Chapter 15 - Snare
Before his exile could begin, Sasuke's genin sensei arrived at his bedroom window. Even with the secrecy attached to Naruto's accident, he tensed in anticipation of a confrontation. This woman who had never liked him would know that he'd nearly killed her son and consented to have a seal placed on him. Somehow she would sense his transgression and she would try to kill him. Sasuke dropped back into a loose defensive stance, ready for the blows she might send his way.
"I know what you did." Kushina's chin jutted up and her arms were crossed over her chest. "I also know it wasn't entirely your fault. You're going to make up for your mistake, not in Suna, but with me. We are going on a top secret mission." She handed him a scroll with the hokage's seal.
Sasuke opened the scroll and read quietly to the end. "Is this for real? I was pushed?"
"With your consent, I'll place the seal that will let you see what pushed you." Kushina took out her brush and waited for Sasuke's jerky nod. Five simple strokes and an infusion of chakra opened his eyes. Kushina smirked at his horrified expression. "We should head to a more secure location to continue this conversation. Follow me Uchiha."
Sasuke felt like he was twelve again, chasing his sensei on their first real mission. This time he could see the energy beast that never left her side, and if the mission scroll could be believed, a similar beast never left Naruto's side either. The thought of that thing riding him, seizing on his worst, most dangerous impulses and forcing him to harm his best friend left him nauseated and incredibly angry.
Once they were safely ensconced behind the privacy seals of the Namikaze home, Kushina and Sasuke resumed their dialogue. "The scroll said one of these things is in Naruto. The seal let it in. How do we get it out?"
"We haven't figured that part out yet. First we have to capture him and contain him. Then we'll find a way to remove the hitchhiker." Kushina sucked in a deep breath, and exhaled in a slow steady stream. "If we don't capture him, he's going to rip a hole in the world and let something very destructive in. Every Uzumaki in his position has gone in search of a door. The one who succeeded in opening a door destroyed Wave."
Sasuke wasn't a politician, but a few facts felt quite clear to him. If the council, the daimyo, anyone in power realized that the disaster which burned wave was brewing and that killing one man would stop it from recurring, Naruto's death would be the order of the day. "Capture and contain, mission accepted. Do we have any idea where he is?"
"We have a tracker uniquely qualified to sense his location. Gamakichi, are you ready to show us the way?" Kushina asked.
A small orange toad eating a stick of pocky hopped forward. "Sure, let's go. No one possesses one of our summoners and gets away with it."
"One thing first." Kushina handed a bundle of paper seals to Sasuke. "When we find him, we need to get as many of these on him as we can. I don't know how many it will take to subdue him in his current state."
"Chakra suppression tags, low tech but usually effective. Are you sure this will work with one of those things boosting him?" Sasuke asked.
"I'm not sure of anything, but those tags are plan A. If they don't work, we'll have to come up with a plan B." Kushina opened her arms to the orange toad. "Come on little guy. It will be faster if I carry you."
The world flashed past. His legs moved; he spoke clearly and calmly. He even fought off a couple of two-bit bandits on the road. But Kakashi was a passenger to his body's journey. Not one of the twelve guardians sensed anything amiss the nor did the daimyo. His mission and journey appeared boring and routine to everyone he encountered.
Just outside Konoha's walls he summoned a shadow clone and henged it into a perfect Naruto. He and his clone passed through the village gates and signed in with the chuunin guards without incident. His clone made a show of asking if he could go find Sakura and disappeared to the rooftops. Kakashi strolled forward to the Hokage tower, inside railing and writhing and struggling to show some sign that things had gone horribly wrong.
All his struggling didn't even create a twitch on the calm, masked facade he presented to the world. Minato greeted him with a casual wave and Kakashi screamed inside his own mind.
Though he didn't show it, Minato could see the trail of blue energy streaming from Kakashi's sealed eye. "Welcome home. Where is Naruto? You were supposed to be watching him." Minato rose casually, waiting.
"Naruto is a jounin, not a three year old. He wanted to visit his girlfriend." Kakashi shrugged. "You want me to go get him?"
"Not necessary." Minato smiled at his student, certain that he would only get one good attempt at saving him. Minato might be a kage, but Kakashi was an elite jounin. He attacked and in one clean snatch, plucked Kakashi's sealed eye from its socket.
Kakashi's body went stiff and he screamed. Blood poured from his empty socket and he dropped to his knees.
The eye squirmed in his hand, the trail of energy persistent for a moment before the construct collapsed into nothing. Minato crouched in front of his student. Kakashi didn't fight him when he ripped a strip of cloth from his coat and made a crude bandage to press into his bleeding face. "Are you in there, Kakashi?"
"Sensei." Kakashi's remaining eye refocused, widening with horror. "Naruto isn't himself. He's possessed. He has a seal, and something is in it. It attacked me, controlled me through my sealed eye. It wanted me to stall, to keep anyone from discovering Naruto had gone missing. I haven't seen him in three days, sensei. It's looking for a door."
"Naruto took a seal and he is possessed; your report just confirms that. We've already sent a team to capture him. I have a toad tailing him. As the most junior signature on the toad contact, they can find him and are willing to obey me over him." Minato helped Kakashi to his feet. "We're keeping this quiet for now. I don't intend to brief the council or the daimyo until I know how to recover the situation."
"I want in on the capture. He's my student," Kakashi said.
"Sorry, you're going to the hospital. I'll read you in more thoroughly on this catastrophe when you aren't bleeding everywhere. For the record, I'm sorry I had to take your eye, but I'm very glad you woke up. Kushina and I weren't sure if you'd still be in there. It gives me hope that Naruto will be okay too."
Naruto moved slowly, tasting the world with each step. He called out a note and let the vibrations fill the air around him. The door was close. So close but always so far. He stepped forward again then dropped to his hands and knees. He dug at the earth, the wet lively smell teasing his senses.
Life teamed around him in the dirt, in the air, on the land. We won't hurt them, he thought, his host brushing closer to the surface. We can do this without hurting them.
Yes. He sang another note, long and clear. He crawled forward a few feet and paused, then placed his ear to the ground as though listening for a secret. He dug into the soil again, ripping through roots, digging until his fingers bled. Only when the pain had become severe did he stop manually clawing at the earth and began digging with a series of wind jutsu. So completely focused on his goal, the door he could nearly taste, Naruto never felt his enemies coming.
Paper seals appeared on his back and arms and face. Naruto spun toward his attackers, prepared to lash out, to destroy, but he staggered under the sudden power drain. He ripped at a paper tags, but his attackers replaced every seal he removed with two more, until he couldn't lift his hands to resist.
He sang out, hoping the door was close enough to hear and open.
Another tag was slapped to his chest, exactly over his healing seal, and Naruto lost his grip on consciousness.
Sasuke crouched over Naruto's unconscious form. Though he was out, the monster riding him remained conscious. It snapped at him and Kushina, though it couldn't touch them. "That went well," Sasuke said. "Now we just have to get that thing out of him."
Kushina tugged Naruto into her lap, examining his seal and the wounds to his hands. Carefully she cleaned his damaged fingers and bandaged them. Ignoring the beast curling around and in him, Kushina kissed her son on his brow. "Let's get him home."
Sasuke sat at Naruto's side, monitoring for signs of distress. Building a prison for him and his hitchhiker was taking time. Constant suppression of his chakra could be dangerous, but they had little choice until his cell could be properly prepared. Sasuke counted the steady rise and fall of his friend's chest, and wished more than anything that he could talk with Naruto again. There was a chance that his friend would never be free of the monster inside him and that the air could never be cleared between them.
"I'm sorry about the stupid kiss." Sasuke began speaking to his unconscious friend, hoping he could hear on some level. "I'm not sorry I made a move. You never know unless you try, but we should have acknowledged the stupid kiss, talked about it, and moved the Hell on. If we get you back, we have to talk about it and the accident too. It seems I'm easily influenced by these beasties that like to ride you, and they encouraged our training incident. I know that doesn't absolve me, but maybe you can forgive me a little easier knowing there were mitigating circumstances."
Sasuke counted his friend's respirations again. Were they a bit slower coming? "You have to fight, to help us win. Pinkie is bound to kill me if she finds out I killed you. For a civilian-born medic, she's scary. Not to even mention your parents; your father threatened to execute me."
Naruto took a breath and didn't take another. Sasuke counted seconds, at thirty he carefully peeled back one suppression tag, and Naruto took a breath. Exhaling, Sasuke smiled. "That's right keep sleeping and breathing."
Next door, Kushina labored over the room that would serve as her son's prison. The layered seal that covered the floor and walls and ceiling had to be activated in deliberately slow stages so as not to exhaust her chakra. As the sole Uzumaki in the village, only she could carve and only she could activate the construct. In Whirlpool, such a cell would be a group project, shared between at least four ninja.
In Whirlpool such prisons were used only to trap disembodied beasts that tried to enter their island. Naruto would already have a kunai in his neck back home.
When she had activated the last circle of embedded seal, Kushina wavered on her feet. She felt Minato at her elbow, holding her up. "It's done. We just need to place him inside before I close the array. It will feed on the energy of the monster, using its own emissions to power its prison. Back home, the ones we trapped eventually faded from our perception, possibly died."
"How long does it typically take for them to fade?" Minato asked.
"A few years," Kushina replied. "We would never be able to let him out of that room if the prison worked at removing it. He would be our boy in a bubble."
"It's a bit better than our boy in a grave or our boy who destroyed the world." Minato squeezed her shoulder. "I'll go get him."
Only a few days since his last awakening, Naruto opening his eyes on a new world again. The glowing characters of a prison seal greeted his eyes as the snarling despair of his passenger greeted his ears. They had been so close. He could smell it.
Naruto sat up slowly. He could feel the steady drain of a semi-permanent chakra suppression seal on his back. He wouldn't be able to perform even a basic bushin with that seal in place. In the doorway, his parents and Sasuke stood, watching him. Naruto hummed, trying to calm his passenger. From calm they might find a way forward. We have what they want, Naruto thought. They want their son and their friend back. What might they give us to get that back? Let me negotiate.
"The Uzumaki needs to leave. Her presence incenses him, and he will not permit negotiation until she is gone. We will talk to you," Naruto nodded to Minato.
His parents shared a long look before Kushina left, taking Sasuke with her. "They struggle with our concept of language except when they are inside a host." Naruto glared at his prison. "They can read our actions better. The Uzumaki started this and they've never even tried to help us. We will give you a chance to show us new actions. We want to go home."
"Whirlpool deconstructed the doors you came through. They don't exist anymore," Minato said. "I have no way to send you home."
"We can find home if you would just let us. We were close before you attacked us. We found a thin place between our worlds, a place we could go through."
"The last time you tried that, you made a mess in this world. If you judge by actions, explain your own. Why did you leave your home in the first place? Why did you and yours ever ride those people into our world?" Minato asked. "Was it idle curiosity? And why would you destroy Wave? Was it vengeance?"
"We were minding our own business. We were peacefully living! A terrible energy cut through our world killing thousands and trapping us in a void of tunnel. We fought to escape, but could find no exit. Those of us who didn't starve were forced to feed on our own dead to subsist. We tried to cling to the travelers that passed through but could find no purchase. One of our young discovered that we could fill imperfections in their bodies with our own energy of creation. We were able to ride those early seals out of the Hell of the tunnel and into the Hell of this world.
"We didn't starve here. Neither could we live. We can't eat or drink. We can't age or die. We can't touch this world and it cannot touch us." Naruto wrapped his arms around himself and hummed for several long moments, the creature calming visibly under his ministrations. "Wave was a mistake. We opened the wrong door. If you can help us find the right door, we will leave this world peacefully. There need not be any more death."
"I need to think about what you've said. May I have some time?" Naruto nodded curtly before Minato continued. "Is Naruto still in there? Is my son alive?"
"We give ourselves up in this union. I am Naruto and myself. There is no line between us. We are a suspension of existences so woven together that we're inextricable. His desire to trust you is strong enough to give me hope that you're different. But my hate of Uzumaki is amply sufficient to overpower any sentiment he holds for the woman who birthed him. He believes your world is worth protecting and that we can find a safe road home. Therefore we believe there is a safe road home. We believe you may help us find it."
Minato nodded slowly. He rested a hand on the wall of the prison. "Whatever part of you is Naruto, hear me son. We will find a way to save you. If it means we have to safely get these entities home, we'll do that."
Naruto smirked and drew his knees to his chest. "We don't trust language. We'll judge your actions."
Bam! Double post!
The pacing gets faster as we approach the ending. There should only be a couple of chapters left. I see no rabbit holes to distract from finding that ending. With the holidays coming up, I probably won't be posting next week. My goal is to have this concluded by January at the latest. Assuming the world doesn't end on 12-21-12, this story will be finished. :)