Chapter 34

The Truth About Nanaki's Father


Before them stood a large door, a massive series of steel plates embedded into the wall, three of them that were about a half a square meter. Rust covered every inch, so much so that the plates no longer shined with the luster of of steel, but were instead dulled to the point that made Naruto wonder if this thing had ever been used. In truth, the only reason he even realized it was a door was because he could see how there was something behind it from the way the walls moved perpendicular.

That, and Bugenhagen had taken them to this place.

"Ho ho hooo. Are you all prepared?" asked Bugenhagen.

Naruto looked at the others to confirm their readiness, and when each one nodded at him, he turned back to the old man.

"We are."

"Ho ho hooo. Then let's begin our journey."

Bugenhagen wandered over to a small panel built into the wall. He typed something on the keypad, several bleeps issued from the panel before the sound of gears turning echoed around them. The three metal sleets that made up the door suddenly retracted into the wall. Grinding, turning, squealing as though moving on rusted hinges, they revealed a long tunnel that ended in an elevator.

"I mentioned it before, but this place is dangerous," Bugenhagen began. "That is why you brave young souls will be taking point. An old man like myself would be killed on the spot if I went first."

"This place is… dangerous?" Red XIII asked. "How so?"

"You'll see," Bugenhagen replied mysteriously.

The group walked through the door and into the tunnel, which didn't have much lighting, just a few gas powered lamps hanging from the ceiling. They reached the elevator without incident. Bugenhagen pulled a lever, and the elevator descended into the depths below.

"Feels like we're travelin' down a mineshaft," Barrett said as he looked around.

"Ho ho hooo. This is no mineshaft," Bugenhagen told him. "Where we are going is a place that's far too dangerous to be a mere mine. Part of the reason I sealed this off is because of how dangerous it is."

"Are there monsters?" asked Tifa.

"There are many monsters," Bugenhagen replied. "But that's not the only reason it's so dangerous."

That wasn't the least bit ominous. Naruto wondered what sort of horrors supposedly awaited them, but he wasn't sure he cared. Did it really matter what sort of dangers they would face? He was confident in his ability to deal with anything and everything that came at them.

"Maybe I should have stayed in the village," Cait Sith muttered.

"What are you saying?" Naruto grinned at the cat. "You've done absolutely nothing but burden us on this trip. It's about time you start pulling your own weight."

Cait Sith gulped.

They kept traveling down, and eventually, the elevator ground to a halt with a small rumble. What lay before them was not a tunnel, but a cave that consisted of a massive network of pathways, reminding Naruto a lot of a web, only more chaotic and easier to get lost in. It was probably a good thing that he could run along walls. That would make scouting ahead easier.

As they stepped onto the earth floor, dirt crunched underneath their boots. Naruto looked down and realized that it wasn't just dirt. There were some bones as well. Human bones. Animal bones. The others looked down as well, their faces aghast when they realized they were stepping on the bones of long dead creatures.

He glanced at the brownish gray walls of the cave, with their craggy surface filled with bumps and jagged edges. The walls weren't very high, about five meters at the tallest, though that was plenty high enough. None of them could see over that unless they climbed. Also, perhaps it was just his imagination, but it looked like they were stained with blood.

"Man, this place gives me the fuckin' creeps," Barrett muttered, shuddering as he looked at the same blood-stained-looking walls.

"I know what you mean," Tifa said. "It feels like we might be attacked at any moment."

Cloud tightened his grip on the handle of his buster sword, his face pinched as he looked around.

Because this was a cave and not a tunnel, the space they walked through felt really open despite the path not being much wider than five or six meters across. High above them was another pathway. It was more like a ledge, though, and Naruto couldn't see any way up outside of his own unique abilities. To their left were more paths split apart by rock walls that jutted from the ground in uneven sizes, ends like jagged points. This place was kind of creepy, thinking about it.

"I hope there aren't any ghosts," Naruto muttered.

Aerith grinned. "You're afraid of ghosts, right?"

"Pfft!" Naruto scoffed. "Afraid? Hell no, I'm not afraid. I just don't like them."

Cloud frowned at him. "It sounds like you don't like them for a different reason than most people."

"I don't like them because they're intangible and can't be killed," Naruto explained as they turned a corner, which branched in two separate directions. They paused for but a moment before deciding to travel down the right path. "If it bleeds, it can be killed, but a ghost doesn't bleed. It's already dead. How are you supposed to fight something that's already dead?"

"I… guess that makes sense," Cloud muttered. "I never thought of it like that."

"Well, maybe you should," Naruto mumbled.

"Heh… pussy," Barrett said.

"Hey!" Yuffie shouted. "Don't call sensei a pussy, jerkwad. At least he gets pussy, unlike some people!"

While Barrett took a moment to ponder Yuffie's words, Tifa and Cloud both blushed bright red, having clearly understood what the girl was talking about. Red XIII also seemed to get it. Even Cait Sith was looking the other way. The only one not looking away was Bugenhagen, who wore the same perverted old man look that Jiraiya would often have when peeping on women in the hot springs. He was even giggling like a dirty old lecher.

Aerith and Naruto went up to Yuffie at the same time…

And promptly smacked her on the back of the head.

As Yuffie plummeted face first into the ground, the two continued walking on. They didn't even bother looking back at the girl, who was lying face first on the ground, her butt sticking in the air.

"Ouch…" Yuffie groaned as she pushed herself up. She rubbed her face, which was red and had scuff marks on it. There were two large lumps on the back of her head. She glared at her sensei and Aerith as they kept walking. Standing up, she grumbled about "ungrateful senseis" as she trotted after them.

The others slowly followed after a moment long pause.

And that's when Barrett finally got it.

"Wait!" he shouted, catching up to Naruto and Aerith, who had rounded another corner. "You two… you were… erm… I mean…"

"What is it, Barrett?" Naruto asked with a sigh.

"I mean, what the brat said," Barrett mumbled. "You guys were, erm, uh…"

"What Aerith and I were doing is none of your business," Naruto said. "However, ask yourself this: Why would I ask for a second room to keep you from being a cockblocker?"

"I ain't no fuckin' cockblocker!"

"Says the man who has blocked my cock with his presence alone."

"Fuck you!"

"Everyone be quiet!" Bugenhagen suddenly shouted. "It's coming!"

Everyone stopped walking and looked around as though expecting to see something coming at them. There was nothing there.

Cloud frowned. "What's coming?"

Bugenhagen was never given a chance to answer when a loud rumbling shook the ground. The Stomp. Stomp. Stomp stomp of footsteps echoed to them, bouncing off the walls as they grew louder by the second. Before long, a massive hand appeared from around the corner of a rock wall, large fingers gripping the granite, crushing it and leaving indents in their wake. Seconds later, coming out from around the bend, a creature appeared before them.

It was massive. A giant creature that stood on two legs but didn't appear remotely human. Its arms were long and gangly, so long that its hands were being dragged along the floor as it stood to its full height. The path they stood on wasn't big, about five meters across. This massive creature, who towered over them by a good four meters, could barely walk without bumping into a wall, which was only about a meter or so taller than it. Even so, it ambled toward them one step at a time. Each time it slammed a foot into the ground, an imprint of its foot remained on the floor.

"This is a pretty big monster," Naruto mumbled.

"Oh, dear," Cait Sith murmured as he hid behind everyone else.

Cloud pulled his sword from his back while Tifa, appearing unsure, took an unsteady combat stance. Aerith readied her staff. Barrett's gun arm whirred as he pointed it at the creature. Naruto frowned as he tried to figure out what he should do. Jutsu were out of the question in this cave, so he'd be forced to rely on his hand to hand combat.

"Be careful," Bugenhagen said. "That thing is a monster inhabited by a vengeful spirit of the Gi Tribe!"

"What?" Red XIII asked but never received an answer, for at that moment, the monster howled and tried to smash them all flat.

Naruto leapt backwards with Aerith. The others scattered as well. Gunfire thundered along the cavern walls as Barrett opened up with his gun arm, the bullets piercing the creatures hide and causing blood to splatter across the ground. The beast howled and turned to him. Cloud raced in from behind as it did this, and then swung his sword and sliced through the creature's legs. As it fell to the ground, Aerith readied her staff while Red XIII blasted the monster with lightning.

"Blizzaga!"

Mist gathered around the goliath-like monster, swirling like a miniature tornado before, with a hiss-like sound, the mist coalesced into several dozen icicles. The icicles hung in the air, quivering. A second passed. Then every icicle shot forward at speeds that made them blur. The monster roared in agony as it was impaled. Blood seeped from the wounds, and as the icicles melted, the holes that were made were revealed, and blood soon gushed from them like waterfalls.

Once the ice dispersed, Yuffie leapt from a wall that she had been running up. She tossed her shuriken at the monster. It became embedded into the creature's back. Attached to one side was a wire, which Yuffie used to control her descent. As she swung around the beast's body, she slapped several seals onto it. She landed on its back, cut the wire, yanked out her shuriken, and then leapt off the creature.

"Now, sensei!"

At her shout, Naruto made a hand seal and channeled some of his chakra to activate the seals.

"Katsu!"

One after another, a series of explosions went off. They were small, confined to a single spot on the beast, but that didn't make them any less powerful. The noise they produced was horrendous. It was a loud thundering sound that bounced along the walls and caused rocks to be shaken loose. Of course, the one who suffered the most from these detonations was the monster Yuffie had attached to seals to.

The beast stumbled backwards when one came from the front, and then was launched forward when another exploded off its back, but that only lasted until another explosion made its shoulder blow up, sending the arm flying as it detached from the body. Each consecutive detonation not only rocked the cavern but also destroyed a limb or gouged out chunks of flesh. As the sixth explosion went off, the beast fell to its knees.

Summoning Yamato, Naruto rushed at the creature. His feet pounded along the ground before he blasted himself into the air, hurtled forward, and impaled the monster through the head. He had expected this to kill it.

It didn't.

"Whoa!"

Naruto yelped as the monster stood up and staggered back and forth across the ground, crashing into the walls and tripping along the uneven surface. As it tumbled onto its back, Naruto leapt into the air again, switched his current materia out for wind materia, and then swung Yamato, unleashing a blade of wind. The wind blade carved into the creature's chest. As ichor flew everywhere, Naruto swung again. The wound grew deeper. One more time. With a sound that was more pitiful whine than anything, the creature released its final, desperate spasm before dying.

Landing back on the ground, Naruto released a heavy breath, switched out his materia, and sent Yamato back to its pocket dimension.

"Well," Naruto began, "that wasn't so hard."

"You all did awfully well," Bugenhagen admitted. "But this is one of the easiest beasts to slay here. There are far more vengeful spirits, which have possessed creatures far stronger than this. Come, let us continue."

"Hmph, he could have at least been a bit more excited by our accomplishment," Yuffie mumbled as the troupe began moving again.

Naruto didn't say anything.

Somehow, he understood that what they had faced was nothing compared to what they would face.

This party had just gotten started.

The Legend of Gaia's Sennin

Naruto and the others soon found out that this cavern consisted of more than one section. After fighting several of those large monsters, they had reached the end of the twisting pathways and located a hole that resembled the gaping maw of a great beast. Jagged stalagmites and stalactites reminiscent of teeth blocked their view of the other side. Beyond those teeth lay darkness.

"Are we really going in there?" asked Cait Sith, his voice shivering along with his body. The fraidy cat looked like he wanted to bolt. Given that he had no combat abilities to speak of, this was, perhaps, a natural reaction. Even so, it seemed odd that a toy cat could feel fear.

"Yep," Naruto said as he started for the tunnel. Aerith quickly followed him.

"No place to go but forward," Barrett agreed.

"Tifa?" Cloud asked.

"I'm ready," Tifa said, taking a deep breath and marching resolutely forward alongside Cloud.

"Ho ho hoooo. We must continue onward if I am to show Nanaki what he is meant to see."

As even Bugenhagen moved with the others, Cait Sith could do nothing but watch the group walk toward the cavern in frightened consternation. It wasn't until Naruto turned back around, saw this, and shouted, "If you don't hurry up, we're going to leave you behind!" that the toy cat scrambled after them.

A dark tunnel. Barely any light came through this passage. Naruto took point, using his great vision to see so no one would trip over anything. The floor was fairly smooth, however, and they made it out of the tunnel in quick order.

Naruto paused on the other side.

"This… does not look good."

This particular space was nothing like the previous one. While there were several pathways for them to walk on, that was only because there was nothing separating them from a quick fall into a pit of lava.

Naruto looked down at the bubbling lava, flinching as he practically felt the heat drifting from it. Thick fumes rose from the reddish orange surface. Lazy motes of smoke, as though the air was being vaporized, drifted along the atmosphere, creating almost geometric patterns that made him shiver. They looked way too much like ghosts for his liking.

"Careful not to stare at those for too long," Bugenhagen said to him. "Those are the damned souls of the Gi Tribe. They wander this area, seeking out prey to possess. If you stare too long, they might try to possess you."

Naruto froze. "S-surely you're joking."

"I am not," Bugenhagen replied seriously. "Why do you think I had to seal this place off? If I had not, these spirits would have wandered up to Cosmo Canyon and possessed the villagers. They would have used my people to massacre everyone."

Naruto shuddered from head to toes.

"Ah… C-Cloud… why don't you take point," he said.

Cloud frowned at him. "Are you using me as a meat shield against ghosts?"

"O-of course not. I'm just playing backup this time."

Cloud sighed and took point. Tifa and Aerith followed behind them, while Barrett stayed in the middle with Cait Sith and Bugenhagen, acting as their guard. Naruto, Yuffie, and Red XIII brought up the rear.

"You're not really afraid of ghosts, are you sensei?" asked Yuffie.

"I already said I'm not afraid of ghosts," Naruto mumbled, his eyes darting around the cavernous room as they walked across the makeshift bridges. "I just don't like them."

"Isn't that the same thing as being afraid?" asked Red XIII.

"No, it's like hating fishcake in your ramen," he said. "You don't fear fishcake. You just don't like it."

Red XIII and Yuffie stared at each other, but Naruto didn't pay attention to them. He didn't want to be caught unprepared if they were attacked by a ghost.

Almost as if just thinking about ghosts summoned them, the space in front of Cloud fogged over-or so it seemed. What appeared to be fog at first glance was, in fact, ectoplasm, otherwise known as spirit matter. Howls echoed from within the fog as more of the ectoplasm streamed in from around the room, congealing until it became so thick it looked like it had physical mass.

The fog then took shape.

A streamlined muzzle emerged from the fog, covered in thick bristle-like fur. It was followed by a rigid back, two front legs with powerful paws. The torso that emerged was slender but strong, reminiscent of a canine, and it was followed by two hind legs and a tail that sprouted from theend. This creature, which had formed out of the spirit matter, looked like a much older version of Red XIII.

Red XIII's eyes widened. "This form is…!"

"The Gi Tribe has always had a strong life force," Bugenhagen said from the center of their formation. "This is what has allowed their conscience to remain within the Lifestream, and it is their hatred that allows them to take this shape."

"So we really do have to fight a ghost?!" Naruto bemoaned his fate. Damn it! Was this karma? This was totally karma, wasn't it?!

"No time to bitch!" Barrett shouted as he readied his gun arm. "It's comin'!"

The ghost beast charged at them with a silent roar of rage, bounding along the ground. Naruto realized that it actually did have mass. Its paws scraped against the ground, sparking as they dug gouges from the earth. Those nails were sharp. An attack from them would surely rend their flesh.

"Yuffie! Get Bugenhagen somewhere safe, then look for an opportunity to jump in!" Naruto commanded.

"Yes, sensei!"

"Come on, Red!"

"Right!"

While Yuffie picked up Bugenhagen, floating sphere and all, Naruto and Red XIII ran to where Cloud and Tifa were already fighting. Their attacks didn't seem to do a whole lot. Cloud's sword went right through the ectoplasmic being, as did Tifa's fists and Barrett's bullets. The same could not be said of their foe. Its paws slammed into Cloud, who got up his buster sword in time to block but was still sent back. He would have fallen off the bridge had Naruto not wrapped ninja wire around around his arm and yanked him back up.

"Thanks," Cloud said.

"Thank me later. We've got a battle to fight."

Naruto did not like ghosts. He never had. He probably never would. However, he didn't have any choice but to fight this one, and so he'd shunt aside his intense dislike for ghosts and got ready for battle.

While Cloud and Tifa had been fighting close combat against the ghost, Aerith prepared a lightning attack with one of her materia. Her staff crackled with blue lightning. She raised it into the air, high above her head, and pointed it at the ceiling.

"Thundara!"

A loud crackling noise reverberated around the room before, with a flash of pure white, a bolt of lightning burst from Aerith's staff, rose straight into the air, and then drove into the monstrous ghost. It punched a hole straight through the creature's body. Then it created another hole, in the bridge this time, before striking the lava and blasting a hole through even that. Naruto would have been surprised by the power, but he didn't have time. Seconds after the hole had appeared in the ghost, it vanished as the ectoplasm gathered around the wound to seal it.

Is this thing immortal?

Naruto stopped running as the thought came to him. It appeared that normal and even elemental attacks couldn't harm this monster, in which case, nothing they did would kill it. Did they need to do something specific to defeat this thing?

Yuffie soon arrived on the scene alongside Red XIII. Naruto noticed that Cait Sith and Bugenhagen were far away from the battle site. The two came in from opposite ends, Red from the front and Yuffie the back. She must have swung herself behind it using ninja wire. Fire crackled from Red XIII's tail while Yuffie's shuriken was also engulfed in a reddish blaze. The two launched their attacks at the same time, Red XIII by unleashing a fiery cylinder of destruction and Yuffie by tossing her shuriken.

Both attacks struck at nearly the same time, with Red XIII's engulfing the creature while the shuriken sliced right through it. The ghost split into two halves. It looked like the fire might burn the rest of its body now that it was no longer cohesive. The ectoplasm even became lighter for a second, as though it was fading away. That was when the creature let out a roar and, like magic, the ectoplasm once more pulled the two halves together.

"What the hell?!" Yuffie's shout rang clearly across the cavern. "How did that not kill it?!"

"You have to find the core and destroy it!" Bugenhagen shouted at them. "This spirit has a central core where all of its sentience is located. Destroy it and the body will disperse."

"That's easier said than done!" Barrett shouted as he ineffectually pumped the ghost full of holes.

"Stop wasting ammo, Barrett!" Tifa shouted as she dodged a paw that tried to smash her into the ground. She hopped back several feet, then thrust out her fist, unleashing a small bolt of lightning. It didn't do much, but it did send the creature back.

If I could defeat this in one attack…

The problem wasn't that Naruto couldn't, but that he wasn't sure what would happen to the surrounding area. A ninjutsu strong enough to destroy this ghost in one shot would likely destroy everything near it. That meant jutsu were out.

What if…?

Naruto summoned Yamato to his side again. This blade was his most prized weapon. It had the ability to cut through dimensions. If he could locate the core, then he could use Yamato to cut straight through it.

The problem was finding the core, which from what Bugenhagen said, was hidden somewhere inside of its ectoplasmic body. Unless they could blow that ectoplasm away, or burn it, then nothing they did would…

Fire…

The fire that Yuffie and Red XIII had used burnt away a lot of the ectoplasm. It had reformed, but for a second, he had seen through it.

"Everyone!" Naruto shouted. "Switch to fire materia!"

No one questioned Naruto as they switched from whatever materia they had been using to fire. The ghost roared as it was bombarded by several fire spells. Naruto narrowed his eyes. The ectoplasm was definitely being burnt off. Little by little the ghost became more see-through, until it was finally clear enough that he could see the other side, and there, sitting near its left front paw, was a small dark orb.

Naruto didn't give any warning when he rushed forward. Sweat broke out on his skin as he slipped past the fire spells. He ignored the squawks of his comrades as he raced up to the beast, removing Yamato from its sheathe and slashing through the ghost in one stroke. The ghost didn't even have time to react before the ectoplasm dispersed without so much as a howl.

A thick, heavy silence fell upon them now that the battle was over, and none of them seemed quite sure how to break it.

"I'm beginning to notice a pattern here," Tifa finally said.

"What pattern?" asked Cloud.

"Naruto is getting in all the kill shots."

"Huh." Cloud paused, then nodded. "You're right."

"Not my fault," Naruto said.

"Che, glory hog," Barrett mumbled.

"What? That's not true, is it sensei?" asked Yuffie. "You aren't hogging all the glory to yourself, are you?"

"What glory is there to be had in this?" asked Naruto.

"Huh… well, I don't know," Yuffie admitted.

As the discussion remained aimless, Bugenhagen and Cait Sith came back from the save place they had been during the battle. Aerith, who had remained silent, addressed the old man.

"Would you mind telling us where we're going now?" she asked. "You brought us here because you wanted to show Red XIII-Nanaki-something, but you never said what that something was."

"Ho ho hooo. Yes, I suppose I should at least tell you where we are headed," Bugenhagen said. "As you can probably guess, this cave leads to the back of Cosmo Canyon. It was unfortunate that the Gi Tribe were larger than us. If they had attacked through here, we would have been done for sure. What I wish to show you is at the end of this cave, in the very back of Cosmo Canyon."

Naruto glanced at Red XIII, whose inscrutable face remained set in a contemplative frown, and wondered if he had some inkling as to what Bugenhagen wanted to show him.

Probably not.

"Let us continue on," Bugenhagen said.

With the decision to keep moving unanimous, Naruto and the others slowly proceeded through the cavern, fighting their way through various beasts that had been possessed by the Gi Tribe. There were monsters that moved on four legs, giant spiders that tried to trap them in their webs, and ghostly apparitions that attacked en mass.

Thanks to their teamwork and Bugenhagen's knowledge, they were able to deal with these threats as they came. It took a lot of effort. Each monster was quite powerful, which meant expending more energy and wasting more ammo. Barrett had cursed up a storm when he realized that he was down to his last two cartridges.

Eventually, they made it to another tunnel-like entrance, which no doubt led deeper into the cave.

"During our war with the Gi Tribe, one of our warriors went through this cave alone," Bugenhagen lectured them as their footsteps echoed along the tunnel walls. "He fought against our attackers one after another. It was only thanks to him that we survived."

"Grandpa…" Red XIII said. "That warrior…"

"Ho ho hoooo. We're almost there," Bugenhagen interrupted.

The tunnel opened into a cavernous space that had, fortunately, no boiling lava bubbling from the surface. The room was not quite circular. Uneven and jagged rocks broke it up. There were a number of cracks running through the ground, large ones that someone could fall into if they weren't careful. Naruto peered down one of the cracks and flinched. Lava. He should have expected that, but he wished there wasn't lava beneath this floor.

In the center of this room, a strange creature floated above the ground. It wore an ancient shoulder cape, which fluttered in the breeze, tattered and ripped. A face covered by a thick facemask with tribal markings painted that gleamed in the light as it moved. Gripped within its left hand was a spear. The creature turned to them, hair like tassels waving to and fro. It stared at them, and then it locked on to Red XIII.

"This is… a ghost of an ancient warrior of the Gi Tribe!" Bugenhagen said. "This is not good! This must have been one of the Gi Tribe's chieftains!"

The creature, the Gi Tribe chieftain, glared at Red XIII with a hatred that was startling. It raised the spear in its hand. Then it brought it down, launching it forward at Red XIII, who was surprised but not shocked enough to remain still. The canine hopped out of the way. The spear impaled the ground, which exploded around it, fragments showering all of them.

Everyone else moved into action.

"This one seems different from the others!" Naruto shouted. "Be careful everyone!"

"Ya don't need to tell me that!" Barrett shouted as he unloaded his bullets into the Gi Tribe Chieftain. Each bullet penetrated flesh. Naruto narrowed his eyes as green blood splattered against the ground.

This isn't a ghost? Or is it just different?

Naruto had no idea what this thing was, ghost or monster, but it wasn't like they could run now. It had already seen them. Fighting was their only option.

"Aerith! Try using different types of magic to see what affects it the most!" he called.

Aerith nodded. "Will do!"

"Yuffie, Cloud, Tifa, Red XIII! Let's keep it distracted!"

"Right!" the four he ordered said.

While Cait Sith and Bugenhagen ran to a safe distance, Naruto, Cloud, Red XIII, Tifa, and Yuffie, rushed toward the Gi Tribe Chieftain, whose attention was focused almost entirely on Red XIII. While their red-furred companion acted as a distraction, Naruto and the others split off to attack the chieftain from separate directions. This meant Red XIII beared the brunt of the assault on his own.

Red XIII hopped left and right as the chieftain tried to punch a hole through him via that spear. He avoided it, and the spear impaled the ground numerous times, causing the earth to rumble each time it happened. While he was doing his best to dodge, Naruto and the others had reached the chieftain and began their assault.

While Naruto leapt onto the ceiling, his jump aided by wind chakra materia, Cloud ran underneath the creature and slashed at its underside, his large buster sword cleaving through the bottom, though it didn't seem to really do much. It looked like his attack missed somehow. Tifa and Yuffie attacked from the left and right. Tifa leapt into the air and battered the creature with a barrage of punches and kicks. Yuffie tried slicing into its face with her shuriken. Just like Cloud's buster sword, Yuffie's shuriken and Tifa's fists went straight through the creature.

What's going on? Barrett's bullets damaged it fine.

Naruto narrowed his eyes as he dropped from the ceiling. He'd already switched out his materia. With Yamato at his side, he swung the blade down and tried to cleave the chieftain in half. He felt no resistance, however. It was like the monster wasn't even there. Naruto landed on the ground and jumped away as the chieftain thrust out his spear, the attack so forceful it blew his hair out of his face.

Something's off about this, but what?

"Thunder!"

As Naruto and the others kept it distracted, Aerith used her thunder materia to blast the chieftain with a bolt of lightning. That attack, at least, seemed to work. The chieftain jerked as though shocked, its body lighting up like a fireworks display. Naruto narrowed his eyes. They narrowed further when Barrett unleashed another barrage and the bullets caused more blood to spurt from newly opened wounds.

Bending his knees, Naruto launched himself off the ground and attacked the chieftain from behind. He thought a surprise attack might work. However, at the very last second, the chieftain's head turned to him, and Naruto passed right through its body when he swung. As he came out the other side, the chieftain smacked him with its spear.

"NARUTO!" a scream went out.

Naruto gagged as all the air was expelled from his lungs in a violent rush. His ribs snapped like twigs as he was brutally flung across the room. Air rushed around him, howling in his ears until, all at once, his backward momentum was violently halted when he crashed into a wall.

Groaning, Naruto blinked as he found himself embedded into the wall, which enclosed around his body like a mold. Meters away, Cloud, Yuffie, Tifa, Red XIII, and Barrett were still fighting the chieftain. Aerith was running toward him.

Pulling himself from the indent he had made, Naruto landed on the ground with a groan. His knees were shaking, his back felt like it had been broken with a sledgehammer, and several of his ribs were fractured. One was even scraping against his lungs, sending flaring heaps of pain to his brain with every breath. However, he now had a plan.

"Naruto!" Aerith dropped beside him and immediately opened up with a curaga. Naruto sighed as he felt the healing affects on his body. "Are you okay?!"

"I'm fine," Naruto said, waiting for Aerith to finish healing him before standing up. "Thank you. Now come on. I know how to beat this thing."

"Um, okay."

Aerith also stood up. They ran back to where the battle was taking place.

As expected, most of the chieftain's attention was on Red XIII. It only turned away when one of the other people came within a certain distance of it. Cloud, Yuffie, or Tifa would attack, but the attack would phase right through. Meanwhile, Barrett continued to fire at the chieftain, and his bullets actually did damage, though not enough to hurt it.

"Everyone but Barrett and Red XIII should switch to using materia!" Naruto shouted. "That thing can negate attacks if it knows you're coming, and it can sense you when you're close to it. Switch to materia and attack from a long range! Red XIII, keep it occupied! Barrett, get ready to attack with your Limit Break!"

"Now that's a plan I can get behind!" Barrett shouted as he began charging energy into his gun arm.

Cloud, Yuffie, and Tifa leapt back and equipped a materia, while Red XIII continued to run around the chieftain, dodging its attacks with nimble leaps. Three simultaneous attacks of fire, lightning, and ice struck the chieftain from multiple directions. Cloud swung his sword, unleashing a powerful wave of fire that burnt its left flank. Tifa punched the air and a bolt of lightning flew from her fist and struck the chieftain dead center in the chest. Icicles appeared around Yuffie and were launched forward, burying themselves into its body as though they were spears.

The chieftain thrashed as its body blackened, as a hole was blown through it, as it was punctured by numerous spears of icy death. It was weakening. Just a little and it would die.

That was when Barrett struck.

The big man had raised his gun into the air. Light emitted from the barrel like a beam. When he finished charging, Barrett leapt high into the air, until he was well above the chieftain. He aimed his gun barrel, shouting at everyone to "move the fuck outta the way!" before unleashing his attack.

What Barrett unleashed was not a giant ball of energy; it was a massive beam that exploded from the gun barrel and engulfed the chieftain in light. The chieftain's body slowly dissolved. Chunks of it peeled away and disappeared, as though it were breaking apart, like its very molecules were being annihilated. When Barrett's attack finally ended, petering out with a sputter, the chieftain was no longer there. It was gone.

"I didn't know you had an attack like that," Tifa said with wide eyes.

Barrett, the barrel of his gun smoking, grunted. "Been savin' it fer when I need it. This ain't an attack I can use whenever I want."

"I'll bet," Cloud said.

"That was an impressive battle," Bugenhagen said, floating over to them. His expression was genuinely bedazzled, as though he'd just witnessed something amazing. "Nanaki, you have gotten very strong. Thank you all as well."

"Naw… it was nothin'," Barrett mumbled, rubbing his gun arm.

"Now I know it wasn't a mistake bringing you here," Bugenhagen added. "Come. I have something that I want to show you."

Naruto and the others went through the tunnel at the end and, after a short walk, they appeared in an area that was not covered by a ceiling. Naruto hadn't known how long they'd been outside. However, what greeted him as they walked into this area was a night sky filled with stars, meaning they had been walking for more than ten hours at the very least. It had been about midday when they entered the cavern.

Red XIII hopped up several rocks that lay upon the ground, large boulders that formed a small hill shadowed by several tall cliffs. While everyone else hung back, he looked up, staring at the figure who stood upon a large cliffside overlooking the canyon several meters away.

His eyes bulged. "This is…!"

"The warrior who fought against the Gi Tribe. He alone kept them from taking even one step into Cosmo Canyon." Bugenhagen floated over to Red XIII. He, too, was looking at the figure. "But he was never able to return to town."

The figure standing above them had four legs, strong and sturdy, his stance full of power. A canine muzzle was pointed toward the sky. The expression on the figure's face was fierce, unwavering, as though he was standing guard to prevent a powerful enemy from taking one step further. Naruto thought the figure, this statue hewn from stone, looked like an older version of Red XIII. Older. Stronger. Wiser.

Several spikes jutted from the figure. It took him a moment to realize it, but he soon found out they weren't spikes. They were arrows that had been impaled into its body.

"Look, Nanaki," Bugenhagen said. "Look at your father, at the warrior, Seto."

"That…" Red XIII swallowed heavily. "That's… Seto?"

"Seto traveled here to protect Cosmo Canyon," Bugenhagen continued. "Even after the war was over, he remained and continued to fight the Gi Tribe, to keep them from encroaching into Cosmo Canyon again. Even after the Gi's poisoned arrows turned his body into stone, even after they all ran away, Seto continues to protect us. He protects us even now."

Naruto felt kind of like he and the others shouldn't be there. This story was something for Red XIII, for Nanaki's ears alone. They were intruders. At the same time, he found the story fascinating. He didn't know anything about this Gi Tribe, so this must have been a small war against a group that never got Shinra's, and the rest of the world's, attention.

Bugenhagen continued. "You thought he was a coward who ran away, but he alone risked his life to protect Cosmo Canyon. That is your father, Seto."

Red XIII still had yet to look away from his father. Naruto could not see his expression from this profile, but he didn't need to. He knew what Red XIII would be thinking. It was probably very close to his own thoughts when he had received the revelation about his parents.

"Di… did mother know?" he asked, at last turning around.

"Ho ho hoooo. She knew. The two of them made me promise to keep this cave shut. They asked me to seal this cave myself and never tell another living soul. They said we should forget about this cave." Red XIII said nothing, and Bugenhagen turned to Naruto and the others. "Would you all mind leaving us alone for a moment. What I have to say is for Nanaki's ears."

"We'll give you time alone," Naruto said.

No one disagreed with him. He was sure they understood how important this moment was for Red XIII.

As they walked back through the tunnel that would lead them to the entrance, Aerith grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.

Naruto squeezed back.

The Legend of Gaia's Sennin

Nanaki could not believe what he had learned. His father, who he had assumed was a coward that abandoned his mother, had secretly been protecting his mother, him, and all of Cosmo Canyon by himself. As if the rug had been pulled out from under him, Nanaki swayed back and forth as dizziness swept over him like a wave.

"Nanaki," Bugenhagen said, interrupting him. "I want you to continue your journey with Naruto and the others."

"Grandfather?" Nanaki asked, surprised.

"Naruto says they are trying to save the planet." Bugenhagen paced back and forth across the small space between several boulders. "Honestly, I don't think it can be done. Even if they destroyed every mako reactor on the planet, they are only going to postpone the inevitable. Even if they stop Sephiroth, everything will still perish. But, Nanaki, I have been thinking lately. I've been wondering to myself if there was anything that we can do, as part of the planet, something to help a planet already in misery. No matter what happens, isn't it important to at least try?"

Red XIII was surprised by his grandfather's words, since Bugenhagen had never once expressed an interest in anything more than studying the planet. He had always said that the planet was doomed. Since it was doomed, there was no point in trying to save it. All things eventually die. That was the way of the universe. However, now grandfather wanted to save the world, or at least try.

Had his comrades really moved grandfather that much? Or perhaps grandfather had simply resigned himself to fate?

"Am I just wishing against fate?" Bugenhagen asked before shaking his head. "I am too old to do anything about it. This year, I'll be 130. Ho ho hoooo. That is why, Nanaki, you must go with them. For my sake."

"Grandpa…"

"I wanted to show you your real father before you left," Bugenhagen admitted. "I'm so glad that you came back while I was still alive to show you this."

"Grandpa… don't talk like that. I don't want to think of a life without you."

"Ho ho hoooo. Well, I've had a long life."

"No!" Nanaki shouted. "Grandpa, you must live! I'll see to it. I'll see to what's happening to the planet, and then I'll come back and tell you about it."

"Nanaki…"

Nanaki hopped off the rocks to come closer to his grandfather. He tried to give off a determined expression, but he wasn't sure if he managed it. Grandfather's talk had shaken him.

"I am Nanaki of Cosmo Canyon! The son of the warrior, Seto! I'll come back a true warrior to that noble name! So please, Grandpa…"

Nanaki didn't want to hear his grandfather talking like this, not after everything that he had just learned. If his grandfather died, then Nanaki would have nothing left. He couldn't let his grandfather die.

As he stared at his grandfather, something splashed against the ground, producing a unique sound that only came from dripping liquid. Nanaki and Bugenhagen looked up. Shock coursed through him as water dripped from the statue of Seto's eyes, falling over his cheeks and then off the chin. Tears. They were tears.

"That's Seto's… Seto…"

"Father…"

In a burst of inspiration, Nanaki leapt back onto the rock, tilted his head, and howled.

Tears continued to fall down his father's face.

The Legend of Gaia's Sennin

Naruto and the others sat around a bonfire in the middle of the village, and though they weren't alone, none of the other people around them came up to their group. Perhaps the few dozen other people sensed that they were different. He didn't know what their thought processes were. All he knew was that they were getting several looks.

"Do you think Red XIII is going to stay here?" asked Aerith.

"Maybe," Naruto said. "This is technically where he belongs. This is his home."

"That's how these things go sometimes," Barrett agreed. "Sometimes you meet people, and then you part with them. Life is full of hellos and goodbyes."

"That was pretty deep coming from you, bear," Yuffie said.

"Who the fuck are you callin' a bear?!"

Everyone shared a small laugh, but there was an underlying current of sadness to it, as though they were trying to ignore how this might be their last time seeing Red XIII.

Naruto wasn't sure what kind of talk Red XIII and Bugenhagen were having, but he knew that it was important. Whatever they said was bound to determine Red XIII's course from now on. He hoped Red XIII would keep journeying with them, but he would understand if their canine companion decided to stay in Cosmo Canyon.

"Do you think we should just leave without him?" asked Cloud.

"You mean without even saying goodbye?" Tifa looked appalled.

"We couldn't even if we wanted to," Naruto said. "The guy who said he'd check out our car hasn't returned yet. We can't keep going without that."

There was who knew how many dozens of kilometers between them and their next destination, wherever that was. It was just another problem. Naruto had a map. However, not even he could determine which village they could reach next. The nearest village was Nibelheim, but that village had been destroyed several years ago by Sephiroth, which meant they would have to cross the mountains before reaching the next town. That could take months to reach.

"You guys!" Red XIII bounded down a flight of stairs and ran over to them. He stopped in front of them and, a bare second later, Bugenhagen floated down from wherever he had come from. "I'm coming, too!"

"Please look after Nanaki for us," the old man added with a bow.

Naruto studied the two for a moment, noticing the near-ecstatic expression on Red XIII's face and the content one on Bugenhagen's. He wasn't sure what happened during their talk. He didn't even know what their conversation had been about. However, it appeared that, whatever it was, something had been settled between them.

"Somethin' strange is goin' on," Barrett mumbled, only to be elbowed in the side by Tifa. "What was that fer?"

"Hush," Tifa said.

"Don't worry," Naruto said. "We'll look after Nanaki."

"Thank you," Bugenhagen said, bowing politely.

"Come on," Red XIII said. "Let's get going."

Naruto almost snorted at Red XIII's enthusiasm. "We can't yet. Our car still hasn't been repaired."

If he didn't know any better, he would have said Red XIII was blushing. "Oh, I knew that."

"I'm sure you did," Yuffie taunted. Red XIII looked down at the ground, unable to meet the eyes of the others.

"Ho ho hoooo. You can all stay inside of my observatory until the car is finished being repaired," Bugenhagen offered.

"I appreciate that, but I think Naruto and I are going to stay in our hotel," Aerith said before Naruto could say the same thing. "No offense to everyone else, but I prefer spending the night with my boyfriend. Alone."

Her words made her intentions, her desires, more than obvious.

Even Barrett couldn't keep the blush off his face after that.

They spent two more weeks at Cosmo Canyon. The biggest reason wasn't because it took so long to repair the car, though, but because the car's engine had to be replaced. Cosmo Canyon did not use mako energy, so the engine, which was a product of Shinra and therefore used mako injected fuel (consequently, this was why Gongoga had fuel they could use), couldn't be fixed here. The engine was replaced with one that could use fossil fuel instead. However, that required the entire car to be overhauled so it would work with the new engine.

During that time, Naruto had spent his time either walking around with Aerith, training, learning more from Bugenhagen, or having sex. Actually, Naruto would have said that he and Aerith spent at least a third of their time in bed… not sleeping. He didn't know if it was because they simply hadn't been able to do it much, or if there was another reason for it, but ever since their first night in Cosmo Canyon, Aerith had been voracious.

Not that he was going to complain.

Naruto learned a lot more from Bugenhagen. They spoke about the planet, about how the planet worked, and Naruto even showed him sage mode. Bugenhagen had been fascinated. He'd told Naruto that this was the most unique skill he'd ever seen, as not only was Naruto freely using the Lifestream as a weapon, but he was replenishing it with his own energy, rejuvenating the Lifestream, as it were.

Naruto had created many theories on that, from the leftover power of Kurama affecting the Lifestream to his own Uzumaki vitality replenishing the Lifestream. He had no way of proving either theory. In the end, they would probably remain theories.

Finally, the day had arrived for them to leave. It seemed as if the whole of Cosmo Canyon had come to see them off. Everyone was waving at them as they hopped into their vehicle, sans Cait Sith who, much to his crying shame, was tied onto the car roof. Again.

As they sped through the canyon, Naruto looked at Red XIII in the rearview mirror. Like a pet dog, Red XIII had laid his head on Aerith's lap, allowing her to pet him. He seemed much more at peace with himself these past few days. He wasn't as quiet, displayed more enthusiasm, and seemed to act more his age. Whatever conversation he'd had with Bugenhagen had obviously helped him come to terms with something.

Naruto looked back out the front window.

The endless desert stretched out before them.

He smiled as he thought about the adventures that awaited them.


This is the last chapter for Gaia's Sennin that I will write for awhile. I'm gonna do a few for Shifts in Life now. I hope you all enjoyed these consecutive chapters.

Remember that if you would like to support me and my writing, be sure to read my original stories. You can buy them on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, and Indie Press. If you buy the paperbacks from Amazon, you can also get the kindle versions for free. Here are the books that I have currently published.

A Most Unlikely Hero

Being a hero isn't a walk on Mars!

Alexander S. Ryker dreams of becoming a hero, but dreams are hard to achieve when you've caused several million credits worth of property damage. Being expelled from the Mars Police Academy isn't helping his case. Crushed, Alex encounters a girl named Gabrielle Angelise in a meeting that will change his life forever.

Gabrielle is an alien! She's also on the run. Alex wonders if this is the chance that he's been waiting for, the chance to finally become a hero. Opportunities like this don't come often, or ever, and so Alex steps up to protect Gabrielle and make his dream a reality. He will become a hero—if the strain from living with an alien bombshell doesn't kill him first!

Succubus

Christian is the Catholic Church's best executioner. Dedicated. Devout. Deadly. Ever since the Church saved him from the decimated ruins of his hometown, his commitment to their cause has been unshakable.

Then he's sent to execute Lilith, who lives in Seal Beach, California. He's baffled. Lilith is afraid of men. The Church believes she's a succubus, but he just can't see it. Yet the way men—both human and monster alike—act as if they've been possessed whenever she's near is disturbing.

With lustful men attacking Lilith and monsters attacking him for being near Lilith, Christian must uncover what's really going on, and soon, or innocent blood will run through the streets—as will his own.

Love. It can kill a man.

A Fox's Love

The story of a boy, a fox, and a whole lot of ecchi…

Kevin Swift has the worst luck with women. It's not that he's unattractive or even unpopular. He just can't talk to them. He blames it on all those Shōnen love comedies he enjoys watching. Fortunately, or unfortunately―depending on who's asking―Kevin's love life is about to start looking up.

After saving a fox's life Kevin discovers that he actually rescued a Kitsune, a shape-shifter capable of transforming into a beautiful girl who appears to have popped right out of the pages to a Shōnen manga. Her name is Lilian, and she apparently wants to mate with him.

Between dealing with an overly amorous vixen's zealous attempts at getting into his pants, his inability to talk to girls and school, Kevin is going to have his hands full.

A Fox's Tail

Kevin's life has finally started settling down. Sure, he still has to deal with Lilian's zany antics, but desensitization has set in at last and he's actually beginning to enjoy the gorgeous Kitsune's continued presence. Too bad he's in denial. Unfortunately, while the waters of his life appear relatively calm, things are about to get ecchi-I mean ugly.

A tsundere dressed in Gothic Lolita fashion…

A boy whose hair is bigger than his brain…

A new enemy that makes Chris Fleischer look like a fifty pound weakling...

Trying to admit his feelings for a certain tomboy...

Not to mention Lilian herself. Yeah, Kevin's got problems, and life can only get more strenuous from here on out. Oh well. At least he hasn't been turned into a Harem Protagonist.

A Fox's Maid

The tail of a boy, a kitsune… and a maid?

Kevin Swift doesn't know what to think anymore. His love for Lindsay has dwindled, his mind is constantly plagued by thoughts of Lilian, and now he has to deal with his sexy housemate's maid: A kimono-clad, katana-wielding femme fatale who doesn't like him very much—and who has this weird tendency of adding Japanese suffixes to everyone's name for some reason. Go figure.

Now Kevin must make an irreversible choice: To become Lilian's mate or not. It's a life changing decision that no teenager should have to make. Unfortunately for him, Lilian's maid has basically threatened to clean out his entrails with her katana if he doesn't.

He used to think being a teenager sucked. Now he's realized that being a teenager is nothing compared to being the potential mate to a kitsune whose maid holds no moral compunctions about flaying him alive.

A Fox's Family

The fan service continues...

Two weeks have passed since Kevin Swift was kidnapped by spandex-clad secret agents, rescued by Lilian, and they were both subsequently saved by Lilian's faithful maid-slash-bodyguard. Since then, Kevin has nabbed himself a foxy girlfriend—pun very much intended—and a person willing to train him in the arts of badassery. Needless to say, life has been good.

Then Lilian's family decided to pay a visit.

And everything went to hell.

Sometimes, life gives you lemons. Other times… well, you get the picture.

A Fox's Vacation

Hot springs, nude scenes, and fan service galore!

Spring break has finally come. Kevin and Lilian are traveling to California with their friends and family, where they plan to enjoy a week at the beach and attend the San Diego Comic-Con.

Of course, with this mixed bag of yōkai and humans involved, disaster waits around every corner. Between getting caught in the middle of a war involving kappa and kitsune, a mysterious assassin who's trying to kill Lilian, and the spandex-clad Sons and Daughters of Humanity, Kevin is going to have his hands full.

He really should have seen this coming. Whoever said that hindsight is fifty-fifty deserves to be punched in the face.