Chapter 27 Start
Rain pelts against metal sheet roofing. The citizens of Amegakure had long gotten used to the constant noise, so much that its absence is seen as a bad omen. If there is no noise in the city of rain, then it is a bad dream.
Pain oversees his village, shrouded in the shadows of storm clouds. Hundreds of waterways connect this metal village to the lake in a never-ending cycle, a causal loop that cannot be broken by anything less than a God. Long ago, he would have found this realisation humbling. That he is not unlike all those who came before him, limited in what he is capable of, finding it easier to change the hearts of people than it is to change the weather.
But now, he feels no such desire. He no longer asks them to change. They will change if they want to or not. The cycle of hatred has perpetuated pain, perpetuated him and those like him who would force the world to change. He is a God now. It is he who controls the rain, the pain. The weary miasma casted by war will vanish with the rain once he ascends to true Godhood.
Madara, or rather, Obito, had captured the Rokubi and Nanabi in one fell swoop. Not only that, but also stealing the old Mizukage's corpse for the faint traces of Sanbi Chakra contained in it, and a pair of brothers once known to possess the power of the Kyuubi were reanimated and had their power stuffed into the statue.
All they need now is the Hachibi. There is no time to waste, Mugen Tsukuyomi is within their grasp and yet...
"Do you really think that Uchiha Naruto will wait for you to finish this?"
Konan's words reverberate in his mind. No, he does not believe that Naruto will wait. Because Naruto too, thinks that what he is doing is right- is just. Konoha believes it's protecting the world from a worse fate by allowing a broken system to continue on.
And then he sees it, an olive branch in the distance. But why would the enemy announce themselves so boldly? Surely they must understand that the Akatsuki are not so easily distracted.
Flares of dark flame appear in the horizon, somewhere that only Pain could see from his tower. It's something beautiful. Something he didn't think Naruto was capable of.
Pain is a God. But so is Naruto. Their battle will come at the expense of the innocent. The people they are fighting for. The enemy understands this, for there is no future for either of their dreams without the ones to facilitate it.
He could go and find Naruto himself, but Ame is a village that is cursed in nature. It has always been a battleground for the strongest of every generation between nations. It represents something that weathers any storm and any conflict. Unyielding, unwavering, unassailable.
There is an opportunity, but is he perhaps being too whimsical? That if this village is reduced to nothing but dust and ashes, then perhaps it's possible that the way of his enemy holds truth as well. Does he leave his village in the hands of Fate?
Jiraiya-sensei told them once when they were children, that the cycle of hatred could be destroyed. That peace could prevail over war.
Nothing has ever lived that will not die. If Pain and Amegakure meet their end together, does that mean that there is still no hope? Or will new hope rise to replace it, or will their destruction be the catalyst for a solution? If they defeat Uchiha Naruto, will their answer be the correct one? History is written by the victor.
Three taps on the door to his chambers echo through the steel hall.
"Enter." Pain summons boldly.
A cane taps against the floor. An old, robed man hobbles towards him, stark white hair illuminated by dim lighting.
"Come to offer your counsel, Madara?"
Madara continues to approach Pain, but not Yahiko's body. He makes as much of a beeline a man made of dust can towards the real Pain, the one mounted in a throne of wires and metal stakes, the body whose legs don't function well-enough for him to stand on his own two feet.
"You were just a baby when I gave you those eyes." Madara's ancient baritone echoes, voice plagued by decades of wisdom and with something almost-affectionate. "You have grown in an unexpected way. Your mother and father had high-hopes for you, Child of Uzumaki."
"I care not for the ramblings of a relic passed." Pain dismisses bluntly.
The Four Hokage could exert control over their personalities but not their bodies, so they remain in Ame to dissuade any attacks that might prevent Obito, Kabuto and Zetsu from sealing the remaining Bijuu in the metal caverns that lie under the village.
Madara however, could not be controlled in either spirit nor in body. It appeared that because a piece of him is still technically alive, he is granted some form of agency over his own dead self. Not that a man that was already dust by the time he actually died would be of any use in a combat scenario. Still, a White Zetsu had tried to absorb his Chakra to make some kind of younger deterrent version. It hadn't worked.
"You played your part well. A refined tool to my original scheme." Madara comments with cruel words but no inflection. "But it appears now that all you are here to be is bait for my grandson. How pitiful, that an Uzumaki with my own eyes could be so weak, delegated to being little more than fodder. Where is your passion? Your sense of self?"
"Those things were robbed from me by the world your kind left behind to me. To the rest of us. Now, only Pain exists."
Madara doesn't acknowledge this physically. His eerie, ancient gaze appears unassessable.
"Don't throw stones in a glass house, boy."
Pain narrows his eyes. A dark stake erupts from his leg mount and launches towards the old man.
The giant metal rod freezes mid-air in front of Madara and drops to the floor harmlessly with a loud clang.
"Juvenile." Madara nearly tuts. "You are the most experienced wielder of the Rinnegan since the Rikudo Sennin and you used its power to throw a stick at me. I would be insulted if I did not know that you are just a lost and unfortunate boy. Are you quite done with your tantrum? Because I will speak now, and you will listen."
Anger coils in him viciously, but he stays his tongue.
"You, like me... are a coward. But unlike me, you can still change."
Rage bleeds into confusion.
"I am a coward, because I sought escapism instead of solutions. I ignored reality and it struck back at me violently. When your head is buried in the sand, you cannot perceive the dangers around you, and more importantly, what your inaction leads to. I was born with blood of hatred, where my very bones demanded of me that I kill. And when I tried to run away from it, I was met with the cold facts that what I have done in my life would never give me absolution and freedom. I thought that this plan would fix everything, create a world in which no-one would be born into circumstances like I had been."
Madara begins to levitate, creaky joints cracking into crossed legs.
"I ignored that I perpetuated my own problems. Instead of seeking a solution to my cursed blood, I wanted a reality in which it wasn't. Instead of taking action to protect the ones I love at the expense of myself, I lost them. It was only in the twilight of my life that I truly understood that I had been born into a world that is very cruel, cruel beyond all measure. But rising from the shadows and into the light provides an experience and euphoria that is unmatched by any cruelty contrived by the self-delusion of the human mind. We suffer, but we can live with the burden of suffering because hope gives us the ambition and drive to make things better for ourselves. Some suffer more than others, but we cannot truly embrace joy without knowing what pain is. We cannot enjoy escapism recreationally, unless we surrender ourselves to discipline that it is not the be-all-end-all solution to pain."
Madara takes one great breath, a raspy baritone hindered by a near-dead body.
"In a sense, we are already born into a perfect world. That is why my soul changed. Because I came to terms with reality and found myself lacking instead. The human mind... cannot comprehend a life without suffering and pain, because it gives us meaning. Robbing humanity of its struggles will only turn them into husks of who they could be, never able to explore the potential that those who come after us can bring. Perhaps they will learn from us too, and find an answer that we could not, but in order to do that, we must become our best selves in the lives we are given so that we can give them a future where such opportunity can be explored. We can do what we can with the time that we have, but the future does not belong to us. It belongs to them."
"And this speech is to dissuade me from my efforts to follow the plan that you left behind to me?"
"No. This is my interpretation of reality, and a question in itself. Do you truly believe in this plan, or have you experienced so little joy that you are unable to see any alternative? I believe that no matter what your choice is going from here onwards, it is valid based on your experiences. You will succeed, or die trying. You will fail, and live on. You will succeed, but it isn't what you expected. You will die, only for someone else to pick up the flame of your ambition. You will give up, and leave the fight for peace to others willingly. The possibilities are not endless in this world we have left behind for you, but you have the agency to choose what you do, or don't do."
Pain considered Madara's words. He'd been ready to discard them as simply the ramblings of an old man.
Jiraiya-sensei's dream had always been one of a world in which people could understand each other. That dream had been the foundation of the Akatsuki, the first iteration. The idea that they could start an era of world peace by starting in Amegakure, create a world of words instead of swords. One of discourse, where people could share their experiences and others would learn from them instead of abusing them to their selfish advantages.
The name Pain was brought about when the naivety of that dream became cynicism. They had tried with everything they had to change Ame and were brutalised at every single turn. Peace by trust in humanity was something hollow and unworthy of attention. Humanity would be forced to understand each other by mutual Pain, they would all experience the same uniting Pain, a God of which they would cower under, but even that dream fell through, because a life of only suffering and fear is one without any happiness.
But Madara had seen this all before, understood the contrast of Pain and Joy, Shadows and Light, and just like Jiraiya-sensei, is choosing to share those growing pains with him. Madara believes that in his subjective world of truth, that he really does understand how the world is and how it ought to be.
Perhaps Pain is missing the big picture... but he sees no alternative. He has devoted his being to this plan, because his outlook is tainted by his joyless life. There are others like him, who have suffered more and suffered less. He doesn't see this as burying one's head in the sand. He sees the upcoming world as one of true peace, where everyone gets what they want and never has to worry about what they need.
Pain- Nagato, realises that the world will continue with or without him. It will blaze on forward to its own destruction or be saved by him. Those are the paths. So he will fight for his dream, for everyone.
"You have not changed my mind." Nagato addresses Madara, who simply nods stoically.
"Then you will go onwards?" Madara asks astutely. Not changing his mind doesn't necessarily mean things will be the same, after-all.
"I will continue, but not as I have. This dream is mine, not Yahiko's. I will shoulder this responsibility myself, not behind the face of a man who never would have made the decisions I have."
"Your body is broken. You cannot fight my grandson as decrepit as you are."
"Then I ask that you leave me with your wisdom. That is your duty as my elder, is it not?"
Madara gives a cracked, crooked smile.
"I will do this for you, child of Uzumaki. But I want one thing in return."
"Name it." Nagato states instantly.
"Give me a few moments with my grandson before you do battle. I... wish to see my Legacy."
"...It will be done."
Naruto stands with his arms crossed, rain pelting against his black coat as he spectates the evacuation of every last villager in Amegakure. There are few bridges from the city on the lake, so its people are packed shoulder-to-shoulder as they trudge across the concrete and into the forests.
"Kisame. Get in the water." Naruto starts barking out orders. "Kakashi, Neji- Walk on the underside of the main bridge and see if you can find where the Gedo Mazo is. Sasuke, Sakura- kill any Akatsuki member left in the city to protect the sealing ritual. Go!"
"Understood!" They chorus, swooshing and splashing away.
Tsunade would send backup when she realises what they're up to, but Naruto thinks that it would ultimately be futile. The only people in Konoha that could really be of help now would be Gai and Jiraiya, and it would be best for them to remain in Konoha to protect it in the worst case scenario.
"At least Nagato isn't putting anyone else at risk." Karin comments beside him.
"I thought he'd come to us so we don't level the village but I get the feeling the Gedo Mazo is here somewhere. The infrastructure won't survive if they manage to animate it anyway. Regardless, this is the end. For better or for worse."
Karin takes his hand, tucking it under her chin. Naruto draws her in close and cradles her in his arms, enjoying the intimate silence for how little it will last.
Over the course of half an hour, the rapid evacuation had completed. Never had there been a more dead village before. The crowds had passed long ago and left a wake of lonely silence.
Something enters his senses however. Something that makes him draw a startled breath.
"It can't be-"
Crossing the bridge is a single figure. A figure that hobbles along slowly with cane smacking against the bridge. Strained and weak. So very familiar.
He leads Karin by the hand down from the hill they'd been perched on. Their feet touch the hard concrete of the path leading to the bridge, and they make their way down and into the city.
The figure in tattered grey gets closer. It's clear that the old man is struggling to even move, but he does so with purpose and without pause.
And then, after one long walk, they're face to face with the elderly mirror image of Naruto himself. Something close to, at least. Given his cracked skin.
"To me... it was only days ago that my young, foolhardy and boisterous grandson was ranting to me about how useless and pathetic his Academy teachers were. He would whine and stomp his feet before he learned patience over fear. He loved to make friends, and he loved to fight with them. And more importantly, his heart was set on the value of family above all-else. He dreamed of nothing greater than having one of his own, one that he would treat better than his grandfather treated him. It was his life ambition. Tell me, has anything changed?"
Naruto looks down at the man. Though he tries to stay tall and proud, the old man cannot help but slouch and rely on his cane.
"Your grandson is a fool." Naruto states to the old man, earnest and honest in tone. "He is impatient and petulant, he doesn't like it when he doesn't get his way. He loves to make friends, who he bickers with and plays with but still loves them. His greatest ambition in life, above-all else is to have a family, and he has already found the woman who brings him a joy he'd never felt before in his life before meeting her. Not even from his grandfather- who he loved very much, and still loves to this very day."
Madara dips his head low, shadowing his eyes and the rain sticks his white hair to his dusted skin.
"Jiji," Naruto interrupts without a thought, still clinging to the affectionate term for his beloved grandfather. "This is my fiance, Uzumaki Karin. She is the person I love with every fibre of my being."
Karin gives a shy, nervous and quick wave.
"Um, hi- sir! I'm Karin! But Naru already said- I mean, sorry! It's nice to meet you! Eheheh~"
Madara's eyes hold a life in them that Naruto hadn't seen in a long, long time.
He drops the cane. Karin instinctively raises her arm to support him, and Madara takes it. His other arm reaches out for Naruto, who takes it much the same.
Held up by the pair of them, the old man smiles.
"Naruto, Karin. Grandson, and granddaughter." Madara speaks of his acceptance and blessing. "This battle will not be the last trial in your lives. This one is my fault, and for that I can never truly repent for the sin of leaving you with this broken world. But whatever comes from here, you must face it head-on. I hope that one day, you might both forgive me for forcing you to face monsters of my making."
"You should learn to forgive yourself, Jiji. You left me with a perfect world."
Madara looks up at the pair of them, eyes weak and weary.
His skin begins to glow gold. Flakes of the dust holding him together begin to dissipate into the air.
"I tried to change Nagato's mind. But he has never experienced happiness like I have. He gave me this moment with you in exchange for helping him find himself. I have made things worse for you in the little time I've been back."
"You're not the only one who loves the thrill of the fight. Go in peace. We'll take it from here."
Madara's spirit rises from the old body. His soul is youthful. He's exactly where Naruto gets his looks. A handsome and cunning smile to go with a bright face.
"Then I leave this world to you. I love you."
"I love you too, Jii-san."
A column of gold light flashes, and Madara's soul vanishes.
The dust of his body crumbles in their arms and is swept away by a weak gust.
"Hmpf!" Naruto chuckles, breathing away his shaky voice. "Well, that was a bit of closure that I didn't know I needed."
"Even as an old man, your Jiji was really scary." Karin comments in awe, no-doubt having felt the sheer power in his Chakra.
"He's just Jiji. Always has been." Naruto says, reflecting idly on the childhood he'd had with the man.
Legendary power and reputation were just never things he'd associated with Madara.
"Now," Naruto edges forward.
Towards the man with red hair at the cusp of the city. The man in the Akatsuki cloak, wielding the same eyes as he.
"Let's save the world."
"What is he doing?" Nagato asks the White Zetsu beside him.
"Naruto is absorbing natural energy!" White Zetsu's voice conveys urgency. "He is going to use Senjutsu! He will have an extreme advantage if he enters Sage Mode!"
"It may be too late for that." Nagato rasps, unused to using his natural voice. His left eye, which he'd transformed mechanically into a spyglass, sees the changed pigmentation around Naruto's eyes.
"Indeed it is." White Zetsu replies in a more natural tone, with clouded eyes. "You can't stop me, Nagato."
Nagato takes flight with the power of the Rinnegan, dodging massive roots that spool out of the Zetsu and wrap around the bridge, encroaching on Amegakure.
"Gakido." He raises his hand at a root, absorbing it into a near-translucent shield before him.
'This Chakra is heavy.'
The absorption of it is far too slow, the sheer density of Chakra contained in it ensured more would grow too quickly for him to pack it away.
But Ame is done regardless, so he forgoes the courtesy of going easy on his enemy.
Naruto zips forward, a mere speck on the bridge from this distance but visible and easily felt.
The best way to separate him from the group is obvious.
His Chakra whirls into his eyes, and it flushes through his limbs and expunges outward with pure force.
The shockwave hits the bridge first. Naruto summons his light-blue Susanoo, using his own Rinnegan to channel as much force as he could into the construct, so much that it begins to glow white. The rest of the energy splits the lake, crushes the portion of the bridge that Naruto isn't standing on, and slams into a building on the fringe of Ame.
Towers creak and shake violently, and one of the tallest sways back before collapsing over Nagato.
He floats away deftly, avoiding the tower and shunting his arms mechanically forward. His pale skin reshapes into projectile containers that launches dozens of explosives. Naruto chases him, Susanoo still glowing. The construct takes greater shape into its perfect form as he channels its power into a single point on its blade.
Naruto slashes with it, upward. Nagato is dragged from the sheer power of the gust and nearly loses his independant flight, and the blade of raw energy slices straight through Amegakure and into the mountain range in the distance. A clean cut.
The storm clouds part in response to the force generated. Just in time to show a meteor slowly crashing down upon them.
"Kuchiyose no Jutsu(Summoning Jutsu)!" Nagato seallessly summons three massive, demented avian creatures to try and slow the Susanoo's approach. Naturally, even their sharp beaks don't so much as crack the Susanoo.
He thinks Naruto's plan may be to bury anyone alive that may be hiding under the village. Obito would survive as a cockroach does, but it would disrupt the sealing process.
Instead, he uses the Deva Path to compress all of the air around him into a tiny ball in his hands. It grows ever-so-slightly with each second it takes for Naruto to fly towards him, but it would achieve its purpose in time for him to drag the meteor away. With the power vested to him by Madara's eyes, he applies his control over Futon to help in maintaining shape in one hand while using his other to pull the meteor towards him.
Naruto has his own ideas too. Not unexpected.
"Senpou: Katon Yokina Uta(Sage Art: Fire Release Jolly Song)!"
A small ring of fire darts through the sky, glowing and hissing and a bit too hard to avoid in his current predicament.
He launches the ball of hyper-compressed air at it, leaning as much into the predictive ability of Madara's eyes as he could to make it strike true.
Two Chakra signatures appear beneath him. Sandaime and Yondaime create a gold barrier to separate Naruto and Nagato.
"Ninpou: Ippotsuko Joheki(One-way Rampart)!" They call in unison.
The wall of golden light rockets into the sky and Nagato's improvised Futon bomb passes through it.
Twin chains of gold Chakra stab into the barrier from somewhere on the ground, twisting it and making it wobble as though it were made of thin sheet metal. It flags around, but still manages to catch Naruto's Jutsu on its corner. A halo of flame erupts from the point of contact, brightening the dark sky even more and emitting the most bone-rattling shriek that Nagato had ever heard in his life. Enough to sway his concentration.
The barrier is torn to shreds by the power of Naruto's Senjutsu, making it quite clear that Barrier-Ninjutsu won't be enough.
It seems that luck is on Nagato's side, however. Nine red, enormous Torii gates descend from the heavens and plunge into Naruto's Susanoo, knocking it and its wielder out of the sky and into the deep and dark lake.
He uses this moment to pull the meteor away with full-force.
Naruto lets out a puff of air as he slams into the lake. His Susanoo sinks under the weight of Senjutsu-enchanced Fuinjutsu.
He has lost control over the Susanoo. Hashirama really is a force to be reckoned with, and losing his Susanoo, even temporarily, will affect how this battle goes from here on out.
There are kunai sinking in the water too, regularly shaped but marked with an unfamiliar formula.
Tobirama appears before him, seemingly trying to reach out and touch the jewel on the forehead of his Susanoo. And as if wrenched back, Tobirama pulls himself away and puffs out bubbles, faced marred by irritation before a transformed and shark-like Kisame swoops in to bat him away.
'He tried to teleport me away! He had a brief moment of control but it was stripped from him!'
The Nidaime clearly isn't happy with this arrangement and is trying to help them at any given opportunity.
Naruto's Susanoo is clearly too great of a target for Hashirama. Even with Senjutsu, it doesn't have the Fuinjutsu resistant properties granted by another of his abilities. Light-blue chains sprout from his back and latch onto the Torii, counter-balancing the Sealing and giving him just enough wiggle-room to withdraw his Susanno and reabsorb its Chakra.
Tobirama teleports behind him, but Naruto's senses are too amped up with Senjutsu for the surprise attack to be of any use. Even through the dense water, he whips around and grabs Tobirama by the throat and blasts his face with black flames. He simultaneously spears a black rod through the Nidaime's throat.
He feels the magnitude of the Chakra controlling the Hokage through the connection. Even these rods wouldn't restrain them.
A bubble forms around their heads. Tobirama is still burning from Amaterasu and is missing the top half of his head, but his mouth is still working.
"Uchiha Naruto! You must seal us or else we'll continue to obstruct you!"
"What if I rip your soul from your body?" Naruto theorises that taking their soul would dismantle Edo Tensei.
"No good, we're bound to that sealing statue, we'll simply regenerate our bodies where our soul is!"
Tobirama suddenly teleports them away. Naruto quickly realises that he's upside-down and whirls into a spinning kick that sends the Yondaime away as he's charging at him with a Rasengan.
As they're still falling, Naruto forms a Rasenshuriken in one hand. Not to throw at two enemies that can just teleport away, but to put a grinder between them to defend himself without having to summon his Susanoo again.
A massive pole chops downward at him. A pole with an eye? And Hashirama on its tip. As quickly as Hashirama falls upon him, two golden chains sprout upwards and manifest a red barrier between them.
Karin catches Minato's attention and the reanimated Yondaime throws a kunai, sparking with vibrating lightning Chakra to hasten it.
Naruto throws the Rasenshuriken at Karin, not at Minato. She'll know what to do.
But in the meantime...
The shockwave sends Tobirama flying away, far enough that he's plucked down into the water again by jumping, glowing sharks.
"Run, Uzumaki girl!" Minato shouts over the blistering winds.
The girl does no such thing. She stands immovable and unyielding, right where she is.
Very nostalgic, he thinks, even as his son's terrifying mastery of the Rasengan hurls towards them. It zips around him and straight at the red-head.
But he's getting too close, if she doesn't flee then-
The shuriken vanishes and Minato finds himself crushed under the heel of his son.
'He's so fast!' Minato thinks, vanishing and reappearing at another of his kunai before his head is run-through with a black stake.
"Irritating Jutsu!" Naruto spits out, face contorted not too dissimilar from-
"That damn Jutsu!" Kushina melts the Kunai in his hand with superheated Katon, looking vicious.
Minato freezes in place, only to vanish again.
He finds himself in water with Tobirama.
'What happened?' It was as though Naruto had done something that completely halted him, but Tobirama had used Hiraishin to summon him away.
If they all get caught by that Jutsu at the same time, perhaps they could be sealed simultaneously.
Minato and Tobirama both reappear beside Hashirama and Hiruzen in a dingy, broken bar with neon lights shining brightly on them.
"The best chance we can give them is to be as uncoordinated as possible." Minato states immediately. "Our instinct is to work together, but we have control over our minds, so we tell eachother complete gibberish that our controlled bodies will accept as a viable plan!"
"Good thinking, Yondaime." Tobirama agrees seriously. "Your boy is gifted, but even he cannot defeat all of us with time to spare to stop that Obito if we're too in-tune with each other."
"I fear that Naruto-kun is the only one that is capable of fighting us." Hashirama points out. "I can sense the Uchiha Jinchuuriki, he is making efforts to-"
"Enough." Tobirama interrupts. "Not too much information. We focus on Naruto. We do not speak a word of his allies or our bodies will be forced to go after them. Reconsolidate your mind, think of Naruto as our enemy. Our only enemy."
"It's difficult. He is my son." Minato says sadly.
"He is not your son. He is the enemy." Hiruzen corrects. Minato doesn't want to think of the vile undertone to his statement, he just dismisses it as 'being in character'.
"Let us go." Tobirama orders, evidently sensing something that they can't. He puts a hand each on Hashirama and Hiruzen, while Minato teleports in his wake.
They reappear again, pelted by rain as the sound of toppling metal assaults their ears. They stand on a connecting bridge between two skyscrapers, ill-lit as though all lights around them had turned off suddenly.
And across from them stands his son. His Chakra is intoxicating. So much like his own and yet so much more powerful.
"Does this make you Uchiha-Uzumaki-Namikaze Naruto?" Minato asks with a weird confusion and almost-jesting tone.
"Wow." Naruto says incredulously. "Jiraiya said you were terrible at giving names, but I had no idea it was this bad. I sincerely hope that Kaa-san thought it was funny instead of stupid."
"She did not." Minato replies sheepishly.
"It's Uchiha Naruto." His son corrects, pulling the Gunbai from his back.
Minato looks at his son properly, absorbing everything about his appearance and demeanour that he could while he has the chance. There is so much he wants to say.
"I wish I had some time with you, Naruto. I wish that I could've been there in your life, that I could have been the father I always wanted to be to you. It was my weakness that started this mess- I'm just sorry, sorry for everything I've done and haven't done, and I wish that I could set things straight now but-"
"It's alright." Naruto smiles, cunning and exasperated but so much like his mother that it hurts. "I pity that you didn't get the life you wanted and deserved, but I can't fix that any more than you can fix these things that weren't your fault. It took me a long time to realise that I couldn't do everything on my own, let alone for things I had no control over. That's why I didn't come here alone. So I'm gonna just say it, don't blame yourself. Let us take things from here, and when I'm done with you, you can have your well-earned rest."
"We will not make it easy for you, young Uchiha." Hashirama states regretfully.
"I'd be a fool to think that fighting all of the previous Hokage would be easy."
Naruto's Chakra vanishes from their senses, for just a moment before it skyrockets again.
"Fighting me won't be easy either."
"Senjutsu." Tobirama identifies easily. "We also have two Sages, young Uchiha. Rinnegan or not, you will need more to defeat us."
Naruto smiles again, wicked and prepared.
"Then allow me to show you a level beyond Sage Mode. Something I divised myself. Oneness, with your own power."
His black coat unfurls into even darker flames. His hair gains the same properties, flicking as a controlled fire in contrast to his skin. It continues, downward, until every article of his black clothing is an umbral flame, harmless against his own flesh. Naruto levitates, showing that even the metal he was standing on seemed untouched by Amaterasu.
"I'll say it now while I have the chance. Konohagakure still stands strong. We've had our fair shair of hiccups, but the citizens and Shinobi are happy. Their Hokage treats them fairly and with respect, and they fear little in the face of trouble. Tsunade has proven herself to be the leader that Konoha needed in your wake, Tou-san. Hashirama, she's even bringing her own little Senju into the world soon. And Tobirama, your own grandson is my apprentice. I swear to you- all of you, that I will protect what you left behind with my life. Except you, Sarutobi. I've seen to it that your kind is a scarcity."
"What do you mean by that?" Hiruzen asks darkly.
"Die in a hole, Sarutobi filth. Like the rest of your kind."
"I thank you for your words, young Uchiha." Tobirama nods with a smirk. "It's good to know that there are still men like you in our village. And I hope that my grandson will flourish under your tutelage."
Minato, against his own volition, enters Sage Mode quickly. As does Hashirama.
"Son, I hope that you really are ready." Minato feels the last of his control slip.
The black flames adorning Naruto do not settle. They still flick and wave, as if he is cloaked in it. The pigment under his eyes makes his Rinnegan stand out even more with the dark, fiery bang over his other eye.
"You've done something quite remarkable." Hashirama compliments genuinely. "It's as though you've-"
Minato feels lost, but perhaps that is for the best. Shodai-sama must be far more adept at Senjutsu if he can feel what's going on.
"A personalised Sage Mode, one unconnected to the Chakra of other people. This power is who and what I am. I am a part of nature, changed and altered by the blood and flesh of my ancestors and someone who cannot be dragged down but anyone's folly but my own. The combination of Senjutsu, and the theoretical state of Chakra that I call Itokiri Chakra Mode(Threadcutter Chakra Mode), in which one's Chakra truly belongs to them, and only them. I am Uchiha Naruto, and I formally introduce you to..."
"Ready yourself Naruto!" Hashirama shouts desperately. "Senpou: Mokuton: Shinsusenju!"
Eclipsing the sky is Hashirama's massive, thousand-armed wooden monster. It casts an even darker shadow over Ame. The noise it leaves with every stumbling step as buildings are squashed under its immeasurable weight almost makes Minato cover his ears, even from its head.
But Naruto doesn't flinch, even as buildings topple around him and even on top of him. A tower crashes upon him, but he slides right through it as Amaterasu engulfs the area around him and burns straight through.
And then, he readies his weapon. The Gunbai. A tool of mostly fear, and only a utility in the hands of a true monster.
Naruto gives a wide, horizontal swing, and a black blade of fiery wind launches through the sky and expands so massively that it becomes an inevitable conclusion.
And instantly, the black blade arcs so fast and expands so quickly, that it slices straight through Hashirama's Jutsu and bisects it entirely.
Black-Painted Moon. Minato thinks, teleporting away. A fitting name for a Chakra mode that can turn the Shodai Hokage's pinnacle Ninjutsu into broken, wooden doll.
He smiles. Maybe things really will work out for the best.
Karin stares up at Nagato.
Nagato stares back.
She wonders just how much Nagato inherited from those eyes. Madara's will, at the worst point of his life. She entertains the thought that it even has an effect on how he likes his hair, parted to cover his right eye. Just like Madara and Naruto.
"It is not strategically sound to bring a Jinchuuriki into a battle against powerful Shinobi who are attempting to capture all of the Bijuu, let alone two. I do not see the wisdom in your actions." Nagato drones, almost lecturing.
This isn't a strategy. It's desperation, you twit.
"Yeah, well it's not exactly a great strategy to let the enemy run through your village and find the people responsible for this mess. And now you're yapping to me. Great."
"Curiosity." Nagato persists. "You are an Uzumaki, like myself. I wish to understand your motives. I want to know why you grew to become this woman while I festered in darkness. Be grateful that I'm giving you more than a moment to speak before I place you in shackles. This battle should not have been yours and I want to know why you're here."
"You're looking too deep into it."
"And you'll let me answer as honestly as I can?" Karin thinks this is a good opportunity to bide time and prevent Nagato from returning to the battle.
"If it so pleases you." Nagato replies dryly.
Karin thinks carefully. Hard to do over the noise of the rain and the collapsing architecture.
How does she pinpoint exactly why she fights? Naruto gave her the choices to pursue life however she pleased. She could've been a regular Shinobi. She could've been a medic, she could've been a baker and Naruto wouldn't have cared. He would have been happy to let her do whatever she pleased and yet she chose this path. One that leads her into danger and great risk.
But she can't think of a convoluted answer with more than one word that explains it all.
"Love." Karin answers. "I found someone who could drag me from my deepest pit of despair. Someone who presented me with endless opportunity and choice. Before I met him, my life was just figuring out how to survive. He let me learn who I was, he gave me a sense of belonging, even from the day we met when I was completely terrified of him. He let me decide for myself what I wanted to do, who I wanted to become, without once asking for anything in return. His unconditional love helped me learn what love is again. I can't put what I do to logic. I just love him so much that I'll be by his side, even as the world ends."
"And before love? What was your life before you found this... reason?"
"Pain." Karin shrugs. "Despair. Loss. Hate. Take your pick, you're way older than me, you'd know what those things are even better."
"Does your love make the Pain worth it in the end? Even as the world you know collapses around you?"
"Hundreds of times over." Karin answers with heart.
Nagato appears pensive in his silence.
"You are young," He says bluntly. "You have yet to experience the world as I have."
"Yeah well, there are plenty of people who never will. I'd say a good portion of oldies have suffered too. I dunno what made you turn out like this but I don't care, I'm gonna do everything I can to make sure other people can have a chance at love and joy like I do."
"In Mugen Tsukuyomi, everyone will." Nagato argues.
"A life where everyone is happy all of the time? Gimme a break, peoples brains'll melt and they'll find excuses even in their own dreams to give meaning to that happiness. Face the music. It's not the world that sucks, it's people. We already live in a perfect world, you just got the short end of the stick because of shitty decisions made by shitty people, but even dreams can become nightmares. A pointless dream, thought up by a man who thought life was nothing but suffering. Just like you, and guess what? He made his grandson the worst enemy of that dream. Just because you've had a bad life, doesn't mean it can't get better."
"Things do not appear to even be capable of being better from my perspective."
"Sucks to be you." Karin retorts snidely.
She pulls a Kunai from one of several pouches. It's longer and thinner than average, with tiny bladed hooks pointing upward from the top of the hilt. Designed to stick into something without budging free from little force. She throws it in the water and rapidly throws another straight at Nagato, manifesting a Rasengan in one hand.
It glows brightly, gold light reflecting off of wet rubble, before all the moisture around them converges into a sphere around Nagato.
A thick tendril of water erupts from the ground, busting open the concrete and taking the shape of a giant shark. Swimming in it is Kisame, who gets ready to chomp down on Nagato's shoulder from behind before he and his water prison are forcibly dispersed by invisible energy.
Kisame goes stumbling and lands next to Karin, Samehada bleeding off of his skin and into its usual shape as he returns to normal.
"Sorry, Karin-chan." Kisame apologises, though with his usual bemused inflection. "I tried to get the jump on him."
"You took some of his Chakra, that counts for something."
"Not much I think, it's even stronger than yours."
"Better than nothing, thanks. But we should get on this before he rejoins the fight against Naruto."
"My thoughts exactly."
She spots the Kunai she threw at Nagato in the mouth of Samehada, poking out just a little.
"Kisame. Traitor." Nagato narrows his eyes, seemingly unaffected by having his Chakra forcibly drawn away. "Have you not done enough to this dream that you would fight against me again?"
The ground shakes before Kisame can respond. A wooden construct eclipses Amegakure. Even Nagato appears unsettled by the sheer size.
"Naruto-san?" Kisame asks Karin hopefully.
"No..." Karin answers nervously. "That was the Shodai."
But in that very moment, a wave of black fire splits the Shinsusenju in two, and in topples with loud crashing and creaks.
Sawdust explodes out through the village. Not just that, but massive sharp slats and chunks come breezing through.
As the dust covers them, Karin grabs Kisame and teleports them into the water. Safety.
Or it would be, if the Nidaime and Yondaime didn't also have the idea to hide in the water.
They look at each other awkwardly and Karin lets bubbles out in surprise before Kisame whisks her away, transforming with Samehada again and leaving quicker through the water than they could follow.
Karin can't fight them in the water though, and the best method that she can use to counter them is Hiraishin-based Ninjutsu.
Plus, she can't see well underwater. Or smell. Or breath. Or do much of anything. So she splits-off.
"Sekiyou Torikago(Red Yang Birdcage)."
Chains spring from her back, circling around her and creating an anchor back on the steel shore. The freezing water syphons away and spills out, causing a vacuum of much-needed air.
Minato doesn't even attempt to get through the barrier. He pelts a Kunai out of the water and instead launches through the entrance of the chain-barrier at such blurring speed that Karin couldn't possibly keep-up. So instead, she narrows the barrier to barely conceal her and puts her hands out, her own unique Kunai in-hand.
His eyes are different and so is his Chakra, but he has the same light-blue glow that Naruto does when he charges a massive Rasengan.
"Hiraishin: Dorai(Guiding Thunder)."
Minato slams into a web of formulae. His body flickers as he tries to use Hiraishin to escape but continues to be absorbed by her Jutsu.
"Well done!" Minato is positively ecstatic. "But I'll be back as soon as you get me away! You need to seal me up."
"Easier said than done!" Karin strains against Minato's resistance. Even a Jutsu of this level quakes before the power of the Yondaime.
"I have an idea." Kurama growls from within the sealscape.
"Feel free to share!"
Minato instinctively knows that letting himself be absorbed will let him teleport back sooner, so seemingly against his will, he does exactly that.
'I can't beat him.' Karin isn't shocked to realise that.
"No, but you can cut him off from the Gedo Mazo. Seal him in here, with me."
Karin is completely dumbfounded and confused.
"Kushina used to seal things in the seal to try and bribe me to lend her my power. Shiny baubles and such. But the fact that she could do it means that there's a possibility that we can seal Yondaime in here too, separate him from the Juubi and my power can cover his tracks."
Minato appears again, seemingly assessing how to best attack her before a black ring of flame forces him to jump out of the way. The ring explodes and unleashed the most horrid howl she'd ever heard in her life, making flames arc into the sky.
The Yondaime's body struggles to hold itself together. Pieces of his dust-skin flake away, although it repairs itself soon after.
'What to do...' Karin closes the barrier and hides in it.
Kakashi and Neji don't know what to make of the underground network.
Waterfalls pour into the deep chasm under Ame, but the scenery is inconsequential to what else they're looking at.
A great red light around a jutted corner, and a volume of Chakra so great that they can only surmise that the sealing is reaching its end.
And familiar faces?
Sasuke blurs into motion, striking at Neji with bladed claws.
Neji whirls into Kaiten.
"Sasuke is not this slow." Neji shouts to Kakashi, who's running a kunai through a pale mockery of Sakura.
"I'm aware!" Kakashi responds, disconcerted. "They also wouldn't attack us in the first place! These must be the Chakra-stealing clones from Sasuke's report on the battle against Itachi!"
Neji hits the faded-looking Chakra points on the Sasuke clone, watching as it instead droops like it was liquifying instead of injured by having its network disabled.
"That red light, it's where the Jinchuuriki is. We can interrupt the sealing." Neji recommends.
Too bad there were hundreds of the clones between them and the Gedo Mazo. All of which are probably only there to accelerate the reincarnation of the Juubi by absorbing as much ambient Chakra from all of the battle going on above them.
An earthen ceiling above them cracks open, or is rather sliced open by an arc of black flames. Neji stands in front of Kakashi to shield him and uses Kaiten, stopping the gust of raw sound from ripping them apart.
The Shodai Hokage appears to have been thrown down it. The air around him is compressed so tightly that it creates a visible stream straight to the cavern ground. Naruto follows down, levitating and looking like he's shrouded in black flames. Strangely, Neji can't see his Chakra network. All there is in the Byakugan is Naruto's light-blue Chakra that's so dense that it's overwriting any visibility his coils should have.
"Naruto!" Kakashi cries out. "The Gedo Mazo- it's at the end of this chasm!"
Naruto seems to acknowledge Kakashi and his words, but doesn't move to act.
"He can't. Naruto-dono knows that we can't defeat the Hokage and the Rinnegan-wielder."
"NAAARUTO!" The Shodai tries to get his attention. "USE EDO-TENSEI!"
"Of course!" Kakashi understands the message, but Neji is lost.
"What use will that be?"
"We can't defeat the Edo-Tensei without sealing them, but we can stall them by using the same thing! Someone who can't be killed, only sealed, would be the perfect defence. But..." Kakashi trails off.
"Edo-Tensei... is a forbidden Jutsu, because it requires the sacrifice of life to bring another soul back. Not only that, but at least a piece of the original flesh of the person one is trying to resurrect."
Neji is startled when Naruto appears before them. As far as he knows, Naruto can't use Hiraishin. So how-?
"These ones are different. The Hokage are at what is virtually full-strength. Edo-Tensei is meant to use the Chakra network of the sacrifice to suspend one's soul in it. Whatever bodies were used to create them is abnormally compatible with their Chakra. I think they're White Zetsu clones. But they shouldn't have souls. Something is off, something terrible."
"The White Zetsu have souls?" Kakashi asks astutely. "I'm sure there's a moral dilemma there to solve after we save the world."
"They shouldn't have souls." Naruto reiterates sternly. "That's the problem, which means that they used to be humans."
Kakashi's mind is clearly working in overdrive but Neji isn't a prodigy or a master of seeing underneath the underneath.
"Mugen Tsukuyomi has only ever been used once in recorded history. We know that it captures people in an unbreakable Genjutsu."
Kakashi realises what Naruto is leading to.
"The Genjutsu doesn't just capture them, it harvests them."
Naruto nods. "Exactly. They were once humans trapped in Mugen Tsukuyomi over a millenia ago. It's not a perfect dream world, it's a trap that Obito is falling into. Someone else wants this plan to come to fruition."
"It's too late for questioning motives." Kakashi goes back into 'Shinobi' mode. "Edo-Tensei is our best bet, we can capture some of those Zetsu and use them."
"We don't have any genetic material to use." Neji points out.
"I might have a plan." Naruto waves a wrist toward the swarm of Zetsu, who seem blissfully ignorant to their existence.
"Why aren't they attacking?" Kakashi asks in confusion.
"You're in my Tsukuyomi shroud. Instead of using it on one person, I'm projecting the Genjutsu into the world around us to alter our enemies' perception of us and their sense of time."
A White Zetsu crash-lands at Naruto's feet, who's still very-much on fire, Neji would like to take note of.
"Here goes nothing." Naruto deactivates his Chakra-mode and bites his thumb, causing it to bleed.
He smears the blood on the forehead of the White Zetsu, and it flinches at the touch and swats Naruto's hand away like it's an annoying bug. It seems that it can't actually see or hear them, judging by this reaction.
"Kuchiyose: Edo Tensei!"
The White Zetsu releases a blood-curdling scream as it folds in on itself, shrieking and turning inside-out and refolding again and again until its pigment starts to change. Its formerly pale, slightly green skin shifts into something fair and natural.
And its short and scruffy green hair turns into a long curtain of crimson, reaching its ankles and flowing beautifully.
"It's working..." Naruto breathes, looking a tad relieved and excited, but mournful. "I must go. She will help you with the Hokage, but my priority is stopping Obito!"
"Good luck, Naruto-dono."
Naruto re-ignites and levitates away, but not before looking at the person taking shape.
"We'll talk later, I promise."
Naruto turns to observe the marching Zetsu and narrows his eyes. Without even a flick of the wrist, Chakra whirls around him.
"Senpou: Enton: Goka Mekkyaku(Sage Art: Blaze Release: Great Fire Annhiliation)!"
Neji often wonders if he's going mad when he's around Naruto.
No-one else could paint a cave with black flames and make it look normal.
Sasuke and Sakura make quick work of Konan.
Their task was to find any remaining Akatsuki and make sure they stay out of Naruto's way. But it didn't even seem like the woman really wanted to be in the fight at all.
She did surprise them by luring them out onto the lake, only to barrage them with thousands of paper-bombs hidden in the water. Sasuke managed to throw Sakura out and replace himself with a Susanoo arrow using Naruto's Kawarimi. Substitute with one's own Chakra is quite Chakra efficient, it turns out.
They don't kill her though. Yet.
"Do I have to kill you? Or can you convince your Rinnegan friend to butt out?" Sasuke offeres an olive-branch.
Konan looks at him with a stale and emotionless stare.
The gaze of a woman who's already given-up hope.
Her clothes are but rags on her now, barely clinging to her body but her modesty is disguised by the blood gushing from her wounds.
But she gets wrenched away from them before Sasuke can give her a pitying final-blow.
The man with the Rinnegan looks viciously angry.
Sasuke and Sakura are blown away and skate nearly weightlessly along the water surface.
They slow down just enough to not hit a pier for fishing boats.
"I thought Naruto had this one occupied." Sakura snaps her elbow back in place with an aggressive whack and some healing Chakra.
Matatabi accelerates the healing of his concussion.
"This is just chaos." Sasuke shakes-off his blurry vision.
A tingle goes down his spine.
Wicked laughter echoes across Amegakure. A woman's, but not Karin or the one they'd just been fighting.
Golden chains of Chakra light up the sky, holding up a feminine figure.
"Katon: Rasentastumaki(Fire Release: Spiralling Tornado)!"
An entire block of the city is engulfed in a tornado. That's on fire.
Over the blistering heat, they hear the Yondaime call out in exasperation and affection.
"Kushina! For goodness sakes, I'm trying to explain-"
"Shut Up and fight!"
Chapter 27 End
Next chapter will involve much fighting. That's to be expected, right?
As always, I'm very grateful to all of you who are still reading as we approach the climax and finale of this little story. Life finds a way to keep me too busy from doing regular updates, but this story will finish unless I die.
I'm proud that I've managed to write something that people enjoy. I get quite a bit of engagement in the form of PM's, people sharing the fic on Reddit, and of course, many reviews. More than I had ever imagined receiving when I first started posting. Looking back, there are things I could have done better and could probably correct now, but part of me is getting burnt out from writing so I'll stick to posting new chapters over editing old ones. We're getting close to a big milestone of 1000 reviews, and I appreciate all of you who take the time to review and let me know what your thoughts are on the chapters as they come. As far as I'm aware, not many Uchiha!Naruto stories really make it this far, so I appreciate the extra motivation to write and finish this story.
And as usual, take care of yourselves. Exercise is good for the mind and the body. Stretch before bed! It helps.
Until next time.