Disclaimer: If you really think any of this is mine, then I've got some great property to sell you.

"Morituri"

'Ave, imperator! Morituri te salutant.'
'Hail, emperor! Those who are about to die, salute you!'
- Gladiators addressing Emperor Claudius

-Chapter 1 – Manifold-

*

"So. It begins again."

"Yes. Took long enough. I honestly expected it much sooner. Especially after ...he was summoned again."

"It was unavoidable. We had to ensure that there would be no …problems."

"It is secure, right?"

"Of course. It has been for over fifteen years now. If it hasn't gotten loose yet, then we've nothing to worry about."

"Well, then. Let's get cracking, eh?"


It was the common view of the Elemental Countries that Konoha was perfectly placed, agriculturally speaking. The temperature never got too hot, never dropped too low. Rain was plenty, but not enough to flood. It was, all things considered, perfect.

However, that didn't mean that Konoha didn't suffer from its share of freak-storms.

The snow fell lightly on the Godaime Hokage's windowsill. She stared at it for a moment, letting her mind drift. While she was never too terribly fond of the snow, she didn't outright hate it as most ninja did – whether due to snow-blindness or just because of the cold. Tsunade had long ago learned the trick to avoiding snow-blindness, and being bothered by a little cold was laughable to any S-class nin worth their salt.

She turned her mind, and eyes, back to the cause of her recent concerns. The post-mission report stared back at her mockingly. The busty sage sighed, and looked up at Tenzo, standing ram-rod straight before her desk.

She wanted to rail at the man, demand an explanation as to how the hell things could have gone so far south so fast. But she knew that it would do her no good. He wasn't to blame for what had happened.

That blame fell equally on the shoulders of Danzou and Uchiha Sasuke. And as the Uchiha was now dead, according to the mission report at least, that only left Danzou. And she would dealwith him in time.

Oh yes, she would deal with him.

So rather than shout her frustrations at the other ninja, she simply nodded and growled a "dismissed."

With the near-whisper of a Shunshin, she was alone with her thoughts. A moment later, she pressed the intercom.

"Can you send Shizune in here for a moment, please?"


Hyuuga Neji was not one prone to panic. There was nothing to gain from it, and often gave an opponent a lethal opportunity.

But he had to admit, at that moment he understood the appeal. It had been a half-hour since the Hokage's assistant, Shizune, had approached him, explaining how Uzumaki Naruto had been on a mission that had gone bad, resulting in the death of Uchiha Sasuke. And no one had seen him since he had gotten back.

Neji didn't need for her to explain why that would be worrisome. He knew that Naruto's determination to bring back the Uchiha had not faded since that failed mission from three years ago. If anything, it had strengthened in the intervening time.

And now Neji had swept the entirety of Konoha at least twice, and had found nothing. All of his things were still in his apartment, so he hadn't left. But it was like he had disappeared.

He paused as he passed Team Seven's traditional training ground. Sitting on the bridge, swinging her feet aimlessly, was Sakura. Neji didn't need the Byakugan to see how distressed she was. Her head was bowed, and her shoulders were shaking. And judging by how much snow was coating the young woman, she'd been there for quite a while.

He knew he should comfort her; or at least get her in out of the cold. But that wasn't his place. His hands balled up into fists, he turned back to Konoha proper and started running.

"Damnit, Naruto. Where are you?"


The wind buffeted Naruto, as he sat perched on the top of the Hokage monument. The boy's brows were knitted together, and his eyes stared out at the snow-coated village, wide and unseeing.

Cold from the steel in his hands bit deep, freezing them to the bone. His thumb ran up and down the side of the kunai, ignoring the chill. Even now, all he could feel was the warm liquid running down it as...

"Now, while I'm not surprised you're up here, I do have to say that I'm rather curious as to how you managed to evade the Hyuuga boy's Byakugan." A rich contralto voice broke into his thoughts. Naruto turned to find Tsunade standing behind him, a thick overcoat and scarf thrown over her normal clothes.

"It's easy." He replied with a shrug. "Neji's looking for a person-sized blob of chakra; not a thin blob covering most of a mountain-top." Tsunade frowned in thought momentarily, before stepping closer and running right into the aforementioned blanket of chakra Naruto had spread. She whistled softly.

"Always full of surprises, aren't you?" Naruto simply shrugged again. "Though the real question is, how did you know I'd send Neji to find you?"

"I didn't." There was a pause. "I just wanted to get away from everyone for a while, and wanted to make sure that I'd get that." The Hokage nodded quietly. Silence reigned, while the snowfall covered Fire Country

"…It's beautiful, isn't it?" Tsunade asked, gazing across the muted glow of Konoha. Naruto looked up, and really looked at the landscape for the first time since he had come up. It really was beautiful.

"Yeah…" He said quietly.

There was a crunch of gravel and snow as the Godaime Hokage sat down next to him. She opened her mouth to say something... anything, that could help the boy that had done so much for her. But nothing came.

Anything she could have said would just be hollow, devoid of meaning - as well as feeling. She just... couldn't empathize with him in this. Yes, she knew that having to kill someone you considered a friend was always hard - it tended to happen in their line of work, after all. And a part of her mourned Naruto's loss of innocence.

But she could not find it within herself to feel sorry over the Uchiha's death. The brat had been a traitor to Konoha. Worse yet - in Tsunade's eyes at least - the last Uchiha had tried to kill Naruto. For that, she would cheerfully toast his current residence in Hell.

So she just sat, looking over her village.

Finally, Naruto stirred next to her.

"Oi, Granny..." Tsunade's eye twitched, but she ignored the slight. "Did I do the right thing?" She looked over at him, his breath coming in puffs and eyes glassy.

"...Yeah. Yeah, you did."

"Naruto? What did you do?!""...but Sakura-"

"-was too emotionally invested. I shouldn't have sent her. That was my mistake." Though she couldn't help but wonder if Sakura wasn't the only one too emotionally invested. Naruto fidgeted, agitation boiling over.

"But I-" Only Tsunade wasn't having any of it.

"-defended your team-mates and yourself. You did nothing wrong." Naruto shook his head mulishly. Tsunade sighed mentally. 'Damnit, Naruto. How am I supposed to help you when you won't let me?'

"Naruto..."

"I killed my best friend." Naruto spoke over her, his voice quiet and intense. Despite her constant irritation over the blonde's normally blaringly loud voice, she wished that he was still yelling, rather than speaking in this low tone. "And I didn't feel a damn thing! He was my friend, I killed him, and I didn't feel a damn thing!"

Silence followed that pronouncement.

"Would you prefer feeling satisfaction?" Tsunade asked quietly. Naruto jerked as if struck. He whirled on her, face full of incomprehension.

"What?" Tsunade didn't respond to his question. She just stared out at the snow-blanketed city. "What do you mean, 'satisfaction?'" The two of them sat there like that, as still as statues. Then, finally-

"You were facing a traitor who had turned against you personally and was more than willing to kill you, and your team." Tsunade finally spoke up.

"I spared it, on a whim. Now, I'll take it – on a whim. And that goes for all of you."

"It'd be understandable if you did feel satisfied. Or even vindication. Hell, I sure as hell would feel vindicated and satisfied if I finally put down Orochimaru." Tsunade glanced over at him from the corner of her eye. The boy was staring off at a point just over her shoulder. But she knew he wasn't seeing anything at all. "But you didn't. Now what's that say about you?"

Naruto slowly brought his gaze to Tsunade's, and he smiled weakly.

"I don't know." He responded quietly. Tsunade resisted the urge to sigh, finally accepting that she couldn't do any more. Not yet, at least. She knew, from personal experience, that Naruto had to come to grips with this on his own.

She reached out, and pulled him into a one-armed hug.

But just because he had to come to terms with that what he'd done on his own, didn't mean he had to be alone.


"All preparations are complete."

"Good. Let the Game begin anew."


The blonde demon vessel let himself relax as Tsunade hugged him to her. He felt… safe. Wanted.

…was this what family really felt like?

A chill ran down Naruto's spine. One that had nothing to do with the cold wind howling around them, and everything to do with the raging beast within.

Something was very very wrong.

"Baa-chan!" He whirled, to shout some warning -

-And the world fell apart around him.


Darkness.

It was all he knew.

His name, his life; they were all unimportant details.

Trivial.

Pointless howling of ants before a giant beast as it tread upon them.

All that mattered was the void.

The void that screamed and raged in absolute silence.

The void was everywhere.

Nowhere.

He was filled with it, surrounded by it...

Utterly isolated from it.

A furious snarl of malice and fury ripped through the silent rage, rending and tearing, making the void flash a deep red...

...and memory followed in its wake.

Uzumaki Naruto.

Shinobi.

Jinchuuriki.

Sacrifice.

MINE.

The void lifted and Naruto awoke.


Consciousness returned to the blonde with a yell and a cloud of chalk-dust. Naruto jerked back, and found himself horribly unbalanced. His arms pinwheeled as he tried to ward off Gravity's inexorable grip. He could almost feel himself settling...

He never stood a chance.

Naruto fell to the floor with a crash. He lay there, motionless, staring upward.

'When the hell did they replace the sun with a lightbulb?' He mused drunkenly. Naruto couldn't help but think that there was something terribly wrong with that statement, but his brain didn't seem to want to work at the moment. He tried again to focus on why the thought should worry him, but it was like trying to find his way through fog.

Slowly, he began to realize that someone was calling his name.

"-uto! Naruto!" The blonde frowned mentally. That voice was awfully damn familiar. "Are you alright?"

Pink filled his vision, and Naruto felt the fog in his skull begin to lessen.

"Yeah, I'm fine Sakura." The response was automatic, as if he'd said it a thousand times before.

Then he remembered that he had. Memories of everything else came rushing back, and Naruto jerked off the floor, easily springing to his feet. Something was up – Sakura was willingly talking to him, he was no longer on the Hokage Monument…

The blonde demon-vessel took stock of his surroundings, and froze.

"Now that you're awake, Mr. Uzumaki, could you grace us all with the answer?" A youngish-looking woman asked him, standing behind an oak desk. She was dressed in civilian clothes, hair up in a bun, with flimsy glasses perched on her nose. She looked just like a teacher.

Which probably had something to do with the fact that he was in a classroom.

Well, technically it looked like some sort of laboratory, but all the beakers and fun stuff were capped and put to the side. There were two rows of tables in the room, with students seated at each one. Each table had its own clump of vials, and notepads were in front of each kid.

'What the hell…?'

"Mister Uzumaki!" The woman barked, making the already spooked Jinchuuriki jump a foot in the air. "The question?" Impatience was written all over her face, and her hand was helpfully tapping the blackboard behind her.

Naruto looked over at what had been written, and, still groggy from… whatever the hell had just happened to him, reacted instinctively.

He screamed like a little girl.

"Gah! Math!" He threw up his hands as if to shield himself from the wretched instruments of mental torture.

He was only vaguely aware of laughing all around him, and had a very disturbing feeling of déjà-vu. It was like he was back in the Academy again. He used the temporary shelter of his hands to glance around the room.

There were quite a few people there that he recognized – Sakura, Kiba, Hinata, Shino, Shikamaru, Ino, and Chouji. But there were even more people he didn't recognize at all. What the hell was going on? There was no way this was a dream, so could it be a genjutsu?

The teacher's irritated voice drew him from his musings. "Alright, Mr. Uzumaki. Have a seat." Naruto complied instantly, eager to leave the spotlight so he could figure out just what the hell was going on. However, considering how everyone (the teacher included) kept staring at him, he could only assume that he had done the wrong thing. Naruto was grateful when the teacher had re-gathered her wits, and drew everyone's attention back to the board.

Once everyone's attention was off him, Naruto tried to figure out what the hell was going on. He was willing to bet it was some kind of genjutsu. What the hell it was for, he had no clue. But it was the only thing that seemed to fit.

Using the desk as cover, Naruto's hands twisted together into a seal as Jiraiya's lessons came back to him. "Genjutsu acts like a net, anchoring to your tenketsu and making you see, feel, hear, taste, and touch what your opponent wants you to." All he had to do was gat–

His thought-process cut off when something registered in his mind. His hands felt… wrong. The blonde's brows knitted as he tried to work out what it was. He unclasped them, and looked as unobtrusively as he could.

His hands didn't have any calluses. Well, there were one or two, but none that looked remotely like the ones that should be there. The calluses from nearly a lifetime of handling shinobi tools were gone, and the ones that were there now looked more like what he'd seen on scholars' hands.

A chill ran down Naruto's spine. According to Jiraiya, genjutsu subtle and thorough enough to make changes like that were extremely powerful; more importantly, it was a close to a lost art, to the Toad Sage's knowledge. And a quick glance around the room confirmed his suspicion that everyone he knew had similar changes. Well, beyond the fact that everyone was dressed up in some funky type of uniform.

Making a genjutsu this detailed and complex, he had to assume, would take a lot of power and skill. Which meant that his own meager abilities at genjutsu counters would be useless. Damnit.

But he wasn't completely helpless, thankfully. Naruto briefly thanked Jiraiya for having the foresight to pull him aside after hearing about the demon-vessel's latest encounter with Itachi. The sannin had been researching into genjutsu counters, knowing Naruto's poor aptitude for them – as well as Itachi's preference for them.

Luckily, the older shinobi had found something.

"Now, you already know about stopping your chakra, in order to loosen the genjutsu's hold on your tenketsu." The old man started. Naruto, recognizing the other man's 'Lecture-Face,' focused on committing the man's every word to memory. "But it turns out there's another way to un-anchor the genjutsu. One perfect for your stamina and level of control."

This relies on …pulsing your chakra outward. You basically warp the genjutsu to the point where it breaks from the stress." Naruto frowned. "Think of it this way: the genjutsu acts like a net, snaring you in its illusion. You can get out of it by either removing what's letting it hold onto you, or by stretching it until it breaks." Naruto waved his hand dismissively.

"Nah, I got that. I was just wondering why nobody's done something like this before." Jiraiya gave a one-shouldered shrug, before smiling.

"Normally, trying something like that would exhaust a ninja so fully that he couldn't even move; it would be suicide." The old man's grin grew wider. "But since when have you done things normally?"

Naruto rolled his eyes at the memory. Ero-sennin seemed to really enjoy teaching a ninja that understood the importance of flashy grandstanding as much as himself. Then his hands reformed the seal, and the blond dug deep into his chakra reserves.

Blue eyes closed. Focus turned inward.

The world disappeared. The only thing that existed in Naruto's mind was the chakra gathering in his coils and tenketsu. Then, after what felt like an eternity, he was done.

Molding his chakra just like the old man had taught him, Naruto pulled the chakra into a ball inside him, before …releasing it. There was a roar in his ears, and he suddenly felt a wave of exhaustion hit him. He swayed slightly in his seat while his limbs felt like they were made of lead.

What the hell? Using his own version of a genjutsu dispel never wiped him out before. Naruto's eyes snapped open, and the sight of the teacher writing on the blackboard greeted him.

'It didn't work?' Naruto gaped silently. 'But…' So great was his shock, that Naruto didn't immediately notice the grumbling next to him. When he finally did, the blonde looked over to see Sakura trying to re-arrange her suddenly scattered notes, muttering about 'assholes opening windows.' A quick glance showed that she was not the only one with mussed papers. Hell, some of the chemistry materials on his desk were pushed together – though that wasn't the case for any of the other tables.

He felt like that was important, but he had no idea what it meant. There was something… significant about that, but he couldn't think of what. Something cracked in front of him. Naruto snapped his eyes around in just enough time to see several vials break open, and fall onto some of the materials the chakra pulse had shoved underneath.

Naruto had actually learned a few things when they taught chemistry in the Academy. Unsurprisingly, it was in the part where they learned what to mix to get the biggest boom. He had taken to it like a fish to water.

He couldn't tell you why mixing certain chemicals together got the reaction it did, but he could tell you what you wanted to mix with what to get the biggest bang for your buck. Literally.

From what he could tell, the chemicals spilling together would get along …explosively.

The detonation that hurled him off his chair a second later confirmed his suspicions. Then his head cracked against the floor, and everything went black.

Again.


A fast, steady beep stirred Naruto to consciousness. His eyes opened to the blinding white of a hospital.

What the hell? How had he wound up here? The last thing he remembered was the chemistry lab that he somehow found himself in, and performing the genjutsu counter. Beyond that, nothing.

Wait, no. He'd performed it, but there hadn't been any effect. Well, beyond mussing up some papers and … causing an explosion.

Damn, if this was an illusion, it was a damn good one.

He sat up in the bed, and a dull pain in the back of his head introduced itself to his awareness, along with its good friend dizziness. The blond winced and rubbed his head. Once the dizziness passed, he glanced around the room, and let out a long sigh of relief. He had been in and out of enough hospitals over the past several years to recognize Tsunade's personal touch.

He was back home. Tsunade probably managed to disrupt the genjutsu on him. Whatever the hell he was in was over. A knot of tension that he hadn't even noticed undid itself in his gut. Naruto exhaled deeply, laying back in the bed.

He sat back up a second later as he heard a piercing wail from outside the window. The blond lurched out of the bed, forcing himself to move through his dizziness. He stumbled to the window, and stared out in horrified wonder.

The familiar landscape of Konoha was long gone.

In its place stood a village filled with buildings that were both ridiculously tall and absurdly unornamented. There were no footholds for weary ANBU patrols, no 'fast-lanes' for ninja – hell, there were no ninja, period! The only people he saw were walking down the edges of strangely wide paved streets.

He wondered for a moment why they weren't walking down the center of the street – there was plenty of room. His question was answered moments later as he spotted the strangest contraption he'd ever seen barrel down the middle of the street.

Naruto stepped away from the window slowly. 'Something tells me I'm not in Konoha anymore.' Then he stopped. If he wasn't in Konoha, then that meant this wasn't Tsunade's room after all. Or it might be, but it wouldn't be the Tsunade he knew. It would be a fake – like Sakura and the others.

The possibility of this being a genjutsu was swiftly fading from Naruto's mind. This was just too detailed, too complex to be one…

He heard the wail that had first alerted him again, and saw one of those things racing down the street towards the hospital (or, at least he assumed it was a hospital), with flashing lights on top.

…not to mention that there was no one crazy enough to dream up all of this stuff.

He froze as he heard footsteps approaching his room. Time to get the hell out. The blonde paused for long enough to make sure that the gait wasn't Tsunade's, before racing over to the window, pulling it open, and slipping out.

He snagged the wall with chakra and crawled down the side of the wall, before dropping down to the alley and running away.

Seconds later the door to the room opened, and Senju Tsunade entered the hospital room, nose buried in the file titled 'Uzumaki Naruto.' She looked up and saw the empty bed.

The file slapped against the tile floor, having fallen from numb fingers.


The man walked across the faded linoleum of the hospital lobby. His polished black shoes clicked across the scuffed tile. His gaze swept across the lobby, taking it all in like a king viewing his subjects.

He walked around the various people milling about the front desk like a river flowing past rocks in its stream.

A large, bald, tattooed man took a step back, and collided with him. The tattooed man stiffened, and whirled, face red and furious. His eyes tracked across the lobby, eyes sliding right over the other man. The other man simply kept walking, slipping past the front desk and into the hospital proper.

He walked silently through the halls, unnoticed by everyone around him. The man didn't bother to look around him. He knew what he wanted, and where it was. Nothing else was important.

He finally reached his destination, and stopped short. A busty blonde doctor was standing in the doorway, staring blankly into the room. Not exactly a good sign.

"Excuse me, is there a problem?" The woman yelped and wheeled, before relaxing slightly.

"I'd say so, yes. The patient is –" The woman paused, scrutinizing him. Inwardly, he marveled. How on earth had she…? He discarded the matter for the time, focusing instead on his immediate goal.

"Excuse me…" She started, but he cut her off.

"The patient is what?" He asked, stressing his question.

"Missing." The blonde responded immediately, before blinking and frowning deeply. "Just who the hell are you?" The man turned around and started walking away. His objective was no longer there. Therefore he had no reason to be here.

"Hey!" The woman shouted from behind him. "Who the hell are you, and how did you get in here?"

"The name's Tohno Shiki. As for how I got in, how else? Through the front door.." He flashed a smirk, opened a door to one of the empty rooms, and stepped inside. The door closed behind him before what the hell had just happened fully registered in her mind.

"HEY!" She ran over, and yanked the door open. "Just what the hell…" She trailed off as she stared into the empty room. "Damnit, not again!"


A sewer cover was pushed up, and Tohno Shiki pulled himself up onto the street. He put back the metal cover, and looked back at the hospital several streets behind him. His lips twisted in a wry grin as he thought about the name he'd given the woman.

Well, he was wearing the mortal's face already. He might as well use the name as well.

The grin turned into a frown as 'Shiki' remembered the blonde woman. Most curious. He'd have to keep an eye on that one. Then he looked out at the street.

"Now, just where are you?"


"Where the hell am I?" Naruto muttered to himself, as he finally came to rest in an alleyway. He crouched behind a dumpster, both trying to hide from view and painfully aware of the fact that he was running around in nothing more than a hospital gown.

He shifted again, holding the lower back closed with one hand. Damn, but he hated these things. He was half-convinced that some perv had made 'em for his own twisted enjoyment. Seriously, there was no need for his ass to feel a breeze!

"Where the hell can I find some pants?" Then he shifted slightly, as another one of those wailing… things went past. "Better yet, what the fuck's going on?" He paused, and looked back down at the gown, weighed finding some sort of actual clothing over just trying to find answers.

'Okay, goal number one: find pants. Goal number two: find answers.' Satisfied with his plan, the blonde's hands clasped together for a henge. He'd just slip inside some store, swipe some clothes, and he'd be golden. He started gathering chakra – only to freeze.

His chakra was …wrong. He couldn't quite explain how. It just… responded too fast. It had only taken a moment for him to gather what felt like all of his chakra; which incidentally was nowhere near enough to perform a henge. What the hell?

It was like he didn't have any reserves. He reached again, trying to draw all that he could… only to find he couldn't. Which didn't make any sense.

He could still recall perfectly fighting Gaara, and reaching what felt like his limits, only to be able to draw more. To not be able to draw enough for a henge… Something was seriously wrong.

He pushed that worry out of his mind for the moment. Okay, so henge-ing himself some clothes was out of the question. So there went that plan. He cast his eyes around, trying to figure out where and how he could swipe some pants while in a hospital gown. Seconds later, his eyes fell on the bum curled up in a corner.

He immediately considered and discarded the thought. Then, as he was turning his eyes away from the man, he noticed that the guy was wearing multiple pairs of pants. Hell, he was wearing multiple pairs of everything.

While Naruto wasn't about to steal a bum's only pair of pants; if he had more… well, that was an entirely different story. Once again clenching the back of his gown with one hand, the shinobi snuck closer to the other man.

"Oi!" Naruto hailed. The man, who was turned towards the wall, ignored him. "Hey!" Naruto tried again. The man just kept doing whatever the hell he was doing. By this point, Naruto was practically right behind the man. Out of curiosity, he looked at what the homeless man was doing.

"…cake?" Naruto asked, puzzled. The man had written it all over the brick wall, along with crude drawings of it and some sort of box-like…thing. The man had heard him that last time, though, as he whirled around, his unkempt face bright and hopeful.

"Cake?" The blond bit back a groan. He was dealing with a crazy man. There went making some sort of deal with the guy. "Cake?" The man prompted again, this time pointing at the drawings as well.

"Yeah…cake." Naruto managed to get out. "It's delicious." The man's face lit up even more, and he held out his hands. 'Sorry about this.' Naruto pointed behind the man. "Yeah, it's right over there." The man whirled, only to collapse unconscious, as Naruto's fist struck the back of his head.

When the man woke up later, he found himself short an overcoat and a pair of pants and utterly without cake.

"The cake… is a lie?"


Well, that proved it.

Naruto had managed to start off 'completely and utterly lost,' and wind up even more lost. He wasn't quite sure how he pulled it off, but he did. He cast his gaze around again, trying to find something that looked remotely familiar or useful.

"You're very difficult to find, you know?" A voice came from behind him. Naruto kept looking around, figuring that whoever it was wasn't talking to him. "Ignoring me, Naruto?"

The blond froze. Okay, so apparently they were talking to him. Damn. He turned around, and tried to act surprised.

"Oh, hey!" Naruto found himself addressing a boy approximately his age, wearing glasses and what looked like the uniform all the kids in the classroom had been wearing. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention. What's up?" The other boy just stared at him.

"What's up? Let's try you getting a kiss from a fireball." Naruto shrugged easily, while internally wracking his brains for the kid's name. He couldn't shake the feeling that he actually did know the kid, but he didn't know from where. For the time being, he mentally labeled the kid 'Four-Eyes.'

"Eh, you know me. But what brings you out here, eh…?" He trailed off for a moment, having given up on trying to guess. The other kid paused for a moment, staring at him in disbelief.

"Naruto, I know you're bad with names and all, but this is getting ridiculous." Naruto chuckled sheepishly. "Tohno Shiki. Try to remember it this time, eh?" Naruto's feeling of recognition didn't fade, but he didn't recognize the name. Might not even be his real name, either. Yeah, yeah, 'Tohno whatever'. You're staying 'Four-Eyes,' pal.

"As for what I'm doing, isn't it obvious? I'm making sure you're all right." Naruto dismissed that with a snort. "Seriously, Naruto. You really ought to be more careful. Tokyo's not like Konoha, after all." The shinobi started nodding in agreement, before what Four-Eyes had said registered.

The next second, Four-Eyes was pinned to the wall of a building by a powerful hand wrapped around his throat, staring into a pair of crimson eyes.

"What did you just say?" Amazingly, the fucker smiled. He smiled.

Naruto's other fist buried itself several inches into the wall right next to Four-Eyes' head.

"What. Did. You. Say?" The blond demon vessel repeated, biting off each word.

It was taking every ounce of self-control not to rip Four-Eyes limb from limb. The only thing that kept him from doing so was the fact that Four-Eyes had information that Naruto desperately needed.

"I said: 'Tokyo's not like Konoha, after all.'" The crazy smile stayed on the bastard's face.

"And just what the hell would you know about it?" Naruto snarled.

"I know far more than you imagine, little ninja." Naruto snorted dismissively.

"Bull. You're just here to mess with my head. None of this is real." Four-Eyes smile had grown into a full-blown grin by this time.

"Oh, this is all real. Just as real as Konoha was."

"What the hell're you talking about?" Crimson eyes narrowed as Naruto picked up on a key word "And what the hell do you mean, 'was'?" Four-Eyes shrugged.

"Konoha was real, and Tokyo wasn't. Now its not, and Tokyo is."

"ANSWER THE QUESTION!" Naruto bellowed. Four-Eyes shrugged, utterly complacent.

"Which one? You asked two there just now, you know." Naruto's lip curled up, baring fangs. He knew he was being played with, he knew he shouldn't rise to the taunt, but his patience was worn too thin to care. He pulled his other hand out of the wall, uncurling the fist and letting Four-Eyes watch as his nails sharpened into claws.

"Do you really want to kill the only one who knows what's going on?" The boy inquired calmly, smile gone. At the reminder, Naruto's reason prevailed over his rage, and he stopped drawing on the Kyuubi's chakra. However, he kept Four-Eyes pinned to the wall.

"Alright." Naruto said. "So talk." Four-Eyes nodded slightly.

"You're in the middle of a war. A war between the gods themselves. A battle royale amidst the Heavens." Four-Eyes' voice held a bitter tinge to it, but Naruto didn't care enough to notice.

He was too busy staring at the bastard like he had just said Orochimaru's favorite past-time was prancing around Otokagure in a frilly tutu, all the while chanting 'I love Konoha.'

Naruto paused just long enough to burn that mental image from his mind, before turning his attention to the fucker.

"You gotta be…" Naruto started, disbelieving. But Four-Eyes looked like he meant it. Which, granted, didn't mean much to a ninja.

But the more he thought about it, the more Naruto found himself agreeing with what the lunatic was saying. Not because he was the type to believe stuff like that; there was just no other explanation.

What was it that Ero-sennin mentioned while they were training? Occam's Razorblade, or something.

'When all the probable answers have been eliminated, whatever remains – however improbable – is the correct answer.' …Something like that, at least. So Naruto had no choice but to believe it – at least somewhat.

But Naruto sure as hell wasn't going to admit it to this guy.

"Okay, let's say you're not completely nuts. Lemme guess what you're gonna tell me – I gotta choose a side?" Four-Eyes shot him an amused glance, then looked down at the arm pinning him to the alley wall and then back to Naruto. The blond rolled his eyes, before setting the other down.

"Choose a side?" Four-Eyes repeated, brushing rubble from his uniform. "Hardly, boy. You'll be going against them all." Naruto's brow raised at that. That was …unexpected. And worrisome.

"Oh? Now, why would I be doing that?" He asked Four-Eyes. Personally, Naruto would prefer having a couple gods watching his back – especially if he was going up against other gods. Going against them all just sounded like an elaborate suicide attempt.

"You'll do it because I'm telling you to." Naruto's brow dropped down from his forehead, furrowing into a deep scowl. No one told him what to do.

"And just why should I listen to you?" The other shrugged. Then he stopped his search for lint and stared at Naruto. The shinobi was suddenly struck by the impression that this kid was not at all what he seemed. His eyes were like Tsunade's – far too old for his face.

"Because you're mine, boy. You bear my Mark upon your soul."

What?

"What?!"

"Oh, did I forget to introduce myself properly? I'm the Shinigami, boy."

*

-END Manifold-