-October 10th, 334 NE (Ninja Era)-
-Konohagakure no Sato (The Village Hidden in the Leaves), Konoha General Hospital-
Minato Namikaze, the Fourth Hokage and soon-to-be new father, paced back and forth in the hallway, his body tense and full of nervous energy. His famous overcoat - with stylized flames licking the bottom edge and the words "Fourth Hokage" written in large, bold letters on the back - swirled around his feet as he moved. Every few seconds he threw a worried glance at the hospital doors that led to the room where his wife was currently in labor. He desperately wanted to do something, but knew that he would just get in the way; Tsunade-sama was overseeing the birth, after all. If something happened that she couldn't handle, there was little he would be able to do.
It didn't stop him from imagining such scenarios, however, each more horrible - and unlikely, he told himself firmly - than the last.
"Hokage-sensei, there's no need to worry so much. Kushina-sama is strong, I'm sure she'll be fine. Tsunade-sama won't let anything happen to her, after all." Kakashi said lazily, never taking his eyes off his ever-present orange book. His silver hair stuck straight up in the air, defying gravity as it always did. His mask-covered face seemed to be smiling as he giggled to himself.
Minato threw Kakashi an irritated glance, but he stopped pacing for the moment. "Why do you insist on calling me that? It sounds ridiculous," he snapped.
Kakashi looked up from his book for a moment, and even through the mask Minato thought he could see a grin on his face. "You are the Hokage and my teacher, after all. It's only proper." With that said, he turned back to his book, giggling again.
The Hokage sighed. "Thanks for trying to distract me, but you're plenty worried yourself. You've been reading that same page for the last thirty minutes."
Kakashi stiffened in surprise, then shook his head. "It's a good page," he insisted.
Minato let out a snort of laughter, then paused. "... Which page?"
The masked ninja was definitely grinning this time as he opened his mouth to answer. Before he could however, an unearthly roar reverberated throughout the hospital hallway, rattling windows and stopping the two shinobi cold.
The roar was more than just loud, more than just sound even. It was laced with an incredibly potent chakra and just feeling it nearly brought them to their knees. The roar felt terrifying, it felt overwhelmingly powerful, it felt... evil.
Minato recovered first, and quickly grabbed Kakashi's shoulder. With a yellow flash of light they both disappeared as shouts began to ring out throughout the hospital.
-A few minutes before-
-Makai (The Demon Realm)-
The Kyuubi no Youko lay before the swirling vortex that was the portal to the Human Realm, waiting patiently. Barren plains stretched out all around him, silent and desolate. His nine tails swayed lazily behind him, moving seemingly at random, stirring the air and creating dust clouds as they moved.
Soon the period of his banishment would be over. Soon, very soon, he would enter the Human Realm once more. He had waited one hundred years for this moment - one hundred years of bitter, frustrated anger, one hundred years of planning.
One hundred years of wondering what had become of his brethren.
One hundred years since those pathetic humans wielding their silly little powers had dared to turn against him. When they had launched their attack, he had been amused. Amused that they were so arrogant as to believe that mere humans, even working together, could ever hope to so much as inconvenience a Bijuu. Then they had revealed the full extent of their plan and summoned the Death God. He laughed outright at that. They apparently believed that demons such as he were mortal, and thus could be killed in such a manner. Fools.
He was shocked when he was sealed into a human child; he had not thought the human's plan would work even to that extent. His shock quickly turned to rage and he flooded the seal containing him with all his power, seeking to break free and wreak havoc upon those who would dare stand against him. His power quickly overwhelmed the seal, as he had expected. What he had not expected was to be forcibly ripped from the human realm and sent back to the demon realm immediately after that occurred. He had barely had time to witness the devastation unleashed by the shattering of the seal before he had been banished. While satisfied that he had killed the humans involved in the attack, he did not feel victorious.
For a time, he assumed that the humans would soon banish his brethren as well, if they had not already done so. He wanted to confer with the others before returning to the human world and had sent emissaries to the other tribes calling for a meeting. After a year had passed without any sign of them in the demon realm and without any word through their tribes, he had been forced to consider that the sealing array had been meant for some other purpose. Whatever the humans had failed to accomplish in their attack on him had apparently succeeded elsewhere.
His brethren were still in the human realm and lacked both the means to communicate and the power to move freely between the realms.
Then had come the unwelcome discovery that the Death God had sealed the portal against him. With bitter clarity he now recalled the words the Death God had spoken to the human summoner, words he had dismissed as unimportant at the time – "banished from the human realm for a period of one hundred years. Thus is the agreement."
He was pulled from his reminiscence as he felt the portal change, the feeling of the Death God's power fading away as if it had never been. With a victorious roar, he leapt to his feet and bounded through the portal, fully intent on finding his brethren – and exacting revenge on the humans who would dare interfere with the Bijuu.
-Konoha's Western Wall-
Minato landed on the outer walls of the village, already scanning the surroundings for the source of that terrible roar. Kakashi landed next to him looking vaguely ill but alert. His headband was already pushed up, revealing a madly spinning Sharingan eye. All around them other ninja were appearing on the wall, confused shouts coming from all sides as everyone tried to get a handle on the situation. Minato's voice cut through the din, strong and clear.
"Silence! Did anyone see the source of that roar?"
All the ninja, even the ones originally stationed on the wall, shook their heads. Minato frowned even as his eyes kept scanning in all directions. There was no sign of any disturbance: no smoke, no chakra emanations that he could detect. He began snapping orders to the ninja assembled around him. Within moments, squads were spreading throughout the village to check for any damage, while others were heading for the other posts to see if they had detected anything. Given the lack of physical evidence they had to consider the possibility of a widespread genjutsu. This might have been a preliminary test by enemy ninja hoping to find any holes in village security. It could also be relatively harmless harassment, but none of them believed they were that lucky.
Sarutobi appeared a few moments later clad in his battle armor and looking every inch the veteran shinobi. Minato felt a little pride when Sarutobi nodded approvingly at him. His predecessor was clearly pleased to see that Minato had responded so quickly and effectively.
"Minato, what-" he began to ask, but his voice cut off abruptly as his face paled and his eyes widened in horror.
Minato turned quickly to follow his gaze and felt his own face go pale. Miles away yet still clearly visible stood a large form, glowing orange as the sun slowly set behind it. He sent chakra to his eyes, sharpening his sight as best he could. With his enhanced vision he could just make out the form of something akin to a fox, towering hundreds of feet above the trees. His heart nearly stopped when he saw that there were nine flowing tails spread out behind the fox.
"Dear Kami... a tailed beast. Nine tails," he whispered, his voice hoarse with fear.
It had been nearly thirty years since the last tailed beast sighting, the four-tailed gorilla in Iwa. The beast had battled the ninja forces of Iwa for nearly two days, laying waste to the countryside with its lava. Countless ninja had lost their lives battling the creature, and some areas in Iwa still had not recovered. Legends said that the more tails such a beast possessed the more powerful it was; if the four-tailed beast could do so much damage to Iwa, he shuddered to think how much damage this one could do, especially if it reached the village.
Konoha was the only Great Village to have escaped the ravages of the tailed beasts. Their good fortune had helped them flourish beyond any other village, but it seemed their luck had finally run out.
His mind raced, trying to remember everything he had ever heard about how to combat a tailed beast. The one thing all the reports agreed on was that the beasts were effectively immortal. No one had ever managed to kill one, or even seriously wound one, in all the battles that had taken place. Whether it was possible at all was a source of long-standing debate. Still, everyone agreed, however reluctantly, that such a feat was beyond the power of any ninja, no matter how powerful or numerous.
The only successful strategy was fuinjutsu, specifically containment seals tied to a living host. There were rumors that Suna had managed to contain the one-tailed beast into an object for a time, but the container had failed within a week and unleashed the beast to once again ravage Wind Country. No other tailed beast had ever been sealed into an inanimate object that he knew of.
The reports he had heard also suggested that the younger the host, the better. Several adult ninja - and even a few teenagers - had been selected as hosts, only to have their bodies swiftly begin to break down under the strain. They had died and the beasts were released or resealed within a year at most.
Further complicating matters, the containment seal used had to be of sufficient power relative to the tailed beast it would contain. The seal holding back the one-tailed beast had proven wholly insufficient when the Village Hidden in the Grass had attempted to use it on the three-tailed beast. That failed attempt and the disastrous aftermath had weakened the Grass Village to such an extent that it was still trying to recover over fifty years later.
Minato's mind swiftly sorted through all the information he had available and determined the best course of action. To seal the nine-tailed beast, he would have to use the strongest seal possible on the youngest container possible. He already has a seal in mind – one which summoned the God of Death itself. He had been researching it out of curiosity, wondering what would lead someone to design such a seal that cost the life of its user. He supposed he knew the answer to that question now, though he wished he did not.
As for the host, a child that was newly born would be the best. A child that was born today, such as–
His mind shied away from following that thought to its conclusion. He snapped out of its musings when he heard Sarutobi call for him again.
"Minato!" Sarutobi said sharply. "You need to begin the evacuation."
Minato shook himself, and nodded. He drew in a slow breath, then spoke. "I need volunteers to slow the beast's advance. The remaining ninja and anyone of genin rank will begin evacuating the civilians as quickly as possible. Sarutobi, I need you to organize the resistance. I..." His voice trailed off for a moment as he mind grappled with what he was about to do, what he was about to sacrifice. "I need to prepare for the sealing," he finished quietly.
Sarutobi nodded his acceptance. Unsurprisingly, every ninja on the wall volunteered to delay the beast.
Minato smiled; it was a sad smile, but proud all the same. "Thank you all. It has been an honor to lead you." With a yellow flash, he was gone.
Minato reappeared in his lab and immediately rushed to his worktable. The seal to summon the power of the God of Death was already spread out on the table, right where he had left it. The notes he had managed to pull together after weeks of exhaustive research lay off to the side. That information, beyond the requirements for using the seal itself, didn't even fill a page. He reviewed his own notes, realizing that he had made very little progress in understanding the underlying mechanics of the sealing array.
The most useful piece of information was a scribbled note on the back of the sealing scroll. It wasn't by the original author – the handwriting was clearly different – but it contained more information than all the journals he had scoured to this point.
"The first test of the seal was successful, but too costly. The target was sealed, but when we lowered the protective barrier, Kenichi was dead. We examined the body but found no discernible cause of death. It seems that the God of Death is not to be summoned lightly."
Minato had been unable to determine what they had tested the seal on, or even who had written the note. Nonetheless, it was confirmation that the strongest seal design he had ever seen worked. He would just have to hope it was enough to contain the nine-tailed beast.
He rolled up the design for the sealing array along with his brushes and inks, then disappeared in another yellow flash.
-Konoha General Hospital-
Tsunade gently handed the bundle containing Kushina's newborn son to the exhausted mother, smiling at the look of joy upon Kushina's face. Kushina looked haggard, her hair sticking to her sweaty face and her clothing rumpled and stained, but Tsunade thought she had never looked happier in her life.
"Have you settled on a name yet?" she asked. Shizune, Tsunade's apprentice and assistant, looked on with a smile, wiping away a happy tear.
"Naruto," Kushina said. She moved her hand and gently smoothed back the small tufts of golden hair that decorated the baby's head. "His name is Naruto."
Tsunade and Shizune smiled fondly, glancing at each other in amusement as they wondered if the name was supposed to mean "fish-cake" or "maelstrom". Though they would never say it, they thought either meaning equally likely considering Minato and Kushina's shared love of ramen.
Tsunade shook herself as she collected her thoughts. "Right. You are stable, Naruto is healthy, and everything is fine here. I hate to leave so soon, but something is happening outside and Shizune and I need to be out there to help. We'll be back as soon as we can."
Kushina tensed as her senses, previously overwhelmed by the agony of childbirth, finally detected the ongoing battle. She nodded quickly, holding Naruto a little tighter as she wondered what was happening outside.
-Two Miles West of Konoha-
The Kyuubi flicked his tail, and three more ninja died.
Mindful of the events that led to his banishment, he dispatched any attackers quickly and efficiently. Though it amused him to watch the humans expend their energy attempting to harm him, they had proven that they could... inconvenience him, if allowed the opportunity. There was no real reason to stay in the area anyway, as he had already determined that there was no trace of youki within a hundred miles. Still, he wasn't about to ignore the fact that these humans had attacked him unprovoked. They had clearly forgotten just why the Bijuu were to be feared. It seemed a little... reminder was in order before he resumed his search.
The Kyuubi opened his mouth, and began to gather youki into a large ball that filled the space between his gaping jaws. Even as the youki grew denser and denser he could feel the humans gathering in one area, roughly a mile away and some distance from the village. It seemed they were planning to attack him en masse. The Kyuubi would have smirked, if the ball of energy would have allowed it. After a few more seconds of gathering youki, he closed his jaws around the ball, completely encasing it.
-Konoha's Western Wall-
Sarutobi gripped the wall tightly, his knuckles white and his face grim. They had succeeded in delaying the beast, giving Minato precious minutes to prepare the sealing array that would hopefully stop the beast once and for all. They had succeeded... but the death toll was horrifying. Over one hundred ninja, from chuunin to jounin, were already dead and he feared many more would follow if Minato did not arrive soon. Desperate for any option that would not result in further loss of life, He had directed his teammates Koharu and Homura to gather ninja in a clearing outside the village to prepare for a large-scale ninjutsu. They were to split the ninja into groups based on elemental affinity, and by now nearly two hundred ninja should be pouring their chakra into joint elemental dragon techniques.
This plan of attack was sound in theory, but he was unsure if the dragons would have any impact on the tailed beast despite their considerable power. All their other techniques, including individual versions of the dragon technique, had proven largely ineffective. On the other hand, while they may not be doing any discernible damage, the tailed beast was at least treating them as threats if the way it swiftly destroyed any ninja who came near it was any indication. Hopefully this long-range attack would slow it down without costing any more ninja their lives.
He squinted his eyes, watching as the Kyuubi began gathering energy into a ball in front of its mouth. He'd never heard of a tailed beast using this sort of attack before, but the amount of chakra gathered into the orb was staggering, and still growing at an alarming rate. All the ninja approaching the beast scattered immediately, but the beast made no move to attack, instead continuing to gather more chakra into the orb. Whatever it was trying to do, it seemed very slow and highly ineffective.
Then the beast swallowed the whole thing.
Sarutobi blinked, trying to figure out what the point of-
The blast that issued forth from the beast's maw was nearly blinding in its intensity. He let out a yell of pain as he covered his eyes, and felt a wall of heat slam into him, searing his skin. He was nearly blown off his feet, but quickly recovered and tried to determine what happened, forcing his eyes open and ignoring the pain with practiced ease.
A trench nearly half a mile wide and several miles long had been carved into the landscape. What had once been a lush, verdant forest was now a smoking ruin, every trace of life obliterated by the nine-tailed beast's blast. At the edges of the trench trees had been torn from the ground and flung back, and fires were raging for hundreds of feet on either side.
Sarutobi gaped. If that blast had been pointed at Konoha, half the city would have been destroyed. As it was, a huge swath of the forest surrounding the village had just been obliterated in a single attack. He could only thank Kami that the beast had such terrible aim. Judging by the trench the attack had left behind, it hadn't even come close to-
He gasped and his face took on a look of horror as he mentally traced the path of the blast. It ran straight through the clearing where the ninja had gathered to fuel the elemental dragon techniques. Now there was no sign of the clearing, and no sign of any shinobi that had been in it.
Sarutobi prayed Minato completed his preparations quickly. He didn't think they would be able to hold out much longer.
-Konoha General Hospital-
Minato barely managed to choke out the words "I'm sorry," before he disappeared from the hospital room.
-Konoha's Western Wall-
"Sarutobi! Gather all available ninja and prepare to power a barrier technique around the beast," Minato called out as soon as he appeared beside the former Hokage. "I need you to keep it contained so I can perform the sealing. Throw this inside the barrier just before you activate it." Minato tossed one of his signature three-pronged kunai to the old man and disappeared.
Sarutobi caught the kunai easily and nodded grimly. He had seen the bundle in Minato's arms, and had a fairly good idea which child he would be using as the container for the tailed beast. He just hoped they could hold out long enough to activate the barrier.
-Two Miles West of Konoha-
The Kyuubi laughed quietly as he felt the humans circling around him, spread out evenly yet keeping their distance. After he had unleashed the Menacing Ball on their little gathering, all the attacks had ceased. He even waited for several minutes to see if they would respond, reveling in their terror. A few more deaths, perhaps another Menacing Ball, and the lesson would be firmly planted in their minds.
Still, he really should stop playing around with the humans, he mused. His initial anger at their attack had rapidly cooled with every human he killed, and now he felt more bored and impatient than anything. After a few more moments contemplation, he decided that one last attack should suffice, then he could move on to his real objective.
He began to gather power for another Menacing Ball, this one aimed at the next highest concentration of humans with their odd power. For some reason, they were gathering within a mountain, behind what appeared to be human faces carved into the side. Were they expecting to hide from him now, after they had attacked him at first sight?
He stopped, the Menacing Ball swiftly dissipating, when the barrier snapped into place around him. This was disturbingly familiar.
Then a giant toad appeared in a cloud of smoke. That was new. It had been a long time since he battled anything from the Outer Realm, and given the outcome from the last time he was surprised one dared show its face in front of him.
Then he detected the two humans on the toad's head: One adult, with the largest concentration of energy in his body he had felt since his return, and a tiny child. He quickly grew alarmed as he realized just what was happening.
-Inside the Barrier-
"I just need you to keep the beast occupied while I complete the jutsu! Buy me some time, 'Bunta!" Minato cried out, his hands flashing through seals so fast they appeared to be indistinct blurs. The bundle containing Naruto was nestled between his feet, his feet holding the bundle on Gamabunta's back as he anchored himself with chakra.
Even as Minato finished speaking, the fox-like beast snarled and shot forward, tails swinging in from all angles to strike at the giant toad. Minato's knees almost buckled as Gamabunta shot into the air to avoid the strikes, but his hands never stopped moving.
"That's easy for you to say, brat!" Gamabunta called out, leaping into the air to dodge yet another strike. He pulled out his tanto to block, and the blade rattled in his hands as the beast's tails slammed into it repeatedly. "This thing is strong and fast! Shit, its tail–"
The rest of his words were cut off in a scream of pain as the beast's claws raked across his face. One of its tails had wrapped around each of Gamabunta's arms, and another was currently wrenching the giant tanto out of his hands. Its claws were raised for another strike when it suddenly froze.
A chill seemed to permeate the air, and even Gamabunta shivered as he felt something ancient and inexplicably other descend upon the battlefield. The beast's terrifying presence and seemingly limitless power paled in comparison to this feeling, and for a brief moment Minato wondered if he had only managed to make the situation worse.
Minato watched silently as the presence seemed to coalesce in the space in front of him, hovering in the air between the tailed beast and Gamabunta. It appeared exactly as he had imagined, a skeletal figure clad in tattered black robes, a scythe gripped loosely in one bony hand.
"The boundary is sufficient, the vessel prepared. What shall be sealed?" the Death God asked, its voice echoing oddly within the barrier. Just hearing it sent tremors of pain throughout Minato's body.
He worked his throat several times before he could force the words out. He had imagined many times what actually being in the presence of the God of Death would be like. This... coldness, this creeping emptiness that flowed from his extremities into the core of his body was far less than he had imagined and yet somehow far, far worse. "I want you to take the tailed beast's soul to your realm and seal its power into my son," he said quickly, hoping to finish his task before he lost his composure entirely. He knew the price he would pay for summoning the God of Death and he was as prepared as he could be. At this point he just wanted it to be over.
He spared a moment to wonder what the Death God meant by the boundary being "sufficient". There had been no specific mention of a boundary in the notes he had read, though he did recall that the "test" was performed inside a barrier. He had assumed it to be a standard precaution, but perhaps it was something more?
The Death God paused, then shifted its head slightly and looked at Minato. The Hokage's entire body convulsed, and he barely managed to avoid landing on Naruto as he fell to his knees, gasping.
"Demon-kind do not fall within Death's domain," the Death God intoned.
Minato paled. "What? But-"
The Death God spoke again, ignoring Minato. "The Kyuubi no Youko shall be sealed within the designated vessel for as long as the vessel is capable of enduring. Upon the failure of the vessel, the Kyuubi no Youko shall be banished once again from the human realm for a period of one hundred years. Thus is the agreement."
Minato tried to protest, to ask why, but he found himself unable to speak. Then the Death God moved. He vaguely heard Naruto begin to cry behind him, but his limbs seemed so heavy. His entire body was cold, now, and was swiftly growing numb. He thought Gamabunta was shouting something, but it seemed distant and terribly unimportant.
The beast reacted with incredible speed as the Death God stretched forth its hand, but even as it leapt into the air to gain distance, its body began to distort. The red energy that comprised its very being was inexorably pulled through the air, twisting and turning until it formed a vortex of power centered over the newborn child. A funnel stretched downward and connected to the seal written upon Naruto's stomach, and the entire vortex was slowly pulled into the seal. Naruto was screaming in pain, the sound ripping at Minato's ears and seeming to fill his entire world even as his vision grew dim.
The entire process took less than a minute, but to Minato it felt like an eternity.
"The sealing is complete. All within Death's domain and the boundary shall be taken in payment. Thus is the agreement," the Death God intoned. There was a moment of stillness, then the otherworldly presence vanished from the battlefield.
His attention was suddenly diverted to the ground, where the previously green grass - what remained of it after the damage Gamabunta and the beast had done to the landscape - was swiftly turning brown. The leaves were dropping from the trees in torrents, the exposed wood turning gray and crumbling.
Even as Minato's vision faded entirely, his mind churned, trying to process what the Death God had said. Something was wrong with that statement. Something was...
As the life faded from his eyes and his body stilled, he never noticed that Naruto had stopped crying.
A/N: A few points of interest for those who are reading this story. This is an AU, and I will be laying out the differences between this and canon as the story continues, hopefully in a natural manner. I figure a couple of major changes I should warn you of now though... Madara Uchiha is dead. Deader than dead. Dead as a doornail. And there is no Mangekyou Sharingan.
Keeping those two changes in mind, I think you can already predict some major divergences between this story and canon, though hopefully I still manage to surprise you and keep you entertained.
With that, I set forth to revise and post future chapters.
Revised: 08/31/2011 - typos and grammar
Revised: 09/08/2011 - typos, grammar, timeframe issue with Grass incident
Revised: 09/21/2012 - typos, grammar, POV issues. (Started reading through it again and couldn't stand some of the errors.) Cleaned up the AN.