It had seemed to carry on forever, but finally Naruto was able to catch a breather.
He'd gotten there in the nick of time. Just when it seemed that the three of them were about to finish the man responsible for this war, the very person he had claimed to be appeared on the battlefield. It had come as a shock to Naruto to learn that his sensei's not so dead friend was actually alive and kicking, which was natural considering the state his sensei had claimed to last saw him in. If it weren't for the fact that he was partly responsible for all the atrocities in the ninja world, Kakashi would've been ecstatic, but the hatred and malice that was directed at him caused Naruto to wonder if this really was just some cruel twist of fate, not counting the alliance he supposedly had with a man considered to be his ancestor.
Damn that Curse of Hatred.
With his body slowly reforming, Naruto sighed. This fight was getting nowhere. They were already worn out, and they were past their limits. Until he's sealed, there would be no stopping Madara's continuous regeneration even if his body had been reduced to nothing but dust in the wind. He would always come back, rejuvenated. Naruto looked at his fellow Leaf ninja, seeing the beads of sweat trickle down their brow before shifting his gaze over to Tobi. Madara may be seemingly unscathed, but he couldn't say the same for him...
"I take it that you're still up for another round, Kakashi-sensei?" Naruto queried.
"We both know that's a lie, Naruto. I've already spent too much of my chakra..." Kakashi panted, blood pooling on the edge of his Sharingan eye while his remaining vision stayed glued on the two Uchiha. Using Kamui in quick successions had taken a huge toll on his chakra reserves; it was getting to the point where he could barely keep his normal Sharingan active, more so use jutsu. In fact he was surprised that he was still able to support himself even with his arm slung over Guy's shoulder.
It was times like these when Kakashi missed his self-proclaimed rival's exuberant bouts of youth.
Guy sighed for what felt like the last time. It was hard to accept, as it was against his philosophy, but it was plain that they were only delaying the inevitable, and this time, a loss meant there was no going back. There was nothing more that they could do. They're hopes of winning were basically non-existent. They had used every strategy they could think of, took advantage of every loophole and weakness in their opponents jutsus but it still wasn't enough. They had even managed to defeat Tobi and discover the connection between his intangibility and Kakashi's Kamui, and would've finished him off hadn't the medical properties of Hashirama's cells restored him to full health.
"Naruto-kun, things aren't looking too good. If we don't finish this soon..." Guy knew that even a retreat was impossible. It was win or die trying.
"I know," Naruto replied. "We're carrying everyone's hopes here. We can't lose." It was troublesome enough they basically had to fight an immortal Uchiha, but Tobi as well? It was like death itself refused to allow them peace from their warrior history. The Uchiha never really stayed dead. Somehow, they always find ways of coming back to life.
"If only we still had B, but would it make a difference?" Kakashi doubted that any shinobi alive would be a possible match for him. Madara was reputed as second only to Hashirama during his era, and since he now holds both the former Hokage's abilities and the Rinnegan, without his enhancements from the Edo Tensei he was easily the most powerful shinobi in the world. Kakashi was sure that even if the five Kages had appeared, their situation wouldn't see much improvement nor would the tide of battle turn in their favour.
And with the tone he used when Naruto asked him of their fate, he would be surprised if they were even still breathing.
'I don't think even the Third in his prime would be able to fight him on his own.'
It was unlike him to think of the negative, but there wasn't much positive to dwell on.
"Hmm, interesting. I'll admit that last attack of yours did sting a little. But I wonder if you'll be able to do it again..."
Instantly their attentions returned to the infamous shinobi, the source of their ire. Madara stood smirking, his arms crossed in what they noticed was his way of displaying his arrogance. There was not a scratch on him.
"How long before you realize you've already lost? You're moves are becoming predictable, and my patience is growing thin. I've already memorised your habits in battle. Would you like to know that your current Kages proved a more suitable test for my abilities?" Madara mocked.
Naruto found himself gritting his teeth and curling his hands into fists. So this entire time he was merely observing them? "Damn it," he cursed. "It's like he was playing with us all along."
Kakashi narrowed his eyes. If this was true, then the gap between their strength was wider than he previously thought.
"That man was foolish to revive me. Did he think he had the power to control me; that I would submit to him with no hesitation and become a tool? Foolish." Madara shook his head. "But what's done is done, and I find no more enjoyment in our game. I was surprised that you were able to survive the initial assault, but using the final form of my Susanoo again would be an insult to my power. I suppose luck runs through the veins of the current world's shinobi."
While the others stood still, too weak to move, Madara weaved his fingers through the traditional hand-seals of the Fire Release nature type and moulded superheated chakra in his stomach in what was to be his final assault, the jutsu that would end their battle and destroy the only opposition that stood in the way of his plans.
"Oh no you don't, Kakashi-sensei, get away!" Naruto sprinted across the battlefield, desperate to stop the technique before it was launched. It was possible to evade the attack, but he would only leave his comrades open to a direct hit. With the injuries they sustained, it was unlikely they would get out of the way in time, and from what he experienced from Madara's repertoire of jutsu, speed and power were what they all held.
Kakashi quickly opened his mouth to try to stop his former student, but the words were caught in his throat when the largest Fire Release jutsu he had ever witnessed was unleashed.
"Katon: Gōka Messhitsu!"
There was nothing to describe the sheer intensity of the flames, the blazing inferno sent towards the three combatants. The feeling of burning into a crisp, multiplied ten-fold, was what Naruto would've felt had he not entered Tailed Beast Mode any sooner. It was at this point – did Naruto fully understand the full extent of Madara's ungodly power. The flames, a jutsu derived from the Katon: Gōkakyū no Jutsu, were even hotter than the black flames of Itachi's Amaterasu, which were said to come straight from the darkest reaches of hell.
Maybe he was in hell...
"HAAAAAA!" Naruto roared, forcing his chakra to turn his voice into a powerful force of pressure. The shockwave clashed with the flames, overpowering the deadly jutsu and almost causing it to recoil back to Madara himself. A small smile played on Naruto's lips upon seeing Madara being thrown into a state of confusion.
"RASENGAN!" the blue orb of energy released a familiar chime, screaming like the force of an enraged storm when compressed in a tight sphere. It was a technique that had become his signature, retaining its fearsome reputation no matter how predictable it had become. It had served him well in all the battles where it had been used, and has brought victory in all except one.
There was no way that he would lose.
"Hmph, you never give up, do you? Shinra Tensei!" Madara bellowed and a blinding force of energy rippled across the rough ground, sending stones and dirt splaying in random directions. He had pumped a considerable portion of his chakra into the technique, enough that it could potentially destroy Konoha and a substantial amount of the surrounding forests outside the village, essentially placing the destructive capabilities of his version on a much larger scale than the damage Nagato had done during his invasion.
Naruto winced upon contact with the powerful jutsu. The feeling of your whole body being propelled backwards by an invisible force was not a pleasurable sensation. The repulsive force hit Naruto full-on, breaking a few of his ribs and depleting his chakra shroud.
"Ack!" Naruto spat blood from his mouth. His back had crashed into a large boulder and he swore he heard a few more of his bones break from the impact, but due to the speed that he had been flying with, Naruto was lucky that his neck or spine hadn't snapped from the initial attack.
"Huh? No, Kakashi!" Guy cried when he felt Kakashi struggle to reach his student. He gripped his shoulders hard to stop him. "You shouldn't move! Your body can't handle any more!"
"Tsk, what a foolish strategy. Many have tried and failed to attack me directly, how are you any different?" Madara said, giving a disappointed shake of his head. "I have faced many powerful foes, and our battles have always been contests of skill and cunning. Rushing in without any apparent tactics is an insult to my abilities."
"It shows that I have been too lenient and haven't given you children a proper beating."
Kakashi cringed when he watched Madara's foot plant itself into Naruto's abdomen. Blood spewed from Naruto's mouth and the boy doubled over in pain when he fell to his knees.
"Guy," Kakashi muttered. "I can't do much, but you're gonna have to do this for me..."
Guy brought his ear closer to Kakashi. "What have you got, my most youthful rival?"
"Listen, you're going to have to..." Kakashi finished, before he lifted his hand and brought it down on the back of Guy's neck, instantly knocking him out. His body fell in a crumpled heap.
"Sorry, Guy, but you weren't going to let me do this if you were still awake," Kakashi remarked, staring apologetically at his fellow jōnin. His gaze turned to Madara, immediately relinquishing any guilt he felt in exchange for a more stern expression, and without delay Kakashi unveiled his Sharingan eye before the tomoes adopted its Mangekyō Sharingan features.
"Ka—" Kakashi's eyes widened. He looked down, and saw a black rod jutting out of the middle of his torso.
"O-Obito..." Kakashi gasped, having been distracted by Madara's powerful display of jutsu. The amount of chakra Madara had used to counter Naruto masked Obito's chakra signature and caused Kakashi to fail to notice its sudden disappearance when Obito warped himself to the dimension of their Kamui.
"You and the Uzumaki fell for our trap. It was much easier to single you out when you were separated, and you made it even sweeter when you took out your own teammate, as always." Obito smirked. "The true nature of Kakashi Hatake, the Copy Ninja, you wouldn't even have the title without my Sharingan, and I intend to take it back."
Kakashi's breath hitched as the blade was pulled from his body, his flak jacket soaked with blood. "You never were a team player, Kakashi. You didn't just care about yourself, but you only acted on your own impulses. Look at you! And you think I'm a criminal, have I ever lain a hand on a subordinate? Only those who betray me or Akatsuki have felt my wrath, and I'm genuinely merciful to those who support our goals. And here you are, a shinobi of the Leaf, having no second thoughts when you eliminate your own comrades from the battle in order to allow yourself more leeway. Is this what you do? What were you thinking when you killed Rin, huh?!" Obito screamed before kicking Kakashi's cheek.
Madara, smiling slightly at Obito for performing his role successfully, faced Naruto with a victorious look on his face.
"You should have surrendered yourself; your delay has wasted the time in order to complete the revival. Nevertheless, an incomplete Ten-Tails still has enough power to be sufficient in carrying out my plan." Naruto glared at him painfully before Madara brought his foot down on Naruto's face.
"Your constant interference is the reason for our slow progress, for that you shall not have the privilege of seeing the day when this world falls into my control."
Naruto could only watch as Madara performed the seals for his execution. He bit his bloodied lip, and his face contorted in sadness from the failure he felt as the tears fell. It was over. He had truly lost, and for the first time in his life, he could do nothing but wait for death's cold embrace. He had done everything he can, given his all to defeat the person he truly hated most, but his best was not enough. It was never enough.
He had failed Konoha.
'I'm really going to die, aren't I?'