Sit Upon the Frozen Heavens
By: James D. Fawkes
Chapter Five: The Promised Land
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Jiraiya frowned, looking over the face of the boy in front of him as if expecting him to suddenly grin and shout, "Got you!" in a loud voice. But Naruto's face remained serious, almost too serious for the cheerful blonde he had met during the Chûnin Exams, in fact. It was almost like looking at Minato again.
Jiraiya's frown deepened as he slowly absorbed the information he had been presented with, chewing on his tongue as he tried to make sense of it. Little by little, he reviewed what he had been told and tried to imagine it was reality, loosing quite a bit of respect for his old sensei in the process.
And yet, he understood the reason and purpose behind it as well. Surely, the massacre of an entire clan by a single man was indeed a tragedy, but to prevent a civil war that would destroy Fire Country and leave it open to its enemies, Jiraiya could understand. Still, he couldn't help but feel there had to have been another way.
Then, he berated himself for thinking Sarutobi hadn't tried to take the peaceful way of things. Sarutobi was a man of honor, a man to be respected, but above all, he was a peaceful man. He did not engage in combat unless there was no other alternative. More often than not, there was a distinct lack of alternative.
The whole thing still left an ugly and repulsive taste in his mouth, however, and he doubted he could ever accept that there was no other alternative than to wipe out the Uchiha clan. Much like his sensei, Jiraiya was a man who tried to solve things peacefully when he could. He had seen two Great Ninja Wars. Going through that, you either came out a peace-lover or a violent maniac.
Jiraiya sighed; his new apprentice was waiting for his answer. He didn't know what kind of answer he could give, as he still had his doubts about the whole ordeal, but he doubted he would come across anymore useful information, "Alright, kid, I'll see what I can do."
Naruto nodded respectfully, "Thank you, sensei."
Jiraiya shrugged; it was the least he could do for the blonde. After being absent from his godson's life for so long, leaving him to fend for himself against the hateful villagers, helping Naruto achieve his dreams and ambitions was the least he could do. So long as he managed to keep the boy from going dark, nothing else mattered quite so much.
"Ero-sennin?" Jiraiya's eyebrow twitched at the nickname, but he responded to it anyway and waited for whatever question was going to be asked.
Naruto frowned, as though he was having trouble wording his query, "What did the old man mean by 'the second advent of Uchiha Madara'?"
Jiraiya scratched his chin, digging into his memories to find the answer, "To understand what he meant, you'll have to know the story of Konoha's beginning; the story of how the village was built and how the two greatest clans in history came to live in one place."
"Konoha's beginnings?" Naruto looked him up and down. "You're not that old, are you?"
Jiraiya bopped him on the head, but started his story anyway, "More than eighty years ago, the entire world was engulfed in a never-ending state of war. Countries fought to gain power and territory, and ninja were nothing but individual clans hired by those countries."
Jiraiya exhaled, closing his eyes as he continued, "Among those clans were two feared by all as the strongest: the Senju clan and the Uchiha clan. The Uchiha had the Sharingan and an extraordinary amount of chakra. Even among the Uchiha, however, Uchiha Madara was an exceptional individual.
"Back then," Jiraiya frowned, "life was nothing but one continuous battle. He went so far as to kill his best friend and his own brother just to gain power. As leader of the Uchiha clan and its most powerful member, he used that power to fight the Senju clan time and again. Inevitably, he eventually fought the leader of the Senju clan, Senju Hashirama, the man we now know as the First Hokage."
Naruto's eyes widened as Jiraiya paused for dramatic effect, "Eventually, as Madara and Hashirama fought time after time, the Uchiha and the Senju became rivals. If one country hired the Senju, their enemies would hire the Uchiha. But then, something unexpected happened…the Senju clan asked the Uchiha clan for a truce…and the Uchiha clan agreed."
Jiraiya looked down, "According to the Uchiha clan's records, Madara was the only one to voice dissent. It was inevitable, though, that, without support, the only thing he could do was agree. Shortly thereafter, the alliance between the Senju and the Uchiha made a pact with the Fire Country Daimyo, and the first ninja village was formed."
"Wow," Naruto breathed, "but I still don't get what this has to do with the second advent thing."
"I'm not done yet," Jiraiya glared, then took a deep breath. "Things would have been peaceful, but there was a dispute over who would be Hokage. Once Hashirama gained it, though, it soon became clear that the Uchiha were losing their supremacy. Madara was the only one amongst his clan, though, that decided to oppose Hashirama. He left the village."
The Toad Sennin's eyes hardened, "Bent on revenge, Madara came back and challenged the village, the Nine-tails at his beck and call. Despite the beast's power, Madara was still defeated and, everyone assumed, dead. To ensure that another Madara never came to be, the Nidaime gave the Uchiha the position of Military Police, supposedly as a sign of trust. It was really just to distance them from the governing of the village.
"Then the Nine-tails attacked thirteen years ago, and the council immediately suspected the Uchiha, thinking a rebellion might be on its way. So, according to the information you've given me, it's safe to assume that the council planted an ANBU spy amongst the Uchiha: Itachi. Inevitably, as a result of the council's distrust, the Uchiha must have started planning something, not knowing that Itachi would report it all to the Sandaime."
"Then," Naruto started, eyes wide, "the reason Itachi killed his clan…"
"Was probably to prevent that plan from occurring," Jiraiya finished for him. "Given the 'second advent' thing, I'd have to assume that the thing the Uchiha clan was planning was nothing short of a coup d'etat."
Nodding, Naruto stood up, flashing the elder man a smile as he turned to leave, "Thanks, Ero-sennin."
Jiraiya bit his lip as the blonde left. The smile had been so fake, he had no doubt that, if he touched it, it would shatter. The boy had something to think about and decisions to make. He couldn't interfere with that. It was up to Naruto to make his own decisions, especially now that he was going to be promoted to Chûnin. One more successful high-rank mission and he was in.
With a sigh and a heavy heart, Jiraiya disappeared in a poof of smoke.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Tenten hummed happily as she barely restrained herself from skipping down the bustling street. The sun was shining brightly from a clear blue sky, birds chirping their greetings to the world and singing a song to the heavens. It was the perfect day for Tenten and it was about to get even better.
She giggled, slightly surprised she was capable of something so girly, as thoughts of a blonde haired boy came to the forefront of her mind. At first, the only attraction she had had for him was the fact that someone else besides herself had decided to take up a weapon and master it.
Swordsmen and weapons masters were in short supply in the ninja world, mostly due to the overabundance of powerful Jutsu. In fact, the only other weapon user in Konoha that she could name was Gekkô Hayate, and he had disappeared after the preliminaries. The only well-known weapon users in the Ninja world were the Kiri no Shinobigatana Nananin Shu, the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist.
But Uzumaki Naruto used a Katana with skill and finesse that she didn't think a Genin could possess and he made it look easy, too. He treated his weapon reverently, no doubt cleaning the blade whenever he had free time. It was like an extension of himself, of his soul, the way a true swordsman would feel. After all, it was said that a swordsman's soul was in his blade.
That had been her initial attraction to him. She felt a sort of kinship with the blonde boy because of his love for his sword and his dedication to perfecting his kenjutsu (yes, she had spied on one of his training sessions. Just one!). To find someone who shared her love for the beautiful steel of a well-polished blade was something she had never even dreamed of.
That was just her initial attraction to him, of course. That had provided the spark that would ignite the fire, but several other things had fed the flame since her first meeting with him in the Forest of Death. After all, she wouldn't date just any swordsman or weapons master, she would be incredibly shallow to do so.
Another thing that had drawn her to him was his loyalty to his friends and comrades. He was so loyal, in fact, that he had been willing to kill one of his own comrades when it seemed that comrade had used excessive force against one of his own. Gai-sensei had been really disappointed in Neji for involving his feelings in that battle, too.
With loyalty like that, she knew, he wouldn't even think of finding another woman once he started dating a girl. That meant that, if she started to date him, she wouldn't have to worry that some other harpy would dig her claws into the blonde. That was one of every girl's fears, that her boyfriend was being disloyal.
His selflessness also drew her to him, as selflessness was something rare to see in ninja. He had been tired, no doubt, from his match against Kiba during the preliminaries, and yet, he had used his remaining energy to heal a girl that was, in every sense of the word, a stranger. Such kindness was a big plus in her book.
He was strong too, of that there was no doubt. At first, she hadn't thought he could defeat Neji, since there was such a huge gap in their training. Neji had, after all, been training since he could walk. But he had pulled an almost easy victory in the finals. Even a Genin fresh from the Academy could have seen that the battle was under Naruto's control the entire time.
The next thing was his skills. For a Genin only months out of the Academy, he had unprecedented skill with a sword. He had to, in order to reverse his grip and such to gain an upper hand against his opponent. She knew from experience that he would have very skilled fingers, much as she did. She flushed bright red and started to breath heavily every time she imagined what those fingers could do dancing all over her bare skin.
She blushed as her thoughts started to travel into dangerous territory and her clothes suddenly felt too warm for such a hot day. She took a deep breath and imagined Gai in a speedo to calm herself down. A wave of disgust emptied into her stomach at the mental image.
She turned the corner and looked towards the ramen shop that Iruka had told her Naruto frequented, only for a block of ice to drop into her belly and her day to start clouding. Tears welled up in her eyes and, with a strangled cry that barely reached a whisper, she turned around and fled as far away as she could.
Pinned up against the wall at Ichiraku's was Uzumaki Naruto, and pinning him to the wall, with her lips pressed tightly against his, was Hyuga Hinata, the only girl that Tenten knew would be a rival for Naruto's affection. Ichiraku Teuchi was smiling. Hyuga Hinata, the shyest girl in history, was kissing Naruto.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
A kunai lay embedded in the branch of a dead tree, its loosened wrappings fluttering in the unforgiving wind. The ground was a barren wasteland, weapons strewn about the bare earth like leaves during autumn. No life could be found, no growth could be glimpsed. Only the dead could be seen, suits of armor made into caskets for the fallen. Corpses littered the ground. This was a battlefield, one that was either freshly made, or centuries old.
A small group of survivors stood against the harsh winds, a man amongst them whispering over the howling wind, "It's over…we have nowhere left to go."
He kneeled against the earth, clutching to his sword for support. Tears and rain fell down his face, "This is it…our road ends here."
A larger, heavier set man lay on the ground, heavy beads roped around his neck, "It was a fool's decision…doomed from the start…"
A third man, this one sporting a tall hat and leaning against a tree, whispered, "This is the end…we…must turn back…"
A woman stood, the only female of their group, "There is a way. Have faith. I know that we will find it…"
"But…Princess," one of her companions spoke up.
"You mustn't give up!" She said firmly.
"Ah ha ha ha!" a man dressed in feudal samurai clothes stood atop a ruined building, sneering down at them mockingly. "Princess Gale! This is as far as you go!"
"Mao!" One of the men exclaimed, surprised.
Another stood up, shouting angrily, "Don't tell us this storm is your doing!"
An empty suit of armor stood, swinging a sword at the woman. She blasted it apart with a single strike.
"You know," Naruto said to his two teammates, "for such a cliché plot, this is actually a pretty good movie."
"Hn," Sasuke said softly, "why are we watching this again?"
"Kakashi-sensei said it had something to do with our next mission," Naruto responded, pumping his fist energetically in mimicry of the movie. On screen, another suit of armor fell to pieces.
"Ahh," Sakura sighed, "she's so heroic."
"We will go…to the rainbow," the Princess said, then the screen faded into black.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Naruto sighed, scratching his head of spiky blond hair, the metal of his hitai-ate pressing lightly against his right biceps, "Kakashi-sensei is late again."
"So, what else is new?" Sasuke asked in his normal, bored tone.
Sakura stared up at the sign for the movie they'd just seen, "I wonder why Kakashi-sensei said we'd have to see the movie before our next mission. I mean, that sounds kind of strange, doesn't it?"
Naruto shared a glance with Sasuke, "You don't think…?"
Sasuke shook his head with a frown on his face, for once showing some emotion, "Nah. It couldn't be."
The sound of hooves interrupted all conversation as a horse, with Princess Gale riding it, jumped over the wooden fence they'd been waiting for Kakashi at. Landing on the dirt road, it galloped away down the street, its rider seemingly oblivious to the people she'd just surprised. Sasuke was actually looking surprised.
"No way!" Sakura whispered in awe. "Was that the Princess?"
The sound of more neighing reached their ears as the wooden gate burst open, several more horsemen flying out of it and after the princess. Startled, Sakura fell back on her rear as the horses nearly trampled her on their way following the woman. She was pulled from their path by Sasuke, who blushed, then let go of her as if he had been burned.
"After her!" one of the horsemen cried.
"Don't let her escape!" another shouted.
The words seemed to break whatever tension had silenced Sasuke and Sakura, as they nodded to one another and took off. Naruto took off after them, using Shunpô to fly past his two teammates. They had agreed that, in chase situations such as this, Naruto would rescue and guard the one being chased while Sasuke and Sakura took care of the pursuers.
Making a shadow clone, Naruto set it to following his team and the horsemen stealthily. It would inform him of any unusual developments should they occur and it carried with it a 'homing tag', something that Jiraiya had taught him to use. Just like it sounded, it resonated with a signal to let him know where it was.
Kakashi landed on the opened fence, looking around the blank lot in confusion. He blinked, "Oro?"
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Sasuke dusted his hands off, looking at his handiwork. All of the men that had been chasing the princess were now tied up securely with no immediate hope of escape. He smirked. Chasing them down and cornering them had been almost too easy. He wished they had been a bit more challenging, so that he might have had some fun with it.
Sakura yanked harder on the rope she was using to tie one of the samurai up, tightening the knot that tied his hands behind his back. She smirked, dusting her own hands off in confident satisfaction. That had been rather easy.
All it had taken was a transformation and a little deception, along with some welcome help from Sasuke, and they had captured all of the men chasing after the princess. The princess herself was probably far away by now, safe and sound from these villainous fiends trying to subdue her.
The real Naruto had probably taken the princess to some safe-house, or somewhere else equally as secure, meaning that a clone was watching her and Sasuke from some hidden place. No doubt, it was waiting to see how things progressed just in case the situation took a wrong turn for the worst.
"Oh dear," Sasuke and Sakura looked up as the voice drifted down. Kakashi stood atop the small shrine in front of them, perched on the support pole like a giant bat.
"Oh," Sakura said in recognition, "Kakashi-sensei!"
Kakashi sighed, hiding his face behind his right hand in embarrassment, "What are you guys doing?"
Sasuke shrugged nonchalantly, "Killing time."
Kakashi vanished for a second, reappearing in front of his two students. All of the ropes that had tied the men up instantly fell to the ground, sliced cleanly off their bodies. Sasuke's eyes widened almost imperceptibly, "What are you doing?"
Kakashi ignored him and helped the man with glasses up, the only man who hadn't been wearing a helmet when Sasuke and Sakura had caught him. Kakashi scratched the back of his head nervously, chuckling, "Gee. I'm really sorry about this."
Sasuke and Sakura stared at Kakashi, bewildered by his actions as the man dusted his clothes off. Sakura looked as if she wanted to ask a question, but her mouth couldn't seem to form the words. Kakashi looked once at their confused faces, then explained, "This is the gentleman who hired us for our mission today."
Sakura just stared at him and Sasuke's eyes narrowed, so he elaborated, "Our mission is to guard Fujikaze Yukie, the actress best known for her role as Princess Gale…Well, maybe not guard so much as…escort."
There was a soft pop and Sasuke looked over towards the nearest building, where a small cloud of smoke was dispersing. A soft gust later, any evidence of the smoke was gone and the one who made it had vanished into thin air. A kunai with a seal wrapped around its hilt sat stuck into the wall and Sasuke suddenly wondered how he was going to retrieve it without anyone noticing.
He sighed. Sometimes, his blonde teammate was so…troublesome.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
"We're shooting the next Princess Gale movie abroad," the assistant director, a young man by the name of Shinji, explained to the two Genin and the Jounin of Team Seven, all of whom now stood within the studio of the production. "It's the first one that we'll be shooting overseas, and I don't think I need to explain to you that our leading lady is a bit of a diva."
"Even so, that's to be expected of Leaf Ninja. You guys sure are something," the director said, taking a puff on his long pipe. "Those men were specifically hired as stunt men and bodyguards, yet you guys took them out so easily. Who would've thought? Those were some big fellows, too."
The director took another pull on his pipe, blowing out a cloud of smoke, "Where's your last member, though? I thought there was one more."
"He's with Yukie-san," Sasuke spoke quietly, arms folded across his chest.
Sakura wasn't paying attention to the talk, she was looking at the photos pinned up on the wall next to her. They were mostly pictures of Yukie, ones of her with other people, ones of her with her co-stars, and some of her getting her make up put on in preparation for her movie role. The one that caught Sakura's eyes, though, was a picture of sheer cliffs, their white walls glistening brightly.
"Oh, wow," she whispered, awed. "Those cliffs are beautiful!"
"That's the Rainbow Glacier, in the Land of Snow," Sakura spun around at the voice, looking up to see two men, one bald, and one bearded. The bald one was the one that spoke, and she recognized him easily.
"You played the role of Burikinto!" she exclaimed.
"That's where we're going to shoot the movie's climactic ending," the other man said, smiling at her.
"You're Hidero!" Sakura said excitedly. "You played Shishimaru!"
"The Land of Snow?" Sasuke interrupted. "That's a long way to go just to shoot some scene for a movie. Is there a particular reason why you're going to shoot the movie there?"
"Yukie's manager, Sandayuu, recommended it," the assistant director said, gesturing to the man wearing glasses that the two Genin had tied up. The man bowed to them at the mention of his name. "According to him, this Rainbow Glacier turns seven different colors during the Spring time. It's supposed to be amazing."
"No," Kakashi said, voice soft and glum, "that's just an old legend. The truth is, there isn't a Spring time in Yuki no Kuni."
"What?" Sasuke asked skeptically. "Not ever? It's winter all year long?"
Kakashi nodded, "Yeah, something like that."
"Kakashi-san was it?" the director asked, turning his shaded eyes on the Jounin. Light reflected off his sunglasses. "From what I have heard about you, this won't be your first time in the Land of Snow."
"That was a long time ago," Kakashi said sadly.
"They say it's a very poor nation," Sakura jumped up in her chair as another voice joined the conversation, turning around to see a rather handsome man standing behind her, his long hair framing his face. Sasuke's eye twitched. Did this guy's teeth just ping, like Lee's and Gai's?
"Y-you played Sukeakuro!" Sakura squealed with a stutter. Sasuke's lip curled as she looked at the man with adoration. "Mitchy-sama, you're so great!"
"I heard that they suffered an economic collapse because their feudal lord overindulged in Karakuri puppets," Hidero said, sharing what he knew about the story.
"Actually, the story is, their former lord had a thing for gadgets," Mitch continued. "They say he squandered all of the clan's gold on mountains of useless doodads and gizmos and stuff like that."
"Really? Well, I just hope they have central heating," Hidero said, a cup of coffee in his hand. He pretended to shiver, "I'm not all that cut out for the cold."
"Maybe you should run for the hills, too, just like Yukie," the bald man said, prodding his coworker teasingly.
"Aw, hey, come on, you guys! That's not even funny!" Shinji whined. All three actors just chuckled at his distress.
"So…does that mean…Yukie-san…I mean, she's not always like this, is she?" Sakura asked. The three men fell silent, sharing a look with one another, a frown on each of their faces.
"Kind of. Yeah," Mitchy said sadly. "Poor Yukie. She's not the kind of person to understand such things like 'dreams' or 'aspirations'."
"But she's never neglected her work," the director insisted firmly. "When the camera's rolling, she plays her part magnificently, never missing a line. She's the best actress I've ever met, and I don't mind telling you that I've met quite a few."
"Yeah," Sasuke interrupted, "but where is she now? What good does all that do when she's not here at this moment, or when you don't even know where she is? Naruto had to go find her for you."
"It's true," Shinji admitted, his tone downtrodden, like a kicked puppy, "we don't really know where she is right now. It's just that…ever since she found out we're going to the Land of Snow, she's been trying her hardest to get away from us. It's like she doesn't want to go to there."
"I can understand why she doesn't want to go," Kakashi said, hands tucked into his pockets. "It's not my place to tell you why, but Yukie has some very bad memories of the Land of Snow. If I were her, I probably wouldn't want to go either."
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Yukie looked at her reflection in the clear glass of her cup, then downed its contents in one gulp. She looked in it again, and a happy, smiling little girl looked back at her with wide, gleeful eyes and a bright smile. Herself, years ago, when the world had only been as big as the castle she lived in. The light above her head flickered and the image was replaced by her reflection once again, her eyes dull and her expression somber.
"Bartender!" she called, a slight slur to her words. "Another of the same!"
She stared once more into the shot glass, watching as her sullen appearance disappeared into an ocean of amber as the bartender poured more of her precious saké into the tiny cup. He moved away, probably to tend to another customer, and she took a small sip. This time, when she set the cup down, its contents sloshing slightly, the courageous Princess Gale stared back at her with determination in her gaze.
Gulping the rest of the cup's contents, she jerked her hand to the side, sending the cup into the wall halfway across the bar. It shattered upon contact, each of its tiny glass pieces mocking her with a determined stare or a happy smile. She held her head in her arms, trying to erase the two images from her mind, even though they seemed burned forever onto her retinas.
Vaguely, as if it were on the very edge of her senses, like a ghost, she heard someone sit down next to her. She didn't even bother to lift her head from her arms, because she didn't really care who was sitting there anyway. They would leave, eventually, just like everyone else.
"You know, Yukie-san," the person said, his voice awfully young. Yukie didn't budge even a centimeter, "you really should be getting back by now. I'm sure your friends are worried about where you are right now."
Yukie glanced at him, then turned back around, mumbling, "I'm not going to Snow Country."
"Ah," she could somehow tell that he was nodding in understanding, "problems with the past. And you don't want to face them. But, if you don't face them, then you can never truly move on, which is why you're sitting here diving into a bottle of alcohol."
She glanced at him again as she heard the quiet jingle of jewelry, slightly surprised to see the Shodai Hokage's necklace hanging in front of his collarbone, "Do you know how I got this?"
She shook her head, something she immediately wished she hadn't done, and he continued, "I won this in a bet with Tsunade-hime of the Sannin. The thing is, if I hadn't helped her face her past, she wouldn't be Hokage right now. So now I'm going to do the same for you, whether you like it or not."
Yukie laughed mirthlessly, her voice hollow, "What would you know about hardship? I bet the worst thing that has ever happened to you was a stubbed toe!"
She gasped as haunted blue eyes rose to meet hers, "I've been alone all my life, wondering if my parents abandoned me or if they were just dead. I spent twelve years wondering and six years living on my own with no one else to rely on. Every time I go shopping for food, I get nothing but cold glares as I walk down the street. I had to watch a very good friend die and bear witness to the murder of the man I called grandfather."
Those blue eye sharpened, "I think I know a thing or two about hardship."
"Yukie-sama!" a voice cried. Sandayuu rushed up to her stool, standing next to her anxiously. "Yukie-sama, the boat to Yuki no Kuni is departing soon! We must hurry!"
"No," Yukie said firmly. "I'm not going. The Sky Princess is stepping down."
"Don't say that!" Sandayuu insisted.
"It's fine," Yukie said lazily. "Between sequels, the star is often switched, just like the director, the cameraman, the—"
"Only you can play the Sky Princess, Yukie-sama!" Sandayuu said seriously.
Yukie snorted, taking another sip of her saké, "Don't be ridiculous."
A voice sighed, "It can't be helped."
"Huh?" Yukie turned around, only to catch sight of a vibrant red eye with three black tomoe swirling inside its depths. Instantly, the world around Yukie started to spin in circles around and around. Then, with drooping eyes, she fell from her chair, unconscious.
Kakashi caught her effortlessly, picking her up bridal style. Sandayuu sighed in relief. They had found her, at least. It was a start.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
"Was the hexagon crystal in her possession?" a commanding voice asked, the owner's finger drumming impatiently on his throne of a chair.
"I knew it," the light haired ninja kneeling before the man said, "I knew that the actress called Fujikaze Yukie was actually Kazahana Koyuki."
"Those ten years of vigorous searching are finally paying off," a pink haired kunoichi said.
"Heh!" a large, heavyset shinobi chuckled. "This is all too easy! It'll be even easier if she's alone defenseless!"
"However," the first, light-haired ninja said, "I believe that she is under the protection of not one, but two A-rank ninja: Copy-nin Hatake Kakashi and Ryûjin Namikaze Naruto."
"The Hatake Kakashi?" the heavyset one asked. He chuckled, turning to his light haired comrade. "Sounds like this confrontation was decided by fate!"
"The runt is the one that concerns me, not the Copy ninja," the man in charge said. "As young as he is, he was given the name Konoha no Ryûjin. And by one of the Legendary Sannin, no less. He must be very powerful. How much was the bounty on him, again?"
"I believe it was a mere five thousand ryou less than Kakashi's," the light-haired ninja commented. "It certainly sounds like Orochimaru wants this kid dead."
"Indeed," the Boss drawled. "Do you believe the rumors are true? That he can summon a dragon as tall as the sky? Or that one swing of his sword can fell a hundred foes?"
"Though they are based on facts, those rumors are probably greatly exaggerated," the pink-haired Kunoichi said. She smirked, "I've heard that he's as fast as the Yellow Flash. Like father, like son, eh?"
The heavy one chuckled, "This certainly sounds like fun. Let's collect on this punk's bounty before any of those Iwa bastards get the chance."
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
"Nnng…" Yukie covered her eyes with her forearm, trying to block out the sun streaming in the window to her left.
"Are you awake, Yukie-sama?" a familiar voice asked from her side.
"Sandayuu…get me some water. I feel dizzy," she said, rubbing her eyes. "I feel like I'm swaying…am I imagining it?"
"No," was the slightly hesitant reply from Sandayuu. "It's not your imagination."
Yukie jumped from her bed in shock and flew to the first door she could find, flinging it wide open. A wooden deck, sails, and the open sea greeted her eyes. They were on a boat, presumably the very boat Yukie hadn't wanted to travel on. As the shock slowly settled down, morphing into anger, her eyes narrowed furiously, "What the hell is this?"
Two hours later found Yukie dressed and sitting down in front of her make up specialists as they set up her eyeliner and lipstick. Nearby, the stage crew was setting up for the film, using fake pieces of lumber to give the impression of a battle on the boat.
"I don't like her," Naruto commented out of the blue. "She broods too much."
"Don't say that, Naruto-kun," Kakashi told him. "She's the subject of our mission, after all. And it is an A-rank mission."
Naruto sighed, "I know."
"This mission shouldn't be too difficult," Sasuke said, looking out at the ocean. "We are, after all, only escorting an actress."
"Don't be too sure," Kakashi warned. "There are plenty of famous people who are always being targeted by someone or other. Assume there will be enemies and don't get caught off guard."
A big light lit up, focused on the makeshift stage aboard the boat.
"Start from the test!" the director shouted into his megaphone. "Get in the act!"
"Scene twenty-three Cut six, Take one!" the assistant director said. "Action!"
Team Seven watched, mostly in amazement, as Yukie became a whole different person in front of the camera. She grasped onto the injured-looking Hidero, distress in her tone, "Hold on, Shishimaru!"
"It's useless, Princess," Hidero gasped out, his voice weak.
"What are you saying?" she asked back. "We found our courage because of you!"
"Princess," he said weakly, gasping for air, "I…wanted to see…the other side of the…rainbow with you…"
With a soft thud, his head hit the wooden floor and he stopped moving, seemingly dead.
"Shishimaru!" Yukie called out. There was a pause, then Yukie exhaled impatiently. She waved her hand, "Hang on!"
Several cries of disappointment met her words.
"Sandayuu!" Yukie ignored their anger, waving her manager over. "I need more tears."
Amidst indignant protests, Sandayuu walked over and pulled out a bottle, squeezing a few droplets of its contents into Yukie's eyes.
"Okay!" Yukie shouted as Sandayuu moved away. "Let's do it again! Quickly!"
"Scene twenty-three, Cut six—two! Action!"
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
"Director!" Shinji pointed something out to the director. "Serious problem!"
A large iceberg floated stoically in the ocean in front of the ship Team Seven, Yukie, and her entourage were on. Despite its motionless form, it seemed to be mocking them, telling them that all their hard work was for nothing.
"This happened in the morning," Shinji explained. "As you can see, the route is covered. What should we do?"
The director had an epiphany, his eyes widening slightly, "Come here!"
"The movie is ruined," Shinji sulked, discouraged.
"You idiot!" the director shouted at him, whacking him over the head with his bullhorn. "Look! This is the perfect location! If you don't film here, where are you going to film?"
Shinji was confused to say the least, "Huh?"
"The movie gods got angry," the director offered for an explanation. Everyone looked at him like he was crazy. Turning, he addressed the group, "Get ready for some climbing!"
An hour later, the entire crew had unloaded the necessary materials and was standing on the giant block of ice and snow. Yukie sat in front of a portable stove with Team Seven, warming herself in front of it as she yawned.
"We're going to Honbani! Stunt B1!"
"Scene thirty-six, Cut twenty-two! Action!"
"A ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! You came here by mistake, Sky Princess!" the old man playing Mao cackled from his hill, waving his staff about madly.
"Stay back, Princess!" Sukeakuro stepped forward, grasping the hilt of his sword. "I'll fight him!"
Mao seemed smug, "Brats or not, you're no match for me!"
He pulled his hand back, as if to launch some attack, when an explosion from the cliff behind him nearly knocked him off his feet. No longer acting, the old man turned to where it had occurred, staring at it in alarm, "What was that?"
Before anyone knew what was happening, Kakashi stood in front of Yukie, which confused the actors quite a bit.
"Hey!" Sukeakuro shouted indignantly. "What do you think you're doing!"
"Kakashi," Yukie murmured, "what—?
Kakashi paid their queries no notice, "Everyone, get back!"
As the smoke cleared, a man could be seen standing there, his ears obscured by some sort of hat. He wore a smirk and a white bodysuit, a disk glowing lightly from his shoulder, "Welcome to the Land of Snow."
Kakashi's eye widened, "You are—!"
"I welcome you, Koyuki," a pink-haired kunoichi said, standing on an outcropping. "Did you bring the Hexagon Crystal?"
Alarmed, Kakashi looked back at Yukie, "Koyuki?"
"Heh, ha, ha!" a third, much larger shinobi appeared. "As expected of the great Hatake Kakashi! We meet again!"
Kakashi nearly growled.
"Sakura-san, Sasuke-kun, Naruto-kun!" the three Genin snapped to attention at being addressed. "You guys guard Yukie! Everyone! Return to the ship!"
"Fubuki, Mizore," the light-haired ninja addressed his comrades, "let's get Princess Yukie."
In a flash, Fubuki and Mizore had left their perches while Kakashi raced towards the last of the three snow ninja. He leapt up the side of the cliff, jumping from one foothold to the next until he stood in front of the apparent leader of the three Snow ninja. He glared at his opponent, a grudge if he'd ever had one.
"It's been a long time, Kakashi," the light-haired shinobi stated nonchalantly. "This time, you won't escape from me."
"Rouda Narare," was all Kakashi said, his visible eye narrowed.
In an instant, they dashed towards each other, Kakashi blocking Rouda's knife-hand chop with his left arm. Leaning backwards, he dodged out of the way of a kick that would have sent him flying. Pushing away from one another, they landed on separate outcroppings, then catapulted off of the ground and at each other again.
They clashed a second time, pushing against one another before landing on separate sides of the narrow canyon. To the cast and crew still loading up onto the ship, it looked like a scene right out of some movie or other.
Naruto set his sights on the heavyset man, who suddenly pulled a snowboard out of nowhere and used it to move down the icy slope faster. Sasuke threw one of his Windmill Shuriken, watching in shock as it shattered on Mizore's body armor. "What?"
"Hyôton: Tsubame Fubuki!"
Sasuke leapt to the side of the rain of frozen sparrows, flashing through hand seals as he turned to the pink-haired Fubuki. He stopped on tiger, taking in a deep breath, "Katon: Goukakyuu no Jutsu!"
A great ball of fire raced forth, melting the remaining ice birds. Planting his feet firmly, Sasuke heard Sakura yell out for everyone to return to the ship. He scowled, preparing for one of the most difficult battles of his life.
"Hyôton," Fubuki kneeled, pressing her fingers to the iceberg, "Hyôroro no Jutsu!"
Sasuke jumped back as pillars of frozen mass rose up and towards him, going through more hand seals. He took a deep breath, blowing out another fireball. Fubuki smirked as a column of ice rose up, turning to steam as the fire collided with it.
Mizore jumped off of his snowboard, leaping towards Naruto with his ironclad fist pulled back for a punch. Channeling Chakra to his arm, Naruto reached up and grabbed the fist effortlessly, balling his other hand up before unleashing it into the man's side. To his shock, Mizore didn't react in the slightest to having a chakra-enhanced punch slammed into his ribs. Mizore hit him with his other fist, knocking Naruto into one of the ice pillars Fubuki had summoned.
Kakashi turned around at the sound of Naruto crashing into the pillar, going through seals as a column of swirling water rose out of the ocean, "Suiton: Suiryûdan no Jutsu!"
Mizore jumped out of the way as a dragon of water crashed into the spot he'd previously been occupying.
"Risk your life and keep shooting!" the director shouted from the bottom of the slope. "Take pride in our work!"
Naruto stood up, back to back with Kakashi, "Sensei, what's going on? What's with that armor?"
"It's Yuki no Kuni's armor, specially made and tailored for each individual ninja," Kakashi said seriously. "It's chakra armor. They use it to power up."
"You remember?" Rouda asked nonchalantly, seemingly impressed. "This armor expands my internal chakra and strengthens my techniques. It creates a wall of chakra around the body, so yours and other's chakra are weaker. This causes chakra anti-phase, so Ninjutsu and Genjutsu are useless."
"That armor doesn't make you invincible," Kakashi said coldly.
Simultaneously, both Rouda and Kakashi swept through hand seals. Naruto pulled his sword free, rearing back for a swing.
"Hyôton: Haryuu Mouko!"
"Sôten ni zase, Hyôrinmaru!"
A dragon of snow leapt from the mountains, colliding with a dragon of water that flew from the ocean. A third dragon came from the land, made of icy cold water compressed into a detailed, corporeal form. Rouda dodged to the left, clearing the path of the dragon but for the thin lock of hair that hung in front of his eyes. To his shock, after the dragon had sunk into the ocean, that lock of hair was encased in thick ice.
"I see," he said once he regained his composure, "so that's why they call you the Dragon God. And here I thought Orochimaru was exaggerating your abilities."
"What?" Kakashi and Naruto demanded simultaneously.
"My," Rouda drawled, pulling a booklet from his armor, "you didn't know? He's put quite an impressive bounty on your head."
The booklet fluttered down to the ground in front of Kakashi, opened to a page with his blond haired student's picture on it. It read: Namikaze Naruto. Rank-A threat.
"Nami…kaze," Kakashi whispered in shock.
Mizore, once more on his snowboard, slid down the mountain slope towards Yukie, who was kneeling on the ground reliving the night her uncle had revolted, killing her father in the process. Memories of the flames licked at the air in front of her. Mizore lifted his hand, taking advantage of her distraction, and ropes shot out, wrapping around Yukie. Sakura quickly cut them off with a kunai, courageously facing towards a superior enemy.
"You little bitch!" Mizore yelled angrily, raising his fist.
He didn't get any farther, as Naruto's fist collided with his face. He stood again, growling angrily, "You little brat!"
He punched, first with his ironclad hand, then with his normal hand. Naruto grabbed them both and immediately started an inverted game of tug-o-war, pushing against the behemoth in front of him. Mizore scowled as he looked into Naruto vibrant blue eyes.
Fubuki smirked as one of her ice pillars finally caught up to Sasuke, engulfing him in the frozen mass. Her smirk disappeared, however, when Sasuke was replaced with a backpack with an explosive note on it. The explosion shattered the ice pillar, making her unprepared for the wires that shot forth and tied her to another pillar. As fire rushed along the wires, a set of wings opened up from the metal disk on her back, setting her free. She took to the air at the last second.
"What are you doing?" Naruto turned his head slightly, glaring at Yukie as she trembled. "Hurry up and go!"
"No…" she whispered shakily, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Princess, let's hurry and return!" Sandayuu insisted. "Hurry up if you value your life! You will die for sure if you stay!"
"No!" Yukie shouted, clutching her head. "I won't leave Snow Country!"
Naruto glared, "You're being very self—!"
He was cut off as Mizore took advantage of his distraction and tossed him to the side. Naruto collided with the ground and disappeared with a pop and a small cloud of smoke. Free of the encumbering boy, Mizore aimed his arm and his iron hand shot forth, connected to him by a wire. Sakura dove in front of it and he scowled, jerking his arm and sending her into the snow. She was unconscious.
Yukie chose that moment to collapse.
"Princess!" Sandayuu cried.
Kakashi turned to help but Rouda wouldn't allow it. He yelled, "Your fight is with me! Hyôton: Itsukaku Hakuegei!" (Section Beluga)
A creature resembling a whale rose from the ice, blocking Kakashi's path. He stopped, silent for a few seconds. Then, he said, "I see. That's a powerful Jutsu."
He pulled up his hitai-ate, revealing the Sharingan, "Then I will fight you. Naruto! Get everyone to safety."
"No!" Naruto shouted, eyes shining with anger and determination. A white, visible aura lit up around his form and the temperature in the air seemed to take a nose-dive. "I will handle this guy."
His tone brooked no argument, "Kakashi-sensei, get everyone onto the boat."
Hesitating only slightly, Kakashi leapt away to help everyone escape. Rouda laughed loudly, a smirk on his lips, "You? Handle me? Go back to your little sandbox, brat."
Naruto turned his frigid glare onto Rouda, "I can see that you're not going to back down. You leave me no other alternative."
"What's this?" Rouda teased cockily. "Trying to act tough, eh?"
Naruto's next word sent chills down the Snow ninja's spine, "Bankai."
Wings of ice spread outward, maneuvering with amazing ease considering their composition. They were attached to the Konoha Genin's back, covering his shoulders with a protective layer. Beneath the wings was a large tail of ice that flicked back and forth, as if it belonged on the boy. A thick layer of jagged ice covered the blonde's right arm, encasing his fist and the hilt of his sword in a dragon's head. His feet were covered in ice as well, forming what appeared to be a dragon's paws. His left arm, from elbow to wrist, was also covered in ice, a claw like paw attached to the wrist.
The hilt guard on the sword appeared to be the only thing that had changed about the katana, morphing into an eight-point star. Four ice flowers, each with four petals, hovered around the blonde's form. Naruto's eyes were frigid blue, "Daiguren Hyôrinmaru." (Great Crimson Lotus Ice Ring)
Naruto lifted his sword slowly, his voice calm and unwavering, "Normally, I would have to conjure up my own ice for this purpose, using up a fair chunk of energy in the process. But…"
Pillars of ice rose up around Rouda, the space between them just wide enough to allow escape should he try to squeeze his way out. Naruto continued, "You chose to fight an ice user, one with far deadlier techniques than yours, on an area where he had the advantage. You actually provided me with the material I needed for this technique. Foolish."
He twisted his sword sideways, until the flat of the blade was parallel to the ground. The pillars rushed in, trapping Rouda in a prison of ice, "Sennen Hyôrô." (Thousand Year Ice Prison)
Naruto looked up, watching as Rouda fled using a set of mechanical wings. Fubuki and Mizore followed his lead, disappearing into the sky. As soon as they vanished, he looked back down at the iceberg beneath his floating feet, "Time to take care of this problem."
He swung down into the glacier, watching as a thin ripple waved across it in either direction. Invisible from the surface, a thin sheet of ice split the glacier in half, causing it to collapse in different directions. As the boat sailed away, the iceberg split into pieces, falling into the sea.
Naruto hovered a few feet from the boat's edge, watching as the giant berg sank into the water. He was just barely within the camera's scope, his wings hiding his face.
"Cut!" the director yelled.
"Sandayuu-san…you knew it, didn't you?" Kakashi asked.
"Yes…" was the quiet reply.
"You know what would happen if the princess returns to Snow Country."
"It was my only way to bring the princess back here. I couldn't do anything else."
"So Yukie is a real princess?" Naruto asked the question he knew his teammates wanted to but wouldn't.
"Yes," Kakashi answered, "Fujikaze Yukie is using a fake name. Her real name is Kazahana Koyuki, the heiress to the Snow Country throne."
"She might not remember, now," Sandayuu said, "but when she was young, I was by her side. I served her father, Kazahana Sousetsu. The Kingdom was small but peaceful. Sousetsu-sama loved the princess very much.
"Everyday, he spent time with her. However, ten years ago, Dotou, Sousetsu-sama's little brother, hired ninja and revolted. He took over the kingdom. When I found her, she was already an actress."
"It would have been better if I had died that day," Yukie said, standing in the door.
"Please don't say such things," Sandayuu said. "You're alive, and that brings us great hope."
"I haven't cried since that day," she said coldly. "My body may be alive, but my heart died a long time ago."
"Princess Yukie!" Sandayuu bowed, kneeling on the floor. "You must overthrow Dotou and become the new queen!"
"I don't want to."
"But the people of Snow Country!" Sandayuu protested.
"It's none of my business," Yukie insisted coldly. "You should know when to give up! No matter what you do, you can never beat Dotou!"
"If you truly believe that, then you never will," Naruto told her, his voice icy. "If you have nothing to die for, then you're not truly alive. To accomplish anything, you must have courage and you must persevere. Giving up is never an option. To be able to live life as you wish, you must be willing to die for a cause. Otherwise, death is a kinder fate."
"People dream because they never give up. You can see your future when you find your dream," the director said airily. "Not too bad. That's the perfect theme for the final chapter of the Sky Princess."
"Y-you want to," Shinji, the assistant director, stuttered, "continue the movie?"
"Didn't I mention it?" the director, Enishi, asked. "We're going to make this into a movie! Imagine it! A real princess acting in it! This is a once in a lifetime chance!"
"Really!" Shinji grinned. "Then the topic would be a big one!"
"Without any fuss, people will accept it," the director said, nodding.
"Wait!" Yukie started to protest.
"You've no other choice, now," Kakashi told her. "Dotou knows that you're alive, so you've no place to hide."
"Stop talking such nonsense!" Yukie shouted. "Reality and movies are different things! There's not a happy ending in reality!"
"You can overcome that!" Enishi insisted firmly.
"We should probably go home for some back up, but…" Kakashi commented.
"We've got two Sharingan users, two swordsmen, and two A-ranked ninja. The members of Team Seven should be enough for this mission," Sasuke said.
"Then it's decided. We'll continue," Enishi said.
"Let's make a happy ending!" Shinji shouted excitedly.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Naruto stared into the cavern, the harsh wind whipping around his skin and through his hair. To most, the cold air and even colder temperatures would be a reason to wear a heavy coat and snow boots, but Naruto needed neither. He was an ice-elemental. To him, this cold wind was like a summer breeze.
"All our crew gathered at the other side of this cave," Sandayuu said. "Once we're finished with our work here, we'll join them."
"Tell me, Sandayuu-san," Naruto said quietly, never turning from the cave, "do you truly think…?"
"Yes," Sandayuu replied firmly. "I will believe in Yukie-sama, even if she doesn't believe in herself."
Less than an hour later, the entire group was inside one of the vehicles, which was carrying them through the cavern. Naruto was sipping some tea, a habit that he'd picked up after a month of eating lunch with Hinata. It was quite a soothing habit, he had to admit, but he doubted anyone could imagine him as a tea-drinker.
"This place used to have a railway," Sandayuu commented. "It extended all the way into Tsurara…but the tracks are frozen beneath the ice."
"Railway?" Naruto asked curiously.
"Yes," Sandayuu nodded. "It allowed us to travel by train all over the Land of Snow. We could leave one end of the country in the morning and arrive at the other end by nightfall."
"Kakashi-sensei, why don't we have a railway and train for Konoha?" Naruto asked.
"Because we don't need it," Kakashi answered simply. "Most of the people who leave the village are ninja fast enough to outrun a train, so the railway and tracks would be pointless. Besides, it would cost too much to hack away a path through the trees."
"Oh," Naruto said lamely.
They stopped outside near a cliff, everyone unloading their materials. The director stepped out of his trailer, shouting, "All right! Let's begin!"
"Director! Big problem!" Shinji cried, panic in his voice. "It's Yukie! She's run away again!"
With a sigh, Team Seven leapt off of the cliff in order to search for her. The snow crunched quietly beneath their feet as Kakashi gave his orders, "Everyone split up to find her. When you do find her, contact the rest of us via radio. Go!"
"Roger!" the three Genin called out in unison.
Naruto stopped on a rock as his teammates continued forward, then made an hand seal. Twenty Kage Bunshin appeared in a poof of smoke, each one saluting him. He sighed, "Split up and search the area. When you find her, activate the homing beacon on your kunai and pursue. Do not take action."
"Hai!" chorused the group. In a blur, all of them took off in separate directions. The real Naruto squared his expression, then leapt into the forest.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Naruto landed in the tree branch next to his clone, nodding to it with approval. With a hand seal, all of the clones dispelled themselves and their knowledge flooded his brain. He grimaced, the only sign that the clones' memories had caused him any sort of discomfort. He was still getting used to the sensation of accumulated knowledge.
Naruto landed on the snow with barely a sound, walking slowly towards Yukie's prone form. He kneeled next to her, whispering quietly into her ear, "This is the last time you get to run away. Everyone is waiting for you."
Picking her up, he hoisted her onto his back, her arms hanging limply over his shoulders as he carried her back to the others and the movie caravan. After a few minutes of walking, the came upon the cavern they had traveled through before and he continued ceaselessly, trudging through it dutifully. Finally, after being silent for the entire journey, she spoke, "Why is it that you always find me?"
"Because it's my mission," he said firmly. "It doesn't matter to me if you hate it or hate me for it. Or even run away. I know how you feel, so I'll do my best to make sure you don't have to feel this way."
"Fine," she said after a pause. "Let's go back. All I can do is act for the camera. I can't do anything else."
Naruto sighed, "You know, you remind me of this little boy I met a while back. He cried all the time as soon as he thought no one was watching and he scorned everyone who tried to free his country from an evil man, telling them it was hopeless and that they would just die. He even yelled at me, calling me stupid for thinking I could defeat Gatou.
"Well, one day, when he was about to lose his most precious person, he decided to go against his own words and fought Gatou, if indirectly. He was willing to give up his life, and he would have, if not for some timely intervening on my part. After that, he smiled up at me, and thanked me for everything I'd done."
"So?" Yukie mumbled. "How does this apply to me?"
"Because, Yukie-san," Naruto said firmly, "you're just like Inari was before he met me."
There was a sudden sound and Naruto stopped, stiffening in preparation. A light lit up the cavern, and a rumbling sound met his ears. Cursing at how inopportune it was, he turned and disappeared in a flash, Yukie screaming as she clung to his neck. Still, the train was fast and ever on their tails, slowly getting nearer.
A whistle sounded as the roaring locomotive steadily caught up with the blonde boy, breathing down his neck with steam and smoke. Naruto's legs burned as he struggled to keep ahead of the beastly machine, using Shunpô every couple of seconds to gain a lead away from the thing. Still, it came, drawing ever nearer despite his efforts.
As the train got closer, its whistle blowing almost right into the blonde's ears, Naruto leapt through the tunnel opening and to the side, crashing into the snow bank. Dislodged from Naruto, Yukie fell face first into the snow. The train thundered on past, several meters from their location. It screeched to a halt with little effort, standing ominously in front of the tall hill that would be the only means of escape.
"It's been a long time, Koyuki," Yukie looked up to the man who had spoken. He stood on top of the train, which had stopped not long after it had exited the cave, its entire body snaked over the wood and steel tracks.
"Kazahana Dotou," Yukie said breathlessly.
"It's been twelve years," Dotou said oily. "Come closer. Let me get a better look at your face."
Naruto glared at the man, standing in between him and Yukie. He reached up, grasping his sword tightly as a white aura lit up around his figure.
"Eh?" Dotou arched an eyebrow.
There was a large rumbling, and everyone turned their eyes towards the cliff, where several logs clambered down the slope and crashed into the train. The metal behemoth threatened to tilt on its side, wobbling dangerous, before it settled down again. Sandayuu and several other men dressed in armor stood at the top of the hill, assembled as an army.
"Everyone! Come and see our Princess Koyuki!" Sandayuu cried to his comrades. "If we fight alongside her, we can win this war!"
Cheers of valor rose to greet his proclamation, roaring into the bleak sky.
Sandayuu drew his katana, "Kazahana Dotou! You know how long we have awaited this day! Today we will end all the hatred which has acclimated over the ages and we will avenge our late king, Kazahana Sousetsu-sama!"
Naruto glanced to the right and saw the director and his camera crew filming under the cover of a tarp.
"So," Dotou drawled, "the likes of you are still alive."
"Sorry," Rouda apologized, "we'll take care of them."
"No," Dotou said, a dark grin on his face, "let's give them a taste of…'helplessness'."
Sandayuu and his men charged forward as Dotou pressed a button, prompting several compartments to open up on the train's side. The men slowed their descent only slightly, then started screaming as hundreds of kunai launched from the train without any specific target.
"No!" Naruto cried, watching as countless warriors fell to the ground, dead or dying. A windmill Shuriken protected the gray-haired man who was the catalyst for it all, blocking the kunai from getting an 'instant kill'. Sandayuu, the only one left standing and injured beyond help, collapsed backwards as Sasuke leapt onto the scene.
Pulling out a kunai, he threw it at one of the barrels controlling the guns, an explosive tag dangling from its end. It exploded, destroying that particular turret. In that instance, the entirety of the guns stopped firing.
From up on the cliff, Sakura tossed a wad of explosive notes, which then exploded and caused an avalanche to form. It thundered down the mountain, then rolled over and buried a portion of the train. The intact part of the train detached from its hindquarters and sped on down the tracks for a tactical retreat.
Sasuke made to follow, but Kakashi jumped down and stopped him, "Wait, Sasuke. Don't go after them."
"Princess," Sandayuu called weakly. Yukie kneeled beside him. "Sincerely sorry…to get you…tangled up in this…We gathered…because of the princess…and we never gave up…"
"Sandayuu," Yukie protested, "don't—"
Sandayuu interrupted her, grasping her leg firmly, "Please believe in yourself…as we believed…in our princess…I fought and died for this belief…so please…don't cry…"
With a final sigh, he went limp.
"You're an idiot, Sandayuu," Yukie told him. "You have my eye drops."
Standing, she turned and started walking with only three words, "Let's go back."
"Where are you going?" Naruto asked her heatedly. "This is your home! You want to go back? Then fight for the home that was taken from you!"
"You don't know anything," she replied icily. "There's no spring in Snow Country. It's a place that freezes your tears, even your heart."
She turned and continued walking. Naruto charged up to her, grabbing her by the wrist, "Wait."
She pulled her arm from his grasp, "Get away!"
There was a sudden swooshing sound as a blimp-like object dove into view, Mizore standing in the open doorway. He aimed, and his hand shot forth, grabbing Yukie and pulling her towards him. As soon as she was safely aboard, a rain of kunai with little blue balls attached came down on Sasuke and Kakashi, who had rushed forwards to try and save Yukie. The moment one of the kunai hit the ground, they caused spikes of ice to pop up, spearing whatever was in their way.
Sasuke landed on top of one to the spikes, on its flat side, a safe distance from any of its pointy spines. "Sakura!" he yelled. "Where's Naruto?"
"I don't see him, Sasuke-kun!" Sakura called back. To herself, she muttered, "That idiot; he couldn't have!"
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
"Koyuki, you have become beautiful," Dotou said to her, where she sat on the couch. "Do you have the Hexagon Crystal with you?"
"Yeah," she said quietly.
"Good, it is the only thing that connects us as one family," Dotou said, all pretense abandoned. "This is also the key for the treasure."
"The key for the treasure?" Yukie asked, doubtful.
"When I took over the country, the Kazahana family left me with nothing!" Dotou explained. "Sousetsu must have hidden his treasure somewhere else. My search took a long time, but I finally found it! It's hidden in the Rainbow Glacier. We saw a hole for a hexagon shaped crystal. If we got our hands on the Kazahana family treasure, then we'd have an army stronger than the five ninja nations!"
Yukie had trouble believing him, but went along with it simply to appease him. She didn't know what he'd do if she voiced her disbelief.
"Now," he turned to her, since he'd been pacing around in his rant, "give me the crystal!"
Reaching up behind her neck, she pulled the crystal off and handed in to him. As he took it though, his smirk quickly turned into a frown. "This is…"
He grabbed Yukie by her coat, lifting her off the floor, "Do you take me for a fool? This is fake!"
A memory flitted through Yukie's mind, the dimness of it suddenly clear as she realized what had happened. Eyes wide, she whispered, "Hatake…Kakashi…"
"What?" Dotou asked, teeth gritting together angrily.
"Ah, now I understand," Rouda said. "He's the kind of guy to do something like that. We'll bring Kakashi here immediately."
"There's no need to do that, they'll come to us soon," Dotou commented slyly, thrusting Yukie onto the couch. "We just have to wait."
Hours later found Yukie locked in a prison cell with no hope of escape. She just sat on the floor, staring at the bars impassively. No emotion flitted across her face; not fear, anger, sorrow, guilt, or even boredom. She was numb, uncaring of the events happening around her.
There was a light clambering and a metal grate fell off an air vent, a person dropping down from the ceiling within the dark room. Bright blue eyes turned to her and she recognized the person as Naruto. He walked up to her cell, stroking the bars gently. He flicked one lightly, listening as it hummed metallically, then smirked.
"Stay still," he commanded, pulling his sword from its sheath. He walked over to the edge of the door, slashing downwards over the hinges. She almost arched an eyebrow when nothing happened, but her eyes widened as he pulled on the door's bars and it came right out of place, leaving a hole in her jail cell.
As Naruto motioned for her to follow him, there was a loud explosion that rocked the building. There was a shout from two men down the hall, who had undoubtedly come to check on her. A swoosh met her ears, like that of a curtain fluttering in the wind, and, before she knew what was happening, Naruto had already knocked them unconscious without seeming to have moved an inch from where he stood.
Grabbing her by the hand, he pulled her towards the exit, twisting around corners and rushing over bridges. She tried to memorize the turns they made: left, right, right, left, left, right, right, left, right, right, left, left, right. As they crossed over one bridge, however, a snow ninja appeared, standing between them and their path to safety. Naruto took a step forward, fingering his sword's hilt.
"Wait, Naruto!" the ninja waved his hands, reaching up to pull off his disguise. Kakashi looked back at him, "it's me."
Naruto let out a sigh of relief, "Kakashi-sensei."
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Kakashi said. "The princess seems alright."
Yukie glared, "Did you exchange the fake Hexagon Crystal?"
"I'm sorry," Kakashi handed her the real thing, "but it seemed like a good idea."
"All of this for nothing," she muttered.
Footsteps echoed and two people appeared where Naruto had come from, each wearing a tan cloak. Sakura yelled, "Don't come this way! Their security is tight!"
Yukie leading the way, the entire group headed down the path, making for the apparent exit. They followed Yukie into a large room, much like a throne room, with a large chair situated atop a platform. A man stood off of his seat.
"Dotou!" Kakashi yelled.
"Good work, Koyuki," Dotou said proudly.
Breaking into a run, Yukie fled up the stairs, Fubuki, Mizore, and Rouda blocking the ninja from following her. Handing the Hexagon Crystal to Dotou, she turned to Team Seven, "It seems you were mistaken. After all…I am an actress."
"You see," Dotou preened victoriously, "you should never have opposed me! I hold all the cards. And Yukie…she fooled you so easily! It was an act the whole time!"
"Yes…" Yukie muttered hollowly, "it's an act."
Pulling a short sword from seemingly nowhere, she turned around and stabbed Dotou with all her might.
"What?" Dotou gasped, staring at his niece with horrified shock.
"Damn!" he reached out, grabbing her by the throat and lifting her off her feet.
"I knew it all along, Naruto," Yukie told him, glaring at Dotou. "I knew that I would die the moment I came back to the Land of Snow."
She looked back at him sadly, "It's a good thing you're here, Naruto. See? I didn't run away…even until the very end."
"Don't be ridiculous!" Naruto shouted. "You are running away! There's still so much left you have to do!"
"Damn you!" Dotou growled, squeezing her neck harder. "Die!"
"If I'm going to die," Yukie forced out, glaring at Dotou "then I'm…at least…going to…"
She twisted the knife. With a wince, Dotou stumbled backwards, still holding onto his niece, dangerously close to the edge of the platform. With a final gasp, they fell off of the pillar that held the throne and onto the floor.
Out of nowhere, Naruto rushed over to the fallen bodies, reaching for Yukie. Before he could so much as shake her, however, Dotou's fist came up and smashed into his face, knocking him back towards his team with a thud. Naruto stood, glaring at the large man with cold blue eyes as he rubbed his sore cheek.
"This toy knife can't kill me!" Dotou laughed, shedding his cloak. There was a familiar body suit beneath it, the panel in the center glowing ominously. "That's right! This is the newest chakra armor!"
He picked Yukie up, tucking her under one arm, "Come on. Let's go, Koyuki, to the other side of the rainbow!"
Mechanical wings spreading from the back of his armor, Dotou took off through the broken ceiling. As the building started to collapse, the snow ninja spread their own wings and took off after him. Cursing, Team Seven left for the exit as a white aura leapt to life around Naruto.
Once more, ice spread over Naruto's body to form wings, claws, flowers, a gauntlet, and a tail. The metal ground beneath his feet became brittle after such a change in temperature, falling away even as he stood there.
Spreading his icy wings, Naruto took off into the sky after his enemy, following the arrogant Dotou through the clouds. He wouldn't let Yukie down.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Sasuke stopped suddenly, watching as Sakura raced on ahead. He glanced behind him, where he could sense the chakra of the enemy kunoichi that was following him. He schooled his face into the blank look he was so famous for as she came closer, his hand twitching in anxious anticipation.
"You know," he said quietly, "you've already seen Naruto's abilities. How about I show you mine?"
"Heh," she scoffed as he reached for his sword, "whatever, brat, it still won't save you."
Sasuke's blade slowly slid from its sheath, the metal grating against the wood with a sharp ring. Sasuke turned around steadily, gripping his blade loosely in his right hand. His eyes flashed red as he spoke the words, "Banshou Issai Kaijin to Nase, Ryûjin Jakka." (Burn all the world to ashes, Flowing Flame Blade)
Fubuki's eyes slowly widened as flames leapt to life around Sasuke's sword, dripping onto the ground and forming a wall that prevented any escape on foot. She was trapped in his technique with no way out but victory. In order to live and leave, she had to beat down this little punk standing in front of her.
A slow smirk spread across her lips, baring her pearly teeth to the night air. Who was she kidding? This little brat didn't stand a chance. Her armor negated his chakra, so his technique here was pointless and useless against her. She had absolutely nothing to worry about.
In a flash of fire, Sasuke had leapt forward at her. Unprepared, she couldn't block his attack in time to minimize the damage. A shriek of pain and agony left her mouth as her left hand fell to the ground, the skin around the wound cauterized shut by his sword. She stared at the stump on her left arm, then looked back at the boy standing there stoically. Fear flooded her veins.
"Come," Sasuke said coldly, holding his blade out in front of him.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
Dotou dropped Yukie on her butt, walking over to the altar in the middle of the snow. Grinning greedily, he put the Hexagon Crystal in the opening in the altar, watching as it sunk and the altar glowed. The glow extended along the ground and to the glaciers surrounding them, lighting them up beautifully.
"Where is the treasure?" Dotou asked eagerly, ignoring the beautiful radiance of the glaciers. "Where is the treasure?"
Steam rose around him as the ice and snow began to melt, revealing patches of green grass.
"Warm," Yukie commented. "This is…"
"Where is this heat coming from?" Dotou asked angrily, brow knit in frustration. "Isn't this where the Kazahana family treasure is?"
"Princess!" a familiar voice called.
Dotou and Yukie looked towards the voice, the former of whom brought his arms up to protect his face. A sword crashed into his forearms, pushing against the armor that protected them. Wings of ice beat harshly as the armor resisted the icy touch of Naruto's powerful blade. It seemed that Dotou's armor was indeed the most advanced version.
With a mighty heave, Dotou managed to push the blond back, where he hovered a few feet off the ground, a mighty glare on his face. Dotou growled angrily, screwing his face up with the deepest scowl he could muster. This boy had ruined all of his plans, all of his carefully laid schemes. They all went up in smoke because of this one boy.
"Damn!" Dotou swore furiously, going through hand seals. "Hyôton: Kokuryuu Houfuusetsu!" (Black Dragon Blizzard)
Dotou punched the air, sending a black dragon towards the blonde. Naruto himself scowled as the dragon came closer, standing still as it roared towards him with its ethereal fangs bared in fury. There was a crash and a cloud of dust and smoke rose up around the blonde, obscuring his form from view.
"Naruto!" Yukie cried out sorrowfully. Dotou smirked victoriously, but it dropped the instant the smoke was blown away, revealing an orb of ice that quickly separated. Naruto, it was revealed, had used his wings to form a shield around his body, protecting him from the attack that Dotou had thrown his way.
"Such a weak attack," Naruto said coldly, his eyes frigid. "Such weak intent. No…it's not just the attack or the intent. You…You are weak."
Naruto raised his sword, "And because you are weak, your dragon is weak. In the end, it shall be your greed and your weakness that kills you."
The blade bit into the ground and, with a fierce rumble that shook Yukie to her core, three ice pillars rose on Dotou, one encasing his legs from the hip down, and one encasing the wrist and hand of each arm. They held him still and kept him from moving, leaving his chest as the most vulnerable part of his body. Were there are cross behind him, he would have looked like he was being crucified.
Naruto suddenly leapt into the air, soaring higher and higher into the sky until he was not but a dark speck in front of the clouds. A dragon came screaming down, its head the size of Dotou's body and its long, icy hide trailing behind as it let loose a titanic roar. At speeds that would have decimated tempered steel, it collided, nose first, with the disk on Dotou's chest that powered his armor.
Slowly, the dragon's face and body evaporated into the air, revealing Naruto with his sword stabbed into the disk on Dotou's chest, his wings folded for aerodynamic efficiency and his tail whipping behind him, his eyes cold as ice slowly crept across the disk powering Dotou's armor. The disk cracked as Naruto spoke his words, "Hokkyoku ni Gesshoku." (Lunar Eclipse in the Arctic)
He jerked his sword back and held his left hand forward, gathering chakra in the palm of his hand. An orb formed, floating sever centimeters above his fingers as it spun to an inaudible command, whipping the wind near itself around and around in circles. Naruto turned icy blue eyes onto Dotou, rearing his hand back for a strike.
"I believe in you, Naruto!" Yukie called out over the distance, even as the sun rose an the swirling chakra glowed to match the rainbow colors of the glacier. "The Sky Princess acknowledges you as the strongest ninja!"
"This is the end. Your future is death," Naruto said quietly, jerking his hand forward and driving his deadly attack straight into Dotou's unprotected and vulnerable chest. "Rasengan!"
Dotou's mouth snapped open in a silent scream as the spiraling chakra sank into his body, the ice holding him in place breaking and shattering as the force from the attack sent him flying. He jerked backwards as his body picked up height and speed, soaring over the melting ice and snow and colliding solidly with one of the glowing glaciers. Spider-web cracks spread through the ice upon impact, reaching out from the body that had caused so much damage.
Dotou was dead.
As the ice and snow melted, so did Naruto's foreign appendages evaporate into the warming air. With a soft smile, he reached up and sheathed his sword, the newly revealed grass bending beneath his superior weight. With a gentle gait, he stepped forward and walked towards the princess sitting with a dumbstruck look on her face.
He offered her a hand and a smile, "Well…I told you, didn't I?"
Naruto leaned back against the fence, his fingers laced together behind his head as he watched the proceedings. Sasuke, Sakura, and Kakashi, the rest of Team Seven, stood beside him, their eyes also watching the parade as the Land of Snow, renamed as the Land of Spring, celebrated the ascension to power of their princess.
Dressed in ceremonial garb, with a large, pink, bamboo shade perched atop her head, Yukie sat on her throne as the denizens of her country partied as if it were the last day of their lives. Around the sprawling capital city, posters hung depicting the visages of Team Seven and Yukie. No face was bereft of a happy smile.
Children ran through the streets, throwing paper shuriken at one another as they fought mock battles against each other. Some wore black vests and pants with gloves on their hands and wooden swords tied to their backs, others wore the high-collared blue shirts of the Uchiha clan, while some even wore a bandana around their foreheads, with one side tilted down over their left eye.
Men drank of their beloved sake, pouring the delicious rice wine over each other's heads in jest, laughing or singing slurred words and verses in their drunken stupor. Wives tugged sharply at their husbands' ears, pulling their respective men away from the intoxicating beverage that held so much sway on the male mind.
"So, winter is gone for good?" Naruto asked, fingers laced behind his spiky mane of blonde hair.
"Yes," Yukie nodded, "the Land of Snow really is the Land of Spring, now."
"That's too bad, don't you think?" Sakura asked. "Now your acting talent will go to waste."
"Who said I was going to stop acting?" Yukie smiled. In her hands was a script with an orange cover, the words 'Icha Icha Paradaisu' emblazoned in bold lettering. "I can be Snow Country's Queen and an actress! It would be stupid to give up one for the other, wouldn't it?"
"Th-that script!" Kakashi stuttered as Yukie walked away. She was attacked by kids down the street, each one begging for an autograph she was happy to give. "That script! Sh-she's perfect!"
Sasuke and Sakura sighed, each grabbing one of Kakashi's arms and pulling him away, "Come on, Kakashi-sensei."
Shaking his head, Naruto made follow them when a hand stopped him short. Wary of who the hand belonged to, Naruto turned his head around to look into the black eyes that fit to a familiar face. The owner's nose and lips were hidden behind the high collar of an ankle-length, tattered red mantle that seemed to have seen years worth of travel.
Dark brown hair (no doubt the result of a brown-on-black dye job) framed the figure's face in a way that Naruto knew intimately, a conical bamboo shade covering his head. Thin, premature age lines descended diagonally from the figure's eyes, slowly fading into the young flesh of his cheeks. A dirty, crimson bandana hid his forehead from view, pushing down slightly on his eyebrows.
The eyes curved upwards in a slight mimicry of Kakashi's famous 'eye smile' and Naruto knew that the man's lips were curling in a way that they hadn't for nearly six years. Before he could say a word, Itachi's smooth voice whispered to him, "Would you mind leading this hopelessly lost wanderer home, Naruto-kun?"
As Naruto nodded dumbly, Itachi pushed something metallic into his open palm, then closed it so that the contents wouldn't fall. As the disguised Uchiha slowly left to follow the rest of Team Seven, Naruto unfurled his fingers and gasped as he saw exactly what it was that Itachi had given to him. They would prove his loyalty to Konoha without a doubt.
Resting idly against the flesh of his palm were the Akatsuki rings of Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame.
— o.0.O.O.0.o —
To be continued
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or Bleach
Believe it or not, the most important part of this chapter was the very end. BTW, if you need to imagine what Itachi's mantle looks like, imagine the one that Vincent Valentine wears in Advent Children. Incidentally, 'The Promised Land' is also a song on the Advent Children Soundtrack.
By the way, for all you Inuyasha fans, I've done some research into the Kanji on Sô′unga's sheath. So far, I've come up with this:
叢雲牙 — Grass Cloud Fang
霜雲牙 — Frost/Frozen Cloud Fang
薮雲牙 — Bush Cloud Fang
Though the first kanji, "Sô" is difficult to read, it seems to be "Grass". Especially if Kagome's grandfather misread the inscription. So, as far as I can tell, Sô′unga means "Grass Cloud Fang".
Ille Iterum Veniet… (The Second Advent)
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes
James Daniel Godric Alan Fawkes(Signature best viewed in Wendy Medium font style)