"Troubling." Sarutobi muttered. "That makes eight." He passed the report to Danzo.
"That is troubling. I wonder how they managed to defeat the Eight Tails container. In any case, one assumes that means we are next." Danzo raised an eyebrow. "In fact, by the dates on this report he was attacked at the same time as Konoha."
"We must assume that they will try again." Sarutobi tapped his chin. "Akatsuki is now down to… four members?"
"Kisame, Tobi, Deidara and Zetsu, yes." Danzo frowned. "I worry, however, that they will find a replacement for Itachi. Orochimaru need no longer fear Itachi's eye, for example."
"True." The Hokage sighed heavily. "I wish Mitarashi was of a higher rank. She's edging into A, but nowhere near the point I could send her against her old mentor – even with the advantage her summons give her."
"It would seem our best bet, then, is the remarkable Team Seven." Danzo looked sidelong at the crystal ball. "Shall we check on them again?"
"Oh, why not." Sarutobi swept the cloth cover off, and both elderly ninja began watching their favourite show… er, monitoring a valuable asset.
"And, finally, test 32!" Naruto shouted, holding a keening Rasenshuriken in the palm of his hand.
Sasuke looked from side to side. "Suddenly I feel a lot more apprehensive about this."
"Oh, you'll be fine." Naruto ran forward, spun his arm around and released the Sage-enhanced Rasenshuriken.
Sasuke disappeared inside a threshing wall of wind chakra.
"Well?" Sakura asked.
Sasuke shrugged. "The clone hasn't dispelled yet. It would seem that Tadakatsu really does render even a shadow clone invulnerable. Convenient."
Naruto landed next to them. "I think that's it for today. Anything I forgot?"
"Can't think of anything." Sakura said. "Sasuke?"
Sasuke was staring fixedly into the distance. "Guys, incoming."
Sakura and Naruto looked. "I can't see anything."
"Neither can I." Sakura said, before frowning. "Hmmm…" Her hands wove a pair of seals, and the air rippled in front of her. "There we go."
Naruto looked over, interested. "What's that? Wind technique?"
"Yeah, it lenses light so I can see further. Sorry, I think it's beyond your control levels… anyway, that's Deidara on a bird. Still a couple of miles out."
"Any sign of Tobi, Kisame or Zetsu?"
"No, but there wouldn't be. Hey, Sai?" The ex-Root nin materialized next to Sakura. "Mind checking with the people maintaining the barrier jutsu? Tell them to be especially alert."
"I understand." Sai shot off a-crowback.
"Where was he?" Sasuke asked, thrown. "I didn't notice him."
"Naruto's familiar-spirit thing-"
"Kudagitsune." Kuda interrupted.
"Thanks. Anyway, that inspired him, and we've been developing things like living person storage seals and perceptual seals connected to the internal seal space. Basically, he can store himself in a seal array attached to a flat surface or something."
"Uh… guys?" Naruto asked. "What's our engagement plan with Deidara?"
Sasuke drew the Raijin. "Since I can shut down his attacks, second-strike. Wait for him to attack, then capitalize on the moment of distraction."
Naruto nodded, and multiplied himself to begin building a Rasenshuriken. Sakura vanished in a swirl of water.
After several seconds, her voice came out of thin air. "We're in range by now, surely?"
"He blew Naruto's arm off at half again that range last time." Sasuke confirmed. "I don't know why he hasn't done anything yet."
"Clone going to blow us up?" Naruto asked, holding his Rasenshuriken at the pre-injection stage so they could still talk.
"Hmmm… nope." The invisible Sakura checked. "That's the real him, and he's not moulding any chakra."
Deidara began waving what looked like a handkerchief.
"Is that supposed to be a parley flag?" Sasuke asked.
"Looks like." Naruto dismissed his Rasenshuriken. "Keep an eye on him, Sasuke, and be ready to blast him if you get a prediction that he's going to turn hostile."
"What are you doing, Naruto?" Sakura asked.
"It's worked on other Akatsuki members before now. I'm going to talk to him."
"Uh, hi… Naruto, right? The Kyuubi Jinchuuriki, yeah?"
Naruto nodded. "And you must be Deidara."
"Heh, yeah. Uh, no hard feelings, yeah? For blowing your arm off a month or two ago?"
Naruto showed his intact arms. "No arm, no foul."
"Ouch, yeah." Deidara winced. "Okay, look. We – Tobi and Kisame and me, yeah? We went and beat up the eight-tails Jinchuuriki, practically levelled Unraikyo… which was fun, yeah." The S-class missing nin grinned with the memory. "And at the end of it, we caught him and took him back to extract. And turned out, all there was was a tentacle."
"Huh." Naruto said. "Messing with transformation? Kind of neat."
"It was cool, yeah, but apparently it wasn't as much of a problem as it sounded." Deidara shrugged. "I don't know how it works, I'm just in it for the explosions."
"Yeah?" Naruto asked.
"Yeah. But anyway, then Orochimaru turns up, and it turns out what their whole plan is. The real one, yeah?"
"They have an actual plan?" the Jinchuuriki said, surprised. "I thought they'd come up with the whole plan while drunk."
"And I could have respected that, yeah!" Deidara said passionately. "But no, they came up with this ages ago. Whole long plan, right from when one of them tried to set the Kyuubi on Konoha up to today. And you're not going to believe what their goal is."
"They actually told you?"
"Hell yeah, yeah! They thought it'd make us go along with it. Seems like Kisame already knew, and Orochimaru liked the sound of it, yeah, but I wanted OUT."
"Wait." Naruto frowned. "There's two things here, and I don't want to forget either of them. First, if Orochimaru and Kisame were the ones being told, who was 'they'? Tobi?"
"Him and Zetsu." Deidara nodded, gloomily. "I don't know what's up with the guy. He seemed so fun and jokey when we were out on missions, yeah."
Naruto shrugged. "What about the second thing? What was the plan?"
"Hypnotize everyone in the world using the moon so they all think they're having a perfect life." Deidara said, deadpan.
Naruto blinked. "What?"
"Okay, that makes so little sense that I can't even see where they're coming from in the first place."
"It gets better, yeah?" Deidara said. "Apparently all they need now is a bit of the nine tails. They don't need all of all the tailed beasts."
Naruto raised his thumb to his mouth, then paused. "Hey, Sasuke! You still watching this?"
"Yes." Sasuke replied from the middle distance.
"Good! Hey, Deidara, please repeat this sentence: I am no longer affiliated with Akatsuki and want to stop them."
"I'm no longer part of Akatsuki, yeah?" Deidara more-or-less repeated. "And I'm completely behind stopping them. That do?"
Naruto completed the summoning. "Ichimaru, go check on Sora. What's the verdict, Sasuke?"
Sasuke flickered beside Naruto. "He was telling the truth."
"You know, that eye of yours is kind of handy." Naruto said. "Did you ever notice that?"
"All the time, Naruto. All the time. Though I could do without having every last moment of that conversation memorized forever. I hope I haven't copied his speech tic…"
"I don't have a speech tic, yeah!" Deidara said indignantly.
"Don't worry." Naruto said, patting him on the shoulder. "The first step is admitting you have a problem. I used to end many of my sentences with the same thing as well, but I got therapy for it." Suddenly, Naruto was struck by something. "Actually, that particular tic was genetic – though not from the same side as the hair. Otherwise I would have almost thought we were related."
"Heh, yeah. No, some clans from Iwa do have relatives in Konoha, yeah? In my case, I think mine is a distant branch of the Yamanaka, yeah?"
"Huh. Neat. Well, that's going to help."
"First stop is the T&I department." Naruto raised his hands placatingly. "I know, I know, but I think they'll bring the Yamanaka head back in to look you over since you're such an important guy, and you can ask about staying over there for a bit."
"You think they'll let me, yeah?"
Sakura appeared to condense out of the air. "You're a former antagonist who had a talk with Naruto. That's a form N-21: Naruto Did It Again." She rubbed her chin as she fell into step. "Thus far there's been, let's see… the Kyuubi herself, sort of… Gaara of the Sand and Shukaku… Itachi, Konan, Nagato-"
"Itachi?" Deidara interrupted. "When did that happen? And who's Nagato?"
"He told us what he knew about Akatsuki's plans within two minutes of first seeing Naruto." Sakura said. "Granted, he was infiltrating Akatsuki all along, but… anyway, Nagato is the former 'Leader' of Akatsuki. The one with the six puppet bodies and piercings."
"That's really strange, yeah." Deidara looked sidelong at the other blonde. "What is it with you, kid, yeah?"
"Not like I know." Naruto shrugged. "Seems to work, though."
Ichimaru reappeared. "He's fine, but the monastry has decided to fort up."
"Probably for the best if they do."
"So, the situation hasn't actually changed much." Sasuke said, as they waited for Inoichi to show up. "It's just that we know now that Orochimaru is back, and Deidara is no longer part of the organization."
"Soon we could probably maange a quorum of members and take the name Akatsuki from them." Sakura joked.
"Could be fun, yeah." Deidara chuckled. "Hey, that reminds me. What are you guys' opinions on explosions, yeah?"
Team Seven looked from one to another awkwardly. Naruto spoke first. "When you actually ask like that, and we think about it… we cause an amazing number of them."
"Basically, I'm a Jinchuuriki who can do the Bijuu Ball; Sakura has custom explosive tags and can do fire-wind combos all the time; Sasuke can shoot shuriken so fast they blow holes in rock, and Sai's summons specialize in explosives of one kind or another."
Sai answered. "The Crows have invented a way to make explosions happen inside a tube. This propels something forward very fast. They have also developed a thing called a firework."
"Sounds kind of cool, yeah. I'd like to see that, yeah."
"You probably would, wouldn't you…" Sakura said lightly. "Oh, looks like they're ready for us."
"Well?" Sarutobi asked.
"He's telling the truth, and seems inclined to throw his lot in with us for now." Inoichi confirmed. "Though there's one thing he missed - I'm not surprised, people remember more than they consciously notice. Orochimaru was performing the Impure World Resurrection as Deidara left."
"That can't be good." The Third sighed. "Well, we'll have to remain on medium alert. As of now, all ninja who are not attached to genin teams are on watch on/watch off. Genin teams are three-shift."
"Understood." Inoichi said, nodding. "I'll take Deidara to our spare apartment, and then head down to the sensory room to monitor the area."
"Thank you, Inoichi." Sarutobi said. "I am grateful for your help. I will be in my office, ready for whatever I might need to do. Second in command is Tsunade, should the worst happen."
Naruto rolled out of bed, up before the alarm. "Heh, looks like last night's training didn't tire me out as much as normal."
Kuda chuckled sleepily. "Probably because you actually ran out of ideas."
"Yeah, but I've got more now. Right, let's see… five cups of Ramen should do for breakfast. Two minutes for the food, and I can spend that getting changed. I need to see if that demonic sage mode is a good idea!"
"Don't forget you're on patrol duty after ten."
"Yeah, thanks." Naruto hummed. Making five hundred clones to cover his patrol pattern would work, and all it would mean was that he couldn't practice Sage Mode while they were out. "Okay, and then there's the other thing – the throwable non-Sage Rasenshuriken."
"Sounds like a full day."
"Yeah! I feel good about this one." Naruto grinned. He kind of did have an awesome life.
For starters, explosions got evaluated as training achievements…
Sasuke stepped out of the door, mind whirring with possible new ideas. Perhaps he could try summoning a Thunder bird, and trying to merge his electrical element with that of the summon.
Equations drifted in the back of his mind, more felt than consciously calculated. A proper use of the Raijin would allow for his mount to draw on the power, and himself as well, and if they fired out blasts of lightning with opposed polarity spaced apart then they could potentially cause equalization at the target and cause vast transient currents.
For that matter, if he understood the latest book he'd read (and he did) then matter itself was thought to be made up largely of electrical charges. Playing around with them could prove to be very useful… and, of course, dangerous.
That was how things worked, though, in the ninja world. At least there were shadow clones to experiment with.
Sakura wove a web of chakra into her hair, and smiled triumphantly when it took without a fuss. Finally.
This was a neat little contingent water jutsu, designed to react only when there was a hostile ninja taking hold of her hair. It transferred the stored water into the ninja's hands, which ought to be… messy, true, but also stop them grabbing her hair.
Now she could feel she had a real justification for her long hair. Jiraiya kept weaselling out of teaching her Needle Jizo, so this was an acceptable substitute.
She looked up. Looked like Sasuke was second to the training grounds today.
"Oh, what is it?"
"Just…" Sasuke looked embarrassed. "If someone had told me I'd be saying this three years ago, I'd never have believed them… want to go out tonight, Sakura?"
Sakura felt like she'd just been hit with a mild Lightning technique. "Uh… sure!" She rallied as fast as she could. "Thanks, I mean, I'd love to. I just never asked because, well… I thought it'd be too much like I was before I became a ninja."
"I respect you enough as a ninja now, Sakura." Sasuke said. "Just don't mention this to Ino, okay?"
"I'd never use it to get a cheap shot on her." Sakura said firmly. "I learned my lesson over that."
They stood awkwardly for another few seconds.
"So!" Sakura said, brightly. "I just remembered what I was going to ask. When you use your Masamune power, you have a true understanding of Lightning, right?"
"What's the Celestial word for it?"
"Hang on a second, and I'll see if I can remember it…" Sasuke blinked, and when his eyes opened they were the red swirl of his Eternal Mangekyo. "Masamune is the left eyed dragon of… Lightning."
Sakura heard the word, and felt it disassemble into its' component concepts in her mind. "Oh, wow. That's what I was missing – I knew there were two polarities, and that there was a difference between one which is the presence of electrons and another that's the absence, but I didn't know the cores of atoms were also the absence-type of electricity! Thanks, Sasuke, that's a great help. I'll see what I can do with it."
"No problem." Sasuke nodded, then walked over to a free space and began running through kata.
"Good…" Naruto said to himself. "I'm first."
Taking a deep breath, he sat down and formed a shadow clone. The clone began to gather Sage energy, reaching out to the natural world.
"Huh…" the clone said after a second, before Naruto could really start drawing on Millie. "This feels kind of strange. Weaker than normal."
"The natural energy?" Naruto checked. "Strange. It still there?"
"Yeah, I think I can get enough."
"Right, go for it. Let me know when you're ready."
The clone went back to meditating, and Naruto reached within himself.
Okay, Millie. He thought, casting it into his own mind in the way that the Kyuubi would hear. You're going to have to be calm for this one.
What, really? Is it required, or just a strong suggestion?
Required, I think. Naruto thought. If it turns out it is and I assume it's not, then we could be in real trouble.
Yeah, I get it. Meanie. Oh well, I can do Zen.
Naruto blinked. YOU can do zen?
Ozy showed me how. I think he was impressed with how quickly I got it. Only took a decade.
The Jinchuuriki chuckled. That I can believe. Okay, we'll start with something fairly simple.
He blinked, as his mindscape shook with a rumbling purring.
…did you just fall asleep?
Yep! Millie's head popped up just long enough to give that bright, clear answer, then went back on her paws and she went back to snoring.
Naruto shrugged. …I'll take it.
Coming out of the meditative state, he slowly pulled on Millie's chakra to avoid disturbing her. After a minute or so, he judged he had about equal to his normal Sage power levels in red chakra.
The clone threw a thumbs-up. "Ready!"
The clone popped-
Sasuke spun the Raijin. He could feel the sword's lightning dancing up and down the semi-real blade, and the presence of electrons. But he couldn't work out how to make the absence occur.
Was it related to what he did in a Kirin? Then, he blasted lightning up into the sky to ionize a particular path…
Ionization. That was it. Everything was normally a balance, and normal Lightning element chakra was the addition of electrons. But there should be an absence as well.
Focusing hard, he tried to pull the Lightning chakra out of the Raijin faster than it could be generated.
It made no difference to the charge levels.
Then, he realized. The blade core was absent-electrons. That was how it worked. So all he would need to do to make a weapon that made what it cut actually explode would be to change how it was set. Maybe make the electrons it generated from nature chakra flow into him, and use the balance to make the blade stronger.
But then, he'd need to isolate it as well.
This would be so much easier if he spent a moment to be sure he had the structure right.
His left eye spun into the Mangekyo-
"Lightning…" Sakura murmured. It answered quite a few questions. The Lightning element was the most offensive of all the basic elements – indeed, the only defensive use of the element she was familiar with offhand was the side effect of the Raijin. The sword that cut chakra – by repelling it from the blade itself, and also repelling from the blade corona whatever touched the blade, it forced the chakra it touched to become Lightning and then tore it apart.
And in a way, that was offensive itself.
And now she knew why. Electromagnetism was one of the four fundamental forces of the universe itself.
That there were four was simply obvious – and that, alone of the forces, Electromagnetism was the only one with a directly associated chakra nature. The other three forces – which escaped her, but she knew they were there – were things which chakra either ignored or overrode. Electromagnetism was the one chakra embraced.
The aria came to her, once more, and this time she gave it voice. She felt very good about this time.
"I am the legacy of the gods.
Insight is my way,
And Mystery is my path.
I have seen and understood all things.
Been both fire and water,
Leapt from earth to air,
Danced at the centre of my faceted self.
Every aspect I have worn woven from blue and gold.
I am, and will always be, Sakura-"
-Naruto tumbled out of bed onto the floor. "Ow… what the hell happened?"
Kuda didn't reply. Naruto looked down at his skin, and saw that the animate tattoo was still asleep. "Hey, wake up!"
Hey, Millie? What the hell's going on?
Huh? Millie replied, sleepily. Did it work?
Did what work?
You were going to try merging my power with Sage mode, weren't you?
Naruto blinked. That wasn't a dream?
Not that I noticed. Did we have the same dream?
Don't know. Naruto looked out the window. "Mind scrambling your chakra? I think there's something bad going on…"
Millie complied, and Kuda awoke with a gasp of surprise. "What just happened?"
"I don't know, but it can't be good. There's nobody patrolling the roofs, and you were in some kind of an illusion."
Kuda hummed. "Plan?"
"Find the others, for starters." Naruto opened his window, set his security seals, and jumped out.
-Sasuke's eyes snapped open.
That's the ceiling of my room. Why am I still in bed?
Some kind of illusion? Most likely.
How was I attacked?
He flicked his eyes over to the window, and then the door. No sign of disturbance.
Wide area, then? How wide area?
And powerful. It shut down my ability to move, and wove a completely believable world. It broke when-
When I used my Mangekyo Sharingan. This suggests it is a Mangekyo power.
Probable caster is Akatsuki. Probable motive – unknown. Determine time since illusion initiation. If it was since yesterday, then it is likely to be their world-capture illusion.
All this ran through his mind in less than a second, as he began to get out of bed.
By the time he was dressed, a plan had firmed up. Find the others, compare notes. Shared world, or individual? When? Primary questions.
If they have not broken it, use Mangekyo on them to break it myself.
Sasuke shot out the door, fully ready for war.
-Sakura felt light. Like she didn't weigh anything. And the endless vista of possibility bloomed before her.
There was the her that she had been, moments ago. But that her was wrapped up in a monumental genjutsu, one that looked like it could ensnare entire populations.
One that had ensnared an entire population, she realized, looking around. Everywhere, there were slightly different versions of herself. Doing slightly different things. She could feel all of them, faintly, like echoes… or perhaps like glimpses of a book as one rifled through it.
Many of them were bare shadows. Only going through the motions of a daily routine, in case the illusion for that particular ensnared person would require "her" to interact with it. For those in Konoha, it was a little more detailed – for those who knew her, a little more detailed still.
And she knew how it was working. Every last detail of how it constructed a net of completely inescapable illusion around whomever the target of that illusory bubble happened to be. It reached deep down into their desires and beliefs and needs, and gave them whatever fitted with what they already knew – and where there was chance, picked the nicer outcomes.
That meant that the real Sasuke hadn't asked her out, she realized, and her heart sank for a moment. The illusion had used that lure, and she had been tricked. Reeled in, not even suspecting the truth.
But she was aware now. In fact, she knew her true name, so she was more self-aware than she had ever been before.
Sakura. Three syllables, but such a simple interpretation was like saying the Dead Demon Consuming Seal was a circle and a squiggle, or the Cursed Seal of Heaven some commas. There were melodic overtones and undertones and an entire symphony of sound, all packaged up in the higher harmonics of the musical word.
The mighty tree with delicate petals. The new life that represents death. The eternal symbol of transience. The earthly tree which represents the clouds. Petals of pure colour, where all the beauty is in the variations.
Dichotomy, in a name.
And Lightning had been helpful in understanding that, she knew. It was an element of dichotomy, in the most fundamental way.
She reached out, and touched the her who was at the centre of her own illusion. It fell away like gossamer. The others faded from her perception, and she was once more Sakura Haruno.
But the memory of Sakura lingered, and she could still see without effort what had taken the conscious summoning of gold chakra before.
A memory presented itself. Neither Naruto nor Sasuke's versions of her had been still present when she had become transcendent. They must have broken out themselves.
She hurried downstairs, weaving a scrying jutsu out of thin air, and pinpointed them both. Each was headed for their normal training ground - good.
A petal-swirling Body Flicker sent her flashing across space to join them.
"Well, this is bad." Naruto summarized.
"You're telling me…" Sakura muttered. "At least it only took effect last night, so what Deidara told us is true. And since you, in particular, have not dropped back into it, it looks like it has only one chance."
"Most area mental-invasion illusions are like that." Sasuke agreed. "They can't keep firing to catch anyone in the area who the first one missed, because the very act of firing will disrupt the chakra maintaining the illusion."
"So." Naruto said, clapping his hands. "Our total force consists of us three, Kuda, Millie, our summons and possibly Gaara."
"Why Gaara?" Sakura asked, before nodding. "Oh, right, of course. Shukaku might have broken the illusion one way or another."
"Exactly. Now, I think we basically need to go beat up Akatsuki. Any objections?"
"None from me." Sasuke said. "Anyone else we can bring as reinforcements, though?"
"They have to be able to break the illusion from inside." Sakura said, eyes slightly unfocused. "Nothing can really get through – no external chakra. Millie and Kuda are partially integrated into your chakra system, so that's what meant it broke for them too."
"How do you know?"
"I just do." Sakura said, shrugging. "Not sure why. But it makes sense, somehow."
She frowned. "Actually, I could probably help people break it. But it still has to be a person with a technique that could break the illusion anyway, and someone who knows me reasonably well."
"Hinata?" Naruto asked.
Sakura shook her head. "I don't think the Byakugan is enough to break this. If it was, at least one Hyuga would already have escaped it – they turn it on as part of their morning routine, some of them."
"Right." Sasuke frowned. "Sharingan work – Mangekyo anyway, and I don't think there is another kind any more. Kakashi?"
"On it." Sakura sat seiza and began to breathe deeply and evenly.
"I think we'd better make a list while she's in there." Naruto said.
Kakashi passed the bits of blade to his student. "You're sure you can fix it?"
"Not sure, no." Sakura replied, unwrapping the cloth to look at the prized Hatake White Light Chakra Sabre. "But I can give it a go."
"Thank you, Sakura." Kakashi said, sighing. "I should have had it fixed years ago… but guilt over how I broke the blade was stopping me. Maybe I can let go of that guilt at the same time as the blade's wounds are healed away."
"Maybe." Sakura agreed, then twitched. "Mind you, I don't hold out much hope."
"Pardon?" Kakashi asked, sure he'd misheard.
"I said I don't hold out much hope that I'll be able to fix it. Look, the chakra network of the blade is actually cauterized."
Kakashi raised his blindfold and activated his Sharingan. "I don't…see… wait. I don't see anything with my left eye."
"That's because there's nothing to see." Sakura smiled sadly. "This is an illusion. Go Mangekyo with your left eye and that should break it completely. Sorry, sensei."
Kakashi's eye twitched into the bladed petals-
And he snapped awake in the ready room.
All around him, there were other ninja – Chunin and Jonin, slumped where they'd been when the illusion triggered. Izumo was sprawled across the entire floor, one hand stretched towards a smashed glass of something that had better not be alcohol.
"What just happened?" He asked, slightly confused. "Must have been one hell of an illusion to get all of us…"
Sakura. She'd been in the illusion with him, hadn't she? He'd better go find her.
As he made for the door, stepping over Izumo, someone else stirred.
"So, that's how it is." Kurenai muttered. "Ah well. Looks like it finally paid off."
She turned from the table, on which rested twenty senbon – none of them dug onto the table surface, and all of them balanced perfectly on their points.
She wasn't sure if other illusion specialists did it, but Kurenai had two tricks for detecting if she was in an illusion which she practiced twice a day. For those illusions which were imposed on others, she had a box in her apartment with a complex pattern inside it, which was only ever opened for her to check, and which displayed something subtly off if anyone else did.
That had been fine.
But for those illusions which infiltrated the mind, and had the mind itself make the illusion's details fill in gaps, she had this little senbon-balancing trick.
It was, essentially, impossible in the real world. But her deepest desire, one she had in fact made damned sure and certain was her deepest desire – and her deepest fear, too – was that this test be correct.
So, it had shown her the correct answer. She was in an illusory world of someone else's creation.
Right. Step two.
She scrambled her chakra. Nothing, as expected – something that could trap her without her even noticing would be more powerful than her relatively low chakra supply.
An illusion this complex would take up mental power to maintain somehow. Either hers or that of some other entity.
And, fortunately, she had just the approach to take.
What had originally made her wary was the news that her old teammates had been found, alive after so long, in a bunker in Oto territory. The strike team (Asuma's, in fact) had told her that they'd only just got there before some hulk of a ninja tried to kill them in a rage.
So she marched straight out of the building, and up to Enka Merume. "Enka, it's been a while."
"You have no idea, 'nai." Enka scratched the back of his neck. "And look at you, a Jonin! Never thought you'd get so far. Do you have a team?"
"Yes, I do." Kurenai nodded, playing along. "Three skilled young chunin… I sometimes feel like their mother as much as anything." She frowned. "Actually… what was your mother's name? I never found out."
"I… er… I don't know." Enka said, suddenly looking troubled.
"What about your father?"
"Chojuro." Enka answered promptly. "Remember? He trained Hatake in swordsmanship."
"I do." Kurenai said. "And what was your mother's speciality?"
"…I don't know."
"Strange." Kurenai tapped her chin. "Perhaps there's some rational explanation. What was the team like that captured you?"
"…I don't know."
"What were you doing when you were captured?"
"I don't know that either." Enka was starting to look panicked.
"Are you real?"
"No." Enka answered, relieved that one had come up that he knew the answer to… then blinked, and his eyes widened. "Wait, I didn't…"
"If you're not real, then what should make me think the rest of this world is?"
A sudden stabbing pain, like a migraine, hit, her vision wavered-
-And she was waking up in the ready room.
"Kurenai?" Kakashi's voice asked. "Are you alright? You managed to escape the illusion?"
"Yes." She got out, coming unsteadily to her feet. "I asked the illusion too many questions that nobody alive knows the answer to."
"Only because I already knew that I was in an illusion. Had I not known, I am sure that my own mind would have invented plausible alternatives."
There was nothing, Deidara knew, that was quite so awesome as sanctioned demolitions.
Instead of trying to stop you, they basically gave you an area of influence and said "go wild!"
Konoha had already done that, and he was busily turning the Uchiha District into a series of gradually deepening and merging craters.
Deidara turned around, to see the pink-haired chick on an ink bird. "What is it, yeah?"
"Just wondering, what's under that eyepatch of yours? Is it a Sharingan?"
The (former?) missing-nin turned, shocked. "Sharingan, yeah? No, yeah! My eye is trained to see through Sharingan illusions, because they twist my art and defuse it! Yeah!"
"Oh, okay. Sorry." The pink haired girl – Sakura, that was it – looked contrite. "Just… it sometimes seems like most people with eyepatches have Sharingan under them."
"I do know what you mean, yeah. Especially because Tobi has Sharingan. One of the reasons I dislike him now, yeah."
"Well, it does let a Sharingan user see all the detail of an explosion in slow motion, and…" Sakura tailed off. "Your eye can see through Sharingan illusions? How?"
"I trained it with this, yeah!" Deidara pointed to the eyepatch. "See, it's a scope that lets me see long distances, yeah? But the whole shebang enhances my eye whenever I'm not using it. By now, I can make it see what's really there, yeah."
"Neat! Mind if I do a little test?" Sakura asked, making handseals.
"Go ahead, yeah."
Sakura vanished in a swirl of petals. Her voice came out of nowhere. "Invisibility. Can you spot me?"
"I like a challenge, yeah!" Deidara pulled his eyepiece off-
-and fell out of bed.
Naruto grabbed his arm to help him up. "Morning. Sorry, it was the only way Sakura could think of to break the illusion."
"Huh, yeah." Deidara looked around. "Let me guess, yeah. That moon eye illusion already went off?"
"Yeah." Naruto said.
"Right." Deidara cracked his knuckles, and his hands muttered protests. "Let's get to blowing Tobi and the rest of those bastards off the face of the planet, yeah!"
"Hold on." Naruto cautioned. "We're going to make sure all of us who are going in are going together. That means we need to pick up Kakashi and Gaara."
"Gaara?" Deidara asked, suddenly nervous. "Uh, he has no hard feelings about my killing him, yeah?"
"Probably not." Naruto shrugged.
"Why is Deidara hiding behind you, Naruto?" Gaara asked.
"No reason, yeah!" Deidara said, defiantly. "I just feel like it, yeah."
"Very well. What is our plan?"
"I can show you where the main base is, yeah." Deidara volunteered. "They moved out of Rain country and there's this gigantic underground cavern, yeah? It's full of really stupid clones of the white half of Zetsu, yeah."
"Define 'really stupid.'" Sakura asked. "I mean, you know. Naruto bad, or worse?"
"Naruto could beat them in shogi, yeah." Deidara said promptly. "They're really stupid. Yeah."
"Okay. Ideas?" Naruto asked.
"Our main advantage is aerial." Sasuke said. "With both myself and Deidara, along with Gaara's personal sand flight technique, we can remain airborne and close in on wherever the Ten-Tails itself is."
"And then blow it up, yeah?" Naruto and Deidara chorused.
"Pretty much." Sakura volunteered. "Like all enormous chakra constructs, it's solid enough that it can take a lot of punishment – but healing away that punishment drains available chakra. I still don't know even IF it's something that can be killed, much less how, but worst comes to worst we can force it to break the illusion and then Nagato can throw it back into the moon… or whatever."
"Why didn't you wake him up, actually?" Kurenai asked. "I understand your method of breaking the illusion involves helping the subject break it themselves, but… wouldn't the Rinnegan suffice?"
"It might." Sakura said, nodding. "But the main problem is that he's very ill. It's too far for his Paths to stay properly under control, and without Tsunade or Konan we can't move him safely."
"I see." Kurenai nodded. "I wasn't aware of those details – thank you for elaborating."
She then frowned. "Though considering the calibre of opposition we may be facing, I doubt I would be much help myself. Perhaps a compromise might be a good plan? Break the illusion on him, and he and I shall keep Konoha safe."
"Good idea." Sakura nodded, then closed her eyes for a second. "Alright, that should do it."
"That was quick." Kakashi said.
"Well, I… it's hard to explain. Basically, I copied my full personality over into the fragment of myself that exists in his personal illusion world. It'll take a while for that Sakura to find him and get him to turn his Rinnegan on, but I've done what I need to."
"Alright." The female jonin nodded to herself. "I'll go to his room –"
"203." Sakura supplied. "Fifth floor."
"Thank you. Anyway, I'll go there and fill him in as he awakens."
"You have our gratitude." Gaara said, formally. "Now, we should set off as soon as possible."
Sasuke contemplated for a moment. "Deidara, put a clone on a clay bird out in front. I'll fly above everyone else, and the rest of you keep in loose formation. Naruto, Sage Mode if you can."
"Sakura, keep an eye out for anything else thrown at us. I'm going to keep a Mangekyo up just in case they try restarting the illusion."
"I hope they don't." Sakura agreed. "And yes, I'll see if I spot anything."
"Sensei… reserve. You're our most experienced."
"I understand, Sasuke." Kakashi said, all business.
"Gaara, how well can you summon sand outside of Suna?"
"It takes a substantial amount of chakra, but I can create desert terrain on any given battlefield." The Kazekage said. "Shukaku is willing to keep me charged as far as he is able, though of course his chakra levels are lower than those of the Kyuubi by a substantial amount."
"Good. As soon as a static battle starts to develop, lay it down. We're better served by terrain friendly to you than anything else."
"Understood." Sand flowed from nowhere, and Gaara began levitating on a cloud of sand.
"Very well. Let's go."
Sasuke slammed his thumb to the ground, summoning a trio of hawks and a Thunder Bird, and Deidara launched his clay bird decoy before unsealing a dragon he'd made earlier.
"Nice." Naruto commented.
"You like it? Yeah, this dragon breathes explosives, yeah!"
"So…" Naruto said, questioningly, banking his hawk closer to the great clay dragon. "What did the illusion show you?"
"What do you think?" Deidara asked. "Blowing things up, yeah!"
"Should have expected that!" Naruto laughed. "Kakashi?"
"I only got as far as asking Sakura to remake my father's weapon, the White Light Chakra Sabre." Kakashi said. "Then Sakura helped me break out of the illusion."
"Neat. For me it was just another day's training, really. Or, I didn't get far into it. Gaara?"
"Mother." Gaara said, simply.
A spike of white light shot from the ground, and disintegrated the clay clone ahead of them.
"Evasive!" Kakashi shouted, and the hawks/dragon/cloud of sand split up on diverging vectors.
"Who was that?" Naruto yelled, casting around with Sage Mode. "I can't feel anything!"
"Someone in bandages." Sakura said, frowning. "I can barely see him – it's like he's made himself part of the world, and he's so far away!"
Lines of burning air shot down from well overhead, some of them intercepted by cones and cylinders of white light.
"I recognize that." Kakashi said, before raising his voice. "It's the second Kage of Earth! Orochimaru must have resurrected him!"
"He defines shapes and then disintegrates what's inside them!"
Naruto tracked the pattern of lights for a moment. "Looks like Sasuke's winning, to me."
"Those shots of his are getting lower and lower."
"Boom!" Deidara shouted, and the white light shapes stopped. Railgun blasts rained down for another second or so unopposed, then likewise stopped.
Sakura glanced over at Deidara. "Did you just blow the second Tsuchikage up?"
"Yeah, yeah! Mini dragon missile C2, yeah!"
"Sasuke's not going to be too happy with that." Naruto said, before shrugging. "Eh, we're ninja."
"I do sometimes forget."
"Well, they know we're here now." Kakashi pointed, as several shapes began to move near the cratered field the Tsuchikage had been in.
"Wow." Sakura lensed the air again, her hawk perceptively moving to hover, and began scanning the ground. "It's like a history book… loads of dead Kages. Fourth Kaze… third Rai… second Mizu… and so many A to S rank ninja. Look, five of the Seven Swordsmen."
"I would, but we're too high up." Naruto said.
"Oh, sorry. And… wow. The Gold and Silver Brothers, I think?"
I remember them! Millie said. They were tasty. But then they ate my stomach and that was ow.
"I shall take on my father." Gaara droned, and began to drop out of formation.
At around the same time, Sasuke stated his preference with a barrage of hyper-velocity shuriken that ricoched crazily from the third Raikage. The Thunder Bird stooped through their formation, giving a harsh cry.
Sakura shrugged. "The second Mizu was an illusionist, right? I'll take him on."
"I best handle the Gold and Silver Brothers." Naruto said. "Millie has prior experience with them."
"That and I think they can go up to six tails…" Kakashi muttered. "Right. Deidara, looks like you and I have to handle the Swordsmen."
"Works for me, yeah!" Deidara said. "Dibs on Shibuki, yeah?"
"Alright." Kakashi allowed. "Though the prospect is frightening…"
"It'll keep you on your toes, yeah?" Deidara's dragon reabsorbed much of its' tail, and produced a half-dozen independent dragon missiles. "Hold on, I've got to reload. Yeah."
"Father." Gaara said, monotonously.
"Son." The Fourth Kazekage replied.
"So… what actually happened to you?" Gaara asked, curious. "How was it that Orochimaru killed you?"
"Letter opener." The Fourth said, disgusted. "So, how are you? Still going mad?"
Gaara blinked. "I'm wearing the hat. The Kazekage hat."
"So? Have you seen what the Fourth Mizukage did?"
"You do have a point." Gaara admitted. "But no, it turns out that Shukaku was under mind control. He's actually quite fun, if rowdy."
"I'm not sure how any of this is really possible." The elder said. "But, well, I am going to have to kill you know. Orders. Gold Dust Wave!"
"Instant Desert." Gaara replied. Two colossal waves, one of sand and one of gold, slammed into each other like freight trains.
"Where do you even get all of the gold?" Gaara asked.
"Not sure, actually…" his father tailed off. "It's kind of just… there."
"I still do not understand why you did not use it to solve Suna's trade problems."
"Then you did not get a good price."
"Shouldn't your sand have run out by now?"
Gaara shook his head. "I have synchronized with my Bijuu. It is easy so long as he is asleep."
"Yes. Also, I have a summon contract now."
"It does tend to be useful to have one."
More sand, normal and gold, crashed together in an unending susurrus of grains.
"I died once." Gaara volunteered. "Chiyo brought me back."
"That old bat? Interesting. What was it like, coming back to life?"
"Not as impressive as you would imagine. It was a little like waking up."
"You know what that's like?"
"Well, I woke up near a large devastated area surrounded by much of the village, so it has similarities to when Shukaku possessed me."
At that point, Totoro clubbed Gaara's father on the back of the head with a large plank.
"I suspect you were not really trying." Gaara muttered. "Sand Burial."
I think I know why he wasn't trying. Shukaku volunteered. When they did the whole sealing thing, your mother did love you… sorry, I kind of forgot it was important before now.
"You are sure?"
I was there. In a kettle. Granted, I was monumentally pissed off, but I was there. She totally held you while the last of her life ebbed away. It was kind of heartwarming.
"Thank you for telling me. Finally."
I was drunk and hypnotized, what more do you want? The enormous sand monster grumbled.
They filled the kettle with sake a few times to keep me quiet.
Sasuke's Thunder Bird swooped only low enough to let him off, then rose back into the air and began shaping lightning chakra, forming an enormous charge.
In the absence of a thundercloud, that would work well for Kirin if he needed it.
Sasuke's eyes tracked the Third Raikage as he moved, evaluating his target. He already knew that the Third was ridiculously fast, more durable than just about anyone else who had ever lived, and could fight a Tailed Beast – the Eight-Tails, in fact – to a draw. It had taken ten thousand enemy shinobi three days and nights to finally kill him. Which, actually, was a bit ridiculous. Maybe they were all genin?
Oh, and he had the Lightning Armour as well. Sasuke could see roughly how it was done, but not exactly – and that it would neutralize just about any Lightning technique he tried.
A quick barrage of Chidori senbon confirmed it, as the Raikage approached. They didn't even make it to his skin.
Sasuke snapped the Raijin on and blocked a vicious knife-hand strike, then dodged away from another with the benefit of his Sharingan.
It wasn't enough, though. "Mitsunari."
The world didn't slow any more, but his own body sped up to match his eyes.
It was like sparring with Naruto the times he didn't use his Sharingan, or… no, that wasn't right either, because he did have the forewarning his eyes gave. He had to react half on instinct and half with cold calculation, always interposing the blade between any strike he could not dodge and his body, not allowing himself to be contacted by any part of his brawler of an opponent.
It was a losing battle, he knew. Even when alive, the Third had had such ludicrous stamina that even Naruto could not match it. He had only died when his chakra was utterly exhausted – by three days of constant battle.
Mangekyo eyes spun furiously, deciphering every nuance of the Lightning Armour. It infiltrated the nerves – and there was some dermal reinforcement – atomic bonds at will – all matter was made of emptiness and electricity.
No wonder the Raikage's skin was so strong. He could take that which made things strong and say to it, "stronger".
But there had to be a weakness. Nothing was a perfect trump card.
A cry echoed from overhead. Sasuke disengaged with an instant flicker, and gasped for breath as lightning rained down from above.
Then he saw something. The Raikage had slowed when he was hit. Just for an instant, but-
The lightning armour was powerful, durable… and precise. It was so well balanced that any further power input made things worse.
And, more to the point, it was in exact phase with his nervous impulses.
Sasuke flashed through the summoning seals again, and summoned Tobias and a Thunder Bird chick.
"What do you need?" Tobias asked, all business.
"I need you to be ready to hit the old Raikage, over there, when I disrupt his lightning armour. And I need the chick to give me an Electric Aura Armour jutsu. I'll be focusing all my attention on the Raijin."
"You can do it?" Tobias asked the chick, who nodded. "Very well."
The young sage spread his wings and red tail, and leapt. Sasuke could already see natural chakra gather along his wing feathers.
Turning, he caught the chick in a very minor illusion. It didn't stop him from perceiving anything, in fact, just supplied extra information. Faster than talking.
Obediently, the young Thunder Bird pulsed alternating current at fifty cycles a second across his body. That would do for the initial clash.
Sasuke switched focus to the Raijin, and altered its' form. Rather than the expanded shape of the overedge, he compressed it. It was barely a tanto, and as he activated Masamune it shone with a brilliant blue.
"Er…" the chick said, sounding nervous. "Incoming?"
Sasuke's head snapped up, and he barely blocked a knife-hand strike with the Raijin.
Backpedalling with fluid grace in the grip of Mitsunari, he watched both the Lightning Armour and the Third's movements intently, blocking every attempt at an attack less than a tenth of a second before it hit.
So… that means he has a 40 times per second signal for his left first finger's second joint, and a 35 per second for his right second finger's third joint…
Bit by bit, Sasuke matched fluctuations in the Lightning Armour to the associated muscle movements. It sped up nerve impulses – which meant it had to carry the signal.
He sent a complex signal pattern to the chick, flipped the Raijin to block-
And took a hand straight to the chest.
The Third blinked.
"Tadakatsu." Sasuke informed him, then stabbed the Sword of the Thunder God straight into the no-longer-moving right arm that had stopped abruptly at his skin.
The pulsing signal in his Electric Aura Armour had overridden the Third's control of his arm, making it lock up. The Raijin overrode that, sending a sequence of commands which forced the right arm to stab straight at his own chest and pierce the heart.
Sasuke vanished in a puff of smoke as the orbiting bird summoned him and the chick, just before Tobias hit the Third's vulnerable form like a clawed meteorite.
Sakura landed lightly. "Thanks. So, where's the Second Mizukage?"
"Hello, child." A voice said. "Any idea how Mist is doing these days?"
"They're alright." She shrugged, noticing that the speaking voice was coming from an illusion. "The Fourth was a bit of a nut job, but the Fifth is much more stable. Mei Terumei, a Lava and Boil user."
"Ah, I see. Thank you. Now, I have to ask. The pink hair?"
"Natural." Sakura shrugged. "Aha!" She spun an illusion around herself, and vanished.
"What?" The Second frowned, then his eyes widened as a fifty foot otter materialized.
"Hi, Daxter!" Sakura's voice came from somewhere. "Hey, ten feet to the left of that rock spire is an appropriately sized clam. Lunchtime!"
"Thanks!" Daxter's voice boomed out, and he pounced.
Sakura winced as she watched Daxter. Getting the clam properly secure with three of his paws and breaking off the spire with the fourth, he started hammering away at it in the same way normally sized otters attacked normally sized clams.
"That's got to hurt…"
"Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow." The Mizukage muttered, as the Boss summon broke methodically through his defences. As soon as the shell cracked, Sakura materialized and electrocuted him to prevent him shifting form.
"And that's that." She said, satisfied. "Wow, new record. That was a really bad matchup for you, sorry."
"I can see…" the former Kage said, slightly dazed.
Naruto went in hard, landing just behind a Sage Rasenshuriken and forming clones straightaway to make sure he had a clear sight radius.
"Wait, are those things the Treasured Tools?"
Kinkaku and Ginkaku nodded, in unison.
"Cool. Wait, I know how these work. If I say the word I say most in my life… something bad happens. Thanks again, Niyi! Speech therapy might just save my life here."
The brothers looked put out, and dropped three of the five tools. Kinkaku held the pot, and Ginkaku held the fan.
"And the pot… yeah, something about replying when someone calls your name? Right, not speaking any more."
Kinkaku looked at Ginkaku. "Brother?"
Ginkaku didn't respond, looking pointedly at the pot.
"Oh, sorry." The Gold brother dropped the pot, and the Silver exhaled with relief. "Anyway. Should we blast him with the fan, or just go straight to Tailed state?"
"Eh, tails." Ginkaku said. "Been a while."
Both brothers concentrated, then practically exploded as each pulled on six tails of chakra.
Millie? Naruto asked.
Nodding, Naruto pulled on seven tails of chakra and felt himself transform.
"So." He said, once all three of the ninja had turned into giant foxes. "Sumo, Pankration or boxing?"
"Pardon?" Kinkaku asked.
"I was asking what rules we were going to use."
"Anything is allowed in the Ninja world." Ginkaku said. "Rules are for the weak."
"Okay!" Naruto said brightly. "Demonic sage mode."
A clone popped, and the reddish-orange fur that Naruto had sprouted became pure, vibrant orange.
"Is that legal?" Kinkaku asked. "Oh, wait."
"Me and my big mouth…" Ginkaku lamented. "Well, brother, let's make a good fight of it."
"You said it, brother."
What followed, except for the larger numbers of tails and the scale, was a lot like kits fighting in the Forest of Confusion.
"Awww…" Deidara muttered. "You'd think five A rank ninja would be more durable, yeah."
Kakashi nodded absently, looking at the mess. Each of the twin blades of Kiba had a clay dragon on it, indicating that the ninja wielding them had stopped two of the incoming explosives… but the remaining four had still destroyed all five of the Seven Swordsmen members.
"So, where was that base?"
"Over here, yeah. The entrance is about a hundred metres down a tunnel here, yeah."
"Interesting…" Kakashi observed. "We're quite near the Kannabi bridge."
"My team blew it up in the war." The Konoha-nin clarified. "It's when Obito died."
"Obito? Sounds like a fun guy. What was he like, yeah?"
"Hang on." Kakashi concentrated, and threw some seals. "Auditory illusion."
Deidara watched Kakashi's memories of the Uchiha goofball. "Seems like a fun guy, yeah." Then he heard something he recognized, during the play of the Kannabi bridge incident. "Play that bit again, yeah?"
"That can't be good, yeah." Deidara muttered. "I recognize that voice, yeah. It's Tobi's serious voice, yeah."
"Tobi?" Kakashi said, then frowned, a suspicion slowly creeping over him. "But… even if… no, that's not possible. Is it? He fought and nearly beat the Fourth Hokage only two years after Kannabi." Kakashi's mind raced. "You said his right eye was the visible one?"
"And did you ever see him do anything unusual?"
"It's Tobi, yeah." Deidara pointed out, then thought. "He has an intangibility technique, yeah. And a capture technique."
"He draws things into some kind of personal world, yeah? Then he brings them out again somewhere else. Pretends they were in his pockets, yeah, but I saw him once, yeah."
"Troubling." Kakashi admitted. "My own Eternal Mangekyo has the ability to banish things from reality – I don't know where they go. But if the shared concept of Obito's eyes were, hypothetically, the ability to connect to that world…" Kakashi shook his head. "I don't understand how he could possibly have become so twisted, though. Obito was a fun loving child who treasured his comrades above all else. Tobi, by contrast, used the newborn Naruto as a hostage."
"Genjutsu?" Deidara suggested. "They can really screw with someone, yeah."
"It's still hard to believe."
"Fair enough. Could be I was mistaken, yeah."
Naruto bashed Kinkaku repeatedly against the ground, until he finally went limp. Exhaling, the transformed young man surveyed the area.
Two formerly-six-tailed undead ninja gradually reverting, check. Cratered field of rubble about a kilometre across, check.
Gaara, Sakura and Sasuke arriving, check.
"Hi, guys!" He said, reverting slowly. "These guys were a bit of a struggle. Hey, neat, the Banana Palm Fan. Anyone else want it?"
The others shook their heads. Gaara solemly pointed out that he was the one with the most chakra available by a factor of well over a hundred.
"Right, taking this. Sakura, you want to keep hold of the rest of them? Or shall I have Mandias keep them for now?"
"That second option might be safer." Sakura said. "I don't really have anywhere better to put things."
"Right. Summoning: Mandias! Hey, got some legendary weapons for you, old guy."
Mandias blinked. "What happened here?"
"Two guys with six tails of Millie's chakra each. I basically grabbed them by the tails and used them as flails. Oh, and I got demonic sage mode working."
The elderly sage shuddered. "I dread to think. That explains the large number of craters in the shape of six-tailed kitsune. Anyway, you mentioned legendary weapons?"
"Yep!" Naruto handed them over. "Four of the five Treasured Tools. Good thing you told me how they work."
Gaara walked up to them again. This surprised the others, as they hadn't seen him leave.
"What were you doing?"
"Destroying the brains. Standard zombie procedure." The Kazekage said calmly.
"Right. Here goes." Sakura muttered. "Everyone on the lookout for traps. Or any of the remaining Akatsuki members."
"Wouldn't they have been caught in the genjutsu as well?"
"You can never be sure. Besides, it doesn't work on non living individuals. Did any Akatsuki member get killed without their body being destroyed?"
"Don't… think so… Itachi was cremated, I think."
As they talked, they entered into a huge underground chamber full of thousands of quiescent clones.
"These look like the white half of Zetsu, yeah." Deidara said. "Didn't know there were so many of them, yeah."
"There's Orochimaru." Sasuke pointed. "Lying asleep over there. He must be in the illusion like everyone else. And there's Tobi."
Kakashi started for the indicated ninja, then slowed, puzzled. "That's a very old Uchiha Madara. What the..?"
"Was that you?" Naruto asked, nervously. "It didn't sound like anyone here."
Sakura whimpered. "That's a… LOT of chakra."
The opposite wall of the chamber collapsed, and an enormous creature shouldered its' way through, combined Sharingan-Rinnegan rolling madly as it locked onto each of the assault team in turn.
Sasuke snapped the Raijin on, as the Akatsuki members began to stir. "Naruto, stall that thing! Everyone else, start clearing the rest of Akatsuki and these clones!"
Naruto leapt forward, transforming all the way in mid-leap as the Ten-Tails began a charge, and the two colossal creatures collided with an earth-shaking boom.
"Everyone back, or get a shield up if you have it!" Sakura called, looking at the roof. "This place is about to cave in!"
Rocks rained down, slowly and then much faster. Sasuke and Kakashi flickered out of the way, Deidara and Sakura slipped underground, and Gaara enveloped himself in sand.
When the ground stopped collapsing several seconds later, what used to be a series of connected underground caverns was now a series of irregular sinkholes, with hundreds of surviving white Zetsu and a number of S-Class nin emerging from the rubble.
Naruto and the Ten-Tails had barely noticed the collapse, swapping between building-destroying physical attacks and chakra blasts that could level half of Konoha. While Naruto seemed to have less than half the available demonic chakra of the incarnate Ten-Tails, his fusing it with Sage Mode left the two of them on a very equal footing.
To the rest of them, that meant periodic back-blast from explosions washing over them.
Sasuke clashed with Kisame, using the full mobility of the smaller Raijin to keep the enormous Samehada away from him. "Why are you following this guy, anyway?"
"You mean Tobi? Or Madara?" Kisame chuckled. "Because of the promise of a world of truth. A world free from the deception of the world of Ninja."
"I've been there." Sasuke said. "And believe you me, it's not all it's cracked up to be."
"Mine was fine." Kisame shrugged.
"Should your sword be doing that?"
"I think it's annoyed it can't shave your sword's chakra." Kisame answered. "That's the Raijin, isn't it?"
"Yes." Sasuke reversed the blade for a moment to block a particularly nasty attack, then returned it to the normal grip. "And I think you'd have done better in Konoha."
"Konoha is not immune from the corruption of the world of ninja."
"No, but it's not terrible." Sasuke said. "I mean, Naruto lives there."
Both of them glanced over at the battling titans.
"Anyway." The Uchiha continued. "Who, really, is Tobi? There's nobody real by that name."
"He's really an Uchiha – but I don't know which one." Kisame said. "He called himself Madara…"
"But that was a lie." Sasuke pointed out. "Great start to a world of truth."
"Eh. I'm in it for the sword fights anyway." Kisame said. "Speaking of which, nice skills. Didn't expect someone from Konoha to be all that good."
"I trained with the objective of beating Itachi for years, then trained to beat whoever else killed the Uchiha clan after that." Sasuke replied. "Oh, and…"
He brought his free hand around, sparkling with the Chidori Spear. Kisame's eyes widened, as he tried to cope with the sudden increase in the number of Sasuke's weapons.
Despite the increase in difficulty, he still had time for conversation. "Wait, Itachi wasn't the one who killed the Uchiha?"
"No, it was mostly the Tobi person." Sasuke said. "Why?"
"Oh, just that you think you know a guy…" Kisame tailed off, then spun Samehada in an improbable manner for anyone without Water blade channelling and launched an attack combination.
Deidara carpeted the rubble with explosives repeatedly. "How many of these damn Zetsu are there?"
Sakura wove in and out of cover, zeroing in on Orochimaru.
When she was about fifty feet away, he turned with the speed of a striking snake. "Ah, the pink one. I didn't see you do much in the Chunin exams. Learned a little… bite, since then?"
"Well, I did unravel your Curse Seal. Interesting properties it has. Using natural chakra to stabilize opening the gates?"
"Is that what Jugo does?" Orochimaru wondered. "That explains why birds like landing on him…"
"You didn't know? All this time, you didn't know why it did what it did?" Sakura sighed. "Not very good at science, are you?"
"Silence! I am the ultimate intellect, the one who has unravelled the secrets of life and bridged the gap between earth and heaven!"
Orochimaru reached into his mouth and drew out the Kusanagi from his mindscape. "I think I'll kill you now."
"Catch me if you can." Sakura vanished in a swirl of petals, and a marbled Water Rasengan nearly took his head off from behind.
"I am the legacy of the gods."
"Where did you go?" Orochimaru asked the air. Seeing something, he fired a Drilling Air Bullet at it – and killed a hapless Zetsu clone.
"Insight is my Way, and Mystery is my Path."
"You can't hide forever!" The Snake Sannin went flipping through the handseals for a summon, and brought out a brood of venomous snakes. "Find the pink haired one and kill her!"
"I have seen and understood all things."
An eruption of power shot out from the battling Bijuu, and would have bowled over any civilian. Orochimaru used the tree-walking technique to stay attached to the ground.
"Been both fire and water,"
A pair of otters moved like quicksilver through the rubble, launching javelins at any snake that showed itself.
"Leapt from earth to air,"
Snarling, Orochimaru fired off a Swamp of the Underworld. It didn't catch Sakura, and the otters blew him a raspberry before ducking under the surface of the mud to continue hunting down snakes.
"Danced at the centre of my faceted self."
"How are you doing this?" The Snake Sannin snarled. "I can't sense you anywhere!"
"Every aspect I have worn woven from blue and gold."
"And what is that singing?"
"I am, and will always be, Sakura."
The world changed. Orochimaru found himself not in a rubble-strewn crater, but in a grove of sakura trees surrounded by a thick and forbiddingly dark forest.
"…what?" The Snake Sannin was honestly stunned. "What is this?"
"This is my mind."
He whirled to see a pink-haired girl with deep blue eyes, dangling her feet into a lazy stream.
"My mental state, actualized into the world."
This time the speaker was another pink-haired girl, her eyes a light blue, standing at the top of one of the trees.
"My thoughts are real here."
This girl had orange eyes and closed the door on a lantern as she spoke, having trimmed the wick.
"It's called a reality marble."
The fourth speaker was standing atop a simple but solid bridge made of what Orochimaru recognized as quartzite – one of the hardest rocks, and a prime material for Earth element users. Noticing that this one had brown eyes, a suspicion began to form.
"It's something that you can only do if you have your true name."
This one was adjusting a lightning rod, which looked new, and had eyes of brilliant yellow.
"And there has to be something else special, as well."
The speaker this time had eyes the shimmering green of medical chakra, and closed a book as she spoke.
The voice came from directly above. Orochimaru looked, but saw nothing.
Each of the six girls closed their eyes for a moment, in unison, and equipment formed out of nothingness. Golden light condensing into weapons – six kunai, a kusari-gama, a great axe, a pair of chakrams, two long spears, and a dozen senbon.
The one with the senbon, the green-eyed one, smiled.
It wasn't a nice smile.
"Get him, girls."
Gaara's first action, before he let down his sand defence, was to summon a small raccoon.
"I require your assistance."
The raccoon nodded, and clambered up his clothes to rest around his neck.
Gaara exhaled, slowly, and released the sand shield.
An extremely old ninja faced him.
"I see you wear the robes and hat of Suna, boy."
"I do." Gaara nodded. It was simple fact. "Who are you?"
"Madara Uchiha. I have followed the path of the Uchiha clan back into history further than any other…" his eyes blazed with the Mangekyo, and then contorted into the Rinnegan. "And I will not tolerate my plans being interfered with now! Bansho Ten'nin!"
Gaara looked up, something warning him. He saw a colossal rock descending through the atmosphere. It looked like it was at least a hundred metres across, and it was travelling so fast that simply compressing the air was heating it.
The ground rumbled and cracked around him. Boulders flew upwards, forming a shield, and the meteorite exploded off it without breaking through.
"Remarkable." Madara said, frowning. "That is Shukaku's power… but there is something more." He seemed to consider. "You are a Sage."
"I am not." Gaara denied. "I merely have the aid of one."
"The raccoon. I see." Madara's eyes switched to the Mangekyo again. "Then he must be dismissed."
A sand shield slammed into place around Gaara, and several dozen boulders tried to kill Madara. He repelled them impassively, still staring at the Kage of Sand's hiding place.
A single gesture, and the shield of sand tore apart. Another, and Gaara was forced to Flicker out of the way as a chip of rock accelerated to supersonic speed nearly took his head off.
The next attack, Gaara met with his ultimately hard defence – the Shield of Shukaku. The tanuki statue resisted the first impact, but a second caused cracks and then it was engulfed in Amaterasu.
"You have the same eye powers as Itachi."
"He was the heir." Madara said, impassively. "Heir to my hatred, heir to my blood."
"Naruto found Itachi quite compassionate." Gaara said, drawing up silt and sand and pebbles and boulders into a multilayered defence.
More heavy gravity blasts picked through them as fast as Gaara could re-establish the layers.
"Then he, too, was ultimately a fool. The origin of the powers of the Uchiha is truly darkness – we are not the heirs of the Sage, but of the Juubi he broke and scattered. The might of the Uchiha is in embracing this evil."
Gaara muttered something.
"I did not hear that."
"Sasuke's kind of not evil."
"I am not entirely sure how that happened. Nevertheless."
The sword of Susano'o sliced through Gaara's defences like they were paper.
Gaara formed Shukaku's arms to try and distract Madara, hoping to re-establish his shield - and the elderly Uchiha touched them, and their chakra was drawn out, and they crumbled.
"That is surprisingly annoying." Gaara said, bringing up more earth in sealless techniques. "The Mangekyo and the Rinnegan alone are bad enough, but together?"
Madara finally battered aside the last of Gaara's defences, and fixed him with a glare. "Tsukuyomi-"
A ballistic Jinchuuriki slammed into Madara's body, and sent it across the nearest crater and fifteen feet into the rock wall.
Gaara shook his head, trying to shake off the effects of a day of solid mental torture. "That reminds me too much of before I met Naruto…"
He looked up, to see a ridiculously well-built man with a Kumo headband and wisps of demonic chakra around him.
The man took a pose and started rapping. "What you gonna do is what you wanna do! Just break the roof and you see the truth-"
"Who on earth are you?"
"I'm the Bee, you know, and don't interrupt my flow! I'm number eight, I'm great, and I'm never late!"
I think that's the Hachibi Jinchuuriki… Shukaku said, incredulously.
"Excuse me." Gaara said, getting the attention of the rapping man once more. "Are you the container of Gyūki?"
"That's right. He's my bro, you know, we can't be beat because we are the elite!"
A hypersonic rock from where Madara had gone was hastily blocked by the badly melted Shield of Shukaku, which shattered.
Gaara? Shukaku was suddenly excited. I can control the glass.
Gaara nodded to his bijuu, and started layering defences again. "Bee. I will handle defence. Distract him, and I may be able to destroy his animation seal."
"Apparently my Bijuu's powers include the control of glass as well as sand. If I can find the seal, I can destroy it."
"That's a neat power. Anything else you got, Number Eight, in the eleventh hour?"
Gyūki's response went unheard by Gaara, but he strongly suspected it was profane.
"So…" Kakashi said, quietly. "Who are you really?"
Tobi stared impassively back. "That is something you do not need to concern yourself with."
Kakashi's eye sucked Tobi's mask into a wormhole, revealing the badly damaged face of Obito Uchiha.
"So, Deidara was right. It's you."
Obito said nothing.
"I have just one question." Kakashi continued. "WHY?"
The Uchiha blinked. "Pardon?"
"Why? Why, and how, did you go in less than two years from being a ridiculously optimistic newly promoted Chunin, to being a complete and total psychopath who was nearly able to outfight Minato Namikaze and was willing to murder a newborn child in cold blood?" Kakashi rattled off. "Oh, and why did you kill off the Uchiha clan?"
"…I'm not sure I understand the question."
"Pull the other one!"
"I mean, you should already know the answer-"
"Oh, and another one. When did you get the Mangekyo?"
"When Rin died."
"No, that doesn't make sense. You had it before Rin died." Kakashi said. "The only way you could avoid Sensei killing you in less than a second after you threatened his son is your phasing technique."
"Rin died about six months before that." Obito said, in the tones of someone explaining things to a child.
"No…" Kakashi said, shaking his head. "She didn't. The Kyuubi attack killed her – she was caught in a building collapse when one floor of the hospital gave way."
"That's a pathetic lie!" Obito suddenly snarled. "You killed her! You stabbed her through the heart with your Chidori!"
"Why would I have?" Kakashi asked. "Seriously, why?"
"…I don't know! The same reason you abandoned me! But all ninja are monsters who kill people. It's why I want to end this world!"
"Abandoned?" Kakashi asked, perplexed. "We didn't abandon you. You took what certainly looked like a fatal wound, then gave me your eye, and then you said something along the lines of 'go, save Rin'. Which reminds me, how did you survive that? You had wounds Rin thought were fatal, and she was a medical nin good enough to do a field eye transplant."
"Only the strong survive in this twisted world of Ninja. I was weak, yes, but it was by the help of Uchiha Madara, one of the strong, that I survived."
"About that. I still have questions as to how you're so powerful. It makes me suspicious."
"I don't know what you mean, Kakashi."
"I was on your team, Obito. Your chakra capacity was in the yellow. Now, I've worked with Gai, I know full well what intensive training can do, but if you did nothing BUT train for two solid years you might possibly have the chakra capacity to manage to summon the Kyuubi… if she's a regular boss in scale."
"Gai always hated me."
"That's not true or even relevant." Kakashi began to pace back and forth, still ranting. "Oh, and that's yet another problem. How did you recover from the insanely nasty injuries?"
"I was cared for by Madara Uchiha. He alone of this world of ninja showed me compassion, because he had a plan to end all loss."
"You mean the illusion?" Obito nodded. "Then that's even more ridiculous. First off, Madara is a notorious traitor and filicide. Secondly, the Moon Eye Plan makes no sense."
"It is a perfect world."
"It's a Heaven Viewing Illusion with a bit more subtlety, that's all it is. Let's say that it's a shared world. What happens if two people have the dream to be the best at something? And if it's all individual worlds, then it destroys all human interaction to replace it with copies that go through the motions of interacting, trapping a person inside their own head."
Kakashi blinked. "Actually, by now several thousand people have probably died, because they were somewhere that falling suddenly comatose would kill them. Like mid-jump. And if this persisted, everyone in the world would die in only a few days of dehydration."
It was Obito's turn to frown. "Er…"
"And one last question. You say the ninja world is full of nothing but hatred? That it's the worst place you could possibly be?"
"It is!" Obito insisted. "Once my eyes were opened by Madara, I saw the truth!"
"Obito, you were buried under half a tonne of rocks. You might have brain damage. The only other people who knew the full plan were these Zetsu clones." Kakashi kicked absently at one which was trying to eat his shoe. "And they're morons. But my point is… how do you know you're not in the reverse form of the Moon's Eye illusion?"
Obito opened his mouth, ready to hurl an angry retort… and stopped. "I… I don't. I can't-"
Neither of them had spoken. In fact, whoever it was that had spoken – with a harsh voice – was behind Obito.
The Uchiha turned, phasing his body to keep himself safe – and was nailed by a glare from a red-black pinwheel.
The Ten-Tails shuddered, pausing suddenly and allowing Naruto to escape out from under a devastating blow.
"You have no idea how long it took me to get here!"
Kakashi glanced from the apparently unconscious Obito to the large, black crow hovering in front of him. "Who are you?"
"I am Shigehide, of the Crows. Itachi gave me the mission to bear Shisui's eye and use it on any Uchiha who was a threat to Konoha." The crow shook his head, still hovering. "It took me hours to get here! That new summoner of ours only just summoned me before the illusion activated, and I had to fly here by wing!"
Shigehide then glared at Kakashi. "And if I hear one joke about 'as the crow flies'…"
"What in the name of the Rikudo Sennin have I been doing…" Obito muttered, coming to. "The moon? Seriously?"
Kakashi looked at the crow. "Either you broke him or you fixed him, I can't tell which. I'll take it."
"There was a hell of a lot of black chakra in there, just so you know." Shigehide informed Kakashi. "Corruption, I think. It was overlaying his emotions, and his critical thinking skills probably took a bit of a hit too."
"That does make sense." Kakashi said.
Sakura condensed herself out of the air. "Wow, reality marbles take more out of you than you expect. Oh, hi, Sensei. Orochimaru's dead."
"He is?" Obito asked, from the floor.
"Oh, hi!" Sakura said. "Wow, lot of corruption residue on you. Hey, you're the guy who called himself Madara, right? How did you manage to copy the signature on the Fox summon contract over?"
"I… after Madara died, I saw myself as his successor – as him. Probably the insanity."
"That'd do it." Sakura nodded. "Madara came to be synonymous with an Uchiha effectively possessed by the ten tails."
Sasuke landed next to them. "I heard that. So, the one who killed my clan was possessed?"
Sakura nodded. "Yep. Not in control of his own actions."
"Though I admit it didn't have to do much to make me want to kill certain complete jerks." Obito admitted.
"Wait a moment…" Kakashi said, frowning. "Weren't you fighting Kisame?"
"I was." Sasuke nodded. "But after he summoned a truly astonishing amount of water and I electrocuted him several times, he became a giant shark thing by fusing with his sword."
"And…" Sakura pressed.
"And then a very large black man picked him up by the tail and used him to hit Uchiha Madara."
"Huh. Wonder who that is."
"Probably Killer Bee." Obito said, standing again. "He is the Jinchuuriki of the Eight Tails. And if both I and Madara were possessed, then it should probably be noted that there is also a single Zetsu with a black half. This Zetsu is presumably also possessed."
A particularly large explosion came from nearby, and Deidara shouted triumphantly. "That's the special one! Twenty extra points, yeah!"
"Hmmm…" Sakura frowned. "So, what happens when all the people who were possessed are either freed or blown up?"
"I am… not sure." Obito said. "I was not particularly interested in the fine details of the plan, which was probably deliberate on the part of the one possessing me."
"Yes, that makes sense." Sakura said. "Anything you do know that's important, though?"
"Oh. The mixture of Senju and Uchiha chakra is required to unlock the Rinnegann. That help?"
"Interesting, especially because it means that Nagato is related to both, but not critical. Thanks, though."
The air seemed to shiver. Sakura's eyes briefly glowed bright gold, and she blanched. "That is not good."
"I just found out what happens when all the possessed people die."
The Ten-Tails hunched over, and Naruto took the opportunity to gather himself and make a leap. In his jaws glowed a colossal Tailed Beast Ball, cut with Nature and Wind chakra, and his claws glowed with impossibly sharp edges.
Then the Ten-Tails roared.
The sound was indescribable. Shigehide crashed beak-first into the ground. Sakura, Sasuke, Kakashi, Obito and Deidara were driven to their knees. Gaara, Bee and Naruto collapsed to the ground, clutching their ears, as their partners reacted in atavistic terror.
Blue dragons of light erupted from the Ten-Tails, soaring in their hundreds into the sky, and then converged on the three Jinchuuriki and the Gold and Silver brothers' corpses.
It was over in seconds. Gaara and Killer Bee lay dead, bodies next to those of the foes they had only just beaten, and Naruto was left gasping and clutching at the terrible wounds the forced extraction had caused him.
Sakura recovered first, and Flickered over to Naruto. She began scanning him as the rest of the remaining shinobi from the strike force arrived.
"Wow, Naruto, I'm surprised you're still alive. This kind of spiritual trauma would kill almost anyone."
Naruto grinned weakly. "Runs… in the family."
Kakashi turned to Obito. "This is critically important. Why does the extraction normally take so long?"
"The wills of the demons need to be suppressed." Obito replied promptly. "They don't integrate well – an extraction that fast will… have thrown them into turmoil. They'll be trying to regain individuality."
Sakura glanced up from her work closing Naruto's wounds. "I can confirm that – there's black chakra aplenty, but all nine of the Bijuu are thrashing around trying to escape." She looked down again. "Damn it… the loss of that seal is causing chakra bleed – your network is too used to having it there. I need the gap staunched somehow."
Kakashi knelt down. "I can do it, but I'll be useless for the rest of the battle."
"You know how to fix this kind of thing? What's the seal?"
"No seal." Kakashi's eye contorted into the Eternal Mangekyo. "Shiranui."
White fire ran across his body, then jumped to Naruto and concentrated on his chest. After a moment, the flames died and Sakura rescanned him wonderingly. "He's… fine. Better than fine, actually. His pathways are completely clear, there's no longer any leakage around where the seal used to be and… huh. It even cleaned under his fingernails."
Kakashi slumped, muttering something about overexpensive techniques.
"Right." Naruto ran through three seals and slammed his hand into the ground. "Ichimaru, let Nagato know we need him here now. Konoha hospital, fifth floor, room 203."
The silver fox vanished with a wash of air.
"Did Akatsuki keep the bodies of the other Jinchuuriki around?"
"Yeah." Deidara said. "That's where I was taking Gaara's when you got me, yeah. It's in a room a lot further down than that main chamber, yeah."
"Sasuke, you and Deidara go and get them. Sakura… that problem with my seal, before. What does it mean?"
"Basically, without the seal there – and especially without the Bijuu there – your body was pumping chakra to it as part of the normal circulatory cycle, and it was just leaking out."
"If Nagato resurrected the others?"
"They'd die within a few minutes."
"Right. You can do a Jinchuuriki seal, right?"
"Yes." Sakura nodded, decisively. "It's relatively easy to actually do the sealing – well, after looking at yours anyway… the hard part is keeping the Bijuu under control."
"That won't be a problem."
Sakura pointed into the sky suddenly. "Look out!"
Something came hurtling in from the direction of Konoha, stopped three inches above the ground with a burst of repulsion, then fell onto its' four metal legs.
Obito blinked. "That… is a hospital bed… Nagato?"
"I don't know who you are, and I'll find out later." Nagato said, turning to Naruto and Sakura. "What is it?"
"Er… why'd you bring the bed?"
"Strict bed rest. Doctor's orders." Nagato answered.
"Tsunade is scary. Anyway, I assume it is urgent because the Ten-Tails is behind you."
"Yes. How many people can you resurrect in sequence with the Samsara of Life?"
"Quite a lot, so long as they're well preserved. Who are they?"
Sasuke put Yugito Nii on the floor next to them, and vanished again. Deidara did the same with Han.
"All the Jinchuuriki apart from me. None of them damaged beyond death from extraction."
"That I can do." Nagato nodded. "When?"
"In order, Gaara first. You'll know when." Naruto closed his eyes, and when they opened again they were the slit yellow of his Sage Mode. "And make sure you guys are safe. There's going to be a lot of explosions."
Sakura flickered away for a moment, and came back with Gaara and Bee's bodies.
"Now… time to make history." Naruto said, and jumped forward.
The first warning the Ten-Tails got that Naruto was still alive was when two Rasenshuriken hit it in the face.
It roared, turned and spat annihilation – but Naruto was no longer there. He shot over its' form, hurled another Rasenshuriken, then summoned a horde of clones and slammed fifty Great Ball Rasengan into it all along its' length.
Naruto hit the ground and shot off running, focusing on the things he'd seen in the moment after Millie was torn out of him.
In that moment, the fragments of his mother's chakra which made up his seal had contacted him. Spoken to him, told him things, in the frozen time of his inner self.
The most immediately useful thing was… this.
Two chains of pure chakra shot out from Naruto's sleeves, entangling the Ten-Tails' right legs and letting him trip it with an almighty pull. He left them in place and charged forward, another Sage Rasenshuriken proceeding him.
"Did he just…" Sakura asked.
Kakashi smiled. "Like mother, like son."
Naruto jumped about a quarter mile into the air, and expended the last of his Sage chakra with yet another Rasenshuriken. Focusing, he drew in more of nature's chakra, and dropped back into the state within seconds.
He'd been vulnerable… but he'd also been moving fast and high in the air. Now he was back to full Sage again.
And, by the feel of it, he'd nearly done enough damage.
"Eh, I'm one for overkill anyway." He multiplied himself, and launched dozens of Wind Rasengan in a volley.
The Ten-Tails screamed in rage, its' form roiled – and Naruto flung out another chakra chain with whiplash speed. It sunk into the beast's form, wrapped around something, and pulled.
Sakura gaped. "Nagato! Revive Gaara now!"
Nagato nodded. "Samsara of heavenly life!"
A small ugly statue appeared, and green energy flowed from it to Gaara.
Gaara blinked, and sat up. "What happened? The last thing I remember is-"
Sakura finished her sequence of handseals, drew a seal on Gaara faster than the eye could follow, and activated it. As the One-Tailed Tanuki which Naruto had pulled out of the Juubi fell towards them, it was caught in the effect field of the technique and drawn back into Gaara.
"…oh. This is becoming a habit." Gaara looked at his stomach, to check the seal. "Every time I die, it turns out it is because someone has torn out my Bijuu."
"At least you're back. Again." Sasuke pointed out, putting Fuu down. "Most people don't come back from the dead once. Is Shukaku alright?"
"He is fine. Though he expresses the wish to get very drunk. I believe I shall permit him, once this is over."
Sakura was writing again. "Better get ready to revive Yugito, Nagato. I don't think Naruto's heard of giving people warning."
Three more explosions came in quick succession.
Sasuke drew the Raijin. "Hey, Deidara. I think he could use some help. Let's see who causes the most damage."
"Uchiha, you're my kind of guy, yeah!" Deidara pulled out a storage seal. "Let's see, I've got fifteen dragons and two hundred and thirty birds. What should I start with?"
A shadow clone of Naruto appeared next to them. "Hey, guys, I'd appreciate some fire support – oh, good. Gaara? When I'm recharging Sage mode, you and the other Jinchuuriki hit it with a Tailed Beast Bomb or something equally destructive. Let the others know as they're revived."
Gaara nodded. "Will do."
A barrage of railgun fire smashed into the Ten-Tails' face, followed by an entire explosive dragon.
The clone squinted. "Matatabi on the way in just a second." With that, he popped.
Nagato glanced at Sakura. "It would seem he has heard of giving people warning."
"Statistical outlier. No significance."
A thunderous yowl was heard, as the Two Tailed Cat went soaring into the air.
"This is pretty cool." Shigehide said, watching the fireworks.
The raccoon next to him gave a chitter.
"What? We invented gunpowder. I appreciate the big bangs."
A kind of chirrup.
"No, I'm not serene. I'm not the Crow Sage. I don't have to be serene."
The raccoon just gave him a look.
"Stop it. That makes me uncomfortable." A close-spaced series of explosions echoed over the ravaged landscape. "Oh, what. What the hell is that?"
Shigehide abruptly glared, forestalling the next comment. "Yes, I know it's the five-tails. I just don't know what animal it is."
The raccoon squeaked.
"That's what a Kirin looks like? Huh. You learn something new every day."
"Naruto!" Sakura shouted during one of the brief periods when nothing was exploding, having just finished the seal on Bee's chest.
A shadow clone appeared next to her. "What is it?"
"When you take the eight-tails out, then the Juubi will become a lot more stable since the vast majority of its' power will be Millie's! Do you have a plan for that?"
"Yeah." Naruto nodded. "Oh, that reminds me. Who has the best emotional control – you, Sasuke, Kakashi, Deidara or Sai?"
Sakura thought for a moment. "Sai."
"Good. Get him here via that crow, and set him up with a containment seal." The clone dispelled as Naruto's Sage Mode ran out again, and seven Bijuu Balls hit the Ten-Tails in quick succession while he recharged.
Up until this point, the various bijuu he'd removed had been relatively small fractions of the whole. Even the Seven-Tails, now resealed into Fuu, had been a mere fourteen percent.
But when Naruto sent his chains into the Juubi's form and pulled out Gyūki, a full third of its' remaining chakra was torn out. The backlash was substantial, and more to the point what was left wasn't enough to sustain a ten-tailed form.
As Naruto 'cracked the whip' and sent Gyūki towards Bee's reviving form, he watched with apprehension.
One of the tails vanished. The other nine solidified, becoming Millie's familiar fox-fur, and the rest of its' body became hers.
Nevertheless, there was still a lot of corrupted chakra in there. Rather than fighting the ten-tails, he was fighting a mind-controlled Millie.
"Eh, screw it. You ready, Dad?"
After a moment, Naruto nodded – seemingly to himself. "Good."
One last Sage Mode charge, and he shot forwards just as the Nine-Tailed Demon Fox set itself.
The giant fox looked puzzled for a moment, then was launched two hundred feet into the air by a rock wall which punched out of the ground.
Fifty clones appeared, and threw Wind Rasengan followed by Big Ball Rasengan.
As the fox finally came hurtling back down, six full seconds after takeoff, Naruto span up a Rasenshuriken and left a clone holding it underneath Millie.
Flashing around with a pair of lightning-quick Body Flickers, he built a second one and threw it from above just as she landed on the first.
The Nine-Tails thrashed about in pain as the pair of upper-S Wind techniques detonated at once.
In that brief window when it not only would not, but could not move, Naruto fired off the Chakra Chains barrier and trussed Millie up so she was immobilized.
Sakura ran over. "Sai's arrived – still asleep – and I set up the containment seal on him. Do you need me to do yours?"
"Nah." Naruto walked forward to the enormous, thrashing muzzle, and placed a hand on it. "Dad's got this."
Sakura blinked. "Pardon?"
"Way back when she first got sealed in me, Dad put fragments of himself and Mum in the seal. Mum taught me how to do the chakra chains, and Dad's got the strength to reform my seal once." Naruto grinned. "Good thing he never had to do it before now."
"No kidding…" Sakura muttered.
The two Four Symbols Seals blossomed on Naruto's torso, then hardened into their customary form. Millie dissolved into red chakra, which flowed into the seal – and, as the vast amount of chakra poured back into Naruto, black residue accumulated on the outside.
"Yeah. No non-Millie chakra allowed. Shove it into Sai, he'll annoy it more than it annoys him." Naruto grinned, then frowned. "Hey, look. When she went from solid to intangible, something fell out. Hey, Sasuke! Mind checking what that was?"
Sasuke appeared next to it. "Huh. It's that monk kid."
"Sora?" Naruto checked. "Wow. Wonder what he was doing in the ten-tails."
"What was he doing?" Kakashi asked Obito.
"Extraction takes time, alright? I kidnapped him, and then threw him into the statue's mouth whole. It had to get Kyuubi chakra from somewhere."
After about thirty seconds, the process was complete. Sakura, hands glowing blue, gathered up the residual black chakra and Flickered over to Sai to make him the container of it.
This particular pair of Four Symbols Seals had no convenient gap for leakage like the others. Safety first.
Naruto, meanwhile, collapsed onto the floor of the crater with a grin. Good to have you back, Millie.
Good to be back! Wow, I was angry when that nasty ten-tails was in charge. Does it need counselling?"
Need it or not, now that it's sealed into Sai it's going to get it.
"Hey, kid." The crow said, flying overhead.
"One of those last death-beams the ten tails fired scored a trench clear to the sea. You'd better move, or you'll be underwater."
Naruto bounced back upright. "Thanks for the warning. Anything else left down here?"
"No, that Sora kid got moved out of the way by Sasuke, and now the Rinnegan user is reviving him."
"Cool." Naruto set off running, and jumped out of the crater complex as it began to fill.
"Ah, good." Sakura said, as she concluded the sealing process. "That should have finally broken that illusion. Morning, Sai!"
"It is morning?" Sai asked. "There must be a substantial amount of dust in the air, it is still quite dark. And it appears that I have obtained an ecneicsnoc."
"The opposite of a conscience. It is ranting at me about murder, death, being foiled and so on. Quite repetitive. I wonder if it would respond to art therapy."
Sakura shrugged. "Worth a try."
"So!" Kakashi said. "All's well that ends well."
Most of the Jinchuuriki nodded, though some of them looked confused.
Then Yagura punched Obito in the jaw.
"Whoa!" Naruto said, surprised. "What was that for?"
"Do you have any idea how long I was mind controlled for?" Yagura said, twitching. "I have to retake the Academy entrance exam!"
"So." Gaara asked. "What do we do now?"
Yugito nodded. "Good plan. Whoever you are, four-tailed Jinchuuriki."
"Shukaku says that we should keep in touch via the chat room. I assume he will tell me what me means at some point."
Deidara looked across at Han and Roshi. "You guys will vouch for me, yeah?"
"Of course!" Han said expansively. "You may have blown me up forty-seven times when you captured me, but that's all in the past. Roshi, let's go get a drink. We've earned it. Deidara, you're buying."
"You did blow me up forty-seven times."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah…"
"Ah, Kakashi." Sarutobi said. "Somehow I suspected Team Seven were at the heart of this. Kurenai told me what she knew, but she didn't know everything."
"Okay. This could take a while." Kakashi glanced over at the figure at the back of their group, who had a paper bag over his head. "A long while."
"Turn the village upside down!" Temari insisted. "No stone must be unturned searching for clues as to what happened to the Kazekage! Why aren't you looking for him, Kankuro?"
Temari looked north. "What… oh."
Arms folded, Gaara surfed back into Suna on the tip of a mighty wave of sand, his robes and hat impeccable.
As the wave reached the outskirts, it tightened into a curl which swept down the main street.
The window to his tower shattered as he reached it, and reconstituted behind him as the curl deposited him at his desk.
"So." He said, to his startled secretary. "What is next on the schedule?"
Sarutobi sat back."Remarkable. So, Akatsuki is no more?"
"Yes." Nagato and Obito answered at the same time.
Nagato continued. "I am going to create a humanitarian organization, but to call it Akatsuki like my last one would be confusing."
"Well." Sarutobi steepled his fingers. "Firstly, Obito Uchiha. You are to be checked by Inoichi Yamanaka, and if you pass that test when we'll call what you've been doing for the last seventeen-odd years convalescence."
"Thank you, Hokage." Obito bowed. "More than I deserve."
"See that it is what you deserve. Nagato… why are you in that bed? I have to admit, I'm impressed you got it to walk, though."
"Unusual definition…" the Third pondered. "Kakashi, you're assigned to keep an eye on Obito and Sai for signs of Juubi influence."
"Wait." Naruto said. "What about him being the head of team seven?"
"That's the other thing." Sarutobi looked satisfied. "The timing of this confrontation is most helpful – the genin exams were yesterday. Team Seven is hereby dissolved, and Naruto Uzumaki, Sasuke Uchiha and Sakura Haruno promoted to Jonin. Report to the mission room tomorrow to find which teams you've been assigned to test and teach."
Floored, the three newly promoted Jonin could only give stunned nods.
"And, finally… Sai. Light duty for now. And regular counselling sessions."
"I understand." Sai said, calmly.
Mei and her bodyguards mirror-travelled to the outside of the village courtesy of Haku. "What is the reason for the alert?"
"Two large chakra signatures were detected!" The sentry commander replied. "They have been approaching slowly!"
"Hey." A familiar voice called out. "Anyone home?"
"Ukataka?" Mei replied. "What are you doing alive?"
"Long story. Hey, can we come in?"
"We have swords." A quiet voice added. "Nuibari, Kabutowari, Samehada and Kiba."
"What?" Zabuza asked, then chuckled harshly. "So you got Kisame?"
"Actually, that was the one tails container and the eight tails container, or so I am led to believe." Ukataka said. "The nine tails container tore apart Akatsuki's combination of the bijuu, put all of them back in the right place and generally caused enormous damage."
"Nine tails container?" Mei said. "You mean the boy with the orange fixation?"
Zabuza shivered. "Oh, him. You know I fought him in Wave country? Didn't go well. Probably a good thing we defaulted on that mission…"
"Wait." Mei said, looking at the silhouettes firming out of the fog. "Is that Yagura?"
"Er, hello?" the quiet voice said again. "Wait, I recognize you."
"You're that genin who inspired me to become a ninja!"
Zabuza dropped his sword.
Ukataka rubbed the back of his neck. "He's kind of hazy about the stuff which happened while he was under mind control… which, for reference, starts about a day before he entered the academy."
"I could have helped…" Jiraiya muttered. "I have Sage Mode too, I could have broken that illusion…"
Sasuke looked over his three genin. "My name is Sasuke Uchiha. I am your new Jonin-Sensei. Basically, I'm better than you. And if I have anything to say about it, I will be the only one better than you by the time I'm finished with you."
A smashed through three walls as he ran to the outskirts of the village. "Bee! You better have a good reason for pretending you were dead!"
"Look, bro, no dis, you know, but I had to take a holiday or I was gonna blow. And look who I found, underground, when I was around."
Yugito kicked Bee in the back of the knee, and walked past him as he collapsed to the floor. "I was the one revived first, Bee. Sorry for my long absence, sir. There was a death in the family."
"Whose?" A asked.
"I know it's your family! But-"
"No, sir. I died. I was brought back just yesterday and my bijuu resealed into me by some Konoha ninja."
"…huh." The Raikage frowned. "Come on, I want to hear all the details of this! And then I can see if you've lost your edge in the sparring arena."
"I am Sakura Haruno. And I want to make very clear that your prowess as a ninja is not about who you were born as, or what family you have. It's about making the most of whatever talents you have and taking them to their fullest potential. Everything else does help, but help is all it does."
"What does this remind you of?" Sai said.
MURDER DEATH PAIN KILL RAGE HATE
"Really?" Sai frowned, examining the card. "It appears more like a butterfly to me."
The contained mind of "tobi" thrashed around in utmost hatred.
"Now. Let us try art therapy. What colour would you like to start with?"
RAGE PAIN KILL BLOOD-
"Red, an interesting choice. It can symbolize the sunset, or autumn leaves."
Deidara, Roshi and Han, arms linked across their shoulders, marched into Iwa singing loudly and drunkenly.
The sentries rubbed their eyes, sure they were seeing things, as Deidara punctuated the chorus with loud explosions from Shibuki.
"This is my boomstick, yeah!" he shouted, then all three plunged into the next verse of The Hedgehog Song.
"Perhaps a red… arrow?" Nagato asked.
"Possible." Konan agreed. "But arrows do have connotations of weaponry for civilians."
"Red… no, a sword is a weapon as well. Coming up with a new symbol is difficult. The clouds were a stroke of luck."
"Hi! I'm Naruto Uzumaki, Jonin. I'm the son of the Fourth, I have more chakra than any other human being alive, I'm the container of the most powerful being on the planet, I am One With Everything, and I am the main reason we have so many S ranked nin in Konoha nowadays. And I was the Dead Last. So my expectations are a bit high for you lot."
His three genin looked between themselves. One of them finally cleared his throat, and spoke up.
"I'm Inari, if you remember. I was the guy in Wave who was really kind of depressed until you got me to stand up for myself. My aim is to make Wave a country with a nina village again, so we can help ourselves!"
"Works for me!" Naruto said. "Who's next?"
"My name is Yukimaru. I want to make Guren proud of me."
"Short, to the point. Fine by me. And last?"
"I'm Isaribi. I had to be cured of a transformation illness by Tsunade, which took a long time, but now I'm ready to learn to be a proper ninja!"
"That's the spirit! Now, go to Training Ground twelve tomorrow morning. The amount of breakfast you eat is up to you… though, you should know that I plan on only giving you lunch when the first training exercise you have is over. And that it'll be stressful, so you might be sick if you eat too much. Nobody wants that."
Naruto waited until the three had left, then smirked. This was going to be fun.
AN: And that finishes the fic. Hope everyone enjoyed that last chapter.
It's very, very hard to find characters who are younger than Konohamaru and Hanabi in the series…
And here's an unused concept.
Naruto's true name: Naruto. Maelstrom. While he'll get it eventually, the reason this is important is that one interpretation of it is a hurricane – and a hurricane, being made up of large storms, has lightning.
This would be how Naruto eventually gets the Hiraishin working.
Daxter: Boss Otter summon. From Jak and Daxter – technically an Ottsel, but close enough.
Shigehide: the crow with Shisui's eye. One of the former names of a Magoichi of Saika.
Unnamed raccoon: the Sage of the Raccoons. Name would have been either Rascal or Woo.
Vulpine now has a TVTropes page. Do go and have a look, or edit if you want.
The Ten Tails
How I portray the Ten-Tails in this fic is, essentially, a malevolent idea. It influences and ultimately possesses people in order to manipulate them towards its' true goal, of reincorporating all its' component parts and becoming one again. It had more or less completely influenced Madara decades ago, and it corrupted Obito once he took his head injury by making it seem as though his friend had killed his crush. The black Zetsu was also corrupted.
The reason for doing this was because, essentially, I agree with Kakashi about how improbable the actions of "Tobi" are in the story. I can buy someone undergoing a mental break… though not one that severe so fast, perhaps. I can't buy someone who is barely fifteen, who was completely normal before the age of thirteen when they took crippling injuries, managing a draw with the Fourth Hokage… unless they have some massive offsetting power source. Hence, demonic possession explained a few things.
(And I stil have no idea why Kakashi killed Rin. Either there was a good reason, like "she's a traitor", in which case it's completely bloody justified and Obito should understand it, or there wasn't a good reason and Kakashi's entire character does a hard skew turn to evil. Or it was some kind of illusion to convince Obito that the world of ninja is all darkness and death.)
A few of the problems with the idea of the Infinite Tsukuyomi are also touched on. It's an insane plan, not least of the reasons of which is because the people caught in it would starve or dehydrate or be eaten by wolves or something. And if it's some kind of Instrumentality, it's if anything worse – because then they could have…well… asked. Naruto for one in canon would probably have gone along with "operation make the world better for everyone" if he was convinced of the proposing ninja's bona fides.
Tip: if your goal is altruistic, then mass terrorism is not a useful method to achieve the goal.
(And is anyone a little concerned with Madara's rampant hypocrisy? He, a ninja who claims that the world of ninja is a doomed place of evil and that he has a plan to end it, is someone who earlier in life reacted to an electoral defeat with an assassination attempt powered by bijuu!)