Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens
James D. Fawkes

For NaruHina version, see "Chapter XI: B-Side".

Chapter Eleven: The Reigning Deity

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The cave was deep and dark, endless shadows flitting across the walls and hiding the seemingly unending ceiling above. Water dripped slowly from the various stalactites and down onto the stalagmites. The floor, obscured by boundless black, was barren of all life and of any sign of man.

Upon a statue of a grotesque figure, two people were perched. One, with spiky orange hair and glowing blue eyes, sat atop the head of the figure, one leg dangling and the other with its foot pressed up against the statue's skull. His arm rested loosely atop his bent knee while the other was on the cool stone, propping him up. His intense blue eyes, with thin black rings surrounding the pupils, stared seriously up at the ceiling.

The second person was also a man, but his features, his face, his eyes, his ears, his body in general, were practically invisible. They would, for all intents and purposes, remain unseen by the general public, and indeed, mostly in private. An orange mask with a spiral design engraved into it hid his face from view, the ominous black band covering his ears.

"Our plan is coming to fruition," the second man said, perched atop on of the statues fingers in much the same way his companion was. He didn't bother to look up to see if the other had heard him. He knew that he wasn't being ignored. "I have recently captured the other three tailed beasts. All that remain are the Eight Tails and the Nine Tails."

He looked over at the other man, his red eye gleaming maliciously in the dark, "It'll take a few days to seal them up again, but after that, we'll be ready to take care of the other two."

"The Nine Tails," the first man muttered to himself, "the Eight Tails."

"Yes," the second man confirmed flatly, "and you…you will be the one to capture and defeat the Kyubi's container."

"Namikaze Naruto," the first man said softly. His eyes narrowed as he glared up at the ceiling, his limp hand clenching into a fist. "We shall see…which of us is truly a god."

"Getting sentimental, Pein?" the second man asked almost teasingly. There was a hint of humor in his voice, a sick and twisted sort of humor that no man should ever have. It was decidedly fitting for the sinister and mysterious figure known alternately as Tobi and as Uchiha Madara, progenitor of the Uchiha Clan.

"Call it what you like," Pein replied dismissively, scoffing at the other's statement. "In the end, it seems that this was inevitable. After all, in order to accomplish true peace…the God of Peace must defeat the God of War. Isn't that right?"

Madara chuckled, "I think you're letting this whole 'God' thing go to your head, Pein."

Madara looked over at his companion again, his half-lidded red eye barely visible through the hole in his mask, "When the time comes, I will protect your real body for you while you send your Six Paths to capture the Nine Tails. You are still essential to my plans, so I can't have you dying on me just yet."

Pein finally turned towards him, arching a single orange eyebrow, "I'm still essential to your plans? I was under the impression that you didn't need me for anything but gathering the Nine Beasts, Madara. Perhaps you are the one who is getting sentimental."

"Sentimental?" Madara laughed a sick, evil laugh. "You flatter yourself. The only reason I need you is to seal the Nine Beasts up. Everything else…I could technically do by myself."

"So you say," Pein said airily, turning his gaze back to the ceiling, "but it's easy for you to make such claims when you have not fought that boy. Namikaze Naruto…I underestimated him, and I paid the price for it. Not only did I lose two of my Six Paths, but I…I also lost Konan."

"I see," Madara replied neutrally. He switched the subject. "Do you think Aizen will keep his end of the bargain?"

"Aizen Sousuke is a very shrewd man," Pein said after a moment's pause. "He could very well plan to betray us and take the Beasts for himself, to do with as he pleases…or he could be as honest as he claims to be and simply be interested in accomplishing the same goals that we seek. He has…lost someone to war, too."

"His wife," Madara clarified. He scoffed. "Love. Such a thing is fit only for fools. After all, if he hadn't loved her in the first place, he wouldn't have been so devastated when she died. I have to wonder, though, just how far he'll go to get her back. That is what he wants the beasts for, isn't it?"

"Aizen is a very shrewd man," Pein repeated. "He has contributed much to our cause, including a great deal of funds and two of the Nine Beasts. However, I have very little faith that he will be satisfied simply by watching us reach our goals. Aizen will most certainly have something planned for the day when we have the last two."

"Aizen may be shrewd," Madara admitted, "but he has none of the raw power needed to back it up. Let him and his little pet try to take the Beasts from us. On that day, Aizen Sousuke will join his wife in eternal slumber."

"I don't think things are going to be that easy," Pein said firmly. "You're not giving Aizen enough credit. He managed to manipulate things enough to destroy any chance Otogakure had of mobilizing an army and get Namikaze Naruto to assault Orochimaru's stronghold in the middle of Hoshigakure, all so sneakily that only Jiraiya-sensei noticed something was amiss. No…we must beware of Aizen."

"I see," Madara muttered neutrally. "But…we haven't heard from him since Orochimaru was killed. For now, we must concentrate on the final two Tailed Beasts, the last of the Nine. Once we get the three we have now sealed up, your Six Paths will head to Konoha capture the Nine Tails. With Namikaze Naruto out of the picture, the most resistance we'd have to worry about would be very minor. The Eight Tails will seem trivial."

"Agreed," Pein intoned as he stood. With a winking blur, Madara vanished. "Namikaze Naruto…Konoha no Ryûjin…Bishamonten…Whatever name you take, I shall defeat you."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The room was shrouded in dark, illuminated only by the luminous numbers on the alarm clock across from the bed. The windows were shut tight, curtains of ominous black blocking out the daylight that should have been streaming in. In the silence of this room, the only sound that could be heard was the quiet sobbing of one man.

Clothes were strewn haphazardly all over the floor, casting the wooden floorboards below them into anonymity. Over the back of the chair was laid a white cotton coat with flames printed onto the bottom hem. The door to the closet was ajar, revealing row upon row of nearly identical clothing.

The bed sheets were messy and undone, tangled and balled up in most places, and the pillows were at random spots on the mattress instead of at the head. Even the pristine white of the bed and its furnishings could not cut through the inky gloom of the room, nor let in the moon shining brightly outside the window.

There was more than just one person in the room, however. Two more people sat with him, each watching helplessly as he mourned the loss of one of the most important people in his life. One stroked his hair as he cried into her lap, his tears soaking the black fabric of her pants, and the other rubbed circles against his back.

Hinata looked down at her beloved sadly as he continued to sob, her delicate, gentle fingers running through the strands of his blonde hair. Despite her best efforts, however, it seemed as if he couldn't be soothed by her touch. She felt helpless, knowing that nothing she could do would save him from this pain.

Tenten's eyes were locked on her own fingers as she rubbed smooth circles into his back, the black fabric that he wore rippling with every pass she made. She felt just as helpless as Hinata, could only watch as the man she had grown to love suffered alone in his agony. It was heart-wrenching.

Looking up, Hinata met Tenten's eyes and they shared a nod. Leaning forward slightly, Hinata started quietly, "Hitomi no oku ga…boyakete mienai. Kokoro no soko no…kimochi wa aru no?"

"Sekai no," Tenten continued for her, singing just as softly, "subete wo…te ni shita to shite mo, sore ga…anata no shiwase na no?"

"Why," Hinata whispered into his ear, "kodoku na sora wo miageru no? Why? Waratte misete yo. Kotoba ni suru no ga heta na anata no seikaku wakaru kara…"

"Tooi mukashi ni…nani ga atta no?" Tenten went on. "Shisen wo sorasu…anata no hitomi ni…"

"Hitori de…samishii," Hinata carried on, "yoru ni dakishimerareru sonna atatakasa shitteru?"

"Why?" Tenten asked rhetorically. "Doushite katachi ni kodawaru no? Why? Kokoro wo hiraite. Ooki na nimotsu wo seotta anata wo ukeirerareru chikara aru wa…shinjite mite…"

"Jiyuu na hito wa," Hinata sung gently, "bukiyou de…"

"Jiyuu na hito wa," Tenten mirrored, "fuan de…"

"Why…kodoku na sora wo miageru no?"

"Why? Waratte misete yo."

"Kotoba ni suru no ga heta na, anata no seikaku wakaru kara…"

"Shinjite mite," they finished together.

Hinata could feel Naruto tighten his grip on her, heard him sniffle as his sobs began to subside. Catching Tenten's eye, they shared a smile as Hinata hugged his head to her stomach as she whispered, "This is that kind of warmth, Naruto-kun."

"We're strong enough, Naruto-kun," Tenten smiled softly. "So…try to trust us."

"I don't know what I'd do without you two," Naruto admitted weakly, his blue eyes glassy.

"And you'll never have to find out," Hinata told him resolutely.

Sitting up, Naruto pulled both of them into a hug, sniffling lightly. Laughing a short chuckle, he said to them, "Why do I gaze up at the lonely sky? Because it reminds me…it reminds me just how fortunate I am…to have you two."

He tightened his grip around their waists, smiling a watery smile, "My friend, your desire is the bringer of life, the gift of the goddess."

Leaning back, he and the two girls fell onto the mattress, his head resting on the last remaining pillow at the top and their heads lying softly against his chest. He looked down at both of them in turn, at Hinata's pearly lavender eyes, shining with love and compassion, at Tenten's chocolate brown eyes, just as loving and gleaming with happiness.

"Last order, huh?" Naruto looked up at the dark ceiling, talking to the air. He took a deep breath in through his nose. "Live. I think I can do that."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The sun shined brightly, illuminating the pale blue sky and casting luminous glows over the puffy white clouds coasting lazily through the air. The trill of birds flitting through the wind lilted delicately over the land, singing a serenade of peace and joy to the world around them. Leaves swayed gently in the breeze, but would not be torn from their perches.

The ground was decorated with sparse patches of lively green grass, the tiny blades swaying in the swirling wind. The dirt and pebbles crunched and crackled as a single person stepped out onto them, his tanned feet clad in black sandals and unprotected from the elements. He wore much of the same color over the rest of his body, save for the white coat fit snugly over his shoulders and flowing down to the middle of his shins.

Naruto stopped a moment, his coat fluttering as he closed his eyes. Spreading his arms out slightly, he took a deep breath in through his nose, taking in the scent of nature. The air was crisp and cool, yet carried with it the warmth of summer. The breeze tousled his hair, the blond strands tickling his nose.

With a slight smile on his face, he exhaled slowly, his gloved fingers insensate to the wind. The smell of bright red roses mixed with the scent of lavender still clinging to his clothes, wafting upwards and into his face. A third scent, clinging to his collar, joined it, that of vanilla and musk. A smile curled on his lips. Hinata and Tenten.

Hinata was away with Team Eight — Aburame Shino, Inuzuka Kiba, and Yuuhi Kurenai — on a mission to more firmly establish connections with Nami no Kuni, the Land of Waves. Ishida Mitsunari was to go with them and return to his life as the royalty of that country. With a few years of training under Jiraiya at his command, Mitsunari would be much more able to defend his territory than anyone else of his line. Tsunade hoped that he would be able start a Hidden Village there.

Tenten was, likewise, away with her team, Team Gai — Hyuga Neji, Maito Gai, and Rock Lee — on a mission. She, however, and her team were doing border patrol. With the former Rice country and the Hidden Sound Village decimated and left free for the picking, Iwagakure and Kumogakure were the two superpowers who had the most to gain from assimilating that territory into their own. As elites, Team Gai was to defend the border of Fire Country and scout enemy movements for two weeks, at which point they would be replaced.

That left him alone for another day, with nothing to do but try to do as Jiraiya had spoken in his last moments, to try to follow his last order. In order to follow Jiraiya's last request, though, he also had to perfect his Ryûjin no Torai, the Senjutsu that would ultimately allow him to defeat Pein and anyone else he had to face. After all, Tobi had to go, too.

That was where things became a little problematic. He had been alone to practice this art for nearly a week, and still he had had no true success in his endeavors. He had tried, over and over, to tame the power that Hyôrinmaru let him borrow, but he could not control it, could not force it to do his bidding instead of taking him over.

"The secret to the true Sage Mode, the secret to perfecting Ryûjin no Torai…is to separate yourself from the dragon within you."

Naruto let out a sigh, eyes downcast, "Easier said than done, you lecherous old man."

And that was true. Perfecting Ryûjin no Torai was a lot easier said than it was done, despite Jiraiya's confidence in him. Despite their joint efforts, and their efforts were indeed formidable when joined, neither he nor Hyôrinmaru had found a way to separate the power from the dragon's consciousness. It seemed veritably impossible.

"You must draw on his power, but you must control it — harness it — instead of merely accepting it as it is. Only then can you truly advance to the level needed to defeat Pein."

"Okay," Naruto sighed, unsheathing his sword, "here we go."

Slowly, he moved his left hand up and began the seals, but he was interrupted before he could finish. A flash of light reflected off of his sword, reflecting into his eyes. With a groan, he shut his eyes tight and turned his head to the side, moving his sword out of the light's path. Glaring at the shiny metal, he felt a well of frustration bubble up inside of him.

Then, inspiration struck. He needed something to focus on to keep the dragon's conscience from merging with his. Once he had managed it the first time, then he wouldn't need it again, which solved the problem of concentrating on it in battle. It seemed so obvious, now that he had thought of it. Quickly, eagerly, he shed his gloves and stuffed them into his kunai pouch.

Suppressing a wince, he ran his index finger down the length of his sword, cutting a small slice into the skin. Bringing it up so he could see it, a bulging drop of blood about the size of a small pebble quivered atop the skin. With a slight smirk, he brought his finger down onto the flat side of the blade and began to draw the symbols.

When he finished, he looked proudly at the Hiraishin Jutsu-shiki slowly drying on the polished steel. Licking the rest of the blood off his finger, he keep his eyes on the characters hastily scrawled over his sword and started the hand seals. As he neared the final one, he could feel the technique begin to take effect and quickly concentrated on centering Hyôrinmaru's consciousness into that small formula.

There was a slight struggle as he finished the hand seals, as though the jutsu was fighting to take control of him, but he was much more stubborn than it could ever be. With a final violent push, the pressure that had been building in his skull vanished and he could feel the changes come over him.

Bones popped and muscles snapped, becoming stronger and much denser. His vision blurred, then was suddenly a lot sharper than it had ever been. His hair lengthened, his bangs parting to the sides as they grew down to his chin. The rest flowed backwards, surging down his back and reaching nearly to his thighs.

He lifted a hand, studying the new shape of his fingers and the tipped fingernails that could now pass for claws. The wind blew, sending several strands of his now silver hair into his eyes for a moment. A second later, it died down and his hair moved back into place of its own will.

"So," he mused aloud, his voice smooth and deeper than he had known it could be, "this is the true power of Ryûjin no Torai."

He breathed in, and the universe was at his beck and call. A smirk curled on his lips, cyan blue-green eyes dancing with excitement, "Let's try them then, shall we? These spells, the ones that I have had such difficulty with before…Let's see if they're any easier in this form."

Holding out a hand, he pointed his palm towards a collection of trees that led out into Fire Country and away from Konoha. Slowly, he floated upwards, his arm changing angle every few seconds to keep the point of impact the same. Finally, when he had reached a height where he could see the true damage of his attack, he said, "Hadô no Hachijuuhachi: Hiryugekizokushintenraiho." (Flying Dragon-Striking Heaven-Shaking Thunder Cannon)

A blinding flash of spirit energy leapt from his hand, lashing out faster than the human eye could track. There was an explosion, so bright that Naruto couldn't properly see what he had hit, then a loud and quick boom. An instant later, the blast was gone, and all that remained was a wide, smoking crater.

A small smirk curled on his lips as he examined his unblemished hand. This was the power he needed to defeat Pein. There was no doubt about it.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The day was clear and bright, the yellow-gold sun hanging high in the sky and illuminating all of creation. The temperature was warm, but not hot, and was perfect for a day outside training or playing a game of tag. The wind blew, but gently, caressing the faces of all who stood in its way with a brisk, relaxed cool.

On this day, six figures stood out in a crowd, their bodies shaped in various ways and even, in some cases, female (or had, at one point, been). Hiding any distinguishing sexual features was a cloak that each of them wore, black with red clouds painted here and there. All of them had vibrant orange hair.

The sprawling village of Konoha, the Hidden Leaf Village, lay out in front of them. Six figures stood motionlessly, the lead figure staring at the landscape in front of him with glowing blue eyes. The other five waited patiently for him to comment, or to move, so that they might follow his example.

"We're going to split up," the first man said suddenly. The other five paths straightened slightly at this, paying close attention. "One group will do diversion and the other will do reconnaissance, so let's make sure we've got this sorted out."

All five pairs of eyes were immediately latched on to him, waiting patiently for him to elaborate. After a moment of pause, he did so, "Demon Realm, Animal Realm, and Hungry Ghost Realm will deal with the diversion. God Realm, Human Realm, and Hell Realm will do recon. Once Namikaze Naruto is encountered, the others are to report to his position immediately. Animal Realm, however, will stay behind and watch from a safe distance."

Getting five identical nods, he stepped forward and his eyes widened, glowing blue. What he could see, he relayed to his team, "There's a spherical barrier protecting the village from all sides, including above. Any intruders will be detected immediately. As planned, we're going to launch Animal Realm above the village. This will make for an easier insertion. From there, we wait for Animal Realm's summons."

Two of the remaining five figures moved, the bulkiest one kneeling down as a man with his long orange hair tied in a ponytail climbed up on his arm. An instant later, that man was sent soaring upwards, his hands flying through seals as the air around him rushed past his ears. As he landed agilely on his hands and knees, the five other Paths appeared in one puff of smoke.

"Scatter," God Realm commanded. In a blur, all of them had disappeared.

God Realm's blue eyes were sharp and narrowed as he ran through the streets, extending his senses as far as they could possibly go. People gasped and screamed as he passed, terrified of him and his power. He felt a slight thrill of satisfaction shoot through him; they had every right to fear for themselves, their lives, and their families. If he had his way, this entire village would cease to exist.

A slight whistling noise and a tiny prick on the edge of his senses warned him before his eyes did, and he leapt upwards and over the kunai that had been thrown at him. Dully, in a corner of his mind, he could sense that the other five Paths had encountered a similar situation themselves.

Back tracking, he kneeled down and looked at the kunai, attached to which was a small paper note. Written on this small piece of white paper was a single word, a single term that nearly forced a tiny smile on his lips. Written, in clear, bold script, on the small piece of paper was the word, "Come".

He reached down, already aware of the kunai's purpose. There was a strange sensation, almost like a tug behind his navel, and he was suddenly somewhere else, standing, bent over, on a field of grass with the kunai in his hand. Letting it drop, he stood up straight and noticed the other five Paths do similarly, each one having had a kunai with a small piece of paper on it.

God Realm turned around as Animal Realm disappeared, locking gazes with the fierce blue eyes of Namikaze Naruto. Calmly, he spoke, "You were expecting us."

"Oh?" Naruto asked rhetorically. "You're much smarter than I gave you credit for. Then again, it doesn't take a god" — he emphasized the word sarcastically — "to figure out that I was expecting you. After all, you want the Nine Tailed Fox sealed inside of me, and I want you dead for all of the things you've done."

"A bold claim," God Realm said stoically. "But, then again, you already know the truth don't you?"

"The real one isn't there," Naruto recited calmly. "Sensei told me all about that before he succumbed to his wounds. So tell me, Nagato, why have your last Path stay back when you won't truly die until I kill your real body?"

"You are clever," God Realm praised. "The answer is quite simple, really. If all six of my Paths of Pein should be defeated, you would have no way of finding the real me, which would make a 'final battle' rather difficult to achieve. So Animal Path is left behind and will summon a sort of 'messenger bird' for you to follow on the off chance you defeat the other five."

"I see," Naruto nodded. "I suppose, then, that Tobi is waiting to engage me wherever it is that this bird of yours would lead me to?"

"You are clever," God Realm hid his surprise quickly. "But…cleverness only gets you so far in battle. You need the power to back it up."

Instantly, Asura path, the one that had shattered Naruto's wings of ice and nearly caused a great deal of damage to Jiraiya, leapt forward, fist lashing out at the blonde teen's face. Smoothly, Naruto ducked under the punch and sliced through the overextended arm from knuckle all the way up to his shoulder. Then, in what seemed to be a speed ten times faster, he brought his sword across the other man's waist and split him in half from crown to crotch, all with two simple slashes.

"You've gotten stronger," God Realm remarked, standing motionlessly.

That seemed to be the cue for Human Realm to attack, holding on to the strange black object they had been prone to using before. His arm came around in a diagonal swing, but Naruto met him easily, the pristine steel of Hyôrinmaru effortlessly holding up against the mysterious black material.

Leaping backwards, Naruto unleashed a dragon of icy water, its red eyes gleaming as it soared forwards, screaming through the space separating him and his enemy. Human Realm jumped up and over it, his efforts sending him far enough to reach his opponent. Aided by both his amazingly monstrous strength and by the insistent pull of gravity, he brought his weapon down.

Naruto deflected it to the side, which seemed to set off a chain reaction. The moment the long-haired man had been repelled, a torrent of water was sent spiraling in his direction. Bring his sword around, the edge of the blade glowing blue, he swung downwards as the ball of water came his way.

"Nadegiri!" he cried, the blue arc slicing the attack in half and continuing onwards towards God Realm, who had sent the Daibakufu at him.

God Realm seemed unfazed by the return attack, merely holding up one of his hands as if he were catching a ball. The Nadegiri arc stopped short, then a ripple seemed to move outwards, destroying it in a burst of liquid. His hand fell back to his side as if nothing had ever happened at all.

As if he could see out of the back of his head, Naruto performed a back flip over Human Realm as the long-haired man attempted to stab him, going through hand seals in midair. Stopping, he took a deep breath and blew out a large fireball, aimed at the man who had tried to get him from behind.

His efforts were in vain, however, as the singular female Path leapt in front of it and held out her hands. There was a pause, as if the universe were waiting for something to happen, and then the fireball sputtered weakly before it winked out of existence. The orange haired woman looked up at Naruto stoically, her blue eyes gleaming dully.

As he landed, however, Naruto was unprepared for the harsh shoulder that struck him from the side and sent him flying, tumbling over the ground. In mid-roll, he flung himself back up and stumbled into a standing position. He was breathing hard, panting as he gingerly rubbed his right side. He let out a groan, but knew that he would be okay. It wasn't anything truly serious.

Human Realm was upon him again, lashing out with slash after vicious slash as Naruto struggled to keep up, distracted, as he was, by the pain in his side. Reaching out with his hand, Human Realm pushed Naruto back, who was too surprised by the move to do anything to defend against it.

Leaping up into the air, Naruto slashed down at Human Realm, intent on cleaving the man in two. Almost effortlessly, it seemed, the orange-haired man held his weapon with one hand and blocked it. With a jerk of his arm, he sent the blonde flying backwards into the tree line, not bothering to follow him into it.

There was a pause, during which God Realm's eyes narrowed suspiciously, before a cry of "Bankai!" resounded throughout the area. In reaction to that call, it seemed, the sky darkened with black rain clouds and three water dragons, each sporting a pair of feathery-looking wings, flew out from the foliage, mouths agape and showing off long, sharp fangs. Any tree they so much as brushed was instantly frozen solid.

Human Realm leapt over the first dragon as it crashed into the ground, staring the second dragon in the face as it prepared to consume him, but God Realm raised his hand and his comrade was propelled upwards and out of the way. The third dragon rose up and broke apart as, from its mouth, came the winged form of Naruto, a long tail following behind him.

The instant the two weapons came into contact — the strange black object that Human Realm was holding and Hyôrinmaru — the black metal became cold and engulfed in ice. Surprised, Human Realm could not react fast enough to block the second slash that cut straight through his only defense and cleaved off his right arm at the shoulder, sending the amputated limb spiraling down to the earth below.

Human Realm landed in a sort of crouch, gazing impassively up at the floating Naruto, whose strange powers kept him airborne. There was a tense moment of pause, as if the two enemies were sizing each other up, then Naruto exploded into action, sending three more dragons down at Hell Realm, who had smashed into him with his shoulder.

Hell Realm leapt backwards from the first dragon, then turned around the second he landed and headed towards the trees, where he intended to lead the beasts into the wood. He hadn't moved more than a meter or two, however, before Naruto appeared in front of him and unleashed another trio of the deadly creatures. Stunned, Hell Realm could do nothing to avoid them.

God Realm, however, raised his hand once more and pointed it at Hell Realm. Just as the dragons were about to consume him, he was jerked out of the way and landed on his butt in front of God Realm, who looked down at him impassively. Naruto glared at them, his blue eyes gleaming dangerously.

The blonde stabbed his sword into the ground, and from the soil in front of him sprouted thick, jagged pillars of ice. With a sideways sweeping motion of his free hand, the pillars disintegrated into a fine mist, the watery particles glistening in the limited light. As if he were throwing something, his hand shot out, and with it, the mist darted forward like tiny projectiles.

"Kongou Hokori!" he called out. (Diamond Dust)

God Realm raised his hand, and, with a look of concentration on his face, the mist was banished back at its creator. Naruto's eyes widened, but his body reacted almost on reflex and his left hand reached down into his kunai pouch. It pulled out a tri-pronged kunai, at which point Naruto seemed to have overcome his surprise. Looking up, he flung the kunai into the sky as fast and hard as he could. Just as the diamond hard mist was about to hit him, he disappeared in a flash of yellow.

As one, all of the remaining Paths looked upwards, towards the blonde hovering in midair. With an angry snarl and a single swing, three more dragons were released. Instead of making a straight path for the enemy, though, they curled around, spinning in a circle and surrounding their targets. In the sky, the blonde teen was making hand seals with his left hand.

"Sensatsu Suisho," he started in a whisper as he hit the last seal, "Daikeimusho!"

Instantly, the trio of winding dragons shattered and reformed into thousands of tiny needles. God Realm studied the prison of icy prongs stoically, his head zipping back and forth as the needles quivered threateningly, then jerked forward at some unheard signal. As they converged on him, he flung his hands out and was consumed by the horde.

A second later, however, the gigantic prison of ice shook, and then dispersed back into water, revealing a panting God Realm and an unscathed Hell Realm. Standing straight, but still out of breath, God Realm began hand seals as the moisture in the ground churned and morphed to his will. At the last seal, a giant dragon of water, with gleaming yellow eyes, formed, "Suiton: Suiryuudan no Jutsu."

Calmly, as the beast of water rushed towards him, Naruto held out a single hand, palm pointed forward. In an even voice, he recited, "Hadô no Ichi: Shô." (Thrust)

As it bore down on him, the Suiryuudan was ripped apart with what seemed to be little to no effort at all. Moving the angle of his arm, he aimed his palm at God Realm and Hell Realm, his blue eyes glaring down at them. With the same calmness as before, he stated the name of his next technique, "Hadô no Rokujuusan: Sôren Sôkatsui." (Twin Lotus Blue Fire, Crash Down)

Two balls of blue fire shot forth, growing steadily in size as they came screaming down toward God Realm and Hell Realm. Hungry Ghost Realm appeared in front of the blasts, holding her hands out in front of her as the two spheres came steadily closer. Her face screwed up in concentration, she let the energy balls touch her palms. Her expression quickly morphed into surprise as the attack met no resistance and still came toward her. She was engulfed in a fiery explosion, and, when it subsided, not even a shred remained.

Looking up at Naruto, God Realm's eyes flashed with a blazing rage. Holding up a single hand, his mouth set in a frown, he pulled. Surprised, Naruto was jerked out of the sky and towards the ground. Hell Realm's fist awaited him, sending him flying in the opposite direction and into a vicious kick from Human Realm. His wings shattered and the icy gauntlet on his right arm cracked.

Helpless, Naruto could only gasp and grasp weakly at his enemy's arm as he was easily picked up by his neck with Human Realm's remaining hand. Glaring at him, Human Realm's lips twisted into a characteristic smirk as he suddenly spun around on his heel and threw Naruto into one of the trees that had provided such good cover earlier.

Crying out as the bark bit into his back, Naruto panted as God Realm turned to him, a superior look on his face. Glaring back at them, Naruto slowly stood as the ice on his arm shattered and fell to the ground. With a bit of difficulty, he stood straight and began his hand seals, "It seems that this was necessary after all."

At the last seal, his body shuddered and shifted as he spoke the name of this new skill, "Ryûjin: Reigen Indo." (Dragon God: Heartless Requiem)

With vicious snaps and cracks, bones moved and became denser; muscles became stronger, leaner, more agile, and raw strength was multiplied. Blonde hair became silver, lengthening down the teen's back and reaching nearly to his thighs. Yellowish gold bangs shifted to a delicate pale, shimmering gray and parted down the center to frame a more angular face, reaching down to his chin. Cat-like cyan eyes snapped open, slit pupils staring intensely at the world.

"Behold," he spoke, in a smoother, deeper voice, one that spoke of power, "the true might of the Dragon God. One hundred percent."

As he said this, he swiped his sword to the side and it seemed to grow, lengthening to nearly half again what it had been. Looking up at them through a curtain of silver hair, a small smirk curled on his lips, "Ready?"

He seemed to dissolve into tiny particles of water, a black mist, then reappeared in front of Human Realm, sword already in motion. The long blade cut through the orange-haired man like butter, from one hip to the other. Time seemed to slow as the pieces of the man moved in separate directions, a look of surprise on his face. Then it was over, and Naruto sliced diagonally through the upper half of his enemy's remains, from right shoulder to what remained of the left side of his stomach.

"Three down," Naruto said tauntingly.

In a blur, he had vanished again and Hell Realm held up his own black rod, blocking against the steel of Hyôrinmaru. Leering slightly, Naruto leaned forward, "You think this can stop me?"

As if on cue, the black rod was cut in half at the middle, its wielder following it soon afterwards. Hell Realm was split diagonally, much the same way his predecessor, Human Realm, had been. His two halves fell to the ground in opposite directions, leaving God Realm and Animal Realm as the last two of the Six Paths.

"And thus ends," Naruto spoke, "the great Pein."

He flung several kunai, watching as God Realm held out a hand and banished them in the opposite direction. Appearing in front of the final fighter, Naruto lopped off his right hand, then spun around and, using his momentum, sliced right through God Realm. With a look of surprise on his face, God Realm fell to the ground, cut in half.

"I see," Animal Path said as Naruto turned to look at it. Flashing through hand seals, he summoned a small sparrow, which fluttered and then took off. "Follow this bird and he shall lead you to the real body."

With a small smirk, Naruto sent a Nadegiri arc at Animal Path. The last remaining Path seemed to accept his fate and was beheaded swiftly. As the final Path fell to the ground, Naruto turned his gaze to the small sparrow with a long red ribbon attached to its leg and took off after it.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

The place the sparrow led him to seemed fitting for the leader of Akatsuki: it was dark and bleak, a cave that was familiar but still foreign. The forest ended abruptly several meters away, and the sparrow fluttered towards the dark entrance. A kunai struck it before it could, however, and Naruto looked down at the man who had thrown it, his silvery hair swaying in the wind.

"So we meet at last," Tobi said calmly, staring at him from behind his orange mask. "Namikaze Naruto. The Dragon God. The God Slayer."

"God Slayer?" Naruto asked amusedly. "That's a new one."

"It's only fitting," Tobi shot back. "After all, once the people of the former Hidden Rain Village, Amegakure, find out that you killed Pein, that's what they'll start to call you."

Naruto laughed, "I suppose so."

He seemed to move at light speed, appearing behind Tobi and slicing straight through the black-clad man's body, "But I'll settle for killing you."

"Ahhh!" Tobi cried, as if in pain. It quickly turned into a laugh as Naruto's face twisted in confusion. "I'm afraid it'll take a lot more than just that to defeat me, Namikaze Naruto."

Frowning, Naruto lashed out with another slash, this one horizontal, which went right through Tobi's body, but it was as if there wasn't anything there. Tobi laughed, walking steadily backwards as Naruto's attacks brought him slowly forward. Each time the blade passed through the masked man's body, it was like swinging at air.

Hopping backwards, Naruto flung his hand out, index finger pointing at his enemy, and said, "Hadô no Kyuujuu: Kurohitsugi." (Black Coffin)

A black box formed in midair and fell on top of Tobi, encasing him in a strange, inky energy. At once, spear-like prongs of energy formed at various points on the outside of the box, then, a second later, stabbed forward into the black. There was no scream or cry of pain, not even the slightest trace of blood.

"My," Tobi commented from behind him, leaning against a tree, "that looks painful."

"It would have been," Naruto said neutrally. He turned to face the masked man. "So, Itachi was right about you…Madara."

"Ooh," Tobi clapped his hands sarcastically, "so, you know. You're much smarter than I expected you to be."

"And you're much stronger than I expected you to be," Naruto retorted. He smirked suddenly, and turned around, saying, "Catch me if you can," before he vanished into the trees. A second later, Madara leapt forward and followed him into the thick undergrowth, red Sharingan eye glaring.

The chase lasted an unexpected length of time, something that frustrated Madara. No matter how easily he could see the path that Naruto was going to take, the silver-haired menace was always one step ahead of him. If the Uchiha progenitor didn't know any better, he might suspect that his foe had a Sharingan as well, or some ability of a similar nature.

Finally, they reached a clearing. Naruto landed in the middle of it and spun around as he leapt backwards towards the other side. He unleashed two kunai as Madara landed in the same spot he had just vacated, but the two metal blades passed right through the man, who stopped and looked up as his prey found a perch on one of the trees.

"Did you really think you could catch me off guard?" Madara laughed as Naruto stared at him. The silver haired shinobi merely raised his hand into a single hand seal. "If it didn't work before, what made you think it would work this time? Perhaps you're not as smart as I — Ugh!"

"Perhaps you're a bit dumber than I thought," Naruto smirked, his hand slowly returning to its place at his side. "I'd tell you to look at the seals attached to those kunai, but the only thing you can do now is breathe."

Madara struggled to move, but his body wouldn't obey him. He stood stock still, his arms refusing his commands and his legs frozen in position. He breathed and his heart was beating, but anything beyond the essentials was lost to him, and he was angry because he couldn't understand why.

"Those kunai," Naruto started smugly, "are very special. They're something Jiraiya cooked up when Itachi told us about you. Since we didn't know the true extent behind your power, he figured that he couldn't take any chances. Anyone of Uchiha blood standing within two meters of those kunai — when they're activated, of course — will lose all higher motor function and be frozen in their last pose. You can't even use chakra."

Still smirking, Naruto slowly lifted a hand into the sky, "I've never tried this before outside of Shikai, so I don't know if it'll work, but we'll see."

The dark clouds suddenly parted, revealing a large hole. From it, white light shone down, fluttering at the edges. Then, bits of it started to fall, and Madara realized that it wasn't light at all, but brilliantly pure snow. It all seemed to fall in slow motion, making a beeline for him with unmistakably lethal intentions.

"Behold," Naruto said, "Hyouten Hyakkasou." (Frozen Heavens Hundred Flower Funeral)

A single snowflake landed on Madara's hand and bloomed into an icy flower, followed quickly by another and another. Madara wanted to scream, but he could not move his mouth and could not force it past his vocal cords. He barely noticed when Naruto started to speak again.

"With this technique, snow falls to the ground," Naruto explained. "When the snow touches someone, however, it blooms into flowers, and for every snowflake that lands on that person, another flower will bloom. You cannot avoid it any more than you can dodge raindrops. And, when the last flower, the one-hundredth, blooms, that person's life ends."

Madara attempted to scream, but, at that moment, the final flower bloomed and, with a flash of light, Madara died. All that remained was his frozen body and a mountain of icy flowers. And so ended one of the most powerful shinobi since the Rikudo Sennin.

In what seemed to be a shroud of wispy black feathers, Naruto's long silver hair and other changed features faded away, leaving behind the spiky blond hair and the bright, sky-blue eyes. Hyôrinmaru shortened back into a katana, but, engraved into one side of the blade, was the word, "Salvation", and, on the other side, "Destruction".

Naruto did not spare the mountain another look and focused instead on the giant cave a few meters off, standing with a large, gaping mouth for an opening. As he walked past the rocky threshold, a pair of bright blue eyes opened up inside the darkness. As if spurned on by his presence, several flames flared to life, igniting around him in small canisters. Torches; each one crudely done and stabbed into the wall, sometimes lopsidedly, other times, miraculously, straight.

Placed in the exact center of the floor was a monstrous structure, sprouting up from the ground and towards the fathomless ceiling. It had nine eyes, only seven of which were open, and two arms that reached up from the dirt. Its mouth was open wide and gaping, showing off several fang-like teeth made from what looked like hard clay.

As light flooded the cave, the owner of the eyes was identified. He was hunched over inside a monstrous machine, emaciated until he was but skin and bones, shirtless. From his back protruded an innumerable amount of black rods. His blue eyes were familiar, with several thin black rings surrounding the pupil in a sea of azure. His red hair reached his shoulders, the bangs parted above his left eye and obscuring most of his right. He looked, Naruto thought, much as Jiraiya had described him, though weaker.

"You, you're Nagato?" Naruto asked in a whisper. His hand clenched into fists. "You're the one…who's caused so much pain? Who-who killed Jiraiya-sensei?"

"I am," Nagato rasped. "And this is the price I paid for my dream. Do you pity me?"

"Yes," Naruto answered honestly. "But I…I hate you, too. All the people who have died for your dream, your impossible dream…they didn't have to. They died because of you!"

"Peace is not impossible," Nagato said hoarsely. "And is it not a worthy dream? A peaceful world, where people like us do not have to exist, where war is a figment of the imagination…is that not a worthy dream?"

"But your methods weren't!" Naruto shouted. "A forced peace is no peace at all! A peace brought by fear isn't right, it wouldn't last! Peace…True peace can only be brought by understanding each other, by talking and by compromise. Any other kind of peace isn't worth it."

"I did what I must," Nagato said solemnly, "just as you will do as you must and end my life." There was a pause, then the man smiled an odd sort of smile, reminiscent and fond. "You are indeed Jiraiya-sensei's student. I could never bring myself to believe in what he said, not after Yahiko died. But now…I'll believe in you. I'll have faith that you can accomplish my dream."

Naruto stepped forward and lifted his sword, "Then, this is the end. This is…where you die."

Nagato gave a raspy chuckle, "I died long ago, first with Yahiko, then with Konan and Jiraiya-sensei. Do not pity the dead, Namikaze Naruto. Pity the living, pity those who live without love." Nagato lifted his head and looked Naruto in the eye. "Above all, pity those who have no dreams."

Naruto steeled himself, then lunged forward and stabbed Nagato through the heart, who gave a final sigh and sagged with what appeared to be relief into death. Naruto pulled away and flicked the blood from his blade, then relaxed.

"It's over," he sighed, tilting his head back as he closed his eyes in relief. "It's finally over."

The sound of a man clapping drove his attention back down to earth, his eyes seeking out the origin of the disturbance. They locked onto an average looking man with short, wavy brown hair wearing a pair of square-framed glasses. He had a disarming smile on his face, but Naruto had seen enough dishonesty to know that the smile was as fake as plastic. The strange thing, though, one that sent a feeling of dread through the blonde, was that the smile was also quite real. He was sincerely satisfied by something, but what?

"Well done," the man said in a calm, friendly voice. "Indeed, you did a very good job, Namikaze Naruto-san. That was a most impressive display of skill. I can see now why they call you the Dragon God of Konoha."

"Who are you?" Naruto asked suspiciously.

The man, who was wearing an expensive, ornate kimono, hakama, and haori set, merely smiled. In that same voice, that same nonchalant, friendly tone, as if they had been on good terms for ages, he said, "Oh, I doubt you've heard of me. Our countries don't get along very well, you see, so I'm afraid we've never met before. Still, I imagine we would have been very good friends."

"Who are you?" Naruto asked a little more forcefully, his blue eyes glaring.

"Oh, I apologize," the man said politely, still in that same tone of voice. He didn't seem at all threatened by the one who had just beaten one of the strongest shinobi since Hanzou the Salamander and killed the man Amegakure called 'God'. "I didn't introduce myself, did I? How very rude of me. My name is Aizen Sousuke, though most people seem to like to call me 'Aizen-sama'. It gets on the nerves after a while."

Aizen…Aizen…where had he heard that name before? This guy, though…he wasn't a ninja, Naruto could tell. He didn't have the feel of a ninja about him, and his hands, from what Naruto could see, were too soft to belong to a ninja. And yet…this…Aizen wasn't afraid of him, wasn't afraid that his life could be ended in an instant. It was chilling.

"I really must thank you," Aizen went on, still smiling that damnable smile. "If it hadn't been for you taking care of these guys, I might have had to take care of them myself, and that would have been problematic. You see, because of you, because you killed Orochimaru for me and took out the army outpost Hidden Sound was using to build up its forces…"

The smile turned almost sinister, "…there's no one in my way."

That's when it came to him. He suddenly remembered where he heard the name 'Aizen Sousuke'.

"Was this all the work of Aizen Sousuke?"

A smile actually curled on Shigi's lips as he dragged himself into a kneeling position, "So sharp, as always, Jiraiya-sama. Yet…so naïve…"

"You…" Naruto whispered, shocked. "You're…!"

He didn't get to finish, as a fireball crashed into him and flung him several meters, where he came to a stop on the floor. In the flickering light of the torches, he could see a familiar clothing style: a fishnet mesh undershirt, and a long, open coat that went down to his knees. Typical shinobi pants and sandals, black.

But the face and hair were different, and he was wearing black gloves. The eyes were an eerily familiar cyan color with slits for pupils, and the skin had gone to a porcelain pale. The bangs were parted at the center, chin-length and framing his face. The rest of his hair surged down his back and nearly to his thighs. It was silver.

"Shigi?" Naruto asked, shocked.

"Oh, yes," Aizen said suddenly, looking as if he'd just remembered something. "I suppose you have met my subordinate before, haven't you? I imagine he looks quite a bit different than you remember. That's another thing I have you to thank for, you know, and it wouldn't have been possible if you hadn't killed Orochimaru and left that strand of beautiful silver hair behind when you took out Deidara."

"What?" Naruto's head whipped around.

"Oh, yes," Aizen smiled. "With Orochimaru gone, it was child's play to take his genetic splicing technology. And the hair sample you left behind provided me with enough genetic material to properly perform the procedure to endow Shigi with your god-like powers."

Turning around, Aizen said airily, "Do with him what you like, Shigi. I have to figure out how to use this wonderful statue."

That seemed to be all the incentive Shigi needed, as he surged forward, slashing at the blonde with his ninjato. Naruto just barely blocked it, stumbling to his feet. Relentlessly, Shigi attacked, and each time, Naruto just barely evaded death and serious injury. Oddly enough, beyond that initial fireball, Shigi hadn't used anything but his sword.

"This is your power, Ryûjin," Shigi said calmly. "I will defeat you with it and claim it as my own."

"You're," grunt, "insane!" Naruto called, arms shaking with the effort of defending against his enemy's blows. It seemed hopeless. Naruto had used all of his power to defeat Nagato and Madara. There was nothing he could do that could hope to match Shigi at the level he was at, and he was quickly beginning to tire.

'Think!' he told himself. 'Think!'

Shigi took advantage of his moment of strategizing, pulling his sword back and landing a solid palm-strike against Naruto's chest. It looked to be a simple push, but to Naruto, it felt like he had just been hit with a giant tree. He was flung backwards several meters, tumbling a few moment before he slid to a halt on his stomach.

As the blonde raised his head, Shigi walked towards him ominously, sword held tightly in his fist. Naruto cringed.

'Hyôrinmaru!' he called to the dragon desperately.

"Can't…" came the weak reply. "Not enough…energy…"

"I could lend you mine," a deep voice interrupted. Naruto's heart stopped for a moment, and the world seemed to follow. "But…why should I let you borrow my power?"

'If I die, so do you,' Naruto told the Nine Tails. 'If I live, then you live longer as well.'

"Death would be an awfully big adventure," came the reply, casual. "Why should I lend you my strength? I get nothing, in the end."

'Because I need it!' Naruto told it angrily. 'I don't care if you're the strongest of all the tailed beasts! If you don't lend it to me, I'll take it!'

The response was a deep, satisfied chuckle, "I like you, kid. You've got guts, and I respect that. I'll lend you my power, for now. Take as much as you need."

An overwhelming sense of anger began to fill Naruto as the Kyubi's chakra began to leak from the seal, and he shook his head, desperately going through hand seals. He couldn't allow the chakra to control him, he had to control it. The only way he knew how to do it…he just hoped that it worked with the demon's chakra as a focus, this time.

There was an angry howl in the back of his mind as he wrenched the Kyubi's taint and influence from the charka surging through his body. Instantly, his wounds healed and his fatigue disappeared. Like before, he could feel the changes come over him, but they were less violent. His muscles became stronger and denser and his fingernails sharpened into pointed claws.

Around him, a brilliant orange aura came to life, clinging to his skin. Wisps of it lifted into the air like fire, and the aura was so dense and compact that it was difficult to tell where his skin ended and his clothes began. There were several dark markings down his front, complete with the spiral that was the Kyubi's seal and a ring of Yang symbols that surrounded his neck.

Slowly, as Shigi stopped at the powerful presence Naruto now radiated, the blonde stood. His voice had an echoing, wavering quality to it, as though he were talking underwater, thousands of leagues of heavy liquid pressing down on him, "Kamui: Reigen no Tenshi." (Might of the Gods: Heartless Angel)

Quickly, before Shigi could react, Naruto flung his hand out, "Bakudô no Rokujuuichi: Rikujôkôrô!" (Six Rods Prison of Light)

Six thin but wide rods of yellow light stabbed Shigi's abdomen, holding him in place. Grunting with frustration, he stared down at the beams and started pounding them with his sword, trying desperately to break them. Naruto seemed to find this amusing, "I'm afraid that won't work. At this level, my raw power will prevent you from overwhelming that binding spell."

He held up a finger, a ball of white energy glowing in front of the tip. With a small smirk, he said, "Good bye."

With a blast of white lightning, Shigi was no more. Turning around, Naruto found Aizen looking at him with something akin to surprise. Faintly, the brown haired man whispered, "Oh."

As Naruto held up his finger again, a black box fell on top of Aizen, enveloping him. With fierce, stern orange eyes, Naruto sighed and said a three simple words as the spears formed, "Sayonara, Aizen Sousuke."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

In the year following the defeat of Akatsuki, and, ultimately, the death of Pein, the balance of power between the Five Great Nations shifted almost irreversibly. The former Amegakure, now without a leader, collapsed into anarchy. It was only inevitable that it would erupt once more into civil war as multiple factions fought to take the place that Pein had left vacant.

The disappearance of Aizen Sousuke, a prominent feudal lord in the Land of Earth, also had an effect. Down their best strategist, their de facto leader, and one of their best shinobi, the Village of Hidden Stone was weakened to the point where many didn't consider it one of the Five Great Hidden Villages anymore. It would, unfortunately for its people and the Tsuchikage, never regain its former glory.

In the end, the territory belonging to Hidden Sound and the former Rice Country became a part of Fire Country, further adding to Konoha's superiority as compared to the other villages. A few months later, the Hidden Wave Village would enter into a strong, permanent alliance with the Hidden Leaf Village, further augmenting the Land of Fire. Iwagakure, in an attempt to keep itself from annihilation, declared Konoha superior to itself and entered into its own alliance, a submissive one, with the greatest of the Five Powers.

Kumogakure, aware that it had little chance of winning should any more countries join the Land of Fire, made a nonaggression pact with the remaining hostile nations, including Kirigakure. Together, they launched a massive assault on the Hidden Leaf Village in an attempt to restore the balance of power to the way it had been (or even in their own favor).

They failed.

Waiting for them, it seemed, at the gates of the Village was a single shinobi, a blonde with spiky hair and wearing a slightly familiar white coat, a sword slung over his shoulder. In a calm, quiet, polite voice, he asked them to retreat and promised that no one had to die. The mass of ninja, hundreds upon thousands of them, laughed at him. Frowning, he had held up a single hand and snapped his fingers.

A kunoichi with her silky brown hair pulled into to buns, one on either side of her head, leapt above them and pulled out a scroll. When she flung it open, thousands of kunai were released into their number, but none of them hit anyone. That had only made them laugh harder, but those kunai had been their undoing.

With a frighteningly familiar yellow flash, the blonde disappeared and, one by one, their numbers had fallen. Only the Raikage and his brother, the container of the Eight Tails, remained. It was an epic clash, one worthy of the history books, between the blonde and the two brothers, but, even with the power of the Eight Tails, they were no match for the one technique that ended it all. Kamui: Reigen no Tenshi.

With no ninja left, no military with which to fight, and no leader to hold them together, Kumogakure collapsed into nothing and became several different countries, each warring with each other. Inside the Empire of China, they were quickly quelled and became a part of the ancient power claiming the 'Mandate of Heaven'. Kirigakure, now lacking a great deal of its shinobi, entered into an alliance with Konoha to preserve its independence.

Thus, in the few remaining countries that considered Konoha an enemy, the name Namikaze Naruto soon took on new titles. He was called 'Konoha no Ryûjin', 'God of War', 'The Flash Reborn', 'God Slayer', and even 'The Azure Moon'. He was the second shinobi in history to be given the double S ranking in the bingo books.

And so, with the greatest shinobi since the Rikudo Sennin on their side, Konoha became the strongest force in the world of ninja. Now, three and a half years later, it remains so.

"I'm proud to announce," a voice said over the roaring approval of the crowd. Hinata looked up, watching as a twenty year old blonde man, her husband, walked out onto the balcony. Tsunade continued, "the Sixth Hokage, Namikaze Naruto!"

The roar from the crowd rose in volume, increasing to deafening. Hinata smiled and clapped politely along with the enthusiasm. An elbow in her side drew her attention over to Tenten, who was smiling and clapping as well. The brunette leaned over to her, "Seems like we made a good choice, didn't we, Hinata? Marrying him, I mean."

Giggling, Hinata turned her attention back up to Naruto. Together, she and Tenten whispered, "Congratulations, Naruto-kun."

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

"Hokage-sama!" a voice called, its owner bursting through the double doors of the Hokage's office. Naruto frowned, looking up from his paperwork at the ANBU who stood in front of him, panicking.

"Hokage-sama!" the ANBU went on. "Danzo is on the move!"

Naruto stood in one fluid motion, quickly shedding his Hokage robes and hat and grabbing his signature coat on the way out the door. The ANBU followed closely behind him as he strode quickly from his office, intent on settling the problem before him. "Tell me what's going on. Has he assaulted the village?"

"Yes," the ANBU said swiftly, breathing in short pants. "ROOT has begun an attack on the village's major clans. Our ninja are in disarray and communications are shot. My squad leader ordered me to inform you of the situation. Danzo is moving towards this very tower as we speak."

"I see," Naruto mumbled. Louder, he said, "Grab as many as the council members as you can, inform them of the situation. After that, begin evacuation into the forest and the training areas."

"Not the mountain tunnels?" the ANBU asked hesitantly.

"No, Danzo knows standard protocol," Naruto explained. "He could easily gain an advantage if we follow normal SOP. What we need to do is what he'll least expect, so we'll evacuate into the surrounding forest and the training areas, places where it isn't exactly safe but isn't seriously dangerous."

"Understood," the ANBU said, moving to follow his orders. A hand stopped him. "Hokage-sama?"

Naruto moved swiftly, chopping the back of the man's neck. He fell to the floor, unconscious. Naruto mumbled, "Sloppy, Danzo. The councilmen's quarters are in the east districts, not the west."

He looked up, "Kakashi! Did you get all of that?"

Kakashi walked out from behind the office's open doors, "Yeah, I got all of it. Should I pick up Gai?"

Naruto shook his head, "No, just send one of your dogs. We need to take care of this before it escalates too far. As it is, we're going to have to let the clans fend for themselves. Until we reestablish order, we'd only be spreading our forces too thin."

"Right," Kakashi nodded, closing his book with a snap. He moved to carry out his orders, only to pause. "Naruto…Be wary of Danzo. He wasn't the Sandaime's teammate for nothing, you know. You shouldn't underestimate him."

Naruto grimaced, then began down the steps, "I know."

Several flights of steps later, Naruto opened the doors to the tower and stepped out into the sunlight. A ninja flew towards him, but he cut the man down with a simple, effortless slash of his sword. The sounds of an epic battle raged on in the background, and several fires burned bright in the midday sun.

Several more ninja assaulted him, but he defeated them all easily, as though he were fighting mere children and not highly trained warriors. Still, they came, attacking in swarms and unable to realize that they could not defeat him. Frowning in frustration, he released his ironclad hold on his reiatsu and sent them all to their knees, gasping and retching.

Naruto held out a hand and, an instant later, spikes of ice shot up from the ground and skewered each of the Root ninja. Letting his arm drop back to his side, Naruto frowned and lifted narrowed eyes to glare at the calm form of the man known as Danzo, who had instigated the battle that raged around them.

"End of the line," he said, blue eyes dead and calm.

"For you, yes," Danzo answered, slowly undoing the bandages around his shoulder. Beneath them was a perfect right arm, marred only by the myriad of blazing sharingan eyes, each of which spun lazily. Naruto felt his blood run cold.

"You," he whispered harshly. "You monster!"

Danzo scoffed, "You and those before you, you're all too soft! You can't do what needs to be done in order to lead this land properly!"

"Get off your high horse!" Naruto yelled back. "War won't solve anything! All it'll do is destroy the world and the peace we've fought so hard to protect!"

"And Konoha suffers for it!" Danzo roared. "We could be so much greater! We could conquer all of the elemental countries, sweep in and crush the opposition effortlessly! But you! You're satisfied with oaths of fealty! This peace of yours won't last!"

"As long as there are people willing to protect it," Naruto roared, "this peace will never die!"

He vanished and when he reappeared, he had speared Danzo through the stomach. There was a moment of pause, then Danzo melted away and a gash appeared on Naruto's arm. There was the flutter of clothing and Naruto pushed the pain of the cut on his arm away as he dodged the attack from behind.

"That's not possible," Naruto said, glaring at Danzo. "I killed you. I felt my sword connect with solid flesh and blood, and clones do not just melt away like that."

"How can you be Hokage and yet know so little?" Danzo crowed. He leapt forward, holding a kunai in one hand. Naruto vanished and reappeared behind him. As he swung down, Danzo spun and stabbed at Naruto's gut. Both blows connected, but Danzo melted away again, leaving Naruto with a very real and bleeding wound.

Naruto looked up, one arm wrapped around his injury, as Danzo appeared again, sending blades of compressed air at him. Naruto lifted a single hand and held it out in front of him, as though to block the blades. He spoke a single word, "Danku!" and a translucent wall erupted in front of him, blocking the attack.

Naruto's hand glowed green for a second, then he stood, his wound closed, and stared down his foe. He swung his sword with a cry of "Guncho Tsurara!" and sent a pack of sharpened icicles at Danzo, who leapt over them. Naruto vanished, then reappeared behind Danzo and swung down again, calling, "Nadegiri!"

The attack landed, and, once again, Danzo melted away into nothingness. He appeared behind Naruto, who ducked under another swing and used a quick burst of Shunpô to put distance between them. Both landed deftly on their feet and Naruto noticed, for the first time, that three of the eyes on Danzo's arm had closed.

Sheathing Hyôrinmaru, Naruto slapped his hands together as though praying and slammed them to the ground. A large sealing array bloomed beneath his palms and, in an instant, the two combatants were standing on the water at the Valley of the End. Danzo looked around dazedly, surprise lit across his features.

Naruto slapped his hands together again, "Brethren-in-arms withdrawing for the distance of eight sun and standing still; blue bolt, white bolt, black bolt, red bolt; sinking into the ocean, together seeking redemption."

He made several gestures with his hands and a wall of interlocking pillars appeared between them, reaching to the height of the statues nearby, "Ryuubi no Joumon." (Gate of the Dragon Tail)

He made more gestures and another structure, like a black and white watermill, appeared to Danzo's right, "Koko no Joumon." (Gate of the Tiger Fang)

Yet even more gestures and a third structure fizzled into existence, a pattern of interlocked hexagons, to Danzo's left, "Kikai no Joumon." (Gate of the Turtle Shell)

Above Danzo, a large structure not unlike a red lampshade slowly knitted itself together to the command of, "Hoyoku no Joumon." (Gate of the Phoenix Wings)

As this last structure fell into place, a translucent, box-shaped black barrier came into existence, its boundaries defined by the four structures, "Shiji no Saimon." (Gate of the Four Beasts)

Danzo hurled several attacks at the barrier, but, no matter what he did, the barrier seemed unscathed. "Namikaze!" he howled. "What sorcery is this?"

Naruto did not answer and, with a flicker of Shunpô, reappeared at the Koko no Joumon. He held up a hand, fingers stretched outwards, and braced it with his other arm, grasping his right arm just below the wrist. A ball of blue energy gathered there as a dense orange aura lit up around him, the orb growing steadily in size.

Finally, when it had reached the size of a large basketball, the aura around Naruto vanished and the Koko no Joumon pulled inwards, revealing an opening in the barrier. Naruto released the orb and it shot forwards at incredible speed, "Ryuujin no Shoukyoku no Kaen!" (Dragon God's Incinerating Flames)

The moment the orb passed the opening, it closed, snapping shut. A second later, there was an explosion and the barrier cracked from the pressure as brilliant blue flames filled it to the brim. There was a dull roar as the water that had been captured inside evaporated en masse and shrouded everything within in steam, but Naruto was sure that nothing could have survived such a powerful technique. He made a gesture with his hands and the barrier faded into nothingness.

He had only a split second to rest before something sharp and metallic dug into his stomach for the second time that day. Danzo stood in front of him, left hand grasping the kunai impaling Naruto, and his right arm missing in a way that suggested it had been purposefully amputated rather than burned off.

"You've been a thorn in my side," Danzo breathed, "for far too long, Namikaze!"

Naruto reached out and grabbed Danzo's burned arm, grunting, "This is gonna be rather unconventional, but it should work." Reiatsu flared around him, glowing orange. "Ittou Kasou!" (Single Blade Cremation)

A large pillar of flame erupted, the lake sizzling as the water evaporated rapidly, and stretched towards the sky, shaped rather like the tip of a katana. Moments later, it was over, and Naruto and Danzo stood at the center of the blaze, Naruto panting and Danzo covered with angry, blistering burns.

Danzo stumbled backwards and collapsed onto the shore, screaming as the dirt and rocks dug into his burned back. Naruto observed this with amazement; it was incredible that Danzo was still alive, let alone conscious, but he chocked it up to the fact that he had not used the Kidô as it had been intended.

Directing a bit of the Kyubi's chakra into the new wound on his stomach, Naruto strode tiredly over to Danzo, freeing Hyôrinmaru on the way. He leaned over Danzo's body and poised his sword to strike, "This is the end, Danzo."

Danzo reached up and pulled away the remains of his shirt, revealing a complex sealing array, "If I…am to die…I'm taking you with me!"

Naruto swore and energy flared to life around him, then everything stopped for a second, just before Naruto vanished. Danzo's body was vaporized, but Naruto was already gone, and when he reappeared at the base of the Hokage tower, everything stopped in mid motion for a second, as though time had frozen. Time lurched back into motion when he stumbled and fell to his knees, clearly out of breath.

"What a way," Naruto panted, "to test that technique!"

"Hokage-sama!" a ninja landed in front of Naruto, kneeling submissively. "The situation is under control, Hokage-sama!"

"Danzo is dead," Naruto told the ninja. "What about Root?"

The ninja jerked at the news, but paused only a moment before answering, "Root is currently being apprehended, Hokage-sama. Casualties are at a minimal and Root members are being repelled and captured. Hokage-sama…The Council requests your presence."

Naruto took in a deep breath, then let it out as a sigh. He stood and, a moment later, so did the ninja in front of him, "All right. Let's get going. The clean up for this whole mess is going to be a nightmare."

Naruto looked up at the bright, sunlit sky, and could not help but smile.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

It was during the first few minutes of daylight, as the sunlight struggled to rise over the horizon, when Yamamoto-Genryuusai Shigekuni entered the renowned office of the Sixth Hokage. The sky was painted with oranges, yellows, and pinks, and the office was alight with a gentle glow that gave its owner a warm, radiant outline.

Naruto did not acknowledge his presence, so Yamamoto strode over to stand beside him, staring out at the beauty of the sunrise as it crested over the forest. There was silence between them and Yamamoto did not break it, for he knew that the man next to him was gathering his thoughts and trying to word what he wanted to say.

"Aizen Sousuke?" Naruto asked at last, cool and quiet.

"Has been found," Yamamoto told him. "He appears to have no recollection of the life he lived before his demise."

Naruto nodded.

"Still," he said, "I'd rather not risk it. Aizen Sousuke is a very shrewd man. If there is even the slightest chance that he retained either his memory or his incredible intellect, I don't want to risk the damage that he could cause."

There was a pause.

"I take it then," Yamamoto said, "that you have a plan?"

"I do," Naruto nodded. Yamamoto took a glance at his companion and marveled at just how young the man beside him looked; he could have passed for thirty-five, or even younger. It was a wonder others had not mentioned or taken note of this incredibly youthful appearance.

"It's simple in its complexity," Naruto said, "and it assumes several things. The whole plan hinges on predicting Aizen's reactions and his thoughts. Should one thing go wrong, the plan itself might fall apart entirely."

"If you are correct," Yamamoto said calmly, "and Aizen has indeed retained the intellect, memories, and ambition of his former self, then this plan, whatever it may be, can be no worse than no plan at all."

"It's going to involve a lot of deception," Naruto warned, "including the Central Forty-Six and even your own students."

"I am prepared for that," Yamamoto assured him.

Naruto frowned.

"The first step of the plan," Naruto said after a moment, "is to remove myself from the eyes of the majority of the Seireitei, including its captains. Only your two apprentices — Ukitake and Kyoraku, I believe they're called — may know of my existence once we've done so."

"And how do we accomplish this?" Yamamoto asked.

"Simple," Naruto smirked. "We give them Hyôrinmaru."

Seeing Yamamoto's astonished look, Naruto continued, "I will use my current half of the Kyubi's energies to make a nearly-independent soul — we'll call him Toshiro; we'll think of a surname later — and he will have enough power to become a captain, which will keep Aizen's attention's away from me. He'll assume Toshiro is me because of Hyôrinmaru."

"I see," Yamamoto murmured. "And what shall you do in the meantime?"

"I shall search out the creature my people have called the 'Shinigami', even if I have to scour the entirety of Hueco Mundo," Naruto said, "and tear from its belly the other half of the Kyubi's power. When the time comes that Aizen starts making his moves, Toshiro and I will become one and my power shall rival even yours."

Yamamoto frowned but nodded, "Very well. What are we going to do about Shunsui and Juushiro?"

Naruto thought for a moment, then smiled devilishly.

"Let's make them think it's a deal," Naruto said. "Let's make them think that the Kyubi has tainted my soul, and that the Central Forty-Six won't let me into the Seireitei until that taint is gone. But let's really sell it, too, and leave a riddle detailing my supposed hiding place in the Archives. I will actually hide there, eventually, so it all pans out."

"But what if Aizen simply kills Toshiro?" Yamamoto asked.

"He won't," Naruto said confidently. "If any of this is actually necessary, then Aizen will be delighted at the chance to pull one over on Toshiro, who he would naturally believe to be me."

"You've given this a lot of thought," Yamamoto said neutrally.

Naruto's expression instantly soured.

"Hinata-chan is dieing," he said sullenly, fists clenched, "and Tenten-chan has been gone for nearly fifteen years. The last time we spoke, you told me she had died in Rukongai, the Seventy-ninth District, barely three years after I lost her in this world. So I want a guarantee from you."

"Anything," Yamamoto said earnestly.

"When Hinata-chan dies," Naruto's voice hitched a moment, "make sure she gets to the First District, all right? And make sure that she can regain her memories — make Bankai her trigger."

"After everything you've done for the Soul Society," Yamamoto said, "all the technologies you've donated — "

"I told you, all that stuff would have just rotted anyway," Naruto interrupted. "Konoha's finest made that stuff after the peace, but it wasn't getting used, so there wasn't any point to hanging on to it."

"Even so," Yamamoto said insistently. "This request you ask of me is one I will honor, not only because of all the good you've done, but also because you're my friend, Naruto."

Naruto laughed happily, "Thank you, Shigekuni. You've no idea what this means to me."

There was a comfortable pause.

"So," Yamamoto began, "this plan of yours…"

"I'll contact you when it's time to put it into action," Naruto said. "Until then, Shigekuni. Even if the morrow is barren of promises…"

"Nothing shall forestall my return," Yamamoto finished with a smile.

— o.0.O.O.0.o —

To be continued

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach

This is one of my favorite chapters, simply because of the confrontation involved in it. I hope all of you enjoyed this as much as I did, because this was awesome. Unfortunately, I realized that I wouldn't have anywhere near enough content to do another chapter solely on Aizen and his betraying Akatsuki, so…I combined chapters Eleven and Twelve into one. Next up, the Epilogue.

Now, as for power levels compared to shinigami; pure reiryoku is denser, stronger, and generally more powerful than Chakra (because, after death, it has to compensate for the physical energy aspect of chakra). Therefore, a Kage level ninja here would be the equivalent, by my measures, of a Fifth or Fourth Seat Shinigami, maybe Third. Most would point out, then, that Naruto would have been killed by the sheer pressure of Yamamoto's reiatsu in Chapter Six. Ah, but those who say that are forgetting: all shinigami ranked as Captain or Lieutenant have their power limited to twenty percent of their maximum while they're in the Human World.

What this means for Naruto is that, at his strongest, he will never truly be Captain level. HOWEVER, certain events involving our furry little friend sealed in Naruto's belly will ensure that Naruto is on nearly equal, if not flat out equal, ground with Yama-jii by the sequel.

And…No matter what…protect your honor…

James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes

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