- ナルト- 幻脅威宴
Chapter Twenty-two: Phantom Menace Party – Bhava-agra of Youkai and Humans (Part One)
"Listen to me carefully."
It was a blessing that the barrier that contained her did not block out sound. Kurosaki Sayoko maintained a cool composure despite her circumstances. It was not that odd—expressiveness had never been one of Sayoko's qualities.
The large crowd of mostly human shinobi gathered in the wide road leading to Konoha's main gate listened without complaint following the Third Hokage's cue. The old man knew better than to ignore the words of Higashiyama Yuri's friend and attendant.
"The Emissary of Oblivion is a heavily armored Void creature; it can take immense amounts of punishment before it breaks down. Furthermore, an Emissary is completely immune to almost all kinds of damage, with two exceptions. The first is, of course, Kouton Jutsu."
Yuri shook her head the moment she felt her granddaughter Yurina's eyes on her. It would have been beyond unreasonable to pretend the little two tails could fight that monstrosity.
Sayoko's attempt at finishing her briefing was interrupted the moment she detected activity from the Emissary's immense form.
The beast's thick carapace, truly like a set of armor, expanded outwards in a slightly mechanical motion, further contrasting the Emissary's smallish head with the rest of its humongous body. Strange bulges of the same black ichor that seemed to make the whole of its body began to pop out of what they guessed could be called its neck.
"Burst range's three meters!" Sayoko shouted with a slightly hoarse voice that was not used to speaking loudly. She needed to minimize her word count in this situation. "Dodge!"
The bulges finally burst out of the main body of the Emissary, tracing an ordinary parabolic arch in the air before raining upon the humans and Kitsune like ants. The people there did not have to be told twice, all of them either jumping or relying on their individual high-speed movement techniques to get out of the way. It was fortunate that the bombardment was slow and its trajectory predictable, and thus almost everybody managed to escape.
The poor two nameless shinobi who either did not hear or failed to pay heed to or understand Sayoko's words showed everybody else the true power of the Emissary's simplest bombardment.
The small black balls fired from the abomination's neck were not really missiles, but proximity mines. As they approached the ground and detected life in their immediate vicinity, they exploded into orbs of the deepest darkness that engulfed everything within three meters, utterly erasing it from existence. One of the unfortunate shinobi did not even get the chance for last words; having dodged merely by taking two steps away, he was immediately swallowed and consumed by the Void. The second one was even less fortunate, for he had moved away just enough to lose only half of his body. The most inexperienced and sensitive among the present quivered at the poor man's last pitiful moans as his internal organs poured out of his incomplete anatomy. Yurine shrieked and buried her face in the sleeping Sayuri's fluffy tails, while Yurimi averted her eyes and the twins Yuriko and Yurika made faces of disgust.
A stream of flames surged out of somewhere and engulfed the Emissary's left foot. Most eyes sought the distraught shinobi who had chosen to attack, but it quickly became obvious that the fire Jutsu had no effect on the massive being.
The Emissary's response was swift and utterly merciless. The same bulges that popped out of its neck earlier suddenly appeared all over its body like warts. For a second it made for an amusing and slightly unsettling sight, until they exploded, this time not as flying bombs, but as spear-like projections extending in all directions from the Emissary's body. It was a tremendously swift attack, and the Void spears did not lash out recklessly. Even if the huge monster did not move an inch, the spears were carefully aimed in the direction of each and every single person in the vicinity.
Shinobi and kitsune scattered in all directions, most of them dodging the barrage. Sarutobi Hiruzen could only pretend not to hear the screams of those not as successful—four, no, five of his men. What struck him as even more important was the distribution of how the dozens of dark spears had been aimed. Glancing from the corners of his eyes, he could see Jiraiya leaping from tree branch to tree branch to avoid a sequence of consecutive attacks aiming to impale his body, just like he was too subjected to a ceaseless assault. On the foxes' side, he could also see Higashiyama Yuri dancing around dozens of the things, relying on some sort of instant movement technique to dodge the most dangerous attempts at piercing her through.
Why were these spears so intent on attacking him and Jiraiya, while content with trying only twice or thrice against other ninja? It was like…
A shrilly cry almost ended up with Yuri impaled, but she got away with Ghost Step and looked at the prone form of her daughter, Yuriko, with a measure of alarm. Her sister and lover, Yurika, leaned over the other girl's moaning and crying form with the terror of hopelessness. One of the Void spears had struck Yuriko on her left shoulder, consuming it almost in its entirety. She clutched at the missing section with desperation, for it seemed like her arm could fall off her body if she did not hold it.
The former Matriarch quickly looked for her successor and the rest of her family. In a bout of good insight, Yurimi, Yurisa and Mayuri had sought cover behind the crystal cage that trapped Sayoko, which the Void spears apparently avoided for some reason—if Yuri had to guess, it was so that the prison itself would not be weakened, allowing Sayoko to set herself free. Then, Sayuri…
A sphere of golden radiance protected the sleeping Sayuri and her temporary caretaker, who was currently panting at the exertion of blocking the attacks. Indeed, while most barriers would be useless against the all-consuming Void, the powers of Celestial Kitsune were a foil to the dire powers of Oblivion.
Yurina's Aegis of Splendor flickered and finally died out, the twin-tailed blonde panting as she felt the drain on her chakra. Anybody could tell she would not be able to do that again, not for some time.
"Yurina! Take Sayuri and make some distance!" Yuri commanded. At the same time, the Emissary unleashed a second round of its spherical bombs. Now that they knew how they worked, the Konoha ninja could easily avoid the slow attack, though. Yurisa leapt out of the safe spot behind Sayoko's prison to grab Yuriko before she and her sister ended up stupidly swallowed by the Void bombs.
Sarutobi's Shunshin no Jutsu brought him to where Sayoko stood surrounded.
"How do we kill that thing?" It was not rudeness that drove his succinct words; the situation demanded it. Four of his shinobi were already dead and two more severely wounded.
"I do not know," Sayoko said, but quickly made herself clear, speaking loud enough for hopefully everyone to hear. "Besides Kouton Jutsu, every Emissary has a unique second weakness. You must try different forms of damage until you find what works."
The Third Hokage nodded. "That thing, it can somehow tell our individual strengths."
Sayoko nodded. "It perceives 'the size of a person's soul', which is connected to physical vitality, chakra capacity and life experience." The explanation was more complicated, but they had no time for details. "Stealth will not work against a Void Creature. Neither will Genjutsu. Also, people with Doujutsu should be careful when using their eyes against it."
"What else can you tell me?" Sarutobi demanded. Any intel in such short notice would be critical.
A explosive tag attached to the Emissary's leg activated, drowning the battlefield with dust and roaring sound for a second.
"That's not good!" Sayoko called out. "Even if explosions were its weakness, that's just too weak to affect it anyway!" She quickly turned to the Hokage. It was critical for him to organize his ninjas' assault before they exhausted themselves fighting futilely. "Rather than a living being', the Emissary is more of an automaton…a puppet," she said. "It is predefined to attack in specific ways and respond to external disturbances in specific ways as well."
Sarutobi and Yuri nodded. They could get what Sayoko was trying to say.
The Emissary raised its armored, stubby arms straight ahead.
"That pattern…!" Sayoko recognized the threat. "Get away from it!"
"Everyone!" The Hokage roared as Void-stuff coalesced like black tar in the space between the outstretched "hands".
It was what in some circles would be called a "crowd-control" attack—a technique to clear all threats in the immediate vicinity. Unlike the previous attack, the spears that shot out of the spherical "mass" of Void-stuff were not aimed at any specific target. It was instead "carpet-bombing"; a reckless barrage of piercing shadow death from above. Density and speed were both off the charts; the only way to avoid that ridiculous assault was not being within its area of effect.
Yuri considered summoning her eldest daughter. Himeyuri's powers would be a tremendous boost to their present combat potential. However, at the moment the priority was…
Hiruzen managed to catch a glimpse of Yuri reaching under her garments. When the hand came out again, her fingers were stained in blood. It was the same wound she had taken from her fight against the First and Second Hokages, which had threatened to disrupt her concentration while engaged in the mental exchange against Yumemigahara Himawari. As for the aged Hokage, his priority was getting his people in order, pulling the wounded out of the battlefield and organizing an assault on the monstrosity.
Yuri idly thought about teaching Yurimi the Summoning Technique. However, her second youngest did not have the chakra capacity to make good use of that jutsu. Yuria, on the other side…then again, the half-Mountain was not one for delegating fighting tasks…
It was something worth thinking about in due time.
"Kuchiyose no Jutsu."
The familiar cloud of white smoke announced the arrival of yet another lily of Higashiyama.
"Horere?" It was a rather befuddled Higashiyama Chiyuri who stepped out of the smoke, her huge twin-tails swaying merrily under the weight of the large ball-like ribbons hanging off the ends. The fact she was wearing a full-length yukata caught her relatives' attention.
"Wha…? I was summoned—bwa!?" The four-tails instinctively took a step back the moment she saw the Emissary of Oblivion.
"Wo-hoho!" Jiraiya laughed boisterously and perversely some distance away, and a good portion of the present rolled their eyes.
"Oh, be serious, Jiraiya," the Third Hokage scolded. For some reason, the Emissary had stopped attacking after that latest barrage. Hiruzen wondered if it was because everybody had moved away. Maybe there was a certain "threshold" distance that triggered its offensive patterns?
"Chiyuri," Yuri called out and stood before her first granddaughter. They made for an intimidating picture, the two lilies with the largest bust sizes. "I apologize for the suddenness, but the circumstances are dire."
"Bu-but, Yuri-sama!" Chiyuri retorted in a supplicant tone. "Yurie's out of her bedroom!"
There was a bit of a heavy pause. Even the unrelated and unknowing humans could feel the unsettling feeling simmering amongst the Kitsune.
"That's…that's worrisome, indeed," Yuri admitted. "But this situation remains priority, and Himeyuri can control her daughter just fine—"
"But Byaku-rin-rin's in the shrine too!"
"…why is the Matriarch of Kinoshita in our shrine?" Yuri had to ask.
"Hauuu…" Chiyuri shrunk under her grandmother's stare, her eyes seemingly about to burst into tears.
The Third Matriarch of Higashiyama shook her head in dismissal.
"Whatever, we'll trust your mother to take care of things there. Chiyuri, please do something about the wounded here, starting with Yuriko."
Chiyuri gasped deeply at the sight of her fallen aunt—who, it must be noted, is younger—, but then stared at the massive figure of the Emissary of Oblivion.
"Yuri-sama, if that's a Void creature, then…"
Yuri nodded. They both knew that things which have been claimed by the Void cannot be recovered, ever. Yuriko's shoulder was gone forever. It could not be regrown or regenerated.
"Just do what you can, and then assist the humans as well."
While the half-Forest hurried to provide assistance to Yuriko, Yuri walked past the imprisoned Sayoko to join the human soldiers.
"Yuri-sama, the Emissary's attacks can be faster," Sayoko warned. "Please be careful."
"Please worry about yourself now, Sayoko-san," Yuri replied. "We'll take care of things here."
Sayoko nodded. The moment she set herself free from this unnatural prison, she could set everything right with little effort.
While the shinobi stood in a wary semicircle around the unmoving Emissary, Yuri approached the Hokage and Jiraiya. Hatake Kakashi, Maito Gai, Mitarashi Anko and Morino Ibiki stood nearby.
"She is…?" Hiruzen spoke, glancing at Yuri's latest summon.
"My granddaughter, and Higashiyama's healer," Yuri explained. "She'll provide assistance, but don't count on her for much. Void damage is irreparable."
"So," she continued, turning her attention to the Void monster. "All other attacks I saw you doing were too weak to count as references. We need all sorts of different attacks, all of them strong—"
"Run away!" Sayoko suddenly cried out inside her prison, her voice raw desperation and her eyes wide like never before as her hands banged the chakra cage futilely.
Their mistake was forgetting a simple fact: all creatures of the Void aim for the annihilation of everything that exists. If the targets won't step into the danger zone, the Emissary will simply seek them out.
With swiftness that could not be natural for its tremendous size, the abomination literally slid along the ground, its legs never making the motions for natural bipedal steps. As if propelled by invisible engines, the gargantuan monstrosity dashed towards the group of shinobi and youkai, its chest carapace stretching out like before and its stubby fingers growing into disgusting black tentacles, each of them thicker than Jiraiya's bulk.
"So fast—!" Someone cried out a second before a tentacle of Void-matter devoured his head.
Of course, the moment it moved a meter, it meant everybody was within its range of reaction. The barrage of Void spears began in earnest, accompanied by artillery in the form of omnidirectional Void bombs and the new addition of those tentacles, lashing recklessly like gigantic whips. A strange, artificial-sounding moan echoed out of its comically small head as it moved to the offensive. It did not aim for anybody, as it could attack anything and everything. Even the nearby trees, by virtue of being alive, became targets as well.
Everything beforehand was merely a prelude.
The battle began in earnest, accompanied by the screams of the unfortunate.
Surprising things were more often than not troublesome things as well. This was a statement Kinoshita Byakuren strongly believed in after only six decades as Matriarch of her Great Clan.
"You are too close," she said to the person leaning towards her. Seated as she was by the edge of the Higashiyama Shrine's large inner courtyard, there was only so much she could backtrack until her back struck the door to Chiyuri's bedroom.
At this very moment, the Forest/Mountain hybrid was dealing with a rather unusual surprise. Also, this girl seemed to have no knowledge of the concept of personal space.
"Really, you are too close."
It was unsettling for several reasons, least of them the girl's proximity. It had been a long time since she felt like this. It was completely different from the pressure she experienced during the regular meetings between the leaders of the Great Clans; that was merely the natural psychological burden of standing in close proximity to monsters like Kougon, Fubuki and even Utahime.
This girl made her feel like prey.
Was it her abnormally wide pupils? The unexplainable upwards curve of her lips? The way she swayed on the tips of her toes as if dying to reveal some sort of secret?
"Ne, who are you?" The white-haired girl spoke, seemingly paying no heed to Byakuren's earlier statement.
"I would like to ask the same," the Forest Matriarch admitted. "I am Kinoshita Byakuren. I take it you are Higashiyama Yurie."
Yes, there was nobody else she could be. The rumored Hidden Lily—everybody knows she exists, but nobody Byakuren knew had ever seen her.
"Yes, that's me," Yurie replied absentmindedly. "So Kinoshita, huh…that makes you a Forest…boring."
Byakuren could not stop herself: she raised an eyebrow.
"I've already worked on Chiyuri-nee-chan, so I have no use for you. Now, a Lightning; I'd do anything for one of those."
The tall figure of Higashiyama Himeyuri, the Princess Lily, appeared from a neighboring building. Byakuren kind of envied the Great Spirit Clan, which because of its small size could afford to build separate buildings for most of its members. She wished her own Clan had more space, but then again, it could be worse, if the rumors she had heard about Kasuigakure, the refuge of Nagashirakawa, were true.
Himeyuri's blonde hair which betrayed her Celestial blood danced and swayed as she approached with heavy and long steps. Byakuren also wished she had legs like that woman's.
Kinoshita Byakuren is a rather wistful person.
"I told you to go back to your bedroom, Yurie. The family will not be coming back today."
The Forest Matriarch had to agree with that. Given the recent developments, Higashiyama would probably not return to its shrine that day…if they ever returned at all. Her thoughts drifted to her beloved Chiyuri, who had just departed without warning.
"Muu…I just thought you had brought me an interesting new subject…"
Himeyuri dutifully ignored her daughter's attempt at looking pouty and cute.
"I did not bring her for you." A pause. "In fact, I did not bring her at all."
"Subject…?" Byakuren mused, the sounds barely escaping her mouth, so faint they were.
"Muu…I'll be in the lab…" Yurie declared as she departed. "I think I finally got the hang of grandma's shrine weather control! Then I'll get all the lightning I need, wa-ha-ha-ha!"
"It's a bedroom," Himeyuri shot back at the wickedly laughing girl's back before realizing what she had just heard. "More like, don't tamper with the shrine's barrier! Mou…" With that said, she turned to face Byakuren. "…I hope she has not done anything to bother you, Kinoshita-sama."
"Eh? Ah, no, no, she did not…" Byakuren had many questions about that girl, Yurie, but she doubted she would get anything out of her mother. "I should consider myself privileged to have met the mysterious Hidden Lily."
"Uh, no, I would be grateful if you forgot she existed…" Himeyuri mumbled, looking somewhat guilty and ashamed. Of course, as a mother, saying such words must have been painful. "Where is Chiyuri?"
"Hmm…" The Forest Kitsune tilted her head as if pretending to think hard about that question. "If I had to guess, I would say she was summoned."
Himeyuri's expression hardened almost imperceptibly. It must be difficult, Byakuren guessed. If she were in Himeyuri's situation, what would she feel? Standing alone, waiting for a family that might not ever come back…
"You…are a strong woman, Himeyuri."
"No, not at all," the tall blonde refuted, avoiding Byakuren's eyes while she served tea for them both. "I am the coward who refused the position of Matriarch."
"I see no coward before me," Byakuren retorted, and no more was said.
The eldest of the Higashiyama lily sisters, and the one the others looked up to.
The mother of that unsettling Hidden Lily, Yurie.
Higashiyama Yuri's left hand; the person to whom she entrusted the shrine in her absence.
Even without Yurie's assistance, Byakuren doubted she could claim the shrine from this woman even in these most advantageous of circumstances.
So they drank tea in silence, their hearts not in the shrine, but in Konoha, longing for their loved ones.
It would be a quiet and painful waiting game.
The group of tentacles that made the Emissary's right hand entwined together like a drill; a gigantic spiraled spear of the Void that attempted to impale the Third Hokage and everyone close enough. The group of shinobi within the area of effect leapt in every direction. No soil was perturbed; no earth was flung away by the impact; the black spear devoured everything in its path flawlessly, leaving a perfectly smooth hole in its wake.
A second group of shinobi launched fireballs at the monster, to no effect.
"Gaaah, I don't have chakra for a giant snake!" Sarutobi caught Anko moaning pointlessly in the distance just before he started with his hand seals.
Katon – Goryuuka no Jutsu.
After a deep inhalation, a huge dragon head of flames leapt out of Sandaime's mouth, its flames roaring before lashing at the Emissary's torso. Regardless, Void spears surged out of its body to strike at the airborne Hokage, who was grabbed out of their path by a careful Maito Gai.
"Thank you, Gai-kun."
"Don't mention it," the unusually serious Taijutsu virtuoso responded. "It doesn't seem to be burning."
"Then we try something else."
Groups of shinobi drew the monster's attention with anything they could muster, quickly moving away from its retaliatory strike and allowing another group to attack from a different direction. However, things like kunai and single exploding tags would be meaningless against such a strongly armored entity.
A single figure dashed past the scattered groups of shinobi with superior swiftness, lightning chakra crackling in his right hand. Catching sight of him, Gai frowned albeit not in annoyance.
"Aaaah! I will not let you strike ahead of me, Kakashi!"
The Third Hokage winced as he was buffeted by the winds pushed by the pulse of chakra released when Gai opened his Initial Gate, taking to the gigantic Void monster with tremendous speed. The tentacles of its left hand lashed at Kakashi, who swiftly dodged them with the aid of his superior left eye. Gai simply reached the monster faster than it detected his approach.
"Raikiri!" Kakashi buried his hand in the Emissary's left leg at the same time Gai leapt high and punched what should be its crotch with all the strength the First Gate could grant him. Lines of lightning propagated from Kakashi's impact point, one of them quickly grounded by the soil below, but the second traversing upwards and crawling over the gigantic monster's black body.
"Pull your hand out!" A female voice called out, and Kakashi instinctively did as told, just in time to avoid the "skin" around his arm flowing like black tar and filling the hole his Jutsu had created, which would have annihilated his arm in the process. At the same time, Gai planted his feet on the Emissary's body to leap away from the black spikes that shot out in response to its attack. More Void-stuff like tar poured out of the spot Gai struck, stretching and then hardening into disgusting black tentacles dangling from between the Emissary's legs, these much thicker than the ones that made its fingers. Immediately, like instinctive predators, the thick Void lashes sought the nearest life forms within range, adding to the mad battlefield with powerful, sweeping and crushing attacks. Cries of fear and desperation in futility increased upon the advent of this new and admittedly creepy form of attack.
Kakashi zigzagged away from a barrage of Void spears and reached Higashiyama Yuri, nodding to her.
The source of the warning just earlier only nodded.
"So we can discard both Electricity and Piercing damage as well…?"
"I honestly do not know. We might still want to try something stronger."
Yuri meditated on what to do herself. Far behind her, Chiyuri was still busy trying to do something about Yuriko's arm. Even further away, Yurina watched the battle with hopeless frustration while holding to the sleeping Sayuri like a lifeline. She had been joined by her little Genin "friends", commanded by their parents and relatives not to join in this fight way beyond their level.
Yuri, while definitely powerful, could not contribute significantly to this battle. A Void creature, not having anything like a "soul", was unaffected by most Spirit Jutsu. Furthermore, Illusions and Enchantments would probably be more harmful to their caster than to the Emissary.
"Then, what I can do is…"
Reaching into the left sleeve of her elegant and somewhat battered furisode, Yuri pulled out a tiny rolled scroll. Unfurling it with her right hand revealed what any ninja worth its salt would recognize as a simple storage seal.
"Yes," the swordswoman appeared from nowhere like a flickering ember, kneeling behind the former Matriarch with utmost respect. What Yuri drew out of the seal was a naginata, long and ornate like few others. It was not something made with Soul Forging, but a true centuries-old masterpiece of metalworking. The pole of black wood led to the silver blade by splitting into nine spiraling sections resembling either a kitsune's tails or flames in a bonfire. The different amount of layers of metal across the blade's section could be discerned with the naked eye, revealing just how sharp that weapon's edge was.
It was a gift from a noble of what is currently Iron Country; a man Yuri had fancied at one point.
"You have not tried any of your powerful sword skills yet."
"Not yet, Yuri-sama."
"Very well," Yuri said, taking a step forward. "Allow me to see whether Slashing attacks work, then."
Ghost Step is virtually instantaneous. When used by a Kitsune as skilled as Yuri, its range can be measured in the kilometers.
In a moment, she was in the air just in front of the Emissary's relatively small, insect-like head, blade poised to decapitate. There was a silver flash, and Yuri then was in the air just behind the Emissary. The head was no longer there. However, there was no head cut.
"No way…" Someone among the shinobi muttered.
Like a turtle's, the Emissary's head had sunken into its massive body. Then, that huge body turned around faster than it had moved ever before. People flinched away in reaction and soon had to leap away from the barrage of Void bombs launched from its left hand while the other limb backhanded the airborne Kitsune with rock-shattering force. Kotonoha and Yurisa called out Yuri's name when she was blown away by the terrible impact, and everybody's eyes followed the trail of shattered and flung trees in her flight path until it ended almost a hundred meters away with a fearsome tremor and could of scattered dust and soil.
"Yuri…sama…" Kotonoha gasped out pitifully…and then the world exploded with silvery light.
A magnificent beam of silver chakra shot out of the risen cloud of forest debris, striking the Emissary's chest armor. Light expanded to a blinding threshold, the scattered waves somehow neutralizing the Void bombs as they were consumed by Oblivion, soon rendering the scene visible once more.
It was an unnatural sight, even if it should not be. Higashiyama Yurisa realized with some surprise that it was the first time in her long life she had seen it: Higashiyama Yuri's true appearance, enhanced by the Giant Form technique.
It is a known fact that a Kitsune's size in their natural fox form increases with the number of tails. For example, Sayuri's true form as a nine-tails is about as large as Shukaku of the Sand, a size Yurine could only match with Giant Form. The Sayuri that "attacked" Konoha thirteen years ago was a Kyuubi further enlarged by Giant Form; a beyond-colossal monstrosity whose body obscured the sky. While there are certainly advantages to being a titanic quadruped, the fact remained that doing anything in that form cost considerably more chakra, especially Reinforcement.
Higashiyama Yuri had become an indescribably beautiful seven-tailed silver fox, as tall as the Emissary and at least five times longer from muzzle to tails. Her neat and flawless fur the color of moonlight literally sparkled, but her carmine eyes reflected indescribable anger, and her parted lips showed sharp teeth the size of houses.
To Kurosaki Sayoko, it was almost nostalgic, this form the Third Matriarch never showed to her relatives, preferring the far more comfortable anthropomorphic shape. The Silver Lily of the Netherworld, Higashiyama Yuri, daughter of the Golden Spirit Fox, Higashiyama Yuyuko. Mother and daughter made the strongest living Ghost Kitsune. Then again, for all she knew Yuyuko could have died somewhere.
The Emissary opened its mouth and Void chakra began to gather in front of its face; it would seemingly respond to Yuri's beam with a beam of its own. The giant fox disappeared for an instant; Ghost Step taking her to the Emissary's blind spot. Her tails, however, reached around the Void beast's head and pushed, dragging the gigantic black monster until it fell on its back. Humans and foxes trembled together with the ground tortured by the weight of such a thing. Unrestrained, the Void beam shot upwards to the sky where it would not harm anything but the atmosphere itself.
Growing until they entangled the fallen Emissary, Yuri's seven tails dragged it along the ground in a wide arc. The former Matriarch growled uncharacteristically at the feat of strength powered by huge amounts of chakra until she finally threw the Void beast in the direction of Konoha, barely lifting its tremendous mass off the ground even with all that strength. The Emissary released a strange humming sound as it was flung away, when it struck the ground again and while its large bulk rolled for the good part of two hundred yards.
A burst of white smoke later, Yuri stood in front of Sayoko's prison back in her anthropomorphic form.
"That…did not go as I expected, but the result nonetheless was the same: Kuromiya Fubuki has underestimated us," she declared.
"Please do not worry about me," a slightly smiling Sayoko spoke after nodding. "I will find my way out of this. Just be wary of…"
The Silver Lily nodded. She knew better than to spend all her chakra against the Emissary when something even more monstrous was lurking around.
While the fighters rushed after the fallen form of the Emissary, there was one among them who had a slightly different plan. Yuri glanced at Kotonoha, who had lowered her stance and changed her grip on her trusty hatchet. The former Matriarch thus realized that she did not need to give any more instructions to her—she had figured it out on her own.
The edge of the squared blade pointed towards the ground instead of to the side as would be expected. Her right foot moved slightly forward and she bent her knees a bit more, leaning until her face and her right foot could be connected with a vertical line.
And then, she attacked; a single burst of speed to close the distance in a fraction of a second, followed by an horizontal swipe at Mach 70, this time with the flat of the blade.
"Futari no Kyori."
The metals surface struck the Emissary's right leg with explosive power, and the same artificial-sounding hum escaped the Void beast's small mouth as its huge body trembled.
"Yes," Yuri said almost two hundred yards away. "That definitely hurt it."
Just like her bashing him and flinging him around with her giant tails. She had originally thought its weakness would be Slashing damage, taking into account the fact that it had actually dodged her first attack, but that was probably a strategy the automaton developed upon recognizing both Yuri and Kotonoha as "blade users". A feint that failed the moment Yuri chose to rely on Giant Form.
"So, its second weakness is…" Jiraiya appeared to her right. Yuri nodded.
"Simple and straightforward blunt damage."
"Then again, with that body…" the Third Hokage added.
"Only really strong physical attacks will hurt that thing…" Jiraiya perked up. "It's moving!"
Yuri worried for the Kitsune swordswoman—she knew the "latency" after Kotonoha's strongest techniques was dangerously long.
Kotonoha, alone before the Emissary until the shinobi of Konoha caught up, found herself suddenly surrounded. It was almost as if the speed of its reactions was proportional to that of the attacks it received. Void bombs floating behind her, and the Emissary's knee had split grotesquely, its malleable substance opening before Kotonoha like a gaping black maw.
"Ah…" The four-tails uttered as she recognized the lack of avenues of escape. She was too reckless…
That's what I said.
Bullets of Void Fire devoured the floating mines before they exploded, and a pair of bare legs cloaked in the same black flames stomped on the tar-like Void body, crushing it just in front of Kotonoha.
"This is why you're an empty-headed udder woman."
Wearing a cerulean sundress and a large blue ribbon on the back of her head, her small form terribly contrasted in the midst of the dire battlefield. Still, Kotonoha smiled at her savior.
"Thank you, Setsuna."
Kiyoura Setsuna rolled her eyes.
"Seriously." With a swipe of her hand, the Void bombs on their way exploded halfway before reaching the two. "Move it already, idiot."
High-speed movement pulled them away from the Emissary's immediately vicinity, where they were met by the Konoha shinobi.
"Have I not made myself clear enough, Kotonoha, or is your skull really full of nothing but fat like those grotesque things you have instead of breasts?"
"Ah, ahaha…" Kotonoha chuckled bashfully, for this time she could not retort. She had really made a mistake back there.
"The only one who is allowed to take your life is me, Kiyoura Setsuna! Is that clear!?"
"Ah, yes, yes…"
Setsuna glared at the taller woman some more before glancing at the shinobi, quickly finding a specific one among them. "Ah, you! Maito Gai!"
The man in green blinked, surprised.
"You'll need four—no, at least five Gates to inflict significant harm to that thing."
Gai was not the only one who frowned.
"How do you…?"
"Hmph!" The small half-Kitsune proudly crossed her arms. "I am Kiyoura Setsuna. I know many things." She turned to Kotonoha once more. "So? Where's my boy? I saw the empty rooftop."
"Ah…" The voluptuous swordswoman glanced to the far distance behind her for a moment. "He's not made it back after fighting the One-Tailed Sand Tanuki…maybe he's still resting…?"
"He was fighting Shukaku? Hmm…"
Kotonoha smiled at the sight of the appreciative manner in which Setsuna looked in the direction the giant sand monster was last seen.
"Yes, I'm very proud of him, too."
The reaction was predictably instantaneous.
"Wha—lah-like-like—as if—it takes a lot more than that to impress me, Kotonoha! Hmph!"
"Less chatting more fighting!" Jiraiya exclaimed as he dashed past the two women just before the Emissary, in the midst of a slow attempt to standing up, resumed its attack with a new barrage of Void lashes bursting out of its body. Just behind them, the Third Hokage planted his hand on the ground to use the Summoning Technique. A roar of enthusiasm grew among the shinobi lines at the appearance of the Monkey King Enma.
"Everybody, fight without hesitation!" The Third Hokage shouted. "Do not let it stand up!"
He was responded with a roar of assent. Shinobi took to the trees, gathering in small groups and collecting explosive tags, hoping enough of them would create enough concussive force to harm the Void beast. A line of bulky men led by Akimichi Chouza stood at the forefront, ready to smash and bash the monster regardless of the risk they took by leading the charge. To the side, Hatake Kakashi and Morino Ibiki led a group of ANBU and together prepared hand seals for Earth Release techniques.
Glancing at the king of monkey-kind and the two toads perched on Jiraiya's shoulders, Setsuna found herself grinning.
"Hoo, who'd have thought? This might prove interesting enough to join in, after all."
Far behind the front line, a group of Kitsune watched the determined humans hurrying to resume their battle. They had been shown that the Emissary could be harmed, and how. Even if they would not voice it, Hiruzen and the others were grateful to Higashiyama Yuri.
Humans, marching together against hopelessness. Just like it has always been.
Mayuri looked up at her mother, who had chosen to stand up after a long period of doing nothing but holding her daughter protectively. Yurisa looked down and met her daughter's calm gaze.
"Mayuri, you know…I wish nothing more but your happiness, right?"
The girl nodded. That she knew better than anyone.
"I want to protect you; my daughter, my love," Yurisa said, more to herself than to her kneeling daughter. "Like this…standing on the back like this, I…"
Mayuri nodded. Even if she feared for her mother, she could not stop her anymore than she, in all her weakness of mind, could stop anybody else. Higashiyama Mayuri considered herself by far the weakest person in that place.
Yurisa was not the only one watching the backs of those shinobi with strange feelings in her chest. Yurika was startled by a sudden squeeze of her hand. Looking down, she saw her sister and lover's smiling face even in unconsciousness. Chiyuri had sedated her to ease her pain, and replaced her missing shoulder with a wooden frame that would at least keep her arm attached to the rest of her body. She would need time and a friendlier environment to build an articulate piece with the proper number of degrees of freedom.
"What are you thinking, Yuri-sama?"
Yuri would not show surprise, but she was indeed startled by Sayoko's voice behind her.
"Ne, Sayoko-san…" She said, choosing to be honest for once. "…do humans…do they not fear death?"
"They fear death more than anything else in this world, and no other 'intelligent' species fears death like humans do," Sayoko replied. "Just like every other animal, they fight desperately, anxiously, unrelentingly when in the face of death. It's nothing special, really. I have seen it hundreds of times."
"But even those desperate humans will succumb…" Yuri said, and there was truly a hint of sadness and pity in her voice.
"…yes, against her, even their intense desire to keep on living will fall apart. That is why, Yuri-sama…"
"Leading by example, huh…"
"Please," Sayoko said. "After all, look. Even your daughters have found a reason to step forward."
Two of them, Yurisa and Yurika, walked past the imprisoned Sayoko and their standing mother, not sparing them a look as they hardened their minds and readied their bodies to step into the battlefield where, like any battlefield, their lives were at stake. Even after living for centuries, most of the humans struggling against the Emissary had more combat experience than these two. It would be outrageous to assume they were not afraid, especially against a monster from outside of common sense.
Explosions rocked the Emissary's immense body. Yuri saw a humongous block of solid stone surging out of the earth to smash the Void beast's side. Its unnatural howl, like a very loud vacuum cleaner, resounded clearly all the way to her ears.
"Truly, it would be the greatest of shames if my daughters fought and I stood here pointlessly," Yuri admitted, watching her daughters' backs with pride. "But, I cannot rejoin the fight without a plan, Sayoko. Neither my jutsu nor my naginata will work against that thing."
"So much power, and not a way to use it efficiently," the Void Kitsune summarized. "In that case, the alternative should be obvious to Yuri-sama."
Sayoko did not voice her disappointment. She just sighed. Behind the prison, Yurimi and Mayuri looked at the former Matriarch with some confusion. Noting the attention centered on her, Higashiyama Yuri further surprised those watching her by blushing a little.
"Bu-but, it's embarrassing…" Catching herself before she went to off the deep end, she crossed her arms under her huge bust stubbornly. "…and humiliating!"
"Yuri-sama…" Sayoko said, sounded almost tired. "Please show us the graceful maturity of the Matriarch…"
"No way~" Yuri pouted somewhat childishly. "Yuri is not the Matriarch anymore~"
"Do I have to make it an order?" Yurimi uttered, and her mother made a face of disgust.
"This is really not the time for that, Yuri-sama!" Sayoko said most accurately. "At-At least start with summoning and we will see where it takes us. Yes?"
"Tch. Fine," Yuri moodily acquiesced. "I'm summoning those two."
"Thank you very much, Yuri-sama."
The Silver Lily of the Netherworld was utterly disarmed by the pleasant, warm smile Sayoko offered, full of honest gratitude in spite of her own childishness.
"Muu, you are not fair, Sayoko-san…" she uttered while she stained her fingers with blood.
"They…they're fighting something really amazing over there, aren't they…?"
Naruto was not sure why he had not moved from Yurine's lap. Maybe it was just that comfortable. Yurine was in general a comfortable person to be with, with all her childishness. Gaara had been picked up by the other two Suna Genin, who probably did not attack him while he was down due to wariness around Yurine.
It did not really matter that they had taken Gaara away. He was not really a threat anymore. The real threat they could clearly see in the distance, so huge it was.
Naruto placed a hand on Yurine's resting on his chest. The five-tails looked down at the boy, who had a serious expression.
"Your hands, Yurine-chan." He squeezed them a little. They were cold. "They're shaking."
"Um," the fox-woman admitted with teary eyes, which drifted back to the monstrosity in the distance. The thing that made her body shiver uncontrollably.
"It scares you, that thing."
"Um." Yurine nodded, blushing as if embarrassed of revealing that. It was a primal fear, not merely fear of the Void. After all, Yurine did not fear her half-Void daughter. Her feelings, they came from something else, something far more personal that the intimidating presence of Oblivion.
"Haa…I see, I see," Naruto said, his expression lightening and changing into a placid smile. "Really, you're so hopeless, Yurine-chan."
"Hawaaan…" Yurine whined adorably.
"So, no way around it, then!" Naruto declared before finally getting off Yurine's lap and shifting to a seated position. "If there's an ugly monster thing scaring the cute Yurine-chan, then I guess it's my job to get rid of it."
Her heart stopped for a second. The thought of Naruto entering that battle, engaging that thing, it was painful and unacceptable. As a mother, as his friend, she could not tolerate the idea. But then again, her family was probably there, fighting that thing…
"No…" she whispered, a pitiful, hopeless plea. The boy was already on his feet, stretching his sore muscles and warming up before reentering the fray. He had done quite a bit of fighting that day. While he longer could rely on a Kyuubi to supplement his chakra capacity, it was still large and quick to replenish.
"Alright, we should get going," Naruto finally declared. "That thing, whatever it is, won't get beaten by itself—"
He was gone. In a cloud of white smoke.
Her heart beat faster. She wanted to cry and bawl like a pitiful child. Her lips trembled and tears trailed down her round cheeks.
She was afraid, but no longer for herself.
Thankfully, the large figure of the Emissary could be seen over the tree line. So, with hesitating steps and an aching heart, Higashiyama Yurine hurried to find her loved ones.
"Really, how reckless can a person be?"
Really close to where Yurine and Naruto had been resting, and getting closer by the second, a small young lady was being carried by an even smaller young lady. The conscious one of the two had spent the whole trip complaining to the empty air while the one in her arms rested and recovered.
"You broke the goddamn monument! I liked that thing!" The twin-tailed little girl paused, her cheeks pouting as they gained a lovely red hue. "I…have good memories on that monument…"
The girl harrumphed while she fixed her grip on the sleeping Yuria, former Higashiyama.
"You could have really died there if I hadn't grabbed you before the whole thing collapsed! So be grateful!"
It did not sound as haughty as usual, coming from this girl.
"Does this mean I messed up this timeline? Was I supposed to let you—but, you're, well, you're around in my time, so…ugh, I don't get time travel. Anyway, I saved you, so be grateful!"
One step, two steps; the girl refused to use Reinforcement, so she was struggling a little carrying a person heavier than herself.
"You have to live, you know…?" She said. "I always make fun of Papa and say all his stories are full of bullshit, but I really, really know, okay…? That you did all those amazing things…"
It was embarrassing to admit it, even if nobody was really listening.
"So, you have to live, Yuria-sama. Besides…" She made an expression of disgust. "As much as I can't stand your son's attitude…it would be weird without him around."
With reflexes well honed by her mother's Spartan training methods, Uzumaki Kizuna smoothly switched to a defensive stance the moment a person unexpectedly entered her field of view. The burden she was carrying was not as much of a detriment as it could be—her mother's style she had inherited relied more on kicks after all.
However, the person who appeared was not really an enemy.
"Hawa?" The five-tails had every reason to be confused.
"Good," Kizuna said as she approached the older woman. "You can take this burden off me."
"Mind her left arm, it's broken," Kizuna warned while handing over the sleeping girl. "You might want someone to take a look at that. Aside from that she's fine. She's really a monster."
"Ah-awa-awawa…" Yurine clumsily shifted her hold on her half-sister while Kizuna shifted her attention to the large shape of the Emissary less than a kilometer away.
"You…make sure that girl fights that thing."
"She needs it. Higashiyama Yuria is a person who grows stronger by leaps and bounds when she puts her life at stake," Kizuna explained, summarizing the lessons from history. Her history. "She needs every real fight she can get to figure out that ridiculously broken power of hers."
Kizuna pushed Yurine in the direction of the battle.
"So, get going! You're needed there."
The blonde girl somehow interpreted Yurine's sounds correctly.
"Ah, don't mind me, don't mind me. In fact I would be kind of grateful if you just forgot about me. So really, shoo, shoo! Get going! Atta girl!"
Yurine's first steps were hesitant, looking back at the nameless blonde girl as if wordlessly asking so many thing. Things, however, Kizuna found irrelevant, so she just urged the addled Yurine to keep going until she disappeared amidst the trees. Alone at last, Uzumaki Naruto's second daughter released a deep sigh.
"Haa…guess I'm done here. Gotta get back to Papa…" A sudden pause made her realized what she just said. "Wa-wait, wha-why am I ta-talking as if I were looking forward to it!? Ah-ah-I—who-who, who would want to stick around that idiot!? Stupid Father! That's what he is! Tsun!"
As expected of the daughter of two tsundere, she is on a wholly different level. Not even needing another person to feel the urge to over-justify herself, what a high-level skill.
CHAPTER 22 – To be continued...