Posted: 22 June 2012
Last Updated: 5 April 2014
Chapter WC: 1,434
Story WC: 1,434


Worth Dying For

Prologue
Memento Mori


The manacles were too tight. Not by much, but enough that they dug into his skin with each movement he made, each time just a little bit more and a little bit more. It didn't take long for them to rub his skin raw and turn his wrists into bloody, mangled messes. It wouldn't be so bad except his skin kept trying to heal over and the manacles got in the way, causing it to grow over the metal and then break again and add more blood and flesh to the ever-growing mutilation.

The pain annoyed him more than anything though. Naruto was used to pain after a decade of throwing himself headfirst into danger. But he was also used to pain vanishing quickly. This prolonged, dull ache was new and unwelcome.

Naruto leaned his head back against the wooden pillar and shifted his weight a bit, lessening the pull on his right arm by pulling against the manacle on his left. The sharp pain in his stomach felt worse, he thought. His captors hadn't bothered to feed him and Naruto didn't know how long it had been since his last meal.

A faint scrape came from his left and Naruto glanced to the side, where a man ascended the stairs to the stone platform. The man had blond hair, blue eyes, and three whisker marks on either cheek. He had Naruto's face, down to the last freckle. He had Naruto's height, body shape, and posture. He looked identical in every way. Even though he expected it, Naruto still shuddered.

His double walked across the large platform to where Naruto stood bound to a pole, but stopped a few feet away. He didn't look at Naruto, but instead turned his gaze across the room to the chasm taking up most of the space.

An enormous statue ahead of them. Well, he called it a statue, but it wasn't, not really. It wasn't made of stone or metal. It was made from some kind of wood. Dry, decaying bark stretch across its body like an aging tree, giving it the appearance of mummified remains. It was generally human in shape, except for the numerous branch-like protrusions growing from its back and its size, which would dwarf even Kurama. The statue sat cross-legged with its hands held upward. Metal manacles, not so different from the ones on Naruto, bound its wrists and ankles together. Tied over its head was a blindfold with holes for nine eyes, eight of which were open and staring blankly ahead. It sat upon an equally massive pink lotus flower hovering in midair above a bottomless pit. The only light in the room emanated from deep below, but Naruto had never been able to see its source.

Naruto knew precisely what the statue was. He could feel it pulsing in his chest like a second heartbeat. Its presence loomed over him, even larger than the statue itself, and it beat down on him like waves crashing against a cliff. It distracted him from the pain and the fear of his situation, but granted a terror all its own, like he was staring into the maw of a beast he knew would swallow him whole. Naruto had faced a lot of things in his life, but nothing had ever managed to fill him with dread quite like the Gedō Statue.

The minutes stretched on, but the man beside him still didn't speak. Naruto shifted again and stubbornly tried to wait him out. Unfortunately, patience had never been his strong suit. In that way, he and this double were very different.

"A little melodramatic, don't you think?" Naruto finally said.

At last the man looked at him. He only turned his head, keeping his body facing the statue. After a long beat of silence the double's impassive mask broke for a second as he flashed a toothy smile. "I've always had a flare for the melodramatic," he said. "When I was a kid I would run around with pillowcase for a cape and try to jump out at random shinobi. Remember that?"

Naruto's jaw clenched. Anger slipped onto his face for a fraction of a second, then melted away into weariness. "You know this won't end well," he said softly.

The other man's face turned serious as well and the two of them stared at each other with identical expressions. The double tore his gaze away and looked back at the statue. "You don't know everything, despite what you may think," he said. "And you won't know how this will end."

More soft footsteps echoed from the stairs on either side of the platform. Naruto couldn't see anyone yet, but he guessed at least a dozen people approached, maybe more. Beside him the double straightened and placed his hands at the small of his back in a parade rest position. Naruto snorted, then looked up at the Gedō Statue as well.

"'Even the immortal can die'," he muttered to himself. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back against the pole. Any hope of getting out of this flickered in his chest like a candle in the wind, then spluttered and went out. "I guess today is a good a day as any for it."

Despite not being able to see him, Naruto knew his double smiled again. "Talk about a flare for the dramatic."

A whoosh of air swept through the chamber as most of the newcomers launched themselves across the chasm. Through lidded eyes, Naruto watched them land on the Gedō Statue and perch on its fingertips. The remaining spectators spread out behind him and his double stepped back to join them. Someone perched on top of the statue's head as well and they began speaking, but their voice didn't carry to Naruto's ears.

Chakra started to gather, faint at first, but soon enough of it built up to electrify the air of the chamber, making it heavy and tense with latent power. It grew and grew as the figures on the statue's hands glowed with condensed energy and visible chakra cloaks formed around them. Every hair on Naruto's body stood on end and goose bumps rose on his skin. Just as the air got thick enough to give him trouble breathing, the power rose sharply to a crescendo and chakra exploded from the Gedō Statue's open mouth. The nine twisting ropes of compressed chakra shot out and coiled through the air, then darted past the statue's hands and straight for Naruto with a deafening rumble akin to an avalanche.

Naruto strained against his chains and roared right back, baring his teeth in an animalistic howl of defiance. The chakra ropes converged together and barreled into him with the force of a freighter, sinking into every pore on his body and into every cell in his body, filling up every inch of him and setting it all on fire until he was sure he was about to burst into a million pieces.

It felt like hot knives pierced his flesh as the chakra dug into and latched onto the seal on his abdomen. It pulled and pulled and then with a great tear it ripped Kurama's chakra out and dragged it out through his tenketsu. Naruto's head bashed against the pole behind him as he screamed his throat raw. Each millisecond was agony on top of agony, as though every wound he'd even received was being inflicted on each cell of his body again and again and again until there remained. Kurama's chakra flared hotly and invisible claws dugs into his own chakra system, scrabbling desperately for purchase as it tried to hold on. With a last lurch it yanked free and a cold darkness unlike anything Naruto had ever known wrapped around him and took its place.

A massive empty hole opened inside Naruto, like his ribcage had been torn open and his soul ripped out. His heart spluttered and skipped, attempting to pump more blood through his veins as the cold seeped in further. A roar still echoed in Naruto's ears even though only choked sounds escaped his throat. His limbs went numb as the cold crept through his body. The darkness ate him alive and he couldn't…couldn't…

Naruto's mind beat desperately against the cold overtaking him, trying frantically to hold on to something, anything, but it all faded around him as his vision dimmed. The last thing he saw was the final eye of the Gedō Statue crack open and all nine eyes moving and focusing down upon him.

With a final wobbling shudder, Naruto's heart stopped beating.

o-O-o

A/N: First and foremost, be aware this is going to be an action/adventure and slightly sci-fi story. I want to do something with Naruto that hasn't been done before, something other than the usual struggles with Akatsuki and Madara. This story will span the entire shinobi continent and delve centuries into the past. It's going to involve shinobi and samurai and daimyo and tailed beasts, and I'm having a hell of a time writing it.

Happy reading!

-SR

Memento mori - "Remember your mortality"