Another chapter is here!


Kidomaru's breathing was heavy as the discharge of electricity left the air around him thick with the scent of ozone while he continued to run. It was a strong smell that was almost suffocating given that most of his face was still behind the Sticky Gold mask he wore to shield it. But considering how the little, illuminated dots within the perception of his Third Eye were snuffed out en masse, it was worth the discomfort.

The moment his Fire Spider had been killed, he'd reassessed the threat level of his opponents once more and opted for a fighting retreat. Killing the Hyuuga on his own was still plausible, despite the discovery of him possessing at least one ranged attack. But the Aburame's presence was a bigger threat given how his techniques worked at range, and without line-of-sight.

Where is he? His Third Eye continued shifting its gaze wildly as he tried to make out where the next attack would come from when it spotted the chakra network abruptly running parallel to him. Without a moment's hesitation, he spat out a lance of Sticky Gold towards the Hyuuga as he shot forward.

Neji slid low under it, allowing the lance to pass over his head, as a burst of chakra coming from his rear foot propelled him forward. The Sniper jumped up to avoid the incoming strike, extending one arm up towards the tree branch further ahead and expelling webbing to tether himself to it while the Electric Spider sent electricity down the broad net that he spat out next. The Hyuuga still managed to slip out of range and then turned to deliver a Vacuum Palm that smashed a crater into the bark of the tree that was in the path of the attack, having missed Kidomaru as he pulled on the webbing tethering him above to swing away.

Using the momentum of his swing, he intended to continue fleeing when the line abruptly snapped at the anchor point. It left Kidomaru with just a moment of unbalance as his Third Eye made out the insects gnawing at it. There were patches of them, clinging to the surroundings at points where he would try to tether a new web-line, meant to reduce his mobility without being concentrated in a single spot, whereas the woodland floor was turned into a carpet of marching parasitic insects.

Landing on his feet, he found the Hyuuga rushing into the offense again and brought his top-most arms up to guard his head as a pair of fingers came in to strike his exposed Third Eye, intent on blinding him. The debilitating strike was warded off successfully, but his counter-attack consisting of the other four arms delivering hammer blows to Neji's unprotected body was artfully dodged as the Hyuuga retreated in time for a shadow to be cast over Kidomaru's body. Moving as one, the parasitic insects that had been marching on the ground lunged like a tidal wave to bury him.

The Electric Spider discharged its Lightning Chakra once more to kill the amassed insects, tongues of electricity shooting into their tiny bodies and bursting them apart from within, when something attacked him from the right. On reflex, Kidomaru brought his arms up to have the gauntlets of Sticky Gold intercept whatever it was when a crunching sound reached his left ear along with a spray of visceral fluids. His Summoning had been impaled, falling to the ground with one of his own discarded arrows wedged into it.

Then his vision flashed. Something with a lot of momentum and weight came crashing through his defense on the right, the abrupt impact shattering the makeshift gauntlets under the sheer force. The world whirled past him until a tree broke across his back, leaving him embedded in the cratered trunk.

"Ghrk…" Streamlets of blood ran from the corners of mouth and dripped down to the ground, which was peppered with splintered wood and fragments of gold, as Kidomaru pulled himself out of the cratered tree. His armor was broken and his right arms were now nothing more than masses of meat that were laced with pain. What the hell hit me?

He fixed his Third Eye on the one responsible and witnessed the rotund Akimichi's arm retracting back to its normal size while he was panting fiercely on his knees, sweat dotting his face and his arms trembling. His chakra levels were practically non-existent. He wasted what was left of it on that all-or-nothing gambit to break through his armor, leaving the Hyuuga to advance a final time while compressing a massive amount of chakra into his palms.

Instinctively, Kidomaru knew that it would be a killing blow and made to dodge it… only for his blood to run cold as he learned he couldn't move his body at all now. His Third Eye looked down to see that a foreign chakra was interwoven with his shadow from the direction of where the insects had been. It had been a coordinated attack from the beginning, the constant pestering meant to keep him from noticing as the others from the party worked to cut him off in a multi-sided ambush.

The tenebrous fingers born of his shadow came up to his neck to further immobilize him. Then they clamped down over his mouth, preemptively stopping him from spitting out anything to prevent the fatal attack. Unable to move or speak, he could only watch as the Hyuuga moved in to finish him.

At least they won't be able to savor the kill for long. That was the last thought he entertained had before the two palms met his chest and then discharged. There was an infinitesimally small moment of unbridled pain as a molten sensation passed through his body.

Then nothing.


Even as the last member of the Sound Four fell in battle, the plans that were put into motion continued to spiral onwards. To the northwest of the village, past the outer walls of the outskirts where the hearty greenry consumed the earth, there laid a cavern where dangerous artifacts and forbidden techniques were locked away behind a gateway interwoven with a potent seal. The Sealed Hall was a location known to few and for good reason.

Jiraiya darted towards that location with a number of other Jounin in tow—Kakashi, Guy, Asuma, and Kurenai. They were acting in place of ANBU, who had been scattered between ferreting out the other compromised ROOT shinobi, removing the detonation tags, securing the Sand Jinchuuriki, and relocating the civilians just in case. Tsunade had been sent to recover the spare sealing scroll that he'd been working on since learning that Orochimaru could still come back from the moment they'd captured the first member of the Sound Four, and it was his hope that he could contain them a second time before she had to fight her grandfather and granduncle.

They arrived to find that the unsealing was already underway. The wooden coffin housing the reanimated bodies of the First and Second Hokage was placed within a complex sealing array had been etched into the ground around it, several shinobi sitting in a circle that was contained within a Four Violet Flames Formation barrier to prevent any outside interference.

Recognizing the array's function and seeing the sealing script on the coffin beginning to illuminate with a sinister radiance, Jiraiya immediately tried to stop it. Using the Boar and Tiger seals to shape his Earth Chakra, he slammed his hand onto the ground and used chakra control to spread it out. The land around the mountain's entrance was immediately transmuted into a swamp, dropping the Four Violet Flames Formation as the shinobi holding it together were dragged beneath the adhesive surface and ruining the cohesion of the sealing array.

But it was too late. The array had done enough to interfere with the chakra absorption process, which drew from the perpetual chakra of the reincarnated shinobi to fuel the gravity field within it and keep the two inside immobile indefinitely, and the redundant processes he'd put into places. The result was a cascading failure, every function of the seal being undone, and what followed was an explosive release.

"Fall back!" Jiraiya warned as he used a Body Flicker to get as far up and back as he could an instant before massive, gnarled roots violently tore through the wooden confines of the casket like spears and snaked through the swamp despite the adhesive nature. They impaled surrounding rockfaces and spread into a massive network that that swallowed up everything around them in an instant.

He touched down onto the root strewn foothold that encompassed a large perimeter of cleared woodlands, everything that once protruded above the ground-level crushed and mowed down with the exception of two figures that stood in the center of the destruction. The dust and dirt cleared as the wind blew to reveal the First and Second Hokage standing there, their gaze on him. Even as a mass of hair rose seamlessly from the ground behind them and then shriveled to reveal Kurenai and Asuma. while Guy landed to their left and Kakashi to the right, they only had eyes for the Toad Sage.

Then the two spoke as one. "For us to meet like this again after only a few months is a rare thing, isn't it, Jiraiya?"

That voice. The unmistakable voice that he'd hoped to never have to hear again. "And you haven't changed at all. Still hiding away and letting others do your dirty work, Orochimaru."

"Ah, well. You'll understand if I decide to savor the destruction of the village vicariously through its founders this time. I believe it to be more… poetic, in a sense."

A chuckle that didn't belong to those two sent chills down his spine as Wood Clones of the First Hokage began to emerge from the fibrous roots until the Second Hokage made a hand-seal. Then darkness abruptly enveloped everything within the Toad Sage's sight. A world of pitch black where only the Snake Sannin's voice could be heard.

"You'll find that they'll be a bit more of a challenge this time."


At the same time, in the isolated domain where the host of the One-Tailed Raccoon Dog had been placed, a roar that was mixed with a desperate cry was let loose.

Gaara stumbled about haplessly, his bare feet splashing over the puddles of blood that were peppered with broken ceramic and splinters that dug into them. Yet that pain was nothing compared to the grating at his sanity as his body was swallowed by the sand of his gourd, which had broken down into a whirling maelstrom of fine grains. They clung to his flesh like hot ashes, encroaching over the right side that began its monstrous transformation for the first time in months.

He had been reading when the power to the facility went out and the scent of blood first reached his nose. The oozing, intoxicating liquid had permeated his life since the moment he'd killed his uncle to save himself. It was the proof that he had lived and, to the beast that claimed itself to be his mother, a sacrifice. Then a guard was thrown through the door, his body breaking it open as he tumbled onto the ground lifelessly and blood ran freely from a gouged-out heart as more men filed in, one of them even carrying his gourd that had been hidden away.

Gaara couldn't resist what happened next. His chakra had been sealed away in order to keep him from resisting while in captivity, so he had no means of defending himself when they stormed in and forced him down to the ground. The next thing he knew they'd applied something to the inhibitor seals that had been placed on him to repress the Tailed Beast's influence, essentially throwing open the gates holding it back, and their lives had been the first to be snuffed out as it began to climb through.

"HAHAHAHAHAHA!" A laughter that haunted Gaara's nightmares passed through the fangs that had formed on the right side of his face as the beast spoke. "FINALLY! I'M GOING TO BE ABLE TO KILL AGAIN!"

"Nnnnnooo!" Gaara said through pained groans as he struggled to maintain control as the appendage that was composed of sand lashed around, slamming into the wall of the room and leaving it cratered. "I-I won't let you control me again!"

It was a valiant struggle, but also a vain one—which was evident as he lost control of his legs and tumbled to the ground. Sheer force of will slowly gave way as the sand covered his left leg and arm, crawling over his skin and wresting control away despite his best efforts. Soon even his screams were stifled as the sand warped the lower half of his face into that of the Tailed Beast and closed in on his remaining eye.

"ALRIGHT, NOW IT'S TIME GET MY REVENGE!" The Ichibi rose to his stolen feet and looked down at his limbs, flexing the fingers. "AND I'LL START BY BLOWING THIS VILLAGE TO PIECES ALONG WITH KURAMA!"

"That would pose a bit of a problem for me—" The overtaken Jinchuuriki lashed out against his will towards the source of the voice, the limb stretching as the fingers closed together and were shaped by the sand into a sharpened point. The limb impaled the cloaked figure through the chest, the point of the spear embedding itself into the wall. But there was no resistance or blood at all as he continued to speak. "—especially since we still have to find out where the Sanbi reformed after Yagura outlived his usefulness."

The moment the Tailed Beast's monstrous eye and Gaara's remaining eye were fixed onto the single exposed one of the man in the mask, the world shrank. The Tailed Beast that had proudly reveled in the intoxicating scent of blood found himself slipping into a spiral of crimson stemming from the red eye hidden behind the mask. Then the masked man walked forward until he was looking down at the Jinchuuriki, leaving both the host and beast within to feel small and helpless as he towered over them.

"But, I think you'll be useful in your own way in the future," he said as that spiraling red eye shone like an ominous, dying star as it robbed them of their consciousness and drew them in.


As those events transpired, a clone of Naruto felt the weight of reality asserting itself once more as he was liberated from the limbo that was stasis within a sealing scroll. In order to practice with the technique that imitated the Fox Cloak, whereupon the host was shrouded in power in order to keep up with the stronger threats they faced, Naruto created a Shadow Clone that would do nothing but focus on converting the half of his chakra it received into Yang Chakra as slowly and in as refined a manner as possible. Then, when it reached its peak in terms of the amount of chakra it could hold by the end of the day, that clone would be sealed away for practice the next day.

As such, the clone thrummed with Yang Chakra beneath his flesh as he opened his eyes to the sight of Konohamaru stealing from him. The boy was soaked in sweat, panting frantically as he then ran out the door while holding the sealing slips that contained the Divine Beast masks without a word, leaving a translucent ribbon in his wake. The now very confused Naruto clone only registered it as belonging to the Priestess Mask when the thin cloth looped around his head and a voice that was like a gently chiming bell rang out.

"Leave him. That clone ran from the Academy and doesn't have much time before he disperses." It was Karin. The clone could feel that much from the touch of her mind on his. "I'm going to pass along some memories to you. I want you to disperse yourself afterwards so that the original gains the memories along with the chakra."

"Karin, what's going on?" asked Naruto's clone. The answer came in the form of memories. A rushing torrent of memories that weren't his. A flood of information filtered through the ribbon and then dumped straight into his mind without pause.

The clone found himself not in his room, but in a dark chamber between a stout boy and one who possessed six arms as they watched Anko being used to bring Orochimaru back to life in front of them. She was lying on the ground unconscious and bruised, beaten after having finally been caught in return for letting the pair of Uzumaki escape, with Kabuto looking over her battered body and tampering with the Cursed Seal on her neck. The moment he was done Anko's eyes snapped open and her body sat upright, spine going rigid and pained screams coming out of her mouth as the three tomoe pattern on her neck connected with one another to form a small dark circle.

Then the screaming intensified as a massive serpent tried to burst free from the narrow opening, only being constrained by black thorns from the Evil Sealing Method around the Cursed Seal. The thorns dug deep into the snake's flesh to keep it tethered down as she realized what was happening and tried to stop its escape, her teeth clenched and eyes screwed shut. The way her face twisted in agony with hot tears spilling out spoke volumes of how desperate she was to stop the return of the person she hated most in the world.

But it all amounted to nothing.

The serpent's girth expanded and tore through the thorns, causing it to burst free of her body entirely and leaving her to stare in hatred as its gaping maw opened wide. Then she was swallowed whole. The serpent compressed down over her body like a flesh-suit, reshaping until it took on Orochimaru's form.

From there the rest of the memories played out. The orders to capture Naruto and Karin, the intention of using the reanimated Hokages and Gaara as weapons of mass destruction, and the plans to bomb the village's key points. How they watched them at the birthday party, planned on kidnapping the pair, and then attacked the girls only to end up being captured.

As the memories stopped flowing, Naruto's clone was left breathless on his knees as he regained his sense of self from the memory injection.

"We're already working to stop them," Karin said preemptively. "The Hokage has sent people out to track down the explosives and the Sound Four are dealt with from what I can feel. The other people at the party are safe and I'll have Suzaku and another Divine Beast head towards where the original you are now. Take Suzaku to the Sealing R & D building."

"Hold on," he said, not wanting to return to the original just yet. Not without knowing about the two things she didn't mention. "What about those… undead Hokage? And Gaara?"

"Jiraiya-sama is there along with a number of other Jounin, so I'm sure they'll be fine. As for Gaara…" She trailed off for a long and pregnant pause that left the clone growing even more worried. "I felt the Tailed Beast's chakra leaking out and told the Hokage, so he sent some people over. But, another chakra signature just appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared with him before they could arrive. I don't know if it's because dealing with the Sound Four coming after us made them change their plans, or if that's how they got the Uchiha out of the village in the first place without anyone noticing, but he's gone."

The news left him frozen in place for a moment when an ear-splitting shriek and panicked voices drew his attention outwards. He ran out the door and bore witness to the source of the discord, a massive Water Dragon arcing down from the sky to smash into the ground in the distance. The undead Second Hokage's work, no doubt.

The clone made to head towards the battle there, but before he could the ribbon around his head tightened to hold in him place. "Karin, let me go!"

"Those are unkillable, Hokage-level revenants with infinite chakra," Karin pointed out. "You'll only get in the way. Let the others seal them away again."


"Please…" Karin begged him this time. "I just watched one person die for us to get back here safely. If you go there, it'll just be a wasting their sacrifice on top of everything else. This isn't a fight for you to get involved with, so please come back to me."

He hesitated, realizing that she had to watch what happened personally when the memories were first taken from the head of the pair she and Sakura captured. That meant she had to witness the faint hope she'd been clinging to that Anko could be saved after sacrificing herself snuffed out. And, as if to rub salt in the wound, doing so had provided the very thing needed to bring back one of the people she feared the most.

Returning to her would at least give her peace of mind. That was what she was looking for now more than anything. For the original, who'd been kidnapped, to return to her so she didn't lose someone else.

But, clone or original, Naruto couldn't leave things as they were. Not like this. Not after losing Gaara and Sasuke. Not after Sakura had gotten hurt. Even if he couldn't go there in person, he wanted to at least do something rather than leaving it all up to the Old Man and the rest. "Okay, but first let me send out the Divine Priests to help them."

"I'll do it," Karin insisted. "Jiraya-sama had the Hokage give us access to all of the masks and the chakra that was stored away before they removed my Cursed Seal. So, please, go back to the original and wait for Suzaku to arrive."

Reluctantly, the clone did as she asked and—


—the original Naruto gained the memories as strength flooded his body, filling in the void left behind after having the rest of his chakra drained. Alert and aware, he opened his eyes to find that he was being carried with one arm over the shoulder of a familiar person. "Kiba?"

"Took you long enough to get up," the Inuzuka said, sounding as battle-worn as he looked with the smell of sweat and blood reaching Naruto's nose. It was clear from how dirty and beaten his clothing were, along with tears in his flesh and bruises around his neck, he'd been put through a real fight.

"Ah, you've awakened at last, Naruto-kun!" Rock Lee said as Naruto got his feet under him and gently pulled away. He was further ahead, being supported by Hinata, her Byakugan active, with a makeshift sling supporting his left arm. Akamaru was riding in her hood and yipped at his awakening as well. "And you're positively glowing!"

"Yeah, that's…" Naruto couldn't find the words to express how he felt nor face them. It was clear they'd fought for Naruto's freedom, which only punctuated the guilt he felt since he was relatively unscathed. He didn't want them to get hurt protecting him. He didn't want anyone getting hurt to protect him. That was part of why he'd pushed himself to become stronger, so he could protect everything precious to him.

Yet, he had been the only one to be captured. Karin and Sakura managed to hold their own. The others had managed to survive as well according to Karin. But he had to be saved, letting the others shed blood for his sake. The very thought left him clenching his fist and grinding his teeth as he looked down to the ground.

He couldn't let it end like this, hiding away with Karin while the others did the fighting. Even if they sealed the First and Second Hokage away again, it wouldn't solve anything in the long run. Not as long as Orochimaru was still around to do it again for the third time.

He had to be stopped now. Or else the next time he showed his face, he'd likely be wearing Sasuke's body. And after him someone else. To avoid death, he'd keep transferring his soul from one body to the next, discarding them when he was done like he was a… god…

His thoughts froze then as an epiphany dawned on him. The Sealing R & D building was where Karin wanted him to go. All the masks from the forgotten temple were there, and they had access to them all given the state of emergency. Including the God of Death's mask.

"Naruto-kun," Hinata called. "It looks like two of your mask creatures are coming."

He looked up to see that the Suzaku had arrived first. The Vermillion Bird perched itself on the ground in front of him, waiting for him to climb on top. Kinja followed, slithering along the ground and weaving through the trees until it formed a circle around them.

"Get on Kinja," Naruto told them. "It'll carry you to the village. Find the others who were at the party and tell them that I'm sorry it came to this. I'll make it up to them one day, I promise."

"What about you?" Hinata asked as he mounted the Vermillion Bird.

Naruto took one last look at the three of them. They'd risked their lives to save him. If he wasn't willing to do the same, he couldn't call himself a shinobi of this village.

"…I'm going to go put an end to this once and for all."