Soul of Fire
Naruto was falling out of the sky tumbling head over heels while the world spun crazily in his eyes. Something hard crashed into him, abruptly redirecting his momentum, and saving him from going splat. He looked up in confusion and took in the sight of a familiar face.
"Sasuke?" he yelped. "What are you doing here?"
Naruto glanced around, looking for some explanation as to why Sasuke was in Konoha or failing that why Naruto had been falling. Looking up, he saw two people floating in the sky. One was boring looking. The other had bright orange hair. Neither of them looked familiar.
"Are they flying?" asked Naruto. "Wait, are we flying? Since when can you fly?"
Sure, Jiraiya had helped Naruto with some variations on the Rasengan and they had tried to control the Kyuubi's energy. But the pervy-sage had never come close to hinting he knew how to fly. Part of Naruto was wondering if Sasuke got the better mentor out of the two of them.
"Naruto," said Sasuke. His voice was deeper. His voice had always been deeper than Naruto's but now it was even more dramatic.
Naruto squinted at his former teammate and (ex?)friend. He pushed aside his excitement to really study Sasuke's face. One of his eyes was super-weird looking even for a dojutsu but more than that, Sasuke was different.
"You look old," said Naruto. "Did that snakey bastard suck out your life force or something?"
"He did not," said Sasuke. "I'm 25!"
Naruto gasped. "You're super-old! What happened to you?"
Sasuke growled in that weirdly deep voice again. It was way more intimidating than when he had grumbled at Naruto as a child. "Nothing happened to me, idiot. Something happened to you. You're also 25."
Naruto flailed his arms in denial. "No way! I'm 15."
"Stop squirming or I'll drop you," snapped Sasuke. "Yes, way. Idiot."
Naruto squinted at him again. That was a Leaf hitai-ate tied to his forehead. "When did you come back to the village?"
"A while ago. It's complicated," said Sasuke.
Naruto rolled his eyes hard. Old-Sasuke was such an adult. Jiraiya said stuff like that all the time. Then he said he would explain later and then he never did! Naruto was so glad to be back in the village. Konoha was the best place in the world. Even Sasuke had to agree since it looked like he came back too.
"But we're still friends, right?" asked Naruto.
Naruto had spent most of his training trip listening for rumors of Oto and sightings of Sasuke. It was a little stalker-ish, maybe. But it wasn't like Naruto tried to peek on him in the bathhouse or anything. Besides, Jiraiya was theoretically training Naruto how to manage a spy-network, so Naruto had engaged in some self-directed training.
In general, Sasuke sightings were rare. Orochimaru didn't send him out of Sound very often. But Sasuke's more aggressive missions were always devastating in their scope. Naruto felt like his strength never matched the boy's in the rumors. He wasn't really surprised that Sasuke, who's goal in life was to defeat Itachi, had gone to Orochimaru for power. Jiraiya's occasional reminiscences about his genin teammates had a certain familiar flavor. This whole flying thing was just another point in Orochimaru's favor.
Sasuke blushed furiously and looked away. "Of course, we're still friends. Moron."
"Don't call me that you bastard," said Naruto. He was grinning like an idiot and didn't really care. "I've learned loads of stuff from Jiraiya."
Sasuke's face did a funny thing. Naruto wasn't too great at book-learning, but he had survived for years by reading body language. That was a bad face, and it probably meant Jiraiya was dead. That sucked. Naruto wondered how it happened and how long ago it had happened.
There was a loud piercing cry that drew Naruto from his thoughts. It kind of sounded like Hinata. Except Naruto had never heard Hinata get that loud ever. There was weird pulse of energy from above that didn't feel like any sort of chakra Naruto had ever felt before, and the air grew heavy.
Sasuke dropped out of the air like a stone. He slowed their descent at the last minute coming to rest in the middle of a ruined building. Once Naruto was standing on his own feet, they both gazed upward.
In the sky above them, the redhead's hair had gotten super-long and he had grown horns. He was beating the boring guy into a pulp, or trying to anyway, the boring guy kept dodging.
"Who are they?" asked Naruto.
"The red-head is Ichigo," said Sasuke looking pale. "He got caught in the same jutsu you did. But I've never seen him transform like that before."
"Okay, but who is he?" repeated Naruto. "Leaf? Sound? Akatsuki? Some other ninja?"
"He's a Leaf genin, technically. And he's your cousin," said Sasuke.
Naruto laughed, surprised and shocked to hear Sasuke lie so badly. How old did you have to be to senile? "My cousin? I don't have a cousin. Or any family."
Sasuke shook his head. His adult face was solemn without being angry. "You have several cousins now. They came to Konoha about a year ago."
Naruto's jaw dropped. "Cousin? I have family? Who—"
Sasuke held up a hand cutting him off. "I'm sorry, Naruto. This is really not the time to explain. I don't think Ichigo's concerned about collateral damage."
"Does that mean we can move?" asked an unfamiliar shinobi.
Naruto jumped slightly. He hadn't heard anyone sneaking up on them, but he shouldn't allow himself to get distracted. The shinobi looked the same age as Sasuke, the age Naruto was supposed to be. He didn't look like anyone Naruto remembered from Konoha but there was something familiar about the man.
As the shinobi ducked under a bit of broken wall to reach them, Naruto got a good look at the weapon strapped to his back. This guy was carrying Zabuza's sword. He stopped next to Sasuke and gave Naruto a once-over.
"Why the heck is he so small?" demanded sword-guy.
"I'm still growing!" growled Naruto.
"He's 15," said Sasuke with a sigh. "Kurosaki was hit by the same jutsu."
Sword-guy looked unimpressed.
Naruto decided to ignore sword-guy and looked around the village instead. Part of him still expected to be in Konoha, even if he was in the future, but the village was in total ruins. He turned looking for the Kage Mountain. It was nowhere in sight. That meant this wasn't Konoha. It would take the Kyuubi or some other bijuu just as strong to destroy an entire mountain.
Above their heads, Ichigo, Naruto's maybe-cousin, let out a massive blast of energy. The earth shook. Naruto, Sasuke, and sword-guy dropped to the ground. Sword-guy turned to water to become completely flat, which was weird but not the grossest thing Naruto had ever seen.
Naruto turned his head ever so slightly. In the distance he could see the ocean floor as seawater was driven back or evaporated by the not-chakra blast.
So, Naruto's possible-cousin could have theoretically destroyed the Hokage Monument, but the ocean meant that they were definitely not in Konoha. Naruto heaved a sigh of relief.
"What is possibly relaxing about this?" hissed sword-guy as he partially reformed.
Despite carrying the sword, he was nowhere near as chill as Zabuza. Naruto thought that was too bad. Zabuza had been pretty bad-ass there at the end.
"It's not Konoha getting smashed?" offered Naruto. He didn't think this guy was a Leaf-nin, but it had been a while since Naruto was home.
"Ugh," said sword-guy. "Of course, you'd be happy about that."
"What's that supposed to mean?" demanded Naruto bristling.
"Suigetsu means you're next in line for Hokage after Kakashi and you act like it," said Sasuke.
Naruto blinked at them. "What? Really?"
Sasuke and sword-guy, Suigetsu, both stared at him. It was sort of funny since they were both still flat against the ground, Sasuke lying prone and Suigetsu just a head poking out of a small puddle.
"What?" asked Naruto. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
"You've wanted to be Hokage since before you entered the Academy, why do you sound so surprised?" asked Sasuke.
Naruto flushed and looked away. As a child, the reason Naruto wanted to be Hokage was to have people respect him. Since then, Naruto had grown up and had found the respect and friendship of people like Iruka-sensei, his teammates, the pervy-sage, and Konohamaru.
That didn't change Naruto's dream. He still wanted to be Hokage. But now he wanted to be the shield to protect his precious people and the village that they loved, but there were lots of talented shinobi out there. Being the container for the Kyuubi meant Naruto was strong but it didn't make him Hokage-strong that took knowledge and wisdom and a whole bunch of stuff that he didn't have yet.
"He's a teenager," said Suigetsu. "He's probably full of self-doubt and broody thoughts. He'll get over it. Unlike some people."
"I don't brood," sniffed Sasuke.
"Lies," said Suigetsu.
"Yeah, I don't believe that either," said Naruto. Brooding was Sasuke's go-to-activity whenever they had downtime in class or on missions.
Naruto rolled onto his back to check the sky. Now his super-suspicious cousin was fighting some lady in a wicked cool aerial battle. Naruto seriously wanted to learn how to fly. How awesome would that be!?
The lady was exercising excellent control over the direction of the battle. She was taking potshots at the boring guy and kind of herding Ichigo toward him whenever it looked like the boring guy was trying to escape.
"Who's she? She's awesome." asked Naruto pointing into the air. His hand made a crazy loop-de-loop as he tried to follow the action.
"That's Kushina's half-sister," said Sasuke. "She's dead and possessing someone else's body."
"Who's Kushina?" asked Naruto.
Sasuke and Suigetsu's eyes both got really big at the same time. Naruto scowled at both of them.
"What?" he demanded.
"I thought that Jiraiya would have told you on your trip," said Sasuke. He sat up and looked at Naruto. "Uzumaki Kushina is your mom's name. Your dad was Yondaime Hokage. Kyuubi's name is Kurama and you're friends with him now."
Naruto's head spun. He had a mom? His dad was the Yondaime? The Nine-Tails had a name? Sasuke knew the truth about Naruto? All of that was just way too much.
"Seriously?" asked Naruto. It was a he could think to say.
"Duh," said Suigetsu. He had reformed his body down to his waist. "Hell, practically everybody knows that stuff these days. Especially anyone in Konoha."
"Well, I don't know about it," protested Naruto. He waved his arms and legs to emphasize his outrage, hardly caring that he looked more like an overturned turtle than a proper shinobi.
"You do, though," said Sasuke. "The 25-year-old you does."
"And if I don't go back to being twenty-five?" asked Naruto.
Sasuke blanched. Suigetsu cursed. Naruto bit down on any smart remarks bubbling to the surface. He didn't mind being fifteen. But ten years was a lot of time to make up.
"Then I'll tell you everything," said Sasuke. "But like I said before, now is not the time."
"Fine," said Naruto. He glared at the sky. "Who's the other guy?"
Sasuke scowled, "Hantokei."
"I don't like him," said Naruto.
Sasuke grunted and pushed himself to his feet. Suigetsu sighed heavily and did the same by pulling all of his water together. He stayed semi-crouched though, ready to jump out of the way of any potential energy blasts, unlike Sasuke, who was acting too cool to bother. It was a typical Sasuke move.
"You don't like him? You don't even remember fighting him," protested Suigetsu. "And you like practically everybody!"
"Do not," said Naruto. "He's boring, and he makes my skin crawl when I look at him too long. Only super-creepy people do that."
Sasuke scowled at him. "How can he boring and make—"
Kakashi-sensei dropped to the ground next to them cutting Sasuke off with an well-timed entrance. It was for the best. Sasuke had gone off to live with Orochimaru for years. He probably couldn't recognize creepy if it slapped him in the face with a dead snake.
"Hiya, Kakashi-sensei!" said Naruto leaping to his feet at last. Naruto looked his genin team leader over. "Kakashi-sensei doesn't look any older, Sasuke-jii-san."
"You can't even see his face!" protested Sasuke.
"What do remember?" demanded Kakashi. He was in full on mission-mode.
"Nothing important apparently," grumbled Naruto. "I was in Konoha. Jiraiya and I just got back this morning. Then I was falling out of the sky. And Sasuke caught me! Since when can Sasuke can fly anyway? Can everybody fly now?"
"Not everyone," said Kakashi. He was frowning beneath his mask. "Currently, we think Naruto and Ichigo are under the effects of a time-reversing fuinjutsu."
"That sounds logical," said Sasuke.
Naruto looked at him askance wondering what kind of logic Sasuke was using. Suigetsu didn't seemed phased by this explanation either and he clearly wasn't the cool-type like Kakashi or Sasuke. Naruto really wanted his ten years of memories back.
"It's our best guess at what happened," said Kakashi-sensei. "Naruto, did Jiraiya teach you anything about sealing on your trip?"
"A little bit," said Naruto. His lessons had been piecemeal at best and learning fuinjutsu hadn't been half as exciting as working on the rasengan. If there really were things like time-reversing seals, then Naruto though the pervy-sage had seriously undersold the art.
Kakashi handed him a scroll. "Do you think you can replicate this?"
Naruto unrolled the very old scroll with careful hands. He frowned at it. There were lots of fiddly bits. But Naruto's writing was way better than it used to be.
"I can copy it. Sure," said Naruto. "But I can't tell you everything it does. And also this thing is super huge. Like the size of a house big at least. I'll need room and bucketsful of ink and a brush the size of my hand."
Kakashi hummed. "I'll see if Sai has anything. Or maybe Tenzo can make one for you."
Naruto frowned. "Who's Sai? And Tenzo?"
Kakashi blinked. "Ah, the day you arrived back in Konoha? You don't meet them until a day or two later I believe. They're both teammates of ours."
"Really?" said Naruto. "That's cool."
"I'm sure Sai will be glad to hear you say that," said Kakashi. "In the meantime, get to the square. The Tsuchikage is supposed to restore the ground. That will give you enough space to draw. Other shinobi are looking for ink. Sasuke, Suigetsu, Naruto has to be the one to draw the seal. Look after him."
They both nodded grimly. Naruto felt a little like he was being baby-sat. But he'd probably feel like that anyway since everyone was so much older than him.
"Where are you going?" asked Naruto.
"I'm going to see if Sai can get me in position above that," said Kakashi waving at the fierce aerial battle. "Karin thinks the seal on Hantokei's arms are still active. We're hoping that will age you back up."
"Good," said Sasuke.
Kakashi nodded and disappeared in a burst of shunshin. Naruto watched him go fondly. He hadn't even seen Kakashi-sensei since he got back to Konoha. Now he was issuing orders just like old times. It was so weird. But the good kind of weird. It filled him with warm-fuzzies and let him know he had a place to belong.
"The town center is this way," said Sasuke with a gesture in the correct direction.
Naruto turned to follow. Sasuke and Suigetsu kept low and Naruto kept low with them, even though he would much rather leap from roof to crumbling roof. He could understand their desire to keep out of sight with his raging cousin and his zombie aunt and the bad guy all up there still fighting.
They made it to the center of the village, Naruto still wasn't sure where they were, without getting flattened or evaporated. Though once Sasuke did fall down a hole in an old sewer system. Suigetsu and Naruto both managed to stifle their laughter.
There were other people around them. There were shinobi from all the other villages and some people wearing swords and armor. They were teamed up in groups against some very unhappy opponents. No matter what the groups did, their opponents always seemed to recover.
Suigetsu shuddered and said, "More zombies."
Naruto hated ghost stories and in his opinion zombies were fleshy ghosts. He didn't want to hear anymore.
There were also these weird shadow things that were people-shaped but utterly featureless. They gave Naruto the creeps too, and he gave them much more berth than Sasuke or Suigetsu did.
The trio reached the square and Naruto saw the problem. Someone had blasted a giant hole in it. Or rather, sliced through the entire village like a cake. It was amazing. The crevasse stretched through the village and into the sea and was slowly filling up with water.
Two women were standing on one side of the crevasse, a younger woman in dusty red-brown robes and an older woman in a blue-green dress over chain-mesh. Naruto knew the latter was Terumi Mei, or the new Mizukage according to the latest bingo book. He guessed that meant the other woman was the Tsuchikage, but last Naruto heard the Tsuchikage was an old man. Waking up in the future was so weird. Both women were arguing loudly with a red-headed woman, who was standing on other side of the split.
A few paces removed from the two kages, there was another red-headed guy with a red-headed girl clinging to his arms. They were watching three women argue with wary looks. Sasuke approached those two.
"What's going on?" asked Sasuke.
"Lady Mito is refusing to move," said the redheaded guy. "The Tsuchikage and Mizukage have taken offense to her stubbornness."
Suigetsu snorted loudly drawing the women's attention.
"Is something funny, Swordsman?" snapped the Mizukage.
"No, Terumi-sama," said Suigetsu quickly.
"Look, I gotta have a space at least this big to make this seal," said Naruto gently waving the scroll in the women's direction. "You've gotta move."
"Once I begin to move, I must begin to fight," said the red-headed woman, Lady Mito. "That is the compulsion Hantokei has laid upon us."
"How did he even know how to do this?" asked Sasuke. "He was trapped in that seal during the fourth shinobi war, right? That's when Orochimaru used the perfected Edo Tensei."
Mito inclined her head to the side. "Tobirama invented the jutsu Edo Tensei based on a technique he heard about from our kin. It is the Uzumaki equivalent of the chunin exam."
"Uh, what now?" asked Naruto.
"Uzumaki who felt they were prepared to move on from genin to chunin would perform the ritual jutsu calling the ancestor spirit they most resonated with. They held the spirit within them for a day and a night learning and sharing chakra and released the spirit at the next dawn. If the genin survived the experience, then they were promoted to chunin and had the benefit of ancestors guidance when choosing which seals or techniques to study," said Mito.
"That sounds cool?" offered Naruto.
It sounded creepy as hell. She could use fancy words like ancestor spirits all she wanted, but Naruto knew that she really meant Uzu-genin got possessed by ghosts. Also, "if" the genin survived? No, thank you. This was one Uzumaki glad to grow up in Konoha, where chunin exams were normal, even they were invaded by giant snakes.
"Hantokei has warped the ritual to serve his own purposes as he warps everything else," spat Mito.
Naruto wasn't going to argue with the dead Uzumaki woman on that front. He really hated even looking at that Hantokei guy. But he had to disagree with her about other stuff.
"You do need to move though," said Naruto. "This really is the only open space big enough."
Mito's eyes flashed at him. "Boy, do you not know who I am?"
"Uh, no?" said Naruto.
Sasuke groaned quietly. "Jiraiya really didn't tell him anything."
"I am Uzumaki Mito, wife to Shodaime Hokage, and first container of the Kyuubi," she snapped.
Naruto's eyes widened. "That's awesome!"
The woman rolled her eyes. She must have spent a lot of time around the Uchiha. She was nearly as good as Sasuke at conveying so much information in such a basic movement. This particular expression said she thought Naruto was a hyperactive idiot and she didn't know why she bothered trying to explaining anything. Naruto had seen something similar on a lot of faces.
"If I move, then my opponent must be at least as strong as a kage or have some other method of sealing my strength at hand," she said.
Naruto frowned at her then at the others standing in the square. "Uh, there are two kages here? The Mizukage and Tsuchikage, right?"
"Yeah, I can seal up the ground myself," said the Tsuchikage.
Mito arched a brow. "And withdraw the water from underneath it as well?"
The Tsuchikage blanched and dropped her gaze to the crevasse. Naruto peered down it as well. Seawater had flooded at least the bottom third and more water pressed in with each crashing wave.
"Can't she just put a bridge over it?" asked Naruto. He had a feeling the answer was going to be no because nothing was ever easy.
"Water carries chakra. Earth carries chakra too. But earth will anchor the seal and keep it grounded without leeching away too much power while water will erode the seal entirely," said Mito.
"This one's on you, Mei," said the Tsuchikage clapping the other woman on the back.
"You want me to turn back the entire ocean by myself?" hissed Mei.
"You are the Mizukage. Water is your territory," pointed out the Tsuchikage.
"I'm not a god," snapped Mei. "I'll need back up. And even if we can, then it will still take time."
"I'll need time to fill this in too," admits the Tsuchikage. "Kurosaki didn't split the ground open. He destroyed it entirely. Making this much earth out of chakra will be draining."
Naruto bit his lip and looked at the scroll. If he were his older self, he could probably draw the seal faster, but as he was now, he needed all the time he could get.
"Look, I know it will make it harder to pull back the water, but can you close up the top part so I can get started?" he asked. "This thing has layers. I've got to get started as soon as possible."
"Making something more impossible doesn't change the level of difficulty, I guess," said the Tsuchikage. "But Lady Mito will still have to move. And someone will need to track down the Kazekage. Gaara's sand isn't dirt, but it will help fill some space."
Naruto bit back a yell of surprise. Gaara was Kazekage? Since when? Why hadn't anyone—why hadn't Jiraiya—told him?
"I can find the Kazekage," said the redheaded guy. "I can take Karin back to the medical tent first. And we can get Tsunade or Sakura to aggro Lady Mito."
The redheaded girl let go of his arm and took a few careful steps. She wobbled at first but quickly steadied. A determined look filled her eyes. "No, I've got this."
From watching Jiraiya, Naruto knew what not to say women. The girl, woman really, but she was younger than the Tsuchikage and Mizukage and that made her look young, didn't look like she stood a chance against a stiff breeze, much less a kage-class kunoichi. But there was a crazy light in her eyes that Naruto wasn't going to argue with.
Clearly, Orochimaru had not failed to teach Sasuke a similar lesson. He opened his mouth to protest, "Karin—"
"No," said Karin. "You need to guard Naruto's back in case Hantokei escapes from Ichigo. I can do this."
"Can you?" asked Lady Mito.
"I damn well can," growled Karin. With a burst of chakra four gigantic chains tipped with kunai appeared in the air around her head. They wavered like octopus arms but their points remained fixed on Mito.
Lady Mito smiled. "Incomplete chakra sealing chains? Here, let me show you how they're really done."
Two similar chains sprouted from the previously still Lady. She lunged for Karin, chains moving with her and striking like snakes. Karin dodged out of the way and batted away the chains with own. In a matter of seconds, they had cleared the square.
"Karin is nuts," muttered Suigetsu quietly. Naruto kind of agreed.
"You there, Kurosaki," said Mei. "If you see any unoccupied shinobi, send them to the port. We'll need any one who can spare the chakra to help us."
"If they're not fighting off Uzumaki or hunting for ink, then they're probably unconscious. But I'll do my best," said Kurosaki.
Kurosaki turned and leaped away. One step had him out of sight without even using shunshin.
"Wow, that guy is fast," said Naruto.
Sasuke frowned after him. "I don't think Kurosaki is normally that fast."
"Kurosaki is a freak. And everything having to do with him is freaky," said Suigetsu. "Don't worry about it."
"Boys, give me some space," said the Tsuchikage.
Naruto, Sasuke, and Suigetsu retreated to the edge of the square. The Mizukage took up station off to one side peering at her rival with a critical interest. The Tsuchikage rolled her shoulders, cracked her fingers, and flashed through the hand signs of a doton jutsu so fast Naruto could barely follow.
The ground rippled. The town square, which was actually circle shaped, making naruto think it had been used for this jutsu before, dropped almost a foot as the earth migrated into a new position. The result was a perfectly smooth plane of dirt, almost glass like in its pristine condition.
"Very nice," said Mei. "Good work, Kurotsuchi."
"Thank you, thank you," said Kurotsuchi. "Shall we get going?"
"To the docks," said the Mizukage. She turned to trio of shinobi. "Good luck, Naruto."
Naruto was stunned. "Thanks."
Kurotsuchi and Mei teleported away to their next tax. Naruto blinked at the suddenly empty square. He turned to Sasuke and Suigetsu. "The Mizukage knows my name."
The pair snorted in unison. "Yes. She does."
"Alright," said Naruto ignoring their weirdness. "This is nice and all, but without any brushes or ink. I don't think I can draw anything. Like, I've got half an ink stick on me and that's going to do nothing."
That was when Naruto's infamous luck kicked in. Several different figures came running into the square. Naruto even recognized most of them.
"Konohamaru! Kiba! Akamaru!" said Naruto naming off who he could remember. And then, "Who the heck are you?"
"Naruto?" asked Kiba."Aw, look at your little baby cheeks!"
Akamaru let out a woof of surprised.
"Boss? What happened?" asked Konohamaru.
"What do you mean who am I?" demanded the third human.
"Apparently, Hantokei has a de-aging jutsu," said Sasuke. "Naruto only remembers up to his return with Jiraiya.
"Of course he does," said the guy. "I'm Yamato. Kakashi sent me. Can you work with a bamboo brush?"
Naruto blinked at him. "Uh? Sure." He thought Kakashi wanted Tenzo to make a brush for him. But if this guy could do it instead that was fine. "It needs to be a big one. Like, the brush has got to be at least the size of my hand. And I might need some smaller ones too. And another big one if the first one wears out."
Yamato held up his hands. A brush grew out of palm like a tiny tree. He handed it to naruto and started working on the second one.
"Weirdest day ever," said Naruto taking the brush. "Hey can you make like a bucket or, no, like a little trough?"
"Yes," said Yamato. A more solid wood construction started forming between his hands.
"What are you guys doing here?" Naruto asked the others.
"Karin and Kon said you needed ink," said Kiba. "Akamaru and I went to raid the stash our team found when we were surveilling the place."
He shoved a makeshift bag of ink sticks at Naruto. Konohamaru did the same.
"Yeah, Hanabi found these," he explained. "She's looking for more."
"Thanks guys," said Naruto.
He set aside his new brush and stacked the the ink sticks next to it. Yamato had finished growing the wooden trough by then and handed it over. Naruto looked at Suigetsu.
"Can you make water instead of just turning into a puddle?" he asked.
Suigetsu scowled. "Yes."
"Fill this up like a third of the way," said Naruto pointing at the trough.
While Suigetsu did his tasked, Naruto searched the ground for an appropriately sized bit of rubble. He found a nice bit of building just long enough to fill the bottom of the trough and with plenty of rough edges. Naruto grabbed a pair of ink sticks and started scraping them against the rock.
The others watched in fascination, but Sasuke winced.
"What?" asked Naruto.
"That's not how you're supposed to treat ink," he muttered.
"Yeah, well, we're not at calligraphy competition," said Naruto. He ground the ink sticks down to nothing then added two more before he reached the right consistency.
"Isn't that a little thick?" asked Konohamaru.
"I'm not finished," growled Naruto. His hands were covered in ink, but he didn't really care. He reached for a kunai, staining his clothes with what was apparenty blue-black ink, took a quick breath, and stabbed the blade into his wrist.
Around him, his friends cried out in alarm.
"What are you doing?" demanded Sasuke reaching for Naruto's arm.
"I need Uzumaki blood to activate the ink," said Naruto pulled his hand away while still keeping his hand over the trough.
"That doesn't meet cut open a vein!" protested Sasuke.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "How else am I going to get enough blood? Besides, I thought you said you knew about the Kyuubi thing!"
That drew them up short.
"But that's enough, right?" asked Konohamaru a moment later.
Naruto looked at the trough. "Yeah, for now I guess."
Konohamaru's hand lit with green. He reached out to seal Naruto's wrist closed.
"You should probably save your energy," said Naruto.
"Boss, it's not cool that you have to do this by yourself," said Konohamaru. "And I notice that you said for now."
"Yeah, well, go find me more ink," said Naruto.
Konohamaru and Kiba both saluted, and Akamaru barked once, then they disappeared back into village. Naruto turned to stir his ink but paused to look at Yamato.
"Can you grow a lot of wood?" asked Naruto.
"I can," said Yamato.
Naruto glanced at Sasuke. "Do you think that would help the Mizukage and Tsuchikage at all?"
Sasuke grimaced. "I was hoping Yamato could help us guard you. But, probably."
He quickly outlined the problem with the ground beneath them while Naruto started eyeing the space around them. Yamato nodded gravely.
"I would like to stay here. But that sounds like a better use of my talents," he admitted. "At the very least, I can help bolster the ground."
"Good luck," said Sasuke.
"You too," echoed Yamato before leaving the three alone again.
Once the ink was mixed to his satisfaction, Naruto found himself with a conundrum.
"Hey, Sasuke, do me a favor," said Naruto.
"I'm not going to stab you," said Sasuke.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "I can do that myself. No, hold up the scroll so I can see it. I have ink all over my hands and I don't want to screw anything up."
Sasuke dutifully unrolled the scroll and held it up for Naruto to examine. Naruto scowled and carried the trough to the center of the square. He was dangerously exposed here if Hantokei decided to look down. But he needed to start in the center.
Sasuke and Suigetsu followed him. The fighting was spread out through the village. Naruto only had to dodge a few of the creepy black things. But he guessed, if there was any fighting, Sasuke and his friend could take care of it.
Naruto had just completed the first circle. The inner circle was tiny with a diameter of a meter and a half. At least it was tiny compared to the three outer circles. When the air abruptly lightened.
"What was that?" demanded Suigetsu. "Did you do something?"
"No, I've barely started," said Naruto. He looked up. "Oh! His hair is short now."
Sasuke and Suigetsu spared a glance up. Whatever had been wrong with Ichigo before was fixed now. Or at least, he wasn't a monstrous killing machine anymore.
There was a beat, and Kurosaki launched a massive attack against Hantokei. It clearly wasn't the same scale as the one that had split the village in half but it was the same sort of attack. And it was still distressingly large. So, Kurosaki was still a monstrous killing machine, but at least he was under control.
Naruto picked up his trough and headed back to the edge. He stopped about 12 feet from the edge of the of the square and started on the second circle. This one was a lot bigger. He was pretty sure he was going to need to refresh his ink before he finished. He got maybe a third of the way through before the world dropped out of focus.
Sasuke was keeping a close eye on the battle happening above their heads. After Ichigo resumed his attack in conjunction with his mother, he began moving in a somewhat predictable pattern. Sasuke said somewhat because it was clear that Ichigo was used to fighting high-speed aerial battles and those were fairly rare even in the Shinobi World. He was at least showing more skill at fighting with a bow-wielder than he had been alongside Naruto.
Almost immediately after Sasuke identified the rhythm of Ichigo's attacks, he saw a figure drop out of the sky. Kakashi-sensei, sword wreathed in the crackling energy of chidori, skimmed in front of Hantokei and cut through both arms. Sasuke didn't see what happened to Kakashi after that. He let the Uzu-scroll fall and reached out to steady a suddenly grown Naruto before he hit the ground.
"Sasuke?" said Naruto.
"Do you remember what happened?" asked Sasuke.
Naruto squinted at him. "Yeah. I think so, did you have snatch me out of the air like a princess?"
Suigetsu stifled a cough. Sasuke glared. "I could have let you drop."
"Yeah, well, thanks," said Naruto. He straightened fully and looked at the circle. "Okay, I can do this faster than little me. But not a lot faster. And Konohamaru is right, I'll need some healing as I go. Kurama can regenerate my blood. But this is going to take a lot."
"I have an idea about that," said Sasuke. "Suigetsu, mind the scroll."
Suigetsu scooped the scroll off the ground. He scowled. "What are you going to do?"
Sasuke gathered his chakra and flew into the sky. He stopped next to Ichigo's mother, who had pulled away from the impressive flurry of blows Ichigo was reigning down on Hantokei. Sasuke suspected Ichigo's brief return to the past hadn't been as pleasant as Naruto's. At least he made a good distraction.
"Something for you ninja-san?' asked Kurosaki Masaki.
Sasuke looked at her politely curious face and then at the blatantly broken joints where she was forcing her body to go against Hantokei's instructions.
"Can you bleed like that?" he asked.
"Why do you ask?" she countered.
"Naruto's drawing a seal to stop Hantokei. It needs Uzumaki blood. More than Naruto has. You're half-Uzumaki and you can't die, even if you bleed out," said Sasuke.
Masaki smiled at him. It more than a decade since Sasuke last saw his own mother smile at him, but he found his throat growing tight at the sudden on-set of memory. Masaki had a beautiful smile.
"You're in luck, ninja-san! Even if someone normally summoned this way couldn't bleed, I can use blut arterie and really get my blood flowing," she said.
"Good," said Sasuke. He knew that was the name of one of Ichigo's Quincy skills, but he wasn't sure what it did. He was just glad she would be able to help Naruto.
"Ninja-san, you'll look after my son while I look after your friend, won't you?" asked Masaki.
"Of course," said Sasuke.
"Thank you," said Masaki smiling again. She let herself drop away.
Almost instantly, Ichigo flew into her spot. He looked askance at Sasuke but seemed no worse for wear from his brief walk down memory lane. Hantokei was some distance away sliding his body back into a human shape. Sasuke hoped never to fight Ichigo while the other man was angry.
"What's going on?" asked Ichigo.
"We have to keep Hantokei from looking down," said Sasuke. "Naruto's working on the seal that can stop him, but there's no cover down there."
Ichigo visibly stopped himself from looking down. Sasuke approved. Hantokei wasn't paying them attention yet, but there was no reason to take a chance.
"I've got an idea," said Ichigo.
Sasuke frowned at him. He had never fought alongside Ichigo before, but Sasuke suspected Ichigo's ideas were a lot like Naruto's ideas—big and loud. Point of fact, Ichigo had been the one to cut through the entirety of Uzushio.
Ichigo closed his eyes and took a beat to gather himself. He then released a pulse of chakra that settled over Sasuke like a sticky web.
"What did you do?" asked Sasuke.
"Kurenai-sensei taught me the basics of genjutsu," explained Ichigo. "I haven't been using my chakra for anything."
Sasuke dropped his gaze. The village of Uzu lay below them completely covered by a layer of genjutsu. The wound Kurosaki had made in the earth was still there. In the former village square, Mito was facing off against Naruto and Masaki. Groups of shinobi and samurai faced down Uzumaki. An occasional flare of sand or fire or lightning indicated the presence of a particularly powerful fighter.
"How long can you hold it?" asked Sasuke. It was one the biggest and most impressive genjutsu Sasuke had ever seen made without a dojutsu. Kurenai should be proud of her student.
"I don't know," admitted Ichigo. "But see that roof over there?"
Sasuke followed his gaze to one of the tallest remaining structures in the ruins. "Yes."
"I've anchored the genjutsu about three meters above that roof. Don't let Hantokei drop below that point. Don't go below that point yourself. And don't angle any attacks below that point. And I'll be able to hold it longer," explained Ichigo.
Sasuke nodded. He understood. It would be a challenge, but the reward was keeping Naruto safe and giving him a chance to save everyone.
Sasuke drew his chokuto. "Now, you were shit at teaming up with Naruto, but you did better when your partner had a bow. How do you do when your partner has a sword?"
Ichigo smirked. "I guess we'll find out."
This chapter was made possible thanks to Camp Nano and readers like you!
Thanks for reading. Please review!