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Chapter 10: …and Rebirth.
A deep frown creased Jiraiya's brow as he glared up at the white hospital ceiling. He was alone in the silence of the private room, but even if someone had been there with him it would have passed unnoticed underneath the several layers of bandages that were wrapped around him like a mummy.
The frown grew deeper. 'I lost… badly.'
The loss in itself wasn't such a big thing. He had lost many battles in his long, for a Shinobi, lifetime. He had been the Dead Last of his graduating class and, for a long time, the weakest link of his Genin team. But he had trained harder and longer than genius Orochimaru and princess Tsunade and, in the end, his continuous efforts, his tears cried, his sweat poured, and his blood spilt, had made him the strongest of the Sannin.
He had come a long way since the battle against Hanzo of the Salamander, and his confidence in his own strength was well earned. He wasn't one to overestimate his abilities, time and again he had seen what that could cost. Neither was he one to underestimate his foes, he knew that that could be just as dangerous.
He had known that the brat, Uzumaki Naruto, was a powerful Ninja. Despite his young appearance the boy oozed a casual self-confidence that couldn't be faked. Even with his connection to Nature Energy Jiraiya hadn't been able to get a decent reading on his chakra levels.
He had of course heard, through his Spy Network, of the Bloody Storm and the Burning Wave, and of how the two mysterious bounty hunters had been carving their way through the Black Market Bingo Book. After seeing Natsuko's battle against the Uchiha runt it wasn't hard to guess their identities. Despite his awareness however, he had been totally unprepared for the overwhelming force he had been met with.
He hadn't intended to go all out, especially not from the start, but he still couldn't believe that he had been caught so thoroughly by surprise. When Naruto had unleashed his killing intent it had completely paralyzed him. It was like a well-used Kanashibari no jutsu (Temporary Paralysis Technique) but on an entirely different level.
He shivered as a cold trickle ran down his spine. He had never felt killing intent like that before. Not from Orochimaru, not from Sarutobi, not from Hanzo, not even from the damned Kyuubi itself!
The thing about killer intent, was that it used the victim's fear against them. If Jiraiya had been prepared for it, he knew that it would have been considerably less effective. He promised himself not to make that mistake again.
Then there was the jutsu that Naruto had used. Jiraiya hadn't even seen it connect. He had felt a slight prick at his neck when the Uzumaki's sword had cut him, but it had been so superficial that it could barely even qualify as a wound. It had been enough to draw blood, but nothing more.
And yet… it had led to the single most painful experience of his life.
Jiraiya had felt the effects of all five elements. He had been shocked by Lightning, burnt by Fire, cut by Wind, smothered by Water, and pierced by Earth. But none of them could compare to the terrifying agony that Naruto's jutsu had put him through. It had felt as if his body was trying to turn inside out. His world had flashed between red and white as pain and blood competed to flood his vision.
From what Tsunade had told him, the jutsu had already stopped its progress by the time she got to him. His blood had been forcing its way out of his body, abandoning capillaries, veins and arteries and pushing directly through his muscles and organs. He had only lost half a liter of blood, but it had done enough damage that he would be bed ridden for a week, despite Tsunade's care.
If the jutsu hadn't stopped its progress… He would be dead. It was as simple as that. A splat of blood on the stadium floor. Literally.
Another shiver ran down Jiraiya's spine. He had often been faced with death, it was part of being a Shinobi, and being a spy-master didn't make things easier. But there had always been an 'out'. No matter the odds, there had always been an escape and he had always found it and capitalized on it.
Except this time. This time he had been spared. Maybe it was because of the rules of the spar. Maybe it was because the Uzumaki wanted to prolong their revenge. One way or the other, Jiraiya knew that Naruto had spared him.
That terrified him.
He wouldn't acknowledge it. Nor would he admit to it if asked. And he certainly wouldn't let it affect him if, no… when it came time to fight. But Uzumaki Naruto scared him shitless.
His thoughts were interrupted when the door slammed open.
The Sanin almost groaned when he saw the Uchiha brat storm in as if he owned the place. He stopped next to the bed and thrust his hands forwards to show that he was holding a very familiar three pronged kunai.
Sasuke glared down at the bandaged man. "Teach me how to use this!"
Jiraiya blinked. "Where did you get that? Do you even know what it is?"
Sasuke scoffed. "The Dobe left it behind when she ran away. The idiot didn't even see me take it. Now, teach me!"
Jiraiya sighed loudly and spoke in a chastising voice. "Do you know what that is brat? That's a Flying Thunder God kunai. It's…"
The Uchiha interrupted him angrily. "Of course I know what it is! Do you think I would bother with it if it was just some trinket? Now teach me! I am an Uchiha! I deserve…"
"Will you shut up!" Jiraiya shouted. "Minato used hundreds of those kunai during the war, do you think he had time go around and pick them all up afterwards? Of course not! Everyone and their grandmother has a copy of that kunai locked up or sealed away somewhere! No one has ever been able to figure out how to use it. Your little eye tricks won't help you with this one Uchiha! Now get the hell out of my room!"
Sasuke glared at him before storming off. "I will learn how to use this! I'm an Uchiha! I deserve this power! I…"
Jiraiya groaned in relief as the door slammed shut. It was bad enough to have the Council pester him to train the runt, but that he actually thought that he could learn the Flying Thunder God Technique…
'Bah! What an idiot!'
He shifted a bit to try and sooth his aching muscles.
'But that does bring back the question of how Natsuko learnt it. I doubt that her brother could have helped her… Well, now that they've got the Inheritance Scroll they'll have all the details they need. At least she has a good way to escape the Akatsuki when they come for her.'
As the sun moved past ten o'clock, a red breasted robin flew up to an open window of the Hokage Mansion. It perched its tiny feet on the sill and shuffled about a bit to find the best spot. Then it opened its little beak and took in a deep gulp of air as it prepared to regale the area with its bright morning song.
It promptly toppled over unconscious, swirls in its eyes, as its lungs were filled to the brim with noxious alcohol fumes.
Inside, surrounded by enough sake bottles to knock out a small army, tear tracks running down her cheeks, lay an unconscious, snoring, and heavily drunk Senju Tsunade.
Loosely clutched in her hand was a scrunched up letter, the last words of which were just barely legible.
If she had been conscious, and coherent, Tsunade might have noticed a tiny seal appear on green jewel of her grandfather's necklace, the one that Natsuko had thrown back at her. It gave off a few blood red pulses of chakra before fading back into invisibility, leaving the necklace with its usual appearance.
Naruto frowned as he felt a faint presence at the border of his senses before it disappeared. This was the third time that he got the feeling, and while he had been willing to ignore it the first few two times, it was just getting bothersome now.
They were being followed. Or rather, they were being tracked.
It was only yesterday that he, Natsuko, Shizune, Ayame and Teuchi had departed from Konoha. There had been no problems, although he supposed that that wasn't too surprising given that everyone who could have caused them problems had been occupied at the Konoha Stadium.
The red haired Uzumaki still felt a bit stupid when he thought of the overly dramatic ultimatum that he had delivered to the Konoha Council, but he knew that it was necessary. It was easy to see that they were entirely too full of themselves, and that only an overwhelming fear for their lives would keep them in check.
For a while at least.
He hadn't been bluffing. If they became a nuisance he would carry out his threat. He wasn't a 'good' or 'kind' person, he didn't particularly care if a few hundred, or even thousand, 'innocents' got caught in the crossfire. As far as he was concerned, his family was more important than all the innocents in the world. On the other hand, he wouldn't go on a killing spree for no good reason. Despite the fact that they had made Natsuko's childhood miserable, if Konoha left them alone, then he would leave Konoha alone.
The only exceptions were Jiraiya and, to a lesser extent, Kakashi. He wouldn't go looking for them, but, the instant he got the opportunity, he would kill them.
Naruto sighed and looked at his companions. From the look on her face, he could tell that Natsuko had also senses that they were being followed, but Shizune didn't seem to be aware of it. Ayame and Teuchi, as civilians, obviously hadn't noticed.
He sighed again and tapped his sister on the shoulder. "I'll go take care of it. You keep moving, and if there's a problem get everyone out with your Flying Thunder God Technique. We don't want a hostage situation."
She nodded and brushed her hand against his before he jumped off into the trees.
When he was out of view, she turned back to the other travellers.
"What's going on?" Ayame asked her blonde haired friend.
"We're being followed. Probably by Konoha. Naruto-kun is going to check it out."
She didn't bother telling them that he would probably be having a blood bath while he was at it.
Shizune frowned. "I won't bother asking if he'll be alright on his own… Do you think they're coming after us because of me?"
Natsuko shrugged a shoulder. "Maybe. Or they might be trying to 'reclaim' the Inheritance Scroll. It doesn't matter either way. I doubt it'll happen, but if some of them manage to get past Naruto-kun and catch up to us, I'll use Flying Thunder God to get us directly to Uzu."
They nodded a bit nervously, and Teuchi shot her a perplex look. "Not that I'm complaining, but why don't we just do that now? Wouldn't it be easier and faster than walking there?"
Natsuko chuckled. "It would, but walking is much more fun." She grinned as they gave her disbelieving looks. "Trust me. The technique looks flashy, and it's very impressive and useful, but there's nothing exciting about it. It's a Space-Time jutsu that teleports you from one place to another. That's all there is to it. You're in one place, then you're in another. It's sort of fun the first few times, and it's very useful if you're in a hurry, but it gets sort of boring after a while."
They nodded in understanding, willing to accept her explanation. Natsuko didn't bother telling them that she had a more personal reason for not using the jutsu.
After the revelation of her conversation with their mother, she knew that Naruto would want some time to think things through. She doubted that it would take him more than a few days to come up with a good idea of what had happened, and how an imprint of Uzumaki Kushina had been conserved in her mindscape. But, even if he figured things out fast, the wait would be much more bearable if she had something to distract herself with.
The passing scenery for example.
After a few moments of silence, Ayame asked a question that had been bothering her. "Natsuko-chan, what are we going to do once we get to Uzugakure?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well… You said that the construction was all done, but that there aren't any inhabitants yet, right? So what will we be doing in the meantime? There's not much point in opening a Ramen Bar if there aren't going to be any customers."
The female Uzumaki nodded. "There's still lots of stuff to do. Since you three will be the first inhabitants, you'll get to pick whatever house and shop you want, but you'll still have to set all your stuff up. We just built the main buildings and facilities so that people can do the rest of the designing as they see fit."
She turned to the Medic-Nin of the group. "Likewise, there are two hospitals, one on the surface and a bigger one in Deep Uzu, but we'll need you to have a look and see what needs to be done to improve them."
She faced back ahead and shrugged. "As for there not being any inhabitants… That's true. But we've already had discussions with the Land of Waves, so we'll probably be getting some visits from there. We'll be starting a Shinobi training program for the kids who are interested, so some of the families might even decide to move in and set up a new home in Uzu. Naruto has also been in contact with the surviving Clans of old Uzugakure, he sent a Tiger Summons to tell them that things were ready. I doubt that they'll all show up at once, but some of them will probably move in and send reports to the rest of their Clans."
Natsuko sighed tiredly. There was so much to do still. It took years to build a Shinobi Village, and normally there would be the issue of spies and saboteurs from the ones that already existed. The two Uzumaki had managed to bypass many of those problems by building everything themselves, but now that they had reached the recruitment part things would inevitably be going a lot slower.
"We also have to visit all the Villages and Lands that are likely to join our alliance. We were going to try and circle through them all in one go, but I'm not sure how that's going to work out now."
Shizune frowned. "You know… It's a great idea, but if this alliance you're creating gets too big the Major Villages might see it as a threat. I know that you and Naruto-san are powerful, so Uzu will be fine, but what if they attack one of the smaller Villages? Or invade one of the Lands that don't have an active Shinobi force? We don't have the manpower to defend against their superior numbers, and even with the Flying Thunder God Technique you can't be everywhere at once."
"Don't worry about that." Natsuko said. "Naruto-kun has an idea that will allow us, and all our allies, to pool our resources together and deploy them wherever they're needed. He's only explained the idea to me, I haven't actually seen it in action, and we weren't planning on using it just yet, but with what happened in Konoha we may have to push our plans forwards."
They all gave her a blank look.
She sighed. "Naruto-kun is an amazing seal master. Just because he doesn't use seals in battle, doesn't mean that he can't do some pretty awesome stuff. You'll see what I mean when you see the safety, environment, and maintenance seals that he's installed into the underwater part of Uzugakure. Likewise, just because he isn't interested in creating his own version of the Flying Thunder God Technique, doesn't mean that he hasn't looked into Space-Time Manipulation. He's developed a method that, while useless in one-on-one battle, is ideal for transporting soldiers or evacuating civilians."
The others could tell that they wouldn't be getting a more detailed answer from her, so they just kept walking.
Naruto stopped in a denser part of the forest, with his chakra signature fully suppressed, and tried to get a lock on the pursuers. He sighed when he couldn't come up with anything and ran through the short series of hand seal for the Summoning Technique.
The smoke cleared to reveal his personal tiger summon, Kisa.
She tilted her head at him lazily. "Naruto-kun? What's up?"
Naruto grinned at the horse sized tigress and stroked her neck lovingly. "Someone's been tracking us. Natsuko's staying with her friends while I take care of the problem. Whoever it is has been staying at the edge of my range. I thought it was a Konoha team, but if that were the case I'm sure I would have sensed them already. As cliché as it sounds, whoever they are, they're good. I need you to hunt them down for me, if you don't mind."
In lieu of an answer, Kisa crouched low to the ground. She spread her senses out, searching for all hints of sound, scent, and chakra.
She sensed Naruto first. His steady, unvarying heartbeat and almost inaudible breathing. His familiar, pleasantly musky, scent and the lingering scent of his sister-mate, Natsuko. His massive, yet restrained, chakra reserves that had a feel that told her instincts that he was in prime health.
All around her she could sense the life of the forest, tall trees and burgeoning flowers, hopping rabbits and twittering birds.
A bit farther she sensed a group. She easily recognized Natsuko. Then there were another two, an aging male and a young female, who shared a similar broth-like scent. Finally there was another young female who smelt of antiseptic.
Finally, as she broadened her senses even more, she caught the scent of two others. They were stalking towards Natsuko's group, but were still closer to her and Naruto. One smelt of death and dried blood, and the other didn't have much of a scent at all.
Without warning, she shot off towards them, knowing that Naruto would have no problem following her. He wasn't as good-a-tracker as her, but he was more than competent when it came to the hunt. They dashed stealthily through the forest, keeping to the ground rather than taking to the trees like most ninja would.
She felt her prey slow down. She came to a stop, her eyes narrowed.
"Kisa? What's wrong?"
"They've sensed us. There are two of them. One is masking himself very well, both his scent and his chakra. I can sense that he's there, but it's faint. The other one sort of ruins it though, he's not putting any effort into stealth. I get the feeling that he's rabid, and just spoiling for a fight. They've both stopped. They're… waiting."
Naruto remained silent. If there were only two of them and they were good enough to hide, at least partially, from an expert tracker like Kisa, then it was very unlikely that they were from Konoha. That left only one answer that he could think of, Akatsuki.
"Naruto-kun… It's strange but one of them had five different chakras. There's one of each of the Main Elements, but they don't feel like they're from the same person."
He frowned, unsure of what that meant. He had a good working relationship with some well-placed Black Market informants, so he knew a lot about most of the notice worthy Shinobi from all nations, Minor and Major. That was why he had quite easily recognized Deidara and Sasori.
He couldn't think of anyone who fit the description that Kisa had given him.
Hidan stopped and stared over his shoulder at his money-hungry team-mate.
"The fuck you stopping for?"
Kakuzu ignored his partner's vulgar questioning with practiced ease. His partners never lasted long usually. He made sure of that. If they got on his nerves, or in the way of his money, he would kill them without a second's thought. If they were good, he would harvest their heart for when he next needed a replacement, and if they had a bounty on their head he would collect it.
With Hidan however, that wasn't an option. He had tried to kill the annoying religious freak more times than he cared to count, but he just wouldn't die. So, after a while, he had just given up and learnt to ignore the annoying quirks and bothersome habits of his Akatsuki partner.
Hidan, however, didn't like to be ignored. "Oi! What in Jashin-sama's name are you doing, sticking around like a sore dick? I thought you said we were catching up to them? Let's go get the Nine-Tail bitch already!"
Kakuzu turned back to him. "No need! They're coming to u…"
His sentence remained unfinished when he was forced to duck to avoid a horizontal swipe of a black bladed katana that almost took his head off.
Naruto landed a few feet behind Kakuzu but didn't let the near miss slow him down. He spun into a backwards sweep kick, and then made an upwards diagonal slash when his enemy jumped over it.
Kakuzu cursed when the blade sliced into his Akatsuki cloak, but managed to twist away from it and avoid being cut. He fell down with a heavy axe-kick that cracked the ground when it missed.
Naruto flipped back to dodge the descending heel, landed in a one-handed handstand, then flipped back to his feet. He immediately ducked as a three bladed scythe hurtled towards him.
He was caught off guard when the cable attached to the butt of the scythe pulled it back, bringing the deadly blades back at him. He bent backwards to avoid being decapitated, but was still nicked on the cheek. The wound healed over almost as fast as it was created.
"Lightning Release: False Darkness!"
Hearing the jutsu called from a short distance behind him, Naruto acted on reflex and slammed his foot into the ground. A thick spike of metal, roughly a foot taller than him, shot up from the ground. Kakuzu's Lightning natured attack was drawn away from its intended target and into the spike, before being discharged into the ground.
Naruto leapt back, putting some distance between the two Akatsuki members so that he could see both of them. The fight had barely lasted thirty seconds so far, but Naruto could tell that it would be harder than the one against Sasori and Deidara. That fight had been well tipped in Natsuko's and his favour, not only had they taken the duo by surprise, but they had been worn down by their fight against Gaara.
With a sigh, Naruto sheathed his katana and let it, and his trench coat, slip off his shoulders and onto the forest clearing floor.
He eyed the two Shinobi warily. He still didn't know anything much about them so, while he didn't want to draw the fight out, he wasn't about to rush in either.
Hidan cackled gleefully as he licked his tongue along the middle blade of his scythe. "I've got your blood now you heathen! We shall savour the utmost of suffering together as I offer you in sacrifice to Jashin-sama!"
Naruto almost sweat dropped as one of his opponents swallowed his blood and started to draw some sort of symbol with his foot. "Well that was stupid!"
The Jashinist had almost finished the preparations for his ritual when Naruto let loose a blast of Blood Lightning from his left fingertips. The attack flew true, homing in on the blood that Hidan had taken from him and spreading from the point of impact. Naruto made his blood jutsu attack by discrimination, targeting everything that didn't correspond with the signature of his own blood and literally frying the man's entire circulatory system. The blood used to draw Jashin's symbol on the ground smoked and turned to fine ashes before blowing away in the wind, giving a clear image of what was happening inside.
Naruto frowned. He released his jutsu, but kept a cautious eye on both his enemies. He had felt the effectiveness of his attack. The man's circulatory system was completely destroyed, and would remain so unless he had a high level regeneration factor.
But the lack of blisters and boils on the rest of the, supposedly dead, body was troubling.
As if to confirm his suspicion, the scythe wielding Akatsuki member grunted and clambered to his feet. He stumbled and fell a few times, but the simple fact that he wasn't dead told Naruto that the fight would be even more complicated than he had expected.
If truth be told, he was slightly worried. This was the first time that his blood jutsu failed to kill a target. The main reason he used Blood Chakra as his main style was because it kept his fights short… exactly how he liked them.
He sighed and carefully reached down to pick up his trench coat. He had intended to use the attack that he affectionately called 'The Blood Storm', but there wasn't much point if at least one of them wasn't affected by blood. He would have to use some of the many other Chakra types that he had control over.
Hidan glared. His throat was parched. His entire body felt like shit. And he couldn't even feel his damned heart beating. "What the fuck did you do to me you heathen?"
Natsuko looked back in her brother's direction. She could tell that he was still locked in battle, and that alone came as quite a large surprise. Either he was toying with his opponents, which just wasn't his style, or they were tougher than he had expected.
She was certain that Jiraiya would still be in the hospital after what Naruto did to him, and Tsunade, as Hokage, couldn't just leave the village to run after them. Since those two were the only ones in Konoha that could possibly hope to give Naruto any trouble, it was clear that their pursuers weren't from Konoha.
She sighed. 'That means that it's Akatsuki then. I don't know if I should be glad that there will soon be two less problems for us to worry about, or angry that he seems to be getting all the decent opponents.'
She shook her head and called for a stop. "Guys! Stop! I'm going to use the Flying Thunder God. Naruto-kun's fight is taking longer than expected, and I don't want to hang around to find out if there are any traps waiting for us."
They all grabbed a hold of her and vanished in a flash.
Naruto stared at his opponents blankly. To the outside observer, he looked as if he was waiting for the right opportunity to attack. In actuality, he was trying to decide what to attack with. As he had explained to Natsuko, when you literally had all of the elements at your disposal, and numerous ways to shape them, it was easy to get muddle up when it came to choosing which one to use.
Blood jutsu for example, not only looked cool, which was a very important factor for any self-respecting Shinobi, but was also deadly for ninety-nine percent of the population. It was just Naruto's bad luck that he had fallen on one of the few people who weren't affected.
His eyes narrowed as he observed the silver haired scythe wielder. 'The attack did do what it was supposed to, and he hasn't recovered from it yet, but he seems to be surviving regardless. How can he still be, relatively, intact if all his blood has been fried? His body must be incredibly enduring to withstand the effects of the attack… 'Might as well try slicing him up.'
With a flick of his wrist, two Wind Tigers sprung forth, and one headed for each Akatsuki member.
Kakuzu's eyes widened a fraction at the display of Ninjutsu without the use of hand-seals, but he reacted with the precision of an experienced hunter. He flipped through a quick series of seals and his red tiger mask came to the fore.
"Fire Release: Intelligent Hard Work!"
Kakuzu jumped back as he unleashed a small ball of molten fire. A bright red core of super-heated chakra so hot that the outer surface was crusted over with onyx black flames. It smashed head on into the tiger and erupted into a giant firestorm, further fuelled and intensified by the Wind Chakra of Naruto's technique.
Naruto used Body Flicker to escape as the flames spread at high speeds, racing across the forest floor and up the thick tree trunks like ravenous hell-fire, leaving nothing but scorched and smoldering earth in its wake.
Hidan rolled to the side in an attempt to escape the tiger. Unfortunately for him, while his body had fared much better than a normal person's would have, the Blood jutsu had still done a lot of damage. His cardiovascular system was completely burnt out. His muscles, while still functional, had taken some serious mutilation. All in all, the semi-intelligent elemental tiger had no problem adjusting its trajectory to keep up with him, and proceeded to maul the immortal Jashinite mercilessly.
The innumerable small blades of sharpened Wind Chakra, that composed the tiger's body, tore into the helpless Akatsuki member and literally diced him into small chunks of bloodless flesh and dry bone. When the technique fizzled out, the only distinguishable parts that remained were his left foot and his head, complete with neck and half of his right shoulder.
Hidan was enraged. "You fucking bastard! Look what you've done! Get down here right know so I can bite your fucking head off!"
Naruto stared at the talking head incredulously. "What the…"
"Lightning Release: False Darkness!"
Naruto snapped his head towards the other enemy and saw a shock white spear of lightning chakra headed straight for him. He cursed himself for getting distracted, even if the talking decapitated head was just about the weirdest thing he had ever seen. Even weirder that Jack the immortal monkey.
'How the hell can he talk when he's not got any lungs and probably only half his vocal cords?'
The Uzumaki, aware that he wouldn't have time to dodge, thrust his hands forwards and let loose a five inch beam of tightly compressed Wind Chakra. The two attacks connected and exploded outwards in a surprisingly mild shockwave as the entire area was blanketed in static electricity.
Naruto grinned as he felt his hair stand on end. Over the years, he had imagined and developed hundreds of techniques that could, potentially, be used in hundreds of situations. The 'problem', so to speak, was that they usually required a certain set of conditions to be met before use and, while it wasn't hard to create those conditions, it also wasn't worth creating them when simpler techniques would be just as effective. Now, he was going to get to used one.
But first. "You know," he shouted conversationally across the relatively short distance that separated them. "I saw you use Fire from your red tiger mask, lightning from your yellow bull mask, and you've got four masks in all. Assuming that you yourself act as a fifth, I'm tempted to conclude that you can use all five elements. There are very few who can claim, or are even rumored, to be able to do that, and one of them happens to be the only bounty hunter on the black market that I've been told is even more successful than me."
Kakuzu chuckled. "Yes… I've heard of you too. The 'Bloody Storm' is what they call you, and I suppose that the Nine Tails' vessel is the so called 'Burning Wave'. You've short-cut me on a lot of bounties boy. That's a lot of money you've cost me, and I hate losing money!"
The last statement was accompanied by a sizeable blast of killer intent, but Naruto shrugged it off effortlessly.
A plan started to formulate in his mind. It had little chance of succeeding, but he had nothing to lose by trying.
He unsealed a small flat metal case, roughly the size of a wallet, and waved it around. "I have a proposition for you bounty hunter-san. This metal sleeve has the information to all my bank accounts. As you said, I've collected a good number of bounties over the years, and I've spent very little of it. Since one of us is about to die, why should we let either of our hard earned money go to waste? As a hunter, I'm sure you also have your information on you, I suggest we both place it to one side. Winner takes all!"
He tossed the case far off to one side, visible, but out of harm's way. There was a moment of silence as Kakuzu contemplated the situation…
"Hey! You fucking shits! Don't just leave me here! Put my damned body back together or I swear to Jashin-sama I'll bite my way up to your necks and chew your fucking throats out!"
He reached into his cloak and pulled out what looked like a plain leather wallet. He threw it over to Naruto's metal one. "Alright kid! Since I'm the one who'll be walking away from this, I might as well take your money as well as your life."
As soon as he finished, four blankets of black threads burst from his back, taking the masks with them. The blankets warped into four monstrous bodies, with the masks serving as faces, and stood behind their master, ready to attack.
Naruto ran a hand through his hair, grinning internally as it crackled with small electric discharges. 'The static zone seems to cover roughly two hundred yards, with us at the center. The finale will be more powerful if the radius increases.'
His left arm sparked and hissed as blue lightning accumulated and ran down it. His right arm whooshed as wind swirled around it.
With a thrust, as if he were shoving something, his hands shot forwards and two normal sized wolves came to life, one of transparent Wind Chakra and the other of electric blue Lightning Chakra. They ran through the air, their feet never touching the ground, and stepped into each other, combining into one.
The new wolf was the same size as its parents, but to the naked eye it looked almost identical to the lightning wolf. The only difference being that it's short fur now stuck on end with small bolts and bursts of lightning jumping between the strands.
The wolf swiftly crossed the distance between Naruto and his foe. The Uzumaki vanished in a crackle of electricity with the Body Flicker: Lightning Style. The elemental variation of the common technique allowed him to use the ambient static to his advantage. Not only did the body flicker go faster, but his arrival was masked by the surrounding electrical field.
He appeared behind Kakuzu and punched the taller man in the back of the neck. The punch would have been hard enough to snap a normal man's spinal column, if not outright rip his head off, but Naruto found that it was his hand that broke against the incredibly hard skin.
He could almost hear the Akatsuki's smirk as he whispered. "Earth Release: Earth Spear!"
Naruto had never heard of the technique, but he quickly surmised what it did. He had coated his skin with Earth Chakra to create an incredibly dense protective armor that would make regular Taijutsu useless.
With his hand already having healed, Naruto delivered a powerful roundhouse kick, this time making Lightning Chakra dance down the attacking limb.
Seeing the risk, Kakuzu jumped over the kick, twisted in midair while rising his left foot, and came back down with a heavy axe-kick.
Naruto spun out of the way, using chakra in his feet to stay standing as the ground cracked and shook under the force of his enemy's heel. He jabbed back with a Lightning covered palm. His hand speared through Kakuzu's chest like a hot knife through butter, before a shower of wooden splinters exploded outwards as the Akatsuki member escaped with the Substitution Technique and replaced himself with a log.
Raiju used the static electricity to its benefit, moving faster and with more agility than was normally possible for Lightning based chakra techniques. The wolf shot behind its creator's back as the yellow bull-masked creature lined itself up and shot another Lightning Release: False Darkness!
Raiju jumped, opened its powerful jaws, and allowed the spear of lightning to hit it right in the mouth. Before the jutsu could end, and faster than the eye could see, the bi-elemental wolf travelled down the electrical pathway, using it to increase its speed even further. More Static Chakra was generated in the blur's wake as Wind and Lightning combined, before the wolf crashed into the bull-mask.
With what remained of its Wind Chakra, Raiju tore the creature apart with razor sharp claws and teeth, leaving the blanket of threads to fall to the floor in a twitching mess. The three separate pieces of the irreparably damaged heart each gave a last spasm before lying motionless.
Naruto gave no indication of the satisfaction he felt as the static charge in the area increased and spread out. He ducked a vicious kick as Kakuzu attacked him from behind, and rolled forwards as the heel came down in another axe-kick.
As he came out of the roll, he pushed Earth Chakra into the ground and caused a barrage of Rock Arrows to shot out. The arrows were hard enough, and flew fast enough, that they broke past Kakuzu's Earth Release: Earth Spear, but their momentum was stopped before they penetrated more than a quarter inch and he quickly tore them out with a downwards swipe of his arm. The small wounds healed almost instantly, knitted back together by the black threads that seemed to run through his entire body.
Kakuzu bent down on one knee and punched the ground. "Earth Release: Earth Trail!" A jagged trail of long and sharp earth spikes grew from the ground, heading from Kakuzu's fist straight to Naruto.
The Uzumaki flipped backwards high into the air. When he reached the apex of his curve, he spread his fingers and slashed both hands forwards in an 'X', unleashing ten crescent shaped Wind Blades.
As he started to descend, he saw Raiju, now bright yellow and completely composed of Lightning Chakra, heading towards the red tiger-masked… thing. His attention was redirected however, when he noticed the blue eagle mask pointing straight at him.
"Wind Release: Pressure Damage!"
The attack generated a huge vortex of wind that rapidly compressed until it reached the highest possible wind pressure, then shot straight towards Naruto.
As he continued his fall, Naruto's eyes made a quick sweep of the battle ground. Kakuzu and what Naruto guessed was the earth mask had retreated a bit, presumably to gain some distance the wind attack. Raiju was now an electrifying mix of burning red, bright yellow, and shock white, and was baring down on its prey. He realized that the much awaited 'finale' was about to happen and decided to add even more to it.
He let Lightning Chakra flow over his body in a thick Lightning Armor that would protect him from almost any attack of that element, and prepared to do one of the few things he had really hoped never to do… The Rasengan.
Naruto was rarely hypocritical. At least, he didn't think that he was. But when he had convinced his sister that it was foolish of her not to use the Rasengan just because it had first been created by Minato… he had been hypocritical to the extreme. Most of the time, he was loath to do anything that would make him even remotely comparable to the man, unless it was something that would show his distinct superiority.
Nonetheless, he knew the principle of the technique, and his ability to shape the lightning element was second to none. Which was why, on his first try ever, Uzumaki Naruto not only created a complete Rasengan… but a perfect elemental version.
"Lightning Release: Rasengan!"
Vast amounts of Lightning Chakra poured out of Naruto's body, crackled across his armor, down his arm, and shaped into compressed ball of electrical plasma. He braced himself for impact as the wind technique closed in on him, and, just as his feet touched ground, he thrust his hand forwards to meet it.
As Raiju ran through the static air towards the red tiger mask, the said mask seemed to take a deep gulp of air before spitting out a ball of amazingly hot fire.
"Fire Release: Intelligent Hard Work!"
Once again, the wolf leapt forwards and swallowed the attack, its maw opening impossibly wide in order to take it in. It continued to run as the fire attack detonated inside, the tightly woven lightning structure only barely withholding the internal blast and turning the wolf's pet into a fiery red color with yellow-white lightning dancing over it.
As it drew closer, Raiju pounced at its prey and transformed into a high-speed ball-lightning that chased the tiger mask as it tried to escape, before colliding into it with a loud crack. The ball expanded to almost three feet wide, before violently imploding, obliterating two thirds of the threads that made the tiger mask's 'body', but failing to destroy the heart.
The remaining threads fell to the floor and quickly began to reconstruct themselves.
Naruto's Rasengan smashed into the powerful wind vortex and the two jutsu started battling each other. Since, this time, Naruto was the one using the weaker element, it was considerably harder to make the colliding attacks generate Static Chakra. Fortunately, with his monstrous chakra levels, it was well within his ability.
Out of the corner of his eye, Naruto saw his Raiju implode and didn't bother holding back his grin. The implosion didn't just cause a lot of damage to anything in its radius, it create a very small area in which the electrical charge was inversed.
For a moment, the only action on the battle field was the massive amounts of Static Chakra being generated in Naruto's area. Then, in response to the opposite charge, the entire and considerable blanket of static electricity crackled ominously.
Naruto's hair stuck out like an insane, blood-red afro. His smirk widened to a rarely seen enthusiastic grin. 'Time for the Finale!'
Instantly, from everywhere in the static zone, dozens of bolts of lightning responded to the opposite charge and struck down one the spot where Raiju imploded in a continuous storm. The wide blanket of Static Chakra diminished steadily as bolt after bolt rained down in a display similar to a giant plasma lamp.
Kakuzu cursed when one of the first bolts ripped through his back and destroyed his earth heart. When the lightning storm began to intensify, his hands blurred into hand-seals faster than ever before in his life. He didn't have time to call back either of his surviving hearts. The threads around fire mask were still rebuilding, and the wind mask was too close to the enemy.
"Water Release: Water Encampment Wall!"
A torrent of water blew from his mouth, drawing moisture from every available source to raise a circular defense that absorbed the bolts that struck into it. Kakuzu took it a step further, not only thickening the wall as much as possible, but closing off the top so that he was protected from all angles.
Despite his situation, he couldn't help the grudging respect at the power and duration of the attack as he was forced to push more and more chakra into defending against it. It had been a very long time since he had lost so many hearts.
The core of the storm grew blinding white as the continuous stream of lightning superheated the area. The tiger mask was electrocuted before it could reform, and its remains were disintegrated when they were swallowed by the expanding sphere of energy.
The eagle mask was fried as streaks of lightning tore through it, their numbers multiplied and sustained by the static generated from the colliding wind and lightning techniques.
Finally, the electric storm died out and the core exploded outwards. Naruto was knocked back, but he managed to stabilize himself and keep to his feet, his armor protecting his from most of the damage, even if his skin did burn to a few tans darker before healing back to normal.
Kakuzu's water defense gave out, but not before it completed its purpose of protecting him from harm. The electrified water splashed to the ground and the remaining electricity was discharged into the earth.
Naruto released his Rasengan and his Lightning Armor. He took a step forwards, preparing to rush his enemy and finish him off before he could recover from the drain of his water jutsu, when he felt something under his boot. He glanced down and found that he was standing on one of his Rock Arrows, with the others scattered near it. He was about to move forwards when his eyes caught something on the tips of a few of the arrows, blood.
He scooped up three of the arrows in one smooth motion and swiped his fingertips over the red liquid on their heads. With each of his fingers coated in his enemy's blood, Naruto pointed his hand and unleashed a cluster of Blood Lightning.
Kakuzu, having seen the effects of that attack on his partner, dodged to one side. The lightning shaped blood followed, honing in on his signature, and struck right into his chest. The log fell to the ground undamaged, showing that the Akatsuki member had once again evaded with the Substitution Technique.
Kakuzu straightened up and prepared to launch a counter offensive when a sharp pain lanced through his chest, followed by a sharp burning sensation. He just had time to look down and see the shafts of three arrows buried deep in his torso, each one encased in a blood-red glow of chakra, before his last heart exploded in his chest.
Naruto recovered his affects and used his katana to cut off the Akatsuki member's head before burning his body. He sealed the head away and walked over to the silver haired one.
Hidan glared as redheaded man approached him. His usually slicked back hair was burnt, frizzled, and sticking out at odd ends. His face was all blistery from the uncountable lightning bolts that had struck it. In short, he was pissed.
It didn't even cross his mind that he was in a bad situation, one from which he might not recover. After all, he had been blessed with immortality by Jashin-sama. "That's right, come here you damned heathen! My teeth are enough to take you on! Come here so I can bite your throat out!"
Naruto almost rolled his eyes, but contented himself with sealing the head in another storage seal.
When he looked through the Akatsuki member's wallet, which like Naruto's had seals on it to protect it from damage, he was glad to find that his bet had paid off. There were numerous certificates with information on various bank accounts in various names. It remained to be seen if the information was actually valid, but Naruto doubted that a shinobi of that level would bother walking around with false information.
A Shadow Clone popped into existence next to him, and Naruto handed it the wallet. "Go to the appropriate banks and check out the validity and balances of all these accounts. Then I want you to set up a new series of accounts and transfer all the funds. When you're finished, put the new papers in the nearest safe house and dispel."
The Clone nodded and headed off in the direction of the Fire Capital. He was changing the accounts in case someone else had the information to them.
Naruto paused for a moment. The Two-Way Tracking Seal that allowed Natsuko and he to always know each other's general locations told him that she had made a large 'jump'. He easily assumed that she had used the Flying Thunder God Technique to go straight to Uzu.
He sighed and set course for the Land of Waves.
He knew that, if he took too long, she would start tearing her hair out in frustration over the situation with their mother. She had already shown a surprising amount of patience in not pestering him as he tried to work out what had happened and what to do about it.
The fact of the matter was that he had already come to a conclusion, and had thought of a way to deal with it. The problem was that, if he was right, and if something went wrong, however unlikely that was, he could very well end up killing his mother again.
He shook his head clear of those thoughts and picked up his pace until he was a mere blur in the trees.
Uchiha Sasuke stood atop the Konoha wall with a backpack hanging off his shoulders and a tri-pronged kunai clutched tightly in his hand.
Konoha was holding him back!
All day long, people had been consoling him for his defeat, claiming that the demon must have cheated or tricked him somehow. But he knew better. He had felt his Chidori blow her skull apart, and he had seen the head grow back again in a matter of seconds as if it were a mere surface wound.
What made it worse was that it hadn't been like the time he had punched a hole through her chest back at the Valley of the End. Back then, the Kyuubi's youki had been visible, palpable, as it healed her wounds and strengthened her body. He had known that he was stronger because it hadn't been the dobe that beat him, it had been the demon.
He grit his teeth and clenched his fist harder until it began to bleed around the kunai, never noticing the slight red glow that briefly flickered around his hand.
Sasuke had thought that he had progressed over the last four years, that he had grown stronger, and that it was only a matter of time before he faced his brother and avenged his clan. He had copied all of Kakashi's jutsu, he had learnt to use the Cursed Seal, but none of that had made a difference! The dead-last had gotten much more powerful outside the village.
'Konoha is holding me back!'
A slow, evil smirk crept onto his face.
It didn't matter. They had only slowed him down, he would still be an avenger. He had copied everything Konoha had to offer, now it was time to find Orochimaru and get even more.
"Just wait, Itachi. soon…"
He jumped down from the wall and sped off into the forest.
In his hospital bed, Jiraiya bolted up into a sitting position.
His eyes widened. "Owowowow…" Then watered over as his recently operated body object to the brusque movement with a mind-numbing jolt of pain.
He fell back on his back and fumbled for the 'call' button.
A few seconds later a nurse burst through the door. "Jiraiya-sama? Is something wrong?"
"Get me an ANBU! Quick!"
She nodded and dashed back out. Half a minute later an owl masked ANBU came into the room and knelt before speaking in a monotonous voice that was distorted by the mask. "Jiraiya-sama?"
"Find Tsunade, tell her it's urgent!"
The ANBU disappeared in a Leaf Body Flicker, leaving Jiraiya alone. He shifted uncomfortably, mentally groaning at the fallout of what had just happened.
After the Uchiha's first attempt at leaving the village, the Toad Sage had placed a Tracking Seal on him that activated whenever he left the village. He hadn't told anyone but Tsunade about it, because they had both agreed that the Civilian Council would through a fit and demand that it be removed.
Jiraiya had no doubt as to where, or who, the Uchiha was going to. The boy already relied far too much on his bloodline and the Cursed Seal, so he would go straight to Orochimaru looking for more easy power-ups.
It was almost fifteen minutes later that the same ANBU came back. "Jiraiya-sama, I found Hokage-sama but…"
Jiraiya almost sweat-dropped. He had known his old team-mate for a long time now, and the ANBU's tone didn't reassure him. "What, is it?"
The ANBU gulped. "I found her in the Hokage Mansion, Jiraiya-sama. She was passed out with… with what looked like several weeks supply of empty alcohol bottles around her."
Jiraiya didn't even bother trying to stifle his groan of exasperation. Of all the times for her to knock herself out drunk, she just had to choose the one where he was also incapacitated. Her drinking had gotten worse since little Shizune had stopped talking to her, but this was just ridiculous!
'I'll have to talk to the girl and make her get past her anger at Tsu-hime. With the way things are going, Konoha can't afford to have a distracted Hokage.'
He focused back on the ANBU. "Find Shizune, and tell her to take care of her. If she argues, tell her that it's an order and that we don't have time for her petty grudges. Then find Kakashi and tell him that his student has left the village. He's got an almost twenty minute head-start now and he's probably headed for the Land of Rice to try and find one of Orochimaru's bases."
Owl nodded. "I'll find Kakashi-sempai right away, Jiraiya-sama. But, as for Shizune-san, I found this…"
The ANBU handed over a crumpled letter before once again vanishing in a swirl of leaves.
Perplex, Jiraiya tugged on the sides of the letter to flatten it out, then began to read.
I considered writing all the ways I've been disappointed in you over the years, but that would be hypocritical. After uncle Dan's death, you were all I had left. Maybe that's why I never stood up to you when you continually spat on his memory, shirking away from your duties and responsibilities to all the things he loved. For the longest time, I was worried about losing you, the last of my family, but now I realize that I lost you years ago. I lost you, abandoned you, when I stopped standing up to the woman I loved and looked up to, and watched her slowly become a woman that I can no longer stand to see.
Now, I fully intend to never let my hesitations and fears cost me anymore of my precious people. I am leaving Konoha to join Natsuko-chan and Naruto-san, and shall not fail them as I failed you. You may try to declare me a missing-nin, but remember this; we left the village before I could graduate from the academy and, while you did complete my education, I never officially became a kunoichi of Konoha. I have no doubt that the council will want to ignore this detail, and that, yet again, you shall bow to their wishes. Naruto-san has assured me that Konoha has no legal standing to come after me, since it is an administrative fault that led to this situation, and not a deception on my part. Nonetheless, it had become blatantly apparent over recent years that the leaders of Konoha care little for justice, or for upholding their own laws.
Know this. My loyalty now lies with my new, and true family. I may not be an Uzumaki, but I shall die for them if need be. More importantly… I shall live for them.
Jiraiya folded the letter up and placed it on the bedside table. He felt strangely empty, and couldn't seem to muster up the appropriate emotions to deal with what he had just read.
He just muttered what first came to mind. "Damn."
Tazuna opened the door to see who had knocked. "Naruto! Hey, I wasn't expecting to see you again so soon." He looked around. "Where's Natsuko?"
"She's in Uzu at the moment. We had to make an unexpected detour through Konoha and, while we had planned for it, things have accelerated a bit."
The old bridged builder raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Did they cause some trouble? Is she alright?"
Naruto nodded. "She's fine. Konoha was fairly easy to deal with, things pretty much went as I expected they would, but we got some unexpected news about our mother."
He trailed off but Tazuna didn't inquire further. "Anyway… I stopped by because I wanted to set up something I had planned in case one of the members of our hopeful alliance is ever attacked."
Seeing the older man's worried expression he hastened on. "Not that I'm expecting you to be attacked! Otherwise, I would have installed it right away! Originally, I had intended to explain things and set them up when we could get all the leaders of our alliance together, but now I think things will be easier if I set it up as we go."
Tazuna frowned. "You keep talking about 'it', but what is 'it' exactly?"
"If you can take me to a fairly large area that's out of the way, yet easily accessible, I can show you directly."
Tazuna nodded, willing to trust the young man, and led him to the main square. They stopped just in front of the statue of Natsuko. "It's not exactly 'out of the way', but it is the most accessible place in town. Other than market day, it isn't really used for anything but town celebrations."
Naruto looked around before deciding on the best place. He walked to the other side of the square and knelt one knee to the ground. He placed both palms flat on the paving and closed his eyes in concentration.
Tazuna and a number of curious townsfolk watched in awe as the stones beneath Naruto shimmered like water before melting into a wide flat platform of what looked like polished black marble. Two one-meter-thick square pillars emerged from the ground. They were placed ten meters apart and rose to twelve meters high, both in the same black polished marble. When they stopped growing, two horizontal lintels of the same thickness grew out from the left pillar until connecting to the right, with the top lintel overlapping on either side by one meter in what the observers now recognized as a very big stone tori (3) in a classic Shinmei style.
Naruto got to his feet and rubbed his palms together. He walked up to the newly created gate and pressed his hands to the left-hand pillar. A half-meter-thick panel of polished white stone filled the ten by ten meter gateway.
With a snap of his fingers, Naruto created four clones and unsealed four large pots of chakra ink and four calligraphy brushes. Without prompting, the clones each picked a quarter of the white square and set to work painting a large Fuinjutsu.
The Uzumaki walked back over to Tazuna and the people who had gathered with him.
Much as he tried not to, Tazuna couldn't help but blunt. "Have you thought of working in the bridge business? With the speed you work, you could make a fortune!"
Naruto chuckled. "If you think that's impressive, wait until you've seen Uzugakure. Now, let me explain what this is. As you know, Natsuko and I intend to approach many of the Lands that she helped during her time in Konoha to see if they want to join in the alliance we're trying to build. The problem, of course, is that most of those lands don't have much, if any, military presence. Certainly not enough to stand up to one of the Major Shinobi Villages if they ever try for an invasion. Even if everyone we visit agrees to join the alliance, it's highly improbably that we'll be able to reach them in time to help if they are attacked."
He turned and pointed at his diligently working clones. "This, is my solution to that disadvantage. I'm not great at naming things, so I just call it the 'Torii'. I won't bore you with the details, but basically it works a bit like a storage seal. But rather than creating a small pocket dimension and then creating an opening to put something in before closing it again; the seal that my clones are painting will create a larger pocket dimension and then create two openings and leave them open. The first opening will be created on the 'Departure Torii' and the second on the 'Arrival Torii'. then, you can activate the Torii here in the Land of Waves, walk through it, and come out from a matching Torii in Uzugakure. When our alliance has grown, we'll be able to create a 'Torii Network' that will allow us to immediately send help to, or evacuate, any of our allies that are under attack."
After a moment to take the information in, a seemingly random townsman spoke up enthusiastically. "That would be incredible! It would take trade to a whole new level! We would be able to get entire shipments from one side of the Elemental Nations to the other in the blink of an eye!"
Naruto was slightly surprised that they believed him without needing a demonstration, but he supposed that it was because of his connection to Natsuko. He shook his head. "While you are right that it could be used like that, I think that we'll have to limit the use of the Torii. My opinion is that it should only be used as military transport or in emergencies."
The same man frowned. "Why?"
Naruto paused as he though how best to formulate his explanation. "How much of the Land of Waves income would you say depends on trade and shipment? Sixty, maybe even seventy percent?"
The group gave a collective nod that was frankly quite amusing.
Naruto nodded back. "Now, how many people would lose their jobs if all the usual ships, caravans, and trade routes suddenly became obsolete?"
Their eyes widened in understanding. "Our economy would crumble! It would be almost as bad as when Gato was here!"
"Exactly, that's why I think it'll be best to only use it for reasons that the leaders of each member of the alliance will have to discuss."
An hour and a half later, Naruto was taking tea with Tazuna and Tsunami when one of his clones dispelled, having finished the Fuinjutsu.
He led his two hosts back to the town square, where word seemed to have spread and at least half of the population had gathered in a circle around the Torii.
The crowd parted so the he could get through to the platform. He looked over the seal to make sure that everything was in order, though it was only a quick glance since he had full confidence in his clones' abilities. He then went through a quick series of hand-seals and activated the Fuinjutsu. The seal glowed with chakra and sunk into the stone, giving the appearance of a deep engraving.
"Naruto-san." He turned to face Tsunami with a quirked eyebrow. She continued. "If the Torii is used to send reinforcements to allies, what happens if it's destroyed?"
Naruto grinned. "I was hoping that someone would ask that!"
He pointed at his three remaining clones. "Guys, you know what to do."
He rejoined the crowd, making shooing gestures as he went. "Everyone back up a little, this is going to make some noise!"
The three clones placed themselves around the Torii. One next to each pillar and the third standing on top of the upper lintel. "Clone Great Explosion!"
There were a few screams of surprise as the three clones used the rest of their chakra to exploded with the force of several Explosive Tags. When the smoke and dust settled down, it revealed a completely unscathed Torii, it's polished black surfaces glittering slightly in the sunlight.
Naruto took a few steps forwards, proud of the high quality of his work. He spoke loudly enough for all to hear him. "While the platform and the Torii may look like they are just black and white colored marble, they are actually made of a much denser stone of my own creation. It would take a small miracle to put a chip in it, let alone destroy it."
It was the truth. Naruto was quite certain that nothing short of a Bijuu would be able to destroy the structure. He himself would probably be able to if he opened all eight Celestial Gates, but he wasn't sure, and he wasn't much inclined to find out. It may not have shown, but the amount of chakra he had expended to create it would have exhausted several Kages put together.
Naruto felt that he had put on enough of a show, so he strode up to the left-hand pillar, which also served as a control panel. There were only two symbols at the moment, but more would be added as the alliance grew.
The first symbol was shaped like the outline of a fortified castle. It was twice as big as the other symbols would be, because it was only to be used for emergencies. It connected to a level in Deep Uzu that was large enough to host several dozen Torii, allowing many connections to be maintained at the same time.
Naruto planned for this to be the area where Shinobi from the various parts of the alliance could gather if they ever had to respond to an invasion. They would be able to group up and deploy wherever they were needed. Of course, since it was in Deep Uzu, Naruto had placed a number of protections on the room in case the enemy ever managed to gain access. The most radical of those defenses was a series of seal that would transport water from the ocean above and flood the entire level.
The second symbol was the circular swirl of the Uzumaki clan, which also doubled as the symbol of Uzugakure. It connected to a single Torii in Surface Uzu.
All the symbols were powered by a small store of chakra so that civilians could activate it if needed, but if that was all used up, only people who could mold their chakra would be able to activate it. When the alliance became official, he would make sure that guards were placed to prevent people from randomly activating it.
He placed his hand over the second symbol and the white surface glowed for a moment before disappearing, revealing a sunny and magnificent view of the recently rebuilt Surface Uzugakure.
He turned to the crowd. "Feel free to come through and explore Surface Uzu. However, because of the security, you won't be able to visit Deep Uzu."
The group walked through to Uzugakure, and he spent a few more minutes showing them around and pointing out various buildings. He then headed down to Deep Uzu.
Comfortably seated on the plush couch in the Uzumaki Residence living-room, Natsuko was getting both impatient and worried. She knew that Naruto would be fine, no matter who he was fighting, but this was the first time that any of his fights lasted more than a handful of minutes. She was fairly certain that his fight was finished. The Two-Way Tracking Seal had informed her when he covered a large distance before stopping again. Judging by the direction and the distance, she guessed that he had stopped in the Land of Waves.
She knew why he would stop there, but she was a bit perplex as to why now. There really wasn't much use for the instant travel that the gates offered, not until the alliance was bigger than just Wave and Whirlpool.
She had spent an hour or so with Shizune, Ayame, and Teuchi, helping them select houses and a shop for themselves. The Ichiraku had taken up shop near what would probably be one of the busier parts of town. There was a three bedroom apartment on the second floor, but Natsuko had insisted that they also take an actual house.
Natsuko perked up when she felt Naruto's tracking seal 'jump' suddenly much closer to her. She smiled when she sensed that he was walking around Surface Uzu, before coming down to the Deep. She hopped to her feet and started preparing some tea.
Naruto walked in just as she finished setting things out on the coffee-table and they sat down, snuggling together and sipping the warm beverage. A situation that they both found incredibly relaxing.
He gave her a rundown of the fight, the bank accounts, and what he had done in Wave, before they both lapsed into comfortable silence.
After a time, Naruto sighed for no apparent reason. He spoke softly. "I guess you want to know what I've come up with."
It was a statement, rather than a question, so Natsuko simply sat straighter and waited for him to elaborate.
"First," Naruto said haltingly. "Can you talk to her? Now, I mean, without going into your mindscape."
Natsuko frowned and concentrated on trying to do so, making her thoughts resonate in her mind. 'Okaa-san? Can you hear me?'
"Kyaaa!" Came the surprised reply.
'I'll take that as a yes…'
There was a small paused, during which Natsuko got the strange impression of someone trying to recollect their dignity and calm their racing heart.
'Okaa-san, are you alright?'
"Sweet Kami! Yes, yes I'm fine!" Another short pause. "Do you have any idea how creepy that was! One minute I'm quite happily relaxing under the sakura tree, and the next your disembodied voice is booming across your mindscape! You scared me out of my skin!"
Natsuko giggled at her mother's indignant tone. "Sorry, Okaa-san."
Naruto lifted his eyebrows. "I take it, you can hear her then?"
She nodded. "Yep, I can hear her just fine. But apparently it's a bit creepy for her, having a disembodied voice echoing around my mindscape."
"Can she hear me?" He asked, trying not to sound too eager.
Natsuko tilted her head to the side. 'Okaa-san, did you hear that?'
"Hear what, Natsuko-chan?"
'You didn't hear Naruto-kun's voice?'
"No, is he trying to say something to me? How is he? Does he know I'm here?"
'He's fine, and yes, he knows you're here. He's about to explain how that happened and he wanted to know if you could hear him talk… Hang on a minute I'm going to try something.'
She focused on trying to broadcast what she heard into her mindscape the same way she could broadcast what she thought.
"Um… Can you say something, please, Naruto-kun." She asked, unsure as to whether it was working and feeling a bit foolish because of it.
Naruto blinked. "Sure… 'Something'."
"I can hear him! Was that really Naruto-kun? He sounds so mature! I know he's a big boy now, but for me it's like it was just yesterday that I was teaching him how to handle a blade."
Natsuko giggled. 'Oh he is a 'big boy'! Surely my memories were enough to show you that?'
"Natsuko!" Kushina's voice yelled back scandalously, which only made her giggles redouble.
Naruto chuckled. "I take it she can hear me then?"
He pushed back the curiosity to ask what they had been talking about, and got straight to the explanation. "Right, there a few possible explanation, only two of which I would give any credence to, and only one that I think really fits."
He pointed a finger up. "First, she could be an imprint contained by the Eight Trigrams Sealing Style. This would have happened when she was holding you just after you were born. Some of her chakra may have subconsciously leaked onto you, and when Minato-teme… when Minato performed the sealing, it would have shaped into an imprint of her. The problem with this theory is that creating an imprint requires focus. Since Okaa-san didn't have the time, or opportunity to focus on what she wanted the imprint to be like, it shouldn't have worked."
He paused to refill his tea cup and take a small sip.
"He sounds like Minato-koi when he got into his theories for the Flying Thunder God technique, back when he was still developing it."
'Minato… Koi?' Natsuko couldn't hide the slight coldness in her thought-voice when her mother used the term of endearment.
Inside the mindscape, Kushina flinched. "Sorry… I know what he did, and I'll never forgive him for it… but time is different in here. I know that it's been years since that day, but sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that we were happily preparing together for your birth. Sometimes I… forget, that I hate him."
Natsuko supposed she could understand that. If Naruto betrayed her, it would probably take her years to get over it.
She snorted at the idea that he would ever betray her. He would rip the world apart for her if she asked him to, as she would do for him, betraying each other was something they were both incapable of, plain and simple.
A small, unnoticeable grin stretched her lips. 'Just don't let Naruto-kun hear you comparing him to Minato-teme! He's described some of his more… destructive techniques to me, the ones that are too destructive to actually demonstrate without good reason. If you compare him to the man he hates beyond anything else in the world… Damn that's a scary thought!'
Naruto, unaware of the exchange, continued with his explanation. "The second theory is more farfetched, but in my opinion it's the one that fits best. From what you've described, the Okaa-san in your head is far too… complex, to be a mere imprint. I think that she must have left some of her chakra on you, just before Minato stole you, so, when he used the Dead Demon Consuming Seal, her soul was pulled into you and sealed at the same time as the Kyuubi."
He sighed and scratched his head. "Normally, if a human's soul is ripped from their body, they would suffer from extreme necrosis. I suspect that that didn't happen because she's an Uzumaki. The sheer size of her chakra reserves provided her body with enough life energy to delay the necrosis, and by the time it would have set in, I had already placed her in a Stasis Seal."
Natsuko frowned a little at the way he was speaking. "Naruto-kun, Okaa-san can hear you… You don't have to speak like she's not here."
He nodded vaguely, pretending not to listen. "Now, we're lucky because everything we need to 'fix' the situation is already pretty much at our disposition. Getting her souls out of your body will be easy enough, a few years back I successfully worked on replicating the Yamanaka clan techniques. If you focus properly, you should be able to project her soul, rather than your mind."
He hesitated for a moment before continuing with a slightly strain in his voice that she only noticed because of the amount of time she had spent in his company. "Then, she has two possibilities. Either we use our Immortality Jutsu on her body and she retakes possession of it, essentially bringing her back to life. Or… Or she takes possession of one of our shadow clones and then we dispel it. That will allow her to die and… move on… if that's what she wants…"
Natsuko's eyes widened, and she suddenly understood why he was talking as if their mother wasn't there. 'He's scared that she'll choose to move on! He put all that effort into trying to bring her back to life, then he gave up, deciding that she was probably in a better place and that he shouldn't drag her back, and now that he can bring her back to life… he's scared that she won't want him to.'
"Of course I want to come back!" Kushina exclaimed indignantly from inside the mindscape, making Natsuko aware that she had broadcasted her thoughts. "I've already missed most of my babies' growing-up, I'm not going to miss anymore! Although… eternal life does sound daunting."
Natsuko reached out and pulled her brother into a tight, comforting hug. "Calm down, Naruto-kun. She wants to stay with us, even if she is a bit intimidated by the idea of living forever." She murmured in his ear, smiling a little when he sagged in relief.
It was strange to see her powerful brother in such a fragile state, but it was also incredibly comforting for her to know how much he cared for his family.
She frowned when a question popped into mind. "Naruto-kun, how can you use the Immortality jutsu on Okaa-san if she's already dead?"
He pulled back from the hug and flopped in the couch. "Her body might be dead as a whole, but I put it into stasis soon enough that most of the individual cells will still be alive and a fair amount of her chakra will still remain. The jutsu will just work backwards, first rejuvenating the cells, then the tissues, and finally the body will be kick-started back into life. As for the chakra in her body, most of it will have already been burnt away to fight the necrosis, but thanks to the Uzumaki bloodline she should still have more than enough for us to make this work."
"Ask him when we can do this, I want be alive again so that I can hug my children!" Kushina said from inside the mindscape, prompting Natsuko to repeat the question.
Naruto grinned, feeling happiness that at a level that had only been matched the day Natsuko came back into his life.
"I sent some clones to start preparing the Fuinjutsu as soon as I got here, just in case. It'll take a few hours for them to finish, so you should both use that time to study the Mind Projecting technique. You'll have your body back by the end of the day Okaa-san." He answered, addressing his mother directly for the first time, even if he couldn't see or hear her yet.
In Natsuko's mindscape, Kushina smiled. "Thank you, Naruto-kun."
"She says thank you."
In a dark, dimly lit cave, a holographic projection flickered into existence. It resembled a spiky haired man with two Venus-Fly-Trap-like extensions encasing his upper body.
After a few minutes wait, two more holograms appeared. One had three concentric rings around the pupils of his eyes, and the other with a decorative rose flower in her hair.
The man spoke in a cold monotone. "Zetsu, the next meeting isn't scheduled for another three days."
It was delivered as a statement, but the plant-like man knew that it was also a warning. A warning that he wouldn't like the consequences if he had broken the schedule without good cause.
Zetsu got straight to the point, his two distinct voices switching seamlessly. "Hidan and Kakuzu have failed in their mission to capture the Nine Tails. They're both dead."
The woman, with the flower in her hair, narrowed her eyes. "How is it that the two 'immortals' of the Akatsuki died? Killing just one of them is supposed to be impossible, you expect us to believe that they are both dead?"
"All five of Kakuzu's hearts were destroyed. As for Hidan, his head is still alive, but his body was sliced into tiny pieces by a large number of Wind Blades before being further damaged by a Lightning attack. He will be useless now."
"And their rings? Did you recover them?"
The white half of Zetsu gulped, although the separate colors weren't easily distinguishable with the hologram. "Yes, we have both rings, but they were both heavily damaged. They won't be much use unless they can be repaired."
The ring-eyed man spoke again, cold anger clear in his words. "What of Itachi and Kisame?"
"They have tracked down the Eight Tails' location, they should be able to capture him on time."
"Very well… Leave! You will give a full report at the next meeting."
Zetsu departed and Konan turned to her partner. "They are more powerful than we expected. That they defeated the 'Zombie Brothers' is one thing, but I never would have thought that they would be able to kill them."
Pain shrugged dismissively. "I shall go after the Nine Tails' Vessel myself. Their power shall fall before that of a God!"
Naruto and Natsuko stood in the sealing room, staring at their mother's body. It had been removed from the Eternal-Ice Casket, and Naruto had placed a temporary stasis seal on it to prevent further degeneration, they would break the seal just before Kushina's soul re-entered.
Natsuko watched, entranced as her brother went through the process of applying the Immortality jutsu. It was a magnificent sight for her to behold, because she had seen and experienced that results of it. Naruto's 'to-the-point' fighting style made it easy to forget just how much thought and detail went into his techniques, even for her.
When he gave the signal, she took a breath to steady her resolve. 'Ready Okaa-san?'
"Yep! Let's do this, Natsuko-chan!" Came the firm reply.
She performed a short series of hand seals and focused her full attention on her mother's presence in her mindscape, and her mother's body in front of her. She could feel Kushina's focus adding to her own as they announced the technique together. "Mind Release: Mind Projection Technique!"
Normally, when this sort of technique was used, it only projected the user's mind into the target's body. The soul remained in the user's body, and acted as an anchor to pull the mind back when the technique ended.
In Kushina's case, her soul wasn't in her body. So rather than remaining anchored-in, both her mind and soul were projected as a single package. There was a strange sensation of vertigo as Natsuko's mindscape disappeared from view, and she found herself floating through the air towards another body. Her own body.
She saw the paper tag of the Stasis Seal crumble away, just as she reached her destination. And then… nothing.
She was still aware, but she couldn't feel anything. It was as if an intangible blank blanket had fallen over her and was blocking out all sensations. Her notion of time seemed to blur, and while she didn't feel as if more than a second had passed, she also couldn't say that it hadn't been hours or even years since she was laying in nothingness.
Then something clicked.
It was almost audible, almost palpable. Her heartbeat, something that living people seldom paid attention to, thumped in her chest like an impatient neighbor knocking rhythmically at the door.
Her senses returned, sounds and smells and the cold hard floor underneath her back. Her vision was blank, but it was a different sort of blankness. It was the black of obstructed vision, rather than the blank of non-vision.
She opened her eyes… and saw what was, without a doubt, the happiest vision of her life.
Naruto and Natsuko leaned over their mother as she slowly opened her eyes, and were both treated to a tearful but radiant smile. They helped her to her feet, unbothered by her nakedness, and pulled her into a heartfelt hug.
"Welcome back Okaa-san!"
"We've missed you."
Uzumaki Kushina was reborn.
Kabuto smirked over his shoulder as he walked down the corridor of one of the Hidden Sound Basses. "You know, Sasuke-kun, you're very lucky that our patrols spotted you. They've reported that a squad of some of Konoha's best ANBU were hot on your trail. You're lucky that Orochimaru-sama told us to keep an eye out for you, otherwise you would be in a prison cell right now… Very lucky indeed…"
Sasuke scowled. "Just take me to Orochimaru!"
Kabuto chuckled sinisterly. "Oh, I am, Sasuke-kun! I am. He's very eager to see you."
He stopped in front of a plain looking door, no different from any of the others that they had walked past. "In fact… I would say that you couldn't have arrived at a more perfect time."
Before Sasuke could question or react to that statement, he was pushed into the room and the door was slammed shut behind him.
A dry cough brought his attention to the single bed in the middle of the room. Orochimaru was resting, with his back against the headboard, softened by a couple of plump pillows. His whole disposition looked sickly, as if the man were a few steps away from death's door. A far cry from the fearsome Shinobi that Sasuke had faced in the Forest of Death, and who had killed the Third Hokage just a short month later.
Sasuke suddenly began to question whether he had made the right choice. Would this weak looking man be able to give him the power he needed to kill his brother?
Orochimaru gave his customary 'creepy chuckle', almost unable to believe how lucky he had got. A few days ago he had been angrily searching for an acceptable host amongst his subordinates and prisoners, and now he had the best host he could hope for. One that held the key to his ambitions. The Sharingan.
"Kukukuku… Welcome, Sasuke-kun. I'm so glad you came. Living Corpse Reincarnation!"
Sasuke's eyes boggled as a giant white snake-like creature erupted from Orochimaru's mouth, leaving his body to collapse like a boneless sack of flesh.
The monster's head was a twisted version of Orochimaru's. It's chin was pointed. It's mouth was armed with multiple rows of sharp, fang-like teeth. It's skin was a pale, clayish color. And it had a mop of medium length black hair falling on either side of its face.
The body was that of a long white snake, composed of hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller snakes that wriggled and writhed seemingly of their own volition.
So shocked was he, that Sasuke didn't have time to react when Orochimaru's true form lunged at him and swallowed him whole.
The Uchiha suddenly found himself standing on a surface made of what looked like pink fleshy tentacle-like 'things' which wrapped around his feet and slowly crawled up his body, keeping him in place.
"Kukuku, this is my mental plane. An inner dimension where I crush of a person's mind and take their body for my own."
A few feet in front of Sasuke, a portion of the writhing mass rose up and formed into the Snake Sannin. Twisting his head in anger and slight panic, he could also see numerous other people, both male and female, trapped in cocoons of the pink things, with only their faces left uncovered.
Orochimaru snickered evilly. "They are the trapped souls of my previous vessels, Sasuke-kun. And soon you will be joining them. You came just in time, Sasuke-kun… Just in time to be my new body. And I shall finally have the Sharingan."
The things accelerated and soon they had almost fully covered him. Sasuke activated his Sharingan as well as his level two Cursed Seal, and began to battle the presence that he could feel weighing down on his mind.
For a moment he held firm, and even pushed Orochimaru's mental assault back a bit. It became a battle of wills and for a while they were evenly matched. But then, slowly at first, and a little faster with every passing moment, Orochimaru's will began to supplant his own.
Perhaps, if things had been different, the mental struggle would have had a different outcome.
Perhaps, if Sasuke had spent the last three years conditioning his body and mind by being constantly pitted against foes who were battling for their lives, rather than simply being 'eye-fed' jutsu after jutsu.
Perhaps, if he had spent the last three years with someone who always pushed and taunted him into training harder, rather than surrounded by people who constantly assured him of his own power.
Perhaps, Sasuke would have won the fight for his own body.
Kabuto took a step back when the door opened and 'Sasuke' walked out. He observed him carefully, trying to decide who had won control of the body.
If the vessel had been anyone else, he wouldn't have had a doubt about his master's victory. But Kabuto had heard how easily Uchiha Itachi had thrown off Orochimaru's attempt to steal his body, and while Sasuke wasn't nearly as strong as his brother, the power of the Sharingan wasn't to be taken lightly.
He hesitated a moment more before asking. "So, which one is it?"
'Sasuke' looked at him for a moment before giving a very familiar evil chuckle. "Kukuku… My, my, Kabuto-kun. Do you have so little faith in me?"
Kabuto smirked and pushed his glasses back up his nose. "Of course not, Orochimaru-sama."