Naruto Genkyouien

- ナルト- 威宴

Chapter Twenty-two: Phantom Menace Party – Bhava-agra of Youkai and Humans (Part Five)


Many things happened at once.

People screamed, Inuzuka Kiba louder than all. Some screamed in utter terror, but most of them, led by their Hokage, scream to find release from the vitriol burning their insides. Fear? Yes, of course they were afraid. But what shinobi of Konohagakure could witness one of their own being killed so…pointlessly, so offhandedly, and just accept it in silence?

Led by their Hokage, the shinobi roared vengeance and rightful justice for the murderer of one of their family. To the side, Kiba's sister Hana and a commendably brave Shino struggled to restrain Kiba, who futilely tried to pull his mother's corpse from being swallowed by its own shadow, while a large dog, Kuromaru, howled a requiem for its fallen partner.

Like a man annoyed by a loud neighbor, Fubuki directed a cold glance at the shinobi in their war cry. At the same time, Kougon moved at the speed of light, interposing himself between the Void Kyuubi and the shinobi, and the group about to launch a rather suicidal assault on Fubuki halted their tracks as a wall of glimmering, transparent iridescence appeared on their way like a huge film of soapy water.

"The circumstances are difficult, but I must ask you to put down your weapons, shinobi," Kougon said (requested?). "For the sake of avoiding further deaths among your number."

It was a difficult situation for Hiruzen. Despite knowing that attacking would most likely lead to their deaths, allowing Tsume's death and the deaths of those claimed by the Emissary to remain unpunished was just too painful.

"Does your protection extend to the noisy dogs?" Fubuki asked of Kougon, glancing at the grieving Kiba and the howling Kuromaru like one would glance at worms in one's food.

"I have yet to hear a valid justification for the execution of the citizens of Konohagakure," Kougon plainly stated.

"We cannot have a proper discussion with that noise, though," Fubuki idly commented, directing her full attention to the young Inuzuka and the partner-less hound.

"Silence."

And just like, both Kuromaru and Kiba were denied their voice, or rather, the capability to emit sounds. Not even their breath, not even the rustling of their feet would produce the slightest noise anymore.

"Fubuki!" Kougon exclaimed considerably more loudly than his usual. The other Kyuubi minded not the warning and did not allow the flow of the discussion to drift in an unwanted direction.

"How many times have I brought the issue of 'Jinchuuriki' to you already?" Fubuki pointed out with no little annoyance. "It was already worrisome when they captured all sorts of other youkai! Now they have sealed a Kyuubi as well!"

Apparently the fact that the nine-tails in question was the one she intended to kill that day did in no way affect her argument.

"What does it take to make you realize that this is an unacceptable development!? This is only the most outrageous of the many ways they use youkai as weapons and deterrents in their hopeless cold war!"

"Such is human nature, indeed," Kougon replied, and Fubuki released something like a bark of laughter.

"And that somehow makes it fine how!? I will not save you when you end up inside some human container, Shinkirou Kougon!"

"I…would like to believe I am not so easy to defeat, Fubuki."

"Feh!" The Void Kyuubi snorted. "I bet many of our kind said those words right before the Sage of the Six Paths and his brood had their way with them."

"It was necessary!" Hiruzen braved himself to point out to the arguing youkai leaders. "That night…that Kyuubi would have destroyed our village!"

"Wrong!" Fubuki barked back. "Containing Higashiyama Sayuri into a Jinchuuriki was most definitely not a necessity!"

"I admit…" Kougon intervened. "That Higashiyama Sayuri's sealing and my ignorance of the fact are worrisome issues. Fubuki, I expect…"

"Yes, yes, I will give you all the information later," Fubuki said dismissively.

"My thanks. Regardless, this does not justify the destruction of the village."

"They need to learn that we are not objects for their exploitation, Kougon!"

Something like a snort came from within the shinobi ranks.

"Rich words coming from a kitsune."

Fubuki laughed and turned to stare at the kunoichi who had so blatantly voiced her thoughts. It was not a pretty laughter, and neither it nor the smile on her face showed the slightest hint of humor.

"Fascinating words, coming from one who so reeks of youkai experimentation."

Mitarashi Anko trembled as she was so casually reminded of her infamous past. She gritted her teeth in irritation at her lack of a suitable response, not even bothering to think just how Fubuki figured it out so easily.

Kuromiya Fubuki shrugged and shook her head in a theatrical manner, as if this whole scene, this whole discussion were one big joke.

"Yes, yes, I take it this is about the 'evils of kitsune'. Am I wrong?" Even if her expression was disdainful and scathing, there was humor in her voice. "About the manipulations, about the trickery, about the lies, the cuckolding and the scams. About the oh-so-many lives ruined by the amoral fox youkai, yes?"

"Will you deny them?" Yamanaka Inoichi presented what should be a challenging question.

"Oh, most certainly not," Fubuki replied, sounding almost easygoing. "But blaming youkai for the misery of humans feels almost like a bad excuse; you people are perfectly good at bringing ruin to each other. I'll let you know that, even if we take away disease, only 3 of every 100 'non-natural' human deaths are directly caused by youkai, and only 9 of every 100 youkai-related deaths are directly caused by kitsune." A mild chuckle. "If we look at the statistics, zashiki warashi cause more human deaths than kitsune." She paused, as if she had suddenly noticed something. "Of course, I did not just come up with those numbers, humans. I can swear a kitsune's oath on that."

Kougon nodded. It was impossible to trust Fubuki in many aspects, but her statistics were generally reliable, and her archives of the ways and deeds of kitsune throughout the continent were probably the most complete and accurate.

"If you are going to make complaints, please allow me to do the same," Fubuki continued. "Please, allow me to complain about the hired shinobi that stealthily and selectively 'remove' innocent and lawful traders from business because of course only human merchants are allowed to do business in human settlements." She took a few steps to the side so that Kougon no longer blocked her view of the audience of seething humans. "Or with the issue of humans welcomed with open arms by youkai villages later relegating them to a lower status the moment they outnumber them."

She waved her right hand from side to side in a clearly dismissive gesture.

"It is a phenomenon that comes all the way back to the original settlements in this part of the continent. At first, youkai tried to live truly in the shadows away from humanity, but humans spread to the point that it was impossible not to interact. And then, the local rulers would scatter all sorts of exaggerated rumors about the ways and deeds of youkai to create fear and a need for security amongst the settlers. Most of the old folk tales about youkai so popular among humans come from that time."

Looking away from the large gathering around her, Fubuki took to fixing her slightly loose kimono.

"So, really, that whole business about 'good' and 'evil'; about 'human righteousness and lawfulness' against 'kitsune wickedness and anarchy'…it might work as an amusing bedtime story for children, but it has no room in this discussion," she decided. "Everybody here knows the real foundation behind our conflict."

Kougon nodded. A distance away, Higashiyama Yurimi glanced at her mother, who had a somewhat pained expression while staring at the ground in front of her feet. Perhaps she felt she should have been the one having this exchange with the humans of Konoha, under more peaceful circumstances, more agreeable for an intellectual debate.

"It's a matter of power. It has nothing to do with right or wrong, and everything with humans' incomprehensible belief that they have to be the top dog, the pinnacle species!" At some point it had ceased to become a speech; it was more like she was talking to herself. "This…absurd belief that the world and everything in it exists for your sake and convenience. Is it so hard to believe that there are things in this world beyond your capacity to understand and control?"

She looked at the ninja once more.

"Tell me, humans. Why? How can you explain that…obsession of yours with…'ruling the world'?"

Fubuki did not give them a chance to answer.

"It's more than the accumulation of individual greed," she proposed. "Rather, it's like the 'collective' known as 'humanity' has its own identity beyond the aggregation of individuals, and it is focused on…staking its dominance over everything." She shook her head. "It would be ridiculous if it were not so unsettling."

She then turned to Kougon.

"It's probably the reason why human hunters keep going after the Nue after all these centuries," she suggested. "As if somehow it were so difficult to understand that that monster is without equal and unsurpassed in this world!"

The Void Kyuubi continued the theatrics by throwing her arms to the air, widely outstretched.

"But no!" She said loudly. "They are allowed to stick to their futility because humans are 'ambitious' and 'determined', and Nue is of course nothing but a trophy to be hanged on some lord's mansion's wall!" Once again, she shook her head in exasperation. "Everybody speaks so highly of 'human qualities' and 'human virtue', as if human morality were the be all, end all of intelligent rationality! You complain of youkai looking down on you, when the entirety of your society is based on looking down on everything else! What kind of joke is that!?"

Everybody listened and engraved the words in their minds; regardless of what they made of such statements, they formed 'the perspective of the enemy', and that made them worth listening to. However, just as important as her words was her body language: her gestures and her ever changing facial expressions, leaping from disdain to disgust to boredom and amusement, and from shocked disbelief to cold-hearted rejection to condescending dismissal. The changes were so abrupt they might as well belong to different people, and everybody in that place would be hard pressed to acknowledge Kuromiya Fubuki as a stable person.

Nobody moved. Nobody interrupted Fubuki's speech, and that might just well be because everybody there—even Kougon—was wary of the consequences of interrupting the Void Kyuubi in her bizarre, ever-changing mood.

With one exception.

"Are you finished?"

For a moment, something terrible vicious and vile glimmered in Fubuki's grey pupils and everybody who caught a glimpse of it readied himself for a terrible explosion. But it mutated just as quickly into something resembling warmth, a most unsettling emotion coming from the Queen of Oblivion.

Those present stared at the source of the voice with various degrees of surprise. It was, after all, a voice not heard of in quite a while already. Even if she stood proudly and straight, she did not make for an impressive sight as she was.

"Ah…"

"Hawawawawa…!"

Of course, there was much relief among several of the present. Yurimi closed her eyes and worded a silent thanks to the god of foxes, while Yuri released a long sigh of relief. Kotonoha looked quite glad as well, while Naruto's face showed still a semblance of worry. Mayuri nodded to herself in assuagement, Yurisa smiled warmly and Yuria chuckled to herself—only to wince shortly afterwards under Chiyuri's healing ministrations. But, of course, nothing could compare to the blatant joy in the mother's face and the heartwarming tenderness on the sister's.

Fubuki's smile was by far the best, most amiable expression she had shown thus far, but it still carried plenty of condescension in its own way. The newcomer, who in a way had always been there, swiped her long midnight hair with her remaining left arm before greeting the nine-tailed Void kitsune with a well-rehearsed curtsy that inevitably brought attention to her shapely legs.

"Venerable grandmother-sama."

Fubuki snorted, but it could be said that she looked quite pleased.

"So you made it past the Darklands, after all."

A smirking Higashiyama Yuriyo stepped into the battlefield of words.


What follows is a scene that took place two days ago.

Naruto sat on moist grass just a few yards away from the river's edge, but he could feel the coolness of the small, gentle stream all the way where he rested. A mother-and-daughter couple frolicked in the water, leaping along the many rocks in the stream while using their tails to splash each other. The boy quietly wondered if the fact that he could watch the nude Higashiyama Yurine fool around with her eldest daughter without embarrassment said something about his mindset or about Yurine herself.

Well, that was more of a side thought. He looked up at the clear summer sky, with only scant clouds and a bright but gentle sun. His belly was stuffed with Yurine's amazing cooking, to the point that he felt like lying down and sleep for a few days like a serpent.

He felt content. It was perhaps that contentedness that allowed him to remain undisturbed when a pair of arms enveloped him from behind and the distinct softness of a female body pressed itself against his back.

"What's in your mind, Lover Boy?" Higashiyama Yuriyo inquired, resting her chin on Naruto's right shoulder. Just before lunch, Yuriyo tried to enrapture Naruto with an Enchantment without success. That somehow had led to the beginning of what, Naruto hoped, would be a new, precious friendship. Building the foundation of a relationship aside, they had spent the good part of half an hour playing in the river until Yurine and Yurina arrived with ingredients for lunch.

"Right now? I'm wondering how often you hug other guys while naked like this. It feels wrong, somehow."

Yuriyo snickered. "I can in all honesty say this is the first time." Naruto could not see it, but she was mock-pouting. "Don't tell me you don't like it."

"Hmm…" Of course, the boy was blushing deeply. "Well, I do like it…" Yuriyo grinned. "But I still feel I should run away. I mean, girls just don't do this."

"No, not generally," Yuriyo admitted. At least not before the relationship has progressed beyond a certain threshold. "But I like this." Noting Naruto's frown of confusion, Yuriyo continued. "Being naked."

"Being naked," the boy repeated in a clearly embarrassed tone that made Yuriyo want to squeeze his reddened cheeks.

"It's refreshing; you should try it."

"I'll…think about it." Naruto diplomatically responded. "And the leaning?"

"It's just comfortable," Yuriyo answered, purposely pushing herself against Naruto, his body swaying slightly as it bore with her weight on his back. Her tails swirled around hers and Naruto's bodies to rest on his lap.

"I…just think you shouldn't be doing this," Naruto voiced his thoughts on Yuriyo's intimate act as clearly as he could manage. Yuriyo's smile had no hint of mockery or condescension. It was not the "grown-up" young woman looking down on the "innocent, inexperienced" young boy. Had her sister been watching, she would have interpreted Yuriyo's smile as the simple pleasure of having her curiosity satisfied.

Uzumaki Naruto was being honest with her, and that pleased her.

"Do you want me to move away…?" Yuriyo plainly suggested, although her voice hinted that she would rather not move.

Naruto exhaled loudly out of his nose. Yuriyo hummed in approval when his hands reached for one of her black tails and began to comb it with his fingers.

"Just for a while," he proposed. "I have to meet with Yurimi in a bi—"

The boy's words got stuck in his throat when he felt the softest lips brushing that corner where the neck ceases to be such and becomes shoulder. It sent a jolt down his spine that pleasantly stimulated parts of his anatomy that he did not want stimulated at the moment.

"Thank you."

Yuriyo relaxed on his back, feeling like she could close her eyes and take a long nap, just like that. However, she suspected that Naruto would find himself conflicted if she fell asleep, and he would seriously weight the consequences of skipping on his meeting with Yurimi versus waking her up.

Also, she did not really want to use her time with her new friend sleeping, although Yuriyo made a mental note to try out taking a nap with Naruto in the future.

Higashiyama Yuriyo is a seeker of pleasure, but that is not limited to sensual experiences. There was much pleasure to be had in simpler activities as well.

"You know, Naruto…" She began, her voice just barely enough for the boy to catch it in their closeness. "A normal guy would have tried something by now."

More than seeing it, Yuriyo felt Naruto's eyes easing into the flattest stare.

"I'm sorry for not being normal, then."

The foxgirl chuckled.

"Mah, this is good. Not in the mood myself, really. Just don't stop moving those hands…"

The boy chuckled briefly, but did not cease his ministrations on Yuriyo's fluffiness. A distance away, Yurina slipped and fell on the water with a loud splash, and her mother laughed merrily.

"If this…friendship," Yuriyo continued, tasting the word the rarely used in her mouth. "Does extend for a while, though, I'll be disappointed if you don't."

"Hmm…" Naruto murmured, which bothered Yuriyo a little.

"It's the duty of males to make females feel desired," she declared with the tone of a stern instructor.

"Ah…that shouldn't be too hard."

Yuriyo blinked, but took that as a victory. Naruto did the same after realizing Yuriyo had nothing more to say on the issue.

Still, this led to something that bothered Yuriyo, and her curiosity was threatening to overcome her morals, twisted and inhuman as they may be.

"Naruto, will you let me Enchant you for a little while?"

She did not need to hear his answer. The sudden rigidity of his body told her just what he thought of the sudden and admittedly outrageous idea. From their exchange before lunch it was already obvious to Yuriyo that Naruto had a significant wariness of losing control over his own self.

Still, Naruto forced his body to relax like before, and Yuriyo appreciated the fact that he had not just exploded in outrage or attacked her on the spot.

"What's the big idea?" Still, there was an edge to his voice that told Yuriyo she wanted to be very honest.

"I…want to know something…about you," she confessed. "I just want…to be sure, that you'll give me honest answers. Not the answers you think I want to hear, or half-hearted answers."

It was not a 'truth serum'; her skill had yet to reach that level. She just wanted to lightly 'charm' Naruto to make him more acquiescent to her requests.

Naruto was silent for almost a minute. He never stopped stroking and combing her tails.

"…do it."

Her initial reflex was to ask why, how. Instead, she wordlessly directed her chakra into Naruto's system and initiated the simple compulsion. Naruto did not even notice.

Then, she asked.

"Why did you agree?"

Naruto pursed his lips.

"…because I trust you."

Yuriyo blinked.

"Why?"

"Why not?"

The two-tails had many possible answers to that.

"I…was rude, to Yuria," she pointed up, finally admitting that it was she who destroyed Yuria's meager luggage.

"And we'll get back at you for that, believe it," a grinning Naruto responded, and a part of Yuriyo found herself looking forward to it. Perhaps, she thought, she did have a bit of a masochistic streak after all.

"I'm a Void."

"I don't see what that has to do with anything." His beloved loli sensei was a Void as well, after all.

"My Void will hurt you one day. And Yuria, and Yurimi, and even my own sister."

"That's not set in stone," Naruto quickly dismissed Yuriyo's self-deprecation. "And even if it happens, I'll just spank some sense on you; you Voids seem to like that."

Yuriyo blinked made a strange face, as if torn between grinning at what she believed was a joke or scowling after being looked down upon.

On a side note, please do keep in mind that Naruto's statistical sample consists of exactly one Void user.

"But that is that and this is this," Naruto said, and Yuriyo pressed on.

"And what is 'this'?"

"A friend…who wants to know more about me?"

The fact that Naruto had voiced it as a question made Yuriyo giggle.

"You're too trusting, Naruto."

"I don't care." He was pouting, though.

"That cannot be a good quality in a ninja."

"I don't care," Naruto stubbornly repeated. Rather than laughter, Yuriyo released two brief exhalations from her nostrils before resuming her interrogation.

"Do you hate me?"

Naruto, for the first time since she had decided to use it as a rest, turned his head to stare at Yuriyo, looking at her as if she had said something outrageously stupid.

"…why?" Only one word could come out of Naruto's halted thoughts. Yuriyo did not answer.

"Do you hate Higashiyama?"

Naruto raised an eyebrow, as if annoyed by the question.

"Do you hate Sayuri…sama?"

"I don't, but I'll start hating you if you keep asking these silly questions," Naruto retorted with obvious humor in his face and tone. Yuriyo accepted that and move on to what she really wanted to know.

"Did somebody…ever, blame you for, you know…?"

It was Naruto's turn to blink in both confusion and amazement. He guessed that the likes of Yuri and Kotonoha could figure out as much without asking, but he had never imagined that, of all the youkai who had suddenly barged into his life, the Night Lily would be the first to ask a question of that nature.

Somehow, for some reason that he knew demanded deeper thought, this made him very happy.

"Yeah," he admitted. "Lots of people did."

Yuriyo exhaled lengthily, as if wordlessly saying "I knew it." Well, it was not like she had ever bothered studying Koushiro's and Ayame's reports regularly delivered to Higashiyama.

"And now you work for those same people," she said instead.

"Yup."

Yuriyo did not need to speak out the next question; Naruto could guess as much.

"It's my home, so I want to protect it. Is that weird? I mean, before I met Sayuri and the rest of you, every good thing in my life came from this place…" He paused. "Well, except for Haku. Can't forget Haku."

Yuriyo decided to save 'Haku' for another time.

"And every bad thing as well."

"And every good thing. Focus on the good, Yuriyo."

"B-But…" Naruto felt Yuriyo shifting on his back, until it was her right cheek that rested on his shoulder. "You can't just forget about the bad things like that; you can't pretend they don't exist. Or are you just saying 'aaah, no way around it'…?"

"Nah, not at all," Naruto retorted. "All sorts of bad stuff happened, and more will happen from now onwards, you know?" He added a shrug. "That's why it's a waste of time to think too hard about it. I mean, if I respond to the bad people by being an asshole myself, then I'm just agreeing with them, right? I'd be saying, like: 'well yes, I am the Demon and you should despise me.' That's just stupid."

"So…"

Another shrug. "Hating the idiots that hate me because of Sayuri will only cause me more trouble. In the end I'll just feel miserable. Why would I want that? I'd rather be happy, so why should I waste time doing things that will obviously make me sad? I'll do the things that make me happy, with the people that make me happy, and I'll work hard until I can get along with everyone. I…" Naruto scratched his left cheek. "…don't think it's that hard to understand."

Yuriyo did not agree or disagree. She quietly watched the boy's profile, which apparently made him more self-conscious than her breasts against his back.

"And…and it works, ya know?" He said, his heart settling down as he came up with something nice to say. "I mean, if I had decided to hate Sayuri…because of everything; if I had rejected Sayuri, today I wouldn't have a beautiful naked girl hugging me like this. How about that?"

And somehow, those words made everything click in Yuriyo's mind.


She 'woke up', alone in the darkness.

She was not 'floating', and she was not 'submerged'. She was surrounded by the darkness, but the darkness did not touch her.

The darkness would swallow her only when she surrendered. When she abandoned whatever desire to continue living she may have. Yuriyo…raised her arm to her face, wincing when her fingers brushed her right eyebrow. There had not been much pain: she had been in the 'Avatar' form when Kimimaro gouged her eye, so she had barely felt it. Inside the endless darkness, she only felt a numbing emptiness and a pulsating discomfort she guessed because of the swelling.

A reason to live…

'There is none'.

They Whispered. Yuriyo did not know who 'they' were, but their voices, young and old, tender and vile, male and female, echoed softly and maliciously in the inner ears of all Void-wielding youkai.

"Really," Yuriyo rebuked. "I can think of at least one: it would be too much of a shame to take this beauty from the world so early…"

'Your beauty is broken. You are weak, and that weakness has destroyed your potential.'

She laughed bitterly at the words she could not deny. The beauty of the Succubus Lily had been ruined forever. Kitsune are animals at the basest level; no matter how appealing the rest of her body might be, she had already become 'a failure' at the aesthetic level, even worse than Yuria, who at least still had a fully functional anatomy. Her body would no longer draw the attentions of male kitsune, and even humans would likely never see her as more than a cheap thrill. Any chances of becoming a spy of Higashiyama had also met their end: her appearance had become too conspicuous for all the wrong reasons, and concealing her identity without Henge would be too difficult unless she assumed the guise of a crippled hobo in every mission.

No, the exciting life of intrigue and seduction she had hoped for was over before it even began. Her only worth to the clan and to the kitsune species as a whole was as a womb to increase their numbers. In the best case scenario, Yurimi would find a Ghost male willing to mate with a cripple. The most likely scenario, however, was being sent to some Void clan in need of females in exchange for future services or just plain cash. It would be the ruthless thing to do, and Yurimi would have to ruthlessly use her resources to make it as the Matriarch.

Was it worth it? To go back, if that was the life awaiting her?

'Oblivion before humiliation. Abandon yourself to the end of all things.'

Yuriyo shook her head. There were other words, words brimming with energy and life.

"Do the things that make me happy…with the people that make me happy, huh…"

'Words full of ignorance. That pointless world is not so kind.'

"Of course it isn't," Yuriyo agreed, rolling her eyes. "Naruto is an idiot, but even he realizes that much. Do you guys even get 'hatred'? Of course you don't; you don't feel anything." She spoke like one who believes she is explaining something really obvious to a truly stupid person. "How can you dismiss something you have absolutely no idea about? You're like everybody who assumes I'm rotten and evil beyond redemption just because I'm a Void. Hell, you're like virgins claiming sex 'probably' doesn't feel that good."

'There's nothing of worth in that world. Happiness is ephemeral, just like everything else."

"Yeah, who the fuck cares," Yuriyo retorted. "All good things are brief, like…the smell of a new book, or an orgasm. Really, if this is your plan to convince me, just give up and let me go back to Yurina already."

'She will turn her back to you one day.'

Yuriyo was not so stupid as to believe that Yurina would be attached to her elbow forever. That girl had Potential, in bold letters and with a capital P. For the sake of herself, and for the sake of Higashiyama that Potential had to be realized, and that would never happen as long as they remained dependent on each other. Furthermore, even if Yurina would never reject Yuriyo's…bold displays of affection, the Day Lily remained firmly straight in her sexual preferences. No, one day, Yurina would start walking her own path, and Yuriyo suspected the trip to Konoha might have been the first step.

Her time with Yurina, the person she loved the most, was limited. But this…would be the case no matter the circumstances.

"Even if it doesn't last forever…for as long as it lasts…to make the best of it…something like that…?" Yuriyo concluded. "Really, I'm done here."

A figure emerged from the darkness, floating/existing just above Yuriyo's broken body, its faceless head 'gazing' down at her half-closed lids.

It was a dark entity itself, so it was difficult to see even its outline in the endless black that surrounded them. Its entire body was made of the same darkness that made the world around Yuriyo, with two exceptions. The Night Lily's remaining eye glanced at the entity's right arm and right eye; it had claimed the parts that were formerly hers.

"You won't give me those back, huh…no," Yuriyo said, and quickly corrected herself. "I cannot reclaim those from you."

She did not have what it takes.

"Yurina…she is too kind. Even if I'm like this, she will accept me. Even if nobody else will spare a glance for me, she will accept me. So…for as long as she wishes to stay by my side…I will selfishly cling to this life." She scowled, but her expression carried no dark feelings. "This Higashiyama Yuriyo refuses to die a virgin, sorry."

She smiled at the faceless entity.

"I'll take a rain check on Oblivion, if you don't mind. Also, I'll let you keep that arm and that eye. In exchange, give me power. The power to erase everything that tries to harm my precious people. You can do at least that much."

The black entity disappeared, perhaps becoming one with the infinite darkness.

As the darkness began to disperse, to brighten; changing from the deepest black to a lame ashen tone, Yuriyo filled her head with simple thoughts, leaving behind the life she had already lost and readying herself to face the grim future.

"I wonder…if that boy will accept me."


"Just barely, as you can see," Yuriyo admitted in a pleasant voice in response to Fubuki's statement. Everybody lost something during the Trial of the Void, but hers was a particularly bad case. However, considering the time since her fights with Kidoumaru and Kimimaro, what should still be a swollen, bloody mess looked clean and mostly healed. The ugly stump that was her shattered shoulder had closed in its entirety so that only skin could be seen. She would have to do something about this, for she could feel the irregular ends of her broken clavicle and scapula underneath. There was a risk of internal wounds and bleeding there. As for her right eye socket, it was neatly and cleanly hollowed out, and replaced with scar tissue as far down as her nostril and as far to the side as where the ear would be, were she a human.

This was the work of Kurosaki Sayoko: the moment Yuriyo regained consciousness, the sphere of Void-stuff which had enclosed her washed upon her like ink water, negating the existence of all damage prior to her abandonment to the Void. By denying the concept of open wounds, Sayoko's Void chakra forced Yuriyo's body to regrow skin at an accelerated rate. For a moment, Yuriyo wondered if her arm and eye would be restored as well, but of course she was not that outrageously fortunate.

Yuriyo focused on the matter at hand.

Protect Yurina.

Protect her precious people.

Protect Konoha.

This was her choice.

It was not any of their family members, or Uzumaki Naruto, who first noticed the most obvious change in Higashiyama Yuriyo. The first to tell was Aburame Shino, who kept his eyes closely on the beautiful two-tails while she slowly, cautiously moved to stand between her own mother and the Void Kyuubi.

Yuriyo was covering her breasts and crotch with her tails. The same young foxgirl who had shamelessly displayed herself to him just some days ago was suddenly displaying shame. It was clear to his mind that something had changed in the girl, starting from her willingness to face Fubuki so forwardly. He had always seen Yuriyo as the kind of person who would abandon ship the moment things got rough. Apparently it was time for a reevaluation.

"Yuriyo-chan..."

The Night Lily spared a gentle glance towards her mother. Looking down at the pathetic five-tails who gave her life, Yuriyo could not stop herself from placing a hand on the crown of her head and stroking it tenderly.

"Hawawaan...~"

"Sorry, mom," Yuriyo whispered. "For so many things."

But it would not do to ignore Fubuki and Kougon for too long. Indeed, her next action was to salute the Celestial Kyuubi just like she had done Fubuki before. Kougon, not the foremost admirer of Void Kitsune, could not hide the slight hint of disgust in the curve of his lips.

"Shinkirou-sama."

Still, Kougon nodded, for respect was something to acknowledge and praise. With that protocolary salutation behind them, Yuriyo turned her attention to the real issue at hand.

"Please, Fubuki-sama, allow me to present my argument against your position."

"Hmm…" Fubuki's lips were curved upwards in a pleasant smile, but her pupils contracted and expanded grotesquely. "You wish to debate, granddaughter?"

"Onee—"

A swift gesture from Yuri forced Yurina to keep her mouth shut. Nobody could predict Fubuki's reaction should Yurine's half-Celestial daughter open her mouth. Truly, it was a situation in which many people were torn about what to do. Yurisa, who had been teleported a distance away from everybody else, could only watch her daughter seized in bondage with sorrow. She wished to release Mayuri but, even if she somehow made it to her daughter's side, she doubted anything she could do would remove those tendrils of shadow. Chiyuri held Yuria from behind, hugging her as comfortingly as she could. In a contest of strength, Yuria could easily beat her half-niece, but it was a vestige of prudence which stopped the three-tails from pouncing on Fubuki like a starving tigress—or at least from trying.

Yurimi shot glances at Naruto in Kotonoha's arms. The boy had regained a semblance of color and stopped losing blood thanks to the swordswoman's healing jutsu. Inuzuka Hana held her brother to her chest, crying in silence while Kiba opened and closed his mouth in between silent screams. Yuriko had fainted at some point, her mind choosing to run away from the loss of her most precious person. Within the broken walls of Konoha, the victorious shinobi fought a second battle, this time against the flames that consumed most of the city after Sayuri's advent. And Sayuri still slept.

Yuriyo did not need help to figure out what Yurika's absence implied. She would grieve in due time—Higashiyama Yurika was her first kiss, and the first person other than herself to make her orgasm. Her enthusiasm, her friendliness and her sexual openness and curiosity would be dearly missed.

"From what I have listened, Fubuki-sama has expressed her disagreement with humans' self-centered view of the world," Yuriyo thus began. "Fubuki-sama blames the human greed and pride for the harmful way in which they have treated youkai in different instances throughout history, concluding with the utilization of sealed youkai specimens as tactical weaponry."

It was a simple summary of Fubuki's slightly masturbatory speech.

"My dark Lady," Yuriyo thus began. "I cannot help but interpret from your speech that you seem to distinguish between kitsune morals and human morals. I am of a different interpretation."

She glanced at Naruto for a moment before returning her gaze towards Fubuki.

"It is a point that also appears a number of times in the folk tales and in the literature: the so-called alien nature of youkai. Perhaps it was like that at one point, and there are certainly creatures completely alien to human, or even youkai understanding. Fubuki-sama just brought up Nue a while ago. But I find it hard to believe that humans and kitsune truly follow so radically different paradigms of thought and action, really..."

She made a pause and her pupils moved to one side, as if a sudden thought has struck her, which it had.

"Or maybe it is that the more we interact, the closer our mindsets have drifted towards each other." She shot a glance at Naruto once more, and this time it was obvious to everybody. "Everything humans do, we do as well, and everything we do, humans are capable of doing just the same. The fact we can become friends, and love each other despite our differences, obviously implies that we look at the world, and each other, in ways that are not so dissimilar."

"So..." Fubuki spoke, her sharp glance narrow and unblinking. "...you imply that the horrible deeds humans perform in their enmity are...acceptable?"

"Most certainly not," Yuriyo replied, waving her right hand from side to side. "Shitty things are shitty things. What I say is that shitty things do not gain any...additional significance when they are done by humans. Fubuki-sama has complained about their self-centered attitude towards the world, but it strangely feels like Fubuki-sama is the one placing...significant importance on the human ways."

"Urgh...!"

It was a very strange discussion, albeit not in the issues being discussed. The fact remains that a throng of weary humans and youkai are witnessing a debate between the nine-tailed Void kitsune responsible for the deaths of plenty of their number and some...naked kitsune teenager.

"As for the 'human need to stand above all others', is competition not a staple of all sentient species?" Yuriyo continued. "Is it not also a significant element of our Kitsune Way, made nowhere clearer than in the institution of the glorious Twelve Great Clans?"

Everybody with a brain could see that the Twelve Great Clans had been devised to keep the kitsune families sharing the same affinity at each other's throats rather than working to challenge the supreme rule of Celestial and Void.

"Competition and conflict appear wherever opposing ideas and emotions meet. Being human or kitsune has nothing to do with anything. I would hope Fubuki-sama can present a different argument to justify her intentions towards Konohagakure no Sato."

"Reiton ― Shireidanzou."

All eyes moved to the sudden and bold move of another of Higashiyama's two-tailed lilies. Tendrils of soul-stuff belonging to the spirit Yurimi had pilfered from Tayuya of the Sound Four snaked through the air, woven midway to become a radiant kimono for Yuriyo, who gave an appreciative stare to its conjurer. Even Fubuki and Kougon could appreciate the fine Soul Forging work from such a young foxgirl.

"A diplomat of Higashiyama should wear the proper clothes for her august office," Yurimi explained, and elicited a grin from her Void-type niece.

"Much appreciated, Lady Matriarch."

Naturally, these words got the two Kyuubi's attention on Yuriyo once more. Yuriyo instead shot a wink to her grandmother before speaking to the mighty kitsune once more.

"Yes, we could not make the official announcement, what with the circumstances and everything." She shrugged, and the gossamer of her silvery garments quivered under the gentle shaking of her bosom. "But with your majestic presence here, it seems like as good a time as any, and apparently I'm now a diplomat of Higashiyama, so it is within my purview to make the announcement."

It mattered little at this point, and only a number of kitsune are sticklers for this kind of protocol. Fubuki made a sound like "feh", but Kougon directed his gaze towards Yurimi, who could not find it in herself to return it. As a Matriarch, she already felt like a failure, but it would be asking too much of her, really.

"Understood," the Celestial Kyuubi pronounced. "When the circumstances permit, please allow me to welcome your appointment in the proper manner, Fourth Matriarch of Higashiyama."

Hard words to swallow from the man intending to murder your sister.

Fubuki was seemingly more interested in arguing with Yuriyo.

"The fact remains, Higashiyama Yuriyo, that humans are using youkai as weapons and deterrents. They enslave us and drag us into their stupid schemes."

"Slavery is an institution common to humans and youkai," Yuriyo countered. "Slave rings kidnap young and healthy people all over the continent and sell them to humans and youkai alike, and youkai clans dispose of unwanted elements in their rosters by offering them to interested human parties for petty cash." Yuriyo's only hand awkwardly squeezed the fabric of her kimono as she was reminded of what could become her future. At the same time, Naruto and the younger shinobi present winced as they were reminded of the darkest elements of human society.

But Yuriyo was not finished.

"Human lords use the fear of youkai to control the masses, while kitsune use humans for their personal entertainment. Passionate youkai break apart human couples to seize those who caught their fancy. We become their lovers to revel in the sin of adultery, their concubines to enjoy the sight of their wives being relegated to a passing interest. We steal their children from the crib to raise them into ideal lovers and servants. And just in the same way, human warlords flaunt their youkai servants and sex slaves, especially those they forcefully took away from their families and homelands. They force youkai to grant blessings of power, and to mate with them in their wish to gain 'Bloodline Limits'. There is a black market trade of youkai organs for medicinal and supernatural properties both real and imagined." Another shrug. "Wickedness is not a human, nor a youkai monopoly. That's just the kind of creatures we are, and we just don't live in a world of fluffy clouds and endless fuwa-fuwa time."

Yuriyo chose to move to more light-hearted examples.

"There are fairly detailed and specific summoning contracts allowing humans and youkai to trade favors, generally of a martial nature. Human and youkai merchants engage in competitive trade under equal conditions in the continent's largest cities. Both humans and youkai think of and treat each other as 'assets', and we exploit each other accordingly. This is not new."

Fubuki nodded, as is not particularly bothered by having her arguments being countered over and over.

"And what about the Jinchuuriki? Would you claim to address this particular instance of human wickedness as just another of the usual practices?"

"Hmm..." Yuriyo closed her eyes. This was a tricky issue for her; one she would have preferred to know more about before making a statement. "I would point out that the number of people capable of creating a Jinchuuriki is fairly limited, as well as the potential to become one in the first place."

"They can train more," Fubuki retorted. "And they can selectively breed more suitable hosts."

"Of course they can," Yuriyo agreed. "Isn't breeding a most important issue for kitsune clans as well?"

The market of mating partners among the kitsune clans is a ruthless, aggressive thing. It is an endless congregation of backdoor deals, secret meetings and trading of favors, all for the sake of ensuring the best partners for their heirs, preserving the strong systematic affinities and adding strong blood to their family lines. In all honesty, it was the kind of cutthroat world Yuriyo had been looking forward to be part of.

"While the matter of Jinchuuriki is indeed an issue that must be addressed among all the parties involved, it is still not a strong enough justification to simply dismiss the effects something like the destruction of Konoha would trigger."

There was significant, albeit subdued, activity all around the two Voids engaged in discussion. The shinobi obviously did not waste time attending to their wounded, and separated those still capable of fighting from those in need of repose. The longer Yuriyo and Fubuki spent in argument, the more chakra their main fighters could regain after the efforts made destroying the Emissary of Oblivion. Ninja tools of all sorts―shuriken, exploding tags, invisible thread―stealthily changed hands, as those who had still a surplus improved the combat capabilities of those with spent resources. Jiraiya meditated, drawing upon the chakra of the world around him to prepare his Sage Mode one more time, should it become needed. ANBU specialists drew seals with ink and blood on specially prepared tags following the silent instructions delivered by the Hokage's secret handsigns and Yamanaka Inoichi's mind techniques.

They still did not know whether it would come to that, but Konoha was getting ready to fight one more time.

Naruto's right hand twitched, ready to act. His other hand slowly stroke Sayuri's tails, more for his own sake than for the sleeping foxgirl's. Chiyuri was done fixing Yuria, and the independent Kitsune was only allowing Yuriyo to keep Fubuki's attention on a temporary loan.

That bitch was hers.

Fubuki released a short laugh.

"You fear human retribution. Girl, the five nations will be too busy scrambling to fill the power vacuum to bother with us. It's a ninja village; a military tool to put pressure on other countries, and at the same time a chokehold on the local daimyo's power. It will not be missed."

"I disagree," Yuriyo responded. "It would do us kitsune wrong to underestimate humanity's capacity for hatred and resentment. Those are my venerable grandmother's words."

Yuri nodded, almost imperceptibly. The dire circumstances aside, it was comforting to see that her rather whimsical Night Lily had paid attention during class after all.

"The destruction of a shinobi village to the last man would be an explicit act of war on the whole continent," Yuriyo argued. "It would be stating that kitsune have no respect and care not in the slightest for the political structures of humans. It would change their perception of us from 'a tolerable annoyance' to 'an unacceptable threat'."

Even Shinkirou Kougon could nod in agreement to that.

"Furthermore, even if they did as you propose," the Succubus Lily continued, deciding not to allow Fubuki the chance for a counterargument at this point. "If they chose to collapse into another of their Shinobi Wars instead of uniting against kitsune, we cannot ignore the other potential actors that would see a chance in such a thing happening."

Fubuki's eyes widened as she was struck from an unexpected angle. The Celestial Kyuubi found himself surprised, for his mind spoke in something resembling approval of this...Void girl.

"If the rumors from the northwest are to be believed, it is only the combined efforts of Iwagakure and Ashibashi that keep Shutendouji from unleashing another oni horde on the Elemental Countries."

It was Jiraiya's turn to nod. Of course, his network had already told him the latest developments from the northernmost ends of Earth Country, where the Overlord of Oni rules as a tyrant over hundreds of thousands of his kind.

"I was a simple, ignorant fox last time, but I've heard the stories from Yuri-sama and Himeyuri-sama. Do we really want a repeat of one hundred and forty years ago? Of all the other times before that?"

Fubuki clicked her tongue. This was certainly one thing she could not argue against.

"And the Oni Overlord is just one of them. What of King Tengu, for example? Were he given the chance, he would erase everything that is not tengu from what he claims as his de jure lands."

King Tengu claims ownership of the whole of what humans call Waterfall Country, plus the eastern parts of Earth Country and most of the land between Waterfall and Rice Field Country.

"What about the Lady of Snakes?"

Of the countless females in this setting, Manda's mother is definitely the most annoying, this humble author assures you.

"Do you remember what it took to stop her last time?" Yuriyo rolled her eyes as if she had fought the Mother of All Snake-kind herself. "Of course you don't; you did not deign that crisis worth your time. Well with your permission I shall remind you and everyone here."

She raised a hand to start counting with her fingers.

"The leaders of Kaenko, Kinoshita and Asakaze, plus Higashiyama Yuyuko-sama. Those were the kitsune, and two of them did not make it back alive. From the human side, there were three battalions from Iwa, Suna and Konoha, plus one of the Wind Shadow guys, forgot his name. The one with the crazy sand."

They all have crazy sand!

"Then there were this whole bunch of mercenaries, including a whole group of half-Oni and some crazy strong guy in a mask."

That was Uchiha Madara before his Sayuri-induced brain damage, but at this point it's an unnecessary tidbit.

"I can count the number of survivors with two hands," Yuriyo declared. A strange thing to say, given her new status as a cripple. "My point is, that goddess must be fairly pissed off and eager to strike back. What better chance than some stupid war, either humans versus kitsune or just humans killing each other?"

The half-Void shook her head as if chastising a particularly snotty brat.

"And don't get me started on the Great Sage, Equal to Heaven."

"Please don't," Kougon and Hiruzen found themselves speaking at the same time, and quickly traded identical glances. It appeared they shared similar opinions of that most mighty monkey.

Yuriyo sighed lengthily.

"What I'm trying to say is, Fubuki-sama, that, right now, we're living a good life. We're at peace, you know? But it's a feeble, completely unstable peace. So, if anything, our priority should be protecting that unstable equilibrium of our peaceful world."

"Yes."

That was Kougon's word.

"Fubuki, have you already forgotten what we came here to do in the first place?"

To protect the 'status quo'; the stability of kitsune society. Say anything about the methods and their misguided opinions, the original intent is lofty and worthy nonetheless.

"Fubuki, I will not drag our race to war to satiate your thirst for pointless destruction."

"Kougon," the darkest kitsune retorted. "It's a matter of time before they," Fubuki spoke, sparingly barely a hateful glance to the humans present "decide to get rid of us, just like they do with anything they dislike!"

"And when that time comes, we will fight for our right to exist and be happy," Kougon replied. "But it will not be a kitsune who starts that war."

"Venerable grandmother, please," Yuriyo added her last two cents. "You are the enlightened leader of all Void kitsune, the watchful guardian of the Mouth of the Void. Don't let the whispers of Oblivion make you forget the big picture."

A heavy, powerful silence followed. Arguments and point of view had been presented, and the records of this day would be studied by human and youkai loreseekers for years to come. The shinobi clutched their weapons tightly, waiting for the first sign of further hostility from the Void Kyuubi. Kougon watched them carefully, for he had already decided to protect them, regardless of his original intent to kill Sayuri.

Fubuki closed her eyes, surrounding herself with darkness she was all too familiar with, and accompanied only by the Whispers only she could hear. They were also very familiar after many centuries echoing her mind.

She sighed. It was a long, heavy sigh, as if her breath released a weight she had been burdened with for a long time.

"...I...have lost. Konohagakure shall be spared," she said, and she assented to herself, as if to confirm the result and her satisfaction with it. "Remarkable, Higashiyama Yuriyo. Most remarkable. Accept Kuromiya Fubuki's honest praise with pride."

Yuriyo was bothered by the fact those words made her squirm and blush a little. She bowed deeply, all the better to hide her self-satisfaction.

"I am honored."

"It's such a shame, really..." Fubuki continued, and everybody could tell she was staring at where Yuriyo's right arm should have been. "Oh well. You'll make a most excellent breeding mare."

Yuriyo's body went rigid for a moment, and it was good that her bowing posture did not allow many to see the grim expression on her scarred face.

"So!" A suddenly pleased-looking―perky, even―Kuromiya Fubuki continued. "Shall we continue, then, diplomat of Higashiyama?"

The curve of her luscious lips promised nothing remotely decent or good.

"With the judgment and execution of your clan, that is."

Yuriyo winced. Truly, they had just gotten through the easy part.

Fubuki turned to the shinobi.

"Well then, our business with you has concluded. You would do well to disappear from my sight." Before anybody could voice their outrage, the Void Kyuubi pointed at the village over her shoulder. "You might want to do something about that, really."

By "that", of course, she meant the state of the village. About forty percent had been obliterated when Sayuri first manifested, and most of the remaining sixty percent was on fire. Kisame's flood had been like applying salve to a hand still touching the hot plate.

Many thoughts passed through the Third Hokage: to avenge the ones they had lost, to enact retribution for the evils suffered, to demand the restoration of Inuzuka Kiba's and Kuromaru's capacity for making sound―a hopeless request, for their past, present and future sounds already belonged to the Void.

However, he was the Hokage. Only one thing could stand above all others as his immediate priority: Konoha must survive this day. Kougon seemed like he would protect them if Fubuki attacked them, but Hiruzen could not guarantee the Celestial nine-tails would do the same should they begin the hostilities. Furthermore, Hiruzen could not see a chance to successfully capture even one of them with Shiki Fujin. No, it was humiliating, but the best option was to retreat to lick their wounds. Survival came first; retribution would come later.

The Sandaime looked at Higashiyama Yuri, who acknowledged his unasked question with a feeble smile and a weak nod. Indeed, Konoha had been spared.

The affairs of kitsune were not Konoha's business.

It says a lot of Konoha's loyalty to their Kage that they did not hesitate when he gave the signal to retreat, but perhaps they saw the wisdom in Fubuki's words: their village was falling apart; they had to save whatever was left. So, most of them retreated with Shunshin, and those who stayed did so with good reason.

"What―we're just gonna―" Yamanaka Ino could say no more when faced by her father's grim look. She looked down at Inuzuka Hana, who was holding a mutely crying Kiba. Wordlessly, Kiba's sister raised herself on both feet, carrying her brother in a somewhat embarrassing manner, and took to the trees, followed by the stone-faced Aburame father and son. Ino still hesitated, and looked around, until her eyes met Yurina's. Ino felt the redness and the swelling of the half-Celestial's eyes as if it were her own, and when Yurina sent her one last wave of her hand as a silent goodbye, Ino bit the inside of her cheek.

Her father's hand fell on her shoulder, and they were gone as well.

Fubuki turned her head to a group of three people clustered slightly apart from everybody else.

"I'm staying," Uzumaki Naruto growled, and the queen of Void raised an eyebrow in amusement.

"I have acknowledged Katsura Kotonoha and Uzumaki Naruto as my opponents," Kougon stated. "If they wish so, they shall stay."

Fubuki snorted. "Suit yourself, then."

"Venerable ancestor―"

"No," Kotonoha immediately refused the hand feebly outstretched in her direction. "You must leave, Hiashi-kun."

Hyuuga Hiashi paid no heed to the surprised looks of Hiruzen and Jiraiya, who had just been struck by an unknown truth of the ancestry of Konoha's most pompous clan.

"Great mother-dono, as your descendant, my greatest duty is―"

"As my descendant, your greatest duty is to go back to your daughters, Hiashi-kun," Kotonoha immediately retorted. Her kneeling body leaned forward until her spectacular bust rested on Naruto's back. "I, too, have a child I wish to protect."

It was unfair, Naruto thought, to feel butterflies in his stomach in this kind of situation.

Hiashi closed and pulled back his outstretched hand, filling himself with thoughts of the daughters he was supposed to protect.

"...godspeed, Kotonoha-sama," were his last words before disappearing from the scene.

"Fufu, what a good child," the swordswoman joked, although her voice did not really had it in itself. Like this, only the Third Hokage and the Toad Sage remained within sight. There were naturally a number of ANBU concealed in the vicinity, and they would all move the moment things got ugly, with one single purpose: getting Uzumaki Naruto away from this mess, with or without his agreement.

But there was another person there, was there not? A person that, at some point during the whole arguing and debating part, lurked most stealthily towards a certain protagonist.

It was this person that everybody was looking at right this moment.

"Wha-wha―what'cha people looking at?" A mildly blushing Kiyoura Setsuna spat with feeble stubbornness.

"Personally, I am wondering what brings you of all people to this place, Witch of Lightning and Void."

"Eh-eeeeeh..." Setsuna looked away from Fubuki's honestly curious eyes. "Witch", she was called; the name of one who abides not to the natural standards. She, who is solely a half-kitsune, yet wields unnatural powers that surpass many youkai.

"Mistress...?"

Struck by Naruto's feeble call, Setsuna's head turned away and tilted in a way that seemed rather painful.

"Ah-ah-I...I, I-I-Iiiiii just want to be a witness here! It-it's, you know, history in the making! History!" She nodded, seemingly satisfied with the awkward excuse. "It-It―It has nothing to do with you, boya! I'm not your sensei a-a—anymore, s-so Iiiiiii―don't have to worry about you or anything. Hmph."

Naruto already had a decent idea of how to translate Setsuna-ese. Thus, he was very happy. He wished he could show it better, but he was a bit tired after all.

"Thank you, mis―"

"History!"

"Ah, um."

He thought it wise not to comment on her trembling right hand, clasping his left shoulder and refusing to let go. It kind of hurt a little.

"Well, do whatever suits you," Fubuki quickly dismissed the hybrid.

"Ku...Kuromiya-sama, Shinkirou-sama, if I may..."

It was Yurimi who spoke next. Her attention was, however, on her immediately elder sister.

"Yuria, you are not of Higashiyama. You are a banished kitsune who has lost her name. You may leave if you so wish."

"Hmm," Kougon uttered, nodding in assent. If such was the word of the Fourth Matriarch, he would not doubt it.

Yuria did not look very happy about this.

"Like hell I'm leaving after―"

"She stays."

Fubuki's word was final, like a stake tearing through Yurimi's heart.

"I clearly heard a statement of insubordination from this girl. She stays, and she shall be judged as one of Higashiyama."

"Fubuki..." Kougon warningly muttered.

"I'm not changing my mind on this, Kougon," the Void Kyuubi immediately declared. "I have plenty of complaints about Higashiyama."

"I believe you had already enacted your punishment on my mother, Fubuki-sama," Yuriyo argued.

"Hawaan..." Yurine moaned glumly behind her. A distance away, Yuriyo's sister watched her with unspoken questions in her round carmine eyes.

The Whispers had not only spoken to her. They had shown her things: phantasms, yet some of them were ground in reality. Glimpses of the past, swallowed by the Void. While the consequences of such a thing happening made Yuriyo reconsider almost everything she thought she understood about the Void, and what little she knew of the Whispers, the important thing was the nature of the visions she saw.

The memories of her father.

"Two separate eggs, fecundated by two separate males on the same evening," Yuriyo explained. "Kuromiya Touya and Shinkirou Kouji." She afforded to smirk at her subdued mother. "Well weren't you crafty, mother? I have to rethink my opinion of you."

"Hawaaan..." Yurine moaned, sounding not too happy about her daughter's newfound admiration.

"But really, what are the chances of that?" Yuriyo shrugged. "Whatever. Fubuki-sama, I think you already made your discontent quite obvious. I do not see the purpose in bringing this up again."

"I am of the same opinion," Kougon admitted. "Yours and my child's...weakness of will is their fault to correct. If anything Higashiyama Yurine should be lauded for her achievement."

"Achievement!" Fubuki spat, the mask of calmness she had shown for some time already smoothly dispelled. Her insane scowl was not a pretty sight. "This whore manipulated my son into sharing a bed...a woman! With one of you Celestials!"

"The sentiment of disgust is wholeheartedly shared," Kougon replied with a glint of steel in his irises. "But I still believe your rage is misdirected. Are you being unfairly protective of your son, Fubuki?"

"Not really," Yuriyo denied. "She pulled out his memories of the event and threw them into the Void."

"I guess the Whispers told you that, hmm?" Fubuki, who was suddenly all calm and smiles once again, stated. "In any case, Higashiyama Yurine is the last of my issues with Higashiyama. The first and foremost are of course the Kyuubi and the Time Kitsune."

The project is called Sayumayu, after all. Speaking of the "mayu" in that name, she was still bound and rendered incapable of movement by Fubuki's jutsu. Her mother watched from a distance while drowning in futility.

"Yes, of course, the presence of a Time Kitsune is always a troublesome matter," Kougon admitted. "But I am sure you do not believe Higashiyama is the only clan that hides one of them in their midst. Even this girl's family did not know what she was until moments ago."

"Oh, but you cannot think of this girl as just any other Time Kitsune, Kougon."

Mayuri's heart skipped a beat. How did she even...?

"Explain."

"Well..." Fubuki began, her voice like a child flaunting the secret she and nobody else knew. "...I don't really know the details, but a little bird told me there is a special Time Kitsune in Higashiyama..." She shook her head slowly, dismissing further inquiry on this. "I didn't know who it was until I saw this little one beating you. But anyway, I owe it to a certain person, so I'm taking both the Time Kitsune and my granddaughter." It was a chilling declaration. "In any case, I'm the only one that can restrain her, as you can see."

Kougon glanced at the captured Mayuri, and nodded.

"As for Higashiyama Sayuri, I only need to point at the scene of destruction behind me." Fubuki sighed exasperatedly, like an old maid looking down on a piece of graffiti on a wall. "Really, if I wanted to destroy something like a village, it would be done in one swift move. That...is just unnecessary messiness."

With unnecessary flair, the Void Kyuubi turned to face the group of accused.

"I know there is a problem when the most dangerous members of a clan are their youngest. On the other hand, we have Higashiyama Yuri, who rose to her position on the blood of every Spirit clan, including Higashiyama itself."

"The accusations placed upon Higashiyama Yuri after the Spirit Succession War were examined and duly dismissed," Kougon replied. "It is a waste of time to bring five hundred years old issues to the forefront once more."

"Right," Fubuki spat in an utterly scathing tone. "It was 'lack of evidence', right. Well, moving on, Higashiyama Himeyuri is a fine lady, but is not the fact that she does not let anybody meet their second daughter enough cause for suspicion?"

"Hiiii!" Yurine squealed in terror when Fubuki's hateful glare fell upon her once more.

"Then comes the whore, but we've already talked enough about her, and I could not care less about Higashiyama Yurisa save for trying to figure out how she gave birth to her monster of a daughter. Then we have a pair of twins that refused to fulfill their duties to give birth to the next generation of kitsune...mah, I guess I already fixed that."

It started with a scream.

It was a scream, a curse, a condemnation; the filthiest words Yuria could think of quickly degrading into the wordless cry of a wounded beast.

In the time it took Yuria to leap the first meter separating her from the Void Kyuubi, Fubuki had already prepared her overwhelming retaliation. Outstretching her hands in different directions, two immense beams of pure blackness; in their path, everything was extinguished, and each one was wide and tall enough to swallow an adult elephant.

There was almost no time to react, but the group of Yuri, Yurimi, Yuriko and Yurina did not even get the chance. The beam that would have obliterated them only consumed air and empty ground, stretching hundreds of meters without taking a single intelligent life form. The second beam failed more improbably.

"Raaaaaaaargh!" Yuria roared incoherently, and her chakra roared with her. With no alternative of evasion, the three-tails just let her power flare, and she met the attack with her right fist.

While a small audience witnessed how the Void cannon literally bent and was blown upwards and away, Kotonoha and Setsuna cried out in anguish (Setsuna very quietly, though) when a certain boy collapsed once more, his hands clutching his body as if it were burning from the inside out.

"Naruto!" A number of people called out, but the boy was deaf to their voices, for there was only pain and the fading world before his eyes. It was a familiar feeling already, courtesy of Itou Makoto.

"How…did you do that?" An unusually alert-looking Fubuki asked of Yuria.

"Dunno," the small girl taunted. "Maybe we'll find out if you let me experiment on your face."

"Naruto…" Yuri murmured lamely, as she found herself looking down at him much more closely that she could moments ago, and she realized he had exhausted his chakra summoning her, his daughters and granddaughter out of the path of Fubuki's attack.

"Ha-Hawaaan!" Yurine clung lamely to her daughter's waist, and Yuriyo hurriedly shushed her.

"Chiyuri!" Yuri hissed, and the half-Forest warily moved over to the group gathered around the collapsing Naruto. Yurisa, too, moved towards the group, for it was dangerous to remain alone, and Fubuki had no intention of killing her daughter.

"Jirai—"

Whatever it was Hiruzen had in mind, it was rendered moot when Kougon appeared in front of them, sparing them the briefest warning glance. Surprise was impossible.

Fubuki glared at Yuria, and then at the group of Higashiyama ladies.

"This…defiance! This, is why it's better to get rid of you!"

Yuria laughed darkly.

"So, you have no use for a Great Clan that doesn't nod and smile to your goddamn whims? You think we'll just bend over and die for you!?"

"Annoying!" Fubuki roared, all semblance of royal majesty long gone. Something like a sword of Void surged from the fingers of her right hand, and she swung that arm as if to cut Yuria in two. The three-tails proved wise enough not to rely in whatever power had saved her from the Void cannon and just ducked.

"Fubuki! Don't forget what we came here for!"

"Aye aye, sir!" The Void Kyuubi laughed disturbingly, but did precisely as suggested, pointing her arm at the large group centered on Naruto and the sleeping Sayuri.

"You know what? We've overstayed. We'll finish this my way."

Certain people screamed in terror and alarm the moment they felt Fubuki's chakra spiking far beyond anything she had displayed before.

"Fubuki!" Kougon called out in alarm, but his best option was to summon the Aegis to protect both himself and the humans behind him.

"Fubuki-sama, please sto—"

Yuriyo's last desperate cry fell on deaf ears.

"Invocation of the Void."


"Hmm…I guess this is where I bring out a cigar, right…?" A rather awkward-sounding Katsura Kokoro spoke from Ayame's body before wincing. "Oh, don't give me that, Ayame; I know I messed up."

Cautiously stepping off the bed where Tenten and Hinata slept soundly, the ramen girl currently lacking in clothes walked closer to the unknown apartment's veranda.

Outside, teams of shinobi and civilians who had stepped out of the underground shelters worked together to put down that many fires that ravaged Konoha. About a block away, a group of surrendered Suna-nin were put in chains. It was obvious that she had slept through the battle.

"I know I should have bore with it but, damn, I feel so…at ease now," Kokoro confessed. "Note to self: don't skip twelve mating seasons ever again…hmm?"

Kokoro barely caught a whiff of the vile chakra spike from somewhere beyond the battered walls before an even taller and ever-expanding wall of blackness swallowed everything.


CHAPTER 22 – To be continued...