The war was over.
They had lost.
It hadn't crept up on them. It hadn't been sudden. Their defeat had not been a great plunge from the heights of uncertainty, where one battle, one event, turned the tide.
No. Theirs was the slow death. Victims to a constrictor. The relentless tide of tireless, once dead, foes pushing against the always dwindling resistance.
More than the Shinobi world, human life itself, faced a slow, steady and implacable extinction.
Konoha...had been the first.
After Pein's attack, with no infrastructure to speak of, the village was weakest of all in terms of logistics.
Tobi had capitalized on that. Using the fact that Konoha had no records, no effective way to organize their forces other than word of mouth down from on high from the Hokage. With the administrative functions so invariably crippled, the leaf village soon collapsed, their ninja scattering to group with the other battle groups.
Iwa was next...after Onoki's death.
The old man was so dead set on keeping his seat until someone was worthy to replace him no one was actually prepared to replace him when the moment came.
With all Jounin and Anbu on the front lines a coordinated effort from Iwagakure's elders couldn't be made to name a replacement. And by the time the new Tsuchikage -Kitsuchi- had received word of his anointment, the man was neck deep in an ambush and promptly killed.
The immovable rock, crumbled beneath the relentless flood.
Suna was next.
Gaara's power over the dune sea had proven absolute, even without the Shukaku. For thirty days the bulk of the enemy forces had descended on Sunagakure, and for thirty days the sand village held strong as the rest of the allies regrouped for one final push at the heart of this cancer.
Then...inevitably, the white messenger hawk had reached them.
They were out of time.
'A' had to move before the full force could regroup.
Only Bee returned from Amegakure. Half dead, carrying news of their defeat.
A was dead.
Now, only Kirigakure, its shores defended by a stretch of sea and its heart protected by dense fog, mountains and now, thanks to the seal masters work, relentless storms that made the oceans come alive with impossible fury like the famed whirlpools of Uzushiogakure.
This alone kept what little of humanity remained, safe.
For a time.
Tobi would not be denied though
Ten thousand of his creatures were cast back out into the sea. And a thousand more pushed forward.
And now, here they were, the very last vanguard, the most elite of the elite. Men that had survived endless, unremitting war for the better part of two years were guarding their very last, most desperate hope as the enemy forces pounded away at them.
It defied the very belief of all human limitations.
A marvel of the world.
Every manner of seal was calibrated to perfection.
Impossibly complex, combining, as a foundation, the recovered Uzumaki designs, coupled with sealing arrays from all corners of the Shinobi world for the single most intricate collaboration ever made between the Shinobi countries.
Barrier seals from Iwa, acceleration seals from Kumo, stabilization matrixes from Suna, space time arrays, derived from the summoning animals of Konoha, nature arrays from Kirigakure taken from the vaults of the shodaime, that had helped create the seven blades of the swordsmen and imbue them with their powers.
And lastly, an Uchiha seal array. One based on the displacement of time; derived from the Mangekyo's Tsukiyomi technique.
More delicate than any one thing ever made in this world, it was also the most powerful and their very last prayer for a miracle to deliver them from this nightmare.
"You have to stop! You've looked over it eight times already!"
"It has to be perfect." He answered back.
"I know but we have no time! Even if it you found something we can't change anything now. You have to-"
"It has to be perfect." He repeated, moving towards a different spot, eyes roving over the lines of ink spread out over a room half the size of the Hokage tower. Built three months ago for this exact purpose, the moment this project moved beyond the dreaming stage and became viable due to sheer desperation. "There can't be any mistakes. It has to be-!"
Naruto!" Sakura's hand shot out gripping him by the bicep and whirling him around to look at her. Bloodshot blue eyes staring into sea green. "Naruto listen to me! You have to stop! You need to focus now!"
"But it has to be-"
"I know!" She shouted, interrupting him before her voice softened. "I know...But we're done. There are no more last minute fixes. We have to go with what we have now."
"She's right dobe." Sasuke stepped out from the shadows dark eyes staring at his old teammates. "He's here. Point's five and six are down. Four is under attack and three is setting up its final defenses with Mei now. After that, all we'll have left, is the Hachibi."
"His name is Bee." Naruto snarled, looking over the array at his feet despite their words.
After a tug and a pull he marched off, moving towards his designated place on the seal, Sasuke and Sakura flanking him.
The gold shroud of the Kyuubi's chakra coated his body. From the tips of his hair down to his toes, the golden hue surged through him like a living flame for the first time in months. And it felt joyous.
The chakra bled into the seal, dark lines becoming clear, then shining with golden light. The brightness spreading over the whole room, as the chakra went into the seal on the floor to crawl up the walls into the arrays that had been drawn into the overhanging roof.
The world was light.
Chains sprouted from the walls, floor and ceiling. Nine chains meeting at the center before the bright flame of the Kyuubi's chakra spread into them, lighting them like tinder that did not burn as energy forked and split between the links to meet in the center.
The crackle of power sent goosebumps crawling up his arms. Like static electricity only without the harsh sting. He pushed his and Kurama's chakra into the seal willing this to work. It had to!
Then there was a tear.
All nine chains pulled taut, retreating back into their seals, link by agonizingly slow link, with the tear becoming wider and wider, the fabric of reality split open to reveal an abyss of...impossibility.
It looked like an ocean of churning water in a storm, a spiral of black non light, a surface as still as a tombstone, the brightest of starlight the most vibrant of colors, all at the same time his mind unable or unwilling to attempt to grasp even the concept of what he was looking at.
An end to infinity.
"I can't believe we did it." He whispered to himself even knowing that this was the easy part.
Beside him Sakura threw a look.
In the next second Naruto's body was wrapped in a flutter of sealing note pages, with a single scroll coiling around his body.
"What?" He asked, startled as the golden chakra receded back into his seal.
He hunched forward, the sudden loss of strength leaving him as he saw the dark, fiery body of the Susanoo form up around him like the walls of an impenetrable fortress. "Sasuke!?" He turned his head to look at the Uchiha! "What're you doing?"
"What we have to." He answered.
"We have to get you through." Sakura said walking up beside him.
He turned looking at her, his mind processing what they were saying, a slowly creeping horror dawning on his features.
"No..." He whispered...demanded. "No! You said that-"
"I lied." She confessed sadly. "My calculations always showed that you nor Kyuubi, would ever have the power to pull yourself and us back far enough to make enough of a difference. You just pulling back yourself...you'd only be able to get yourself to the very beginning of the war."
Naruto's wide, unblinking eyes percolated with tears his face slack with dumb shock even as Sasuke stepped infront of him, his back to the Jinchuuriki, facing the doorway.
"All our research shows every step is an exponential increase." The Uchiha said. "At the first step, you only take one day. On the second two. On the third four. Fifth eight and so on. There are four thousand, three hundred an eighty days in twelve years With the exponential growth, we need eleven steps.
"We can make that!" The blond cried, struggling in his bonds before turning to Sakura, a look of such betrayal in his eyes she felt her heart clench in her chest. "You told me I could make that!
"I lied." She repeated.
"So how many can I make?" If he was close...then
"At the very best estimates...you can only make eight...and that's if all our calculations are on the marker. We could be completely wrong."
He shook his head, the tears dripping down his cheeks to fall off his chin. "No...No...I'll get you there!" I'll get you there! Sakura!"
She shook her head, a brittle smile tugging at her lips "Naruto." She sighed... "You don't know how much..."
There were the sounds of shouts now. Of battle reaching in through the outside walls.
"We have no time!" Sasuke demanded, turning to give her a look over his shoulder.
She nodded, turning away from Naruto to march infront of Sasuke as the Uchiha reached out, both hands, one to grip her shoulder, the other to grip Naruto's.
She reached down, a burst of chakra into the activation rune as tattoos spread from the seal on her forehead to spread over her skin.
She did not have years worth of chakra like Tsunade-sama. Just barely one...it would have to be enough.
The doorway, held open by the nine chains, thrummed with power, the nine links spinning like a typhoon, faster and faster the seals at their feet becoming brighter.
Then they were somewhere else.
On the edge of nothingness...
Sakura felt ground under her feet, sweat beading at her brow as the very perception of all her five senses were thrown completely askew.
Heat, light, dark, up, down, nothing conformed to her ability to comprehend. She closed her eyes focusing on Sasuke's hand on her shoulder and ignoring Naruto's struggles in his atempts to escape his restraints.
She stood nowhere, and everywhere. Her chakra, her tether of life, anchoring her to this place like she would tether herself to the side of a tree, or on a wall. That was the only way it could work. Once she was finished...Sasuke would begin to do the same, so that he could navigate this place that led to nowhere, and everywhere at once. This vast void of nothingness that held the whole of everything within your reach and just beyond.
She took one step forward, tugging Sasuke with her, and felt her Chakra drain out of her. As though the very breath of life fled her body, she hunched over, vomiting, even as her feet stayed rooted to the ground, not daring to move.
She felt Sasuke grip her shoulder, her chakra flowing into him, feeding the massive construct known as Susanoo in his place.
"Sakura!" She heard Naruto shout, no doubt struggling even more.
She didn't dare look back. Didn't dare look at the hurt, desperate look in his eyes.
She tried to smile...
It was a brittle thing.
She felt the Uchiha's hand squeeze her shoulder.
She took one more step.
The last of her chakra drained from her body.
She died with barely the whisper of a final breath, the final tether of life sapped from her body as she took a single step into nowhere and she faded into the nothingness of the void of time.
Sasuke's chakra surged, and the Uchiha could now feel his feet touch the 'ground, tugged into this place in the expanse of time by his now dead...or was it perhaps lost, teammate.
"Damnit!" The Uchiha ignored Naruto's curse, eyes staring straight ahead.
"Three." He breathed, taking one more step
Instantly, a massive crack thundered through the skull of Susanoo, and Sasuke felt his chakra get sapped from him just like Sakura had. His massive reserves would hold out for another two steps under the aegis of the legendary ninjutsu...three if he were lucky.
"Four." He said.
One more step, and this time the flames of Susanoo's body dimmed, becoming little more then embers leaving only the raw chakra construct exposed, with another crack spearing down its chest. Sasuke hissed, reeling as his eyes bled and fire spread through his insides.
"That's enough!" Naruto growled, his voice obviously choked. "That's four! I can get you the rest of the way! Stop!"
The Uchiha shook his head, eyes bleeding now though Naruto couldn't see it. "Have to...make sure...dobe."
One more step. This time the legendary construct began crumbling away, the last of the flames dying as the chakra armor was peeled free. Sasuke hunched over, coughing up dark red blood that turned to dust on the winds of time.
"Stop it Sasuke!" Naruto shouted. "I'll take you just...get me out of this!"
The Uchiha sighed coughing wetly. "We..could have miscalculated Naruto...we have nothing to-"
"I don't care!" He roared, wisps of gold emerging between the seals as Sasuke's chakra waned dangerously on the restraints. "Let me OUT!
Sasuke turned to look over his shoulder, staring with bloody tears at the struggling blond even as he dragged him.
The Uchiha smirked...
It was a brittle thing.
"For what its worth..." He paused, visibly choking down the words.
"I always did have to carry your sorry ass through..."
Before the shout even escaped Naruto's throat Sasuke took that one final step.
Susanoo burst into shards of light, unlike Sakura, girded from the worst of this place by the legendary sword and shield of the Mangekyo; allowed to fade away into this place beyond time, Sasuke had no such defense now and Naruto watched the Uchiha get ripped to pieces. Like a great sand storm had swept in and peeled the flesh clean off his body before grinding the bones to dust.
The paper around him fell away crumbling to sand, the Kyuubi's chakra, so desperate to escape, roared to life as the blond cried. Howling into the void as he clutched at his head screaming in wild agony.
All of them...They were...all of them...
Every last one of his precious people!
He cried clutching and pulling at his hair as he screamed at nothing...at everything.
Rage, hatred, sadness... despair.
They rushed through him too powerful to resist, too fast to feel. All he knew was pain.
"You have to move Naruto."
The blond didn't respond, still staring at the place in this black abyss that he'd last seen Sasuke, sobbing as he bit his lip hard enough to bleed, the blood crystallizing frozen as it was swept away.
"Naruto..." Kyuubi prodded, his voice a low rumble. "You have to keep moving now."
The blond swallowed. Fat tears evaporating as they escaped his tear-ducts.
He took one step. He felt the same enormous drain they had
He took one more. Now...the cloak flickered.
When he took his third, the golden hue of his aura, vanished, leaving only red, eight tails trailing behind him.
He took one more.
Two tails receded back into him.
"They were right...there was one thing we did not take into account."
"The temporal displacement...between us...and the seal. Eleven paces in physical distance...years time difference. Mychakra must push through the years to reach it. Three paces left, six tails...
Naruto swallowed. Too numb to do much more.
"Are we going to die?"
He took another step.
Three tails vanished
The last of the Kitsune's tails receded back into him, the chakra shroud of the nine tails vanishing leaving Naruto's flesh to peel away, only to reform in patches and bursts of healing.
The blond grit his teeth, hissing as he kept his feet firmly planted in this place. Not daring to move one more step.
"Move. Stupid Ningen."
"Its you...you're going to die here too...aren't you?"
"Take your step boy."
He opened his eyes to a ceiling he hadn't seen for what felt like a life time.
For a window of eternity, he stared into that chipped, water bubble paint, smelling his poorly washed sheets, listening to the sounds of Konoha's early morning, utterly motionless.
When he finally moved, the sun was rising along the horizon filtering light in through the blinds of his window.
His feet touched the floor, all too small, the leap a little too high. He stumbled, wobbling on unsure legs.
He stared at his hands, at himself as best he could. Then he kept walking.
When he made it to the bathroom he found a stepping stool.
The same, stupid stepping stool he had thrown in a corner somewhere never to use again after he hit seven...
It was right there. Waiting to be used now.
He looked...up at his bathroom counter, stepping onto the stool.
He looked in the mirror, staring back at his face.
His four year old face.
Like he'd been in his bed, he remained motionless, staring for the longest time at this reflection that shouldn't be. At this thing that was just so wrong...
His eyes glimmered, percolating with tears that didn't quite fall yet as he stared into this stranger in a strange house.
Please say something to me...
He never noticed himself crying, never noticed his legs give out never noticed himself falling onto the floor, never noticed his choking sobs or his hysterical screams. He didn't even notice when Inu barged into the room, grabbing him and holding him close as he shouted out orders to the rest of the squad.
All he could notice...was how quiet it was...
I honestly wasn't gonna start this one for a while, at least not until I'd finished Souls of Heroes but a bolt of inspiration hit me and the ideas just wouldn't stop coming so I gave into the temptation.
I'm not sure yet what the update rate will be since I really *do* wanna update Souls of heroes and complete it so lets just play it by ear. Could be fast, could be a little slow. We'll see.
At any rate, this story will not be your typical Naruto goes back in time tale though I'll let the surprises reveal themselves as we go along.
Lastly, the pairing will be put up for a vote for the first time in a long time. I will make a poll with the possible options at a later date once the story gets on its two feet and we'll see where we go from there.
Hope you all enjoyed it, R&R