Author's Note: I was thinking on it for a little while, and I realized that I had how Byakko acted without the 'why'. Somewhat odd for character depth and development in a chapter like this but...eh, it works.
Warning: Character Death and violent imagery.
Disclaimer: Do. Not. Own.
The aura of foreboding that weighed upon the village didn't lighten in the slightest over the following weeks, something that set Byakko on edge. It was similar to the feeling of being stalked by a hostile entity; there was an oppressive weight edged in malice pressing on his shoulders at all times, just waiting to descend and attack.
For the first week, he was unnecessarily paranoid and jumpy, though his reactions improved his teams' reactions as they tried to avoid retaliation whenever they surprised him. After the first few incidents, having their arms numbed due to the joints being locked by senbon got old real quickly.
His paranoia settled as he grew used to the foreboding aura though his senses were constantly on high alert. Few others were able to feel the sensation and generally they were able to keep a hold on their reactions.
Byakko split his time training with his teams and spending time with his kit. The Chuunin Exam was more than just a promotion of rank; it symbolized maturation of a shinobi. When they became chuunin, their jounin sensei no longer had control over them, becoming more of a moral support and a family member to go to for advice. Chuunin were often leaders of jounin-less genin squads, as genin often far outnumbered jounin due to the lower mortality rate in the genin rank. As such, some genin squads had lost their jounin leader due to the jounin taking a fatal blow for his team, and were leaderless. They did the majority of the D-rank missions around the village and learned skills through scrolls, only taking C-rank and higher missions with the leadership of a chuunin or jounin.
As such, Byakko pulled away rather abruptly from his teams, his omnipresence diminishing severely after having healed Rock Lee. He was unsure of how to correctly pull away from his team, as it was the first time he had ever spent as much time in a single place, often staying for a few days and leaving abruptly.
In consequence, both teams were rather worried, though they swiftly found their worries were unfounded. When they dropped by to demand answers for his strange actions, he replied that they were coming of age and that they needed to learn how to fend for themselves, not have him point the way constantly.
They understood for the most part, though Hinata felt less confident about her match.
The Chuunin Exams approached quickly as their sense of time diminished due to preoccupation with training.
The turn out for the bi-annual Chuunin Exam was spectacular; nobles from all over Hi no Kuni (Fire Country) came to see the coming of age of the Uchiha Scion, tales being spread far and wide of his participation in the liberation of Nami no Kuni (Wave Country).
The finalists were mostly from only two villages, however, and thus only the Hokage and Kazekage were present with their bodyguards in a box overseeing the arena floor. The Otokage had diplomatically stated that he was unable to come, having to recalibrate his Academy's teachings, as he felt that they were doing something wrong if only a single team got to the Third Exam. The excuse was believed easily; an up and coming village like Otogakure must have felt ashamed that their first showing had ended with only one genin in the finals and wanted to make their next showing spectacular to make up for it.
Byakko had sent Kyuubi with Kimimaro to watch the finals, having deigned to check in at the hospital and help cheer up the patients who wanted to be watching but were confined to their bed.
With the arrival of Tsunade, Byakko similarly had retreated from his dominion over the hospital; he was going to have to leave soon anyway, and he decided to wean the hospital from his presence. As such, he only assisted the Slug Sannin when she asked for him, leaving the hospital entirely on the capable shoulders of Tsunade.
As he stepped foot in the sanitized white walls of the hospital, however, the foreboding aura slammed onto his senses with full force.
There was silence. No buzzing of nurses, no beeping of electronics, no gossiping doctors, no wailing patients wanting their painkillers.
A prickling feeling jabbed between his shoulderblades as the White Mage strode purposefully to the reception desk. What he saw, however, was not what he was hoping. There was nobody at the desk. Traveling to the side of it, he caught sight of a white-clothed nurse, seemingly sleeping peacefully with her back against the computer on the inside of the reception desk.
Her lack of heartbeat, and more distressingly, her lack of presence, was what worried Byakko the most. Newly dead bodies held a presence about them, calling attention to them. It was an effort by the soul of the dead individual to try to get help, any help, so that they could be brought back to life. This is why people are so fascinated with watching someone die before their eyes; the soul is crying out for help, wanting to return to the living, and it captures the attention of anyone nearby.
The lack of presence, however, meant the nurse was not newly dead. Her soul had already departed, and was unable to be resurrected.
The White Mage quickly ascended the staircase to the next level, hoping that his hunch was wrong.
As he journeyed through the floors of the hospital, he became increasingly distressed.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead.
Everyone was dead.
There was no mark on the corpses that he could see from a casual glance, not wanting to slow down and check thoroughly as he hoped that there was at least one person he could save.
So deeply devoted to his search, he didn't take notice of vibrant pink energy exploding in small starbursts around him, his suppressed emotions gaining power as he refused to acknowledge them and mourn for the dead. His single-minded determination to find someone, anyone that he could save and not feel as if he had failed allowed him to ignore the fluctuations in his power.
Others were not so ignorant of his power.
Kyuubi was the first to take notice of the phenomenon. His pulse thrummed loudly in his ears, drowning out the general buzz of conversation. The spikes of power, coupled with his guardian's loud thoughts, created a mental broadcast that was picked up in fragments to those who were attuned to it.
'Dead. Dead. Dead. Dead. Deadeadeadeadead-'
'-can't be dead, they can't die, not when I'm here-'
Kimimaro was the next to pick up on the fragments of thought, the White Mage's mental voice becoming strained and hysterical as the spikes grew more frequent.
'-no, nonononono! They can't be dead, this can't be happening. I'm dreaming. Must be dreaming-'
The fluctuations, different from shinobi chakra, were still felt by most shinobi over the rank of chuunin though they could not understand it. It felt as if an overbearing presence was pulsating and causing their senses to become aggravated.
Tsunade, the Hokage, and the Kazekage were most irritated. Tsunade massaged the bridge of her nose between her fingers, feeling a headache coming from a pounding presence, but waved it off as the heat getting to her. The Hokage made similar motions, but blamed it on the stress of the paperwork striking at him, reminding him that he had mountains to sign after the exams were over.
The Kazekage, however, was more paranoid than the other two. He knew that something, or someone, was causing the pulsing. His muscles tensed beneath his robe and face mask, hidden easily by the layers of cloth. He was prepared for anything.
For someone raised by an Eidolon, there are several things that are apparent; Madeen was only with Eiko from a toddler age to the age of six when she had to release her Moogle form and return to the realm of summons. She had some experience with raising children, but for the most part she had absolutely no idea.
From being with Eiko for part of her quest, she learned the value of morals and ethics, something foreign to an Eidolon. Eidolons are summoned, directed to cause immeasurable destruction, and then banished back to their realm. Things such as 'children are sacred' and 'don't kill in cold blood' are foreign concepts, but ones she drilled into Byakko, figuring it to be a 'human thing'.
However, Eidolons are cowards; they come, they destroy, they escape. Unintentionally, Madeen had drilled the same concepts into Byakko's head as he modeled himself after her as most children do to their parental figures. He traveled, he stopped, he healed, and he got the fuck out of there before he could get too attached. It hurt because he cared for the people he healed, but the short time he spent with them prevented him from being too attached.
It was similar to clipping one's nails, in an odd way. He stopped and his attachment grew, but when he left he cut back to the nail bed, becoming sore and slightly hurt afterward. However, he had stayed in Konoha for the better part of six months. He had attachments here, like veins growing into the fingernail if such a thing was possible, from leaving it to grow too long. When he left, it was going to bleed and leave a wound.
His genetic change of his appearance reflected this in a subconscious way; the more perfect he appeared, the more unapproachable he became, and the more he looked like an angel of divine healing that came, healed, and left. To his enemies he looked like a silver haired demon, fighting with impassivity in the face of the ending of their lives, their stories. Back then he had been able to shrug off killing as he felt he was righteous in his stance, culling the unworthy and keeping the balance in check.
Even if he had held the hospital staff in contempt for their abysmal healing capacity, he knew they were still human. Simply by hearsay and rumor he got to know the staff a little bit over his tenure as a healer in the hospital, listening how one particular nurse had relationship troubles with a chuunin she was dating, or how another was secretly afraid of blood but tried to persevere to help her patients.
It was simple to shrug off news of a massacre when he wasn't there; it hurt a little, knowing that so much life had been lost, but he consoled himself with the thoughts that it was needed or they had it coming because of some form of divine balance that kept everything in check. The more he got attached to them, however, the more blinded he became to the bigger picture and the more magnified the smaller picture became.
These people had stories, they had lives. They weren't simply a statistic. They had hopes, dreams, fears, loves, jealousies, everything.
He had devoted his life to becoming a part of an eternal balance, and yet the more he stayed in this village, the more he wanted to just tilt it to the side where everyone lived and was happy.
And now…people were dead. People he had known and could have saved if he had kept up his appearances in the hospital, disregarding the fact that whatever, whoever, killed them could have attacked him as well. It was a crushing weight on his consciousness, and each of their expressions, though peaceful in their repose, seemed to look at him with accusation and reproach, silently asking him Why did you let us die?.
It hurt to think about, so he used his considerable mental fortitude and suppressed his emotions. He felt a presence from the rooftop and quickly went to it.
Yakushi Kabuto, medic-nin, leaned against the low wall forming a perimeter around the hospital roof. In his hands he was flipping an empty syringe, catching it by the plunger rather than the needle. His Konoha hitai-ate had been swapped for an Oto one, and his eyes were lit up with malicious delight as he spied Byakko appearing from the roof access door.
"Oh my, Byakko-kun. What a delight to see you today!"
The dawning enlightenment on the bronze face nearly caused the medic to burst out into cackling, much like his mentor and master.
"Kabuto…so you're that Yakushi Kabuto, the one who works for Otogakure. Your name…it is uncommon but not rare."
"Why, yes! I see you've figured it out, Byakko-kun. You see, Orochimaru-sama felt you were too much of a threat, so he had me do a little digging. And what did I find? You were one of those 'new' medics, the ones that love each of their patients dearly. It would've been more debilitating to take out that fox of yours, but he was always so well-guarded. I had to go for the lesser of the two, but I see it was well worth it!"
The gray-haired man's eyes were gleaming in sadistic amusement, tossing the syringe over his shoulder and off the six story building. The medic-nin finally took notice of the pink starbursts of energy that had increased in frequency during his short monologue and quirked an eyebrow.
"Oh, what is this? My, there was nothing about this in your file…"
The energy gave one more explosion and quieted, the White Mage having taken notice. The teenager smothered his emotions, not wanting to deal with them at the time, creating a ticking time bomb of a breakdown that was sure to occur soon. However, it was not the time nor the place to dissolve into a wreck. This man had killed the patients, murdered his charges, his wards, people who had looked to him for protection, and he had delighted in it.
He had thought about this beforehand, too, as the corpses were all hours old, too old to resurrect. As if hearing his thoughts, the medic-nin spoke.
"I was always curious, Byakko-kun…how did you raise the dead? Obviously I must have done something right, as otherwise the patients would be up and walking, but since there are no revived dead, I must ask how it was that I stopped that from happening. I've tried, you know, to bring back failed experiments. It's such a waste of resources when one dies. I managed to get their heart and brain restarted, but they were comatose. Such a disappointment."
The White Mage gave him a look, one with barely suppressed loathing and hatred at his flippant manner in regards to his victims, and attacked.
A blinding white dome of energy enclosed the rooftop, preventing all escape. Even if it meant trapping himself with his enemy, Byakko would rather die than let this monster of a human being escape.
As the arena for the Chuunin Exam was actually in the village itself rather than inside the Forest of Death, all the spectators were able to see the brilliantly glowing dome that encased the hospital's roof. Hyuuga Hinata and Hyuuga Neji, currently at the center of the arena and about to begin the match, paused.
The spectators buzzed with gossip and worried talking, wondering what was happening at the hospital. Visitors had no idea what kind of ninjutsu or fuinjutsu was being used, and it was only those familiar with Byakko who recognized the spellwork. Teams 8 and 10 were stunned for a moment, as obviously something really bad was going down for a protection technique that large to be used.
Even Kyuubi was taken aback; his parent had never used his spells that obviously and something must have seriously disturbed him to make him work so… noticeably.
Orochimaru was able to feel out the general hubbub of the stadium and figured that his plans were going to be shot if he didn't start the invasion right then. People would migrate towards the hospital, wanting to know what was up, and then the element of surprise would be taken away. He mentally cursed Kabuto for being discovered, planning extensive punishment for his subordinate once the invasion was over and Konoha was conquered.
With a single spike of his tainted chakra, his one bodyguard split into three and the Kage Box exploded.
There was no genjutsu to put the people to slumber, which worked out better than if there had been (as it had been planned); most of the nobles were from Hi no Kuni, expendable fools in the eyes of the attacking force. While Konoha shinobi would have to try and save them or at least work around them, the invading forces of Oto and Suna cut through them, taking delight in collateral damage.
Teams 8 and 10 quickly got into a defensive formation, paired up with another, and began attempting to disentangle the chaos. Team 9, also known as Gai's Team, worked as crowd control. Tenten's weapon accuracy was able to cut down distracted or unsuspecting enemy shinobi without harming allies. Lee and Neji's taijutsu was honed well enough to cause low collateral damage, or, in the case of Gai, use collateral damage against the enemy. Like throwing a dead body and knocking an enemy aside with it.
The fight was less of a fight and more of an enraged one sided slaughter. Kabuto's overconfidence in his needling of his opponent only strengthened his preconceived notions that medic-nins weren't trained to fight. He had a mental manifestation of Byakko as a pacifistic healer, one who trained extensively to heal injuries and neglected combat, and figured the reports of bandits and nuke-nin taken out by him had been done via summoning or a henchman to do the dirty work.
The medic-nin was subjected to layers upon layers of illusions. At first, his skin burned away, but his reports said that Byakko lacked elemental techniques, and his disbelief countered the illusion.
But an illusion beneath the illusion showed his skin was reddened and stung as if he had been burned, which created a tiny crack of doubt. One that was viciously grabbed hold of and torn open, subjecting the gray-haired young man to horror upon horror as Byakko took his medical knowledge of many maladies and applied them directly to his opponent, forcing him to suffer what he had healed in his tenure as a White Mage.
The White Mage himself was in an emotional paradox and was unable to access his Soul Magic because of it. He was forcing himself into apathy, returning to his pre-Konoha state of mind where everything had a purpose, and he was enacting divine balance upon the enemy. Yet he was still enraged at the other man for his deeds, and thus the paradox. He was in an apathetic rage.
Soul Magic required a balance of mind, body, soul, and emotion. His emotions were currently suppressed into apathy, and yet his body was fueled by rage, creating an imbalance. If he tried to use Soul Magic, it would either backfire or fizzle.
So instead, he used Mind Magic, arguably the most inhumane of the magicks when used to attack. It attacked the mind, a poorly defended area of the body, and one where everything the person held dear was concealed. It was violation of the highest caliber, surpassing rape which was violation of the body; he tore open emotional wounds, mental scars, and deeply hidden fears with the precision of a surgeon wielding a knife, unraveling his enemy with illusions and phantasmal horrors, subjecting them to everything they feared.
It was not an effortless win, however. He had to plan, scheme, plot and flow each illusion into another to create a stream of consciousness that led to the inevitable conclusion. Civilians were easy to break; they all had similar fears and no mental strength to resist. Shinobi, especially shinobi with training in suppressing emotion or genjutsu, were harder to fool. Kabuto's mind was trying to disbelieve the illusions, as the man was brilliant enough that he knew none of it should be happening, that it all had to be an illusion because it knew Byakko was a master of illusions.
However, it also had fears, fears that Byakko wasn't human, that he was some sort of demon or angel or whatever that was capable of causing such things even when it shouldn't be possible. Because of these fears, no matter how small and suppressed, he was able to discover the chink in the armor and invade everything that was Kabuto, tearing him apart.
As the medic-nin curled up into a ball, an instinctive reaction to immense fear to return to an infantile state where the parent could protect them against the entire world, the White Mage executed the coup de grâce. He stepped up to the medic, leaning down and hooking his fingers underneath the gray-haired man's rib cage on his chest. Enhancing his strength, he pierced into the medic's flesh with his bare hands, dispelling the illusions due to the physical pain causing dissonance with the mental pain, negating the phantasms due to conflicting nerve signals.
With an immense pull, he ripped the front of Kabuto's rib cage from his body, the medic-nin's expression a mixture of surprised relief and pain as there was no fear worse than what he had already experienced and the death was a blessing to what he had been suffering.
To make certain of his enemy's demise, the White Mage dissolved the body into a noxious pool through a breath of poison that ate away the man's flesh.
The dome of light shattered after finishing its usefulness.
From beyond the blinding glare, Byakko looked out upon a village in flames as the invasion continued.
He watched with a distant gaze as shinobi fought shinobi in the streets, subtlety and stealth cast aside when their home was in danger. An extradimensional presence bit at his peripheral senses, sending a sharp pain to his head at the sheer strength of it, and causing him to whirl to face the Kage Box in the distance. With a muttered curse, he teleported.
In a far part of his mind where sentimentality mattered and emotions ran rampant, he prayed with all his heart and soul that his child was safe.
Sarutobi, blinded by sentimentality in years previous, had finally opened his eyes to what his genius student had become. Face half ripped off showing another appearance underneath, the Snake Sannin was a monster in human shape, having swapped bodies with a young woman and tearing the face off his previous body to plaster it on his new one.
King Enma, boss summon of the Monkey Contract, was pinned to the roof underneath a swarm of nonpoisonous snakes. Forest woodlands grew unchecked from an impurely resurrected Shodaime Hokage, the roof tiles having washed away from the tidal force that was an impurely resurrected Nidaime Hokage.
Faced with his life's greatest failure, the Sandaime Hokage looked weary and as old as he appeared to be from the genjutsu. Unfortunately, his sentimentality had been renewed with his rejuvenated body. When faced with his own mortality, the Hokage was able to see the mistakes he had made with his ambitious student. With the threat of death no longer looming from old age, his blind optimism had returned and he returned to the belief that Orochimaru could be redeemed.
The Sandaime was impaled through the stomach from the back with a softly glowing hiltless jian; the Kusanagi. The poison ran through his veins, and, with his death apparent, he had used a technique he had learned from the Forbidden Scroll after it had been updated by the Yondaime; Shiki Fuuin (Dead Demon Consuming Seal).
It summoned the Shinigami, the God of Death to make a pact. He was in the midst of completing the pact; his soul in exchange for Orochimaru's.
He had summoned two Kage Bunshin (Shadow Clones) who had replicated the technique, however, and they were going to exchange the already-promised Sarutobi Hiruzen soul for the souls of the Shodaime and Nidaime Hokages.
Orochimaru's soul was only partially pulled into the Shinigami's reach when Byakko appeared. Disregarding the stunned disbelief of both combatants, the White Mage knelt to the visage of the Shinigami, speaking in a humble tone of utmost respect.
"Shinigami-kami-sama, you are being swindled. This one humbly requests to channel your extraordinary power for but a moment to correct the balance."
The Death God had a dread-inspiring visage, to be sure. Easily eight feet tall, his appearance was but a fragment of what he truly was; one could not actually call on the entire God of Death. It was simply impossible; he ruled over the far reaching ever-expanding multiverse, and to pull him physically to one plane of existence would disrupt reality itself. Instead, the Sandaime had pulled on a fragment, an avatar of sorts, that held a portion of the Death God's power for the current plane.
The towering apparition had long, unkempt white hair that fell with limp grace that only the dead could accomplish. Purple skin was stretched taught over the inhuman face, which was pulled into a grin showing every long, pointed tooth. A white ceremonial robe, blank of embellishment, hid runically tattooed skin from sight. In one hand was a kriss, a ceremonial dagger with a snaking blade, and on the other was a set of black and white prayer beads. Amber eyes set upon black sclera stared through Byakko with the unnerving intensity of a deity, seeming to strip away everything that was Byakko and look directly at his very soul, which was not an impossibility given the owner of the eyes.
There was no verbal reply, merely the grin stretching wider and the prayer-beaded arm sliding into his body and taking a hold on his soul.
For a moment, the White Mage stood stock still, body pulled taught like a bow before release. The black veins upon the right side of his face glowed with dark power, the veins in his eye bursting from the pressure and blinding him, black blood pouring down the right side of his face.
The soul-crushing pain of having his soul used as a channel for godlike power was unable to be expressed in words or facial movements. Mechanically, his arms moved up and ripped the Nidaime and Shodaime from the Kage Bunshin Hokages, releasing the souls back to where they had been taken from. A single glassy eye and a socket dripping black blood turned to face Orochimaru and Sarutobi, who were looking at him in wordless horror, paralyzed by the oppressive aura the White Mage was exuding due to the power running through his body.
With efficient movement, the White Mage grabbed Orochimaru's soul by the arms and pulled it free of his body. While humanoid in shape, it was covered in parasitic larva, looking like maggots swarming his flesh; symbolic of the many people he had taken into himself when taking over bodies, their existences suppressed but not eliminated. Byakko let a single spark of dark power escape him, causing the maggot-like souls to dissipate as Orochimaru's soul was violently purged of their presence. Orochimaru was subsequently devoured by the Shinigami.
Sarutobi, through sheer force of will and fueled by emotion, was able to move his mouth in soundless apologies and questions.
'Why are you doing this?'
'I'm sorry, Naruto-kun, please forgive me.'
'Don't…don't hate Orochimaru-kun for what he did. Please. It was my fault.'
Still being used as a vessel for godlike power, the White Mage's face was impassive as he reached into Sarutobi and withdrew his soul, handing him wordlessly over to the Death God, who made good on his side of the deal and consumed the human soul.
Shinigami gave him a grin full of dark promises as the god withdrew his arm from the White Mage's soul, a statement echoing in Byakko's mind even as the god returned to where he had been summoned from.
"We will meet again, Sojourner. You carry my mark, after all."
As he slumped to the ground, the pain of his divine injury caught up to him and he released a scream that many to pause as the pain-wracked sound washed over them.
With Teams 8 and 10…
The battle was absolute chaos, but the two teams were able to stay alive and keep each other protected. Casualties were heavy on both sides, and though civilian losses were heavy at the beginning, the Konoha shinobi were efficient in their evacuation. Both teams had sustained injury, mainly cuts and bruises of varying severity. They were able to avoid major injury that would have crippled them, however, and they fought on with determination born of desperation.
Tsunade had taken off and assisted Jiraiya in taking out the snake summons that were rampaging throughout the village, having stopped by the hospital beforehand to find out what had occurred. Due to there being nobody alive in the hospital, she was not bound by duty to protect it, and was thus allowed to defend the village.
The reinforcements the Snake Sannin had called in were grotesque; snake-like humanoids with identical features and enhanced physical capabilities. They were clones of Orochimaru's 'perfect body', though they contained no bloodline limit. Scales covered their bodies, surprisingly resilient, and they were capable of healing minor to moderate injuries through shedding their skin mid-combat. They utilized many of Orochimaru's signature techniques, which had been learned even from the time when he was a genin to cause as much destruction as possible.
The legion of snake-men attacked with mindless ferocity, killing any Konoha resident in their way with the brutal efficiency that characterized the Snake Sannin. They moved as a perfect unit, each one only moving should it help the army as a whole, creating devastating combinations that started with the smallest of movements and ended with entire groups of Konoha shinobi being cut down like wheat from the scythe.
It was easy to see where they were and where they were heading, so after the first few skirmishes with the legion, Konoha had retreated. The army destroyed everything in their way, creating a great wound of destruction as they cut through Konoha on their way to the stadium, never moving from their direct route. Due to this mindless movement, Konoha was able to retreat and apply their forces elsewhere, evacuating the area in the path of the swarm.
Each clone was tied to Orochimaru's soul, however. When the Shinigami devoured the Snake Sannin's soul, they collapsed in a lifeless heap.
Konoha almost breathed a sigh of relief, as the loss of the horde of clones damaged the invading force's morale, raising the defenders' morale in return. Things were looking up.
This was, of course, coincidentally the time where Sabaku no Gaara forced himself to sleep and the stadium was crushed beneath the avatar of Shukaku.
The bone-rattling shriek of the Ichibi awoke the White Mage from his pain-induced catatonia. Blinded in his right eye, he moved the left to scan the pyramid shaped barrier still standing over the Kage Box, the subordinates of Orochimaru, ironically named the Sound Three, still in shock over their master and puppeteer's defeat.
Energized from his contact with a deity, regardless of the pain involved, Byakko dispatched the awestruck shinobi by wrenching hold of their own barrier from them. The barrier was actually two barriers; one to keep the outside from attacking the conjurers and one to keep the inside from doing the same, sandwiching the shinobi between two barriers that ignited anyone who touched them. Byakko took control of the barriers and crushed them between the two.
Gathering his voice, he yelled, influencing it with his magic to create a compulsion to obey.
"Teams 8 and 10, rally to me!"
Within seconds, the teams arrived, covered in blood and injuries and with expressions of utmost determination on their faces. Several of them looked horrified at his injury, but he waved them off and began chanting.
"Ancient light, rise and protect! Wall!"
Pillars of what looked to be solid light that melted through the visible spectrum surrounded each of them, solidifying to create prismatic shields around them that faded momentarily.
"Share lives with all things in nature. Regen!"
The abundant woodland, so out of place on the roof of a building, visibly withered and died to fuel the spell as it regenerated the wounds of the shinobi. Catching his breath, he spoke.
"I will take care of Shukaku. I need you to evacuate people out of the nearby area, as the Ichibi will likely cause immense collateral damage. And…has…has anyone seen my child?"
For a moment, his face of determination and resolve faltered and a flicker of a parent concerned to the point of tears came to the fore, though it was suppressed soon after. Kurenai, who was wiping blood off a kunai, was the one who responded.
"He went off with Kimimaro to join in the fighting, growing a third tail in the process. Will you be alright against the Ichibi?"
The conversation was visibly cracking the iron grip on the White Mage's emotions because a hysterical giggle bubbled up from his chest, his left eye unfocusing as the breakdown tried to seize him within its grips before it, too, was suppressed. Apathy returned to his face, dismissing their worries as inconsequential and gesturing for them to return to the fighting.
The two teams flickered into movement, returning to the bloodbath that stained their home.
The White Mage gazed up at the Ichibi, who had begun destroying everything that it could reach with its tail and paws, strangely shaped eyes gleaming in insane sadism.
For a moment, a single increment of time, he understood what it meant to be an Eidolon. There was a target, a large target, and he, Byakko, had power. His main objective was to destroy the target. It was all so simple. Then reality caught up with him as Shukaku destroyed a building with nothing but its paws created out of sand.
"Land of all lives, suppress all rebels! Immobilize!"
Thick spiritual chains encircled the sand demon, burrowing into its body and pulling it down to the ground. The demon writhed at the impediment, causing the shackles to crack and groan in protest as they tried to keep it imprisoned, but only succeeded in hampering its movement. It was enough, however, as Byakko ran up its arms towards its head, where the unconscious body of Gaara stuck out like a pimple from the forehead of the monster.
With an impassive gaze, the White Mage ignored the avatar's screeching and attempts to destroy the nuisance that stood on its head. He stared at the red haired teenager's body, viewing the life before him as but a child following the orders of a parent, regardless of being the same age as himself. It was war, however, and in war, regrettable things occur.
Sabaku no Gaara's life was extinguished by a needle of bone slicing through his temple and into his brain, the unstable seal upon his navel binding the soul of the Ichibi to his own, dragging it along as it journeyed to the afterlife. The sand avatar lost its solidity, several hundred tons of sand dropping to the ground below in an avalanche. Amongst the sand, Byakko stared at his hand as he, too, dropped to the ground. He stared at his hand in solemn contemplation of having ended a life so similar and yet so different to his own, burning the metaphorical pathway of 'what if' that would have ended in his own life mirroring that of the Ichibi jinchuuriki's.
He teleported out of the sand avalanche before he could be smothered by its weight or crushed by the fall.
Outskirts of the Scar…
He reappeared along an edge of the path of destruction the clones had created, casting his gaze at the shinobi within sight. With the fall of the Ichibi, the invading forces were panicking and trying to retreat, but the Konoha shinobi were killing them or taking prisoners for interrogation, routing the invasion with admirable aplomb.
Nearby, he saw Kyuubi and Kimimaro, surrounded by corpses of the serpentine humanoids, the two having been the first to go against the replica army, and the only two to survive the clash. The two were covered in wounds, but very much alive and had weary yet satisfied expressions on their faces. With the emergence of his third tail, Kyuubi had grown, entering a sort of demonic puberty due to the onset of increased power. In fox form, he was the size of a large dog, silver fur matted with blood both dried and new.
Kimimaro looked pale and sickly, bloodloss getting the better of him as he began to faint. His body was covered in open wounds, having been victim of one of the clone horde's vicious combination attacks, creating a wind elemental storm of blades that caught the Kaguya within, the only thing keeping him from death or debilitation being the Shikotsumyaku (Dead Bone Pulse) forming plates of bone underneath his skin to lessen the damage.
The White Mage gladly knelt down to heal their wounds, the two being exhausted beyond speech as they slipped into slumber, comforted by the familiar presence.
Bone weary with exhaustion from using so much mana in so short of a time, Byakko was able to pull the two to safety before collapsing alongside them as the fighting continued to rage throughout the village.
The next day…
The three were awoken by insistent shaking. Upon opening their eyes, they noticed it was Tsunade. An extremely grim looking Tsunade, her illusion gone from her extensive use of chakra, showing prematurely wrinkled skin. She looked easily a decade beyond her years, most likely from both physical and emotional stress.
"Come on, you three. I need you to report to the Hokage Tower. The invasion is over."
The White Mage nodded his head in solemn acceptance, grasping both his comrades and the legendary medic-nin and teleporting all of them to the Tower.
The two advisors to the Sandaime Hokage were waiting for them, evidently acting as the voice of the Council due to the deceased Hokage. Both looked somber, their lined faces gaining extra emphasis due to their serious expressions. Koharu, the female, stepped forward, her posture showing submission and exhaustion.
"Byakko-san. Please. We need your help in rebuilding our village. Your skills are invaluable at a time like this, when the village needs someone strong to flock to for security."
The control over his emotions cracked again, and his left eye unfocused for a moment. He quickly regained control, shaking his head both in response to the plea and to get the feeling of hysteria out of his mind. His voice was scratchy from dehydration and exhaustion.
"I can't. I can't stay here. If I did, the village would become weaker because they would rely on me when in reality they need to rely on each other or themselves. To be a posterchild for the village to praise and put their faith into would make them complacent. This is a time where determination is tempered by experience and the wool of innocence is removed by war. If they relied upon me, then it would only create an inevitable collapse as soon as I left the picture."
Even in his strained state, he made sure to steer away from specifics, such as how he didn't want to be there, to be reminded of all he did. He didn't want to be hailed as a hero and have the expectations of a population heaped onto his shoulders. So while he gave plausible excuses, the most important one was that he wanted away. Away from the people, the muddling of his moral compass, the narrowing of his vision of balance. Away from attachment.
Tsunade, emotionally numb from losing her father-figure and having her security blanket of Konoha is always safe ripped from her, was unable to even muster a glare at the excuses.
The two councilors turned to Kimimaro, who fidgeted in place for a few moments before giving his response.
"I…will stay, but I will not be your poster child. Get the shinobi and civilians to rely on each other, not a single person; it will create more unity and less hero worship. That is what Konoha is about, correct? Everyone is family, and everyone relies on each other."
Even in his state of emotional shock, Byakko was able to muster a semi-genuine smile, pulling the Kaguya into a hug, voice soft.
"Are you sure?"
The white haired young man smiled slightly, eyes wistful.
"This place…they fight for the right reasons. The Kaguya clan fought for warfare, Otogakure fought for dominance, and Kirigakure fought out of fear. Konoha…Konoha fights out of protection, to keep their family safe. This is the kind of village I've wanted to be a part of."
The White Mage brushed a lock of bloodied hair out of the Kaguya's face, emotions breaking at the seams and causing his remaining eye to tear up.
"I…understand. I can't stay, though. I'm sorry. I just…can't be here. It holds far too many bad memories now. I lost my childhood, my mentor, my mother, and the lies, all the lies I was told…it's too much for me. I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry."
The cracks in his suppression were bleeding emotion at this point, and his hands were shaking as he reached up to his hair. He carefully removed the ribbon, letting his silver hair fall to his shoulders. With trembling hands he pressed the black ribbon into the Kaguya's hand, giving him a shaky smile.
"It was…a gift from my mother. Her previous summoner had it, and I want you to have it."
He turned away from the people in the office at this point, looking out the window and wrapping his arms around his chest in an effort to physically hold in his breakdown. His mind was becoming flooded by the pent up emotions of the past day; regret, bitterness, sadness, despair, hatred, rage. Bloody pink bursts of energy exploded around him as he began mumbling to himself.
"But…what about me? What about my sadness…?"
Kyuubi watched in horror as the energy increased in frequency, nudging the White Mage's leg to break his concentration and prevent catastrophe. The touch was enough for him to rein control back in and the energy disappeared, the cracks in his control sealed for the moment. He scratched the kitsune's head for a moment, turning back to people in the room who were watching him with wary gazes. His lips quirked into an obviously faked smile.
"Please take me to the injured. I…I need to say goodbye, and I need to burn off some energy."
The Slug Sannin nodded, leading him on foot to the makeshift hospital tents set up outside the real hospital. Nobody wanted to enter the building, merely going in to retrieve medical equipment if they needed it, the oppressive feeling of death and despair being declared detrimental to patient health.
Byakko made quite a spectacle, as he had not cleaned up since the start of the fighting. His hair was unbound, parts of it plastered to his head from dried blood from his killing blow on Kabuto. Black blood stains ran down the right side of his face from an empty eye socket, thankfully having quit bleeding. His hands were equally stained with red and black blood, both from killing Kabuto and from wiping the black blood away from his face. The most striking part of his appearance, however, was the fact that his clothing was unnaturally clean, free from blood spatter even when the skin on his neck and hands was stained with the liquid.
Taking no heed of the surprised and fearful looks at his appearance, his bloodied hands lit up with healing energy. His concentration began cracking in the middle, however, and the energy turned pink. He cast a single look at the color change and threw away all thoughts of single target healing.
Madeen had warned him when he began training, warned him that in times of extreme emotional duress his powers would grow out of control. This was commonly referred to as Trance, a state of emotional high where adrenaline and feelings cause the body to break its limits for a short time. Things normally impossible were made possible with the energy, which always took the form of a bloody pink light.
This was double edged, as the person caught within Trance generally overreacted to any stimulus, creating overkill and becoming violent or depressed incredibly easily from the smallest of sources. Additionally, the power high was addictive, and sometimes the person would drown their feelings within the rush of power, becoming psychotic for the term of the Trance.
One individual in particular that she had highlighted in her lessons was a man named Kuja. He was trained to be a perfect soldier, but he became enraged when his creator informed him that he was being replaced, and in his Trance he destroyed an entire planet.
The light was growing brighter, so he consumed it with something he had been toying with in his head for some time.
"Heavenly winds, bring us to the root of all creation, and let there be no more loss of precious life! Salvation!"
He fell to one knee, slamming both hands together as the incantation was finished. A foreign light source shined from the sky, beaming down on him in particular in a harsh, white light, powerful enough to shine through the canvas covering the hospital tents. Hundreds of scarlet balls of light shot from the sky, specifically from the origin of the light, homing in on the injured shinobi and civilians and melting into them without a sound, healing wounds.
Unlike his normal healing – which was regeneration – these lights healed with scar tissue. Those with missing limbs did not regrow the limb, and those with joint damage would have scar tissue in the joints that would hinder movement at least slightly. Most did not pay attention to their wounds healing, however, instead staring solely at the figure illuminated in the unforgiving ray of light.
He looked so weary, his shoulders drooping and features exhausted. The light illuminated all truths in his appearance, shining down on his tired expression, the empty eye socket, his bloodstained hands. All flaws were brought to the fore, creating a humbling experience for those who had heralded him as a hero, an angel of mercy upon whose wings Konoha would soar. He looked human in the light, and as soon as it came, it disappeared, leaving the White Mage coughing for breath.
He left the tents soon after, and approached Tsunade.
"Are there any casualties that I should be aware of?"
The woman's shoulders sagged as a particular subject she was not ready for was breached.
"Yes. Sarutobi-sensei is dead. Haku, the apprentice to Zabuza, also perished, as did Uzumaki Kushina. Those two, along with Zabuza, held the line of defense against the invaders as they tried to attack the evacuating civilians. According to Zabuza, he took a particularly bad hit and had to fall back for a minute to bandage, and when he returned, the two were already half dead from injuries and continued to fight despite it."
This proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. Haku he had felt some attachment to, as the kunoichi was a gentle soul, one not suited for war and death. She had acknowledged this, at least subconsciously, and yet fought in spite of it just to protect Zabuza. He knew, he knew that regardless of the circumstances of her death, if she thought she was giving Zabuza even a second of breathing time, she would die with a proud smile on her lips.
Kushina, on the other hand, thrived in battle. From the short time he had gotten to know what had been his biological mother, he could feel that she was a presence on a battlefield. It was no wonder that many had held her in such awe; the woman was more at home fighting for her life and grinning all the while than she was in peace time. Part of the reason the redhead had been so broken after the death of her husband wasn't that he was dead, but for the fact that, to her, Minato hadn't died the way he should have. He should have died with a warcry on his lips, body and kunai dripping enemy blood and going down while taking as many as he could with him. Instead, he had done a single technique and his life slipped away to fuel an arcane sigil upon a baby's stomach. It lacked thrill, it lacked honor, it lacked the ability to make a difference if one had fought hard enough.
Because of all this, he knew the woman had gone down with a mad grin on her face, sword bloodied and using her body as a shield if she had to. She had fought for her rediscovered family, her home, and the memory of her husband. She had fought enough for two people, wanting to prove to her dead husband's memory that the best death wish is to fight with every fiber of your being and taking as many with you as you possibly can, not sacrificing your life for some ritual.
He had lost Kimimaro (figuratively), and now he had lost Haku and Kushina. Haku, in time, could have been a sister. He could have had great memories with her, learning how to cook properly from her (the kunoichi made a mean tempura) or trying to find a nice set of furniture to match the drapes that had been bought. He could have had family again, and she had been taken away in the heat of battle while he was off fighting his own battles against his own enemies.
He had lost the chance to get to know his biological mother better, knowing her only as a woman or a comrade rather than a close friend or a parent. Sure, he knew she was a queen of battle, but he never got to learn her favorite food, her favorite color, her favorite game, anything. He would have to forever remember her with 'what if's and 'what could have been's, consoled by the knowledge that she had at least died doing what she loved.
His emotional suppression shattered at that moment, and the only thing stopping him from going into Trance was that he had exhausted his energy and had already used a butchered halfway version of Trance to heal the wounded.
His left eye unfocused and his head dropped to look at the floor, his shoulders shaking. The medic-nin laid a comforting hand on his shoulder, causing him to raise his head and look at her with a look she remembered all to well on the faces of veterans of war. His voice hitched in the middle of speaking as he scrambled for control.
"My eye is burning…but I can't cry. To cry would be to degrade their memory, because they died doing what they were proud of and what they had wanted to die doing. If I cry, I'm cheapening their sacrifice. Knowing all this, why do I still want to cry?"
The Slug Sannin's wrinkled face broke out into a bitter smile, pulling the White Mage into a hug and threading her fingers through his hair in a manner reminiscent of what he had done to calm Sakura's mind. Her voice was distant and bitter with memories of war as she murmured into his ear.
"Because no matter how much we tell ourselves to follow reason, it still hurts. It hurts and it hurts and there's no way to stop it so we want to cry to get someone else to make it stop hurting, even if logic demands that no tears should be shed."
Zabuza and Kyuubi migrated over to them, both expressing their own grief. The kitsune whimpered and curled into a ball, crying as much as a demon fox was capable of in his fox form. Zabuza was silent in his grief, though twin trails of tears cut through the blood spatter on his face.
Looking over the sannin's shoulder at the damaged village beyond, the White Mage couldn't help a bitter smile that made its way onto his expression, even as tears dropped against his will from the left side of his face. His tone of voice was solemn, though choked with emotion as he spoke an epitaph to those lost in the invasion.
"We must part now, until the next turn of the wheel. Another time, another place, another life. We may be enemies when we next meet, but at least we will meet again. For war and death will always walk hand in hand, and it is only this time that we walk alone; perhaps next time…we can walk together."
Byakko stayed in the village with Zabuza and Kyuubi for a week, mourning the dead and helping rebuild in the wake of the invasion.
At first sight, the sheer amount of area damaged was mind boggling. Almost no building made it out of the invasion unharmed. However, casualties were less than what they could have been due to the quick action of the two loyal sannin and the White Mage.
After defeating the summoned snakes at the breached village walls, Tsunade had summoned Katsuya and split the Slug Boss into hundreds of smaller slugs to ferry her healing chakra to the wounded, saving countless hundreds of injured, civilian and shinobi alike. Jiraiya had used powerful subduing ninjutsu and fuinjutsu to debilitate entire squadrons of enemy shinobi, allowing the weaker or more injured Konoha shinobi to fight on even ground.
The army of replicated bodies, created in a special lab by Kabuto as spare bodies for Orochimaru, had carved a scar of desolate land from the village wall almost to the stadium itself. Thankfully, only a few shinobi had been caught in their rampage.
Konohagakure lost eight percent of its population from the combined casualties of civilian and shinobi. There were minor power vacuums in the web of intrigue that was politics due to nobles that had been murdered, including the Donyoku clan head. The losses of the war were felt by everyone, and, true to form, they relied upon themselves and each other to rebuild their home.
Tsunade was initiated as the Godaime Hokage. In the first day alone, she promoted Teams 8 and 10 to chuunin for their contribution during a time of war and crafted a non-aggression pact with Sunagakure. The attitude between the two villages was strained at best, but there was no chance of hostility breaking out. Suna was afraid of imploding due to economic strain if they angered Konoha, and Tsunade had an iron fist for discipline when it came to international incidents or diplomatic humiliation.
The fact that Konoha had countered an enraged jinchuuriki with brute force and won with only light casualties held more than enough intimidating force against other villages to stop them from even considering attacking during a small time of weakness.
When Uchiha Sasuke began to show erratic behavior, including speaking to himself and rubbing at his Cursed Seal, he was euthanized in his sleep by Byakko before the fragment of Orochimaru's soul could take over him and be rebirthed in Sasuke's body. Tsunade was made aware of the situation, and privately found amusement in the fact that the Prodigal Uchiha Child, watched for every second of every day and praised at every moment, had died with nobody to witness his killer.
Kakashi, having felt that the Team 7 name was cursed, refused to take another team.
Sakura was apprenticed to Tsunade.
After assisting in the reparations for a week and paying their respects at the communal funeral for all that had died in the invasion, Byakko, Zabuza, and Kyuubi left the village, disappearing one day out of the blue. There was no sappy goodbye. One day he was rooming with Kurenai, and the next all his personal effects were gone.
Author's Note: I really enjoyed writing this chapter. While it had a lot of action, it didn't focus completely on it like a scripted battle, or at least I felt so when writing it.