The success of the morning had not prepared Sakura for the failure of the afternoon. Hinata's Byakugan had not spotted a single living soul, wounded or otherwise, anywhere in the neighborhoods they had been assigned to search.
As the sun began to dip into the horizon, they had to cast aside their desire to search again; Hinata being suddenly unsure of Byakugan's power in the face of poor results. "Maybe I made a mistake," she said. "I can see everything fine, but what if I just didn't notice?"
"We don't have time," Sakura said. As much as she hated to admit it, she didn't think Hinata had missed anything. Despite her lack of confidence at times, she was still a trained ninja. "We'll look tomorrow maybe."
They all met on the roof across the street from the building they would hole up in for the night. Shikamaru was looking surprisingly well. Sakura wondered if anyone had told him about Choji yet.
"Which one of you got Choji?" Shikamaru asked flatly.
Hinata went pale and for a moment said nothing. "I-I did," she said meekly.
"Thanks," Shikamaru said, nodding. "I wouldn't want him walking around like that."
"Let's go," Tsunade said. "I'm hungry and dehydrated."
That meant they were all hungry and dehydrated. Following Tsunade, they made their way over the rooftops and into the Hokage's office. Sakura noticed that Shizune's body, along with Tonton's, was gone. She figured Tsunade had taken the time to bury them somewhere.
That was another issue Sakura couldn't think of how to deal with. If they did end up killing all of Konoha's zombies, how would they dispose of them? Would burning cause purple, noxious fumes to rise up and infect them? One thing at a time, she told herself.
Safe in their hideout, they were all silent for the most part. The entire day had been spent on high alert, looking for survivors and looking out for their own survival. The temptation was to sleep, but all of them knew there was some palavering to be done before anyone rested.
Ino and Hinata set themselves to cooking up rations on the small stove, while the others made use of the bathroom. As they ate their food, they began to feel much better. Being able to take care of daily necessities and not be surrounded by hundreds of mindless cannibals was an uplifting experience.
With their stomachs full, all looked to Tsunade. It was understood that she would begin reciting the long list of their friends and family members who were no longer alive. "Why don't we start with you Sakura. Report," Tsunade said.
Annoyed that she was going to have to wait, Sakura took a deep breath. "I went to the Hyuga neighborhood first and found Hinata here. There was no one else. Neji had been infected, but we took care of it. We thought we might travel through the storm drains, but didn't realize they were filled with the purple stuff until it was too late. We then searched some more, using Hinata's Byakugan and found Ino…and Choji."
"Shikamaru, report," Tsunade said, hearing enough.
"Searching wasn't easy," Shikamaru said, flatly. "They were everywhere, and going into a house to search it was usually as pointless as it was dangerous. I didn't see anyone I knew, though."
He looked to Ino, wondering if she would continue the report from when she joined him. When she didn't, he continued. "Ino made searching easier, but even so, we didn't find anybody alive."
Once again, they all looked at Tsunade. Her eyes closed for a moment, and slowly opened. "Kakashi is dead. He was turned by the rain. I dispatched him as soon as I saw him in the crowd. Asuma and Kurenai are also dead."
The news fell over Sakura like a freezing blanket. Kakashi had seemed like too powerful a ninja to have been killed, yet with all the dead she wasn't exactly surprised at the news.
"Shino, Kiba, Rock Lee, Tenten, and Guy are dead as well," Tsunade said, finishing.
"Well that's it," Ino said. "Pretty much everybody who was likely to have lived is dead. We're it."
"No," Shikamaru said. "No one has seen or heard from Naruto."
All eyes went to the monitors that watched Konoha's street. The images of death and destruction hadn't changed much, aside from everything being cast in a cloak of darkness, the zombies only visible when they got near a street light. Naruto's status was still a mystery.
"He might have been off training when the rain came," Hinata said. "Maybe he's alive."
"Unless he was rained on while outside. He's the type of guy who wouldn't notice a purple cloud until it was over his head," Shikamaru said.
"The real question we need to ask is this," Tsunade said, cutting them off. "Do we stay here in Konoha and keep looking for Naruto, or anyone else, or do we leave?"
Sakura and Hinata exchanged looks, both remembering their desire to give the town one last going-over before turning in for the night. "I want to look again with Byakugan," Hinata said. "I have to be sure this is everybody."
Sakura nodded and noticed that Ino seemed to approve. Her eyebrow arched slightly when she saw the looks on Tsunade and Shikamaru's faces. Doubt had fallen over Tsunade, while Shikamaru clearly thought they were insane. "What?" Sakura said.
"How many times did you or Hinata nearly die today, Sakura?" Shikamaru asked. "In my case, I counted six before I hooked up with Ino. Together, we came close only twice. I'm sure the number was less for the Hokage…"
"Three times," Tsunade said. "Some of them like to play opossum, and don't call me Hokage. Tsunade will do."
"Sorry, Tsunade," Shikamaru said. "But you see, we've already looked the entire village over. The only reason the five of us are alive is because we were lucky. If we keep pressing our luck, it's going to run out."
Sakura shrugged, not sure that was a bad thing. She was far from being suicidal, but with the entire village of Konoha reduced to five people, her old life was gone. Depending on how much damage the cloud had done to the rest of the country, maybe even the world, her new life might not be all that great either.
"Hinata and I are going to search one more time. You can do what you want."
"I'm with Sakura," Ino said.
"Splitting up isn't a good idea," Tsunade said. "Whatever we do, we need to…"
"You're not the Hokage," Sakura said. "You said so yourself. Help us search or don't. The least you could do is secure a route out of town while we look."
Far from being angry, Tsunade sighed and nodded. "If you're set on risking your lives again for nothing, go ahead. Shikamaru and I will find someplace safe in the hills we can all retreat to when you're finished."
Shikamaru was glaring at Ino, but Sakura chose to ignore it. "Lets just sleep," she said. The idea was something they all agreed on. Their chakra levels had been taxed all day as well as their bodies. The food they had eaten and the safety of the room made them all tired, and they went to sleep quickly.
Sakura's eyes fluttered open, the light from the monitors above her head giving her the illusion of sunshine beaming through her window. Picking her head up, she saw from the screens that it was early in the morning. The dead of Konoha were still wandering around, the people they had killed had all been eaten for the most part. Sakura wondered if they might be harder to get around, what with no dead bodies to eat as a distraction.
She sat upright and rushed over to one of the monitors when she saw something orange flash on the screen. Looking carefully into a crowd of zombies, she saw what she had been dreading.
There was Naruto, dressed in his usual outfit stained in blood and torn in places. His blond hair was filthy and matted with blood, his bright blue eyes now clouded over with cataracts.
She looked for the button to turn the monitor off, but her tears blurred her vision. Instead, she punched the screen, breaking it and cutting her hand. As she sat down to sob, the others, awoken by her violence, got up in confusion.
"Sakura, what is it?" Tsunade asked, looking between Sakura's bloody hand and the broken screen.
"N-Naruto," she stammered. "He's dead. On the monitor…"
The reactions of the others seemed distant compared to the depth of her own sorrow. She thought she heard Hinata crying while Tsunade tried to comfort her, and she thought Shikamaru had cursed something under his breath, but it didn't matter at the moment. The boy she had watched come so far in life was now dead. Whatever greatness he had been destined for was now over with.
She felt as though the final stamp had been put on the situation. If Naruto was dead, everyone else must be dead as well. How the five of them were alive, she didn't know and thought it best not to ask, as there would never be an answer. Her former desire to search Konoha one last time was now non-existent.
Picking her head up, she got to her feet and inspected her hand. The cut wasn't deep and the amount of blood made it look much worse than it was. She opened a first-aid kit and went over the sink to dress her wound.
"Are you alright?" Tsunade asked, coming up behind her and leaving Ino to deal with Hinata.
"Fine," Sakura said. "It's worse than it looks…when I saw the monitor I wanted to turn it off, but I couldn't find the switch."
"We won't be needing them anymore, so don't worry about it. We'll load some of this food into packs and carry it out with us. We'll see what the surrounding forest is like and then make for the nearest village to see what's happened."
Sakura shrugged, not sure anywhere else would be much better. Since seeing Naruto, it now looked as though the entire world had ended. Perhaps there were survivors elsewhere and they would find them, but as for the state of the world they would have to live in, she couldn't say. "Okay. You and I can carry extra, I guess."
The others began quietly packing supplies for their journey while Sakura finished with her hand. With an extra heavy load on her back, she redistributed chakra to points on her body so she could carry the load easier. With their things packed, they made their way through the secret passage in the ceiling into the Hokage's old office.
"What's the best way out of town?" Ino asked, looking at Tsunade and Shikamaru.
"We should just scale the mountain behind this building," Shikamaru said. "There's no reason to go down there and mess with those zombies."
"There's one reason," Sakura said. "Naruto. We can't leave him walking around like that."
"And what if you get killed going after him?" Ino said. "I was all for risking our lives to find our living friends, but if we're just going off to kill a zombie then…"
"Then go, and I'll catch up later," Sakura said, curtly. "I'll set my pack down here and take it up with me when I go. I'll meet you at the top of the mountain."
None of the others looked happy at her going off to kill Naruto, but none argued. All of them had known the pain of having a loved one or a teammate become a zombie. "Alright then," Tsunade said. "We don't have time for these debates, so meet us up top and don't be too long. Don't do anything stupid either."
"What about the demon?" Shikamaru said, looking out over the town and frowning. "I don't know anything about it, but might killing him for good unleash it?"
"I doubt it," Tsunade said. "Once someone becomes a zombie, their life force leaves them. If the monster were going to be unleashed, this would have done it."
"Right," Sakura said, dropping her pack. "I'll catch up with you shortly."
No one argued further, the desire to leave Konoha overriding their desire to argue. Sakura didn't look back as she began hoping across rooftops towards the street she had seen Naruto wandering around on. The disaster had made identifying landmarks somewhat difficult, but she thought she knew the street she had seen him on.
When she reached it, she had to wipe her eyes to keep the tears from blurring them. Thinking she might not be able to find him, Sakura was close to giving up when she caught sight of his orange outfit amongst the swarming crowd bellow.
Testing the weight of her kunai, she whispered "Goodbye, Naruto," and threw it.
The knife flew straight and true towards the back of his head. Sakura didn't know what to think when his arm came up, seemingly without him noticing, and caught the knife.
More like it stabbed through his hand, but either way, he wasn't dead and had seen the attack coming. Sakura felt her legs go numb as Naruto's head swiveled around like something mechanical and he looked at her. His normally bright blue eyes had taken on a dark red pallor, as though they had filled with blood.
He bolted towards the building Sakura was standing on and ran up the side, leaping into the air as he reached the top of the wall. Sakura was too surprised to do much aside from back up and draw her weapons.
Naruto landed on the roof, sending shingles breaking off with his weight and force of landing. "You must be Sakura," Naruto said, his voice holding the edge of something bestial.
"N-Naruto?" Sakura stammered. "What's happened to you? You're infected…"
"Infected…" Naruto said, sounding less and less like Naruto the more he spoke. "Free is more like it."
"Free?" It suddenly dawned on her what the situation was. "Oh God, you're the fox demon aren't you?"
"Yes," the demon inside Naruto's body said. "Free isn't the right word though, is it? I'm still stuck in this pathetic body…but at least now I can control it. And you came just like I thought you might."
Sakura braced herself, ready to stab a blade through its head and hopefully kill it. Fox demon or not, it was still trapped inside a human corpse. She had a chance if she could keep her head. "What do you mean?" she asked.
"I knew you were alive," it said. "I could smell you on the wind over the stench of the rest of these pests. I knew that if I waited, you would come to me."
It was creeping forward, ready to spring, watching her for any sudden movement. "What do you want with me?" she asked.
"To kill you," it said. Naruto's face had contorted into a wide, wicked grin. His teeth had all become needle sharp and now his eyes seemed to glow red, rather just be blood-filled. "The miserable pest who's body I've been trapped in was fixated on you. When he wasn't whining or trying to train or further whatever insipid goals he might have had. I got sick of it…so sick of it, I hate you."
She swallowed, now wishing she had just left Konoha with the others or that they would return to help her out. She supposed it didn't matter what the demon's reasons were; it wanted her dead and it was either it, or her. "Bring it on then, I haven't got all day," she said, hoping to sound braver than she felt.
It let out a howl of range and charged her a blinding pace. Sakura stabbed too late and caught it in the side of the head with her forearm. She felt Naruto's hands, now tipped with long fingernails, dig into her side briefly before the strength of her blow sent the demon flying off to her left.
It landed on all fours and began loping after her without missing a beat. Ignoring the pain in her side, she shoulder-rolled out of the way and turned, ready to stab again if it charged.
It skidded to a stop before falling off the roof and flipped over backward, twisting to face her, using it's body like no human ever would. "Good," it said. "Kill this body and free me."
"What?" she shouted, hoping the thing was bluffing.
"Or don't kill me. I'll go hunt down your friends after I'm finished with you and maybe one of them will do it."
It charged again, this time Sakura didn't try a killing blow. She fell into her back, letting her feet connect with Naruto's chest. She sent him through the air up and over he body, leaping to her own feet when he legs snapped forward again.
The kick had damaged the muscles in its midsection, she noticed as it got to its feet clumsily. Pain wasn't slowing down, but she saw that it was possible to cripple the creature. She wanted to kill it and give Naruto's body a proper burial, but couldn't risk loosing the fox demon.
"Try again," she said. "Maybe you'll get me this time."
Maybe it would, too. Her plan as it rushed towards her again was to catch it in a grapple and break as many bones as she could, knowing full well it might bite her and spread the disease.
It came at her low, but she ducked lower and stood off to the side. Catching the midsection in the crook of her elbow, she wrapped herself around the demon's stolen body and slid up to lock it in a full nelson. It nearly managed to bite her forearm as she locked her fingers behind its head.
The fact that it was Naruto's body was driven home as she looked at the back of his head. She almost couldn't bring herself to crush his spine, but the demon inside began shouting things. Terrible things only something living within Naruto his entire life would be able to know. Disgusted, she applied as much pressure as he strength could muster.
She felt and heard his skull separate from his spine as well as some of the vertebrae coming to pieces. Naruto's body went limp and she let him fall forward onto the roof.
It was still screaming, now nothing more than inarticulate howls of rage. She wanted to put a blade though its brain but stopped herself. She was certain that there was nothing of Naruto left inside and killing it would only risk setting the demon free. She bent down and undid his bandanna, being careful not to be bitten.
She couldn't bear to listen to the demon screech any longer. Remembering that they would likely come back to dispatch the remaining zombies, she tucked the headband into her pouch and left. Tsunade might know what to do with the demon later.
She met them in the woods outside Konoha. The purple fluid seemed to have had no effect on the trees or other plant life. It had killed many, many animals, but not all. They feared the dead animals might rise again, but it appeared as though they would not.
That the fluid only turned humans into zombies was cause for speculation amongst them. They kept coming back to Hidden Rain being the culprit, with the new idea that perhaps those in the Village of Hidden Rain had not quite intended to unleash their cloud weapon, or at least had underestimated the effects.
The nearest village had all but been obliterated. Hinata found one survivor, a woman who had been inside with a broken leg when the rain came. She was a widow and had lived alone. Wisely, she had remained hidden when the zombies appeared.
They returned to Konoha once before leaving it forever. The idea to kill every last zombie had been scraped; it was too dangerous and would've been pointless as well. They did retrieve Naruto's body, which had screamed itself hoarse. Rather than kill it, they dug a hole as deep as they could and buried the thing, trying not to think too much about how long it would take to go insane and or escape.
With everything in Konoha taken care of, they traveled the countryside viewing the devastation caused by the mysterious cloud. The longer they traveled, the more it became apparent that it would be years before they heard from anyone who had left Konoha before the rain came, or learned something useful about the mystery, if they ever did at all.