Fate and Fantasy

Chapter 3: Conflict and Conspiracy

The Kyūbi's sudden lunge very nearly caught the four heroes flat footed, it's speed unbelievable for something so large. However fast it was though, Cloud proved to be the faster, building up and loosing a mighty blast of lightning almost quicker than they could blink that struck the gigantic fox dead on the nose.

It reared back roaring in pain, giving the heroes the time they needed to scatter or, in Cloud's case, take the initiative and press the attack. A massive crescent of energy led the way slamming into the Kyūbi's already wounded but quickly mending nose, forcing it back even further. Cloud was right behind it, sword drawn back to deliver a heavy blow right between the Kyūbi's eyes but was forced to abandon his attack in mid swing to block a swiftly moving tail that struck with enough force to send him tumbling head over heels through the air.

A second and third tail shot down from above and Cloud was barely able to bring his sword around in time to intercept them, the strength behind the dual strike enough to make his arms go numb and propel him downwards on a collision course with the ground. Cloud grit his teeth and steeled himself for the inevitable impact but a highly concentrated blast of water struck both tails, jarring them and interrupting their momentum.

A bluish blur flashed past and a gloved hand latched onto the harness on Cloud's back pulling him out from under the tails as they continued down to slam into the ground, shaking the entire chamber. He managed to land on his feet, skidding slightly before he regained his balance.

"You alright there, Cloud?"

Cloud glanced over his shoulder to find that it was Zidane that had pulled him away. "Yes, thanks."

"Told you I wasn't going to be completely useless," Zidane boasted with a quick laugh. "Next time though, just cause you can attack it head on doesn't mean yo–look out!"

The two heroes dodged as yet another tail slammed down between them, kicking up dust and debris from where it shattered the ground beneath it. Zidane leapt forward, daggers drawn, and dug Orichalcum deep into the flesh eliciting another pained roar as the tail jerked back up into the air, taking the tailed thief along for the ride.

Cloud watched for a moment as Zidane used the momentum to land somewhere on the Kyūbi's massive back before Cloud lost sight of him. Hefting his blade, Cloud gave a loud war cry and leapt back into the battle.

On the opposite side Zell was beginning to get frustrated, his every attempt at getting close to the Kyūbi thwarted by the coordinated assault of several tails. His own, unenhanced, speed and agility were more than enough to keep just a step ahead of the attacking appendages but not enough to get him past them and to the main body.

Zell huffed irritably as he ducked under another tail swipe. He'd been hoping to conserve his magic for emergency healing or a single super powered attack but at the rate this was going that wasn't likely to happen anytime soon. He leapt higher than was necessary over another tail, leaving himself apparently vulnerable as others closed swiftly in to crush the SeeD mercenary in midair. A visible aura of energy manifested around Zell for a split second before it, and he, vanished altogether with a crack of displaced air leaving the tails to slam uselessly against one another.

Barely a second later the Kyūbi skidded sideways as Zell reappeared with his fist buried in it's flank. Another burst of energy heralded his disappearance as it spun and snapped it's jaws shut where he'd been. A sickening crack echoed throughout the dark chamber when he struck a bone shattering blow to the Kyūbi's right leg, sending it crashing to the ground.

Cloud capitalized on the moment of vulnerability, leaping high up in the air and bringing his sword down hard on the Kyūbi's neck, cutting deep into the flesh and muscle there and a bolt of lightning courtesy of Edge struck directly between it's eyes, blinding it and leaving a scorch mark on the fur there.

Before they could continue to press their advantage, the Kyūbi decided it was high time to demonstrate why it was considered the second most powerful being in Elementia. With another roar, one that put it's earlier one to shame, it surged back to it's feet with a pulse of pure energy that blasted both former mercenaries away, burning them badly in the process and flinging them off into the darkness.

Edge, who had been at the height of a leap to unleash his last attack suddenly found himself pressed in and held by a pair of tails with enough force that he felt his ribs cracking, staring the great beast down as it opened it's jaws wide. For a moment Edge thought he was about to become a bijū snack before a black ball of energy coalesced and grew between them. His eyes widened in shock as he struggled in vain to free himself from the rib crushing grip.

His salvation came in the glint of metal, a dagger with a barely noticeable wire attached to the hilt, that looped over and around the Kyūbi's snout where Zidane caught it right out of the air and hurtled toward the ground, snapping the great jaws shut with his momentum and interrupting the deadly attack before it could be completed.

Seeing his chance, Edge summoned all the power he could and released it in a concentrated burst of wind that broke the tails hold on him and blasted him away. Unfortunately he didn't have any control over his fall like this and he grimaced as more of those blasted tails pursued him.

"Heads up!" A voice shouted.

Edge glanced to the side and saw a blur of fast moving energy that he guessed was Zell hurtling towards him at high speeds. Instinctively he reached out an arm and braced himself for the shock, a dislocated shoulder a minor inconvenience compared to the alternative. He was rather surprised when the same aura enveloped him the moment Zell grasped his outstretched hand and he suddenly found himself matching the young mercenary's velocity with only a minor jolt.

He stumbled drunkenly when they finally stopped, the sheer speed more than he was accustomed too even when under the effects of Haste. After a moment to center himself he looked around to find himself a surprising distance from the Kyūbi, which was whirling in place trying to catch a miniscule figure darting around it's paws occasionally unleashing small bursts of fire and smoke, bombs he supposed, to annoy it.

Edge sucked in a deep breath when he felt healing magic spread throughout his body and heal his ribs followed by a couple of other spells he recognized, a renewed Haste spell and the pleasant tingle of Regen. He nodded his thanks to Zell who grinned wolfishly back at him.

"What a rush!" He said with a giddy laugh. "Been a long time since I could cut loose like this!"

Edge nodded in agreement. "Well you dragged me out here, how about getting me back to the action?" He drawled.

With another grin Zell crouched down in front of him with his hands clasped together low to the ground and allowed his magically charged aura to reappear. "First class trip to the fight of the century coming right up!"

"I like the way you think, kid," Edge said with a chuckle. He gathered his energy and rushed forward, allowing Zell to catapult him back into the battle.

Once he was off, Zell groaned quietly as he stretched his muscles. He wasn't lying when he'd said it had been a long time since he'd cut loose and using his special enhancements were putting some strain on his body despite the constant healing.

He shook off the aches and snapped a few punches off to limber up and summoned up Ultima, the strongest spell in his repertoire, and couldn't keep the almost wicked grin off his face as he felt it permeate and enhance his entire body, something they'd never managed to accomplish using the Guardian Forces.

"Oh yeah, I've got something special just for you!" He thought maliciously, launching himself back into the fight.

Like Zell, Zidane was enjoying himself despite the seriousness of the situation they'd found themselves in. He'd missed the rush of a good battle after he and his friends had defeated Kuja, though he hadn't let his skills lapse thanks to frequent spars with Steiner and occasionally Beatrix. He'd also missed the thrill of adventuring despite his occasional 'expeditions' that had driven Garnet spare and earned him many stern lectures from the Captain of Knights of Pluto and the good General.

"I did stop when our son was born though," he mused as he tossed yet another of his patented smoke/shrapnel bombs straight into the Kyūbi's face. "Though I doubt she appreciated me encouraging Martin to have his own adventures and tagging along when he was old enough, even if it did give her more time to spend with little Sarah."

He reached out and grabbed a handful of fur on a passing tail, one chasing after Edge if he wasn't much mistaken, and allowed it to carry him up and away from the Kyūbi's snapping jaws but not before absently lobbing another bomb right down it's gullet for good measure.

"They may not be particularly powerful," he thought as he hurtled through the air. "But damn that must sting!"

At the height of his impromptu flight he flung his dagger up and guided it's looping arc over the tail with a wire trick that Baku had taught him during his time with Tantalus and caught it as it came around. He quickly tied the wire to his belt then let go and used one of the few bits of Genome magic Zidane had managed to learn from Mikoto, what she called 'Meta-Magic', to increase his weight and let gravity do the work for him, drawing the wire tight and dragging the massive tail down and away from the Ninja Prince as he released another powerful stream of water.

Though there was considerable force behind the attack it really didn't affect the Kyūbi beyond forcing it back some and soaking it completely, though that last was precisely what he was aiming for. Another blast of lightning, courtesy of Cloud, struck the Kyūbi in the back causing it to convulse wildly as the moisture amplified the attack.

"Try this on for size!" Zell's voice boomed from above as Zidane cut the wire free to avoid being flung around like a rag doll.

He looked up as he touched down to see Zell high above them with one fist cocked back and an aura of energy, similar to but different from his magical aura, surrounding it. With a shout of exertion Zell burst into motion, fist leading, and slammed into the Kyūbi with the force of a meteor.

Zidane actually paused to gape as the Kyūbi was almost folded in half, it's nose nearly touching the base of it's tails, from the strength of the blow but that proved to be rather unwise. Just like the last time they'd appeared to gain the upper hand the Kyūbi unleashed another burst of power, it's tails flailing dangerously and spawning whirling pillars of flame that quickly homed in on the four heroes.

Cloud spun his blade in several blindingly fast arcs, generating and countering with a powerful whirlwind that sucked up the towering flames and sent them crashing, ineffectually, against the Kyūbi's hide. Edge's counter was as simple as it was effective, unleashing yet another water ninjutsu to extinguish them as they drew close. Zell dealt with them in a way that just about anybody who knew him would expect, drawing on even more magic and dispersing them with lightning fast blows from his fists.

Zidane however found himself in a rather tight spot at the moment. The pillars weren't quite fast enough to catch him but he quickly found out that they did more than just spin and fly after him as he suddenly had to contend with a deluge of fireballs from three separate pillars. He ducked and dodged, flipped and spun with his Mage Masher flashing in blindingly fast arcs, carving through and absorbing the fireballs as fast as they came. There were just too damn many of them for the one dagger to be truly effective however and more than a few grazed him, scorching his clothes and leaving several seared patches of skin in their wake.

"The Orichalcum is great and all," Zidane thought sourly as he took a moment to survey the damage. "But would it have killed them to give me another Masher?"

There was a pause in the volley and Zidane took the moment to catch his breath and take stock of his situation. He paled considerably when he realized that the pillars, now five in number, had surrounded him.

"Fuck me," he thought, rationalizing his rare bout of vulgarity as all five unleashed another volley of fireballs that dwarfed the previous salvo by a considerable margin.

Zidane grit his teeth as he braced himself for the inevitable pain, regardless of the fact that he couldn't actually die here if the goddesses were to be believed. He remembered the agony of being struck down by Ultima, of dying however temporarily it was, and he was not interested in experiencing it a second time.

Luck seemed to smile upon him yet again though as a shimmering barrier sprung into being around him, catching and deflecting the fireballs. It took him only a second for his brain to catch up with what was happening, someone having cast Reflect on him, and react. Using the same wire trick from before Zidane threw his Mage Masher at one of the pillars, absorbing the mana holding it together and causing it to collapse, before going into a quick spin that sent it scything through the other four, dispelling them as well.

The moment the dagger was back in his hand, slightly warm to the touch, and the energy transferred back to him Zidane was moving again, determined not to be caught off guard like that again. He watched from the edges of the ongoing battle as it continued to go back and forth, the Kyūbi's attacks becoming more powerful and vicious the more damage they managed to inflict.

"This battle is only just getting started," Zidane thought grimly. "I hope we've got the staying power for when Kyūbi gets serious."

Sarutobi sat back in his chair, puffing contentedly on his pipe with a small smile on his face as he stared out into the night sky.

"That was most satisfying," he said finally. "It's been years since I've seen the Council so flustered."

Gruff laughter answered him. "Yeah I imagine Minato was good at getting under their skin," Gilgamesh said as he reclined in his chair, having settled into his four armed form with one pair of arms crossed against his chest and the other pair behind his head.

"Worked them like a pro," Sarutobi replied with a chuckle. "Even when he was a child I swear he had half the council wrapped around his little finger and when he started dating Kushina...she started teaching him how to be nasty."

"Oh really?" Gilgamesh asked, rubbing his hands, all of them, together eagerly. "Oh I do so hope those traits are genetic. It'll be a fun way to pass the time watching him run them ragged until he's old enough for me to test him properly."

Sarutobi smiled softly. "We can only hope, this village will need the kind of drive those two had in the future."

Gilgamesh hummed thoughtfully in agreement before settling into a comfortable silence that unfortunately didn't last very long as the intercom on Sarutobi's desk buzzed suddenly.

"Hokage-sama," his secretary said. "Hyūga Hiashi is here to see you. He says it concerns the Council meeting earlier tonight."

The two men shared surprised stares, they figured the Hyūga Clan Head would have wanted the news straight from the source rather than settle for just his twin's account of tonight's events. What they hadn't expected was for him to come so soon.

Sarutobi leaned forward and pressed a button. "Send him in, Joruri."

The office doors swung open to admit the tired, but smiling, Hiashi. "Good evening, Hokage-sama," he said wearily. "I'm sorry for the late hour but it was imperative that I confirm my brother's words."

Sarutobi shared another look with Gilgamesh before motioning for the Hyūga leader to take the

seat next to the other worldly traveler. The man nodded gratefully and sat, sparing the multi-armed man next to him a curious glance before turning his attention back to the Hokage.

"I understand that congratulations are in order, Hiashi-san?"

Hiashi sighed heavily but smiled none-the-less. "Yes, Hinata now has a younger sister. Manami insisted on naming her Hanabi."

"It's a beautiful name," Gilgamesh offered.

"Yes, yes it is," Hiashi agreed. "It is for my daughter's sake that I'm here however so if we can skip over the pleasantries?"

Sarutobi nodded slowly and motioned for him to continue.

"Is what my brother said true?" Hiashi asked, the barest hint of urgency underlying the question. "Has an heir to the Namikaze clan been found?"

"Yes, that was the primary reason for the meeting," Sarutobi replied slowly, wondering what would make the normally composed leader of the Hyūga seemingly crack. "Young Naruto is indeed the last of the Namikaze. We very nearly lost him tonight, if it weren't for some outside intervention."

"Could Minato have promised his firstborn?" Sarutobi wondered. "I didn't think either he or Kushina approved of betrothal contracts."

"Thank Kami for small mercies," Hiashi breathed in obvious relief.

"Should be thanking Yami actually," Gilgamesh told him humorously. "She's the one that was paying attention."

Hiashi blinked, completely nonplussed by the statement and stared at the four armed man, taking in his appearance apparently for the very first time. "And who are you?"

"You're brother didn't mention me?" Gilgamesh asked incredulously. "I'd have thought I would have warranted at least a passing mention, I'm-"

"His name is Gilgamesh," Sarutobi interjected quickly, much to Gilgamesh's annoyance.

Sarutobi didn't much care however, he had to put up with enough silly introductions from his loyal student, he'd rather limit the number of times he had to hear another. "He's a servant of sorts for the Shinigami."

"Actually I work for all three of them," Gilgamesh corrected.

Sarutobi and Hiashi blinked in confusion at that, though for entirely different reasons.

"I thought we decided not to spread word around about that," Sarutobi asked curiously.

"All three of them?" Hiashi repeated slowly, still obviously confused.

"We did but I think for Hiashi here we can make an exception. The future...well let's just say that his and Naruto's meet at several important points and leave it at that."

"Our...futures?" Hiashi asked slowly, even more confused than before. He looked to the elderly Hokage as the leader of Konoha sighed in exasperation.

"Pay him no mind, Hiashi-san," Sarutobi advised, his tone a mixture of frustration and amusement. "He'll not give you a straight answer and you'll get a headache trying to coax one out of him. You said that you were here for your daughter's sake earlier?" He prompted.

Hiashi took a moment to center himself before he nodded. "Yes, yes I did. Before their untimely death, Minato, Kushina and I were working on something that would change...many things between the Hyūga and the Namikaze clans."

Sarutobi leaned forward seriously and gave voice to his first suspicion. "Did Minato sign a marriage contract between your two clans?"

Hiashi looked positively shocked that the Hokage would suggest such a thing. "No, nothing of the sort!" He exclaimed. "We learned our lesson the first, and last, time we talked it over in front of Kushina. I don't think I'll ever forget being strung up from the ceiling by her chakra chains beside the Hokage or the tongue lashing she gave us."

Gilgamesh positively roared with laughter while Sarutobi chuckled heartily as he remembered his own experiences with the fiery woman.

"Sounds like she was quite the handful," Gilgamesh remarked.

"She was like a force of nature," Sarutobi replied wistfully. "Minato was the only one who could keep up with her."

"Or match her skills," Hiashi added. "And it is those skills that were the focal point of our plans and agreement, more pointedly their skill in fūinjutsu."

It took Sarutobi only a second to draw the right conclusion. "They were working on an alternative to the Branch family's cursed seal for you weren't they?"

"Indeed they were," Hiashi confirmed with a nod. "We communicated mainly through summoned messengers and the like and I made sure that all evidence of our endeavor was destroyed. I know Minato kept a copy of everything as well as the notes on the new seal safely hidden away behind one of his more sophisticated blood seals but when the Kyūbi attacked..."

"You believed them both to be dead," Sarutobi finished. "And without knowledge of an heir to carry their blood you feared that all your plans were in vain."

"Precisely," Hiashi confirmed heavily. "Not even Jiraiya could help me when I approached him a few days before he left to oversee his spy network. He informed me that he didn't even know where to begin unraveling Minato and Kushina's fūinjutsu work, nor did he know any ways to circumvent it."

Sarutobi had to work at keeping the frown he was feeling from showing on his face. He wasn't entirely surprised that Jiraiya hadn't been forthcoming with the Hyūga Clan leader about Naruto's existence, it had been his idea in the first place to continue Minato and Kushina's deception concerning keeping their heir a secret. No what bothered him was the fact that Jiraiya had apparently neglected to mention the fact that Minato had such a serious project in the works after Sarutobi had ordered him to dig up whatever he could on his successor/predecessor and his plans.

The elderly Hokage didn't miss the pointed look that Gilgamesh shot him but he shrugged it off for the moment. They'd argued fiercely before the meeting about Jiraiya and his culpability in events as they'd played out so far, with Sarutobi steadfastly defending his last loyal student's actions against Gilgamesh's many but decidedly vague accusations.

"Your student's loyalty is commendable, Hiruzen," Gilgamesh had retorted at one point. "But it is not his loyalty that is questionable, it is his decisions. Jiraiya's actions over the past thirty years have set up the stage for the worst threat Elementia has faced in thousands of years. If it weren't for our intervention the consequences of his machinations could have been felt for centuries, and not just in the Elemental Nations."

Despite his words, a seed of doubt did trouble him. A seed that was just beginning to blossom with Hiashi's confession just now.

"What else are you keeping from me Jiraiya?" Sarutobi wondered sadly.

He forced that line of thought to the back of his mind however. Hiashi and his issues with his clan were his primary focus at the moment, especially since Sarutobi could actually be of some use to the normally stoic man.

"Well with Naruto's heritage finally come to light we will be able to access the Namikaze compound in it's entirety at last," Sarutobi assured the man sitting before him. "And once we can get Naruto situated we can get through Minato's protections and hopefully find their work. With any luck I might be able to complete it and if it proves to be beyond my capabilities then perhaps Jiraiya can be of some assistance."

"And if he can't?" Hiashi asked with an undertone of worry.

"Then we merely wait until Naruto can finish his parent's work," Gilgamesh said simply.

"You say that as though it's a forgone conclusion," Sarutobi commented.

"Because it is," Gilgamesh shot back. "When the goddesses promised to unlock his full potential they were not speaking idly. Naruto has the potential to surpass not only his parents but the best warriors this world has ever produced since the Sage himself, his four teachers will make sure he can grasp that potential and I will make sure he lives to reach it."

"Speaking of Naruto," Hiashi said suddenly, deciding to change the direction of the conversation a bit. "My brother claimed you were somewhat vague when you mentioned he was injured, as though you were down playing just how badly hurt he was. It must have been more serious than you inferred if three goddesses saw fit to directly meddle in our affairs."

Sarutobi stared back, stone faced, at the Hyūga Head before he grimaced and sighed. "Leave it to a Hyūga to catch the small details," he finally said, somewhat ruefully.

"We're not sure what exactly but his attackers used some kind of accelerant, Gekidō oil the ANBU squad swore, to start the fire. I would have to dig deep in my jutsu repertoire to find something that could cause such widespread damage to a person," Sarutobi admitted heavily.

"Yami take them," Hiashi muttered in disgust. "There's no way that simple civilians could have gotten their hands on something as potent as Ryū Gekidō on their own though. Even high ranking shinobi have a hard time getting their hands on it thanks to the regulations Minato imposed, in fact the only way to get it now is by going through ANBU supply channels isn't it?"

"You are correct," Sarutobi told him. "I have a team going through our requisition requests and two more double-checking our stocks and inventory logs for any inconsistencies or missing supplies. If that doesn't produce any results I shall enforce the Clan Grievance laws and search through any private stores we can find."

"You'll ruffle more than a few feathers if it comes to that, Hokage-sama," Hiashi didn't hesitate to point out. "Especially amongst the Uchiha, I understand they use it for many of their clan's ceremonies and rituals."

"Then let them be ruffled," Sarutobi huffed irritably. "Things wouldn't have degenerated to this if I'd simply done the right thing from the beginning. I'd been hesitant to take an overt stand for Naruto before for fear of drawing too much attention to him but the time for that is well past. Hesitance is the last thing anyone shall meet should they test me."

Hiashi stared at the Hokage with a sharp look in his eyes for several moments before nodding slowly. To Sarutobi's surprise Hiashi's practiced stoicism cracked for the second time that night as he broke into a smile.

"While I'm sure many of my fellows would find your methods of dealing with anyone foolish enough to test you rather amusing," he said with an exasperated shake of his head. "I honestly hope that Ibiki can get the information he needs from those murderous bastards so that it never comes to that."

They sat in silence after Hiashi finished speaking for but a moment before it was broken by the buzzer on Sarutobi's desk.

"Yes, Joruri?" He asked as he pressed the intercom. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm not sure, Hokage-sama," Sarutobi's secretary hesitantly replied. "But Ibiki-san is here to see you sir, he says it's important."

"I see. Very well, send him in."

The moment the up and coming T&I Department Head, the youngest of three possible candidates, walked through the door with a grim expression on his face Sarutobi knew something was wrong. Of course Ibiki usually looked grim, it was a persona he perfected to intimidate his prisoners before he'd even begun interrogating them, but everything about him right then screamed of barely controlled anger and, if Sarutobi's eyes weren't deceiving him, a bit of fear.

"Report, Morino-san," Sarutobi snapped as the man hesitated, eying Hiashi warily.

"Hokage-sama," Ibiki said, snapping to attention. "The six detainee's you sent to us earlier...they're dead sir."

Hiashi's brow furrowed, the only sign of his distress he allowed to show, as Gilgamesh hissed out an annoyed sigh. For his part, Sarutobi simply slumped back into his chair and allowed the Hokage hat to fall forward and hide his face.

"It is as I feared then," he murmured quietly. "How were they killed?"

"Poison, Hokage-sama," Ibiki replied. "It was a fast acting neurotoxin of some kind our people have never seen before. They were all dead within a minute without anyone realizing until it was far too late."

"I take it the one responsible for delivering these meals has mysteriously vanished?" Sarutobi asked shrewdly.

"Yes, and the night cook with him," Ibiki replied. "I dispatched people to their last known residen-"

"They won't find anything," Sarutobi interrupted the young interrogator. "Whoever these infiltrators worked for wouldn't leave anything that might point us in the right direction."

He paused for a moment before giving Ibiki further orders. "If, however, they do manage to find something I want it sealed in the Vault along with any viable samples of the toxin and the bodies as well for examination at a later date. Is that clear?"

"Of course, Hokage-sama," Ibiki said and with a salute he disappeared via shunshin.

"So what now?" Gilgamesh asked after letting the heavy atmosphere linger for a few moments.

"We proceed as planned," Sarutobi replied simply. "Only now we keep a sharper eye on Naruto and key elements in the village that might not be so discouraged by his new station."

As the two men nodded in agreement, Sarutobi's thoughts turned inward. "Danzō...I pray, for your sake, that you learn your lesson from this night quickly. Otherwise what happened to Naruto will seem kind in comparison, I swear it."

Shadows moving in the barely lit room. Voices, slurred and indistinct, muttering to one another, an unpleasant smell wafting off them. Something wet, thicker than water and with an acrid scent, splashing on him and soaking his covers. This wasn't right, something was wrong here but before he could move, ask what was going on there was a scratching sound and the smell of sulfur added to the unpleasant odors already present. A face, twisted and leering, appeared lit from beneath by a match.

"It may be a little early to celebrate your birthday, boy," the man snarled, barely coherent. "But it's certainly not to late to enjoy your death."

The match arced through the air and landed on his oil soaked sheets before Naruto could even so much as twitch and his world dissolved into fire and pain and screaming and cruel, drunken laughter as he struggled to untangle himself from his burning blankets, succeeding only in wrapping them tighter around himself.

The heat and the pain grew unbearable and the world around him quickly started growing dark and silent, despite the light of the fire and raucous laughter of his attackers. The last thing he heard before he blacked out was the sharp crack of breaking wood and surprised shouting.

Naruto stumbled back into the wall opposite from the door he'd tried opening in the hopes of finding some way out of the dark tunnel he'd woken in, futilely trying to muffle his sobs as he sunk to the floor in a quivering heap. As he stared at the door across from him, massive chains began to snake across it's surface that sank deeply into the walls all around it, sealing it and the memory associated with it away tightly beneath nearly two feet of matte black steel.

As this happened the pain Naruto was feeling began to fade away until it was little more than a vague ache in the back of his mind. Similarly the memory itself faded away until it was little more than darkness allowing little more than the barest hint of what had happened.

Slowly, laboriously, Naruto pushed himself back to his feet eying the now barred door before him and the dozens of others lined up on either side of it with no small amount of fear. Just as slowly he began inching along the wall, desperate to get away from these doors and the dark things behind them. When his questing hands met empty air he turned quickly and found an open hallway that hadn't been there moments before but he didn't question it, simply turned and dashed into the welcoming darkness.

"I've got to get away from them," he thought feverishly as he continued down the path. "I have to get some where safe."

Although Naruto didn't realize it, his thoughts were subtly changing the layout of his mindscape to accommodate his desires and, despite what some might think, his desire to be somewhere safe was naturally leading him in the direction of the four former heroes and their opponent. This fact wasn't entirely lost on the five year old, the resounding roars and echoing explosions were a dead giveaway but even then he was of the mind that he'd rather face the unknown than whatever was behind those doors again. Naruto stopped dead in his tracks though when he finally reached the chamber with the massive gate that was meant to separate him from the Kyūbi, his jaw dropping in awe at the sight before him.

In the distance, yet still clearly visible due to it's immense size, the Kyūbi stood in all it's terrible glory, surrounded by a halo of malevolent energy and it's tails darting about wildly as though striking at invisible opponents. Gouts of fire, ice, lightning and water arced through the air around it, some striking the beast while others lashed out haphazardly into the darkness in a futile attempt to hit whatever it was fighting.

Quite suddenly the bijū skidded sideways, nearly collapsing to the ground, struck by some great force. It countered however, one tail raising high up in the air before whipping through the air so fast it produced a cracking sound that was audible even as far away as Naruto was, and apparently this time it struck true.

A massive plume of dust kicked up a short distance, relatively speaking, away from the battle that quickly extended into a trail that Naruto noted was heading right towards him. A resounding clang echoed throughout the chamber as whatever was causing the trail collided with the bars of the gate before the thing flailed it's way into the chamber with Naruto, slamming into the wall before slumping bonelessly to the ground.

Cautiously, Naruto approached the crumpled figure and was shocked to find it was a man, the most strangely dressed man Naruto had ever seen but a man none-the-less. Naruto was rather shocked when the man began moving, pulling himself unsteadily up the wall until he was standing.

Surprised blue eyes met shocked and scared blue. "Naruto? What are you doing here?" The tattooed man asked suddenly, startling the already shell-shocked boy.

"How do you know who I am?" Naruto asked in confusion. "Who are you? Where am I? What's going on?"

By the time Naruto had finished his voice had reached a hysterical pitch and he was close to hyperventilating. The man looked at him with concern before carefully hugging the boy to him, which led to Naruto breaking down into tears again.

"My name is Zell," the man said as he tried his best to soothe Naruto. "As for how I know who you are? Well let's just say it's my job and leave it at that for now."

Zell glanced back up at the battle still going on between his companions and the Kyūbi and grimaced. He didn't have the time to try and explain everything to Naruto right yet, not while the others still needed his help so with a sigh he pried the sniffling child away from him and looked him straight in the eyes.

"Listen, Naruto," he said carefully. "I can't answer the rest of your questions right now, I have to help my friends defeat the monster out there so that it can't hurt you. Do you understand?"

Naruto stared back at him with wide eyes. "Is it going to try and eat me?"

Zell had to fight to keep the smile from his face. "No, Naruto, it won't and it can't as long as you stay right here. Don't move unless you have to and whatever you do don't go beyond those bars over there okay? Can you do that for me, Naruto?"

When Naruto nodded hesitantly Zell beamed at him. "Good! Don't worry, Naruto, once my friends and I are done with it that monster won't be able to hurt you ever again!"

Zell waited until Naruto nodded again before he finally let the boy go. The smile shifted into a grim look as he surveyed the raging battle in the distance. They were making some progress against the Kyūbi certainly but nowhere near what they'd all believed at first. The problem was that they had expected the energy it released, that was subsequently purified by the seal, not to be usable afterward.

That however was not the case. The energy was being purified as planned but it was cycling back to the Kyūbi at an astonishing pace leaving it at pretty much full power throughout the entire fight thus far. Another wrinkle in the original plan was that as the corruption it suffered from dwindled it's intelligence began to pierce the rage clouding it's mind and the Kyuubi began fighting less like a mindless beast and more and more like a master strategist shaping the battlefield, sometimes literally, and maneuvering the four heroes into tight corners.

Several flashes of blue light caught Zell's attention and he grimaced. That would mark the third time Cloud had used the attack that spit his sword into it's component parts, Omnislash he'd called it when they began laying out their rather considerable list of techniques on the trek here, since the battle began. While it did some serious damage it didn't do much to stagger the Kyūbi and left Cloud vulnerable in the few seconds it took for him to reform his sword and this time Zell wasn't there to cover him.

"Guess it's time to bust out the really big guns," he muttered.

Zell held his right hand out before him, palm open, and began focusing all of his considerable power to that one point. Slowly, but with increasing speed, a small ball of pure white energy grew and pulsed there, illuminating a rather sizable area. Once the ball was of sufficient size Zell clenched his hand into a fist crushing the ball of energy and causing it's power to permeate his entire body, manifesting in a visible aura of white energy much like when he used his magic enhancements. Wasn't that much different actually since he'd based the alternative enhancements off his own ultimate technique in the first place.

He inhaled deeply and then let it out slowly, then he simply disappeared. A vibrant trail of light was the only thing to mark his passing as he shot under the Kyūbi, the great beast actually pausing in its assault to look curiously at the light snaking between it's enormous paws, leaving itself wide open for Zell's attack.

Much to his surprise the oppressive darkness did actually end. Thanks to Zell's enhanced sight and reflexes he managed to avoid splattering himself all over the wall at the far end of the massive chamber, instead using his speed to carry him straight up and, in the blink of an eye, was running along the chamber's expansive ceiling far above the battle below. By the time the Kyūbi paused to look down he was already directly above it and, with a final shout of exertion pushed away from the ceiling with all the power at his disposal, his light encased fist leading.

He struck true and he struck hard and this time, unlike his last aerial assault, he punched straight through the Kyūbi, bursting out of it's chest and hitting the ground with enough force to create a crater nearly sixty feet across and almost the same deep. The Kyūbi stumbled some from the pain of having gaping holes appear in it's back and chest and then nearly collapsed when it's paws slipped at the edges of the crater but Zell was far from finished with his attack.

He pushed off again, this time angled so that his fist struck the Kyūbi in the jaw. The force was significantly diminished but still more than enough to snap it's head back and lift it's front paws off the ground, flailing in the air as it tried to avoid toppling completely backwards. The effort proved futile though as Zell burned the last of his energy and momentum off, flipping over and kicking off the ceiling a second time and struck just below the wound caused by his first strike, pushing the great beast completely off balance. It crashed painfully, if it's strained roar was any indication, onto it's back crushing several tails under it's bulk.

Zell's companions were not idle during his assault. As soon as he leapt clear massive shards of ice rained down from above as Edge arced over the Kyūbi's fallen form. It's tails, the few not caught under it's body, whipped sluggishly through the air deflecting a few of the larger pieces but a significant portion slipped through, pummeling and piercing it's already battered hide. A bolt of lightning flashed down and split one of the large shards that had managed to cut through the Kyūbi's armor-like skin, closely followed by Cloud who fell between the two halves with his sword leading, driving the massive blade deeper into the now gaping wound.

He too leapt away but left his weapon behind and although that might seem like a grave error his reasoning became clear a moment later when Zidane followed him down, his weight increased to the maximum his body could withstand under the effects of his Meta-Magic, striking the pommel of the Fusion Sword with the force of a falling comet, driving it even deeper.

Setting his feet inside the, thankfully, bloodless wound Zidane gripped the hilt of Cloud's massive weapon and heaved, pulling it free and sending it soaring back up into Cloud's grasp. He looked around as the wound began sealing up beneath his feet and pulled out a bandolier with several crystalline flasks attached to it. They were filled with a viscous green substance that did not look healthy in the least, and with good reason.

It was a cocktail of Grand Dragon venom, the poison commonly laced in Rune Tooth blades and the peculiar gunk that gave Malboro's their unique odor that Zidane had gone to extreme lengths to mix, with spectacular, and deadly, results. The final result could etch steel and eat through flesh like a powerful acid and, once it finally ran it's course, caused what flesh it didn't dissolve to necrotize at a terrifying rate.

He spun the bandolier around his head a couple of times as he lightened his own body and transferred a portion of it into the bandolier itself as he jumped up and out of the deep wound, flinging the deadly flasks down in his wake for them to be swallowed up by the rapidly mending flesh. For the briefest of moments Zidane thought that his attempt had failed, that the Kyūbi's healing had neutralized his special brews but the sudden spasm that shook the chamber and the high, keening wail of pain, a thing that sounded utterly alien coming from the gargantuan fox guardian, told of his success. Further proof came when the nearly mended wound bubbled and split wide open with an audible hiss, releasing a foul-smelling mist as it continued to bubble and melt away.

The Kyūbi curled in on itself in an effort to protect it's ravaged body from further attacks and it's tails fell around it like a shroud, adding a further layer of protection and hiding it from the eyes of the gathered heroes a short distance away.

"What the fuck was that?" Edge asked Zidane as he landed next to them, more than a little shaken by the Kyūbi's earlier wail.

"Just a little something I whipped up to deal with monsters with overly thick hides when I didn't have magic handy," Zidane replied with a shrug. "When I started adventuring on my own some I needed something in my arsenal that packed a punch besides my Dyne techniques."

"Well from the looks of things you certainly succeeded," Zell spoke up. "Do you think it's down for good this time?"

"I hate to be the one to say it, but it's doubtful," Cloud responded quietly. "Considering how much damage it's already shrugged off it'll probably be back on it's feet and ready to continue in a few minutes."

"So why are we just standing here then?" Zell asked impatiently. "Shouldn't we, you know, be pressing the advantage and all that?"

"Because some of us need to pause and recharge," Edge told him as he fished around for an elixir in his pack. "We told you already, we don't use magic quite like you do and this is the best chance we've got to take stock."

He quaffed half the elixir in one go, not needing the entire thing since any wounds they'd sustained healed automatically, and passed it to Cloud who gratefully downed the rest. Likewise, Zidane had pulled another flask from somewhere and took a long pull as he surveyed the mostly destroyed area around them.

"I'd give it another minute before we're back at it," Zidane said as he stowed the flask away. "Any ideas on how we should proceed? It's getting more intelligent by the second and I'm starting to run out of tricks and attacks it hasn't already seen. I'd really hate to be on the receiving end of one of it's counter attacks."

"Not enough time," Cloud replied, shaking his head. "We'll just have to continue as we have and hope it goes down before we're pushed that far."

They fell silent after that, readying their weapons and spells for the continuing conflict and waited...and waited some more. The four former heroes shared quick, concerned glances as the time dragged on and the Kyūbi remained convalescent for far longer than any of them thought it should.

"Enough waiting," Edge snarled as he reached for his weapons. "The longer we wait the better chance it has to catch us-"

The rest of his sentiment would go unvoiced however as a massive tremor shook the ground beneath their feet causing them all to stumble. The Kyūbi's massive tails unfurled like the petals of a monstrous flower and arranged themselves in a semi-circle around it's head as it stood, it's power blasting forth like nothing they'd seen before. With another earthshaking roar, one with enough power behind it to form deep fissures in the ground under their feet, it opened it's jaws and the four warriors found themselves staring down a fully formed orb of dark energy, the Bijūdama that the three goddesses had warned them so strongly about.

Cloud and Zell moved with reflexes honed through years of conflict with powerful and destructive foes. Zidane too was quick on his feet, having explored the length and breadth of his own world long after the others had settled down into quieter lives but the sixth sense he'd developed during these adventures, the one that told him "something was about to go horribly wrong," caused him to pause in his flight and look over his shoulder. What he saw had him reversing his flight so suddenly a lesser man would have been tasting dirt for his efforts.

While the others had managed to keep their feet during it's showy display of power Edge had stumbled rather badly while drawing his blades, having been caught setting himself up for a charge, and to further compound his misfortune a small fissure had opened right beneath his feet just deep enough to swallow them up to the ankles. Just like Zidane, Edge relied prominently on speed and maneuverability and so it didn't take him long to recover from his little mishap and start the bare beginnings of a proper dodge but it was not enough.

The condensed ball of pure energy exploded outwards, expanding many times it's original size and moving with the startling speed the four warriors had begun to attribute to the Kyūbi, catching the Ninja Prince in the outer edges of the blast but engulfing him completely none-the-less. Zidane didn't slow down nor did he hesitate anymore than he had during those last moments in the Iifa Tree. He simply drew his Mage Masher and, blatantly ignoring the Goddesses warnings, dove right into the destructive beam blade first.

Immediately Zidane knew why they had warned him not to attempt absorbing an attack of this magnitude. The Mage Masher was heating up to a dangerous degree already, just like the one he'd wielded against Kuja's Ultima, and he knew it wouldn't last very much longer. He cursed the three Goddesses once again for not giving him a spare like he'd taken to carrying later in life and poured everything he had into getting to his compatriot, hoping and even praying that the man was still alive somewhere in this hellish torrent as the Masher began vibrating violently in his hand.

Zidane could just barely make out a patch of darkness in the bright torrent of energy that he was certain was Edge, still standing almost in spite of the destruction raging around him, but he knew that he couldn't get them clear in time. The Mage Masher was burning away in his hands, he could feel his body burning with the overwhelming power being transferred.

"Only one thing left to do!" Zidane's face broke out in a wide grin and he laughed in an adrenaline fueled rush as the power thrummed under his skin, through his very blood.

Zidane discarded the useless hilt as the last of the Mage Masher's blade disintegrated finally and dug deep within himself, just as he'd learned to do, and began harnessing that destructive force singing within him, just beneath the surface. A burst of power to rival the energy around them, and indeed was enough to disrupt the attack in a blast of light for a crucial moment, propelled Zidane forward to collide hard with the heavily wounded Edge and force the two out of the range of the blast when it continued unimpeded.

The two heroes landed heavily a fair distance away, with Zidane shooting further off into the darkness, and lay there unmoving. Cloud and Zell landed next to the severely burnt form of the King of Eblan and had to pause a moment to keep the contents of the stomachs where they belonged before they could move to help him.

Edge was in terrible shape. Somehow his armor had survived and absorbed the brunt of the attack, shielding his chest, arms and much of his legs from much of the damage but everything else wasn't nearly as lucky. His clothing had disintegrated completely and his skin had nearly melted under the intensity of the attack, Zell and Cloud didn't dare touch him for fear that his skin might burst open under their fingers. Zell began working feverishly, drawing out and casting all of his most powerful healing spells in quick succession on the wounded man as Cloud turned back to keep an eye on the powerful creature not to far away that seemed...rather pleased with itself if the decidedly unpleasant grin on it's face was any indication.

"Fucking hell!" Zell hissed as he worked. "He's lucky he shielded his face from that, and that his armor could withstand that kind of power directed at him, that's some fine work. Did you see what...happened ...to...Zi...dane...?"

Cloud looked worriedly over his shoulder when his companion trailed off into a stunned silence, thinking perhaps that Zell had caught sight of Zidane's similarly wounded form and felt his jaw drop in shock.

Zell had indeed spotted Zidane, he was quite suddenly very hard to miss. Like Edge his clothes were gone but in their place was light red fur that covered the vast majority of his body except for patches along his arms, legs and chest. His hair and tail had shifted to the same color and the latter twitched back and forth restlessly as the thief turned hero glided forward, his now blood red eyes fixed on the great fox before them.

It took a moment for the pair a moment to get over the shock of Zidane's sudden change of appearance to realize that he was actually floating, nearly three feet of the ground, towards them. His power manifested itself in a visible aura, flowing off him in small eddies and waves, as he drew level with them.

"Keep him safe and out of the way," Zidane told them as he drew level with them, and even his voice thrummed with barely restrained power.

"I believe it is high time I show this over-grown mongrel just why Garland once called me his Angel of Death."

A/N: And done! Or at least as done as I can be satisfied with, if that makes any sense at all. I honestly wanted to finish the battle in this chapter but the situation outside of Naruto kinda took up more time and thought than I originally planned though I am moderately happy, at least, about how the more political aspect is evolving. Some of you might not be real happy about the way that I'm starting to portray Jiraiya and all I can really say on the matter is...sorry I guess. It's going to get a little worse though. I honestly don't like the man, I'm convinced that he's a rather pathetic teacher despite the fact that people wave about his training of the Yondaime as proof of his epicness at times. I'm rather certain that it's Minato's natural skill and ingenuity more than Jiraiya's actual training methods that are responsible for his rise considering he had two-and-a-half to three years to train a boy who learned a technique that took HIM a YEAR to learn in the space of a month and brought him back with nothing more than he left with other than the ability to GO BAT-SHIT INSANE AND ATTACK ANYONE AND EVERYONE IN SIGHT! Yeah, real improvement there. Excellent display of his teaching ability. Anyways, ranting aside I'll admit upfront that Jiraiya isn't going to get a good rep in many of my stories but he'll still be a badass and crafty shinobi, I won't deny him that regardless of what I think about the rest of his faults.

Speaking of "badass and crafty" what do you all think of the expanded abilities of our heroes? For a short while I was simply going to copy and paste, for lack of a better description, the abilities the four heroes used from the games (and one movie) but then I stopped to think about it and realized something: if these are the spirits of dead heroes is it really so believable that they wouldn't IMPROVE at least somewhat between their 'adventure' (aka the games) and their deaths? The vast majority of the heroes in a Final Fantasy game generally range between 15 and 25 (Zidane was the youngest of this group at 16, Zell was 17, Cloud was 21 in FFVII and 23 in AC and Edge was 26 in FFIV and 43 in it's The After Years sequel) with a couple of extremes either way thrown in for good measure so that's several decades of life, baring any unexpected complications, for them to do some training or further adventuring. Granted Edge actually starred in a sequel and he didn't do much improving over the course of 15-20 years or whatever it was but Cloud made some obvious improvements between the events of FFVII and Advent Children (the Fusion Sword and improved Omnislash) and I couldn't see Zell of all people simply laying about idly, he has far too much energy for that. In Zidane's case I couldn't see him becoming more powerful per say, but trickier? Hell yes. Thus he began exploring his Genome heritage (Meta-Magic as I decided to call it) and dabbling in things like alchemy to supplement his thief abilities and skill with a blade, not to mention digging deeper into his Trance capabilities considering he was supposed to be Kuja's better replacement and when you take into account what Kuja could do with Trance...yeah.

Tied in with the above, in terms of power I view the four heroes like this: Zell is the most powerful of the group normally thanks to his enhanced "stat junction" ability, which is a method he developed to supp up all of his attributes with a single spell (Ultima in this case, the spell with the most powerful effect on every stat) and ranks easily as a high-level Kage, on par and perhaps slightly higher than the Raikage in terms of physical prowess with the versatility of his magic to push him above and beyond that bar. Cloud stands next in line, with his superior swordsmanship and skill with magic there are few who could stand up to him in the Narutoverse so he also ranks easily as a Kage level fighter. Edge comes next in the hierarchy but only just makes the cut of Kage level status. He lacks the versatility of the other two heroes and the destructive techniques (though that isn't entirely his fault since Limit Breaks and their like didn't really make an appearance until Final Fantasy VI) but his power isn't in question. He'd fall along the lines of the Sandaime Hokage (in his later years) in terms of power, he has decent techniques but nothing that makes him stand out much compared to his counterparts. Zidane is actually a tricky one to rate if you think about it. In normal circumstances he'd rank somewhere around jōnin level in power, being a thief combat isn't his primary aspect, but he makes up for it with his versatility and wiles in combination with his blade skills (being able to wield two daggers effectively and also being adept with double-bladed swords is a fair accomplishment) but when you factor in his ability to enter Trance he shoots up to the top of the power charts. Tentatively I'd place him amongst the ranks of the bijū when he draws on that power, somewhere around the Yonbi or Gobi. You might be thinking that's pushing it but I ask you to consider, once again, what Kuja could do when he attained Trance. He single-handedly destroyed Terra (or at least it's capital city) with that power at his disposal and Garland created Zidane to replace Kuja as his "Angel of Death" which I'm willing to assume means that Zidane is, at the very least, as powerful as Kuja could be and could very likely be more powerful than the 'faulty' Genome since he draws on more...wholesome emotions to power his Trance (Kuja having absorbed a startling amount of greed, hatred and jealousy from the souls of others to force the change)

Moving on from that, I'm sure some of you might have noticed the slight alteration I made in the story summary. That's right, Fate and Fantasy is officially no longer a harem story. I'd like to apologize to all those who sent me such great suggestions but I've been looking through my folder of ideas lately and I've become a little annoyed with how many harem stories make up the lot. "Variety is the spice of life" is my new motto for my writing style from now on so I decided that Naruto/Hinata/Haku is enough for this story, I'll let some of the others I'm working on (that is partially the reason this took so long to update, my...muse is it? Yes my muse simply would not focus on one idea for longer than a few days at times and thus I have half completed first chapters for seven other stories mocking me from my fan fiction folder) fulfill that little niche in my future archive. Again, apologies to those reviewers who sent me such great suggestions and reasons but I guess you'll just have to wait for my future works...if you're willing to wait that long of course.

Oh and I nearly forgot, Ryū Gekidō, or Gekidō Oil as it'll be referred to later, translates roughly into Dragon(s) Rage or Rage Oil. I'd like to thank Namikaze09 for being kind enough to post that very helpful link to a English/Japanese dictionary site he has on his profile. Although some people might find it annoying there are going to be other instances where I'll be using it for techiques and other shinobi related things. I'm going to liken it to Tho Fan from Jade Empire, as the smith in the very first village explains it, the language might not be as widely spoken but some just like the way it rolls off the tongue better. I personally prefer the techniques not be in English, some of them sound positively ridiculous when they're translated.

Anyways, hope you enjoyed the third chapter of Fate and Fantasy and please, leave a review. Tell me if you liked the battle or how I handled the situation the Hokage is facing, if you noticed a mistake somewhere that I need to edit or just have suggestions for any other powers or abilities the heroes might have picked up during their lives (I may have a high opinion of my imagination and creativity but I'll not turn away a good idea without good reason) so until next time, I'll catch you all on the flip side!