.” Uchiha Fugaku looked up from his scroll and scanned the council meeting room. He leveled a disgusted glare from where he stood at the front of the room at the members of the Clan Council, his displeasure over the results of the investigation abundantly clear. “Of these four hundred plus paths used to travel in and out of the village, only fifty-nine are sanctioned and none of these are the approved paths established for use of specific departments or designated for emergency uses.” He slowly rolled and closed the scroll as he continued speaking.
“About two-thirds of the four hundred managed to completely circumvent the existing sensor barrier, making the breaches on those points nearly undetectable. Depending on who was using the paths and when they may still be observed by various villagers or patrols going about their day. However, because these paths have become ‘commonplace’ they go unremarked and unreported.” Fugaku scanned the room, meeting the eyes of the various councilors once more, his eyes a steady black and all the more pointed for the lack of the sharingan whirling to light. “To put it bluntly, council members, the village is a sieve.”
He gave a curt bow and then returned to his seat. Uncomfortable murmurs filled the council room. “Fugaku-san, how many of those did you trace out of the Nara Clan Forest?” Shikaku asked calmly.
“None,” Fugaku responded.
“Troublesome,” Shikaku muttered as the room quieted around them. “You can likely add another ten to twenty to the total, then.” He finally said after some thought. “The deer themselves have created trails that lead right up to and beyond the village border. I’m sure my clan has added more on their own.”
“It’s clear that our safe, protected, and secure border is a complete and total lie,” Tsunade stated coldly from her seat. “I’ve talked to many of you in the recent days, both as individuals and in groups. You’ve raised your concerns to me, and I have acknowledged and answered the questions I could regarding those concerns. The truth of the matter, council members, is you are comfortable in your current circumstances, and you do not want to give up your comforts.”
She rose at this point and moved to the center space to more easily face all of them. “The fact is: your comfort is a trap. Do you all want to continue sitting at the center of this spider’s web we’ve found woven around us, or will we break the threads and stand once more on a solid foundation?” She surveyed the room calmly and did not fidget or move to sit back down.
“I move to proceed with Project Phoenix as quickly as preparations allow,” Fugaku said.
“I second that motion.” Tsume half growled. “The Inazuka have tunnels that were likely undetected by your investigation as well, Fugaku. This whole situation stinks like an uncleaned kennel.”
“Let the vote begin,” Tsunade said quietly.
She waited silently, watching as the seals lit for or against around the room. There were still several holding out against the project, but it was clear, as the last few council members submitted their vote, that the motion would carry. She waited nearly a full minute after the last seal was marked and met the eyes of all those in the room once more.
“The motion to activate Project Phoenix has passed. Preparation planning will begin tomorrow. You should all bind your households, your clans, and your vassals to secrecy on this matter and begin packing anything and everything you wish to keep.”
Tsunade had not changed the make-up of the Hokage Advisory council when she officially took on the rank of Godaime Hokage. She liked the group of individuals already in place and the positions they held in the village gave her a good range of information, which she imagined was why Minato Namikaze had arranged it as such for himself. In the future, she would like to have an official representative from the iryou-nin and medical services, but she understood the medical corps had been decimated and would take time and work to bring up to the standard she had long ago envisioned. For now, her apprentice would focus on the medical corps and report to her unofficially and officially as needed.
She quietly surveyed the current members of the council as they reviewed the map she had laid out on the conference table. It was a copy of the original designed by Mito Uzumaki and marked out where every seed she had created was to be planted. Kushina and Tsunade had seen that planting to completion and included the necessary supporting seal work needed for each seed as well.
Shikaku finally sat down after several minutes with a loud exhale and folded his hands to rest under his chin, elbows resting on the arms of the chair. His eyes closed and a frown of consideration marred his expression. Tsunade glanced at the others and noticed Inoichi’s slightly wild-eyed look as he continued to trace his finger across the map, his long pale blonde ponytail threatening to spill over his shoulder.
“You underestimated the number of seeds involved in this project when you presented it to the council,” Fugaku said quietly, ignoring the antics of his fellow advisors. “Four thousand, seven hundred and twenty-five, while not an unusual number of trees for a small forest, when one considers just what those seeds will grow into? It is almost inconceivable what Mito Uzumaki planned to accomplish with this.”
Tsunade chuckled at that. “Yes, well, my grandmother was a law onto herself.”
“You were not even remotely joking about complete evacuation being required before activation,” Shikaku murmured, though he did not move from his current thinking pose.
“It’s kind of poetic.” Inoichi mused, sitting back while he continued to stare at the map. “The forest will swallow the village, quite literally, in some areas.”
“Re-configuring necessary supply chains to account for this is going to be a pain,” Shikaku muttered.
The ANBU Commander who had remained silent until now leaned forward and pointed to a series of variations in the markings throughout the village-planted seeds. “What do these variations mean?”
Tsunade glanced at where he’d been pointing and then grinned, “Ah, those are the different grove clusters. Each set, you’ll notice, is planted in a circle around an existing district or complex. The number of seeds in the circle depends on the size of the space they are encircling. They will grow into what Mito-obaasan called groves. A grove tree is made up of many trees and has a hollow heart space, like an inner courtyard. At ground level and up close, they will look like the trees literally grew into each other with no separation and the branches in their crown will be heavily interwoven. From a distance, they will look like the enormous mountain-senju of myth.”
“A single tree to shelter a clan… very fitting,” Inoichi murmured.
Tsunade nodded. “You know your lore.”
Inoichi shrugged. “I’ve always had an affinity for plants, not enough to really take advantage of it in combat, but for personal use? It made me very interested in all the known plant-based chakra stories in my youth.”
“Some Senju blood in your family tree?” Tsunade asked, curious.
Inoichi shrugged, “Not that I know of, but records of such things from before the village founding are unreliable at best.”
“The true scope of this is almost unimaginable. These groves you described completely cover the village. All the major administration and service structures are contained. The current large clan complexes almost all have their own grove, with the only exception being Senju and Uzumaki.” The ANBU Commander said in reverence.
“The Uzumaki Clan complex was actually split off from the Senju Clan complex as it was gifted to Uzumaki Mito as a sort of embassy for her familial clan members if they wished to visit from Uzushiro. She retreated to it completely after my grandfather’s death.” Tsunade explained, her voice softening as she thought of the remarkable and kind woman that been her grandmother. She shook her head and refocused on the present. “We will have to do a bit of building in the grove-hearts and crowns to establish ourselves completely, but the trees will be very accommodating to us once they achieve maturation status. That’s why it’s important we give them the required time to reach that status without interference.”
“Do you know exactly how long it will take?” Fugaku asked.
“Days to a couple of weeks. Each seed has a set of support seals that were set upon their planting that have been passively collecting and storing water, nutrients, and chakra to feed the seeds’ rapid growth. Nutrient packs were already set into the storage seals ahead of time, but the water and chakra had to be set on site as the seed was planted.” Tsunade explained, amused at the intrigued and still somewhat shocked expressions of the respected jounin. “How much water and chakra those storage seals have managed to collect and store, will have a large impact on the rapid pace of the seeds’ growth.”
“This is the second part of why we need to evacuate,” Shikaku muttered. “Anyone unprepared in the vicinity will become drawn into that process and essentially become plant food.”
Tsunade nodded, “Yes. Mito-obaasan thought that if we ever reached a time where activation was needed, anyone who was where they had no business being deserved what they got.”
Inoichi let out a low whistle but nodded. “Survivalist.”
Tsunade silently agreed.
“Those who are not vassal-bound will not be allowed to return after this, will they?” The ANBU Commander asked quietly.
“That is correct. Anyone bound by clan or service oaths will not have any issues. The trees will actively repel anyone who is not.”
“That is going to lead to some very unhappy villagers.”
“Well, perhaps they should have reconsidered their attitudes and offered something productive to the community?” Tsunade said mildly. She had no patience for coddling the rather entitled civilian population. There were exceptions, of course, but in the years she had been gone, and despite a third war, the civilian population had become spoiled and entitled.
Shikaku chuckled as Fugaku all but choked on his tea. “You do have a way with words, Godaime-sama.”
“Thank you for taking the time to come help with the harvesting of the gardens, Hokana-san,” Tsunade said as she led the petite woman into the Senju complex. She was stoutly built, as most Akimichi Clan members were, but she had the look of the Yamanaka in her facial features, her hair a pale blonde and eyes a very pale sky blue. “The entire place is overgrown and while a lot of it is ornamental on the surface, I know it was planted with utility in mind as well.”
“It’s not a problem, Tsunade-sama. That you’ve agreed to let us take as many samples, seeds, and cuttings from the Senju family garden as needed to help restock the Akinaya Greenhouse stock is thanks enough. Though how we grow and garden will have a bit of an overhaul, I suspect, once your project is launched.” Tsunade smiled wryly at the truth in her statement.
“There is no point in letting it all go to waste, and I hope to encourage the other clans to do the same. I’d also like you to teach my ward, Tenzo, while you work if that is possible? He has a rather strong affinity for working with plants but has not had very broad exposure to different methods, yet.”
“I would be honored.”
No sooner had the words been said than a youth appeared at Tsunade’s side and bowed respectfully. “Tsunade-sama, Akimichi-san.”
Tsunade smiled wryly, “And this would be Tenzo.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Tenzo. I’m Hokana of the Akimichi Clan. Tsunade-sama says you like growing things?”
Tenzo nodded. “Tsunade-sama said we are going to build new homes in the trees like her grandfather’s office suite. I like that space a lot, so I’m looking forward to it.”
“Your grandfather’s office suite?” Hokana echoed as she turned to Tsunade, the question evident in her expression.
Tsunade chuckled and gestured up toward the large senju tree growing just behind the main building. “My grandfather was never truly at ease unless he was in a tree,” Tsunade explained.
“That is… amazing, and a relief to see an example of what we are looking forward to in the future.” Hokana stared up at the large majestic senju. “It has a wonderful presence. Do you know if that is specific to this tree or a natural effect of all senju trees?”
“This one is specifically attuned to Konoha, so I can’t say for certain. I imagine our soon-to-be homes will have a similar effect, though.” Tsunade said in consideration. “I grew up with it and so never really considered it an inherent nature of the tree, but you are probably right to ask about it.” She pulled herself away from the past. “The majority of the gardens are around on the east side and the backside of the main house along with some shady nooks tucked in here and there around the various buildings. We have a massive wisteria that I would like to save as well.
“Oh my…” Hokana murmured as they rounded the corner to the east garden space. “And there is more in the back garden?”
“As well as some tucked into the inner courtyards of several of the buildings,” Tsunade said, smiling at the overgrowth.
“Well, no wonder you called for help. You could work in here for days all by yourself and you have plenty else on your to-do list than seeing to the stripping of your clan property. Thankfully, I came prepared with stasis scrolls and plenty of labels.”
“Good, I’ll let you two get to it. I have to head back to the administrative complex, unfortunately.”
“We’ll get your garden harvested and cataloged, Tsunade-sama. No worries about that.”
“Good luck with the paperwork.” Tenzo said, his voice solemn, but an amused twitch at the corner of his eye gave him away.
“Careful kiddo or I’ll assign you administrative duties just to help me.” Tenzo blanched at that.
“Only if you make Kakashi-san do it with me!”
Tsunade laughed and gave them a parting wave.
“Are you sure you can’t take Naruto with you?” Kakashi asked hopefully as he sat comfortably on the floor with one of his pack summons tucked up in his lap, happily soaking up the belly rubs being offered. Jiraiya chuckled but went back down the list of items sealed into his travel scroll. “Come on, I’m sure the Fire Daimyo likes babies.”
“You know why that is a bad idea. Besides, the way I heard it; you are getting paid pretty well for this babysitting gig instead of going on missions yourself.” He eyed the teen out of the side of his eye. The nightmare memories the teen had been suffering had finally faded with the addition of a couple of seals to the headbands he normally used to cover the eye. They had also helped reduce the remaining passive chakra drain that had been present, despite Kakashi keeping the eye sealed closed when not in use.
“I’m tired of babysitting,” Kakashi muttered and then cursed as his puppy began to gnaw on his fingers when he stopped paying attention.
Jiraiya raised an eyebrow. “But you are so good at it.”
“Hah! He’s been getting the rest of us to feed, burp, and change as many diapers as possible. He only likes handling our little ball of sunshine when he actually is one and smells like a clean baby.” Tsunade called out from where she sat across the room with the baby in question tucked neatly in her arms and feeding on his bottle with enthusiasm.
Kakashi rolled his visible eye, “But, Tsunade-obasan, you like feeding him!”
“That is beside the point!” Tsunade snipped back even as she smiled and cooed at the baby. Jiraiya fought back the smirk that wanted to stretch across his face at their antics. The first time Kakashi had deemed Tsunade with the familiar title of aunt instead of something more formal, Jiraiya had thought she’d send him flying. Much to his surprise, it had seemed to endear the lanky teen to her further instead.
Kakashi turned back to Jiraiya with a vexed expression, clearly making a ‘see what I have to put up with’ statement. “Besides, I thought you would want to be here for her big speech.”
Jiraiya half shrugged. “I know she’ll manage fine. She gave some pretty impressive speeches back during the second war.” His grin turned almost feral in glee. “She shocked so many of the troops who bought into the perfect little senju princess image she often presented for the general public in Konoha, when in fact she’s just as gritty as the rest of us.”
Kakashi glanced back to where Tsunade was still feeding and cooing at the baby. “Uhh, if you are sure.”
Jiraiya chuckled. “On that note, don’t let her pull you into a game of poker, kid. She’ll fleece you for all you’ve got.”
“Minato-sensei lost to her every time. I adored my student, but he sucked at cards. His poker face was a thing of beauty during a fight. He just failed to use it when it came to gambling. And on that note, don’t let her pull you into a drinking contest, either.”
Kakashi scoffed, “I’m not a little kid.”
“You are also not a trained medic and liable to die of alcohol poisoning. See if you can get Shizune-chan to teach you to filter toxins from your own bloodstream first. Then you just might have a chance to not be a complete embarrassment.” Jiraiya rolled up his scroll with a solid snap. “All right, that should see me to Nokoribi-to and back again. Should be no more than a week on the outside, I think.”
“Don’t let that old man demand anything more from you than what we’ve agreed on!” Tsunade ordered, even as she shifted the baby into position to be burped.
Jiraiya huffed, “Politicians make an art out of extracting promises and giving nothing. I’m well aware of our Daimyo’s own games with such things. He is thankfully a strong ally of ours and will mostly just be testing me. I expect he’ll be happy to have accurate information more than anything.”
“You’re probably right on that. Still, be careful. We have a few weeks yet until we will be ready, and we can’t risk exposing ourselves beforehand.” Tsunade said even as she finished burping the baby.
“I will guard our secrets, even from dirty politicians. I promise.” Jiraiya said with a soft smile as he watched her handle the baby. “Good luck with the village-wide riot you plan to incite.”
“Jiraiya!” she hissed at his back as he quickly slipped out the main door laughing as he went. Well, no time like the present to hit the road, and he hated goodbyes on the best of days.
Tsunade stepped out onto the balcony of the Hokage Tower that had been prepared for a Hokage’s public address. She was clad in the full official regalia of her rank and office, though she had chosen to wear the white and red accented robe open and over her usual attire, much like the Yondaime had worn his battle robe. The wide-brimmed hat rested easily on her head, giving her shade from the morning sun. Rumors had begun to fly amidst the villagers in the days since the clan council voted to go forward with Project Phoenix, despite the secrecy oaths required by all who were being told about the project. The number of civilians accepting vassal positions had increased significantly as tensions began to rise. However, this just made those who had not been offered such a position more nervous and agitated. Now was the time to make a public announcement. She surveyed the gathered people below and noted all the shinobi gathered around on rooftops nearby as well. The crowd slowly quieted as expectation built.
“Good morning.” The crowd cheerfully greeted her in return.
“I read for you first, as a reminder of what it means to be part of this village, the preamble of The Charter of Konohagakure. Listen and understand what you hear.”
She waited for several breaths, squared her shoulders, and began.
“We the clans of Konohagakure;” She breathed evenly and scanned the crowd. “In the face of unending battles, in the intent of finding safety, peace, and above all else, home.” She met the eyes of many as she swept her gaze back across the rooftops and those perched there. “Come together as members of many clans to be one village united; ever looking forward to a brighter future.”
A burst of shouting and cheers burst from the crowd, and she smiled.
“And for these goals; we put forward: our defenders,” She made a sweeping gesture to all the shinobi scattered along the rooftops. “Our artisans,” she motioned toward the crowd of civilian crafters and artists clustered in the crowd. “Our teachers,” she found and smiled at the cluster of Academy teachers who stood tall with their students clustered around them. “Our healers.” She gestured again to the large cluster of medical staff and iryou-nin and the hospital complex behind them. “We put behind us: our mistrust and past grievances;” She looked pointedly to the large cluster of Uchiha clan members who had long been the Senju clan’s rival and enemies often in the past. “We offer up our children, not just as members of our clans, but as members of this community.”
“May the will of fire burn bright;” A large burst of cheers and affirmative shouts burst from the crowd, and she nodded in acknowledgment. “And so, to this purpose, we seal by chakra and blood each clan,” The heads of each clan shouted their agreement in chorus. “Each shinobi,” and like the clan heads, the voices of the various shinobi rose out of the crowd. “Bound to the will imbued by chakra and blood in these words, lest their own will be lost and burned out.”
She paused, taking the moment to take a drink and survey the tone of the crowd, which so far remained positive. She removed the hat of her office to bring her face out of shadow for the crowd. “The founding clans put down these words to bind us all together for a brighter future. That was fifty years in the past and we have not had an easy time of it.”
“For the last fifteen years, we have been under the shadow of war. Of its possibility, its threat, its arrival, and the slowly draining hope of it ever truly ending. This has kept us, as a people, on a knife’s edge, always waiting for and expecting the next battle. This battle-readiness has helped us survive, even as we were slowly bleeding out into the very forests of Fire Country.”
She paused again, surveying the crowd, seeing the excitement at her addressing the public had faded to serious expectancy. “We suffered another assault the night of October 10th in the form of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. This massive blow not only caused a heavy loss of life, livelihoods, and means of survival for the whole village, but it exposed our weaknesses for all to see.”
“Corruption and treason had been festering in Konoha’s very roots, and it has all but destroyed us.” She surveyed the crowd again at that moment, noticing those who reacted poorly and gave away their probable contribution to that corruption. Even now, members of the Shinobi Intelligence Division and ANBU were watching for these individuals and taking notes. “That rot has been burned out at its very heart, but the damage is done.”
“Konoha is no longer secure. We, the clans and members of Konohagakure, can no longer promise safety, security, and a future for the non-combatants dwelling within our walls.” Shouts and other various exclamations of negative response, fear, and accusation filled the air.
She glared and waited them out. After several minutes, silence slowly began to fill the space once more.
“Some of you have been approached by the various shinobi clans of Konohagakure. They have offered you the opportunity to swear vassal oaths and align your future and safety with theirs. This is a privilege and offers you more security within our charter.” This caused some additional mummers of concern. She ignored them. “If you have taken such an oath, I thank you. You have already helped us on the path to a more secure future.” She took a deep breath, and now came where she started to piss some people off.
“In the coming days, more of you may be approached. If you think to harass one or more of the clans, seeking such a thing for yourself without it being first offered, then pack up and leave Konoha now.” She could see several civilians looking shocked and outraged, but others were nodding in understanding.
“Konohagakure has no room for those seeking to leech and not offer sustainable products or services for our future. Konohagakure is a military-run city-state and if you can’t accept the military regulations, limitations, and stipulations, then you have no place here. If you have been approached but feel this entire situation has become unbearable, we are saddened by your choice to leave, but hope you will still do business with us in the future.” She could already sense the shock and disbelief of many shifting to a grudging acceptance, though she knew there would be those who would try to fight it regardless of the risks.
“Relocation caravans will begin leaving Konohagakure soon. If you wish to join one, please submit a request to the administrative office. The office staff will be available to accept your request and help you select the caravan that best suits your choices.” She made a silent command and in a fraction of seconds, the clan leader of each clan appeared arrayed behind her in clear unified support.
“We are the clans and people of Konohagakure. Our will is strong, and it is for the future that we march forward.”
She gave the stunned crowd a final sweeping glance before flipping the ceremonial hat back onto her head and moving back into the building and out of sight of the crowd. The clan leaders vanished just as quickly as they had appeared.
“I don’t care who she is meeting with! I demand to see that woman, now!” an irate female voice hollered through the now open office door.
Tsunade frowned, but the members of the advisory council she was meeting with all snickered. “Good luck with that one, Tsunade-sama,” Fugaku muttered.
“Perhaps we should take a break?” Inoichi offered, a wry smile on his lips.
“You are all horrible,” Tsunade said flatly before rising to go see what all the fuss in her office foyer was about.
She pushed her office doors open with a slam. “What is going on out here!?” She growled.
“I’m sorry, Tsunade-sama, I tried to tell her you were in a meeting.” Iwashi said in a rush as he looked over his shoulder at Tsunade while keeping himself between her and the irate woman.
“Don’t ignore me!” The woman shrieked. “My family has been part of this village for generations! I refuse to let you dictate what we must do to live in our homes!”
Tsunade closed her eyes slowly and took a deep breath, the pounding in her temples a clear indicator of a headache already starting. “Let’s move this to a conference room.”
“Your office too good for me?” The woman bit out snidely.
Tsunade leveled a glare at her. “I choose not to force those I was already meeting with to put up with your poor attitude and manners. Sadly, I can’t do the same or I suspect you would cause an even bigger scene.”
“This way please, Matsumori-san.” Iwashi gestured, calm and polite as always. Tsunade followed the pair into the small side conference room and only raised an eyebrow as the woman made herself at home. Iwashi set a scroll and a single sheet of paper on the table near where Tsunade usually chose to sit. “Her family’s file and the short answer sheet we provided with common questions about the vassal oaths.”
Tsunade nodded and took a seat, settling herself before skimming the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ list.
“Well?” Matsumori huffed in impatience.
“What is your actual complaint? Other than feeling self-entitled to do as you please in a situation where you have exactly zero authority, no political power, and are likely making a bad name for your entire family, that is?” Tsunade asked, keeping her tone calm and mild, but her words biting. She did not have time for this woman’s theatrics.
“How dare you!” The woman’s voice shrieked. “The Matsumori family has been part of the village of Konoha for centuries. Long before the Fire Daimyo dumped all you shinobi on us like a sack of flour. We accepted you into our community and this is how you repay us! By telling us to leave or accept being overseen by some self-entitled shinobi clan?”
Tsunade snapped the pencil in her grip. “Have a care for how you speak to me and others who have fought, bled, and given up family members for your so-called idea of community. I know for a fact that the founding clans did everything they could to not displace those who already lived here. However, this is now a shinobi-run city-state. We are independent of but have a treaty with the Fire Daimyo, and the village of Konoha and its immediate surrounding territory was granted to us in that treaty. You do not have to stay.” Tsunade coldly stated, her tone clipped.
The woman puffed up and was ready to unleash another pointless tirade.
“Enough.” Tsunade hissed; a single finger pressed onto the table surface. The table between them split straight through, sending the file scroll tumbling to the floor, where it unrolled in a half-tangled mess. The list of questions fluttered down to land at Matsumori’s feet. “You should consider yourself no longer welcome in Konohagakure or any other village overseen by Konoha shinobi. The rest of your family is welcome to make their own decisions, independently and on an individual basis. You, however, are not. You have three days to prepare before the first caravan leaves. I suggest you be ready for it.”
Matsumori sniffed. “And if I’m not?”
“You will be tied up, like a sack of flour,” Tsunade’s grin was sharp. “And dumped in the caravan regardless of your protests,” Tsunade said, an innocent lilt in her tone.
“I can, and I have. I am the sole leader of this city-state Matsumori. It seems you have forgotten that fact.” Tsunade whirled and slammed the door to the conference room open, not even flinching as it splintered into pieces. “Iwashi-san! Please see about a replacement table and door. Matsumori’s business in the tower is complete. She is no longer welcome in the administrative complex, ever.”
Iwashi-san remained neutral but bowed in acknowledgment. “Of course, Godaime-sama.”
“She can’t be serious!” Matsumori screeched as Tsunade closed the door to her office behind her. She immediately put up security wards that would double as a soundproof layer.
“Where were we?” she asked as she returned to the small conference table in the office.
“Evacuation planning,” Shikaku stated flippantly.
Tsunade groaned. “Please tell me your clans have been active on the vassal angle?”
“We have,” Inoichi said. “The Yamanaka Clan has accepted vassal oaths from the Yoshitaka family, who have been helping to grow and maintain our messenger hawks for decades now. We’ve had several families who have been working closely with my own clan, the Akimichi Clan, and the Nara Clan, to maintain the greenhouses and forest occupied by the Nara Clan deer, and all have agreed to take oaths. The biggest issue was trying to decide which families would swear to which clan.”
“Between the Nara and Akimichi Clans, we have pretty much all the local herders and other animal farmers,” Shikaku stated as he poured himself a fresh cup of tea.
“I can’t say specifics without revealing myself, but it is going well amongst my family as well.” The ANBU Commander said, amused. “Although, I’ve heard Lady Kushina was already quite active in the taking in of vassals before her untimely death.”
Fugaku grunted. “She managed to get oaths from the Akiha family, Ichiraku family, and the Yomisato family. There is also a rumor that one of the Matsumori family swore oaths to the clan individually. Not too surprising considering that the family’s work is in paper crafting. They have produced a great deal of our scrolls and sealing paper since Konohagakure was founded.”
Tsunade sighed, “We’ll have to see if we can get any other members of the family interested without that harpy.”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Inoichi said as he too reached for a fresh cup of tea. “Sandaime-sama has been courting them on the quiet for days now as I understand it. That and his favorite tobacco supplier.”
Tsunade shook her head in amusement. “Good. I’ve been tied up here due to the restricted administrative staff currently, so I haven’t had a chance to check into that side of things, myself.” She poured herself a fresh cup of tea and then looked at the graphs, charts, and organized lists of information laid out before her.
“I would like all the larger clans to take positions escorting the groups who are more vulnerable. The injured and elderly will be unable to travel without assistance and will need extra care in particular.” Tsunade said, pointing to the appropriate list.
“Agreed. We will need to manage our escort teams carefully to make sure our caravans don’t become targets for bandits, nor attract attention from other village spies who will be monitoring our movements.” Inoichi murmured.
“The clans will probably want to travel together, but I don’t think that is the smartest decision,” Shikaku interjected. “It will make it much too obvious that something big is going on. And the last thing we want is an entire clan targeted by an opportune strike.”
“That is a very good point, and that is what we should use to convince the clans that would refuse to intermingle, my own clan included,” Fugaku said with a frown. “All of us are still very much set on some isolationist habits that predate the village founding. This could be a good opportunity to push those boundaries.”
“I’m surprised. That is not a stance I would have expected from you, Fugaku-san.” Tsunade said, meeting the man’s gaze with a smile. “No wonder you were favored on this Advisory Council by Namikaze. I agree completely.”
“Fugaku is a rebel.” Shikaku said with a drawl. “So troublesome.”
Tsunade chuckled. “An Uchiha liberal, who’d have thought.”
Fugaku huffed, “If you are done? I can go back to being boring.”
“It will take careful coordination to balance the groups in terms of those skilled enough to guard with those they are escorting and guarding,” Shikaku said, returning to the topic. “Core family groups should be kept together, regardless of the overall shuffle.”
“Yes, that sounds like a good idea.” Inoichi agreed.
“It should be said that all the large clans have young children at this time, many of them future clan heirs. If word gets out that they are exposed in such a manner, we can expect kidnapping attempts.” The ANBU Command added.
“That is a good point. The timing of this will have to be just about perfect.” Tsunade said in consideration. “Senju and Uzumaki will be staying in the village during the activation. Jiraiya is visiting the Fire Daimyo now to honor our treaty agreement regarding keeping him notified of major events. He will be back in about a week, after which we will be working on all on-site preparations.” She considered then.
“We should salvage as much as we can from the village itself before evacuation and activation. The more supplies we have ready to go beforehand, the faster we can get everyone settled after the activation and growth period has completed.” Inoichi said, speculating. “The last thing we want to do is to be scrambling for food and materials as we head into the dry season.”
“We can start by sending a good-sized contingent to the Orchards of Kohakushoku. All scouting surveys indicate the orchards there suffered significant damage from one of the chakra bombs released by the Kyuubi. Such a large team would not be out of character for us to send for an extended mission to help restore what has been destroyed. We can mix in more of the family units and some other core groups along with those who will be able to organize and do the work required. This then serves two purposes: giving aid to one of our major food suppliers and an early start to evacuating sooner rather than all at once. This will help as to not cause outward concern.” Shikaku offered.
“That is a very good plan. We can rotate out the escort teams and slowly increase the presence there until the full evacuation.” Fugaku confirmed.
“We should have at least four major camps. Like with the orchards, send a preliminary team to set up the groundwork and defense lines. These should be mostly those trained and skilled in just such work. They can then be followed by the family groups and whoever else we assign to the location. Similarly, we can slowly rotate out most of the jounin for chuunin and genin once they are established. This will spread us out enough to not make tempting targets for a full strike, and yet should make us too tough of a target for enterprising bandits.” The ANBU Commander offered. “We can rotate and mix in ANBU operatives as well as they are cleared for full duty. It should only be a couple more weeks for the remaining ANBU to be cleared, save for those who have intensive reconditioning to break them of Danzo’s methodology.”
“Here, another group should go south toward our shoreline border with Wave Country. We could have teams also look into the rumors of a supposed civilian business tyrant making moves to take over the country. They have been vulnerable since the fall of Uzushiro, and it would do us well to resolve that problem.” Fugaku suggested.
Tsunade nodded. “That is a good thought. We can benefit from a solid trade agreement with them—and see right here, along this path. There will be a large outpost grown here. Miko-obaasan called these groups tangles, and it is just a kilometer or two back from the shore and trade road. Those there will have to be careful that when the camp is established that they are far enough away from that growth point that they don’t get caught up in the midst of it. We don’t want to lose anyone to an avoidable accident and a large cluster of three to five over-sized the Senju trees could do more than that.”
“Here and here.” Shikaku pointed at two points. “These are easily fortified encampments and there is a good outpost point about halfway between them.”
Inoichi nodded. “Yes, I remember those areas. We used them once or twice during the Third War. Freshwater is in easy supply, and I think there is a hot spring or two in that area as well.”
“Speaking of hot springs, there are some empty ruins between here and Tanzaku-gai that we could use. Such a location should also help provide cover for just how many people are there if the camp is laid out well amidst the ruins there.” Tsunade mentioned. “The only catch would be making sure there are no other squatters in the ruins. Bandits have been known to use them in the past. So that could be a cover mission for that area, cleaning out bandit encampments.”
“Hmm, agreed,” Shikaku said after a moment of thought.
“So that is the plan, then?” Tsunade asked. “Establish cover missions in the areas we discussed. Send a forward team to establish the camp and resolve any immediate issues. Then send out follow-up groups until the final groups all leave just a few days before the activation date.”
“It’s rough, but it has a solid base that we can easily build from. We should plan to send our wounded and injured to the camp near Wave. It is the most protected from outside groups and should draw the least enemy attention. Perhaps the majority of the children as well. It can be treated as a training trip for all.” Shikaku confirmed.
“Tsunade leaned back satisfied and smiled, “Any objections to this preliminary plan?” Tsunade asked, looking to the rest.
“No, I think this is good.”
“Should be fun,” Inoichi said with a grin.
Jiraiya set himself up for another day of being told ‘soon’ and ‘please wait’ by the administrative office of the Fire Daimyo. It had been more than a week and he was getting tired of the bureaucratic run-around. All of it just because someone in the Daimyo’s administrative staff had decided Jiraiya just wasn’t important or needed to be punished for some imagined slight. He settled himself on the edge of the training courtyard used by the Guardian Twelve who served the Fire Daimyo. The majority of the shinobi who served on the guardian detail came from the Fire Temple, a neutral and more monastery-structured shinobi enclave that was well respected throughout the Elemental Nations. There were always a few who came from the various shinobi clans, however, or more recently, Konohagakure. It was those individuals he hoped to make contact with today and hopefully get a message directly to the Daimyo without the bureaucratic interference. In the meantime, he would meditate and maybe do some writing.
A few hours passed and Jiraiya was really getting into his current draft when a group of the shinobi currently serving on the Guardian Twelve entered the courtyard.
“Yo! Jiraiya-san, that toady still giving you the runaround?” One of the group called out.
Jiraiya looked up from his writing and huffed, “Damned if I know why the Minister of Affairs, Lord Gima, is giving me a hard time. It’s going to bite him back once I do finally get to see the Daimyo. I can’t imagine he’s pleased about the delayed information from Konoha right now.”
“You got that right. Seems Daimyo-sama’s wife learned you were here and confronted her husband about it.”
“Well, that saves me asking one of you lot to play messenger for me,” Jiraiya said with a grin.
“The Lady does appreciate Konoha’s genin teams always retrieving her lost cats. It amuses her to track how quickly each team manages it.” One of the others chimed in, “I heard she’s even got a breeder and trainer involved now so she can keep that little project going indefinitely.”
Jiraiya almost choked on his laughter. “Well, it is good practice for the kids, that’s for sure.”
“Sannin-sama?” A messenger stepped out from the palace interior. “Daimyo-sama is asking for you, sir.”
“Well; seems that my time is up. See you around, boys.” Jiraiya said with a casual wave. He followed the messenger as he was led through the palace corridors until they stopped at an unremarkable doorway. “In here, Sannin-sama.”
Jiraiya slipped into the open door and bowed even as his eyes tracked through the room, surprised to find the Fire Daimyo alone. His shadows were nearby, but not in the room proper. “Daimyo-sama, thank you for seeing me.”
“Jiraiya-san, please come have a seat. We do apologize for making you wait. A certain minister had mistaken one of your novel characters for his wife. This led him to believe he could interfere with your meeting request however he wished. That individual has been educated about his mistake.”
Jiraiya bit back a laugh at the toady’s reasoning. “Unlikely as it is, sir, if he is so blessed with a wife that matches the ladies I write about, he is rather fortunate.”
“That’s what my wife told him.” The Daimyo said with a smirk. “She was quite vexed with his meddling, you see. We have both been rather worried about Konohagakure and have had nothing but rumors and the brief report Sandaime-san was so polite to see delivered to us.”
“Well, I hope to alleviate most of your fears. Do you mind if I put up a privacy seal while we talk?”
“Not at all. I’m familiar enough with the practice, as long as you give your oath of security first. We mustn’t alarm my personal security after all.”
“Of course not, sir. I, Jiraiya, Sannin of Mount Myouboku, do swear not to bring any violence upon Daimyo-sama in our discussions on this day.” He waited a moment, and after receiving a nod to proceed, placed his seal.
“Very good, now we are advised that the Yondaime, Minato Namikaze, was killed during the recent event and that the Sandaime, Sarutobi Hiruzen, took up the role of Hokage in a temporary capacity. What more can you tell us?”
“The event, as you described it, was the release of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. The Kyuubi immediately began a targeted assault on the village itself upon its corporeal appearance. About twenty minutes into the fight, the Yondaime managed to transport the Kyuubi outside of the village to an unpopulated space. What exactly happened thereafter that is speculation at best, but the end result was the Kyuubi was sealed away once more by the Yondaime at the cost of his own life.”
“And what of the events leading up to its release? Has Lady Kushina also fallen?”
“The attack was initiated by a single individual. We have strong suspicions as to who this individual was, but no hard facts at this time. It has been decided that keeping such information secret is the best choice for the time being. The last thing we need right now is for angry fingers to be pointed at the innocent, a problem that is guaranteed to occur in the wake of such a devastating event if even a hint of a guilty party is revealed.”
The Daimyo considered that statement for several long moments as he prepared himself a fresh cup of tea. “Yes, I suppose you are right. Riots are terrible things.”
“This has unfortunately uncovered some appalling corruption within Konohagakure itself. As of five weeks ago, Shimura Danzo and Clan Shimura were named traitors to the village. Danzo himself is now dead and the Shimura Clan is no more.”
The Daimyo froze mid-way to taking a drink of his tea. “Shimura? That warmonger! Well then, good riddance.”
Jiraiya blinked, surprised. “Daimyo-san, I’m shocked. I was under the impression you liked Danzo?”
The Daimyo all but huffed. “That man toed a very fine line with what he could get away with. He came all too close to trying to blackmail or leverage my own family and city against me. I could not oppose him openly or directly as he had Hiruzen’s ear and everything he did seemed to have been Hokage sanctioned.”
Jiraiya winced at that. “We are only recently uncovering the scope of his manipulations, and I can say with certainty that the man acted almost one hundred percent independently. He did just enough to be seen as staying within the limits Sandaime-san set but not much more.”
“Well, as terrible as the news is about the Kyuubi’s assault and the Yondaime’s fall, the resulting fall of Danzo Shimura is welcome news.”
“As for Lady Kushina, she died due to unforeseen complications during the birth of her child.”
The Fire Daimyo frowned deeply. “Well, that is most unfortunate about Lady Kushina, but her child survived?”
Jiraiya smiled easily at that question. “I am now acting regent for Clan Uzumaki, as she saw fit to name me godfather.”
“Hah! Good for you. Children are good for us. As your old mentor is so fond of saying, they are our future, and they often teach us much as they stumble about learning for themselves.”
Jiraiya grunted at that. “Oh, I have a few memories of Minato’s stumbles.”
“I’m sure you do. Treasure them.
“Yes. The child is being kept secure and hidden for now for their own safety.”
“As they should be. My own heirs are always kept out of any public eyes for several years when they are first born. Doing so invites fewer kidnapping and assassination attempts.” He took a moment to take a deep drink and hummed in consideration. “What about the position of Hokage? Did I understand from the first missive that Sandaime-san only intends to fill the role temporarily? He has a replacement in mind already?”
“Yes, the Godaime Hokage was invested into office about two weeks ago now.”
“So quickly! Who is it then?”
“Sandaime-san recalled both myself and Senju Tsunade to the village within the first twenty-four hours after the event. Tsunade returned about a week after that. It took another two before Sandaime-sama talked her around to accepting the duty. She was fully instated and already causing quite a stir before I left to come here.”
The Daimyo smiled, “Tsunade-hime has returned home and followed in her grandfather and great-uncle’s steps. I’m glad. There is no one stronger or so well politically suited. I’m actually impressed Sandaime-san got her to return. I’ve spent a few nights gambling with Tsunade-hime herself in the years she was away, whenever the opportunity arose, and we spoke of many topics. I was under the impression that she would never return.”
“It has been a reassurance to many in the village, for certain.” Jiraiya agreed.
“How is the recovery going after the assault? Were the losses and damages significant?”
“That information is complicated. Konoha suffered a great deal of property damage during the attack due to where the Kyuubi first struck. Many of our greenhouses used for daily food and medicinal supplies were utterly destroyed. That, combined with all the injuries and loss of life either directly or indirectly caused by the attack, has left us with quite the challenge. This was further compounded by the revelation of Danzo’s treason.”
The Daimyo rubbed his fingers gently along the side of his teacup, thinking carefully about what had been revealed to him. “Are we looking at another shinobi war?”
“If we manage things well, not immediately. All the villages are still suffering from the cost of the last one and are not going to be too quick to light the fire again. However, in another five or ten years? I could easily see power shifts leading that way. Konoha has been exposed in a horrible fashion and we do not have nearly the same fortifications as many of the other villages in their natural terrain.” Jiraiya explained.
The Daimyo eyed him suspiciously. “You are holding something back.”
Jiraiya nodded. “We are working on a project that will resolve all the problems in our security that have existed since the village founding.”
“That is good news!” The Daimyo relaxed and smiled. “I can understand keeping things quiet for security, but you still seem apprehensive about telling me even this much?”
“The project will have a rather permanent and somewhat far-reaching effect. In fact, if everything goes as planned, once enacted, you will see the effects throughout all of Fire Country.”
“I see.” The Daimyo said, a frown crossing his lips.
Jiraiya watched as he seemed to gather himself further into thought and knew this was the time to wait the man out. He had been the Daimyo of Fire Country since shortly after Sarutobi Hiruzen became the Sandaime Hokage, but he had been a small child during the Founding itself. Jiraiya wondered if he had witnessed the signing of The Treaty of Fire, or the pact made between the countries themselves at the time, The Treaty of Elements.
“Does the implementation of this project represent a danger to the general people?”
“Not per se, no. There is a lot of upheaval going on in Konohagakure in preparation for this project. Some people will not be happy since, for the first time since the founding of the shinobi village, the office of the Hokage is enforcing its city-state policies on all civilians. It is forcing some of them to make choices they might otherwise have not. As for all the rest, as long as they aren’t hunting shinobi in the woods, there should be no issue.”
The Daimyo huffed at that. “Idiots going snooping where they have no business sticking their paws are likely to get bit?”
Jiraiya laughed, “Yes, something just like that.”
“Very well. I will not hinder this project of yours then, particularly if it can help prevent yet another shinobi war. The Treaty of Elements and all its related subsidiaries were meant to bring peace to the warring shinobi clans. Too many seem to see it as an excuse to wage a more terrible form of warfare.”
Jiraiya nodded, “I agree, sir.”
“Now, is there anything else my office can do to assist Konoha in its recovery?”
Jiraiya stopped himself from answering in the negative right away and reconsidered. “Actually, sir, those responsible for the Akinaya Greenhouses have asked for any seeds and young plants of edible and medicinal varieties that can be spared to help facilitate the rebuild. Food shortages may be a real thing before the dry season is out.”
“Hmm, I’ll see what can be arranged. I know nothing about such matters, so I will have to bring others in on that request in order to make sure we don’t supply you with a bunch of pointless weeds.”
Jiraiya chuckled at that. “You may find, sir, that a lot of the wild-growing herbs and medicinal plants are often thought of as just that.”
The Daimyo perked up at that and chuckled. “Well then, consider it done. Will you be staying with us much longer, Jiraiya-san?”
Jiraiya shook his head. “No, unfortunately. The week of wait time before you summoned me today has eaten up what spare time I had, I’m afraid. I’m expected back at Konohagakure as quickly as I can manage it at this point.”
The Daimyo frowned, “Very well. I’ll make sure the cause of your enforced downtime is suitably punished. Or my wife will. She seemed quite enthused about it earlier.”
Jiraiya smiled. “Your wife is one of a kind, sir.”
“That she is. If you could leave a list with my seneschal about the types of plants you will need most, I will see it gets the proper attention. You, are free to leave then, Jiraiya-san, and good luck.”
“Thank you, sir. Give your wife my regards.”
“Off with you! Or next, she’ll ask to model for your books or something equally terrible.”
Jiraiya shook his head in amusement and bowed as he rose to his feet and canceled the privacy seal before he backed out of the room. He glanced down the hall to an open window and nodded. Plenty of daylight yet to start the trip back to Konohagakure.
The day had finally come. Tsunade walked slowly around the inner courtyard of the Uzumaki Clan complex main building. A warm baby tucked securely in her arms. She had been up since before dawn, and even though the day would likely be very long, had been unable to sleep longer. Then Naruto had started to fuss, so she had taken pity on the sleeping teenagers and risen to take care of the baby’s usual morning needs: diaper, bottle, love, and attention.
The village was unnaturally quiet and had been for the last two days. The last of the evacuation teams had left with morning light, leaving those currently living in the Uzumaki complex the only people left in the village. Herself, Naruto, Jiraiya, Kakashi, Tenzo, and Shizune were all that remained in a village that normally held several thousand. It had created an unnatural feeling of stillness and unease.
Tsunade knew the feeling was caused by the fact that the village was, in fact, essentially abandoned for the time being, but she had avoided roaming the village as a whole because of it. Now that the day chosen had come, she was antsy and ready to get started. This had led her to slowly circle the inner courtyard and its hidden seed. Soon they would awaken the seed and watch it grow, bringing the entire network of seal-encoded seeds into an active state and jumpstarting the project into its rapid growth stage.
“Up early today—I see. How’s little Naruto?” Jiraiya asked around a yawn.
“Content. Despite his vocal prowess, he’s a pretty happy baby, which is a relief. The terrors he must have witnessed in those first few hours, I can’t imagine the impact.” Tsunade smiled at the child in her arms.
“Minato and Kushina would have done everything they could have to keep him sheltered from it. That they had no choice but to involve him as they did just makes the trauma they faced as new parents all that much worse.”
Jiraiya stretched and yawned again as he surveyed the courtyard. “So much potential hidden in this space.” Several sets of quiet but not quite silent footfalls announced the arrival of the rest of the household.
“We should get breakfast and finish up the last bits of packing,” Shizune said quietly from where she stood next to Kakashi with Tenzo just in front of them both.
“If I ever have to pack anything again, it will be too soon,” Tsunade grumbled. They had spent the majority of the past two days packing up everything that remained in both the Senju and Uzumaki complexes. Jiraiya had then worked with Kakashi and found several hidden stashes of journals and scrolls left by previous residents in both buildings. Nothing of possible value was going to be left behind to the whims of chance during the activation process if they could help it.
“We’ll be on field rations until we get a camp setup once this gets started,” Jiraiya said with a melancholy sigh. “I avoided them at all costs since the second war. That crate of poisoned rations was sadly, unforgettable.”
Tsunade huffed, “You should have filtered the toxin out.”
“I did, but there were many who didn’t know how, didn’t have enough skill, or just didn’t realize there was a problem until the damage was done. It was a very wretched several days for the entire camp.” Jiraiya said as he drifted back into the kitchen space. “So, let’s make this breakfast count!”
The group moved easily around each other as a simple but high-energy breakfast was prepared, served, and eaten. The rest of the food stores and kitchen supplies, and even furniture, were then quickly packed up and sealed away. Tsunade walked through the main level of the house, remembering spending time here with her grandmother years past before the house and complex were passed onto Kushina.
“I’ve got all the storage stones collected here,” Kakashi said as he entered the living room space with a box held in his arms. “They are currently sorted by whether a group charged it, or an individual.”
“Thanks, Kakashi. It will be good for the core seed to have a good taste of us as it grows.” Tsunade said, pulling herself out of memories. “The larger storage stones set in place by Kushina already have quite the store built up, but extra won’t hurt.”
“Where did all these orange ones come from?” Jiraiya asked as he peered into the box.
“Those are Naruto’s,” Kakashi answered.
Jiraiya froze, then slowly straightened from his hunched position over the box. “There are at least thirty. Everyone else has maybe a dozen.” Jiraiya said slowly, as he tried to work out the discrepancy.
Kakashi shrugged. “I checked them each time he woke up from a nap. The current stone was nearly always full and that orange color, so I would swap it out for a new empty one.”
Tsunade frowned but came to look into the box and pulled out one of the orange stones in question. She ran several diagnostics on it, testing and sensing the chakra held within. “Naruto is already absorbing chakra naturally from whatever it was Minato did the night he died. The chakra is all Naruto’s, no contamination, but it is potent. The kid is going to have a hell of a time learning control.” Tsunade said as she returned the stone to its place in the box. “You better make sure he gets started on control exercises early. Make a game of it, so he practices regularly.”
Jiraiya grinned. “Going to be a powerhouse, just like his parents. Kushina could outlast Minato in sheer reserves every day of the week.”
“A couple of these were from Minato and Kushina. I found them when packing up their things.” Kakashi added quietly.
Tsunade hummed in thought, “That will be good. The more Uzumaki Clan-related contributors, the better for this step. Tenzo, did you have any issues charging a few stones?”
Tenzo shook his head no. “I set a new one down every other day before goin’ to sleep. They were always full and glowing gently by the second morning.”
Jiraiya chuckled, “Seems someone else may need extra control lessons as well.”
Tenzo frowned but nodded.
Tsunade took a deep breath. “All right, let’s get this started.” She handed the baby over to Shizune before she led the way back out into the inner courtyard garden and approached the central raised garden box. She studied the wood sculpture in its center. It was both complex and simple in its design with graceful, sweeping leaves and blades spiraling up in a pattern that, from above, resembled the whirlpools that used to surround the island of Uzushiro. The various leaves and blades of wood were then further carved in latticework patterns to enhance the image of both leaves, vines, branches, and jets of water. Interspersed through all of it were small nooks and little artistic ledges. If one focused on the interior sides of all those pieces, inscribed seal work was also visible. The artful arrangement of stones intermixed with plants in the garden bed around it just furthered the spiraling patterns. The stones all varied in size, but all were shaped to oval smoothness, even if the circumference was irregular from stone to stone. She pulled up one of the stones and flipped it upside down, revealing the inscribed seals on the bottom. “Go ahead and turn them all over.”
She set to work, noting idly that Shizune stayed back while holding the baby for the time being. “Hmm, we’ll have to clear away the plants as well,” Tsunade advised after a few moments of consideration. Doing so revealed more stones laid just a bit deeper in the dirt under the various plants. Tsunade and Tenzo made quick work to reveal them with some of the earth-based jutsu that focused on fine control that she had been teaching him in the last week or two. Like those that had been on the surface, more seal work was inscribed into the stone. Tsunade gave a nod of satisfaction once they were all cleared and revealed the patterns beneath.
“Now, we place the storage stones. See these marks here and here?” She asked as she pointed to the small, inscribed circles that had more lines of seal work branching out to tangle and meet others, all of them visibly leading to the center wood arrangement. “This is where we need to place all those chakra storage stones. The largest should be on the furthest edges and serve as anchor points in the overall array. Several of the smaller ones will fit in on the wood framework in the middle to power and provide the heart of the array with a good mix. We should make sure there are a variety of chakra signatures on those placed in the center of the framework for that reason.” Tsunade explained taking care to point out the different places she was referring to.
“These stones will help power the activation itself so that the built-in storage components are reserved for the tree’s growth itself. Once we get them placed, then it will be ready for actual activation.”
“How much time will we have before we have to start to worry about avoiding the area being damaged in the village?” Kakashi asked, curious as he began to help place the stones.
“From what I’ve reviewed of the layout when planted and the information left by Mito-obaasan. We should have a few hours before any significant growth starts to really happen. We will have a very busy next twelve to twenty-fours after that. Since we are essentially staying at ground zero, there is no real safe zone for us to retreat to. I suggest we move to the top of the Hokage Monument once we’ve done all we need to here, as that is our best place likely to remain untouched.”
“There is a small zone that is clear of seeds on and immediately around the Hokage Monument, with the exception of the administrative complex. That area will get completely overgrown. The grove that will replace the complex and the trees making up the village barrier will completely surround the monument by the time it’s all done.” Tsunade said as she carefully placed one of the larger stones. “Kakashi, Tenzo. No matter what happens, if we get separated, you two stay together and look after one another.”
“We wait until five days have passed, then make our way back here to the core tree.” Tenzo said as he began passing Tsunade the smaller stones.
“You got it, kid. Regardless of what happens, the majority of growth will happen in the first one hundred and twenty hours. After that, additional growth will mostly be in the crowns, branches, and deepening roots.”
“Last one,” Jiraiya said with a small smile and passed the mid-sized stone to Tsunade.
Tsunade froze as her hands brushed the stone, her eyes going wide. “This has Mito-obaasan’s chakra in it.”
“I thought so. Felt a bit more like yours than Kushina’s.” Jiraiya said, his voice quiet and a little tender. “Kushina must have kept it tucked away.”
Tsunade gently placed the stone in the depression at the very heart of the wood sculpture. It slipped into place as if the wood had been formed specifically for that purpose, and Tsunade thought it probably had been. “That should do it. Now it’s just the final activation.”
Jiraiya pulled out a small wood basin and brush. “Time for a bit of blood. You going to be okay, Nade-chan?”
Tsunade nodded. She had known her hemophobia would be a weakness she could not afford. “I worked with one of the Yamanaka mind healers before their clan evacuated. It’s not perfect and I wouldn’t want to have to do surgery or any other major medical procedure, but I should be okay with this and summoning.”
Jiraiya gave her an accepting nod. He handed the bowl and brush to Kakashi and then accepted the baby from Shizune. “You first Shizune-chan.”
“Of course, Jiraiya-sama.” The young woman said, smiling softly at the baby and Tsunade before she slit her palm on a kunai edge and began to drip blood into the bowl. “That the trees that will shelter and protect us may know me and share my desires to protect and nurture.” After nearly a minute, she quickly cast a healing jutsu on herself to seal the wound.
“Tenzo and Kakashi, you are next,” Tsunade said as she came to take the baby from Jiraiya.
Kakashi nodded and then crouched down and held out a kunai blade to Tenzo. Tenzo slit his palm just as Shizune had and then held his fist over the bowl while Shizune held it. “To guard, protect, and grow.” He said quietly.
Shizune passed the bowl to Jiraiya and then healed Tenzo’s hand with a wink of mischief.
Kakashi slit his palm and then held the dripping wound over the bowl. “For family, clan, and the future of our village.” Shizune healed his wound as Jiraiya then pass the bowl to Tenzo.
“The heart of the Uzumaki, the passion of the Senju, and the will of fire.” He said as his blood welled up from the fresh-cut in his palm and dripped into the bowl before he allowed Shizune to heal the open cut.
Once finished healing, Shizune accepted the baby back from Tsunade, who then turned to face Jiraiya who had accepted the bowl back from Tenzo. She held his gaze as she cut her own palm over the bowl and then also met the gaze of each of the others. “Security. Safety. Growth. Love. Family. A safe haven for all who wear the leaf.” Without a whisper, she healed her palm, and then both she and Jiraiya turned to where Shizune stood with the baby. Tsunade applied a quick jutsu to numb any pain before she then carefully slit the baby’s palm and gently held it over the bowl Jiraiya held ready.
“To our future,” Tsunade said quickly followed by a whisper of surprise as the cut healed up on its own with a small flare of chakra.
“Well, I’m not sure if that’s innate or a side effect of what he holds,” Jiraiya said with amusement. “It will require monitoring to make sure it doesn’t hinder his development later on.”
Tsunade hummed in agreement as she accepted both bowl and brush from her teammate. Stirring the red liquid carefully and infused more of her chakra into it as she did so. She held the bowl carefully over the baby and smiled in gratitude to Shizune as the baby’s own chakra seemed to flood out of the child. Tsunade carefully gathered just enough and added it to the mixture. Still blending, she moved up the wooden sculpture and began to paint broad strokes over the wooden frame and every stone that had been placed in the array. Once complete she set the bowl and brush on an empty stone and nodded to Jiraiya, who quickly set them aflame with a flare. In moments nothing remained of the bowl but cooling ash.
Her hands flew into motion. Rat. Rabbit. Horse. Tori. Tiger. Rabbit. Rat. Pig. Dragon. Dog. Ox. Tori. Horse. Rabbit. Rat. Snake. No sooner had she finished the final seal than both her palms slammed down into the waiting ash. “From fire and ash, bring forth new growth and life!”
There was a burst of light as every stone flared with chakra, then began to slowly pulse. The pulsing thrum of the chakra became audible as it slowly spread outward in rhythmic waves. Green shoots speared up through the heart of the sculpture spiraling around the sculpture and stones even as they began to burst into tiny leaves. Then the entire garden box shuddered as roots broke through the confines and reached out to grow into the surrounding ground, forcing the watching group to shift and move out of their way.
“That’s our cue!” Tsunade ordered, and they all began to jump up and over the main house roof and start making their way to the monument. All across the village, the thrumming rumble continued to grow.
“Careful there!” Jiraiya called as he caught Shizune and steadied her before taking Naruto from her. “Go with the boys!” He ordered.
Shizune met Tsunade’s gaze and gave a sharp nod before she took off after Kakashi and Tenzo, who were already moving at considerable speed.
Tsunade nodded to Jiraiya as they stood atop the roof of the Uzumaki main building. They would stay and monitor until the quickly growing core tree grew large enough to force their retreat. Even now, roots had spread out, filling the inner courtyard as they thickened and began to burrow deeper into the ground. The tree itself was already reaching an even height, with the upper levels that surrounded the courtyard, with branches starting to twist out in various reaching patterns as they sought the morning light.
The house creaked and groaned as one of the branches speared through windows and then began to push out through the roof tiles. Tsunade and Jiraiya, with the baby in a secure hold, quickly left the structure and retreated to the complex’s exterior walls.
“Guess that’s our sign,” Jiraiya said, a bit of amazement coloring his tone as he kept his gaze on the twisting spears of green and brown.
Tsunade nodded as her eyes then skimmed out toward the rest of the village. It wouldn’t be long now before new tree growth would soon overshadow the buildings. “Let’s go meet up with the others before we risk getting impaled on the way.”
They ended up having to circle around where the administrative complex and Hokage Tower had once stood. The seeds that had been planted to create the newly growing grove were already well on their way. Thankfully, Tsunade did not feel any sort of chakra drain as they passed the growing grove. This meant the passive chakra and water collection seals that had been placed with the trees had done their job. There was a good and steady water supply around Konoha, but the rate these trees were going would have been exceedingly draining if the storage seals had not been in place. She remembered her grandmother hiring shinobi skilled in water jutsu to fill such seals under the name of ‘village resource collection’. Tsunade wondered if anyone had ever questioned just what she was doing with them.
Before long, the duo and baby found the other three members of their group already setting up camp on the small plateau that marked the top of the monument. Several tents were already in place and it looked like Kakashi was reviewing Tenzo’s efforts in creating a firepit for their use.
Tsunade surveyed the group with a satisfied hum and walked slowly toward the plateau edge and its view of the village. All she could see where the Uzumaki and Senju complexes had stood that morning were the crowns of trees that shivered and trembled even as they gained more height. As far as she could see, clusters of trees were starting to be more and more visible. “She really did it,” Tsunade whispered to herself, amazed at just what her grandmother had created.
“With your and Kushina’s help. This never could have happened if the two of you hadn’t fulfilled her request to plant all those seeds.” Shizune said as she came to stand next to her mentor. Behind them, the sound of Jiraiya coaching and teasing the boys in equal measure was a reassuring normal. “Do you know why she didn’t let anyone else help?”
Tsunade shrugged, “The seeds and activation were encoded to respond specifically to Senju or Uzumaki Clan blood. Even then, our numbers had been reduced by an alarming rate and it was always meant to be a secret safety net to keep the village from being destroyed. It required a certain level of skill in fujinjutsu, which not all that many make a real study of. Myself, Kushina, Jiraiya, Minato, and now you are exceptions to that rule. Although Kakashi seems to have an interest in it, which is promising. Danzo did so much damage trying to turn us into nothing more than a tyrannical elite war machine. Uzushiro should have never fallen. It broke my grandmother’s heart, I think, in the end.”
“I know you plan for Konoha to become more developed in iryou-jutsu and healing in general, but why not include fujinjutsu with that?” Shizune asked.
“I’m not sure we can afford the attention such focus on fujinjutsu would bring us. The other shinobi clans and villages are going to be watching us for anything to exploit.” Tsunade said unhappily.
“If it’s overshadowed by the development of healing techniques and applications, it should draw less attention to the destructive front. Besides, didn’t you say that living in the senju trees would require a lot more fujinjutsu skills long-term?” Shizune said, earnest.
“True… Kushina had mentioned in her letters about starting beginner, intermediate, and eventually advanced fujinjutsu classes while she was raising her family. She and Minato apparently have been making a lot of long-term plans.” Tsunade considered those implications.
“I wonder if she started her lesson planning and if there are records of it. I know we packed up a lot of scrolls and paperwork from the secured office space in the Uzumaki home. We didn’t have time to sort through it and there was a good chance Minato had files that would be important for you as Godaime to review when we have time.” Shizune considered, then turned suddenly as a loud crash sounded through the shallow valley that held Konoha.
Jiraiya came up beside the two women to stand with them as they looked over the village. “One of the larger buildings gave out. Hopefully, the growing trees aren’t damaged by the buildings failing as they grow.”
“It’s possible, but with the exception of the core seed, all the rest were planted outside structures. At most, they surrounded a complex or area. Though if some of those trees and their roots have gotten large enough, they could be destabilizing foundations.” Tsunade said in consideration.
A set of sharp cracks sounded out from much closer this time and they could see the Hokage Tower start to lean slightly, with cracks racing up through the sides. It seemed to settle and then the roof itself fractured and began to cave in. “I’ll take that as a yes,” Jiraiya said wryly.
Tsunade huffed before suddenly taking a stumbling sidestep before catching herself. Jiraiya and Shizune both looked at her in startled surprise. “You all right?” Jiraiya asked.
Tsunade nodded quickly. “I think the administrative grove network just anchored in with the core tree. My double roles as Hokage and head of Clan Senju make me more sensitive to it. The trees felt, well, enthusiastic to put it lightly.”
Shizune frowned and ran a diagnostic scan. “Your chakra reserves are draining ever so slightly. You should rest and maybe meditate to focus your body on regenerating your chakra. If those trees are going to be a constant leech on you, it could be a problem.”
Tsunade nodded, “It bears monitoring for these first few days. Jiraiya too. After the first few days, it should taper off and stop altogether.”
“Hmm, how do you think it would respond to a boost of nature, chakra?” Jiraiya asked mildly.
Tsunade frowned in concentration. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing… just don’t put yourself at risk. If it draws too much from you and upsets the balance, you aren’t allowed to turn into stone on me.”
Jiraiya chuckled. “Understood Godaime-sama.”
Tsunade huffed but turned back toward their camp. “Best get comfortable while I can. I have no desire to come out of a long meditation all sore.”
“Don’t worry Tsunade-sama. Myself, Kakashi, and Tenzo will look after both of you. Kakashi and Tenzo have already decided who would have first watch tonight before you two reached the camp.” Shizune said with a smile.
By the morning after activation, the once picturesque view, from the top of the Hokage Monument had been completely obscured by the growing trees, instead creating a green and almost bushy looking sea of green. By the third day, the trees had gained enough height and density to rise above the small plateau of the Hokage Monument. It gave the plateau the feel of a secluded clearing as the forest canopy grew up, around, and even over them to varying degrees. Intermixed during the days and nights, the sounds of crumbling buildings could occasionally be heard, as well as a few explosions as pipes and structures gave way under unexpected pressures.
Throughout all the growth and sounds of buildings crumbling, Tsunade and Jiraiya meditated and rested. After the first twelve hours, Shizune’s observations about the chakra drain proved true, leaving the two Sanin fatigued and distracted. Unexpectedly, Naruto seemed to be affected to some degree as well as the child would barely wake enough to feed before falling back asleep. The only reassurance was that he showed no other signs of illness.
Jiraiya’s first attempts at channeling nature chakra while in sage mode to the trees had been met with a sudden surge of growth in both; the trees closest to the monument, and from what they could tell from this distance, the core tree and its surrounding grove. Unfortunately, the sudden spike in the draw of chakra away from him had nearly upset Jiraiya’s own balance, and it was only a quick reaction that saved him from a dangerous imbalance of nature chakra and the consequences of it. Jiraiya had chosen to forgo any more nature chakra channeling at that point.
The trees themselves seemed to pick up on the trick of it, however, as the group could feel the natural and potent nature-based chakra building and infusing the trees. Whether this was a direct result of exposure due to Jiraiya’s gathering of it, or a natural ability of the senju trees, was unknown.
In the early morning light of the fifth day, the group packed up their camp and headed down from the plateau to the once village, but now forest floor. All around them, the slightly eerie, yet peaceful feeling of nature taking back abandoned and deserted buildings resonated. It should have left them uneasy and on edge, but instead felt comfortable and peaceful despite the strangeness of it.
They traveled quietly around the trees and groves, observing how they had grown up and around the previously existing buildings, confirming that many had been destroyed in the process. They were several hundred yards away from where the Uzumaki and Senju complexes had once stood when Tsunade stopped and frowned. Kakashi had been leading them along the naturally created paths along the floor between the trees, but something was tugging on her to turn toward the large tangle of roots to their left. Tsunade approached the tangle and stepped between two of the roots that arched up and over each other in a manner reminiscent of a briar patch.
“What is it?” Shizune asked as she moved to follow.
“I’m not sure. Jiraiya, do you feel it?” Tsunade asked as she stepped further into the heavily shadow-dappled space beneath and between the roots.
“Yes, it’s trying to guide us somewhere specific,” Jiraiya said as he followed her into the tangle of roots.
Kakashi frowned as he studied the root structure. “It’s a hidden path. I can just barely see the edge of it here. I don’t think I would have seen it so easily if I wasn’t used to the pattern recognition abilities of the Sharingan.” Kakashi blinked. “And now I can’t even see that much. Are the trees supposed to be that aware?” He asked as his eyes wandered over the roots and up to the now towering trunks around them.
“There have not been any senju trees not grown and used specifically by a mokuton user in the Elemental Nations for the last century. These are much closer to what a wild or natural senju would be, even with the fujinjutsu integrations.” Tsunade explained as she moved deeper through the tangle of roots, with the others following cautiously behind.
“It’s like a game trail, almost.” Tenzo whispered as he followed close on Kakashi’s heels with Jiraiya waiting and taking up the rear guard.
Tsunade hummed in agreement, focused on the way before her.
The way grew slowly darker and was angling downward as they went, but bioluminescent moss was already starting to grow and gave them enough light to see by. Tsunade paused several times at what appeared to be various intersections before picking the next turn and leading them onward. They turned a corner and stood blinking rapidly as they found themselves in an open grove space, the light dusky in the dappled shade of the canopy high above. In what looked like the center of the clearing another senju tree rose tall and true, the remains of crumbled buildings at its base. There, tangled amidst its roots, were the Uzumaki and Senju Clan symbols that had once been displayed at the main entrance of each complex.
Tsunade turned in a slow circle, taking in how all the trees had grown up so tightly against each other that it was like a wooden barricade with no way in or out that she could see save for the path they had followed through the tangled roots.
“Well, that answers how we get into the groves,” Jiraiya said quietly, both amusement and awe coloring his tone.
“The trees themselves will guard all the paths amidst their roots. No one who is not bound by oath and blood to the charter will be able to find them alone.” A warm voice resonated through the clearing.
Tsunade turned quickly and then froze, staring at the space between them and the core tree. A translucent woman with vibrant red hair and an inherent regality walked across the clearing toward them. “Mito-obaasan.” Tsunade breathed out in shock.
“Hello, Nade-chan. You’ve grown up to be a beautiful, strong, and fierce kunoichi; just as you always dreamed. Your grandfather and parents would be so proud of you.”
“I primed the seeds for the eventual activation of Project Phoenix. Doing so, I knew I had a unique opportunity to leave an echo of myself in my chakra that could interact with whoever activated it in the future. I wish I could say I was surprised you needed it so soon.”
Tsunade swallowed the grief down and hung her head. “I nearly abandoned Konoha.” She ignored the solid presence of Jiraiya and the more comforting presence of Shizune at her sides. A warmth of chakra slid down the side of her face before it nudged her chin up. She looked at the chakra echo of her grandmother, unable to hide the tears forming.
“But you came back Nade-chan. You came back and rose to the position asked of you when you were needed. It’s never wrong to know when you are at your limit, as you did when you left.”
“How do you know that?!” Tsunade’s voice was almost strangled by the emotions she fought to control.
“I know everything you, Jiraiya, and even little Naruto know of the years since my passing. Your blood and chakra shared those memories with me.”
Tsunade winced as Jiraiya muttered darkly under his breath at the implications of such a security risk.
“Oh, don’t fret, it is not something that could normally happen. Even with another chakra echo such as myself. The activation required an openness between yourselves and the core heart seal. Nothing else would have facilitated it unless the echo had lived your entire life with you.”
“So, you know why we chose to activate Project Phoenix,” Jiraiya said quietly, relaxing after her explanation.
“I do. While it was not quite a scenario I ever imagined, I do not believe your assessment of the situation was in error.”
“Is there anything specific you need to tell us?” Tsunade asked as she regained control of her emotions.
“No, Nade-chan. I planned for my chakra echo to be here in the event that it was someone unknown from a future generation that would need my personal knowledge of all the project was capable of. You already know everything I could share with you. You helped me create and design it, after all.”
Tsunade nodded, smiling softly. “I remember.”
“Be strong Tsunade, you have everything you need to raise Konohagakure up to your grandfather and great-uncle’s ambitions. Trust in yourself.”
Tsunade nodded. “I will.” She reached out a hand to Tenzo. “Tenzo, meet my grandmother Uzumaki Mito. Mito-obaasan, this is Tenzo. He carries the blood of Senju and grandfather’s mokuton ability.”
The translucent figure of Mito Uzumaki crouched down and smiled. “You are a very brave young man, Tenzo of Clan Senju. You have been a survivor all your life and I hope you enjoy living and not just surviving in the days to come.” Her gaze rose and took in the rest of them. “All of you. Enjoy life and don’t be so hard on yourselves. It is because of you and all that you have done now, and will do in the future, that Konohagakure will thrive once more.”
The translucent form of the older Uzumaki began to fade.
“Will we ever see you again?” Tsunade asked.
“No, the echo will not have enough structure to maintain a form again. However, you will have my chakra in the core tree always.”
Tsunade nodded in understanding and relaxed as Jiraiya rested his hand on her shoulder.
“Thank Mito-sama, for all you have given us.” He said quietly.
The woman faded away.
“Well, let’s get to work finalizing the security features so the rest of the clans can come home,” Tsunade said as she stepped forward. “We have a tree village to build.”
“Of course, Godaime,” Kakashi said with a grin.
Hiruzen sighed in contentment as he leaned back in his chair and took a slow drag on his pipe. It was an indulgence that had become a rare and a special treat ever since the destruction of the Akinaya Greenhouses that terrible night in October nearly two years ago. The plants that made up his favorite pipe of tobacco had been just one more on a long list that had been destroyed that night. The return of the supply had not come until nearly a year into the village’s resettlement efforts.
From all reports, the canopy gardens and treetop greenhouses were thriving and well on their way to producing better than they ever had before. The Akimichi, Nara, and Yamanaka clans had taken to their new circumstances with a great deal of enthusiasm and innovation. This had, in fact, been true for nearly all the village members after the rising. The various groves and tangles had created a vast network in the senju tree canopies and once the bulk of the workforce available had learned the new skills required to build and link such projects with the senju trees safely and securely; building and adaptation to their new tree-top circumstances had become the new normal.
It was, in fact, the need for rudimentary and intermediate skills in fujinjutsu to allow the reconstruction to proceed that had kicked off the classes that Kushina had been planning. The Uzumaki legacy was slowly being accepted in its entirety within Konoha. The security the senju trees offered made it all but impossible for an assault like had happened to Uzushiro to ever take place against Konoha.
Buildings, homes, and even small cafe like restaurants had all begun to flourish and much of the day-to-day business within the village had been restored. There had even been several small satellite trading posts established in various directions and distances where weekly markets allowed outsiders to come and trade with the people of Konoha. One of these outposts was even now getting overhauled and restructured to prepare for Konoha’s hosting of the next chunnin exams. There had been much doubt and rumor about whether Konoha could manage such a thing after they had all but vanished from all others’ ability to find that early day in January, just scant months after the destruction that had made it necessary. That Konoha had embraced the duty and invited not just those villages deemed ‘acceptable’ but all allies, enemies, and neutral parties alike, to participate had sent another spiral of rumors across the Elemental Nations. Hiruzen couldn’t help but chuckle to himself at the stories Jiraiya had returned with about just such rumors.
They would, of course, have to take extra steps and precautions for the event, but the number of enemy shinobi who had died to the senju trees of Fire Country had tapered off significantly. The trees planted and subsequently grown throughout the country had proven their ability to defend themselves and those who sheltered in them time and time again with surprising efficiency in the short time since their growth. Several scattered members of the Uzumaki Clan had been found sheltering at outposts, and the intricate process of testing and putting them on probation before they would be allowed in the village itself was well underway. The specially designed token or amulets that allowed a wearer access to the various outpost tangles when keyed properly with blood, chakra, and intent had been an amazing find in Mito Uzumaki’s journals about the project.
“Yo! Hiruzen-sensei!” Jiraiya called out in greeting and broke Hiruzen from his thoughts.
“Jiraiya, back already?” Hiruzen asked, smiling at his student. The events of that terrible night and everything that had come after had required Jiraiya to start handing over the reins of his information network to someone new as he was needed more within the village than without. This meant Hiruzen saw much more of both Jiraiya and Tsunade than he had before the rising.
“You know I can’t keep away from Naruto for long. Kakashi adores the kid, but he also drives Kakashi a little nuts. The kid reminds me of his father at that age. I fear already for his academy days.”
Hiruzen chuckled, “Such is the nature of a parent.”
Jiraiya hummed in agreement. “I’ve already checked in with Tsunade and she told me to come to report in with you as well.” The white-haired sannin eyed the cozy balcony that Hiruzen had turned into his little getaway space. It was outside of the main Sarutobi Clan residence and connected by a suspended bridge. It had a roof, as much as a roof was needed was needed hidden in the senju tree canopy with all its layers of protective foliage as it was. Various vines and flowering plants had been planted all along the balcony roof’s supports, creating a natural privacy barrier from the rest of the suspension bridge network and other structures. “You get your privacy seal work in place?”
Hiruzen huffed in mild irritation. “It was the first thing I put in place once the support structure was laid. I wasn’t the Hokage for over thirty years because I’m a fool.” He reached under a nearby planter and brushed his fingers across the seal embedded in the wood there with a push of his chakra. The privacy seals sprung up.
Jiraiya nodded in satisfaction. “Our scouting patrol along the border with Grass Country found another senju tree victim. The tangle the body was found in was heavily damaged, but it survived the encounter, and is well on its way to recovering from the damage.”
“Who could have possibly—” Hiruzen mused aloud and then stilled as he recalled what else recent reports from the border with Grass had been covering. “Was it him?”
Jiraiya nodded. “Orochimaru attempted to infiltrate, and when the senju tree lashed out and began to essentially eat him, he tried to counter by summoning Manda. Most of the damage to the senju trees actually seems to have come from the large snake’s sudden appearance and thrashing as it found itself stuck in a hostile tree. There is no sign of Manda exiting the tree and it is unclear if he was dismissed, left of his own choice, or was banished due to the senju tree cutting off its chakra supply. It could have very well been a combination of all three. Orochimaru himself was found ensnared in briars and drained of all chakra and blood. The briars had many large thorns embedded in the corpse and it is clear they were responsible for immobilizing and draining the blood of their victim.”
Hiruzen shook his head sadly. “Orochimaru never did respect the ingenuity of the Senju or the Uzumaki. As much as I mourn my former student, it is also a relief to know he will no longer be causing harm to anyone like Tenzo and Anko.”
Jiraiya nodded in agreement. “We knew going into the project that the trees would be a formidable defense, but the degree to which our enemies have underestimated that defense is still unbelievable. First the bodies of Madara and Obito up near Storm country and now Orochimaru. The fact that Iwa, Kumo, and Suna have all treated the changes to the forest with such caution is telling.”
“Agreed, but all three of those are based in countries that provided them with natural defenses on a scale Konoha never had before. It is telling.”
“How is the construction going for the exam facilities?” Hiruzen then asked, not wanting to dwell on the fate of his old student.
“Very well, from what Tsunade told me. I didn’t pass by there on my way back, but the project is on schedule.” Jiraiya said with a grin. “So, Sensei, when you first asked Tsunade about the project, did you have any real idea of how it would turn out?”
Hiruzen smiled gently, “I had hope and faith that Konoha would rise out of the ashes like the phoenix the project was named for.”