Chapter 84: The Eighth State of Sage Mode
As Akane had told him, not counting the people in his immediate surroundings, the chakra with the most concentration in his chakra channels was Enka's. It was justifiable since the little girl was the one who had clung to him the most and the longest the last time he was with Hashirama's group. Aika had described the appearance of the chakra's owner by deciphering the information stored in it with her Hybrid Byakugan. Female, short green hair, pubescent. With only these words, Naruto easily identified to whom the chakra belongs.
"It's not that difficult when you have a pure sample like that," she said. "It's Akane-san that you should be more grateful to. Usually, my eyes can only read the gender of a chakra's owner since normal samples contain a large amount of impurities. This is the first time I've seen a chakra residue this clean, as if it has been extracted directly from its owner."
Naruto dismissed Aika's attempt at modesty and complimented her by saying that she was growing mature. Aika pouted and blurted to his face that she was not, shooting back to hide her escalating embarrassment. Naruto understood that he could only tease the girl so much in front of people, so he got back to business. He called Sana and Akane over and bade the others farewell.
And now here they were, in front of a nude girl in the middle of pouring a bucket of water onto her head. Sana was the first one to react, tripping him and using his falling momentum to throw him outside the little cubicle before he could witness something that could kill him from excessive nosebleed. Ikki, Enka's pet gorilla, thankfully was there to catch him before he busted his head on the ground. Realizing who it was that had suddenly appeared in a summoning fog, Enka tossed the wooden bucket aside and unabashedly rushed out to Naruto. Akane, knowing full well what the kid was trying to do, hit Enka on the head before she could take so much as a step out the threshold. Sana knelt down in front of Enka and picked her up by the soft skin of her cheeks. "Little girl," she said. "It seems that you are forgetting something." With red cheeks from Sana's sisterly pinching, Enka pursed her mouth and went back inside to finish her bath.
The Unexpected Meddling of the Hags, as she derisively titled the little commotion in the bathroom, did not damp Enka's enthusiasm. Like a normal fourteen year old girl who was given a chance to be with her favorite person, she latched onto Naruto's arm and squirmed in excitement as they walked side by side. Akane could only shrug in defeat while Sana aimed a bitter glare at Enka's back. It might be because Enka had been loud when she called them hag, or because Enka was monopolizing her experimental man, but Sana was displeased, that was certain. The fact that they could only follow Naruto and Enka's lead made her feel even worse.
"You know what, if you crinkle your face like that, the muscles may stiffen and lock in place," Akane said. It was the only distraction she could think of, but it got Sana to turn away from the pair, which in turn dispersed the Taijutsuist's irritation.
Sana heaved a big sigh. "I know she's only a kid, but I can't get off the feeling that she's doing it on purpose."
"Of course she's doing it on purpose. You have one of the sweetest faces I've ever seen, and I know that I'm not ordinary-looking. It's only natural that she bares her fangs at intruders who are likely to be her competitor."
"Huh? Competitor for what?"
"What do you mean what?" Aika asked. "Aren't you competing for his attention?"
"What for? I know he's been the only man I could be comfortable being around with, but that's it. What I care about is how that child is clinging so defenselessly to him." Sana sighed again. "Is this a common occurrence in this generation? Kalua, Aika, now this kid! Can't they wait for a couple of years more before they fantasize about copu—"
"What are you talking about?" That was a dangerous word right there, which prompted Akane to cut Sana off.
Sana seemed to realize what she had been about to say and blushed. "I mean, I'm just worried about their future."
This woman who had gone down in history as one of the strongest surprisingly had the capacity for both a childish tantrum and a motherly care. Akane could not help herself from giggling. "Well, okay, I understand. Let's get going."
Enka led Akane, Sana, and Naruto into the ruined castle ten minutes on foot from the camp. She stopped in front of a marble statue of a woman which right hand was stretched upward as if reaching for something over her head. Enka held the statue's wrist and pulled it so that it was standing akimbo. The ground shook and the water in the castle's moat began to move. From beneath the moat a black stone structure emerged and slid until its edge touched the bank. It was a stairwell which descended underground.
"Be careful. It's a bit slippery," Enka said. After twenty steps into the stair, they heard the heavy grinding of stone against stone overhead and the splashes of water which could not be stoppered in time by the movable structure. The water rained down somewhere and the gurgling sound that echoed back told them that they were walking on top of an aquifer. Darkness swallowed them up as the stairwell docked into its original place. Enka grabbed a torch from the wall and lit it up, and then they resumed their descent.
After fifteen minutes of quiet walking, they reached a wide landing that was bright with glowing rocks. Enka extinguished the flame of the torch and beckoned them forward into a wide gate. Naruto froze in place when the sudden eruption of space smacked his distance perception. The shaft was cylindrical and the stairs which zigzagged up and down gave off the illusion that it was rotating. From where he was standing he estimated that the opposite wall was five hundred meters away, almost as wide as a lake. Pillars of light fell through the ceiling to provide the necessary illumination and from this he noticed the cluster of seated people at the bottom. The uniform and synchronized exhalations and inhalations made the impression that the cave was breathing.
Naruto extended his arms and grabbed both Akane and Sana's hand. Sana looked away with a fist on her chest, as if reining in her heart that began to race. Akane, on the other hand, could only smile at Naruto.
Girls, some way or another, expected the possibility of skin contact every time they were in the proximity of the opposite sex, but their common sense was too strong that their own bodies would shy away from any intrusion inside their personal space. Normally, a woman had her defenses up from the moment a male entered her periphery. A girl would feel a slight shudder or a tiny jump of rejection if somebody grabbed her hand even if she knew it was coming. It did not matter even if it was a friend or family. That instinctive reaction was always there. The only time this was completely inapplicable was when a woman yearned for that touch and initiated the contact herself. That was what Akane knew. She was smiling because she could not explain why her body did not feel any rejection at all when Naruto grabbed her hand.
Naruto called Enka over, who was already ahead by ten steps, and told her to grab onto him. The girl rushed over, jumped onto his neck, and stuck her face on his cheek. "Ready?" he asked. At their consent, he gathered the wind around their feet and used it to descend down to the bottom.
Medics ran here and there to carry unconscious people to the tents which had been erected as first aid wards. Looking around, Naruto found that bodies falling over were a regular occurrence. He counted at least ten every minute.
"You're finally here, Enka," a blonde woman said. Her red eyes fell onto Naruto and his companions, but only for an instant. "Come. I need you in the third tent."
"Wait, Reiko-san, what is going on?" Naruto said.
The emotionless visage turned to him, and though it might have been just a flicker, he saw despair in her eyes. "I'm tired, Naruto-kun, but we can't do anything. I'm sorry. There are people who need my attention right now." Reiko turned on her heels and walked away.
Naruto's brows furrowed in confusion. "Wait, stop!" From his left, he heard someone coughing. "That voice…Tenten?" He was not wrong. Tenten was hunched over on the floor, hand over her mouth. He knelt down and rubbed the girl's back. "Hey, are you okay?"
"Naruto? Hey," she said in a weak voice. She looked up and offered a trembling smile. "It's nice to see you."
He turned his head left and right and easily found Neji and Rock Lee. They were both sitting in stillness without a hint of exhaustion, but he could see under the deep lines beneath their eyes that it was not their real condition. Two medics went to get Tenten and placed her on a stretcher.
"Asahi-sama, please excuse us," one of the medics said before they moved away with Tenten.
With clenched jaws, he searched for Hashirama among the crowd of seated people. "Damn, where is he?"
"Naruto," Sana called out and pointed towards the center of the floor.
In the center of a wooden formation that was reminiscent of a blooming lotus, Hashirama was sitting in Sage Mode. His face had the expression of a sleeping man, serene and contented, so the dry blood on his upper lip and chin was blatantly out of place. The anger welling inside Naruto subsided as confusion took over.
"Hashirama-sensei!" he said, trying to shake the man awake. "Sensei, wake up!" Not knowing what to do, he cocked his fist to deliver a punch to the man's face. Reiko was suddenly there and embracing him while Akane hugged his cocked arm.
"Please, Naruto-kun, stop," Reiko said.
"Naruto-sama, look up," Akane said.
Naruto relaxed and did what he was told. The pillars of light were actually coming from three huge balls of chakra floating overhead.
"Naruto-chan, if you suddenly disrupt the flow of chakra, it might result to death," Reiko said. "You know how it is, right?" Her expression was soft as she imprisoned his face in her hands, looking like nothing but a normal beautiful girl. Her voice had the tone of a mother trying to pacify her child's tantrum.
Naruto caught the imploring gaze Reiko had trained at him. "Okay, I understand, you can let go of me now." At his words, Reiko realized how close their faces were. She reddened and took one step back.
"I'm sorry," she said, giving him that rare smile she only did in front of Naruto.
He felt a pinch from his flank, which made him turn to Akane. On her face was the you-are-so-hopeless expression he was starting to get accustomed to getting from her.
"I'm Akane, a healer," she said. "Your master will die if we don't do anything. Describe to us what kind of technique he is using."
"I'm also a practitioner of medicine, so I understand what you are saying," Reiko said, glancing at Hashirama. "He's now in the eighth state of Sage Mode which is called Bhagavathi, the Blessed State. Hashirama-sensei is channeling nature's energy into the spherical balls above through his body. Unlike the first state of Sage Mode, which is called Buddho, the Awakened State—which you are also capable of, Naruto-chan—Bhagavathi is similar to a semi-godlike state one attains after opening the seventh gate. But instead of chakra release overload, Bhagavathi is chakra absorption overload. If you had disrupted the flow of chakra, his body would have exploded from the tremendous pressure. The only thing that we can do is to suck the nature's energy away from his body, which no one here is capable of."
Naruto did not hesitate to do what he thought he must do. He bit his thumb and called out, "Summoning Technique: Uzume!" Now that he knew her name, calling her did not require her special summoning epigraph which had been engraved on his rib.
From the explosion of smoke walked a naked woman with blue skin and raven black hair that trailed behind her. This appearance of the Queen of Serpents was due to Naruto's wish that she avoided harming the people close by. If she showed up as the giant snake she was, she would have killed half of the trainees.
"Is he the one, My Lord?" she said.
Uzume placed her hand on top of Hashirama's head. Her chakra nullification ability took effect in an instant. The soft aura which had enveloped Hashirama faded and disappeared. His almost imperceptible breathing grew deeper and louder until he began coughing. Blood splattered out of his mouth. Reiko went to support him as he continued to sag from the pain. She waited and never let go until he quieted down.
The spheres of chakra wavered then regained their stability. The contorted faces of the trainees softened as if washed over by relief.
Reiko called out to two medics and instructed them to bring Hashirama into one of the tents. The tension had left her features. Two steps then she turned about, held Naruto's chin up and kissed him. "You truly are my hero," she said, and flashed him the smile he was the only human being lucky enough to see.
"I'll take my leave, My Lord," Uzume said.
"Thank you for your help, Uzume," Naruto said.
Uzume glanced coldly at Sana before she disappeared into smoke.
"She hates me," Sana said.
"She'll come around," Naruto said. "I think she just wants a rematch with you."
"I can take her on anytime. But more importantly, Naruto-san," she said, stretching Naruto's cheeks, "you seem to be somewhat lacking in moral restraint."
He held her hands as if to support his cheeks from actually tearing and in a muffled voice, he said, "I'm sorry."
"What wretched confidence," she said, but she did not try pulling her hands away of his grasp. She was looking at him like he was a kitten trying to chase a spot of light, like she was on the verge of squeezing a caterpillar pillow because it was too cute.
"Hey, don't forget that I'm still here. Geez, go get a room," Akane said. "Well anyway, these people need some rest. Maybe Reiko-san can help me find someone who can mass-induce sleep."
"Naruto!" Enka called out, holding high a small vial of yellow powder.
"Speak of the devil," Akane said.
"There are over four thousand people here," Enka said. "I'm planning to make a concoction and distribute it to them, so I need your shadow clones' help."
Sana pinched Naruto's cheeks for the last time and straightened her posture. "I have a better idea."
Using his mastery of Rasengan, Naruto carried the spiraling ball of water and sedative over his head. The yellow tinge made it look like a golden orb whirling into a perfect sphere.
"Are you ready?" Sana asked.
"Yeah. Do your thing," Naruto said.
Sana sipped in air through her teeth. "Empty Fist Third Strike: Typhoon Breaker!" She leaped to the air, whirled, and hit the center of the spiraling ball of water and sedative with her palm. There was the sound of air being sucked and then a dull explosion as the water turned into vapor which enclosed the shaft in fog. Enka, Akane, and Naruto could only gape in admiration.
"You can breathe, no problem," Enka said. "Whomever I touched won't get affected by the pollen."
One by one the trainees fell, and the place was once again engulfed in silence.