Tale of the Setting Sun
Chapter 47: "Dead Sea"
Summary of story until now (it's long…):
First arc (ch 1-7): Uzumaki Naruto was born with his mom's hair color, his dad's everything else. When he turned six, he lost control of the Nine-tails, and to control him, the Hokage had to put a Taboo seal on him that stops Naruto from ever suspecting he's a jinchūriki. While the village pariah, he starts attending the Ninja academy, and teaches himself a lot through sheer hard work and through texts. He gets put in Kakashi's team with two others, Rai and Mayu, who don't trust him. They go on a mission to Yugakure, where he first encounters Hidan. Through this experience, Mayu and Rai slowly begin to warm up to Naruto.
Second arc (ch 8-17): Chūnin exam in Sunagakure. Encounters with another jinchūriki, Fū, prompt Naruto to start fighting against the Taboo seal, an attempt that goes rather poorly as Naruto begins to experience increased headaches. During the third exam, Naruto passes out entirely, and Kakashi figures out that the seal is on him, before blocking it. Naruto faces off against Fū, and though he borrows some of the Nine-tails' chakra for the first time to use the Rasengan, he still narrowly loses. On the return journey home, Fū gets her tailed beast extracted by the Akatsuki. Naruto talks to the Hokage, gets some answers and the seal is permanently removed.
Third arc (ch 18-27): Naruto leads a bodyguard mission to Wave country, meeting Sai for the first time, and being unknowingly trailed by Kakashi. Their client is attacked on the way there, and this eventually leads to an encounter with Team Shirakumo (Sakura, Sasuke, Menma). A strange missive from the Hokage forces Naruto to make the decision to keep his team there.
Their client, Kaine, enlists the reluctant help of the Konoha ninjas in a plan to rescue the daimyō and his family from the hands of Gatō to further their cause of helping Tazuna build his bridge. Though Jiraiya joins in as well, the plan goes awry when Mayu and Tazuna get captured and it turns out Kaine was actually working for the Akatsuki.
Tobi lets Mayu escape but unfortunately, she encounters Zabuza and before she is killed, manages to send her bluebirds to Naruto.
Kakashi, racing to find his team, finds Tazuna and faces off against Zabuza. Before Kakashi can finish off Zabuza, Tobi appears and kills him.
The others clash with Hidan and Kakuzu at Gato's hideout. Shirakumo and Rai are killed but manage to incapacitate Hidan.
Naruto fights against Haku and cuts off his hand but spares him. When he returns from his fight, he finds a dying Rai and reassures him that Mayu is alive. Having lost his team, Naruto breaks down and lets the Nine-tails take over. While he is running rampant, Kakashi arrives and is able to calm Naruto down. Kakuzu abandons Hidan and runs away.
Everyone returns home. A despondent Naruto decides to leave with Jiraiya to go training.
Fourth arc (ch 28-41): Several characters are introduced, namely Haku — who is currently a refugee at the Hidden Rain; Gaara, who's as crazy and bloodthirsty as ever; Sasuke, who is growing frustrated within the confines of the Hidden Leaf; and Karin, who is being abused by her village for her special ability to heal. She runs into Naruto while she is weakened and starving, and he shows her a small act of kindness which begins her infatuation with him.
Meanwhile, Naruto receives training under Jiraiya which is namely mastering lightning release, picking up a Fox summons, and sage training. Naruto continues to struggle with immense feelings of guilt and emptiness from the loss of his team, and no longer knows what he wants to do.
After three years, they return to the Hidden Leaf, which is in the middle of hosting a chūnin exam. Haku, Gaara, and Karin are all in attendance.
Naruto is promoted to jōnin status and accompanies Hinata on an escort mission. They discover that the Akatsuki is hunting down the jinchūriki, and will be attacking the Hidden Leaf. While they rush back, Naruto is haunted by several phantoms of his past representing multiple facets of his insecurities and his lingering guilt. One of his clones transmits the knowledge that Kakashi is in grave danger, and Naruto desperately races to his help. He makes it in time to face Tobi, who expresses that they are similar. Tobi takes Kakashi's Sharingan, and disappears.
Meanwhile, the whole Hidden Sand/Sound scheme occurs similarly to canon, with Gaara on the rampage. Naruto easily takes down Gaara, who in a confused state kills Temari. Karin sees Naruto in danger and unleashes sealing chains for the first time to subjugate Gaara. In the chaos, Haku manages to sneak up on Kakashi and delivers a fatal blow. However, Karin is able to use her chakra to heal Kakashi just in time.
The Hidden Cloud is attacked by Kisame and Deidara, and Tobi seizes control of the Raikage. Killer B is captured, but Yugito manages to escape.
While Jiraiya is fighting Sasori, the Hokage is killed, and Jiraiya kills Orochimaru in retaliation.
In the aftermath, all foreign ninja are temporarily imprisoned and Danzō becomes interim Hokage because Jiraiya leaves the village. A dying Itachi staggers back to the Hidden Leaf. Though Hinata tries to help him, he is imprisoned.
Fifth arc (ch 42~):
Naruto realizes that he is being watched by Root. He breaks Karin out of her cell, and tells her that he wants to destroy the ninja system. She agrees to help him. They then break out an unconscious Gaara. Naruto's clone meets with Kakashi, who is bewildered, but informs Naruto that Karin's chains can control the Nine-tails.
In a meeting with Danzō, Itachi manages to use his crow's Kotoamatsukami on Danzō and commands him to serve the people of the Hidden Leaf. Itachi dies.
When Gaara wakes up, he flips out again and Naruto and Karin leave him behind. Yugito soon runs into Gaara.
Haku, who had been branded by Orochimaru with the cursed seal, and his team, are guided back to Rain country by Kabuto. They then encounter a young, female Akatsuki member who introduces herself as Pain.
Danzō tells Sasuke that he will teach him as his pupil.
Karin and Naruto look for someone to take them to the Hidden Whirlpool. Neji's team finds them, but Naruto defeats them and seals their memory with the Taboo seal. They find a fisherman named Yashima who agrees to take them. The journey is tumultuous and yet again, Naruto faces a phantom in the form of his old teammate, Mayu. It tries to drag him into the water, but he stabs it with his tantō. When he regains consciousness, they have reached the hidden village.
If the story is still confusing (honestly, what was my past self thinking?) I recommend you go back to at least ch 42 and re-read.
Naruto was no stranger to being at the receiving end of an inordinate number of stares, but as he lifted up Karin's unconscious body and stepped onto the dock, the experience somehow felt alien. It could probably be attributed to the fact that even though the level of scrutiny was the same, the vast majority of the staring seemed curious, rather than hostile.
Even at nighttime, the harbor was well-lit with torch lamps that brought the features of the people of the Hidden Whirlpool into shadowy relief. A quick glance told Naruto that they were not as homogenous as he might've expected; coloring ranged almost as much as one would see in the Leaf village, with perhaps a modest predilection towards red hair.
More surprisingly, the vast majority appeared to be civilians, with the few obvious shinobi concentrated near the front. They surrounded an elderly group, who, given the respectful berth from the rest, held some significance in the village.
"Is an outsider's arrival such an uncommon event here?" Naruto asked.
Yashima seemed preoccupied scanning the crowd, his cigarette conspicuously missing from his mouth, and his reply was curt: "Quite."
An elderly woman approached them, holding out a stone cup with a dark, steaming beverage. She motioned towards Karin, who'd remained resolutely unconscious. "Please, have your companion drink this. It will help wake her."
Taking the cup, Naruto regarded the woman — who smiled pleasantly back — before lifting it to his own lips to swish the liquid around in his mouth. Herbs, ginger, and something faintly sweet…
After pouring a few drops from the flask into Karin's mouth, her eyes flew open.
"What…What happened?" she asked, blinking in her disorientation. "One moment we were on the boat, and the next, I saw... I saw..." She stopped as she took in the crowd surrounding them, her eyes widening. "Is this the Hidden Whirlpool?"
"It is," said the woman kindly. "Welcome home. You are safe here, now."
"That's right," said a low, gravelly voice. "You are our brethren, for the island has accepted you."
The voice belonged to an older man who stood at the forefront of the elderly group Naruto had spotted earlier on. His long white hair and goatee suggested an age that did not quite match the visible strength in his frame and eyes, and for a moment, Naruto's thoughts flashed towards the memory of the Third Hokage.
"The island...?" Karin repeated slowly. "Then what I saw...that wasn't—?"
"Real? I'm afraid not," said the older man. "That was the effect of a seal placed around the entirety of the island, to prevent the likes of outsiders from crossing our borders." He spat out the word as though it was poison in his mouth.
"Oh," said Karin, blinking rapidly. "I knew it couldn't be..." For a moment, Naruto caught a glimpse of wetness in her eyes, but she blinked, and it was gone.
Gesturing to Karin, the woman said, "Come. You will need to rest to fully recover from the aftereffects."
Instead of following after the woman, Karin looked back at Naruto.
The older man must have noticed, for he added, "I give you my word, as the chieftain of the Hidden Whirlpool, that no harm shall come to either of you here. I'm sure you have many questions and I assure you, I have many answers."
Naruto inclined his head. "Then to start — how do you know about us?"
The older man took a step forward. "I've been waiting for you for quite some time now. My name is Uzumaki Ashina. It's time we had a talk about your family, Naruto."
"What...did you do to me?" croaked Gaara.
The nearby fire crackled, sending sparks flying in the direction of the ninja regarding him with an unreadable expression. "So you've already noticed. Then again, I don't know how you've managed to last this long with such a primitive seal..."
Without responding, the ninja rose to her feet and approached Gaara. He tensed, but before he could push his aching body to move, she was already kneeling beside him. Reaching into her pocket, she pulled out what looked like a ration bar, and pressed it into his hand.
"Go on. Sit up and eat. You'll need your energy back to heal."
From the sharp tonality of her words, Gaara could tell she was used to giving out commands. It was the type of voice that would have once infuriated him, but everything was so quiet now, he obediently brought the ration bar to his lips. As someone raised in the Hidden Sand, he was no stranger to the threat of poison in his sustenance, but without any hesitation, he bit into it — and found it to be surprisingly flavorful and savory, with a hint of an unfamiliar spice. It reminded Gaara of the food in some of the northern countries he'd visited during his missions.
The ninja offered him a skin of water that he gulped down, and waited until he was done, before she said, "You are the jinchūriki of the Hidden Sand, are you not?"
Normally, Gaara would not have answered, but everything was so quiet, that before he could stop himself, he answered, "Yes. I am. What did you do to me?"
To his surprise, she seemed amused. "Hmm. Where to begin? Let's just say the Hidden Sand has never been very good at fūinjutsu. Too busy playing with their puppets, I suppose. They were always resorting to stealing intel from other villages... And in your case, they used an incomplete version of a seal from my village to make you a jinchūriki. So all I had to do was actually finish the seal."
Jinchūriki? That meant this woman knew who — what — Gaara was. And yet, she didn't seem afraid of him. On the contrary, she seemed to hardly even count him as a threat.
Suddenly, her last few words registered in Gaara's mind, and he felt his eyes widen. "Finish...the seal?"
The ninja spread her hands open. "If I were to liken the former state of your seal to a wall, there was a gaping hole in it. While not quite big enough for the tailed-beast to escape, there was plenty of room for it to rampage freely. But now, I've replaced the hole with a door, so to speak. A door that the tailed-beast doesn't have the liberty to open. A door that only one person has the key to." The ninja smiled in a way that didn't reach her cold eyes. "Me, of course."
Despite Ashina's bold proclamation, the man soon disappeared into the crowd, and it was the elderly woman that had given them the drink who took Naruto and Karin to a complex at the center of the village.
As they made their way there, past even more gawking faces, Naruto quickly realized that the island nation was smaller than he had expected, spanning roughly a quarter of the size of the Leaf Village. And yet, even without tapping into his sage abilities, he could sense a vitality in the land that could very well rival that of the Hidden Leaf. A powerful undercurrent of energy thrummed deeply throughout the island, leaving Naruto with the unsettling realization that the Land of Whirlpools was far from the weakened nation in hiding he had expected.
Which begged another question: Despite the barriers the Hidden Whirlpool had erected around their nation, the sheer energy radiating from the island was akin to a lighthouse by the sea. It was hard to believe the other great nations could have missed their continued existence for this long. And also, why? Why had they continued the pretense of their demise?
The woman came to a stop in front of a plain concrete high-rise apartment that appeared to be otherwise unoccupied. "Here we are. This is where you two will be staying for now, until we can get you properly processed. You can, of course, pick separate rooms or share one…" She trailed off meaningfully. "Someone will come by soon with your meals. You must be famished."
Sure enough, a young woman — also red-haired — knocked on the door with a tray laden with bowls of meat stew and fruits.
Once the woman had left, Karin eyed the meal with a doubtful look. "They wouldn't poison us at this point, right?"
Without a word, Naruto summoned a clone who — shooting him a sour look — tasted the stew, before the two tucked into what felt like their first meal in ages.
The food was hearty and filling, and Karin soon knocked out afterwards on a futon they'd found inside the room. Naruto, too restless to sleep, slipped out onto the veranda.
The rest of the island seemed to still be awake despite the late hour. The lights of the harbor didn't waver, and in the distance, voices buzzed in conversation.
Naruto wondered how the situation was in the Leaf Village, and if anything had happened to Kakashi and his team for letting him go. With Danzō as Hokage, and the Akatsuki on the hunt, he couldn't imagine a worse scenario.
For now, however, he had time. Borrowed, but useful all the same. He had to use the opportunity wisely to fully make sense of the power locked inside of him.
Finally, feeling the burden of exhaustion tug at him, Naruto turned to go back into the room, when he paused, a small alarm sounding in the back of his mind. Something wasn't right. The island was alive with the sound of people, but at the same time, it was a little too quiet. Something was missing, and it took a few seconds before Naruto realized what it was:
Black waves lapped against the shore in the near horizon, and yet the ocean was silent.
As if sensing his thoughts, a presence suddenly appeared on the level above the veranda — Ashina. Where had he come from? Even Kakashi couldn't approach Naruto without his noticing.
"Come with me," said the man.
"A door that the tailed-beast doesn't have the liberty to open. A door that only one person has the key to..." Yugito smiled coldly. "Me, of course."
"I see," said the jinchūriki. He looked down at his hands, and didn't say anything else.
Yugito blinked. Somehow, his reaction hadn't been quite as dramatic as she'd expected it to be. She wondered whether the tailed beast's influence hadn't been quite as damaging to his psyche as she'd presumed. "Is that all you have to say?"
"It's strange. Is this what it's like for everyone else?"
"What do you mean?" Yugito prompted, bemused at the way the jinchūriki was looking around wide-eyed at the cave, by all appearances a genin on their first C-rank mission.
"The silence. It's so…loud."
"Ah, yes. I'd imagine so." Though most, she thought sourly, were not very good at preserving it.
"Are you also a jinchūriki?"
She blinked again. "You're not quite what I expected, given the rumors I heard about you, Gaara of the Sand."
He jerked in response to the name, and for a moment, Yugito caught a glimpse of the rumored beast in his eyes — before he turned away. "What do you want from me?"
"I'm glad to see you're fast on the uptake." Yugito drew herself up. "First things first, I want you to tell me everything that you know about the current situation involving the Akatsuki and the other hidden villages."
The jinchūriki nodded, seemingly nonplussed at the prospect of betraying his village. "And then?"
"And then you're going to help me find someone."
Instead of answering, he looked straight at Yugito, as if to size her up. Despite the undeniable fact that she held the upper hand, his dark eyes betrayed no fear. She crooked a finger in anticipation — when suddenly, the jinchūriki gave her a nod. She returned it with a terse smile, and sat down. "Good. We're leaving as soon as it's light out. I'd suggest you rest while you can — there's more ration bars where that came from."
A pause. "You're just going to trust me?"
Yugito let out an amused laugh. "I don't trust anyone." Let alone an enemy nation's jinchūriki, no matter how recently sealed. She wasn't going to tell him, of course, but there was no seal that couldn't be broken. Not even the legendary seal masters of Whirlpool country had ever managed to pull off such a feat.
If they had, perhaps they would have still persisted to this day.
Without explanation, Ashina took Naruto to the opposite side of the village, past a gate reinforced with yellow seals. Taking in the seals — recognizing in a flash some of the techniques from his brief lessons in fūinjutsu with Jiraiya — a pair of shinobi standing guard bowed deferentially to Ashina and uncrossed their naginata. Naruto passed into the stone compound uncontested.
Unlike the main village area, which had been lit as bright as a festival and full of inquisitive eyes, it was dim and quiet enough that Naruto knew they were alone. It was an otherwise unremarkable location, looking for all intents and purposes like a generic administrative complex; and yet, Naruto's gaze sharpened. Though he couldn't put his finger on it, something about the area was…not quite dangerous, but his senses were warning him to remain vigilant.
"Where are you taking me?" he finally asked.
His pace slowing, the older man gave him a ruminative and even surprised look. "I sense many questions from you, which is of no surprise to me. But they do not seem to be the questions I expected."
"And what questions were you expecting?"
Without responding, Ashina picked up his pace once more and led him to a ground-level building with drab slate tiling at the back of the compound. While dwarfed in size by the taller buildings around it, the entrance took up the entire length of the front-facing wall, giving Naruto the impression of staring into a giant cave.
A shiver ran down his spine — the energy he'd felt since earlier pulsated in waves from the entrance, and he knew that whatever lay inside this building was the source of the nation's vitality.
As if to dangle the prize before him, Ashina came to a sudden halt. "Did you know that the jinchūriki of the Nine-tails has always been an Uzumaki? Your predecessor was your mother, and the one before her was a prominent clanswomen before she was...sent off to Fire country. Now, why do you imagine this to be the case?"
"...a happy coincidence?" said Naruto drily.
Ashina chuckled. "My son told me you have a measure of wits about you. I'm sure you can do better than that."
Son? So their boatman, Yashima, was the son of the chieftain?
"The Uzumaki clan members have large reservoirs of chakra, making them suitable jinchūriki candidates." It wasn't a difficult conclusion to reach, even with what little information there was regarding the elusive clan.
"Yes, that is quite correct." Ashina took a step back and gestured to the black opening. "But that wasn't what I asked. Why has the jinchūriki of the Nine-tails always been an Uzumaki?"
Naruto paused, taking in the chieftain who regarded him back with a challenging gaze. He was a strange old man he'd only just met earlier that day, in a foreign land filled with people of unknown intentions. There was no way of knowing how long their goodwill towards them would last. Still, Naruto knew that they knew too much about him to underestimate his capabilities, and above all, despite the seeming affluence and resilience of the island, he could smell it —
Desperation. Underneath his discipline and his rank, it reeked from the chieftain like a fish market on a hot summer day, and Naruto knew that there was something Ashina wanted from him.
And as long as that was the case, Naruto could trust him.
"I don't know," he confessed. "That's why I'm here."
At that, the chieftain nodded. "Very well."
Usually, the summer season meant everything was hot and sticky. Even when it rained, the raindrops were warm, sizzling like boiling water wherever they touched. And the smell was the worst — when there weren't enough hands to bury the dead, the buzzing of pests and the stink of rotting flesh reached even their housing section, seeping into the grass of their roofs.
But...that morning was different. They hadn't seen battle in some time, and the day was cloudy, blocking the worst of the heat. When Karin opened her eyes, despite the hunger gnawing in her stomach, there was a light, almost pleasant breeze on her arms. And the air was golden. That was the only way to describe it. Rays of light, coming through the holes in their walls, enveloping her and her mother in a golden aura.
Her mother was seated nearby, humming a song Karin had never heard before. Her hair, once long and flowing freely, had been cut short the other day under Zōsui's orders.
"What's that from?" she asked.
Her mother stopped, startled. "Oh, my, when did you wake up?" Her hand crept to the carved stone of her necklace. "It's a song my own mother used to sing to me a long time ago."
"Your mother?" Karin blinked. She'd never considered that her mother had once been a child herself. "Where is she now?"
"...she returned to the sea," said her mother. "As we will, too, one day."
To Karin's surprise, when she woke up the next morning, she was greeted by an attendant in what appeared to be traditional Whirlpool country robes, who'd brought her a breakfast tray. Next to it, a freshly laundered robe had been laid out for her.
This was such a departure from the treatment she'd long since come to expect that, for once, Karin found herself speechless as the attendant helped her change into the robes. The cloth was richer than anything she'd ever worn, and yet lightweight and breathable. Breakfast was modest fare, but the broth was rich and savory, and generously loaded with vegetables and fish. That made two good meals in a row — truly a first for Karin.
When Karin stepped out of her room, she felt like a completely different person.
One of Naruto's clones was waiting for her outside the door. Judging from the shadow under his eyes, he appeared to have been standing guard throughout the night.
The moment she woke up and realized she was alone, she'd attempted to track Naruto a few times with her Mind's Eye, but the people of Whirlpool country all had such bright chakra signatures they were distracting. Furthermore, perhaps as a result of some sort of barrier surrounding the island, there was a strange glow enveloping every single person she could sense, further washing out Naruto's chakra.
"Where's Naruto?" asked Karin. "Is he still with that old man?"
"I imagine so," said the clone.
"Well… Is there anything I should be doing?"
The clone focused his gaze on her. "I'm here to keep an eye on you. Just don't go wandering off."
A warning from Naruto that Karin was to keep her head down, and avoid revealing any more of her abilities. This, of course, meant that she couldn't trust a single soul in the entire country — which would be easy enough. Before meeting Naruto, Karin hadn't trusted anyone else in a long, long time.
But where was Naruto?
As soon as he had stepped foot inside the dark entryway, Naruto sensed the change — though subtle, all sounds from the outside had disappeared. It wasn't just a matter of them being muted, but rather as though, in this space, they didn't exist. It must have been the effect of another barrier, and Naruto had to wonder what else was being filtered out from this space.
The only thing there was a spiraling stairwell that plummeted into the depths of the earth. As they descended, Ashina leading the way with a torch in hand, a strange noise sounded in the distance. A hissing, restless sound that grew louder and louder until it became a roar-like tempest.
The events of the previous night flashed before Naruto's eyes: The churning water, the black sea, the moon in the sky. The phantom in the water dragging him below the depths, and his missing tantō.
The island has accepted you.
That was what Ashina had told them when they'd touched down on land. What had that illusory test been trying to determine from him?
At last, just as Naruto was beginning to wonder if he'd been tricked and led down an endless stairwell, they reached the bottom.
A grand cave opened up before them. Water dripped from stalactites into a glowing pool of spiraling water — a whirlpool. And there, at its center…
There was a woman. Red-haired and sturdily built, but now dangling helplessly as a captive within the roaring water. Naruto felt a chill that had nothing to do with the cold of the cave. Even though he had never met her before, he recognized what she was at once:
"Two halves make a whole," said Ashina. "The reason why the jinchūriki of the Nine-tails has always been an Uzumaki… The reason why the Whirlpool was once destroyed… They are one and the same.
"The Whirlpool has a jinchūriki," breathed Naruto. Taking in the sight of the captive jinchūriki, goosebumps began to rise on his arms. Like the churning water around them, his chakra surged beneath his skin, as if demanding to be freed. "Which one is she?"
Ashina's gaze was solemn. "She is an Uzumaki, just like you, Naruto. And she, too, is the jinchūriki of the Nine-tails."
A/N: I was honestly considering giving up and dropping the story, but the occasional reviews I still get from readers pushed me to get this out. Wow it's been over two years... While a lot has happened in the world and in my life, I really want to finish this story.
Thanks to blueandgold for still talking to me after two years.