The crimson radiance that illuminated the landscape might have been caused by the setting sun, had it not disappeared over the horizon three long hours ago. No, this light was far more sinister in nature.
The air was heavy with the foul stench of scorched flesh and blood.
The ground was covered in scorch marks, fissures, overturned earth and an ever-growing layer of red.
An inhuman roar seemed to tear at the very fabric of reality itself.
Standing tall over the carnage was the figure of a colossal red beast; a fox with nine tails thrashing around as if of their own accord. Its blood red eyes watched the tiny creatures before it running around like insects.
Anyone looking around the battlefield – though it was more a slaughtering ground – could see that the fabled 'Will of Fire' was about to be extinguished.
The mortals that stood before Kyuubi looked upon its fiery majesty and knew despair.
The streets were dark, the windows of all the buildings blacked out or the lights within simply switched off.
The only sound was of far-off fighting and a distant rumbling.
A silhouette leapt from building to building, a dark blur on the starry skyline.
On closer inspection, given enough time for ones eyes to adjust, the blur became identifiable as a woman.
Long red hair swung in a thick plait, falling to the waist. If the hair had been loose, it might well have fallen down to the woman's knees. Dark emerald-green eyes looked into the night, situated above a delicate nose and a modestly sized mouth. Her skin, which was already pale, looked almost pure white under the faint moonlight. With no one beside her, it would have been easy to overlook her height of nearly six foot. Wearing black combat boots and trousers, a blue vest and green Jounin jacket, she could be little else but a fighter. A kunoichi to be more accurate.
The redhead ran with a single-minded determination.
In a small, standard hospital room, a young nurse gently rocked a crying infant wrapped within the blanket in her arms.
She was a simple but kind looking woman, of average height and looks with soft brown hair. Her dark eyes looked at the child with worry. "Hush little one. It's okay." She had no idea if she was being truthful, but she didn't know what else to say or do to sooth the unhappy newborn.
The door to the hospital room opened and in walked a figure the nurse had been expecting. A genial looking old man wearing smart but simple light-brown robes. A smoking pipe gave out the soft scent of cherry wood. "Sarutobi-sama!" The young nurse couldn't hide the relief and slight desperation in her voice.
The old man's face formed into a frown. "Where is Kushina?"
The nurse's eyes began to moisten and tears began to trail down her cheeks. "I tried to stop her."
Sarutobi took a deep breath as a look of understanding passed over his wrinkled features. "She's gone to join the battle." He did not know why he was surprised. He would have done the same himself, but he had to help the Yondaime with his preparations. He also had the task of fetching the…vessel.
The nurse nodded. "She said that if she did not go, her son would be amongst the thousands to die when Kyuubi reached the village." She turned wide eyes to the former Hokage. "Is that true, Sarutobi-sama?"
A grey-haired head nodded grimly. "She knows this better than anyone. Nothing else could make that woman leave her child."
The nurse tried not to shake, for the sake of the baby. "I guess you're here for the little one."
Sarutobi gazed at the child in silence. What an unkind start to life. "Yes." Saying this, he reached out his arms for the child, which was reluctantly placed in his arms. "Remember that you know nothing of this, Ayumi." He had chosen the woman specifically to help birth the son of the Yondaime. She had been analysed by Morino Ibiki and Inoichi Yamanaka to ascertain her trustworthiness, though both were still clueless as to the reason. She had been the redhead woman's private midwife for the last seven months, under the guise of visiting relatives elsewhere in the Fire Country. The secrecy had begun long before they had known anything about Kyuubi's arrival, for reasons of which the former Hokage knew only a few. It just happened to suit the current circumstances.
The nurse only looked at the former Hokage with sad eyes. "I would never betray Uzumaki-sama." The Namikaze woman's maiden name had been a term of endearment between them. She sniffled slightly. She was one of the privileged few that knew at least some of the former Whirlpool ninja's past. With Kushina out of the public eye and only her midwife, the Sandaime, her husband and occasionally Jiraiya for company, Ayumi and Kushina had become friends. The midwife had been on friendly terms with the Hokage too.
A wrinkled hand held the baby's head with gentle care. "I only hope against hope that little Naruto isn't an orphan by the end of this night."
The old man turned around and left the stunned nurse behind.
Tears began to fall more freely from the brown-haired woman's eyes as the aged man's words sank in. Over the months, the closer Kushina had gotten to her delivery date - and the closer the two women had become – the more she had anticipated the baby's birth. She had even been bestowed the honour of being named his godmother.
Ayumi was no fool. Without his parents to safeguard him, and given their enemies, she knew she would have to stay away from him for his own safety. She had lost three precious people that night.
Unable to stand it any longer, she fell to the ground, wrapped her arms around her knees and sobbed.
Namikaze Kushina arrived on the battlefield without fanfare. Her eyes locked onto the single enemy as she ran fearlessly toward the immense bijuu.
Slender, dexterous hands began to form a long series of seals at an amazing rate, a mere blur to onlookers. The air in front of the running woman became hazy and a thick fog soon formed, which in turn formed into a large body of airborne water. Even as it formed, it began to twist into an elongated torrent of water, thrashing with barely restrained fury. It was the incredible length of one of the fox's own tails. Kushina completed the technique with a strong, feminine voice. "Suiton: Daibakufu no Jutsu!" (Water Release: Great Waterfall Technique)
One of the many ninja who lay injured in the mud – an ANBU - simply looked upon the woman with disbelief. "Impossible!" Such skill with water had not been seen since the Nidaime.
The monstrous fox suffered the closest it had come to a serious blow since it had engaged the Konoha shinobi. It was knocked into a crouch by the force of the technique, and it howled in pain and anger. Large red eyes glared at the redhead and a tail lashed out with lightening speed.
The red-haired woman twisted sideways and flipped, hand-springing away from the fiery appendage as it opened another fissure in the ground on which she had just stood. She jumped back still further to put some distance between herself and the beast. The grace and speed with which she moved made more than one of ninja present tremble.
There was still hope.
The great fox soon recovered from the attack, apparently undamaged. Still, it stopped for a moment and did something that none had seen so far in the battle. Kyuubi stopped and considered the woman.
That seemed to be the signal for the rest of the Konoha ninja, who began to unleash a flurry of attacks. Wind, earth and water techniques were born and extinguished dozens of times over. Uchiha, Hyuuga, Inuzuka, Aburame, Akimichi, Yamanaka, Nara and non-clan ninja all fought fiercely. Explosive tags were used liberally.
Light and sound assaulted the senses.
All the while, Kushina caught her breath. The technique she had used, on such a scale and without a water source, took a lot of chakra and stamina, especially considering she had not trained in nearly nine months. Her chakra coils had been burned a little by the sheer throughput of chakra. She watched with pride as her comrades hammered the Kyuubi from all sides. They weren't damaging it seriously, but it wasn't moving forward either. The longer it remained away from the village, the better the chance of salvation.
As the powerful redhead stood back from the front-line for a time, she saw the injured and dead among her comrades. She had no time to be complacent or cautious. The Namikaze woman accelerated from standing still to well above Jounin speed in an instant. Her course taking her straight toward the bloodthirsty fox once more.
Kushina dodged a tail, jumping high so the trembling earth would not trip her, and hit the ground running. She pulled out a single piece of paper from a trouser pocket, not slowing down for a moment. Biting her thumb, she wiped blood across one side of the paper, just as she ran underneath the fox's head. A signature puff of smoke signified an unsealing. A swarm of papers trailed after the red blur.
For a moment, nothing seemed to happen as the Hokage's wife ran from under the Kyuubi body, but the Konoha-nin quickly scattered.
Unfortunately – even as skilled as she was - she missed the tail that came from behind her until it struck her in the side and sent her flying.
Suddenly a huge explosion rocked the area as the 'pieces of paper' detonated.
The fox howled in anger again as it was forced onto its hind legs.
As numerous Konoha ninja ran toward the fox for what seemed like the hundredth time that night, one lone ninja ran on a course that converged with the flight-path of the Namikaze woman.
A teenage Jounin ran after Kushina as she torpedoed across the battlefield before striking a tree, causing said tree to break in half, before she struck another and another still. Kakashi grimaced under his mask. That was too much for even a ninja to survive. He was afraid of what he would find at the last broken tree, until he saw a bloody hand reach over the broken trunk.
Kushina pulled herself from the debris, hissing in pain as she stumbled forward into a crouch. She looked across the landscape to see ninja scrambling to take advantage of Kyuubi's temporary unsteadiness.
Kakashi watched in amazement as the burns - caused by contact with demonic chakra - healed before his eyes, as well as numerous cuts and bruises. His Sharingan watched the dance of chakra in her body as she regenerated. This continued even after her surface wounds were gone, but could well imagine there would be internal injuries that took longer to heal. "Kushina-san..." He didn't know what to say. As far as he knew, the Hokage's 'girlfriend' had left seven months ago on a personal matter. For her to suddenly appear at a time like this and to fight at this level...it seemed like a miracle.
The redhead kunoichi wiped a smear of blood from her eye. "Kakashi."
The silver-haired youth's questions died in his mouth at the serious tone. "Yes?"
Kushina turned serious face toward the younger ninja. "Tell Minato...tell him..." The words failed to pass her lips. She didn't know what she wanted Kakashi to tell her husband. I love you. They were just words. If he didn't know by now how much she loved him, little would be changed by three words. "Never mind."
Before the young Hatake could ask her what she had been trying to convey, the newly-healed kunoichi was gone. He had a very bad feeling.
Namikaze Kushina looked at Kyuubi as she ran toward it and, as if it sensed her thoughts, its eyes shifted towards her in turn. She didn't even blink as their eyes connected.
Halfway to the fox, she began to emit enough chakra that it became visible to the human eye, before forming more hand seals. She pulled her head back and shouted toward the dark heavens. "Suiton: Bakusui Shoha! (Water Release: Exploding Water Shockwave) Her head jolted forward and a torrent of water gushed forth from her mouth.
All the Konoha-nin immediately ran away from expanding body of water, far greater than the amount generated by her previous technique.
Kyuubi's tails seemed to twitch in irritation as the water did not spread out naturally, instead forming a huge sphere of water, greater in size even than the beast.
Kushina stood at the apex of the sphere, visibly panting and trying to ignore the pain of her once again burnt chakra coils.
For a moment, the two opponents stood facing each other.
Kyuubi acted first and nine tails shot toward the sphere and its creator.
As the fox's appendages shot toward her, Kushina executed a technique she had learned years ago but never performed. She bit her thumb and slammed her palm onto the surface of the water beneath her. "Kuchiyose: Kraken Hakaisha no Jutsu!" (Summoning: Kraken Destroyer Technique)
The red-haired kunoichi began to sink into the watery sphere. The entire time, her gaze remained fixed on the great fox, until her eyes sank below the surface and she was gone.
To observers, a shadow seemed to sweep across the sphere. With no further warning, dozens of black-grey tentacles shot from the sphere.
Kyuubi's tails were intercepted by a greater number of the monstrous appendages. They wrapped around the fox's tails and began to pull.
Kyuubi tried to fight, but its feet carved trenches into the earth as it was inexorably pulled forward.
As the fox neared the sphere, even more tentacles came out and wrapped around its crimson body. With a final pull, the fox was gone from sight.
The sphere glowed orange with the fox's chakra, but amazingly the technique was not dispersed.
Inside the sphere a great beast was visible that had not been seen by human eyes in centuries. It seemed nothing more than a bulbous head with tentacles sprouting from its underneath, with a huge curved beak the only sign of the direction it faced. The eyes, if it had any, were unidentifiable.
Hovering in the water, just above the house sized beak, was the inert figure of the creature's summoner.
Chakra flowed from the motionless redhead and into the creature's mouth, with the occasional flicker of white.
Deep within her mind, Kushina fought to keep her focus. She was unable to breathe, forced to rely on the air in her lungs. Her chakra was being depleted rapidly, with no signs of stopping. The hardest things to ignore; however, was her life force being consumed by the Kraken. That was the price of her strongest technique.
It was a small price to pay; however, to ensure the safety of her only child. Still, she regretted that she would miss as her son grew into the great man she knew he would become. How could she know that? If he had even half her stubbornness and his father's courage, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention the genes he would inherit from both parents.
A small smile formed on the woman's lips. I will see you again one day my son…but a long time from now.
The great fox tried to roar in fury, but no sound came out. The water around it seemed unnaturally thick and resisted the fox's every movement.
The two titans were locked in a stalemate of inhuman proportions.
It seemed like hours to those outside the sphere, but it was just over three minutes. No one knew what was going on.
Abruptly the water exploded outward and the fox was revealed. It was lying down, its face near the ground as it seemed to struggle for breath. If it even breathed.
On the ground before the monster, Namikaze Kushina lay motionless on the ground.
The Kraken had already returned to the depths of the ocean from which it came, to recover from its defeat.
Kakashi didn't think about his actions and ran toward the fallen form of his sensei's wife. Kyuubi was just beginning to stand as he swept her up into his arms and quickly retreated.
The silver-haired Jounin laid the red-haired woman on the ground some distance from the monster. It had not made an aggressive movement yet and neither had the Konoha-nin.
Kakashi looked down and saw apple-red lips beginning to turn blue. He knew that it was already too late.
He fell to his knees and held the woman's hand. He only hoped that it had been painless.
Two more minutes passed without aggression from the fox, which was injured to an unknown degree, while the Konoha-nin bombarded it once more. Two minutes where Konoha was safe.
Inevitably the immortal bijuu was able to stand once more. The fox cried out victoriously, but the fearsome sound was cut short as the ground shook.
The fox's gaze shifted once again and looked upon a mountain-sized toad. Red eyes made out the figure of a blond man with blue eyes, blond hair and white robes.
Namikaze Minato had arrived.
Sarutobi looked down at the infant in his arms as he sat in the empty council chambers. The child was mercifully asleep, unknowing that he had just lost both his parents.
The Yondaime had not known about the death of his wife as he had summoned the death god. At least he hadn't had to suffer the grief of his wife's death and the guilt over leaving his son parentless.
Kushina had she used her own sacrificial jutsu, which had single-handedly been responsible for keeping Kyuubi from reaching Konoha before the Yondaime was ready, unaware that her son would be an orphan. She had not known the Shiki Fuujin was a sacrificial jutsu, her husband not wanting her to have to face that during childbirth.
Ignorance, it seemed, truly was bliss.
The former Hokage silently mourned the loss of two people he had grown to care for almost like children, as well as the hundreds more that had perished that night.
His mourning was interrupted when the door to the chamber opened and admitted a battered looking Hyuuga Hiashi. No matter what else could be said about the man, he had stood on the front lines against Kyuubi. Branch house and main house members had fought side by side for the good of Konoha. Sarutobi would not begrudge him the honour in that.
Next entered Yamanaka Inoichi, in slightly better shape than the Hyuuga, being as his techniques were not so close-combat oriented as the white-eyed man's.
Nara Shikaku, Akimichi Chomaru, Inuzuka Tsume, Aburame Shibi – all worse for wear - and eight civilian council members filed in. Two notable faces were missing.
The Uchiha clan head and Danzo were in the hospital. The former Hokage was even less fond of those two than Hiashi – he trusted neither as far as he could throw them - but they had not left the fighting to their subordinates alone. It had been reported to the Sandaime that Uchiha Fugaku had suffered severe chakra depletion. Danzo had lost an eye as well as the use of an arm, amongst other injuries.
The civilian council members were of course unharmed, but they would have been worse than useless in a combat situation of the scale seen that night. Koharu and Homura were actually classed as civilian council members, despite being former teammates of the Sandaime Hokage, being as they had not been active shinobi for many years and were not part of any clan.
Sarutobi himself was a council member. He had taken the seat on behalf of his clan when he had stepped down as Hokage.
Looking around the room, every single person looked as grim as the next. They would celebrate their victory and their survival later, but there were too many newly dead and seriously injured to be happy.
Silence reigned for over five minutes as the various councilmen came to grips with the events of the night and mourned their respective losses, or allowed those in need to do so.
The silence of course could not last. Homura stood, his aged body slightly hunched over. "Will you take up the mantle of Hokage once again, Sarutobi?" It was too late into night to procrastinate.
The former Hokage nodded as the other man sat back down. "Minato asked me to do so and I will honour his request if the council agrees."
A succession of voices agreed and it was official. It was almost an anticlimax, but none of them had the energy to deliberate over something on which there was little alternative.
Sarutobi easily accepted his re-inauguration and asked the question he really didn't want to ask. "Megumi, what are our casualties?"
A middle-aged woman stood from her seat. The woman in charge of the hospital and all Konoha's medical-related sectors. Her name suited her, her movements smooth and graceful. She had sandy hair that was turning silver at the roots, but she stood firm, a sign of her very active role in the hospital. This was further illustrated by her wrinkled uniform and the loose strands of hair that escaped an otherwise neat bun. The only reason she had left the hospital and come to the meeting was because she had used up almost all her chakra and was so exhausted that she risked being more of a hindrance than a help. She would go back in a couple of hours after a drug-induced deep sleep. "Four-hundred and fifty-three dead, seventy seriously injured and twenty-three with minor injuries." She managed to talk in a professional tone, but the numbers hurt. The fact that there were more dead than injured, and more seriously injured than not, showed the pure brutality of the recently-ended battle.
Further silence fell. No matter their differences, no one was happy with the mortality rate.
The Akimichi clan head finally brought up the next obvious subject. The sleeping babe in the old man's arms, who had so far escaped comment. "That is the child?" It was really a rhetorical question.
The old man placed the child in a small crib that Kushina's midwife had been thoughtful enough to send ahead. Her last act in that role. "Uzumaki Naruto."
The Yamanaka clan head's eyes showed his curiosity. "Uzumaki?"
Sarutobi sighed. "A fabricated name. The boy's an orphan." His lie passed without comment.
Hiashi was the one to play devil's advocate, as he so often did. "What is to be done with the child?"
The Yondaime's predecessor frowned. "What do you mean, Hiashi?" Surely the man wasn't going to suggest...
The pale-eyed man lifted a hand, his palm out in a placating manner. "I'm not going to suggest we take the life of an innocent child…." One or two of the council looked unhappy at the statement, but most looked relieved. "….however, the boy does have within him the most powerful demon ever to walk the earth. Precautions must be taken." His face remained neutral. "Perhaps a caged bird seal w-"
"NO!" The old man stood up from his seat. "I can't stop you using that seal within your own clan, but I will not allow it to be placed onto an already burdened child."
A flicker of annoyance passed over the pale features of the normally placid Hyuuga.
Homura spoke up to support the re-appointed Hokage, even if for his own reasons. "Hiashi, do you expect us to allow the boy to be put under Hyuuga control?"
The Nara clan head spoke in his signature drawl. "I don't think any of us want that." The dark-haired man's eyes took on a serious aspect. "I believe the appropriate solution would be the Yokuatsu Fuuinjutsu." (Suppression Seal Technique)
In the seat next to Shikaku, his Yamanaka friend leaned round and away from his seat. His face showed unbridled astonishment. He would have been less surprised had his old friend decided to run to Iwa simply for the fun of it. "That technique was created for S-Class prisoners prior to execution! Shikaku, to do that to a child..."
The Inuzuka clan head was not the only council member to look confused, but she was the first to admit it. "Yokuatsu Fuuinjutsu. What the hell is that?"
A grave expression showed on the newly appointed Hokage's features. "Megumi. As our lead medic and the technique's creator, it would be best if you explained."
Megumi looked as if she had swallowed something slightly bitter. "The creation of the seal was a reaction to the high mortality rate of guards in Konoha's penal facility and several very nearly successful escape attempts, almost all instances of which were perpetrated by S-Class inmates. For the most part they were prisoners nearing execution who had become desperate." Some of the council members obviously remembered the meeting several years ago when the technique had been proposed and approved. Others knew second hand. "It works by manipulating various areas of the brain. Its effectiveness is deliberately restricted to what is considered humane." The medic looked uncomfortable under the eyes of the other council members. "An alteration to the Cerebrum results in roughly a sixty-eight percent drop in the brain's ability to process information from the major senses; visual acuity, auditory recognition, tactile sensation, olfactory perception and even taste are affected. Though harder to quantify, doing so also drastically reduces reasoning ability, problem solving skills and judgement. Changes to the Brainstem means Somatic reflex is reduced by eighty-three percent and Chakra control is reduced by seventy-four percent. Adjustments to the Cerebellum hinder fine motor skills, voluntary muscle movements, balance and equilibrium by sixty-one percent. Serotonin production is increased seventy-one percent, helping to relieve depression and anxiety, so they are less likely to cause trouble." As much of an accomplishment as it was to make such a seal, she took no pride in it. It was merely a necessary evil.
Tsume looked angered. "You can't do that to a child!" She couldn't believe the Nara of all people had suggested such a thing.
The Nara continued to look more serious than usual. "It's not a simple matter of the village's safety. I'm thinking of the child." The absence of his usually laid back tone was not missed by the others. "It is more than probable that the boy will be an outcast at best, or outright scorned at worst. Its too much to expect a child to deal with that. The seal will limit the emotional damage." No one could speak against his reasoning. "He is less likely to suffer maltreatment if people aren't scared of him." Again he made a valid point. "We also have to take into consideration that a young Jinchuuriki would be a tempting target for abduction by any other village who might decide they could use him to their own ends. If news 'got out' that it was essentially impossible for him to even become a ninja, he would less desirable." The other council members found themselves becoming convinced. "Young Naruto has a greater chance of a happy and secure life with the Yokuatsu Fuuinjutsu."
The Hokage's saddened eyes fell on the small child. Is this really how it has to be?
Aburame Shibi's face remained neutral, his eyes hidden behind dark glasses eve now, as he took it upon himself to take the next logical step. "Let us vote on it. All those for using the Yokuatsu Fuuinjutsu?"