Part 4.9: True Emotions
Naruto stared down at the floor, flicking his fingers nervously between balling and relaxing his fists. He could not stop moving, swaying his body back and forth as he sat on the padded bench. This was the second time in a few hours he'd been sitting in this exact same spot, waiting for the prognosis on Gai. Naruto felt anxiety creep through him then, but this felt different. Naruto was convinced Gai was invincible. Kakashi had been in similar spots, but always came out intact. Jounin seemed to know how to live so well. But this was the worst kind of doubt, the kind that ate away slowly at you from the inside out with an unending stream of questions. Emotions swirled through his veins like a river as his heart danced faster and faster to the ebb and flow. His mouth felt horribly dry, but he didn't want to move from this spot to quench himself.
Lee refused to sit, but rather fell to the ground doing push-ups, crunches, and other calisthenics, grunting loudly as he did so. Yet his eyes were the only thing that never moved, their focus attuned to the red light like a horrid wonder had captured his attention, his eyes filled with the same single-mindedness he bore when enduring a particularly painful training session. Naruto felt the impulse to join him but for the first time in his life, felt himself zapped of energy.
Watching a comrade cling to life so desperately felt like a gigantic crater had been driven into his chest. He had felt it in Wave country when he believed…Sasuke…had almost died. From there, he felt a fiery, fury fill consume that gap like an explosion, leaving only rage and revenge in his mind. He felt it again when confronting Gaara after the first Chuunin exams, yet it was different. That feeling was a great passion pushing against him, a desire above all others to protect those he cared about. He remembered those times well, engrained in his mind as they were, yet this was different. Back then, he knew the situation, and his mind locked onto a single task, and he pursued it relentlessly. But here, he knew nothing. There were no enemies in front of him to fight and no people to protect. All he could do, was wait, and it sickened him.
Naruto resumed looking back at his hands, bending his fingers across one another nervously. This felt so different from Gai's operation. With Gai, Naruto had seen him fall, had been there to help. But this, they didn't even know what had happened to her. Did she get sick? Did she have an accident? Or worse, was she attacked? Lee mentioned something about meeting at the room in an hour, but Naruto had no idea what that was about. In only an hour's time, two of his closest friends had been pulled violently from him, and now a man he considered had once considered his brother was threatening his life. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen. He was supposed to meet Sasuke. They would fight, but Naruto would be victorious, and in the end, he would bring Sasuke back into the fold, and everything would be the way it should be. Then he would become a Chuunin, along with the rest of his team and would be a step closer to fulfilling his dream of becoming Hokage.
But reality was not so kind. Instead the gap between himself and Sasuke had worsened. His friends were beginning to drop left and right. His own anger was moving beyond his control. It was too much to bear anymore. It seemed like ever since he entered this damned country a grim specter had been following him, destroying everything that made his life worth living.
Naruto stood straight up and began pacing back and forth, his eyes following the lines of the white, tile floor. His footsteps echoed softly in the small room. It was a welcome change to the terrible silence that had descended upon them like a dark shroud, covering everything he wanted to see, muffling everything he wanted to hear. Why was this happening? What the hell was going on here? The horrific restlessness built up inside, piling upon itself. He had to do something, anything at all to break this restlessness inside of him. Naruto let out an enraged yell and slammed his fist hard into the wall next to him, leaving a deep imprint in the white plaster and stone. He regretted it almost immediately as a throbbing pain shot through his hand.
"An excellent idea Naruto," said Lee. Naruto turned to watch Lee begin attacking the wall himself, pulling punch after punch against the white surface. "This is an excellent way to train one's self with what is available." Naruto shot Lee a very confused look, watching his friend vigorously punch at the wall, increasing the swelling of his already broken and strained hand. But something else had caught Naruto's eye. Lee's face bore the same strain, the same look of confusion and worry that his own bore. There was an intense fear locked in Lee's dark eyes, a deep restlessness that no doubt bit at him hard. Naruto stared at Lee for a moment, comforted at least a little that there was someone who knew how he felt.
"What the hell do you think you're doing," roared the doctor at the desk, "Walls cost money you little brats! I have to pay to get that fixed now. Can't you just sit your little, impatient asses down for ten seconds and wait like good children?"
Naruto moved his head from Lee, back to the doctor and smiled slyly. "No," said Naruto, as he resumed punching the wall.
"You little-" However, the doctor's angered speech was cut short as the doors to the operating room opened. Gai strode wobbly into the room. His shook horribly under him, but he managed to keep balance. The poison evidently still rocked at his system. He watched them idly punch the wall for a moment before breaking out in a hearty laugh.
"Just like the students of Maito Gai to train under any circumstances," he shouted, "Impressive job my students." He shot them an obligatory thumbs up along with a brilliant smile. Behind him, the doctor's face turned so red Naruto thought he would catch fire, but he just stormed behind the desk, cursing under his breath.
"Is she alright," asked Naruto. Gai quickly stopped laughing and gave Naruto a very serious look. However, a broad smile slowly grew across his face that sparkled brightly.
"She will be fine," said Gai proudly, "Our amazing Hokage is working with her right now, and I am most assured that she will be back up to full health in no time." Naruto sighed, feeling a huge burden lifted off his chest.
"What happened to her Gai-sensei," asked Lee. Gai's smile faded and the serious look returned to his face.
"She was attacked by someone," spat Gai, "Kakashi rescued her from that person's clutches and brought her back here. I will not lie to you my students, she was not in the best of shape. But I am sure she will pull through." Lee sighed as well, relaxing his shoulders slightly as his body became calm again. However, something bit at the back of Naruto's mind. For some reason, the fact that she was attacked hit him with a strange feeling of déjà vu, but he couldn't understand why. Naruto shook it off and returned his attention back to Gai.
"Can we see her," asked Naruto hopefully.
Gai shook his head, "No," he said, "Our Hokage still needs time to work with her, but I have arranged lodgings nearby so that we may be close. I know that my students would not want to be far from their comrade." Just at that moment, the double doors behind Gai opened up. Naruto sidestepped Lee to get a better view. Tsunade slowly walked out from behind the doors. Her eyes were wide with shock, and a look of horror appeared wretched on her face. Naruto's spirits fell like a brick from the look on Tsunade's face, but as soon as she saw Naruto, she cracked a small grin.
"She's awake if you want to see her," said Tsunade in a very forced cheeriness. Naruto rushed past Gai and flung himself into the room, Lee not far behind.
Gai watched his students rush past him, a confident smile on his face. Tsunade was truly amazing. He already owed so much to her. First she had saved Lee, and now TenTen. Truly a woman worthy of the title of Hokage. Gai gave her a bright grin, but Tsunade did not return the gesture. She walked slowly over to the long couch and sat down with a thud. She stared up at the ceiling as a deep sigh passed through her lips.
"No doubt you are tired Hokage-sama," said Gai, "but I must thank you properly for all you have done for me. Your amazing repair of my student Lee, and now your timely healing of my student TenTen, I am so grateful to you Tsunade-sama. You truly are ama-"
"Gai," interrupted Tsunade, "you might want to sit down." Gai nodded, curious as to why Tsunade looked so downtrodden. Gai moved gingerly forward, the poison still affecting him slightly, and took a seat next to Tsunade. Tsunade bent her head down and stared at her hands. She kept trying to speak, but seemed to cut herself off every time. Finally, she closed her eyes for a moment, taking in a deep breath before she began. "Alright, I won't lie to you Gai," said Tsunade, her voice slightly shaken, "I can't repair all of the damage to her spine."
Now Gai was very confused. 'Damage to her spine,' thought Gai, 'what is she talking about.' "Forgive my ignorance Hokage-sama, but I was not aware that the damage was anything but superficial, striking skin and muscle tissue. Perhaps a few broken bones, but nothing that is beyond your skill to repair. What are you referring to exactly?"
Tsunade took another deep breath. She forced her words out and seemed very reluctant to talk. "There was extensive damage to her spine. Specifically the nerves associated with movement. The work was done very meticulously; it looked like someone with an extensive knowledge in anatomy and human physiology. It's just…too much to damage to repair Gai. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?" Gai stared at her in disbelief, not daring to speak, to do so would be to confirm his own fears. "She's paralyzed Gai," continued Tsunade slowly, "I can't repair the nervous tissue."
"But with Lee," stammered Gai, "there were problems with his spine as well, and you fixed it. It was risky, but you saved his nindo with your skill. How is this any different?"
"I can't create nervous tissue Gai," said Tsunade dauntingly, "The body doesn't heal like that, and no medic has ever created replacement nerve tissue. I'm sorry Gai, but there's nothing I can do at this point. From the looks of things, she's paralyzed for life from the neck down." Gai stared at Tsunade in disbelief, his mouth gaping in shock, and his eyes beginning to tear. He shook his head hard, an overwhelming fear and frustration cutting deep inside of him.
"No," groaned Gai, "no, I don't believe that. There has to be something we can do. I refuse to believe that nothing can be done. You must heal her. There must be some surgery, some medicine, ANYTHING! If all she needs is a replacement I will gladly give you my own!"
"That's very noble Gai," said Tsunade defiantly, "but it won't help anything. I can't just take anyone's nerve tissue and put it in the spot where she's missing some. The body doesn't accept organ transplants of that nature, and it's near impossible to do precisely. Even if I could, it would end up in her entire body collapsing from nervous shock. She's lucky to be alive as it is Gai."
"You call that lucky," snapped Gai, "This is anything but lucky. This can't be happening. She wanted to grow to become a strong nin. She wanted to be confident, amazing, someone that could take charge of any situation. She wanted to be just like YOU!" Tsunade turned away from this comment, the words seeming to sting her deeply. "I won't allow her to live such a life. There has to be something you can do. Anything, I don't care what it takes. I just…" Gai stood up and pounded his fists on the wall behind him. "I can't give up. I can't. I can't!" He pounded harder and harder on the bright wall, the sound of his fists cracking against the stone bounding through the room like a hammer against a wall.
"Gai calm down," shouted Tsunade. She grabbed Gai by the shoulder and pushed him hard against the wall, forcing a loud cough from Gai. "I know you're upset, but making a scene isn't going to solve anything. I'm sorry, but you're just going to have to accept the truth. There's nothing I can do. Believe me, if there was, I would tell you. But no medical nin has every done what you're asking me to do. This isn't like healing skin or muscles, or even organs. The way in which this was done, it was like it was cut from the inside out. Almost like a blade was formed inside of her body and slashed at specific areas of the spinal column. I'm sorry Gai, I really am, but right now, there's nothing I can do." Gai snarled at Tsunade. He had no intention of sitting here deliberating what could not be done while his student lay in a false death. He wanted to scream, to punch something, to fight a foe, climb a mountain, run a million laps around the world itself, anything to cure her. Gai's knees buckled beneath him, and he slid slowly towards the ground. Tsunade looked down on him, tears beginning to well up in her own eyes, but she quickly wiped them away and resumed the strong façade of a Hokage. She knelt down and rubbed Gai's shoulder comfortingly as Gai lay on his knees on the ground, staring blankly at the white, tile floor. "I want to do something Gai," said Tsunade compassionately, "but I can't. You ask for the impossible. I mean, the only times I've ever even heard of mass healings like what you're asking are in legends and stories, nothing real…"Gai did not want to hear what Tsunade had to say. She was trying to distract him from the moment at hand, but Gai had no intention of removing his focus. The feeling of hope leaving his spirit was like his own soul was being sucked dry. He did not want to listen. He did not want to do anything. "There's a lot I don't know in the world Gai, so I can't say it's hopeless. But in any case, there's nothing more I can do." She smiled warmly at Gai and gave him a small pat on the shoulder before turning towards the door. Just as she reached the exit, she turned towards Gai once again. "Please don't give up on her Gai. She's going to need your support now more than ever."
"I know," said Gai in a melancholy tone, "Thank you Tsunade, for everything."
"Take care Gai." And Tsunade walked out of the room, the sound of her steps fading as a grisly silence hung over the room once again.
Naruto's eyes went wide and his mouth was left gaping as he stared into the hospital room. The section was partitioned off from the rest of the hospital, still lingering with the same bright, white walls, with a single window off to the side that shone the moon and stars in the sky. Yet no matter how bright everything in the room may have seemed, the scene in the center of it made everything drab and depressing.
The sound of various machines pumping, beeping, and whizzing in a low cacophony interrupted any silence. These machines surrounded a single bed on three sides where TenTen lay. Strips of thick cloth with black seals and markings on them covered her entire body save her head, which lay motionless, her eyes open staring at the ceiling blankly. A large, clear mask with a plastic tube leading to another machine covered both her mouth and nose making her breathing audible from a distance. Bandages came down in two thin strips from her face moving past the nape of her neck to disappear under the strips of cloth.
Naruto stared at her for a moment, giving time for the horribly hot feeling wrenching in his stomach to move in deeper and dissipate. His legs stood frozen in place, wavering slightly under the mental shock of seeing his friend in such a position. He wanted to say something, but he had no idea what. He turned to Lee, who looked much the same as Naruto, but suddenly, Lee took in a very deep breath and forced a smile on his face as he walked quickly towards TenTen's bed. Naruto had no idea how Lee could possible smile, but he didn't feel like asking. Naruto simply watched Lee move down on one knee by TenTen's side so that he was eye-level with her.
"Hello," said Lee in a forced cheeriness. TenTen blinked her eyes quickly a few times before slowly moving them towards Lee. Every inch she moved seemed shaky, painful, and horribly forced. Lee paused for a moment, seemingly lost for words. Finally, after a few failed attempts, he managed to get a clear sentence out. "I know this is little comfort," said Lee slowly, carefully, "but Gai-sensei is sure you will be fine. I too know the pangs of being under injury. But do not feel worried." Lee rose back to his feet, pumping his fist high into the air, "You are very strong! Your spirit of youth is brilliant and will not be extinguished! If the Leaf's Great Azure Beast can reincarnate, then surely you can as well! I promise!" He mimicked Gai's posture exactly, the glimmering teeth and all. Naruto didn't know if Lee's words would be comforting exactly but was still thankful that they were no longer standing in silence. Lee's eyes shifted towards Naruto as he waved him over. Naruto hesitated for a moment, swallowing a hard lump in his throat, before making his way over to TenTen's bedside. The hot, empty feeling in the pit of his stomach still didn't leave, and his mouth felt dryer with every step he took. He finally stood next to her bed. Her eyes moved slowly towards him, meeting his own in an awkward look as Naruto stared at her. He opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. His mind was completely shut, like someone had taken the ability to speak from his mind, his head felt vacant, and empty. There was a very heavy silence between them that Naruto did not know how long lasted, but thankfully Lee broke it.
"Um…" Lee stammered, "Naruto agrees with me, most defiantly." He nudged Naruto with his arm, as Naruto nodded in confirmation with the statement, not entirely sure if he completely agreed with Lee or not. TenTen smiled very weakly at this. Naruto half-expected her to laugh, but that seemed to be beyond her capabilities. Finally, his mind came together, and the only words he could think of quickly spilled out.
"We're going to get the bastards that did this," Naruto said, "I promise. I'll make them pay for what they did to you." Naruto felt a slight tug on his shoulder and found Lee looking very seriously at him.
"We both will," he said defiantly, turning his attention back towards TenTen, "this act will not go unpunished. As your comrades, we will find the culprit and make him answer for this crime." Naruto and Lee simultaneously brought their arms out in a thumbs-up pose.
"We promise," they said simultaneously, each one surprised at the other. TenTen did not seem to respond to this, but merely stared at the both of them. It was odd to see her so expressionless when she was usually was full of energy and life. Naruto felt a sick feeling overwhelm him, digging down inside his chest.
The double doors behind them opened again as Naruto and Lee both turned to see Gai stride solemnly into the room. His eyes looked red, and bloodshot, like he had been crying, but as much as Gai cried this was nothing new. Still, something in the manner he walked, like he had been completely drained of energy, almost solemnly. Lee noticed it too and a look of concern washed over his face as he stared at his sensei.
"Gai-sensei," Lee asked, "is everything alright?" Gai's head quickly shot up and stared at Lee for a moment before his trademark grin returned to his face.
"Of course Lee," said Gai exuberantly, "Your sensei is feeling most assured is his physical condition. It will not be soon before-"
"What did the old lady Tsunade say," interrupted Naruto. Gai continued to smile, but something in his eyes seemed out of place. The sparkle that usually lit up the entire room and filled them all with energy was missing from his face.
"Tsunade," stammered Gai slightly, the words seeming to leave him, "…Tsunade says…that she will be fine. She will be unable to move for a few weeks, but she will make a full recovery." Naruto and Lee both breathed a collective sigh of relief, and Naruto felt the horrid feeling inside of himself cool down slightly.
"Do they knew who her attacker is," asked Lee quickly. Naruto stared at Gai, waiting for a reply. If he was going to kick someone's ass he'd like to know who.
"Not at the moment," replied Gai quickly, "Kakashi was the one who rescued her. You'll have to ask him when he returns. In the meantime you should probably get some rest. The second part of the Chuunin exam does start tomorrow."
"But Gai-sensei," exclaimed Lee, "what if this attacker returns to finish his task? We should stand guard over her!" Naruto said nothing but nodded in agreement. He hadn't thought about the possibility of the attacker returning, and standing guard would be a good idea.
"That is not necessary," replied Gai, "I will stand watch over my student."
"No offense sensei," said Naruto, "but you won't be much good for a while. If we don't know how strong this guy is, you may not be much help." Gai looked like he had been slapped in the face at first, but soon began actually consider Naruto's words, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"As amazing an Azure Beast as I am," said Gai, "perhaps you are correct. However, I will not be far. Even in this state, I am still the amazing Maito Gai, Great Rare Beast of the Hidden Leaf!" He ended his speech in the usual fashion of a whooping-crane pose complete with a frothing ocean behind him. He held the pose for a moment, before his leg gave out from under him. Gai fell in a heap to the floor as Naruto tried not to laugh. TenTen's mouth moved to a smile as Gai heartily guffawed at his own weakness.
"Even weakened, Gai-sensei is amazing," yelled Lee, "Very well, I stand watch first. You should get some rest Naruto."
"What are you talking about," snapped Naruto, "I'm perfectly fine. You should get some rest; I'll stand guard."
"Though your generosity is appreciated Naruto," continued Lee matter-of-factly, "I am an Azure Beast of much endurance. I could stand four nights without sleep."
"Big deal," shouted Naruto back, "I could stand five!"
"I could stand a week!"
"I could stand two!" Naruto and Lee were nose to nose now, each one shouting a progressively greater date. Naruto could see TenTen out of the corner of his eye, a weak laugh almost escaping her lips that made any heavy feeling inside of him lighten immediately.
"Students," yelled Gai, quieting Naruto and Lee, "there is only one real way that real men settle these kinds of disputes. It is a time honored tradition amongst eternal rivals and comrades. Janken!"
Gai left the room, watching Naruto and Lee play round after round of Janken to determine who would guard first. He chuckled under his breath as he walked out of the hospital and down the hall. The aftereffects of the poison were still strong, but nothing he couldn't handle. His muscles were still shaky, and as much as he hated to admit it, he wouldn't be much help in guarding TenTen.
He walked out of the hospital room with a heavy sigh right into a large blast of cigarette smoke. He coughed slightly as he watched the head doctor taking long drags from a cigarette before slowly blowing out the smoke. "Aren't those bad for your health," asked Gai quizzically. The doctor took a particularly long drag before exhaling through his nose, pushing the smoke towards the ground.
"Being a ninja is worse I hear," he said sarcastically, "and in any case, you may think you did something sweet, lying to those kids. But you're going to have to tell them the truth sooner or later. I think she'll figure out she can't move after those few weeks you talked about."
"I never lie," replied Gai darkly. The doctor laughed mockingly at Gai's statement.
"So even though your Hokage, quite possibly the greatest medic in existence, gave you the diagnosis, you're still certain she'll be okay? Where are you getting this second opinion from, some imaginary friend?" Gai shot him a very dirty look that cut the doctor to the bone, almost making him drop his cigarette. "Hey, hey, sorry okay," he said quickly, "I'm just curious about how you're going to make things 'all better'. I mean you heard what she said, the body won't take new nervous tissue in, and she can't create replacement. It's like trying to re-grow a new arm or heart. I mean, do you know anyone who can do that?"
"Actually," replied Gai solemnly, "I do." The doctor snorted loudly before spitting on the floor in front of Gai.
"Well good luck with that," he said, passing on the cigarette pack to Gai, "You might want to start, talking like you do." The doctor walked back into the operating room as Gai stared at the pack of cigarettes in his hand. His mind was racing, every alarm in his mind going off, warning him about his actions.
'Do I dare,' he thought, 'but I made a promise. I have to think on this. This is not a decision that can be made rashly.' Gai flung the pack to the ground as he walked back towards his room, his mind deep in thought.
Tsunade made her way ploddingly up the long staircase. Every step she took rebounded off the walls like a drum as her head pounded painfully from lack of sleep and fatigue. She could hardly remember the last time she had a decent sleep, the last time her thoughts were at ease rather than attacked by the nightmare of a recurring war. To say the talks had been going badly would be an understatement. Every time the Raikage and she discussed anything it always led back to the war, the Raikage making some subtle comment about the bloodline massacre and then going on a tirade about the losses his village had sustained from the 'bloodthirsty' Leaf. To make matters worse, representatives from Hidden Mist and Stone had arrived and the Raikage was making it his personal duty to escort them around the village. 'If I make any mistakes,' thought Tsunade, 'even one slip-up, it may cost us more now than ever.' Tsunade sighed loudly as she rounded a final flight of stairs towards an oaken door. She closed her eyes. Her head pounded furiously now, like a gigantic gong was crashing repeatedly in her head. She leaned forward, looking to rest her head against the door for a moment. Unfortunately, she leaned too far and slammed her forehead hard into the door with a loud thud. She quickly recoiled back, her hands feeling around the painful knot that formed slowly on her head. Tsunade let loose a frustrated growl before roaring a string of every curse she knew only for her echo to shout it right back at her.
"You and the door have a fight," asked a familiar voice beside her. Tsunade snapped her head to her right to see Kakashi leaning lazily against the far wall. He had changed from his tattered garments back into a spare piece of dark, black clothing with the same green vest. Tsunade scowled at him before jamming her room key into the doorknob and pushing it open. She reached her hand against the wall to her right before finally contacting with a small switch on it, flicking it up to illuminate a single, overhead light. The room was a grey box, devoid of any real furnishings save a bed, sink, and toilet. It reminded her more of a prison cell than any accommodation. She stepped inside, her high-heels clicking loudly against the tile floor. "Cozy," said Kakashi sarcastically. Tsunade rose a single finger into the air, signaling for Kakashi to be silent. Kakashi nodded and leaned back against the wall in the hallway, pulling a small book from a pouch behind him. Tsunade ignored him and returned her focus to the room. She moved towards the wall closest to her and pressed her hands up against the cold, grey stone. It was weak, but there definitely was a small pulse moving through it. She sidestepped to her left, turning her head and placing her ear against the wall. The sound grew fainter as she moved, and the pulse slowly grew weaker. She quickly sidestepped back towards the sound, the pulse slowly becoming stronger against her hands. Slowly, a small beeping became audible as she inched closer to it. Finally, her hands could feel the vibration right under them. Tsunade smiled wryly as she pulled her body back, forming a few basic seals. She channeled a small bit of chakra to her hands and sent a small, static pulse through the wall. The beeping quickly shut off, and the vibration stopped.
"I have such a thoughtful host," said Tsunade, her voice dripping with sarcasm, "he's so worried about my safety he places bugs in the room just to make sure I'm protected." Kakashi stepped slowly into the room, his face still buried in his book. "Now what is it Kakashi." Kakashi quickly shoved a silver of paper into the book, marking his place, before stuffing it back into his pouch.
"I'll get right to the point," said Kakashi seriously, "the assailant of the girl you treated is one of the Hidden Cloud. He was dressed in this." He reached back behind him and pulled out a small sliver of red cloth, holding it out for Tsunade's observation. The structure looked strange, like small, scaly diamonds crossed over a rubbery mesh, but the material did seem familiar. "I don't suppose you've seen this before."
"As a matter of fact I have," said Tsunade, her mind struggling to recall a name, "I remember meeting a nin who wore this before. His name was….Set, Izou Set."
"Izou Set eh," said Kakashi in a thoughtful tone, "the Izou namesake is quite well known around here."
"Yeah, but the Raikage didn't make him out to be anything special," replied Tsunade, "seemed like an arrogant, repugnant brat though."
"I wouldn't trust the Raikage's word on that," said Kakashi, his tone underlying something sinister, "this 'brat' may be more than meets the eye. Whenever I engaged him, he used something called, the Crimson bloodline, that's pretty famous in this country too. I'm not sure what he did, but he managed to cause extensive injuries to me despite the fact that he is a mere Genin."
"Maybe," replied Tsunade shortly. She was getting impatient with Kakashi and it was beginning to show in her voice. "What are you getting at exactly Kakashi? I have a feeling that you didn't just come here to tell me this."
"My point is we don't know anything about this place or the people in it," said Kakashi, "we're dealing with foreign elements in a foreign land against a people who harbor quite a grudge against us. I've been investigating where I can, learning some of the local history, customs, but I've not wanted to overstep my bounds. But now, I think we need to start heavily investigating just what the Raikage has in store for us. The Sound too, they represent just as much a threat, if not more so considering the info they have on our country, especially with some of their more recent additions," Kakashi added darkly, "Wars are won and lost by information, and I can't help but feel like we're being pushed into a corner here Tsunade. I know ninjas are born and bred in the shadows, but I don't like being in the dark information-wise. I think we need to start assigning Chuunin and Jounin not assigned within a genin team to begin secretly collecting as much information as possible about the Raikage and the Cloud, Orochimaru and the Sound, and those two nins you met before."
Tsunade stared silently at Kakashi, leaving a heavy quiet between them. To be honest, she had thought about what Kakashi was asking, but thought risking a possible treaty with Thunder Country for a few scraps of information would be foolish. But now, with any hope for peace slowly falling from her grasp bit by bit, maybe it was time to throw caution to the wind and start collecting information. Tsunade let out a hard sigh, she felt defeated, like someone had just sucked all the energy out of her body, leaving her a fallen opponent on the battlefield. 'I wanted this peace so badly,' she thought, 'but I won't sacrifice my village to grasp at straws.' She steeled her insides, feeling energy flow back into her again. She hardened her face and stood up straight on the bed. "Alright Kakashi," she said in a commanding tone, "We'll meet with as many nin as we can and start assigning espionage tasks. Still, I understand the first two requests, they're obvious, but what do these two nins have to do with anything?"
"Have you seen the results of the first phase of the Chuunin exam," asked Kakashi. Tsunade shook her head, shooting Kakashi a very confused look. "Only three Hidden Cloud nin made it up the mountain. I couldn't recognize any names at first, but Izou Set was on that list. The other two were called Kanitsu Cally and Kusemono Julius. Don't you find it odd that they're taking an exam in their home country, one they could have easily prepared for, and only three nin get past the first phase?"
Tsunade felt shocked by this news; she had been out of the loop of news apparently. "How do you know this," asked Tsunade quizzically.
"It's open news," replied Kakashi, "the list was posted a few hours ago when the last nin made it up the mountain."
"So what happened to the rest of the Hidden Cloud nin?"
Kakashi paused for a moment before continuing, his voice tone growing very gloom, "Besides those three, the rest were found dead at the bottom of the cliff an hour after the exam ended. I'm almost positive the Raikage had something to do with it."
Tsunade's eyes went wide with shock from this news, but at the same time felt very confused from the info. "I don't understand," questioned Tsunade, "What would the Raikage have to gain from killing his own genin, and how do we even know this was the Raikage's doing?"
"I didn't think about it at first, but something the Raikage said to me recently made me almost sure it was his doing. He mentioned the reason we were under investigation, that one of Orochimaru's students was found mutilated a few feet away from a Leaf forehead protector, and a Hidden Cloud village was found slaughtered on our way here. We're being blamed for both events."
"What would he have to gain from tarnishing our reputation? These people hate us anyway. What is he-" Suddenly, everything became clear in a single instance, like every piece of a gigantic puzzle came together to form a clear picture. "The Stone and Mist. He's trying to depict us as bloodthirsty killers to them. Still, there's no hard evidence for that, just speculation. He must be planning something else, if he is planning something. Just staining our reputation isn't enough."
"I think so too," said Kakashi, "but I agree there's more underfoot than just that, and I'm sure those three genin are involved somehow. In any case, the Raikage is using this whole exam as a political maneuver of some kind, so we need to be ready for anything. I'm assuming I have your support then?"
Tsunade nodded at Kakashi. She felt like she was back in the civil war between the ninja nations, issuing orders to troops that may or may not return. It gave her a horrible feeling of nostalgia that bit at her insides, but she forced it down, keeping her resolve steeled. "Have you found out anything of significance thus far?"
Kakashi shrugged, "Hard to say. I've found bits and pieces of history, mainly concerning the Izou dynasty as that seems to be the only thing relevant that is open to the public. From what I understand Izou Dao was the most powerful nin to ever come out of Thunder Country, possessing a skill known from then on as the Crimson Bloodline. He created Hidden Cloud village and ruled it for quite some time. All the history books seem to think he ruled for around 300 years, though I don't know how that's possible. No record of how long Dao lived, when he died, or what he looked like, they just talk mainly about his bloodline. They say he was an absolute terror on the battlefield, and that he could take down an army single-handedly. Once again, no description how he did it, or what his bloodline did, but he seemed to be powerful. He ruled until his son, Izou Kai, killed him in single combat. Kai established Thunder Country and Thunder Capitol and ruled for around 60 years until he was killed by Izou Shin, his brother. It goes on like that with someone beget someone else, all previous rulers attaining power from killing the previous one, five of the eight Raikages being from the Izou clan. The current one is called Hakkyou Gisei, and besides his name, not much is known about him, except that he killed the Seventh after the war was over and his first act was the demand for Hyuuga Hiashi's body. Besides basic information anyone with a library card could find out, not much. Hopefully, that will change soon."
Tsunade nodded in silence. She had tried to find out as much information as possible concerning the situation, but unfortunately, felt herself being led blindly through a dangerous maze, led by a person she could not trust. Still, something about Kakashi's message bothered her. Something tickled the back of her mind, irritating her to no end until finally, she simply spoke out, "and what of Hiketsu?" There was a very heavy silence between the two of them. Kakashi's reluctance to tell her of this possible threat was becoming more than an annoyance. She grew tired of being in the dark for so long, and now was the time to finally step forward and present all everything with even the slightest relevance. "Tell me everything Kakashi," she said in a forceful tone, "don't leave anything out."
"I doubt you would believe me if I told you the whole story," he replied sardonically.
Kakashi glared menacingly at her for a moment, but Tsunade stayed her resolve, showing an iron face to Kakashi's stern look. Finally, he bowed his head in defeat, and his eyes drooped slightly, seeming to recall memories better left forgotten.
"It was ten years ago," Kakashi began slowly, "near the end of the 50 years war…"
The Raikage watched idly as Raan closed the doors to his chamber with a loud thud. He stared into empty space for a few moments, his mind vexed with constant pressure. Ever since the plan's beginnings, he felt like a lead weight had been strapped to his chest, slowly crushing his chest and robbing him of any breath. He could not remember the last time he had slept well, and even now the lids of his eyes hung heavy across his bloodshot eyes, his face drooping against the mental fatigue that had slowly begun to chip away at him. The Raikage moved back to his paperwork, shuffling a few notes around idly as he signed the last prerequisites for the second and final exams. The second exam would be the most important; the plan had to move flawlessly or everything would crumble down around him. He moved the pen to check one final box and then rested his hand against the wooden table in front of him. 'I'm not cut out for this,' he thought in an aggravated tone, 'this is the work of a politician, not a ninja of my caliber.' He let out a loud sigh before moving himself to his feet with a groan. He plucked the white, triangular hat from his head and placed it on a hook nearby before untying his robe and replacing it as well leaving him in a black, tight shirt and pants. He looked down at his right arm thoughtfully before bringing it straight in front of him and flexing it slowly towards him. The massive muscles bunched together forming a giant bulge in the material in his tree-trunk like arms. He smiled, satisfied with what he saw. Physical strength was always a strong suit in his clan, and it came particularly easy for him. He allowed his arm to relax back down at his side and walked towards the single glass window in the room. It was surprisingly bright through the clouds that hung overhead. The moon and stars shone gloriously through, but it did little to alleviate his aggravation. 'He's late,' thought the Raikage, 'he's always late when I need to speak with him most. What the hell is he doing that's so important anyway. And what was with Raan?' He turned back towards the darkened door to his room. Raan had always been moody and somewhat overly emotional but always loyal. Now though, Raan was slowly becoming a liability. He wasn't stupid, and if he found out about the 'incident' involving Kimiko, the Raikage knew what his response would be. The Raikage returned to the window, his mind pushing through recent events. "I didn't want to do that," he said aloud, reassuring himself, "I lost a damn good ANBU and a loyal nin. But I can't let anyone destroy what I've fought so hard to accomplish. I have already sacrificed too much to back out now."
"That you have," came a cold, melancholy voice beside him. The Raikage might have been startled by his entrance, but the horribly cold prickling of his skin already told him who it was.
"You're late Hiketsu," said the Raikage, his voice indignant, "I ordered your presence nearly an hour ago. I do not like wasting time." The Raikage turned towards him to see Hiketsu leaning casually against the far wall. His head moved in the direction of the Raikage, but his gaze was impossible to detect, the white orbs that hung dead in his eye sockets gave him a very dazed expression, like he was staring off into nothingness.
"Then don't waste time," replied Hiketsu coolly, "get straight to the point. Why have you called for me? I am very busy." The Raikage scowled in frustration at Hiketsu but realized it was pointless.
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to renege on our original agreement," said the Raikage venomously, "You haven't yet fulfilled your part of it."
"Don't play dumb," continued the Raikage, his voice coming out firmer, "when we agreed to our pact you promised me weapons of unimaginable power. You promised to recreate the bloodlines that we had lost to the Leaf. What you gave me was defective equipment!"
"Defective? How so?"
"Isn't it obvious," sneered the Raikage, his voice gradually rising in volume, "Julius can barely control his rage without that medication you made. When he's off it, he's unpredictable, wild, and horribly destructive to anything and everything in his path. And SET! I could write a book about the number of things wrong with that walking insane asylum."
"He's not insane. He's consciously aware of what he's doing."
"That's not the point," roared the Raikage. He paused for a moment, forcing his rage and frustration deep inside of him as another weight felt like it had been strapped to his chest. "The point is how am I to fight a war with weapons that are uncontrollable and unreliable. You've given me defective material, and I demand that you fix it immediately."
"Yes. I know you have the ability to alter mental perception without resorting to genjutsu. I don't know how you do it, and frankly I don't care. But I want both of them fixed before the third examination. ESPECIALLY SET! I don't care if you have to lobotomize him, but do something." The Raikage spat out the last part of his speech, but Hiketsu did not respond. He simply stood there, staring off into space, not a spot on him moving, or even giving the appearance of life. No breath seemed to escape his lips, and his chest did not move up or down at all. The Raikage gritted his teeth, the silence between them feeling like a mocking slap from Hiketsu. Finally, Hiketsu straightened his posture and crossed his arms in front of him.
"No," snarled the Raikage, "what do you mean no? You can't just do nothing! This is your doing and you have to-"
"This is not any mistake of mine," replied Hiketsu, his voice stinging the Raikage hard, like an icy wind just flowed through his body. "The first bargain we made was for a resurrected bloodline. I agreed to give you the Crimson bloodline of the Izou clan, held within the next baby born to that name. I also applied the C.R.S. Seal to him at birth to ensure your 'weapon's' power. The procedure was successful, thus I left. Five years later, I returned upon your request. At that time, Set seemed perfectly normal. In fact, he was a particularly happy child wasn't he? I remember hearing the joy and exuberance in his voice, nothing at all abnormal for a child his age. But I digress, during this time, you asked me yet again to instill power into Odoriko-"
"That's not his name anymore," snapped the Raikage vehemently.
"I apologize," replied Hiketsu, "what do you call him now?" The Raikage grinded his teeth in frustration as his hands curled into fists the size of small boulders.
"Julius…" said the Raikage between clenched teeth.
"…into Julius then," continued Hiketsu undeterred, "you were disappointed he did not receive his parents' bloodline and wanted me to bring it out of him. However, we agreed upon something different. I instilled in him instead a bloodline created purely by myself, experimental I must admit, but nonetheless successful. However, you were worried that he would not have proper incentive to carry out a mission of revenge against the Leaf eye bloodlines. Thus, you had me alter his memories with new ones, depicting the bloodline massacre while eliminating his earlier ones. This, coupled with the fact that the new bloodline and a new C.R.S. seal placed him in a constant state of pain, pushed him into a vehement rage. However, I created a medication to calm him, and you were satisfied with the results. Need I go on?"
"No," snarled the Raikage through clenched teeth, "I understand-"
"I don't think you do," interrupted Hiketsu. The Raikage forced his rage even deeper inside of him, the weights piling steadily higher. "To change Julius' mental condition any further may cause more harm than you think. To do so would be unwise. And as for Set…well, that is hardly any doing of mine. From what I have gleaned, you are the one responsible for his current mental state. Delusional, psychopathic states and misogynistic behavior do not arise on their own." The Raikage bore his teeth like a wild animal, every muscle in his body tensed and seethed underneath his rippling bodysuit. "Am I right? Is every flaw of this endeavor my fault then, and as an honorable soul I should justly correct it? Or, are you some scared, little child who just made a terrible mistake, pissed the sheets if you will, and is looking for a quick way to bury them?
The Raikage let out an animalistic snarl and charged blindly towards Hiketsu, driving his fist deep into the man in black's chest. The accompanied cacophony of crunching bone and tearing cartilage gave the Raikage a deep feeling of satisfaction. The frustration of this entire affair seemed to be lodged in that single punch, and the weights that were strapped to his chest seemed to fall away quickly. Yet Hiketsu made no motion to dodge, merely taking the blow into his chest, his body snapping and convulsing under the sheer impact. The Raikage forced Hiketsu against the opposite wall with such force the stone cracked underneath his body. A small sliver of dark, crimson blood dribbled from the corner of Hiketsu's mouth, slowly forming a river to his chin to drip slowly towards the ground. Yet his expression remained the same, cold, placated, like the Raikage was beating on a corpse. "How…DARE YOU," roared the Raikage, "You mock me? I have sacrificed more than anyone for the sake of this plan's completion! I have given you everything you've asked for and more! And now I ask for a simple request and you ridicule me like a spoiled child? I am the Raikage of the Hidden Cloud! The most powerful ninja in this village, and I will not be insulted by some emaciated, pale skeleton! It doesn't matter what caused that psychotic monster's mental downfall; I just want it fixed!" Hot fury was pumping through the Raikage's veins like a river of fire, his breath coming out like steam through his clenched teeth. He hadn't felt this wonderfully tremendous rage in some time. The feeling of anger pulsating through every cell in his body; his muscles tensing and flexing, stretching and preparing for any combat. Justifiable anger, the greatest feeling in the world. Even the frozen chill Hiketsu emanated could not compare to it. He hadn't felt this way for sometime. The last time was his battle against the Seventh, when he reclaimed the title and pride of the Hidden Cloud, vowing to resurrect them from the grave the Seventh had put them in. And now, ten years later, he felt that same exploding fury again, directed now towards a man he knew little about and cared little for. But things would be different this time around. He would MAKE Hiketsu change Set. 'Those little cretins will be maintained, one way or-"
The Raikage's eyes only saw a shadowy blur as Hiketsu's arm cut through the air, his hand outstretching over the Raikage's face. Suddenly, a shockwave of icy cold pain shot through every fiber of his body like frozen lightning dancing inside his veins. The Raikage dropped to his knees, the pain overwhelming his senses and consuming his every thought. His body convulsed and bent as the pain amplified moving deeper into his chest, like icy swords were stabbing him on all sides. "It is unwise to threaten me," said Hiketsu serenely, "I am not your enemy Gisei. I am your ally, and as your ally I have supplied you with all the necessary equipment to restart our war. However even you should have realized that nothing can be gained without sacrifice. It is the quintessential rule of this world. But I am not without a heart." Hiketsu removed his hand from the Raikage's face, seeming to take the pain with him as the Raikage collapsed to the floor coughing loudly as blood slowly rose in his throat. "If you want me to adjust Set and Julius' respective mental behaviors, I need you to do something for me." The Raikage tried with all his strength to push himself back to his feet, but his entire body felt drained, almost devoid of any chakra at all.
"W…What," whispered the Raikage, the word stumbling from his mouth as even speaking seemed too difficult a task.
"Listen very carefully," said Hiketsu, bending his knees slowly towards the floor. He placed a cold hand under the Raikage's chin and lifted his head up so that the Raikage could stare into those emotionless orbs in his face. "Contact Orochimaru before the third examination. Meet someplace private where you and any witnesses you desire will not be disturbed. There, you will form a binding alliance with the Hidden Sound. Orochimaru has important information on the Leaf to help you in your conquest along with invaluable information on my enemies. Meet any demands he has and give him the feeling of control over the contract. Afterwards, you two may begin the war on the Leaf at your discretion."
"Oro…chimaru cannot be trusted," groaned the Raikage, feeling slowly beginning to reenter his body, "he's a traitorous snake. The only," the Raikage paused, feeling his throat swell with air as he coughed loudly, blood staining the back of his teeth, "the only reason I wanted him here was to see if the Uchiha was a threat and destroy him if necessary and to use him as a scapegoat"
"The Uchiha should not concern you," replied Hiketsu, allowing the Raikage's face to slip from his fingers, "an alliance would ensure him under your banner and such would be mutually beneficial to both of us. And a scapegoat will not be necessary. So," Hiketsu rose back to his feet, staring down at the prone Raikage, "do I have your support on my decision?"
The Raikage struggled back to his base, forcing his arms to push hard against the stone floor while his legs fought against gravity to keep balance. "If I do this," said the Raikage between haggard breaths, "you will fix both of them? You will give me complete control over them?"
"I will do what is necessary. But don't forget, I need Set intact. He's more important than you realize."
"Fine," said the Raikage quickly, "I will form an alliance with Orochimaru. Just get Set and Julius under my complete control; they are too important to leave in their current states."
Hiketsu nodded slightly at the Raikage before turning away but stopped short of exiting. "Orochimaru is a powerful nin," Hiketsu continued, "with his arms back to full health, I dare say he is much more powerful than you. It would be unwise to have him as your enemy with so many coming at you from all sides. Just a thought." And with that, Hiketsu left the room, leaving the Raikage to contemplate how horrid this deal was becoming.
Naruto slowly forced his bleary eyes awake, the white overhead lights stinging at his eyes painfully. He squinted at them, but refused to close his eyes as they adjusted themselves to the light. He quickly sat up on his haunches, cracking the joints of his body one at a time with a loud pop. 'How long have I been asleep,' he thought. He stared up at the clock to see a few hours had passed. It was nearly 3:00 in the morning, only nine more hours until the next part of the Chuunin exam. He finally focused his eyes back on the horribly white room to find it completely empty, only the loud humming of the overhead lights broke the silence. Gai was nowhere to be seen, nor were any nurses or doctors. Naruto placed his feet against the ground and forced himself up, rubbing the back of his neck anxiously. He was in a horrible mood, but this silence only made him feel more alone.
Loneliness, it had been biting at him for some time now, ever since Kakashi-sensei had disbanded team 7 and Naruto was placed in Gai's care. He always felt out of place here, with Lee and TenTen. Gai always tried his best to make him feel welcome, training him separately, trying as hard as possible (probably too hard at times) to mentor him as best he could. Still, this team did not have the same feeling as team 7. Sakura, Kakashi…Sasuke, back then he felt like he had a real family. Brothers, sisters, mentors and father figures, everything seemed complete in his own little world. But since Sasuke left, the loneliness he felt throughout his childhood had become an unwelcome guest inside of him. Like he was not part of this fire, but only sharing in the warmth that came from these people. Still, his new comrades were precious to him, and he would protect them at all costs.
Naruto defiantly pushed open the double doors leading back into the emergency room. All of the lights were out, leaving the open window as the only illumination. The cacophony of the machines still played their rhythmic tones around where TenTen lay silently. However, a rhythmic grunting had joined in as Lee had created a makeshift pull-up bar out of a long broom and two cabinets. A large puddle of sweat lay underneath him, large enough to reflect the moon that shone through the outside window. It felt surprisingly cold in this room, despite the warmth from the rest of the building. Naruto watched Lee move for a few moments before making himself known.
"My shift now Lee," said Naruto defiantly, "your turn to take the nap."
"I'm grunt fine," strained Lee's voice as he pulled himself up with every last vestige of his strength, "I could grrrro on all nnnnight!" Naruto growled in frustration.
"We agreed we'd take shifts," yelled Naruto, before quieting his voice down quickly. TenTen groaned slightly but did not awaken or move. Naruto let out a sigh of relief and began whispering hard at Lee. "It's my shift now, so go. Get some rest, or eat, or do something else."
"But Naruto," said Lee, his voice equally defiant, "I am a great Azure Beast. I could take the shifts of a hundred men. I must prove that the Azure Beast is without fatigue." Naruto felt a wicked urge to tape Lee's mouth shut, but another idea quickly entered his mind.
"Okay," said Naruto deviously, "but I remember Gai-sensei's 'words of wisdom'," he said this last part with much force effort, imitating Lee as best he could, "that a true Azure Beast needs rest to attack the day um…passionately." Lee dropped to the floor, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
"Gai-sensei has mentioned the great benefits of a most beautiful slumber," queried Lee, "very well, I shall take a short respite, even if I don't require one." Naruto allowed a wry grin to slide across his face as Lee passed him. He quickly wiped the smile from his face and grabbed Lee's bodysuit.
"Hey," asked Naruto, "she hasn't…woken up or anything has she?"
Lee shook his head. "No, and I see no reason to awaken her. She needs her rest more than anyone. Do not fret though," said Lee cheerily, "Gai-sensei says that she will make a full recovery, and Gai-sensei has not broken a promise yet." Naruto smiled weakly at Lee as Lee pushed open the double-doors and strode outside. Naruto inhaled deeply, trying to relax his body, but only received a foul, pungent odor that burnt his nostrils with a fierce fire.
"Oh, dammit Lee," groaned Naruto under his breath, "doesn't he ever wash that stupid green suit." Naruto covered his nose with both hands, but the stench still came on strong, attacking every sense in Naruto's body. "Gahh, it's like a living thing." Naruto's eyes darted quickly across the black room for a fan, a vent, ANYTHING to get rid of the horrible smell. Finally, he eyed the window. The room was still cold, but nothing else was available. He rushed over to the window and quickly unlocked the hinges. He pulled it open just a crack and stuck his hand out into the cool, night air. There was little wind outside at this time, and the air felt particularly warm, which confused Naruto completely considering the bitter cold in the room. Naruto left the window open at its current height, his mind refocusing back to the task of scolding Lee for wearing that decrepit bodysuit for so long. He crept back across the room and opened the double doors. "Lee, can you smell that-" Naruto looked across the room, but found no sign of Lee. Suddenly, a loud snore came from his feet. Naruto jumped back as a prone Lee had collapsed in front of the door, snoring loudly. "Yeah," said Naruto sarcastically, "you sure don't need sleep idiot." Naruto kicked Lee to the side, fearful of actually touching him.
Suddenly, the sound rough of wood scraping against wood followed by a slam returned Naruto's attention back into the room. Naruto wheeled around quickly, the double doors sliding back and forth behind him, casting a shadowy figure in staccato beams of light. However, Naruto did not need light to know who was in the room with him, his eyes gave him away as they glowed red in the darkness, illuminating the room in an eerie crimson glow.
"What the hell are you doing here," Naruto growled furiously. Set's eyes gazed at Naruto for a moment before returning to the bed where TenTen lay. He gazed deeply at her prone figure, seeming to drink up the scene itself as he poked the tip of his lips with his long tongue.
"How dare they throw a tarp over something so beautifully transformed," spat Set, "This was supposed to be the prologue to a greater piece, and they cover it like some common filth. How can they truly appreciate-"
"Get away from her!" roared Naruto. Set's eyes moved slowly back towards Naruto, his bright red meeting his cerulean blue. "You're going out the same way you came in bastard." Naruto stormed towards Set, cracking the knuckles of his fists loudly as he did. Just as Naruto was a few steps from him, his hand shot out in a wide blur in the darkness and pressed something delicately against TenTen's neck, barely touching the edge of her skin. Naruto stopped cold, a small blade glinting in the darkness, almost like a scalpel. "Don't you dare," Naruto threatened. Set smiled sardonically at him.
"Or what?" he asked mockingly. Naruto snarled hard in reply, but could not answer him. Why was he here? Set had been a constant pest since he had come to Hidden Cloud, but now he was threatening a girl that had nothing to do with him. Why? Just to get to him? What did he want? He remembered Set saying he 'marked him for death'. Was this some kind of challenge? Whatever it was, he wasn't going to let some red, artsy-fartsy bastard hurt his friends.
"Listen here Set," said Naruto, his voice cracking under the horrible strain of trying to control his anger, "since we're on a first name basis, let me make something clear to you. I don't know what you want, and I don't care. If you want a fight, then stop being a coward and let's go settle this like real men. But I won't take this kind of crap from some punk who thinks he can threaten my friends. I'll take you down just like everyone else, because I've got better things to do than deal with some cowardly prick who thinks he can do what he wants." Naruto didn't think he had ever seen someone so offended in his entire life and his brain quickly panicked at the results of his outburst. Set's face contorted in a wicked snarl, his body trembling as the glinting metal brushed against the skin of TenTen's neck, grazing the skin just enough for a small droplet of blood to appear there.
"I…am…not a second stage actor," whispered Set, his voice coming out very forced and strained, "I am an artist of the highest caliber. And you will be unleashed for my work." His eyes snapped back towards TenTen as her eyes fluttered awake. A broad and satisfied smile grew across Set's face as he watched her awake. "And this is the beginning of it. Here we see if you are really worth the trouble Naruto. Time to wake up and see…" TenTen's eyes locked with Set's as he stared down at her, his eyes wide "…what a gift I have given you." Naruto stepped slightly forward as Set withdrew his arm from TenTen's neck. He was about to charge forward when the cacophony of the machines began to speed up gradually, the beeping, whirring, and buzzing turning faster and faster; the incessant noises growing louder by the second. Naruto's eyes moved towards TenTen's face. Even in the darkness, Naruto could recognize the look of pure terror on her face. Her breathing grew louder and desperate. She shook her head violently from side to side, but the rest of her body refused to budge. "Terror is such a thrilling emotion," whispered Set, "isn't it, 'The Message'?"
Naruto's entire face suddenly dropped as the pieces inside of his mind came together in a single instant.
Wounds of the flesh, they dig not so deep.
"You…" Naruto stammered, "you did this to her. You…you're the one that hurt her, that put her here…you…you…"
"Was there ever any doubt," asked Set, "this is obviously the work of a master artist. Or perhaps you did not see enough. I should unveil it for your eyes to-"
Naruto didn't give Set a chance to finish but rammed his entire body into Set's in one giant leap, throwing himself across the bed and into Set's chest. The collision forced Set backwards, their combined bodies hitting hard against the window and shattering it as the wall collapsed against their weight. Set could not keep his footing as they both tumbled out of the tower towards the ground below. The wind hit Naruto with frigid slap, but he didn't care. Nothing mattered anymore. He knew his target; a foe was in front of him; and his mind locked on a single thought, to cause this man as much pain as possible.
Naruto roared like an animal as they careened through the air, Naruto clasping Set from the front. He drew back his hand and smashed Set in the face with a strong right, his knuckles cracking hard against Set's face. Naruto felt an immense wave of satisfaction flow through him as he pulled the same hand towards his shoulder and hit Set again with a massive backhand. Blood spewed from Set's mouth, but his expression remained the same. A broad grin was drawn across his face, a very smug and satisfied smile. Naruto pulled his arm back again, readying another blow, but Set caught his hand midway. "Not yet," he said. He pulled hard on Naruto's arm, sending the two into a spiral. Set released Naruto's hand and pulled his legs up to his chest. Just as he reached the highest point of the spiral, he kicked out hard into Naruto's stomach, sending Naruto towards the ground. Naruto flailed through the air as Set waved to him mockingly. Suddenly, black slivers tore through his back in a mad flurry and broke into the granite stone of the tower, shooting sparks against the side as they slowed Set's descent. Naruto roared defiantly at him just as his body smacked hard against the cold snow. The snow was deep, and Naruto fell through the entire drift, leaving his body's imprint nearly four feet into it.
Naruto's entire body felt rocked with pain, his head pounded against his eyes, which saw only stars and blurred shapes. The screeching of sharp metal grinding against stone grew louder, and then suddenly stopped to be replaced by the footsteps of someone crunching deep snow. Naruto slowly sat up, his body protesting fervently against every movement. His eyes were still blurry, but a red shape he could only think was Set, had his back turned to him. The dark slivers that had shot out of his back before were now returning beneath his skin through the open wounds they made, crawling like large worms back underneath him. As soon as the last of their outlines were gone, the wounds resealed themselves in seconds, leaving only gaping holes in Set's already tattered clothing. The pain in his body slowly felt overwhelmed by the vehement rage he was feeling. 'That bastard,' thought Naruto, bringing himself to all fours and pushing himself steadily to his feet, 'TenTen never did anything to him. What did she do to deserve this?' "I'm going to crush every bone in your lanky body you son of a bitch!" Set's face became clear as he stared with a look of slight amusement on his facade.
"Here," asked Set in mock umbrage, "with no audience to appreciate it? No, this will not be like last time. I have no intention of fighting you in the open again, at least not yet. It does not suit my purposes. I have something much more interesting in mind this time." Set continued to talk, but Naruto's ears had shut themselves to him. Every emotion bottled within him, bubbled and burned inside of him like a cauldron set too hot and too full. Every frustration, every annoyance, every fiery blast of rage to the tiniest sliver of irritation was burning together in one gigantic blaze.
Naruto roared furiously, his voice echoing across the canyon like the warcry of a great army. He sprang forward at Set, his hands tearing through the air, eager to pierce deep into Set and rip his carcass to shreds. Set's eyes widened in surprise at Naruto's sudden charge forward. Set quickly backpeddled across the snow, but Naruto's speed was too sudden, taking Set off guard. Naruto swiped forward, looking to slash deep into Set's chest, but he flipped quickly back, Naruto's fingernails only scratching his skin. Set sailed through the air, landing gracefully on his feet several meters from Naruto, spattered droplets of blood tracing his path through the air to dot the snow. Set looked down at his chest, four slivers of blood flowing freely to slide down the remains of his bodysuit. Naruto watched as the blood began to clot and heal over the wounds in a matter of seconds, leaving Set's skin scarless.
"Always charging in like a bull," said Set, chuckling under his breath, "letting your rage consume you. We are so very much alike. I do hope she was well received. It was pure ecstasy working with such a strong spirit, but the thing about strong spirits is when they crack, the sound is a symphony to those attuned to it. But if you want revenge that badly-" Naruto sprang forward again, his body flipping end over end so that his arms were brought down in a wide slashing motion that missed Set by mere centimeters as his foe quickly jumped backwards, his eyes never leaving Naruto's face. "-you're going to have to catch me." And with a gleaming smile, Set turned on his heel and ran full tilt away from Naruto, towards an opening in the canyon that led to a wide brim of darkness.
"YOU COWARD!" roared Naruto, "GET BACK HERE AND TAKE WHAT'S COMING TO YOU!" Naruto didn't know why Set was running. He could have been leading him into a trap, and ambush of some kind. But he didn't care. A single goal had entwined itself in Naruto's mind. He didn't just want to kill Set. He wanted to hurt him. He wanted him to suffer just as he was sure TenTen suffered at Set's hands. He didn't know why he felt this; he barely even realized it, but his legs seemed to be working of their own accord know, and they pumped furiously after Set, chasing him into the deep, black darkness of the night.
Lee's eyes slowly fluttered awake, his body racked with soreness in every limb. He slowly pushed himself off the cold, tile floor and got back to his feet. 'Sleeping,' thought Lee in an aggravated tone, 'how disappointed Gai-sensei would be if he saw me sleeping on the floor rather than training for the next day.' Suddenly, a loud roar came from the room behind him followed quickly by the loud shattering of glass. Lee burst through the double doors behind him to witness what had looked like a passing storm cut through the room. The far wall where a window was once before now only held a gaping hole beside it, pieces of debris and shattered glass scattered across the floor. "TenTen," yelled Lee, rushing over to her side. TenTen's face was aghast with fear, and her breathing sounded horribly forced and constrained, like she was being choked by an invisible force. "TenTen, are you alright." TenTen struggled to say something, her mouth trying to form words.
"Naruto," yelled Lee. TenTen nodded painfully in acknowledgment. Lee rushed over to the gaping wound in the wall's side, but could not see anything past a few floors. The double doors burst open again, and the doctor of the hospital came striding in.
"What the hell is," he took one look at the wall and his face turned ghastly white. "HOLY SHIT! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE?"
"I must find him," said Lee. His first impulse was to run to Gai-sensei for assistance, but thought better of it. 'Gai-sensei will not be able to help.' Lee ran past the doctor out back towards the double doors.
"Wait a second," yelled the doctor, "what the hell happened here. Somebody better have a damn good explanation for this! I'm not insured!"
"Please watch after her," yelled Lee, kicking the door to the hallway aside and sprinting towards the stairwell.
Snow and darkness blanketed a gigantic field, the wind whipping wildly around Naruto as he strode into the middle of it, his anger driving himself farther and farther into the night. "SHOW YOURSELF COWARD," roared Naruto, but only his echo answered him back. Naruto stopped for a moment, panting loudly. His breath came out in a steam so hot it seemed to melt the deep snow that reached up to his shins.
He had been chasing Set for hours, but lost sight of him since he moved out into the open. He followed him through a small chasm in the canyon into this endless plain of snow. Without the defense of the rocky wall around him, the wind was free to pound his body with endless blasts of ice and snow, raining down on him like the weather itself had turned against him. Naruto punched the snow hard in frustration, leaving a deep imprint. He craned his head upwards. The plain had changed into a slight incline that Naruto had been climbing for some time. Normally, his body would have felt fatigued from such a long journey, but even the thought of tire did not enter his mind. His entire body quaked in a furious, vengeful ire. He shook his head madly, the snow piling on it dropping back to the earth to join its brethren. "I won't let him get away," said Naruto through clenched teeth, "not after what he did. No one hurts those precious to me." In a single motion, Naruto jumped forward, using his momentum to drive himself up the hill, trudging through the deep snow beneath him. 'I can feel him' thought Naruto, 'I can almost taste him.'
Naruto continued running, the snow piling ever steadier on top of him as the cold wind turned his breath to frost in the air. He ran for miles, his blonde hair thick with ice, and body beginning to succumb to the cold weather. 'Did he lead me out here to die,' thought Naruto for a moment, his spirit waining slightly, but the thought of TenTen's pale face in the hospital seemed to reinvigorate him. 'I won't die here. I'll make that bastard pay for what he's done.'
Suddenly, as if it appeared from the darkness itself, a silhouette of a large structure hung out amidst the frost. It loomed overhead; looking like it was ready to collapse on top of him. Naruto ran harder towards it, desperate for any temporary shelter before he returned to his search. A gigantic opening where a pair of massive double-doors once stood appeared in front of him. Naruto ran inside, the wind howling loudly against the opening. It was pitch black inside, and Naruto could see no sign of Set, though the cold feeling still haunted him. He rubbed his hands quickly against his body, desperately trying to warm up again, stumbling over objects he could not see as he moved forward. He pulled his hands away from himself and began pawing blindly for a wall. His fingers finally touched against cold stone as he slid against it, looking for a switch, opening, or any source of light. Finally, his fingers slid against an odd bump in the wall; an outward groove that seemed to move at Naruto's touch. He grasped his hand around it and pushed hard against it, finally hearing it click into place. The room came alive in a brilliant display of white light only for it to die to a dull, shadowy dim as glass from long tubes shattered loudly overhead to snap against the stone floor.
The room looked ancient. Tiled stone had been pulled from the floor, revealing dirty concrete beneath it. Metal debris, broken glass, and crushed stone lay scattered across the floor. Naruto could not take a step without something breaking underfoot. Long, black cables hung overhead, some dangling precariously close to the floor as they popped, and hissed with sparks. The walls were a moldy green, but were littered with worn images of seals, the paint long since chipped away to reveal the red, rotten brick beneath it. The air was musky, filled with the scent of mildew and mold, but there were no other signs of life. Naruto searched the room, glad to finally have some source of light.
Suddenly, the sound of faint laughter echoed behind him. Naruto whirled his body around searching frantically for the source. Behind him, another door had appeared, light trickling through the entranceway into a long corridor. Naruto stepped cautiously forward as his senses scanned the area for any signs of Set.
Naruto walked deeper into the complex the hallway barely illuminated in the darkness. This room was much like the entrance hall, same dilapidated tile floors and wall, more prominent seals on the moldy, green walls. However, large glass structures lined against the wall, like clear prisons, each one etched with black letters worn against time. Naruto stepped closer to one, examing the black lettering etched to it. "Sagara Misotoku," Naruto read aloud, "Failure." His head looked over to the next as well. "Tsunama Yasharan, Failure." Name after name with the same stamp of 'failure' placed over the cell. Naruto continued down, the light slowly growing dimmer. He groped blindly against another wall, hoping for the same luck he had in the first room. Finally, the same outward groove reached his hands and he depressed it, hoping for the same luck. The room shot alive with a click, rows and rows of handing, overhead lights came to life in pairs revealing a cavernous complex of glass and stone, rays of white-light rainbowing through shards of ancient glass caked with dirt. "I know you're here," roared Naruto, "come out and fight!" His voice echoed off the walls, the first sound heard here in the gods know how long.
"No more games," said Naruto, looking past this complex into the next. The building stretched into one long hallway, with lights flicking to life as soon as Naruto passed them. The rooms continued on, more glass and stone broken and beaten. It was soon however, that Naruto began to see the last vestiges of people. Corpses filled the glass prisons as he moved forward, some of the surfaces scratched from the inside as the occupant seemed to madly claw their way out, but Naruto did not turn to look. He kept his mind focused, staring ahead into the next darkened room, lit to life to reveal another grisly scene. He pressed on, past the skeletons clothed in a ragged garb, past the broken and undisturbed bodies of a gruesome panorama. The ancient floor soon became a mosaic of dried blood that cracked with ever step he took, sticking sickly to the soles of his shoes. Naruto did not care. Moving ever forward only to see another scene more macabre that the last, he paid it no heed. A trail had formed on the floor now that Naruto felt compelled to follow, feeling the omniscient hand still wrapped tightly around his spine. The feeling intensified with every step, bringing Naruto closer and closer to him. Finally, he came to a massive, iron door that blocked his path. The path of blood led under it, and a bright light seemed to shoot out through every crack and rusted panel of it. Naruto pushed hard against it, and found himself face to face with the most horrifying display he had ever seen.
Corpses upon corpses were strung tightly to the walls. Some were skeletons like the ones in the earlier scenes, while others looked only a few days old, their faces baring the same look of horrific fear that Naruto had seen on TenTen's face earlier. They hung on the walls bearing the same pose, arms open wide, like they were ready to receive a final embrace. And in the middle of it all, on a pile of discarded and rotting bone and viscera, sat Set, smiling glibly at him.
At first, neither of them said anything. Naruto could only hear the raspy sound of his own breath coming in and out of his mouth hard and fast. Set's eyes looked over him for a moment, studying him like a rare oddity that had stumbled in his domain. He licked his lips delicately with the very tip of his tongue, keeping the majority of it hidden inside his mouth.
"So you've come," said Set, his voice breaking the silence in a soft echo, "you truly must hate me to follow across such harsh terrain. But I can see that in your eyes. Such a deep, cerulean blue usually, but with a hint of maroon, almost crimson color to them this time. Well then, haven't you come here to extract righteous justice upon me?" Set chuckled slightly at the end of this phrase, but Naruto did not respond. The image of TenTen's horrified face was still fresh in his mind and every impulse in his body was demanding he tear into the man and rip him limb from limb until there was nothing left to recognize, but Naruto held back. He knew that for whatever strange reason, this man wanted him angry. He didn't know why, or what he was planning to accomplish, but he wouldn't play his game. He would deal with him like all the rest. Naruto inhaled one deep breath, the pungent stench of decay and death hitting him hard, before allowing it to slowly come out his mouth.
"I came here for my friends," said Naruto defiantly, "I'm going to make you pay for hurting them." His eyes trailed to the corpses strung horribly to the walls, his resolve strengthening at the sight of them, "and for everyone you ever hurt. I want everybody to realize that you're nothing to fear. You're just some punk that thinks he can get away with anything, and I'm going to prove you wrong!" Set glared motionless at him for a moment, still leaning against the massive, rotting pile of viscera behind him. His face remained blank, but something began to tug at the corners of his mouth. A slow smile formed across his face, and a silent chuckle welled up in his throat, shaking his body. This chuckle soon turned into a malicious laugh that escaped wildly his gaping maw only to transform into an insane cackle that echoed so hard across the walls the room seemed to shake under its pressure.
"You're so naïve Naruto," said Set, wiping tears from the corners of his eyes as his laughter subsided, "You can't see past the blood, bone, and bile that makes up a human. I don't 'hurt' anyone; I transform them from something mundane into an exquisite masterpiece. These pieces you see surrounding you," he said, motioning to the ornate body decorations around them, "inspire the only true emotions in people. Anger and sorro, raw passion in its purest form. Life is blasphemous Naruto, but in death, at least these souls can serve some greater purpose. But enough talk. We'll have to schedule some other time for a cozy, fireside chat concerning my motif. You came to bring me in? Well, here I am." Set rose from his throne and took position in front of Naruto, his legs spread out, one in front of the other in an awkward stance.
Naruto did not waste a second. Before Set could make another move, he had already crossed his fingers in a familiar seal in front of him. "Kage Bunshin no jutsu," he yelled as dozens of shadow clones appeared in puffs of smoke, surrounding Set completely. Set's eyes widened in surprise, and Naruto knew he had caught him off guard. He immediately charged forward as the other clones mimicked him exactly, giving a resounding battle cry as they collapsed upon their target. One clone charged in, giving a hard right hand towards Set's face. Set turned toward the clone and raised his arm in a crook, blocking the shot with his forearm, but not before another clone came in on his left, looking to deliver a sweeping kick to his chin. Set's eyes caught the motion, and he grabbed the clone by the ankle in mid swing, still keeping his other arm up to block the push from the other clone. Another clone came in front behind, looking to deliver a hard knee to the back of his head only to receive a backwards kick from Set, the clone disappearing in a puff of smoke. Another clone replaced that one, grabbing Set's leg in mid kick and forcing himself to balance on a single leg. Naruto saw his opportunity. The clones parted away as Naruto charged in, sliding in across his back and kicking Set's last leg out from under him. Set's body flailed widly in the air as the clones grabbed their respective limbs and hoisted him in the air. Naruto kipped back quickly to his feet and jumped into the air, delivering a massive punch to Set's prone back that drove him back down towards the earth with a resounding crash. Naruto did not hesitate a second, but grasped Set by the tattered remains of his clothing and tossed quickly through the air towards another gang of clones. The clones quickly slid underneath him, putting their bodies' weight on their shoulder blades as Set flew over them. In a flash, their legs kicked out hard burying the soles of their feet into Set's back with a satisfying crack sending him towards the ceiling. The clones quickly kipped to their feet and placed their hands together, palms up waiting for Naruto to finish the maneuver. Naruto grinned as he rushed over towards them, jumping towards the center and placing the heel of his foot in the center of their hands. The clones pushed Naruto skyward with all their might as they sent him soaring through the air directly beneath Set. Naruto snapped his legs together as he reared back his right hand, scrunching his hand together in a tight fist. "Naruto Rising Punch," he yelled as he snapped his arm forward and rammed his fist into the center of Set's back. Set gave a loud, gurgled wheeze as the air escaped his lungs followed by a stream of blood, the impact of the shot almost breaking his body in two. The impact sent Set further up, but Naruto clenched the back of Set's bodysuit and followed his route skyward. Just as they reached the apex of their ascent, Naruto let go with his left arm and pulled hard with his right, flipping him around Set's body in a wide arc. "Naruto Senpuu," he roared as he flipped himself around in a tight semicircle before snapping his leg out and bringing it across the bridge of Set's nose. Naruto was rewarded with another crack of bone and loud painful yell from Set as the impact sent Set's head towards the floor. Gravity had won out over them and they were beginning to pick up speed in their descent. Naruto quickly grabbed Set's ankles and positioned himself directly above him, tucking his knees hard into his chest. He slammed his own feet into the bottom of Set's boots. "It's not over yet," snapped Naruto as he flowed chakra from his own feet into the bottom of Set's boots, locking the two together. The wind was whipping around them in a torrent now as the clones scattered away from underneath them. Naruto released his grip on Set's ankles and snapped his waist hard to the right, sending the two in a fast spin. "Naruto Renge," he roared as the spin went faster and faster, Set's feet glued to Naruto's as he spun like a hurricane towards the ground. In an instant, Naruto released Set's feet and jumped quickly away just as Set impacted head first in the ground with such force the floor shook like an earthquake underneath them kicking dust and debris high into the air with a resounding shockwave. Naruto fell towards the earth only to be intercepted by another gang of clones that caught him in his descent. The clones helped Naruto to his feet as he surveyed the damage. A very wry grin shot across his face as for the first time in a long while, he was happy Gai was his sensei.
Slowly, the dust and debris settled across the room revealing a smoldering crater where the ancient floor had broken beneath Set's body. 'That got him', thought Naruto, 'that was for TenTen-'. Naruto thoughts quickly cut off as the debris began to move. Naruto's eyes widened in shock as Set shakily got to his feet. Whatever had remained of the torso of his bodysuit was now stripped away leaving his upper body completely bare. His right arm was off kilt, and it took a moment to realize the impact had completely dislocated Set's shoulder, the arm dangling sickly at the joint. Gravel and debris had imbedded itself under the back of Set's pale skin, along with the dirt and debris that clung to his back. Slowly he turned to face Naruto, the same wry smile still plastered to his face. Blood flowed freely from the corners of his mouth and nose, while his smile revealed a few teeth had been knocked free in the impact. However, the most striking feature on him was a gigantic black design of swirls, kanjis, and connecting lines that covered the entire center of his chest and snaked up to his shoulders. The designs looked almost like seals, but they were very foreign, like nothing Naruto had ever seen before.
"Kage Bunshin," came Set's voice, raspy from the impact, "The creation of actual bodies by splitting the total amount of chakra in the body evenly. Jounin level, very impressive. I don't know anyone save the Raikage and a few Jounin who can even do that." He laughed feebly, his voice still soft and broken.
"It's my specialty," replied Naruto coolly, "This fight is over. You're beaten. You can either come with me, or I can break the rest of your limbs and drag you back. Either way's fine with me. Actually, I'd prefer the last choice."
Set's normally loud cackle came out like a sickly caw as he threw his head back in amusement, his right arm flailing wildly as he did so. "You're just…" the harshness had completely left his voice as it became smooth and malicious once again, "…full…" His right arm popped and cracked loudly as the muscle pulled itself back together, the ligaments bundling and reforming under the skin as Set flexed the arm naturally, like it had never been hurt at all, "…of…" The rocks slowly fell from behind him, the skin seeming to push them out and reform perfectly without a single blemish. Set pulled his lips down as Naruto watched white spears pierce the gum line of Set's mouth to reform new fangs in place of the old ones, "…surprises." Set sniffed loudly as the blood returned into his nostrils and back into his mouth, leaving him completely without scar or blemish, almost like the fight had never begun.
Naruto snorted in frustration, still holding onto the original jutsu as the clones formed another tight circle around Set. Set's body relaxed itself as he brought his hands around to his front. Naruto hesitated, keeping the clones and himself on their haunches. "Jutsu," said Naruto aloud. He reached behind his back and pulled out a single kunai, clutching it tightly in front of him in his right hand. The clones imitated him perfectly, each one pulling a kunai from behind their backs before snapping their arms forward in a loud swish of metal cutting through air. Set continued to bring his hands forward, clutching them together before cracking his knuckles idly. Naruto cocked his head oddly at Set as he allowed his hands to fall back to his sides. "Were you expecting something," asked Set sardonically, "you almost look disappointed." Set's eyes stared bullets into Naruto's own before he returned his gaze back to his own hands, brining them slightly in front of himself again. "I see," replied Set lazily, "you must think I'm preparing some type of devastating jutsu. Well, truth be told, I'm more of an artist than a ninja. You see Naruto, I can't do a single jutsu." Naruto stared at Set, more confused now than before.
"Liar," snapped Naruto, "you're just trying to trick me."
"Why would I lie," replied Set in a mocking tone, "I've never done a single jutsu in my entire life. No genjutsu, no ninjutsu, no bunshins, not even a simple henge no jutsu. I am completely bereft of talent in such deeds." Naruto stopped for a moment, wondering whether or not Set was lying.
'If he was lying,' thought Naruto, 'why hasn't he tried a jutsu yet?' Slowly, a smile crawled across Naruto's face. "I'm glad to hear that," he said aggressively, "that means bringing you down will be that much easier!"
"Just because an artist does not have a commoner's skill, it does not make him any less great, or any less of a god" said Set darkly, "I am an artist of the human body, and instead of learning hand seals and jutsus, I have divined all the secrets that it holds."
"Enough talk," shouted Naruto. Naruto stormed towards Set, the clones following suit in a tremendous battle cry. The clones simultaneously snapped their arms forward, hurtling the deadly kunai at their target. Set bent low at the knees, before snapping them back straight, pushing himself off the ground and back into the air, leaving the kunai to fly through the spot and hit the clones on the other side in a massive crossfire. The popping sound of the clones disappearing filled the otherwise empty void of the room as Set flipped his body vertically so that his feet connected with the ceiling. Set hung idly, looking down on Naruto from above as his feet stuck permanently to the roof above them. He smiled condescendingly as he 'stood', waiting for Naruto to make his next move, tapping his foot impatiently upon the hard stone of the ceiling. Naruto scowled back at him as he looked to his remaining clones. 'Damn,' he thought, 'only a few left. I had them throw the kunai to high. But that's enough.' Naruto allowed the jutsu to release itself as the remaining clones disappeared from around him. 'I want this bastard to myself.' Naruto scraped his foot hard against the ground in a wide arc before charging towards the nearest wall, bowing his head low as he cut quickly through the air. He jumped feet first towards the wall, connecting with it and running up it immediately. His eyes remained affixed to Set as he continued to wait for Naruto to reach him almost nonchalantly. The repugnant stench of death and decay increased as Naruto made his way closer to the ring of corpses that encircled the entire room, the force of his body beginning to rock them out of place. Naruto stomach turned as he jumped over them, cutting through the air and creating a small wind behind him that made swayed them in place. 'That bastard will pay,' thought Naruto, 'for everyone.' Naruto quickened his pace driving himself bodily forward, leaning into the wind that whipped around him. He struck his leg out hard as he reached the roof, the pressure cracking the ancient stone, as he pulled another kunai out from behind him and flung it at Set. Set whipped a single arm out and swatted the kunai away just as Naruto pushed hard and low off the ceiling, torpedoing towards Set like the kunai he had sent beforehand. "Kage Bunshin," he cried as two clones appeared on either side of Set, each one grasping an arm and locking it hard behind his body. Naruto threw back his arm and drove it forward towards Set's face, intent on knocking his prey off the ceiling and back down hard towards the floor. Set fought against his captors, swaying his body hard against them, but the clones held firm as Naruto came closer to Set's position. Suddenly, a sickly cracking sound, like someone was breaking bundles of sticks, shot out from Set. Just as Naruto's hand reached Set's face, Set's entire neck collapsed and reformed itself, bending his head backwards against his shoulder blades as Naruto's fist went wide. Naruto flailed wildly in the air, his arms desperate to catch any sort of grip. He clawed towards Set's head, finally managing to grasp the tips of his hair as he clamped on. Set's neck snapped quickly back into place as Naruto hung onto his adversary by the roots of his hair. Set growled painfully as Naruto smiled a sly grin at him. He rose his legs high and began kicking Set hard in the back of the neck, every shot knocking the air out of Set's lungs in a painful gasp.
Suddenly, Set ripped his entire body forward at the waist, bringing Naruto back towards the ceiling to crash hard against it. The impact rocked Naruto's body as the pain loosened his grip on Set's hair, sending him back towards earth. Naruto turned on his body, watching as Set snapped his arms out of the clones' grasp and proceeded to drive his arms straight through them, both of the clones disappearing in puffs of smoke. Set quickly snapped his head in Naruto's direction, his eyes wide and excited as a malicious smile grew across his face. He crooked his knees down and pushed hard off the ceiling, driving his body straight towards Naruto. Naruto quickly reached behind himself and flung several shurikens whistling towards Set. Set pawed his hands forward, catching the shurikens between his knuckles only to send them hurtling back towards Naruto. Naruto raised his arms to guard himself as the shurikens stuck painfully in his arms. Set came in too fast as Naruto launched a wild punch forward only for Set to catch him by the wrist. Set drew his right arm back, leaving two fingers out on his fist. Naruto struggled with Set for a moment as the ground grew closer, punching Set furiously in the face with his free hand, but Set did not relent. He powered his right arm straight into Naruto, driving his fingers deep under Naruto's breastbone and piercing everything in its path. Naruto could feel Set's fingers probe inside of his stomach, jabbing upwards towards his sternum, and every movement he made sent another jolt of pain rocketing through his body. Naruto clenched desperately around Set's wrist with his free hand pulling hard to remove him, but Set would not relent. Naruto could feel the muscle break and bend as Set repositioned his hand until his fingers pressed against the back of Naruto's sternum. Blood churned in the wound in Naruto's stomach, but he choked it back down forcefully. Suddenly, Set snapped his body backwards, dragging Naruto painfully with him, rotating his arm hard as his fingers clamped hard inside of Naruto, dragging his entire body with his hand. Set completed the arc as the hit the ground, throwing Naruto headfirst into the floor as they landed with a tremendous crash. Naruto could feel Set remove his hand and give Naruto a quick kick to the stomach, sending him sprawling into the pile of viscera.
Naruto coughed loudly, blood and bile each escaping from his mouth to mix with the enormous pile behind him. The wound in his stomach burned furiously, and his ribs felt like they had been ripped apart, leaving a gaping wound behind shattered bone. But more than that, he could feel his anger begin to well inside of him again, just like from before. The Kyuubi's chakra had begun to slowly course through his veins, but he did not relent like last time. He did not try to hold it back, he allowed it to flow through his veins, rebuilding the muscle, refueling his energy, his drive. 'I can control it,' Naruto thought as the wound in his stomach began to steam and reform, 'this is no different from before. I can draw out the chakra and control it. He has no power over me. I have control over my emotions. I can handle this.' Naruto stood on his feet, wiping miscellaneous bits of bone and gut from his suit. He stared bullets into Set, who seemed even more excited than before, his eyes growing wide and apprehensive, and his Cheshire grin as big as a person's who had just received a particularly special present.
"That's it," cooed Set, "let that beautiful rage out. Don't let anything stand between you and me. Let everything go, no scruples, no remorse, no control, and no chains to bind you. Show me that splendid hate."
'I am in control,' continued Naruto, ignoring Set completely, 'I am in control. I am in control.' Naruto pushed off the ground, plowing across the room so fast the debris followed him in a wild dance as he cut towards Set. He threw back his arm and let loose a quick punch with his right arm, driving it towards Set's face. Set quickly sidestepped to Naruto's right, rounding him on the side and in one quickly motion, clenched Naruto's wrist with his right hand and drove an open-palmed strike straight into Naruto's elbow. The joint broke under the pressure in a wet snap. The jagged bone cut muscle and tendon as it pierced Naruto's arm, blood hitting Naruto's eyes and stinging them. Naruto rolled to the ground, desperately trying to wipe the blood from his eyes as he ground his teeth hard, keeping any screams of pain in his lungs as his entire body lurched against the horrid sensation in his arm. He opened his eyes, wiping them quickly to find Set gone from his sight. In that instant, an arm crooked under Naruto's left, slapping the hand hard against the back of Naruto's neck in a half-nelson as jagged spears seemed to surround and press hard against Naruto's forearm, keeping it in place. Naruto struggled against the grip, flailing and kicking wildly, but his attacker would not relent. Suddenly, Set's arm snapped out past his right side, coming into view as he balled his fingers together save for his thumb and forefinger which he left open. Set's arm paused for a moment as Naruto continued to struggle, the tendons and muscles of Naruto's right arm coming together, but not enough for motion. Set did not waste anymore time, but cut his arm towards Naruto's throat, driving his thumb and forefinger below Naruto's throat between two bone that stuck out on the top of his chest.
Naruto choked hard as Set's fingers probed the inside of his throat. He couldn't breathe, almost like something had blocked his windpipe completely. His lungs struggled hard to take in a much needed breath, but could only gurgle and wretch against an invisible force closing his throat. His chest began to burn as his lungs pleaded desperately for air, but none came. "Humans are such fragile beings," whispered Set, his mouth so close to Naruto's ear the words burned inside of it, "we have no claws, no armor, no poisons or toxins within us, and there are so very many ways to cause us pain. Yet, we are the gods of this world Naruto." He released Naruto from his grasp, removing his arms from his body as Naruto collapsed to the ground, choking loudly for air. "But we are horrid rulers of our realm," continued Set, his voice becoming fervent, almost preacher-like, "our lives are nothing more than rampant destruction, to impose our own will upon others. Ninjas, above all others, understand this. After all, we are made to be weapons, live as weapons, and die as weapons. But I have no intention to be a weapon for anyone save myself." Naruto spun on his back, raising his arms in defense as Set reached his right arm towards the sky. Slowly, the seal on his chest began to glow a blood red, smoking and steaming, the repugnant smell of burning flesh consuming the room. The seal began to spread across his body, moving up his arm in glowing, red streaks, burning the flesh as they moved worm-like across his body. Finally, as the red lines reached his fingertips, they turned a dull black again, leaving his right arm covered in the same swirls and designs on his chest. "It is time you stopped being a tool for them Naruto. It is time you served a higher purpose. It is time to relinquish every restriction, every barrier they have constructed around you, every chain engrained upon you. It is time to throw off your humanity and become MY ART!" Set charged at Naruto, faster than he had ever seen him move before. Naruto rose his hands in defense, looking to block Set, but he flicked his arms away effortlessly and clamped his blackened hand around Naruto's face, his fingers digging so hard they broke the skin. Naruto twisted at Set's wrist, but his hands burned against the black seals as he touched Set's arm, still smoking and reeking with the smell of burning flesh. Naruto felt himself slammed hard against a wall, the impact breaking the iron asunder in gigantic cracks that began to crumple the wall in on itself. Naruto was held in place, Set's grip vice-like on his face, no matter how hard Naruto pulled against his arm. "Let me show you Naruto," exclaimed Set, "a technique a white-haired man taught me some time ago. Though I cannot do a jutsu, I can still channel my chakra into my thoughts and feelings. Let me show you mine Naruto. Gaze upon the artist at his craft!"
Naruto felt the walls begin to melt away in the dank room as darkness engulfed him from all sides. He felt like he was falling through a narrow space headfirst, being pulled by some invisible might as he fell deeper and deeper into the darkness that surrounded him like a rising tide. All of a sudden, the tide stopped, and Naruto found himself climbing a flat cliff. He could feel the chakra flowing through the soles of his feet as he walked slowly up the side of the mountain, his powerful legs skipping effortlessly across the mountain's craggy side. His entire body felt like it was on fire, an immense burning welled up inside of his chest that flowed to every cell of his body. But he was used to this sensation by now. He had conquered it some time ago. Naruto sped up his pace on the mountain slightly, an excited feeling washing over him, almost a childlike anticipation. It had been so long since he'd had a proper pallet to work with and the excitement of working on it filled him with glee. He turned his head towards the small bundle bent across his shoulder. She was still unconscious, but that would have to change. Pain represented one of the most important features of his art, and this piece would have to be especially perfect, if only to lead to something greater. Naruto chuckled softly, his mind racing back to the fight with the blond-haired genin. His rage, the fury and passion he had felt. The pain in his eyes, the purest most raw emotions hidden within someone so plain. His heart beat faster, the mere thought of such an exciting prospect, of finally, the fulfillment of his life's work, made his blood boil.
He took one last step up the mountain, awkwardly placing his foot in front of him and crunching deep snow. The air was quiet here, the night sky clear to show dazzling stars and a brilliant crescent moon. Naruto admired it for a moment before turning his mind back to the task at hand. He walked a ways into the snowy plains, the cool, crisp air chilling his body, sapping the heat from his skin. Naruto gently grabbed the woman by the head and laid her down on her back in the snow. He erected himself to full height as he examined her. She was pretty, but nothing extraordinary. Her hair was a plain brown, wrapped in two buns that sat upon her head, and nothing struck Naruto as particularly interesting, except for her connection. She had seen this woman with his target, but could not fully grasp their connection. Comrade only perhaps? Were they merely friends, or something more than that? Maybe a hidden crush? That would make things easier. Enamored feelings always result in the most primal of furies. Naruto smiled wide, running his long tongue across the rough edges of his lips. "Well then," said Naruto to himself, "I suppose I should get, eh?" She was stirring her body shaking slightly. Naruto leaned down closer to her. He could feel the warmth coming from her body, the hot breath from her lips.
Suddenly, her left arm shot out, a kunai grasped in it, and buried it deep into Naruto's neck. Naruto could felt the metal point scraping against the bone and tissue of his throat, cutting the main artery still pumping blood hard in his excited state. Blood rushed out like a dam had burst in Naruto's neck, spraying the red liquid out across the snow and onto the girl herself in a small hurricane. "How do you like that you son of a bitch!" roared the girl, her eyes wide and her expression defiant. Naruto stumbled backwards, the shock and piercing pain in his neck throbbing through his body, yet this was nothing but a farce. True it hurt, but pain had always been a constant friend to Naruto, and this was nothing he had not felt before. He felt the blood climb up his throat as he expelled it onto the ground, more for show than from actual injury. The girl got to her feet and watched Naruto collapse to the ground in a pompous display, gurgling loudly for effect before he lay still, his eyes still wide and gaping. The girl got shakily to her feet, the arm Naruto had broken earlier still lying limp at her side. She glared at Naruto's prone body for a moment before breathing out a heavy sigh of relief. "You're that guy from the mountain," she said, "or at least you were. No wonder Naruto looked so pissed off. You're psychotic." She looked back towards the edge of the cliff and began walking towards it, her steps crunching loudly against the snow as she walked past Naruto's body.
Naruto quickly shot his arm out, grabbing the surprised girl by the ankle, tripping and flinging her in the other direction as she landed with a soft thud on her back. She quickly kipped to her feet, a look of shock enveloping her face as Naruto slowly rose to his feet. The wound still bled freely, pumping the red liquid in trails that skimmed down his bodysuit to stain the snow below. Naruto gazed at her quizzically, impressed at how well she had played him. He channeled his chakra towards the wound, stimulating the muscles and tissues to begin rebuilding themselves, the arteries closing again and the blood flow quickly stopping. The girl gazed in a fearful awe as the wound disappeared and the blood flowed off Naruto's bodysuit, almost like it had never existed. "How did…," the girl stammered, "you can't…that's impossible!"
"Do you not believe your own eyes," asked Naruto in a voice much deeper and malicious then his own. Naruto smiled wide and licked the tips of his sharp fangs with tongue, pricking at the tip slightly as a small drop of blood appeared at the end of it only for the wound to heal immediately and the blood to disappear. The girl face grew hard again, her expression defiant, but her eyes were still fearful. Naruto could see it, had seen it in so many pieces, and this was no exception.
"I'll just kill you again then," roared the girl, "and again! And every time you get up, I'll bring you right back down until you stop getting up! I won't let you live!"
"Your eyes say otherwise child," mocked Naruto, his voice turning very smooth and venomous, "I can see that last glimmer of hope you had, that luminescent sparkle, vanish like a tear drop. You know your fate already, but you deny it so fervently. You aren't the first, and you won't be the last. But by all means struggle. When the piece is complete and the spirit finally breaks, a stronger spirit will leave a much more lasting impression upon the canvas."
"How vulgar. I really don't know what he sees in you. But then again, we all have our tastes." Naruto walked towards her slowly, every step he took equaling one step backwards for the girl. She hurtled the kunai towards Naruto who slapped it away quickly, not breaking his pace forward. She reached behind herself again and began throwing shuriken, kunai, anything and everything she had available screaming in the air towards Naruto. He blocked some, allowed some to hit his body only for the pulsating wounds to push the objects out and heal immediately, never breaking his stride as he moved closer and closer. She was growing more desperate. It was crystal clear on her face, the sweat beading down her forehead, the tears she fought desperately from dripping down her face, the quivering of her lips and limbs. She was no different from the others. Beautiful fear was overwhelming her strong spirit, like a tidal tsunami overshadowing and sweeping a vast city away. Her arm reached behind her again, but found nothing there. Her breathing grew more erratic; Naruto could hear the rhythm of her heart move faster and faster, allegro, a sweet and fast symphony, ecstasy for those privileged enough to hear it.
Naruto quickened his pace, his own blood beginning to boil and flow in anticipation. The girl backpedaled faster and faster before turning her back on Naruto and moving in an all out sprint. Naruto grew impatient, picking up his own pace and overwhelming her in seconds. He reached out and grabbed her by the back of her neck, thrusting her bodily into the air. She choked loudly as Naruto slammed her hard backwards, keeping her on her back on the snow. He repositioned himself over her as she struggled hard against his grasp, flailing hard and kicking, punching, and biting Naruto as hard as she possibly could. Desperation was always an interesting phase to watch, but it was unnecessary for this piece. Naruto slammed his free hand hard across her chest, knocking the wind out of her lungs in a hard gasp. He spread his fingers across, channeling his chakra into his hand and beginning the process of creating the blade. Naruto slowly closed his eyes, concentrating hard as he flowed his chakra into her. She was becoming even harder to keep down now as Naruto felt splices of pain all across his body. She had managed to wrap her teeth around upper part of his hand and was tearing hard at the flesh there. 'Only a little longer,' thought Naruto, continuing the process, 'This must be precise. Too high, I will kill her, and I must not allow that yet. Too low it will not allow her the feeling. It must be…here!' The blade hardened and formed under her skin, just below the middle, base of her spine. Naruto forced it forward, severing the nerves endings delicately. The girl gave a soft 'oh' before launching into a blood curdling scream. 'Good,' thought Naruto, 'that means the incision was a success.' The pain slowly subsided as the girl continued wailing in agony. Naruto opened his eyes and stood up straight, looking down on her. Her entire body had gone completely limp save for her neck which still retained some movement as she stared empty-eyed at her now motionless limbs.
"What…what the hell," she said, her voice panicked and fearful, "what did you do?"
Naruto did not respond to her question, but began rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He quickly bent down and grabbed one of her limp arms by the wrist. He pinched the skin lightly, eliciting a sharp intake of breath from the girl. Naruto smiled, satisfied with his success. "Good," he said, "this will make creation a much easier task." He reached behind himself into the belt attached to his red bodysuit, pulling out a small scalpel and holding it firmly in his hand. The girl's entire face exploded in fear, her eyes growing wide as she screamed desperately for help, her voice echoing against the night sky. Naruto's furrowed his brow, his brain racking at where to begin first. "I suppose the torso would be best to start. It is after all the center of the piece." He bent at his knees, straddling himself over the girl's torso. "You should be honored," he said, looking into the girl's frightened eyes, "you're going to be a masterpiece that will incite the greatest work I have ever done. Your new existence will be the fire that lights my dream. Be proud that your meaningless ligr will bring about great changes." He slowly brought his left hand down on top of her stomach, palming the surface, keeping it flat before bringing the scalpel down and creating a long incision across her clothing, just skimming the surface of the skin as a long trail of blood marked his path across her body. Her screams grew louder, the pain no doubt becoming overwhelming at this point, but in the end, she should be thankful-
Naruto felt himself slammed back into his own mind, returning to the rubble and debris of the death filled room. He took in a huge gasp of air, like he was coming out from under the surface of a bottomless pool of water. Set's hand was still clamped firmly to his head as he struggled harder against him.
"YOU SICK, TWISTED SON OF A BITCH," roared Naruto, desperately trying to throw Set's hand off of him, "I'LL KILL YOU!"
"Oh stop Naruto," growled Set, "I know it's an acquired taste, but you can't acquire a taste for something unless you drink. So, DRINK UP!"
Naruto stared down at the piece so far. The flesh of the torso bled fervently, every shape and pattern dripping small trickles of blood down her skin. Naruto shifted her posture slightly, creating a more symmetric form for the blood to follow. The designs had come out quite well, considering the unusual softness of her flesh. It peeled away like wet paper, revealing the sinewy, red muscles beneath, pulsating and flowing splendidly. Naruto's eyes slowly traced towards its face. She had stopped screaming some time ago, and her face was now etched in permanent agony, tears flowing from her eyes so fast they melted the snow underneath her face, but it was not correct. Her face still bore anger, a slight scowl appearing on her visage. This one was particularly hard to break, but everyone broke eventually, it would only take time and effort, and the harder it was, the more beautifully the piece would turn out. Naruto stared at her face for a moment, watching the tears trace down her face. "Brilliant," he said aloud, "I believe I've had an epiphany." He bent down at the waist, placing one hand gently under her head and raising it up. With the other, he brought the blade down directly under her eyelid. Her eyes grew wide, her breathing sporadic and broken, more of a choking gurgle now. Her wounds pulsated faster, but Naruto would ensure that her blood loss would be trivial. The blade connected to her face, drawing blood immediately as he slowly traced down past her chin, mimicking the tears that trailed down her face. Her mouth shaped into a silent scream as she choked loud and pathetically-
The world around him hit Naruto again with more force than last time. His body felt drained, like the chakra was being pulled from his body. Fatigue was beginning to hit him so hard his legs were beginning to fall under his own weight.
"Stop," yelled Naruto, "She doesn't deserve that. Why are you doing this?"
Set did not answer, but his demeanor changed for a split second. There was a horrid determination wrapped around his face, his eyes screwed in concentration. This task seemed to be physically taxing him as well. "It is my dream Naruto. This piece will move through flawlessly. We will create the greatest work ever known. The gods themselves will weep at my genius, and the world will be rocked to its core by the true art!"
Naruto reached towards her legs, quickly tearing the clothing surrounding her legs. He pondered for a moment before driving fist hard into them, breaking the bones in a single, sickly crack. She gasped loudly, but no other sound escaped her lips, her face contorted in sheer agony. "Such a difficult pallet to work with," said Naruto-
"Stop torturing her!"
Naruto did not know how much time had passed, but it felt like an eternity. Every time, he would break back into reality, like a cold tsunami had struck him hard, sapping him of all his energy, and every time, he would be plunged back down into the depths to watch as TenTen endured mutilation as if he himself was doing it. He could feel Set's sick excitement, coursing though him like boiling water. He could feel the warmth slowly leaving TenTen's skin, and every time it got worse. Set switching her from position to position, mutilating her body, all the while treating her like some object made for his 'art'; TenTen's expression becoming more and more helpless, like the soul was being sucked from her body; all of it became more than Naruto could bear. His body felt empty, just like the training under the perverted hermit, but his mind was racked with pain, foreign thoughts violating and engraining themselves within his memory. He wanted it to stop. He wanted revenge. He wanted Set to feel the same pain that she had felt. He wanted to crush him. He didn't care about control anymore, he just knew one thing. This man had hurt his friend and continued to hurt her with his existence. So for the first time in a long while…he let go.
Kakashi stared at Tsunade's dumbfounded expression as he finally finished his story, his mouth feeling exceptionally dry at the end of it. He doubted how much of it she actually believed, but the look of shock and horror on her face told him that she believed enough. She tried to stammer out something, but her mouth could not form a coherent word. Finally, after much effort, she managed to spill out a question.
"And this man," said Tsunade in disbelief, "…no matter what you did…just…didn't…he just kept coming back?" Kakashi nodded his head once quickly, leaving Tsunade even more shocked than before. "And, you're sure the Raikage is working with him?"
"There's no doubt in my mind," replied Kakashi stoically, "Whenever we were close to Hiketsu, if felt like every part of my body was sapped of any warmth at all, like cold icicles were being pushed hard through my veins. These two nins give off a similar, albeit less intense, feeling. Surely you felt that when you were close to them."
"Yeah," said Tsunade, her voice more of a whisper now, her mind no doubt racked from this new information. "Orochimaru, the Raikage, and now this, what are we in here?"
"I wish I knew," said Kakashi, "but I have a feeling we're going to find ou-" The ground quaked and shook underneath their feet, the walls cracking and throwing debris to the ground. Kakashi gasped as a foreign force overwhelmed him. Tsunade's eyes went wide as a familiar evil sensation swept over them. They stared at each other for a moment before coming to the same conclusion. Kakashi kicked open the door and rushed out into the hallway, Tsunade right behind him as he climbed the stairs quickly towards the roof. He smashed open the final door, but stopped dead in his tracks at the sight before him.
The dull black and grey of the sky had been changed to a brilliant orange that beat down heavy rays of light on top of them, showering the entire village in long rays of illumination. An overpowering burning sensation enveloped every part of his body. He had felt something like this once before, when his sensei had sealed the demon beast thirteen years ago.
"No," said Kakashi, his voice in disbelief, "Naruto, what have you done?"
The Raikage stared out into the open air, his mouth left gaping as the cool, black night had suddenly been replaced by a horrible orange glow that shined like a second sun. The stars and clouds seemed to have been cut away, and a horrible, evil feeling permeated through, striking him with a deep fear. The doors to his chambers burst open, revealing a panting ANBU standing there, the same terrified expression on his face.
"Raikage-sama," he yelled desperately, but the Raikage merely waved a hand down at his entrance.
"I can see it," the Raikage replied coolly, "it's coming from there, the facility." He paused for a moment, racking at his brains to desperately figure out the situation. This sensation was like nothing he had ever felt before, almost an otherworldly presence surrounding them. "Gather two squads of ANBU and meet me by the canyon entrance," he yelled, opening up a compartment in the wall and quickly suiting himself in battle armor, "Do not move until I have arrived. Go now!" The ANBU bowed quickly and raced down the hall, leaving the doors wide open as spectators raced by his door to the nearest window, no doubt to gaze at the dazzling display in the sky. "Is this your doing Hiketsu? Or is this another horror I have yet to encounter in this world." The Raikage brushed the thoughts from his mind and stormed out of his chambers, slamming the doors behind him as he rushed for the canyon entrance.
Jiraiya affixed his gaze hard on the orange heavens, standing stock still on the canyon's peak as he watched the evil chakra disperse and fill the air like a midday sky. His normally vibrant face stood completely still, his eyes focused hard, and his expression dire. 'I was right to follow him,' he thought, 'I knew I shouldn't have left him in Gai's care. Fourth, let's hope that your 'hero' does not turn out to be the monster we all thought he would be.'
Lee stared completely dumbfounded at the intense display that suddenly burst through the sky in an aurora of orange lights, dazzling his eyes so much they burned from the intense light. Lee stared at these lights transfixed as a horrible sensation burned at every cell in his body. It was the closest thing Lee could describe as 'evil', an intense fear and hatred that suddenly struck inside his chest and spread through the rest of his body like a blaze. Yet, somehow, amidst all the unknown and despicable feelings flowing through him, a familiarity permeated through. He could almost recall this stir scratching badly at the back of his head as he strived to remember it, but every time, this thoughts came to the same scene, the same moment, and the same person.
"Naruto," the word escaped Lee's lips in a final confirmation. He quickly jumped out of the snow that had surrounded his legs and sprinted towards the pulsating lights in front of him.
Sasuke stared up at the bright orange sky in front of him. The sensation hit him with an intense déjà vu, but did not stir him. "Naruto," the words escaped his lips as he realized this same sensation was from before. It was the same from when he had battled Naruto in the canyon. Sasuke smiled slightly as he watched the orange sky dance before his eyes. "You never change. But I have, and I will prove that soon."
Set grasped wildly at Naruto's face as wave after wave of powerful emotions threw him backwards, grabbing at his skin with such force they tore at it with claws. His hair whipped around wildly and his eyes burned like he was in a powerful storm against an unstoppable wind that suddenly shifted in his direction. He had to keep walking forward as the power pushed him harder and harder backwards. He scraped his boots hard against the ground, but to no avail as sheer energy tossed him backwards hard, his body slamming hard into the opposite wall in a tremendous crack. The waves continued to push against him like a powerful tsunami, wrapping him amongst some of the most intense emotions he had ever felt, until finally, they stopped, and Set's body fell to the ground in a heap. He panted hard, taking in rich breaths of the ancient, dusty air that surrounded him. He slowly made his way to his knees, pitting himself on all fours before a blue sandal cracked the ground in front of him. Set craned his neck up to see Naruto, or some creature that looked like him, glaring back at him. Naruto's hair had grown long and wild, becoming so large it fell down and wrapped around his face like a great mane, and in the center of that mane was a snarling, beast looking back at him. His eyes had turned completely blood-red, slit, like a cat's, and great long fangs grew in his mouth, gnashing like a dog's teeth. A transparent, orange cloak swirled and wrapped around him. It formed claws on his hands and feet, along with two long ears on his head, and a long, swishing, translucent tail behind him. It almost looked like the visage of a monster had possessed him. Set pushed himself to his feet, looking at Naruto whose eyes burned hotter than anything he had ever seen before.
Hot. Everything around Naruto felt like it was boiling. The air, the ground under his feet, every cell in his body, even his blood felt red hot as his heart seemed to double in size, pumping the vicious liquid quickly through his veins. He felt like a living flame, an evil fury coursing through his soul. But despite all this, he almost felt relieved. Nothing held back, and everything simply let go. The Kyuubi's chakra swirled like raw emotion inside of him, amplifying everything he felt, his frustrations, his rage, his sorrow, everything was out in the open.
Naruto glared hard at Set who cocked his head back at Naruto like he was some oddity. Naruto waited a single moment, letting everything sink into his system. 'This man hurt my friend,' thought Naruto, 'and he enjoyed it. He cannot live.' He lunged at Set, the sheer force of his jump breaking the ground under his feet as he caught Set around the waist. The force of their collision broke the wall in two as they slammed hard into it, the ropes holding up the corpse decorations snapping, allowing the bodies to fall back towards the earth. Naruto's hands fought hard against Set's own, as Set struggled to push Naruto away from him, but his arms slowly began to give in. Naruto snapped his own neck back and rammed his head like a cannon ball into Set's chest. A gurgled wheeze escaped Set's lips as his chest seemed to collapse from the impact, covering Naruto's head in blood from Set's mouth. Naruto glared up at Set, a permanent scowl etched across face as the memories of Set torturing TenTen came through. "Do you think that was what she felt," roared Naruto, his own voice overflowing with malice, "Do you think that pain was anything like what you did to her? ANSWER ME!" Naruto gripped hard in the lock against Set's hands, breaking his wrists at the joint as Set let out a howl of pain. Naruto let go of Set's hands and reared his own arm back. He threw his right arm forward, his hand open to catch Set in the throat and clamp his fingers around his neck. Set choked hard against Naruto's grip, but could not retaliate as his own eyes stared up lifelessly at the ceiling. "You won't get to die so easily," snapped Naruto, "not until you feel as much pain as she did!"
He threw Set's flailing body through the air with all his might, watching as Set hit the far wall with another tremendous crash. Set stuck in the imprint of his own body for a moment before falling face first towards the ground, coughing up spurts of his own blood and bile. Naruto threw his arm behind him, feeling the Kyuubi's chakra build in his own hand. He flung his arm forward sending a gigantic claw of chakra straight to where Set lay. The claw caught him in a tight embrace as Naruto pulled his arm towards the ground bringing the chakra claw back towards him. Naruto reared back his left, building every fiber of hate in his body into one single punch as the chakra built and swirled around his left hand. Set flew through the air, his body immobilized by the chakra's vice-like grip on him. Naruto waited, readying himself, almost looking forward to delivering such a fearsome blow to his enemy. Set came careening towards him just as Naruto snapped his left hand forward to connect with Set's face. The impact of the blow blasted Set with the force of an explosion, knocking his body so hard his carcass flipped head-over-heels through the air to come crashing straight into the gigantic iron door. A melodic note, like a bell's of a tower being beaten on, accompanied Set's landing into the metal door. The impact rocked it, breaking its massive hinges and collapsing into the next room as it smashed into the floor in a riot of dust, debris, and blood.
Naruto felt an immense feeling of satisfaction accompany the rage that pumped through him. "You better not be dead yet," he yelled at where Set lay, "I'm not done with you!" He bounded over in a single leap on top of the iron door, back into one of the glass rooms. Set lay in the middle of the room, surrounded by an ever growing pool of his own blood, but his chest rose slowly up and down and a harsh, forced breath still escaped his lips. "Good," mocked Naruto, "I want you to be alive. I want you to feel everything that she felt. I want you begging me for death, whining and pleading with me!" These words almost seemed foreign to Naruto. His own mind was racked with confusion by them as they did not seem his own, but that did not distract him. He walked slowly towards Set, his every step breaking the ground under his feet. He stood triumphantly over Set, like a predator inspecting his kill as Set's eyes barely returned his stare. "Nothing to say Set," asked Naruto, "You bleed an awful lot for a god! But then again, you're not god. You're just some dead punk who's going to suffer before he dies like the coward he is." Naruto lunged furiously at Set, grabbing him by the shoulders and tossing him effortless into the glass cases surrounding them. The accompanying cacophony of thousands of small chimes being hit at once came full blast as Set's body smashed through the entire glass display, bringing a thousand jagged shards crumbling down on top of him. Naruto watched the entire thing crash down upon Set, grinning maliciously the entire time. Naruto's eyes searched through the pile and came upon a particularly jagged piece of glass atop it. He plucked it quickly from the rest of the pile and threw it slightly in the air a few times before allowing it to rest in his hand. He waited, staring into the crumbled house of glass, waiting for Set to reemerge. He could still feel his irritating presence.
The glass began to shift and falter as Set clawed his way out of the pile, jagged cuts and pieces of glass littering his body leaving fine trails of blood to trickle down his body. He couldn't even stand now, but was forced to crawl on all fours, spitting blood in his wake. "You think that's even a fraction of what she felt," asked Naruto, "No, I think we can do better than that Set." Naruto reached for Set's leg and pulled him violently to his stomach, flipping him over on his back as he stood over him. Naruto brushed the jagged shards of glass from his body quickly, some of the ends embedded so deep in Set's skin they broke at the impact, eliciting painful groans from him. Naruto stared down at Set, reminiscent of how Set had stared down at TenTen. He could still remember the scene like he had been there, engrained in his mind as it now was. Naruto raised the glass shard in his hand up high, Set making little motion to block or move; he merely lay there, waiting for it. Naruto brought the glass straight into Set's chest piercing and breaking hard into Set's sternum. The reaction was immediate as a horrid scream echoed through the room. Blood exploded from the wound, every beat of Set's heart bringing more to the surface. Naruto put both hands around the glass and dragged it down Set's body, dissecting him like a lab experiment. Set roared in pain, his body convulsing, bending, twisting, and turning under the pressure of the glass. "Is that how she screamed," asked Naruto, his voice growing more and more violent with each passing second, "Is this the pain she felt? IS IT?" Naruto pulled harder, cutting deep into Set's abdomen, a long river of blood marking Naruto's progress down Set's body. Suddenly, Set's body fell completely limp, no movement, and the blood stopped flowing from the wounds. Naruto stared down at Set for a few moments, but received no response, Set's body lying motionless on the ground. Naruto pulled his own hands away from the glass and stood up looking down at the last vestiges of his enemy. "No one hurts my friends," snapped Naruto, "no one." Just then, a small cough rattled Set's lips. "Still alive are we. I can remedy that." But the cough grew and then changed to what sounded like a whimper, but then suddenly, changed into the horrible, crow cackle as Set's body convulsed with laughter, the sound banging off the walls and expanding ten fold. "Stop it," growled Naruto, but Set's laughter seemed to increase. His laughter grew maddening, his jaw almost distended his mouth was so wide. His body arched on itself as Set threw his head hard against the ground over and over again, laughing even harder with every self-injury. Blood expunged itself from every orifice in his body during every breath he took, but he did not cease. "Stop laughing," roared Naruto, pouncing on Set and driving his body back on the ground. Naruto reared back his fist and drove it across Set's face, sending more blood to join the growing pool collecting around Set but still he cackled maniacally.
"OH YEAH," howled Set, "I CAN ALMOST TASTE YOUR ANGER IT'S SO RAW!"
"SHUT-UP" Naruto brought his fist across Set's face again, knocking a few more teeth out of Set's mouth to scatter across the floor, but still he laughed even harder still. "STOP LAUGHING!" He brought his fist down again, plastering Set's face with such a thick layer of blood it dripped like honey down his face.
"MORE! BEAUTIFUL SWEET RAGE!"
"SHUT-UP," another right, "STOP LAUGHING," he drove his fist across Set's face again, "SHUT-UP," another, "SHUT-UP" and another "SHUT-UP" Set's jaw distended from his mouth, hanging sickly by the skin of his cheeks; his nose cracked hard to the left at almost 90 degrees, pointing awkwardly away; more teeth broke from Set's gum line, leaving his mouth a swollen, bleeding mess; the skin of his face broke into cuts but his face was so covered in blood it looked like a red mask had been painted there, and the small rivers merely joined the swelling lake across his face, but still he laughed, his mouth hanging wide open like a broken doll's.
Naruto's right hand bled freely with each shot on Set's remaining visage, but quickly resealed itself leaving only pellets of blood to hit the ground. With every successive punch he felt angrier. More and more it piled on him like a stack of weights across his back. The Kyuubi's chakra swirled so hard around him he felt a torrent of wind and debris around him. Another hit, and another, he could no longer feel his hand his fist was so numb. His eyes could not even see the mangled form of Set in front of him; his vision was clouded with image after image rolling in his head like a reel. The villager's scathing remarks; the horrible loneliness he felt daily; holding a dieing comrade in his arms amidst a torrent of ice; fighting against a white-eyed figure that mocked him relentlessly; grappling with a disfigured, demonic force shrouded in sand; driving a swirling blue sphere into the gut of a white-haired, bespectacled man; and battling with someone he considered his brother, as the last vestiges of their bond felt like they were slipping away; every one of these scenes rolled in front of his eyes in a flash, intensifying his anger. He kept punching, harder and harder, Set's laughter fading away as he felt himself slipping from reality.
Suddenly, the world came back into focus. He found himself in the glass-shattered room once again, standing atop a bloody and mangled opponent. His own hand was raw and soaked in blood, whether his own or Set's he didn't know, or care. He stood up on his feet, staring down at what remained of Set's face. His face was etched in a permanent grin, his jaw still hanging sickly to his side. The rest of his face was covered in so much blood it was not discernable. Naruto should have felt something, remorse, sadness, even satisfaction, but he didn't. All he felt was anger. It didn't leave him. It demanded more from him.
"Naruto…what did you do?" The voice came through clearly as Naruto whipped his body around to see the bowl-headed nin standing in front of him, his round eyes open wide with shock, staring at the vivid scene of destruction that Naruto had created for him.
"Konoha Senpuu," said the nin, sweeping Naruto's legs out from under him and sending him spiraling on his back towards the wall…
"Na-ruto," choked the bowl-headed nin. The world snapped back into reality as another reel passed in front of Naruto's eyes. He didn't remember moving at all, but he now had the bowl-headed nin pinned up against the nearest wall, his fingers clamped tightly around his neck as he pressed deeper against his throat. The nin struggled furiously, kicking and punching hard at Naruto, but he neither felt the pain nor moved from his spot. A small voice deep inside his mind was screaming furiously for him to stop, spouting words like 'friend' and 'precious people', but he could not hear it clearly amidst the maelstrom of rage that swirled around him. Naruto flexed the fingers of his free hand and brought it back, the orange chakra balling up tightly around him. "Die," growled Naruto as he rocketed his arm forward towards the nin's face.
Suddenly, a large hand grabbed his fist and held him there, pushing hard against Naruto's strength. An old nin had appeared, long tendrils of grey-white hair whipping against Naruto's power, his face steeled in intense concentration as he fought against Naruto's strength. The old man's free hand came up quickly, hitting Naruto hard in the face and sending him sprawling backwards. Naruto flipped in midair to land skidding on all fours, roaring furiously at the interference.
Lee coughed hard, his lungs greedily taking in air as his eyes watered from the strain. He opened them wide, staring in utter horror as Naruto let out a beastly roar that shook the entire room like an earthquake.
"Stay back kid," came a voice from Lee's side, "don't try to interfere." Naruto pawed against the ground, sharpening the his long, claw-like fingernails against the stone with an awful screech. The old nin worked fast, his hands moving furiously in front of him before he slammed his palms against the floor. "Ninpo-" Naruto sprang forward through the air towards the old man slashing madly. "- Frog Bind Jutsu!" Dozens of long, pale tongues cracked through the ground and wrapped themselves around Naruto, pulling him hard to the ground. Naruto pulled hard against them, stretching them hard as he stood on his feet growling and flailing like a caged beast. The old man reached his left hand behind him as a single, purple flame appeared on each one of his fingers. Naruto threw himself forward, pulling some of the tongues out of the ground in a loud snap as he regained mobility, pawing for the old man.
The old nin sprinted forward, keeping his left hand out to his side. The tongues binding Naruto's arm snapped hard and Naruto slashed through the air as the old man ducked under him, pulling up Naruto's shirt with his free hand. A large black spiral, circled by many seals Lee did not recognize had been placed around Naruto's navel, and the old man slammed his left hand hard against that spot. The effect was immediate; Naruto's body convulsed and arced as if he were being stabbed from all sides. The long mane around his face slowly began to shorten, his claw-like nails slowly coming back to normal. His eyes began to droop slightly, then closed completely as he fell into a deep sleep. His entire body grew limp, and the tongues disappeared back into the ground as Naruto fell into the old man's arms. The old man breathed a heavy sigh of relief as he turned back to Lee.
"You…you're Jiraiya," stammered Lee, "one of the legendary Sannin."
"No time for stating the obvious kid," he replied.
"What are you doing here, and what happened to Naruto?"
Jiraiya opened his mouth to speak but was cut off from shouts of several men coming from the rooms behind them. "Get up," ordered Jiraiya quickly, Lee springing to his feet in an instant. "We have to get out of here now." Jiraiya's head snapped in every direction, finally making a charge towards the room in the back. Lee followed quickly, jumping over the gigantic iron door that lay broken on the ground. He quickly found himself reeling from the sight of hundreds of mangled corpses littering the ground of a square room. "Did Naruto do this," said Lee in disbelief.
"They've been dead for awhile but it's not important now," yelled Jiraiya, his eyes scanning every part of the room. "There," he said, his gaze affixed to the roof. Lee stared up to see a patch of black sky interrupting the rusted, iron walls. "Climb up there and get out."
"I cannot jump that high, nor can I cling to the walls," said Lee, his voice somewhat embarrassed, discussing his inadequacies.
"No time for arguments kid," said Jiraiya, tossing Naruto into Lee's arms. Lee's eyes shot opened in shock as he dropped Naruto to the floor, backing away slightly. "What are you doing," yelled Jiraiya, "you both need to get out of here now!"
"What happened to him," shouted Lee, "that was not the Naruto I know! What is wrong with him?" Jiraiya scowled in frustration, picking Naruto up by his jumpsuit and throwing him hard at Lee, who caught him deftly.
"He won't wake up for hours," snapped Jiraiya, "all you need to know is that there are about twenty Hidden Cloud ANBU heading this way. If they find Naruto or any of us here, what do you think they'll do?" Lee opened his mouth, but found that words escaped him. As much as he wanted to know what had overcome his friend, he realized Jiraiya had a point. He kneeled down and backpacked Naruto behind him, crooking his arms underneath Naruto's legs. "Get a running start towards me, QUICKLY!" Naruto stepped a few paces back, pausing for a moment to steady Naruto. He sprinted towards Jiraiya's outstretched hand, his palm face-up. Lee placed a single foot in Jiraiya's hand as Jiraiya heaved him with all his might towards the broken ceiling. Lee could feel the wind cut at his face as his body scraped against the iron sides, barely pulling the two of them out into the open air. Lee's legs flailed in the air for a moment, looking for solid ground to land on, but found none. He arced over the roof of the building and found himself plummeting back towards the snow below. Lee let go of Naruto for a moment and spun himself around so he faced Naruto. Every demonic visage Lee had seen before had disappeared, leaving Naruto looking normal. He reached out with both arms and grabbed him tightly. The wind whipped around them hard for an instant before Lee felt the snow hit him hard on the back. The impact knocked the wind out of him, but the snow had cushioned his fall. He sat up quickly, checking on Naruto. He was still sleeping calmly, whatever Jiraiya did to him having a profound effect. Lee placed his prone friend back on top of him and sprinted back towards Hidden Cloud, light beginning to permeate through the thick clouds overhead as dawn came down over the snowy desert.
Jiraiya brought his hands in front of him, forming seals quickly as he heard the ANBU approaching his position faster and faster. 'If they find me at all I won't hear the end of it from Tsunade,' thought Jiraiya glibly. He channeled chakra around him and slammed his hands into the ground, sending a surge of chakra all around the complex.
"I want every inch of this place inspected," roared the Raikage as he made his way forward though the complex, "no one gets in or out. Squad 5, come with me Set's room, the rest of you leave no stone unturned in your search!" The ANBU saluted the Raikage quickly before moving to their assigned tasks. The Raikage quickly turned on his heel and sprinted down the hallway. He wanted this place demolished some time ago since the incident, but Hiketsu insisted it remain in ruins. 'This better not be another one of your damn experiments,' thought the Raikage as he rushed past the ancient corpses that laid undisturbed here. Suddenly, a familiar voice lurched through the entire facility.
"Ninpo, Frog Stomach Bind!" The rusted iron of the walls transformed in an instant, turning sickly, pale pink and engulfing everything around them.
"Raikage-san," shouted the ANBU behind him. The Raikage snapped his body around as the ANBU hacked furiously at the pink tendrils of flesh that slowly worked their way around their bodies, trapping them inside the walls and floors, but the Raikage's mind was elsewhere.
"That voice," growled the Raikage, "I remember that voice." His hand slowly came up to touch the left side of his face where the long scar trailed down his body. An overwhelming anger came over him as his hands moved in a blur in front of him. "Thunder Element, Fury of the Thunder God!" His hands crackled with blue electricity, hissing and popping as they burned the air around him. He rose his hands above his head and slammed his fists into the ground, sending the long wires of electricity through the pink floors below him. The flesh beneath his feet steamed and cooked, sending a pungent odor into the air as electricity shot through the entire facility. The ANBU behind him screamed in pain, but the Raikage paid them no heed. "He's here," he snapped, "after all these years he's finally here!" All of a sudden, the pink flesh of the walls disappeared and the ANBU collapsed to their knees, panting as jolts of electricity still flowed through their bodies. The Raikage ran from through room after room. "He's here," he roared, "I know he's here! After all this time, finally-" He stopped in his tracks as he came to the final room before Set's. The glass prisons here laid shattered to pieces on the ground and fresh blood littered the room, painting it like a mosaic. The Raikage walked forward, inspecting a particularly large crater in the ground. There was nothing there save for a large pool of fresh blood. He snapped his head to the left to see a gigantic section missing from the wall. A large circular chunk had been cut through it, revealing the brick and iron beneath it. "Set," growled the Raikage under his breath, "no one can cut through that so precisely." The Raikage threw the thought from his mind; as much as he wanted to hunt Set down and punish him for his actions, more important events raced through his mind. He quickly leapt over the gigantic iron door that led into Set's room. It was completely demolished. The normal, corpse chain that Set had been collecting for years lay mangled and broken on the floor, and large imprints lay broken in the walls. But the Raikage's target was nowhere to be seen. "I know I heard him," spat the Raikage, "They have the audacity to bring him here! But I will have my revenge. Jiraiya…you butcher of men."
Set ambled through the snow that whipped around him, pulling one foot in front of the other as the cold bit at his bare skin. But that didn't matter, nothing mattered. He flowed more chakra through his body, the ligaments and joints inside of him quickly healing and resetting themselves in their ordinary positions. "Such rage," chortled Set, "such raw emotional fury. I was completely overwhelmed. This…is inhuman. Finally, after all this time, my masterpiece will be complete! What a glorious day this is! I cannot wait! I cannot wait…
A/N Whew, that was long. Hope you all enjoyed it. This is the longest chapter in my story to date. I had intended for it to be longer, but decided to cut some stuff out for next chapter. I really need to stop setting deadlines because I can never stick to them. In any case, usually I have a very short A/N section, but I decided that since people have taken the time to write to me, I should respond to them. If I miss you, don't be offended. I've probably just run out of space, or have had a brain fart or something. So basically, you can stop reading here if you want to as the rest is just author ramblings. I'll do this every once in a while, but probably not regularly so once again don't be offended. I read all reviews and take any criticism and detail into account and appreciate any and all feedback I get. I take criticism well, so don't be afraid to snub me on some issues if you want to. I don't like being flamed (no one does), but if you back up your argument with some rationale, that's fine too. In any case, let's start from the top.
Glad to hear you enjoy the story. I always like positive review. In any case, I wish you had made this comment before I started because that would have been an interesting plot twist. Alas, I am not so creative. The Raikage has a name, as you learned here, Hakkyou Gisei, and has a history all his own. Still, that was a nice theory, but the scar on the left side of his face has other significant purposes to this story. Thanks again for the review.
The entire thing in TWO DAYS? I don't think I can read that fast. That's impressive in any case, and glad to hear I created a story that peaked your interest enough to stick to it. Thanks for taking the time to review. As for how I came up with two of my OC's that's at the bottom of this list.
Thanks for the compliment man/girl/whatever (jk), still, thank you for taking the time to review. To solve the mystery of my gender, I'm a guy, I just don't know how to use that bio thing for the profile (I'm not very computer savvy). I am currently 18 years old, starting college, enjoy long walks on the beach, weight lifting, and aspire one day to become a pirate. But I digress, thanks again.
TenTen's paralysis will come into play later in the story, but as you said, at least she's alive. In any case, thanks for the review.
Yep, Hiketsu actually serves a dual purpose. He's the first OC I originally came up with, and he serves as a Deus Ex Machina at times (i.e. Kakashi's Sharingan). However, when I make an OC I try to make them interesting, non-self-inserts so people who read my story won't leave with a very pissed-off-at-author feeling. Thanks for saying I'm an excellent author by the way. This is just fanfiction, but I'm easily flattered. Thanks for the review.
Yep, most of my stories are fairly lengthy just because I work on them off and on. In the beginning I had a lot of time to work, but that time has slowly dwindled away so I compensate with length. As for Naruto, he is the protagonist and he has several problems in this story and rage is definitely one of them. We'll see how far it goes from here. Thanks for writing.
-Daniel of Lorien
Thanks for the review. Glad to see you think I write well. I think I'm okay, but I can always improve. I know there are flaws in my writing but I'm still glad people enjoy it.
Glad to hear about your love of my fic. As for pairings, although romance is inclined in some scenes it's not really the basis for this fic. Will there be pairings? Somewhat. I won't say no because I've mapped out this fic but am always changing it. The reason the pairings aren't too serious save for some platonic borderline boyfriend/girlfriend relationships is because the characters aren't too old. Usually 13 to 14. But the relationships will stay simple. No lemons (as I recently figured out what that is) as I can't see 13 and 14 year olds being that passionately in love, or even doing that (i.e. I don't want Naruto to score before I do.) In any case, we'll see where romance takes us, but it'll be mostly for the furthering of the story if anything else.
Sorry I can't pump em out that fast. A lot of authors are better at that then I am so sorry on that count. I'll see if I can speed up, but no promises as I'm horrible about sticking to deadlines. Thanks for writing in any case.
Wow, glad to hear I elicited some emotions from you with my writing, even if I am a sadistic bastard as you said. Also glad to hear that you got attached to my OC, even if he is a sadistic bastard. As for romance, see above. In actuality, I had, and still plan, to make this more of an epic than anything else. By that I mean that you are currently reading the first part in a three part series. When I set out to write the story, I originally wanted to do it in three parts. Currently, Paths to Power is the first one and I think we're about halfway through this one. In any case thanks for the review.
Once again, I guess I'm glad to hear you're freaked out about TenTen's condition because that means you felt something. Still, thanks for reviewing. Always like to hear if I'm doing a good job, though I don't know if freaking you out is accomplishing that.
Thanks for the review man. I plan to keep updating even if the updates come kind of long, so keep on watchin' eh.
Glad to hear that it was worth the wait. Makes me feel good on the inside. Also nice to hear the string of complements too. Thanks again mate.
-Dragon Man 180
I'm building towards a dramatic resolution between Naruto and Set, so I can't say who's going to die or not. Glad to hear from you though man.
I know I forgot to send you a thank you for the detailed analysis of my fic, so I'm very sorry for that but in any case, thank you very much for it. I always like constructive criticism, and you've offered me plenty. You've stuck with the fic for some time so I just want to say thanks for the reviews, e-mails, etc. Thanks again.
Well that's all for now, as that was all on the first page. I know I missed a lot of you, but I'll get to everyone eventually. Thanks for taking the time everyone.
Well, I won't talk about both of them considering how long this AN is running right now, but I will talk about the main antagonist of the story, Izou Set.
My first thought when making this fic was that I needed an antagonist, someone to be Naruto's foil. Immediately I thought of Sasuke. But the thing about Sasuke is that he doesn't strike me as an antagonist. True, he creates difficulties for our hero, but his goal does not really clash with our hero's goal. Plus, a lot of people can write about Naruto fighting Sasuke better than I can, so I decided to go a different route. Thus, I wanted a character that could be really, really, REALLY evil. When I think of antagonists, the one that immediately pops into my mind is The Joker. If you don't know who The Joker is, shame on you. He is Batman's foil. Although Batman has many enemies, The Joker can be considered Batman's nemesis. So part of Set's personality comes from the clown prince of crime, mainly his insane side and all the laughing he does. Another part of Set comes from my obsession with RPGs, especially of the Final Fantasy series. In particular, my favorite villain in the series has been, and probably always will be, Kefka. If you don't know who Kefka is, that's okay, it's not really a slice of Americana like The Joker is. Kefka was a character who didn't have much motivation behind his actions besides an extreme hatred of all things living. It was this that made him such a love-to-hate type character, which is what I wanted my antagonist to be. Finally, my favorite villain of all time would be none other than Hannibal Lecter. Why? He talks so dignified despite the fact that he's a bloodthirsty, criminally insane, psychopath. That air of dignity is another item I wanted attached to my antagonist. So basically, I picked and chose, molded out a personality and past, and made up Set. I wasn't sure how an OC villain would fly as the main antagonist of the story, but it seems to have worked okay so far so that's good. His name comes from Set, Ancient Egyptian God of Evil, also known as Seth. Also, Set is short, so it's easy to write, even if it doesn't really sound Japanese. Well that's that. Hope you enjoyed and continue to enjoy the fic.