Yes! I'm back! Well, I wasn't really gone, but… *sigh* Apologizing or explaining is rather pointless after months of not updating this story, so let's just summarize it by saying that life threw some issues at me that prevented me from writing as much as I wanted. 'Fun' fact of the day: some people get really confused by the fact that this story is marketed as a Naruto/Temari/Tayuya story and it has a child version of Tayuya as well… without bothering to read a word of this story there are those who accuse me of being a pedophile. *deep, deep sigh* Oh well, I hope that those of you who do have a functioning brain enjoy this new chapter!
Some shameless advertising: I published an unfinished fic named 'Devil's Fire'. Check it out!
Chapter twenty five
The Sky Moves Sideways
"O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude..."
― Mary Ann Evans (using the pseudonym 'George Eliot')
Four years after Moryo
"Hello, Genkuro. Ready for tonight's explorations? Whose hall shall we enter today? Hashirama's? Asura's? Or do you want to continue where we left off last night, with whatshisname from the Kaguya clan?"
Naruto smiled at the flaming form of the little boy. Genkuro, the entity that had carried the responsibility for his rebirth, had not been destroyed when Naruto returned. Naruto's smile wasn't answered, though.
"Why did you help that woman?"
"Should I have just left her to die there?" Naruto frowned. "That is not me, and you know it."
"It's nothing but another waste of time and energy."
Shaking his head, Naruto ignored Genkuro. The truth was harsh. And the truth was that realizing the reality behind his purpose left Genkuro bitter, even more so due to his current fate. Due to Naruto's interference, the 'mirror' which was simply meant to gather enough energy for him to return had gained a personality. A personality, yet not a soul. Genkuro wasn't an individual, not truly. No, he was an aspect of Naruto, hence the reason why Genkuro's memories had ended up within Naruto's hall of mirrors. And the more time had passed, and more of Naruto's mirrors had returned, the more 'Genkuro' had turned into 'Naruto'. The two personalities had blurred, and even without Moryo's interference it would have been likely that Genkuro had simply been overwritten by Naruto. Although that wasn't entirely true either; while Naruto was dominant he was not left unchanged by the events either. The inheritance of Genkuro's memories, and personality, would have left Naruto a changed person as well.
The two would have merged into one entity, not quite Naruto, yet no longer just Genkuro either.
That was how things had been meant to be. Unfortunately, Moryo had thoroughly messed things up, and Genkuro's ego had survived. He had scattered and reformed somewhere deep within in the confines of Naruto's mind and soul. This was also the cause of Genkuro's bitterness. The forced return of Naruto's ego meant that Genkuro had lost control over their shared body. It had taken more than a year before Genkuro had regained consciousness, and even more until he had the strength to move around. By that time Naruto had been completely adjusted to the new body, eliminating what little chance Genkuro had to regain control. Not that Genkuro could be blamed for not trying. After all, Genkuro, in his most basic form, simply was an entity that was driven to fulfill a single goal.
At least, that's how Naruto saw his 'other me'.
"Are you going to mope again?" Naruto looked at Genkuro. "You know there's no point in repeating all that stuff once more."
"It is less boring," Genkuro said frostily. "You keep wasting our time and energy. I'll never see Temari and Tayuya again at this rate. We need to leave this pointless timeline, and go back. Kurama needs to be revived. Temari and Tayuya are waiting. That's all that matters. This world isn't ours."
"Perhaps, but that doesn't make this world any less real. Both Temari and Tayuya are here, in this time, as well," the Uzumaki shrugged. "Even if they live different lives now."
The repetitiveness of this argument was annoying. Naruto couldn't live in this timeline without trying to improve it. He couldn't ignore all the mistakes that had been made, and strived to prevent things from going as wrong as they did in his own time. He could never abandon these people to the things he knew were coming, not while he had the power to change it.
Genkuro, by contrast, only wished to return. The urge, his purpose, called for him to return. He was compelled to bring the Kyuubi back to the world of the living, as this was the reason why Genkuro was created. But beyond that, he wanted to see Temari and Tayuya again, the ones of his own time. The ones he loved. The ones, by proxy, they loved.
But at least they weren't fighting every time they met. Not anymore. Genkuro had calmed down a little when Naruto found Tayuya, much to Naruto's relief. The constant battles against his weaker aspect were even more annoying than the repetitive verbal conflicts that followed afterward.
Return. Kurama. Energy. Hunger. Temari. Those were the things Genkuro cared about, and in that specific order as well. Temari made it to the shortlist because Naruto had unintentionally imprinted that urge in Genkuro, while Naruto feared that Genkuro's prime concern about Tayuya revolved around their fragment which had been left in her mind, something of which Genkuro theorized that it had left them incomplete in this timeline.
By contrast, Genkuro saw Naruto as a startlingly naïve moron, a do-gooder who wished to change the world for the better yet in his zeal screwed up just as much. While Naruto was an optimist, Genkuro knew that the world wouldn't just magically become a better place if he prevented one or two bad things from happening. Other acts of evil would be committed in place of those that were prevented, ones which they could not predict based on their experience of the past- or currently their future. Aside from that, there was the aspect that he considered Naruto's acts as something that was ultimately selfish in nature: he changed several events for himself, Konoha, Temari, and Tayuya, yet his actions seemed to do little good for the people beyond that. In Genkuro's opinion, Naruto was a hypocrite. His beliefs in things like absolute good or evil merely seemed childish fairy tales, and the world that Naruto strived for was a schism of the mind, a utopia what would never be real.
It suffices to say that their views were conflicting fundamentally, and Genkuro preferred not to waste too much time on trying to convince the stubborn Naruto. And for more or less the same reasons Naruto barely bothered to change Genkuro's 'one-tracked mind'. The two shared more traits in terms of personality than either liked to admit.
There was still one big problem between the two of them, though.
Before things had gone crazy and Naruto returned, Genkuro had been torn between a primordial hunger, the desire to devour the vast amounts of energy that were required for the resurrection of Kurama, and the humanity which Naruto supplied. It was a conflict between the proverbial light and darkness, which, thanks to Temari and Tayuya, had reached a certain balance. Yet, without Naruto's "light" to keep him from falling, Genkuro had soon hit the bottom of the gorge- where the hunger resided. Not that he had turned evil, mind you. No, even if he wasn't burdened by Naruto's morals, Genkuro never purposely committed horrendous acts. The problem was that he simply made no distinction, that he was completely unbiased, had no concept of good or evil in any way. Just as he was before Naruto prevented him from killing Temari, and had caused the mirror to develop into 'Genkuro'.
In a sense, Genkuro could be considered to be 'pure'.
Return. Kurama. Energy. Hunger. Temari. That was, as Naruto stated, Genkuro's range of interests. Beyond that everything was fair game. Emotions, morality, ethical dilemmas, that was the sort of stuff which Genkuro discarded as a waste of time and energy. This was a matter on which Naruto vehemently disagreed with him, just as much as Genkuro vehemently disagreed with any plan which Naruto put in motion in order to improve the timeline they currently lived in. As such, Genkuro found Pakura's survival pointless, just as he discarded and even downright opposed Naruto's previous attempts to make this timeline better than his own. These little things did nothing to change the bitter reality which Genkuro knew. As long as Naruto did not change the innate hunger which Genkuro felt in humanity, everything that Naruto did would amount to nothing.
Alas, Naruto refused to acknowledge Genkuro's pragmatism, just as much as Genkuro refused to acknowledge Naruto's hope and faith in the good of mankind.
"Asura's hall has something," Genkuro grumbled.
Naruto frowned. It was unusual for Genkuro to say something like this. For them to have a seemingly normal conversation was unusual. Out of boredom, Genkuro usually spent his days traversing through the other halls, ignoring Naruto whenever he wasn't fighting him with word or deed. Genkuro couldn't enter Naruto's hall of mirrors, as he wasn't the dominant personality, yet he could enter those of the past generations. How and why they had these halls connected to theirs was a matter neither fully understood, but these 'previous lives' were spread over many generations, always one at a time.
Each of these halls formed a chaotic maze, and it would take years, if not decades, to fully explore all of them. Naruto had quickly figured out that these memories showed many conflicts over the generations, all with an Uchiha opponent whom the person of the memories had a bitter bond with. Rivalry, animosity, friendship, or even love… the thing was always complicated. Much like he and Sasuke had been connected in some strange way, Naruto had come to accept. Naruto never really knew why he hadn't been able to ignore Sasuke, feeling a strange sort of kinship with the boy, and curiously enough the same thing had happened many a time before his life. They were caught in some strange pattern that went beyond their lives, and Naruto wished to understand why.
The fiery figure of Genkuro led him down the path. The halls were connected by a doorway which mostly resembled a sewer. Black water on the floor, smeary pipes of various sizes and colors on the walls, this wasn't exactly the most enjoyable place to stay. Aside from the superficial reasons, it was because it felt so empty that Naruto disliked it. At least the individual halls all had some sort of… emotion? Personality? Naruto couldn't truly describe the sensation he felt, not with something as simplistic as words.
Following Genkuro down the hallway, the two passed through the oldest of all the doors within the system. This was where they had, instinctively, found memories on the lost art of Ninshu. This was Asura, the youngest son of Otsutsuki Hagoromo, the man who was better known as the 'Sage of the Six Paths', the man who was responsible for creating Kurama and the other bijuu. A fascinating man, although his lectures were very difficult to comprehend. Of course, it didn't help that Asura didn't understand the things which Hagoromo talked about too well. These memories were, after all, all from Asura's perspective.
Without any hesitation Genkuro maneuvered through the chaotic labyrinth of mirrors. Like every hall, the mirrors had a feint glow, a gentle yellow in Asura's case. Other people had a different glow, like Hashirama's soft green, or the one before him who had a broken-white color. That man's memories, especially when he was older, seemed particularly bitter.
"This one," Genkuro pointed.
Shrugging, Naruto touched the mirror. He couldn't deny that he was curious. To him it seemed like Genkuro's one-track mind barely ever considered anything worthwhile while skimming through the practically endless stock of memory-mirrors. Nothing they had encountered to date had offered any solution as to how they could return to their own time, the problem which Genkuro prioritized above all others.
Last time Genkuro had alerted Naruto about a memory, it had been Hagoromo's explanation on how the rinnegan gave him abilities that reached outside the six realms of existence. Genkuro suggested that those eyes would surpass the boundaries of life and death, thus offering a way to return to their own time. The problem was that those eyes were preposterously rare. Naruto knew of only two people who had them: Hagoromo and a former, apparently dead, student of Jiraiya. The latter… if those eyes could be found…
Whatever this memory was, if it interested Genkuro it made Naruto very curious about its contents.
Ruins. As far as Naruto could see, there were craters. The entire area was devastated. Trees cut down. Boulders blasted apart. Large gorges had been created as if a gigantic swordsman had carved his path through the earth. It was destruction as Naruto had never seen before.
"What the hell happened here?"
Genkuro shrugged in response, not caring enough to answer that question. It wasn't relevant what caused this. What was relevant, however, was what happened later on in this memory. The flame-form of the boy walked purposely in a northern direction.
They kept walking until they reached a particularly big hole in the ground. Whatever jutsu had been used, the impact must have been spectacular for it to create such a crater. Naruto knew he was capable of creating fires of such scale, but explosions like this…
"Perhaps I'll be able to use ninjutsu again after I resurrect Kurama," Naruto mumbled to himself. He needed to reform his chakra pathways system properly, which was impossibly difficult, but on top of that there was the issue that his chakra was not chakra. This was why Naruto kept calling the energy he possessed 'warmth', rather than 'chakra'. The term which Genkuro had used seemed more fitting.
On the bottom of the crater were a man and a woman. Naruto had seen these two before. Both clad in white, Asura and his wife Kanna, they stood in silence. Well, Asura was crouching down, inspecting something. Naruto had seen the strong-spirited young woman before, as she held a very fond place within Asura's memories. They, and their two sons and daughter, had lived a mostly happy life, in an era before the shinobi clans started their bitter feuds.
There was only one true enemy in Asura's lifetime. His very own brother, Otsutsuki Indra.
"So he and Indra fought here?" Naruto whistled, impressed. "In spite of him being taught ninshu, that battle must've involved some pretty darn big ninjutsu."
"They were weak."
"Huh. Yeah, I know, this isn't much compared to the stunts which Hashirama and Madara pulled, but still… these guys lived in an era when ninjutsu barely existed. They were the first generation to abuse the power of the teachings of ninshu like this. Indra, in order to attack, and Asura, in order to defend, both turned their father's gift into something it wasn't originally meant for."
The ability to share, to connect, was twisted into a power to take and defend. Rather than the mutual understanding which Hagoromo had hoped it would bring, it only led to further division.
"They are humans," Genkuro stated, with no small amount of disgust. All these memories which they've seen over the past years, they contained both a great amount of beauty and a great amount of horror.
"There's Indra who took things the wrong way, but at the same time there is also Asura, who did whatever was within his power to correct his brother's mistakes. Humanity isn't either good or bad, it is much more complex. Both sides are balanced."
"Yet the wars continue. You perished because of it."
"True," Naruto admitted. "But in turn, my death led to your birth. So… there's always hope, it just depends on how you look at things."
"Hinata?" Genkuro bit back. "Was her death a good thing? Or that what happened to Tayuya? Temari? How Neji and Tenten died? Your naïve optimism is sickening."
Naruto sighed. Discussions with embittered people were rather draining. Mostly because it just felt like an utter waste of time: those who believed so firmly would not change their opinions anyway. A small voice in Naruto's head also noted that he could not really refute Genkuro's point. Too many had suffered. But that didn't imply that everyone was evil. So instead he turned his attention to Asura and Kanna.
"What are you looking for?" Kanna eventually asked. She seemed to be tired of the long silence.
"Kanna… I still cannot believe it."
"You won," she frowned. "I know you always believed that your brother was far stronger, but after all your hard work you became the stronger one."
"Indra was born with talent, unlike me. He understood my father's teachings, where I did not. But… in spite of our differences, we always loved each other. We were brothers. Yes, he was the composed and mature older brother, while I was the impatient fool. I never had his confidence… but never before was there such a rift between us."
"Perhaps his pride was hurt when your father chose you over him, as his successor?"
"No, Indra has always been modest. He never seemed to care that much when people praised him. What Indra did… it was nothing like him. What happened to him?"
Genkuro turned to Naruto, and the mirror shattered around them. Well, shattered was the only word which Naruto could find to describe it. The reality in which he submerged himself broke, allowing him to return to the Asura's hall of mirrors. The specific mirror, the memory itself, did not break. It would be rather inconvenient if Naruto destroyed memories each time he viewed them.
"That's it?" Naruto frowned. Why was this relevant enough for Genkuro to be interested in it? Then again, Indra's change was remarkably similar to the one which Hashirama had seen in his rival, Uchiha Madara. That man had been seemingly overcoming his hatred, only for him to suddenly plunge deeply into the darkness. Despair had taken a hold of the Uchiha, nearly leading to Hashirama's death. Or, considering how the repeated healing and usage of his sage mode had created a large strain on the man's body, it had hastened the time of Hashirama's death.
Naruto decided to ask Genkuro if that similarity between Madara and Indra had been the thing which interested Genkuro so much.
"In a way." Genkuro gestured him to follow, leading him to another mirror, one quite some distance from this one. "But it was merely necessary to understand this one."
Two young boys scurried through a hall, one brother chasing the other. They were just playing; two kids fooling around. Of course, the element of escaping their attendants made the game even more challenging. At least, to the younger one. The older one could easily escape them, if he so willed it. It was the older sibling that helped his brother over the fence that was supposed to keep them in. Naruto was sure that these two had a habit of giving their caretakers headaches with their behavior.
Leaving the garden, the boys ran through the forest, laughing, feeling as free and unburdened as only a child can. Their father was a hero, a teacher, a ruler. That made the two the little princes of the palace. Not that they were spoiled, but they certainly never lacked for anything. They were, however, blissfully unaware of the world around them.
The brown-haired boy shouted something unintelligible, causing the dark brown-haired boy to trip over a root, not able to pay attention to where he planted his feet due to his laughter. The younger saw him, pointed, then extravagantly mimicking how the other had tripped. Naruto smiled at their antics but wondered why Genkuro wanted to show this to him.
Using acorns, the two boys began a little 'war'. The younger boy missed, either by poor aim or due to the older boy dodging the 'weapon', while the latter… well, Indra had indeed been naturally gifted. Naruto couldn't deny that, now that he saw him move, and at such a young age. Prodigy indeed. In many ways, Indra reminded him of Sasuke. Not that Naruto had ever seen Sasuke as cheerful as this. Considering the massacre of the Uchiha clan, however, Naruto couldn't tell how Sasuke had been at this age…
These were definitely different times. As a result, Indra and Asura were quite different from Sasuke and him as well. Yes, if Naruto had looked at it impartially, he would've seen many similarities between himself and Asura. Though, much like Sasuke, Naruto's childhood had been quite unhappy as well. Naruto could never decide whether it was for better or worse, that he had never known his family prior their demise. Was Sasuke lucky to have at least known his parents, or cursed for being fully aware of what he had lost? It was impossible to compare. Much like it was difficult to compare them to these brothers, apart from the general similarities they shared.
Elite and underdog, genius and fool, prodigy and loser, rejection and acceptance, hatred and love, it was the same theme repeated over and over again throughout his memories, throughout these many generations. Yet, due to his unfortunate death, and resulting rebirth, Naruto had developed quite differently from the other generations.
Naruto was drawn out of his thoughts when Indra suddenly stopped chasing his brother. The young boy stared into the darkness of the forest. This being Asura's memory, Naruto could not see or feel what Asura could not. But even with his limited ability to sense others, Asura knew that there was someone, or something, out there. And it was watching them. Something about the situation made Asura uneasy.
Though, the younger brother was not nearly as unnerved as Indra. "Who is there?" the boy demanded, with an authority Naruto had not expected from someone his age.
An answer did not come, other than the odd sensation suddenly vanishing.
"What did you see, Nii-san?"
"What was that?" Naruto looked at Genkuro.
A shrug was his answer. Whether it was a gesture out of indifference or simply not knowing was something Naruto had to guess for. Instead, Genkuro marched out of Asura's hall of mirrors. Passing two doors within the dreary hallway that connected the larger rooms, Genkuro stopped in front of a door made out of pure-white bone.
"…that's the hall of that Kaguya guy, isn't it?" Naruto hesitated.
"I thought we agreed not to look in that one?"
"You did," Genkuro ignored Naruto's sputtering, and simply marched in. There was a reason why Naruto rather avoided this one. Not a single hall was the same. Each life offered different paths, different ways in which the young boy grew into a man. Some had a darker path.
This one was the darkest of them all.
The sight around him was calm, much to his relief. Only a black-haired teenager, busy trying to demolish a practice dummy, could be seen in the field they had arrived in. Genkuro paid no mind to Naruto's sigh of relief, though even he knew the difference.
Naruto was never the best of students. He showed up for class, yes, and when possible paid attention as well, but… the academy was boring. Iruka's lectures on history were even more boring. So, much like a certain Nara in his class, Naruto usually slept through those lectures. Yet, even he learned about the horrors during the era before the founding of the hidden villages.
So much of it had been propaganda, in hindsight. Oh, no one would contest that the formation of the hidden villages brought a certain sense of stability to the world, as the various shinobi clan settled and formed borders. The conflicts never ended, only taking a different form, yet still there were great differences. Before Hashirama reformed the world, each Daimyo wielded great power. They were the ones controlling the wealth, taxing the civilians in all their efforts. The shinobi clans were mostly acting as mercenary bands, not settling at any fixed place for more than a limited amount of time. They followed the money, seeking employment from one Daimyo or the other; the highest bidder was their Lord as long as they paid up in time.
Of course, such knowledge was not passed on. It was inconvenient, and as such the Daimyo did not want it to be remembered, and because the hidden villages didn't desire others to know that their purpose wasn't as justified as they wanted it to seem, they agreed as well. The formation of the hidden village system never ended warfare. It brought no peace, even though it reduced the excesses that occurred mostly at the end of the clan era. It only transformed the nature of how they settled their conflicts.
The common misconception, one which was actively encouraged, was that before the hidden villages were created, the world had always been a savage place filled with bloodshed and treason. While was true for Hashirama's generation, as well as two generations prior, the time before was far more peaceful in comparison.
Such was the life of Kaguya Heian, a low-ranking member of the Kaguya clan, a fifteen year-old who had lost his father before he was born and ended up orphaned when his mother perished due to illness. He was not talented, showed little talent for the kekkei genkai his clan was famed for, yet… more than any other within his clan he had the drive to surpass himself. Not just in terms of strength, but also in terms of whom he was as a person.
Fortunately, Naruto and Genkuro had entered a memory at the time when his clan was still favored by the local Daimyo. This training ground was part of the compound where the Kaguya lived, an area that was crowned with a palace that surpassed the grandeur of even that of the Daimyo who employed them.
Sadly, none of that splendor reached Heian. He was a loner, having no living relatives, nor was he praised or valued for any of his abilities. He was a 'pureblood', yet due to his lack of abilities he still stood at the bottom of the food chain. So he worked. Training endlessly until people would finally acknowledge him.
The black hair weighed down on his head, soaked with sweat, and he finally fell backward, panting like a fat dog on a hot summer day. The memory world around Genkuro and Naruto rippled, and the very moment after the light and shadows all changed. Heian had slept, causing the short lapse in the memory. What woke him up, though…
"Why is anyone sleeping out here?"
A girl with dark brown-hair approached Heian, who glared at her, unsure how to react. Where he wore his clan's white clothing, had the distinctive dots on his forehead which each member had, she lacked any of his clan's marks. In the contrary, she wore a symbol that didn't belong here.
"Naturally," she bowed gracefully. Heian wasn't sure whether she was mocking him or not. He couldn't deny that she was very pretty, though. He had just reached fifteen, and she seemed about the same age. A fair skin and calm expression, she seemed more like one of those fancy nobles than an actual shinobi.
"What are you doing here?"
"Work," she sighed. "A delivery of goods. Boring, yet important work. My clan members decided to take a break for the rest of the day before we go back. I'd be damned if I stuck in that palace, though. That Daimyo of yours is annoying."
"How did you get past the walls?" Heian grew less suspicious, yet retained the clarity of mind to ask these questions. While the palace of the Daimyo lay in the same city, there was some distance to be covered. Aside from that, the Kaguya compound was closed off from the rest of the village.
"Please, did you think I couldn't slip through your primitive defenses?" the girl said in mock-hurt. "The Kaguya are known for many things, but subtlety is not one of them… unless you want to prove me wrong?"
Genkuro suddenly clasped his hands, and the scenery around them shattered. Before Naruto could protest or say anything, Genkuro stepped at a mirror only a few meters away.
The same compound, but now they were at Heian's room. By the looks of the room he had gained a little fame, and the young man himself looked a little older. Nineteen years old, yet covered in a myriad of scars. Only wearing pants, Heian quickly grabbed a shirt when someone knocked at the door.
A wide grin spread over his face when he opened that door. "Izumi-chan!"
The same Uchiha girl stood at the door. Bashful looking, this time, rather than the calm confidence she radiated in the previous memory. "Haien-kun. We… Can we talk?"
"Uh… yeah, sure! Erm, I hope you don't mind the mess," he added sheepishly. He wasn't exactly the cleanest person around, while he knew she was a rather tidy person. To her credit, she only twitched slightly when she entered his room, yet said nothing.
"Have you… last time… we…" she muttered so softly that Naruto had to lean towards her in order to hear it.
"If I've thought about it?" Heian suggested. "Yeah. Kinda. Every day? Every waking moment?" the grin he had could rival that of Maito Gai. "You know how I feel 'bout you, Izumi-chan."
"Then… will you leave with me?" Izumi looked up at him. "Please?"
"Leave?" Heian blinked. "Why do I need to leave? Is it about that assassination thing? Don't worry 'bout that," he said confidently. "We found a Hyuga standing next to the corpse of one of our elders. I was quicker than that moron, and managed to capture him alive. We know who's behind it. Then again, there were only few clans that could match the might of the Kaguya, so there was only a short list of possible enemies to begin with."
"I see," she deflated a little, shoulders hanging down tiredly. "But still… do you trust me?"
"I love you, Izumi-chan. Of course I trust you," Heian smiled fondly. "I promised you, two years ago, that I'll become clan head, and when I do there'll be nothing standing between us anymore."
"Why do you love your clan so much?" Izumi was rather irritable about it. If not for seeing Heian's later memories, Naruto would not have understood. "He told me you'd…"
"He?" Heian frowned. "Who is 'he', and what did he tell you about me?"
"That you were shunned by your clan, that no one appreciated you. He said that you'd… that you'd be an easy source of information," Izumi confessed, followed by a deep sigh. "It wasn't supposed to… I wasn't supposed to fall in love. I shouldn't have, but… I can't help it."
"Who was the man that told you to spy on me?" Heian was taken aback. This young woman, he loved her with all his heart, and now he heard that their first meeting hadn't been a coincidence? "Is it your clan's leader?"
"No. Not even uncle knows about him. He is rather… secretive. But he has never been wrong before," she uttered, as if she hasted herself to defend this mysterious man. "He must have intended… yes, that is it: he knew this would happen. He knew it, and wanted to give me a chance to pull you out of this, before…"
"What are you talking about, Izumi-chan?"
"He… I met him for the first time shortly after my parents died. After the funeral… I ran off, and he was waiting for me. He told me… things. Everything he said was true. My clan is mistaken. With his guidance I grew strong, stronger than anyone of my generation. Even most of the elders now respect my power, even though I have been hiding my full power," she said with a humorless chuckle. "Those fools, they know nothing about our clan. They wish to forget, but the black man knows. He told me the truth. And when the time came to seek entry into your compound, he told me… I'm sure he did it so that I could rescue you! Please listen, Heian-kun! Please, I beg of you, trust me!"
Heian was a lot of things, but the growing feel of dread drained him from any other emotion. His mind worked in overdrive. "The Hyuga weren't the ones who have been assassinating my clan members," he groaned. "No… don't… please tell me I'm wrong, Izumi-chan. Not you… This is a bad dream. This can't be! Anyone but you…"
Naruto grimaced, knowing that he wasn't wrong. He had seen the memories. Heian had never abandoned his clan, having given his word to become its leader. The Uchiha did not give up, though. The elders did not believe Heian when he told them that the Hyuga were not the true enemy, not before it was too late. By then the Hyuga clan had joined the Uchiha, together driving the Kaguya clan out of its lands.
One felt betrayed, the other rejected, and the two lovers grew into bitter enemies. Battle after battle, the Kaguya clan lost more ground, and grew desperate. They committed horrible crimes, yet Heian could never abandon his clan. Much like Naruto never left Konoha, no matter how he was treated, or how Hashirama never abandoned his clan, in spite of the Senju's foolish insistence to continue its violent ways, so had Heian never been able to abandon his clan. Such was the price of loyalty.
Until his dying day the man wondered how his life could have been if he had accepted Izumi's proposal, but… the ugly truth was that their own Daimyo had hired the Uchiha to drive the Kaguya out. The man had coveted the wealth which the Kaguya had amassed. Later on, the Daimyo had strengthened the ties between his country and the Uchiha by marrying its clan's leader. At that time they had already grown to be bitter enemies, but Heian broke when he learned that Uchiha Izumi had married the very man who had orchestrated the fall of his clan. It had been the last straw. At the expense of his own life, Heian had unleashed his deathly skill with the Shikotsumyaku kekkei genkai, carving through the ranks of the Uchiha, slaughtering the guards of the Daimyo, right until he reached Izumi. He butchered her husband and her children in front of her, after which they fought each other to the death.
The memories of that stage of Heian's life were dark, unbearably dark. The bitter pain he felt was made only worse by the fact that he never ceased loving Izumi. Much like she never stopped loving him, no matter how she tried not to. That bitter realization, moments before their deaths, had been a memory which Naruto would always regret seeing. It was why he had decided not to further inspect Heian's memories.
Naruto couldn't bear the thought of something like this happening between him and Temari or Tayuya.
"Why did you want me to see that, Genkuro?"
"Because of her words. Her clan did not set her up against him. Nor did the Daimyo, not really though. There was someone manipulating her, and there are memories within Heian's hall hinting at the Daimyo having a secret advisor. 'A man hidden in a cloak, with a skin that is dark as the night itself', was what one of the servants said. She, the servant, had accidentally seen that man, but Heian was too consumed by his attempts to salvage his already falling clan to properly pay attention to it."
"It was the same figure as the one whom Izumi spoke of?" Naruto frowned.
"Why would someone manipulate the whole thing from the… wait, those previous memories?"
"Indra suddenly changed, as if manipulated, Izumi was manipulated, and we both know how Hashirama viewed his friend."
"Uchiha Madara," Naruto scowled. "He helped the Shodai to create Konoha, after decades of conflict between their clans. They worked together, as the most unlikely friends anyone could expect, and then… then he suddenly gave in to despair and betrayed Konoha. Hashirama never truly understood why Madara gave up, just when things were looking like they were going to change for the better."
"Madara was manipulated," Genkuro nodded.
"He… yes, that seems likely," Naruto was surprised. Surprised that Genkuro would find such a pattern within these countless memories. Genkuro, who only seemed to care about a select few things. It only showed how much Naruto underestimated Genkuro. "You never care about anything but returning to our time, why would you find such a connection?"
Genkuro seemed displeased by Naruto's words, and remained silent rather than wasting his energy in an attempt to convince Naruto that he was wrong. Genkuro walked out of Heian's hall, walking down the sewer-like corridor that connected all the halls. Eventually he stopped and entered a hall of an Uzumaki ancestor. There, he strode through the vast hall; this person being one of the few who had actually lived to die of old age, thus having a much larger hall of memories than most others. Not in the least because Uzumaki had long lifespans.
"This memory," Genkuro pointed. "This is why I noticed that someone is playing with us. That there is someone who holds answers, who can help us find our way back to the time in which we belong."
"We have only rarely involved ourselves in the matters of you mainlanders," a stern-looking red-haired man looked down on his prisoners. These shinobi had thought that they would be able to simply sneak into the island that was under his watch? Hell no. They triggered seals, barriers were erected, and the various arrays did their job splendidly- draining the chakra reserves of these foolish trespassers. "Tell me: why are you here?"
"You have defiled the sanctity of our ancestral home. Give me one reason as to why I would not kill you all for your transgressions."
"You know nothing… fool…"
"Speak," the leader of the Uzumaki clan commanded, looking down upon the chuckling man.
"Didn't you wonder where your precious Isuzu is?" the man's arrogant posture changed abruptly when the Uzumaki slaughtered his brethren. Chakra chains tore through these prisoners like a knife through butter, without any shred of mercy. "I-i-it would be bad if you acted rashly now!"
"I give you ten seconds. Ten seconds before I start removing your limbs, one by one."
"Jun-sama sent me!" the Uchiha, pale as a ghost, blurted out. "He sent me to speak to you, Uzumaki Hisao. He sent us to tell you to bring along that jutsu, if you ever want to see her again."
"Jun… Uchiha Jun," Uzumaki Hisao grimaced, pained by the mention of his former friend. Had they not joined forces, unifying to end the decades old conflict between the Uchiha and the Kaguya clans? The Kaguya setting their sight on the islands which were under Uzumaki control had brought Hisao's father to side with the enemy of their enemy. Hisao, young and eager to prove himself, had found his equal in Uchiha Jun. While not nearly as talented as the stoic sharingan-genius, Hisao's endurance and persistence had eventually proven great enough to create a mutual respect, cementing the bond before they played their role in driving away the battle-crazy Kaguya clan.
"I've brought proof. Jun-sama said-," a chakra chain pierced through the messenger's throat, quickly expanding and utterly separating the head from the man's shoulders, forever silencing him.
"Treason…" Hisao muttered. "Why do you turn against us, Jun? What about our alliance? Where did your pride go, if you cannot even uphold your word?"
Hisao stood there, waiting until his subordinates would approach. He had ordered them to spread the word to the palace, warning them about someone crossing the borders. Soon, back-up would arrive.
Genkuro wasn't waiting on that, though. "Is this another case of that mysterious black-skinned guy influencing an Uchiha?" Naruto frowned. Genkuro shook his head. "Not? But-"
"It is, but this memory isn't all. Follow, rather than waste time."
Naruto sighed. "Fine."
Many years had passed since Uzumaki Hisao had last seen Uchiha Jun. They had parted as friends, as brothers in all but blood. Now… now little remained of that former bond.
"What has gotten into you, Jun?" Hisao had left a trail of corpses, although the number of guards was ridiculously low. He was certain that his kin had overrun the other defensive positions. There were but few who could beat an Uzumaki sensor. Well, technically it was a gift that belonged to the Kagura clan, but that clan had been all but absorbed by the Uzumaki over the past century.
"A man can seek for answers, yet receive only more questions," an elderly man sat on a throne, the lone seat within the central hall of the castle. Jun had been a bit younger than Hisao, but the Uzumaki clan aged slowly. Where Hisao appeared to be only a little past his forties, Jun visibly approached his seventies.
"I heard you aren't even leading your clan anymore."
"They chose a different path," Jun narrowed his black eyes. Much of his flesh seemed off. It was pale white, and radiated something which Hisao couldn't comprehend. Neither Naruto nor Genkuro knew what it was. If this had not been another's memory, they would have been able to perceive Jun with their own senses, and they would have seen that the old Uchiha's body was partially composed of a foreign tissue.
"Hisao-sama," a red-haired swordsman appeared in the doorway, clad in full armor. "Isuzu-san is safe and secure."
"Thank you, Seiji," Hisao refrained from showing his relief. It was strange how Jun seemed without a care in the world, despite hearing that the last of his dwindling little group of servants had been wiped out, and his plan seemed to fall apart. "You may go. Ensure that Isuzu-chan gets back to the island."
"Yes, Hisao-sama," the younger Uzumaki, Seiji, bowed and left.
"So, I suppose that concludes our affairs."
"In the contrary," Jun gave him a lopsided smile, the scars between his own and the foreign tissue all the more visibly when the skin moved. "Our affairs have only just started." Something black crept over Jun's skin until it covered the right half of the Uchiha's body. Eyes closed, and when they opened…
The world around Naruto and Genkuro changed into a twisted and inversed form of reality. As Hisao was caught by the powerful genjutsu, so was the memory affected. They, after all, experienced this through Hisao.
In this world, the skies were red as blood, filled with black clouds that drifted in the wrong direction, yet everything else was seen through a strange inverted grey scale. Hisao's dark green armor appeared to be a light grey now, for instance. Yet, in spite of the situation, Hisao remained perfectly calm. He stared at Jun, who stood in front of him, with clear defiance in his eyes.
"I knew Jun would not steep so low… who are you, creature? How is it possible that you invaded his flesh?"
"Ah… so perceptive," the black half of Jun seemed in control. It spoke mockingly, as if the entire situation was nothing less than a joke. "You can call me… Zetsu. Yes, my experiments in taking over this foolish man's body resulted in some… noticeable differences. It is a minor inconvenience. This would have gone smoother if the clan had remained loyal to my puppet, but alas. Good thing you still fell for it. The Uzumaki have always been too impetuous. Good thing that you are, or it would be very difficult to defeat you, as it is nigh impossible to fight your clan when you have your home-field advantage. Your prowess in fuinjutsu gives your clan the perfect defenses."
"So you used my friend, kidnapped my daughter, because you wanted me?" Hisao clenched his teeth in anger, nearly hissing those last few words.
"Oh no," the being which called itself 'Zetsu' smiled wickedly. "You are not my objective. Your existence serves little purpose. But, as the leader of your clan, you do have an item which I covet. Enough for me to come out of hiding. Yes, you can help be bring back mother… you… you possess the summoning contract which I need. You can call on to the Shinigami."
"You wish to use the death god for your own purposes?" Hisao's anger lessened somewhat. "I'm impressed you even know such a thing. Or… it isn't just Jun's body which you control, is it? You made him tell you what he knew. Jun saw me summon it once. But it matters little. The wartime exemptions have been revoked after the Kaguya clan fled. Our kinjutsu are sealed."
"Yes, there is nothing for you here, Zetsu," Hisao laughed mirthlessly. "You twisted my best friend into this thing, and it was all for naught."
"Then you will tell me-"
"No," Hisao did something with his chakra, activated some kind of seal which Naruto had never seen before, and the inverted world came crashing down. "Did you think that Jun was the only one to analyze the other's trump cards?"
Chakra chains struck, and Hisao killed his old friend. Although, whether or not Uchiha Jun had still been alive at that point was unknown. The last, bitter, words of Zetsu held a promise: "This is not over… I will find it. Mother will return. She will return, and the sacred tree shall grow fruit again. All you insolent humans will perish in its wake!"
"We are done," Genkuro shook his head. "Hisao thought it to be over, but the same pattern remained in the generations after. I know not why, but this black entity, Zetsu, repeatedly used the Uchiha clan for its machinations."
"Because it wants its 'mother' to be brought back to life?" Naruto frowned. "And that talk of the tree… it couldn't have been that tree, could it?"
"Possibly, but I do not care," Genkuro moved and the mirror-image of the memory shattered around them, returning them to Hisao's hall of mirrors. "It might be talking about that specific tree, the Shinju of which Asura was taught about, but it matters only a little."
"But it does," Naruto urged. "It could imply that this 'mother' is actually-"
"What matters to us," Genkuro interrupted. "Is that the Uzumaki clan holds a summoning contract of some sort, allowing them to call forth the Shinigami."
"The Uzumaki clan was destroyed before I was born…" Naruto scowled when he realized what Genkuro was pointing out. "Zetsu?"
"It seems likely that he was the one who orchestrated that. In that case, he might have stolen the contract. We need to get that contract. The Shinigami would be able to-"
"No, if that Zetsu thing had the contract, it would have brought back Kaguya. At least, if our theory is correct."
"Hm. If that had happened, it would be annoying."
"Tou-san's Shiki Fujin (Dead Demon Consuming Seal) is the thing that comes closest to what Zetsu spoke of, but Tou-san said that that seal could only be used to lock things away into the belly of the Shinigami."
"At best, things that have been sealed through that fuinjutsu can be unsealed."
"And Otsutsuki Kaguya was not sealed with the Shiki Fujin," Genkuro pondered.
"Yes," Naruto gave Genkuro a sly grin. "But if this Zetsu is what we think it is, and has indeed been manipulating events throughout the centuries, would it be unlikely if it found another way to bring her back to life?"
"That… might be possible," Genkuro hesitated. "I need to revisit Asura's memories. Wasn't Kaguya's fate tied to that of the Juubi?"
"And the Juubi was split into the nine bijuu," Naruto nodded, before freezing up. "Akatsuki targets the jinchuriki."
"Then they truly are our enemies," Genkuro growled. "Zetsu would target us, for Kurama. They need the nine bijuu in order to recreate the Juubi. They wish to consume our warmth!"
Return. Kurama. Energy. Hunger. Temari. Those were the things Genkuro cared about, and in that specific order as well. Right now, Naruto took it as a blessing, because this revelation motivated Genkuro into doing something other than nagging, something other than attempting to regain control. Moreover, Zetsu wasn't merely a direct threat to Kurama, or a threat to his energy, he was also a possible source of information as to how they could return to their own time.
Akatsuki was a new symptom of a centuries old pattern. At its heart they would find Zetsu, pulling the strings. Now the conflict had truly become personal. Now they knew the stakes.
Naruto woke, seeing the soft glow of the embers that were left of the campfire. The clutches of memories still held a firm grip on him, making him doubt whether he had returned to the 'real' world, or if this simply was another person's memory again. At times, especially after long nights such as these, it was hard to make that distinction. The paranoia he had felt during the times when Genkuro had still been aiming to kill him, as to usurp control over their body again, or the fear… there was so much death in those memories. Every life ended, sooner or later, yet Naruto had witnessed, experienced, a person's last breath many times now.
The slow dimming of the light, as the person's life fled away, and drained the final memory of its contents… Naruto still vividly remembered the first time he experienced such a final memory. For days he had remained fearful of accessing the mirrors, afraid he'd have to experience such a thing yet again. The dreadful loneliness that person had felt at his deathbed was something much harder to shake, though.
'I wish Temari and Tayuya had been with me that day. They'd have known what to say.'
Unfortunately, they could not be at his side. They existed in this time, sure, but the Temari and Tayuya of this time weren't the same people. Different experiences shaped them to become different people, even if they were similar at the core. Regardless, the time which he had spent with them was something he only had with 'his' Temari and Tayuya, not with their counterparts of this time. 'His' Temari had been the one who had first met Genkuro, who had guided him into the human-esque person he was this day, helping him reclaim more and more of his- Naruto's- soul. Similarly, Tayuya had played a vital role in making Genkuro understand emotions. Through their linkage, Genkuro had come to learn how a human being functioned.
And every single memory which Genkuro possessed was now Naruto's. Those mirrors stood in Naruto's hall, as Genkuro was a part of him. It was a fact that infuriated Genkuro, yet… what could Naruto change about it? He hadn't asked for any of this!
The sound of someone mumbling drew Naruto's attention. A normal person would not have been able to see much In the dying light of the embers. Naruto's flaming eyes, however, were anything but normal. He had overlooked it at first, but now saw who was resting with her head on his lap.
'Yes. If anyone kept me sane in this time, it is you… my daughter,' Naruto smiled fondly at the sleeping girl. Gently, not wanting to wake her, he scooped her up, carrying her into the tent they shared. This time's Tayuya was completely different from the Tayuya of his own time, yet in a sense he loved her just as much- though not in the same way, mind you. 'His' Tayuya was his lover, the person who understood him better than anyone. On the other hand, for this time's Tayuya he felt a wholly different love. Every time he looked at her, he felt the love and pride a father would feel for his daughter. Rash and impatient as ever, yet surprisingly fragile, the girl had grown attached to him, and he to her. In truth, he needed her support as much as she needed his.
With a grin he lay her down in her bed, stifling his laughter when she sleepily started to search for her blanket. Yes, if not for his memories, Naruto would not have been able to deal with raising a child. He wouldn't have known what it was like to be a father. Though, the memories he had at his disposal were only a reference, not his own. The halls of the others were akin to a vast library, an ocean of knowledge in which he could dive, but none of their experience could, or should, be his own.
Their lives were theirs, his life was his. That he had to share it with Genkuro, as if his personality was split, was already bad enough.
None of those problems ought to trouble the little girl that was in his care, though. He tucked her in, kissed her on her forehead, and turned to go to sleep, stepping into bed without giving it a second thought. However… there was something soft and warm in his bed?
His mind numbed for a moment, and she used that moment to latch onto him. Restlessly mumbling something in her sleep, obviously experiencing a nightmare of sorts, she instinctively turned to Naruto when she felt his presence.
'Crap… she's going to try to kill me if she wakes up now. Worse. She might scream and wake Tayuya-chan.' Children need proper rest if they want to grow up big and strong, and Naruto was well aware that 'his' Tayuya was a bit peeved by her lack of length. Fable or not, if he could help this time's Tayuya to be a little taller by letting her sleep properly, it would be good, right?
Radiating warmth, covering her with it, Naruto placated Pakura. It eased her troubled mind, until she stopped gripping his arm so tightly. Stealthily he slipped out of bed, leaving the tent, taking along one of the two chairs they owned. He'd sleep outside. And cool down a little…
'Pakura does have a fine rack… no Naruto, clear your mind,' he slapped himself in his face. The memory of that time with Tayuya in that hand-made hot tub was by far his favorite. Yet, he refused to consider the possibility of doing such things in this time. He knew very well that Terumi Mei wouldn't mind sharing her bed with him. The more instinctive and primitive parts of him told him that he was being stupid, and should… well, even a fool could see that neither Mei nor Pakura were lacking in any sense of the word. But he wasn't foolish enough to confuse lust for love. Nothing in this world or the other made him willing to cheat on the women he loved.
Even though he had no idea how Temari and Tayuya would react upon realizing that he wasn't the same person he was before Moryo had dragged him here, he could not stop feeling the same intense things for them as he had used to. But the thought that they might no longer love him made him feel conflicted, and it was something that haunted him in his nightmares. He had changed, fundamentally, so why wouldn't they see him as a different person? No matter how much he loved them, as odd and confused as he felt, he knew that his return- if he ever managed to go back to them- would create a wholly new set of problems.
Despite those problems he could not deny that the soft sensation of Pakura's rank pressed against his arm had made him yearn for the women he loved with and even greater intensity. His mind tried to shut it out, but his body disagreed.
'Dammit. These six years of celibacy are really starting to get to me.'
Why the title? Well, because I love music. And… well, that song, 'I find that I'm not there', pretty much covered my ideas regarding this chapter. Naruto only witnessed the deeds of those who died, immortalized within his mind. His choir invisible, so to speak. Along with Genkuro, he moves through that vast ocean of knowledge, in search of the key to answer their questions. And now they found out about Zetsu.
To clarify, those halls only indicate that Naruto has access to their memories; it is not like their souls have returned. There are only two entities in Naruto's mindscape and that is Naruto himself and Genkuro- who can be seen as a sentient shard of Naruto's soul. Hashirama, Asura, Heian, and all those others have passed on to the afterlife, leaving only these imprints of memories behind. Those memories are more akin to very expansive movies, which can be experienced part-by-part, in individual 'mirrors' per separate memory. Of course, going through them takes time. So it's not like Naruto just magically gained all those memories as his own. Never mind gaining all the skills which those past lives had. No, that would make this story boring, really. But while Naruto has to spend his days in the 'outside world', Genkuro can wander through the memories without much interference…
Also, why should every incarnation of Asura and Indra be male? Kishimoto might think of women as inferior and irrelevant in battle, but I can't say I share that view. Anyway, I hope you didn't mind me spending some time on exploring the past, in order for Naruto to learn what is going on in the present (and future). Personally, haughty as it may sound, I feel like this is one of the best chapters I've written, or at least one of the most satisfying. I have to admit that I was severely tempted to expand Heian's story even further... but alas, I had to maintain the focus on the main story!
Now, while I usually end these notes thanking Illuminated for his work. However, Illuminated is busy editing a new chapter for Asunder, and on the verge of celebrating his well-deserved vacation, so I got someone else to fill in! Thank you, and I thank everyone who supports me in this crazy endeavor.