Disclaimer: I still don't own Naruto.
Author's Note: Revised and corrected in preparation for actually finishing this story at last. Also, if you want to see what I've been doing in the last year check out Fimbulwinter, my original novel now available as a Kindle ebook on Amazon (just got to www_amazon_com/dp/B00KZ41LHM , or go to the main page and search books for "Fimbulwinter, by E. William Brown").
"Kami," Sakura breathed into her radio. "Dragon, what's going on up there?"
They were approaching the prison at a mere thousand feet of altitude, weaving between the rocky hills that surrounded the site instead of soaring over them. It made their approach harder to spot, but it had also hidden their destination until the final moment. She'd been wondering about the dark clouds up ahead for some time, but now that she could see…
"Moryo brought his little army of statues," Naruto replied cheerfully. "So I broke out an army killer technique."
A tornado that had to be a quarter-mile in diameter was grinding its way back and forth across the valley before the prison, flinging a constant hail of debris into the air and battering the stone army beneath it to rubble.
"That's our Dragon," Hinata put in with a note of pride.
"Indeed," Shion agreed, nestling deeper into Naruto's arms.
Sakura sighed. "Fine, I admit it, I'm impressed too. But how are we going to get in? Flying close to that thing doesn't look like a good idea."
"Wimp. Just move faster than the boulders."
"Dragon!" She protested. But it was too late.
Naruto angled over into a power dive, pouring on speed as his chakra shield shimmered into visibility. The blue glow flared as bright as a Rasengan, and Sakura wondered just how much power he was feeding into it.
"Byakugan," Hinata whispered. "Ah, not a problem. Fly safe, Tanuki."
The buxom Hyuuga followed in Naruto's wake, gracefully flitting around and between the fragments of stone that filled the air.
"Damn it," Sakura muttered. "Am I the only sane person on this team?"
Then she took a deep breath, and folded her wings.
Sakura had thought her evasion training under Tsunade was the most terrifying thing she'd ever done, but now she had a new standard to judge such things by. A boulder the size of her apartment sailed past her, surrounded by a cloud of gravel that forced her into a frantic spin to avoid being hit. She jinked over a mangled statue, swatted away a fist-sized stone that came too close, ducked under a spray of dirt and paused for a split second on the side of another boulder to judge her path.
Chakra flooded her senses, and the world slowed down.
She slipped under a mangled tree trunk into a downdraft, letting it carry her past a cloud of smaller debris. A shard of jagged stone spun lazily through the air beyond, but she had nearly a second to evade it. Plenty of time.
This isn't so hard, she realized. Nothing here is moving as fast as Hinata's shuriken. But when did that start to seem like a reasonable standard?
A loose mass of dirt and gravel blocked her path. She flipped end for end and landed against it, using her chakra to momentarily bind the debris together, before pushing off again. The change in direction took her through a clear space, giving her an instant to plan her path.
It's the suit. Speed is physical strength times chakra boosting capacity divided by mass. Hinata and Anko drove me to my limits in speed training, but the suit takes me beyond my limits. I never noticed because they were improving at the same time. But the world hasn't changed.
She evaded a severed stone arm with a graceful pirouette, and found her moment of terror dissolving into exhilaration. She wasn't going to die. She was going to dodge her way through a three-dimensional obstacle course that would have pulverized her a month ago, and if she did screw up and miss something she'd just bat the offending object aside and keep going.
A minute later she was zipping through the tunnel mouth that led into Moryo's prison. She set down next to her team not far inside, and realized to her amazement that she was barely even breathing hard.
Hinata gave her a quick once-over as she landed, but Naruto didn't even look. Did he not care, or was he just that confident in her abilities? Well, this was Naruto. But when did he develop such a high opinion of her?
Shion was flushed and beaming, hardly the reaction one would expect from a civilian after an experience like that. The blonde priestess smoothed down her borrowed shirt, and skipped to the door.
"Apparently the emergency barriers have been activated," she said happily. "But we should enter, and assure ourselves that Moryo's ninja have not somehow snuck him in."
She stepped to the door and confidently pressed one hand to it while forming a seal with the other. After a moment a golden glow rippled across the stone surface, and it ponderously began to grind open.
Naruto glanced at Hinata, but she shook her head. "The barriers here all block my sight," she admitted with a touch of annoyance. "We'll have to inspect the prison in person."
"Fair enough," Naruto said judiciously. "But keep alert. My clones out in the valley haven't been able to find Moryo, so he may have gotten past them. Team Gai is supposed to be in here though, and I'm sure they can handle his ninja."
Ten steps past the door they found the body of an unfamiliar nin with no insignia. A bewildering assortment of kunai, shuriken, spikes and other throwing implements pincushioned his back, each one sunk deep into a vulnerable point.
"Oh my!" Shion gasped.
"Definitely Tenten's work," Naruto pointed out the obvious. "Damn. I don't hear any fighting. Let's move."
Shion gravitated back to Naruto's side as Team Orange moved into the prison, with Hinata in the lead and Sakura bringing up the rear. Soon they began to find signs of battle. Impact craters and scorch marks marred the walls. More of the ubiquitous stone statues lay shattered by tremendous blows. Another security door was smashed open, surrounded by smoke and rubble.
They found most of team Gai at the edge of the inner sanctuary. Lee was slumped in the middle of an impact crater, covered in bruises and out cold. The remains of a hugely muscled ninja lay next to him, with the back of his head blown off by an explosive tag. Another dozen or so enemy ninja littered the floor, obviously victims of the team's lethal taijutsu abilities. Neji was laid out in the middle of the hall, an anxious Tenten bending over him with the green glow of a basic diagnostic jutsu covering her hands.
She leaped to her feet as Team Orange approached, kunai wrapped in explosive tags appearing in her hands before she recognized them. Then she sagged in relief.
"Thank the kami! Do you have a medic? I think that water guy poisoned Neji somehow, but I can't identify the toxin."
"I've got it," Sakura announced as she dropped to her knees beside the fallen Hyuuga. Green foxfire danced across her fingers for an instant, and she nodded. "Fermented choryou berries mixed with goza paste, and tainted with demonic chakra. Cute. I can save him, but he won't be fighting again for a few days."
"Lee will be fine," Hinata announced from the fallen boy's side. "He has a concussion and several minor fractures, but no internal bleeding or ruptured organs."
A thunderous impact echoed up from the inner depths of the prison.
"Gai-sensei is still fighting," Tenten said. "The enemy leader is one scary medic-nin, and he's full of demonic chakra. Nothing seems to keep him down."
"I'll handle that," Naruto said confidently. "Tanuki, get the guys stabilized and make sure they get clear. Ghost, do a quick recon on the rest of this place, make sure Moryo isn't sneaking around us somehow. Shion, you're with me."
"Me?" Shion squeaked. "I'm hardly a ninja, Nar… ah, Dragon. Won't I be in the way?"
"I wasn't planning to fight this guy in person," Naruto pointed out. With a careless wave of his hand four blonde kunoichi clones appeared around him, and darted forward into the inner sanctum. A single clone whose appearance was identical to Naruto came next, and then another four-clone team without chakra armor.
"There, that should do it. Now, which way to the prison chamber?"
Shion had never actually visited the prison of Moryo herself, but she had spent long hours memorizing the layout in preparation for this sort of need. She hurried through the winding maze of the inner sanctum, wincing at the sounds of battle in the near distance. Left. Right. Right. Left. Right. Two lefts. Down the stairs. Secret door on the right. Left. Down the six-foot drop concealed by genjutsu. Right. Right. Left. There.
They stepped out into the mammoth chamber that housed Moryo's prison. The dark mass of stone sat in the middle of the room, surrounded by another maze of narrow walkways over a lake of glowing lava. Some of the traps here would cause walkways to collapse, so she had to get this part right. At least there was no sight the intruders had made it this far.
She stepped out into the room with Naruto at her side, and it all went wrong.
The instant Naruto entered the room there was a muffled boom from somewhere far below, so deep it was more felt than heard. The lava heaved, washing over the walkways and shattering many of them.
"Crap," Naruto said. "What was-"
Then there was a roar so loud it rattled her bones, and the volcano beneath the prison chamber erupted.
Shion found herself tumbling through an ocean of rushing lava, protected for the moment by a thin bubble of golden chakra. A moment later she was flung high into the air, and found herself looking down at the blazing ruin of the mountain.
"An eruption?" She gasped, struggling to gather her scattered wits. It had happened so fast!
Surely not even ninja could survive such a catastrophe. Sakura. Hinata. Naruto. Those other leaf nin they'd met. Were they all dead now?
"Naruto." She choked. He'd been right beside her. To be snatched away so suddenly…
A multi-headed dragon made of shadows rose from the lava flow, howling in triumph. But the monster's presence barely registered.
"Naruto!" She screamed, knowing it was useless. He was gone. Lost in an instant.
One of Moryo's heads looked up at her, and laughed. "There you are, little morsel. Come, fall into my waiting jaws and feed my power more!"
"What? No!" She shouted, and clutched at the bell that hung from her neck. As her trajectory peaked, and she began to fall, she invoked the final technique of her mother's relic and cast it back in time.
Naruto froze at the edge of the chamber of the prison, and took a step back. Shion went with him, her face white.
"Did you just….?"
The bell at Shion's throat dissolved into a cloud of sparkling motes, and vanished. She nodded nervously. "I did. I'm sorry, but I can't lose you Naruto."
"Ah, Shion." He sighed, and pulled her into a hug. "Thank you. Are you ok? I thought you said that was a suicide technique?"
The priestess nodded against his chest. "It was. But it was the me in the future died. Ninja aren't the only ones who can cheat, it seems."
Naruto chuckled. "Good. I've already got my clones evacuating everyone else, but we'd better get out of here. Think you can seal this bozo from scratch if I beat him down for you first?"
"I don't know," Shion admitted. "I feel very strange. As if I'd been squeezed into a tiny cabinet for my entire life, and the door just opened. I think my chakra is intact, but I can't speak for my control."
"Well, let's give it a shot. If nothing else I can blow him up, and make him spend a few generations reforming."
Then, just as before, there was a huge detonation somewhere far below. But this time Naruto was ready for it. He flared his chakra shield against the spray of lava that washed into the hallway, and concentrated.
Then they were on a hilltop on the other side of the valley, surrounded by the other members of teams Gai and Orange.
"Man, that self-summoning technique is handy," Naruto commented.
"Indeed, your youthful inventiveness is quite impressive," Gai boomed. "But I fear it will take more than a volcano to defeat our enemy."
The multi-headed dragon of shadow rising triumphantly from the erupting volcano confirmed his fears. Moryo was a creature of living chakra, and mere heat and pressure had little effect on his eldritch form. The monster's triumphant roar drowned out even the tornado for a moment.
Naturo studied it with an appraising eye. "You'd better evacuate your team, Gai. This looks like it's going to be a bijuu party."
The older jounin nodded. "Very well, Dragon. Tenten, carry Neji."
The pale-faced chuunin glanced at the demon god, and hurried to gather up her teammate. Sakura frowned.
"Dragon, I need another five minutes with Neji to make sure the poison in neutralized."
"Go ahead," Naruto agreed. "Ghost, keep Shion safe. Let's see how tough this guy really is."
He cracked his knuckles, and unleashed his chakra. A crackling blue aura flashed into existence around him, rapidly expanding to cover the outcropping all of the Konoha nin had occupied a moment before. Then Naruto grew, transforming into a twenty-foot giant, and the intense field of chakra broke up into hundreds of floating blue spheres.
Moryo noticed immediately, three of its heads snapping around to gaze at the intense presence that had suddenly manifested.
"There you are!" It growled. "Foolish ninja, you should have run. No human power can stop me now."
"You sure about that? Let's find out."
The floating spheres of chakra began to merge, flowing together into larger balls that then shrank again. With each merger the chakra grew denser, heavier, more solid but also less stable.
Moryo's eyes went wide, and it frantically began tearing itself free from the remains of the mountain. But a third of its body was still pinned beneath untold thousands of tons of rock, and extracting itself took time. Too much time.
The last chakra spheres merged, shrinking into a dark ball just a few inches across.
Naruto swallowed it.
Then he opened his mouth wide, and unleashed a ball of chakra so intense it outshone the glow of the erupting volcano.
Half of Moryo's heads spat bolts of dark lightning at the Bijuu Ball as it flew across the valley. But even together it wasn't enough to stop an attack of that magnitude. The ball struck Moryo's serpentine body where it was emerging from the ground, and exploded into a fireball that covered most of the valley.
Naruto formed an oversized Rasengan in each hand, and charged into the smoke cloud.
"Can he really defeat Moryo alone?" Shion asked worriedly.
She and Hinata had taken cover a few hundred yards upslope from their previous position, near the top of the ridgeline overlooking the valley. Far enough away to be clear of the violence being unleashed by the struggle below, but still close enough to see what was happening.
Naruto's giant form dodged among Moryo's shadowy heads, unleashing destructive techniques that shook the valley. Giant Rasengans, intense blasts of air-boosted flame, even physical blows with enough force behind them to send the giant demon beast reeling. But for all their power, his techniques made little impression on the creature.
Moryo's attacks seemed slow and clumsy in comparison. A dozen serpentine heads snapped and bit at his more agile opponent, sometimes pausing to spit bolts of black lighting at him. Naruto evaded the vast majority of these attacks, but every now and then one struck home only to be deflected by his chakra shield. The crackling blue barrier seemed impenetrable so far, and Moryo's rage grew with each failure.
"I don't know," Hinata answered. "He's very strong, but he doesn't seem to be making any headway."
"What's he thinking?" Sakura hissed, dropping down to crouch beside them on the weathered stone. "Fighting a demon god head-on like this? I thought he'd outgrown this kind of thing."
"Have faith, Tanuki," Hinata chided. "He knows what he's doing. Don't you, Dragon?"
The last was addressed to what appeared to be a field mouse perched on her shoulder. The little shadow clone nodded to her, then looked up at Sakura and cocked its head. A moment later it transformed into a six-inch Naruto.
"Oh, good, the boss was waiting for you to be done," it told Sakura. "Is Neji going to be ok?"
"He's fine," the medic-nin assured him. "Saving him would have been a little tricky for me a month ago, but the chakra reserve in these suits gives me a lot more leeway with complex procedures. I can do a lot more healing when I don't have to worry about running out of chakra halfway through."
"Good. So, what do you know about bijuu binding techniques?"
"Everything, of course," Sakura said matter-of-factly. "Tsunade-sama was very thorough in her instruction. But a normal bijuu bind won't work on a demon god. They're all tuned for the terrestrial chakra of a bijuu, and Moryo's chakra is obviously infernal."
Shion nodded. "Yes, Moryo is the demon god of human hate. To seal him we need a binding of celestial purity, but I'm not quite certain how to construct it properly. Mother only taught me two sealing arrays that work on him, and one of them requires that Moryo still be half bound."
"What about the other?" Sakura asked curiously.
"I'd have to sacrifice my life to perform it," Shion admitted. "But I'm not supposed to do that until I have an heir to take over my duties."
Sakura rolled her eyes. "Well, I suppose a normal priestess might need the self-sacrifice to make up for the power imbalance, but have you looked at yourself since your seal broke? We don't need anything like that, especially with Naruto to donate power. Let's see, Red Crane Lure to pull him into a Grasp of the Jade Serpent guarding Peerless Self-Swallowing Soul Trap, then… what do you think, Naruto? Seven Sutras of Purity, or Pristine Munificence of Harmony?"
"You know Seven Sutras?" Shion asked, impressed. "I had no idea ninja studied such esoteric constructions. Well, I believe Pristine Munificence is more suited to his nature, but isn't Seven Sutras supposed to be stronger?"
The ground shook.
"No time for a long theory discussion," the clone observed. "Let's go with a resonance array of both, and a slow chakra destruction siphon that's filtered to only eat demonic chakra. This guy has bits of other stuff in his belly, like he's been eating souls or something."
Sakura blinked. "That would explain a few things. Well, that's an ambitious design but I think it will work. The math balances, at any rate. I assume you'll need Shion donating chakra to the array so it will be effective against him. Did you want me to help stabilize, or what?"
The miniature Naruto pointed at the battle of titans still raging in the valley. "I don't know if you noticed, Tanuki, but I'm a little busy. Besides, it would take me a week to set this thing up. I can't just wave seal arrays into existence like you finesse types. So I can donate a little chakra, but aside from that this is all your show."
"Me?!" She exclaimed. "But, I don't… I've never… I mean, I know the theory, but…"
The miniature clone grew into a full-sized Naruto, and put his hands on her shoulders.
"You can do this, Tanuki," he said seriously. "You've never failed at anything that involved chakra control, and you aren't going to start now. Believe in yourself."
She stared at him incredulously for a long moment. Then she sighed, and stepped closer to lean against his chest.
"You know, I don't think I've ever told you how much it means to me to have you here. The way you always believe in me, no matter what. You really think I can do an S-rank demon bind without even rehearsing it first?"
"You know what to do, you know exactly how to do it, and you'll have plenty of chakra to work with. I know you can, Sakura."
She hugged him, gently so as not to disperse the clone. Sometimes I really wonder if I made the right choice, she thought. He can be so tempting. But I made a promise, and I'm not going to break it. No matter what.
She stepped back, and cracked her knuckles.
"Right. Let's show this jerk how we deal with demons in Konoha, girls. Ghost, follow my lead on the setup and then take over the stability role. Use your Byakugan to keep an eye on these huge chakra surges, and keep them out of my seal array."
"Understood," Hinata nodded.
"Shion, I'll direct while you anchor. Make sure you feed the array enough chakra to get a solid golden shine, alright? We can't leave any weak spots for him to escape through."
"I'll try," Shion said tentatively. "I've never powered an array of such magnitude."
"There is no try," Sakura said sharply. "Take a moment with Naruto if you need to, but once we start this we're committed. We make it work, no matter what."
Shion looked at Naruto. He smiled at her, and nodded. She took a deep breath, and squared her shoulders. "You are correct, Tanuki. My line has carried this burden since the days when kami walked the Earth, and I shall not be the one to fail. I'm ready."
Sakura took four steps back, and cast out a perfect circle of softly-glowing blue chakra with a casual gesture. "Good. Here's our base field, so take your places. Initiate and start synchronizing on three… two… one… now."
Naruto's Rasenshuriken flew into the gaping maw of one of Moryo's heads, and tore it apart in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. The demon's other heads howled in rage, and the sinewy neck that had just been decapitated collapsed back into the shadowy mass of the creature's body.
But in a matter of moments another head began to grow.
"Irritating mortal," Moryo roared. "No matter what tricks you bring to bear, so long as human hatred exists I cannot be destroyed! Soon you will tire, and then I shall devour you."
"Yeah, yeah, you said that already. Don't you have any better lines?" Naruto complained. "Hey, I just realized something. Does that mean every time I blow up one of your heads you have to use up a bunch of hate to grow it back? 'Cause at this rate I think we could have world peace in a few hours."
"You dare mock me? Insolent worm! I shall chain your soul, and force you to destroy all you hold dear."
Naruto snorted. "Yeah, good luck with that. You did notice I'm the Kyuubi's junchuuriki, right? He's not big on sharing."
"You think that brute frightens me? I know his weakness, and… wait. What's… this was a distraction?"
Naruto grinned. "Took you long enough to notice."
The shadow dragon growled and tried to rush past him, intent on disrupting the binding ritual it could feel unfolding across the valley. But Naruto's eyes flashed yellow, and he grabbed two of the dragon's necks and threw it back with impossible strength.
"Ah ah ah, we're not done yet, soliloquy-chan. You haven't even bragged about your evil plan to destroy the world."
Moryo struggled, but found that his opponent's grip was far too strong to break.
"So you know something of the Sage arts," he growled. "Clever, but I have more resources than this body."
Two heads spat bolts of black lighting at Naruto, forcing him to release his grip momentarily to dodge. Three more heads rose high into the sky, and vomited forth something that shone with an eerie blue and gold radiance against the dark sky.
Ghostly female forms, their translucent blue bodies bound in barbed chains of black chakra. Sparks of gold and black swirled within them, and each was crowned with a corrupted halo of black chakra. As they emerged from Moryo's throats they spread black-feathered wings, and shot off across the valley towards the rest of Team Orange.
"Crap," Naruto muttered. "Didn't see that one coming. What are those things?"
"The wages of sacrifice," another of Moryo's heads spat contemptuously. "Untold generations of fools who gave their lives to seal me, never realizing they were merely giving themselves to me in the end. Shion is the last of them, and when her ancestors drag her soul before me to be devoured in turn the long ages of my binding will be over. I shall walk free again, and this time there will be none who can oppose me."
"See, I knew you had a villain speech for me. Oni, what's your status, over?"
"The package is secure, and I'm on station. Is that a target I see coming my way?"
Naruto chuckled. "You guessed it. Light'em up, Oni."
The silent, ghostly figures flew swiftly across the valley, but the shape that darted down to intercept them was faster still. The huge cloud of air-boosted flame she unleashed engulfed the front of the formation, catching her opponents by surprise.
A few escaped, but half a dozen of the ghosts dissipated with high-pitched wails of agony. Anko grinned, and looped around for another pass.
"Well, these things aren't so tough," she told the serpent clone on her shoulder. "Think we can do that again?"
"They broke formation," the snake said, looking back over her shoulder. "Look out, we've got three of them climbing to intercept you at the top of your loop."
"Oh? Guess they aren't all hopeless, then."
Anko pulled her wings in and tumbled for a moment before popping them out again, now facing her attackers. She drew a sword that instantly burst into flames, and flew straight into their formation.
One of them met her attack with a naginata wreathed in black flames, and they exchanged a brief flurry of blows. The second circled around in an obvious attempt to get behind Anko, while the third came up from below and reached for her feet. Ghostly hands touched Anko's chakra shield, and began to siphon energy out of it.
"Chakra vampires, huh? That won't get you very far against me."
She spat a little ball of fire into her opponent's face and turned off her wings, falling to grapple with the ghost below her. One blow from her flaming sword cut the creature in half, and then she was below the other two and turning to face them. A single hand seal, and she breathed out a respectable ball of fire that engulfed them both.
Unfortunately they weren't caught off guard this time. The unarmed one snapped off a crisp hand seal, and a barrier sprung up to block Anko's attack. The other one leveled her naginata, and returned fire with a jet of black flame that the ninja barely managed to dodge.
"Damn it, some of these bitches are actually tough. Gimme a couple of decoy squads, partner."
While the serpent clone obligingly threw out a flurry of distractions Anko sent out two shadow clones of her own to harry the rest of the ghosts. But there were dozens of them now, and while the less experienced ones might fall easily there were too many skilled opponents in the mob to fight solo.
Reluctantly, she sent a squad of clones to deal with the pair she'd been fighting and pulled back to supervise.
"Send an air squad after that group on the right flank," she ordered the clone on her shoulder. "Okay, now have a heavy jutsu squad run some big wind attacks up through the middle of the swarm. Throw out two squads of stealth kunoichi to lurk around the edges picking off stragglers. Drop a barrier squad to protect the sealing team…"
Engaging the enemy personally would have been more her style, but Anko had to admit that ordering a small army of Naruto clones around had a certain appeal. They might not be as skilled as the original, but under her skillful direction they were more than enough to tear through Moryo's ghost army. Unfortunately her opponent's forces seemed to be growing faster than she could kill them.
"Dragon, can't you stop this guy from making more ghosts?" She complained. "Just park that tornado on him or something?"
"Sorry, Oni, it's sitting on the source of his statue army. If I move it the girls will be up to their eyebrows in statues before they can finish. What, don't tell me you can't handle a few weepy shrine maidens?"
One of the ghosts had called down some kind of storm spirit to defend it from the clone army. Another was simply dispelling any clone that came near it with some exotic barrier technique, while a third was assuming a form that looked uncomfortably like a dragon. Oh, and down on the ground another one was raising an army of zombies.
"Shrine maidens my ass, Dragon. Half these things are minor kami, and some of them aren't that minor. I can hold them for now, but Tanuki better work fast."
There was no response from the sealing team.
Sakura grinned in triumph as the elements of the complex seal array came together with near-perfect precision. She'd assisted Tsunade with a few major seal working before, using the Union of Mind and Purpose Seal-Crafting Method to shape her chakra directly into complex medical arrays without the crutch of hand seals or manually-drawn symbols. But those had always been the tenuous constructs used by medic-nin, built to operate with the utmost efficiency with the smallest possible infusions of chakra.
In contrast, this was like molding a typhoon with nothing but visualization and will. An endless river of chakra poured from the storage crystal on her suit, stretching her chakra system to capacity and sending eddies that dwarfed her own power flooding into every corner of her soul. But the green gem on her chest had long since taken on her own chakra nature, and the vast flow of chakra Naruto's clone was directing into it from the outside became truly hers in the transition.
A few weeks ago she'd have been washed away by the raging maelstrom of power, her tenketsu burned out from overload and the delicate chakra weave of her mind washed away entirely. But she was brighter now, stronger, her mind and chakra system accustomed to channeling the vast surges of power that Naruto could provide. She rode the wave, floating on the exultant high of chakra overdose but still perfectly in control of her techniques.
A slight ripple passed through the elaborate trap she was forming, and she realized with a frown that Hinata had just diverted her attention from buffering the array to throw out a pair of shadow clones. Were they under attack? Well, no time to look now. She held the heart of the binding in her mind's eye, superimposing the angular crown of the Seven Sutras of Purity on the looping ball of curves that was Pristine Munificence of Harmony, weaving the techniques together into a seamless whole.
A more violent disruption shook the array, sending her mind tumbling into the mass of blue and gold strands. For a horrified split-second she expected to die, her soul impaled on the implacable golden spikes of the incomplete seal array and then shredded to bits when her wavering concentration allowed it to unravel. Only the greatest seal masters could survive that kind of accident.
But instead Shion's golden chakra pierced only the outer layers of her mind. The intrusion burned at the impurities of her soul, leaking a fiercely defiant benevolence into her thoughts. But her inner self shone as brightly as the seals that she and the priestess poured so much energy into, and it was not so easily marred. She was Sakura, she was still in control and by the grace of the kami she was going to finish this.
She pulled herself free, slipped the layers of the trap back into their proper five-dimensional alignment, and breathed a sigh of relief. Done. Now to set the hook.
She opened her eyes to a scene of bedlam.
Dozens of copies of Naruto and Hinata surrounded the sealing team, desperately fighting to hold off a horde of winged ghosts that fought with a bewildering variety of styles. Naginatas whirled, black flames crackled, great spirit beasts roared in anger and animated corpses bounded up the slope with their gaping jaws drooling green ichor. Closer in, the sealing team and the glowing mass of symbols in the air between them were surrounded by a ring of Naruto clones projecting a barrier technique. But the shimmering blue dome was a pale, patchy thing, obviously close to buckling under the weight of attacks that rained down on it.
"Oh, my!" Shion gasped. "Tanuki, how will we get through these creatures to set the hook?"
Sakura's eyes narrowed. Black and gold chakra in the same entities? Well, that would have made things obvious even without the family resemblance on so many of the ghostly faces. She shifted her attention back to the seal for a moment, and tweaked a single parameter.
"Not a problem," she said. "I've got the seal. Ghost, protect Shion. Dragon, you can drop the barrier now. The seal is finished now, and as long as I'm alive no one can break it but me."
"You got it," the nearest clone replied. "I hope you're ready for this."
The barrier fell.
A wall of black flames washed over her, but Sakura's chakra shield easily shed the attack. She sidestepped a flurry of ghostly arrows, ducked under a flash of lightning and met the charge of a seven-eyed spirit beast with a punch to the face that dispelled the giant creature with a thunderclap.
Then two translucent shrine maidens armed with black katanas came within melee range, and she smiled beneath her mask. She deflected a blow from one opponent with a bracer of chakra-forged steel, jumped lightly over her second enemy's swing, and set the hook of the soul trap in the halo of black chakra that floated above the spirit's head.
The halo vanished in an instant, sucked into the extradimensional prison of the demon binding. The black chains wrapped around the ghost went next, torn free as the prison inexorably claimed them while rejecting the spirit they were tied to. The ghost shrieked in agony, and dissolved into a madly wobbling blob of blue and gold light.
Then her other opponent collapsed as the same thing happened to it. And another, and two more, and a half-dozen others, in a widening circle rippling out from where she stood.
"No!" Moryo's roar echoed across the valley. "That's impossible! Nothing can free my rightful prey."
One of the shadowy dragon-heads jerked suddenly, and a tendril of dark mist was torn off of its snout to trail across the valley into the seal. Moryo howled, feet digging into the hard stone of the valley floor as it struggled to pull away. But the thin tendril grew quickly, swelling into a great river of corruption.
"Nothing is impossible," Sakura murmured. "Not much longer, now."
Moryo apparently came to the same conclusion, because it gave up its struggle and leaped into the air. Sakura's eyes went wide as the vast bulk of the demon god rose high into the air, somehow going completely weightless for several long seconds as her seal inexorably pulled it closer. Then gravity returned, and the great shadow dragon was falling directly towards her with its mouths gaping wide.
She rolled under the seal with a startled yelp.
One of Moryo's heads was sucked in before he even landed, and another vanished even as the ground around her shook from the impact. Then she was smothered in darkness, a vast choking sea of evil that clawed furiously at her chakra shield. Dark spots appeared in the barrier before her horrified eyes, spreading black tendrils of corruption that spread rapidly as she watched. There was so much of Moryo, the trap wasn't absorbing him fast enough. A few more seconds and he'd eat through her shield…
Then a bubble of golden light drove back the darkness. Shion knelt beside her, one hand still set in the final seal of a spirit ward.
"Tanuki, are you well?" The priestess asked.
"I think so. Thank you. I'm not sure what would have happened if he'd gotten through my shield."
Shion nodded. "His corruption can be difficult to purge. I'm surprised I was able to repel him, actually. After pouring so much of myself into this binding I expected to be too weak."
Sakura chuckled. "Ninety percent of your chakra was bound by your mother's seal. You've got reserves a kage would be proud of now. Ah, here we go."
The darkness beyond Shion's ward faded, becoming a swirling black mist that was sucked into the demon trap as they watched. A few final strands drifted in from the far edges of the valley, and then calm descended.
Hinata appeared in a swirl of mist, nodded to them, and studied the seal for a moment.
"I think you got all of him," she advised.
Naruto landed next to her, with Anko following him down a moment later.
"Good job, girls," Anko said. "That was pretty impressive. I don't know you were such a seal master, Tanuki."
"I wasn't," Sakura replied. "I had the theoretical knowledge, but I never could have handled this kind of power a few months ago. I think our training is having unexpected side effects. But we can discuss that later."
"Yeah," Naruto agreed. "This is an impressive piece of work, but it isn't anchored to anything and that means it's unstable. What's your plan for that?"
"That's going to be tricky," Sakura replied. "There's nothing handy to use as a vessel for a binding of this magnitude. Unless Shion knows where the daimyos got those columns of sanctified stone they used for the old prisons?"
She shook her head. "There aren't any more of them. I know how they were made, but it takes years."
"Alright, then we've only got one option. Shion, it looks like you get to keep a closer eye on your prisoner than usual. You're right-handed, so I'm thinking left shoulder.
Shion's eyes went wide. "You can do that?"
Sakura was already at work again, closing the trap and collapsing it into its permanent form. The whirling sphere of glowing symbols shrank into a solid ball of golden light, small enough to fit in the palm of her hand, surrounded by a cloud of golden threads.
"Yes, this is a variant of the technique Tsunade-sensei developed for placing seals on herself. Your chakra is inimical to Moryo's, so unlike anyone else you'll be immune to any trace leakage of energy. Just hold still for a minute."
"This isn't like those jinchuuriki seals, is it?" Shion asked nervously. "Attempts to use Moryo's power like that never end well."
Sakura shook her head. "No, this is purely a prison. It'll draw on your chakra to maintain itself if anything ever tries to break it, but aside from that it shouldn't interact with your chakra network at all."
Shion sighed, and pouted a little. "Very well. I shall accept this burden."
What a drama queen. Sakura resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and concentrated on setting the seal in place. The sphere became a disk, the threads delicately spliced into Shion's chakra network, and it settled gently onto her skin.
Shion gasped, more in shock than pain, and it was done.