Date written: 27/08/11 – 11/09/11
Posted on FanFiction: 12/09/11
A/N: Only 18 voters voted in the poll. Disappointing, but I don't mind. Well, maybe a bit, but there's nothing I can do about it anyway. Still, I'm surprised at who got the top place, and I'm already working on the next chapter with that particular character in mind. Don't worry, though, the poll will still be open. At least until I reach about fifty percent completion for Chapter 15. So if you haven't voted yet, I suggest you vote now.
Be forewarned, Homura and Koharu are a little OOC, mostly because their appearance time in the series are so low that I couldn't very well get an excellent grasp on their personalities, other than the fact that they acted like arrogant ass-wipes during the Pain Invasion arc and are so militant and detached (so unlike their teammate, Sarutobi) that I often wonder how the Nidaime went wrong with them when his third student turned out fine. Must be Hashirama's influence, I guess. So here I am apologizing in advance, because some people out there might actually like these two and I'm not giving proper justice to their characteristics, but I have no choice. The muse speaks of them that way, I write them that way. And to be impertinent to the muse is, oftentimes, "creativity suicide." Danzou will also be OOC, but that's because I'm adding artistic license into the mix (along with blaming the AU-ness of the world, hehehe) and tried to make him a little more tolerable. His wider characterization than the other two struck me in deeper places. I think of him as a patriot, but a patriot with questionable means and agendas. He tried so hard to do what he believed to be the best course of action for the good of Konoha, but most of these decisions were more damaging than helping. That, to me, describes the one-armed geezer perfectly.
–– CHAPTER 14 ––
Konoha at War
Senju Residence's Wine Cellar
Nagato stepped closer to the sleeping Senju heir with a raised hand, his fingers engulfed in a pale blue light, like how ninja puppeteers' fingers lit up when they use chakra strings. He rarely used mind-altering jutsu—one of the unrefined techniques he knew of, progenitors of the advanced mind jutsu of the Yamanaka clan—but this situation called for delicateness and a subtle touch in its method as well as execution. His tampering with the timeline was like a virus infecting the body. It wouldn't take long for the immune system to kick in and banish him from this reality. A temporary solution at best, yet it was still a nuisance.
There was also an added command inside this jutsu, as his glowing fingers circled Chiyome's dirtied forehead. He hoped that it was small enough of a change that it could pass unnoticed by any timeline regulator that reared its ugly head at this certain point. As it was, Nagato found it difficult to enact much of his meddling when the timeline was finding more and more ways to keep its path pretty much straightforward. Fatalism was a word he used sparingly—but always with contempt—and a concept he'd rather live without. And while he felt hypocritical, trying to control someone's life like Fate did to the rest of the populace, he didn't think he could stop. The machinations of fate were working too quick, too hasty, just to arrive at that pivotal moment in Naruto's life wherein less and less decisions could divert the timeline to a colossal curve, a far cry from its straight and simple path.
"Guide him out, little bud," he said to the sleeping girl, and made his way to the hill of dirt that came from the wrecked ceiling.
There was a tiny arm sticking out from the bottom of the pile.
He knew the child would not live long if he stayed under there for long, but to defy more of Fate and involve himself in this reality would cause an unneeded alarm. Delicateness, subtleness, he required both for this moment.
He didn't really worry for the boy's wellbeing—not in the callous sense, though. He didn't really worry because he already foresaw that the boy would turn out fine in the end, whether Nagato helped him out or not. To worry would just be a waste of time. But his being here did not simply consist of him giving the Senju siblings a helping hand. Like any action he made to have the timeline arrive at his desired outcome without changing anything too much, there was a motive behind it. Nagato helped Chiyome through that scuffle in the Senju basement not because he grew a conscience, but because he wanted things to play out just like this—both of them inside this cellar and with Naruto buried alive under the earth.
This would be the first of many experiments to come. While the Child of Prophecy stayed cautious of him (for now), Nagato would use this time he had to better prepare his future plans. The results of this experiment would help greatly to what he had in store for Naruto in the years to come. It wasn't 'timeline tampering' per se, but it should be. A simple push was all he needed to set the right chess pieces in place, and now he was close to checkmating Fate.
"No rest for the wicked," he said, a grim smile on his face.
He crouched low, lifted the Naruto's pale hand, and channeled his chakra into it. His purpose done, he set the hand down, walked back into the darkness, and disappeared.
Seconds after he left, Chiyome was beginning to stir awake just as Naruto's finger's twitched to life.
It wasn't easy reintegrating his senses when he was feeling like he was crushed between two boulders and the feeling was getting worse as seconds ticked by. He was unaware how he came to this situation when the last bits of his recent memory showed him sitting in the kitchen with a large bowl of miso ramen in front of him, chopsticks still in the middle of being snapped apart. From oncoming bliss to undeserved levels of pain, Naruto found such a change to be the suckiest way for him to start the day.
Was it really day, though? It was unusually dark. No, his eyes were closed, and something in his gut told him that he shouldn't open them just yet. He tried to move, but he found that the only one not bound to the pressure coming from above him was his right arm, and that was pushing descriptions in a slight exaggeration. Despite it being free, its motor abilities were somehow limited and the feeling in it was slowly ebbing away, as if it were dying.
He tested his fingers experimentally and felt relieved to realize they were still very much responsive. From his fingers up to his wrist, every bit of his motor skills came out fine. It was trying to lift his arm that was the problem, it seemed. But still, a question was disturbing him. How did he get here?
"Arashi!" a muffled voice from somewhere called out. "Arashi! Hang on, I'll get you out!"
Naruto would've liked to respond to that voice, but he couldn't move his lips. All he could really do was wait.
"Don't die on me now, you hear me?"
That voice sounded familiar. Naruto just couldn't place a face for it yet.
"We didn't come this far just for you to die like . . . like . . . like some old prospector in an abandoned mine or something."
He couldn't help chuckling. As if he would let himself die by being buried alive. Though he had to question the chances of him dying a second time; normally that wasn't possible, right?
Naruto didn't have answers; just more questions. And he hoped that whoever was trying to get him out possessed those answers.
Minutes passed as he listened to the sounds of labor and earth being dug out, like gophers burrowing. His position was getting a little uncomfortable, it was getting much harder to breathe, and his free arm had gone completely numb from any sensation. He realized now that the circulation going into it had been cut off by the earth holding him down. He feared that if it was left as it was for too long, there might not be a chance for the blood to return there without a medic in hand, and he really doubted there was a medic somewhere near here. His own knowledge of medicine was miniscule at best (disinfecting, suturing, cauterizing, bandaging, and the like was all he could do; no ninjutsu involved), so he wasn't about to take chances in becoming disabled, not when they were in imminent danger. Naruto didn't know why he came to this conclusion, only that it sounded right that they were.
With these thoughts in mind, Naruto did what he thought could help jump start the flow again. He channeled chakra—very potent chakra—into his arm and let his muscles contract until there was enough room for his arteries to enter, and his veins to exit, the blood into his arm. There was this pinprick sensation, like his nerves were going haywire from the sensation of passing blood, and everything else was returning. This muscle contraction technique, however, was only a temporary solution. Putting too much strain into the muscles without needed rest could spell more damages to his arm than having the blood cut off from its circulation. Maybe.
He released the contraction technique and his arm was once again subjected to unrelenting pressure that stopped the natural flow in his veins and arteries. A mere second later, the pressure was lifted when his savior dug through enough earth to let his face and shoulder surface. There was still more work to be done, but he was at least thankful that he no longer needed to ration the air. He shook his head violently to rid it of the dirt sticking onto his sweaty face and inhaled mouthfuls of much needed oxygen.
"Thanks," he said to his savior, "you saved me there."
"We still need to get your lower body out, though," she replied, and continued to dig through the earth.
Naruto might not have officially met her—or seen her in two years, if he took his coma into account—but that white hair was a dead giveaway. There weren't any other girl she knew with that hair color and style.
"Hmm?" She looked at him oddly for some reason. "Chiyome?" It was a question directed at him, a question that had no hints or indications of what it implicitly conveyed, and Naruto had no idea how to answer.
"Uh . . ."
She shook her head dismissively. "Never mind. Call me that again and we'll be talking disciplinary actions later."
That sounded like a bad thing, so he just agreed to her. If he remembered from the recent memories he dug into, when he realized he had been gone for two years in this world, Arashi Senju—Aka-Naruto's new alias—always called Chiyome his 'Onee-chan.'
"Onee-chan," Naruto tried out experimentally, feeling like his tongue had been accustomed to this word from so many daily usage that he shouldn't be surprised at all.
"Nothing." He decided not to say anything else.
When Chiyome got far enough in her digging to free his other arm, he told her to stop and let him handle the rest. With both hands free, it was easy to do what he had to do. He formed his trademark cross-fingered seal, making Chiyome to look at him oddly seconds before he activated the technique.
"Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
Smoke bellowed from nowhere and when it dissipated, three other Narutos were in existence. It was the first time he was able to catch a glimpse of himself, and he didn't bother stopping the grin that came onto his face. The blond hair, the cerulean shade of his eyes, the tanned skin. He was back to the original Naruto Uzumaki, all save for the whisker marks, but that was a small price compared to having most of his original identity back. It felt good.
But then reality sank in, and the questions he conjured found their answers from his clones. He felt pain from the earth; he lost feeling in his arm from the lack of blood; he was meeting Chiyome, the daughter of Tsunade and Jiraiya, face-to-face; his features had seemingly returned to what they once were. He should've realized this sooner. Yet . . . the last question that couldn't be answered from these facts alone was the most important one of all: How did this happen?
It was possible that he and Aka-Naruto had switched places, with him now being the dominant soul in this body, the one who could control the outside world. A part of Naruto was elated and happy; another was apprehensive and bitter, as if this was something he hadn't deserved. And why should he deserve this? He already died and his body burned to a crisp from the suicidal explosion he detonated, killing not only himself and Madara Uchiha, but also hundreds of innocent civilians who were in the blast radius.
But here he was, in control and feeling everything his nerves was sending to his brain. And when his clones began to pull him out of the earth, he could feel the joints in his shoulders straining to stay where they were and not be detached as easily as the joints of mannequins. His clones succeeded in getting him out, and he dispelled them with a one-handed ram seal before he turned to Chiyome, who was gaping at him.
Another memory sparked in his head, something about calling him that was forbidden, but they were alone so he could let it slide. Besides, his counterpart was used to the Arashi moniker, not him; he would rather be referred to as Naruto than Arashi.
"Yeah?" he said, acting nonchalant, as he dusted his dirty pajamas. Maybe he had gone a little overboard by using an A-class kinjutsu technique when his supposed age was barely old enough to do the Basic Three correctly.
"How . . . how did . . ." She went silent and continued gaping.
"Come on, it's not that big of a deal, right?" He tried to play it off as much as he could, but even he was not blind or deaf to his own horrendous attempt. It took every ounce of willpower not to grimace when Chiyome began to give her 'The Look.' That scary look every woman seemed to possess when they want something from a man, and they would not stop until they got it. He should know; Sakura and Tsunade used it on him all the time after a pranking stunt, trying to goad him into confessing and they didn't even need the use of words.
"Don't play it off, squirt," she said to him, arms crossed. "How did you make copies of yourself like that? You never told me you could do that."
That . . . sounds a little odd, he thought, repeating her question in his head. It's as if she doesn't know about the Bunshin no jutsu. He could understand if her wording had been like, 'How did you make solid copies of yourself?' or 'You never told me you can do a Bunshin!' but he heard nothing of the emphasized words, and that was enough to ring warning bells.
"It's the Kage Bunshin no jutsu." To test the deeper waters, he had to play dumb. "It's a forbidden variation of the Bunshin no jutsu."
"Bunshin . . . no jutsu?" She cocked an eyebrow.
"You mean you've never heard of this technique?" Pieces of the puzzle were coming together.
Chiyome shook her head, then scratched it. "I don't think so. I would've remembered something as useful as that, you know. So where did you learn it?"
He didn't think he'd be prepared for more surprises, but this new revelation took everything out of his system, leaving him more than a little stunned by the end of it. He was no fool to believe that the Bunshin no jutsu was probably designated into the higher ranks of jutsu, so an Academy student like his counterpart and Chiyome should not know of it, but then what was the purpose in upping the Bunshin no jutsu's rank? An intangible clone was next to useless unless it was used as a basis for the more advanced variations, where any chuunin and jounin could learn with relative ease. It had to be learned in the Academy, but if what Chiyome said was true . . . no . . . no jumping to conclusions yet. He just needed one more tidbit of information.
"What are the Basic Three?"
"What are the Basic Three?" he repeated, his tone monotonous.
"Kawarimi, Henge, and Shunshin," she answered with a raised eyebrow again. "Why are you even asking, especially at a time like this?"
Substitution, Transformation, and Body Flicker. In my world, the Body Flicker is an advanced technique given only to chuunin and up. Genin were not allowed to use them, unless they manage to learn it on their own.
"Ah, I see, you're trying to get out of answering my question, aren't you?"
So if the Bunshin had been replaced with Shunshin, does that mean Bunshin took the Shunshin's place? No, no. No matter how I see it, placing Bunshin into the higher ranks is counterproductive. Unless, of course, that . . . the Bunshin no jutsu and all of its variants do not exist in this world.
. . .
. . . nah.
"Pay attention when I'm talking, baka!" She hit him in the head. Hard. "How many times have I told you?"
"I must've lost count," he answered without thinking it through, and he winced.
Fortunately, Chiyome just cracked her knuckles, one eyebrow twitching, sighed through her nose, and turned around. "Come on, best to keep moving."
Relieved that she opted for escape before retribution, he asked her, "But to where?"
"The way out of here, of course." She pointed ahead of them where the tunnel continued into total darkness. "I know we're close. I can feel it."
"How are you sure?" He might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but fragments of fresh memory in Arashi's head showed him that Chiyome had gotten them lost when the support beams began to collapse.
She panned her head at him, opened her mouth, and closed it without saying a thing. There was something bugging her, and he was curious to know. "Uh, now that you've mentioned it . . ."
"It's probably your woman's intuition or something." He didn't want to sound like a smart-ass, but he couldn't help stating that out loud. But contrary to what he believed Chiyome would do, she took the declaration in stride and returned to pondering, all while she dragged him deeper into the tunnel—corridor, he corrected himself, it was a corridor in this maze-like cellar.
"I don't know how," Chiyome said, her back to him, so he couldn't discern the expression on her face. "I just know that this is the right way."
She needn't say anymore, because that concern meant little now that he had gotten up to speed to the current situation. It was funny how he had better access to his counterpart's memories when he was in control of this body when before, he had to traverse through many sectors of the mindscape to reach the Memory Tower. But he'd rather not get used to this right away. After he dealt with the threat looming in Konoha in any way he could—subtlety be damned, this was his home!—he needed to start finding a way to reverse this thing that happened between him and Arashi.
In hindsight, he thought in passing, if I had waited for my consciousness to synchronize with my counterpart's memories, I might not have had to ask Chiyome the Basic Three question.
It aroused suspicion; no use crying over spilled milk.
They stopped near a four-way intersection, all three other passages glooming in darkness like the path they just took, and Chiyome turned towards the ceiling. "There it is."
Thanks to Arashi's memories, Naruto understood the meaning right away. They were finally at the exit—under was the better preposition, though. Shrouded in darkness, but clearly seen through their night vision, the metal circle above them looked like a manhole on the wrong side of the ground. It looked sealed and secured, much like the reinforced door Chiyome and he had burst open what seemed like hours ago. Opening it up, however, happened to be a walk in the park compared to their previous obstacle. They just needed to smear some of their blood into the center of the circle, where a hidden lock-seal was drawn by Jiraiya, to open it. The only problem now was . . .
"How do we get up there?" Chiyome inquired, positively stumped in what they should do to reach their goal. The last time they had been instructed to get to the manhole, there was a ladder to help them climb. The ladder wasn't gone but forgotten back in the basement. It completely slipped their minds to take it with them when they entered the cellar. Urgency and panic often did that.
There was no chance for them to return there and get it now, so Chiyome tried her hardest to think of an alternate method, but wound up with nothing to opine.
Naruto, however, had already thought of something. And instead of telling his adopted sister about it, he acted on it immediately. He ran to the corner of the intersection, jumped, and glued his feet onto the wall. Reaching the manhole then became a piece of cake.
"Wha . . . huh?"
He was too busy pricking his thumb and administering the needed amount of keyed blood to the seal for him to smirk at the flabbergasted face of the ten-year-old whitehead. Smirking like a smug bastard was likely an immature thing to do, but when was the last time he had done so? It wasn't like he had an everyday chance of surprising people into speechlessness when they finally became accustomed to his 'expect the unexpected' ways, and that was exactly what happened to most of his precious people. Honestly, he missed the feeling, and by God, it still felt as good as before.
Hey, maybe the ninjas here don't know the tree-walking technique either, he thought, shaking his head at his own teasing. Arashi's memories contradicted that belief faster than he had a chance to blink once.
The lock-seal accepted the offered sacrifice and unlocked itself. Naruto pulled it open and surveyed the inside. Nothing but darkness and metal rungs embedded into the concrete surrounding the cylindrical passage.
"We're almost out of here, Onee-chan." It was still weird how that word rolled off his tongue without hesitation.
"When did you learn to stick to walls?"
"Talk later. Escape now."
"But I don't know how to walk up walls yet." She sounded like she wanted to add something after that, but ultimately didn't.
Naruto, however, guessed easily enough what it was. There was an expression in her eyes that often mirrored his own when Ero-sennin—the pervert from his world—had asked if he got a technique down but really hadn't. She was just getting started on the tree-walking exercise, despite it being a mid-level technique designated for genin and above, not Academy students. Of course, him using it right now was like a slap to the educational system and Chiyome's pride. Naruto neither minded nor cared.
"Then I'll carry you up here," he said, unaware that he was adding insult to injury to the Senju heir's wounded pride.
Looking she'd rather concede to this one-up by her little brother than stay here for a little longer, she agreed with his suggestion. "You won't let me fall, right?"
"Of course not. I promise."
She looked a little apprehensive and hesitated when he offered her a piggyback, but she climbed onto his back anyway. She was left with no choice. "Okay, get me up there."
They climbed this secret passage, with Naruto slamming the seal behind them.
The Uchiha District
There was darkness. There was pain. There was hate. They swirled together like an odd mixture of water, oil, and gasoline. They were together, but at the same time, they were separate. Entities with no hope of bonding with the other, yet they more than made up for it by keeping each other homogenous and pure from the other. That kind of mutual understanding was close to breaking when the darkness, the pain, and the hate began to morph their elements into one potent emotion, an emotion so tangible in essence that it might as well be the progenitor of vengeance.
A deadly sin to possess, and Itachi Uchiha possessed it abundantly.
After experiencing the full frontal force of his father's Tsukuyomi attack, he was weakened in both body and mind. It did not, however, damage his drive to complete his assigned mission. No matter what the cost to his health, he wanted to end this tragedy now before any more people could get hurt. Sadly, even with the help of Shisui partially nursing him to health and lessening the painful side effects of Tsukuyomi, he was unfit to exact retribution to the starters of the coup d'état, much less to stand on his own two feet. He never thought he'd end up this weak in such a crucial moment.
"Don't move too much," Shisui said, a wash cloth in his hand saturated with a special herbal remedy for his eyes. "The Tsukuyomi did a lot of nasty things to your retinas, Itachi."
He grunted his reply. His hands were clenched into fists.
They situated themselves inside a small storage room well away from the house in which the tragedy of this night had really begun. There were candles strewn about, illuminating the room with an orange ambience that other colors were almost indistinguishable to the dominant one. Even with a small barred window, the place smelled of decade-old dust and air, never leaving, never changing . . . and never good for the sinuses. When Shisui placed him in this room, under a bedding that Shisui didn't bother dusting out first, he was slightly delirious and succumbing to the magnitudes of pain introduced to his mentality. It was here that Shisui tried all he could to nurse him back into a remnant of his rational self. He succeeded, but Itachi hated his current state.
Shisui pressed the cloth to the patient's right eye, leaving it there for three seconds, and moved on to the left eye. "You're lucky I got you out of that looped illusion quick enough to not leave any lasting damages to your psyche."
"Not quick enough, I'd say," Itachi quipped, though that was probably more of a barb than him trying to make a joke. Shisui, more of an optimist, took the sentence as a joke.
"Joking at a time like this," he said with a lopsided smile. He returned the cloth to Itachi's right eye. "You never cease to surprise me, my friend."
"I aim to please."
"Sarcasm this time? My God, Itachi, if you experiencing a mind-crumbling, powerful illusion are all it takes to awaken your inner joker, I would've done that to you months ago."
"He had the Mangekyou." It was an accusation, not an observation. There had been a smug air around his father when he confronted him, as if the man already knew he was there to kill him. He tried to hide it well, but Itachi saw it nevertheless. The only people who knew he was secretly working under the Hokage were Danzou, the Third's advisors, and Shisui. The prime suspect had already been concluded.
Shisui, whether or not realized the implications and accusations Itachi was throwing his way, looked at him straight in the eye—his Sharingan blazing while he, Itachi, couldn't channel chakra into his own eyes without feeling like he were dousing them with acid—and then looked away. He deactivated the clan doujutsu and resumed looking at him.
Itachi waited for Shisui to give him an answer; Shisui thought hard on what to say without giving Itachi a chance to dissect his words one-by-one like a crafty lawyer waiting to disprove a witness in cross-references. It wasn't as if he had anything to hide—no, wait, he did, but he was trying to exclude it from their conversation for a reason.
Itachi valued family almost as much as he valued peace and the welfare of the village. The guy just experienced a fierce psychological attack from his own father and with the Mangekyou Sharingan no less. He should be as knowledgeable of the myths and actual truths behind those myths as Shisui to deduce how his father had attained such accursed eyes. And if there was a chance that Itachi hadn't, that he had no clue that in order to acquire those sets of eyes, one needed to either kill their best friend . . . or murder their own flesh and blood . . .
Itachi and family went hand-in-hand, and when he had prepared himself to massacre the clan alone (a foolhardy and reckless move; arrogant too, when Shisui thought more about it), he sealed away his feelings and decided to start with his own father. His blood would be the sign Itachi needed to know that his preparations for this morbid task were not wasted. That plan was foiled before it even really started.
And now here they were, inside an old shed that smelled of rotten vegetables and rat piss, covered in dust and cobwebs everywhere. It all came down to one unprecedented factor that Itachi never considered and so was left unguarded to the consequences.
"He had the Mangekyou," Itachi repeated, his voice fierce, commanding. It was the voice of the ANBU captain in him.
"Yeah," was Shisui's guarded reply. He said nothing more, despite his friend's nonverbal request for an elaborate explanation. A mild gale entered through the open windows and disturbed the tranquil, upward stances of the candles surrounding them. They danced and wavered and assumed their former places. A part of Shisui wished he were as sturdy as the candles made themselves out to be; no matter where the wind attacks, the fires in the candles will always return to their places after the wind recedes. Yet a part of Shisui also acknowledged that such sturdiness was nothing more than superficial fantasy, because a stronger gale could easily wipe out the flames.
Darkness engulfing everything once the fire and its embers fade away into the void . . .
He hoped that their Will of Fire wasn't as weak as this. They would need it now more than ever.
"Shisui." Brightened by the light of the candles, Itachi's face warped itself into an intimidating personage. Subtle and quick, there were hardly any changes in his expression, but a master of reading faces and body languages (like Shisui) could see it a mile away. "You're hiding something."
This time, it was a fact he stated, not an accusation, not an observation. And—I don't believe this, Shisui thought—his will was slipping off the edge, and if it were to tumble down that imaginary chasm like deadweight, he might end up telling this injured boy—a boy like him, a boy who lost his innocence not from the battlefield but from the family he was raised by—everything. He would tell him everything.
But he didn't want to. Not now. It was getting hard to resist; he had to look away from those piercing black eyes.
"Shisui," he called, but Shisui didn't listen.
He stood up and went for the door. "I'll check the outside. Need to make sure this place is deserted."
"Shisui." His voice had a sharper edge than before, but Shisui kept moving.
Itachi didn't have yet the strength to stand up and confront his fellow clan-traitor about all that had happened from the time this all started. He couldn't do a thing but lie on a dusty mat and wait for the next opportune moment for interrogation, though that next moment would also include him being able to use his limbs again. Despite his best friend's prognosis and suggestion (more like order) to rest and not get involved with this bloodshed anymore, he made a commitment to Konoha that he'd protect it, even at the cost of his own life. And if he were to be sluggish and relatively disabled and disadvantaged once he recuperated enough strength to stand, then he would fight to the death in that condition. There was no stronger dishonor than letting others fight your own battles.
This was his mission, his battle. He'd be damned before he stayed here and let Konoha clean up his mess.
He tried to move his arms, but they were unresponsive. Hands were the same way. Fingers weren't. They twitched and moved according to his command. It was a slow start but a start nonetheless.
"Now, Itachi," he whispered to himself, "move onto your hands. Move your hands and get this over with."
Outside, the moon was painted an ominous red, a color mirroring the current state of the village.
Konoha General Hospital, 3rd Floor
Tsunade would've liked to carry a pocket watch with her at all times if she had the luxury of owning one. Due to their rarity, only nobles of high stature, be they in the well-known Land of Fire or the obscure and faraway Land of Snow, could actually afford them. They were relics from olden times, recovered from the earth and restored to their former glory as tellers of time. The many things she could accomplish if only she had a clear grasp of time and how to manage it gracefully.
But on the third floor corridor of this hospital, watching through the window the fires of Konoha burning bright like ominous beacons on a dark night, she just wished she knew when everything started going to hell. Her skills in telling time through the sky were not accurate without the sun; the moon made a lousy substitute nine times out of ten. Apart from wanting to know the elapsed time of the chaos engulfing her beloved village, she sought comfort from having a definite projector of the current time. Because from the moment chaos erupted, following the explosions that shook the night, she summoned two slugs and ordered them to check in on her children. There were plenty of preconceptions of slugs being the worst in courier service (snail mail, most would jokingly say), but few had ever come across her summoning slugs. They were as different from their normal species as the other summoning animals populating Konoha. When she wished for a message to be delivered or a matter to be checked, they do their job with finesse, speed, and efficiency. Really, she could not have asked for a better summoning clan.
The two slugs each had their own assignments—one must go to her home and assess the safety of her progeny, the other must go to the exit of the secret passage, in case Chiyome had deemed it necessary to use it. And as the seconds rolled by and she was left with nothing to do after directing most of her staff to the bulk of hospital matters plaguing this building even in the midst of a sneaky invasion, her anxiety gripped her heart like the invaders had surprised Konoha and its forces. She couldn't stop thinking for her children, wishing that they were okay, that they were away from harm, safe, hiding from the dangers—
She looked over her shoulder. One of the doctors was running from the opposite end of the corridor towards her. He was a little on the chubby side, sweat pouring from both sides of his face as he approached her with a clipboard in one hand. He handed it to her.
"What is it?" she asked, perusing the single paper on the clipboard briefly. All she was sure of was the signature of her sensei at the bottom. It was no doubt an official letter.
"An ANBU came to the entrance looking for you, ma'am." The doctor fished out a handkerchief and wiped his sweat. "I'm sorry if it got to you a little late." He, of course, was referring to his lack of speed and stamina. Hell, even an Academy student could outrun this guy and leave him in a trail of dust and sweat—his sweat.
"Why didn't the ANBU give it to me personally?"
"They got their hands full as well. This invasion is spreading them thin, I believe."
"I doubt that, Junichi." She already finished reading the letter and was halfway through her second reading.
"Never you mind." She took the paper out of the clipboard and pocketed it for later termination. "You have bigger concerns here. How's the evacuation?"
"Smooth and easy," Junichi replied, showing a relief smile, "just as you ordered, Tsunade-sama."
"Excellent. Then I'll leave the rest to you and Yusuke."
"Wha—?" Junichi's surprise was short-lived; what he lacked in the physical department, he made up for in the mental. It took half the time for his mind to process information compared to the other doctors under her supervision. And with that look in his eye, he already connected enough dots to grasp the severity of not only her leave but also the current state of the military force counterattacking their enemy. "Shall I keep this from the others, ma'am?"
"And if they ask where you are?"
"Just say it's classified."
She grabbed his shoulder, gave it a firm, reassuring squeeze. No words were said; both knew what she wanted to convey.
Junichi nodded once and paced back to where he came, his shoulders broader and his chin higher than before their brief conversation. She was proud; the hospital was in safe hands without her.
When her eyes returned to the window and peered out into the escalating war beyond, her stomach sank and her heart quickened with unhealthy speed. Hands clenching, brows rising to their limits, eyes brimming with shock as well as delayed fury, Tsunade cursed hospital protocols and jumped out the window.
In the distance, her home, the sanctuary of her two children, was set ablaze.
The Secret Chamber beneath Konohagakure no Sato
Hiruzen Sarutobi adjusted his battle armor just as his feet touched the linoleum flooring of the underground meeting hall abandoned by time and disuse. The last time it had been filled with people, ninjas of high standing and importance, was roughly a decade ago when the war between Konoha and the other nations was reaching the lethal climax and finale. He could still remember where he sat, his analytical mind absorbing the many facts and intel scrounged up from scouts and enemy skirmishes; his hands shaking from twitchy nerves as information after information began to paint a bloody, macabre picture of their stance in the war; his face overflowing with hidden sweat as the underground location did nothing to slash off the summer heat above; his eyes darting from person to person, wondering if they were having the same thoughts as he had about this meaningless international tantrum brawl.
Yes, this place held many memories of a time he would rather forget, but as a ninja of Konoha, he was trained to cast aside selfish wants and beliefs for the greater good of the village as a whole. Being their Hokage also meant more selflessness on his part, and he had no qualms whatsoever about that.
This was Konoha, this was his home, this was his life.
He was not alone when he entered the Secret Chamber, as nicknamed by his comrades during his prime and before he became the Third. On both of his flanks were his old teammates, Koharu and Homura, donning their own sets of battle armor. They were old but not frail—God be with you if you dare say that to their faces. They had survived three wars since their induction into the Konoha ninja system, and though they were already in their retirement years and not exactly fit for physically demanding activities for a long period of time, they would still lay their lives on the line without hesitation.
The Secret Chamber was like an overly large meeting hall. Seats paraded the circular room in a downward slope starting from the edge to the center, where an elevated podium was erected for the Hokage and any speakers use to relay whatever speeches they have to say. That was the main purpose of the Secret Chamber, a secret within a secret kind of meeting wherein only the clan leaders and the Council could speak freely of village affairs and politics without including any of the lower ranks and representatives, who the most paranoid members suspect were spies and moles from Konoha's competitors ('enemies' was too strong of a word to use). It worked well enough during the Shodai's, the Nidaime's, and Hiruzen's own reign, but once he passed on the mantle to his successor, the Yondaime, the Secret Chamber was disbanded. Minato was ambitious, if not obsessed, of true peace talks between nations, but bad blood and suspicion were his obstacles from achieving that ultimate goal. One of his first steps after his inauguration into the Hokage was the disbandment of this very chamber. He believed it sparked distrust among the lower members, because there were already rumors milling about secret meetings between clan leaders and such, but that was not the only thing driving him to this decision. Minato had wanted the higher-ups to be open of their dealings—not everything, but most of them—to the public. It was met with mixed reactions from the clan leaders, positive reactions from the rest. Hiruzen, in his ability to foresee what was ahead for this momentous move, supported Minato throughout.
Now, just a decade later, he and his teammates were entering this chamber again. The air was stale and stagnant. Dust accumulated the tables, seats, and floor. The fluorescent bulbs supplying light into this windowless room were dim and, for some, blinking. This place lost its glory from before, and it would stay that way for a long time to come, it seemed. The three of them were here on special business because it was the only place the Uchiha had no idea of searching. The previous Uchiha clan leader had been old—and most definitely frail, Hiruzen noted with an odd sense of pride—and the only person who knew the existence of the Secret Chamber. Tradition dictated that he pass on the knowledge of this place's whereabouts to his successor, but the old crone didn't. He passed on the rights of clan leader to Fugaku a year after the Secret Chamber's termination, and then died four months later. To tell the new clan head of this place was unneeded; for all he knew, this place had been destroyed. That was one part of the operation that had been cancelled at the very last moment. Hiruzen, Homura, and Koharu had no doubt that this room was safe as safe could be.
"We're here," Homura said, if a little needlessly. He surveyed the empty seats, spinning around. "But he isn't," he added.
"He'll be here," Hiruzen replied, adjusting his armor once again. It was a little tight around the gut. He'd rather not think about the implications.
"This place hasn't changed a bit," Koharu remarked, her small frown emphasizing the wrinkles on her forehead.
"It has never been touched since the last Shinobi war," Homura said. "Apart from the dust and the spiders, I'd say this place aged better than we did."
"Don't sell yourself short, my friend," Sarutobi replied, smiling. "We're here, aren't we?" The state of their dress was left unsaid. It went along with his words, silently.
"Yes," a fourth voice said, "we are here, indeed."
Hiruzen turned to look at the newcomer, who came through the door opposite of the one they came through. He was also dressed for battle, but Hiruzen couldn't help feeling he wasn't fit for the battlefield unlike the rest of them. He was short of an arm and an eye, and though Hiruzen knew that these handicaps wouldn't stop the man from living up to the threat he posed during and after his prime, that little emotion called worry was begging inside his heart to speak out and coerce the man to reconsider his decision.
He squashed such niceties away. This was war, and they needed all the bodies they could acquire.
"So nice of you to honor us with your presence, Danzou." Homura pushed his spectacles up the bridge of his nose using his middle finger, coincidentally looking like he was flipping him the bird. It was most likely not out of coincidences, too, if the animosity between these two were as heated as they were when their hair did not yet gray up. Such petty ways to insult each other were never above them, and that might as well be the only comic relief between waves of morbid activities coming through them and their long lives. It was also the only thing Homura ever did to go against his serious, militant behavior.
If he noticed the subtle insult, Danzou didn't pay any heed to it. He looked at Sarutobi as he walked to the center. "The Uchiha clan have finally amassed their forces and attacked Konoha. I warned you, Sarutobi, that negotiations will turn sour the moment it was opined."
"I still had to try." Hiruzen noticed Homura keeping up his one-fingered salute and Koharu smacking him in the shoulder for his childish behavior. Hiruzen didn't smile, but he was doing it in his mind. "It's what our teachers taught us."
"'Draw your kunai and you have already lost the battle, no matter the outcome,' eh? The times are changing, Sarutobi. Such ideals do not hold merit to the younger generation anymore. They thirst for the sight and scent of blood and only come to think about peace once that primitive hunger is sated."
"I'll have to agree on Danzou for this one, Hiruzen," Koharu said. "We should've acted before the Uchiha had a chance to attack us."
"It's all behind us now," Danzou said. "We must do what we can to retaliate with extreme prejudice."
"Surely you don't mean—"
"Kill. Not maim, not disable, not incapacitate. Kill every last one of the Uchiha." And when he meant 'every last one,' he meant every last one, civilians and children included.
"That's genocide!" Hiruzen barked.
"Their fate is sealed." He tapped his cane once on the floor. His voice carried a frosty edge, reminiscent of when he said three words to his enemies before delivering the killing strike: Requiescat in pace. Latin. A dead language for dead men. "Tonight marks the point of no return for them. They will find no friends once this uprising reaches the other hidden villages."
"Won't our counterintelligence handle that?" Koharu asked.
"What counterintelligence?" Homura replied. "They're up there wreaking havoc right now."
She quietly conceded.
"The other hidden villages would find out eventually," Hiruzen remarked. "We need to minimize casualties and property damage as much as possible." He glared at Danzou. "Without resorting to massacring a clan."
Danzou hid his displeasure well, but he knew the man when he still had both arms and eyes intact, and it was easy to read even fleeting emotions and personal opinion through his subtle body movements.
"You can cut off the tree," Danzou said, his one eye half-lidded but quite alert, "but the roots will remain in the ground, bidding for time to regrow. Controlling the Uchiha is a lost cause now."
"We have to think of the village as a whole," Koharu said to Hiruzen. "The public will break all ties with the Uchiha if we let the clan live."
"Others will no doubt label the survivors as scapegoats," Danzou said. "I call it mercy if we wipe them all out now."
That's some mercy, Hiruzen thought wryly. "What's your opinion in all this, Homura?"
He nodded curtly, and spoke with a monotonous tone, "We spare the Uchiha clan, it's a violation of village security. We wipe out the Uchiha clan, rumors will spread through the continent that we personally included harmless, innocent clansmen in the obituary. We spare them and then banish them, we'd also be risking village security; who's to tell if they decide to sell village information to the enemy?"
"Sparing the clan will not help prevent turmoil in the village," Koharu said. "I hope you haven't forgotten how riled up the people were when Naruto Uzumaki still breathed after the sealing."
"Not all villagers rallied against me," he retorted.
"And that saved your ass from impeachment," Danzou muttered, no doubt intending to be heard nonetheless, but only Koharu reacted, opening her almost-closed eyes to glare at him, probably more for the use of crude language than the insult.
Hiruzen continued, "And that, more than anything, gives me hope that our village is willing to forgive and forget."
Danzou eyed Koharu for a moment before returning to meet the Hokage's gaze. "While we have different solutions for this . . . mess, I'm afraid that it's a bit late to tell my subordinates to lower the casualty rate."
Only one of the three sets of eyes widened. "Danzou!"
"It had to be done. With no official order from the Hokage at the time while our home is under attack, I did the right thing. No doubt the other ninjas are doing the same."
"I don't want innocent blood staining this village."
"The Uchiha don't share your sentiments," he replied harshly, tapping his cane again on the floor. "Earlier reports showed that the first three explosions were a hotel, a large apartment building, and an orphanage. They show no mercy; we must show none as well. My troops are now spread throughout the village, and I have four bodyguards with us in this room. They can relay whatever messages you wish to make."
"Messages?" Hiruzen asked. "What are you talking about? Aren't we going back up and help?"
"No and yes. We will help our men, but not directly." Something in Danzou's face made Sarutobi believe that he realized something. His unreadable gaze panned towards Koharu and Homura. "You didn't tell him, did you?"
"Would he be here if we did?" Homura shot back.
"Hiruzen," Koharu called, ending his accusations before they could start, "we did this because you're the primary target the Uchiha will come after. Morale will dramatically drop if you die by their hands."
"Are you saying that I'm incapable of defending myself?" His eyes were glacier cold.
She hesitated, thought over a gentler approach than the one she originally intended to say. A heartbeat later, she said, "I'm saying that you're in a bad condition to fight. We're not about to risk your life because of your stubbornness."
"None of the Uchiha know of this place, so it's the perfect hideout," Homura added.
"I'm the Hokage. It's my duty to protect this village with my very life!"
"But you dying in the middle of this civil war will shake every bit of confidence our forces have." Koharu took a deep breath before continuing. "Losing you means losing our victory."
"So I'm just going to have to stay here, behind the frontlines?" He shook his head. "Inexcusable. I will not stand for this."
"See reason, Hokage-sama, and stay here. Let the younger generation take care of this problem."
"Our role now is to guide them," Homura added.
He stared into both eyes of his old teammates, neither one flinching at the icy gaze he threw at them. No matter, they were dead-set in having him stay here, safe and sound, while his men—his ninjas, his home—were taking and losing lives. Sarutobi was a man of action, and he just couldn't picture himself staying here and direct forces to strategic points of the village. He was well-versed in a strategy and tactics, but Shikaku Nara was a much better candidate than he could ever be. So no, this didn't sit well for him, not even the slightest.
"Homura, Koharu, Danzou," he called, "no matter how much you reason, I will not stay here."
Koharu stepped forward. "Hiruzen—"
"And I will not stand here and let you treat me like fragile glass while my men are up there"—he pointed to the ceiling—"fighting for their lives. Orders are only orders. They need their Hokage there fighting alongside them. The only ones that should kill are those who are prepared to be killed!"
He turned his back to the three, shoulders high and fists clenched, and walked crisply to the exit. A hand on his right shoulder halted his forward momentum. He thought about harshly slapping the hand away, but the courtesies and niceties his parents and his mentors instilled in him during his youth destroyed that thought just a moment after it was created. The hand was calloused but not wrinkly. He and his teammates were already suffering skin degradation that came with having an advanced age, but Danzou seemed to have found a secret in delaying—if not hiding—the signs of an elder.
"We swore an oath to protect Konoha at all costs, didn't we, Hiruzen?"
He nodded. Another thought came to him: instead of slapping that wrinkle-free hand away, he would take hold of it and gently take away its firm grip on his shoulder. Courtesies and niceties returned and they chased that thought away, although with less enthusiasm.
"Do you remember what I told you when Nidaime-sama sacrificed his life to let us escape, when he appointed you his successor?"
He was halfway from nodding when that haze in his memory didn't clear out. He remembered Danzou telling him something after Tobirama-sensei showed his selfless determination, but the words had become jumbled and alien, as if they had converted into a foreign language. He wasted two seconds to force his mind to eliminate the haze, but the more he forced it, the hazier everything went. In the end, he shook his head.
Danzou didn't smile, didn't frown, but there was something in his one-eyed gaze that inferred he knew Hiruzen had forgotten.
"I told you, you didn't deserve to be Hokage because you'd be too soft, too compassionate to exact proper punishment to those who started that war. My opinion still hasn't changed."
"Danzou," Homura warned, his eyes narrowing to dangerous slits, "hold your tongue."
"We're all friends here, Homura," he replied. "No need to be so tense."
"I have reason to be tense." He looked at the shadows of the room from the corners of his eyes, no doubt espying the hidden troops of Danzou's ROOT.
"But my opinions don't matter on the wider picture," Danzou continued. His hand, still on the Hokage's shoulder, tightened to a comforting squeeze before letting go completely. "Nidaime-sama chose you as his successor because he believed in you. The villagers believed in you, not just then but also now. I know that, above all, you do not want to stay here like a leashed dog when Konoha is being threatened."
"Then why stop me?"
"Because I love this village as much as you do, and I have no intentions of letting it fall to the Uchiha's hands."
"That doesn't answer my question."
"Because there is no real need to answer it." He turned to Koharu and Homura, and said, "We won't stop him."
Koharu looked ready to protest, but a whispered word from Homura silenced her quickly. They'd been with Hiruzen for a long time, and as his advisors, they also knew how stubborn he could be when his mind was set on something. His love for the village couldn't be rivaled, and there was no doubt that if they tried to restrain the Hokage, they'd be facing minor treason even if it was for the best intentions. That, and Hiruzen would never forgive them.
"We lived a long life, everyone," Hiruzen said to everyone present, his smile almost seemed grandfatherly. "Don't you think it appropriate that we end it the way we started it?"
"Spoken like a true Hokage," Homura said, shaking his head mirthfully. "Koharu and I will stay here." He then smirked at Hiruzen. "We're better at strategizing anyway."
Snorting—he couldn't help himself—he walked back up the stairs. He would have to call in his ANBU guards once he stepped out of the secret passage. This civil war had to be stopped in the quickest way possible.
"I suggest killing the snake's head as your main priority, Hokage-sama," Danzou said, making him look over his shoulder. "If killing you would damage morale to us, killing the clan head would have the same effect to the enemy."
"That," he replied, his voice resonating in the slightly empty room, the shadows veiling allied eavesdroppers, but minding neither, "or the Uchiha will come at me with utter vengeance in their red eyes."
Konoha Market District
An hour of fighting helped ease some of the pain of betrayal, but the way her lethal attacks spoke since she first came into the fray . . . easing found no place in her steady, remorseless hand. Body after body was sliced, pierced, stabbed, lacerated, everything that could be done with ninja weaponry, and Kurenai Hatake never batted an eyelash as blood flooded her vision and death rattles reached her ears.
There were no orders for lethal engagement, and at first she had been a little hesitant whether to take the Uchiha attackers alive or not, but when her husband, Kakashi, got pinned down by enemy shuriken the moment he stepped out to question the Uchihas' intentions, she beat Kakashi in bringing death upon them. They were only two people against a whole clan—this Kakashi picked up after they encountered four unprovoked attacks from ninjas of the same family—and with an ally becoming an enemy, Kurenai felt unsure about approaching other ninjas for help. This whole ordeal seemed surreal, a horrible nightmare manifested from the many rumors she heard in the kunoichi grapevine about a planned coup d'état. But reality breached the watery barrier of her self-inflicted illusions, almost like a perfect swan dive, and she steeled herself for more horrors to come.
About thirty minutes ago, the two of them had rendezvoused with a group of jounin who were guarding an entrance to the hidden shelters for civilians in case of invasions. Their hesitance reflected the jounin group, who believed that Kakashi, possessing the Sharingan, was in cahoots with the Uchiha's rebellion. It had been a tense standoff, but trust was somehow restored when the Hatake couple helped take out a wave of Uchiha policemen attacking from above the buildings around them.
Kurenai rested her winded body on the wall and then slid it down until her bum hit the cold concrete floor. The thin fabric of her pants made her distantly remember the lack of panties under them, making the feel of the cold stronger, but she didn't really give a damn. The bloody gash on her right shoulder was a bigger priority.
"Looks deep," the medic remarked, dabbing the wound with styptic and disinfectant.
"I can still fight," she said, gritting her teeth as the medic worked his magic inside chakra-coated hands. The three lacerations—courtesy of oversized ninja claws—were closing rapidly like leaves of a Sensitive Plant. All that was left was a tiny pang simmered down by a chakra-induced painkiller (something about numbing the nerves temporarily or something, Kurenai wasn't sure). Wounds and painkillers aside, she still needed to recuperate for a bit before she went back out to help the rescue effort.
"ETA?" she asked the medic.
"Fifty minutes, max. We still need to hold out till then."
"I just hope that backup will finally push these stubborn bastards back."
"I hope so too, Miss Hatake."
"What about the civilians?"
He cleared his throat. "My colleague just went down to check minutes ago. Last head count is at eighty-two."
"And how much can this shelter hold?" She already knew, but she wanted to be certain.
"A hundred and twenty, ma'am."
She turned to the entrance door, ajar but guarded greatly by the ninjas outside. It opened with force, slamming its edge to the concrete wall with a resonant BANG, and in came a chuunin with a brown pineapple-styled ponytail and a prominent scar running from cheek-to-cheek across the bridge of his nose. Following behind him was a small group of children with varying sorts of burns, scratches, torn clothes, and, most of all, soot. Survivors of the orphanage's explosion and probably even stragglers from homes that were set ablaze. All of their faces were grim, sad, confused, and afraid. The only thing keeping them together and orderly was the soothing voice of the chuunin directing them here. She didn't count when they started rolling into the building, but when they followed the beckoning chuunin to the lower floors where the other civilians resided, waiting, her head count exceeded twenty.
And as the last child disappeared from her view, the medic's female colleague climbed up the stairs, her eyes showing remorse at the file of kids that passed her. "That makes a hundred and eight."
Kurenai stood up, inwardly groaning as her sweating body discharged plenty of moisture while she had been idle, not only soaking her bum but also the pants that were now clinging to said bum like glue. It felt like having a wedgie, but not, at the same time. She made a show of swatting her bum as if to remove dust, but really adjusting the contours of the wet garment to make it more bearable and less noticeable.
"Don't strain yourself, ma'am," the medic said, earning him a raised brow. "Your face is a little red," he explained.
Sure, my face is red because I'm under the weather, she thought wryly, and not because I feel like I've just pissed through my ass.
"Thanks for your concern, but I'll be all right." She turned to the female medic. "Keep everyone down there calm and don't stop other survivors from entering."
"It'll be overcrowded in no time," she retorted, just in time for another jounin to come in with another batch of survivors seeking refuge behind him.
"We need to secure as much villagers as we can. We're not abandoning anyone."
Surprised and a little shameful, the female medic—barely out of her teens, Kurenai observed—gave her a formal salute. Its meaning was simple to understand: Yes ma'am. And if a ninja responded to you with a formal salute, then there could be no doubt that they'd carry through with the order as if it were their life they betted on the line.
Kurenai returned the salute, nodded at the first medic, and sauntered out the building, closing the door behind her. She surveyed both her sides and the rooftops. It was clear, and the two guards protecting the entranceway gave her crisp nods before she sprinted up to the roof of the building in front.
Konoha looked more devastated than before she went inside to rest. From the distance she could still hear screams and cries, an assorted, broken orchestra of fear, death, and pain. Her husband was nowhere in sight, but she didn't stop looking. Survivors of the slaughter were scattering throughout the village, hiding in dumpsters, in abandoned houses, in their own houses (if it hasn't already been burned down). She spotted at least four groups of Uchiha ninjas leaping from rooftop to rooftop, hurtling kunai and shuriken to anything that moved. With their superior eyesight, the chances of missing a target or someone's presence were slim, if not none.
The lone group of three Uchihas at the northwest caught her eye when the tallest of them stepped towards the edge of the roof they were on, formed some handseals, and spat out a raging flame to the streets below. Her ears captured the frantic screams of the people, and—she was sure of this—there was even a baby's cry amongst them. She could tolerate no more of this, her mind rapidly processing current intel with inhuman accuracy for a tactical neutralization. In layman's terms, that fire-breathing bastard was her first kill in that group.
She would work her way around and eliminate as much Uchiha as she could, but she would only resort to that extreme when it was a matter of either self-defense or defending innocent villagers. No matter the circumstance, there was no love lost between her and the Uchiha clan. And that, more than anything, made sure to keep a part of her conscience relatively clean, all things considered.
Konoha was in danger. The Uchiha were the danger. Nothing else needed to be said.
"The only ones that should kill are those who are prepared to be killed!" – Yes, I borrowed that line from the anime Code Geass. I still think Lulu is cocky, but he's one of those rare types who could both talk the talk and walk the walk. I've never been able to watch the whole series, but I still know how it started and ended. And that little quote speaks more truth than any other quote I've heard. Well, except for Bertrand Russell's "War does not determine who is right—only who is left."
And for those who are still wondering, yes, the Shadow Clone technique (or any clone technique) does not exist in this universe. That means Naruto Prime is the only person capable of creating clones. What this would entail in the near future will be kept from the reader. I'm sure your vivid imaginations can bring up your own conclusions. Check next chapter's title and you might just have a hint. Anyway, this was a small detail I've already let slip to the winner of the KakaKure guessing game some chapters back, Animal Arithmetic. If you're reading this, AA, sorry it took this long to reveal it. I just had so much fun writing all that stuff from then to now. Hehehe.