Chapter 30

So many things happened at the same time. One of the Akatsuki members, a blonde, effeminate man, looked to the kages where they sat on the balcony. Minato stood up, eyes widened and he had just pulled out a few Kunai. The Raikage was halfway up on the railing, pulling off his robe with bared teeth and Mei stared at the attacking Shinobi in rage. The blonde Akatsuki-nin only smirked though, a cold, haughty smirk, and threw something at them. Naruto only just had time to see what it was, a swarm of small clay birds, before the entire balcony was engulfed in a massive explosion.

It as well as a large part of the arena was torn to shreds, near annihilated, and debris was sent flying in all directions with the shockwave. Both wreaked havoc among the people who only a minute ago had watched the exams eagerly, killing dozens and ensuring the panic was complete. Shinobi all around tried to respond, but in the stampeding crowd it was hard to do anything. Naruto could only throw himself towards the exit, landing at the stairs fast and looking back to see something that made his blood run cold.

The nine landed by the Suna shinobi and what happened now happened in mere seconds. One of the shinobi, a dark-eyed, masked man, leaped forward and Temari tried to drive him back with a blast of wind from her giant fan. The man only took it though, leaping headlong into the blast and ploughing through it. He smashed the fan out of Temari's hand and, with a massive blow, sent her into the ground with her neck twisted at an unnatural angle. Kankuro screamed in rage, lashing out with his hands as his two puppets came out, blades bared as they launched themselves at the man. Yet halfway towards his sister's killer his hands suddenly twisted. Naruto could only barely see it, yet the chakra threads he manipulated the puppets with had become twisted and new threads lashed themselves around him, hoisted him into the air as another figure, a hunched-over, almost bug-like figure of a man, suspended him mid-air as the chakra threads pulled, snapping nearly every single bone in his body, including the spine in five places, before he dropped Kankuro limply onto the ground.

Baki had Gaara in his hands and leaped upwards, trying to escape, yet the man who had introduced himself as Pain raised one hand and held the palm towards Baki. The Suna shinobi was suddenly pulled back, as if an invisible force had grabbed hold of him and pulled him back towards the Akatsuki. Pain caught Baki by the neck, clenching his hand and not just breaking Baki's neck, but outright separating the head from his shoulders.

Grabbing the unconscious Gaara now by his clothes, Pain put one hand on his forehead and Naruto could scarcely believe what happened now. As Pain pulled away his hand something came out of Gaara's mouth. A blazing red miasma of something was pulled out of his body, nay his very soul! Naruto understood what was happening, even though it shouldn't be possible. Pain was pulling out the Shukaku by sheer force! The bijuu was whining in panicked protest, shrieking as Pain pulled him fully free from the jinchuurki in which it had been contained. Pain inhaled sharply now, the miasma of pure chakra that was the bijuu being sucked into his mouth, swallowed whole.

Naruto was not just frightened now. He was terrified. The man had, against all sense and reason, eaten a bijuu straight out of its host!

The man's eyes turned to Naruto now, Naruto being even more terrified by the sight of his eyes. He quickly leaped out of sight, yet the eyes that had looked at him remained with him. Pale eyes, lilac coloured and with several concentric rings in them. As he the main corridor came into view he saw how people were flooding out of the arena, running in panic, and he swore, putting Sakura down as he looked back towards the entrance to the arena.

Lilac eyes with concentric rings. Strange jutsu he'd never seen before that seemingly manipulated gravity itself. The implications were terrifying to say the least, yet Naruto didn't want to make any conclusions. He didn't know, however, if it was due to lack of data or simple fear.

"You infantile brat!" Orochimaru yelled in his head. "It's him! The Sage of Six Paths! That was the Rinnegan, you know it is!" For a change, his old master was utterly terrified as well. None of the mocking, none of the taunting or belittling, just fear.

"It makes no sense," Naruto thought. "He's dead since centuries, if he even existed! Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence," He thought grimly as he stood up now, summoning the Kusanagi and heading for the entrance to the arena again.

"Wait a second, are you seriously going to..."

"I don't wear this headband for fun,"

Naruto thought. "They need to be contained. And for all your faults, old snake, you taught me well." Orochimaru's voice fell silent after this as Naruto turned the corner to the entrance again, only to come face to face with with the silver-haired scythe wielder that along with Kisame had butchered the initial ANBU response. Naruto's response was as instant as it was brutal. With one lightning-fast step he closed the distance between them, cut his head off and kicked the body into the arena, the head rolling down the stairs and out into the sand as well. Naruto whipped the sword to the side to clean it off as he marched into the arena.

"One down, seven to go!" he stated loudly to draw their attention. The sight that met him, meanwhile, made him queasy. He counted at least two dozen Konoha shinobi dead around them now, the Leaf's warriors having responded fast and died bravely trying to keep these monsters contained.

Naruto drew their attention quite effectively now, a lull in the combat happening now, like the eye in the storm of the chaos still going on around them. The man who had called himself Pain and which more and more suggested him being the Sage of Six Paths looked to him with an unearthly calm, Naruto not meeting his eyes for even a second. Kisame, meanwhile, came up beside the red-haired man with the Samehada bared and a wide grin on his face.

"Might wanna do a double check on the 'one down' there mister," the shark-man grinned, Naruto not responding to it until a voice came from beside him. From the ground in fact.

"For fuck's sake snake-boy, you had to go for the head..." Naruto blinked, looked down at the head and seeing it looking up at him. The silver-haired man was still alive. His head was looking up at him, talking as he glared at Naruto.

"Of all the absurd..." Naruto said before stabbing the Kusanagi straight into the man's mouth, stabbing so the sword went vertically into his mouth, keeping the jaw locked open and stopping him from talking any more. Kisame burst out laughing at this.

"Ouch!" he grinned, the blonde man wincing.

"Yeah, that hurt," he said, grimacing as he looked to the silver-haired man's head, from which angry mumbling could be heard. Naruto whipped the sword towards them now, sending the, wildly swearing, head flying straight at Pain, who only caught it and tossed it to the masked man.

"Fix him," He said. "Is this where you die, Namikaze Naruto?" he asked now. "Alone, reviled, all but abandoned? Is the role of the abused spouse, so desperate for affection from the very man who abuses her, so dear to you?"

"What is with you people and trying to make me defect?" Naruto asked as he noticed how some new arrivals landed right behind him. Glancing to the side now, he smirked when noticing who had shown up. Several Konoha nins stood around him now. Itachi, Kakashi, Gai, Asuma and Ibiki had all shown up, flanking him now. With Minato still unaccounted for, and he refused to think that blast had killed him, this was as good a line-up as Konoha would ever get. Seven versus Six however... not very good odds. It'd have to do for now though. "And even if I was going to join your little carnival, you really should consider another angle than the apocalypse to use. Unlike certain people at the mental level of a ten year old, I'm a man looking forward. Shocking, I know." He said, noticing in the corner of his eyes how the others were preparing themselves. Itachi drew his sword, Gai cracked his knuckles, Kakashi raising one hand to make a Chidori.

"The one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, yet all the same his vision is impaired," Pein countered now, "Allow me to restore vision to you," he added as he raised his palm and pointed it at Naruto. Blinking, Naruto realized what was going on just in time to leap to the side before an invisible shockwave passed him by, totalling the entrance behind him with a deafening crack, almost like thunder as he landed the Akatsuki and the Konoha nins were clashing. Gai roared as he lashed out with a furious kick towards Kisame. Kakashi's Chidori blazed as he struck towards a blue-haired woman who took the blow yet turned into leaves of paper that swirled in the other direction, reforming further away. Ibiki went up against the blonde clay-user, his eyes narrowed as he no doubt cast a genjutsu upon the man. Asuma leaped at the black-eyed man who had taken the silver-haired immortal's head, his trench knives covered in chakra.

Itachi struck at Pein, unleashing a furious barrage of blows. Naruto saw the Mangekyo activating in his eyes and how he narrowed them just slightly as he met Pein's eyes. Naruto wanted to hope, yet when Itachi suddenly spasmed, went stiff and fell down, he only felt fear. Perfect, had that man just countered the Tsukuyomi of all things?! It was near desperation that made him lash out and send a swarm of snakes out of his sleeves at the Akatsuki warriors. Partially to distract and partially to see what they'd do. Asuma's opponent just let them hit him, the snakes biting him to no avail as his skin seemed hard as steel. The blonde blasted them to pieces with those clay projectiles of his, the woman shredded them with chakra-infused paper shuriken and the hunchback summoned a row of puppets to do the same. Kisame merely waved his sword to shred them and Pain used that palm jutsu of his to send them flying away.

These people were a menagerie of strange abilities. Naruto couldn't help but smile grimly now, realizing he'd gladly have done near anything to examine these people's abilities in controlled circumstances. Not like this. All the same though, he took the Kusanagi and went for the nearest man, the black-eyed man with steel of skin. Slashing at him, Naruto managed to give him a wound yet he hissed at the feeling of how shallow the blow became. He could even defend against the Kusanagi was it? Time to see how he liked him getting creative. Smashing his foot into the ground, Naruto came to a halt, spun towards him and pushed, letting the Kusanagi extend and send him reeling backwards. Naruto aimed him at the blonde, hoping to disrupt him as well (why wasn't he being affected by Ibiki's genjutsu?!) And yet that damn man only planted his feet and grinded to a halt, holding the Kusanagi between his palms.

Naruto kicked towards him and thankfully his agility at the very least was still there. He struck the man in the throat. Momentum was still there and the man took a step back, but it was like kicking a steel door! Thankfully Asuma was with him and together the two Jonin went in, striking at him in unison. As tough as he was, Asuma's wind-chakra coated knives and Naruto's Kusanagi rapidly began to chip away at him. The battle was raging around them still so they'd had to be fast!

They weren't fast enough it turned out. While chipping away at the nigh invulnerable Akatsuki, both of them suddenly found themselves blasted away. For a split-second he was hit by a complete sense of vertigo along with the sheer force, feeling his head spin and trying to recover as he tumbled over the ground. That was gravity, no doubt about it. The vertigo gave that away and Naruto moved on instinct, spinning around and getting to his feet. His vision was swimming but he still could see the fight.

Not good, not good at all. Ibiki was down. Gai was already on his sixth gate and Kakashi was badly slashed up. Itachi, getting to his feet with blood running from his mouth, had a maniacal look on his face. He was on one knee still, staring up at Pein who towered above him, like he was supplicating before a deity. The Uchiha genius wasn't down for the count yet though. Hissing, Itachi unleashed a storm of black flames from his eyes, aiming straight at Pain, point-blank.

And yet it was for naught. Pain raised his arm and the flames warped around, being sucked straight into his hand and vanishing.

They were so screwed right now, weren't they?

"Run damn it!" Orochimaru's voice screamed in his head. "You can't win this, this is beyond even you! It is the Rinnegan, the ultimate bloodline!"

"I don't believe in ultimate anything," Naruto responded, feeling somewhat distant, disconnected. "Ultimate implies you can't get higher. You can always get higher."

"That's irrelevant! Run!"

"...No." Naruto said as his vision and mind both swam a bit from the blow, smiling morbidly as suddenly the silver-haired scythe wielder came at him. How had they reattached his head again? "If nothing else, I'll be rid of you in the afterlife." He felt so detached as Itachi went down as well and Gai was struck, being sent flying by Kisame and the blonde both. Naruto meanwhile was being backed up against the wall. Was this where he died? How stupid... Other Konoha shinobi, as well as a few Kiri and Tsuchi, were coming at the Akatsuki with desperate courage, fighting hard and dying fast. Bodies hit the ground one after one, not getting up again. Naruto struck at the silver-haired man now, managing to drive him back only to come face to face with Pain again.

Blinking, he had no time to do anything else before Pein's hand landed on his forehead, the eyes flashing before he felt the world collapse around him. He fell, deep deep into a dark abyss, without any ability to slow his descent.

When he opened his eyes, he looked around to see a dark, dank corridor. Ankle-deep water covered the floor and the distant sound of dripping filled the air. The air, as opposed to the damp, musty one one would expect from a place like this, was utterly clean, with nothing resembling any sort of scent. Naruto knew where this was. The deep recesses of his soul where he'd been but few times before. Yet what was he doing there. Looking around himself, he heard footsteps behind him and hurriedly, with pounding heart, he looked back to see Pein advancing on him. The impossibly powerful man was coming from the shadowy hallway with slow, menacing steps, eyes focused straight at him.

Naruto didn't need much more than that to join the dots and realize what was happening. Pein was attempting the same thing that he had done to Gaara. He was attempting to devour Naruto's soul. Heart pounding, Naruto got to his feet and began to run. Through the sudden, animal fear that filled him he still understood what was going on. Naruto had trained in mental techniques, self-hypnosis etc, meaning his mind had a set of skills that Gaara hadn't, namely to fight in his own mind, envision concrete versions of abstract concepts. This gave him, what, a few seconds, to think of something.

Still, even in the situation he was in Naruto managed to think of something. He looked down to his palm, to the faint outline of the Kanji that was there. That would be it, that was his only option. Naruto focused himself, focused as intensely as he could, and the corridors warped around him, changing into the ones surrounding this freeloader sensei's cage.

"Naruto you fool!" Orochimaru screamed as Naruto backed up against his cage, having turned to face Pein again as the mysterious juggernaut of a figure came towards him with the same steady, unrelenting pace. "You've killed yourself! Thrown it all away! Even your life! You die like this?! Like a dog?!"

"Damn you're whiny," Naruto said, smiling with a maniacal anxiety welling up inside him. This was insane, guesswork and speculation, betting all on the least possible outcome. But as Pain came towards him, hand raised, reaching for him, he knew one thing for certain. Fortune favoured the bold, and if insane courage was the best bet, then be as insane as possible. "KAI!" Naruto roared, gathering every last iota of strength he had as he lashed up with his palm and placing it against Pain's wrist. At the first touch he felt the torrential flow of chakra, the insane power that was wielded. It was like the touch-equivalent of staring into the sun, stars exploded inside his head. Yet despite that, he felt the flow. Felt it, and could control it. Pushing to the side, he managed to direct Pain's soul-devouring attack away only just, pushing it past him and straight into the cage, where it landed on Orochimaru's head.

Everything fell apart again, vertigo hit Naruto and he felt how he fell again, deep into a spiralling maelstrom of howling chakra and a distant, enraged scream, more monstrous than human.

Everything twisted, turned, warped, turned inside out and spat him out finally, leaving Naruto to stumble away, dizzy, before he felt himself hit the wall. Out of pure instinct, he raised his sword and slashed blindly to keep people off him. When it cleared, he noticed how a lull had appeared in the battle, the Akatsuki members standing all taken aback as, in front of Naruto, Pain had sunken down to his knees, panting himself with a disconcerted look on his face.

It worked! It had worked! Against all sense and reason it had worked! He'd deflected the soul-devouring attack, managed to save himself. "How's that for killing myself old snake?!" He thought triumphantly, the silence in his head an even greater victory.

All the same. This had been an one-off victory he realized as Pain looked up, eyes narrowed. Now they really would want him dead. But if that was it, if all he could do was spit them in the face before he died, then there were worse ways of going. He just wished he could have held Mei one last time, as silly as it was. And yet, as he stared up at the Akatsuki he saw how a single kunai hit the ground between them, a three-pronged kunai that was followed by a yellow flash and a sudden tug. In the very next split-second, Naruto was on the ruined roof of the arena, Minato's hand holding his arm as the Hokage stared down at the Akatsuki, the four other kages flanking him.

"That took longer than it should have," he drawled, looking at Minato, who didn't respond but instead pulled out another group of kunai as he and the Kages all charged. What followed was, for the exhausted Naruto, honestly a bit hard to follow. The mighty kages clashed with the enigmatic Akatsuki, explosions rocking the arena that bit by bit started come crashing down. Blasts of elemental energies and stranger forces as well flew this way and that. Naruto, chewing down a soldier pill, leaped back into the fray after a while and came face to face with Kisame.

"You're just full of surprises aren't you?!" the manic Kiri-nin yelled as their swords met. Naruto's teeth were bared in grim anger, Kisame's in sick glee. "I don't know how you did that, but I want to carve you open to find out!"

"Yes yes, very scary, you get an A in Gibbering Insanity!" Naruto snapped back as he sidestepped a blow to slash at Kisame's arm. "Your reward is a bib for your drooling!" he said as he managed to give the man a decent wound. Kisame only smashed the sword into the ground to send a cloud of gravel and sand flying at Naruto.

"Surely that doesn't beat your honour roll placement for snooty smugness!" the man bellowed as Naruto didn't manage to avoid a blow of his own that tore up the side of his lower arm. "Ever thought about just relaxing and enjoying life?!" Naruto leaped forward now, actually coming in close enough that he could headbutt Kisame. Could, and did. His forehead smashed into the man's nose and sent him stumbling to let Naruto slash at his abdomen.

"Somehow I don't think it's life you enjoy," Naruto growled as Kisame parried him again. Naruto, who had been stepping forward, used the momentum to launch himself over Kisame and into the air.

"Guilty as charged!" Kisame hissed in a sickeningly happy was as he leaped after Naruto, the two clashing mid-air. In the chaotic battle one thing was clear though, even as Naruto was busy with his own opponent. This wasn't going well at all. Every new blast fired this way or that tore out of the devastated arena and struck out into the city. All the while the Akatsuki just kept wreaking havoc, even the Kages unable to gain the upper hand.

Nearly ten minutes later, amidst the ruins of the arena, Naruto found himself thrown backwards by an errant blast of energy that separated him and Kisame. He crashed into the hallway where he had placed Sakura, one of the few parts still standing. He ended up out of sight of the battle and got up hurriedly before noticing that Minato was there as well, the Hokage groaning.

"We're not beating them," Minato said now, exhausted but determined.

"And Konoha's being blasted to bits." Naruto added, feeling a sinking feeling in his guts.

"They came for the bijuu, and they got what they wanted..." Minato spat as he stood up, the roar of battle outside almost drowning out his voice. "Will that plan of yours work?" he asked, Naruto going cold at the realization of what he meant. Silently, he tried to think it though. Maybe. After all Pein had all but explicitly tried to recruit him and even now, as the Akatsuki couldn't reach the others, Kimiko would no doubt be far away from the battle as it stood, they remained here. Was it because of him? Naruto pondered it, realizing after a while that despite Pain's attempt to devour his soul, there were few other sensible explanations. Damn it all...

"Probably," he said eventually. "I don't know, but probably." He said, sealing his fate.

"Do it," Minato commanded. "Do whatever you have to. We're not winning here, better to cut our losses."

Thus it was commanded, and thus it would be done. Naruto listened to the words silently. The unthinkable had happened. The disaster plan had to be put into effect. Forcing himself to remain calm, Naruto nodded and motioned towards the exit into the devastated arena. Minato silently began towards it. Naruto followed him.

"Take care of Sakura," he said quietly, "Give Mei what you can. Don't let the Tsubaki suffer for this." He told her just as they reached the entrance. Minato's body was just being illuminated by the sunlight outside now before Naruto raised the Kusanagi, shoving his sword straight into Minato's back. The blade went deep, heading straight into the man's back, straight into the liver as well. A shocked, breathless gasp came as Minato stared down at the sword before Naruto pulled it out. Pushing his father so that the man fell down to the ground, he stepped forth with a bloody Kusanagi still in hand, taking in the shock on the faces of the people watching.

Of course they'd be shocked. Who wouldn't be? Mei would definitely be. She didn't know of all this and Naruto didn't have the strength to look towards her as he ostensibly betrayed his village, ostensibly turned into the monster they'd feared.

"It's painfully obvious this isn't going anywhere," he spoke, amazed at how effortlessly it went. He felt as though he should be trembling uncontrollably but in fact he was way too calm. "Is that offer still open?" he asked, trying to remain in-character to the utmost of his abilities. This was risky, risky as all hell. A liver-shot to his father, the man would be dead if he didn't get medical attention soon. "Konoha isn't the top dog any more and I've little left to gain here." As he spoke, he kept his eyes straight on Pain. Not to the few Konoha nins still in the arena and definitely not to Mei. He didn't have the ability to do so, feeling a slight sense of vertigo at the insanity of what he was doing.

The man with the Rinnegan eyes looked straight at him, the unearthly calm in the eyes making the already upset Naruto only all the more fearful. What if he failed? If he did, then he was dead now.

In the end however, Pain smiled. A cold, dead smile as he raised his hand and held it out towards Naruto, who cleared the distance to them with one single instant movement. Looking back now, he steeled himself as his eyes fell on the Konoha shinobi as well as the Kages. Anger. Shock. Disbelief. Pain... It was all there, and all of it was oh so well deserved according to what they knew right now. He still did not look to Mei, he couldn't. Naruto almost absently heard as Pain spoke.

"Your city in ruins," he said, "Your finest betraying you. Your jinchuuriki dead at your feet. All your power turning into dust, into nothing. The nothing that you will become. Today the shinobi world begins to slowly die. Despair, blood-soaked murderers, for that is all you will know from now on." he said as he raised a hand. The air began swirling around the entire group now, Naruto looking around with a furrowed brow, taken out of his thoughts by the realization of what was going on. Instant movement for an entire group? That his father could do that he understood, but Pain too? So shocked was he at this that he didn't hear the desperate cry before in the last moment.

"Master!" Sakura's voice cut through the air, Naruto turning to look and, in the very last possible moment, saw his apprentice hurl herself through the crowd, moving as fast as he'd ever seen her before. She leaped at him, a desperate, confused grasp after the man that had given her all. Naruto didn't say anything, only silently hated himself for how he'd once again fail her trust. Then again she'd be in Konoha, under Minato's wing, and that was all he could give right now.

It would have, if she hadn't hurled herself faster than he'd anticipated. She reached for him, managed to actually catch him, and before he knew what had happened she was pulled with them all. Naruto's eyes widened in the exact moment as the jutsu pulled them away, quite frankly teleporting them from the field.

"No! You idiot girl! Not this!" He thought furiously as they all, for a second, felt how he pretty much was turned inside out, the rough teleportation more akin to being roughly thrown off a cliff than anything else, and when they landed it was with a heavy thud. Naruto managed to land and remain on his feet, Sakura neither. Still holding onto his arm, she all but hung from it limply. Naruto saw how bruised she was first now, wondering what kind of frantic panic that had made her thrown herself so heedlessly after him.

He didn't need Orochimaru to tell him what the answer was. It stood clear as day.

"Damn it... damn it all..." Naruto could have kicked himself. So driven he'd been in his desire to make Sakura all he could be that he'd torn everything from her. Kimiko had come to envy her, doing so with the kind of passion she did in everything. Her parents didn't understand and only feared it. Most of the village had looked down on her... he could have not just kicked himself now, but slit his own throat as he stood there, the Akatsuki around him and Sakura hanging off him, as he realized he'd torn everything from Sakura, and that his insane maneuver now had forced it all to a head, forced her to choose, and she'd chosen him! Naruto wanted to reach down, grab her and shake an answer of how she could be so blindly loyal, so devoted as to go something so stupid, yet the Akatsuki still surrounded him and demanded his attention. He therefore looked to Pain , making sure to mask his emotions again.

"So, yes, with this brutish recruitment drive of yours finished, what comes now?" he asked the man in front of him, mentally steeling himself for what was to come. He'd thrown himself into hell, and Sakura had been sucked along. How would any of this end?