In the end, it is a simple choice.
To die with a whimper, or with a bang.
Nightfall: Echoes of a Troubled Existence.
Chapter one: Reincarnation.
He was awake now. Lucid. Aware.
The incessant stream of visions and memories had finally abated. He could think about a concept without having a dozen memories rushing into his consciousness and hijacking his senses and emotions. He could finally conclude with certainty that this wasn't a dream.
He was awake. He remembered. Everything.
"So…" he whispered calmly, using the voice that featured prominently in the memories he was forced to endure. "Uzumaki Naruto is dead."
He thought about that for a moment. It seemed to him that the news should have elicited some sort of reaction. Satisfaction was most likely, followed by some anger or maybe even sadness of some kind… but no. There was nothing.
It occurred to him that he might have been rendered numb by everything that had happened, but he was feeling uneasy, so he knew that wasn't the case. It felt more like Naruto's death didn't really matter, but that didn't make any sense, since it was the single most important event of the last sixteen years.
Or at least, it should have been.
"What's happening to me?"
Talking to himself was a habit he'd never had before Naruto's death. His personality and idiosyncrasies hadn't changed in over a thousand years so this… this quirk simply had to have come from Naruto. And that worried him, because he didn't know what that meant.
He spoke again, if only to hear the voice that shouldn't belong to him. "Who am I?"
He was starting to believe that the answer wasn't as simple as it used to be.
His youki should have twisted his vessel into a representation of his real body, but it just wasn't happening. He could feel his youki twisting below the surface, infusing every cell like never before, but this flesh was just as human as it normally was. Of course, that wasn't as human as non-jinchuuriki, but it was still a lot more than it should have been.
His vessel was behaving like Naruto was in control. He looked towards the sky obscured by his prison cell and mulled over the color of his eyes. Did his irises carry a piece of the summer sky? Or were they stained in the lifeblood of innumerable corpses?
"I am the Kyuubi," he said with the slightest hesitation.
That used to be true. Or maybe it still was, and he just didn't believe it anymore.
Kyuubi no Kitsune was a title that he had fashioned for himself. There was only one Kyuubi in existence, and that's how it would always be. And regardless of his doubts, he knew that he couldn't be anything else, because he certainly wasn't Naruto. Uzumaki Naruto was human being, and he was anything but. He knew that much, at least.
The title was his and his alone. He would do with it as he wished. It would represent whatever he wanted it to represent.
And it represented him.
"I am Kyuubi no Youko."
That was the truth.
Kyuubi idly scratched the back of his neck, another habit he seemed to have inherited from his vessel, and pondered.
He contemplated, meditated, mused, reflected and even speculated. By all rights, such vigorous mental exercise should have produced a solution or at least a hint of some kind. But no.
Even after all that thinking, he didn't know what to do.
There was something wrong with him. He had lost something in translation.
"What do I do now?" he asked himself as he stared at the stone floor, his eyes blinking with unnatural regularity.
It was the first thing he thought about after he'd reestablished his identity a few hours ago, which was a natural impulse. His past was newly secured and his present was totally lacking in novelty so he immediately turned his eyes towards his future.
The answer should have come up instantly. It didn't. He was patient. He waited.
He had no other choice. He had waited so long that he had gone looking for it sometime ago. But in the place where the answer should have been, in the place where it had always been, he found nothing. Truly nothing.
He had lost his way. It was like that time Naruto got lost in the forest without a compass… though with one important distinction. When Naruto got himself misplaced, it was merely because he had forgotten the path that led to his destination. Kyuubi, on the other hand, somehow managed to lose the destination itself.
"What do I want to do now?" Maybe that was the question he should have asked in the first place.
But changing the question didn't seem to give him a clearer answer, or any answer at all really.
Kyuubi pulled his features into a familiar grimace. He didn't even know what he wanted. Or maybe… maybe he just didn't want anything?
He blinked. "Huh."
His head veered to the side. A sharp noise had drawn his attention. He tilted his head as a section of the stone wall drew back and ground aside, allowing a column of dim light to shine into the empty room. His youki shifted and he felt his irises constrict his pupils instantly.
Kyuubi squinted reflexively as his eyes began to ache. He frowned. That wasn't supposed to hurt. His youki swam into the area and soothed away the pain, leaving him with sobered thoughts. There was no damage, but the forced swiftness of the contraction had caused him mild discomfort. It was something that he could have easily ignored, save for the fact that he hadn't expected it. Still, it was a reminder that he wasn't used to his new body. He didn't know how far he could push it.
After a moment of silence, the slim silhouette of a woman appeared before his eyes, pausing ever so slightly before taking a few cautious steps inside his cell.
He sat up in surprise. He knew this woman.
"Sakura-chan?" The words came from his throat almost of their own volition, they were so natural. He smiled to himself. So he was in Konoha? That simplified things. Or at least it would, once he figured things out.
Konoha's cherry blossom inched through the darkness as she sought out his shrouded form. "Na-Naruto?" she called out hesitantly.
"I'm not Naruto," he responded quickly, almost before she finished calling to him. The footsteps stopped abruptly and he took advantage of the moment of hesitation to get the truth out in the open. "Naruto's dead, Sakura-chan."
Apparently, she didn't hear him. "What? What are you saying, Naruto?"
He frowned slightly. "Hey, Sakura-chan. I just told you I'm not Naruto. Weren't you listening?"
Again, she seemed to completely dismiss his every word. "Naruto," Sakura said softly, as she hugged herself in the dark, "they found you days ago near the border with Suna. You weren't… you weren't sane Naruto." His frown deepened as he realized why she wasn't inclined to believe him at his word. "We don't know what happened, but when they found you, you were leaking a lot of Kyuubi's chakra and—"
He interrupted. "Youki."
She didn't follow. "What?"
He looked aside. "My chakra. Demonic chakra is called youki. The term chakra only applies to humans. The two energies are almost identical, but there is a difference. I guess you can call it a difference in frequency," he informed her, mostly in an effort to convince her of his identity.
The silence that followed his little lesson seemed almost suffocating, if the manner in which his visitor held her breath was any indication. He sighed.
He languidly rose to his feet for the first time in days and largely ignored Sakura's vigorous withdrawal as his body started stretching automatically, using sharp, familiar movements. It was really odd. It was almost like his body could run itself when he wasn't actively controlling it.
Kyuubi winced in pain. A little less volume, please. Closed rooms and screaming did not go together. "What?"
"How did you get free?" she asked, a little fearfully. He probably wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't known what she sounded like when she was scared. She had come prepared. She masked her scent and controlled her expressions so well that she was almost like a stranger.
"Free of what?" He had to ask. He had no idea what she was talking about.
"Your restraints!" she shot back, slightly irritated. She had never liked answering questions when she felt the answer was obvious.
Kyuubi scratched the back of his neck slightly beneath his hairline and brought himself back to those torturous hours he had spent deprived of identity and sanity. He didn't remember any…
He looked towards the corner and easily picked out the shredded and scorched remains of a straightjacket. He couldn't actually remember taking it off but he'd noticed it long ago, mere minutes after waking up in an otherwise empty room filled with darkness and the lingering smell of smoke.
He turned back to face Sakura. "What? That jacket?" he asked, pointing at the item in question. Privately, he wondered at thought that they would use a piece of cloth to hold him. Did they run out of shackles and chains or something?
Sakura must have picked up on his disbelief. "Jiraiya-sama provided the jacket. It was created as a supplement to Yondaime-sama's seal, and while it wasn't designed to hold your full strength, you shouldn't have been able to get free. Every inch of this room is coated in chakra suppressors and debilitating arrays. The ANBU said that they drained enough chakra from you to make an explosive note strong enough to level the village! They actually ran out of storage seals! You haven't even been fed in two days, Naruto! How is this happening?"
Well, that certainly explained things. Kyuubi barely even blinked as he listened to Sakura's increasingly agitated speech. She was clearly making the connections she needed to make, but it seemed that she just didn't want to face the truth.
He sighed softly. This situation was surprisingly uncomfortable. He didn't think that saying anything more about Naruto's death would help. He almost felt helpless.
The words came to him. "Hey, Sakura-chan, are you okay?"
She looked at him with gentle eyes, though she probably couldn't see in such dim lighting. "What are you talking about, you dummy? You're the one that's…" She didn't finish her sentence.
"This place is draining your chakra, right? Are you sure you've got enough to waste?" he asked. He didn't really need to hear the answer. It was easy to see that she was tired, easy for him anyway.
Before she could begin to formulate a convincing lie, he struck again. "That old lady, does she know you're here?"
She flinched rather badly. So her presence wasn't just without her master's knowledge… it probably against direct orders.
"Sakura-chan… thanks for coming."
He didn't need to say the rest. She was a smart girl, and she was already off balanced by what she found in this place. She hesitated and lingered in silence, but she was gone within a few minutes and he was left alone in the darkness.
"What was that?" he asked himself.
In retrospect, it probably would have been easier to convince her that he wasn't who she thought he was if he hadn't been acting like Naruto.
Apparently, the enfeebling sensation that he had pegged as the inherent weakness of humanity was actually caused by a bunch of energy draining seals. By all means, that should have been reason enough for him to want to make his way out… but that wasn't the case. He still wasn't feeling any particular urge to leave.
The answer came to him as he looked around the four walls of his prison. He stayed because those bare walls reminded him of the mystical cell he had spent the better part of two decades in. That was part of the reason why he didn't try to go anywhere else. His cell was a comforting place to be. It shouldn't have been, but it was. He didn't need to mull over it to know that this was something that would have disgusted him in his previous incarnation.
That's when it hit him. He didn't know what he was. He didn't know what he wanted to be. Maybe… maybe he would have to settle for what he knew he should be.
For now, the only thing he was sure of was that he shouldn't be in here. And he wasn't going to be much longer.
Surprisingly, making his way to the world outside of his prison cell required more effort than simply leaning against the concealed doorway. That was somewhat impressive, considering that he had 'leaned' into the barrier with every ounce of strength he could squeeze out of his demonically fuelled musculature.
The fact that his new, if slightly used, body was forced to release exertion in liquid form while under his complete control filled him with a surprising amount of indignation. His old body did not sweat, and he never expected to push his new one to such lengths.
Now that he'd experienced the sensation of leaking dirty fluid in full effect, he could honestly say that he wasn't a fan. The entire experience was slightly nauseating and left him feeling like so much misshapen swine. He vividly remembered chasing down and eating a ton of creatures with physical properties so similar to his current avatar's that they could have been siblings. He felt like a meatbag.
All in all, it was something that he'd very much like to avoid repeating. So he may have gone just a tad overboard with his subsequent attack.
He didn't know where it all went wrong. Maybe it was the fact that he'd poured enough energy into that attack to utterly saturate the immediate atmosphere, in spite of several dozen dampeners actively hampering his progress. Or maybe it was the fact that he didn't expect the wall to absorb the attack, pulse brightly for a moment and suddenly develop the ability to will itself out existence without so much of a 'pop'.
In all his years of existence, he'd never destroyed something so completely. Usually, his scenes of destruction included corpses, wreckage and/or ashes, evidence of some sort. He'd never managed to turn something into nothing.
There was obviously something else going on, but he couldn't really bring himself to care. The door was open.
Well, not really. It was more like the wall up and disappeared, but still. There was nothing keeping him from making his way out and taking his new body out for a spin. And somehow, the idea of actually doing something real was many times as interesting as trying to figure out what he wanted to do and why he would want to do it.
Something about that worried him greatly, but he was unable to figure out what that was before he was totally distracted.
The hallway beyond his room lacked any kind of distinguishing feature. It was a simple windowless stone corridor and, just like his cell, it was almost pristine in its cleanness. The passageway was populated by unlabeled steel doors and the dim illumination was provided by a series of sparsely positioned torches.
Kyuubi eyed the flames curiously for a moment, and noticed that their passionate dance seemed subdued, the colourful flames flickering almost half-heartedly. It was as if someone had excised the element of violence from the blaze, leaving it effectively neutered. Such impudence brought his eyebrows together in a severe frown.
"Such an eyesore," he spat in disgust. He raised his hand with the intention of extinguishing the torches, so as to spare his eyes the pain of such ugliness.
"Ugh…" A pained moan interrupted the execution of his reprisal.
Kyuubi looked towards the source of the guttural sound and found a body embedded halfway into a wall. It was a man, wearing a cracked white porcelain mask with a simplistic animal design painted on and a shredded black full body overcoat, complete with hood. It was a member of Konohagakure's ANBU, and someone had beaten him into the wall and out of consciousness. On the ground beyond him, several other ANBU members were settled onto the ground, though none of them bore any obvious signs of violence. Lying almost beneath one of the bodies was a tray, which held several empty cups and a kettle.
Kyuubi walked towards the evidence and crouched beside it, picking up one of the cups and holding it before his face. He sniffed one, put it down and picked up another. He made his way through all of them and picked up the kettle. He poured a little of the substance still inside into one of the cups and took a whiff of its subtle aroma.
He smiled and drank the liquid down. It was perfectly ordinary lukewarm tea. She had covered her tracks very well. He took another look around. Five empty cups, six downed ANBU.
"Well, that explains you," he said to the unfortunate man. It was obvious that the others were drugged, seeing as the only one to respond to the sound of his voice had been the one partly lodged in consolidated mineral.
"Sakura-chan, what are you up to?" This was almost worrying. Hokage's apprentice or not, there would be serious consequences if she was caught.
His right hand moved to massage his jaw line as he stared into the past. "I shouldn't have let you go." He realized. Now he was going to have to track her down.
Kyuubi pressed his hands against their corresponding knee and pushed himself to his feet, his mind on his dead vessel's teammate.
His eyes gravitated towards the hole in the wall that she had forced into being. It was unpleasant to see, like a stain on a work of art. "What's the point of covering your tracks if you leave behind something so obvious?" he asked himself. "You're not thinking straight."
His youki pulsed and swelled like a flooding river. He exercised his will and observed as the body was pulled from the crater by immaterial strings. The shinobi hung in mid-air limply, like a marionette made out of flesh and blood. The effect was curiously grotesque.
On a whim, Kyuubi cranked up his cursory examination and looked past the surface of his unconscious puppet. An eerie light emerged from his eyeballs as his awareness extended past the natural. A curious expression appeared on his face after a short moment. He didn't understand what he was seeing.
"You took the time to heal him," he stated. "Why?"
He stood in silent contemplation for a minute and put his questions aside. He was just going to have to ask her later.
But it seemed that their conversation was going to last a little longer than expected and it wouldn't do for anyone to interrupt. He dropped his cargo unceremoniously on the cold, unyielding ground and ignored the pained moan that polluted the silence. A quick look determined that most of the material he needed was right on the floor: big and small chunks of stone and a prodigious amount of dust coating the immediate vicinity.
He closed his eyes and focused on his energy. He concentrated on its ephemeral texture and heady taste as it crawled underneath his skin. He plunged inside the stream and followed the flow of youki until it slammed ineffectually against the natural boundaries of his soul. He braced himself against that wall, and pushed. The borders of his spirit yielded to his force of will and stretched to encompass it as his youki rushed to fill the gaps.
His eyelids slid off of their resting place like water poured over ice. He was ready.
The scattered debris seemed to shift and vibrate minutely, as if they were under the effects of a localized tectonic shift. The grey powder flew off the ground and began swirling into a large cloud while the larger pieces were picked up by invisible forces and thrown into the impact crater with little regard to their original positions. He approached the steadily reconstructing wall and reached for one of the many abilities he'd acquired over the length of his long, gluttonous life. He reached for knowledge that could never be taught or learned, only understood. He reached for forbidden wisdom hidden underneath, and above. He reached for his youki, and found that it had always been there.
When the last rock was put in place, he sent the billowing dust to fill cracks until the wall was an uneven but complete surface kept in place by his will alone. The minuscule specks of stone rushed inside of the gaps, producing a sound not unlike that of a miniature desert storm.
He placed his hand on top of the jagged surface and concentrated on the secrets he had hazardously etched on the edge of his infinite soul. He ate of this knowledge, and allowed of himself to be eaten. Because in the end, this was just another part of him. He simply held his consciousness above it so that his ability to accurately discern and interpret reality, his mental health, his sanity would not be lost, crushed under its titanic weight. Or at least, that was the intention. He couldn't ever remember it working quite as well as it did now.
Energy flowed from his body and seeped into the wall, seemingly liquefying all that it touched. A large wave of stone rippled from his hand and slowly traversed the entire wall, gradually fading until it disappeared, leaving nothing but smooth stone behind.
He pulled away and examined his handiwork. The wall was slightly different on a molecular level, but it would stand up to the most extensive scrutiny.
He smiled out of simple satisfaction. "Good," he said.
And it was. It was amazing to realize how many more emotions elicited a reaction from his second body. It was as if this one was more responsive, even if it was smaller and weaker.
Nodding to himself, he slapped his hands together to clean them of nonexistent dust and dirt before he idly raised his right hand above his head. He pressed his middle finger against his thumb and pushed both fingers together and to the side until they snapped apart, producing a sharp crack that raced through the hallway, extinguishing torches as it passed.
Near instantly, he was once again plunged in darkness. And a second later, he was gone.