No, this fic isn't abandoned. Yes, I'm still alive. No, I can't say when I update again.
Here we go. The final chapter of the arc... and the beginning of the last one. Prepare for a major change in status quo.
Thanks Third Fang and ABitterPill for betaing, and all readers for reading.
Brand New Day
When he saw Death itself float in front of his face with its sword drawn, Kazama Arashi lowered his head in defeat. "Just end it quickly," he rasped.
The Shinigami raised his weapon, but before delivering the final blow, hesitated. The blonde young man locked eyes with the deity, whose emotions - if it had emotions - were unreadable. "Is this a trap?" Death asked, suspicious.
"Then why do you submit so willingly now?"
Kazama grabbed his hair with his hand. "I'm… I'm a monster. Everywhere I go, I bring death and destruction. I thought I could… help the world, but in the end… all I do is corrupt it. I've burned and killed people by the thousands, and for nothing. All for nothing."
He laughed bitterly. "I should have died back when I first got your power," he said before glaring at the god, "So what are you waiting for? Kill me! At last I shall be free!"
"You are in no position to ask for anything," the deity of death rasped. "You are different from before. Have you finally seen the errors in your way?"
"Your power brought me and the world nothing but misery!" Kazama snarled. "Take it back! Take my life too! Just undo everything!"
The voice in Kazama's head, for the first time since it began to talk with its host, was panicking.
"Do not!" Mikaboshi almost begged. "Do you not understand? You are abandoning ultimate power! You are dropping the possibility of seeing your friends again!"
"No!" Kazama shrieked. "My friends are better off without me! I don't want your power, and I don't want to hear you!"
"I command you to-"
"Shut up!" The blonde snarled. Had he been less focused on the god inside his mind, he would have wondered how the god about to kill him knew he was not talking to it. "Leave me alone!"
The Shinigami narrowed its hollow eyes. "Very well," it rasped, sheathing his sword. It pointed its index at Kazama and touched his forehead. "I will take back what is mine and repair the damage you have done. Pray we do not meet each other again."
Kazama's world was suddenly swallowed by light.
"So, let me get this straight," Tobi's shade asked, "First, Deidara is dead. Which sucks, since I kinda liked him. Second, we captured five of them. Which is good. So that's a… semi-victory?"
"This sums up the current situation, yes," Kabuto's hologram replied. "We managed to recover Deidara's ring… but the bounty hunter that helped in his demise is still at large. I have sent some of my creations after him, so it wouldn't take long for us to capture him as well."
The Warlord cracked his fingers. These meetings served their purpose, but they were terribly boring. "Orochimaru-san will take care of our prisoners," he declared, glancing at the Sannin's shade, "I assume you may wish to pay them back for killing your student."
The snake shrugged. "I am more interested in studying them. They are very peculiar, especially the human puppet. I have yet to figure out how his body works."
"I expected a little more emotion from your part," the holder of the steel ring pointed out, "Didn't you care about your subordinate?"
"Naruto-kun shall always have a special place in my heart, but people can be replaced," the Sannin replied callously, "It's not as if he was my only apprentice."
The woman snorted in disgust, much to Orochimaru's amusement. "Did I go down in your esteem, Kazekage-san? Then again, you could never truly abide by my presence."
"As much as I enjoy good banter, let's return to the most important matter at hand," the Warlord noted. "Konan managed to get away-"
"Get away?" Mei narrowed her eyes. "Or did you let her go?"
"Konan got away," the Warlord retorted.
"Mei-san, I honestly do not see what we could gain from letting such a loose cannon go around unsupervised," Orochimaru noted.
"Then why did he lie to our prisoners about killing her?" the kunoichi shot back.
"Because breaking their spirits makes them easier to handle," the Warlord replied, before smirking. "Mei-san, are you implying I may be lying to you all? You hurt my feelings."
"You don't have feelings," the Kazekage shot back.
"No. But I'm the most trustworthy man in the world," the Warlord mocked her. "As I was saying, Konan got away, and we captured those who splintered from the main group. Which leaves… what? three, four of them? This is a golden opportunity to finish off the rest."
"I will take care of them," Zetsu noted, with its deep, cold voice. "I'm going to pay them a beating."
"Great idea." The Warlord crossed his arms. "Zetsu-san, you will take care of the survivors. Spare Kazama-san if possible, for his powers could be useful. Orochimaru-san, I want you to interrogate our captives. I wish to know what techniques and technology they used to travel from world to world. Afterward… do whatever you wish with them. However, Yugito-san and Mikoto-san are not to be harmed. They are more valuable alive than dead. The rest of you stay focus on the original plan. Build as many Relays as you can."
Nobody objected to the order. Nobody had any doubt who was calling the shots among their group.
It didn't mean they were loyal, however.
"Of course," Tobi lied through his teeth. "You can count on me."
The Warlord smirked. He knew the masked man's servility was a cover for his rebellious, treacherous nature. The man would backstab his boss the second he could get away with it.
"Then dismissed," the Warlord ordered, banishing the ring's holograms. He was now alone with his thoughts and schemes.
In truth, Mei had been right. The Warlord did let the paper woman go.
Of course, most people would think, like Orochimaru, that there would be no logical reason to do this and therefore the Warlord hadn't planned this all along. Keeping his enemies confused and surprised was Naruto Uzumaki's main strength.
Playing pawns against each other was almost an art for him.
The Warlord was in a peculiar situation. He needed his fellow Teikoku members to use their vast resources to build as many Relays as possible, but on the other hand, they needed to be too busy to actually investigate their true purpose. Mei and Kabuto were already suspecting them to be more than they seemed, and Zetsu and Tobi were bidding their time, waiting for an opportunity to take over. If they were to learn the Warlord's real plan, they would without doubt launch a desperate coup or sabotage the Relays. It would be a matter of survival.
And hence why the Warlord gave Teikoku's enemies the opportunity to fight back. As long as Teikoku felt threatened by outsiders, it would be too busy to focus on the Warlord's plans. And when they realize what was really going on, it would be too late for them to do anything.
All these worthless fools would die, along with their worlds.
I do hope Kazama kills some of them, however,the Warlord thought, When all his friends are dead, he will probably go on a crusade against these idiots. And the conflict will further my plans. At worst, Teikoku will be too busy with him to focus on me. At best, he will save me the trouble of killing them myself.
Then, when Kazama wouldn't be useful or amusing any longer, the Warlord would kill him.
It was as simple as that.
When they had left Konoha, it was with heavy hearts and bitter thoughts.
"It's my fault," Naruko said, trying to stay attached to the giant hawk's feathers. "It's all my fault."
"Don't say stupid things," Sasuke replied, guiding his summon above the Land of Fire's forests. "You couldn't have done anything."
"If I had been a better student, Kazama would never have gone crazy. Worse, if we had killed Madara-"
"Look, Naruko," Sasuke cut in, "I know what you're feeling. You feel if you had done things differently, none of this would have happened. This is a stupid game we humans like to play when we face loss. I know because I played it for years. If I had been less of an ass, I wouldn't have almost killed Naruto, if I had been more observant, I would have thwarted Itachi's suicidal plan, if I had been… the list goes on."
He glanced at the young girl. "What's done is done," he said, "You can't return to the past and change things. You have to accept things the way they, and focus on the future. We need to help the others against Pain, and then we will find Kazama. I give you my word we will find him. But promise me you will not start brooding in a corner."
Naruko frowned, but nodded. He's right, she thought, I must stay optimistic. The others are in danger. We have to reach them first. "So, you and Sakura…" she began. "You were friends or something?"
Sasuke tensed briefly. "She's one of the many people I left behind," he whispered, before suddenly directing his summon down toward the ground.
Naruko was about to ask why he did that, when she noticed a newcomer advancing toward them. "Dark Wolf? What are you doing there?"
The samurai was in a terrible shape, with her armor either covered in ice or damaged. "Long story short," she explained, "Pain almost killed me, and Konan used her paper technique to transport me as far away from the fight as she could. We need to return to the island, now."
"Jump," Sasuke ordered, the Dark Wolf joining them on the giant hawk summon. The creature opened its wings, and flew upward. "You're lucky I'm a good enough sensor to have picked your chakra signature, or else-"
"What happened in Konoha?" The Dark Wolf cut in, blatantly ignoring Sasuke.
"Kazama-sensei… burned it to the ground," Naruko admitted.
According to her expression, the Dark Wolf either didn't listen or didn't care. "What happened to him?"
"He vanished… he teleported elsewhere." Naruko suddenly realized they were already above the ocean. "Can you see the Turtle Island?"
"No, but I do sense it," Sasuke replied, "It has retreated underwater. Considering what happened on its back, hard to blame it."
"Are you kidding?" Naruko asked. "Where are the others then?"
Sasuke didn't answer. Instead, he joined his palms, and focused. "Mind's Eye of Kagura, open," he whispered, Naruko briefly seeing him enveloped with bluish chakra. "They're… they're gone. I can't sense their chakra signature."
"They can't have vanished!" The Dark Wolf ground her teeth. "Can't you try harder?"
"I am nowhere near as good as Karin was at sensing," Sasuke replied, briefly creasing his eyebrows. "Wait. I think I have picked up Konan's chakra signature, but it's really weak…" He glanced at his hawk summon. "Head toward the coast."
After a few minutes of travel, the beast landed on a beach, and his riders dismounted. Sasuke gave a light tap to the bird, which vanished in a puff of smoke, before guiding his small group to its target.
When Naruko noticed Konan lying on the sand, she couldn't help but shudder at the spectacle.
The woman seemed to have been beaten within an inch of her life. Her formerly perfect skin was covered with bruises and open wounds, and from what Naruko could see, someone had broken up her left arm and jaw. The kunoichi seemed unconscious, with paper sheets covering her larger wounds. "Konan!" the young girl shouted, rushing to her help.
"It appears she has fallen comatose," Sasuke said, still using his sensor techniques to analyze her, "And she managed to use her paper as an improvised bandage before passing out. Did Pain do that to her?
"I doubt he would have left her alive," the Dark Wolf replied. "Who could have done this?"
"I am afraid to say it must have been our dear leader. Bah, at least I didn't lose my touch when it comes to homicide."
Naruko turned at the source of the sound. A creature was emerging from the sand, a few feet from the group.
The creature was vaguely humanoid, but completely monstrous. Its hairless skin was crimson red, and covered with bloated, purple mushrooms which appeared to be a sort of natural armor. The monster's arms were so long they nearly reached its feet. As for its head, it had the jaw and mouth of a human beings, but crimson petals instead of eyes and hair. The monster was easily twice the size of an average human body, and easily overshadowed the group.
"What the-" Sasuke jaw-dropped. "How the hell did you neutralize my sensing technique?"
"I am kinda stealthy," the creature hissed with an inhuman voice, pointing one of its thick fingers at the group, the ring on it shining, "Allow me to invite you to a party."
Sasuke and the Dark Wolf unsheathed their blades, but not fast enough. A red light swallowed them all.
When it died down, the group was no longer on the beach, but on a desolate, arid wasteland. The temperature had drastically increased, and all Naruko could see was an endless wasteland of rocks and dirt. "Where are-"
She couldn't finish her sentence. The Dark Wolf had already gone on the offensive, trying to execute a scissor motion with her blades on the monster. The creature easily dodged with a leap, showing impressive speed and agility for his size. "Ah, yes, always the forceful one. I almost missed you. Almost."
"Zetsu!" the samurai snapped. "You dare to show your face in front of me?"
"Why so angry?" The monster chuckled happily. "You should thank me, to have brought you back home. Plus, you aren't very polite. You didn't introduce me to my new victims." He glanced at Naruko. "What's your name?"
Naruko couldn't answer, since she realized the beast's teeth were all sharpened fangs.
"Oh, great, a mute one. Well, considering your age, you probably taste like chicken. My kids are going to enjoy eating you… but you should ask the Uchiha here for the details." He started merging with the ground, vanishing entirely. "See you later, young wolf."
"No, wait you coward!" the Dark Wolf cursed. "Come back and fight!"
Naruko ignored her. Instead, she focused on Sasuke, who was staring at the horizon with a blank expression. She quickly understood why.
Thousands of white men were rushing at them, an entire flood of them. They looked like humanoids, but their lack of hair and sexual organs immediately told Naruko these were monsters.
And they looked hungry.
"Damn!" Sasuke cursed, before attempting to summon a hawk… and failing.
"Summoning doesn't work outside your-"
"I noticed!" Sasuke snapped at Naruko, his eyes starting to bleed. A large ring of black fire appeared around the team, forming a protective barrier. "This should protect us for a moment."
"No, it's not even going to slow them down." The Dark Wolf glanced at the ground. "They're coming."
One second later, two, then a dozen Zetsu clones emerged from the soil. They were promptly cut down by one of sweep of the samurai's blade, but were quickly replaced with a dozen of their brethren.
Sasuke was instantly surrounded by ethereal, purple arms, which quickly pushed back the invaders against the wall of black fire. "Alright…" The Uchiha's eyes started bleeding profusely. "Susanoo… I need your power!" A demonic giant of purple chakra appeared around Sasuke. It gained a head, a thorax…
And then, it gained legs.
A few seconds later, Naruko gasped in awe, as the giant rose inside the circle of fire. A quick look told the young girl that she barely reached the height of the thing's foot. Sasuke was floating inside the Susanoo, as the heart of the colossus. He lowered his hand, the giant imitating him. "Jump!"
Naruko nodded, grabbing Konan and bringing her along. When the Dark Wolf jumped right afterward, the Susanoo raised his hand near his heart. "Grab my fingers," Sasuke ordered, as he mentally dispelled the wall of black fire, "This is gonna be a little rough."
When Naruko obeyed, the Susanoo started running.
The giant's mere footsteps caused small earthquakes, wiping out a dozen Zetsu clones every step. But all Naruko could see around them, was a white sea of hostility. "Where do we go? They're everywhere!"
"Head east!" Dark Wolf ordered. "He teleported us into the Land of Grass, so if you keep going east we could follow the coast and later reach Kumo's mountains! They won't be able to follow us there!"
"Alright!" Sasuke clenched his teeth. "Here we go!"
And the giant accelerated, chased by one thousand enemies.
When the young man opened his eyes, he briefly wondered if he was in the afterlife.
Hell looked like a hospital room illuminated by poorly lit lamps, with only one window. A medic nin was observing him, accompanied by…
Shizune? Kazama frowned. He didn't remember the frail kunoichi being so… busty. And I don't remember killing her either. Am I truly in hell?
"He's finally awake, Kenta-san," the woman pointed out, "You truly did wonders."
"You're welcome, Shizune-san," the man said, smiling at Kazama, "Menma-san, how do you feel? Your wounds were pretty severe. You were lucky one of our patrols found you. It appeared as if something had trapped you into a temporary death state. Do you remember what happened?"
"Menma?" Was he… was he still alive? He massaged his forehead. "My name… is Kazama. I don't know any Menma."
The two medics exchanged a glance. "As I feared, he might suffer from memory loss," Kenta spoke. "Or maybe he is under the effects of brainwashing. Considering the gear we found him with, it is painfully clear he had fought a battle to the death a few hours before he was discovered."
"But who would try killing our Jinchuuriki?" Shizune wondered.
Kazama grunted. He had no idea why the Shinigami had spared his life, but the longer he stayed in Konoha, any Konoha, the more uneasy he felt. Getting out of the bed, much to the medics' displeasure, he glanced at the room's door. "I'll take my leave," he said.
"This would be unwise," Kenta stated, as the door opened, "Especially since your parents dropped their current mission to see you."
Kazama glanced at the door, and blanched deathly.
Minato Namikaze and Kushina Uzumaki, wearing jounin uniforms, glanced at their son, with a mix of sadness and joy. Then they approached.
"No, don't touch me!" Kazama panicked and tried to take a kunai in his pockets, only to realize the medics had taken his weapons. When Kushina and Minato reached him, he was completely helpless.
Doubly so when they hugged him.
Kazama had no idea how to react when his parents hugged him to the point of making breathing difficult. "I'm so glad you're still alive!" Kushina said. "We thought we had lost you forever!"
"Menma, I promise you, nobody will ever separate us again," Minato whispered kindly. "I wouldn't forgive myself if it happened again."
Their concern touched Kazama. It was obvious these two loved their child dearly… but it was a case of mistaken identity. "I'm sorry," he said, pushing them back, albeit gently. "The name is Kazama Arashi… I have no idea who this Menma is."
"What? You don't recognize us?" Kushina frowned sadly. "How can it be?"
"It appears Menma-san is suffering from partial amnesia, or maybe even the aftereffects of brainwashing," Shizune explained, "It is very possible his mind forged a fake identity to fill the holes in his memories. It will take time for him to recover, but with a prolonged treatment…"
"I'm not doing anything," Kazama explained, "I must go."
"Where?" Minato frowned. "Son, you aren't getting anywhere. There's no way I'm letting you go after you vanished for months!"
Understanding he wouldn't be able to leave peacefully, Kazama mentally tried to teleport away.
The young man frowned, and attempted to open a portal. When it didn't work, he entered his mindscape.
Where the seal used to be, he found nothing.
Literally. The web of mirrors that had started this entire mess was nowhere to be seen. All there was left were darkness.
His power had been taken away.
Kazama didn't know how to feel. It meant people wouldn't pursue him for it, wouldn't threaten innocents to get their hands on him…
But it meant he was trapped in this world.
"Why did you do that?"
Kazama blinked, as the darkness surrounding him grew thicker. Amatsu-Mikaboshi's anger was a cold one, but its emotionless tone chilled the young man to the bone. "Why did you do something so foolish?" It asked. "You had the power of a god, and you gave it up. You could have risen higher than the sun itself, and now you will be nothing but a shadow."
"You are still there?" The young man ground his teeth. "I gave it up, because it was the right thing to do."
The darkness hissed. The former politeness and affability had been replaced with cold fury and contempt. "And you threw away any hope of seeing your friends again. Because you wanted to protect them from yourself."
Kazama felt as if he had been punched in the face. He glanced away, as he had no way of denying that. The deity stayed silent a few minutes, before dropping a bomb.
"I should have sent Pain earlier, wiping them out right after you left them for the first time."
The wanderer's eyes glanced at the living void. "Come again?"
"Who do you think enlightened him in the first place?" The darkness replied. "Do you truly think linking oneself to the Demonic Statue, a device meant to contain the Ten-Tails, would not allow me to influence the user? When the Sage divided the Ten-Tails' chakra and body, where do you think he sealed its mind?"
"The… what?" Kazama stammered.
"All those who use the Statue open their mind to madness." Mikaboshi let out a sound, and Kazama realized it was a deep, joyless laugh. "When they tap its power, they also tap into its mind, allowing me to influence them. It is subtle, but the more they rely on it, the more their will becomes mine. I bet the Sage did not foresee that. Nagato was a wounded man. All I had to do was... to let his mental wounds fester."
"You… but why?" Kazama blanched, horrified.
"At first, he would have been my back-up plan at remaking your world as I saw fit, had Madara failed. But when you returned to your homeworld, he became the perfect tool to kill your friends. I slowly exploited his sadness at the death of his companions, until he became obsessed with extracting the Kyuubi, so none of these sacrifices would have been in vain. After that, it was simply a matter of time until he tracked your friends down and wiped them out."
Kazama, at this point, could only glare at the deity in rage.
"I foresaw that in your sadness and bitterness, you would let your anger of the world grow beyond control. You would have turned to me, and you would have done what I wanted you to do. But my plan is ruined. If the timing had been a little better…"
The wanderer reddened, having troubles controlling his anger. "Just leave me the fuck alone!" he snapped. "You have ruined my life and a thousand others! I don't have the power you craved any longer! So why don't you leave me alone?"
"I did not force you to do anything. You ruined your life on your own. I simply gave you a gentle push."
The darkness grew even thicker. "I was old when the world was young. One hundred years is but a second in my endless existence. I can nurse a grudge for centuries. And every single day of your life, I shall be there. From the moment Madara marked you to your death, you belong to me. You are my property. From now on, I am withdrawing all the blessings I gave you, until you beg for my forgiveness. You will submit to me."
Kazama glared at the darkness defiantly.
"You're welcome to try."
Sasuke briefly looked behind himself. "I think we lost them."
"No we didn't," the Dark Wolf countered. "Zetsu is the land itself. As long as you have one foot on the ground, he knows your location. He's simply not as fast as us, so it will take him time before he catches up." She glanced at Sasuke. "How long can you maintain the Susanoo?"
I already should have dispelled it. "A few minutes." The pain in his chest was growing, as was the bleeding in his eyes. I must keep going. Since Naruto is gone, it my duty to protect them. "Afterward, I'll be out of chakra."
"Considering the distance, it will take a few hours for Zetsu's legions to catch up to us," the samurai judged.
"We need to find a healer," Naruko pointed out, as she started bandaging the unconscious Konan. "Her state is critical."
"There are a few settlements in the mountains," the Dark Wolf explained, "I know some medics that could treat her. If we walk fast enough, we will reach one within three days."
"Could you give us more details?" Sasuke asked. "I have guessed this is your world, so all information you can give us is worth telling. At least explain why I am unable to sense them."
The samurai stayed silent a few seconds, considered her words, and started explaining the situation. "First thing, Zetsu controls the entire world, except the mountains. His kind was created from both Senju cells and tropical plants, so it can't stand cooler temperatures."
"Senju cells?" Sasuke frowned. "These things are clones of Hashirama Senju?"
"Yes. They all can produce a bastard form of the Mokuton, while the Red Zetsu is skilled enough with it to neutralize a Bijuu. Due to their special abilities, it is impossible for sensors to locate them if they wish to be undetected."
"But who could make these things?" Naruko asked, before remembering where she had seen another Zetsu. "Madara…"
"Possibly." The Dark Wolf shrugged. "Beside the corpses of Zetsu clones, nobody had any decent information on them. We only figured out the Red Zetsu was the leader when we realized he was a unique specimen and the only one with high intelligence. The clones are simply cannon fodder, so they need him to coordinate their assaults. And he won't stop chasing us until we are dead."
"So if we kill the red one, the rest won't be a threat any longer?"
"He won't confront us directly," the swordswoman replied. "He will send his so-called children after us while observing from afar. As much as he cares about his spawns, he understands he can spare sacrificing a few hundreds of them to better study us. When he has a perfect strategy, he will attack."
"How are you so sure he will do that?" Naruko asked. "He could simply attack us with all his forces, as he did a few minutes ago."
"The Red Zetsu won't confront us head on because he fears me." The Dark Wolf shrugged. "He never picks a fight he has a chance to lose. So he will throw wave after wave of his spawn, prevent us from resting, and then he will finish us off when we are exhausted."
"From what you're saying, the two of you know each other personally," Sasuke stated. "What the hell happened between you?"
"That is none of your business."
Sasuke narrowed his eyes. "That's our business since a monster with an obvious personal grudge on you is currently hunting us, and the more we know, the better we can plan a counterattack. I understand your past may hurt, but all of us have suffered, and we have all failed someone we cared about. So speak."
The Dark Wolf tensed. "I used to have a master," she admitted, with shame in her voice. "My mentor. General Mifune."
"He killed him, right?" Naruko guessed, biting her lower lips.
"Yes," she replied sadly. "In return, I have sworn to wipe out all Zetsu from the face of this planet. I have crossed paths multiple times with their leader, and, well, after I slaughtered so many of his 'children', the grudge has become mutual."
"Dark Wolf," Sasuke began, remembering what happened with Naruto, "I understand your desire for revenge, but… this mindset has destroyed someone I care about. So, please, don't let it go out of hand. I wouldn't stand seeing another of my comrades go off the deep end."
The samurai raised an eyebrow, but didn't say a word.
Sasuke sighed. This is going to be a long, long journey…
"Did… did Kiba just kick Akamaru?"
Where the hell had he landed?
"Kiba never liked dogs, he prefers cats," Shino replied, before spraying himself with insecticide, much to the blonde's amazement. "How could you forget that?"
"Baka!" Hinata snapped, before slapping her teammate. "Can't you remember Menma has lost his damn memory!?" She smiled at the blonde. "Ne, Menma, you do remember me, right? I'm sure you wouldn't forget someone important…"
"Did… did she just imply I wasn't important?" Shino asked loudly.
At this point, Kazama was more concerned by Hinata's outrageously revealing outfit than the ambient insanity.
"You do remember me right?" Hinata repeated, her jaw clenching visibly through her smile. "'Cause if you don't…"
Kazama wondered if she was going to kill him if he were to say no. At least, she looked like she would. "Look, guys, I… I just want to stay alone right now. I need to think in peace."
"I swear Menma, if you don't say you recognize me I'm going to castrate you!" Hinata snarled, raising her fingers and preparing to beat up the ninja with her not so Gentle Fist.
Kazama simply used a shunshin, and fled through the streets of Konoha. Seriously, where the hell am I? He thought. He had only been out of the hospital for two hours and this world was disturbing him already.
After his parents, he had received a visit from Team 10. Not only had Ino turned into a submissive, gentle girl, but Shikamaru and Choji had apparently switched personalities. After he had left the hospital, without the doctors' consent, Kazama had accidentally crossed path with Team 8.
I swear, this must be a joke from the Shinigami. That, or my personal hell is to be haunted by disturbing parodies of my former friends.
When he was certain he had lost Team 8, Kazama stopped fleeing and considered what to do next. Without his power and considering Konoha seemed intent on keeping him, fleeing the city seemed out of options.
And this damn headache wasn't helping him think straight.
I need a place where to lay low and think, Kazama decided, with only one such place coming to his mind.
As he had expected, Ichiraku's still existed in this reality, albeit with a few differences. The first was that Teuchi had gone bald and had a beard. The second was that the customers were greeting the blonde ninja instead of ignoring him.
"Hey, the hero has come back!" Teuchi greeted him. "Nice to see you again kiddo."
"Thanks," Kazama whispered, as he sat near the bar, "Hero?"
"Don't you remember? You were sacrificed to keep the Kyuubi contained! That makes you one of Konoha's heroes. So, are you taking sushi, like always?"
"I'll take ramen, please."
Teuchi raised an eyebrow. "Ramen? I thought you disliked my ramen? Oh, well… don't bother with money, it's a free meal for you."
"Seriously, what the hell is wrong with this reality?" Kazama whispered, when Teuchi was out of sight.
"Actually, I was asking myself the same question."
Kazama tensed, as a masked man sat next to him. "Tsukiyomi?" he asked. "Is that you?"
"No, I am an alternate self with the exact same nickname." Madara chuckled. "Of course it is me. Why did you teleport away? When I sensed you open a portal, I thought you had been forced to flee a surprise foe. I was worried."
Kazama narrowed his eyes. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Why?" Madara seemed honestly confused. "You realized both of our dreams. You fulfilled both our desires for revenge. Do I need to remind you they all had it coming?"
"No." Kazama glanced at other customers. A couple was eating sushi alongside their kid. "Just look at them. How many families and kids died during my rampage?"
"You cannot win a battle without collateral damage."
"You may think killing thousands of innocents is no big deal, but… I made a mistake. A huge mistake." Kazama decided to drop the subject. "How can you walk around without being arrested?"
"Oh, don't you know?" Madara asked. "Apparently, I'm one of Konoha's greatest heroes. I learned that ten minutes ago."
Before Kazama could ask for details, Teuchi arrived and gave him a bowl of ramen. When he noticed Madara, his jaw dropped. "Madara-sama! In my establishment!"
"Yes, I was paying a visit to this boy here."
"Menma, why didn't you tell me you knew Madara-sama?"
"Because he's just some masked weirdo?"
"He's a living legend!" Teuchi shrieked. "He could have been Hokage, but he preferred to give the post to Hashirama Senju! And he's the guy who taught the Yondaime Hokage before he died."
"Died?" Kazama raised an eyebrow. "But my dad is still alive."
"Mmm… you really have lost your memory…" Teuchi shook his head. "I was talking about our Yondaime Hokage, Kizashi Haruno, the father of your teammate Sakura. The guy who sealed the Kyuubi inside you!"
"Oh… I see…"
"Anyway, Madara-sama, do you wish to order something?"
"This is very kind of you, but no," Madara replied, "I would like to talk to 'Menma'. Alone."
"Ah, alright." Teuchi seemed disappointed, but hurriedly returned to the kitchen. He gave a last friendly smile to Kazama before leaving. "It's nice to see you back kiddo."
"Is it me," Madara started, once the man was out of sight, "Or this world is… odd?"
"I think everyone's personality is altered there," Kazama explained, "Everyone loves me instead of disliking me, you are a hero instead of a villain… the list goes on."
"This is pretty disturbing." Madara glanced at Kazama. "When do you intend to leave?"
"I can't. I lost my power."
For maybe the first time since he knew the masked criminal, Kazama left Madara speechless. After several minutes of a long, tense silence, the Uchiha regained the use of his voice. "Could you… give me details?"
Kazama told him everything.
When the blonde finished his explanations, Madara sighed and glanced away. Kazama had briefly expected him to go on a rampage, but apparently the man had more self-control than he thought.
"It would be a lie if I said I was not extremely disappointed," the Uchiha admitted, "Yet… I encouraged you to make your own choices, and I told you I would respect them. You have made your own decision, so I cannot blame you for it."
"So, now I'm no longer useful, you're going to leave?" Kazama asked, inwardly hoping the man wouldn't.
Madara seemed genuinely disgusted by the remark. "What kind of teacher discards a student when he is no longer useful? The true question is, what do we do now?"
Kazama thought about it a moment. "If you can open the breach I left behind, then maybe we could return to our homeworld. Then…"
Then I would make up for what I did, he thought. I… I don't know how, but I will make up. I just hope Izanami is going to forgive me for leaving her behind…
Madara quickly crushed his hopes. "I could, if there was a breach left to exploit."
Kazama's heart briefly stopped beating. "What?"
"There is no longer a breach," the ancient Uchiha repeated. "A few hours after I used it to follow you, it was closed. When the Shinigami told you he was going to repair the damage you had done, he apparently wasn't lying."
"So… we are trapped there?"
Kazama was at loss of words for an instant. I… I'm not going to see my friends again? He wondered. Maybe… maybe it's for the best they don't see me again, but… what about the Warlord? What about Teikoku? "Long before I was born, the Second Hokage had used a technique to cross the barrier between worlds-"
"Which would have killed him, had he not been rescued," Madara pointed out. "Face it, Naruto, we are trapped in this world for the foreseeable future, and there is nothing we can do about it."
The blonde clenched his jaw, and glared at his ramen. "When the Shinigami came…" he whispered. "All I wanted was to die. So why did he leave me alive, powerless to do anything? Is it my punishment?"
"I cannot answer this question, Naruto. Whatever the Shinigami wanted does not matter. What matters is what you want to do."
"Don't you have a plan?" Kazama snapped. "You always have something in your sleeve!"
The Uchiha shook his head. "I wanted Konoha to burn. It did. Without your power, my plans of universal conquest are dead and buried. As for the Moon's Eye plan, I doubt it is even possible in this world. Your counterpart has vanished, or worse, there may not even be a Demonic Statue or other Bijuu to exploit. For the first time in a century, I have no back-up plan to fall back on."
"I…" Kazama ground his teeth. "All my life… I had a goal. To be Hokage, then revenge… but now… for the first time in my life, I have no idea what to do next."
"Now you understand how I feel…" Madara rose from his seat. "I will try to locate the version of myself on this world. Maybe I will find something that could take us back home."
"And what do I do?"
"That is something you will have to discover by yourself," Madara replied, before vanishing, "You have made your choices. Time to deal with their consequences."
Kazama glanced at his ramen. He waited there in silence, lost in his thoughts.
"Hey, Menma! You've finally returned!"
The blonde froze, as two familiar individual sat around him. "Sasuke?" he whispered. "Sakura?"
"I told you!" the Uchiha smirked at his female teammate. "I told you he would remember his team!"
These two looked exactly like the old Team 7, with a few differences. Sakura was wearing a pendant, and looked a bit more reserved than the girl Kazama was used to. As for Sasuke, he was wearing a more casual outfit, and grinning instead of brooding. "We are so glad to see you back," Sakura began with a gentle smile. "When Shizune told us you had returned, we couldn't believe it."
"Is it true your memory is faulty?" Sasuke asked. "I mean, do you even remember how you vanished? We thought you had been kidnapped or worse."
"It's complicated," Kazama explained, before deciding to tell a half-truth, "My memories do not match reality. It's confusing."
"Ah yeah, I can see why," Sasuke glanced at the ramen. "You don't want it?"
"I have lost appeti-" Kazama couldn't finish his sentence, as Sasuke grabbed the bowl and swallowed its contents whole.
"Sasuke!" Sakura complained. "That was impolite!"
"Sorry, but a mental voice kept shouting 'gotta eat them all' in my head," the Uchiha replied, before smirking. "Plus I'm sure Menma was just there to hit on Ayame!"
"Menma is not like you, you pervert," Sakura countered, "Can't you stop thinking about girls for a minute?"
"I have tried, but I can't help it."
"Even if I call Hinata?"
The Uchiha paled instantly. "You know, I would be very grateful if you didn't bring that psycho bitch in a conversation. It kills the mood instantly."
"She can't be that bad," Kazama said.
"Trust me," Sasuke shuddered, "You haven't seen how scary she can be with her ax. Honestly, lock your bedroom at night, Menma."
"Anyway," Sakura gave Kazama a light tap on his shoulder, "We're going to have a training session with Kakashi-sensei. I… we would be happy if you joined us."
"I'm not sure-"
"Oh come on, we're gonna have a lot of fun," Sasuke smirked, "Remember the contests we used to stage, in order to see which of us had the longest, most polished-"
"What? I was talking about our swords!"
Maybe that world wasn't that bad after all…
"Are you sure no one followed you?"
"I assure you this meeting is and will stay a secret," Kabuto Yakushi replied, "You should be a little more trustful, Kazekage-san."
The woman shrugged. "If the Warlord discovers we are plotting behind his back, we are all dead. And our home worlds will be next."
"Which is why these secret meetings are, well, secret," Kabuto deadpanned, before glancing at the third member of the cabal. "So, Terumi-san? What did you wish to talk about?"
Mei glanced at the scientist. "Did you complete your research?"
The snake sage nodded. "As we expected, the Relays have another purpose behind opening portals. This is a bit hard to explain."
"The Relays analyze the… how to call it… ID of the world they're placed in. They send the information back to the Warlord, who can then compare them."
"What would he gain from doing that?" the Kazekage asked.
"That's the interesting part," Kabuto continued, "Imagine the universe as a genealogical tree, each world giving birth to others. Yet, if we follow this logic, there has to be an original world from which the rest descends. By comparing the ID of different worlds, the Warlord will be able to track down the original one. To what end, I still have no clue…"
"His endgame doesn't matter," the Kazekage shot back, "Whatever he is planning is bad news, for everybody. We must get rid of him before he succeeds."
"Easier said than done," Kabuto shrugged. "Need I to remind you just how powerful he is?"
"So the genius mastermind has no plan?"
"I never said I had no plan to take him down. I asked you if you remembered just how ungodly powerful he was. Our chances of taking him down on our own are… slim."
"How fortunate then," Mei began, "We are not the only ones wishing to kill him."
Her accomplices glanced at her. "Oh, brilliant," Kabuto began. "But… didn't you betray them once already? Why would they trust you?"
"I can be persuasive," Mei said. "But… I will need your help."
The two exchanged a brief glance. "Please, go ahead," the Kazekage said.
"This will only be a matter of timing…"
A/N: as I said, changes in status quo.
I'm not going to comment on everything on the chapter, so I will simply answer questions you might have.
Sasuke and the Dark Wolf are more talkative than usual, because they're, well, cornered. People in terrible situations tend to be more talkative. And the Dark Wolf didn't tell everything on her backstory.
Zetsu is pretty much the anti-Yagura in term of abilities: he isn't that strong (or rather, nowhere as strong as the top ninjas of the story), but he's very smart and has a lot of resources to throw at the heroes.
Yes, Kazama lost both the Shinigami's powers, and Mikaboshi's boons. Or rather, he lost the former, but the angry god is preventing him from accessing the latter. Shinto Gods were also known as great fans of harsh punishments (Amaterasu once blocked the sun for days simply because she was offended at a party). Mikaboshi, in spite of its inhuman behavior, is still very petty.
As for why the Shinigami left Kazama alive... you will know later.
Yes, Kazama is in the Road to Ninja universe. While this is not my favorite movie, it did give genuine character development to Naruto and was a pretty interesting setting (I just wish it had been explored a little more). Kazama and Madara will spend some time there, and as you can guess, Menma and Tobi aren't far away... this will be good character development for both our favorite anti-hero and his nasty mentor.
I hinted at the Warlord's plans, but before you compare it to the plot of Crisis on Two Earths: yes, there are similitude, but the plan is very different in effects and end goal. Hell, the Warlord's plan is even more selfish than Owlman's.
Would you kindly review after reading?