Hey guys, I'm still alive. But honestly? My gosh my lack of free time is killing me.

Anyway, since it has been a while since I didn't update, it's recap time!

Previously in Echoes:

The group is dispersed. While Chibaku, Haku and Karasu have been captured by dangerous enemies, Naruko and Sasuke barely put an end to Kazama's mindless rampage, leading their former leader to exile himself out of guilt. But what about Konan, the Dark Wolf, Yugito, Mei, and Izanami? They are still on the turtle island, fighting for their life against a Pain gone mad.

They have defeated men before... but can they defeat a god?


Chapter 48: Divine Wrath

The battle started with a shockwave.

The forest covering the turtle island was reduced to rubble, trees broke in half under the pressure like toothpicks and the hills that made its unique landscape were blown away like dust. The entire island shook, and Zetsu's artificial manor was reduced to nothing but splintered ruins.

Yugito was worried for Izanami, and prayed the plant man had protected her. In her state, it wouldn't be wise for her to participate. The fact the Dark Wolf emerged alone from the rubble only increased the Jinchuuriki's worries.

She briefly analyzed the battle's odds. The Dark Wolf, Mei, Konan, and herself against what appeared to be a set of six Rinnegan Paths. This was pretty bad, considering how tough Susanoo had been to subdue-

One of the Paths of Pain, the one with long hair, was suddenly bisected vertically. Without wasting any time, the Dark Wolf proceeded to behead another, one with its hair in a high ponytail, with her twin blades.

Suddenly freed from self-doubts, Yugito quickly focused on the nearest Path, which had started firing missiles toward the former Kumo-nin. Quickly dodging them, she retaliated by a series of fire blasts. The animated corpse flew away, but the much faster Jinchuuriki caught up with him. Turning her nails into claws, the Kunoichi slashed the Path's neck, tearing the head apart from the body.

Meanwhile, the Dark Wolf was dismembering her third victim, and Mei was easily incinerating another Path with her Boil Release. The only Path left was the leader, and Konan was currently exchanging gravity-propelled rocks with him.

"Nagato!" Konan shouted to the Deva Path. "You dare desecrate Yahiko's body? Have you gone mad?"

"Silence!" He snarled. "You are not Konan! Konan is dead! You have no right to speak with her mouth, with her voice! Die!"

"I think not…" Paper tags swirled around the Deva Path the instant its latest shockwave passed them and exploiting the five second window, lifting him above the ground. "Shikigami Dance!"

A spear of paper flew from heavens at the speed of sound, impaling the Deva Path's head and killing him instantly. The four ladies remained as the victors.

All in all, the battle had lasted two minutes.

"Wow… ladies, that was… anticlimactic," Mei whispered. "I expected more from the wielder of the Rinnegan."

"As did I." Konan narrowed her eyes. "This was far too easy. Even with the surprise effect, they should have put up a better fight. Something is not right."

"Their reaction time was too slow, their movements too sluggish," the Dark Wolf added. "It was as if something was disturbing their control."

"Kitten, above you!"

Hearing the Nibi's warning, Yugito raised her eyes to the skies and gasped as she noticed a giant blue fireball being launched in her direction. The group dispersed, while the Jinchuuriki protected herself by breathing flames of her own as an improvised shield. Does he have other Paths? Yugito wondered as the blast was stopped by her technique. Or did he-

She was snapped out of her thoughts when she started flying, a powerful force lifting her off the ground. When she was around one hundred meters above the soil, her ascension was interrupted.

Instead, Pain chose to descend to her level.

The person in front of her could hardly be called a man. It was a humanoid creature, with scales instead of skin, and a reptilian tail. It had a human face, red hair, and his eyes were the Rinnegan. It was wearing white and black monk robes. The man glanced down at Yugito, and started speaking with an inhuman, cold voice. "Yugito Nii… you should be… dead."

"Pain, I presume?" She hissed.

"I have many names… but today… you can call me… God." He raised his right hand. "It does not matter how you came back from the dead… Yugito Nii… for I shall send you back to your grave… this very instant."

With these last words, Yugito felt her ribs starting being crushed by an invisible force. She resisted the temptation of screaming in pain, unwilling to give this madman any satisfaction.

A spear flew through the air aimed for Pain's head. In response, the man raised his left hand stopping the projectile midair. Yugito quickly realized this weapon was made of paper.

Explosive tags to be precise.

The powerful blast did not touch Pain, the fire being mysteriously repelled within an inch of his skin. However, the shock made him lose his focus, and Yugito fell. Not even three seconds into her decent, a winged Konan grabbed her and flew away from the enraged Akatsuki leader.

"Thanks..." Yugito coughed in pain, glancing at their opponent. "What the hell... happened to him?"

"I don't know!" Konan replied, dropping her friend to the ground and launching a new volley of spears at her former friend. "This never happened in my universe!"

It took a mere movement of his hand for Pain to redirect the spears away. "You are not… Konan…" He trailed off, glaring down at the group. "Konan is dead… they're all dead…"

The Dark Wolf seized the opportunity to gain as much momentum as possible, and leapt toward Nagato intending to slice him in half. Pain absentmindedly stopped her midair, lifting her with the sheer force of his mind.

"Gravity… is one of the four fundamental forces of reality…" Nagato explained, as he raised his index toward the skies. "Here you shall feel… its power."

The samurai was instantly sent flying up… and up… and up, going through the clouds without slowing down in the slightest.

"He's going to send her into orbit!" Konan paled, before flying in pursuit of the Dark Wolf, leaving Yugito and Mei to fight together… except the latter had vanished from the Jinchuuriki's sight. Where is she?

"Now…" Nagato raised his fist, and the ground trembled. Yugito's eyes widened in horror, upon realizing the madman was lifting the entire turtle island above the sea. Her feelings were mirrored by the massive creature itself roaring in protest as it moved its massive limbs everywhere in an attempt to get back to its habitat. "You'll join them… all of you…"

Unwilling to be sent in orbit and unable to understand how anyone could wield such a terrifying power, Yugito tapped into the Nibi's chakra and fired a blast of fire at Nagato...

Only for a cloud of sand to swirl around Pain, shielding him completely. The madman, while still pulling the turtle island out of water, pointed a finger at Yugito, releasing a stream of blue fire in her direction.

"Oh, shit, I know what's happening," the Nibi whispered. "He sealed the Bijuu inside himself. All of them, except the Kyuubi."

The Ten-Tails? Yugito blinked, as she was nearly torched to ashes by the inferno, surviving only thanks to her amazing speed. He's the Jinchuuriki of the Ten-Tails?

"Kitten… without the Kyuubi's chakra to complete the transformation, the Ten-Tails can't be reborn. Pain didn't fuse the Bijuu: he sealed the eight of them inside himself. Individually. The reason he can barely talk is that the Tailed Beasts are probably struggling to take him over from the inside as we speak. It must take everything he has to keep them suppressed while he channels their power."

That's why we killed the Paths so easily, Yugito realized. He couldn't properly focus on controlling them.

Tapping into the full power of the Nibi, Yugito adopted her Tailed Beast form and roared, firing a gigantic fireball at Pain. This time the sand barely held it back, and Nagato lost his focus, the island trembling as it fell back on the water. I'll take him in one hit with the Plasma-

The Jinchuuriki was snapped out of her thoughts, as a giant rock hit her in the jaw, making her lose her focus and nearly knocking her out. Dozens of rocks and trees hovered over the ground, swirling around Pain like a tornado.

Then, he threw them all at Yugito.

The giant cat attempted to dodge, but she was quickly overwhelmed by the barrage of projectiles. One rock hit her legs, another her face, a third one her torso, until she was pummeled to the ground by an avalanche of broken trees, forcing her to retake her human shape. Then a shadow recovered her, as Pain prepared to crush her under a gigantic, hill sized boulder. No… she thought. It can't end… like this.

"YUGITO!"

Darkness overcame her.

"Not so fast."

The voice caused Yugito to awaken again, facing a familiar, tired face. "Iz… Izanami?"

"Yes," the woman said, helping the Jinchuuriki back to her feet. "Zetsu got away, I'm afraid…" She glared at the skies. Pain wasn't looking in their direction, instead focusing on a giant pile of rocks.

The Uchiha had teleported Yugito behind Pain's back, and he was too focused on what he had just done to notice.

"Can you fight?" Yugito asked, as the god wannabe slowly turned around, noticing them.

"Honestly? I'm so weakened simply teleporting with you almost made me pass out." The woman frowned. "Let's use everything we have before I fall asleep, alright?"

The blonde nodded, and together the two women made a long series of hand seals, each firing the strongest fireball they could muster. The projectiles flew in the air, turned Pain's sand shield to glass, melted it, and reached the madman.

And it was all for naught.

A powerful, invisible wave of pure power pushed back the fire, and tossed the two ninjas to their back. The pressure doubled, tripled, until Yugito could feel her bones slowly crack under Pain's enhanced gravity. The ground itself sank underneath her.

"I am… incomplete…" Pain rasped. "I have eight parts within me, but I lack one… I can hardly control myself… but when I shall rip the Kyuubi from this girl… then a creator god I shall become… one able to bring peace to the world… and you shall not stop me… no one will."

He descended to the ground, glaring down at Yugito.

"Where… is the Kyuubi?" He raised his hand, and Yugito coughed as a bone in her leg was shattered by the pressure. "Where… answer!"

A powerful Water Dragon Bullet hit Pain's face faster than his sand protection could activate, tossing him a few meters backward. The madman glared at the source of the attack, only to blown away by a huge body of water.

Water surrounded Yugito and Izanami, but instead of drowning them, the liquid simply dragged them out of range.

"Sorry for the delay," Mei Terumi's voice stated, as she appeared, standing over a flying platform of water. "I had to bring as much seawater inland as I could."

Raising her head with a good deal of effort, Yugito simply smirked and watched the fight unfold.

Mei hadn't been kidding. The entire battlefield had been flooded, forcing Pain to stand over water. "You face… the master of reality itself…" he hissed, raising his palm. "You can't-"

The water underneath his feet turned into spikes and impaled his legs, making him scream in pain and surprise.

"Your sheer power is amazing, but you need to focus to control it," Mei replied, starting a long chain of hand seal after hand seal. "It's not something you're doing instinctively. You need all your concentration to push back attacks, and I'm not going to leave you any break."

Pain roared, freeing himself with the Nibi's blue fire and summoning another cloud of sand. Mei's water collided with it, reducing it into inert mud, before turning into another Water Dragon Bullet and hitting Nagato's torso.

Yugito watched in amazement, as Mei unleashed dozens of differently shaped water projectiles at her target. With so much liquid nearby, she had near unlimited resources to tap into. Nagato floated above the ground to dodge the onslaught, before firing a blast of wind at Mei. The kunoichi absentmindedly created a shield of water around herself, which stopped the attack, and joined her palms again.

Four Water Dragons swirled around Nagato and hit him from all directions, immobilizing him. Meanwhile, Mei gathered the rest of her seawater above Pain, making it adopt the shape of a giant sphere.

"Water Release!" Mei snarled, "Poseidon Force!"

The sphere collapsed onto Pain like a hammer.

He crashed to the ground, and the water body kept pressuring him, making the ground tremble. His snarls were silenced, and his resistance failed to stop the inevitable. Mei however kept focusing, intending to drown her opponent.

The water sphere suddenly imploded, turning inert.

Yugito had no idea how he managed to free himself, but Pain did, rising up back to his healing feet. Mei frowned, and sent a tidal wave in his direction. The man raised his hand, stopping it. His eyes drifted at Mei.

Except it wasn't the Rinnegan any longer. His eyes had been replaced with a green glow, and chakra of the same color exuded from Pain's skin. "Disappear, weakling," Nagato whispered with a faint, nearly cordial tone.

"Oh shit," the Nibi whispered, "I think Isobu took over…"

With a snap of the fingers, the possessed Nagato sent the water back at Mei, tossing her to her back. Seawater swirled around her limbs like shackles, and Yugito and Izanami quickly suffered the same faint. The chains were strong, and controlled directly by the Sanbi's will. Nibi, we've got to do something! Yugito mentally panicked.

"Your body is too damaged…" The cat inhaled. "We need a miracle here."

"Now, poor humans," the Sanbi-possessed Nagato whispered calmly, shaping drills of water and making them float above his captives' head, "Time to sleep… forever."


Konan

Konan had never seen space.

Truth to be told, she had never used the Deva Path to fly above the clouds before. She had always stopped below them. Beyond, it was the unknown, the coldness, the nothing. As she kept pursuing the Dark Wolf, the paper woman started struggling to breath, and ice began covering her body.

Using her tags to cover her unprotected skin from possible frost burns, Konan used others to catch the Dark Wolf, stopping her ascent before she exited the atmosphere and forming a cocoon of paper around the blonde. The warrior's armor was covered with ice, and she had been knocked out by the extreme experience.

Bringing the two of them down, Konan examined her options. The samurai was helpless, Kazama had gone to Konoha, followed by Sasuke and Naruko, and Yugito and Mei were alone against Nagato. A plan forming in her mind, the woman mentally directed her paper cocoon in Konoha's rough direction, hoping seeing the samurai in such a state would convince Kazama to come back to the turtle island as fast as he could.

Konan then flew back to her target, thinking about what she should do. It was Nagato she was about to confront. The man who had sacrificed his life for Ame.

My Nagato is dead, she told herself. My Nagato was a loyal friend, who gave his life for others, and who gifted me with these eyes so I could bring his dream of peace to reality. This man may have the same face, but he used Yahiko's body as puppet, and attacked us without a care. For the honor of Nagato and Yahiko to stay unsullied… I will stop him.

When Pain was in sight once more, Konan realized he was about to kill Yugito, Mei, and the apparently still alive Izanami, all at the same time.

Thinking quickly, Konan used the Deva Path's power to toss Pain to his back, releasing his hold on his captives. Only Mei managed to regain her footing, her companions too weakened to even stand. The Kiri-nin prepared to fight, only for Konan to land in front of her. "No," she said, "Take the others to safety. I will handle him. I must handle him."

"Another human?" Pain wondered with a voice that wasn't his own, as he regained his footing. In fact, Konan identified it instantly.

How could she forget the voice of the creature that nearly brought her city to ruin?

"Be careful," Mei warned, "He's possessed by-"

"The Sanbi," Konan narrowed her eyes, "How wonderful. There's something I've wanted to do to it for a very long time…"

Pain raised an eyebrow, only to be blasted away two seconds later by a powerful Shinra Tensei. Konan glanced at Mei. "I'll drag him farther inland, away from water," she said, quickly flying after the god wannabe, "It's going to get pretty dangerous around here."

She quickly caught up to Pain. The man was hissing, surrounded by a red aura. Konan felt the temperature distinctively increase, as her opponent adopted a simian like pose.

"You had your chance Isobu," Pain told himself, his voice distinctively deepening, "Now it's my turn." He raised his left hand, and unleashed a powerful stream of fire at Konan. The woman easily pushed the attack back to the sender with a Shinra Tensei, causing the possessed Pain to angrily launch fireball after fireball in impotent rage. The paper woman easily dodged them, and upon finding an opening, threw razor-sharp sheet of reinforced paper at Pain's throat, slicing it open.

Without a Shinobi's intelligence behind these attacks, all this power is worthless, Konan thought, before paling as Pain's wounds regenerated nearly instantly. I'm pretty sure I cut the arteries with this one. If he can regenerate from a fatal wound so easily… She slammed her palms together. I will need to end it all with one blow.

"You despicable simian!" Pain roared, another Bijuu taking the body over. A golden aura surrounded the man, and the earth underneath his feet turned into uncontrolled desert sand.

Unfortunately for him, Konan was faster.

"Origami Jutsu!" Konan shouted, as she summoned thousands of paper sheets around her opponent. "Fiery Dance!"

At this moment, the possessed Uzumaki realized the sheets were all explosive tags.

The blast shook the entire island, and Konan struggled to keep her footing. Pain screamed, as his body was consumed by fire faster for his advanced healing factor to keep up. Although her friend's wail shook the paper woman to the core, she forced herself to stand tall. I'm sorry Nagato, she thought grimly, as she watched the inferno. You brought it upon yourself.

Pain's chakra suddenly skyrocketed, and a powerful, oppressive feeling snapped Konan out of her trance.

Where Pain used to stand, a shadowy form started growing, quickly reaching the size of a hill. It was impossible to clearly describe the thing Konan was facing. It was a formless mass of mismatched tentacles, scales, claws, eyes and mouth, a grotesque, ever changing fusion of the Tailed Beasts themselves.

Pain and the Bijuu lost control, Konan realized in horror, as the monstrous beast in front of her kept growing, Now none of them is dominant, Pain's body itself has turned unstable-

"DIE!" The creature roared at Konan, as it tried to crush her with a tentacle as thick as a tree. The kunoichi dodged on pure instinct, and regained enough composure to order her flying explosive tags to swarm the monster. Unfortunately, its body resisted the explosions without flinching.

If explosions can't harm it, then maybe I could use the Rinnegan to throw it into orbit, like Nagato tried with the Dark Wolf? Konan wondered, flying away as the creature attempted to crush her repeatedly. But I don't have his sheer power and this thing is much heavier than a human…

The monster's roars intensified, as it gathered chakra in front of one of its mouths. Multiple colored chakra fused into a single sphere, which was launched at Konan at extreme speed.

"Shinra Tensei!" The invisible push redirected the Bijuudama to the skies, where it exploded above the clouds and blasted them away with such force that the sky was clear once the remains of the attack faded away. I can't stay on the defensive forever and this monster won't let me focus long enough to send it in orbit, Konan thought, formulating another plan, I've no choice.

Taking the beast by surprise, Konan flew close to one of its tentacles. When the creature predictably attempted to smash her with it, the kunoichi dodged, then grabbed the limb and focused.

Activating the Preta Path's power, Konan started absorbing the creature's chakra.

This was a very strange experience. Konan was not very experienced in this area of the Rinnegan's powers, and her perception of the creature's chakra could be summed up as 'complete chaos'. The eight Bijuu's chakra were fighting one another, with Pain's chakra as the anchor keeping them all together, like a nexus.

Barely.

My body is too weak to absorb everything, Konan thought, But… if I destroy the anchor, then this creature will disappear.

The moment she latched onto her target's chakra, the creature's seized up as if undergoing a full body cramp. Konan focused on Pain's remaining chakra, filtrating it from the Bijuu's, and started consuming it. Unlike the Tailed Beast's chaotic, malevolent aura, Pain's chakra felt both warm and cold, conflicted.

As Konan absorbed Nagato's chakra, his memories dripped into her mind like a river.

Konan watched, as Nagato smiled when he mastered his first Jutsu.

Konan watched, as Nagato smirked when he tricked Yahiko into going on a date with Konan herself.

Konan watched, as Nagato screamed when Yahiko killed himself.

A discord of voices echoed in the back of her mind, as Pain's chakra was slowly drained.

"Someone stop her! She's killing our host! If he dies, he will drag us all to the grave!"

"Who cares? I have enough of this prison of flesh… death shall free us from our chains at last."

"Are you insane? I will not die here! I refuse to die here!"

"You want a piece of my chakra, miserable worm? Then get this one!"

The Ichibi's memories flooded Konan's mind like a tsunami.

Nagato was replaced with a sterile desert. His first jutsu was replaced with the violent death of a Suna-nin, as sand crushed his limbs to a bloody pulp. Happy memories were replaced with the souvenirs of the gruesome murders the Ichibi had forced his containers to commit.

"If I can't break your body, then I will break your pathetic mind!"

The Ichibi's insanity infected Konan's mind like a poison, as it tried to drive the kunoichi mad. It was difficult to resist such a vicious mental assault, yet the paper woman refused to break.

Nagato was still there. Nagato was her goal. Nagato had grown up with her. Nagato had been her friend. Nagato had given her this chance. Nagato had given her his eyes.

Nagato had to die.

"I will make you beg and die and suffer and scream and bleed and kill!" Shukaku's crazed rant grew in intensity. "Do you hear me? Rivers of blood, mountains of flesh! I will make you watch your world die! I will destroy everything you ever knew! Everything! And then I will slaughter the afterlife and murder you all over again! And again and again and ag-"

"All your hatred can't destroy me, Bijuu," Konan replied calmly, as she focused on expelling the Ichibi's presence from her mind. "Disappear."

Shukaku screamed, but its voice was quickly silenced by Konan's iron will. She continued to focus on Pain's chakra, drawing more and more of it and ignoring the chains of screams and rants that accompanied the action.

After a time, her world was replaced by a blank. She found herself standing in front of Nagato. Not Pain, but the Nagato she had known and loved.

"Am I… dead?" He asked, glancing around himself. "Could this be hell?"

"No," Konan replied, "You're not dead." She sighed sadly. "But you will be soon enough."

He glanced at the kunoichi. "You are not Konan," Nagato said. "Konan is dead. She sacrificed herself so we could gather all the Bijuu. So who are you? An angel?"

"I am Konan, and yet not the one you knew," the woman replied, "It's… complicated."

Nagato kept his mouth shut for a moment, trapped in his thoughts. "Where are we?"

"I think this is the void between life and death," Konan said. "Your body is possessed by the eight Tailed Beasts. I have been trying to…" She struggled to find her words.

"Kill me?" Nagato guessed, Konan nodding her head in confirmation. "So I failed to control them. I hoped it wouldn't come to this."

"Why?" Konan asked in anger. "Why did you seal them inside you? You knew one man couldn't possibly control them!"

Nagato's gaze turned sad and regretful. "I had come too far to let all the sacrifices we made go to waste."

Konan shut her mouth and listened.

"Yahiko wanted to change the world, to bring peace… when he died, I felt this duty fell upon me." The Uzumaki inhaled sharply. "But the ninja world is rotten. The strong kill the weak, and the system won't reform. I thought something drastic was needed to change the status quo. I allied myself with Madara to create this change. But when he and the Kyuubi disappeared, it was all for naught. The nine Tailed Beasts must be brought together for their true power to be revealed. My hopes had been crushed from the very beginning… I just didn't realize it until it was too late."

Nagato massaged his temples in shame. "Konan, everyone… they sacrificed themselves so I could gather the remaining Bijuu. I refused these deaths to be in vain. So I thought… maybe I could become this world's savior. The sage with the power to build a new, better world, to bring peace to all corners of the earth. I was mistaken. In the end… I was just a deluded fool." He locked eyes with the kunoichi. "Finish me off."

"Nagato, it's not too late!" Konan panicked, still clinging to her last hope of seeing her friend alive again. "You can fight the Tailed Beasts and regain control!"

"That would be only temporary. In the end, they will overwhelm me again and spread destruction." Nagato closed his eyes. "I brought this fate upon myself. I have no idea what punishment awaits me in the afterlife, but I deserve it."

"This is not too late for you to redeem yourself!" Konan supplicated.

"What I've done… you would need thousands of lifetimes to make up for it. And in the end, it wasn't worth it." Nagato smiled. "May I ask you a favor? Please… succeed where I failed. Will you build a better world than this one?"

"I… I promise," Konan trailed off, "I will build a world… where another Pain will never arise."

Nagato chuckled sadly, and then vanished in light.

"I'm sorry, Konan."

When Konan returned to reality, the last ounce of Pain's chakra vanished, killing him.

The Tailed Beasts wailed in unison as their host's death spelled their own. The chaotic mass of flesh quickly crumbled into dust, its chakra evaporating without an anchor to keep it all in one body. When the wind started blowing, Konan stood alone in a field of ashes.

She had prevailed.

The kunoichi tried to maintain her usual stoic expression, but failed. A tear rained down on her cheek, and then another, until she found herself crying.

Why was this world so cruel? Was she doomed to watch the people she loved die again and again, forever?

The sound of hand clapping behind herself snapped her out of her thoughts. Konan slowly turned around.

"I am impressed," the newcomer commented, as he cheered Konan, "You have fought so wonderfully. It was amazing. As amazing as my own battle with Pain, to be honest. I almost regret we can't work together. Such a shame you guys wouldn't agree with my plans."

Konan paled upon recognizing him.

"I apologize for ruining your mourning moment, but you know what they say," he commented, his blue eyes turning red, "When you can't join them, beat them."


Yugito

When Yugito opened her eyes again, the first thing she noticed was the chains.

Red chains of pure chakra where holding her above the ground, restraining her arms and legs. Yugito, regaining her composure, glanced around herself.

The room she was trapped in looked like the inside of a temple, a place made of white stone and pillars. Statues of the Bijuu surrounded her, with Ichibi and Nibi of stone holding the chains holding her up. Not so far away, statues of the Hachibi and Kyuubi were restraining Izanami, trapped in a similar situation. She appeared to be unconscious.

Yugito grunted and attempted to draw into the Nibi's chakra in order to free herself… and found her connection to the Bijuu nonexistent.

Not damaged.

Nonexistent.

She couldn't even feel it anymore.

Angered and confused, Yugito attempted to use her own chakra and strength to free herself, but not only did the chains hold on, they also suppressed her chakra and tightened their grip, causing the Jinchuuriki to gasp in pain.

"I wouldn't try if I were you," a familiar voice told her, "They can hold a Bijuu. I know, I checked."

Yugito glanced at the source of the warning. Mei Terumi was standing in front of her, free, but looking as cold as ice. "Mei?" The Kumo-nin asked in disbelief. "They got you too?"

Mei frowned sadly. "They got me a long time ago."

Suddenly, Yugito understood the situation, and glared at her former ally. "You traitor!" she snarled, genuinely hurt. "I… we all trusted you!"

"Don't take it personally," a new voice interrupted the argument, "She was never on your team to begin with. It's your fault for having been fooled, not Mei-san's."

Yugito glanced at the newcomer, and instantly recognized him. This Naruto Uzumaki was older than usual, looking taller and more regal. His red clothes were somewhat unusual, and the Kumo-nin instantly picked up the scent of fresh blood on them. However, what interested her the most was the ring on his finger.

It looked a lot like Mei's.

"Ladies," the Naruto smirked, "Welcome to Teikoku."

Yugito frowned, and glared at Mei. "You were working for them all along, am I right?" she guessed.

"No," she replied. "I… I am not the Mei you befriended. I never was."

"She fooled you completely, didn't she?" the Naruto commented, his voice affable and friendly. "When I killed your Mei Terumi after you fought Madara and replaced her with another, I admit I had doubts it would work. But hey, Mei-san's a fantastic actress."

Yugito paled in horror. "You… what?"

"It was pretty easy," the Naruto Uzumaki gloated, "I've been trailing your little gang for a while, and when I realized you had a Mei Terumi in your team, I seized the opportunity. She was too tired and isolated after you beat up Susanoo to last more than five seconds."

The false Mei narrowed her eyes in obvious displeasure. "If my presence is not needed, I shall take my leave," she said. "I've got to people to look after."

"Yeah, do what you want," the Naruto replied without a care in the world, as Mei vanished with a Shunshin. He rolled his eyes, and glanced at Yugito. "Ah, wannabe saviors. They think their actions are for the greater good, when they mean shit. Pretty naive, don't you agree?"

His eyes drifted to Izanami next. "Don't insult my intelligent, Mikoto-san," he announced, "You aren't fooling anyone here."

The woman growled and stopped faking unconsciousness. She seemed a bit angry the man knew her identity; "Sorry, Yugi-san," she told her partner. "I don't know what these chains are made of, but they prevent me from accessing my powers. I can't even activate my Sharingan."

"These chains are made of my chakra," the Naruto explained calmly, "Don't even try to break out. You would need a Kyuubi or two to break them."

Yugito glared at him. "Who are you?"

"You already know who I am… as for what I am?" He made a mock reverence. "I am the Warlord, the founder of Teikoku, and the Master of all there is. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Great, another megalomaniac," Izanami deadpanned.

"You're married to one, so I thought you would be used to them." The Warlord raised an eyebrow at Izanami's amused face. "Oh, you two aren't wed? My apologies, I thought you were. To be honest I kinda skipped most of the reports on you ladies, since you didn't interest me all that much."

Yugito didn't know if she should be grateful for it or not. "Why did you capture us?" the Kumo-nin asked. "What the hell do you want from us? Where are we? What happened to Konan and-"

"Calm down," he cut in. "Since you aren't going to leave anytime, you've got all the time in the world. For the where, you are in Orochimaru's territory, among the ruins of an old temple dedicated to the Tailed Beasts. He turned the place into his HQ, or as I call it, a 'giant laboratory of mad science'. I don't know why the guy chose this place, and to be honest I don't care, but he volunteered to keep you under scrutiny."

So at least one Orochimaru is working with these guys… Yugito thought, before the Warlord continued his explanations. "As for the why you're here," he said, "Well, it's just you're both pretty close to Kazama-san, as lover and second-in-command respectively, and as such, too valuable to be wasted."

Before Yugito could press the issue further, the Warlord switched subject. "As for your lady friends, I've no idea where the samurai is, but after the beating I gave her, I doubt you will have to worry about the paper woman. Ever again."

The scary part wasn't the callous confession of murder, it was the tone the man used. There was no sadism in it, nor regret. There was only callous indifference. It was the tone used to discuss the weather, not people.

To this man, murder wasn't something to enjoy or a necessary evil.

It was natural.

"You little…" Yugito growled, only to be cut by Izanami.

"What do you want from Kazama?" she asked. "You used the san suffix, meaning you probably talked to him when we weren't looking. Are we hostages, something to be exchanged?"

The Warlord smirked. "If you really think I will tell you my plans, then you are less intelligent than I gave you credit for," he stated. "You have done the impossible before, so there's no way I'm taking any risk. Let's just say you're going to be part of something amazing, no, daring!"

Yugito rolled her eyes. "So you've been spying on us all along," she whispered, "Does it mean-"

"Don't worry about your other friends," the Warlord cut in. "Deidara will take care of them. Mei didn't give me all the information I needed. So I need them to explain to me a few things."

Izanami frowned. "Why?" she asked. "You won't tell us your plans for our group, but can you at least tell us what it is all about? What do you hope to achieve by conquering the multiverse? Is it to feed your ego? Do you just want to rebuild the world in your image?"

"Oh no," the Uzumaki shook his head, "That would be my… comrades." The tone clearly showed the word was empty of meaning. "My motive is far simpler: why not?"

Yugito paled. "Why… not?"

"You hold the Nibi within you. Have you never wanted to see what you could do with it? Have you never wanted to achieve your fullest potential? To see how far you can go?" The man shrugged his shoulders. "I just want to see what I can do with the power I possess. Before the multiverse opened its door to me I had already conquered all I could see. Now I wish for a new challenge. A new way to make adrenaline rush in my veins once again."

"So you're basically destroying millions of lives… out of boredom?" Yugito gasped in disgust. "How can you do this?"

He smiled widely. "Let me tell you the story, of a boy who wanted to be a hero."

The man crossed his arms and narrated his tale with an affable, friendly tone. "This is the story of a boy born cursed. For years he was shunned, and he convinced himself that to gain the respect he craved, he needed to become Hokage. And so, he worked relentlessly to achieve this status. In time, after a long struggle, he prevailed over the terrifying threat of Akatsuki, and was admired by all."

He walked around his captives, like a predator circling its prey. "Everything seemed like a dream come true. His best friend turned renegade had finally acknowledged his valor. He married a woman who loved him for who he was, and as the heiress of the Hyuuga clan, she brought him the political influence he needed to gain the title he had been lusting after all his life. In time, the boy was elected Rokudaime Hokage, and the entire ninja world looked up to his wisdom. And so, he thought he had achieved his happy ending."

He stopped in front of the Kyuubi's statue, and sighed.

"But that's not the end, only the beginning. It took him only a year to realize he had grossly idealized his new position. The boy, while a fantastic warrior, was no diplomat or politician. His policies became widely unpopular, and the respect he had struggled so hard to earn… faded and withered, not without reason mind you, but faded none the less. The boy grew very, very frustrated, and yet he refused to give up, believing in the better nature of mankind.

"Despite his efforts, the world peace that had been born in Akatsuki's wake disappeared, with ninjas returning to their old ways. The boy, still holding to his idealism, tried diplomacy, to appeal to the better nature of his rivals, equals, and allies, and failed. The boy grew bitter, as accusations of his incompetence became more frequent and outspoken. The last straw came when his former best friend conspired for the role of Hokage, and with popular support, forced the boy out of the Hokage office."

The Warlord chuckled. "And the boy snapped."

He locked eyes with Yugito. "With most of the military still loyal to him, he staged a coup and took over Konoha by force, punishing his old friend as traitors deserve. Then he changed things. He exterminated those who opposed him, and became a tyrant with an iron fist. His reasoning was since people wouldn't embrace peace willingly, then he would force them to. And so, he began to conquer foreign nations one by one, and he was soon given a title that would strike fear in the hearts of all: as Naruto Uzumaki fell, the Warlord rose, mightier, stronger, better in every single way."

The man laughed cheerfully. "The boy crafted a new peace out of the blood and thousands, and yet it didn't satisfy him. He was feared, but also frustrated and bored. Even as former friends and even his wife rose and tried to defeat him, he couldn't feel anything. When he killed them, all the boy could feel was utter indifference. Yet, the boy was still convinced his rule was for the better, that the peace he forged was worth the sacrifices. He clung to this illusion, until he discovered a breach in space itself. A gate, to another universe."

He smirked at Izanami. "You can thank your beloved for that.

"When the Warlord stared into the abyss of the cosmos, he manipulated petty dictators and conquerors into gathering information on the multiverse for him, until he learned a horrifying truth: that all choices lead to a different reality. And do you know what he realized?"

The tone suddenly changed from affable to cold and emotionless.

"That we are nothing. Free will, is a lie. That he was dirt, because in some universe, another Uzumaki made an opposite choice. That the sacrifices I have accumulated meant shit. Because somewhere else, my best friend did not betray me. Because somewhere else, people listened. Because somewhere else, our ancestors weren't brave enough to crawl out of the mud and we were never born."

The Warlord's eyes color went from blue to red. Upon gazing into them, Yugito could only see madness.

"And he came to the conclusion, that free will, in its purest form," he whispered, "Is true annihilation. And so, I shall make this choice. The only real choice."

He calmed himself and smiled.

"Trust me," he said, before vanishing with a shunshin, "You won't believe your eyes."


The Fallen One

"Naruto, why did you kill me?"

Kazama glared at Jiraiya, who was standing on the lake's surface. "Shut up," he replied, holding his head with his hands, "Leave me alone."

"Why did you kill us?" Neji asked, glaring at Naruto. "We trusted you."

"You disappoint me, Naruto," Minato trailed off. "Then again, you always disappointed me."

"Shut up, you're not real!" Kazama snarled angrily. "None of you are! You're just in my head!"

"Why?" Kakashi asked. "Why?"

"Why?" A dozen voices asked in unison. "Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?"

"I said shut up!"

Kazama launched a fireball at the lake, producing tons of steam, and then tried to burn the hallucinations around him. All he managed to do was to set the nearby grass on fire, although the ghosts vanished.

I'm going mad, he thought grimly, Now I'm seeing dead people… maybe I should be dead too… maybe…

As if to answer his prayer, a ghostly chill filled the air around Kazama. The lake itself froze into ice, as a shadowy form manifested above the solidified water. Upon glancing at it, the insane wanderer paled in despair.

"You were foolish to come here," the Shinigami warned, as it hovered over the water. "Have you no idea where you are? Maybe have you chosen peaceful death over your parody of a life?"

Kazama could only stare in disbelief at the deity.

"You are within a sacred burial, a place where the dead are laid to rest in peace," the Shinigami explained calmly, before glaring in disgust at the fires Kazama had started,"And your first act upon landing here is to defile it. Truly, your cold disregard for the world around you is only matched by your boundless arrogance."

The Shinigami raised his hand, and the fires died out instantly. Then he grabbed his ghostly blade and prepared it.

"Your life ends now."


A/N: thanks ABitterPill and Third Fang for betaing.

I'm so sorry for the the cliffhanger, but don't be sad: in the next chapter, you'll discover what happened to Konan and Kazama. Oh, and remember, don't take everything the Warlord said as the truth. He lies. A lot.

I mostly based the Warlord on a historical figure called Zhang Xianzhong, nicknamed the Yellow Tiger. Long short story, it was an extremely violent Chinese wannabe warlord from the seventeenth century, who was responsible for a lot of violent massacres in the Sichuan province. While the extent of his killing is disputed by historians, his disastrous rule depopulated the province. This should tell you everything about the guy.

Anyway, next chapter will conclude the current arc and open the final arc of the story (which should last around twelve-fifteen chapters I think). Thanks for all those who have been following this story. The finale is approaching, and it shall be epic.

I can't say when I'll be able to update again, but with my schedule I can mostly advance during holidays... so don't expect a new update until December.

And please do not forget to tell me what you thought of the chapter in a review or PM, if you please.

Best regards,

Kagaseo.