So, after all those assurances that I will finish the story, I am officially abandoning it. Yeah, I have no excuse. The thing is, I found myself wondering which elements of the story to cut in order to get it finally finished, and that's not very fair to the readers either. So instead I'll do the other thing I've promised to do and post a plot summary so you're not all left hanging and wondering what was going to happen (at least, those of you who didn't give up in disgust after a 6-month wait).

Those who have been asking me about any original stories I may have written will be pleased to know I have opened a fictionpress account – go to my profile to find a link.

On to the summary:

The next chapter, 'Mere Dead Men', opens with the exact same scene the last chapter ended with - with Deidara peppering Naruto, Kabuto and Gaara with explosives. The other Akatsuki linger behind, not wanting to get caught in the explosions. Gaara shields them from the initial barrage, and then Naruto unleashes his own explosives, prompting a short discussion between Naruto and Deidara, where they both profess their belief that explosives are a kind of art. Although Naruto is mostly joking, Deidara takes it quite seriously, and promptly up (and quite literally) blows off the plan Akatsuki had come with in order to face against 'a fellow artist', insisting that others are not to interfere. The others protest, but they're distracted when Kisame is attacked by a strange man wielding a scythe.

It doesn't take long for Kisame to realize he's fighting Hidan – or more accurately, Hidan's head mounted on a puppet body. Sasori and Kabuto had brainwashed the head with liberal application of mind-affecting seals and chemicals, and though it recognizes Kisame, it has no issues at all about killing him. Kabuto meanwhile faces against Itachi, who notes that Kabuto is not really on his level. Kabuto laughs and tells him that he is but a student, and that Hidan's presence means his master is nearby. He only has to stall until he comes to his aid.

Meanwhile Jugo (the original carrier of the cursed seal transformation – people keep complaining about his spelling so I don't know how to write his name at this point) is determined to stick to the plan, and goes after his original target – Gaara. Though weakened by Naruto's meddling with his seal, Gaara finds that his sand is strong enough to withstand Jugo's attacks. Unfortunately, Jugo is virtually indestructible to physical force, and Gaara has no means of hurting him.

The scene cuts to Orochimaru, who is fighting against Jiraya. Orochimaru mocks him and tell him he's unable to defeat him. Jiraya tells him that he is no longer interested in proving who's stronger, and that he'd stealthily sent a messenger toad to Sandaime the moment he realized just who was attacking them. Orochimaru laughs and tells him he was counting on that very thing – he wanted to lure Sandaime out of Konoha so that when his invasion started, there would be no one powerful enough to deal with the summons and the chain of command would be crippled. Jiraya tells him that he and Sandaime would kill him quickly and rush back to help with the defenders, but Orochimaru just chuckles and tells him he'll be dead long before Sandaime gets here. He then uses Impure World Resurrection. Jiraya, not knowing what it does, allows it to run its course unhindered and is shocked when he comes face to face with the three Hokages… especially his blond haired student. Orochimaru gloats and orders Yondaime to kill Jiraya. Unfortunately for Orochimaru, Yondaime sold his soul to the Death God to seal away the Kyuubi and thus his body is merely a soulless puppet with none of the skills it had in life. Orochimaru scoffs and tells Jiraya that it is of no consequence, because three Kage level ninja are quite sufficient to deal with him – he just thought it would be poetic to have his beloved student kill him. Before he can order the remaining two Hokage's to attack, however, a small figure steps out of the shadows and tells Orochimaru that he shouldn't be so confident just because he can summon a bunch of corpses, because he's not the only one with a dead Kage at his fingertips. It's Sasori! He unseals the third Kazekage, a human puppet made out of Zabuza, and a dozen or so more human puppets made from high-level missing nin, and the battle is joined.

The scene cuts to Neji, who is under unofficial house arrest, giving some insight into his internal thoughts as well as revealing a major part of Orochimaru's plan. Orochimaru had approached Neji and several other prominent Branch members of the Hyuuga clan, promising to free them of their seal and duty if they help out during the invasion. Most, including Neji, accepted – tragically, most did so because they feared reprisals because of what Neji did, and felt they had little choice. As the snake summons and the Sand-Sound alliance attacks, most Hyuuga rush out to help out, leaving Neji with only a couple of green guards to keep him in check. He disables/kills them and leaves, but is intercepted by Shino and Kiba, who were keeping an eye on him and just waiting for him to give them an excuse. Neji scoffs at them and tries to deal with them quickly. Kiba is shut down, but Shino had gotten Hinata's notes on her special healing technique from Naruto and practiced it nonstop, and reopens his tenketsu. The rest is a dramatic showdown between Shino and Neji where Shino reveals a couple of his own original kikaichu abilities – he knows how to infuse his kikaichu with fire chakra – but eventually gets cornered by Neji. However, Neji suddenly drops on the ground, exhausted, and Shino reveals to him that he had kikaichu traveling underground, just beneath his legs, stealthily siphoning his chakra as he kept Neji distracted and stalled for time.

Then there is a series of snapshots showing the rest of the rookies fighting the invaders – I didn't intend to spend much time on them, so I don't know how they would go. No rookie died in the invasion, though.

Then it's back to Naruto and the surrounding fights. Sasori and Jiraya have temporarily allied to tackle Orochimaru and his two Hokage slaves, and the Akatsuki are each tackling their own opponent. With four Akatsuki, 2 Sannin, 2 resurrected Hokages, 1 former Akatski, 2 S-class nin turned puppet, and a jinchuuriki, it is perfectly understandable that massive destruction and landscape rearranging is being done. The entire are is littered with deep craters and deep gouges where summons and explosives have marred the land, and a good portion of it is flooded with water (courtesy of Kisame) or encased in ice (courtesy of Haku's heart installed in puppet Hidan, Kakuzu-style). Puppet Zabuza and Naruto have used the water to shroud the battlefield in mist, which Kisame mocks, stating that it's foolish to use such tactics against a mist ninja, especially one of his caliber. Itachi tell him they're targeting him, not Kisame, since the mist is preventing him from dealing effectively with Kabuto, who would otherwise be absolutely no match for him. Concerned with the increasingly escalating situation and massive damages to the countryside that will surely attract unwanted attention to Akatsuki, Itachi slips away from Naruto to strike at Naruto, intending to simply take Naruto and retreat. Unfortunately, to ensure success, Itachi uses Tsukuyomi on him. Naruto identifies the world of Tsukuyomi as Itachi's mindscape and uses the power of his seal to drag both himself and Itachi into his mindscape, where tables are turned on Itachi. Itachi breaks the connection after several hours of torture, but is in no state to continue the fight and orders a retreat. The other Akatsuki protest, but Jugo's suddenly become rippled and Pein speaks through him, confirming Itachi's orders. The Akatsuki retreat from the area, with Deidara whining all the way that he didn't resolve the question of whose art is better yet.

At the same time this is happening, Sandaime finally arrives at the scene and joins Jiraya. His presence tips the scales against Orochimaru, since Sandaime is familiar with the limitations of Impure World Resurrection and Orochimaru has been fighting for a while, unlike Sandaime. The two dead Hokages are immobilized by Sasori's puppets while Sandaime and Jiraya pull out the control tags out of their bodies, ending the technique. Furious, but knowing when he's beaten, Orochimaru tries to flee, but is boxed in by his opponents and 'killed', forcing him to assume his true form. Orochimaru boasts that he cannot be truly killed in the form, but Sandaime reminds him that Kyuubi couldn't be killed either, and that there are two seal-masters present. Orochimaru tells him he'd have to sacrifice himself to seal him away, and he has no successor yet, but Sandaime scoffs and tells him he is no tailed beast. Orochimaru is sealed away, kicking and screaming.

With Akatsuki gone and Orochimaru sealed away, the long-postponed confrontation between Naruto and Sarutobi is unavoidable. As Jiraya and Sandaime turn to question the mysterious red-headed puppeteer that helped them about who he is, Naruto, Kabuto, Gaara, and puppet Hidan appear by his side. Sasori admits he has been training Naruto and asks Naruto to leave the village with him, as he can no longer hide in Konoha. Sandaime is shocked when Naruto says yes, after briefly agonizing over the decision, and tries to talk him out of it to no avail. Before leaving, Naruto gives Sandaime instruction on how to cure Anko out of her coma, having divined the knowledge from Kyuubi's instruction in enhancing his body with chakra.

In the epilogue, Sandaime decides to keep Naruto's defection secret, stating in his files that he went on a three-year training trip. In the wake of the invasion and the resulting three vacancies among the rookies (Hinata, who is dead; Naruto, who defected; and Neji, who is imprisoned until his trial and unlikely to resume normal ninja duties anytime soon), the rookie 9 and team Gai are reshuffled. After notifying them of their new teams, Hokage instructs Shino, Kiba, Sakura, Sasuke, and Ino to stay behind. He tells them what really happened to Naruto and offers them membership is the so-called 'Naruto retrieval team' that will be trained jointly by Anko and Jiraya and will seek out Naruto after 3 years have passed. Ino protests at that and asks Sandaime why wait 3 years, and Sarutobi remarks that he doesn't think Naruto is going to listen to any random Konoha ninja – only they, as his friends, have a chance… though not right now, as Sandaime doesn't believe Naruto would agree to come back any time soon. He hopes Naruto will calm down after 3 years have passed, and they will hopefully be skilled enough to convince him after being trained for 3 years by a Sannin and a tracking-capable special Jounin like Anko. They all accept, each for their own reasons.

The rest of the epilogue focuses on the thoughts of the 5 chosen rookies, their motives for accepting and their plans for the future.

The end.

As you can see, the ending was supposed to be a kind of a twisted mirror to Valley of the End arc, only with Naruto leaving the village instead of Sasuke. Much like how Konoha doesn't immediately denounce Sasuke a missing nin and hunt him down like a dog, Naruto is likewise not a hated figure – in the epilogue his friends are determined to bring him back, thinking him stupid for leaving but ultimately just misguided instead of evil. As to what happens after that? Well, I was entertaining the thoughts of a sequel when I started writing this, but no definitive plans exist… and since I couldn't even finish this part, there will definitely be no sequel. At least, not from me – if you want to write a sequel, be my guest.

And… that's it. I really do apologize to everyone who waited for 6 months only to get this kind of update, but I really can't make myself continue writing this story. I'm not giving up on writing – see the bolded paragraph near the top of the chapter – but I'm definitely done with this story. I had been writing and rewriting the next chapter for the last 6 months, and all I've been doing is sapping my creative energies and giving false hope to my readership.

PM me if you have any additional questions.