AN: I'm back. Been busy.
-Four Years Later-
Day after day,
The pain never stops,
It is doled out in generous amounts,
And I receive it with grateful expression.
My world is a cell,
In which an eternal dark pervades,
There is no light,
Only twisted happiness and joy.
I empty my bowels,
Where I am chained to,
There is no escape from the filth,
Nor the stench which permeates.
I can hear the buzz of flies now,
Harbingers of Death,
But my friends keep them at bay,
And I understand that even death knows its limits.
From inside my world,
Except keening wails,
Raised in exalted praise for inflicted hurt.
I can hear from outside,
A similar wailing not unlike mine own,
And cries that chill me to the bone.
I cannot feel by the end of the sessions,
I am numb to the core, as if it were winter,
But always they would come at me with glowing hands,
Re-knitting, restoring, such that I might experience pain anew.
My friends give me sustenance,
Because I know they care,
They care so much they would not allow me to succumb,
Because they love me, and I love them.
I lost count of time,
And so I start again.
With ragged breath, I concentrate through the pain.
It's been only an hour.
Why does it feel like four years?
-Thoughts Of Naruto Uzumaki
"Ey' what do we ave' there?"
"Just a few women. We gon' enjoy them tonight!"
It was a beautiful morning, the type that creeps up onto you and leaves you none the wiser. The sky was cloudless, and the sun hung high in the sky, shining merrily. Bright rays shone down upon the tips of the trees, lighting them up in a radiant green.
Hidden underneath the thick canopy was a band of men, laughing heartily and chugging alcohol; many of them were drunk out of their minds, never mind that dawn had come not two hours past.
A short pudgy man held on to the end of a chain, tugging impatiently on it as he made his way to the cages.
Following behind him was a column of women; their hands were tied together and a metal ring was cuffed around each of their necks. They were completely naked, and many sported vicious bruises and small cuts. Their eyes were downcast and lifeless; many of them were resigned to their fate: they would be used as tools for pleasure, and then they would be slaughtered like cattle. They stumbled and occasionally groaned, but were otherwise subdued.
A beautiful day indeed, with a bountiful harvest to keep the men busy.
Or at least it was supposed to be. The tranquillity of the morning and the merrymaking of the bandits were cut short by the arrival of a man.
His skin was bronzed and his frame was heavily muscled; his hair was white, combed back neatly to prevent it from getting into his eyes. His cheekbones were pronounced, and his face sported defined tear troughs. Thick corded veins bulged out from his exposed forearms, testament to his immense strength. He had the body of a trained fighter, and had the scars to prove it.
His mouth was set into a grim line promising death to those before him. Ebony pupils glared, unflinching at the filth he had been called to eliminate.
Then he spoke, his voice a deep angry grumble, "Hello, kind sirs. I take it you have had a good morning?"
A particularly foolish bandit dared to approach him, stuttering and afraid, "Y-yes... v-very good morning to you. W-we would appreciate it if you l-left us alone to enjoy our breakfast..."
The giant sauntered forth, putting his hand on the man's head and drawing him up to meet his eyes. Fiery eyes met fearful orbs, and the bandit trembled, his legs dangling helplessly in the air.
"Do you want me to crush your brains out and hang you by your guts? Or maybe I could use your intestines as rope. Good rope is hard to come by after all." The man snarled.
The bandit blubbered in fear, and soon a pungent stench assailed the nostrils of all those in the camp.
"Fuck no. You did not just shit yourself. I guess I'm really going to have to rip out your intestines..." The man spat disgustedly, his eyes roaming to the other cowering bandits. Already, many were on their knees, pleading for him to spare their lives; they knew too well that none survived the tender mercies of Kumo ninja.
Grunting, the giant raised his voice, "Listen up. You will let the captured civilian women go, and you will get out of my sight immediately. If I still see you in three seconds, I will visit horrors upon you, horrors so terrifying you will wish you were sent straight to the afterlife."
As the cowardly men scrambled away screaming hysterically, the man smashed the skull of the bandit in his hand into the ground, knocking him out but not killing him.
Sighing, the man trudged over to the sobbing women, unshackling them and setting them free.
Why do I even bother giving them a chance... if they sent any other ninja, these bandits would surely be dead by now.
Sighing yet again, the giant began to lead the women out of the camp and back toward the village of Kumogakure. The women were still fearful; who was this man? Did they simply trade one fickle master for another?
The man could feel the fear rolling off them, and decided to lighten the mood as best he could. Adopting a cheerful tone starkly contrasting with the terrifying demeanour he used to scare the bandits off, he said, "Hey, I'm leading you back to the village; you'll definitely be safe there!"
Grinning, he gave them a thumbs up.
The women only huddled closer together, keeping their distance.
Before he could try again, a dark shadow materialised in front of him. Her figure was decidedly feminine, and she stood shrouded completely in a black cloak. In her hand was grasped tightly a curved sword, drenched completely in dripping red liquid.
She raised her head slightly, such that her dim blue eyes were visible through the shadows of her hood.
"You let them go again, A. I thought you would have learnt by now." She spoke, her icy tone taking on an irritable edge.
"I could not bring myself to kill them, Samui-san. We are jounin after all; are we so pathetic as to kill those so much weaker than us?" A replied unflinchingly.
"That is why you are weak. It is clear you have not come to terms with that incident yet. Those men captured these pitiful creatures you see before you; they have undoubtedly defiled and murdered many more. You think letting them live is a mercy? You curse other with your weakness!" She growled, visibly seething. "I have enough of your incompetence. I have disposed of them all myself."
A could do nothing but follow the cloaked woman down the beaten path, beckoning for the still-nude women to follow. He winced at the woman's harsh words, but could scarcely dispute their credibility. Yes, he was A, an established jounin; famed for his strength... and his unwillingness to kill. For that, he was shunned and seen as weak, and he was even barred from taking a genin team for fear of corrupting the younger generation with his warped values. What ninja in their right mind would refrain from killing? It was their profession, and for some, their nature.
But no matter what, A could not take life with impunity. He had killed before, of course, but he hated the guilt that came with it, hated taking the most precious thing in the world from someone else.
He was soft. He did not deny that. If there was one thing in the world he could not bear to do, it would be to watch on as the life bled from the eyes of others.
-The Raikage's Office-
It has been four years. Four years too long.
The Third Raikage sat in his seat, looking out the window, internally raging at the circumstances. The past years had seen the economy of Kumo flourish; the village's coffers were the fullest that it had ever been. Ever since their defeat of Konoha, and the subsequent defaming of their prowess, Kumo had enjoyed a period of prosperity unlike any other.
Still, it was not enough. It was never enough.
Over the years, his sickness had gone worse. Now, he could barely appear publically for fear of showing his weakness.
All of a sudden, a coughing fit overtook him. He spent an entire minute hacking and weezing into his hand, before finally getting back his breath. Looking down, he saw specks of blood in his outstretched palm.
The jinchuriki is not broken yet. Why?
I need his power! I can heal myself with it! I could destroy every enemy ninja in the world with it!
Damn it, why doesn't he just break!
Absorbed in his delirious thoughts, he got to his feet dazedly, stretching his legs and peering out the window of his office. He looked over the village.
This is my village. All it is now is because of me, because of my sacrifice. Without me, it is nothing.
The jinchuriki's mind is not broken yet. They told me it would be quick. But no progress has been made.
I cannot die. There was a time I accepted my fate, but without me, Kumogakure will fall. I must live, live to see Kumo rise even higher.
I need its power. The only way to do that is to break his mind, to force him to obey my undying will. The only safe way to extract the demon is to make him release it himself; only then can I put the beast inside myself. The greatest seal masters of Kumo have been ready for the day for years, yet still the torture seems to have failed.
What am I missing?
Just then, two ninja came into his office, bowing respectfully and addressing him, "You called, Raikage-sama?"
The tell-tale quiver of their voices betrayed their fear to their leader.
Not bothering to face the two, the Raikage growled out, "The jinchuriki." His tone was deep and dark, and threatened death should he receive an unsatisfactory answer.
Stuttering helplessly, the one-armed ninja quickly spoke, "W-we have tried our hardest Raikage-sama, but nothing works! He is truly unbreakable!"
Calmly, the Kumo leader rose, walking over to the two cowering men.
"You are relieved from your jobs. It has been four years, four years too long." he intoned. With that, he swung his hand at the men, the edge of his palm aimed at their necks. One by one, their heads fell to the floor, an expression of shock forever etched on their faces, their bodies thumping to the ground seconds after.
Without a second glance, he strode out of the room, toward the prison block.
A walked through the streets, his large frame dwarfing all in his path. He put one foot in front of the other, not bothering to see where he was going. In his mind, he absorbed himself in his own quiet contemplation, mentally blocking out the hustle and bustle of the village.
He did not have to see to know the people whom he crossed. There was Takako, the old fortune-telling oracle, there was Tsubame, the pretty young waitress, rushing to work, and many more. He had walked down the very road countless times, and any time of the day, and knew in his mind's eye what was happening around him.
Still, there was always that faint feeling that wallowed at the edges of his heart. Something felt wrong. This feeling of wrongness, ironically, became the norm for A, but still, he could not fully discount the fact that it was there, and that it had been there for four years.
Beneath every smile, underneath every laugh, there ran an undercurrent of unease, present in every single member of the village. From the young ninja students, to the most wizened of elders, nobody was exempt.
What was more disturbing was that he knew the reason for the unease. The Academy children no longer played openly, the youths no longer seemed in their prime and madly in love.
Because according to their dear leader, 'sentimentality is destructive', 'the only real happiness is your village's success' and more recently, 'my word is law'.
The Raikage ruled with an iron fist, crushing any opposition with brutal efficiency. The children were indoctrinated, told their only father was the Raikage, their only mother the village. They must work for its betterment, or die. Their lives belonged to the village, that fact was never disputed.
Women existed only to breed men, to give birth to soldiers of undying loyalty; kunoichi were few and far between, and Samui was the only one A knew to never have borne children in her life. As the thought crossed his mind, he shuddered; Samui had always made his skin crawl, and it was not only because of her fame as a Torture squad member. Her bloodthirsty and cruel methods was unmatched by all except the best, and even against those she could hold her own.
Under the rule of the Raikage, everything was geared toward economic and military success; laughter and play was prohibited, because it was not productive. But A could see the truth for what it really was. The social growth of the people was stunted, the values of the children warped; the Raikage had, in fostering the birth of a personality cult, forever immortalised himself in the hearts and minds of the next generation.
And neither was his godhood disputed, or his weakness considered for that matter. To feed his eternal ego, great looming statues were erected all over the Village Hidden in the Clouds, a testament to his prowess and perfection.
A reached the South edge of the village, and leapt to the top of a rocky outcropping. Here was his personal spot, the place he came to whenever he was free and had to mull over something.
We are not so different from those we claim to detest after all. The way of the ninja is darkness and dishonour, but it holds deeper meaning than that, or at least it used to. There was a time when being a ninja meant being free, free from the tenets and laws of the faceless autocracy of the Government. But now I see we are the same as the samurai; we used to ridicule them for worshipping the emperor, the Shogun, as a god, but yet here our own leader claims to be one, and nobody dares to oppose him.
Ever since the Night of Blood, the night demons rained down upon the Land of Fire as we shinobi besieged Konoha from all sides, everything had changed.
Absolute power does corrupt absolutely, after all.
-The Prison Blocks-
The sounds of his ragged breathing echoed through the dark room; a string of saliva was attached to his parched lips, connecting to the ground.
To a normal man, the stench in the room would be unbearable; to Naruto, who had hung here for god knows how long, it was the air he breathed in, the air he savoured because the smell reminded him he was still alive.
Metal chains restrained him to the wall; two bands cuffed his wrists to the dark cement wall, another two, his ankles. A final length of metal bound him along his midsection, so that he might never have a chance of escape.
Even if he did, he mused sordidly, he doubted he would have enough strength to stand. The metal had long ceased to chafe his skin, and it seemed as though it had become a part of him.
How long before the next session? I doubt they could do any worse than before...
He felt hungry. He always did. Vaguely, he wondered when his next meal would come, never mind that the bread he ate was usually rotting and infested with maggots. His captors usually starved him until it was unbearable, but he knew they would never really let him die.
Even the torture they put him through was followed by a quick bout of healing. More often than not, they would nearly kill him with their ministrations, but would always resurrect him from the verge of death.
I wonder, when will Jubei and Kitano arrive? They don't usually let me rest for more than a day...
Sighing, he found himself almost missing the company of his torturers. They were good friends after all, friends that provided him with the hate and anger needed to survive. Every time they drove the sharpened knives and sticks into him he imagined doing the same to them, savouring their screams and inebriating himself on their blood.
It was then that he sensed the entrance of a familiar presence. The aura it exuded was not the mellow, comforting warmth of his torturer companions; instead, it was calm, reserved and not in the least ostentatious.
"You're not Kitano... Haa... Haa... You're not Jubei... Haa... Hahahaha!" Naruto laughed hysterically.
"They are dead." a voice said, tonelessly.
"I'm shocked! I figured... You would have gotten rid of them after the first month... So why have you visited me, old man?" Naruto tittered.
A momentary silence followed Naruto's emission.
Then the voice spoke again, "I am amazed. Your mental constitution is truly one of a kind. Still, you are an Uzumaki... you possess the same unbreakable spirit and unrelenting will."
Changing his expression at the bat of an eyelid, Naruto suddenly snarled, "It's not as if I have any other choice. This is my home; I live here, I eat here... I even shit and piss here. You are trying to move an immovable object here old man... Not even the damned mind-walker you brought here last time could break me..."
"Ahh... Kenzo was the best interrogator we had. A pity he went mad trying to force the secrets from your mind."
The man stepped closer to Naruto, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the filth accumulated on the floor. "You are mistaken Uzumaki. You are not immovable. And if I cannot get the power of the Kyubi from you this way, I shall tear it away by other means. Your new partner will arrive shortly; I do hope she treats you well."
As the hulking man made to exit swiftly, Naruto spoke again, this time barely raising his voice above a whisper.
"You're dying aren't you?"
The giant stopped in his tracks.
"I can smell the cloying stench of blood, your blood. Ha! You, who tout yourself as a god, now face the prospect of death... how ironic. I can see your desperation, the futile struggling of a drowning man clutching at straws." Naruto continued. "It is hopeless, my friend: your death is inevitable. I said this before, so will I say this again. I do not house the Kyubi, not anymore."
The Raikage smashed a fist into his chest, cracking bone, forcing Naruto to look him in the eye.
Blue cerulean eyes met twin pools of black; an expression of pure rage was etched onto the face of the dark man.
"Lies" was all he growled out, before disappearing in the blink of an eye.
It was night. The full moon hung high in the sky, casting its soft rays over the village of Kumogakure.
A watched the sky motionlessly from his perch, silently guarding the small structure he sat on top of.
Guard duty at the prison block sure is boring...
Perhaps it's time to make my rounds?
Stifling a yawn, the heavily muscled man leapt from the roof down to the floor. To the inexperienced, the structure looked little bigger than the exterior of a small hovel, two metres tall and ten metres wide. But A knew better; inside the door was a stairway down into the deepest and darkest pit of filth in Kumo.
The murderers, the rapists, the prisoners, the traitors, be they ninja or bandit, if they were not executed immediately, were sent here to be incarcerated. A stood before the only entrance into the prison, mentally preparing himself for the plunge into madness.
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and stepped into the room, closing and locking the door behind him; it would not do for any prisoner to escape, not even at the cost of his own life. Grasping a torch from the torch sconce upon the wall, he descended the spiralling stairway, deep into the underground.
It would be another minute before he could discern the moans. One could only marvel at how the glorious symphony flowed around the dank corridors like putrid water. The flickering light seemed like sorcerous fire, casting long shadows upon the stone walls.
A shivered; he always hated the moans. The warped sounds encompassed the entire dungeon, seeping into his flesh and corrupting his soul.
He reached the first level. Here, the more ordinary prisoners were kept; many were poor civilians and rebellious peasants. Some of them were simply caught flouting some obscure law the Raikage had passed, and were subsequently apprehended by his personal militia, a personal army of ninja loyal only to him.
The first level housed the most 'criminals' in the prison blocks, and it spanned hundreds of metres from wall to wall. Hundreds of prisoners groaned and looked at him with pleading eyes, reaching out to him and softly begging.
"No more pain... please..."
"Someone save me... I want to go back home..."
A steeled his heart and passed back to the main staircase, torch held high, as if to banish the shadows before him. But the darkness was ever encroaching, and would linger long after he passed.
He descended once more, reaching the second level. Here, the ninja prisoners were kept. Chakra suppressing metal was infused into everything from the shackles of the prisoners to the bars of the numerous prison cells. The scent of blood was strong here, for it was at this level that the Torture and Interrogation squad spent the most time, tirelessly beating confessions and red fluid out of the criminals.
A sudden scream echoed out, causing A to flinch.
Looks like the Torture unit is still at it...
After a quick check of the locks, and a few exchanged pleasantries with the torture specialists, A once again descended.
The third level was the deepest level A had clearance to enter. He had to unlock two metal doors on his way down before he could even step into the gloomy, torch-lit space. It was here that the most dangerous of Kumo's enemies were housed. Every ninja here was kept in a permanent semi-conscious state, to be woken up by the mind-walkers in the Torture squad only to be tortured, or to be executed. Ninja interred here rarely if ever stayed for more than a week; most of them died, either from the pain, or were executed.
As usual, A ran checks upon all the criminals, fifteen in the entire level.
It must almost be the end of my shift... I've probably been here for five hours already...
Slowly, A made his way back to the staircase, mentally giving thanks for finally being able to leave this accursed place.
He was just about to leave when a wailing sound reached his ears. Just as soon as it came, it disappeared, as if it were quickly stifled.
Curiosity welled up within A, and he decided to investigate it.
Slowly, he made his way pass the sedated ninja prisoners, until he stood before a door opposite. Putting his ear upon the surface of the metal portal, A could pick out an incessant sobbing sound coming from the other side.
I can't go in there... I don't have clearance.
But the sobbing continued. Finally, A could take it no longer. Deciding to satisfy his curiosity, A broke the seal upon the door, descending once more into the darkness.
The sobbing sounds grew increasingly louder, until A reached a small room. This was the deepest he had ever been, and he could only make out two cells in the shadows. Raising his torch, A saw that the sobbing sounds emanated from one of the cells; he gasped as the light penetrated the cell, showing a chained and almost-naked woman crying. Then, she saw him, and suddenly cringed, stifling her cries immediately.
The first thing A noticed was the massive stench that seemed to permeate the entire room; he looked into the cell, and saw the reason for the pungent smell - coagulated filth and brown stains covered the floor, causing the man to wrinkle his nose in disgust.
The woman was a blond, with the saddest black eyes A had ever seen; it was the eyes of a person who had seen too much horror in her lifetime. She looked at the giant with fearful eyes, trying her best to cower while shackled by over-sized chakra suppressing chains.
A simply looked back with sad eyes. He knew who this was - the jinchuriki of the Nibi.
She is a beast... nothing more... that's what the Raikage always says...
Fuck the Raikage. A never believed in him anyway; he knew the man was a power-hungry demon, and that he would destroy all traces of freedom to feed his own massive ego. Still, he could not completely defeat the superstitious fear that rose within him even as he looked at the too-thin body of the jinchuriki.
Finally, he could take no more. Without looking back, A raced out of the accursed place, grateful to escape the stifling filth.
-An Indefinite Amount of Time Later, The Prison Blocks-
The familiar creak of the rusted iron portal alerted Naruto to the arrival of a guest. He raised his head, eyes focussing upon the woman that entered. The years in the dark had made his eyes sensitive, such that he had unnaturally keen night-vision.
Naruto sniffed the air, and then licked his lips. A change in company always did him good, especially when the guest was particularly bloodthirsty. All it served was to illustrate just how much pain he could endure. Who knows, he might even drive her insane by his lack of cooperation.
He giggled slightly as the thought occurred to him, bringing the woman to a stop.
Then he fell silent, and the two engaged in a staring match, neither willing to speak.
One minute turned to two, and then to five.
Finally, Naruto could take it no longer; he hissed at the woman and strained at his shackles in an attempt to elicit a reaction.
"Calm down. My name is Samui, and I'm not here to hurt you." The woman whispered, moving closer while she did so. "I've heard… much of you from my colleagues."
"Playing mind games huh? Won't work on me. Just shut up and stick some hot pins in me." Naruto growled.
"Oh, that will come later."
It would be another week before A returned to the prison. Again, he could not help but be drawn to the same chamber. Again, the woman was crying, and A was beginning to wonder whether she did that every night. Her tears streaked down her dirty face, dripping off her chin and onto the floor.
This time, he managed to speak. "Why do you cry?"
As before, the woman cringed, as if expecting some sort of pain to be inflicted upon her.
A would spend another hour looking at the cowering form of the woman, before leaving.
A volunteered for the prison block guard duty for the next few weeks; It was the most detested posting in the entire village, but he could never get the image of the woman out of his mind. Something drew him to her, and he was beginning to wonder if he had been bewitched.
Two nights later, he was there once more.
"Why do you not talk?"
This time, she approached the bars, looking at him with wide eyes.
"You won't even talk to me...?"
A low whining sound escaped from her throat and she pointed to her throat, shaking her head at the same time.
"You can't talk huh? But you can understand me?" A said softly, leaning down such that their faces were inches apart. The only thing separating them was the dull metal bars.
"... Are you the jinchuriki?"
She nodded slightly, clenching her eyes shut as tears welled up once more in her eyes.
That night, A stayed and talked to woman behind the bars, telling her about the world outside the prison.
When finally he exited from the prison, and breathed in the cool fresh air that contrasted so starkly with the pungent, stale air of the dungeons, he felt a pang of sadness; that woman would never get to enjoy the cool night air as he did.
They were jinchuriki after all; they were beasts, not humans.
And deep within his heart, a righteous anger was lit.
-The Raikage's Office-
I can feel their eyes on me.
My enemies, they surround me like a pack of wolves.
They are all scavengers, and I, a dragon.
I hear the bells of victory toll in my name, my figure rising high in the sky.
The Third Raikage stood, head bowed as he surveyed the village, anger brimming.
They want to destroy me and my legacy. They want to destroy my village.
A report had come in from his lieutenants, indicating the failure of several security seals around the village. Even the integrity of the seals barring all outsiders from the lower levels of the underground prison was challenged, and truly it was as if the Kumogakure was beset on all sides by dissidents.
Some cited this as indication that the rumours of a rebel army were true, and that they were trying to find some way to free the caged jinchuriki.
"Damn it!" screamed the Raikage.
Clenching his fist, he ran different scenarios within his head, trying to decide the best course of action. Finally, he sighed and reclined on his old oak chair. He had no choice but to strengthen his defences and lie in wait for concrete evidence to surface.
Then, a thought occurred to him. Smiling imperceptibly, the Raikage called for an assembly of his ninja corps.
-A Short Distance from Kumo-
The dark clouds opened the floodgates, and the torrential waters fell from the heavens. Thunder roared with unrelenting fury, shaking the earth with its mighty force.
The two peasant farmers followed the hooded figure in front of them, their eyes shadowed by their straw hats. They moved quickly, never letting their lead out of their sight. Then, the figure halted, and with it, the two men.
Fiery orbs carefully observed the village boundary, before turning their attention to the two behind and motioning for them to come forward. Obediently, they sauntered past and knelt upon the ground, eyes straining to find the tell-tale glow of the security seal. Then they pressed their hands together, muttering incomprehensible syllables before regaining their feet once more.
"It is done. The seals are disabled; of late, new batches of seals have been set up along the village perimeter, so we have no choice but to use this route for intelligence." One of the men stated in a gruff voice.
"Understood." The hooded figure answered in a feminine voice. "I thank you, brothers, for your assistance. It was no easy feat tracking you two down."
"As long as the pay is good, Samui-san." The other man answered.
"You will get your pay once this is over, not a second before." Samui said tonelessly. "In any case, I've found the perfect way to end this. We should get back and report to the elders."
Just as they turned to depart, a raucous ringing sound resounded from within the village.
"What might that be?" One of the men inquired, turning and squinting his eyes. He could just make out the shadow of a bell tower, miles in the distance. "Must be quite a bell, that we're able to hear it from here."
"An emergency assembly. You two go on ahead; tell the elders I have pressing business to attend to." Samui replied, before flitting away in the rain.
A knew something was wrong the moment the emergency bell was tolled. He fell in to the assembly courtyard with the rest of the corps, wondering what might be happening.
High above the courtyard, the Raikage sat, motionless and regal as ever. More ninja appeared, seemingly materialising out of thin air; A glanced around quickly, only to notice that there were some ninja he was not acquainted with.
It's not possible that they're all new recruits. Something is definitely afoot.
The minutes passed by in silence, the only evidence of human presence being the numerous grey-cloaked figures standing stock-still in the packed courtyard. Not a single sound was uttered, and it was almost as if the congregation of men and women were lifeless husks.
Finally, the Raikage stood, his cloak billowing in the wind. He spoke quickly, not bothering to raise his voice at the silent assembly, "You warriors of the shadow are called here today to receive my command; make no mistake – any dissidence will be punished swiftly and severely. What is required from you is simple: purge every traitor from Kumo land. You will scour the outskirts of the village, from the border to the hinterlands; but do not harm the crops. Dispose of the rebellious peasants and seize the land for redistribution."
A could see that many of his comrades were surprised. They uttered not a word, but the subtle shifts in their posture betrayed their thoughts. A younger ninja wearing the sleeveless gray vest of the Kumo chunin hit his left breast, drawing all eyes to him.
"How will we recognise the traitors from those loyal to the village?" he asked, voice clear for all to hear.
The Raikage appeared to ponder upon it for a moment, before replying in the same nonchalant tone. "You will not know. Kill them all."
With a small burst of electricity, he melted into the wind.
Seconds later, the courtyard was empty.
-The Prison Blocks-
Damn it! She's deceiving me into letting my guard down, but it won't work!
Ever since his torturers were replaced by the blonde, Samui, he had not been tortured even once. The 'torture sessions' were in fact sessions in which the woman sat beside him in that rusty iron stool, talking to him about the world outside. No matter how much he railed and cursed the woman, she would just brush him off and say cryptically, "I do not deserve your anger, but there are others that do."
Naruto's skin was itchy. It itched with the need to feel pain, to experience that same delightful sensation of hot metal pressed onto his skin. Time here was meaningless, and night melded with day. There was only torture, and recovery, and the timeless existence had never before seen a shortage of pain.
But today… today. His body screamed out for pain; he needed to feed the addiction he had, to gift his body with that familiar sensation that was deprived him. He wanted, he needed, to be tortured.
He growled softly, as he often did before, allowing his drool to dribble to the floor; as he did so, Naruto played the last session he had with Samui over and over again in his head.
-Some Time Before-
"You're quite an obedient prisoner aren't you?" The cold voice mocked him.
Naruto raised his head, but chose to remain silent.
"Are you content to be here, abandoned by your own village, wallowing in filth?" she goaded.
"You act as if I have a choice. These chains are unbreakable by any standards."
"I could… free you I suppose." She whispered.
At this, an uncontrollable anger took hold of Naruto's senses, and he balked and struggled against his shackles. "Stop playing with me, woman! I swear, if I ever get out of here, I'll flay the flesh from your bones!"
Samui recoiled slightly, but held her ground. She then spoke again, but this time her tone was hard and serious, "You misunderstand me. I am not your enemy. You know who your true enemy is, it is the bastard who sits on his throne lording over us, killing innocents, killing children, killing family! Don't you under-"
"Shut up! I know what kind of game you're playing! You're trying to deceive me, but it won't work! The Raikage trusted you personally for this job, and there's no way I'm ever going to surrender to your methods!" railed Naruto deliriously.
Samui lunged forward and punched Naruto straight in the jaw, sending his vision spinning. "Quiet! Your own brethren lie caged like beasts and animals, while the entire populace of Kumo suffers from the reign of a madman! He kills indiscriminately, and even we, we who fight for freedom must do so carefully, lest our families suffer his wrath!"
She took a breath, attempting to calm herself. Naruto was speechless; it was certain to him that there was more to her that met the eye.
"… 'my own brethren'… do you mean the other jinchuriki? I've told you and those before you so many times that I don't have it…"
"My own family died at his hands." Whispered Samui bitterly. "I've been forced to sully my hands with the blood of friends, all to gain his trust; I'm sick of it. There is, even now, an elaborate network of rebels hiding and waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike. A group I am proud to support. Just imagine, with your help and the help of your own abused kin, we could easily overpower him! You could return home in a fortnight!"
'I see what this is now.' Naruto thought. 'This could be my chance at freedom!'
Naruto furrowed his brows in a show of carefully deliberating Samui's words. He cared not for the other imprisoned jinchuriki, for he was no longer one himself; but now he could see the first opportunity at freedom! He had to play his cards right if he wanted to escape his accursed cell.
After a long pause, Naruto voiced, "So… you are an ally?"
"If you want me to be." Samui answered, unnaturally sullen.
"I see… then I will help you, no matter the cost. If taking the Raikage's head off his shoulders is your goal, then I see no reason why I cannot assist you in this… endeavour. Free me immediately, and I'll see what I can do." Naruto said.
Samui hesitated the merest fraction of a second, as if surprised at Naruto's sudden acquiesce. Slowly, she drew closer, her hand upon the hilt of her sheathed katana, readying herself to finally free Naruto from his chains.
Naruto almost gibbered in excitement, a wave of delight washing over him; he would be free!
Then the blonde woman halted mid-step and walked calmly out of the cell.
"…huh?" Naruto blinked. He looked around, but could see no signs of the woman. "Damn it! Whether her story is true or not, I'll kill her when I get out of here!"
Inwardly seething, Naruto had no choice but to amuse himself playing out scenarios where he skinned the cold woman alive in his head.
Naruto sighed. He knew he might never have the chance to see daylight once more. He thought back to before he was imprisoned, and he smiled slightly. It was one of those rare occasions when he was visited by happy visions of the past, visions of him talking, always talking, with the wizened old village leader – the Hokage.
'I wonder how he's doing now…' Naruto thought. 'Oh wait, he's dead. Ah wait, then there's Hinata. Hmmm? Who is Hinata?'
Naruto had the vague feeling he was missing out on something important, but he could not remember a face to go along with the name. In fact, the only faces he remembered were those of the old Hokage, a white-haired man he could only remember as Jiraiya and the familiar sadistic faces of his old torturers.
Just as he was mulling over the past, the iron door burst open, startling him slightly. He raised his head to see Samui walking coolly towards him, and sighed.
"More talking?" Naruto drawled lazily.
Then he noticed the woman seemed a stiffer than before. Her face was expressionless, as ever, but it held the tiniest hints of a frown.
"No more talking; but I still have to reaffirm one thing: will you fight by our side, fight on the side of righteousness?" Samui said, her tone serious.
Faced with the prospect of freedom yet again, Naruto could not help but nod enthusiastically, his mood and demeanour changing drastically. "Y-yes! I'll fight with you! I'll cut off the Raikage's head just for you! I'll slaughter their entire army!"
"Then before I free you, listen to what I have to say. It seems that for all our attempts at espionage the Raikage has found out about our insurgent operations. We have no more time to build our forces, because even now the Raikage has ordered the mass extermination of all the peasants in the countryside! The others may not have noticed, but the Raikage also mixed his personal guard in with the main bulk of ninja corps members, so that they might execute any ninja not obeying his direct orders. Even now, he sits in his office, surrounded only by his most trusted soldiers; if we strike while his back is turned, we could eliminate him quickly and efficiently, without anyone knowing."
Naruto was rather flattered that Samui thought of his power so highly, but then again, she thought he was a jinchuriki. He knew himself that he would barely have the energy to stand after being confined for so long, but he refrained from voicing his opinions.
"Understood. Now free me." He implored.
With a yell, the blonde woman swung her katana so swiftly that the giant chakra-suppressing chains were sliced completely through.
Naruto dropped limply onto the filthy ground, and never was he so happy to touch the ground. He raised his head and looked at the broken shackles that had held him for so long; then he looked at his rescuer, the woman who had freed his body from bondage.
Naruto clawed in the filth desperately, trying to get to his feet, but he found the years had not been kind to his muscles; they had atrophied, and were all but useless. Not only that, every small movement he made sent jolts of pain through his small body, and it felt as if his bones were breaking apart.
They had been broken so many times that they could never be healed.
But Naruto would never be denied, not with freedom finally in his grasp. After years of being confined by the chakra-suppressing shackles, he finally felt free to use his power. Scrabbling to his knees, he screamed a scream of pain and ecstasy as the familiar blood-red chains burst from his back, like the leeches bursting from the rotted sinews of plague-filled carcasses. His chains reached out and raised him into the air, spiralling out like the blooming petals of a lotus, and Naruto laughed delightfully.
With a single thought, he willed his chains to be his limbs to carry him, willed them to carry his burdensome body. Then he looked at the awestruck Samui and grinned.
"Ha! I'm free! FINALLY!" Naruto yelled raucously.
"O-okay… we have to get to the Raikage's office imm- AGH!" Samui grunted as Naruto wrapped his chains around the struggling woman.
"Wait, what are you doing!?" Samui screamed.
Naruto relished the feeling of power that had for so long been denied him. The years had taken a toll on him, but his mental faculty remained strong and unyielding; for years the hammers of torture beat down upon his unbreakable determination and indomitable will, tempering it, even warping it. He was stronger now, but changed.
With a gesture he willed his chains to throw Samui into a wall, smashing through it. Then, he plunged a single one of his chakra appendages straight through her gut.
By now, he was feeling the insatiable urge to kill his tormenters rise.
"Fear not. I will kill the Raikage by any means possible." Naruto growled.
Then he roared with such guttural fury that the walls reverberated with terrifying intensity. "It will be a bloody night! I'll kill anything in my path!"
Leaving the sputtering, bleeding woman in his wake, Naruto ripped his way out of the prison.
AN: Please review!