Direct continuation of the last chapter and so shares the same poem.


Chapter XCIX


"You." The single word was hurled at Cronus like acid, loaded with hatred and corrosive fury.

Tsunade's heart thundered against her ribcage. Scalding anger roiled through her stomach. There, before her, was the very image of the heartless Titan who had poisoned her daughter. There, before her, was the one responsible for all the pain, suffering and grief that the Olympians had endured following the war. And none more so a victim than Sakura, who had lost her immortality and endured countless deaths, condemned to a torturous cycle of rebirth.

Cronus lifted his chin, regarding the group with haughty disdain, as though they were little more than unsightly vermin. Vermin he sought to crush underfoot, and incinerate.

"For two thousand years this accursed prison has contained me," he sneered. "Two thousand years, I have waited to break free from my wretched confinement."

Tsunade's temper flared. "Nowhere near long enough, you damned son of a bitch!"

The condescending smirk that curved on Cronus's lips did not reach his dark eyes.

"Demeter," he taunted. "I have not long since reacquainted myself with your 'precious' daughter. A pale, sickly imitation of the little goddess slaughtered by my hands all those centuries ago. How sweetly she suffered. Her every bleating scream, a serenade to my ears. The crimson of her blood, more vibrant in shade than any surface rose."

Ino gaped up at the Titan, appalled and sickened by the horrifically poetic language he had selected to mock her best friend's clenched his teeth, equally as disgusted, glaring murder at his arrogant ancestor. Tsunade stiffened. The breath caught in her throat, just as Jiraiya's hand shot out and clamped down onto her shoulder, fingers gripping with enough pressure to leave lingering imprints on her skin.

'Do not listen to his venom,' he telepathically communicated. 'He is not truly here, Tsunade. Save your anger for the day we truly face him and find a way to rid the world of his blight!'

Tsunade's nostrils flared as she grappled to restore her composure.

'He'll no doubt try to manipulate our emotions. He wants to provoke us into recklessness,' Shikamaru warned the Olympians. 'Don't rise to his shitty taunts. Don't get distracted. Keep your eyes on our enemies and stay together.'

'How do we now intend to retrieve Suigetsu?' Sai questioned. 'That barrier around him appears highly unstable.'

'It's contaminated! With the same black spores as before,' Hinata cautioned, reading its chakra nature with her Byakugan.

Ino eyed the tank warily. 'Great. That means we can't even get close.'

'It's chakra negating,' Karin confirmed, hands balled into fists at her side. The sight of Suigetsu's face, so ghostly pale and devoid of its usual, irritating expressions, had caused panic to take root within her. A depth of distress that was startling and unexpected. Guilt was splitting her apart. It had been his fault they had lingered at the facility - but she was the reason why he had chosen not to escape.

Adrenaline coursed through her veins. Surely there had to be a way to help him, to free him. They couldn't be too late already. If they could just rouse him, somehow, get him out of that tank. If she could only get close enough to heal him. Then, once he was awake and they had fled the compound - together, this time - she'd beat him senseless for being so reckless and infuriating.

'Suigetsu!' With every fibre of her being, she willed him to hear her. 'Open your eyes, damn it! Do you hear me? Wake up! You have to wake up now, you idiot!'

He remained motionless, hauntingly unresponsive. Karin's eyes darted frantically around the tank, seeking a loophole, any sign of a way to break through.

"What's this?" Cronus goaded, arching his eyebrows when Tsunade failed to respond to his words. "All these centuries, and you have naught to say in my presence?"

"What's the point?" Shikamaru retorted, unimpressed. "You love listening to yourself blabber on well enough. Always did."

The Titan released a low, ominous chuckle. "I will enjoy ripping out that impertinent tongue. I will take my time, maiming each and every one of you."

"I see that two thousand years trapped in the very palace you waged a needless war to acquire, have not afforded you enough time for reflection nor changed your disposition," Jiraiya addressed the Titan next, expression grim. "Still you add to your long list of war-crimes by denying our honourable monarchs the right to a burial. Still hell-bent on revenge and destruction. Was the pursuit of another crown truly worth the massacre of your own kin? Has the past taught you nothing, Cronus?"

Sasuke's blood simmered when the Uchiha patriarch ignored the mention of their clan entirely. As if they had no significance in his mind, no standing in his sentiments. As if they were not even worth acknowledging.

"The past? The past was stolen from me." Cronus's eyes formed menacing slits. "I will have my vengeance. I will have you all on your knees before me, begging me for mercy."

"We would sooner forfeit our lives," Kurenai answered with quiet fire, "than bow and beg to the likes of you."

"Your pitiful lives are already forfeit, Artemis," Cronus returned, his words dark, heavy with foreboding. "And the days of your existence are numbered. When the Ten-Tailed beast is awakened, no other power in this world can hope to contain me. Once I am free of these wretched binds, I will hunt you down. Each and every last one of you insolent surface maggots. Mere, swaggering children who have forgotten their place. You were fortunate in the war. It turned in your favour, only because I was betrayed by my own blood. But who will come to your aid, this time?"

He tilted his head, and gestured toward the crystals that contained Zeus and Hera's corpses. "The High Council? Only two of those miserable, decrepit old imbeciles remain. Your champion, Zeus? Hah. See what remains of your valiant king." He emphasised the final word in open ridicule of the deceased Olympian ruler.

"We'll stop you with our own hands!" Tsunade glowered.

"Such confidence," Orochimaru remarked. "When we have only to acquire five more piecesss to unleash your demise upon you, and you are all trapped within this area."

Naruto sucked in a ragged breath, his chest heaving. Sasuke's grip tightened on his shoulder, an iron vice to keep him from leaping impulsively forward beyond the protective shroud of the Helm of Darkness. But he noted, with some concern, that the Nine-Tailed beast's chakra was still leaching from Naruto's form. It swarmed around his body, merging with rippling tendrils of flame that licked eagerly at the air, a manifestation of the rage that was overflowing like lava within. He was shaking violently. Barely keeping it together. A glazed, haunted look passed across his features again as his wide gaze returned to his parents' crystal tombs.

The death deity's mind sprinted. Time was of the essence. It was only for so long that he could keep an enraged Naruto restrained, and he had no doubt that the enemy had ushered them all to their present location with the intention of dragging them into a chaotic melee, to keep them occupied long enough to allow Orochimaru to safely relocate all his resources.

They had until Cronus finished delivering his self-important speech to formulate a viable strategy that would allow them to successfully retrieve Suigetsu - and then make a hasty escape. His eyes darted back to Poseidon's prone form. There was no mistaking that he had been infected by the Black Zetsu. Karin had reported that he'd used the chakra-devouring Samehada blade to slow down the rate at which the spores had multiplied within her body. Perhaps they could harness the sword in a similar manner and use it to restore just enough movement to Suigetsu to allow him to control his own limbs again - until they took him to Chiyo for expert healing.

But Obito stood on one side of the barrier-infused tank, and Orochimaru and Kabuto were on the other.

Burn it, he thought to himself. Nothing was capable of resisting the black flames of Amaterasu. If he set the barrier alight and shielded himself and Naruto with Susano'o, then Naruto could use his marked kunai to transport them to the tank using Hiraishin and they could then break through it and-

Without warning, Suigetsu's eyes suddenly opened, sending Sasuke's thoughts derailing. The sea god's sclera and irises had been devoured whole, replaced by disturbing black voids.

Karin sucked in a sharp breath. Horror etched itself onto her countenance, a disturbed expression mirrored on the faces of the Olympians.

"What have you done to him?!" she demanded of Cronus, fighting to suppress the shudder that shot down her spine when those pitiless onyx eyes flicked briefly onto her. Even as a mere projection, the formidable Titan radiated malice and peril.

"We possessed him. He was most reluctant to submit," Kabuto remarked. "And put up a brave fight. A most foul-mouthed one, too. But what is one deity alone against all our great, combined forces?"

"Poseidon is only the first living Olympian to become my puppet," Cronus announced. "And it will not be long until you join him. Once the merge is complete, I will devour your abilities. I will fracture time itself, unravel it, umake the past and pave the way to a glorious future. A future where all that lives and breathes answers only to one, true, divine god."

The Olympians stared at him in open dismay.

"The merge?"Temari muttered under her breath.

"He is talking about fusing with the Ten-Tails."Sai murmured beside her.

"You're out of your mind!" Ino exclaimed.

"Listen to yourself," Jiraiya's frown deepened. "Look at where your hatred has driven you. You cannot tamper with time. You cannot unwrite the past."

"Are you really so deluded that you truly believe this world was made solely for you?" Tsunade demanded. "That nobody else's wishes matter, except for yours? That you have a greater right to it than everyone else? What makes you more worthy than any of us? All you have ever left behind you is destruction, chaos and death! You couldn't even care for or spare your own ilk. You think you would make a worthy custodian of an entire world?"

Cronus smiled coldly at her. "And what did humanity achieve under your usurper's rule? Men still waged wars. Still slit each other's throats, raped their own women, defaced the earth and stole from their own kin. The world was rife with corruption and sin and remains so. I will correct it all. There will be no more conflict. Humans will no longer dare to wage war and clamour for sovereignty over neighbouring lands. There will be no more free will to defy a perfect order. There will be only one High Power. All shall answer to it - to me."

"Humans were created with free will! You can't take that away from them!" Temari argued. "It would destroy them!"

"You are mistaken," Cronus dismissed. "For free-will is precisely what has damned them, and the earth that was given into their care to keep."

"You truly believe that you're capable of upholding every divine function, alone?" Kakashi shook his head slightly, casting the Titan an incredulous look.

"It's impossible!" Kurenai agreed.

"What's wrong with this guy?" Fū whispered. "He really wants to kill everyone over one lousy throne?"

"What's wrong is that he isn't right in the head," Ino hissed back.

"Nothing will be impossible for me," said Cronus. "Once I have corrected all of history's mistakes and flaws. Beginning with all of you."

"It is not possible to undo the past!" Lee blinked.

"You would be defying your own function," Gaara remarked. "Time cannot flow in reverse. It can only move forward."

"A law set in place by the accursed Fates," Cronus's smirk became positively predatory. "But once the Ten-Tailed beast is enslaved to me, even they will succumb to my will."

"A sickness plagues your mind, Madara," Jiraiya's eyebrows furrowed. "The Fates have never answered to anyone except their Maker, Gaia. When Kaguya was defeated, they became free entities, the architects of the very laws we are bound to uphold. They will never permit you to tamper with their designs."

"I will have them answer to me," Cronus hissed. Even through the projection, they glimpsed the wild light in his eyes. "I will rewrite history itself as I break them. They will rue the day they decided to spin their cursed threads of mockery upon me, offering a crown they had no intention of delivering. They, who toyed whilst I toiled. They, who saw fit to have me sealed upon this mountain."

"Break them?" Kankuro's eyebrows shot up. "That's madness."

"Gaia created The Fates and sealed them within their sacred realm to uphold the balance," Jiraiya reminded the Titan. "And to ensure that her sons, and all who followed them, could never fully inherit her rule of law and disturb that balance, in the event they ever plotted to overthrow her. And now you are intending to do precisely that."

"You were sealed on the mountain because of the choices you made," Shikamaru pointed out. "You can't blame The Fates if they did choose to take our side and put a stop to your bullshit. You thought nothing about wiping out your entire clan."

"Gaia wanted power too, and look where it got her," Kakashi added quietly.

But Cronus did not hear any of their words. "Kaguya was weak. Her laws were flawed. Which makes The Moraie, who uphold it, errors that must be erased."

The blood in Sasuke's veins froze to ice. He stared up at his ancestors with wide, disbelieving eyes, barely maintaining a stoic composure. This wasn't only about the Olympians and revenge. This went far beyond simply that.

"Erased? You don't mean- you can't just wipe them out. The consequences-" Kurenai sucked in a sharp breath, her mind catching up to the implications a heartbeat later.

Kakashi's visible eye widened. Understanding slowly dawned upon him, sending dread plummeting into his gut, sinking like rock. Cronus wasn't content with simply awakening the Ten-Tails and unlocking the Rinne-Sharingan to establish dominion over all. In order to truly live without constraints, without limits, without any manner of accountability, he would have to disable the all-seeing, all-knowing enforcers of all laws themselves. The Moraie.

"He means to infiltrate their realm," he murmured, horrified as stone cold realisation slammed into him. Minato had only told them part of the story. The part that he, Kushina, Itachi and Shisui had managed to decode. But the rest - the full reality - was worse. Far, far worse. Cronus wasn't just after vengeance. He was hell-bent on erasing history itself. Hell-bent on warping its narrative and rewriting the whole world's existence to suit his own - starting from the very first goddess who had breathed life into it.

'But-' A concerned Hinata communicated, 'There is no path into their sacred realm. Is it not so that… they invite only whom they wish to see?'

'Under ordinary circumstances,' Kakashi mentally agreed, recalling that besides Chiyo, only a handful of other deities throughout history had ever been rumoured to have been granted the privilege of an audience with the omnipotent, mysterious and imposing beings. Very few had ever been permitted to lay eyes upon Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos. 'But with the Rinne-Sharingan, he would be able to open gateways to any dimensions he wishes. He'd find a way to get to their temple.'

'And steal their gifts to forge a new timeline,' Jiraiya added gravely.

'One where none of us exist,' Ino gulped.

"You cannot unravel time in such a way," Roshi scowled. "You cannot challenge The Fates. A single god cannot possibly hold such power."

"Unless," Kabuto chimed in. "That single god possessed a vessel large enough to contain such power, allowing him to utilise abilities through it as and when he saw fit."

"Someone who forces everyone to bow and rules as a tyrant is no king," Tsunade spat. "Zeus was noble, just and respected. You're nothing but a greedy, light-devouring shadow, a stain upon this world!"

"A shadow, am I…?" Cronus purred silkily. "I will show you the true power that shadows hold, Demeter. I will show you darkness and death."

As if to emphasise his point, cold tendrils of shadow began to snake out through the illusion, creeping toward them. Fū nervously swatted at them, rendered uncharacteristically nervous and silent as she gaped up at the intimidating Titan. Although the unfurling coils of darkness were entirely for show, they were nevertheless unsettling.

"Enough with the lame-ass party tricks! This chat about the world's end is making me feel sick!" Killer B declared.

"Not to worry, Eight Tails. Soon you won't be feeling anything at all," Kabuto assured him.

"And where the hell do you freaks think you fit in with this?" Temari angled a fiery, accusing glare at Kabuto, Obito and Orochimaru. "You think his rewriting history won't unmake you, too? You're nothing but pawns in this deranged lunatic's games!"

'Obito,' Kakashi attempted to communicate with the masked man. 'Do you hear me? Is any part of you still in there? Cronus means to unmake the world and enslave humans. Rin…' Pain stabbed through his heart as he recalled warm chocolate eyes and the sweetest of smiles - as vivid in his mind at that moment as they had been when he had known their owner in the flesh. 'Rin was mortal. She wanted to live on. To honour your memory. She wouldn't want this. Not for her people. Not for you.'

Obito's gaze locked onto him. The only response Kakashi heard in his mind was that of deafening silence, confirming his suspicions that all remnants of his old friend's consciousness had been devoured under the influence of Cronus's mind control.

"We will be his stewards. Keepers of humans," said Kabuto. "The world will be our playground."

"Endless test specimens to advance our science..." Orochimaru licked his lips, relishing the thought.

"Guess you missed the memo of what he did to his family," Shikamaru drawled. "He promised them glory, too, and if he can treat his own blood that way..."

Cronus released a low, rumbling laugh. "They are more than a worthless means to an end. For centuries, they have served me in earnest. They will be well rewarded for their loyalty. The only ones I intend to spare."

"You mean the same way you rewarded your clan for theirs?" Ino shot back in disgust. "How honourable of you to admit that your own flesh and blood were nothing more than a worthless means to an end."

Sasuke's eyes narrowed in loathing and resentment. Cronus had just spat upon the entire clan's memory. Had practically admitted aloud that they'd meant nothing to him all along. The death deity had always known it, and yet, the sheer extent of the Titan's callousness toward his own family defied belief.

How could someone be the founding father of an entire race of people, create for them a Kingdom and laws, a safe home blessed with provisions and great wealth, school them and teach them in the ways of literature and the arts, in history and politics and in strategic warfare and the sword, nourish and promote their growth and learning, elevate their pride as a clan and then - and then at the end of it all, betray all his descendents so terribly? Without even a single iota of remorse?

Sasuke swallowed back the unpleasant taste in his mouth. Only a true monster was capable of such.

Something threatening flashed across Cronus's eyes and the amusement waned on his lips. He pointed straight at Ino, and said, "Bring the impertinent Aphrodite to me alive. I will rectify the error I made, in allowing her to leave Olympus before splintering every bone in her body while she stood chained and cowering before me."

Ino raised her chin, holding the Titan's gaze defiantly. Sai stepped in front of her, drawing a scroll from his supplies pouch.

"That will not happen," he said quietly. He did not add that he would not allow it. Ino blinked at his back, surprised by the unexpected protectiveness of the gesture, as well as his words.

"There is nothing you can do." Cronus sneered. "You are all of you powerless to keep me from seizing the rest of the tailed beasts. You seek only to delay the inevitable. Fools."

"We will stop you!" Lee vowed. "We will reclaim Olympus in honour of our esteemed, fallen King and comrades! By the spirit of all that is youthful and just, we will avenge our friends!"

Cronus threw his head back and laughed. A chilling sound. One that made everyone's skin crawl with unease.

"Imbeciles," he insulted. "Worthless, asininescum. Still you cling to deluded hopes of a future in which you might return. Mark my words. There is no future for you, wretched worms. I will never relinquish this throne. And as for the fallen friends you wish to honour…" The sinister smirk on his lips was akin to a wolf on the verge of blood-letting. 'They will find no rest in your wasted efforts." He nodded at Orochimaru. "Show this filth that even in death, there is no escape."

Sasuke stepped silently forward, falling in line with Naruto, who had fallen peculiarly silent throughout the entire exchange. Death was his domain. What was Cronus babbling about?

"Kabuto," Orochimaru grinned. "Let us provide our guests with a more hospitable welcome..."

Kabuto lifted his hands and formed seals in quick succession. At the final sign, smoke exploded all around them. When it cleared, the horrific sight that met the shocked Olympians' eyes cleaved the very breaths from their lungs.

Four resurrected corpses, clothed in long grey cloaks.

Four reanimated dead.

Ino pressed a palm against her mouth to muffle her anguished cry as her eyes fell upon Inoichi. The skin on his face was ashen, cracked, as though he had turned to broken, compressed porcelain in the grave, reduced to uneven fragments that had been sloppily reassembled. She stepped forward on instinct, but Sai was quick to catch her arm and hold her back.

"No!" Her voice broke. "Dad! No!"

"Guy-sensei!" Lee howled. Tears welled in his eyes and Roshi grabbed his shoulder, as if he sensed the seraph might bolt forward, too.

Jiraiya's face blanched as he met Iruka's eyes. They were completely black, a mirror of Suigetsu's. Devoid of any consciousness or recognition. He had known that their enemy was capable of stooping to low depths, but resurrecting the dead and forcing them to fight against their old friends was an extraordinary degree of perversion that left the Olympians and their allies stunned. The most heinous and odious of crimes against both the living and the dead.

"No…" Tsunade whispered, stricken by the gruesome sight of Shizune standing motionless before her, no more than a mindless mannequin trapped in the enemy's clutches. Her heart splintered into a thousand shards once again as she was faced with a cruel reminder of her failure to save her closest and dearest friend. Fine tremors of rage and resurfacing grief quivered through her, the awful, sickening realisation that they were about to be compelled to fight against their fallen comrades dawning upon her. It made her feel cold all over.

"Such a touching reunion," Kabuto chuckled again. "Of course, we are missing one piece, but that is only because we sent him back to you, already."

Kurenai stiffened, the horror of what they were facing made no more bearable by the knowledge that Asuma had somehow been spared the cruel fate of unholy resurrection.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" An enraged voice roared.

Kabuto choked in surprise when, without warning, a vicious hand grabbed him by the throat. Naruto had appeared behind him, too swift in movement for the scientist to detect until it was too late. With an angry yell, he aimed a vicious, Rasengan-charged fist at Kabuto's chest, meaning to blow a hole straight through the centre of his torso - but the doctor quickly liquidized in his hold, raining into a liquid puddle on the ground.

Sage Mode triggered, the sun god's eyes blazed a burning, luminous amber as he faced their enemies down.

"Tsk tsk," Kabuto admonished, readjusting his spectacles as he manifested again at a safer distance away. "That wasn't very polite, Naruto-kun."

Sasuke inwardly cursed. Hiraishin was too fast for even his Sharingan to track, and Naruto had moved from his side so suddenly, catching him off-guard.

'You idiot!' He telepathically berated the impulsive Apollo. In his fury, Naruto had chosen to reveal himself, yielding the advantage he'd had in remaining invisible, leaving Sasuke the only one amongst the party who remained cloaked and unseen.

"Hiraishin," Cronus, who continued to watch through the projected illusion, raised his eyebrows. "So, you have mastered the usurper's speed."

"Naruto!" Kakashi lassoed him with chakra-strings, hauling him back to the Olympians' sides.

Breathing raggedly, Naruto pointed up at the Titan and shouted, "You'll pay for this, yu asshole! All of it!" He jabbed a finger at the crystal tombs. "Let my parents go!"

Cronus's lips curved, forming a sinister smirk. "Careful what you wish for, boy."

"Shut up!" Naruto snarled, disregarding the odd choice of words. "Give them back, damn it!"

Cronus regarded him with scorn. "I have no intention of relinquishing the usurper and his scheming little wife."

Naruto bristled. "You have some nerve calling my dad an usurper! You wanna know why you never got the throne, asshole? Why my old man was chosen over you instead? It's because you don't have what it takes to be king. You don't even know what it fucking means!"

Cronus gave him a hateful, contemptuous sneer. "You dare accost me-"

But Naruto ranted on, interrupting, "You're just a coward who had to brainwash his own family to follow him into war, because there was no way in hell any of them would've ever been on your side if they'd all known the truth! The truth everyone here knows! That you're a crazy, psychotic murderer! If you'd let them make up their own minds, they would've all followed my dad, too, believe it!"

Cronus's eyes blistered, burning like sooty coals. "Impertinent, festering little maggot," he taunted, lips curling in derision. "I will not heed the ignorant words of a foolish child who knows nothing. I walked the earth long before any of you vermin drew your first breaths. The throne was mine - mine - by birthright. Zeus had no claim to it. You have no claim to it."

"You squandered your birthright the second you allowed your greed to erase all semblance of any honour you might have once had!" Jiraiya exclaimed.

"Silence! Do not speak to me of honour. You, who were no more than mere glimmers of threads in The Fates' cradles when the task was set to me to create the Underworld. You know nothing. I will have vengeance for the time that was stolen from me. I will have you repay me in screams. In blood. In pain and suffering."

Karin felt the blood drain from her face. She could scarcely digest that she was looking at Sasuke's ancestor. He was so much worse, so much more intimidating, more ruthless and barbaric than anything she could have ever imagined. Where Sasuke was dangerous and awe-inspiring in the dreadful power he wielded, and imposing in his cold, aloof and reticent mannerisms, Cronus, in stark contrast, was unhinged. Utterly unforgiving. Without sympathy or goodness. Pure evil in the flesh, wickedness personified. He was downright terrifying.

"I will maim and destroy every single thing you hold dear. You will watch as your precious surface world submits to my will. I will make you carve out each other's eyes, rip out each other's tongues, and after I have taken your gifts, you will be devoured by the void, by shadows that will torture your souls beyond the veil. There will be no afterlife, no peace for any of you."

Naruto swallowed, witnessing firsthand why his parents hadn't been able to avert the war. What could anyone do against such deeply-rooted hate, such volatile, destructive rage, such unforgiving bitterness and resentment? Cronus's mind was closed off to all light, to all love. He had lost himself to the darkness, to corruption, long ago. He had nothing left to lose. Nothing he cared about other than his own selfish ambitions to rule supreme over all and to unleash retribution upon all who had dared to defy him. There was no chance of redemption for him. No ounce of remorse in his heart. The organ that beat inside his chest had long since turned as cold and hard as granite.

"Just as there is no peace for them," Cronus gestured toward the four robed corpses that stood before the Olympians.

"Guy-sensei!" Lee called again desperately. "Fight it! Please!"

"It's useless," said Kabuto. "They are powerless to break free from my hold. Mindless puppets, enslaved to my will, who retain memories of their abilities. Abilities I will now be able to tap into and control."

"Edo-tensei…" Jiraiya exhaled.

"The dark art of resurrection," Orochimaru rasped. "Perfected, at last."

Ino's eyes were full of sorrow and desperation. 'How do we stop it?!'

'We can't,' Kakashi silently responded. 'Only the caster can.'

'Which means we have to force the caster to release them,' Shikamaru communicated.

Sasuke's gaze locked onto the smugly smirking daemon. So he had found a way to utilise the forbidden technique, after all. Judging from the dark voids of the corpses' eyes, the breakthrough to maintaining the dead had come in the form of the Black Zetsu spores. Spores which Kabuto appeared to hold primary control over. The same spores that were allowing him to mind-control Suigetsu.

It was an unnatural abomination, an infringement upon his domain and function. Livid, he prowled silently unseen around the Olympians, his eyes slipping to Kabuto. Biding his time until he found the opportune moment to strike.

"You won't get away with this," Kurenai's eyes simmered with the promise of vengeance.

Tsunade's hands balled into tight fists. "I'm going to rip your fucking heart out, Snake," she seethed.

"I'm afraid you'll find that my puppets won't allow that to happen," Kabuto replied calmly. "You see, you cannot kill what is already dead. They will continue to reanimate indefinitely at my command. They are programmed to not stop hunting you - until they disable you. If you wish to leave this facility, you will have to fight your way through not only your old comrades… but our Black Zetsu, too."

He raised his hands, and black, oily puddles formed around the perimeter of the platform, from which arose several dozen Black Zetsu, caging the Olympians in.

"Sasuke," Obito finally spoke up. "We know you are here."

"So clever of you, Sasuke-kun," Orochimaru purred. "To turn our own resources against usss. But you see, we have already genetically altered our specimens. You may have been able to control their movementsss, but they contained our Black Zetsu tracking spores, which detected the influence of your chakra the moment you assumed control of those vesselsss."

Sasuke blinked. That was why Orochimaru had allowed them to kill off the original White Zetsu. Because it was useless to them. They possessed a superior, far deadlier version in the form of the black variant. A perfected prototype that afforded a broader, more powerful arsenal.

"Treacherous filth," Cronus's voice rumbled, dripping with contempt, his expression turning thunderous as he addressed his descendent. "How like your back-stabbing brother and first cousin, aligning yourself with these surface swine. You would stand with them, choose them, over your own blood. A grave mistake daring to take up arms against me. Your kin are no longer here to save you, nor can they intercede or plead for your miserable existence to be spared. You will be obliterated, as I ought to have obliterated you back then."

Sasuke quietly memorised every arrogant feature, silently renewing his vow that he would avenge his clan by delivering their murderer's demise.

"The last of my Uchiha," the Titan spat. "Is nothing but a halfwit, a failure, a stain upon my noble lineage. A waste of the gifts bestowed by my bloodline. A pitiful, pathetic disappointment."

"Hey! Shut your big, ugly mouth!" Naruto yelled, furious and affronted on Sasuke's behalf. "Don't you talk about Sasuke that way! He's more of a king than you'll ever be, bastard!"

Cronus ignored him, his eyes scanning the room for any hint of his kin's location. "I will show you no mercy, Hades. You will lose your crown. You will lose your kingdom, and then you will lose your wretched life. Once I have taken the Rinnegan, you will be of no further use or value to me."

Naruto's blood sang with fury. Cronus was seeking to use Sasuke, just as he had used every other member of his clan. The Kyuubi's chakra responded to his anger, lurking just beneath his skin, masked by the flickering, golden flames that glowed around his form. On the verge of revealing itself to the enemy.

Cronus tilted his head, reconsidering, before adding with a savage, mocking smile, "No… perhaps I will instead take you with me when I warp the lines of time itself. Perhaps I will command The Moraie to remake your brother, and force him to watch as I torture then end you, before enslaving him to my will. Imagine. The 'great' and 'illustrious' prince Thanatos." He sneered, spitting the name out like it was an unsightly ailment not uttered in respectable society. "A puppet and a slave to me, forevermore. Perhaps…" A clawed finger slowly circled the arm-rest of the throne. "I will make him suffer further, and have him breed a new line of Uchiha. A fresh generation, obedient to my every command. Perhaps, I will then have him slaughter them all, and relive an endless illusion of the massacre, turning his own gifts against him. Perhaps I will have him relive your death for time eternal."

He laughed, an unfeeling, hollow sound that boomed around them, slicing as glass. The Olympian company stared at him, deeply disturbed.

"You sick, twisted bastard!" Tsunade snarled, realising, at that very moment, just how very wrong it had been of her to directly - and unfairly - compare Sasuke to Cronus. The youngest of the Uchiha was, in fact, nothing like his demented, depraved ancestor. The only traits they had in common were their stubbornness and tendency to do just as they pleased, the swaggering Uchiha arrogance and the genetics of their abilities and physical appearances. That was where any and all similarities clearly ended.

Sasuke, at least, had answered to the laws enforced by the High Council. Sasuke, at least, honoured the balance of life and death, and clearly possessed a moral compass. Sasuke, in desiring her daughter and seeking to protect her, had the capacity for warmth, compassion and positive emotions. Cronus held no care or recognition for any of those things. Cronus was beyond all hopes of redemption.

The death deity stared at his ancestor's image, appalled at the words he had spoken. Were The Fates capable of reforming the dead? A thread once cut could not be reconnected, not without defying the laws of the world, the natural balance of life and death itself - a balance even The Moraie were required to respect and uphold. And even if it were possible to create another likeness of a deceased deity, they would surely not be the same once returned. He knew with certainty from Chiyo, that Itachi and Shisui had both terminated their lives unnaturally through suicide. As a result, their souls had been denied the Pure Realm, lost to the void, flung into an endless limbo and unable to rest in peace. That plane did not allow for them to be retrieved and resurrected as their old, original selves.

Knowing his kin and their habit of planning for all eventualities and possibilities, it was likely that they had chosen that form of death not only out of necessity, but to ensure that they could never be wielded as deadly weapons by any vengeful enemy who went dabbling in the dark arts. They had known Cronus's character far better than Sasuke did. They would have known that he would have sought to bring them back and enslave them in punishment.

Anger simmered in his veins, boiling his blood. He knew for a fact that Madara was bluffing. Lying, as he always did. Trying to coax a reaction out of him by striking him where he knew it hurt most. Attempting to force him to slip up and reveal his location.

"It would appear Sasuke-kun is shy," Orochimaru chuckled. "Perhapsss he requires some coaxing to come out…"

Kabuto snapped his fingers together, and the large tank that had been holding Suigetsu captive suddenly shattered, sending polluted liquid falling through the gaps in the metal grating and into the huge pools of steaming liquid beneath the platform. Karin's stomach lurched when the chakra-draining chains that had been binding him fell away, thudding to the ground with heavy clanks, allowing Suigetsu to step out through the broken glass.

His movements were disjointed, as if his body was being manipulated and controlled by a master puppeteer. Kabuto, she realised.

A sick, unhinged grin manifested upon the doctor's lips.

"Suigetsu!" Karin called out, alarmed.

"I wouldn't bother. He cannot hear you. Indeed, he is no better off than your resurrected comrades," Kabuto chuckled. He then glanced toward Obito, who lifted a hand. The surface gods tensed as a vortex formed, through which they spied the rippling image of a peaceful village by the sea.

"Thanks to the Black Zetsu, Suigetsu's dominion over water is now oursss to command," Orochimaru hissed with glee.

"Allow us to remove any doubts you may have over the influence we now control," Kabuto gestured.

Suigetsu lifted his arms and the Olympians looked on in horror as the sea in the image began to rumble and rise. Higher and higher, until it formed a humongous, engulfing wall of water, a catastrophic tsunami that hovered perilously in the sky, poised to crash down on the village below and devour all life. Mortals close to the coast had stopped and began to point up at it, tiny, helpless specks that could do nothing to avert the impending disaster.

Karin blanched. A small, strangled noise escaped her throat. She recognised that coastline. It was the very same village she had claimed as her new home. The peaceful town where Zen, Koko and Mrs. Shinba resided.

"No," she whispered in horror.

Ino gaped at the sight, aghast. "That's Yugakure!"

"One command is all it takes," Kabuto said. "One command, and every mortal in that village will drown to death. Sent to the Underworld before their time. And we will repeat this, in every village across all lands. Perhaps we will infect others with our Black Zetsu and reanimate humans. They will not tire. They will not age. They will suffer from no disease. We will create a new breed of army."

Hinata released a startled gasp, a pale hand flying to the base of her throat. "You- you cannot!"

"You're insane!" Temari glared.

"This is madness," Kankuro shook his head, unable to believe what he was hearing.

Naruto was incensed. "You can't toy with human lives like that, you bastards! You can't just wipe out entire villages!"

"It is forbidden to drag mortals into our personal conflicts," Jiraiya glowered at the Titan. "To threaten them and use them as collateral. You know this."

Cronus's smile was razor sharp. "Simpleton. I created the Underworld, the place for their judgement. I answer not to your archaic surface laws. The humans live in corruption, in sin. They no longer fear, no longer believe in the divine and in the afterlife. They have renounced all faith.

"They walk in arrogance upon the earth, plundering its wealth and destroying as they see fit. As though the world was forged by their hands. As though they have a right of dominion upon it. They have forgotten that they are merely mud that was given blood, rotting corpses that will return to the soil, upon which the maggots will feed. They forget that their souls will be held to account. This is merely an early retribution."

"But the balance of life and death-" Kurenai protested.

"Has no consequence to any of us," Kabuto interjected. "After all, what function have I to defy? The rest of us are not surface-born deities. We have taken no vow to protect mortal life. And Lord Orochimaru's role is to instil fear and terror into human hearts." He shared an amused look with his master. "Is this not terrifying for mortals, Orochimaru-sama?"

The daemon licked his lips, eyes bright, thriving on the fear that they were on the verge of unleashing upon the hapless civilians.

"Show yourself, Sasuke," Cronus's voice echoed. "And perhaps, I will allow this village to be spared."

'Sasuke!' Karin thought out wildly, too frantic to care that she was pleading with him. 'Please-! Stop them! Don't let them flood that town! I- I have people in there!'

'It's hopeless,' Roshi shook his head.

'From the trajectory of that wave...' Sai observed.

'The village is already lost,' Kakashi concluded grimly.

'These bastards have no intention of scaling that tsunami back,' Tsunade clenched her teeth.

Karin's hands balled into desperate fists. 'Suigetsu!' she screamed into his mind. 'Stop! Fight it! You have to fight it! Damn it! Wake up! Suigetsu!'

But there was no hint of recognition on the sea-king's face. No sign of conscious awareness. As though he had been reprogrammed entirely, all free-will eradicated from his mind.

"You can't just make him flood lands without reason!" Kurenai exclaimed. "That is against his function - you'll put his existence at risk!"

"Then I suppose we'll find out who his powers will transfer across to," Kabuto grinned, unconcerned. "Once the entire world floods, and The Fates are displeased enough to mark him for death. What a predicament."

"You really have no care for innocent humans," Ino stared at him in open dismay. "No sympathy for your own kind?"

"They are no longer my own kind," Kabuto answered simply.

"You're right. Because you're a freak!" Naruto fired back.

They were being forced into a corner. Forced to give up their only advantage. Hatred festered within Sasuke's chest, igniting into a blazing inferno of rage. The enemy's smugness, their conceit - he vowed to one day erase it all, to transform it into torment and suffering. Ignoring the taunting Titan, his eyes darted between the Olympians, their enemies and Suigetsu. Calculating. Planning.

When the death deity still did not reveal his location, Poseidon raised his hands higher. In response, the tidal wave began to curve over the village, blocking out the light of the sun and casting a looming shadow over the land. The faint sounds of mortals screaming travelled to their ears as humans scrambled to escape, to get to safety in time. A futile attempt. A lost cause.

"Stop!" Karin stepped forward, panic-stricken. Being forced to watch as Suigetsu drowned the very village in which she had begun to plant roots was unbearably cruel. As cruel as the knowledge of knowing that the action went against his own function.

The Olympians had all taken vows to uphold human life on the surface. And so, for any of them to attempt to intervene and become directly responsible for causing Suigetsu to lose control of a wave that would claim an entire village would be nothing short of catastrophic for them.

But the living - preserving their lives - was not Sasuke's concern. He was Death. Deliverance. It would have to fall to him to intercede.

Mortal lives hung in the balance. Men would die, women and innocent children banished to the Underworld before their decreed hour by divine intervention. A massacre of the laws of his realm, a declaration of war against him and everything he had worked to rebuild from the ash ruins of his clan's demise. Sasuke's fury was absolute. He knew that either way, the villagers were marked for death. Whether he revealed himself or not - Cronus had no intention of sparing them, simply as a power move to illustrate his point - and Sasuke would not allow his hand to be forced. He was no pawn in anyone's games. It was time that Cronus came to finally accept that he could not be influenced or swayed.

"One last chance, Sasuke." The Titan warned. "Their lives rest in your hands."

"Your word," Gaara said, feigning negotiation, buying precious extra seconds to allow the party to form an adequate strategy. "Give us your word that the village will be spared."

"As if they know a thing about honour," Ino muttered in disgust.

Orochimaru's smirk deepend. "If Sasuke-kun reveals himself and places within our possession the Helm of Darkness, we will allow Yugakure to be spared."

"It is of no consequence to us to delay their doom, since all mortal villages will eventually fall," Kabuto supplied.

"The Helm?" Jiraiya frowned, baffled. "Why? You cannot wield it. It answers only to the Underworld's king."

"Perhaps it is of no use to us, now," Kabuto agreed. "But it would keep Sasuke-kun from so impolitely remaining unseen in battle, and besides; our great Lord Cronus has more of a claim to it than his descendant does."

The Lord of the Dead saw red. Cronus had lost his claim on the Helm the moment he had selfishly abandoned his own kingdom and kin to greedily pursue another's throne. Sasuke had no intention of relinquishing such a prized and precious family heirloom - even if the cost, the collateral, was unfortunate.

'We don't have a choice, here. They're trying to back us into a corner. If we let Suigetsu unleash that on his own, it'll spell trouble for him,' Shikamaru cautioned. 'We either give into their demand or find a way to make him lose control of that wave and flood the village by accident.'

An idea sparked in Sasuke's mind. Silently, he connected with Naruto's.

'We must not turn over our advantage,' Jiraiya decided.

Kurenai bit her lower lip. 'Then we're sentencing an entire village of innocents to death!'

'It's one village, or Suigetsu and the entire world,' Kakashi concluded bleakly.

Karin's heart thundered. Nausea churned her gut. She wanted to scream. It was a choice, and yet no choice at all.

A brief silence ensued, before Jiraiya communicated with a heavy heart, 'Do what you must, Sasuke.'

Sasuke thought briefly of Sakura, who cherished all life, of the horror that would reflect in her verdant eyes when she came to inevitably learn that he had permitted the massacre of a village of thousands of innocents. That he had done nothing to avert the disaster when given the opportunity to do so.

But such was war. Sacrifices and difficult decisions had to be made quickly, often in a matter of high-pressured seconds - and if he did not use his advantage to wrestle Suigetsu back from the enemy's clutches, then there was no counting how many other villages would be flooded and lost. The oceans and seas would be contaminated with Black Zetsu spores and there was nothing any of them would be able to do to stop humans from being infected via their water supplies.

He couldn't allow that to happen. He had to take the path that he judged would lead to more immediate casualties - but would allow for a greater amount of lives to be saved in the long term.

A heaviness born of remorse weighed in his chest. He took no joy in condemning the living to death. His eyes flicked to the image of the village, housing souls he would later be forced to collect. If The Fates were merciful, then perhaps some mortal threads might not be severed. Perhaps some of the humans might escape and survive.

The death deity moved, becoming a silent assassin, a weapon, just as Killer B unsheathed Samehada and Naruto launched himself forward in swift tandem. As the threatening tsunami hovered over the village, Naruto appeared at Kabuto's back, far too quickly for him to detect. Slamming a brutal fist into the scientist's jaw, he caused a momentary diversion that prevented Kabuto from issuing the command to flood the town.

A moment was all that Sasuke needed. Grabbing Samehada's hilt as he streaked past the Eight-tailed beast's host, he flash-stepped behind Suigetsu. Without hesitation, he ruthlessly drove the sword straight through his gut and channeled a vicious current of lightning through the blade, preventing Suigetsu from dissolving into liquid form.

Karin's mouth dropped open as Samehada protruded through Suigetsu's stomach, spattering crimson blood over the platform. Wide-eyed, she watched the sea king lurch forward, face contorted in pain as his body began to convulse. Black Zetsu spores immediately oozed from the gaping wound, swarming all over Samehada. The sword bristled and ravenously began to devour the potent chakra, slowly absorbing it out of Suigetsu's body like a magnet luring in shards of metal.

"You imbeciles!" Cronus's image snarled.

Kabuto recovered, cradling his throbbing jaw, visibly shocked that he had miscalculated.

"You... would damn thousands of innocents...?"

"You did this," Tsunade pointed at him. "Not us."

Being depleted of his chakra, Suigetsu's elemental control snapped and the wave of water suspended over Yugakure trembled before crashing down over the village. The sound of hysterical screams and chaos unfolding as buildings were submerged beneath the tumbling waves filled the air, before the vortex swallowed up the image and abruptly vanished.

"No!" The gasp tore from Karin's throat. She clutched at her hair in despair, eyes glazed, chest heaving. In her mind, she saw Koko's bright, amiable smiles. Grief ravaged her as she thought of Mrs. Shinba's kindness, of the food the old lady had so lovingly prepared for Karin to take on her journey. Of the kind people who had given her a lifeline, taken her in and offered her work, the chance to start over fresh - eradicated in a heartbeat.

A stunned silence filled the air as the Olympians processed the devastating loss of innocent lives.

"It seems my descendant also shares a penchant for heartlessness," Cronus sneered, somewhat disappointed that Sasuke had decided against playing ball. "Their blood is on your hands."

"You'll get your comeuppance," Tsunade vowed, voice quivering with rage.

"There's no way The Fates will let you get away with any of this!" Ino cried.

Cronus remained utterly unconcerned. "They cannot stop me. I cannot be slain."

The black in Suigetsu's eyes flickered. For a brief few seconds, he appeared to regain awareness, as if the jarring shock of drowning an entire village had somehow broken through the iron-vice that gripped his mind, loosening it just enough for him to form a conscious thought. He stumbled on his feet, lifting a hand to his injured midsection in visible confusion.

"Wh- wha-?" he panted, dizzy and disorientated.

'Suigetsu!' Karin immediately called out to him. 'They're controlling you! Fight it!'

Another portal began to ripple in the air behind the sea king. Obito, Sasuke anticipated, was about to whisk Suigetsu away. But Naruto, who had also detected the threat, flung a kunai into the air and vanished in a blinding flash of light, stabbing a flaming blade through Obito's left shoulder before ripping his mask off as he materialised unseen behind the Uchiha. Sasuke harnessed Susano'o, catching Suigetsu in a glowing, skeletal fist before hauling him inside his invisibility shroud.

"Uncover them!" Cronus roared, rising from his throne. "Bring the traitor to me in chains!"

The Olympians surged forward and the resurrected corpses darted to meet them, aided by the Black Zetsu.

"It's useless, Sasuke-kun," Orochimaru hissed. "We may not be able to see you, but the Black Zetsu within Suigetsu will allow us to pinpoint his location-"

"Pinpoint this!" Naruto snarled, reappearing abruptly before Orochimaru, golden, flaming arms extending from his form.

Orochimaru's eyes widened in awe. "Such potent chakra-!" he rasped.

The golden hands wrapped around the daemon and slammed him down upon the metal grating hard enough to shatter bone. But Orochimaru dispersed into white snakes to avoid the full brunt of the impact and reappeared on the railing-enclosed mezzanine built above the suspended platform.

Sasuke cursed as he retreated. Both Samehada and the Black Zetsu spores were eating at the chakra he'd harnessed to summon Susano'o, and he realised with a start that he could not sustain the shield around Suigetsu's body indefinitely. Not while he was still infected. So long as he kept the powerful barrier around Poseidon, Samehada would seek out his potent chakra instead and be averted from drawing out the cancerous black spores.

He tilted his face up to the void above them, intending to fly the sea king out of the facility, to get to a spot where he was able to warp out beyond the range of any disabling wards that had been put into place by their enemy - only to freeze when he spotted the crackling barrier manifesting high above their heads. A criss-crossing net of glowing, dark green chakra that would physically prevent them from flying out.

'Shit! They're locking us in!' Shikamaru echoed his observation, grimly noting that the forcefield's appearance meant that there was no way for them to now avoid a confrontation.

'We expected this!' Kakashi returned. 'They were never going to let us leave without a fight!'

Orochimaru had indeed anticipated their strategy, knowing that their priority was to retrieve Suigetsu. They had no choice left, then, but to fight their way out, to force Kabuto and the diabolical daemon to lower their wards. Complex ones that the traitor Danzo had no doubt taught them to weave.

Gritting his teeth in frustration, Sasuke reluctantly withdrew Susano'o and the invisibility cloak from the ocean's ruler. He couldn't afford to stay stationary in the fight, not even to keep Suigetsu out of sight, and certainly not while Samehada would keep trying to draw chakra from his own shield - a shield he would need to maintain around himself in order to stop the Black Zetsu spores from latching onto him. The others would need his protection. He had no alternative but to pull away and go after the one controlling all the creatures - Kabuto - while the Olympians worked on keeping everyone else at bay.

But Kabuto was already enclosing himself within a protective barrier, anticipating that he would be Sasuke's target.

Coward, Sasuke thought hatefully. Far too much of a coward to enter the fray.

Obito recovered quickly, his gaze honing in on the snow-haired immortal the instant he winked back into sight. Throwing off the cloak that Naruto had set alight, he blurred into being behind Poseidon, who was struggling to pull a writhing, uncooperative Samehada out of his midsection with trembling hands. But Killer B intercepted, grabbed Samehada's hilt and yanked the blade out of Suigetsu's stomach, preventing Obito from stealing the valuable weapon.

"Oooh yeah! Time to dance! You shoulda run away, fool! You had your chance!" Killer B crowed, enveloping his form fully within the Eight-tailed beast's chakra before launching himself at Obito like a spinning bullet.

"I've got your back, Mister B!" Fū leapt after him and opened her mouth, exhaling fine, luminous, blinding powder into the air that forced Obito to momentarily shield his eyes, allowing Killer B to push him further away from Suigetsu. They worked together to keep Obito occupied and on the defensive, to stop him from casting Kamui.

Suigetsu grunted, staggered and fell to his knees, hunching over in pain. Spotting an opening, Karin dashed toward him, ducking to avoid the slew of elemental attacks that soared over her head.

Her heart hammered at the base of her throat when she reached him. Close enough to hear how laborious his breaths were. Close enough to touch. At that moment, he wasn't the insufferable king who had wronged her. Only someone in dire need of her help.

"Suigetsu!" She lifted the sleeve of her cloak, exposing scarred arms, ready to lend him healing chakra. "Here!"

He stirred at her voice. Exhausted, dull lavender eyes flicked up to her, bleary and unfocused. Karin's breath hitched. Suffering. He was suffering so much, and she felt none of the satisfaction that she had once convinced herself she'd experience, watching him fall from his arrogant perch.

His eyebrows knitted together, and he mumbled something, hoarse and incoherent. Reached out, as if to grab blindly for her arm. No, Karin realised with mounting horror. He wasn't reaching out.

He was trying to push her away.

She had a few baffled seconds to process what that meant - before his entire form was overrun with fresh inky spores. A strangled cry escaped her lips and Karin scrambled away, placing distance between them again as Suigetsu lurched back onto his feet. His eyes pitch-black once more.

Cronus's amused laugh rumbled around them, approving of the madness and chaos that was unfolding.

"A valiant attempt," Kabuto grinned. "But as you can see, the spores are already regenerating. I've infected him with enough to negate any attempts you make at freeing him from my control."

Suigetsu lifted his hands and summoned the liquid from the reservoir tanks beneath the platform. It rose up through the grating, corrosive and steaming, forming a dangerous wall of water behind him.

"Uhh… guys?!" Fū pointed upwards.

"Shit!" Shikamaru cursed. "We can't let that touch us!"

Gaara wove a solid wall of sand above their heads, compacting it with enough layers to safely absorb the brunt of the acidic, chakra-depleting liquid. The water rained down, pelting like melting pebbles, hissing as it struck against the barrier. Gaara continued to fortify and renew it until the last of the cascading waves had fallen through the floor panels.

To their horror, the revived corpses of their fallen comrades were scalded by the water, sending the stench of rotting flesh into the air. But they continued to advance, unstoppable in death.

Lee dropped low to avoid a devastating whirlwind kick from Guy, while Jiraiya, uttering apologies to Iruka, launched a fresh flurry of attacks at his old friend.

Tsunade's gaze locked intently on Orochimaru, but she was swiftly intercepted by Shizune. Her heart constricted within her chest. Barbed knots of dread twisted inside her gut.

"Shizune!" she called, hoping against hope that a sliver of consciousness somehow lingered inside her dear friend's mind. "Stop! I don't want to fight you-!"

Shizune's face remained devoid of expression, of any recognition. Nimbly she dropped low, wielding twin daggers that were laced with venom, punching them toward Tsunade's midsection. Tsunade batted the strikes away with her palms, deflecting her attempts, but Shizune continued advancing, kept trying to close in and score a hit.

Stifling a sob, Tsunade choked out, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I failed you!" She caught the fabric over Shizune's right wrist and met the bottomless black voids of her eyes.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save you," she whispered, tears stinging at her eyes as she slammed a chakra-charged fist into Shizune's chest, sending her flying backwards into a group of advancing Black Zetsu.

The force of the attack was enough to stun and disable. But Tsunade looked on, repulsed, as Shizune returned to her feet and began to approach her once again. Resigning herself to the awful fact that she had no other option but to battle her dear friend, Tsunade released an angry, anguished yell and charged straight at her.

Kakashi warped around the platform, slamming lightning bolts into the Black Zetsu. He watched as they sizzled and melted into the ground, dripping off the grating - only to rise once more, multiplying. Incapable of being killed by ordinary means.

'Sasuke!' he telepathically called. 'The Black Zetsu can't be neutralised with elemental attacks!'

Black flame erupted a second later, setting the Zetsu alight. Unable to multiply as Amaterasu kept on burning, they were instead replaced with new spores.

Fū sent a web flying at Obito, seeking to encase him within it. He cut through it, slashing it with a dark blade and returned the attack with a flaming fireball. She yelped and was hauled out of harm's way by Killer B, who set her down then charged at Obito with a lightning-fast Lariat. The Uchiha vanished into Kamui to escape the path of the destructive clothesline, reappearing behind Fū, who used her tailed-beast chakra to sprout luminous wings that swept her beyond his immediate reach.

Lee spun in the air, aiming a crushing, powerful kick that connected cleanly against Guy's neck.

"Forgive me, Guy-sensei!" he pleaded. "I will avenge you! Upon my honour, I swear it!"

Guy's snapped neck realigned itself with a sickening crack and without a word, he lunged once more at Lee.

Naruto and Sasuke had alighted unseen behind Kabuto, who had surrounded himself within a cocoon of Black Zetsu. Their bodies shielded with Susano'o, the pair tore easily through the Zetsu wall, incapacitating the creatures within seconds. Pain exploded in Kabuto's chest as Kusanagi skewered ruthlessly through his body, and a scream caught in his throat when, a moment later, a debilitating current of electricity crackled through his nervous system. As he convulsed, Naruto slammed a spinning Rasengan orb into his back, sending Kabuto crashing onto the metal floor.

With a furious yell, the heir to Olympus lunged into the air, aiming twin blades at the former human's throat, with the killing intent of impaling him straight through his windpipe. But white, hissing serpents shot out at him, quickly intercepting the attack. By the time Sasuke had cut them apart with chidori, Orochimaru had safely retrieved Kabuto and was proceeding to heal him.

"That slimy snake!" Naruto glared.

'Naruto.' Sasuke's voice echoed in his mind. Cobalt met crimson, and Naruto nodded in understanding, harnessing another sphere of howling chakra.

Merging Amaterasu with Naruto's Rasengan, Sasuke slashed outwards with his blade, sending the crackling black fireballs hurtling forth, their destructive power boosted by the powerful, rotating orb of wind. They blasted out beyond the cloaking barrier of the Helm of Darkness, travelling with unstoppable momentum, and Orochimaru and Kabuto saw them approaching too late.

But a Kamui vortex devoured the projectiles before they could strike the pair. Kabuto then commanded Suigetsu to summon hissing Hydra from the seas. The monsters obediently exploded out of large water vortexes and he hopped onto the back of one of the dragons, erecting a solid forcefield of chakra around himself in order to continue controlling Suigetsu from a safely removed distance.

The Hydra proceeded to attack the Olympians at Kabuto's behest. Jiraiya countered by calling forth giant toads that launched themselves at the dragons, wrestling to keep the scaled sea serpents at bay.

Roshi bodily tackled Iruka, surrounded by lava armour that set the deceased seraph alight. But to his disgust, the corpse kept on fighting, until Suigetu's water doused him, leaving his clothes and skin charred.

A tearful Ino fired a flame spell at Inoichi as he took to the air. Temari assisted her, generating ferocious gales with her giant fan as they dodged the purple energy bolts that Inoichi aimed at them.

Sai released roaring ink lions at Guy, allowing Jiraiya to slip behind and deliver a devastating, chakra-charged uppercut to his chin that sent the seraph sprawling back.

"Kakashi!" Kurenai warned, directing a claw of black panthers to attack the reanimated dead.

Kakashi dropped low to avoid Iruka's swinging blow. Yet more Black Zetsu had risen up. Cursing, he channeled electricity into his hands and warped around the platform, stunning them long enough to allow Sasuke's Amaterasu to finish the job. The great gusts of wind generated by Temari's fan were fuelling the fire, allowing them to catch onto any Zetsu that were close enough to the lapping flames, and Kankuro and Kurenai finished them off by tossing them over the edge of the platform railings. They crashed into the water tanks far below and did not resurface.

Lee caught Guy's fist in one hand and swiped down with his left arm, splintering bones at the elbow. Guy retaliated with a killer knee to the midsection that connected so swiftly, Lee was winded. The revived seraph then caught Lee brutally by the throat, hauling him up off the ground, fingers squeezing around his windpipe hard enough to crush it.

"G-Guy-sensei…" Lee croaked. Black spores began to ripple along Guy's hands, on the verge of transferring over to the younger seraph in his clutches.

But a humongous ink tiger pounced on Guy, shredding him aside as Sai, shielded from enemy attacks by Kurenai's summons, used his abilities to seal the seraph within one of his scrolls.

"Sasuke!" He yelled, flinging the scroll into the air as if it were venomous to touch. "It can't contain a reanimated corpse for long!"

The scroll immediately exploded into black flame, taking with it any chance of Guy escaping, and a tearful Lee collapsed to his knees, grieving over the loss of his mentor all over again, shaken by how close he had come to being infected.

"Get up, Lee!" Jiraiya hauled him roughly to his feet. "Avenge him!"

The seraph blinked, snapped out of his brief daze, and with an emotional cry, leapt back into the heart of the battle.

Kakashi flung out chakra strings, catching Iruka by the arms and legs. Kankuro immediately latched onto the strings, grabbing control of Iruka, who wrestled to get out of his hold, leading to a tense tug of war between Kabuto and Kankuro for possession of the seraph as Kankuro tried to haul him back toward the burning dark flames.

'Sasuke!' Jiraiya communicated. 'These corpses can't be brought down until Kabuto releases them. There's no other way to disable them. Burn them all!'

'No!' Desperation exploded within Tsunade, as she connected another bruising punch to Shizune's midsection. 'They deserve a burial. They deserve to be taken home-!'

'It's useless, Tsunade!' Jiraiya shouted in her mind, full of regret. 'We're wasting chakra the longer we let this fight drag out. They wouldn't want to be used as puppets like this! We have no choice!'

'Damn it!' She cursed. 'Damn them!'

'There are too many obstacles right now!' Shikamaru agreed. 'We need to take Kabuto out! He's controlling Suigetsu and everything else!'

The platform had indeed unfolded into a scene of riotous pandemonium, a frantic melee to keep all eyes on Obito and stop him from whisking the sea king and anyone else away using Kamui, whilst fighting off the corpses of their fallen comrades, defending against Suigetsu's attacks and the Hydra dragons that were felled and continued to reappear, all while keeping the regenerating Black Zetsu at bay.

'Do it,' Ino pleaded with a broken half-sob, unable to bear the cruel agony of fighting against the shell of her guardian seraph. 'I can't stand this anymore!'

'Sasuke!' Kakashi called.

Black flame erupted, setting the corpses alight, one by one. Tsunade drew in a tight, suffocated breath, her burning eyes never leaving Shizune's face.

Orochimaru, who had joined Kabuto within his barrier, watched as his prized possessions began to disintegrate, the Black Zetsu inside them withering. There was no way to extinguish the flame. Any replacement spores they sent into the corpses would be devoured anew. He exchanged silent glances with his faithful servant.

'They don't look concerned,' Temari noted to the group. 'Why don't they look concerned?'

Sasuke, who had just disposed of another two Hydra and was helping Naruto fell a third, paused, watching Kabuto and Orochimaru intently.

"I'm so sorry," Ino wept, as her guardian seraph writhed, collapsing onto the platform in anguish. The others followed, neutralised at last, quickly disintegrating into ash.

Through a Kamui portal, Black-Zetsu enhanced ANBU reinforcements were deposited onto the platform. They surged forward, attacking with long-range weapons. Darts whistled in the air, deflected by Gaara's sand barriers. They landed with a clatter on the ground, oozing dark liquid. Venom. But as Obito finally succeeded in gaining enough leeway to unleash a monstrous tailed-beast bomb, one of the darts slipped past the sand in the immediate commotion that followed and embedded itself in the back of Fū's left shoulder.

She screamed in pain, clawing at it, pumping chakra toward the weeping wound in a desperate attempt to heal it.

"Get it off me, get it off me!" she shrieked, voice shrill with hysteria.

But within seconds, her blood felt like it was being set alight with corrosive poison, then thickened to mud and her veins were rapidly overcome with numbing ice. Slender black vines began to branch out just beneath her skin, and she started to foam at the mouth.

"Huh?" Killer B spun around to look at her, too rattled to remember to speak in rhyme. "Damn! Little lady!"

"Fū!" Roshi shouted, battling to get to her as he hauled three screaming, burning ANBU over the edge of the platform.

"U-unh…" she tried to speak, clutching at her throat, but blood spilled from her lips. For a horrific few seconds, she gasped for air, gurgling on the liquid that poured out her mouth. Then she stiffened. Her eyes rolled back and she collapsed to the ground. Only to never hit it, as a Kamui portal sucked her in.

"NO!" Roshi surged forward, grasping frantically for her, but he was too late. She had already vanished.

"Shit!" Shikamaru cursed. In the fray, the enemy had acquired yet another tailed beast. The fifth one to fall into their possession.

"Seize the others!" Cronus's voice boomed.

The ANBU staggered, fighting against Sasuke's disabling influence, their natural instinct to obey Death's will overridden by the spores contaminating their bodies. Kurenai's panthers lunged at the soldiers, tearing into their armour and throwing them from the platform.

An enraged, vengeful, grief-stricken Tsunade charged straight toward Orochimaru, who noted her approach and hopped fluidly away from Kabuto, landing back on the mezzanine's walkway. Pooling chakra into her legs, Demeter leapt up to join him on the upper level, aiming a crushing, flying kick straight at his head. The daemon grinned wickedly and finally entered the battle, wrapping snakes around her legs as he sought to haul her off the edge of the platform and into the corrosive tanks. She sliced through the serpents with a chakra-charged palm and warped back to safety before launching herself angrily at him once again, somersaulting to evade the long tongue that shot out to ensnare her.

Grabbing onto its end as it retracted, she then hauled him straight toward her and with a furious yell, delivered a bone-shattering punch straight to the centre of his face. Orochimaru's eyes widened and he disintegrated into hundreds of tiny white snakes that were promptly set alight by the black flames of Sasuke's signature attack.

Orochimaru reappeared on one of the walls, head tilted, smirking in amusement. Tsunade glared up at him, and yelled, "Hiding behind your abominations? Face me, you damned, spineless coward!"

Jiraiya blasted great bullets of water at the daemon in an attempt to force him back down. Teaming up with Tsunade, they chased after Orochimaru, firing elemental attacks at him.

Back on the platform, Temari's gaze whipped onto Gaara, just in time to glimpse a Kamui portal rippling in the air behind her brother as Suigetsu directed another destructive wave of water at them. The waves morphed into howling typhoons of liquid that spun around the platform, shaking it beneath their feet.

"Gaara!" Temari cried. "Behind you!"

Gaara whirled, eyes widening as he spied the swirling portal. Chakra strings whistled through the air as Kankuro grabbed his brother and hauled him to safety.

Karin shrank behind Hinata, watching with wide eyes as the moon goddess parried the ANBU soldiers' attacks, her fists glowing brightly with chakra fashioned into the shape of twin guardian lions. When the Black Zetsu ventured too close, Hinata threw up a shield of silver, celestial light around them to protect Karin and herself from being infected. The nymph's eyes darted back to Suigetsu in dismay. Evidently Samehada hadn't been embedded in his gut long enough to make any significant difference.

The battle grew even more frantic as Suigetsu began to surf around them, summoning into being yet more mighty water dragons infected with Black Zetsu spores that dove down toward the Olympians.

Sasuke enveloped them all with Susano'o just as the dragons slammed down upon them, the force of impact rattling the plates of his armour. He clenched his teeth, lifting a palm to his bleeding left eye. It flickered dangerously, the periphery of his vision ebbing to black, before it returned to a murky, misty haze.

His breath caught in his throat. But by shielding the others, he had momentarily made his location known, for the Susano'o armour extended out from his own form and the interconnecting points pinpointed where he was on the platform. Obito lunged, directing another Kamui portal, this time in his direction.

"Oh no you don't!" Naruto threw a marked kunai and hurtled toward his best friend. Plucking Sasuke away from the malicious vortex, they alighted to safety, and the death deity quickly scaled back his armour, rendering their location unknown once more.

'Naruto,' Sasuke communicated. 'I need you to distract Obito.'

'Leave it to me, 'ttebayo!' Naruto flash-stepped before the Uchiha and launched into a blinding series of simultaneous attacks.

Finally finding an opening, Sasuke warped to Kabuto, removing the Helm of Darkness just long enough to catch the doctor's eyes, trapping his mind, casting an immediate genjutsu.

'Let Suigetsu go,' he mentally planted the order, a caress in Kabuto's mind. As if it were the doctor's own idea. 'Draw back your spores. Attack your allies.'

Kabuto stiffened. His eyes glazed over. Suigetsu's wave faltered, and he fell roughly to the platform, like a puppet clipped suddenly off its strings. All the water he had summoned collapsed and drained through the grating. Black Zetsu spores began to seep out of him, wriggling onto the platform.

Sasuke flickered back, as the ocean deity once again showed signs of awareness through the haze of possession.

"What… the fuck…?" he blinked, chest heaving, his irises clearing once more. He looked around in bewilderment, catching sight of the Olympians battling around him.

"Suigetsu!" Karin shouted.

But mere seconds later, Poseidon tensed, the blackness returning to his eyes. Sasuke's gaze shot back to Kabuto, to find the clarity restored to his vision, a smug smirk on his lips.

"Kukuku," Orochimaru cackled, mouth dripping blood. "Any advantage you have, Sasuke-kun, we will reverse it-" he broke off as Jiraiya finally succeeded in snapping his neck and Tsunade tossed him off the edge of the platform. He crashed into the tanks, the liquid bubbling as he sank under-

Only to reappear seconds later behind Kabuto.

Tsunade and Jiraiya tensed, gaping at him in disbelief.

"What sorcery is this?!" Tsunade exclaimed, eyes aflame with fury.

All the corpses that the Olympians had defeated reappeared in fresh plumes of smoke. The Black Zetsu and ANBU that had been cleared from the platform, along with the Hydra that had been felled, returned in full force.

"How the hell?!" Kankuro swore.

Something twisted violently in Sasuke's gut, like a dagger wrenching. He recalled how untroubled Orochimaru had appeared to be when the corpses had withered to dust.

It couldn't be what he suspected. It couldn't, and yet- and yet, he knew it couldn't be anything else, knew it and felt it in the very marrow of his bones, in the warnings his mind was screaming at him, knew it from the recollection of the Sharingan he had ripped out of the ANBU guards' eye-sockets-

"What's happening?!" Ino screamed, blasting another round of fire chakra at Guy.

"It's like we haven't taken out anything!" Temari cried. "How are they all back?!"

"Behold. The might of the Sharingan," Cronus's voice reverberated around them, haughty and smug.

Kabuto lifted the sleeve of his cloak, exposing a grotesque line of implanted Sharingan, similar to those that Danzo had possessed, confirming Sasuke's fears. His breath caught in his throat as fury swept through him with the force of a displacing tornado.

"What the hell is that?!" Kankuro barely managed to avoid a savage swipe from the resurrected Iruka, as Naruto narrowly evaded Obito, grabbing Killer B and hauling him out of the way of another Kamui portal.

"Son of a bitch," he spat, eyes locked on the stolen Sharingan, staring in distaste at the way the eyes swivelled erratically to the left and right.

Izanagi and Izanami. That was how they were forcing everything to regenerate. That was their strategy to wear the Olympians' defences down long enough to relocate all of Orochimaru's resources. Sasuke's rage erupted, manifesting in the form of Amaterasu, which flew forth from his left eye, slamming against the wards Kabuto had placed around himself. As soon as they succeeded in burning through, the doctor rematerialised, unharmed.

The only way to win the battle was to force every single Sharingan Kabuto had in his arm to lose its light. Until they took out those eyes, nothing else they did would matter or make any difference, fighting against beings that were incapable of tiring or being killed. All wards, all barriers and opponents they burned through, would be reset. They'd fight until all their collective chakra ran out - or until Orochimaru's lackeys were done transporting all his assets to safety above them.

Communicating this to the others, Sasuke lunged at Kabuto, determined to reduce Orochimaru and his precious pet to ashes.

Inoichi spied an opening and swooped down low, slamming straight through the shield of earth chakra that Ino had thrown up to protect herself. She fell onto her back with a grunt, and choked as his icy fist closed suffocatingly around her throat. Black spores began to ooze from his hand, latching onto her skin. She screamed in terror.

"Dad! S-st...op!" She met his empty gaze, her heart breaking anew as she frantically grabbed a dagger from her belt and stabbed it into his forearm.

"Ino!" Shikamaru's shadow hands grabbed at Inoichi, hauling him off her.

Ino sat up, panting wildly, watching through tear-blurred eyes as Shikamaru tore his wings off. Wings that had been so beautiful in life. Then she looked down at her own hands, horrified to find spores crawling all over her skin. She began to shake violently, terrified of what would follow.

"Here!" Karin ran to her and extended her arm. "Quickly! Bite my arm! My chakra will help slow its spread!"

Ino gulped and bit into her flesh.

"It's no use!" Temari yelled, as Sai once again sealed away another seraph. "No matter how many times we take them out, they'll keep getting up!"

Roshi leapt into the air and unleashed a fire-infused, tailed-beast bomb. Tsunade enveloped the Olympians and their allies with her Katsuyu summon's protective chakra, shielding them from the blast that sent almost all of their enemies flying off the edge of the platform at once.

"Look out!" Kurenai pointed, and Gaara threw up another shield to counter the howling typhoon of water that a repossessed Suigetsu had directed at them.

Obito retaliated with a bomb of his own. Killer B countered with another, and the resulting detonation of the blast shook the very foundations of the platform, rattling the floor panels and sending everyone diving for cover. Gaara cocooned them all behind a thick wall of sand, Hinata threw up her celestial wards to fortify his barrier and Sasuke extended his Susano'o armour across the whole group to keep everyone anchored in place.

The corpses and remaining Black Zetsu were thrown back from the catastrophic, tornado-force winds generated by the colliding gravitational orbs. Kabuto withdrew Suigetsu, shielding him from the impact of the bombs, taking cover beside Orochimaru.

Sasuke's left eye was on fire. He could feel the Curse seal burning in its mark at his right arm, pleading to be released and winced as fresh blood poured from his left eye socket. Spamming Amaterasu and using Susano'o to shield so many individuals across such a wide radius was taking its physical toll on his eye. His right Sharingan strained, struggling to compensate for the left eye that was so close to losing what remained of its light.

But the monstrous gravitational orbs kept spinning, locked in a stalemate as they pushed against one another, fighting for dominance. Killer B grunted with effort and began to lose ground, feet slipping back on slick metal as Suigetsu was once again unleashed upon them. The sea king combined water with the howling sphere, making it even more lethal and stronger in its force.

Naruto leapt beside Killer B, and without hesitation, without fear of letting the enemy see what he truly was, he channelled the Kyuubi's blinding, potent chakra. Gold flame exploded around his form, followed by black markings along his cheeks, hands and clothing as he adopted his tailed beast's Bijuu form.

"TAKE THIS!" With a mighty yell he let loose his own bomb. It combined with Killer B's and obliterated Obito's, slamming into the metal wall behind the Uchiha and breaking it apart, melting it away entirely. Water began to gush in from the surrounding oceans, and the force of the explosion sent all their enemies flying from the platform. The resurrected corpses and Zetsu crashed into the rotten water tanks, and even Obito was forced to Kamui himself out of danger.

He realighted above the mezzanine structure, part of which was damaged and had collapsed, and immediately sealed off the flooding wall, stationing a Kamui vortex large enough to stop the Olympians from escaping via the opening.

With another shout, Naruto grabbed Samehada from Killer B's hands and hurled it with unstoppable force at Suigetsu. It whistled through the air, a piercing projectile, and skewered straight through Poseidon's chest. Gaara swiftly trapped him within a thick cocoon of sand, hauling him back into the Olympians' possession, continuing to fortify the barrier so that the sea king couldn't break out.

"Let me in!" Karin shouted, beating against the barrier with her fists. "I can help heal him!"

Gaara nodded, and enveloped her with sand, pushing her gently inside the cocoon before sealing it shut once more.

"Impossible." Cronus's eyes were wide as he stared at Naruto in a rare moment of stunned disbelief. Centuries after centuries he had spent, scouring the ends of the earth for the Nine-tailed beast's vessel - only to discover that the usurper had sacrificed his own flesh and blood and bound Naruto to the demon fox's spirit? Had chosen to seal it within his own son?

With one sword clenched between his teeth, Naruto lifted an arm and pointed straight toward Cronus with his other blade, eyes blazing like molten flame. A silent gesture that vowed to the Titan that he would avenge his parents and stop at nothing to foil every single one of Cronus' plans.

It was a gesture so reminiscent of the fearlessness and will of fire that Apollo's father, Zeus, had possessed, that the Titan's shock quickly morphed into explosive rage.

"Bring him to me!" he bellowed.

Their diversion had worked. Sasuke flash-warped behind Obito, who was wholly ignorant of the fact that Naruto had already succeeded in marking him with Hiraishin earlier, and without warning, stabbed straight at his right eye, aiming for his most powerful asset. But Obito whipped his head around at the last moment, and Kusanagi impaled the Byakugan instead, destroying Neji's implanted eye.

Obito roared in pain, hands flying up to his face as he teleported back. It was enough to dispel the illusion at last around them, removing a livid Cronus's front row seat of the battle.

"Good riddance!" Ino snarled, as the throne room of Olympus and the watching Titan vanished.

With an impaled Suigetsu trapped beneath a thick barrier of sand and Obito badly wounded, the Olympians turned their focus on teaming up to attack Kabuto and Orochimaru, having cleared the remainder of the enemies on the platform, save for the reappearing Black Zetsu that Gaara, Sai, Kurenai, Roshi and Hinata worked together to keep at bay. Ino, who had consumed enough healing chakra from Karin to temporarily stem the activity of the spores that had latched onto her, assisted them.

They had turned the tables - at least until Kabuto could once again cast Izanagi and resurrect everything. They had purposefully dragged out the battle for just long enough to expose their enemy's real strategy and accurately calculate the timings between when Kabuto could deploy each eye's technique. They had held back on their full abilities, observing all the while, allowing their enemy to believe that they'd been evenly matched on the battlefield. But they had collectively not even utilised their full strength until they had been certain of their strategy, coordinating their latest attack to ensure that they had enough of a window to cause the most damage.

Naruto slammed against the barrier Kabuto and Orochimaru had erected around themselves with enough force to jar the forcefield. Jiraiya inhaled deeply before shooting out a blast of water at their shield. Temari then spun her fan, sending devastating gales around them, cooling the water fast enough to turn it into solid ice.

Orochimaru and Kabuto froze, realising what was about to happen, powerless to undo their losses until Izanagi was ready to cast again. But the Olympians' plan was already in motion. With an enraged yell, Tsunade leapt into the air and slammed a vicious, heel kick down upon the forcefield, shattering it upon impact into a thousand tiny fragments.

Kakashi was ready, falling into descent. Naruto caught him with Hiraishin and together they struck Orochimaru and Kabuto with crippling bolts of lightning, stunning them and preventing them from immediately dispersing into liquid and snakes.

Kankuro then caught Kabuto's arm with chakra strings, holding it still to allow Shikamaru to slash across three of the four remaining, open Sharingan. They closed into slits, but as he aimed for the last one, Orochimaru exploded into his true form, that of a hideous, humongous white snake, carrying Kabuto on his back.

"So you have found a loophole in Izanagi…" he hissed, looming over the Olympians.

"We knew all along, Snake," Tsunade sneered up at him.

"And now you only have one Sharingan left." Jiraiya's eyebrows arched.

"Better use it wisely, huh?" Temari taunted, grinning smugly up at them.

"Foolsss…" Orochimaru's serpentine face glared down at them. "I have many othersss."

"Always wanting to be anything but yourself." Shikamaru drawled, preparing Shadow Hands to hold the serpent down long enough for them to finish the job. "What a drag. You must really hate yourself."

Naruto landed in front of the Olympians, Kakashi beside him.

"You're finished, 'ttebayo!" He pointed above them, to where Lee had flown up to the barrier that prevented them all from escaping, carrying Killer B who was working on breaking through it. They had approximately five more minutes to get out, before Kabuto was able to cast Izanagi one final time.

"You can try all you want to mimic the Uchiha's abilities," Kakashi said. "You'll never be able to master their techniques. You'll never wield the Sharingan like a true Uchiha can."

"Ironic," Kabuto rasped, clutching at his wounded arm. "Coming from you, Copy God."

"I have never pretended to be one." Kakashi's visible eye narrowed as he prepared another lightning bolt. "My eye was gifted to me by a friend I lost."

Obito stiffened at the words. Orochimaru recoiled back and then, with an angry hiss, lunged, hundreds of slender, off-shooting white snakes protruding from his body. They rained down upon the Olympians, spewing acidic venom that struck harmlessly against Susano'o's barrier, still enclosed protectively around them.

Meanwhile, Sasuke had turned Obito's immense pain to his advantage, and succeeded in impaling him through the calves after casting a savage, disorientating genjutsu, pinning him on his hands and knees to the platform with shadow rods, which he used to leech chakra from the Uchiha, transferring it directly to himself.

Knowing he only had a few seconds in which to act before Obito broke free, he directed the borrowed chakra straight to his Sharingan, intending to set Obito alight with black flame and finish him off for good - but the attempt caused excruciating agony to throb through his left eye, akin to a thousand red-hot, skewering needles. Every optical nerve screamed in anguish. He drew in a ragged breath, overcome with a crippling wave of cold, prickling nausea.

Never had he known such pain.

He realised a moment later, what the cause of it was. Obito's chakra was horrendous. Overpowering. Wrong. It flooded Sasuke's internal chakra pathways, scalding like poison, surging through his veins like liquid flame, an explosion of unnatural energy born of being the vessel to multiple tailed beasts. Dangerous, chaotic chakra that overwhelmed his own.

The ravenous Rinnegan cells in his left eye were hyper-stimulated and immediately responded, eagerly guzzling the fresh, monstrous source of energy. They did not discriminate between chakra and devoured the unstable influx hungrily, taking everything they needed.

Then, all at once - with frightening abruptness - Sasuke's vision shuttered out. Became nothing but endless darkness.

The air hitched in his lungs. Inside his chest, his heart hammered, slamming riotously against his ribcage. The Susano'o cloak around him flickered dangerously, faltering, and the chakra he'd drawn from Obito fluctuated wildly, before ebbing away to nothing. As if the Rinnegan cells had all at once drawn in and depleted all his borrowed and remaining reserves when devouring the last of the Sharingan's light.

The barrier he had cast around his comrades fizzled out.

"Sasuke?!" Kakashi called out in alarm, realising what it had to mean as he simultaneously speared a bolt of lightning through three snake heads.

But Sasuke barely heard his call. His right eye had begun to bleed too and was burning. Burning just as the left once had, when the Rinnegan cells had started their activation. Overcome with pain and a moment of panic as he was temporarily robbed of sight in both eyes, he stumbled away from a cursing Obito, blinking rapidly, wiping the blood away from his right eye and waiting for the vision in his left to return to a murky haze.

It didn't.

Blindness. He dared not acknowledge it, for fear that he was mistaken. But as the seconds crept by, and his vision remained pitch-black, it dawned upon him. At last, the final stage of the Rinnegan's awakening had been fulfilled. Which meant that surely any moment now-

His new blind spot failed to perceive that Obito had torn free, his ruined left eye bleeding profusely. Enraged, he warped above them, to the containing, criss-crossing barrier that had just been disabled, finally allowing the Olympians to fly out. Materialising just behind Lee, Obito tore the wings from his back then blew his chest open with a gravitational sphere, sending him plummeting lifelessly toward the overflowing water tanks far below. Killer B fell into descent after him, and Shikamaru's Shadow Hands shot out, catching them both.

"LEE!" Naruto yelled.

They barely had the time to process what had happened. A vengeful Obito unleashed a gargantuan orb from above. It spun unstoppably toward them, powerful enough to crush them all.

"Just two more minutes, Orochimaru-sama!" Kabuto shouted to Orochimaru, his voice drowned out by the howling wind.

"Shit!" Shikamaru swore. "We need to move, now!"

But Obito and his formidable Kamui portals and ferocious bombs stood between them and freedom. Lee lay broken and bloody, choking on his own blood despite a desperate Tsunade's best efforts to heal him, and Sasuke's chakra had been spent entirely, rendering flight via Susano'o impossible until his reserves were replenished.

Naruto retaliated, lobbying a howling, Rasengan enhanced tailed-beast bomb that was equally as destructive. Further panels of metal were ripped out of the mezzanine level and sent flying as the platform threatened to give way, rattling violently. The force of the colliding blows pushed a disorientated Sasuke to the edge of the platform, and he teetered by the railings that led to a plunge into the corrosive tanks far below.

Gritting his teeth, the death deity struggled to redirect chakra to his stinging right eye. Invisible to the rest of the company, nobody realised the danger he was in. Everybody else had been pushed too far back to assist him.

The Curse Seal glowed and stirred at Sasuke's arm, responding to his desperate attempts to refuel his reserves. Began to ooze slowly out from its mark, sinister and malicious, despite Sasuke's greatest efforts to push it back.

"The seal! I can senseee him!" Orochimaru hissed. With lightning speed, a white snake shot out straight toward Sasuke just as Obito directed a Kamui portal at the death deity, seeking to drag him in. It formed at Sasuke's blind spot, guided by the direction Orochimaru's snake was taking.

Across the platform, Kakashi's lone-eye widened, and his heart plunged into his stomach as he realised what the enemy was trying to do.

"Sasuke!" he shouted in warning, finally releasing the chakra he'd stored in his own Sharingan.

Naruto, in the pandemonium that had followed the explosions, looked up, azure eyes wide as saucers at the frantic tone he detected in Kakashi's voice. But he could not see his best friend. Instead he watched, frozen in horror, as Kakashi launched himself forward, intercepting just as a veiled Sasuke, at last alerted to the danger, spun around, unable to summon any chakra to fight against the dreadful pull of the powerful maelstrom that began to drag him back into its dark, gaping vortex. Grappling to locate Sasuke, Kakashi slammed blindly into his shoulder, knocking him away from the edge of the railings and out of the path of Orochimaru's yawning, serpentine mouth. But it was too late to save himself, to stop the momentum of his own fall.

Sasuke landed roughly on the metal grating, the force of Kakashi's shove sending him rolling. When he finally drew to a stop, his eyes widened to find his old mentor plummeting over the edge of the platform, entangled with the white snake.

"Kakashi-!" he yelled, pushing himself back up onto his feet, diving toward the railings in desperation, his heart thundering with adrenaline-

Only to watch, helplessly, as Kakashi vanished abruptly into a Kamui portal.

"NO! KAKASHI-SENSEI!" Naruto roared.

"Kakashi!" Jiraiya shouted.

Sasuke panted for breath, his throat clogged with horror. His old sparring teacher had saved him. Shielded him with his own body. Had Kakashi fallen into Obito's Kamui, or his own? One meant certain annihilation. The other, salvation.

The Curse Seal burned on his arm, crawling further upwards, enticing him to tap into its corruptive power. He gripped it, fighting to keep it suppressed as his right eye continued to bleed, compromising his already reduced field of vision. He blinked through the stinging sensation, turning his head to look toward the others. At the scene of utter destruction all around them.

They needed to get out, he thought. Now that they had Suigetsu trapped, they needed to return to the top level of the facility and bring it all down.

Sasuke's gaze darted to Kabuto. They were nearly out of time. Izanagi was almost ready to be cast one final time, and with it, the barrier would reappear, and so would all the enemies they had so skillfully felled together. They could escape Obito, he reasoned. Once Naruto replenished his chakra, it was only a matter of transporting everyone back to the upper level using Susano'o. His left eye was out. But he still had the right Sharingan.

'Sasuke!' Naruto telepathically yelled, frantically trying to sense him as Killer B drove Obito back once again. 'Where are you?!'

Having no alternative, Sasuke borrowed a small amount of cursed chakra and landed beside him, drawing him back within the Helm's cloak. Relief flooded through his body as Naruto replenished his reserves, and the vision in his right eye finally cleared.

'Sasuke,' Naruto's eyes widened as he gripped his best friend's shoulders tightly, his features full of concern. 'Are you okay?!' His mouth then dropped. 'Shit. Your left eye! It's-'

He was cut off as Killer B shielded the Olympians from yet another mammoth gravitational sphere. Hinata released a cry of alarm. Satisfied that Sasuke was alright, Naruto turned away from him and warped instantly to her side, shielding her with his own forcefield.

"Hold on, Hinata!" he yelled, as Killer B once again weathered the brunt of the attack, negating the orb with his own.

But Obito was fast and capable of regenerating thanks to the tailed beasts he carried. He warped through the barrier, and lunged straight toward Roshi.

Sasuke intercepted, hauling the tailed-beast host into his cloak to protect him from being taken by the enemy.

"Thank you," Roshi coughed in gratitude, gripping his head as if it had been struck upon it.

Sasuke turned away from him, lifting Kusanagi, his gaze locked onto Kabuto with killing intent as the mad scientist cast Izanagi one final time- when a sudden, cold, agonising pain shot through his body. Before he could comprehend what had happened, the Helm of Darkness had been torn from his head, leaving him visible for all to see. Open and vulnerable.

His head whipped around, his stunned gaze falling to Roshi, whose mouth had twisted to form a sinister grin. Looking down, Sasuke realised that he had been impaled straight through the chest - by a venom-coated blade.

He staggered back in shock. Blood pooled into his mouth.

"Lord Cronus thanks you for this gift," Roshi said, in a voice that was distorted. Foreign. Not his own. "The gift of your left eye."

Ares, Sasuke distantly registered in horror, even as the poison began to take debilitating hold, rendering him incapable of moving away as a Kamui portal began to form around the possessed Roshi.

"Look out!" Tsunade's voice boomed over the fray. "Sasuke!"

"SASUKE!" Naruto's voice pierced through the ensuing chaos, full of fear.

Time itself seemed to slow down around him. The gaping vortex loomed before Sasuke as Roshi was sucked into it, taking the Helm of Darkness with him, and it tugged at him in turn. Powerless to stop it, he felt his limbs turning numb. In the distance, he could hear the others yelling his name. Yelling it almost as if they truly cared for him. The glint of a flying kunai grazed inches past the tip of his nose as Naruto lunged forward, diving frantically, desperately, to reach him in time.

Too late, Sasuke knew, his thoughts already coming undone as the venom seized his body. Crippling. Paralysing. His lungs were on fire, incapable of drawing breath.

Blinding, luminous, pale blue light flashed across the remaining vision in his right eye, followed by tiny particles of brilliant, glinting-

Mirror fragments? Sasuke blinked, mind reeling, not sure whether the venom was causing him to hallucinate.

"What's happening?!" Ino cried.

Confusion temporarily broke the focus of both sides, and the Olympians looked on in horror as Sasuke was enclosed within a mystical pentagram that intercepted the Kamui portal. Jagged shards of ice shot out around him, spewing freezing fog, just as Naruto streaked by, catching nothing but cold air in his arms as Sasuke vanished into a shimmering mist.


~x~


Naruto's howls rang deafeningly in his ears as Sasuke landed roughly on a soft surface that sank beneath his weight, and rolled rapidly down an incline, until he drew to a natural stop with a pained grunt. The venom that seconds earlier had begun to weigh upon his limbs seemed to immediately abate. After another minute, he was able to draw a free breath, fully healed from the poison as though he had not been afflicted with it at all.

Disconcerted, Sasuke pushed himself up to his hands and knees and lifted a seeking hand to his chest to find that he was indeed no longer bleeding. The only evidence of the blade that had pierced him was his torn tunic, still warm and saturated with the blood that had mysteriously stemmed.

He turned his attention to his surroundings, blinking in disbelief. A chill fell upon him as he found himself in a freezing desert. A barren wasteland illuminated beneath a glowing crescent, suspended high in a cloudless, midnight sky. He turned his gaze up to the moon in confusion. It looked… wrong. Hovered oddly, a narrow, horizontal bridge that had waned in the wrong direction. And beneath it, was a smaller, circular orb, shining just as brightly.

Slowly, he rose to his feet, fingers wrapped around the hilt of his blade. All around him, stretching endlessly in all directions, were mighty sand dunes, ghostly grey beneath the moon's ethereal, milky glow. The rising and descending slopes encompassed everywhere he looked. There was no sign of anything else around him except a graveyard of sand.

It was unnervingly quiet. Too eerily quiet. Deadly still. Sasuke couldn't even hear the breeze that shifted the fine desert grains around him, although the air temperature was cold enough to set his teeth chattering. The bursts of breath that escaped his lips condensed into tendrils of mist.

Had Obito succeeded in dragging him into his Kamui portal, after all? But no, it could not be. Recalling the bright lights and strange, floating glass shards that had manifested around him, Sasuke was somehow sure that he wasn't in any of his enemy's alternate pocket dimensions. He felt it in his bones. This was somewhere else entirely.

Twisting around, he scanned his surroundings, baffled as to how he was fully healed and thoroughly unsettled by the unfamiliar environment into which he had been unexpectedly flung. There was no sign of life around him. Nothing moved except the particles that blew away from the dunes.

"Naruto!" he called out hoarsely. His voice echoed in the air. Even the echo sounded unnatural to his ears. It carried far too slowly through the heavy atmosphere As if time itself was suspended, stifled from flowing.

Where in the three realms was he?

Seeing no other alternative, he slowly began to walk in no particular direction, feet sinking into the sand, every inch of him coiled with tension like a tightly wound spring, ready to snap into battle or flee depending on circumstance. As if he anticipated that some monstrosity would dive out to the surface from beneath the dunes. He didn't know where he was and that made the very air he breathed a threat.

The last thing he expected to encounter however, were phantom whispers in the wind.

Three faint voices rustled within his mind, chorusing and breezing through his ears, both young and old, beautiful and terrible, feminine and musical yet full of discord. Soothing and terrifying in equal measure. As peaceful and gentle as a rippling stream and as jagged and sharp as broken glass. Voices that snagged his attention and held it fast. Ones he could not shut out. They were mesmerising. Horrifying. Voices that made his very soul quiver, disturbed, as if some distant, innate part of him recognised them - even as his racing mind grasped at straws, knowing for certain that he had never heard them before.

"We who weave the threads of Fate..."

His heart thudded to a slow, sickening rhythm as he paused, rooted to the spot, powerless to do anything but listen as the words wove their mysterious spell upon his senses. With every second that passed, they grew clearer, resonating within him.

"We who imbue life - then desecrate..."

He turned his head, trying to discern which direction the voices seemed to be coming from, but they were nowhere and everywhere all at once.

"For whom time suspends in wait," they chorused, lovely and dreadful, enticing and savage all at once. Like a melody too perfect, its notes broken, hideously off-key.

Sasuke's breath hitched as the words settled in his mind. It then hit him, with awful clarity, as surely as the strike of lightning.

"Reversed or effaced, as we dictate..."

Impossible. It was impossible - and yet Sasuke knew, precisely, at that moment, where he was.

"We who judge and we who decree;
come forth, crown'd King - we summon thee."

He was in no ordinary, barren wasteland.

He was standing in the Realm of The Fates.


~x~