Suigetsu felt uneasy. He could not describe the heavy dread that settled in his stomach as Sasuke manoeuvred around the room, both of them alert. The air was heavy, and something smelt unattractively sweet – like honey mixed with some sort of heavy spice. Deep within his gut, Suigetsu got the feeling that it wasn't Hyuuga Astra's perfume that permeated the air.
"Smell that?" Suigetsu asked.
"No," was Sasuke's curt reply, just as the Uchiha came to standstill before a painting pinned to the wall. Suigetsu hopped over, and both men stared at the painting in absolute shock.
"I told ya this woman was a nutter," Suigetsu grumbled. "She's messed with our heads, or well, yours."
Sasuke grunted, his focus shifting to the various scribbles on the walls. He could not decipher them, and all the mess reminded him of was a psychiatric patient that scratched their madness onto walls. A sense of dizziness overcame him, and he had to shake his head to regain his balance. The writing on the wall suddenly seemed blurry...
...And then Suigetsu collapsed onto the ground in a heap.
"Funny," Sasuke grumbled. "Get up, Suigetsu."
But Suigetsu did not respond. Sasuke sighed and kicked the white-haired man's legs, but still no response. Annoyed, he got onto his knees, ready to pummel the stupid bastard. Now was not the time to play silly games, Karin was danger!
But just Sasuke felt his knees make contact with the wooden floor, the dizziness increased, and before he knew it everything went black.
Kurama had made the decision to share what he knew regarding Shimura Ayaka, and how she had 'promised' him she would gain power and overthrow Naruto. Naruto listened to his story with rapt attention, his finger delicately tapping his chin in thought.
When Kurama concluded his retelling, Naruto sighed. "Why is there always someone who can't fit inside the box?"
"Nobody ever fits inside the box, Naruto. Your way of thinking is far different from your predecessors and some of the radical changes you made makes Shimura feel threatened," Kurama replied.
"What radical changes?" Naruto asked. "The other Bijuu and your freedom was a long time coming."
Kurama smiled softy at the confession. "And we are grateful for it. But that wasn't the only changes you made, and one of your changes has now become Shimura's tool to bite you back."
Naruto clicked his tongue as he swivelled in his chair to overlook the village from the window. "The High Council was never meant to gain any power over the law."
"I know," Kurama responded. "You recommended the introduction of the High Council to the Daimyo for them to act as your advisors and to represent the people to balance the power. It was a good proposal, Naruto, and has served the village well. But something is astray here, and somehow they have become corrupt and are no longer responsible or representative of the village."
"By astray you mean Ayaka is trying to take control?" Naruto queried.
"Well, yes, but we both know she does not have the power, nor the resources to control the entire High Council alone. There's another factor, someone else in the picture perhaps..."
Naruto suddenly shot up from his seat as Kurama's words sunk in. "Control!"
Naruto spun around to look his friend in the eye. "That's exactly what it is, someone has used Mind Manipulation to control the actions of the High Council."
Kurama frowned. It was a sound theory, and made the most sense. The members of the High Council were all elected by their clans or the people they represented, and were loyal to Naruto. There was no possible way they could ever have been convinced to turn against him, not with the level of loyalty they had shown before. So, to have such a complete turn-over, Mind Manipulation made the most sense. But Shimura Ayaka had no such power, and Kurama could not think of a single member of the Yamanaka clan who would use their abilities for such dark purposes. So it had to be someone else trained in the art, but who?
"Would you like me to snoop around, find evidence that this is the case?" Kurama asked. "Is that why you summoned me?"
Naruto's brow furrowed, deep in thought. Truthfully, he had only summoned Kurama to make the High Council quiver in their seats a bit. But now that the fox was here, it would be good to utilise his skills.
"Yes, that would be good," Naruto replied. "But I have another request as well."
Kurama quirked an eyebrow, intrigued. Naruto shuffled through some paperwork and finally pulled out a map of the village, a big red dot clearly marking a location in the shopping district. He handed it to Kurama and sat down, arms crossed.
"Beniko warned me of a foreign chakra residing at that location," Naruto explained. "Apparently it is similar to the disrupted chakra flowing through Ino since the transfer of dimensions. I want you to investigate and report any findings."
"Interesting," Kurama hummed. "And if I find the owner of this chakra?"
"Arrest them," Naruto stated. "I think it's time I have a little chat with this person."
Kurama nodded. "I'll leave now. Mind if I swing around later to see the kids?"
"Kaguya is on a mission, but Minato will be very happy to see you."
Kurama nodded and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
The earth was shaking. Why and how, Suigetsu was not certain of, but something was not right. The world around him was surrounded in darkness, his senses all cut off. He could not see or smell a thing. He was engulfed in a deep black sea. And all he could sense was the feeling of being shaken.
"Wake up!" a voice echoed around him, followed by a stinging sensation in his cheek. Suigetsu blinked, now even more confused.
"Let me," another voice said, and the stinging sensation, which now felt like a small heated fire, moved from his cheek to his stomach. That seemed to send a jolt through him, and suddenly Suigetsu found himself sitting up, the darkness gone and in its place was the light from windows and two faces that belonged Uchiha Sasuke and...the Kyuubi?
"What happened?" Suigetsu mumbled as he blinked rapidly to get accustomed to the light.
"We are still at Hyuuga Astra's house," Sasuke stated. "We passed out."
"Eh, how did we, two Jounin level shinobi, manage that!?" Suigetsu demanded. Had he seriously lost conciousness? He couldn't remember...
"It's a herb," Kurama stated as he lifted himself from his crouching position and moved around the room. He sniffed the air. "It's similar to Valerian root, but was specially cultivated by botanists to induce a coma-like state with the senses of smell and sight cut off."
Suigetsu pulled a face. "And how did Sasuke and I get exposed to this herb?"
Kurama came to a halt before the painting of Naruto, Hinata and Astra. He stared at it in silence, his expression blank. He then turned to face Sasuke and Suigetsu. "This Hyuuga woman burns it like incense. I can smell it all through the house. You better get out of here."
Suigetsu grumbled. "Well, that explains the disgustingly sweet smell I got a whiff of when we got here."
"No!" Sasuke grunted, completely ignoring Suigetsu's comment. "I am not leaving until I find my wife."
"She's in the basement," Kurama stated, his eyes darting to the door that led to the front of the house. "I can sense her emotions. But this herb is dangerous, I was able to wake you up with a shock from my chakra, but I can't protect you from its effects. Go, I'll get your wife."
Sasuke clenched his fists, the anger boiling beneath the surface of his skin. The damned fox had no right to order him around, not when Karin was involved, but he also knew that Kurama had a point. With that in mind, Sasuke inhaled deeply to calm himself, then nodded slowly. However, just as he turned to Suigetsu so they can leave, a noise echoed through the house.
Kurama clicked his tongue. "Looks like the owner of the house is back."
"I can't sense her chakra," Sasuke muttered, which was unusual even for him. Sasuke and Suigetsu glanced at each other, a silent message passing between them. Suigetsu nodded and pulled a flask from his hip. He would need some hydration if a fight was to break out. Sasuke turned his attention back to Kurama. Kurama seemed to sense what the Uchiha wanted to ask, and he nodded in response.
"I'll get your wife," Kurama whispered. "I'm immune to the herb, so I can move freely around the house. Naruto wants the Hyuuga woman in custody, so I'll leave her capture to you."
Sasuke nodded. That was exactly what he was going to suggest.
Kurama slipped to the doorway and pressed himself against the wall. He listened carefully to Astra's movements, she seemed to be busy in the kitchen. Sasuke and Suigetsu were whispering how they would distract Astra and get her outside so they can escape from the herb's effects. After a plan was formulated, they dispersed, leaving Kurama alone.
The sound of Astra's shoes meeting the wooden floors echoed through the house. She seemed to be unaware of the unwanted guests in her house, but Kurama concluded that was due to Sasuke and Suigetsu being intelligent enough to mask their chakra like he did. Or, perhaps, she was aware of their presence and was just taking her time in confronting them. He could hear cutlery brush together now, which meant she was rummaging through drawers. He knew he could not dawdle, the supposed 'cutlery' could be kunai instead, and could mean the woman was on to them.
He quickly slipped down the hall and into the small alcove that led to the basement. He was not familiar with the layout of the house, but the Uchiha's wife's emotions was his guide. The door's lock was a simple dead bolt, and was easily broken without making a sound. He quietly slipped down the stairs and into the large basement.
Uchiha Karin looked extremely pale, her skin was as white as milk. Her rich red hair had no life to it and her wrists were chained to the wall. While she looked exhausted, she did not look ill – at least the Hyuuga woman had made sure the redhead got some sustenance. Her piercing red gaze was locked on to him and for a minute he wondered why she looked so calm, and then he remembered that she was an advanced sensor, and probably had been aware of his presence from the beginning.
He did not utter a word and simply rented the shackles around her wrists in half. She stood up, but stumbled from weakness. He quickly steadied her, and motioned for her to be quiet, which earned him a glare.
They both listened to the movement above. Astra had moved from the kitchen and was now in the bedroom. From her calm movements, it could be assumed Sasuke and Suigetsu was yet to make a move. Kurama turned to Karin and explained how they would sneak upstairs and escape through the front door.
"Astra is a sensor," Karin explained. "She knows you're here, she's planning something, hence why she hasn't attacked."
Kurama frowned. "Then in the event she attacks, you escape and leave me behind."
Karin blanched. "You would do that? For a lowly human?"
"Don't get me started on the human debate," Kurama groaned. Karin chuckled softly, and oddly it reminded him of Yoko's soft melodic laugh. He made a mental note to introduce the two women sometime in the future, he had a feeling they would get along swimmingly.
Kurama and Karin slowly made their way up the stairs, Kurama making sure to stay close to Karin to support her if she felt dizzy. The herb's effect was still potent, and could kick in at any moment. They made it to the hallway, where they both hid behind a wall and listened for Astra's movements. Karin frowned when she heard small soft whimpers and whispers coming from the bedroom.
"Is she talking to someone?" Karin asked, keeping her voice low.
"No, she's alone," Kurama responded. "I have a feeling this woman has a few loose screws in her head."
"That's rude," Karin huffed.
Kurama rolled his eyes, but his gaze quickly turned very serious. Karin blinked at the rapid change.
"What is it?" she dared to ask.
"She's talking to herself, but she keeps saying 'Ino'," Kurama replied, his brow furrowed as he concentrated.
"Yeah," Karin hummed. "Ino's her target."
This alarmed Kurama, and he knew he better get this news to Naruto as soon as possible. He motioned for Karin to slip from the little alcove they were hidden in to the door that led to the front of the house, which he believed was the shop area. Karin nodded and quickly crept down the hallway.
Astra did not make a move an remained pacing in her bedroom, the name 'Ino' continuing to slip from her lips. Either she was waiting for an opportune moment, or she was so distracted by her insanity that she didn't notice her unwanted guests were on the move. Just as Kurama was ready to join Karin, a loud crack echoed through the house. He froze, expecting Astra to react.
React she did, but not to his presence. She cursed loudly, and he heard the backdoor that led outside slam. He waited a few seconds, and when he heard two kunai blades clash he knew Sasuke and Suigetsu had made their move. He quickly joined Karin, and the two escaped through the front door.
The escape had been surprisingly easy, but the herb's effects were taking a toll on Karin. She collapsed once they were outside, and Kurama quickly scooped her into his arms and disappeared into a puff of smoke. He only trusted one woman to help without asking too many questions.
He just hoped this younger version of Ino knew medical ninjutsu.
The house was quiet without Kaguya, and Minato was very vocal about it. He missed his sister, and had thrown a tantrum that morning before school. It took the whole morning to calm him down, and a bribe with chocolate cake and a new toy later had finally calmed him down. Ino had sighed in relief. She had never expected children to be such a hassle.
She was angry that she had to bribe him though, and promised herself she would never do it again.
After dropping Minato off at school, Ino had spent the rest of the morning and a portion of the afternoon at work, where Kana had reported that a garden bed had died. The whole five hours she had spent at work had been spent on cleaning out the garden, and completely refilling it with fresh soil, fertiliser and replanting the plants that had perished. They were still uncertain what had caused the plants to die, but they all assumed something strange must have gotten into the soil.
She then had to write a report for the hospital, explaining that there might be shortage in some medicinal herbs due to the incident. She had received a prompt reply from the director, who was more than content with getting the herbs from an external supply in the meantime. Ino returned home utterly exhausted.
After brewing herself a cup of tea and settling on the couch, she dived into the pile of letters that had arrived in the mail. Most of them were bills, completely boring and of no interest. And then she found a letter with familiar cursive writing, the return address from Nadeshiko Village. She grinned and quickly ripped the envelope open, happy to see that Shizuka had once again responded to her letters.
Thank you once again for your letter. It was good to hear more news of Juugo and how he is fairing. Kasumi is most anxious to meet him and I must admit, I am also getting restless. I understand that time is always an issue, especially for someone such as yourself, but I was wondering if we could be a bother and come by next week? I am more than content at staying at a inn, for I do not wish to intrude. However, I would very much like it if we share stories over some tea during our visit. I am quite excited at the prospect of meeting you.
I shall await your answer patiently,
Shizuka of Nadeshiko.
Ino quickly jumped up and skipped to the study, where she settled at her desk and wrote her responded to Shizuka. Once it was completed, she pocketed the envelope, locked the house and made her way to the post office. She passed the letter to one of the messengers who was picking up mail to deliver and quickly slipped to the cafe next door to buy a coffee.
On her way home, Ino was greeted by some of the villagers, an occurrence she was now accustomed to. She greeted them all in return, and even played catch with a group of children for a few minutes. By the time she was nearing home, it was already time to fetch Minato from school, so she made sure to stop by there first.
"Mama!" the little boy exclaimed when he spotted his mother. He jumped into her arms, and she swung him around as he laughed heartily. They walked home hand-in-hand, and Ino bought him a chocolate crepe, insisting it was in place of the cake she had promised him earlier. He accepted it without argument.
Ino felt content, and knew that this is what she wanted her life to be like. Of course, back home she would also be a kunoichi, but she wanted to marry a man like Naruto, have children and spoil them. She wanted to laugh and cry with them, and just enjoy the peaceful moments of life.
Ino's feeling of contentment evaporated into thin air when she noticed that the front door to the house was open. Minato had let go of her hand and skipped to the house, but she quickly pulled him back, her senses alert.
"Mama?" Minato asked, curious when he realised his mother looked angry.
"Shush," she ordered and he obeyed. Ino debated whether she should investigate or flee to ensure Minato's safety. As she debated the options in her head, a figure had come to stand in the doorway and Minato was the first to spot him.
"Kurama!" the little boy exclaimed, a broad smile on his face. The fox grinned in return, and Minato struggled from his mother's grip. She gasped when he slipped away, and was horrified when the boy jumped into the strange, animal-like man's arms.
Kurama? Where had she heard that name before?
Once Minato had squeezed the life out of Kurama, the fox put the little boy down, and his vermilion gaze shifted to the blonde woman. He scrutinised her; she didn't look any different, but her chakra was erratic and nowhere near what he had felt from her before. Her emotions were also erratic, fear and anger being the most dominant of them all.
"Calm yourself, woman," Kurama ordered. "I mean no harm to you."
Ino scoffed and crossed her arms. "Who are you?"
Kurama was not surprised that she did not know, so he answered her calmly. "I am Kurama. Although you probably know me as the kyuubi."
Ino blinked, and then the shock settled in. She stared at the man before her, trying to come to terms with the fact that the man, and boy was he a man, was actually a fox...a giant fox with nine tails, a wild temper and a habit of destroying things.
"Can Kurama play with me?" Minato asked, completely oblivious to his mother's reaction towards the fox.
"Not now, kid," Kurama replied as he looked down at the little boy. "I have to talk to your mom. We can play later. Go do your homework."
Minato pouted, but did as he was told and disappeared into the house. Kurama turned his attention back to Ino.
"Karin is inside. She has minor injuries and has been drugged. I can't take her to the hospital because it might alert the High Council, so please check her over."
Ino nodded, dumbfounded. She followed the fox inside to help her friend.
While Ino treated Karin's wounds, which were really just scratches and some skin irritation from the handcuffs, Kurama explained what had happened. Hyuuga Astra had kidnapped Karin, the reason still unknown, and Suigetsu and Sasuke should have her in custody by now. He also told Ino of the drug, who as a botanist, immediately recognised it.
"That herb was developed in Sunagakure during the Second Shinobi War and the Kazekage deemed it too dangerous for use, so the seedlings were destroyed! How on earth did she get her hands on it?" Ino demanded. Kurama shrugged.
Karin had been quiet during the whole exchange, but Ino could tell something was bothering her.
"Are you okay?" Ino asked, but she kicked herself the minute the words left her mouth. Of course the woman was not okay, she had been kidnapped and kept prisoner! Ino shook her head. "I'm sorry, that was a stupid question."
Karin smiled weakly. "It's alright. But I'd like to see Naruto as soon as possible, I need to tell him what I learned while captured."
Kurama nodded. "Yes, that is important, but it would be unwise for you to travel unwell."
"I'm fine," Karin hissed. "We need to go now. Astra knows how to manipulate minds. And she is not working alone, so even if she is captured, her accomplice is still out there."
Kurama did not look at all surprised at the revelation that Astra had an accomplice. He folded his hands together and looked Karin dead in the eyes. "Is her accomplice Shimura Ayaka by any chance?"
"Yes," Karin replied, surprised that he already knew. "They have some sort of agreement. Astra brainwashes the High Council, while Ayaka provides Astra with a fake identification, back story and protection from the law."
"Why?" Kurama asked.
Karin sighed. "I don't fully understand it, and I don't want to repeat myself, so take me to Naruto."
"Very well," Kurama sighed. He moved to help Karin stand, but she pushed his help away and turned to Ino.
"You must come, Ino," Karin said.
"Me? Why?" Ino asked, surprised.
"Because Hyuuga Astra wants you."
After making sure Minato was safe under the care of Hinata, Ino, Kurama and Karin made their way to the Hokage's office. Karin immediately stated that Naruto wasn't in his office, and his chakra was in the basement of the building, along with Sasuke, Suiegetsu and what Karin now recognised as Astra's chakra.
"So they were successful," Kurama stated, more to himself than anybody else. They slowly made their way down to the basement, Ino's heartbeat getting more erratic with every step. She was anxious and also very, very confused. Why did Astra want her? What was the problem? Is this why Astra had treated her so badly?
The basement was dark, the only light came from oil lamps that were mounted to the walls. Astra was tied to a chair, her normally neat and tidy dark hair was a wild mess around her head. Naruto stood before her, his arms crossed and his expression grim. He looked dangerous, and if she hadn't felt so confused and lost, Ino would have admired the regality that surrounded him.
Sasuke and Suigetsu stood to Naruto's right, both sporting a few bruises and scratches, but overall they looked okay, which was a relief. To Naruto's left stood a stranger, a man Ino did not recognise and if it wasn't for his medic uniform, she would not have known he worked for Konoha Hospital.
"How did you capture her?" Kurama broke the silence. The four men turned to face the newcomers and Naruto looked surprised to see Ino with them. She smiled nervously at him, and he smiled reassuringly back, conveying the message that no harm would come to her if he was in the room and it made her feel safe.
"It was surprisingly easy," Suigetsu commented. "She's a complete nutcase. My little explosion got her attention, and while she tried to put up a fight, she was so far lost in some sort of crazy fit that she could barely lift a blade."
The medic cleared his throat, turning all attention to him. "She is not a 'nutcase'," he stated with a commanding tone. "She is a victim of several mental disorders, at least that is my hypothesis. I can't diagnose her without proper tests."
While the others looked at him with blank faces, Ino understood what he was and why was present. He obviously worked in the psychiatric ward, and would have been called when Naruto determined Astra was not sound of mind. At this revelation, Ino turned her attention to the woman tied to the chair, looking for any sign of madness, for it was never there before.
But, indeed, something had snapped in Astra. Her hair had become a wild mane, her eyes wild with a darkness that hadn't been there before. Gone was her calm, mysterious and moody disposition and in its place sat a monster; a beast that bared its teeth once Ino met her gaze. Astra shrieked and struggled against the ropes that bound her to the chair, her voice echoing through the basement. It sent a shiver down Ino's spine and genuinely made her wonder what it was that could make such an aloof woman suddenly become so wild with maddening passion.
"What happened to her?" Ino breathed, her heart beating wildly against her ribcage. "She was perfectly normal the last time I saw her."
"We do not know," Naruto admitted. "Nobu here believes she has struggled with her mental health for awhile, but was able to gain some sense of control over her life, but something must have made her snap."
The medic nodded. "The Hokage is correct. But, once again, I cannot say for certain until I have conducted tests. Lord Hokage, I implore you, delay your interrogation. She is unsound of mind, and by law that means she should be treated first."
Naruto sighed and rubbed his temples. "Yes, yes, I know. But she keeps saying my wife's name and I want to know why."
"Ino was the woman who raised her," Karin interrupted. All eyes turned to her.
"Uh, what?" Ino asked, not expecting that answer.
Karin sighed. "Astra is from another dimension, separate from this one and yours, Ino."
Suigetsu looked confused, but he decided not to interrupt to ask what his team mate meant by different dimension, he was certain if he listened he would come to understand.
Karin continued her story: "I saw some snippets of her life before she came here through her use of Mind Manipulation. It was horrible, her dimension is buried in war and the Hokage is selected through a bloody battle to the death. Yamanaka Ino was a tyrant who challenged the previous Hokage, Astra's father, and...won."
Silence followed, and as the information settled, realisation struck Sasuke, Suigetsu and Kurama. The painting in Astra's bedroom...her father...their gazes shifted to Naruto. Naruto noticed and frowned.
"What?" he asked.
"You're her father, Naruto," Kurama stated. "There's a painting in her bedroom, of her as an infant with Hinata, who is obviously her mother and...you."
Naruto blinked, and then his gaze shifted to Astra, who was still struggling to free herself from her bonds.
"She is my daughter?" Naruto echoed. Kurama nodded. Naruto's frown deepened. "Okay, so she's my daughter from another dimension. I still don't understand, why is she here? And what does she want with Ino, who is obviously not the tyrant from her dimension?"
"I'm not entirely certain," Karin admitted. "I only overheard her talking with Ayaka once, but Astra came here with the Five Dimensions to Heaven. Remember that time Ino, our Ino I mean, had attempted to use it and another conciousness bled through into hers?"
Naruto nodded. He would never forget the time he feared for his wife's life.
"That conciousness was Astra," Karin pointed out. "Astra had found a way to reverse the technique as she sifted through Ino's memories, which inevitability saved Ino's life, but it also meant Astra knew everything about the Five Dimensions to Heaven and in her anger and despair, she decided to complete the technique and escape her horrible life."
"But," Suigetsu interrupted. "That's good, isn't it? She just wanted to escape? I would have done the same thing."
Karin nodded. "I know. Apparently, despite the fact that Astra had been able to separate herself from Ino's conciousness, a link remained between them. When Astra activated the technique, Ino was pulled into it, and in her attempt to try and reverse it, it backfired and that is how we ended up with younger Ino here."
A strange sensation washed over Ino as the explanation for why she had ended up in this dimension finally came to the surface. Naruto also seemed relieved, but he only visibly relaxed for a second before being on alert again. He moved closer to Ino and wrapped his arm around her shoulder, giving it a comforting squeeze. Now that they knew how she got here properly, they could work out how to get her back.
Not all had been explained yet, but it was a start. Now they just needed to hear Astra's side of the story, to find out why she had lied to them all, why she had tampered with their memories of her, for they all thought she was a villager that had been around for decades. Now they could determine why she had brainwashed the High Council for Shimura Ayaka...and what exactly she wanted with Ino. Things were finally looking brighter...
And then Astra shrieked violently, her chair rattling as she struggled. Her fiery gaze settled on Ino and she hissed like a poisonous snake. And then, just like that, she calmed and tears started flowing down her pale cheeks.
"Why?" she croaked, her voice hoarse. "Why did you say that, Ino?"