AN: A few people thought an epilogue was in order and I would tend to agree with them. Though, to answer a few questions, I don't think there will be a sequel to Valediction. I just have no idea where I would take it. I mean the Empress is dead, Naruto won, and as long as there are strong people willing to fight for their freedoms, no other tyrant would have a chance to seize power.
Anyway, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!
"You're going to do great," Tayuya said reassuringly, standing in front of her husband in the small, but well lit and comfortably decorated preparation room. "Believe me, I can see it everywhere. You're going to knock 'em all dead."
Naruto sighed uneasily as Tayuya gave him another quick onceover and straightened out a few ruffles in his heavy red white cloak. "If I had known this was going to be part of the job I never would have gone through with this plan. Seriously, why do I have to be the one to do all this? Isn't this the kind of thing I pay Sakura to handle?"
Tayuya grinned and smoothed out Naruto's shirt, making sure that none of the doeskin-colored cloth bunched up under the weight of the flame decorated cloak. "Now what kind of Emperor would you be if you didn't address your people on an issue this important? It would be fine if someone else made the announcement, but it will mean so much more coming from the 'champion of Konoha,' the 'defender of liberty.'"
"That's just it," said Naruto, resigning himself to his fate and smiling. "In another few days I'm not going to be Emperor, just Hokage. We should have all of the other appointees there too."
The Kunoichi laughed once and stepped back, surveying her work. "You look magnificent," she said, eyeing him greedily. "I think you just don't want to be the only one up there in front of all those people."
"Hell no I don't," said Naruto. "You heard what Kakashi said. There are supposed to be more than fifty thousand people at the speech today. The entire courtyard is going to be packed. Half the streets in Konoha will be overflowing and the rest will be damn near full. Who in their right mind would want to give a speech in front of those kinds of numbers?"
With a giggle Tayuya stepped forward and kissed Naruto gently, trying not to leave and lipstick on his face just before his big moment. "Don't tell me you're afraid to mess up and say something silly?"
"Of course not," Naruto retorted, blushing only very slightly as someone knocked on the door. "Come in."
The door opened and a tall man with silver scarecrow-like hair poked his head in the room. "Ready Naruto-Sama?" asked Kakashi, his usually dejected monotone replaced by his new, more cheery monotone. "You're expected to take the podium in six minutes."
"Thanks Kakashi-Sensei," said Naruto, respecting his old mentor. "I'll be there on time."
"You look great sir," said the aging Hatake, "just like your father."
Naruto grinned. "Thanks," he said. "I'm hoping to make him proud today."
"Wherever he is," said Kakashi, "He'd already be proud of you sir. He and Jiraiya both would think you turned into a great man."
"We'll see," said Naruto, grinning and looking at Tayuya. "There's some old saying about every great man having a better woman beside him."
Tayuya smiled, resting one hand on her abdomen, which had begun to swell only enough to be noticeable. "Go get 'em," said the Kunoichi.
"You're not going to watch?" asked Naruto.
"I'll be right behind you," Tayuya cooed. "You and Kakashi should wow everyone by being a little early."
Naruto nodded. "Ok, I love you." He leaned forward and planted a quick kiss on her lips, then stepped towards the door Kakashi held open.
"I love you too," said Tayuya, beaming and looking Naruto over again. Naruto nodded and Kakashi bowed to her as the two Ninja left the room, entering the long, white, hall beyond.
"Prompts?" asked Kakashi as he and Naruto set off down the hall. From his vest he produced a small stack of white cards and handed them to Naruto. "I had Sakura write them up for you yesterday when you mentioned you hadn't had time to make any yourself. They're straight out of your meeting with the other appointees yesterday."
"Thanks," said Naruto, taking the notes from his old Sensei and sifting through them quickly as the two Ninja made their way up a winding flight of stairs. They came to a landing built next to an especially large window, and Naruto paused just long enough to glance outside. The window, which overlooked Konoha's northern districts, afforded him a plain view of the buildings and streets below, streets that he could see had long since filled up with people waiting to hear him speak. "Kakashi-Sensei, thanks for everything you've done… Your training saw me through a lot."
"I tried to help out along the way whenever I could," said Kakashi, lightheartedly dismissing any praise with a wave of his hand. "Now's not the time to be praising e anyway," he continued as Naruto resumed their trek up the stairs to the top floor of the palace. "You've got a lot of people waiting for you to give them the good news."
"I guess," said Naruto as he and Kakashi entered another long hallway, this one ending in a massive double glass door which lead out onto a small and sunbathed stone balcony. Kakashi stopped walking and Naruto paused for a moment. "You're not going to join me?"
Kakashi shook his head once. "I was head of Tsunade's information department for a while, remember? It might not go over too well if I'm seen as standing right beside you when you deliver your first address to the Empire. This one's all about you."
"Right," said Naruto with an uneasy grin.
"I'll be in the audience though."
"See you on the other side," Naruto said quietly as he began walking towards the lighted door and Kakashi turned around and made for the stairs again.
Naruto's pulse began to thrum in his chest and head as he neared the door. He felt as though some aggravated bird was caged where his heart should be, and as he stepped out into the open air, the sudden burst of sunlight nearly blinded him. In the world of white shapes in which Naruto suddenly found himself, one sound roared suddenly above all others: applause.
Clapping, shouting and cheering exploded from beneath him as Naruto's vision adjusted to the bright noonday light. He walked squinting to the edge of the balcony, five feet from the door, and stood behind the waist high podium waiting for him, setting the cards down to survey. As the world cleared and definite shapes congealed in his vision, Naruto looked down from the balcony at the square of the palace, ringed on three sides by the palace itself, bordered on one by the road, and absolutely filled with people screaming his name and clapping their hands above their heads.
The crowd spilled out of the square and into the streets, making Naruto very glad that he'd ordered the wall around the palace torn down in a gesture of openness with the people. The square was huge, capable of holding a crowd which would fill several of Konoha's residential complexes, but Naruto staggered at how tightly everyone was packed in to hear him speak. Many if not all were breast to back and shoulder to shoulder with the people around them.
"Here goes," Naruto whispered to himself, taking in a deep breath and looking out over the thousands of faces.
"Thank you!" Naruto said loudly, amazed not only by how his words echoed off the walls of the palace for all to hear, but by exactly how stridently he spoke. "Thank you all for this welcome!"
The crowd roared applause all the louder at him, prompting Naruto to wait for a full five minutes as he simply repeated 'thank you' and smiled, waving at the crowd. Now I know why Kakashi and Tayuya weren't worried about being exactly on time to hear me speak, thought Naruto, only a little annoyed. If this crowd had its way I'd never get to say a damn word.
"Thank you all very much," said Naruto, loud enough for all to hear once the applause and cheering began to die down. "Now I know things have been a little strained in the four weeks since the change in government," continued the Hokage, eliciting another set of tremendous cheers throughout his massive audience. "And I wanted to first and foremost thank all of you for dealing with the inconveniences in good humor and taking the extra steps to be helpful as we try to iron things out and get this world back on track."
Tayuya, sitting quietly and wearing a veil as to avoid being identified as Naruto's wife and subsequently deluged by a flurry of people wanting to shake her hand and secure an autograph, smiled to herself as Naruto launched himself into his speech to the Empire as naturally as though he'd been a public speaker his entire life. I told you they'd love you, thought the Kunoichi, trying not to laugh at how Naruto had to take regular pauses in his oration to accommodate the applause as he praised the people of Konoha and the Empire for dealing supporting him so fully in his frenzied efforts to correct the 'mistakes made by the previous ruler.'
"Now we've all seen how a completely centralized world power works," said Naruto, coming to the conclusion of his discourse's introduction of praise and thanks. "When one man or a few powerful people try to run the world, what we're left with is a despotic oligarchy and countries full of extremely unhappy people. This is why, as of today I will begin the process of breaking up the Empire into smaller and completely sovereign nation-states which can be governed by locally elected officials."
Again the crowd exploded and Naruto had to wait for them to quiet down. "This will not be an overnight change," Naruto continued. "This is why for the next two months officials that I and my cabinet of advisors, advisors picked from the best and brightest men representing every corner of the Empire, will oversee the newly formed nations as Kages in their own right. By the end of those two months I swear to each and every one of you, national elections will be in place and those appointed officials will relinquish all of their authority. Every man and woman among you," he gestured widely to the audience, sweeping his arm out over them, "is a witness to that promise."
Naruto went on to detail exactly how he planned to divide up the Empire, making very sure to point out that as soon as each nation was established and operating under its own political power, it would be sovereign and free to set its own policies and maintain itself however the popularly chosen leaders saw fit. "My goal today is to be absolutely transparent to all of you here," said Naruto. "These politics of smoke, mirrors, scams, and coercion must become a thing of the past if this world it to survive, recover, and ultimately thrive. I am doing everything I can to take us off the path to fascism and self-destruction we were set on after the Unification War, and I am have absolute confidence in each of you.
"Allow me one last parting thought," said Naruto, his dissertation ostensibly coming to a close. He paused and waited for a moment, collecting himself as a hush fell over the entire crowd for the first time in the speech. Everyone waited. "Trust in yourselves, and in the people of your community," said the Hokage, lines spreading out from the corners of Naruto's eyes. "Freedom and liberty were stolen from us once, snatched away in the panic brought by the fires of a war and terrifying world changes. We were all frightened and coerced into giving up that precious freedom, not knowing just how dear it was..." His words grew strained but he spoke on, fervently. "We had no one but ourselves to blame for its loss… not a single despot or an agency of fear mongering secret police, ourselves.
"Heroes, great men who gave their lives without question, fought to reclaim that liberty for us. Now, knowing how dearly we miss it when our freedom is stolen, it falls to us to safeguard it. You," he gestured towards the people again, "All of you are the guardians of freedom and liberty. Trust no one promising security in exchange for your freedom. Remember that a government, whatever form of government you may choose, is there to work for you and to enable you to safeguard your liberties. Never, ever allow anyone, especially your government to dictate to you what you must do or what you must think, or everything we have accomplished here today will have been for absolutely nothing."
Naruto paused as ripples and murmurs began to move throughout the crowd. No large groups of people cheered now. Many looked up at Naruto in surprise, having expected promises of the Hokage's protection and his personal guarantee that they would from this day on be safe. But now he told them they might, no, they must look after their own freedom?
Looking down into the crowd and seeing many confused expressions Naruto's spirit fell. They don't want to hear this, Naruto thought. They want someone to look after them and protect them-
"HE'S RIGHT!" shouted a woman in the crowd, her voice echoing off the walls of the palace for all to hear. "The Hokage is right!" she yelled. "We all fell for the Empress's bullshit schemes and propaganda. But now WE are in charge! I'll never give up my liberty in the face of fear! I'll die first!"
"Here here!!" shouted a man near the woman.
"Free Forever!" screamed another as cheers began to resonate and echo deafeningly in the crowd, spreading outward in circles from a few individuals in the multitude.
"Naruto-Sama is the champion of freedom!" bellowed a man in one of the balconies on the palace wall. "But WE are its protectors. Freedom forever!"
"Freedom Forever!" the cheer went up as tens of thousands yelled it over and over, fists shaking at the sky, while others proclaimed Naruto the champion of freedom and the people its protectors.
Well, Naruto mumbled in his mind, raising one eyebrow. He searched the crowd and his quick eyes locked on the woman who had first shouted Naruto's intended message. As long as there are people like her in the world, we might be able to make this work… The Hokage smiled a little to himself as the crowd continued to cheer and shout affirmations of their freedom from tyranny. Ultimately though, it really is up to them.