Naruto moaned as he slowly climbed back to consciousness. He had a headache, not the first he had, certainly. But the first he could remember that didn't involve repeated blows to the head.
Or massive amounts of alcohol. Did he do anything that justified such a headache? Fought that utterly disgusting freak, got so sick his bodies defenses might as well not have existed at all, got dragged around? And then he had been healed by Tsunade. Slowly he nodded to himself, that should have been it, so if Tsunade did heal him, why did he still suffer from this headache?
"You're awake, good." Shizune said above him. "Here, you should drink this. You're horribly dehydrated."
He blinked at her for a second, before he eagerly grabbed the proffed bottle. The water felt incredible, it tasted better than anything he had ever tasted, in the last week at least.
"Yes, Sasuke and Sakura reacted the same when they woke up." Shizune smiled down at him. "Can you stand?"
He frowned and moved his arms and legs. Everything seemed to be in working order, so he pushed himself off the sleeping-bag and onto his feet.
"Seems like it. You said Sakura and Sasuke are up already?"
Shizune raised an eyebrow. "Sakura is, though she's still very tired. Sasuke is awake. He isn't actually mobile." She shook her head. "Though as soon as his headache's gone he hasn't stopped talking." A small smile crept over her lips. "I'm glad though, that means he should be walking around again soon."
Naruto nodded, at least Sasuke hadn't recovered faster than him. That would have been embarrassing, having the more or less normal Sasuke recover before him, and him with the Kyuubi to help! Never mind that Sasuke had suffered way worse than him.
"Any idea why I've been out so long?" He blinked. "How long have I been out anyway?"
He stumbled a bit, but caught himself before Shizune could. The rumble in his stomach reminded him that he hadn't been fed either.
"You've been out for a little over two days. Sasuke woke up a few hours ago."
"Oh... uhh you have some food right?" He held his stomach piteously.
Shizune nodded, as she led him to a small campfire. Jirayia and Tsunade argued quietly. Sakura stared into the fire, at something that could have been a fish at some point. Now it resembled charcoal.
"Ugh, eating that all the time can't be good." Shizune complained as she sat down on the other side of the fire. Naruto sat down beside her.
Sakura looked up and shrugged. "Eh, I can't really make it any other way. Where I come from... well, let's say this is still healthier than everything else you can do with the meat. Or the plants for that matter."
"Hey Naruto." Sasuke waved weakly from his pallet close to the fire. "Glad to see you're up again."
"And mobile." Sakura added with a smirk.
"Yeah, just couldn't wait to get back up." He looked around, they were in a forest, not in the village anymore. "Where are we?"
Tsunade spoke up. "Nearly back at Konoha. We should reach it tomorrow."
Naruto raised an eyebrow. Two days had been good then. Very good. "We are in a hurry then?"
"We have to do something about this. Whatever that freak was... we can't have more like him coming here. Madara and Orochimaru are bad enough, add things like this freak and Kabuto." Sakura shuddered.
"Yes, I really don't want to know what else is out there, I can't imagine it being pleasant." Jirayia piped in.
Naruto nodded, but as he did so he noticed that Sakura scanned the area since he had arrived. Probably before then as well.
"You expecting trouble?" He asked her.
"Yes, you remember my dream about Kabuto?"
He nodded quietly.
"This kinda looks like the place where he released them. I'm not taking any chances." She stared into the darkness, trying to find anything he guessed.
Jirayia followed her gaze. "I'm not so sure there actually is anything here. Even if he had released them, wouldn't they have left the area to hunt or something?"
"Not if there are so few of them. They would have set up a hive, to breed more of them." Tsunade said, Naruto could see a faint tremble in her hands.
Sakura nodded. "Exactly, those things were so dangerous because they could multiply so fast. They don't actually need food. They are just chakra constructs. They can eat, sure. But they don't need to."
"Wouldn't there be signs though? Damaged trees or something?" Sasuke asked from his position on the ground.
Sakura relaxed a tiny bit, enough to take a drag from her ever present bottle. "I suppose."
"Doesn't mean they can't be around here though." Tsunade reminded Sakura, increasing the paranoia of the girl again. Naruto glared at the old woman. Had that really been necessary?
Suddenly Sakura stiffened. Just as Tsunade did the same.
"They are here." She whispered.
Orochimaru stared at the reports before him, reports detailing again and again that a large number of people had weird dreams, visions or memories.
He slumped into his throne. He had actually had some of those himself, a failed invasion and a last plan to make things right. To return to the past, into a healthy body, with a very clear idea of what went wrong.
Only one problem with that, he needed a sharingan for his plan to work. And more energy than even he had. The memories told him, that after a few years of working on it he had failed, both in acquiring a sharingan and in gaining the energy needed to use it efficiently. So that Orochimaru had given up, his life's dreams and ambitions for naught.
But, through some fluke the memories had come to him. Somehow, the others plans and desires had jumped to him. He glared at the papers in front of him. Now if only they hadn't also gone to other people. He would have been the ultimate force, blessed with foreknowledge, able to adapt his plans before his opponents... bah, no use thinking about it. The brats obviously had an even better version of this transfer. Giving them not just ideas, but the very personality of those in another world.
He grinned cruelly. Of course, that meant that the actual kids had been killed, when the new versions of them took over. They had been overwritten, as if they were nothing more than data. Maybe he should fling that into their faces the next time they meddled with him?
He glared at the reports again. Not as if it would make a difference. They weren't the only one's back. And there were more and more people with the memory imprints as well. Mostly ninja, so it probably had something to do with chakra.
In any case, his plans were useless now. He couldn't know who his allies or his enemies were. He couldn't predict how anybody acted, couldn't even predict his own actions in a few days time, assuming this got worse. Another Orochimaru might be able to actually overwrite him given enough time.
No, he would have to stop this, before it got out of hand, before he actually replaced himself. Quite ironic, really if he were to die that way. He didn't appreciate irony though, not at all.
"Tayuya!" He shouted. A second later the girl in question knelt before him. "The invasion's off. Whatever is happening..." It really rattled him, he might have explained himself. "Inform the rest. I'm going to find out what exactly is happening."
And judging by his counterpart either Sasuke, Itachi or Madara had something to do with it. Or anybody else who had access to the sharingan.
Sasuke however couldn't have done it. He was far too young even discounting the personality transplant. Itachi just didn't care about stuff like this. He had been damaged too much. That left Madara. Orochimaru really didn't look forward to dealing with that bastard. He only had the faintest idea what the man could do. And only luck had given him the idea that Madara had somehow survived. Survived and continued to meddle ever since.
Leaving aside where Madara actually hid though, it still left him with the question of how to stop whatever the old fool was doing. Mostly because Orochimaru had his doubts the old man had any idea of that himself.
Because there could be no way Madara wanted to create powers like the three brats. The only thing limiting them would be their chakra reserves. And in Naruto's case even that might not be the case. Damn fox.
Closing his eyes he leaned back. This had gotten far more complicated far too fast. And he had no idea what to do.
Orochimaru slowly opened his eyes. Kabuto floated in front of him, drinking a cup of tea.
And here he had hoped he wouldn't have to think about that traitor.
"What do you want?" The brat could apparently appear out of thin air and disappear like that as well, so no point trying to catch him.
"Me? I just wanted to have a little chat. Maybe about stopping Madara?"
Slowly a grin spread over Orochimaru's face, curiously mirroring the boys. "Oh? Afraid you might lose whatever control you have over the situation?"
"Exactly. At the moment the chaos is pretty low key. Just enough to make things difficult for people." Kabuto shrugged. "Just enough for me to enjoy myself. But if you add more to this. Well, I'm afraid things will get out of hand, people will die in droves and..." He hummed.
"And?" Orochimaru prompted.
"Well, that is a secret."
Orochimaru rolled his eyes, did the brat think this was funny? Or even just irritating?
Kabuto frowned for a second, but caught himself quickly. "Oh well, I'm willing to hand over Madara's base of operations. He needs to be stopped." A smirk appeared and disappeared on his face. "I'm even giving you this info for free. Others will have to pay far more for it."
"I'm sure." Orochimaru deadpanned, the brat seemed very sure of himself. But sooner or later, he would make a mistake, and when that happened... the two men smiled at each other.
Out of the corner of his eyes Orochimaru could see Tayuya, standing stock still, pale as a sheet.
Oh yes, this would be interesting, very interesting.
Sakura whimpered quietly as the first hexapod stepped into sight. The bastard had done it, he had released those things onto this world. If she survived this she would hunt him down, skin him, heal him, skin him again, cut off his limbs...
"Sakura! Focus damn it!" Tsunade shouted. However, Sakura could hear the slight tremble in her voice. The woman knew what these things were capable of, knew they could tear through ninja with sickening ease, knew that...
Tsunade's hand slapped her cheek. "I said snap out of it." She growled.
The hexapod still remained at the edge of the clearing, simply watching them. Or waiting for backup. They always preferred to hunt in packs. Sakura took a deep breath and quickly downed the rest of her alcohol. She could see Shizune ready her poison thrower.
"Don't bother with that." Tsunade instructed her. "They are more chakra than anything else. Poison has little to no effect on them."
Sakura could only nod, watching the thing... things, two more had joined the first, watch them.
"We should act now, I hear more coming." Jirayia muttered, looking around the clearing.
"God damn it! And I'm too weak to fight!" Sasuke complained from his place on the ground. They would have to place a guard to protect him.
Sakura quickly looked at Naruto, he had been quiet so far. A spike of fear ran down her spine. Naruto stared at the things as if in trance, evil red chakra bubbled all over him, slowly taking on the shape of a fox.
She whirled around to the hexapods. They seemed to react to the chakra, getting more and more agitated, hopping from leg to leg, chittering to each other.
"Naruto? Are you still there?"
Naruto looked around, into the familiar darkness of his mind. "Fox. What did you do?"
A dark chuckle rumbled through the chamber, quickly changing into full blown laughter.
"Me? I didn't do anything. Whatever those things are however... they were created from my chakra, from my power. And with them this close, ahh I can feel myself getting stronger." The laughter started up again. "Powerful enough in fact, to overpower this feeble seal." The fox seemed to twist his head in thought. "I bet I can take over, then what your little bitch fears will happen. I will roam the world with a pack of those things, killing everything in my path." It licked it's lips.
"Hmpf, don't think I'll let you out of here."
"As if you had a choice meat bag. You failed in that world, why wouldn't you fail here?" Suddenly the fox rammed forward, against the bars of his cage. They held, barely. Naruto winced as mortar fell from the ceiling. A quick glance confirmed that the ceiling had developed cracks all over it.
The fox definitely could break out now. And if that happened, well Sasuke probably couldn't stop him here. And this time the fox could start with something, he had those things already.
On the other hand...
"Hey, Mom? Dad? You in here? Because I could really use the help."
The fox rammed the cage again, widening the cracks in the ceiling.
"They are here, but..." Naruto whirled around, coming face to face with another version of himself. A version as young as...oh shit. "But they aren't sure if they should help you."
Naruto glanced back at the fox, who had stopped his escape attempts to watch the new arrival.
"There are two of you brats here? Ugh, how annoying." A grimace spread over it's face.
"You... you are, you are the one I replaced aren't you?" Naruto asked faintly.
The other him nodded weakly. "I... yes, I am."
Naruto felt sick to his stomach, he had taken this kid's body, his life. Especially if you realized that he had essentially traveled to a different world. His breathing quickened, and he had lost all his friends. Whatever he had here, they would be new friends, new enemies, not the same people at all. He had tried not to think about it. And he supposed he had succeeded admirably. But, seeing the kid in front of him...
The Kyuubi rammed it's cage again, rattling the rods. It provided some badly needed focus to Naruto. Existential crisis later, solving the Kyuubi escaping now.
"Why won't they help? Because... I well, took over?" He asked, nervously looking over his back.
The kid in front of him nodded slowly. "I... I think you are awesome, all those awesome techniques, how strong you are." He looked down. "How people just accept you."
Their eyes met as the kid looked up again. "But, but this is my life! I wanted to live it, not have somebody else take over. Why should I just hand this over to you?" He crossed his arms.
"Well, you shouldn't, really." Naruto quickly admitted, even as he looked over his shoulder. Did the Kyuubi start humming as it slammed against it's cage? "But in this situation I think the destruction of Konoha does take priority to that don't you think?" The damn fox had really done a number on the cage, some of the rods were already bend out of shape. How would it look from the outside? Would he have time to take control? Or would Sakura and Tsunade kill him before he could be taken over?
He looked back at the mini Naruto in front of him, head bowed and fists balled. "It's not fair, I nearly made genin. This time for sure."
"I know. And trust me, if I had a choice I wouldn't have done this, I had friends back home. A lot of friends. I didn't want to abandon them, but here I am. And we are in this situation. Do you really want it to end like this? With the Kyuubi free? Or do you want to be a hero? Maybe we can work something out after this is over. But if we want a chance... then I need help, I need to keep the Kyuubi confined."
The kid looked down, but nodded slowly. "I know. I don't want the old man to die, or Iruka. And that's what will happen if the Kyuubi breaks free right?"
"Yeah. That's what will happen, probably."
"Mom? Can you help him?"
Naruto looked away from the kid and at the young woman who seemed to melt out of the shadows.
"Uhh..." He wanted to hug the woman, for all intends and purposes she was his mother. And then again she was not. Damn parallel worlds, this gave him a headache. "...hi."
Kushina nodded at him, a small frown on her face. "I can't say I'm happy to have you here. Even if you are... kinda... his brother." She shook her head. "But you are right, we... you two can deal with that later. For now the Kyuubi is more important. I can help you control it, for now, but that will only be a stopgap. And you'll have to find a solution yourself, I am just an imprint, I just don't have enough energy to help you again."
Another crash behind him underlined her words. Still, she knelt down beside the original Naruto. "Don't forget, mommy loves you very much, don't let that bully take over. You are more than strong enough to fight him!"
Naruto winced, that hurt and not just because she called him a bully. It felt like his own mother just told somebody else she loved him more than him. He put it out of his head, no the time to think about it. He had a fox demon to imprison.
"You ready?" Kushina asked, stepping up beside him.
"Always." He answered, barely resisting the desire to add mom.
"Good, then here I go!" Kushina jumped forward, into the cage, chains sprung out from her and slammed into the Kyuubi. Once again Naruto could feel that chakra, this time though he could feel it resonate from him, from his body. Kushina didn't use her own chakra to bind the Kyuubi! She used his own!
He grinned, he could learn to use that himself, so he wouldn't have to rely on her to do this the next time.
With a roar the Kyuubi fought the chains, somehow he managed to rip out several. Still, Kushina managed to hold her ground and send out more chains.
"Would you hurry up? If you haven't noticed the fox is stronger than it should be!" She shouted, her voice hoarse from the strain.
Naruto nodded, rammed his fingers together and created his army of shadowclones. It worked once after all. Why wouldn't it work again?
They jumped through the cage all holding a raseshuriken. The expression on the Kyuubi's face was as priceless as the first time.
"Oh fuck." It managed to mutter before the barrage slammed into it, tearing at it, ripping away skin, and tails. Slamming it into the ground, hard.
As soon as the Kyuubi had stopped struggling against her Kushina had focused her attention on the walls and the cage. Her chakra, Naruto's chakra, seemed to melt into it, reinforce the cage. The walls repaired themselves, the bars set themselves solidly again and a thin layer of chakra protected the cage from another assault.
The Kyuubi growled from it's position on the ground, slowly the damage from Naruto's assault had been healed. He frowned and sent another wave of clones at it.
Once again he beat it into the ground, but the damage seemed no worse than before.
"It's useless. You can't kill the fox. And without any seals I would advise against trying to take it's energy." Kushina frowned at the thing. "You should get out of here. I'll hold the prison together. But you need to either get away from those things or kill them and fast. I don't know how long I can reinforce the prison."
"I..." He looked at her, the woman that might as well be his mother. "I..." He looked down, he stole her sons life, he didn't have the right to complain.
Her expression soften somewhat. "I know. It's not exactly your fault... I... good luck..."
He blinked the tears away and found himself outside again, facing a pale Sakura and at least six of those things.
"Ugh, I think I preferred facing the fox." He muttered.
Sakura sagged into herself with relief, Tsunade too he noticed.
"Careful! Here they come!" He shouted, as the first of the things charged them, the others hot on it's heel.
Sakura whirled around and threw herself to the side, rolling over her shoulder she jumped up, flung a kunai at the first hexapod she saw and jumped over the claw of the one that had rushed to follow her.
She didn't have any weapon really that effective against these things. Her kunai could only scratch them and her speed increased the damage only marginally. She landed nimbly leaned out of another slash of those damn sharp claws and spun into a kick. Her foot connected solidly with the things face, sending a familiar burning sensation through her leg as the chakra flowed over it for a few seconds.
Luckily the damage would be minor for the most part, sadly the same could be said for the creature. Sakura's kick had barely phased the thing and with a sigh she jumped into a back-flip, landing on a tree, overlooking the battle.
She could see seven hexapods, one focused on her, one focused on Jirayia, one on Tsunade and four on Naruto. Oh god, how would he hold them off, she had the feeling that using the Kyuubi's chakra would be a really bad idea for him right now. Not that he seemed to have much of a choice, he still had his red aura burning brightly. Wait a second... did those things grow around him?
Her eyes widened and not because the hexapod below her had decided to cut her tree in half.
"Naruto! Hurry!" She shouted even as she jumped to another tree, peppering the thing below her with kunai. She would save her explosive one's for the other four, not that they would do too much to them, but they would distract them much more than...
"Shizune! Behind you!" Tsunade shouted to her apprentice, who had taken up position by Sasuke's side, watching the battle and making sure nothing got to the boy.
The woman in question whirled around, eyes wide in a near panic. Sakura felt her heart stop as the claw came down, leaving a red smear in the air. Shizune staggered back and for a second Sakura thought the thing had gotten her. But Shizune straightened and flipped to the offensive almost immediately, charging the thing and landing punch after punch against it.
The claws seemed to flail helplessly against her, but Sakura could see where they managed to nick the woman.
However, she had her own problems and really should focus on the thing below her. Once again it had sliced the tree she had used to stay out of reach in half, but the way this battle went she couldn't afford to play it safe. She needed to take it out hard and fast. Even if that meant driving herself to exhaustion. She just had to hope reinforcements wouldn't make themselves known.
Taking a deep breath she focused her chakra, still slightly depleted from healing Sasuke or more precisely the chakra exhaustion she suffered after she healed him and jumped onto the back of the hexapod trying to kill her. A savage grin lit her face as she let loose, her fist crashing into the hull of the creature again and again, far too fast for anybody to follow. After a second she heard the crunch of her fist breaking into and through the armor of the thing.
As she pulled her fist back for another punch, she grabbed an explosive kunai and drove it onto the back of the thing. It bucked and lashed out with it's claws though, forcing Sakura to abandon her position on it's back. She growled as she only managed to drive the kunai into the armor still protecting the things back.
Still, the explosion sent the thing to it's knees, or what counted for knees amongst those things.
Wincing Sakura looked around the battlefield. Thanks to his clones Naruto had managed to keep the things at bay, one even had been swarmed and somehow the clones had managed to rip it limb from limb. Very impressive that. Jirayia had at some point finished his target and move on to help Shizune, who had to fight with two more of those things.
"Damn, how many are there?" She whispered angrily. There were only two when she had dreamed of them. But those things did multiply so damn fast if given half a chance.
Shizune didn't look good either, she had so many cuts all over her body...
Sakura leaned back as another hexapod flew past her, crashing right into her own, which just had gotten back to it's feet.
"If you have time to stare finish them off!" Tsunade shouted, remaining absolutely spotless. No, not spotless. The thing she just punched across the clearing had gotten her in the shoulder, punched clear through. Of course, Tsunade had healed the wound almost as soon as she had a moment to spare, at least as much as she could.
Sakura nodded quickly and charged the tangle of claws and flesh that represented the two hexapods. They would disentangle themselves soon and she had to kill them before then.
Tsunade rushed right into the melee that had sprung up around Naruto and Sakura lost her almost immediately amongst the sea of orange and red.
In any case, she had to focus on her own goal. Two exploding kunai in hand she once again boosted her speed, groaning quietly at the strain it put on her. She just didn't have the reserves to keep going like this, not anymore and certainly not after coming this close to totally exhausting herself two days ago.
Still, she slipped around the claws, swinging aimlessly, she could feel them move in front of her nose and slammed the first kunai into the hole in the things chest. In the same motion she flipped over it, kicked it off the other thing and rammed her kunai into it's ruined back. The target had been widened thanks to the previous explosion.
Another kick threw her away from the things, just in time to watch them explode into a shower of gore.
She landed on her back, breathing heavily and shaking. She couldn't even muster the strength to stand up again. Stupid weak body.
She barely managed to push herself up and have a look at the battle.
Shizune and Jirayia had taken care of their own targets, with little trouble it seemed. Shizune had managed to close most of her wounds in any case and already jogged towards Sakura. Jirayia on the other hand went to support Tsunade and Naruto, not that those two needed the support. They had reduced the remaining three hexapods to one. And that one didn't look as if it would hold out much longer either.
In fact, before Jirayia even reached it Tsunade slammed into it from above, splattering it all over the clearing.
A quick scan revealed that no other pod had materialized itself, so Sakura let her head fall back onto the ground. "Glad that's over..."
"Are you alright?" Shizune asked, her hands glowing as they hover over Sakura.
"Yes, just... just exhausted." She closed her eyes. "I've not recovered yet and damn, those things... I..."
"It's alright, we took them out." Shizune muttered, pouring chakra back into Sakura. But the shaking of her hands made it clear that the woman hadn't much left herself.
"These things..." Naruto walked up to them. "I? I created them?" He still had a faint red shimmering around him, but with each second it faded more.
Tsunade shrugged. "As far as I remember yes. But I don't remember it that clearly."
He shook his head. "They made the fox stronger, strong enough to almost break out of the cage. If my... if..." He closed his eyes and slumped to the ground. "We should get out of here. We need to get back to Konoha, find a way to stop whatever sends these things here."
"We should get out of here, yes. I doubt that we've seen the last of these things. They never send all of themselves away. I bet they build a nest somewhere around here." Sakura whimpered at the thought, but they had to have build one. Otherwise there would have been far less of them.
"Then we have to take the nest out." Tsunade decided, Naruto and Jirayia nodded. And she could just bet Sasuke did as well.
"We are far too close to Konoha to let them just build their influence freely!" Jirayia added.
"But we don't know how many there are left. We aren't exactly fresh and if you and Tsunade do leave us..." Sakura trailed off, glaring at them.
With a sigh Tsunade nodded, a bit of sweat did run down her face Sakura noted.
"She's right, we know too little and can't leave the poor kids alone here, no matter how much I would love to go and take these things out before they become a problem." She shrugged. "As soon as we reach Konoha I'll send out a group to take them out." She looked around the clearing. "A strong group..."
Sakura nodded to herself, that sounded good. For now though she would love to just get enough rest to regain her full strength... what little she had.
Temari smirked at the messenger from sound. He had come to tell the Kazekage that the invasion had been called off. Something to do with the chaos all over the elemental countries.
She supposed even Orochimaru wouldn't be foolish enough to try anything with what's going on. She quickly dismissed the guy, thinking about her options now. If the invasion had gone through she would have the perfect opportunity to take out the Kazekage, or let Orochimaru take him out, then rally the troops around her and take over. Now that looked like less of an option. Especially since more and more people had these dreams of other worlds.
She sighed, she needed to take over. The Kazekage had just managed to run this country into the ground, create an extremely unstable weapon, easy to control though, if you just showed him a little bit of love.
Still, how to use that to take over? If she could control Gaara would she be able to take on the Kazekage? Maybe, risky though, very risky, she would need the support of the village as a whole as well.
The window above her broke and a body flew through it, some chunin? Several kunai stuck out of his chest. She raised an eyebrow as the body landed before her. Assassins against her father? What brought that on?
"For... Gaara..." The not corpse muttered, trying to crawl back up the tower. He didn't get far though, some guards showed up and killed him.
Temari looked at them, as they dragged the corps away, maybe she did have more support than she thought, if people did something this suicidal for Gaara?
Something to look into, before the Kazekage decided to kill Gaara for sending out assassins against him.
"So you were right. You aren't the only one who somehow traveled here."
"Yes, there were many of us in Konoha, most among the genin, but I think one or two jonin also came back. We can't be sure of those though."
"That means any invasion plans are off the table of course. Maybe if we were the only one's with knowledge of the future."
"Well, we aren't and I'm not even going into how the other players changed the future. We are obviously not from the same world, the few I talked to all had different ideas of what would happen in the near future."
"I see. We'll have to be patient then, figure out how and when we can profit from the situation."
"There's one more thing."
"It's still happening, and it seems to be getting worse. When I left I heard rumors that objects appeared out of thin air, some say even creatures appear that way, no proof of that though."
"Well, nothing of the sort happened here."
"We are a small village after all, maybe it depends on the number of people close together?"
"Maybe. In any case, we need to observe this further... and maybe do something about it."
"I don't know, the more chaos the major villages suffer from..."
"The more we will profit from it, since it seems we are more or less left alone."
Itachi glared into the small cup on the table, sadly it had little effect, as little as the alcohol had on him. Mostly because he hadn't actually drunk any. He had only stared at the cup, like a good little shinobi, resisting temptation.
"Alright Itachi. What's wrong with you?" Kisame asked, sitting at the other end of the table. Not concerned, never that, but at least curious. "You ordered sake, so I thought you might want to loosen up a bit." Not as if he ever drank either. They hadn't reached their status through slacking off. "But you've just stared at the cup since you bought it. Maybe a little explanation, so I don't have to worry about you going insane and killing me?"
Itachi repressed the twitch of his left eye easily. Kisame seemed on edge as well, now that he thought about it. Much more confrontational.
"None of your business." Itachi countered icily.
Kisame stared at him for a few seconds, before he shrugged and looked out of the window. "Suit yourself."
Flashes of dead bodies ran over Itachi's inner eye and with a barely suppressed grimace he took the cup and dumped it's contents on the floor. No point dulling his mind with it, he wanted to fight these... visions? Memories?
He felt very sure they weren't genjutsu. Genjutsu he could have dispelled, these he couldn't. He could only banish them.
"You know?" Kisame asked conversationally. "I heard some interesting things today."
"Hnn." Itachi faked interest as best as he could, which in his current state amounted to not at all.
"Apparently weird stuff is happening all over the elemental countries. Memories, visions all that fun stuff." He stared Itachi right in the eyes. "Of the same person even. Only not." He waited for Itachi to answer, but Itachi remained silent. He had heard the same, experienced the same. "It's especially prevalent in ninja... some heard rumors that ninja and people had even changed totally over night."
"Preposterous." Itachi snorted. Only maybe not so preposterous. He had heard some strange things about Sasuke's behavior, strange, worrying and somewhat disturbing. His little brother wasting time with girls? Simply too strange.
The flash of images and feelings, Sasuke flirting with two girls at once, amusement, annoyance... pride, were quickly banished. Ninja had no time for such frivolities. They were weapons, the villages needed weapons. If Sasuke was to be seen as a hero...
"Eh maybe. But you know? In those memories some people have heard about Madara, from what I heard at least."
Oh yes, Sasuke had known about Madara as well. In fact he had set out to kill... no, Sasuke had no idea Madara even existed... Itachi refilled his cup and stared into the depths of it's contents.
"I've got some interesting memories as well, just so you know." Kisame seemed largely unconcerned, at least going by his tone. Itachi looked up, ignoring his own troubles for now, maybe focusing on Kisame's would distract him.
"Hmm?" His partner, though not his friend, didn't look nearly as unconcerned as he sounded. Little signs mostly a tiny flicker of the eyes. The slightest twitch of the mouth.
"Got some memories as well." Kisame stared into his cup. "We fail, every single time. I have no idea how many times I've seen it now, but Akatsuki fails again and again."
Itachi didn't smirk, even though the thought gave him some pleasure, a constant stream of failure sounded very good, at least as far as Akatsuki was concerned.
"Though sometimes we fail more spectacular." Kisame leaned his head to the side. "Or should that count as Orochimaru's failure?" He shrugged. "Probably, then again not as if we managed to start the end of the world once or twice."
Huh, who knew, you could loose that feeling incredibly fast again as well.
"It's disconcerting you know? That feeling of inevitable loss." Kisame continued. "But... what I find the most interesting is how often you try to betray us. Not that I didn't fully expect that of course, I mean you are a spy for Konoha, aren't you?"
Itachi sighed, grabbed the cup and downed it in one shot. What the hell? Might as well break a rule or two. The world had decided to go mad, why couldn't he?
"Yes." He grunted after the alcohol burned it's way down his throat. Why anybody would want to drink this stuff. A slow warmth spread around his stomach. Not too bad, but not really worth the pain.
"Yeah, so you betraying us isn't that much of a surprise. Maybe how often Madara manages to twist your brother into joining us... but then with the way you break him..." A raised eyebrow.
Itachi refilled the cup, slowly looking up at Kisame. "How often... how often does he defect? In those... memories I mean."
Kisame leaned back, watching the ceiling. "Depends, but I think at least every time you break his mind again. As long as he has Orochimaru's seal at least. If he doesn't have that? Depends on some other factors. But I don't know anything about them."
Itachi closed his eyes, he felt so tired, so god damn tired. "Why tell me?"
"Cause if Sasuke is in Akatsuki he screws it up. If he goes to Orochimaru he either ends up in Akatsuki or screws it up even worse. I want a chance to remake this world, to make it work, no more lies."
Itachi's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Why tell me?"
"You are dying aren't you? I figure I let you save your brother keep him out of Akatsuki and out of Orochimaru's hands, then kill you myself. Your brother stays out of our way, mostly. You can die happy and I can have a good try at my dream."
Itachi stared at the man in front of him. It didn't make sense not really. But if Kisame had been affected enough by these memories... he might just be insane, he didn't just have one set. One set that showed you every mistake you ever made, showed you every mistake your father made, every mistake your entire family made. He hated the Uchiha! Hated them with a passion. Hated the way they brought him up, hated the way he couldn't escape that upbringing. He pushed off the table, ignoring the sake in front of him. Hated the way he couldn't bring himself to take another drink, because it would have broken the rules.
"Let's go then. If we hurry we can have this over with in a week."
Kisame nodded and pushed off the table as well. "Yeah, this is giving me a headache."
Kakashi jumped from tree to tree, looking for everything and nothing. The Hokage had sent him to patrol the outskirts of Konoha. Usually a task for chunin, but with a potential invasion force amassing it seemed prudent to have Kakashi do the rounds. Never mind that it gave him a chance to clear his mind.
Since his cute little genin had dropped the explosive note about being from parallel worlds and since the Hokage revealed that the worlds seemed to fuse, Kakashi had been on edge. He feared the memories, the mere possibility of loosing himself to another Kakashi. The memory thing hadn't seemed so bad at the start, just gain the memories of another Kakashi, gain another perspective. But he had watched Anko carefully, she certainly didn't seem like Anko anymore. She seemed happier, much more so, actually happy might be more accurate.
There were still traces of the Anko he knew there, sarcasm and lot's of it. Confidence and little shame. But for everything that remained the same he could point to a hundred little things that had changed about her. Just like that, she had become somebody different.
And it scared him, scared him more than he admitted to anybody. To loose one's self, to loose what made you... you. With his genin it was much worse, they didn't seem to care, or maybe they just didn't think about it, but they essentially killed themselves. Actually he felt certain that Sakura didn't care. If she had fought in a real war, then she would almost certainly have done some things that made killing a weak genin look like nothing.
The other two? Who knew, they seemed smart, but they also seemed good at ignoring what they didn't like, didn't want to admit to themselves.
He didn't want to loose himself, to forget Obito, the sacrifice he made. Or to consider it less important. He stopped on a tree and leaned against the rough bark.
He just felt so helpless. And he knew the Hokage felt the same. They just had no idea how to stop this. How to prevent it from happening. How to even find out how to stop it. He took a deep breath and tried to banished all thoughts about it. This had chewed at him since team seven had gone on their quest to recruit Tsunade. And he hadn't come to any solution so far.
He doubted Tsunade would have a solution either. How could she? This simply fell outside her area of expertise. Hell, this fell outside the area of expertise of everybody he knew. The closest thing to an expert they had was Sakura and that said it all, since she didn't have an idea about what was happening either.
"Ahh, back home, finally!" He heard a loud voice, definitely belonging to Naruto, only he would be that loud.
There might have been an answer, but if there was, Kakashi couldn't hear it.
A small smile crept over his face and he fell down and approached the returning group.
As he came closer he couldn't help but raise an eyebrow. They all had changed clothes, gone were the vibrant colors, or the dark blue of Sasuke. Instead they all wore cheap, and drab pants and shirts, even Jirayia and Kakashi knew how that man liked to stand out.
Shizune's clothes had been cut up considerably as well. He could see cut's and blood on everybody else as well. Only Naruto and Sasuke seemed to be untouched, though that could probably be attributed to shadow-clones and the fact that Sasuke needed help moving an thus couldn't fight.
Kakashi grabbed his book, opened it at a random page and approached the weary group. He frowned a bit behind his mask. To be in this state they would have to be attacked fairly close. And to scratch Jirayia and Tsunade they would have to be pretty good as well.
"Hey, god to see you return so soon." Maybe they would find a way to stop this... whatever.
"Good to be back captain." Sakura smiled at him, genuine too.
He turned to Tsunade and gave a small bow. "It's good to see you too Tsunade. Konoha needs you."
"Don't I know it? But if the old fool thinks he can lean back he's got another thing coming for him. He's still alive so he better help me find my way around here." Tsunade answered hotly.
Kakashi raised an eyebrow, she seemed more irritable than he had expected. Then again, with the way they looked she probably had her reasons.
"When I find out who's behind this..."
The kids looked at each other and shrugged. "Madara?" Sasuke asked, earning him nods from Naruto and Sakura. "Madara."
"So, you are saying he wanted the world to be plunged into chaos of this level to make it easier for him to take over?" Tsunade snorted.
"Well... his plans can go wrong you know?" Naruto defended their position.
Jirayia shook his head. "They can, I'm sure. But that's not the point, we can't know for sure that it's him. Even though it does make a certain amount of sense. But we'll need to find out for sure, before we commit any forces to this."
"In any case, I would say you guys go in, get some rest and clean up, then go and talk to the Hokage. I'm sure he'll be happy to talk to you." Kakashi said.
Sasuke stretched slowly as he walked out of his house, after a bath, a good meal and some sleep he felt almost up to running again. Still, walking seemed to be the better option for now.
Being sick sucked, being infected by a sickness like, whatever the hell that had been sucked even more. Much more.
"Glad that's over with." He muttered.
"Sasuke, you're back!" Ino chirped happily. As she latched onto his arm.
He grinned back at her. "Yeah, just came back in fact." He stumbled slightly and fell into her. "Still a bit weak though." He muttered, enjoying the way she caught him.
"What happened? I haven't seen Sakura yet. And well, she's kinda weird anyway."
Sighing Sasuke straightened himself. "Well, you noticed that we kinda disappeared at the end of the exam?"
"Yeah, but then the exam has been chancelled. Too much weird stuff happening in the village... too many weird memories." Ino frowned slightly.
"Exactly. We were send to get somebody to deal with it... though I kinda doubt she has all that many ideas on how to do that exactly either."
"Ugh, then what's the point of it?"
"We have a Hokage who isn't standing with one foot in the grave?" Sasuke asked. "And since she's younger, which means she can work more and faster."
"Oh, that's just mean." Ino smirked.
"But true! I'm just looking out for the Hokage. He's gotta slow down, he's admitting it himself even!"
"Maybe." Ino looked around. "So, what are you going to do now?"
"Eh, first I'll have to go to the debriefing with my team. Then? Probably relax a bit more. Got kinda hurt on the mission and need to recover."
And a date with Ino sounded kinda nice. Good food, good company, if a bit clingy, what's not to like?
"Oh, going to find Tenten then?" Ino asked, in that tone that spelled danger very clearly.
The problem of course being that he had no idea what Ino wanted to hear. She could want him to say that Tenten meant nothing. Or she could want him to say she meant something. Girls were kinda weird that way.
"Eh, maybe? Flirting with her is fun. Just like flirting with you is fun." Probably best to tell the truth and inform them that this wasn't anything serious, at least for now.
"Heh, good answer. Doesn't make you look like a two timing jerk at least." Ino seemed to accept it too. "So who do you like better?" Or did she?
He narrowed his eyes at her. "It's just for fun and I'm not answering that question... where would be the fun in that?"
"Spoilsport." Ino stuck out her tongue at him. Only to lose her good cheer a second later.
"By the way, what about Sakura?" Ino grimaced slightly. "How's she doing?"
Sighing he watched the street in front of him. "Could be better, could be worse. We are making progress though. Slowly."
"Progress?" Ino frowned at him, clearly expecting an explanation.
"Well, you know how she's so weird? Naruto and me are trying to... well make it better. Make her stop drinking so much, or at all really."
Ino blinked. "Yes, I can see how that would be a good idea." She seemed to look off into the distance. "Though maybe..." She shook her head. "Anyway, if you two are looking into it, the least I can do is help. Even if this will be kinda weird, especially after those dreams."
She muttered the last part, almost too quiet for Sasuke to make out, almost. So, she had remembered something as well, probably from the same place Sakura came from. Might be good, might be bad.
"So, I still have some time before I need to see the new Hokage, how about some food?" He smiled at her.
Ino looked back a finger on her lips as if in though. A second later she nodded. "Sure!"
Naruto stood at attention before Tsunade, beside him Sasuke and Sakura. Kakashi stood a bit behind them and Jirayia and Shizune had taken position in front of them, beside Tsunade. The old man had disappeared, probably getting some decent rest or something.
"So, to recap. You three are from different worlds." Having taken over the bodies of those who lived here and effectively killed them, Naruto added to himself. "Others are too, some from major villages, some from minor villages." Tsunade said.
"Even those who aren't like you remember, in dreams or just like that, the other worlds. Oh and we have objects and probably animals coming through as well, in increasing frequency." She stared at each of them in turn.
"We have no idea what causes it, or how to stop it. And you three are our only real leads. Sakura is our only expert and she knows next to nothing." With a sigh she slumped back into her chair. "Oh and the old man disappeared the second I stepped into his office."
"Do we have any good news?" Sasuke asked.
"No invasion from Orochimaru. The exam has been called off, on account of too much weird stuff happening. All the villages agreed they would have to sort it out before this little wargame could commence."
"That's something, right?" Sasuke tried to smile.
"I suppose, that still leaves us with a rather large problem. What are we going to do?" Tsunade looked at Jirayia and them, Kakashi and Shizune were curiously ignored.
Though Naruto supposed he could understand that. Tsunade knew Shizune well enough that she didn't need to ask her opinion. And Kakashi had no more experience with stuff like this than the average ninja on the street. As she had pointed out, he and the rest of team seven had the best idea of what could have caused it. And Jirayia might know something thanks to his seals.
"I think it's fairly obvious that somebody did something to make this world... merge with the others, making it easy for people like those three to cross over." Jirayia spoke up first. "How exactly did you cross over.
They looked at each other. "Well, the Sharingan pretty much allowed us to do that. Don't ask me how, it just did... well the sharingan and the Kyuubi." Naruto explained.
"The Kyuubi is just the power source. It's not really needed to breach the gap. Madara didn't have access to it where I came from. He still needed to boost his own chakra reserves considerably to pull it off though." Sakura threw in.
Tsunade nodded. "So we are back at where we started. You think Madara's behind this. Whether because he planed it, or because he screwed up."
They shrugged, seemed reasonable to Naruto.
"And since I have no better idea I'm inclined to agree. Still, we need proof, or we are going on a wild goose chase. The old man handed over some maps and interrogation protocols. We know where his bases are, probably. We didn't have time yet to confirm it, but it seems that has just become a priority, it's our only lead so far. I'd like to send you guys to investigate it. No fighting unless it's absolutely necessary."
Naruto nodded eagerly. A chance at a rematch!
"Umm... are you sure this is a good idea? We are talking about Madara here." Kakashi pointed out, shifting uneasily.
"And the rest of Akatsuki." Added Shizune, leafing through the pages in front of her.
"Hardly. Most of Akatsuki is out and about, searching for the Jinchuriki. They aren't in a position to help Madara out. Also, if you know somebody else who can go toe to toe with him, I'm all ears." Tsunade looked at her apprentice.
Shizune quickly backed down.
"Only one flaw with your plan. We probably can't go toe to toe with him. Even against Orochimaru we couldn't really do all that much. Our chakra reserves are just too limited, well mine and Sasuke's are. Naruto might have enough, but he's gonna need the kyuubi. And the way he is now..."
Sakura trailed off and looked away from him.
He shrugged. "Can't say I disagree. There's stuff I need to take care off, before I can use the full power of the kyuubi." Stuff like talking to his other self, trapped inside his own head because an imposter decided to take over his head.
Tsunade sighed. "I agree, it's risky. It doesn't change the facts though. You guys are the strongest weapon we have against Madara, even as limited as you are. I wouldn't send you alone of course. Gai, Kakashi and Jirayia would accompany you." She grinned. "Consider yourself advisers of sort. You are there to tell them how to fight him and as backup." She looked at them. "The adults will fight him. If you see an opening you'll take it. He'll dismiss you initially, since he won't know just how strong you guys really are."
"I wouldn't be so sure about that. He's surprisingly well informed." Sakura threw in.
"Can he be surprised?"
"I... yes, yes he can be surprised. It's not easy though."
"Do you think he'll expect genin to be a danger to him? Especially genin as young as you?"
"Actually we are special jonin." Naruto pointed out. He had reached that status pretty damn fast here, and he would be damned if he didn't point it out.
"And how many people do you think know about that? It's not exactly been told to many people." Tsunade snorted. "Hell, I didn't know about it until you mentioned it just now."
"Well, I suppose." Naruto shrugged, not as if he could say much about it.
"I thought we couldn't send out any significant force?" Kakashi pointed up, face buried in his book.
"I changed my mind. Whether he is behind this or not. We can't risk him being affected by it. If he has the knowledge of some of his other versions... I don't want to think about the consequences."
Naruto could feel the shiver run over his back. He could see the others shiver as well.
"What about the rest of Akatsuki? It's pretty much the same with them, depending on their exposure to... whatever." Sakura pointed out. She looked at Sasuke. "What about Itachi? The guy is extremely dangerous. If he has any dreams, or memories, he might be even more dangerous."
"If we take Gai, Kakashi and Jirayia we are seriously weakening the village in case one of them shows up." Sasuke agreed, neatly ignoring the part of Itachi being out to get him. But from what Naruto had seen Sasuke could be just as good as repressing what he didn't want to acknowledge as Naruto himself.
"I know, but from what I remember, even at their worst their goals were rather simple. And none of them planned to bring down Konoha specifically. I would say the risk is rather low that they are planning anything major against us." Tsunade looked at them all. "Only Orochimaru might be a danger in that regard and he's too cautious to try anything now."
"So we go out and try to bring down Madara." Naruto asked to make sure, he didn't like it very much. On the other hand he couldn't say he had a better idea. This time he had Sasuke on his side after all. Sasuke, Sakura, Gai, Kakashi and Jirayia. That should be enough to do something about the bastard, right?
"Yes, the faster you do that, the better."
"What if it's not him, or if killing him doesn't stop it?" Kakashi sounded as if he didn't really care. He didn't fool anybody.
"Then you come back and we think of something new." Tsunade countered. "But if you have a better idea, I'm all ears!"
Kakashi shook his head. "Nope, just thought I would ask."
Tsunade narrowed her eyes, but let it slide. "Alright. You have your orders. Collect your gear and hurry up. We can't afford to wait any longer. I'll try to keep Konoha together in the meantime." She looked out of the window. "And the rest of the country too."
Kabuto smiled as he watched the little meeting. So, they would meet up with a Madara desperately scrambling to end his little experiment. An experiment he had utterly lost control over. In more ways than one.
He cocked his head to the side. Would he managed to hold on long enough to stop the rift from forming?
Ahh, this could be so much fun.
Especially since this world had gone through a similar catastrophe before, at least on a destructive scale, if not the same nonsensical way. He should be able to have quite a bit of fun with that.
He looked at the group scrambling on the ground, getting to their homes to collect their weapons.
Seeing them succeed could be fun too. Well, he would have to wait and see, wouldn't he?
Well, so much for a one chapter a week schedule huh?
Anyway, thanks to Mass Effect, Civ 5 and a bad case of writers block this took a good while longer than planed and I don't think it will improve in the future, so no more planned schedule for me, unless I actually manage to post several Fridays in a row.
Hope you like the chapter.