Imagine my surprise (again) that it'd take me a year plus to actually update my own story! However, as I believe I stated before, I'll never abandon a writing project once I've started it without first telling all the people who've followed it that it has stopped. The only way a work I've started and posted will be cut off is either with an announcement or if I'm incapacitated/dead. My life has taken so many unexpected turns that it isn't something I can even accurately begin to explain... so let me sum up. I'm happy as can be and everything's looking aces! I'm engaged to the woman of my dreams! I've graduated! I'm job hunting! Err, last part is not so 'happy' but hey, better than nothing. So yeah, busy busy BUSY year, apologies it took me so long. With that, I'll cut the lengthy rambling and just get straight to it. You've all waited long enough. Hopefully this chapter makes up for the wait and hopefully, for once, I can update rather quickly after this one! Enjoy!
End Author's Notes
: Well, despite the loooong stretch of time before I was able to give them their next meal, hopefully the plot bunnies in this particular chapter will be fed to their satisfaction and that they won't have to wait so long to eat again!
sKyLaR KnIgHt: Thanks for your appreciation and concern, I'm happy to say that, even though things haven't been easy, they've definitely improved! I'm happy to have your support and hope this chapter continues to be worth reading and enjoyable.
craven34: I'm truly happy you're enjoying the story and I hope you will continue to do so. There are a lot of connections to be drawn and I'd think any good writer throws in a mess of red herrings and other things to keep the reader guessing and drawing their own conclusions. The whole principle behind a page turner is that it'll keep the reader going, and I'm really happy to hear that my work is good enough to keep you roped in and even speculating about possible endings! Only time will tell how accurate your guesses are, but I can definitely say I look forward to reading more responses from you with further speculations. Things like that are excellent to see for the writer. As for Tayuya and Sakura, I'm glad that's meeting with such heavy praise from my readers, it was a big risk putting those two in as such primary focal points in the story and I imagined a lot of people would be heavily put off by the implications there thus far, but I'm relieved to see it not only works but makes a fitting amount of sense. If it can impress a person normally not interested in Sakura, then my mission is accomplished. I always felt her character made no sense in the original, so it is a success in my book if I managed to turn that around! Hope you keep reading and this chapter makes it all the better. Thank you for the excellent review!
Meech Macko: I appreciate the compliment, hopefully I can clear up some of the confusions there in subsequent chapters. For now I will say you're definitely on to something with Naruto not being able to save everyone. As for Sakura not being able to last, I wouldn't count her out just yet. Things may be taking a very different turn for her and the most recent chapters suggest some shocking new developments for her. As for Tsunade keeping her under surveillance, it isn't impossible to sneak out if you know you're being watched. Disabling Shizune also helped her quite a bit too!
Mugin: Yeah, hard to predict when an update can actually get done. Sometimes real life has a way of making itself vastly more important and more necessary than a hobby. Fortunately I should be able to update a bit more frequently. Here's hoping! Glad you like the fic in the meantime too.
Nezumi0505: Couples developing is always a plus, I am hoping to give a lot of the couples/characters the focus they never really got but deserved from the manga. There is a lot of evidence and room for their development that was never explored or utilized in the manga I feel. One of the biggest things I can say about using a war element in a story is that you have to be able to see how it effects not just the protagonist, but the people around them as well. It is rare to see it accomplished successfully, but I'm glad my writing continues to do that for you and I hope you'll continue to enjoy it as time wears on! Sorry for the delay in the update, hopefully this chapter continues to expand on all the things you like.
Hungry AL: I'll admit that some skimming goes into reading for some people, but skipping over entire sections like that seems a bit... I don't know, pointless? I mean, if you're only reading it for one character, doesn't that devalue the writing as a whole? I'm not trying to defend my own work or insist you read it so much as I'm just wondering what would motivate you to completely ignore parts of it. For example, if one skips all the sections of Stephen Crane's "Maggie: A Girl of the Streets" that aren't written from her perspective, you lose a fair chunk of the novel that is every bit as involving as the rest.
nightwolfsilver: Not a harem story I'm afraid, if it is what you're looking for then you won't really find it. Samui wasn't even really fleshed out all that much to work with in the first place. I might work her in later, but as for Naruto, he's not the kind of person who would pursue multiple relationships, even with the blessings of his chosen partner. So, my apologies, but that will not be happening in this work.
thenick1084: Like all the other instances, I'm truly glad people are enjoying the changes I've worked with Sakura and the addition of Tayuya to the plot. No worries about what the curse seal looked like, you'll see in time and I hope it doesn't disappoint. Past that, I have to admit I agree with seeing each of the original Team Seven standing in their own field, a triangle instead of a line with Sakura just playing jump rope bouncing up and down on any serious issues. Hopefully this chapter is worth the wait.
missmanga90: I'd imagine that not everyone is as seriously concerned about Karin as you might imagine. Neji knows that Hinata got rejected in favor of the new arrival. In that instance, it'd make sense if you avoided someone because you couldn't help but think ill of them at that point even if they didn't deserve it from you. I'm glad the rest of my writing connects with itself and the story flows without too many heavy deviations. Believability is, in my opinion, one of the key elements of a well-crafted fanfiction. It is important to make the reader feel as though something from the original author is still what they are reading. I'm glad to I've, at least in some small extent, succeeded and I hope that this chapter continues to live up to those expectations.
Zarethuzumi: It is important to not just discount things quickly. While mangas and animes can quickly just turn a blind eye to issues (such as Hinata's confession) for dozens upon dozens of chapters; to keep readers interested I want to make sure characters act like they would if they were real! I'm really glad to hear that you also like the connections I've drawn between Sakura and Sasuke. It's just a logical leap in my mind considering how far she went in her overzealous worship of him and inability to think ill of him. I truly hope you'll continue to read this story and that it continues to impress you. Thanks for the review!
Headsupdisplay: I think you need to read a bit more closely, if you are bothering to check back in. You've made a couple of large mistakes in your interpretation and readings, and not on an opinion basis. Firstly, the supposition made before the first chapter states that the events following the 'initial' chapter would not be regarded as canon unless I myself used them. With that stated: Karin is not, as of yet in my work if at all, an Uzumaki. Similarly, you've misintepreted or misread the statement about her bloodline expansion. It is compared to a space-time jutsu in terms of raw power and possibility, it is not labelled as one. Kakashi stated that he understood why he needed to be present as to train a bloodline expansion on even-footing requires extraordinary power; something like his Kamui would be necessary to balance against it. So, while your mistakes have lead you to disregard this story, I do hope you reconsider as you've made an incredibly harsh, premature, and inaccurate dismissal. So, in response to your statement: "...i know what road this story going down and its not an good one. still good idea and first 4 chaps after that well you know"... Nope, can't say that I do. I have no idea what I'm supposed to know or what road you see it going down, but if you can read the subsequent chapters and review again to tell me, I'd appreciate that.
Everyone: Sorry it took so long to update!
End Comment Responses
Naruto: Spiral Heart
Chapter 7: Revenant of War
"Well, this is just about where we started... isn't it?" a man with white hair sarcastically drawled.
"Oh come on, say something. You've been moping this entire time. Does Sasuke matter that much?"
The other man, one with orange hair, finally opened his mouth to reply: "He carries Kimimaro's will... that's important."
"Is it? Looks to me like he carries Sasuke's will and maybe Madara's. Past that, he's no friend to anyone."
"You wouldn't understand, Suigetsu."
"What wouldn't I understand? That he's become a crazed killer hellbent on his own goals; goals that, last time I checked, don't make much sense!" The man called Suigetsu grinned, showing off sharpened teeth reminiscent of a shark. "Besides, even if I don't, I'll tell you what I do understand... we need to get out of here... and soon. So c'mon, what do you say? Last chance Jugo, otherwise I'm leaving you in here."
"Fine. Let's break out of here and then figure out what comes next. One step at a time..." the orange-haired Jugo stood slowly. "How do you propose to do it?"
"Do what?" The lock clicked open and Jugo noticed that his partner in the dark jail cell had long since used his water-morphism abilities to slip a part of himself inside the lock and work on picking it open. Suigetsu's grin grew even larger as he moved towards the now open door. "Oh, and by the way, we're stopping to pick up my sword first. I need that."
"Your obsession with that weapon will get you killed one of these days." Jugo casually commented.
"Oh, probably. It'd be best if I could die wielding it against the one who is to inherit it. That's how these things work." Suigetsu looked around in the hall he was in for a moment, as if considering, before he shouted: "Any of you know where they store confiscated items?" A general groan was the only response he received. "Thanks a lot, useless bastards." Jugo only shook his head in dismay at Suigetsu's antics. "Alright, new plan."
Minutes later, Jugo and Suigetsu together had surprised and incapacitated a samurai guard. Suigetsu had to use Jugo's transformation as a threat to intimidate the location of the sword out of the hapless samurai. At long last, Suigetsu was finally in possession of his sword once more.
"Oh it is good to be holding this again! I was worried those samurai would've completely trashed it since they thought it was broken!" The white-haired man was visibly relieved, practically hugging the half of a sword.
"It isn't?" Jugo asked, an eyebrow raised in confusion
"Of course not, you don't think one of the Seven Swords of the Mist would be so easy to destroy, do you? These aren't exactly just famous for how they are shaped or how they look. This sword for example..." Suigetsu paused and looked around momentarily. "Actually... let's have this talk after we're out of here... I think I hear more Samurai coming."
Several hours later, Jugo and Suigetsu sat, panting and nursing wounds on a snowy foothill several miles from the jail they'd been in. "Do you think Karin made it?" Jugo finally broke the silence.
"Who cares? I hope not. She was only tagging along to try and get laid anyway."
"That's cruel, you know we all had our own reasons for following Sasuke anyways. Yours is no different."
"Ugh fine, yes, she probably did. She's too good at hiding and as long as she's still useful to Sasuke, he'll keep her alive even if he doesn't care one bit about her."
"That's good... in a sense. So now I believe I should head on my way, and you on yours..." Jugo stood and made to depart, even though he didn't truly have any idea where he was headed.
"Wait a sec, I have a proposal for ya." Suigetsu made no motion to stand, as though he didn't truly care whether Jugo stayed or left.
"What is it?" Jugo paused, turning on the spot, but not walking back; always one to show his thoughts through his movements.
"We're criminals right?" The swordsman didn't wait for a reply, knowing the answer already. "So it doesn't make sense to walk around without someone to watch our respective backs. I've also gotten a lot better with this sword, so I'm confident that I can stop your rages just as Sasuke could which means you sort of need me around."
"I've gotten better at controlling myself since then." Jugo replied, still not making any motion to return.
"Alright true, I'll give you that. Still, it could be important at some point and you know it." When he saw the orange-haired man pause to consider it, he pressed on. "My goal, if it wasn't obvious, was to reestablish the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist. I could use your help."
"You want me to wield one of those blades?" Jugo asked as he half-turned, genuinely surprised.
"Oh hell no, swords aren't really your thing." Suigetsu practically laughed, but quickly stifled it and kept talking when he saw Jugo turn to leave again. "But! I know you're a good judge of people's abilities, you'd make an excellent sparring partner for candidates, and to top it all off, it's going to mean a lot of traveling!"
"Why would I care about any of that?" Jugo turned back to face Suigetsu, more curious as to the reasoning behind it than interested in his partner's proposal.
"I thought you enjoyed that sort of thing, it'd give you a chance to 'find yourself' more or less and do it in a risk-free fashion. Aside from that, like I said, we're wanted criminals. All of the villages want us dead for attacking the Kage Summit and whatever is left of Akatsuki probably doesn't want us around because then it'd be easier to manipulate Sasuke, right? I don't doubt for one second that Madara wanted us out of the picture regardless. We got in the way by giving Sasuke something but darkness and solitude. Think of it this way, if we survive, we help Sasuke by being able to potentially reunite with him somewhere along our travels; and we stand better odds of surviving if we work together. Since you don't have a goal and I do, it makes sense that you follow me!" Suigetsu folded his arms, proud of his own argument and certain he'd convinced the other man to agree.
"No. I refuse." Jugo turned to leave.
"H-hey! Hold on a minute!" Suigetsu stood up and started to follow the other man.
"Why? You haven't proven anything of what you've said and I have no interest in your swords." Jugo turned, half his face already darkening. "For your benefit, I recommend you let me go."
"No way, time to show you that I mean business-" Suigetsu's body suddenly bulked up, his technique bolstering his physique for what he knew was coming.
"-and finish what we started in that prison!" Jugo screamed as he launched himself at Suigetsu, slamming suddenly bladed limbs towards the white-haired man. Without missing a step, Suigetsu slipped out of the way of the first blow and parried the follow-ups with the remains of his sword. A second later he brought the flat of the blade down on Jugo's skull, slamming the orange-haired man-turned-beast into the ground roughly with a sickening Crack! that echoed in the snowy stillness.
"Shame I can't just kill you too, but I need you alive. If there's one thing I learned from Sasuke and Orochimaru, it's that you don't waste talent." Suigetsu sighed, letting his physique diminish again as the new color drained away from Jugo, indicating the man's submission... or unconsciousness. "Idiot... I'm a water specialist and snow, despite how much harder it is to use for that..." he picked up a handful of the powdery ice and stuffed it into his mouth before gulping it down, "...is water."
More than a month passed. Jugo's stubbornness had carried on for nearly a week before Suigetsu finally convinced him he was capable enough of subduing him. The conflicts had also revealed the true secret of his sword. Each time blood was spilled on the Decapitator, the blade repaired itself slowly and surely from the iron within the blood. Suigetsu and Jugo had formed quite the pair after their conflicts, becoming more and more capable of fighting in tandem and discarding their origins as "Snake" or "Hawk" or whatever foolish name Sasuke had decided they would have been by now. The two men had also traveled substantially, but Suigetsu had acquired nothing of what he sought after.
"It's been forever and we haven't had any luck. I'm better at controlling myself now than I ever was, so I want out." Jugo had been complaining for nearly a week now and finally seemed serious about the issue.
"No. I told you. We're in this together, I'm sure we're about to find something." Suigetsu replied, as he always had. Moments later he was sent spiraling into the rock of a nearby cliff face. Groaning, he pulled himself up off the ground and shook the rocks off. "Guess you're serious this time huh Ju-" his reply was cut off as another blow hurled him further into the rock. Liquifying his body to minimize the damage, Suigetsu reformed himself when his surroundings didn't add up to his expectations. What the...? He looked around, sparing a moment to realize he was now inside some kind of laboratory that had been cleverly hidden inside the rock. "I'll be damned! The snake had lairs everywhere!" He shouted. "Jugo! Jugo knock that it off, we've found something!"
Jugo, lost in his rage as he was, did not heed his words in the slightest and surged forward to keep attacking, regardless of the peculiarity of their new surroundings. Suigetsu simply sighed and, embracing the oncoming assault almost as if a hug, used his liquified body to strangle his partner after he'd crashed into him. "Would you cut it out already?" A muffled choked reply was the only response he got. He took that as an admission of defeat and let his gasping comrade drop to the ground, clutching his throat. "Look at this! We found one of Orochimaru's hidden labs! This is just what we needed!"
"H-how... do you... figure?" Jugo gasped, slowly regaining control of himself once more.
"Well, the serpent had his nose in everything, so I figure he'll have clues we need for what's going on and for where I can acquire the swords themselves."
"You don't... really think that... do you?"
"Of course I do and so should you. Don't you realize how many experiments he ran on us? Why wouldn't he have information on just about everything in the world? He was with Akatsuki for a while too, which could give us a valuable edge." Suigetsu had already begun rummaging through the items on the shelves and reading scrolls he found.
"You should be careful..." Jugo wheezed, slowly gathering himself up off the floor and looking around cautiously. "Orochimaru surely set traps..."
"Not a chance. The man was the trap. If you were dumb enough to stick your nose in his affairs then you were openly declaring that you wanted to piss off a Sannin and his deranged, surgery-happy minion - something most sane people would be against." Suigetsu casually observed, demonstrating no concern for his own well-being even as he continued to search the room. Jugo watched patiently, choosing to remain near the opening he'd made; he was torn between becoming involved with Suigetsu's schemes and simply leaving while the white-haired swordsman was distracted.
"Hey. Jugo." Suigetsu's tone made it clear something was he was suddenly and deeply disturbed.
"What is it?" Jugo replied, surprised at the sudden calm of his partner's voice.
"There's information here that... well... no, I refuse to believe this. Here. Take a look." Suigetsu limply tossed the scroll to Jugo while staring forward, not bothering to turn his head. He continued to browse the scrolls ahead of him and the strange containers, as if confirming what he just read.
Jugo caught the scroll and began reading: "Studies indicate a... Akatsuki has access to uh huh... ...wait a second... Senju cells? Hashirama? The first Hokage?" The orange-haired man let the scroll hang in one hand. "How? Why? What does this have to do with anything?"
Suigetsu nodded. "Think about it, Orochimaru was after eternal life... we know he experimented with the wood release. That's where that Yamato guy came from." He saw Jugo's confusion and caught himself. "I keep forgetting, you were locked in a cell and never heard any of the gossip and rumors the rest of us did." When he saw Jugo nod, he continued. "Orochimaru never wanted to die. Immortality, that was his gig, and he discovered the way was somewhere with Yin and Yang chakra manipulations. Ya know, like the Sage of Six Paths did way back at the beginning of everything."
Jugo continued nodding, but then shook his head suddenly. "So what?"
"So what? So 'what'? Are you serious? I'm talking about how Orochimaru came close to figuring out immortality! He stumbled with his transference technique and with his impure world resurrection, but he wasn't far away! I think if we dig into this we can really find something phenomenal. Although..." He eyed the scroll curiously for a moment.
Jugo shook his head again. "Now you want to live forever?"
"Hell no! I've got no interest in that, I saw what it led the snake to doing. That road is full of all kinds of unpleasant living conditions I'm not fond of. I'll take being immortal through legend. More my style anyway." Suigetsu laughed and continued: "No, don't you get it? This is the kind of stuff that Madara guy is after. We've got an edge!"
"You mean to oppose one of our many former employers?" Jugo, still confused, asked, a pattern starting to spread on his face to show his impatience at Suigetsu's rambling.
"Actually... yeah. I do." Suigetsu seemed to have surprised even himself and Jugo's reaction showed just as much shock at the sudden notion. "But..." Suigetsu continued, "I can't do it alone. That... and these notes, they're not the snake's style. This is Kabuto's doing... and that can't be good."
"You, of all people, want to save the world?" Jugo walked closer, intent on discovering if his traveling partner was under a genjutsu or some effect.
"Nah, not a chance." Suigetsu laughed, "I just don't want that Madara asshole or Sasuke to spoil it all before I get to reform the Seven Swordsmen."
Jugo actually joined in the laughter, bringing Suigetsu's to a sudden halt in shock at the sight of his partner actually laughing. "So you are Suigetsu, after all. I was worried a clone had taken his place."
Suigetsu frowned. "Not funny Jugo! I'm serious, if that Madara guy gets this, who knows what he could do. Worse, who knows what Kabuto is already doing with all this. This is beyond us." He kept searching scrolls, "It's gotta be here somewhere."
"What?" Jugo asked, sobering from his laughter.
"I found more peculiarly interesting items. Notably, that rat Kabuto was into more than just surgery. Turns out he's a mortician in his spare time." Suigetsu heard a tapping and saw his companion becoming impatient with his arms folded. "Edo Tensei! Edo Tensei is what I mean, jeez you're thick sometimes."
"Go on." Jugo demanded.
"He's gotten quite a repertoire of dead ninja to summon with that technique of his... and one of them is one I need to meet." Suigetsu continued to rummage the shelves.
"You aren't seriously asking me to-"
"Found it!" Suigetsu held up a black scroll. "Jugo, wanna do me a favor?"
"You're kidding..." Jugo took the scroll slowly, more to get it out of Suigetsu's hands than anything.
"Nope. This is a very... ah... personal matter to me. I can't do it myself though if what all this research says is the case." Suigetsu tested the grip on his reformed sword. "Let's begin."
"I never said I'd help you with this..." Jugo frowned.
"But you never said you wouldn't!" Suigetsu smirked.
Suigetsu was grinning again as Jugo performed the ritual, having been against it the entire time and even still uncertain. Lucky for us there's no shortage of fools who try and hunt missing-nins they can't beat... not so lucky for him though. He thought as he watched the technique overcome and transform the helpless man. "Here we go..." he whispered, gripping his sword tightly.
"It's... tougher to control than... I thought!" Jugo grunted, the person in front of him suddenly adopting an appearance that resembled Suigetsu very closely aside from some small differences.
"Mangetsu... one of the greatest swordsmen who ever graced the Seven." There was admiration in the white-haired man's voice as he looked at the almost-reflection of himself. "Hey brother... sorry to drag you out of the grave, but I need the swords and know you were the bearer." Suigetsu somberly moved forward.
"Look out!" Jugo shouted as he fell backwards, "I couldn't bind him!"
Suigetsu had only a moment to register the words before a blow sent him spiraling into the rock wall of the hideout they'd set up as a temporary base for this plan. I am getting sick of being thrown into these damn walls! Ignoring most of the damage through liquefaction, he leapt to his feet. "You know that won't work!" He shouted, suddenly aware he wasn't facing a husk of his brother, but the real skill and mind.
"It wasn't supposed to Suigetsu." The other replied, holding the Decapitator.
"When did you-?!" Suigetsu checked to confirm that he was actually missing the sword. Damn he's fast... faster than I remember even. He dusted himself off and noticed Jugo was hanging back as he approached the now-armed figure of his 'zombie' brother.
"You're a fool. Why do you think I'd give a failure like you access to the swords? You're not even worthy of this one." Mangetsu said, flatly, as he appraised the sword he'd taken during the attack. "The Decapitator... so Zabuza is dead then?"
"Yeah," Suigetsu began but was cut off.
"You didn't kill him."
"What a travesty. These swords are supposed to taste the blood of their wielder in succession. It's the only way. They are meant for demons of mist, not for children." Mangetsu bared his teeth, revealing the same sharpened points that every one of the Swordsmen of the Mist bore. "Be a good brother and impale yourself on it in shame." He tossed the sword casually to the ground in front of Suigetsu.
"Never were much for civil discussion were you brother?" Suigetsu bared his teeth right back at him. "Not a bad idea, bathing it in the blood of its wielder, but Zabuza isn't around, so you'll have to do!" Suigetsu shouted as he snatched the sword from the ground while charging forward.
Mangetsu smiled wider, taking on a distinctly predatory appearance and drew a scroll from his side. Moments later, in a puff of smoke, he was holding a pair of swords readied to block the incoming swing. Shit! Suigetsu had only a moment to reverse his grip to stop his own swing and throw the sword forward while he crouched and slid forward. The desperate move paid off as his brother blocked the thrown weapon with the pair of swords, a violent flash of blue lightning illuminated the room briefly as Suigetsu slid between his legs and rose behind him with a kick that sent his brother hurtling through the air.
"So! You keep them in that scroll! That's clever, beats carrying them around!" Suigetsu stepped forward gingerly, retrieving the Decapitator and avoiding the twin swords on the ground.
"You've gotten better Suigetsu. You must have fought a lightning-user recently. You always used to be terrible at dealing with the Fangs." Mangetsu stood slowly, collecting himself as if in no apparent hurry to resume fighting.
"Thanks, that means a lot coming from you." Suigetsu found himself actually proud to hear the praise and felt a strange relief sparring with his brother again. How many years has it been? he wondered idly. "So now what?"
"We've all died, haven't we?" Mangetsu asked quietly, staring intently.
"Yeah... well... I'm not sure about Kisame. He's a slippery bastard."
"Damnit. The Swordsmen are in shambles if that brat Chojuro is the only one still standing." The man held the scroll in his hand for a moment, considering it.
"I wanna bring them back." Suigetsu said. "I want the Swordsmen to walk and be known in the Ninja world once more."
"Of course you do, but why should I help you?" his brother replied.
"Because it is that, or those swords might wind up as someone else' plaything. We used that technique to bring you back, others could too." Suigetsu put the Decapitator back in its place on his back, not feeling any hostility anymore and sensing it wouldn't be needed. "Besides, if someone else binds you and summons the others... and they could - we found their remains too - then your inaction will make slaves out of the Swordsmen." Mangetsu started. Oh that got his attention... Suigetsu thought, come on brother, you've gotta pass it on. A long, quiet moment passed where neither said anything.
"Alright. They're yours to do with as you'll see fit. Better you than some bastard with no respect for these weapons, even if you are an amateur still." Mangetsu chided, but then held up a single finger. "One condition." He saw Suigetsu frown, noting that his brother had thought he was in the clear. "Find them a new home. They're the Seven Swordsmen of the Mist no longer, that has long past."
Suigetsu chuckled, "Hell, half of you were missing-nins before you died..." but immediately dropped the humorous attitude when he saw the stern look on his brother's face.
"That's my point. The Mist couldn't control us. Find a better destiny for them, but always remember where they came from." Mangetsu smiled when he saw the nod from his brother. "Good," he tossed the scroll containing the rest of the swords he had carried across the room, "I was hoping I wouldn't have to kill you."
"I've gotten stronger, I don't think you could... big brother." Suigetsu said, smiling again.
"I know." Mangetsu replied, smiling, "but don't think you're there yet. You've got a ways to go before you can really be a demon... little brother."
The moment was cut off suddenly by a flash of light that left the corpse of the original ninja that had attempted to bring Suigetsu and Jugo to justice lying on the floor as Mangetsu was released from the technique. "Did you do that?" Suigetsu turned Jugo, furious at his brother's disappearance.
"No... it seems if they find peace, they release themselves." Jugo observed.
"Oh." Suigetsu calmed visibly, "Oh... well, that's good to know about that technique. See? Totally worth it."
"For you, maybe." Jugo huffed.
"Oh don't be that way, you and I both know that 'his' remains were among them. You can speak to your friend again." Suigetsu busied himself collecting the swords and returning them to the scroll, visibly relieved that he didn't have to haul the Decapitator around anymore. When he saw Jugo bristle at the remark he added: "Not that we have to disturb him, I'm just saying now we know that Kabuto, and probably Madara, both have the ability to bring him back."
"And that you can bring him to peace without fighting him." Suigetsu added generously, still trying to figure out how it worked in his head.
"That's true..." Jugo stared at the black scroll in his hand. "This is a horrible technique."
"Aww, don't say that. A technique is just another tool, put it in good hands and it does good - we just saw that, didn't we?"
Jugo looked at his white-haired companion without blinking for a few moments. "Do you mean that?"
"Uh... yeah?" confused, Suigetsu looked around as if to see something that was arguing his point.
"Thank you." Jugo smiled.
"You're welcome?" Suigetsu raised an eyebrow at his orange-haired companion. Jugo merely sighed, not losing his smile as he motioned for Suigetsu to lead the way. "You okay? That technique didn't do anything funny to you, did it?"
"No, I'm fine. Lead on, I'm sure you have a destination in mind..." Jugo dismissed Suigetsu's questions with a wave of his hand.
"Actually... no." Suigetsu shrugged. "I didn't even think getting the swords would go so smoothly. I was expecting to wind up needing a month of rest after that. Instead I'm still ready to fight... kind of anticlimactic actually..."
"Well, perhaps I have a suggestion then... if we need to forge our own path, then why not seek out a place of eager assistance and squandered talent?" Jugo smiled when he saw Suigetsu nod.
"Sure." He paused, adding, "Where'd that be?"
"Somewhere we both had no intention of returning to... follow me." Jugo stepped out of the hideout, leaving Suigetsu standing alone in the dark. Clenching the scroll, Suigetsu smiled and moved to leave, muttering as he left:
"Don't worry brother, the legend of these swords and their bearers is far from over."
"Of course, that was all months ago, you understand." Suigetsu smiled, leaning his chair back and resting his feet on the table. He was in a very dark room, the only source of illumination coming from a single candle that did little to paint anything more than silhouettes of those inside. Across the table his feet rested on were two women, one wearing the robes of a kage, and the other stood silently behind in a bodyguard position. Huh, shame Jugo doesn't have my back quite so thoroughly... he thought as he looked to see his traveling companion sitting next to him, upright and attentive.
Jugo's idea had been simplistic, Suigetsu had to admit, but now he sat across from someone he wasn't sure he could beat in a fight and realized he was very much at their mercy. "We'll go find whatever is left of the Sound and bring it under our guidance. You'll find your volunteers and I might find what I'm looking for." he'd said. Well, who'd have thought someone beat us to the punch... and not just by a little bit! This is a full-fledged Kage; even I can tell this chick means business... not to mention the bodyguard. I wonder if the rumors are really true...? He brought his attention back as the robed figure cleared her throat and repeated herself.
"Why did you seek us out?" the kage asked.
"Ask the big fellow, his idea." Suigetsu chuckled.
"Jugo... was it?" The bodyguard questioned, to which the kage only turned as if to inspect her partner momentarily before directing her attention to the larger silhouette on Suigetsu's side of the table.
"It is. We're looking for allies. There's a war brewing and it pays to not be caught as random bystanders. Especially as bystanders with power, since they have a way of getting drawn into it whether they want to or not. I'd rather we became involved of our own accord. Similarly, Suigetsu wants to find a home for his newly-rebuilt Seven Swordsmen." Jugo spoke at length, something that surprised his partner for the way he was usually reserved and quiet.
"Hey hey! They didn't need to know about that!" he shouted and angrily motioned at Jugo. "It's a bargaining position when you don't reveal your strengths and goals!"
"That's fine. We already knew of your goals and aims Suigetsu, though you may wish to work on acquiring all of the swords before you continue with such a wild dream." the bodyguard observed.
"Well, don't you think you know everything! As it turns out, I already have them all!" Suigetsu smirked.
"Impossible." the kage retorted calmly, watching the man visibly frown, even in the gloom. "Chojuro of the Mist has Hiramekarei, and Kisame's Samehada is currently in the possession of the 8-tails Host."
Suigetsu huffed loudly, "Well maybe I've got a plan for getting those."
Jugo chimed in, "Now who's revealing their bargaining position?" After seeing Suigetsu's embarrassed look for a moment, he continued, not allowing his partner a chance to reply. "Regardless, you've heard our proposal. What's your response?"
On the other side of the table, under the ceremonial garb of the Kage, the individual made a small series of taps to communicate with her guard. She was pleased to discover that she'd been observing the one called Jugo as intently as she'd hoped. The response was clear, they'd be a valuable addition to what they were forming here. After a long and deliberate silence, the kage stood. "Your proposal is acceptable; we'll help your goals as long as you're loyal to us... although..." and the figure shed the robes and hat of a kage to reveal a black jounin-styled vest underneath and a length of wild, red hair, "you need to fucking learn to negotiate a hell of a lot better than that before I ever let you do any damn talking for me. Silence is golden and you shitheads don't have a clue when to shut the hell up." She turned to leave after the verbal barrage.
Suigetsu and Jugo bristled at the language, but almost without visibly moving the bodyguard had interposed herself between them and the departing Kage, a pair of gloved fists moving into a combat-ready stance. "Stand down, no need to kill them. Welcome, Suigetsu and Jugo, to the Hidden Sound."
Suigetsu grinned and Jugo couldn't help but smile. Slowly, the bodyguard lowered her hands, whispering quietly enough that only trained ears could hear her barely vocalized noises: "Are you sure we can trust them, Otokage?"
The response was equally muted but unmistakably Tayuya's voice: "of course we can you idiot, Suigetsu is harmless... the one to watch is that savage beast Jugo, but I'm putting him under your supervision. Find out what you can about the curse seal from its source." There was a pause, before: "I'm counting on you."
She bowed low, "As you command." In her normal voice, the bodyguard continued, "Come on, I'll show you two your quarters."
"Naturally, but pardon my asking, who're we following?" Suigetsu was generally curious, he knew who the Otokage was, surprising as it may have been; he'd heard of the Sound Four, they were strong but never at that level. Still, that kind of language made it impossible to miss, that was Tayuya. Someone's been busy the past few years... he mused to himself. On the other hand, he had no idea who Tayuya had recruited since starting her grand mission to rebuild the Sound into something she could use in some fashion.
"Sakura." the reply was as curt as he would expect from a subordinate of someone like Tayuya.
Suigetsu followed quietly, thinking. That's Sakura? The same Sakura that Sasuke mentioned once or twice? The lovesick idiot that couldn't be counted on to do anything right? I'd heard some nasty rumors about people the Sound had in service while we were trying to set up a meeting, but... she doesn't seem to fit the descriptions one bit. Gentle and hey... not so bad on the eyes... this is one of those missing nins from the Leaf that always turns out to be monstrously powerful? I don't buy it for a second... He muttered to Jugo over his shoulder, "I don't know why we bothered with this lot again, we can probably do better somewhere else..."
Jugo's reply was no surprise: "We're considered enemies of every major nation after attacking the Kage Summit, you didn't have any better ideas."
"Yeah, but this lot doesn't seem so much capable as cold and insulting." Suigetsu whispered.
The person leading them stopped, turning her head only enough to glare at them with one eye. As she spoke, her pink hair moved and the two of them saw the unmistakable pattern of a curse-seal spread along the sides of her face, only the first level and nowhere near fully spread, but still present. "I would learn to speak far more quietly before I go badmouthing your benefactors if I were you." She turned away to lead them again, "I'm nicer than the Otokage by far, and you still don't want to cross me."
Jugo's interest had been peaked, however, "That curse-seal..." he began.
"Yes, it is derived from your ability." She replied.
"Can you control it?" He continued.
"I'm learning, with guidance. Although, with your cooperation, we could perfect it."
"Perhaps. It is not as simple a thing as you assume."
The woman leading them dismissed the claim, "I don't assume anything. I've analyzed the formula for it quite thoroughly. I can recreate it now easily, with none of the negative side-effects. It took some time, but the Seal of Earth and the Seal of Heaven are both complete. I've even purged the weaknesses and poisons of it from others who had it before the perfected set was made."
Jugo nodded quietly, muttering something under his breath, barely exhaling it.
"Yes, mine is the Seal of Earth. The same Kimimaro used."
Both the men jumped, "How did you hear me?" Jugo asked, genuinely surprised. Suigetsu just laughed it off.
"The Hidden Sound... I guess you guys develop that more than just for show and the name."
"That's correct. Tay-... The Otokage can hear anything she wants. Also, in case you're wondering, I've been told to tell you these things. Don't think you're 'special' or that I'm spilling this lightly. Suigetsu, you in particular might make use of the Seals for your 'Swordsmen'."
Suigetsu shrugged it off. "Never understood the draw to it. Doesn't it turn you into a monster? No offense, Jugo. Besides, the Swordsmen are known for their swords, not for crazy curse powers."
"None taken, it is a tremendous burden to bear." Their leader made no comment, but kept walking.
"So what side is the Sound taking in this war?" Suigetsu asked, "Your 'eloquent' boss never exactly stated."
"Ours." Sakura responded curtly.
"Not sure I follow..."
"By running damage control and subduing the most harmful... elements... of the war, we'll be securing a good name for ourselves. The other villages will have to accept us in gratitude. We'll fulfill our own goals, such as you rebuilding the Swordsmen, in the process; though they'd probably be helpful if they were ready when we were." She finally stopped in front of a door and opened it. "There's room in here for both of you. Don't squander the chance the Otokage has given you, it's very rare that people actually meet her approval." As she spoke they walked inside to examine their new home only for her to close the door behind them abruptly without another word.
"Well... can't say they're very personable, but it could be worse." Suigetsu chuckled, hopping on a very poor-quality bed.
"Better than living day-to-day as missing-nins." Jugo remained standing and examined the room.
"Hey, this was your idea." Suigetsu reminded him.
"I never denied it. We'll make our place here and the Seven Swordsmen of the Sound can be 'forged'." Jugo began to walk slowly around the room.
"Huh. Good way to put it. I'm using that."
Elsewhere, Tayuya sat quietly, smiling. "Well who'd have thought those two little shits would actually play a part in all this?" Without turning to the door behind her, she added, "Get in here you damn mutt, just because it got interrupted doesn't mean your training is over. You've got to master the second level before I'm going to send you on any missions more complicated or difficult than wiping your own ass."
Sakura walked into the room, the seal pattern spreading as she began to resume the training she'd been in the middle of when the two 'guests' had shown up. "Yes, of course."
Tayuya smirked, "Hah, a far cry from the mewling little shit you were when I found you. Well, maybe with enough damn training you'll be worth the effort I've put into you."
Sakura smiled, the seal glowing as it continued to spread and darken her skin, "I won't disappoint you."
"You'd better not... Sakura." She seemed to linger on it for a moment before continuing harshly. "Well, enough fucking babbling, let's do this." Tayuya, stood as her skin darkened as well.
Kakashi had been speaking with the woman for several terse minutes. Her condition suggested she wasn't here to fight, but no one from Konoha with the exception of Naruto would openly talk to someone from Akatsuki without expecting violence. Kakashi continued to ask her questions about what would cause her to come here, and why he shouldn't simply turn her away.
If there's one thing I trust, Karin thought, it's that if the person is someone Naruto would trust, then they're someone worth trusting... except maybe Sasuke. She finally decided to take a more active hand in things, despite the disapproving look from Kakashi. "Konan, was it?"
"Yes." the blue-haired woman replied.
"I'm going to treat your wounds, I know a bit of medical techniques, it won't heal them much, but it should take the edge off." Karin moved towards her, but stopped when she saw her jerk suddenly.
"It's okay, if Karin means to help, she will." Kakashi added, still very on-guard and making it all-too-clear that if violence were to happen, it'd be coming from him first.
The woman relaxed and Karin resumed her approach. Within a few minutes she'd done what she could and stepped back.
"Thank you," the somber woman replied. "But like I was saying, we don't have time. Madara is moving."
"I'm still not sure we can believe that. It might be a trap. We know he has the Sharingan, you could be a decoy and not even know it, even if you mean well." Kakashi replied.
"Kakashi...?" Karin began, not believing that level of suspicion was coming from a Konoha ninja after all she'd experienced around them. Maybe someone like Danzou would think that way, but Kakashi? I don't know him well, but Naruto thinks so highly of him.
"You don't have to trust me, you just have to hear me and decide on your own. As for a subtle technique to make me a decoy... I doubt that. It was only with Izanagi that he survived my own rebellion." Konan's voice was emotionless as she spoke.
Kakashi's eyes widened, "You fought him?" She nodded. "What prompted you to turn against him?"
"As you may recall, I was really only with it for Nagato's aims. Madara was always a poison on what Akatsuki started out as. When he wanted to claim Nagato's Rinnegan, I opposed him. The dead deserve their rest." For once, emotion broke into her voice and it was clear that it was sorrow-filled.
To her surprise, Karin saw Kakashi relax at that statement as he replied somberly: "Yes... yes they do."
"Even with everything I had, I barely managed to put enough pressure on him to bring out his most fearsome techniques... and I failed. He has the Rinnegan now. I can't imagine how powerful he has grown with them." Konan continued, both Konoha ninja regarded her silently, each considering different things as she spoke at length. "Now, he also has Sasuke under his thumb. Aside from that, he made some kind of deal with Kabuto. With those two, and that Zetsu creature, he's starting to move."
"Five people is hardly an army..." Karin began, but stopped when she saw the harsh looks from the two older ninja.
"It is worse than an army, they can move almost undetected wherever they please and have no worries about managing separate units or nations. Moreover... five of them, five great countries. I imagine I don't need to elaborate further." Kakashi informed her quickly.
"He's right. Madara's plan is completely simplistic in its execution. He can pick off key targets while you're forced to try and comb the lands for five ninja." Konan's face was all Karin needed to see to realize the gravity of the situation. "Moreover, the shapeshifting technique that Nagato utilized is part of the Rinnegan, and Madara has it now."
Karin frowned, That doesn't need explaining... with the copies, they can strike with impunity from an easily hidden location. We're stuck relying on our superiors for guidance whereas the five of them can strike with impunity and wear us down. Wow... and I thought Orochimaru was twisted, this is a whole new level of sociopath. How do you fight against 'things' like this? The time she'd spent in Konoha so far suddenly seemed very far away and intangible, like a dream. I hope Naruto is still okay... she ran a hand through her hair and straightened her glasses, she hadn't heard from him in some time...
...but Konan was still talking and Karin returned her attention to the conversation happening between her and Kakashi.
"I'm in no condition to fight. I've used up everything I had to try and take Madara down or at least keep him off Nagato's body, but it failed. It'll be at least a week before I can offer any solid help besides intelligence; most of which is probably outdated."
Kakashi nodded, "Acceptable all the same. We'll take you back into the village and keep you safe while the Hokage decides how to proceed. For now, though, I see no reason not to trust what you've said."
Both women seemed a little surprised by Kakashi's sudden change-of-opinion. Konan's expression seemed sympathetic and understanding while Karin's was full of confusion.
The moment was short-lived, however, as a low chuckle could suddenly be heard. "I'm going to have to argue that it is 'acceptable'. More like completely unacceptable. I will admit I'm impressed you got away from Madara, however. That can't have been easy."
Kakashi and Konan looked around, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice, but Karin had no such difficulties. "He's underground. That's how Kabuto works. He'll never just show himself until he's lost the element of surprise. Isn't that right?" She called out.
A cloud of smoke bursting from a spot less than twenty feet away answered: "Karin? Is that you? Well now that I didn't expect!" As the smoke cleared, the hooded man became more visible... as did the large white snake that coiled protectively near him; seeming to come from the depths of his cloak.
Karin was taken aback at the sight of him. What the hell? He was always creepy but what has he done to himself? His skin was scaled and he looked almost like some kind of mutated hybrid of himself and his former master.
"You're a Konoha Ninja now, huh?" The snake-man sneered. "That's rich, but if they had some reason to take you in... now I'm curious. Be a good girl and let me experiment on you again..." he took a step forward, a scaled hand reaching out towards her. A second later he flipped backwards, dodging a kunai hurled by Kakashi. "Tsk... does this really concern you, Kakashi? I'm here to plug a leak. Collecting Karin over there is just a bonus. Tell you what, if you leave and pretend you don't know what happened, I can just see my way into letting you live. Besides, as a rule of thumb I don't waste materials... and that eye... well, let's just call it a bartering chip."
Karin grit her teeth and stepped forward and motioned Konan behind her. I know I'm not exactly a threat to him like Kakashi might be, but if he gets a clear shot at her, she's done for. She fell into a combat-ready stance. "Don't let him fluster you, he's a talker but he's really just looking for an opening." she muttered to Kakashi.
Without turning to see him, she could still practically feel the smile on his face. "I'd figured that out, but thanks for the tip! Don't worry though, either of you. If I were to abandon my comrades... well, I'd never be able to live with myself." He fell into his own combat stance and called out. "No thanks, Kabuto, or whatever you are now. I don't care about your rules or your offers. Make your move snake. We're ready for you."
Kabuto straightened his glasses, chuckling again. "Some things really never change. Konoha ninja are always going to be Konoha ninja..." he let the statement hang in the air for a moment before lunging towards Karin.
I knew he'd go for me first! she flashed a grin for a moment, having been accumulating chakra in anticipation of it. Wait... she paused, analyzing it in her mind for one moment out of the maybe three total she had to react with. He'd never do something so predictable-"Kakashi! Look out!" She called, attempting to remold the chakra she'd been shaping to create a barrier around herself into an attack instead.
Kakashi, to his credit, acknowledged her warning as unnecessary. His Sharingan eye had seen through the deception already and he moved to counter the lunge with the flashing lightning of chakra already focused on his hand. Surprisingly, Kabuto managed to weave around it in a way a human body shouldn't have been capable of, dodging the blow at the last moment while several pale snakes shot out of his robe.
Shocked, but not unprepared, Kakashi threw himself out of the way of the snakes only to realize too late that their aim had been to displace him and not hit him in the first place. Now Kabuto had positioned himself in the center of his three opponents, giving him a clear line of attack at Konan, though he hadn't taken it yet. "What's the matter, Copy Ninja Kakashi? Can't copy what you don't understand?" He jeered, once again almost completely still except for a soft swaying.
Karin kept watching intently, holding back an attack. What is he doing...? How is he fooling a Sharingan? Even thick robes won't hide the muscle movements well enough. Watch him... I've gotta watch him! I've got to see through his technique...! She kept herself focused on defense while still keeping a safe distance from him, but never took her eyes off of him. Slowly, she brought more chakra into her sensory abilities. Come on... she ignored the banter he threw out casually, attempting to taunt Kakashi, goad her into attacking, or intimidate Konan into a mistake. Come on... she looked to Kakashi and caught his eye for a moment and nodded, hoping he understood.
A hurled pair exploding tags, aimed as if to force their assailant away from Konan and back towards his starting position gave her the confirmation that Kakashi had. Good! Now I can focus on him moving... she thought, only realizing a moment too late that it still left herself as a viable avenue of movement and Kabuto was headed straight for her. She barely had a moment to react before Kabuto suddenly diverted, the air between him and his target shimmering wildly and distorting.
"The Mangekyo? Already? Why is she so important?" Kabuto asked, rounding on Kakashi once more.
"Didn't I already tell you? Every comrade is important to me. Don't make me repeat myself again." Kakashi smiled, though the technique had obviously taken a lot of effort.
"That's how you did it." Karin interrupted. Knowing she wouldn't have time to explain at length, she called out: "He's modified his body! He's liquifying himself and using a snake-form, you can't read human movements off of it!"
Kabuto's smile wavered only for a moment, angry his trick was revealed, but then suddenly unflappable again. "Now... how on earth did you find that out Karin? Your sensory technique was never that-" he was interrupted by another flurry of attacks by Kakashi. Konan had fallen back and again Karin interposed herself between the fatigued woman and the monster attacking them all. "Not nice Kakashi. I'm just curious. Nothing says we can't be civil about trying to kill each other~" he chided but attacked mid-speech once more, moving for all the world like the snake he'd seemingly become with sudden lashing movements.
"I get it now, I can predict your moves." Kakashi said solemnly. "I'll make it easy on you. Surrender, and I won't have to kill you."
"Really? Kill me? You think you can? Go ahead and try!" Kabuto lunged forward, plunging straight into a stabbing motion from Kakashi. As the energy-clad thrust hit him, his mouth unhinged to inhuman proportions and a second, snakelike Kabuto emerged with projectile speed, mouth wide and lined with teeth towards Kakashi's face.
His eyes widened in surprise, caught unprepared by the complete disregard the man had for his 'body'. He'd molted the previous body just as Orochimaru often had. He flinched, bracing himself for the attack he couldn't dodge at this range only for a blinding flash of light to sear across the gap between them.
Karin was panting, "Made it..." she managed, hands held rigid and aimed at that spot.
Kabuto, who'd taken the brunt of the attack, fell to the ground; the half of his 'new' body that had been toward Karin was flash-fried. The scales either crisped away or melted together in alternating patches as the stench of it filled the air. "Wha... what was that?!" He shouted, clearly in pain but ignoring it in the presence of something curious to him. "That wasn't fire or lightning!" he writhed in agony; whether from his wounds or from his lack of knowledge, no one knew.
Slowly, the thrashing creature slowed its agonized movements as it grew weaker and weaker. Kakashi stepped forward, readying himself to finish the creature that had once been a man. "You won't get to know."
"We'll see about that..." the serpentine body began to laugh, a horrible hissing and gurgling noise. "I came to silence a leak, but even if I'd succeeded in killing her it would've been pointless because you got me! Hahaha! See you again real soon Karin! I'm looking forward to dissecting you to figure out what that was!" His one remaining eye turned to Kakashi, regarding the man who moved closer with obvious intent. "And you should know... I figured out who 'Madara' is... let me just tell you, it was quite a surprise!"
Kakashi put a foot on the creature, pressing down hard. "Who is he?! What are you after in this?" The snake-man clearly didn't have much time left and Kakashi seemed more agitated than before about getting information out of it.
"Gllk!" Kabuto coughed and sputtered under the pressure. "What am I after? Nothing at all! This war doesn't concern me one bit! I'll get what I want while you all kill each other!"
Kakashi lunged forward, decisively ending Kabuto with a single thrust and then scowling loudly. "One step ahead, isn't he?" He sighed. Standing up over a body that didn't resemble Kabuto in the slightest; though the wounds were all present from the battle. He turned to Konan, "Guess you were right. They've already started sending out shape-shifter clones." He nodded, noting that at this point, Kabuto's attempt on her life was either an incredibly elaborate scheme or that Konan was telling the truth. He walked back calmly at first, but then saw Karin start to sway and rushed over.
Karin only managed to see things blur for a moment and couldn't hear what Kakashi was shouting, though she could tell he was. It all sounded indistinct and unclear. Slowly her vision faded to black as she fell backwards. Did I do okay?
Time had stopped passing in any kind of noticeable way. Naruto couldn't tell if he'd been practicing for minutes, hours, or days. All he knew is that it was exhausting and took everything he had to make even the slightest bit of progress.
"Again yo! Can't try to force it, gotta go with the flow!" Bee shouted, signaling this particular break was at an end.
Once again, Naruto called the chakra from the fox around himself, trying to mold it into armor. It stung, he could feel his skin tearing and, suppressing his own instincts to stop, kept channeling more. He's right, 'version 2' hurts like hell. Still, there's a lot of power here. Just... gotta... control it... he grit his teeth, feeling the force envelope him further.
"Now the hard part, don't stop now, finish what ya start! Trick is to finish it as you, don't get split in two!"
"Not. Helping." Naruto practically roared, already knowing what was coming. At this stage, he could feel the fox's persona somewhat merging with his own. The rage, the fury, and the bestial savagery of it. You know, we don't have to fight over this! He thought, getting a roar as an answer; surprising himself when it came aloud from his own mouth. As always, the fox was unwilling to lend itself to Naruto, even now that he'd subjugated it inside himself. Time to try something new... he abandoned the transformation attempt, letting the energy fall away and relying on its residual effects to heal him sufficiently; something that was much easier and more reliable with him in control of the energies.
"What are you doi-" Yamato began, but Bee just held up a hand. The two continued to watch as Naruto began to draw in energy for his sage mode technique.
Maybe I can balance it out a bit... he thought, once more attempting to mold the fox's chakra. This time, he poured his sage energies into it as well, trying to balance out the hostile chakra with his own.
Moments later, he fell back, groaning in pain as the chakra dissipated.
"You're doin' it all wrong Naruto! You gotta be friends with the fox, make 'im your bro!" Bee shouted.
Easier said than done. Naruto dragged himself back to his feet. He's right though, why are we even fighting. We've both got this body. He thought, directing it inward to the place he drew the fox's chakra from. Because it should be my body.
Okay, you want it to be your body? Why not cooperate and aid the transformation? If I master this 'version 2', the next is a full beast transformation. You've seen the Eight-tales do it.
Bee told us that you're the one who gets to do the 'steering' at that point.
So you're saying if I work with you to transform you, I can control what we do while you're wearing my form?
To an extent...
Hah! Always conditions with you humans.
Well I don't want you to go on a senseless rampage!
What if that's exactly what I want?
Naruto considered it for a moment, but then smiled and shook his head. It was a confusing gesture to those who watched, unable to listen to his internal conversation. I don't believe that's the case.
What would you know of it? Of me, even!
More than you think. You want to be free, but I don't think you're a bad person.
I'm not a person.
Fine, individual. To me? You're a friend though.
What!? A friend?! Don't make me laugh!
No really, you are. Think about it, you've never abandoned me-
I never had a choice!
-you've never left me to die by withholding your power-
-and we've had plenty of fights.
Friends do that. They always do. The difference between friends and enemies is that when friends fight, one will always apologize or try to make it better.
Get to your point already, human!
Naruto opened his eyes and looked to Yamato and Bee. "Sorry, this may get a bit violent but it's the right thing to do." He didn't explain or spare another word, closing his eyes and returning to his internal 'grotto', standing face to face with the fox. The creature was back in its cage, forced there after their battle. There was no seal on the bars anymore, it was simply bound by Naruto's power over it. The bars and chains couldn't were forged of his own chakra now.
He approached, sage mode tinting his eyes as he walked. "I'm sorry." He said, and tore the doors down with a single motion. "You've been more than patient and I owe it to you..." he walked further, the fox staring in complete confusion. With another deft motion, Naruto threw the bindings he placed on it off of it and shattered them.
"What are you doing?" It asked, cautiously rising to its feet.
Naruto let the sage mode energy fall away and shrugged. "Something I should've done a long time ago..." He took a step forward and held out his hand. The fox eyed it curiously, sniffing the air uncertainly.
"Hi. I'm Uzumaki Naruto. It's nice to meet you."
"Sorry I kept you locked up here for so long. You've got free run of me. I hope one day to earn the same from you." The young man added, hand still extended.
The fox didn't blink, meeting his stare even as it loomed massively; drawing itself up to its full height. "Foolish boy... you think a gesture of kindness will suddenly make us friends!?" It lunged forward, one paw lashing out towards Naruto.
Naruto beamed brightly, not bothering to make any motion to defend himself, simply leaving his hand extended. "No, but it's a good start!"
The fox stopped its motion as suddenly as it had began. "No fear at all." It said quietly, staring, almost as if it were awe-struck.
"Fear of what?" Naruto asked, genuinely appearing confused.
"Why should I be afraid of you? You wouldn't hurt me. You've only ever retaliated, I'd be mad too if people kept me locked for years and years. I'm sorry it took me so long to realize it."
"What?" Naruto tilted his head, still confused.
The fox's paw surged forward again. "My name. It's Kurama." The paw touched Naruto's hand and then withdrew.
"Oh. Ya know, I never realized you had a name!" Naruto chuckled, cutting it off abruptly when he heard the fox start growling. "I mean... of course you had one, but uh... do all the tailed beasts have names?"
"Of course we do. What kind of stupid question is that?"
"Fair point... so now... about tha-"
"Yes, I'll stop fighting it. For now. Prove you mean it though. Give me control."
"Done!" Naruto grinned.
Outside, Yamato and Bee watched as Naruto suddenly went through all the transformations rapidly and without a hitch.
"I think he's got it figured out, that or the nine-tails is about to get out!" Bee shouted, backing up slowly and readying himself. He saw Yamato do the same. An ear-splitting roar filled the air as the form of the Nine-Tailed Fox loomed over them.
"You!" It pointed at Bee, who was distinctly aware it wasn't Naruto at this point. "Cease your damn rapping! Gyuki! How do you put up with that asshole!?"
Bee's jaw dropped, and then he outright laughed. "It ain't easy to rhyme so great! It took some time but he learned to appreciate!" Yamato still remained combat ready, unsure about the sudden exchange between the two and now equally aware Naruto was not the one speaking out of that body.
"And you!" It pointed at the other man. "Never use those wood techniques on me again! I refuse to be bound any further!"
That's enough, they're my friends.
Fine. I'll consider this a good 'start' to you letting me have control.
Hey, there's plenty more opportunities. If Bee is right, you've got a lot more to teach me still.
I never agreed to teach you anything.
Then you'll have to do them for me. The fox had paused, and slowly reverted back to Naruto's original form. The young man stood unharmed. Not a bad concept though, I think we'll make a great team.
"Naruto, are you alright?" Yamato asked, still hesitant to move closer.
"Of course I am. Sorry about all that, Kurama wanted some fresh air. Can't really blame him." Naruto walked over, dusting himself off as he went.
"Kurama?" Yamato slowly relaxed his guard.
"He means his friend you were just ready to fight, the two of them just got tight!" Bee chimed in. Yamato raised an eyebrow but decided to ignore it, writing it off as a jinchuriki thing that he would probably never understand. "So now ya got your team ready, time for the training to get heavy! WEE!" Bee shouted.
Naruto groaned and felt an internal groan to match it from Kurama. "You mean we don't get a break?" He said, falling backwards onto the ground, practically out of chakra.
Karin awoke to find herself in a soft bed, a window view nearby offered the glare of sunlight, but from what she saw she could tell she was in the rebuilt hospital. Wincing, she rolled over to get the sun out of her eyes. "Who thought it'd be a good idea to have a room with such a view?" She complained, squinting to look around for her glasses even as she rubbed her eyes to keep them from watering.
"You're alright!" she heard a familiar voice call out and suddenly she was wrapped in a pair of arms.
She breathed deep through her nose, drawing in his familiar smell and blushing slightly. "Naruto..."
"Kakashi told me about what happened, you exhausted all your chakra training and still managed to use more. I'm glad you're okay..." he hadn't let go of her yet.
She didn't ask him to, either. "I missed you..." she sighed, giving up on finding the glasses; returning the hug was a far greater priority.
Naruto slowly broke the embrace, as if suddenly remembering this was a public place and realizing he'd been hugging her for over a few minutes. "I uh... so..." he tried to begin, his hand reaching over to hand her glasses to her.
She took them slowly and put them on, her hands moving up to attempt and straighten her hair. God knows I probably look horrible, training and then collapsing after a fight... she fidgeted, not wanting to be seen by him in her current condition. She redid her ponytail and looked at him properly. "You look like hell..." she blurted out, covering her mouth a moment later in shock at her own words.
Naruto chuckled, scratching the back of his head. He was covered in scuffs, scratches, bruises, and all the other hallmarks of rough training. "Bee isn't an easy teacher... and neither is Kurama."
"Who?" She asked, having never heard of a ninja with that name.
"Oh. That's the Nine-Tails."
"Naruto you...?" She stared, wanting to try and use her technique to sense his chakra but reconsidering it when she thought about why she was in the hospital in the first place.
"Yeah, it's slow going, but I think he's becoming more accustomed to it all." He moved closer to her, switching from a chair to sitting on the bed next to her. "You had me worried, you know?"
She sighed, hanging her head a bit. "I'm sorry."
"No no, it's alright." He tried to laugh it off, his smile lightening the mood. "I'm just wondering how you used a sensing technique to save Kakashi's butt! He said I had you to thank for him not being in here too but wouldn't tell me why!"
"What?" She started, remembering Naruto didn't know about her ability yet.
"He said I'd have to ask you about it personally." He mused on it for a moment, then his face flushed a bit as he grumbled, "...and told me it wasn't his business to help me communicate with my..." and just let the statement trail off unfinished.
"Your...?" she leaned in, curious to hear him finish the statement more than she would ever admit. Oh come on, say it... I wanna hear you say it... come on!
"Girlfriend." the voice that came out of Naruto was not his own, causing her to jump back in fright.
"Kurama! No no no! Not okay Kurama!" Naruto shouted, in his own voice again, suddenly punching himself in the gut lightly. He turned, blushing furiously to look at Karin.
She smiled for a moment, enjoying the comical way Naruto always managed to lighten things. She blushed and looked away, suddenly intent on straightening her glasses while she added: "It's fine... I just... would've preferred if you'd said it..."
"Huh?" Naruto stared at her. He seemed to shake off his stupor and then leaned in closer to her. "Karin..." he whispered, moving his face close to hers.
"Y-yes?" she stammered, her heart pounding so loudly she was sure he'd be able to hear it.
He took a deep breath and moved towards her until their noses touched. With an incredible softness he kissed her; their lips just barely brushing against each other. He leaned back a bit and exhaled: "my girlfriend." finishing his statement from before in his own words.
Her eyes started to tear up again, an uncontrollable smile on her face. "Better..." was all she could reply with, barely able to choke it out as she fought to keep her composure.
"Oh... and uh..." he whispered, moving a bit back from her.
"Yes...?" she asked, her smile practically glowing as a happy tear trailed down her face.
Naruto's face betrayed him moments before he said it: "Your breath is-" he began, stopping when he saw her smile vanish. "Um..." he stammered, realizing that now was not the time to complain about that. "You're screwed." Kurama's voice interjected. "Still not oka-" Naruto began to reply before getting shoved off the bed as Karin rolled over with a huff.
"Ouch!" he cried, landing hard on the tile floor. "I'm sorry!"
"...you owe me a date." She huffed, not rolling over to face him. Wait a second... if the fox could... doesn't that mean? Her eyes widened in shock and she turned to grab a hapless Naruto by his shoulders; he was still smiling at her demand for a date. "What can the fox see while he's in you!"
"Everything. Don't worry. I'm not interested in human mating rituals." Naruto's mouth moved as Kurama's words came out. Naruto gave a weak laugh and tried to shrug it off, "We're still working out some internal issues...?" he suggested.
Karin's left eye twitched. "Nevermind. No date. Not until you work those 'issues' out. I'm not doing a double-date with the Nine-Tails." She rolled back over, shuddering. It's bad enough all of Konoha seems to know I like the idiot, now I have to always have a tailed beast watching!? That's so unfair! How am I supposed to have alone time with him like that... and why do I suddenly want alone time with him!? she raged internally, giving Naruto the cold shoulder all the while.
"Hey that's-!" he began to try and argue.
The masked man stood overlooking a room full of subdued hostages. None of them were conscious. "Good work," he nodded to the hooded man to his side, "this will do." His hands flashed into motion as he began his technique. Slowly, each of the captives appearances changed and they rose their to the feet. Within minutes he was looking at a room full of copies of himself, Kabuto, both Zetsus, and even Sasukes.
The hooded man's tongue flicked past his lips. "I'm not sure you made enough." he joked.
The masked man held up a hand, signaling their attention. "Go. All of you. You know your missions."
Without a word the mass of them departed, though the Kabuto copies lingered far longer than they needed to.
"Remind me, why are we aiming such pointless targets again?" Kabuto asked his masked partner.
"None of them are targets. The Nine-Tails and Eight-Tails are the targets. The rest are just bait." He replied and left without another word, leaving Kabuto alone in the vast empty chamber.
"Speak for yourself," Kabuto muttered, "I've got plenty of targets amongst the 'bait', and even a few amongst my allies..."
What is Madara's bait? His 'army' moves to force Naruto and Bee out of hiding!
Naruto: Spiral Heart - No.7/END