Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or any of its characters.
Warning: Manga spoilers, though they're pretty minor.
Crossing the River Styx
Nakashima glanced around as he walked down the street. This late at night, there were only a few people out, and none of them were paying any attention to him. He strained every sense to keep track of the ninja who were assigned to night patrol of the village.
He paused for a moment and looked back down the slope. The inn he was staying at was near the center of the village, which meant that it was on level ground. To reach his destination, he had climbed steadily up one of the paths that radiated outward from the central district. Each path led to one of the gates at the top of the village.
Rebuilding Konoha after Pain's attack had been difficult. Reconstructing buildings was one thing, but the entire geography of the village had been changed. A mostly flat plain had been converted into a deep crater, and the drastic alteration had made the determination of property boundaries nearly impossible. The village's administrators had done their best to restore each family's land, but some inaccuracies were inevitable. Terraces had been carved into the steep sides of the crater, providing flat places on which stable structures could be built.
Nakashima continued climbing the northwestern path, which led to an area that roughly corresponded to the old Uchiha clan compound. As the only surviving Uchiha, Sasuke had been given this land when he returned to Konoha after Madara's final defeat. Here, Nakashima became even more careful, pausing often to sweep the area for genjutsu. As he came in sight of Sasuke's house itself, his breathing sped up and his heart began to pound faster. Stay calm, he reminded himself. The fate of the Land of Iron rests on your shoulders. You must proceed carefully and not make any mistakes.
In the decade since Madara's fall, the shinobi world had become steadily more peaceful. The temporary alliance between the five great nations had been forged into a permanent non-aggression pact, and new agreements for trade and mutual defense were being made every year. The people of the great nations rejoiced, for it seemed that the era of terrible wars had finally come to an end.
The Daimyo and Council of Elders in the Land of Iron had been happy as well, for the instability of the shinobi world had always been seen as a threat to the Iron Country's peace. That was part of the reason why the Iron Country had offered itself as neutral territory where negotiations could be held-promoting peace among the ninja countries was beneficial to the Iron Country as well.
However, not everyone agreed with the Daimyo and the Council of Elders. Some among the nation's leadership knew that the Iron Country's role as host for negotiations gave them leverage with the shinobi countries. And what would happen to that once the shinobi countries no longer needed them? If the Great Nations forged relationships with each other that didn't depend on using the Iron Country as an intermediary, the status of the Land of Iron would be jeopardized. Besides, with the shinobi nations constantly fighting each other, a certain balance of power was maintained. No single shinobi nation could take on the Iron Country by itself. But if the Five Great Nations banded together, they could easily sweep aside anyone who opposed them...even the great Land of Iron. Some of the nation's leaders thus saw the strengthening of relationships between the shinobi nations as a threat, and were prepared to do anything necessary to stop it.
That was why Nakashima was in the Leaf Village on this night. Supposedly, he was here as a bodyguard for the diplomats negotiating a new trade agreement. In reality, he had been sent here by the commander of the Covert Missions Corps-the Iron Country's equivalent of ANBU. In theory, his task was simple: kidnap and kill the young child of Uchiha Sasuke and Haruno Sakura, while leaving behind evidence that the crime had been committed by a representative of one of the other nations involved in the alliance.
In practice, the mission was not so simple, as it required infiltrating the home of two powerful shinobi and kidnapping their child without them noticing. Luckily, Nakashima was one of Iron's foremost infiltration specialists. Despite this, he was extremely tense as he scrutinized the fence around Sasuke and Sakura's house for traps or alarm seals, and nearly cried out when a calm voice behind him said, "May I ask what you are doing here?"
How did someone sneak up on me without me noticing? Nakashima willed his racing heart to slow down, and turned around to face his questioner. It was a man in his late thirties, with a square jaw and prominent cheekbones. He seemed to radiate authority-this was a man who was used to giving orders and having them obeyed.
Nakashima wouldn't have been one of the Iron Country's best operatives if he couldn't come up with a cover story on the fly. "I'm here with the diplomatic delegation from the Iron Country. We're staying in an inn nearby, and I've been assigned to patrol the surrounding area."
"That," the man said sharply, "is the job of the ANBU. Besides, I already know that you aren't telling the truth."
Even without this ominous statement, Nakashima was starting to become nervous. There was something off about the man's chakra, in a way that Nakashima couldn't quite identify. Nakashima didn't like things that he couldn't identify. "May I ask your name, sir?" he said, in hopes of procuring more information. "This is simply a misunderstanding, and I'm sure we can clear it up without any trouble."
There were two great trees-grown by Yamato-at the back corners of Sasuke's property, and they cast shadows over the man who stood before him. Slowly, he stepped forward, and only Nakashima's rigid training kept him from gasping.
The man who had found him wore a green vest, of the sort that Konoha's jounin commonly sported. But this vest was adorned with a gold pin marked by the shape of a red and white fan. Just below the pin, on the left side of the man's chest, was a deep horizontal gouge. Nakashima's expert eye immediately deduced that it was from a short sword, like a ninja-toor wakazashi, turned sideways so that the blade would slip easily between the ribs. What shocked him so deeply was that it was a mortal wound.
"My name is Fugaku," said the man who should be dead. "And this is no misunderstanding."
It's a genjutsu! It has to be. Nakashima smirked. You're quite skilled, Uchiha Sasuke, I'll give you that much. Illusions are my specialty, and not many people can create one that I can't see through immediately. Although they didn't tend towards flashy elemental ninjutsu the way shinobi did, samurai could manipulate their chakra just as well, and that included the jutsu necessary to dispel illusions. Nakashima raised one hand in a seal, and vibrated his chakra to dislodge the influence of Sasuke's trap.
Nothing happened. Fugaku remained in front of him, glaring solemnly.
Impressive, Sasuke-san. But not enough to fool me. Nakashima took a deep breath, and agitated his chakra more violently than before. The Sharingan can create powerful illusions, true, but I've done my research. To put the force of the Sharingan behind an illusion, you have to make direct eye contact with your target. You can't use the Sharingan's power through a proxy, like whatever tag or seal activated this trap. This is a strong genjutsu, but a breakable one.
Even this level of chakra disruption was having no effect. Fugaku took another step forward, and reached out towards Nakashima. "You seek to harm my family. I will not tolerate that." He twitched his wrist, and the kunai hidden in his sleeve fell into his hand.
Acting on instinct, Nakashima raised an arm to block Fugaku's strike-and felt the solidity of flesh and cloth as he knocked the other man's arm aside. A tactile genjutsu! Nakashima knew that the level of this illusion was beyond anything he'd previously encountered. The best course of action was to retreat for now, clear any lingering traces of foreign chakra from his system, and make another attempt later. The triggering of this trap would alert Sasuke and Sakura that something had happened, but he could come up with a way to deal with that later. Evading another kunai swipe from Fugaku, Nakashima slid backwards and ducked around one of the large trees. As he continued to withdraw, he noted that Fugaku made no attempt to follow him. Of course, the illusion can't extend far from the seal that contains its chakra. Not even Uchiha Sasuke's that good.
Like everything else, the Nakano River had been displaced by the Chou Shinra Tensei blast. It now swept over the side of the crater in a majestic waterfall that flowed over each successive terrace until it formed a pool on the flat plain at the center of the village. Nakashima planned to run along the river for a while before crossing over, so that his trail would be broken if the ANBU tried to track his path the next morning.
Nakashima's footsteps were quick and soundless on the clear water. He hurried towards the nearest of the waterfalls, but froze when he saw something large shift under the water directly beneath him. That's no fish.
Well-trained or not, Nakashima couldn't help crying out at the sight of the pale, blue-lipped face below him. The once-deadly Sharingan eyes were covered by milky cataracts, and there was seaweed caught in the curly hair. Of course, a drowned body by itself wouldn't have elicited this reaction from a hardened warrior like Nakashima...but this drowned body was moving. The boy in the water was reaching up, and one hand broke the surface of the Nakano to clamp itself around the samurai's ankle.
Another genjutsu, so far from the first? There might well be traps placed throughout the village to catch invaders, but the pattern in the drowned boy's eyes made it clear that this was a trap crafted by Sasuke. But this was beyond the border of Sasuke's property. Most of the residents in this district weren't even ninja. What is one of Sasuke-san's traps doing here? Or is it a residual effect of the first genjutsu? Is that bastard's chakra still in my mind? The feeling of the cold fingers locked around his ankle was incredibly realistic: he could even feel the water seeping through his pants leg. Nakashima gritted his teeth and yanked his leg back, careful to push agains the weak point in the boy's grip. He managed to pull himself free, but the boy's nails gouged red lines on his lower leg. A genjutsu that inflicts real wounds? No! Only the Tsukiyomi can do that, and I haven't even seen Sasuke-san tonight! He can't have targeted me with that jutsu. So what in hell is this?
He knew perfectly well who Uchiha Fugaku was, and thought he knew who the boy in the water was, too. Both had been well-known ninja in their time, and everyone had heard about the tragedy that befell the Uchiha clan at the hands of its own prodigy. As he stumbled away from the Nakano, the stinging of the cuts on his leg mocked his insistence that all of this was just an illusion. He looked down, and saw the dampness surrounding the tears in his pants leg, and remembered the jarring solidity of Fugaku's arm during their brief fight. With the existence of jutsu like Shiki Fuujin and Edo Tensei, only a fool would claim that the death of the body was truly the end. Nakashima shivered. What if this isn't a genjutsu?
Across the river, Nakashima found himself on a quiet street lined with shops. One of them, which seemed to be a sweets shop, had a few tables set up out front. There was a girl, perhaps thirteen or fourteen, sitting on one of the tables with his back to him. What's a kid doing out alone so late? Is she a kunoichi? Nakashima made sure that his stride was relaxed and slow, giving no hint of the fear and confusion he felt.
"Hmm? Your chakra's all wonky. You see a ghost or somethin'?" The girl's voice sounded oddly breathy, and Nakashima could hear a steady dripping whose source he couldn't place.
"Funny you should say that. I think maybe I did." The best lies always stuck close to the truth-there had always been rumors about the empty Uchiha compound, and after all, he didn't have to say why he'd seen what he'd seen.
"Really?" The girl sounded interested. "What'd it look like? I mean..." She turned around. "Did it look like this?"
There was a very good reason why her voice was so breathy. Namely, that most of the air she exhaled was escaping through the slash across her throat. Her face was chalk-white, in stark contrast to the bright red of her chuunin vest. The normally green fabric was soaked, and the sound he'd heard before was blood dripping from the bottom of the saturated garment.
Nakashima backed away, almost tripping over his own feet. He turned down a side street and ran, heading directly away from Sasuke's house, where all of this had started. Behind him, he heard a parting shot from the girl: "Pfft, some samurai you are. Haven't you ever seen someone with their throat cut before?"
How far away do I have to get before this stops? Something must be powering this effect. It can't last forever...can it?
Something brushed against his head, and he flung a kunai at it. The "something" turned out to be a crow, which cawed indignantly as the kunai soared past it and embedded itself in a nearby wall. Nakashima sighed in relief. I have to get hold of myself.
Then there was the fluttering sound of another pair of wings, and a second crow flew past him. Then a third. Then a fourth. Soon, there was a flock of the black birds (A murder? Isn't a group of crows called a murder?) wheeling around him. Finally, they took off into the night sky, leaving black feathers to drift down in their wake.
Nakashima's vision had been obstructed by the birds, and now he saw a man standing in front of him on the previously empty street. "You can't be..." Nakashima whispered in horror, recognizing the black hair, the red eyes, and the distinctive red-and-black cloak. "You can't be..."
Are you so sure about that? a part of his mind asked. After what you've just seen, you're protesting that this can't possibly be happening?
The aura of power this new apparition radiated was almost palpable, and the fierce expression on his face made Nakashima's hands tremble. What should I do? I've already tried breaking genjutsu, and that failed. But what if this isn't genjutsu? How am I supposed to fight ghosts? He recalled the stories his older brother had scared him with as a child, in which brave monks tried to banish malicious spirits by reading sutras. Deciding that it couldn't possibly make things any worse, he recited the words he remembered from funerals he'd attended, which exhorted the spirit of the deceased to rest in peace.
The man before him was having none of it. He slowly closed the distance between them, fixing Nakashima with a gaze that he found he couldn't look away from. "You have threatened my family. That is unacceptable." The satellite pupils in each of his eyes merged into each other, forming shapes like three-pointed shuriken.
Nakashima crouched beside the fence around Sasuke and Sakura's property. Wait. How did I get back here? He remembered the last spirit he'd seen, by far the most frightening of the four. He remembered the terrifying shape of the Mangekyou Sharingan, and the curtain of blackness that had drifted down over his vision. And then suddenly, he'd found himself back at the location where the whole thing had started.
Of course! I never moved at all. All of it was a genjutsu, and it's just now finished and deactivated. He remained very still, hoping that he hadn't made any noises to alert people in the area. Extending his senses, he felt no disturbances. Sasuke, Sakura, and their child were all still asleep. Good. He was contemplating his next move when a calm-and familiar-voice said from behind him, "May I ask what you are doing here?"
"We're still not sure exactly what happened," Ibiki told Sasuke and Sakura. "I must say, it's the easiest interrogation I've ever done. The man was so confused and disoriented that he was eager to tell us everything he knew, if we could just explain to him what was going on."
"And what was going on?" Sakura asked, cradling her infant son protectively in her arms.
"Well, that's where things get a bit...strange. Since you were presumably the one who placed the genjutsu trap, Sasuke-san, we were hoping you could shed some light on it. Based on what this Nakashima said, it sounds as if he was stuck in a repeating loop of genjutsu, with the same events happening over and over. By the time we found him, he'd completely lost his sense of what's real and what's not. He's not even sure that his experiences of being captured by us are real. During the interrogation, he repeatedly asked us if we really existed. Hell, he even asked if we were alive. 'You're not another ghost, are you?' he said."
"What about this plot to kidnap little Itachi-kun?" Sakura asked. "Is there any more danger?"
Ibiki shook his head. "Inoichi-san's telepathy confirmed that he was telling the truth when he said that he only represents a small group of hardliners within the Iron Country's government. He was the only operative sent to Konoha, and we've already sent a message to Mifune-sama with the names of the people who were giving him his orders. As I said, it was by far the easiest interrogation I've ever dealt with. You and your family should be safe now, although of course we can still assign an ANBU squad to keep an eye on you for a while if it would make you feel better." He shook his head. "I have to say, I'm impressed with you, Sasuke-san. Nakashima's in the bingo book as the best genjutsu expert in the Iron Country. Being able to set a genjutsu trap that he couldn't free himself from is probably something only an Uchiha could do. I don't know how you managed to channel the Sharingan's genjutsu-enhancing power through a seal, but I'm starting to think we should invite you to join the Interrogation Squad."
"Ibiki-san..." Sasuke's face was pale, and he was gripping the edge of the table so tightly that his knuckles were white. "The Sharingan's powers can't be channeled through a seal. I've set up genjutsu traps, of course, but they're ordinary genjutsu. Someone like Nakashima would have a good chance of breaking out of them, which is why Sakura's put up traps based on medical ninjutsu as well. And the traps are all inside the fence around our house, so he wouldn't have triggered them in the location where he reported his experiences starting. Furthermore, none of the traps have an effect like what he described."
"What are you saying?" Ibiki asked, his brow furrowed in confusion.
"Ibiki-san, whatever did happen to that assassin, it had nothing to do with any genjutsu that I know of."
A/N: I wanted to write something appropriate for the Halloween season, so here it is.
I wanted to have the title reference the name of the river outside Yomi (the Shinto underworld) instead of the Greek River Styx, but I couldn't find the name.
Reviews are always appreciated!