Disclaimer: Naruto and its characters are the property of Masashi Kishimoto. However, the original characters and plot of this fic belong to me.
Author Notes: Another day, another chapter. I'm getting closer and closer to finishing, will I make it? Find out on the next exciting episode...yeah, enjoy the chapter.
Chapter 37: Dusk
"We finally reach dry land." Hideaki jumped off the dragon's head. "You took your time however; the distance from the homeland to this coast is only eight or so hours. You seemed to double that on this trip."
Tatsuyoshi didn't mind the criticism, "Only because I wanted to make sure you've thought this through."
"You worry too much old friend." Hideaki breathed deeply, inhaling the smell of the flowers nearby.
"Let me come with you." The water began to divide as Tatsuyoshi rose but he stopped when Hideaki put up a hand.
"You must go back." Hideaki smiled, "Don't forget we all have a job to do. Yours' is to protect them. Farewell Tatsuyoshi."
The enchanting dragon hesitated before receding into the water and out of sight. Even if his figure wasn't visible, Hideaki could feel his presence grow farther until it vanished. Sighing, he quickly bit his thumb and slammed it into the ground. A plume of smoke emanated from the point of impact, disappearing to reveal the shape of another formidable dragon.
"Hideaki-san…what is the meaning of this?"
"I have an important mission with which I require your assistance. Will you aid me, Ryutaro?" Hideaki asked.
Ryutaro's silver scales sparkled in the sun, "Unquestionably; my wings are for your perseverance."
Hideaki mounted Ryutaro, before the dragon instantly took off into the air with a massive burst of speed. The wind rushed past them, but it didn't disturb either Ryutaro or Hideaki.
"Head South-West; our destination will reveal itself soon enough." Hideaki said.
Ryutaro continued onwards at a tremendous speed, but he couldn't help feeling slightly disconcerted by the aura of his summoner. He would very rarely ever accompany Hideaki as it was always his own father who did. However, the few precious times he did, he remembered always being in awe of the wisdom and power he felt from him. This time though, it was different.
Hideaki watched the land below rush past like a blur, "Just like my life."
Ryutaro's eyes moved upwards as he let out a grunt, wondering what Hideaki had said.
Hideaki noticed the curiosity before smiling, "Don't mind me, just an old man's ramblings."
Ryutaro's attention didn't remain on Hideaki for long; their destination had finally become apparent. He flew high above thousands of shinobi surrounding a ruined city. His wings spread apart even more as he received a tap from Hideaki, signalling that this was indeed their landing place. "What is this? Why have you come here?"
Hideaki leaned inwards to the dragon's ear, "I'm going to jump off so get me closer to the ground."
"This isn't wise." Ryutaro replied.
The army below had already noticed the creature above them in the sky, heads turning upwards and already cautious of what could happen.
"Listen to me Ryutaro; I want you to take a good look at this locale. Return that information to the homeland for me." Hideaki didn't wait for a reply from his companion, jumping to the ground when he was close enough to do so. He landed with a soft thud, his long garments collecting some dirt. His focus moved to Ryutaro who continued circling above, before towards the thousands of shinobi looking in his direction. At their forefront was an all too familiar ninja.
Tenjou put up his hand, making sure the shinobi didn't do anything. A smirk appeared across his face, as if he knew what the purpose of Hideaki's visit was. He clicked his fingers, causing the army to separate into two. A path through the middle of them was created, leading directly into the ruins where Hajin was residing.
Hideaki held a steel look of determination, picking up his feet and walking towards the city. It didn't take long before he was right in the middle of the army of shinobi.
"Welcome." Tenjou's words were cold, "It seems the leader of our enemy is quite brave…or maybe foolish is a better term."
Instantly, whispers broke out amongst the army as they began to jeer and spit at Hideaki. Ryutaro, high in the sky, noticed the volatile nature of their actions. He hissed, preparing to dive towards them all. But as quickly as he had made his decision, he saw Hideaki look in his direction and shake his head.
Hideaki continued walking amidst the loud taunts of the Iwa ninja; their coarse language not affecting him. His mind was focused and he ignored their actions. Reaching the end of the path created for him, he entered the ruins. All the while Ryutaro lingered in the air following his every move. It didn't take long for the blood red hair of the Tsuchikage to come into sight.
Hajin turned around to see his new arrival, an evil smile forming on his countenance, "Isn't this a surprise?"
The flashes of yellow engulfed the land, not remaining motionless as the figure of a man appeared and vanished within seconds. A kunai was being thrown and served as the only indication of where Naruto could end up.
"That was quick." Sakumo said, "I didn't expect him to get the hang of it so soon."
"That's the value of hard work. He hasn't stopped training with the kunai since he's received it." Jiraiya added.
"Sensei was a genius. It looks like the kunai he designed really does help more than we thought." Kakashi scratched his head, "He has to be running out of chakra though; I'm getting dizzy just from seeing this light show."
"Well, Sakura and Sasuke decided to have a spar since they were getting tired of waiting. You could join them Kakashi." Jiraiya grinned, "After all, it's not like we're forcing you to stay here."
Kakashi examined the hermit, "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Jiraiya coughed, "Anyway, maybe we should ask Naruto to stop now."
"You think?" Sakumo tilted his head to the side, "He's about to stop himself from the looks of it."
"How do you know that?" Kakashi asked.
"The kunai is slowing down. That means he's not throwing it with as much energy as before. It's not easy to spot, but it is happening." Sakumo folded his arms, "He's not going to keep this up much longer."
Sure enough, as the legendary ninja finished speaking, the flashes of yellow stopped. Naruto was panting, the sweat dripping down his anatomy. The blank expression on his face soon disappeared as he collapsed.
"What the hell?" Jiraiya had a bemused look.
"That was sudden." Sakumo said. "Kakashi, get some water."
"Why?" Kakashi didn't like what his father could be planning.
"I'm going to wake him up; he doesn't have time to be lounging around." Sakumo informed the jounin.
"He's not lounging around, he's unconscious…but I agree." Kakashi walked to the lake in order to gather some water.
Sakura and Sasuke had stopped their spar upon noticing that the flashes of yellow were no longer happening. They curiously observed the three ninja overlooking Naruto's training, feeling that they were probably taking advantage of the blonde. However, they knew it was necessary for Naruto to get stronger as quickly as possible. Disregarding what was happening, they continued with their skirmish.
Tsunade fell back into her seat, letting out a sigh of relief. She had finally returned home, but she was exhausted. The group from Konoha hadn't taken a break on their way home, even continuing onwards through the night. Her legs were aching, and her muscles felt like they were about to burst. "Damn you Gai." For some reason, she had listened to the spandex wearing jounin and agreed that they couldn't afford the opportunity to rest. She was regretting that now however.
Reaching to the side, she opened a drawer and took out a bottle of sake along with a cup. Slowly pulling out the cork, she poured the strong liquid into the cup. Twirling it around for a few moments, she finished it all at once.
"Tsunade-sama?" Shizune stood at the entrance of the office, the door wide open. "You're back."
Tsunade wiped her mouth, "And I've brought some big news."
"Big news? Has something happened?" Shizune had a concerned voice. "Before that though, you should have some rest. You look tired."
"Unfortunately, there isn't time to rest anymore Shizune. We have a lot of preparing to do." Tsunade said. "Konoha is going to war."
Shizune's eyes widened with shock, "War? Wait, what's going on? Why are we going to war?"
"We're going to fight because we believe in justice. We can't stand aside while someone attempts to throw this world into chaos. It's our duty to protect everything." Tsunade said, her eyes slightly glazed, "The Tsuchikage is more dangerous than anyone could've imagined; he has to be stopped."
Shizune instantly understood what the reasoning behind Tsunade's visit was now; it was a request for help from the Confederation. It puzzled her how her mentor had actually accepted the offer and was willing to go to war. If there was any weakness Tsunade would still have, it would be that she was unwilling to put others in a position where they'd possibly experience the same loss she had.
"Shizune; stop staring off into space. I need your help with a few things." Tsunade was pouring herself more sake as she spoke, "The news hasn't been leaked, but it's better that everyone knows as soon as possible. We have little time remaining until the big battle."
"What do you want me to do?" Shizune asked.
"Inform the council that there's a meeting. I'll let them know about Konoha's role in this, and the news to the rest of the shinobi will follow." Tsunade leaned back, and put her feet on the table, "Apart from that, I need a message sent to Suna."
"You're going to ask them for assistance?" Shizune walked towards the desk.
"As strong as we are, we can't spare too many shinobi and leave Konoha along with the Fire Country defenceless. Asking Suna for some help would be wise." Tsunade tilted her head back, resting it the soft padding of her chair, "We're stronger with our allies, there's no need to try and fight this out alone."
Shizune nodded, "Understood, I'll get it done as quickly as possible."
The sounds of Shizune's footsteps receded as Tsunade turned her head to the side and watched over the village of Konoha. The sun could be seen in all its glory, acting as the backdrop of the land. Tsunade took another sip of her sake, wondering what the results of her choices would be.
"I'm done." Naruto slowly fell backwards onto the grass, letting out a yawn. His body was covered in sweat, and his muscles were pounding. His yellow hair seemingly shone in the sunlight. He had resumed his training straight away upon being harshly snapped out of his dreams by a cold splash of water. He had come to expect this treatment from Sakumo, since he was a strict teacher.
"Had enough already?" Jiraiya stood over Naruto, "Really, I thought you would've been able to go on longer than this."
"Hey Ero-sennin, haven't you seen what I've been doing?" Naruto raised his eyebrow, "It's not easy."
"You've done well Naruto." Kakashi added, taking a seat next to the shinobi.
"Stop calling me Ero-sennin. Don't you have any respect at all? Eh?" Jiraiya questioned the young man.
Naruto breathed heavily, staring at the clear sky above, "It feels so good to finally rest a little. This technique, it's amazing. When I throw the seal, something inside me moves with it. I can tell if anything out of the ordinary happens with it."
"It certainly is an incredible creation." Jiraiya said, folding his arms.
"I never thought you would think up something like this. I guess you're good at something other than being a pervert." Naruto laughed.
Jiraiya had an offended look, but ignored the blonde's comments, "I didn't think of anything. This principle was applied by Minato."
"Minato?" Naruto put his hands behind his head, "Who's that?"
"The Yondaime; that's his name." Kakashi informed the man, "The idea of transporting the seal with a kunai came from him."
Naruto listened intently, interested to know that he was wielding the same technique as the man who he grew up idolising. "It makes sense he would know it. It feels like he was capable of everything, the ninja who stopped the Kyuubi."
Kakashi turned his head towards Naruto, "Ah, I just remembered. You would often scream about how you would replicate his greatness."
"Huh?" Naruto stared at the jounin, "How do you know?"
"Wasn't it your intention to make it known to everyone?" Kakashi smiled underneath his mask, "It was funny seeing a little boy declaring his determination to reach such heights…and it was good to know someone had been inspired."
"Minato truly was a great man." Jiraiya looked at the thrashing waterfall as he spoke, "Shinobi like him are rare, but you do see them."
Naruto sat up, "You've seen one like him?"
Jiraiya curiously observed the jinchuuriki, shrugging, "Maybe."
Kakashi was about to speak, before seeing something thrown at him from the corner of his eye. Rolling out of the way, the kunai narrowly missed his shoulder. Flipping onto his feet, he saw Sakumo watching the group along with Sakura and Sasuke.
The elder Hatake didn't look amused, "What are you slacking off for? Naruto! Start training!"
"Damn it! I only took a break for a few minutes!" Naruto stood up, "You're really pissing me off old man! Do you want to go at it? Huh?!"
Kakashi tried to hold back his laughter as Jiraiya looked aghast. Sakumo was less than pleased at the challenge, "You've done it now. I'm going to teach you a few things!"
The two figures stood silently; the distance between them, although short, resembled years of conflict and history. The wind blew roughly, carrying a few stray leaves with it. Clouds hung over the sky like a solid wall, refusing to let any light penetrate. The atmosphere was intense, and filled with a grim foreboding.
"It's unusual for the fly to willingly trap itself on the spider's web." Hajin smirked, highly amused, "Though, I guess there's a first for everything."
Hideaki's eyes lost their soft and gentle look, replaced with complete fury and loathing.
"Now, now, you look very angry." Hajin said, "Is there something you want to say?"
"I've seen many people; those who cherished wisdom, those who lacked it. Those who dedicated their lives towards building a brighter future, those who resigned themselves to what they had been given. Some who were smart, intelligent and privileged and some who were weak, fragile and unfortunate." Hideaki closed his eyes, "Yet, never have I seen such a sad sight as I do before myself today."
"Clearly, you've never been in the presence of greatness." Hajin held out his hand, "My hand holds the power to move this world; such a thing is not a sad sight."
"I must ask you; what kind of punishment does a person, who claims to want vengeance for his father yet is able to sacrifice his own daughter, deserve? For such a twisted human being, death seems to be lenient." Hideaki said; his gentle voice carrying venom like it had never done before.
"You live in a world of shinobi; my actions aren't uncommon. There are those who sacrifice their entire families to move forward." Hajin shook his head, "I think you've forgotten how terrible the reality can actually be."
"You never answered my question." Hideaki opened his eyes, examining the red haired Kage.
"It doesn't deserve an answer; gain the power first before thinking of punishments." Hajin's robe fluttered with the wind, "Besides, it's not going to do you any good in your current situation."
"Indeed, that may be the case. I don't need to question things, your judgement will come." Hideaki clasped his hands, "An ignorant war monger who yearns foolishly to achieve things beyond his comprehension; it's quite sickening to see what you've become."
Hajin twitched at the words of the old man, "Careful, your death might come quicker than you may have wanted."
"I walked towards this land, knowing full well what lay ahead of me. I've no fear now that I'm here." Hideaki smiled, "Were you thinking of intimidating me?"
Hajin started laughing, "Intimidating fossils like you is impossible, you all seem to think you're special." He quieted down, "But it makes me wonder why you're here."
Hideaki's eyes remained on the Tsuchikage, "You're proud of what you're trying to achieve, no? I've simply come to ask that you wait three weeks before doing anything."
"Three weeks? Interesting, and why exactly would I do that?" Hajin asked.
"Naruto is still alive." Hideaki answered.
Hajin raised an eyebrow, surprised to learn of the news. He hadn't expected him to survive very long after the condition they had left him in. "Kyuubi…"
"He's preparing to fight you, and he only needs three weeks." Hideaki knew that amount of time wasn't enough, however asking for more wouldn't result in his favour. "You claim to be so powerful, but I believe he'll defeat you. Not only that, but humiliate you in the process. Are you willing to accept such a challenge, or are you too afraid?"
Hajin shook his head, "You're naïve for an old man. I'm a ninja; I don't care for such things. I do what is necessary and scale higher." He faced upwards, letting the wind blow his hair, "But, I guess I could delay marching for your home until after I've finished my seals. After that, I'll be sure to kill that pathetic excuse for a jinchuuriki and take the Kyuubi."
The sky boomed with the sound of thunder, as the black clouds lingered over the land. It began to rain, the drops of water splashing off everything they hit.
Hideaki looked at the sky, the rain trickling down his face, "That's all I needed."
Hajin ignored the water, his hair now soaking wet. He observed the peaceful ninja opposite him, "You really came here to exchange your life for that? Three weeks which won't even get you anywhere?" He brushed his hair backwards, sighing, "Even the most uncompromising of men will come around when they're offered something they need. In my case, it's the head of the man who killed my father."
Hideaki looked towards the deadly Kage, "You're wrong, three weeks can make all the difference. I have faith."
Hajin vanished from his location, instantly appearing behind Hideaki. Their backs faced each other, as a kunai gleamed lethally in the hand of the Tsuchikage, "Was your faith misplaced? I guess you'll never know."
A cold feeling travelled through Hideaki's body, as he felt the threatening presence of Hajin behind him. The rain continued falling, engulfing him and leaving none of his clothes dry. He closed his eyes whilst uttering his final words, "I already know."
Naruto panted, his body showing scars of his battle with Sakumo. A trickle of blood escaped his mouth, which he wiped away quickly. "What's wrong old man?"
Sakumo was equally tired, his mask torn slightly while blood escaped from behind his white hair. He threw then kunai he was holding to the ground, "That's enough for today, you did well."
Sasuke and Sakura were both impressed with the magnitude of the battle they had just witnessed. The Uchiha in particular, wanted to have a proper face off against Naruto sometime soon. Jiraiya and Kakashi on the other hand, simply enjoyed seeing the legendary White Fang once again display his prowess in combat.
Naruto stretched his arms, grimacing when he experienced a jolt of pain, "You haven't forgotten how to fight; that's for sure."
Sakumo scratched his head, "Hey now, I'm not that old."
Naruto yawned, his eyes slightly watering up. He turned his head to the crimson sky, where the sun was slowly descending in the horizon. His eyes twitched, catching the sight of something peculiar. "That's…"
The rest of the group snapped their heads towards the direction Naruto was facing. Kakashi spoke up, "Isn't that the same dragon which…?"
"Ryutaro…" Naruto said; his eyes remaining focused.
Ryutaro, whose figure was clearly distinguishable as he flew in front of the setting sun, was carrying something on his back. This didn't go unnoticed by the group of ninja.
Naruto curiously examined the approaching beast in the sky. His eyes suddenly lost all their weariness, replaced with shock and terror. The gentle and aged face of Hideaki had become visible. It felt like Naruto's body had frozen up, not allowing him to move even though he wished more than anything to rush towards his oncoming companion. All the fun that he had been having throughout the day instantly seemed like a distant memory, as he once again felt a familiar vice like grip take hold of his heart.
Author Notes: Hideaki is dead. Did you see that coming? Probably did, but anyway, the time is drawing near for the big battle. Tsunade has asked Suna for assistance; will Gaara be making a return after so long? What about Naruto? How is he going to take this new development? And not to mention, what exactly did Sakumo and Hideaki speak about all those chapters ago? All this and more, on the next exciting episode of...yeah, see you all soon.