A/N: EDIT: Well, that's a load of trolls/flames in the comments. Why am I writing this again? T_T
I'm still not quite satisfied with this chapter despite the overhaul, but its the best I can do with my health at the moment.
Doesn't help that I all but lost my notes for this during the move and had to rewrite this arc over from scratch. I HAD planned to update Just a Dust Shop and Everybody Wants to be My enemy, then"Practice" and "Untraveled Road", but apparently someone thought this was dead. I took exception to that and pulled an all-nighter to get this back up to speed.
There was meant to be a double update today, but I'm afraid that's just not possible. I'm exhausted.
As ever, the "Embers" rule remains in effect for now.
If folks don't like this, POOF! Away it goes. To the bin and forgotten. That's no joke. Two jobs keep me wretchedly busy, and I've so little time to write these days. Every bit of feedback matters, large or small~! Your voice matters! Speak up! I repeat, every bit of feedback matters...even if people think it doesn't. That's no joke. Feedback gives me strength. Sometimes it feels like writing... is the one thing I'm good at the one thing in this rotten world that makes me feel alive, sometimes. Kinda sad, eh?
Only a few questions this time:
Q: RWBY's most important! Update that more.
A: You do realize I write more than just RWBY, no? Jeez...
Q: Who the hell is helping Cinder?!
A: You already know.
Q:...Ei's gone mad, hasn't she?
A: Yup. Eternity and erosion will do that to you. Poor girl fell out of her world, couldn't find a way back, so she went and created her own little pocket dimension using her power -helps if you think of it as a reality marble- then slew a Maiden fool enough to challenge her. We've all seen her create pocket dimensions aplenty.
And still she wants to "reclaim her place" whatever that may be.
Q: No more Genshin characters! I'm sick of them!
A: For the record, and as stated before, Ei is a one off. We needed someone to serve as the Summer Maiden. What comes in Summer? Storms. LOTS of them.
Rest assured, there won't be anymore Genshin characters cropping up in this story.
Q: Is this story nearly over?
A: It could every well be; I had three more arcs planned, but what's the point if folks don't enjoy it? I write to entertain others, to bring a bit of light into these crazy times. And I. Do not. Get paid. A single cent. For this.
Working two jobs means writing consumes nearly ALL my free time...
Q: Please, don't do what I think you're about to do!
Alright then, I think I've kept you all long enough. Forgive an old man and his rambling.
As ever, I own no quotes, no references, no themes, and certainly no memes.
They're used for entertainment purposes and laughter alone!
Lets pic up where we left off, shall we?
"We both know how this ends."
"Do we? Way I see it, this can end one of two ways."
"In that, you are correct. But end it shall; for I will be the victor."
They weren't holding back.
Amber realized it abruptly as the two titans clashed again; the instant Naruto's staff struck the Summer Maiden's lance; indeed the very moment their weapons collided...the world rumbled. She didn't see it. But she felt the sheer shockwave that followed. The wind alone blasted Neo backward, and Winter didn't fare much better. She alone managed to root herself to the ground and stand firm, but only just. A second strike gave birth to a second shockwave, the like of which sent her sprawling atop her comrades.
In the time it took to right herself, the duel had already moved away from them again.
How long had they been battling for? Minutes? Hours? Days? She'd long since lost track of the time. The sun was creeping low over the horizon and still, neither showed an sign of tiring.
Panic bleated in her heart as she scrambled upright. "H-Hey! Wait! Don't leave us behind!"
Neither Naruto nor Ei paid her plea any heed; they were too wrapped up in one another. Sakura petals swirled outward as they struck out again and again and again, bodies twisting, limbs colliding at impossible angles, gold clashing against violet in a wild waltz of cataclysmic proportions. Steel struck steel. Chakra warred against the very seasons themselves. Golden hands flashed out time and again, warding away blows that would've slain any one of them. He gave as good as he got. Still that wicked spear sought his throat. One slip. That was all it would take.
'I can't move.' the realization startled Amber, leaving a deep chill in her soul. 'I want to! I have to! He'll die...!"
She edged forward, one hand rising. Maybe if she got off a lucky shot...
Ei's head whipped toward her, pining her with a glare.
"You dare interfere in an honor duel? Begone!"
Her very gaze crushed the life from her; it was like gazing into the storm itself, a furious squall ready to rip her apart and cast her bones to the wastes. She couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. Faced with the pinnacle of raw eternity, she found herself paralyzed, unable to do anything but stare at her impending doom. This was it. Death. There was nothing she could do, no way to dodge, nothing at all.
Naruto slammed Ei's hand down and shouldered her aside, knocking her nto the dirt.
"Stay there!" His head whipped towards her, teeth bared, eyes wild. "Don't come any closer! She's beyond you-all of you! Do you wanna die?!"
Once more, ei climbed languidly to her feet. There wasn't so much as a scratch on her.
"Listen your friend. I will not tolerate any interference."
Naruto kicked out with a roar, reclaiming the Shogun attention once more. Ei's spear arced in at his head; a torrent of golden limbs intercepted the blade, wrenched it down and slammed an open palm against her chest. Chakra flared. Caught unawares, the startled shogun hurtled away, propelled by an Rasengan, and crashed into that sakura tree she was so proud of.
"Yes!" Amber pumped a fist even as the barrier trembled. He finally got her-
Naruto decked as Ei abruptly materialized behind him; her spear whistle through the space his skull occupied not a moment before. Planting one hand against the grass he whirled and drove his staff into her ribs, only to find himself parried. Their weapons crossed. Sparks flew. The Shogun tutted when he flitted away, unwilling to cross weapons with her.
"An impressive move." She commended him. "Ultimately futile, but powerful nevertheless. Allow me to respond in kind."
Her naginata rose, and the heavens darkened in kind. A vivid violet bolt crashed down upon the offered steel, imbuing her weapon with further strength.
"Come," she intoned, sweeping it before her, "Face the lightning directly."
Naruto grit his teeth and raced in. Nine strikes in an instant. She matched him blow for blow.
Amber felt her eyes blaze with fire as she gazed down at her trembling fists. What good was her power here? She'd never felt more helpless in her life. Not since Cinder nearly killed her on that awful evening. At least then she'd been able to fight back! Doing so now wasn't an option. She knew that. Any attempt at interference would end in her death. They were too big; too far out of her league. No opening for anyone else to jump in; even if they did, they would have only been a hindrance. To step into that storm of steel and fists was death. She knew that. Winter and Neo did, too.
Any efforts on their part to intervene would only see them dragged down together. She could only watch.
"You've been with him the longest." Winter stepped up beside her, voice low. "Can he win?"
Amber wanted to say yes. More than anything. But when she looked back, she couldn't give an answer. Naruto was strong. She'd seen him knock around other fighters with ease. Qrow, Cinder, Hazel, Tyrian, even Raven as the Spring Maiden hadn't been a match for him. He'd always seemed invincible, immovable, a mountain that would never be swayed.
And the woman was matching him...no, not quite, but she fared far better than she had any right to. Ozpin had said this "Ei" girl was strong, but she'd been out here in the wastes forever. She didn't seem to tire; rather, she seemed incapable of it. Even so, Naruto was overpowering her, slowly but surely. Maybe she wasn't as strong as she had once been. Maybe she'd grown weaker with time. Or perhaps.
Naruto hurtled past at blistering speed, struck the ground once, kicked up off it and roared upright once more. His path carried him past her. For a moment, their eyes met. She saw the concern in his gaze, the anxiety, the sweat beading upon his brow. And yet the smile he flashed her was kind. Determined. Even in the face of exhaustion, he didn't wave.
Then he was gone, racing back into the fray, and the moment was lost. Amber's heart hitched.
He wouldn't dare.
"Don't die." the words broke out of her in a sob. "Please, don't die. You can't...
Clenched knuckles slammed into the flat of Ei's weapon, rattling her. Yet she did not flinch. She cut out at his right eye, nearly taking half his face before he parried. A second Rasengan caught her midstrike and yet not a moment later she reappeared behind him, utterly unscathed.
"You are tiring." her remarked was colder than any storm. "Give up."
A weary laugh greeted her. "You should give up...
He whirled on her, hands splayed.
...on me giving up!"
Ei's lance slapped golden palms away; sending a half-formed tailed beast bomb rocketing into the heavens. It shot out the barrier and detonated high above, bathing the world in dark light. The barrier trembled anew, so much water rippling in the sky, diffusing the light and forcing everyone to look away. In that blaze she lost sight of the combatants. Just for a moment, all of an instant. Someone moved. She wasn't sure who.
Blood splashed through the air and as they whirled apart, Amber's saw.
Her heart leaped into her throat.
"No," she muttered. "That can't be right...
Too late, she beheld Naruto's bloodied shoulder cut deeply, nearly to the bone. Neo went pale. Winter gagged.
"First blood to me." Ei's smile was content in the way only a madwoman could be as she brandished her naginata. "Will you not surrender?"
"Like I said, never been one to do that." The blond grunted and wrenched the limb back into place. Steam sizzled from the wound as it closed. "You'll have to kill me."
Something wild danced through her eyes. "Well said. You'll have to kill me, too."
His brow furrowed. "You said this fight ends when one of us surrender!"
"I did." she spread her arms and Amber flinched at the rictus of a grin she wore. "But it has become clear of us are willing to do so. You fight for your friends. To help them, protect them. Likewise, I shall not surrender." the wind rose, keening in distress. "I cannot. I will not!" High above them the heavens darkened while the earth trembled underfoot. "I will take their powers," her voice rose, straining to be heard, "Tear my way out of this godless reality, and reclaim my rightful place. I am eternity, I am the everlasting law. And you?" here at last, her smile twisted with scorn. "You are just a man-
Naruto blurred, moving even faster than before. Amber lost track of him completely.
She thought she glimpsed a Rasengan for all of a moment before her fellow Maiden slapped it away. Ei hacked down, taking the arm with it. Said arm regrew in an instant, wrapped around her throat, and slammed her to the grass. Even as she rose a shadow clone appeared in a plume of smoke and stomped down on her ribs. Her back struck the earth and it fractured with a pitiful, brittle crack of sound. It should have been sand. Outside this pocket dimension, it almost certainly was, but beneath it...?
Sand sprayed up as the soil burst, the taking a large piece of the Shogun's hard-won reality with it.
"No!" Ei howled and thrashed upright, batting him away. "Leave my world alone!"
"Right back at ya!"
Amber could barely follow them with her eye now; more and more they blurred. Their duel began to dissolve into a brawl. And yet for all the hits Naruto landed, the Shogun did not bleed. Why? Why didn't she bleed? How was she able to stand up time and time again? It didn't make any sense!
"You do realize you will fail. Are you not afraid?
"Am I afraid of failure?" he planted an open palm in the dirt and levered himself upright. "Of course I am! I'm terrified, really. Just look at me!" he held out his good arm. "My hand's shaking. I'm trembling like a leaf. But!"
Raiden's head snapped backward as his knee slammed into her chin.
"We've come so far, done so much good, all in such a short time!" he caught her head between both hands as she stumbled away and slammed his forehead, ringing it like a gong. "Frankly, its a damn miracle!" Another headbutt, locking her in place. "My miracle! Her miracle! Our miracle!" She was still reeling when a giant golden claw swiped across her face, obliterating an eye. "And you think you can take it from us?!"
For the fist time since their brawl began, the Shogun cried out in pain. She lashed out with her naginata, intent ont aking his head.
"No! Never! I won't allow it!"
Naruto caught her almighty weapon within his still-healing fist and squeezed. Shards of broken steel and wood flashed out as Raiden gasped in surprise. Still griping her broken weapon, he reared up and slashed Ei's chest with all his might. Her body twisted at the last second. Too little, too late. Here at last, blood spattered the grass of paradise.
An arm struck the floor, severed neatly at the elbow.
Ei blinked, eyes gone terribly wide, mouth working, but no sound emerged. She balked at her right limb, unable to comprehend what was happening.
"This might sound selfish, but I wanna hold onto that miracle just a little while longer." Naruto turned his head aside and spat out a bloody tooth. "So if it the chips are down if we face the unexpected, if we run up against someone that looks invincible...I'll do what I have to do." one hand swept up, a tinge of red overtaking the gold of his cloak. Or was that her imagination? "Not just for me, not just for my friends...
Tears burned in Amber's eyes.
...for my family. For my future. For everyone and everything...
He took a stance as his hair began to burn gold. "...this is what true resolve looks like. COME."
A peal of mad laughter split the air.
Ei grinned, a wild broken thing without so much as a hint of sanity left. "...then perish!"
Her remaining hand swept up toward her chest, fingers clenched.
Light gathered, hearkening to her command.
"Inazuma will shine eternal!"
A blade burst through her chest, coated in blood.
Naruto cloak guttered out with a start, his concentration shattered. Amber didn't much blame him. Whatever Raiden had been preparing, it fell by the wayside now as she stumble. They were all of them frozen transfixed by the horror of what just transpired.
Amber whirled. "Neo?!"
The little hellion was still standing beside her, eyes wide with Winter.
"I'm sorry, A pale man leaned over Ei, his chin touching her shoulder as he tilted his horned head. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Still smiling, he reached up and snapped Ei's neck. An awful crack filled the air. Her body slumped with a wordless cry.
The stranger stepped over it, casually catching the power that emerged from her still form.
"Interesting." he held it for a moment, curling his fingers around the swell of bright light. "My associate will make good use of this; if anything, it will make her even more beholden to me." a wave of his hand sent it racing away across the horizon. "Now, then." Cold eyes turned, seeking them, finding one. A ghostly-white finger rose. "Hello, fox." his smile was formal, almost polite toward Naruto. "We've finally found you."
...I don't even know who you are."
A faint peal of laughter came. And then.
The stranger still smiled at him. "No matter. You will."
Clenched knuckles barreled into Naruto's chin and sent him flying.
A/N: HE'S HERE.
Prize for you if you figure out who "he" is.
And is Ei dead? Or was that merely the Shogun...?
Regardless, there's no denying what just happened.
Come now, you didn't think the good guys were going to win every battle, did you?
If folks don't like this...well, I'll not continue it. Reviews are the fire that keeps me writing. Without them, I cannot put pen to paper. Simple as that. Every bit of feedback matters, large or small~! Your voice matters! Speak up! I repeat, every bit of feedback matters...even if people think it doesn't.
Things are changing, and we're nearing a time skip~!
Well, that's all I have to say this time around.
So in the Immortal Words of Atlas...
...Review, Would You Kindly?
No previews this time.
You'll see why.
And enjoy the previews~!
Speakin' a which...
SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!
READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!
PLOT DETAILS AHOY!
"You can't save them all, fox."
He hadn't been this angry since Hazel.
"Hold still and let me rearrange your face!"
It boiled in his blood, burned his veins with each passing moment.
"I think not. Tell me which of them you love least." he grunted as they clashed again. That sneering face pressed against his, forehead to forehead. "Tell me, so I can kill them last."
Cinder threw her head back and laughed.
"You wanna see resolve?! I'll show you resolve! Unlike you, I'm not afraid to die! I'll win!"
Watts cracked his knuckles.
He would have been useless in Vacuo, anyway.
Which was precisely why he'd been sent somewhere else.
After all, you know what they say. When the fox is away, the vultures will play..