FINAL CHAPTER 36: THE ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE – THE ULTIMATE REDEMPTION

With the seal dissolved, the gate began to slowly creak open, and inside a deep, wicked laugh emerged. Naruto, meanwhile, was completely frozen, his eyes widened to the point of pain in fear of what was about to happen: the Fox, the dark chakra beast he had never been able to tame, was loose…

"Tsunade-sama, I still haven't been able to do it…" said Naruto dejectedly one year earlier as he stood humbly in the Hokage's office. "The Fox…it's something more sinister than the other Bijuu. It's too evil, and too powerful – I can't control this thing!"

Tsunade rested her face onto her hands as she gazed at the now world-famous Naruto Uzumaki, a quizzical look in her eyes as though something about him was puzzling her.

"The Nine-Tails is unique in that sense," said Tsunade. "All of the other Jinchuuriki have mastered the beasts they carried, all except for the Nine-Tail and the One-Tail. Those two seem to be completely evil in nature, while Two through Eight have significant amounts of good chakra – even good personalities at times. The Eight-Tailed Jinchuuriki often said that he and the Eight-Tails were best friends…"

"I have felt some good in the Fox," continued Naruto. "Jiraiya taught me long ago to recognize the chakras within the Fox, and only recently have I been able to do that, but…" Naruto looked down to the floor with a look of concern.

"But what?" asked the Hokage.

"There's a hundred times more evil chakra than good in the Fox," said Naruto softly. "I need to gain control over it somehow, and I've been putting together a special seal just for this, but the more I think about it, the more bothered I get. If I succeed in sealing the evil Fox away, my stamina will be reduced a hundred-fold. My stamina is the only thing that really makes me different from the others…"

"You're heart is what makes you different, Naruto," interrupted Tsunade. "The Fox isn't you, and you aren't the Fox. Look at the Kazekage; when he lost the One-Tail, his powers were reduced drastically, but still the people looked up to him and respected him."

"But if I lose that strength, I don't think I could defeat another guy like Nagato…" said Naruto softly.

"I think you should do what you feel is best then," said Tsunade, leaning back in her chair. "Thus far your use of the Fox has benefitted the village, but at the same time you have injured precious teachers and comrades with that same power. Which is more important to you?" Naruto stood in silence for several moments, pondering Tsunade's reply.

"Either way it's the same answer…" said Naruto. "I have to seal away the evil Fox chakra, but I'll need your help with the procedure. I can't get the finalization step down right, and I'll need a second set of hands to set the final seal."

"Oh, you're making a seal now?" said Tsunade with interest. "You really are serious about that Hokage thing, aren't you? What is the seal's purpose, Naruto?"

"To silence it," he replied plainly. "To keep it from speaking a single word to me, even against my will. If I can silence the evil side of the Fox, it won't have any more influence over me, and…" Naruto stopped and looked out the windows of Tsunade's office.

"And I won't have to suffer for hurting my friends any more…"

"What happens if you lose control and the seal breaks?" asked Tsunade.

"Hopefully by then I'll know what to do," replied Naruto

Hiashi Hyuga stirred as he opened his eyes, taking a moment to calibrate his mind and remember where he was, and why he was on the ground. The Hyuga clan leader then sat up, taking only a second to notice what was transpiring before him, and when that realization hit, his fears peaked.

"Naruto!" he gasped, looking upon the beleaguered Jinchuuriki. Naruto's eyes were now red as blood, the pupils small vertical slits, and the marks on his face were dark, almost like gashes in the skin. Everything about his demeanor spelled trouble, and Hiashi could feel the impending doom he felt seventeen years earlier when the Fox had first come to the village. He's losing control… thought Hiashi, and he turned and saw Neji in the pond and Hanabi upon the ground, both still unconscious. In addition he saw a stranger to him, a brown-haired fellow upon the ground, but he could not see his face. However, from his vantage point he looked dead, and when Hiashi attempted to activate his Byakugan to check the man's chakra streams a pain shot across his eyes and forehead. It's no use…I'll have to get all three of them out of here…

"Go ahead and take Hanabi and Neji, Hiashi-sama," said Tetsuma whose attention was still placed squarely upon Naruto, prompting a surprise out of Hiashi. "Feel free to run as far as you can – I'll still find you, and I'll finish you off then. Leave Akira, though; I have unfinished business with him." Hiashi hesitated, but eventually conceded to Tetsuma's words; he ran over to and picked up both Hanabi and Neji and ran as fast as he could out of the Hyuga compound, now completely deserted. In fact, most of the village was now deserted of civilians, these having already fled to the caves of the Hokage's mountain behind the village. Therein they waited for the all-clear, but for now they simply waited for the rumblings of battle to cease.

"Come forth, Nine-Tail…" said Tetsuma cruelly. "You are my servant now, and I would like to see you for the second time in my life. Please, show me your power." Naruto's eyes lit up as the Fox Cloak began to form around his body, and with a sudden burst of energy and force the nine tails emerged from the Cloak, transforming his body in an instant and obliterating the remaining buildings in the vicinity. The dust rose high into the air, but not high enough to obscure the one thing that still caused nightmares for all the villagers who could remember that day.

"GRAWWWR!!!" roared the great red Fox as it stood above the destroyed buildings, its nine tails swaying and whipping wildly through the air. Huge claws scraped into the earth as it stood, its ferocious fangs, each the length of a man, dripping with murderous intent, its eyes glaring down upon the village, the village that the cursed Fourth Hokage lived and died to protect. "FINALLY! I'M FINALLY FREE OF THAT WRETCHED NARUTO! GYAH HA HA!!!" The Fox's voice shook the entire village, and every man and woman, friend and foe, stopped immediately to turn and face the horror now within the village as it towered above the buildings.

"Now, destroy the caves in the Hokage's mountain…" said Tetsuma, still standing below the Fox in the ruined Hyuga complex. "All the villagers are there, inside, waiting for the danger to pass. Destroy that mountain, and the village will be as good as dead, and you will have exacted your revenge. Now, destroy it!" The Fox, however, hesitated, making no additional movement whatsoever.

"What are you doing?!" shouted Tetsuma after a frustrating moment. "GO! KILL THEM WHILE YOU HAVE THE CHANCE!!!" Still no response from the Fox, and Tetsuma's patience wore exceedingly thin. Above, the Fox stared intently upon the faces carved into the wall, each a visage of the previous and current Hokages, but most particularly the attention of the Fox was given to the fourth visage.

"Minato…" growled the Fox. With a sudden movement the Fox lurched its head backwards, its demonic pupils reeling back into its head. "W-what is th-this?! NARUTO!!!"

The scene changed from the Fox's viewpoint; instead of Konoha it stood in a vast underground chamber not unlike the cage in which it resided with in Naruto's soul. Endless it seemed to stretch in all directions, water running beneath in and dripping form the ceilings. Before the Fox stood Naruto, his eyes blank and his chest featuring a gaping hole, deep and black and seemingly of infinite depth.

"So, what do you think you're doing?" asked the Fox. Naruto raised up his hands, the palms facing upwards, and the hole upon his chest began to heal itself.

"I didn't say you could be released…" said Naruto softly. "But I don't think that matters now." The hole was now gone, and color began to return to his eyes.

"I'm free now, that's all that matters," growled the Fox. "I'm the master now!"

"I'm afraid not," replied Naruto, stepping towards the gargantuan Fox. "One year ago, I made a decision that left me weak, and now I am faced with something I was afraid of."

"And you're right to be afraid!" cried the Fox gleefully. "That Hyuga boy released me, and in so doing has destroyed your grasp upon me completely!"

"Incorrect…" said Naruto, raising up his right arm, the fist facing the Fox. "Everything has a purpose, even if we cannot see it immediately.

"What is that?" asked the Fox slowly, looking at the sparkling silver ring on Naruto's ring finger. Upon the ring was engraved the image of a fox with nine tails, and the longer the Fox looked at it the angrier it became.

"Akira-sama gave this to me when the mission began," continued Naruto. "At the time I just thought it would help me stabilize the good Fox chakra I have been using up until now, but now I realize it is much more than that. It is the key that I had been missing, the key that fate has been kind enough to give me. It is the key to controlling and mastering you, the Kyuubi, in your complete form."

"Miserable little cretin!" cursed the Fox. "You think that trinket means anything…to…" the Fox's words slowed to a stop as Naruto scowled upon the Fox.

"This ring helps me stabilize your evil chakra as well as the good chakra, and when it is stable it is much easier to see and control," continued Naruto. "You're going to listen to me now, Fox."

"I'LL KILL YOU!!!" screamed the Fox, breaking into a sprint towards Naruto. "I'LL KILL YOU, THE VILLAGE, AND ANYONE WHO GETS IN MY…-" The Fox's demeanor suddenly changed from maniacal to fearful as it looked into Naruto's unwavering, calm face, his blue eyes hard as rocks as they stared into the Fox's own. Naruto's arm was still raised, the ring now glowing a bright orange.

"I have no time to deal with you," said Naruto softly. "Stabilize chakra… control…" The Fox stopped in its monstrous tracks, its entire body trembling.

"Get back in your cage," commanded Naruto. "We work together now, you and me. We can no longer be enemies, and you will obey. It is for our best interest, but more than that, it's for the good of all. I think over time you will learn to call me friend, and when that time comes things will be a lot easier for both of us" A deep growl sounded from the Fox, but it did not lash out. Instead it closed its eyes and bowed its head down towards Naruto.

"Very well…master…"

The Fox vanished with an unfathomable burst of smoke, covering nearly half the city in its billowing wake, but as it settled it became clear to all that the Fox was gone. Of these was Tetsuma Hyuga, his face livid in hatred and rage as Naruto once again stood before him.

"You…" growled Tetsuma. "What are you?!"

"I'm a jinchuuriki," replied Naruto, his body, face, and eyes back to their normal state. "And thanks to you I have finally achieved my goal."

"Why you…!" shouted Tetsuma, now sprinting towards Naruto, his Ikemasen Byakugan blazing. "I'll force that Fox out of you, and with it I'll…-" Tetsuma saw into Naruto's mind for only a second before being forced out with seemingly no resistance at all. Again he tried to break in, but again was removed.

"The Fox doesn't want you prying around his turf anymore," said Naruto. "And frankly, neither do I. You're finished, Tetsuma. You can't get into my mind, and without that you are nothing." Naruto seemed to vanish from sight just as Tetsuma had while fighting Akira, and as if out of nowhere a fist collided into Tetsuma's jaw, the force sending him several yards off to the left where he landed hard.

"You cannot defeat me," said Naruto in a matter-of-fact tone. "You can't even see me strike. I know have control over the complete Nine-Tailed Fox; I don't even need my Sage chakra to defeat you. Give up, Tetsuma, before I'm forced to kill you. You are beaten."

"Oh am I, now?" said Tetsuma in a low tone, his teeth bared and the veins upon his face bulging. "I think it's time for me to show you the true power of the Ikemasen Byakugan, the power that caused such great fear in my ancestors that they sealed it away for generations! Behold, Shizenhakai!" (Destruction of Nature)

Light burst forth from Tetsuma's eyes, blinding Naruto and forcing him to look away. The radiance increased further and further, all the while Tetsuma's voice rang out in horrific screams of pain until finally the intensity of the light was fixed, and his voice turned into a maniacal laugh.

"HA!" chortled Tetsuma, his eyes now completely consumed with the light. No longer could any of the typical Byakugan features be seen, all instead enveloped in the amplified shining of the Shizenhakai Ikemasen Byakugan. "This is the height of doujutsu evolution, greater than even the Rinnegan or Mangekyou Sharingan. With this power, I can split apart chakra streams by my sheer will! No one, not even you, Naruto Uzumaki, can withstand that! Not even that precious Fox of yours!" Tetsuma's blindingly radiant gaze fell upon Naruto's face, and the leader of the Twelve Cloaked Daggers smiled.

"GAH!" cried Naruto as a pain erupted in the left side of his face. His left eye suddenly became dark, and feeling left his skin surrounding it. Opposite, Tetsuma continued in his unstable laughter.

"I just turned off your eye, Naruto!" laughed Tetsuma. "I did it all the way from over here! Do you still think I'm beaten? Do you?!" Naruto scowled and made his move, disappearing with a flash. "Oh, I don't think that will work now…" grumbled Tetsuma with a grin. Naruto appeared behind Tetsuma in an instant, his leg flying at the speed of sound towards Tetsuma's mid-section, but before he could connect Tetsuma vanished, though now without a word or a hand sign.

"Oh no…" gasped Naruto, and from behind him there was a flash followed by even more pain in Naruto's body, this time from his left arm. Just as with his eye, feeling completely left the arm, rendering it useless as it hung down limply from his shoulder. Before he could think, however, the strike came. Tetsuma slashed at Naruto's back with a kunai, and Naruto still dealing with the loss of his left arm, couldn't dodge. Blood sprayed from the wound as Tetsuma's kunai tore through his flesh, scraping against his ribs and tearing through the muscle.

"GAAAH!" cried out Naruto in pain, and with that he felt Tetsuma's foot connected hard into his back, knocking him forward several feet where he fell onto his hands and knees, blood soaking his cloak and dripping onto the ground.

"This technique is too much for you, jinchuuriki…" said Tetsuma slowly. "I didn't think I would have to use it, but then again, you are the 'greatest ninja in the world', right?" Naruto coughed, a flew specks of blood flying out with his breath, and he wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "You know, I must say I am disappointed in you, Naruto. I heard so many amazing things about you, like how you could mix wind chakra with the Fourth's rasengan technique…rasenshuriken, I think is what they said it was called. Ninja everywhere claim it to be the strongest technique outside of the Sage of the Six Elements' domain, and yet you've done nothing but punch and kick me like some Taijutsu devotee?"

"Not here…" said Naruto in a labored, pain-stricken voice. "This is my home, and that technique is too much…it would destroy too much around it…and the pain it causes me…I promised…I promised Sakura and the old lady Tsunade I wouldn't use it without my Sage powers…but that time is gone…"

"Oh, that's too bad," said Tetsuma with a fake sense of sympathy, his eyes still radiant as though they were filled with burning magnesium. "I wanted to see it so badly…"

"That technique…" said Naruto, his head still lowered as he rested on his hands and knees. "That technique doesn't feel right to me. It's consuming you…it's going to kill you if you don't stop…"

"And what makes you so sure, huh?" replied Tetsuma. "You still trying to be the diplomat? You still think we can just 'talk' about it, and that somehow I will see the 'error of my ways'?"

"I'm serious…" said Naruto, now struggling to get back onto his feet. "I can feel it tearing your life away…if you don't stop now, you'll die within minutes." Tetsuma scowled, reducing the light from his eyes slightly.

"I don't believe you…" he growled.

"Why else would your ancestors have sealed it away?" asked Naruto, now standing upright and facing his foe head on. "It was a danger to them, and they were afraid it would destroy them! The same thing goes for Sasuke's clan and the sharingan – there gets a point where it does more damage than good for the user, and you are now at that point! Tetsuma, stop using that technique! You're killing yours…-!" Another shot of pain enveloped Naruto's body, his right leg becoming weak.

"Quiet, you filthy brat!" screamed Tetsuma, his eyes bursting further with light. "I won't take orders from you! I am a Hyuga! I am the rightful ruler of this world, and you will die for your treason against me! Look into these eyes, boy, for they will be the last sight you will ever behold!" Naruto looked up, and the light from Tetsuma's eyes broke through into his soul. With the light came great anguish and sorrow; the more it coursed through his paralyzed and incapacitated being, the more Naruto came to comprehend what exactly it was: pain, sadness, loneliness, anger, all negative feelings and emotions made up the light. It was so similar to Kira's Tenmongan technique it seemed almost humorous to Naruto, even in this dreadful hour.

This power can only destroy, just like what happened to Kira. It is destroying you, Tetsuma. Can't you see that? Can't you see that this darkness is tearing your soul apart and releasing the light and life from within you spirit as a weapon? This Shizenhakai is no different from Kira's Enkykou or Sasuke's Mangekyou – they only serve to destroy, not just their enemies, but their friends, their families, and even themselves. Stop this, Tetsuma, for your own sake at least. You have great dreams, just like me, and even though our dreams are at odds, your life isn't so evil that it should be wiped out in this selfish, devilish destructive force. Stop this, Tetsuma, please, for the sake of the Hyuga clan. For the sake of the world.

"STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!" screamed Tetsuma, his voice curdled in rage. "I WILL KILL YOU! I WILL…-!" Tetsuma suddenly stopped, a sound from behind breaking through into his senses.

"Kinjutsu: nususekei." (Forbidden Art: Life Shaver)

A spray of blue and black wisps of chakra flew out in all directions behind Tetsuma, and the Hyuga man fell to his knees, the light now gone from his eyes. Behind, Akira lay on the ground upon his stomach, and he released his right hand from Tetsuma's ankle. Tetuma then lifted up his face towards the sky, opened his mouth, and let out a cry that bested even the roar of the great Fox during its release. Every mile of the village felt the anguish and agony of Tetsuma cry. At this point Naruto regained his faculties, and slowly he walked towards the kneeling and enraged Tetsuma.

"THIS VILLAGE WILL DIE WITH ME!" boomed Tetsuma's psychotic voice. "BEHOLD THE ULTIMATE POWER OF THE BYAKUGAN! BEHOLD THE DESTRUCTION OF KONOHA!" The man's eyes were shooting out light as though it were a tangible material, and it even poured out of his mouth as he cried. Dirt and debris flew away from him as the waves of power and chakra blasted out of his body, and Naruto knew that it had to end here, and fast. Tetsuma never saw him as Naruto suddenly appeared in front of him, the blue sphere already prepared in his right hand without help of a shadow clone, but he did hear that word, spoken ever so softly as though with terrible sorrow and reluctance.

"Rasengan…" said Naruto, thrusting the sphere into Tetsuma's chest. With an explosion of power Tetsuma flew away, spinning wildly until he crashed into the ground in a heap.

"Tetsuma-san…" said Naruto softly as he gazed upon the wretched state of the Hyuga man. Tetsuma's eyes were now completely blackened, the sockets burned and the whites of his eyes completely replaced with charred tissue. A gaping, bloody wound dominated his chest where the rasengan had connected. Tears ran down Tetsuma's face, his mouth set in the state of anguish and despair to match the tears, and his voice was weak and full of sorrow.

"Naruto…" he said with a voice so soft it was barely audible. Naruto stepped closer, at which point he knelt down next to Tetsuma.

"Tetsuma, why didn't you listen?" said Naruto, sadness leaking into his own voice as he saw the terrible state of Tetsuma. "Why didn't you stop when I told you to?"

"You were right…" whispered Tetsuma, the tears still finding a way out of his charred eyes. "You were right…I was such a fool for not seeing through my own hatred…but now, none of that matters…" Naruto placed his hand upon Tetsuma's shoulder and lowered him onto his back.

"It's over now…" said Naruto. "You don't have to fight any longer."

"No, its not over…" said Tetsuma, now grabbing Naruto by the collar. Tetsuma's skin and arms looked withered away, as though he had somehow gained fifty years in age. "My body is broken and withering away because I let myself be consumed with hate. I caused the death of so many, and have ravaged entire nations. But even with all that torment upon my soul, even with all the sins I have committed, I must…ask of you…one thing…" Tetsuma's voice was growing weaker by the second, and Naruto, even without his Sage power, could feel his life slipping away.

"Tetsuma-san…" said Naruto softly, Tetsuma's grasp on his collar likewise weakening.

"Take…care of…Hinata…" stammered Tetsuma, his voice so weak it was merely breaths. "Make my clan…strong…and he…will…remember…" These words were the last to leave Tetsuma's lips, and he fell limp as the last ounce of life left his battered and burned body. Naruto sat there next to his former enemy's body for several moments without word or movement, looking down at the decrepit and ragged face which so recently had looked like Neji's. All that good Hyuga blood, all that pride, all that greatness…wasted.

"N-Naruto…" said Akira, his voice constrained by severe pain as well. "We won!"

"I know…" said Naruto softly. "What a wasted life…he was so filled with hatred that he destroyed himself. It's how it always goes, though, isn't it? The unchecked, unbridled desire for power mixed with hatred always leads to the same end. I'm just glad we were able to convince Jago to get out of that mess before it too consumed him." Naruto moved over to Akira and picked him up, supporting him with his shoulder as the two looked down upon Tetsuma's dead body for the last time.

--

Across the village, the Ring ninja battling with Kakashi and the other Leaf ninja suddenly stopped their offensive. Each fell to the ground then, holding their heads as if in pain, and after a moment of this behavior they fell unconscious to the ground.

"What happened now?" asked Chouji. "First the Fox appears and disappears, and now this?"

"I'm not sure…" replied Kakashi. "But I think this is over now." Beyond them, Moegi burst into tears as they finally knew the trouble was over and that she wouldn't be taken away from Konohamaru and Udon.

"Do you think Naruto is okay?" asked Sai, wiping a spot of blood off his cheek. Kakashi lowered his head and hummed in thought.

"I would think so," he replied. "He isn't one to give up that easily, even in the face of the Nine-Tail. But let's take care of the injured here first." Shizune and a team of medical ninja were already on the scene healing the wounded, though their task was rather daunting.

"We've taken a lot of damage," observed Shizune. "We lost a lot of good ninja today."

"Everyone did their job admirably," countered Kakashi. "A ninja is proud to die in worthy battle, and this was definitely a worthy battle." He, Chouji, and Sai then joined Shizune in treating their fallen comrades, as well as the now-disabled Ring ninja.

--

Several days had passed since the Twelve Cloaked Daggers launched their assault on Konoha, and already the ruined section of town were beginning to show growth. The industrious nature of the people could not be deterred by any form of destruction and death; the pride of the Leaf village and what it stood for in the hearts of the residents was too great to let go of their dreams. In all corners of the village the sound of woodwork and carpentry could be heard, even near the hospital where so many ninja now found themselves recuperating. In one room Jago Kotetsu, the redeemed villain, was receiving critical treatment for his near fatal wounds. In another two kunoichi were also being treated similarly.

"Has she awoken yet?" asked a nurse standing outside of Sakura Haruno's room to a doctor leaving the room.

"Not yet," he replied. "But she isn't in danger anymore. She just needs to find the will to wake up." Further down the hall, Might Guy and Rock Lee shared a room to deal with their injuries.

"So Ino Yamanaka saved you, huh?" asked Guy to Lee, who was sitting in his bed yet still training with a makeshift punching bag hung from the ceiling. "I've always known she was the best medical ninja in the village! Only the greatest could restore my wonderful student from his greatest injuries ever!"

"The seventh gate was most painful!" cried out Lee with a peculiarly happy and overjoyed voice. "I learned so much from my injuries, and I have a greater love for the power of youth!"

Down in the lobby, Gaara and Kankuro were preparing to check out, their injuries being milder than the others.

"So I guess you and Lee are even now, huh?" asked Kankuro, his face paint gone and his hair rather scruffy.

"Yeah…" said Gaara slowly. "Where is Temari?"

"Pff, she's still with Shikamaru upstairs," he replied annoyed. "He got pretty banged up by that demon he fought."

"We'll let her stay as long as she wants," said Gaara after a moment. "We're in no hurry to get home, and there's still things I want to do here. Let's go to see the Hokage." He and his brother then left the hospital, passing through the door just as Naruto ran in.

"Gaara!" exclaimed Naruto happily, stopping in front of the Kazekage. "How are you feeling now? You all better?"

"Yeah, I'm fine now," replied Gaara. "Why are you in such a hurry? The Kankokage has already left to see the Hokage."

"Yeah, he spent the whole night and day with that pink-haired girl," added Kankuro. "You would think he was in love with her the way he wouldn't leave her side until the Hokage sent for him."

"I'm supposed to be there too," said Naruto. "But I needed to come here first. I'll see you in a just a little while!" Naruto then ran through the door and out of sight from the Kazekage and his brother. Up the stairs he ran, not stopping until he came to the room where Sakura and Hinata were still being held. Their injuries were extensive, and both still hadn't awoken from their comas.

Naruto stood stoically in the doorway as he looked upon the two women most important to him. A feeling of guilt rushed over him, and he walked over and sat down in between the side-by-side beds.

"I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you both…" he whispered, and he placed his face into his hands.

"Naruto?" asked a voice from the doorway. Naruto lifted up his head only to see Akira Sugiyama standing in the hall. "Can I come in?"

"I thought you were with Tsuande-sama?" asked Naruto as Akira sat down in a chair on the other side of Sakura's bed.

"I never made it there," replied the Kankokage. "I couldn't stand to leave these two alone. I feel like it's all my fault that they ended up the way they did."

"I guess it isn't anyone's fault…" said Naruto softly. "I always beat myself up whenever my friends get hurt, even when I had nothing to do with it."

"That's because you love them," answered Akira. "Love is an interesting emotion, you know. I have no doubt in my mind that Tetsuma Hyuga loved his family and his clan more than anything, but it is easy for love to be replaced with selfish pride without our knowledge. We have to keep reminding ourselves why we love, why we care. I fell victim to the same fate as Tetsuma when I saw him there…I lost control, replacing the love for my village and family with pride, and that in turn lead directly to hatred and rage. But you, Naruto…you have shown yourself to truly be the most powerful ninja in the world."

"But I couldn't save him…" said Naruto quietly. "I couldn't bring any of them back…not Tetsuma…not Kira…I'm just not strong enough."

"Physical strength isn't what I'm talking about, Naruto-kun," continued Akira. "You were able to keep your love for your friends, comrades, and even your enemy intact. You didn't act out on rage or illogical hatred…you fought to preserve and protect, not to destroy. If even a handful of ninja were like you, there would be drastically less strife in the world. And besides, in the end I think you were able to reach Tetsuma. He expressed great sorrow for his actions, and even with his last words he sought to make some sort of reparation." Naruto thought back to those words that at the time stung like thorns.

He will remember…

"I wonder what he meant by that…" said Naruto, thinking back. "Who was he talking about? He will remember…who was he talking about?"

"I don't know…" replied Akira, but as he did so Sakura began to stir, absconding all of the Kankokage's attention.

"A-Aki…ra…" whispered Sakura, and Akira took her hand, a tear now running down his cheek. Naruto looked on with overwhelming joy as his best friend awoke, her injuries being so extensive that the doctors didn't think she would make it when Tenten first brought her back.

"I'm here, Sakura-chan…" said Akira with a smile, squeezing her hand. Yet despite this happy moment, Naruto couldn't help but turn around to look at Hinata in her comatose state.

"Will you come back, Hina-chan?" whispered Naruto sorrowfully. Even though he knew it was likely impossible, in his heart he wished that she had responded like Sakura, but to his disappointment she stayed in the same state. The wound across her chest had been deep, so deep that her mind went without blood for a time. Truly Naruto's heart had broken when he looked upon her in her unfortunate condition, and he wished he could do anything to restore her. Several minutes passed, and Sakura was once again asleep. Naruto and Akira then took their leave and headed for the Hokage's office where they were sure an angry Tsunade would demand to know why they were late.

--

"WHY ARE YOU LATE?!" shouted Tsunade directly at Naruto, giving Akira a pass and enraging the jinchuuriki. Yuriko the Mizukage, Gaara the Kazekage, and Shizune both tensed up a bit as Tsunade's anger bellowed throughout the room.

"Why are you laying it all on me?!" countered Naruto, and Akira walked up to the Hokage's desk.

"It's my fault, Tsunade-sama," said the Kankokage in a sweet voice that melted Tsunade's (and Shizune's) heart. "I wanted to make sure Sakura and Hinata were safe and well; after all, they were entrusted to my care during this whole situation – I can't help but feel responsible for their injuries."

"No one is blaming you for any injuries, Akira-san" replied Tsunade. "You, Hinata, Shikamaru, Sakura, and Naruto performed as well as anyone could have imagined. You saved the Fire Country, and countless thousands of lives were spared thanks to your actions. We have sent several teams and civilians to the Lightning Country to help them rebuild, and I would expect that you would need help rebuilding as well…" Akira shook his head in the negative, startling Tsunade a little.

"My Ring ninja have recovered from their possession at Tetsuma's hands," said Akira. "But there are so few left of us now that we don't know if there is a future left for us anymore beneath the Three Mountains of the Brine. We have discussed this at length and…" Akira looked over to Naruto with a smile. "We are thinking of splitting up. Tonbo will lead the remainder of our ninja into the Lightning Country to help restore them and settle a new village, and I wish to remain here in the Leaf. I wish to call Konoha my home." At this point Tsunade was completely shocked and taken aback, and she stuttered a little before her words could come out.

"B-but you're the Kankokage!" stuttered Tsunade. "Why would you…?"

"It is his decision," interrupted Yuriko. If he wishes to stay in Konoha, the Water Country will honor that decision." Yuriko then bowed towards the Kankokage and Hokage and left the room.

"But if you stay, the title Kankokage has nothing but sentimental value to it," continued Tsunade. "Your status as a great leader in the world will vanish."

"Then it will vanish," countered Akira quickly. "Hokage-sama, I wish to serve under your leadership the remainder of my days. I wish to see the progress of Sakura Haruno and Naruto Uzumaki, not to mention the career of Hinata Hyuga. I want to be there when Shikamaru Nara gains worldwide notoriety. I want to help you, who have helped me more than I can imagine. The support you have given me during this most testing time of my life would be enough to repay any debt. Please, Hokage-sama. Permit me to stay as a Jonin of the Leaf." Tsunade scowled slightly at Akira as she peered into his eyes searching for integrity. Moments passed, and finally she opened her mouth to speak.

"Very well," she said. "You, Akira Sugiyama, the Kankokage, shall be henceforth a Jonin for Konoha. Your loyalties are with me, your comrades, and the village forever."

"Thank you, Hokage-sama," said Akira, then turning to Naruto. "I'll meet you down at Ichiraku's later. See you…" Akira walked out of the office and down the hall, while Shizune followed almost trance-like, leaving Gaara, Tsunade, and Naruto alone.

"That Shizune…" said Tsunade, shaking her head. "Kazekage-sama, please feel free to abide in our city as long as necessary, but don't forget about your own people. It was reported that two of the assailants escaped, while a third simply disappeared. I have a feeling in my gut that this isn't over…"

"Hokage-sama…" interjected Naruto. "I think Kira Maraki is still alive."

"Your report stated the traitor was killed by your hand," replied Tsunade. "Now you tell me you didn't finish the job?"

"I wasn't sure what happened at the time," continued Naruto. "I hit him with rasenshuriken, then afterward he seemed to vanish. But with what Tetsuma told me…I think he's still alive."

"If that's the case then this is far from over," continued Tsunade. "If the Maraki boy has truly lost his mind due to that cursed ancestry of his, then there is no telling what action he'll take. But one thing is for sure: he knows who hurt him." Naruto nodded, and with that he headed for the door.

"Naruto…" said Gaara softly, causing Naruto to stop and turn. "I have appealed to Konoha's elders and to Tsunade-sama for you to be named then next Hokage." While Tsunade expected a reaction of joy from Naruto, all that came was a shrug of shoulders.

"Thanks, but…" started Naruto. "I…" Naruto immediately turned again and left the room in a hurry, leaving the two kages alone.

"Who is this Kira?" asked Gaara. "How can he be so influential to sway Naruto's desire to become Hokage?"

"Sasuke Uchiha and Kira Maraki hold similar places in Naruto's heart," replied Tsunade. "I'm sure he thinks that until he can restore them, he doesn't deserve to be called Hokage. Sit down, and I will tell you about Kira." Tsunade went to her bookshelf and pulled out a book entitled "Kira Maraki and the Heaven's Gate Eye", opened to the first page, and began telling Kira's story.

Later that evening, Naruto joined Akira in the Konoha cemetery where the members of the Hyuga clan, Hinata excepted, met to lay to rest the broken body of their once beloved child, Tetsuma. Few tears were shed, however; rather his memorial stood as a testament to the importance of control, of love, of respect. Tetsuma's life was a warning to those who refused to let go of presupposed fate, to those who thought darkness was an acceptable form of living. The Hyuga boy finally was home, laid to rest next to his father and mother, never again to run away.

After the proceedings, Akira and Naruto were left alone in the cemetery as clouds rolled in as they had so long ago when Naruto had thought Kira was dead. The temperature dropped along with the pressure, and tiny droplets of rain preceded the larger storm at hand. Both men knew that this was a time of mourning and recollection, a time of rest and repair, but deep inside both Naruto Uzumaki and Akira Sugiyama knew…

This wasn't over.

--

Deep in the northern woods of the Fire Country stood a shack of world-renown repute. The legendary Curry of Life was made here by the foremost curry experts, and this holy dish had been the savior of many wearied traveler and damaged warrior. This stormy day there were as yet no customers, and Karashi, the shop owner's tall, lanky son, looked forlorn as he viewed the storm rolling in.

"Grandma Sanshou, I don't think we'll get any customers today," said Karashi dejectedly. "This storm has the look of a monsoon."

"Oh, I suppose you're right…" said Grandmas Sanshou, stricken in age to the point where she could no longer make the curry herself. "Ranmaru, lets bottle it up for today." Inside the kitchen a young boy of about eleven years of age poked his lavender-haired head out of the kitchen.

"Yes ma'am…" he said in a prepubescent voice. The boy Ranmaru's red eyes were always lovely to Grandma Sanshou, so full of energy and life as they had been since those nice ninja from Konoha had brought him here to start his new life. Ranmaru started bottling up the curry when a knock came at the door.

"Just a second…" said Karashi, putting away a bucket before opening the door. When he did so he found a woman, cloaked, with only her mouth and chin visible. "Come in! Come in!" Karashi beckoned the woman in, and she sat down at the long wooden table, her cloak still covering her face.

"Oh miss!" exclaimed Sanshou. "Welcome to the Curry of Life restaurant!"

"So this is the place…" muttered the woman in a smooth, soft tone. Out of the kitchen came Ranmaru with a bowl of curry and a rack of spices, and he set them down in front of the woman.

"This is the milder curry, so you can add more spice if you…" Ranmaru stopped as he looked at the woman's mouth. A tear was running down her face, curving around her lips and running to the tip of her chin, where it balled up and fell onto the table. "Miss, are you all right? Are you hurt?" The woman shook her in the negative and sniffed as more tears fell down her cheek. She then lifted her hood, exposing her beautiful long silver hair and luscious crimson eyes now filled to the brim and overflowing with tears. Upon her face was a smile, sweet yet sorrowful, and she gazed longingly at the somewhat confused boy.

"Ranmaru…" she said softly through her unending tears, taking Ranmaru's hand in hers. "I'm your mother, Ona Doro."

EPILOGUE: REUNION

The cave in the south of the Country of Lightning was dark and damp as the storms that came in emptied rain upon the lands round about for days. Inside there were many sounds – bats, rodents, insects, among other animals trying to escape the monsoon, but deeper in the cave a light could be seen. It was as the rains fell that a man with white hair and electric blue eyes entered the cave, coursing downward until he could see the light.

"Man, you sure know how to pick the best places for a party…" he muttered to himself, brushing away a cobweb he inadvertently walked into. The closer he got to the light the more recognizable it was: a torch, below which stood an old, hewn staircase. These stairs wound down deeper into the mountainside, the air getting cooler and cooler with each step. Finally the man reached the landing, wherein a peculiar sight awaited him.

"It's about damn time you got here, Raiko," said Karasu Sashimi. "You're two days late."

"I'm sorry, but I don't have a Crow I can ride, do I?" retorted Raiko. "I have to travel by foot."

"Whatever," said Karasu annoyed. She then turned and spoke to a figure sitting in a shadow untouched by torchlight. "Anyway, we're all here. What is the 'big plan' that was important for us to abandon Tetsuma?" Behind the figure (and to Raiko's shock and surprise) stood a rather large bird resembling a Storm Petrel of the Gorge, a mythical bird not unlike the Osprey and Ravens.

"So you finally got her to show up, huh?" mused Raiko. "Some guy…"

"I've been enlightened…" said a young male voice from the shadow. "After my defeat I had a vision, one which I could not ignore. There is a boy, a very special boy, living alone in the Country of Stone. We must find him…"

"What?" asked Raiko incredulously. "You mean I came all this way to go babysitting?!"

"Raiko, you would be most interested in this boy," continued the voice. "When we find him, you will understand." Raiko's confusion turned into interest, and the man leaned forward, exposing his scarred face. His left eye was covered in bandages, a long recently healed scar extending up his forehead and down his cheek. His short, dark-brown hair was dirty and unkempt, but what took Raiko's complete attention was the look in the man's right eye: maniacal, unbridled evil, seemingly uncaring of everything.

"So what's the plan then, Kira?" asked Raiko. Kira Maraki smiled and took a deep breath.

"It's time to destroy the world."

THE END – AKIRA, KANKOKAGE OF THE THREE MOUNTAINS

BONUS! Well, that's it. I hope you liked it. Chapter 2 of my new Bleach fanfic The Viajante will be released soon, and keep your eyes open for the sequel to this story, which will have the title Journey to the Heaven's Gate. Thank you so much for your comments thus far and your support, and I hope you read it again sometime. Kankokage loves you.