Haritsumeta sora wa shinjitsu tarazu
chikazuku koto o kobande iru
afureru namida shizuku to nari kobore
kokoro ga itaku te dou shiyou mo nai

Kanashimi no hate ikitsuku saki wa
"Shinjitsu to Itsuwari"

Koko ni nemuru shinjitsu no yukue
konna ni mo soba ni iru no ni
tooku hikaru hoshi no subete o
terashite iru no ni

Itetsuita sora wa toki ni wa kagami de
Kokoro no itami utsushite someru

Kizutsuketa hane wa osore o shirazu
Yasumu goto sae dekinai mama ni

Shinjitsu motome doko made mo tooku e
kaze ni sakarai haruka kanata e

Tsukami sokoneta yume monogatari
genjitsu to maboroshi

Shizuka sugite kiete shimai sou
konna ni mo sakendeiru no ni
kizamu toki wa kono koe sae mo
keshite shimau no ne

Karamiau kusari no you ni
kanashimi to kurayami wa
omotakute tokihanasu koto wa yurusanai

Koko ni nemuru shinjitsu no yukue
konna ni mo soba ni iru no ni
tooku hikaru hoshi no subete o
terashite iru no ni

Shizuka sugite kiete shimai sou
konna ni mo sakendeiru no ni
kizamu toki wa kono koe sae mo
keshite shimau no ne

Shinjitsu no Yukue, by Tomoyo Mitani

"It was…too soon," Ovan lamented, leaning against the translucent crystal that preserved his sister's body. He sighed, his head landing with a thud against the crystal. He grunted as the fingers of his left hand twitched, grimacing as a spike of pain lanced through that arm.

He sighed again, much deeper than before, "I was a fool…I was too impatient. I was so eager to end my pain that I didn't realize the components missing from my plans. It was not yet time for our battle, Naruto-kun, because not all of your brethren have awakened."

He sighed, watching, in morbid fascination, as tissue rapidly grew from nowhere in order to replace the leg he had lost. A result of his battle, his leg had been destroyed, torn apart molecule by molecule, ripped from his body like a splinter. Now, he could only sit and watch as Cubia grew the missing limb back into place.

"I can sense them," he said, talking to no one person in particular. "Tarvos, Skeith, Magus, Innis, Corbenik…they have all awakened and come into their true power. Only Macha, Gorre, and Fidchell remain dormant."

He hissed painfully as skin stretched over the previously bare muscle, "Only those three lay asleep, slumbering in their vessels. Then, Naruto-kun, our true battle will begin. When they awaken, you and I shall end this timeless war."

He looked back over his shoulder, at the girl frozen in crystal, "I'm sorry, Aina. I broke my promise. It'll take a little bit longer for me to reach you."

Ovan winced, gritting his teeth. Cubia was howling at him, angry that he had been defeated so easily, despite his superior age. The Hidden One growled out threats to Ovan's body and mind, determined to force him to complete the task of the Anti-Existence. Ovan ignored its calls, knowing that it could not do any of what it promised.

He did, however, know just how capable it was of taking over his mind. He knew that he could not allow the beast to have control again, not after what it had done when it first awoke within him several years before. To allow Cubia control was to allow the destruction of the human race.

Ovan knew full well just how devastating Cubia's strength was, his little sister having been its only victim. It stood out vividly in his memory, as he could not forget just what had happened. It was so vivid, that it felt as if it had happened just yesterday.

He had been sitting down, reading to Aina by her bedside just before she was to go to sleep. She'd looked up at him with those shining amethyst eyes, love and joy sparkling in their depths. He could clearly remember the smile that stretched across his face, a small chuckle leaving his mouth as she begged him to continue reading.

He could also remember the book he had been reading her, the "Epitaph of Twilight", a book far beyond her ten-year-old level of comprehension. But she'd listened with rapt attention, memorizing each word that left his mouth as he read to her. He could even remember those words, their letters burned into his memory.

"Yet to return, the shadowed one, who quests for the Twilight Dragon," he'd read, his voice soft as the words rolled over his tongue. "Rumbles the dark hearth. And Helba, Queen of the Dark, has finally raised her army. Apeiron, King of Light, beckons. At the base of the rainbow do they meet. Against the abominable wave, together they fight."

She'd looked up at him with amazement in her gaze, hanging on to every syllable, as if he'd been preaching the word of God. He remembered the smile that had lit up his face as she eagerly begged him to continue, drinking in each line as if it were water.

"Alba's lake boils," he'd went on, watching her excitement out of the corner of his eyes, "Light's great tree doth fall. Power, now all to droplets, turned in the temple of Arche Koeln. Returns to nothing, this world of shadowless ones. Never to return, the shadowed one who quests for the Twilight Dragon."

That's when he'd felt it, the festering rage that bubbled up in his mind, clawing at his skull like a beast ready to feed on his brain. There was a scream, and he'd been unsure whether it was his own, or simply the howls of Cubia's rage as the beast hijacked his body, pushing him out of the way effortlessly.

He had heard Aina, crying, asking him what was wrong as the book fell to the floor and closed shut with a loud thud. She'd sat next to him, holding his shoulders as he keeled over and grabbed his burning head, trying desperately to fight the creature invading his mind. Tears had streaked down her face, hitting the ground silently.

He remembered his feelings of helplessness as he tried to combat the evil demon eager to possess him, the creature worming its way into his consciousness. His head had felt as if it were being split in two, a vicious ache threatening to drive him insane with the pain. His body fell soon after, burning agony in his limbs as his control was usurped.

Then, it had all stopped. His arms and legs moved of their own accord, standing up without Ovan's prompting. Cubia in control, he turned towards the sobbing form of his little sister, whose face lit up in happiness as he appeared to be unharmed. He'd had a feeling of foreboding at that moment, somehow knowing what was to occur next.

He'd felt a wicked smirk come over his lips as his right arm snaked out, grasping Aina by the throat and covered with violent purple energy. She'd reached up, fear in her eyes as she tried to pry his fingers from her frail neck.

"Big brother," she'd pleaded. "Please, big brother, stop! You're hurting me!"

The smirk had stretched, and he had felt sick to his stomach as Cubia spoke using his mouth, "Big brother isn't here right now, little girl."

Her face had paled as the poisonous energy seeped into her skin, slowly killing her without leaving any marks. She'd looked at him, pain in her gaze as her mouth opened wide, an agonized scream passing over her lips.

"Aina!" he'd tried calling out, but no words reached her ears as Cubia slowly tightened his grasp around her slender neck, driving all the air from her lungs. "No, Aina!"

He'd heard a cruel laugh, and soon after realized that Cubia was laughing at him, mocking his pain and anguish as the life steadily bled from Aina's face. Her bright eyes became dull and glassy, reflecting Ovan's face back at him. With a final, soft sigh, her hands had fallen, her body becoming limp.

"No!" Ovan cried. "Aina!"

He blinked, then realized that he had fallen asleep, dreaming of the event that had taken his sister's life. He sighed, looking down to see a new leg had replaced the one he'd lost in his battle with Naruto. Pink flesh once more filled his the right side of his pants, the muscles taut and cramped.

He sighed again. As soon as he'd regained control of his body, he had sat Aina down in her favorite rocking chair and encased both her corpse and the chair in crystal, preserving them for all of time. After that, he'd made his pocket dimension, deciding to spend as much time as he could with his little sister.

"Soon," Ovan whispered. "Soon, all eight will have awakened, and Skeith's true power will finally be unlocked. Then, I shall join Aina."

It was unfortunate, but he could not be laid to rest beside his little sister. In order to kill Cubia, Ovan's body had to be completely destroyed, down to the last molecule. That would leave behind no corpse, thus, he would be unable to rest eternally by his sister. Only in the afterlife could he truly be with her.

A sudden prickling on the edge of his senses alerted him to a trio of unexpected guests.

"So," Ovan drawled, turning his gaze around, "you're here. The Pursuers…"

Three ghastly figures stared at him, none of them making to answer his statement. The one in the middle, wearing vibrant red-orange clothing and a large, floppy hat, tilted his head back, lips parted slightly. Two opposing rows of jagged, carnivorous teeth shown, their white surfaces glinting ominously.

"As things are right now," Ovan stood, slowly unwrapping the bandages on his left arm, "you'll only get in the way of my plan."

The bandages fell to the ground with a soft thump.

A Simple Change: The Sharingan Volume 2: Reminisce
James D. Fawkes

Chapter Eleven: Tsukuyomi: The Truth Revealed
— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Sasuke winced, closing his eyes and biting his lip as the Curse Mark burned again, searing the skin of his neck. His fist clenched as he fought back a scream, jabbing his fingers into a pressure point on his shoulder. Instantly, the pain relaxed, and so did he. He let out a sigh, leaning his head against the trunk of the tree he was sitting in.

Not two seconds later, he tensed, grabbing his sheathed sword from its resting-place. As he stood, he yanked his weapon loose and swung upwards in one fluid motion. The wires that had been about to tie him to his tree were cut and fell, useless.

"Well, well," a liquid voice cooed, "it seems he does have a spark in him, after all."

"You're right, Sakon," another, cockier voice crowed. "And it seems his sword has some use, too. I thought it was just an overgrown toothpick."

Sasuke's eyes flashed, crimson bleeding into, and consuming, their natural shade of charcoal, "Sakuhime does not take lightly to insults cast upon her…and neither do I."

With three puffs of smoke, three beasts, demons it seemed, appeared around him and flute music sounded in his ears. He scowled as the beasts charged at him in tune to the music, dodging their attacks with ease. One of the creatures, this one carrying a club, left himself open. Sasuke took advantage of that and, with a chakra laden kick, dispersed the bizarre summon.

Flipping backwards, Sasuke moved out of the way of one of the other monster's attack, holding his sword in front of him. In a monotone, he commanded, "Chire, Sakuhime."

The blade of his weapon burst into hundreds of pieces, spearing through the beast in front of him. With a puff of smoke, the second monster was dispelled, leaving the last one. The flute music seemed to pick up pace and become more frantic, the monster following its sound.

Sasuke flashed through three one-handed seals, ducking under the last beast's attack. His sword crackling with lightning chakra, he stabbed the demon in the stomach, twisting his blade with a sickening squelch. His red eyes gleamed.

"Cast in the name of God," he said, having heard the quote from an anime he had once watched. Tenchū, this skill was called. He'd seen Naruto practicing it. "Ye Guilty."

In an explosion of blood and gore, the pent up electrical energy burst outwards, dispelling the final summoned creature by default. His gaze impassive, Sasuke turned to look at the four ninja who had been watching his little bout, smirks on their faces. He mustered his strongest glare, "Who are you?"

"Who are we?" the gray-haired one repeated, his lips an unnatural green. "We are Sakon, Jirobo, Tayuya, and Kidomaru. We are called the Otogakure no Shinobi Yonin Shu, the Four Ninja of Sound. I am Sakon of the West Gate."

"Jirobo of the South Gate," the heavyset one said, arms folded over his chest.

"Kidomaru of the East Gate," the six-armed one crowed, a cocky smirk on his face.

"Tayuya of the North Gate," the redheaded girl said stoically.

Eyes narrowed, Sasuke sized up his opposition, from the gray-haired Sakon to the sparse orange hair of Jirobo. Despite their age, they would be quite a challenge for any ordinary Shinobi. He resisted the urge to smirk. He was no ordinary Shinobi.

In an instant, they were upon each other, Sasuke ducking under Sakon's jump kick. Grabbing the other ninja's leg, he tossed him into the oncoming Kidomaru, watching as they tumbled on the thick tree branch that was their battleground. Hopping over Tayuya, he did a midair summersault, using his momentum to land a vicious kick to the back of her head. She crashed into the tree trunk with a dull thud.

Jirobo advanced on him, fist cocked back threateningly. With a meaty slap, Sasuke caught the larger boy's fist effortlessly, eyes scanning his enemy's body for the correct spot. Chakra gathered in his hand, and he thrust his fingers into Jirobo's stomach. To his satisfaction, Jirobo's eyes went wide as the flow of chakra to his liver and kidneys was cut off.

Letting go, Jirobo's arm fell, a look of shock plastered to his face. Lifting his foot, Sasuke sent a bone-crushing kick into the boy's torso. He flew through the air, colliding soundly with a building not too far away.

"If this is the best that the Sound Four have to offer," Sasuke mocked, face serious, "then I think Orochimaru really needs to find better help. You guys…are pathetic."

Before Sasuke's eyes, the four shinobi stood back up, unscathed, as if he had never hit them. Each of them had a smirk on his or her face, as though they had been 'testing the waters' and found them satisfying. Jirobo wiped a small trail of blood from his chin, the only evidence that Sasuke had hit his original mark.

And, Sasuke noticed, each of them had some form of black markings stretched across their skin, each design different from the last. His eyes narrowed, his hand drifting back towards the hilt of his sword. He let his eyes close, his tone pensive, "I see."

He unsheathed Sakuhime, holding her parallel to his body, tip pointing down. As they stood in front of him, he let Sakuhime drop and sink into the wood, eyes snapping open, "If you're going that far…Bankai."

Two endless rows of swords rose up behind Sasuke, before shattering into thousands of tiny blossoms. As the petals swirled, Sasuke held his hand out, an imperial-looking white sword forming in his palm.

Sakon rushed forward, lashing out with a punch. A mass of petals swarmed up in front of Sasuke, blocking the attack easily. As Sakon retreated, hand covered in scratches that quickly healed, the mass dissolved, revealing a Sasuke that hadn't so much as twitched. With a soft swish, he disappeared.

An instant later, he reappeared behind Sakon, sword held loosely. He turned impassive eyes on Sakon, a distasteful frown on his lips, "You're far too slow."

Sakon fell to his knees, coughing up mouthfuls of blood. Three stab wounds, all of which had both exit and entry points, bled on his chest. One was through his right lung, one had skewered his liver, and one had nearly cut his left kidney in half. Even as the curse seal began to heal them, Sakon tried desperately to stem the flow of his life essence.

The other three attacked him en masse, Kidomaru in the lead. Even with six arms, however, he was no match for Sasuke's raw speed. He fell backwards, a diagonal slash traveling from his left hip to his right shoulder. Tayuya fell second, a bruise already purpling on her left cheek. Jirobo, too, was easily dispatched, decorated by a horizontal slice that was just barely shallow enough to miss disemboweling him.

Sasuke gazed at them dispassionately, disgusted with himself for even allowing the smallest part of his mind to contemplate joining the Snake Sennin. If this was the power Orochimaru had to offer, then he would rather not take the man's offer. After all, if you wanted to know about a man, investigate his inferiors, not his equals.

Sakon stood first, skin turning red as a horn grew from his forehead. Sasuke's eyes widened as the other three stood as well, undergoing similar mutations. Before he could move to counterattack, he found himself flat on his back, looking up into Sakon's menacing eyes. Rolling out of the way, Sasuke watched as the tree branch caved inward from the force of Kidomaru's vicious punch.

Scowling, Sasuke kneeled, glaring at his opponents. Biting his lip, he resolved to use his new, untested Bankai ability. The sword in his hand dissipated as the blackness of the night seemed to engulf his surroundings, the various petals swirling, "This is the true form of Sakuhime, when she has abandoned all defense and dedicated herself only…to killing the enemy."

A large column of glowing pink swords had formed, surrounding Sasuke and the Sound Four in a sort of cage. The other four ninja looked surprised. Sasuke smirked, "Don't be afraid. This funeral procession of a thousand blades won't attack all at once. This form is shown…" a sword flew into his outstretched palm, "only to those I have sworn to kill with my own hands."

In an instant, he disappeared again, Tayuya just barely dodging out of the way of his attack. She escaped with a shallow cut along her right arm, a furious grimace on her face. Jirobo was his next target, and wound up with a sword stabbed through his right thigh. With a flicker of speed, Sasuke stood in front of Tayuya, another sword flying to his hand. He stabbed it through her left foot and into the tree branch. She cried out.

Backed up against the nearly invisible tree trunk, Sakon soon found himself pinned to it by a sword skewed right through his stomach. He screamed as he pulled on it, trying to pull it from his body. He had no success, his hands bleeding profusely from his vain attempts.

His comrades defeated and their fates seeming grim, Kidomaru backed away as Sasuke advanced towards him, sword in hand. He raised it up, above his head, poised to strike a fatal blow, "Omae wo…"

Sasuke's eyes suddenly went wide and he dropped his weapon, clutching at the junction where his neck met his left shoulder. The swords, both the cage and the ones impaling the other three Sound ninja, dissolved into nothing, leaving the original sheathed at Sasuke's side. Kidomaru grinned.

He walked up to the kneeling Sasuke, his curse mark fading as his comrades tried to overcome their injuries, a triumphant smirk on his lips. Sasuke glared up at him, black, flame-like marks advancing and retreating over his skin. Kidomaru's smirk only grew, "You can't control it, can you?"

Sasuke grunted in pain, his glare intensifying. Kidomaru just scoffed, "If you want to learn to control that Curse Mark…come with us."

Picking themselves up, the Sound Four left Sasuke to contemplate his options.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto sat on the roof of his father's home, his legs crossed and his eyes closed. A thin layer of blue chakra swirled around his form, flowing clockwise around his body. A look of concentration was on his face, his lips drawn tight. He was meditating.

Unbeknownst to Naruto, however, a figure was watching him, gauging whether or not to approach the young blond. This figure's eyes were set on his target, no hostile intent present within their gaze. Indeed, this figure's eyes held nothing at all, no indication of whether his visit was hostile or peaceful.

A tight frown, the only show of the figure's emotions, stretched across his lips, gleaming eyes narrowed in thought. A gust of wind blew his long bangs into his eyes, an irritated huff leaving his lips as he brushed them away. His concentration snapped back onto the blond boy, his eyes revealing the density of the chakra surrounding him.

He was no fool. He knew that Orochimaru deliberately mislabeled Naruto's rank in an effort to pile more foes against the boy. It had been Orochimaru's hope that more Jounin would race to attack Naruto if his bounty had been high but his rank had only been A. Unfortunately for Orochimaru, his plans hadn't panned out the way he had hoped.

The figure narrowed his eyes, trying to gleam an inkling of the thoughts in Naruto's mind, trying to determine the content of Naruto's thoughts. He was an expert at gathering information. He had to be, or else his position as a spy would have been compromised long ago and his usefulness would have evaporated. His skills with Genjutsu and stealth helped, of course, but even those could only take him so far.

Without Kyôka Suigetsu, his trusty partner, he would truly have blown his cover years ago. If his leader knew that he was feeding information to Konoha, then he would have lost his life faster than he could say 'Pocky'. As that thought crossed his mind, the figure reached into his kunai pouch and pulled out a box of his favorite treat, munching on a stick of strawberry flavored Pocky.

"I don't care how unhealthy it is," the figure thought stubbornly, "I'll eat Pocky until the end of time!"

"You can come out now," Naruto's voice called. The figure froze, eyes wide, his teeth poised to bite into stick number four of his favorite candy. Naruto turned his head, looking right at the figure and locking gazes.

Shifting nervously, the figure put his candy away, standing up from his crouched position. Reapplying his poker face, he leapt from his hiding spot, landing on the roof a couple meters away from his target. He shifted uncomfortably, unbuttoning a portion of his jacket and resting his arm as if in a sling. He vaguely reminded himself of a character called Auron from a famous video game.

Naruto looked back at him, Sharingan eyes swirling cautiously. The figure knew that the boy had right to be worried. After all, it's not everyday that an S-ranked criminal stalked you, was it? He almost chuckled at the irony. For Naruto, yes, it was everyday that an S-ranked criminal stalked him.

"Why are you here, Itachi?" Naruto asked, his expression guarded. "I know the truth about you, so why are you here?"

"The truth, Naruto-kun?" Itachi asked neutrally, curious about what this 'truth' was.

Naruto's eyes narrowed, "You killed your entire clan that night nearly five years ago, telling Sasuke that you did it to measure the height of your capacity. You told him to hate you with all his heart, and to hate you until he could end your life. That was just a ruse."

"Was it, Naruto-kun?" Itachi asked. He was curious. Did Naruto really know…? "If that was just a ruse, what was my true reason?"

"You wanted him to kill you," Naruto stated simply. "You knew Orochimaru was after the Sharingan, so you did what you could to ensure he couldn't get it. You killed your entire clan. It was added motivation that most of them were obsessed with gaining power, to the point that it corrupted them. That didn't make your actions right, but it helped with your justification."

Naruto sighed, "But something went wrong with your plan. You managed to kill your entire clan, including your mother and father…but you couldn't bring yourself to kill your little brother. So you decided that your brother would wreak vengeance upon you, and cleanse you of your sin."

"Very astute, Naruto-kun," Itachi praised. The only thing that had been left out was Shisui's death. "But how did you come to this conclusion?"

"Simple," Naruto closed his eyes, "I've killed you before…" he opened them, the three tomoes swirling and blurring into a single shape, "and you smiled…"

Before he could counteract the Mangekyou spinning in Naruto's eyes, he found himself trapped within an inverted world, one that he was used to summoning and using. Instead, he was on the receiving end, helpless as a scene unfolded before his eyes.

He could see himself, twenty-one years old instead of seventeen, still wearing the robe of the Akatsuki. Blood trickled down his chin, his Sharingan swirling in his eyes as he panted for breath. An older Naruto, barely seventeen himself, stood opposite him, sword drawn and perfectly calm. A Hyuga girl stood at the blonde's side, her sword covered in the blood of Hoshigaki Kisame.

Despite the obvious hopelessness of his predicament, the older Itachi smiled, and whispered, "So…justice has finally come for me…"

In a flash, the older Naruto and Itachi launched towards at each other, one with a kunai, the other with his sword. There was a glint of steel and the kunai went flying, a sick squelch rending the air. Blood fell to the ground, the older Itachi impaled upon seventeen year old Naruto's sword.

As Itachi fell from the blade and to the earth, a smile upon his lips, his last words echoed over the battlefield, "And now…at the end…I am cleansed of my sin…"

The real Itachi gasped as the world of Tsukuyomi vanished and he was in the real world again, stunned as Naruto rubbed his strained eyes. His Sharingan had never activated, leaving his eyes their original coal black. His mouth was open slightly in surprise, eyes wide.

"That was…" he whispered, unable to form words. He calmed himself, letting out a sigh, "I see. So, you have lived this life before. I am suitably impressed, Naruto-kun. Nevertheless, your secret is safe with me. However, I still wish to know why you would trust me with such information."

Naruto smirked, his eyes blue once again, "Because, Itachi-senpai, you are Jiraiya's informant within Akatsuki. You are the spy that has allowed us to prepare for Nagato and his world domination schemes. Despite your status as the Uchiha killer, you're still loyal to Konoha. As for how I know that…you'd be amazed what Jiraiya says when he's drunk."

Itachi blinked, then laughed at the idea of how easily one of the Legendary Three had been tricked out of his own vital information. The image of a drunk Jiraiya, giggling as he told Naruto his master plan, didn't help to quell his amusement.

"So, Itachi-senpai," Naruto began as the older ninja began to calm, "why have you come here?"

In an instant, Itachi was serious again, focused on the boy in front of him, "Nagato-san is wary, Naruto-kun, of your new place in the bingo books. He has seen behind Orochimaru's ruse. He knows you're actually an S-ranked ninja."

"Of course," Naruto said. "I expected no less. All that means is that I must be prepared for the entire might of the Akatsuki. Can I count on you if he so decides to unleash the whole organization?"

Itachi closed his eyes, smiling, "Of course…Hokage-sama."

As Naruto's face grew serious, Itachi snapped to attention, saluting the blond. His lips drawn tight, Naruto said, "Dismissed!"

Nodding, Itachi turned to leave. After all, the illusion Kyôka Suigetsu could cast was quite powerful and convincing, but he needn't test the limits of just how convincing.

"Oh, and Itachi-senpai," Itachi turned, grabbing the object thrown at him. A brand new Konoha hitai-ate gleamed in the sunlight, the metal band tied with black cloth. Naruto smirked at him, "Welcome back to Konoha."

"You're right, Naruto-kun," Itachi thought as he vanished silently. "My original purpose behind the massacre was to keep the Sharingan from Orochimaru…but…when I killed them…I killed them because I hated them."

Itachi closed his eyes, suppressing a sigh, "Am I truly so trustworthy, Naruto-kun, if I hated my family enough to kill them? Mother…she was the only one I regret killing. Auntie, Uncle, Shisui…I felt nothing but satisfaction when they fell to my sword. I even enjoyed killing Father. Is one so despicable as I truly worthy of your trust?"

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

She couldn't explain it. She couldn't explain why she was up at the darkest hours of the night, so close to morning that the moon seemed indecisive about its place in the sky. She couldn't explain what had drawn her out of the warm comfort of her soft bed with its delicate feather pillow. She couldn't explain it.

A feeling. That's the only way to describe what she was experiencing. It was a feeling. No, 'a feeling' was too neutral. She had… a sense of foreboding. She didn't know how she sensed, or even why she was sensing it. She didn't know what that feeling was trying to tell her. All she knew was that feeling and where it was dragging her.

The Uchiha compound. She couldn't explain what her feeling had to do with that large, forbidding sector of Konoha, so long since abandoned that only Sasuke lived there now. She couldn't explain what that feeling had to do with an area that was considered one of the safest and most secure in the entire village.

Perhaps it would be more precise to say that she didn't want to face the inevitable truth about what she was feeling. She knew what the feeling was, and she knew what it meant for the feeling to be connected to the Uchiha compound. She simply didn't want to believe that she could be right.

There was something wrong. That's what her feeling told her. There was something wrong, and it involved Sasuke. Initially, her mind had come up with several gruesome images of Sasuke murdered in his sleep by Orochimaru, but she'd quickly dispelled them. The feeling…something was wrong with Sasuke, but he wasn't in direct danger.

So what was wrong?

She snapped out of her worry as a funny prickling nagged at the edge of her senses. Looking up, she could see a solitary figure walking towards her, a bag of some sort slung over his or her shoulder. In the dark, she couldn't quite make out his appearance, but the feeling returned full force, and she instantly knew.

As Sasuke moved closer, the feeling was more than just an instinct. It became cemented into a fact by the full bag of clothes and other necessities that was slung over his right shoulder. She didn't need to be an ANBU to know exactly what was happening, and it tore her right down the middle.

"Sasuke-kun," she cried out quietly. She nearly recoiled when he looked up at her, his black eyes dead and listless, where there had once been warmth and ambition.

"Sakura," he said, his voice toneless and cold. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

"I…" she hesitated to respond. "I…had a feeling…that something was wrong…"

"A feeling?" Sasuke asked calmly.

"Y-yeah," Sakura said, trying to calm herself. "I had…a feeling that…something was wrong with you, Sasuke-kun…I couldn't explain it, just that…there was something wrong…"

Sasuke started walking again, "There's nothing wrong."

Tears sprang to her eyes, her mind reliving their adventure into the forest, searching for the Honeysuckle plant. Did that mean nothing to him, now? Was she so far removed from his memory that he would forget what that flower had symbolized for them? Did she truly mean so little to the Uchiha Avenger?

"Why?!" she cried. "Why won't you say anything to me, Sasuke-kun?"

He paused, "To give you false hope…that would be even more cruel than saying nothing. What I am about to do…there's no guarantee I'll come back the same as I was when I left."

"I know why you're leaving," she told him, looking down sorrowfully. "You're going to go to that Orochimaru guy, right? You're going to get him to help you control your Curse Mark."

He was silent for a moment, turning to look at her without a shred of surprise on his face, "Yes, I'm going to him so that I can learn to control my curse mark."

Finally, she crumbled, unable to maintain her composure around that stoic mask that covered his true face. She burst into tears, "Do I mean so little to you? What about our promise? I knew all along! I knew from the beginning what Honeysuckle symbolized! I love you, Sasuke-kun! Why can't you see that?!"

She collapsed, tears streaming down her cheeks, "I love you, Sasuke-kun. P-please don't go."

She felt a finger press against her lips, trying to quell her sobs. She looked up and Sasuke was kneeling in front of her, a gentle expression on his face. Gently, he lifted chin, kissing her softly. The action assaulted her senses, and she was suddenly overtaken by the thought of how soft his lips were.

She felt her head getting lighter as the kiss went on, and her eyes drooped shut as she lost consciousness, her breathing even as she slept. Picking her up, Sasuke set her on the bench nearby, laying one of the Honeysuckle flowers they had picked down next to her face.

With a rustle of cloth, Sasuke disappeared, leaving behind the embodiment of his promise. He would return, someday.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto had a bad feeling.

Not one of those ordinary bad feelings, like 'oh man, I'm gonna regret this'. It wasn't even that ominous nagging in the back of his head that he got when Sakura was about to hit him on the head with one of her monstrous punches. No, this feeling was much worse. It marked a thirteen out of ten on Naruto's 'Oh shit!' meter.

Something was horribly wrong, and he knew he probably could have done something to prevent it. He tried to think of what event was supposed to occur around this time, but drew a blank at every turn. He was missing something, and he wasn't entirely sure what it was, but he knew it was something bad.

What was supposed to happen? He mentally made a checklist. He'd thwarted Orochimaru at the Chûnin Exams, brought back Tsunade, she'd sent Team Seven on the mission to Yuki no Kuni, and…

Naruto's eyes widened. And Sasuke was to flee the village, seeking Orochimaru for power and control of his Curse Mark. His heart skipped a beat. That's what his bad feeling was about? Sasuke was going to leave Konoha in search of the Snake Sennin. That was cause enough for such an ominous feeling.

Or, perhaps, Sasuke had already left Konoha. That would only make matters worse, as Naruto knew that Sasuke was unaware of his brother's truth. For Sasuke to gain enough power to kill his brother, then do so, would be a cause for concern. Itachi was instrumental in maintaining tabs on Akatsuki, and would undoubtedly be an asset in the final battle against Pein.

This was bad. Dread flooded Naruto's veins like alcohol, sending nervous adrenaline throughout his body. If Sasuke left for Orochimaru, there was no telling what would happen. With his injuries less severe than they originally had been, Orochimaru could afford to wait until Sasuke arrived before he did his body-transfer Jutsu.

A smaller, softer hand slipped over his palm, lacing its fingers with his own. Startled, Naruto looked over into Hinata's smiling face and found himself calming down. Feeling significantly better, he smiled back, then turned his face serious as he threw open the doors to Tsunade's office.

Tsunade looked at them as they walked in, her face pulled into a grim frown. Shikamaru looked over at them lazily, his eyes half-lidded.

"Naruto, Hinata," Tsunade acknowledged, nodding. "Do you know why I've called you?"

Naruto nodded, eyes sharp.

Tsunade's lips tightened, "Bring him back, Naruto. Take out Orochimaru's henchmen, if you can, but above all, bring him back."

"Hai," Naruto nodded. "Who can I expect on my team?"

"Him," Tsunade jerked her head at Shikamaru, "and Hinata. You leave in half an hour. You can also take with you any worthy Genin you find in that time span. I suggest that you find at least two or three."

Nodding, Naruto turned to leave, but was stopped by Tsunade, "Naruto, I know you want to do these things all by yourself, so that others don't get hurt. And you're one of the strongest ninja in this village, but you're still human. You can't accomplish everything on your own."

Naruto sighed, Hinata clenching his hand reassuringly, "I know."

As Naruto left, Hinata turned back to the elder woman, "I know you're concerned, Tsunade-sama, but so long as I draw breath, nothing shall happen to Naruto-kun."

Jogging until she caught up with Naruto, the door closed behind the pair with an ominous creak. Tsunade couldn't help but feel that it just may be the last time she saw the two of them. She smiled sadly. Was this what if felt like to be a mother?

"Shikamaru," she said quietly, "you know your mission. Get to it."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The mission was going to be tough, that much was for sure. Sasuke had been gone since the night before, so the Sound Four had a large lead and head start. To catch up with them, only people with enough endurance could be taken on the retrieval team. In other words, only the best of the best.

Naruto looked at his team, mentally reaffirming his reasons for choosing them. He needed to be sure about his team if he was going to pull the mission through without casualties. To make it through without casualties, he needed his team to be the best of the best, those capable of fighting the Sound Four.

Kiba was a must have. As an Inuzuka, his nose was unrivaled by any other human. Naruto's was pretty strong, but Kiba's was stronger still. Further, the Kiba and Akamaru tag team would be very useful against Sakon and Ukon. Besides, he had a feeling that the only way to determine whether or not Gorre slept within these two was to have them fight a life-threatening battle.

Neji was also very necessary. With the strength of his Byakugan, and his unrivaled skills in the Juken, he was going to be a very strong asset, one that Naruto knew they couldn't do without. Hinata was pretty skilled in her family's art, but she had dropped the more advanced training in favor of learning to use her sword. And Naruto suspected that Fidchell lay dormant in Hinata's cousin. Neji was a must have as well.

Chouji was one of the heaviest hitters in the entire 'Rookie Twelve' as people had come to call them. While Naruto would have preferred Lee, he knew that Chouji would make up for the sacrifice they had to make. With Lee just out of surgery and unable to fight, Chouji was going to have to cut it, and Naruto knew he would.

Tenten was another good choice. Most of his other teammates were close-range fighters, unaccustomed to fighting a long-range enemy. Tenten, however, had the accuracy of a hawk, and she would undoubtedly prove useful against Kidomaru and his precious arrows. She was, ironically enough (considering how little dedication she had to appearance), the most likely candidate for Macha, the Temptress.

Shikamaru was the best strategist Naruto knew. Were he not already assigned the mission, Naruto would have picked Shikamaru to go as well. Regardless of why, Shikamaru was going, and Naruto was thankful. Shikamaru was the other Fidchell candidate.

Hinata. Naruto smiled. Hinata would have come whether he'd asked her to or not. She'd have deliberately disobeyed Tsunade to follow him if she'd had to, but she would have been coming on the mission. With her skills in Taijutsu, Ninjutsu, and Kenjutsu, she would have been his first pick, had the mission itself not been assigned to them both. Corbenik would be an amazing trump card, anyway.

"Right then," he said. They all looked at him, silent and waiting for their orders, "You all know why you're here, and you all know the task before us. Sasuke ran away. We're going to bring him back."

He pulled a piece of blank paper and a self-inking brush from his kunai pouch, channeling chakra to activate the brush. He drew a diagram, "This is how we'll line up. Kiba, you're first. You have the best nose in this group and you know our forests best. It's your job to lead us to the enemy. It's also your job to watch out for traps and snares.

"Shikamaru, you're next. With your Kagemane no Jutsu, you'll stop the enemy in their tracks, and you'll also have a good view of the situation. You're our thinker, our strategist. It's up to you to use any observations you make to come up with something to help us fight.

"Then it's me, then Hinata-chan. With our swords, we have a longer reach than the rest of you. We'll be able to strike anyone within that reach. We're also one of the best when it comes to teamwork, so it's a good idea for us to stay close to one another. They won't expect her and I to attack in perfectly synchronized movements.

"Then its Chouji. He's our heavy hitter. His clan's Taijutsu style should compensate for any lack of speed he possesses, and he'll be able to catch any of the enemies in a pincer attack with Tenten and Neji.

"After Chouji is Tenten, our sniper. Should one of our enemies be a long-range specialist, Tenten will have the best chance of defeating them. It's up to you, Tenten, to make sure that we can take down any of their snipers.

"Last is Neji. Neji, with your prowess with the Byakugan, you'll have the best vantage point of any of us. It's up to you to watch our backs. If anything comes at us from behind, or anyone tries to set an ambush ahead of us, you'll be able to tell us ahead of time."

He stopped channeling chakra and the ink on his brush disappeared, passing the paper to each of his teammates, "If we get separated, Tenten, you stick with Neji, and Shikamaru, you stick with Chouji. Kiba, stay with the group closest to you. Hinata and I are the last group. Everyone understand?"

Everyone nodded. Naruto rolled his shoulders, "All right, the most important thing is last. Some of you don't know Sasuke, some of you don't even like Sasuke. I won't lie to you, we're not on this mission to rescue a friend."

Several faces looked at him, alarmed. Naruto continued, "But Sasuke is a fellow Konoha Ninja, and we protect our own. Right now, he's headed into a very dangerous situation. It's our job to bring him back."

"Wow," Kiba grinned, "it looks like you do deserve that Chûnin title!"

"Sasuke-san is in the darkness," Neji said quietly. "It's up to us to show him the light."

"I may not like him," Shikamaru admitted, "but it's the Leaf ninja way to take care of our comrades. Even I can't mess around on this one."

Munching on a bag of chips, Chouji gave him a thumbs-up. Tenten grinned, hands on her hips. She looked excited at the prospect of battle, her eyes dancing with an eagerness he didn't know she possessed.

"We'll succeed, Naruto-kun," Hinata smiled at him and his heart soared. "No matter what."

Setting his face into a determined stare, Naruto turned around to face the daunting forest in front of him. In a blur, all seven disappeared from their spots.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Three hours had passed quickly for the retrieval team as Kiba led them ceaselessly onward, chasing down the Sound Ninja that had taken Sasuke from his home in Konoha. Naruto was quickly becoming anxious, knowing from personal experience that Orochimaru was quite devious. There could be several traps waiting for them.

Kiba stopped for a moment, sniffing the air tentatively. Early on in the chase, he'd reported that the enemy was moving along the ground instead of in the trees. According to this information, the Sound Four were more accustomed to traveling on solid ground instead of through the foliage. That presented them with an advantage.

By traveling through the trees, they could move much more quickly and easily, as they had less to dodge around and watch out for. On the ground, a person would have to maneuver around tree trunks and other such obstacles. By moving in said trees, they lessened the energy they needed to expend moving and cut their travel time at least in half.

"There was a fight nearby," Kiba reported stoically, voice quiet. "Those Sound Ninja got into a fight with some Leaf ninja probably on their way back from a mission. I can't tell who won, but it doesn't smell like anyone died."

"Let's ignore it," Naruto said firmly. "The only other Leaf ninja out on missions are Chûnin level and up, so they can take care of themselves. We need to get a move on and rescue Sasuke. The longer we stall, the more shortcuts we take, that's all the more chance they have to cross the border."

"Naruto's right," Neji said. "We needn't involve ourselves with other teams. They are fine, and our mission is still very important. We must continue moving."

"Right," Kiba nodded, and the group was off again.

As they continued forward, it soon became clear that the Oto nin were on guard. Several times, Neji and Hinata's Byakugan had barely caught them before falling into a trap. Twice, they had almost fell victim to explosive notes pasted to the trees in which they traveled. Thrice, they had barely dodged around wire traps that would've spelled their doom.

Finally, however, they found their target. A short distance away, they could all sense the presence of four stationary shinobi. What this meant for the retrieval team was that they had only a few more snares and such to maneuver around before they reached their target.

As they crept closer, they prepared to implement the strategy Naruto called 'Raisensô', or 'Lightning War'. The idea was to attack quickly and before the enemy was able to respond, thus crushing them instantly. Naruto and Hinata were the opening attack.

Naruto drew his sword, taking careful aim through the bushes, he whispered, "Rengeki."

He slammed his sword into the earth, watching as chunks of rock sped towards his enemies and Hinata leapt into action, "Do Ryû Sen!"

The four Sound ninja jumped out of the way of the projectiles as they flew forward, crashing into the trees and smashing bark and wood. Hinata fell from the sky, sword poised to strike. She came down on the fat one with a mighty slash, crying, "Ryû Tsui Sen!"

With a strangled cry, Jiroubou fell to the ground, motionless. Taking his cue, Shikamaru wrapped his arms around the girl, holding a kunai to her throat threateningly. Neji pressed a glowing fingertip to Kidomaru's head, Tenten following suit with a kunai, as if daring him to move. Kiba had Sakon in a half nelson, Chouji glaring at the pale teen with a bag of chips in his hands.

Naruto looked over at the box holding Sasuke, which sat over by a tree, then smirked at the Sound Four, "You lose."

His smirk slipped, however, as the four sound ninja melted into mud, and a voice called out as the earth around them shuddered, "Doton Kekkai: Doroudoumu!" (Earth Element Barrier: Clay Prison)

A dome of mud rose up around the retrieval team, trapping them inside its dark depths. As the walls closed, the coffin containing their errant comrade disappeared from view, once more in the clutches of the enemy. Naruto scowled deeply.

"I'll take care of these guys," Jiroubou's muffled voice declared. There was a pause, the other chakra signatures remaining motionless.

"Fine," came Sakon's voice, "just catch up when you're done. Don't take too long."

Jiroubou chuckled, feeling giddy as his comrades left him. He could feel so much chakra inside his little barrier, and soon, all of it would be his for the taking. It was like his birthday had come early, and he felt an eagerness creep into his body that soaked him to the bone. If he could prolong the Jutsu long enough, he might just gather enough chakra to dwarf Kimimaro.

Just beneath the surface, he felt it. A chakra reserve so massive that it made Orochimaru's look like a fresh Genin, just out of the Academy. It was bubbling, raging just below the edge of his perception, taunting him with its vastness. Its size was unrivaled, and he doubted that anyone would be able to match him if he acquired it for his own.

"You know," a voice called quietly. Jiroubou was only half-listening, "there is a limit to how much chakra you can absorb with this technique at one time. If I supply more chakra than your dome can handle, it'll break."

Jiroubou became alarmed as a bright light shown, dimmed though it was, shining through his barrier. The light condensed into a small, luminescent blue orb, still glowing with enough intensity for him to see it beyond a solid wall of densely packed earth.

"Sôkaton," the voice said, and Jiroubou recognized it as belonging to the blonde in white, "Rasengan."

There was an explosion and Jiroubou's dome was quickly destroyed as blue flames lit up the clearing. Jiroubou himself was blown backwards from the force of the shock wave, shielding his eyes to prevent blindness. He growled as the flash died down, glaring at the menace that had thwarted his plans.

Naruto stood at the front of the group, sizing up the largest and widest member of the Sound Four. He grinned, "Chouji, you stay here and take care of this fat bastard. The rest of us will go on ahead. Make sure to catch up."

In a blur, the retrieval team, minus Chouji, leapt back into the trees, pursuing the other members of the Sound Ninja squad. Jiroubou made to stop them, but Chouji was suddenly blocking him, a serious look on his face. His voice was cold as he said, "Your fight is with me."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"Jiroubou's late," Sakon commented calmly, unfazed by his comrade's tardiness. The only thing that would bother him about Jiroubou's defeat was that someone actually defeated the large nin.

"I don't think we have anything to worry about," Kidomaru said confidently. "Those Konoha bastards seemed pretty weak. They couldn't beat us during the invasion, what makes them capable of doing so now?"

"You're too confident, you stupid bastard," Tayuya glared at him. "Didn't you see what that blonde punk did to Orochimaru-sama during that invasion? And that white-eyed bitch busted through our barrier like it was nothing! I bet you that they make it past Jiroubou without a scratch."

"Wow," the three remaining Sound ninja spun around, staring at the blonde boy leaning up against a tree with his arms crossed, "I didn't know you were such a big fan, Tayuya-chan!"

"Damn it!" Sakon swore, hastily picking up Sasuke's coffin. "Kidomaru, hold them off! Tayuya, let's GO!"

As the remains of the retrieval team sprang from the trees and Sakon and Tayuya dashed away, Kidomaru's mouth bulged and he spat out a large, web-like substance, which quickly expanded into a sticky net. Pulling their swords loose, Naruto and Hinata cut it to pieces as their target escaped.

Kidomaru smirked, "Heh, not bad, for a bunch of swine. Let's play a little game."

Naruto looked between Sakon's group and Kidomaru as the latter started molding more of his special substance, eyes narrowing. He sheathed his sword, turning to follow the former, "Neji, Tenten, you guys think you can take care of him?"

Neji nodded and Tenten grinned excitedly. That was all the answer he needed, "Alright. When you're done, make sure to catch up. We're going to need all the help we can get if Orochimaru decides to pull out all the stops."

As soon as they acknowledged his order, Naruto took the rest of his team and leapt in the direction he'd last seen Tayuya move. Kidomaru had other ideas, however, and he wasn't about to let them ruin his mission.

"Not so fast!" he cackled, spitting out a large wad of his web. "The game's not over till I say so!"

Neji was immediately in front of the wad, slicing it to ribbons with his bare hands and a little chakra. He glared as Tenten pulled out some of her signature weapons, "Your fight is with me."

"Heh," Kidomaru chuckled, a cocky smirk on his lips, "you won't last three minutes."

Neji said nothing as he slid into his famous Taijutsu stance, the veins around his eyes bulging. A serious frown on his lips, he prepared for the toughest battle of his life. It would take all of his might to bring down Kidomaru.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"Ugh!" Sakon looked back, glaring at his enemies. The Konoha team was shrinking as more of its members stayed behind to fight, but so was his own team, and it was quickly becoming evident that the Konoha team would outlast them. "Damn!"

He halted on a tree branch, tossing the large, cylindrical coffin to Tayuya, who caught it easily. He tensed in preparation, shouting angrily, "Take that to Orochimaru-sama! I'll put this nonsense to a stop, once and for all."

Tayuya nodded, "Don't die, idiot."

Without another word, she leapt away, the box containing Sasuke wrapped tightly in her grasp. She might not like Sakon and the others, but if they all died, then she'd be alone against a formidable group of opponents. That was a prospect that she wasn't too fond of.

The lazy one in the Chûnin vest she could take care of. She knew he was pretty smart, but she figured that he wouldn't stand a chance if he forced her to go all out. It was obvious he was more of a strategist than a fighter, so taking him down wouldn't be too hard.

It was the two from the Chûnin Exams that worried her. The blonde was easily one of the strongest people she'd ever known, including Orochimaru. She had a feeling that he wouldn't even have to try to beat her. His mind was sharp, and his skills were sharper. She'd not been kidding when she'd said that he'd make past Jiroubou without a scratch.

He terrified her. That was the only way to describe it. His power easily dwarfed her own, and she had a feeling that she'd only seen the surface of it during his fight atop the Hokage box. If the mask alone was only a portion of his power, then she feared for her life. He was a maelstrom of chakra.

Then there was that girl who was always with him. Tayuya fancied herself a pretty strong kunoichi, but even her power was as nothing to this girl. That white-eyed little girl had blown a hole clear through their barrier. Alone, that was something. But this girl had also defeated one of the dead Hokage that Orochimaru had summoned. That was incredible. It also seemed quite impossible.

Tayuya nearly shivered. She did not want to fight either of those two. She had a feeling that even Kimimaro would be defeated easily by the duo, killed before he could hope leave a mark. They were just that strong.

She glanced back, then redoubled her pace. Behind her were Shikamaru, Naruto, and Hinata, following at a speed that would quickly overrun her. If she didn't get a move on, she was dead.

Left to fight Kiba and Akamaru, Sakon grimaced as the remains of the retrieval team sped past him. He only hoped that, if these people were stronger than themselves, they would kill them rather than disable. He knew that Orochimaru would kill them if they returned empty handed.

With the current circumstances, failure was not an option. He needed to either kill the boy in front of him and go help Tayuya, or die in the effort, hopefully in a swift manner. Orochimaru would not tolerate the presence of his elite team if the Uchiha managed to escape or be taken back to Konoha.

He'd kill them all. Sakon knew that's what he'd do. Orochimaru wouldn't do such a thing quickly, either. He would personally torture them until they begged for death, then he'd have one of his medics heal them to perfection, only to torture them till they were at death's door again. That was his style. If you were lucky, he just might get angry enough to kill you on the spot.

That was how the Snake Sennin operated. Any weak links in the chain were cut savagely, then crushed beneath his heel. If you disappointed him, your life was forfeit, and you weren't worth the dust that was cleaned from his table every week. If he wanted you dead, you were destined to meet your end.

Even he, a minor subordinate, however, knew that Orochimaru wasn't the strongest ninja in the world. He'd played witness to the power that others held. The blonde boy chasing after Sasuke rivaled Orochimaru in power, even when the Otogakure leader was at his best. He could only hope that Uzumaki Naruto had mercy, and killed his enemies quickly.

"Well," he drawled, prepared to fight to the end, "let's get this show on the road, shall we?"

Kiba merely grinned in response, his fangs glinting in the noon sun. Akamaru barked encouragingly, teeth bared in a vicious snarl.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Neji panted, standing back to back with Tenten as he waited for his enemy to make the next move. Tenten was panting as well, her torso heaving as she sucked in air, and he could feel her ribcage expand as she breathed. Even she, with her weapons so numerous and her aim perfect, had been unable to defeat the slippery Kidomaru.

"Heh, heh, you're better than I thought," Kidomaru chuckled, voice echoing throughout the small clearing. "You managed to last ten minutes, and despite my best efforts, are mostly unwounded."

There was a metallic ping as Tenten deflected a few of the six-armed ninja's custom kunai knives with some of her own shuriken. The four shuriken became embedded in several trees, while the five golden kunai sank into the ground with a soft thump, rendered useless by the girl's skill.

That was how the majority of the battle had been going. Every time Kidomaru threw kunai at them, Tenten would deflect them with some of hers, and every time Kidomaru used his web, Neji would cut it with his skills in Juken. Were it not for how tired they were becoming, the battle would be a stalemate.

What it all came down to was that Neji and Tenten weren't strong enough, and that stung. Badly.

Neji had had himself pegged as one of the strongest members of the retrieval team, right behind Naruto and Hinata. He could easily maneuver around Shikamaru's Kagemane no Jutsu, simply because he was faster and had longer reach. The Genin turned Chûnin would stand no chance against his high-speed Juken.

Kiba would have been no challenge at all. Sure, the Genin had some measure of skill and cunning, but it wasn't enough to beat Neji. The moment Kiba tried his Gatsuuga, Neji would use the Kaiten to deflect it, thereby blocking such an attempt. Kiba's smoke bomb trick wouldn't work either, as it couldn't block Neji's Byakugan. Kiba didn't stand a chance.

Chouji would have been an interesting opponent, with his family expansion Jutsu making it difficult for Neji to get a clear shot in. Ultimately, thought, Neji would have probably found a way around it and defeated the heavyset Shinobi. And Tenten had never been able to beat him in their spars, either.

What it came down to was that Neji was the third strongest member of the retrieval team. He should have no trouble trouncing his enemy, as his Byakugan would allow him to find the Sound ninja with ease, and kill him once he got in close. That's how easy it should have been.

But it wasn't.

As it turned out, Neji wasn't strong enough to face down Kidomaru, simply because Kidomaru somehow hid from the Byakugan and used long range weaponry to attack him. What it all came down to was that Neji wasn't capable of defeating him as he was now. And that really bothered him.

"Why?" he mentally asked, eyes narrowed in frustration. "Why can't I defeat him?"

"Damn it!" he and Tenten swore simultaneously. "Why aren't I strong enough?"

As soon as the words left his mouth, the world around Neji disappeared and he was engulfed by a blackness that not even his Byakugan could see through. There was no floor, but he was somehow standing, on what, he had not clue. A deep voice was chanting something, and he had to strain his ears to understand it.

"With the Wave, Fidchell, the power to tell the dark future, hope darkens, sadness and despair rule."

"So," Neji nearly jumped as a single orange orb lit up in front of him, a deep, rich baritone calling out to him, "the time has come. Come, young prophet, it is time I join my brethren."

With a flash of light, Neji was once more in the real world, letting out a gasp as his breath returned. He watched in shock as his injuries vanished and stood straighter as his energy rekindled, flooding his veins with newfound strength. Feeling something on his face, Neji reached up to grasp at it.

It was a mask of some sort, and it covered his right eye as well as his cheek. It was a circular disk with an eyehole, a semicircle consisting of six flat spikes that pointed up, down, and to the right of his eye. Tentatively, he channeled chakra through it, and nearly gasped again as a vision lit up in front of his eyes.

Kidomaru, twisted and morphed nearly beyond recognition, pulled back on a huge bow, a single, large metal arrow notched at the string. He let go, and screamed a single word as the deadly spike sped for his enemies. Neji could clearly see the arrow's path, "Die!"

Kidomaru's voice echoed, "Die!"

Neji spun around, pushing the arrow to the side slightly with his palm. He quickly grabbed the web-like thread connected to it, knowing the other end was inside of Kidomaru. A feminine hand overlapped his, and together, he and Tenten threw as much chakra as they dared into it. He watched with his Byakugan as it traveled at amazing speeds towards his enemy.

There was a scream and he smirked, the mask around his eye dissipating, as he knew Kidomaru was dead. He looked over at his companion and felt his jaw nearly unhinge. Tenten stood before him, but she seemed different. There was an allure to her that was purely feminine, one that hadn't been there before, and the only thought that passed through his head was a simple one.

"She's beautiful."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Kiba watched, horror in his gaze, as Akamaru fell towards the hard earth, injured by Sakon and Ukon. His companion had taken the blow to protect him from his enemy, despite the fact that he would have to suffer a potentially fatal injury. Kiba would have rather bitten off his own tongue.

The battle seemed hopeless, to an extent that Kiba wasn't so sure he should have stayed to fight these guys. Initially, he'd thought it was going to be a two on one fight, since the guy had only started out as one person. With Akamaru at his side, it should have been easy to beat the guy into submission.

But then something strange had happened.

Sakon, the original Sound ninja, had been cut down the middle by one of Kiba's attacks, and was split into two, leaving Sakon and Ukon. Kiba had immediately been confused. How the hell had Ukon managed to escape detection by Kiba? Was it something he was capable of doing? Was it some special skill?

Things had started to get more difficult after that. With the battle two on two instead of two on one, it quickly became evident that Sakon and Ukon were better at working together than Kiba and Akamaru were. That was the problem right there.

Kiba had known that he wasn't the strongest or the smartest ninja in the group that made up the Sasuke retrieval team, but he had figured that, while he wasn't as smart as Shikamaru, he could still beat both him and Chouji into a pulp. He was simply stronger than those two ninja, and that's how it had been.

He'd known he wasn't as strong as Tenten or Neji, they were a whole year ahead of him. Their skills outclassed him entirely, as Tenten would've turned him into a pincushion and Neji was capable of countering his every move. He hadn't held any delusions of beating them in any type of contest.

Naruto and Hinata were in a league of their own. Out of the retrieval team, Naruto, Hinata, and Neji were capable of being Jounin as they were. There weren't any skills or strategies that they needed to learn in order to advance. Kiba knew he couldn't take Naruto and Hinata down, and he acknowledged that they were stronger.

Still, that put him at number five, the fifth strongest member of the team. While number five out of seven wasn't necessarily the best position in the group, it was still better than dead last. He shouldn't have too much trouble with an enemy group like this. He should've still been able to best at least one of their members.

It was that confidence that had set him up for his fall. He had thought that the two-headed wolf technique would've made up for the difference in strength that had become apparent after Sakon and Ukon split, but it hadn't, and Akamaru was paying for his mistake.

"Akamaru!" he shouted, jumping up and scooping his puppy out of the air. He held his best friend's body close to him as he began his descent, wishing there was some way to defeat this daunting enemy. He braced himself for impact with the hard ground, but it never came.

"My, my," a voice said in a light tone, "you look like you need some help!"

Kiba opened his eyes, surrounded by darkness. Two pairs of glowing green orbs circled him, dancing around his form.

"He does, he does!" another called, slightly deeper than the other. "Should we lend a hand?"

"Let's, let's!" the first voice cried jubilantly.

There was a flash and Kiba was once more in the real world, falling through the air. He twisted, landing in a kneel on his feet. His body glowed with neon green glyphs that snaked up his skin, an aura surrounding him as power flooded his body. He whirled around, Akamaru still in his arms, as his form slowly shifted, growing larger and more animalistic with every second.

There was a brilliant flash of light, then, where Kiba had once stood, there was a large, two-headed beast, one that vaguely resembled a wolf. It was nearly as tall at the Snake summon, Manda, were the great serpent a mammal. As each head let out a savage roar, four shining green orbs that vaguely resembled eyes turned to glare at Sakon and Ukon.

An instant before they died, the two brothers shared one more moment of unity as they thought, "Oh shit."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto's lips formed a thin line as he stared at his opponent, Hinata at his side. He had come prepared to face this particular enemy, knowing that such a man could be a powerful ally. The Kyubi had agreed, nearly salivating at the potential the white-haired boy held. Shikamaru was fighting Tayuya.

Kimimaro glared at him in a way that Naruto had thought only Sasuke could, with his eyes still in that bored, half-lidded state. His voice was firm, "I will not allow you to interrupt Orochimaru-sama's plans."

"Tell me, Kimimaro-san," Naruto started respectfully, knowing that he could not approach Kimimaro with a rude attitude, "what is it that you see in Orochimaru?"

Kimimaro's eyes narrowed, "Orochimaru-sama cares for me. Even if I die, a piece of me will always live on inside of him."

Hinata nearly snorted, "If you truly believe that, Kimimaro-san, you are a fool."

Kimimaro glared at her. Naruto brought attention back onto himself before the Kaguya progeny could respond, "She's right. How long have you had your Tuberculosis, Kimimaro-san? Do you know how easy it would have been for a medic of Kabuto's caliber to heal such a disease?"

The first traces of doubt entered the teen's eyes, and Naruto took advantage of it, "Do you know why he wouldn't? I'll tell you. The reason Kabuto wouldn't heal you, Kimimaro, is that Orochimaru only has eyes for the Uchiha. Getting the Sharingan is the only thing he cares about. You're a pawn, to be tossed aside when he no longer needs you."

"No!" Kimimaro shouted. "You're wrong! Orochimaru-sama! He — !"

In a flash, Hinata stood in front of him, flipping through numerous hand seals. She stopped on snake, thrusting her glowing blue palms into Kimimaro's unprepared chest, "Hijutsu: Yasashii Amaterasu: Hageshii Kiyome!" (Secret Art: Gentle Sun Goddess: Violent Purge)

Kimimaro keeled over, coughing as Hinata supported his weight. He coughed up two large chunks, which sizzled and burned as soon as they hit the ground. Hinata flitted through several more hand seals as he began to gasp for breath, "Yasashii Amaterasu: Subayai Kaifuku!" (Gentle Sun Goddess: Rapid Restoration)

Hands glowing blue, she pressed them up against his chest again, and soon, began to breathe evenly and easily. As he once more stood on his own power, albeit shakily, he looked at her in confusion, "What?"

"Those two lumps you coughed up were the parts of your lungs infected with Tuberculosis," she told him gently. "After that, I replaced them with healthy tissue. To put it simply, you're healed."

"But, why?" he asked quietly.

"I need allies, Kimimaro," Naruto told him. "I need people I can count on when things are bad. Now I'm giving you a choice."

Kimimaro looked at him, surprised.

"You can go back to Orochimaru, cured and capable of furthering his plans much more efficiently," Naruto held up one finger, then another. "Or, you can become my friend and ally, help me make the world a better place, and come back to Konoha with us, where you'll make more friends than you can count."

"I…" Kimimaro stuttered. He kneeled, lowering his head submissively, "I am yours to do with as you please."

Gripping Kimimaro's shoulder, Naruto pulled him up, smiling, "My friends don't kneel before me. They stand on equal ground."

Kimimaro smiled, then collapsed into Naruto's arms, unconscious. Gently, he handed the older boy to Hinata, telling her, "Take him back to Konoha. I've got to find Sasuke."

Nodding, Hinata leapt back into the trees and towards Konoha. Naruto headed in the opposite direction, towards the Valley of the End, where everything would be settled, once and for all.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Naruto frowned as he walked over the hard but smooth stone, his bright blue eyes glaring at his opponent. This was it, the very event that he had tried to avoid at all costs, the event that had caused his time travel in the first place. He felt the anxiety flow through his veins, trying to relax himself. Despite knowing he was stronger, there was still a small part of him that feared dying against Sasuke.

He recognized the scenery immediately, and could probably recognize it in his sleep, though he wasn't too keen to try such a thing out. By sound alone, he could recognize the place at which he stood. The roaring waterfall, the deafening sound of running water. The soft clap as his sandals hit the stone statue. It was all too familiar.

The Valley of the End, where the Shodai Hokage fought and sacrificed his life to defeat the legendary Uchiha Madara. The river, valley, cliff, waterfall, and statues were a testament to the titanic battle, a true battle of skills. The Shodai had died, but Uchiha Madara had disappeared from the world, supposed dead and gone.

Atop the stone visage of the Shodai's head, Naruto shouted firmly, "Sasuke!"

The blue clad boy across from him didn't move for a few seconds, then he turned slowly, his eyes calm. His hitai-ate was missing, placed gently in his pocket, Naruto knew. Coal black eyes stared at him impassively, "Naruto."

He looked away, a bored expression on his face, "Go back home."

"I'm not leaving without you, Sasuke," Naruto scowled, his voice carrying over the roar of the waterfall. "You're coming back with me."

Sasuke frowned, "No, I'm not. I'm going to Orochimaru to get this Curse under control."

"Idiot!" Naruto growled. "Why do you think Orochimaru sent his top four ninja after you? It sure wasn't to invite you for tea!"

"I know that," Sasuke deadpanned, "but I'll be fine. I need to learn to control this curse, and that is what's most important."

"Control the curse?" Naruto mimed, somewhat relieved. "But Jiraiya could—"

"Jiraiya-sama could do nothing," Sasuke interjected. "You sealed this mark, Naruto, and you're the strongest ninja I know. All Jiraiya-sama could do is sit and ogle your work. You know this as well as I."

Naruto scowled, knowing that Sasuke's words held some measure of truth, "I don't care. I'm taking you back whether you want to or not!"

Naruto flipped through a series of hand seals, his fingers a blur, "Even if I have to break every bone in your body!"

He jumped as he landed on the last seal, tiger, and took a deep breath, exhaling, "Sôkaton: Amaterasu no Sôen!" (Azure Flames of the Sun Goddess)

A stream of blue fire burst forth, aimed at Sasuke. The Uchiha heir jumped out of the way, going through hand seals and watching as the flames dissipated against the hard rock of Madara's hair. He stopped on tiger, locking his gaze on the spot where he'd previously been standing, "Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!"

The fireball rushed down as Naruto landed, consuming him in a fiery blaze that could easily fry skin and flesh. Sasuke allowed a look of grim satisfaction to grace his features, knowing that Naruto would not be killed so easily. He was right, but shock crossed his face as something unexpected happened. Something he'd only seen once before.

With a flick of Naruto's wrist, the flames around the blonde abated, turning a brilliant azure as they licked his feet harmlessly. Sasuke's mouth fell open as he landed further up the statue, his black eyes wide with shock. He recognized such a skill, as he'd cursed the ability plenty of times in his head.

Somehow, Naruto had learned to control fire the way Azure Kite had. Sasuke had hated that skill, as it mocked his fire style abilities ruthlessly. Azure Kite had negated one of his strongest attacks with nothing more that a flick of his wrist, and had done so almost lazily. Now, Naruto had the same ability.

Sasuke scowled, three black tomoes spinning as crimson bled into his irises. He flashed through more seals as Naruto followed his lead, copying him perfectly. The water in the river churned as they finished, stopping on the final seal to shout out their attack in unison, "Suiton: Suiryuudan no Jutsu!"

Two water dragons rose up, one from the top of the waterfall, and one from below it. The dragons grappled with one another, twisting and turning as they tried to outdo the other. They landed back in the river with a splash, soaking Naruto and Sasuke to the bone. The two combatants glared, the Sharingan spinning.

Naruto disappeared with a soft swoosh, the noise barely audible. Sasuke's eyes widened as he recognized the skill, having been not only privy to its use, but knowing the technique himself, "Shunpo!"

He spun around, launching a punch at his slippery opponent, "No you don't!"

Naruto brushed the punch aside with his right arm, landing a hard palm strike in Sasuke's chest. Sasuke was knocked backwards, eyes wide as he realized something. "He's mixing the Uchiha's Taijutsu with the Hyuga's Juken?"

He flipped, righting himself in midair, and landed in a crouch, lips drawn tight. He hadn't really realized it before, but Naruto was a ninja on par with the greatest of the great. He'd always assumed that he and Naruto were pretty much equal, but it seemed that Naruto was a genius, if of a different kind. Naruto was a genius of making things work for himself, even if no one else could.

Sôkaton and this new Taijutsu style were prime examples of that special type of genius.

Naruto disappeared again, and Sasuke wasn't fast enough to dodge the blow that came, knocking him of the statue and towards the center of the waterfall. He closed his eyes and grimaced, waiting for the impact to come. It didn't.

Naruto grabbed Sasuke around the middle, building up the Kyubi's chakra as they fell towards the water. He focused on the picture in his mind, manipulating the chakra just right. A different waterfall appeared behind his eyelids, and he grasped at the image with all his might.

"Susano'o!" he called, grasping at his cousin. "Shift the tide of time and space, open my path!"

In a flash of red, the two of them disappeared from the Valley of the End without a trace.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

A flash of red light lit up the sky, quickly disappearing as two figures fell from it. The first, clad in white, pushed away from his fellow, landing atop one of the thin metal spires in the area. His opponent, clad in blue, landed on the water, jumping back until he too stood on one of the metal spires.

"What the?" Sasuke whispered, staring at the area around himself. A waterfall, easily six times the size of the Valley of the End, and several thin, metal spires cutting it into sections, was what met his eyes. The sky was painted orange in what seemed to be an eternal sunset. "Where the hell?"

"Welcome, Sasuke," Naruto called over the roar of the waterfall, "to Arche Koeln Falls, the Land of Origin."

Naruto's eyes were sharp and cold, despite the warm red of his irises, "You can't escape from here. We're no longer in the Elemental Countries."

Sasuke looked at him, alarmed, "What?!"

"This is the nexus point of all worlds," Naruto explained. "Each and every universe connects to this one place, but only those who know how can come here."

Sasuke glared, "Fine! I'll just beat you, and find a way out on my own!"

"Now," Naruto seemed not to have heard him as he ran down his spire, flashing through hand very familiar hand seals, "let's get this show on the road!"

He put his fingers to his lips in a way that Sasuke knew very well and blew, releasing seven small, azure fireballs, "Sôkaton: Hôsenka no Jutsu!"

Sasuke jumped as the first one hit the tip of his spire, twisting in midair to dodge the next two. He did a flip so that he started to fall feet first, then bent back to let the fourth fireball pass over his torso. He twisted again to dodge the fifth, then a spinning flip to dodge the last two. He landed, Sharingan whirling.

Naruto was already in front of him, landing a punch square in his face. He went flying, skipping several times along the water's surface before he stopped with a splash, sinking a few feet as he reeled from the strength his opponent had. After a few seconds, he floated back up to the surface, staring at the orange sky.

After a moment of hesitation, Sasuke stood back up, climbing atop the water. He glared as his hand reached backwards and he pulled out his sword, brandishing Sakuhime against the blonde boy across from him. Solemnly, it seemed, Naruto drew his sword as well.

In a blur, they were upon each other again, Sasuke swinging straight down and Naruto slashing up diagonally. Their swords met halfway in a clash of steel, the two silvery blades pushing against one another. Absently, Sasuke noted that Naruto's sword now looked like a regular katana, if with a slightly smaller curve to the blade.

They pushed away from one another, backing up several feet to glare into each other's eyes. Sasuke didn't even bother with the illusory abilities of his doujutsu, knowing that Naruto's Sharingan would negate them anyway. He nearly growled in frustration.

Naruto saw it before he even moved, Sasuke coming at him with a vicious stab. He could see the path of the blade before his cousin even came close enough to hit him, and ducked beneath it, holding his own sword up as his opponent's steel shot over his head. There was a screech as steel ground against steel.

Pushing up, Naruto watched as Sasuke stumbled backwards, his balance lost. Naruto sheathed his sword, grasping the saya and the hilt. With Sasuke so close, it would be impossible to dodge. He shifted his grip, then unleashed his technique, unsheathing his sword with a slash.

Despite his loss of balance, Sasuke righted himself quickly, ducking under Naruto's battoujustu strike. He was just about to capitalize on the opening the attack left when his eyes alerted him to the blonde's next move and Zangetsu's sheath came speeding towards him in a crushing strike.

There was a loud thud-like crack and Naruto stared at his cousin with disbelief. Sasuke bit his lip to hold back a loud moan, blood on his tongue from such efforts. His eyes were narrowed as he tried to block out the pain.

Sasuke had managed to block the second strike in Naruto's Sou Ryû Sen, his two-part Hiten Mitsurugi battoujutsu technique. Instead of letting it strike his right shoulder, its intended target, he had held up his right arm, blocking the solid sheath with his forearm. From the sound the impact made and the pain reaching up the limb, Sasuke guessed it to be almost broken.

That's when he decided to up the ante. It was obvious that Naruto would eventually overwhelm him, or at least fight him to a draw, if he continued to use the same skills and power. So he dug deep into himself, reaching to the recesses of his strength, and pulled on the very thing he had tried to get rid of.

Black markings crept across Sasuke's face, left arm, and left leg, the whites of his left eye turning completely black. The pain left him as any injuries on his body mended themselves, healing him without fail. He looked into the eyes of his surprised cousin, scowling deeply.

The two leapt apart from one another, each taking to one of the spires as they sheathed their swords. The gazed into one another's eyes and nodded, silently agreeing to end the fight in one climactic clash. They would determine, once and for all in Sasuke's mind, which of them was stronger than the other.

Sasuke flipped through three quick hand seals, holding his left hand as chakra funneled into it and lit up, lightning dancing around his palm. He held it to his side, slightly surprised when it didn't dig into the metal of the spire he was standing on. He called out the name of his Jutsu, "Chidori!"

Naruto gathered chakra into his hand, spinning it as it formed into an orb above his palm. The chakra shifted from its whitish color into a deep azure, a flaming aura lighting up around it to form what appeared to be a ball of flames. Naruto held it off to the side, ready to charge as he calmly named his Jutsu, "Sôkaton: Rasengan."

At an unspoken signal, they both rushed down the side of their respective spire, dashing across the water as the landed upon it. They streaked towards one another, thrusting their attacks toward each other as they shouted their techniques once more.



There was an explosion as they clashed, and both were sent flying in the direction they had come from. Naruto flipped in midair, landing and sticking to the side of his spire with chakra. Sasuke wasn't so fortunate, and collided, back first, with the metal spire he had come from. He was barely conscious as he hit it.

"Why?" he asked as Naruto stood over him, grasping him by the shirt. "Why did you stop me?"

"Because, Sasuke," Naruto's Sharingan swirled and blended, forming a shape that alarmed Sasuke's hazy mind, "this is what would have happened."

The world melted away and Sasuke was suddenly standing in Konoha again, but there was something different about the great ninja village. The difference was huge, and he couldn't help the bile that rose in his throat as horror flooded his veins.

It was demolished.

The once great Konohagakure no Sato was in shambles, the Hokage monument beaten beyond recognition to the point that none of the faces had any human features. Buildings burned in the night sky, and the smell of rotting and cooked flesh permeated the ground. There were no screams of pain and terror. Everyone was dead.

Sasuke recoiled at the sight of the bodies, piled together all over the place and left to decompose. Their eyes were wide and blank, their faces frozen in silent screams as they met their end gruesomely. Their gazes seemed to blame him, as if he had killed them.

A chuckle resounded, and Sasuke turned towards the noise to see himself studying Sakura's dead body. The other him continued to chuckle, "My, this was easy. Sasuke-kun, your body is simply magnificent."

His eyes widened as he realized it. Orochimaru had stolen his body and destroyed Konoha, killing his beloved…

"NO!" he shouted mentally, covering his ears and shutting his eyes. "I didn't want this to happen!"

"Do you see now, Sasuke?" Sasuke opened his eyes, Naruto's blue ones boring into his. He was in the real world again. "This what would happen if you joined Orochimaru."

"Naruto…" Sasuke whispered weakly, his consciousness fading, "take me…home."

He slipped into bliss as his eyes closed again. Naruto smiled grimly. The crisis had been averted, and he didn't have to worry anymore.

"Hello, Naruto-kun," or so he thought. Naruto whipped around to find the source of the familiar voice, and found Ovan standing atop one of the spires nearest him. He felt his mouth fall open, then snarled at his enemy as the glasses wearing man simply smiled.

A hand seal later, a single shadow clone stood next to him and he handed Sasuke to it with the command, "Take him to the Temple."

Ovan merely smiled as Naruto glared at him, commenting, "My, my. You're quite angry, aren't you? But…it's such a weak anger."

"This time, I'll make sure you're dead," Naruto said coldly. He unsheathed his sword, "If you want to say anything, I'll ask your heart directly!"

In a blur, Naruto stood in front of his enemy, swinging his sword, "I won't let you summon your Avatar!"

Ovan grabbed his sword arm at the wrist, "You'll have to do better than that!"

Twisting Naruto's arm, Ovan grabbed Zangetsu, slashing at Naruto with an amazing amount of skill. Naruto ducked and dodged, trying to look for an opening, but could find none as Ovan pressed the attack. As they fight continued, Ovan's precision got suspiciously better.

Finally, catching Naruto by surprise, Ovan punched him, stunning the blonde boy by the sudden break of pattern. Ovan capitalized on it, bringing his stolen sword down in a vertical slash. Naruto held his hands up, braced for the deadly cut, but it never came.

Naruto opened his eyes, and resting in his right hand was a sword made of glowing red energy, the smooth hilt colored black. It was an energy sword the likes of which Naruto had only seen on Skeith. Ovan's eyes lit up, and he pulled the sword back for another blow.

Naruto lashed out with his new weapon as Ovan attacked again, his sword piercing through Ovan's guard and then through his chest, the stolen Zangetsu once more resting in its sheath. Naruto looked at him, alarmed, "Why did you—?"

"Now, Naruto-kun!" Ovan said excitedly, ignoring the unfinished query. "Say those glorious words! Those words that shall set me free!"

Naruto hesitated for only a second, "Drain Heart!"

For a moment, nothing seemed to happen as the sword pulsed once, and both of them stood still as they waited for something to happen. Then Ovan smiled and pushed Naruto away, a faint glow about him. As his energy blade dissipated, Naruto looked at his enemy, confused.

"Thank you," Ovan said shakily, and it was then that Naruto noticed that his opponent's glasses began to crack, mirroring the skin beneath it. "Thank you, Naruto-kun."

Ovan snapped his fingers and, as the world began to melt around him, Naruto saw a blue orb exit Ovan's chest, glowing dangerously. With one last smile from Ovan, Naruto disappeared from the world of Arche Koeln.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

It was over, the mission was complete. Sasuke had been found and retrieved, the Sound Four were dead and gone, and Orochimaru's plot had been foiled. Chouji was the only one from the retrieval team to suffer a life threatening injury, and from his own soldier pill, not from a wound the enemy had inflicted.

Neji had unlocked the power of Fidchell, the Prophet. With its power to see into the future, he had killed Kidomaru. There had already been talk amongst the Council, the Hyuga elders, and the Hokage about promoting him to Jounin so that his skills weren't hindered by such a low level rank. Such an increase in ability would surely warrant a more serious consideration.

Tenten had also unlocked the power of an Avatar. Though she hadn't used the creature's special abilities, Macha had provided a necessary boost in energy, one that she had needed in her battle against Kidomaru with Neji. ANBU, after hearing of her weapons skills, had started to consider recruiting her.

Kiba and Akamaru had unlocked their hidden powers as well, and they had used them to easily crush their enemies amongst the Sound Four. Gorre the Machination had provided them with the boost in power they had needed to kill Sakon and Ukon, the 'Siamese twins' as Kiba had taken to calling them.

Hinata had proven herself as well, and showed not one but two of her original medic Jutsu, using them to cure Kimimaro of his Tuberculosis and grow healthy lung tissue to replace the diseased lung tissue she had destroyed. With her help, Kimimaro had been convinced to return to Konoha, where he would be allowed to become a ninja worthy of respect.

Naruto sighed. And Ovan was finally dead, according to Skeith. With the awakening of the last three Avatars, the beast had told him informed him, before assuring him that this was the last such mental contact they would have outside of battle, that Ovan could finally die. Skeith had said that Cubia wouldn't cease to be unless all the Avatars had awoken. Then, he could be killed, but only by Skeith.

It must have been a miserable existence, Naruto knew, to watch all those you cared about die of old age while you had to wait for the right person to come along and kill you. He could understand all of the plots and schemes Ovan had used now that he knew of Cubia's temporary immortality. After all, he wouldn't have been able to kill the man without that added motivation.

Naruto looked up as the open gates of Konoha came closer, Sasuke slung over his shoulder, and his eyes widened as he saw a familiar figure standing right in the middle where the two doors met when closed. The figure smiled.

Azure blue hair, chocolate brown eyes, white clothes and a purple sash tied around his waist. Geta lifted his bare feet off the ground and he waved, his youthful tone light and happy, "Hello again, Naruto-kun! Surprised to see me?"

Naruto grinned at Keyaki's small form, lifting one arm to wave back. Things were definitely looking up.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —


James D. Fawkes — Masashi Kishimoto

Character Design:
James D. Fawkes — Masashi Kishimoto
Nobuhiro Watsuki — Tite Kubo
Cyber Connect Corp.

The Avatars:
James D. Fawkes — Cyber Connect Corp.

Costume Design:
James D. Fawkes — Masashi Kishimoto
Nobuhiro Watsuki — Namco Bandai
Cyber Connect Corp. — Tite Kubo

Weapon Design:
James D. Fawkes — Namco Bandai
Nobuhiro Watsuki — Tite Kubo
Masashi Kishimoto — Cyber Connect Corp.

Kenjutsu Styles:
Nobuhiro Watsuki — Masashi Kishimoto

Masashi Kishimoto — James D. Fawkes
Namco Bandai — Cyber Connect Corp.
Tite Kubo

Opening Theme "Gravity":
Maaya Sakamoto

Chapter Five Theme "Tattoos on the Sky":
Masakazu Morita

Chapter Six Theme "Circle of Life":
Elton John

Chapter Seven Theme "Liminality":
See Saw

Chapter Eight Theme "Fateful Meeting":
Ikeda Kou

Chapter Nine Theme "Simple and Clean":
Utada Hikaru

Chapter Ten Theme "Alumina":

Chapter Eleven Theme "Shinjitsu no Yukue":
Tomoyo Mitani

Ending Theme "Yasashii Ryoute":
Tomoyo Mitani

Background Music:
Chikayo Fukuda — Toushiro Masuda
Shiro Sagisu

James D. Fawkes — Masashi Kishimoto
Cyber Connect Corp.

Based on the popular Manga by Masashi Kishimoto

Cast (Voice Actors):
Uzumaki Naruto — Vic Mignogna
Hyuga Hinata — Stephanie Sheh
Uchiha Sasuke — Yuri Lowenthal
Kyubi no Yoko — Paul St. Peter
Hyuga Hiashi — John DeMita
Hyuga Hanabi — Stephanie Sheh
Hyuga Neji — Steve Staley
Hatake Kakashi — Dave Wittenburg
Sabaku no Gaara — Liam O'Brien
Rock Lee — Brian Donovan
Haruno Sakura — Kate Higgins
Nara Shikamaru — Tom Gibis
Yamanaka Ino — Colleen O'Shaughnessey
Inuzuka Kiba— Kyle Hebert
Sarutobi "Sandaime" — Steve Kramer
Jiraiya — David Lodge
Tsunade — Tiffany Vollmer
Orochimaru — Steven Jay Bloom
And various others…

Special Thanks to:
Ceria Halcyon —— Sdarian
ShadowBack —— Adran06
Endermon —— Major Hinata Fan
Silver Warrior —— Akira Stridder
Infinite Freedom —— ShadowDragonGX
Dragon Man 180 —— Alucius
Static44 —— VFSNAKE
Ero-kun —— taintedlegacy
KUNAI SHOT —— battousai222
the DragonBard —— vnvanman
Burnning Truth —— Shinobi Alchemist
TheMagicPen —— Boby09

Dedicated to my girlfriend, whom I love very much, the inspiration for all of the romance in Volume 3…

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

Tsumetai te ni hiki yoserare
nagarete yuku toki o sugoshi
tooku o mita sono hitomi ni
nani ga utsurutte iru no darou?

Tsuki ga terasu tsumetai yubi ni
koboreta no wa tsumetai namida
miageta sora itsuka no yume ga
tooku de mitsumete iru

Kurayami ni te o sashi nobete
koko kara wa mou modorenai
ki ga tsukeba kioku no naka ni
tozasareta watashi ga mieta

Shinjiteitai anata ga kuru no o
Itsu no hi ka koko de meguriau made
Kanjiteitai toki ga tomaru made
Atatakai te de watashi ni furete

Garasu no ori ni torawareteita
tokenai omoi kizutsuita mama
modoru koto nai kurayami no mukou
hikari ga yasashiteiru darou

Kitto mata koboreru hikari
atatakaku tsutsunde kureru
genjitsu kara nigeyou to shite
daiji na mono

Shinjiteitai anata ga kuru no o
Itsu no hi ka koko de meguriau made
Kanjiteitai toki ga tomaru made
Atatakai te de watashi ni furete

Tsumetai te ni hiki yoserare
nagarete yuku toki o sugoshi
tooku o mita sono hitomi ni
nani ga utsurutte iru no darou?

nani ga utsurutte iru no darou?


Alright! Here it is, the final chapter in A Simple Change: The Sharingan Volume 2: Reminisce. Stay tuned for Volume 3: Redemption.

Forty-five pages!

Please review!

"If you want to say anything, I'll ask your heart directly!" Could someone translate this into Japanese for me?

Damn! Itachi's too cool! I couldn't lump him in with the rest of Akatsuki! For those who wanted to see Itachi die…sorry! But Itachi is too damn cool! Arg! His coolness is overwhelming!

Oh, BTW, Vic Mignogna is the guy who voices Ed Elric in the Fullmetal Alchemist Anime. I thought Naruto deserved to have a cooler voice, and Yuri Lowenthal was already taken, so I gave him Ed's voice.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, Rurouni Kenshin, (Dot) Hack, or Bleach

Môsugu kare ga yattekuru...togeru tame ni…

James Daniel Godric Fawkes

James Daniel Godric Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)

You're gonna carry that weight…