Sealkeeper: He Who Binds
Chapter 162-A "Sexy Crazy Bitch-Sensei"
Patron Release 2022.07.29
The door of her hotel room opened perhaps a bit more roughly than she would have preferred but Haku was more surprised by the fact that it was opening at all.
She could have sworn she had locked the damn thing. For this exact reason, too.
Karura stumbled into the room, her cheeks tinged with a healthy pink glow and her gait less than sober. Half of her tried to pull forward while the rest of her clung almost desperately to Tsukuyomi who followed her in without issue.
She was drunk, from the looks of it, and very much so. Tsukuyomi-Naruto- seemed perfectly sober.
"She really liked the mimosas," He offered a light shrug. "And I could hardly say no when she started pouting."
Haku could imagine that easily enough because the woman in question immediately turned to him wearing one such pout. "Don't be mean, Naru-Kun." She whined. "You know the desert doesn't have much fruit, I don't get to enjoy it that often."
He gave her a flat look. "You can create anything you want in your palace and I know for a fact you have a variety of fruits growing in that garden of yours."
"But it's not the same as fruit in the real world." She paused, staring up at him, before also admitting; "...and I can never manage to create proper alcohol. It tastes right but it's not fun like this stuff."
"Ah, so that's the problem. Maybe Mito can help you there." That earned him another pout.
"I can't go to her with that, she'll make fun of me!"
"You're the one who keeps tormenting her, Karura."
"Taking the kids to visit their auntie is not tormenting her."
"You know I'm not talking about that."
Karura turned away from him, suddenly finding Haku's room very interesting. "...I don't know what you're talking about."
"Karura, love," His tone was somewhere between long-suffering exasperation and indulgent amusement. "I know for a fact that you keep taunting her with our relationship. You're not very subtle about it and my head's not exactly unoccupied these days." In fact, it was a bit more occupied than he liked. When had his head become the official hangout of his highest ranking subordinates and most trusted friends?
Maybe he could turn creating a truly neutral location into a hub for the seal into his next project. Perhaps if Orochimaru made a living body without sentience he could connect the seal there and use it as a remote host for the mental landscape. It would have to be set up with sufficient life support so it didn't rot away and take the connection with it…unless it could still function in some sort of stasis? Either frozen or perhaps even sealed…he really should look into that.
"Well I'm not the one who threw away her chances with you." Was her petulant defense. "She should have known better and now I get to enjoy her mistake."
"She saved me in Mizu no Kuni." He pointed out.
"That wasn't my fault!"
"I didn't say it was. In fact, you're the one who brought me to her. She still helped in the end, though, isn't that reason enough for you to try getting along with her more?"
"I do! I'm always trying to include her as part of the family." There was a beat before she continued. "...I just take great pleasure in reminding her that I'm yours and she's not."
Naruto rolled his eyes- an action that still seemed to convey his fondness for the woman- and turned her towards him to pat her gently on the cheek. "And maybe if you didn't hold that over her head she wouldn't hold the fact that she's completely capable of recreating a variety of alcohols correctly when you can't over yours."
Karura blew a raspberry at him "It's more fun drinking here, anyway, there's a larger variety of people and they don't know who we are. That's much more interesting than hanging around the seal and drinking with a mopey Mito."
Haku was still trying to process the fact that someone had casually blown a raspberry at Tsukuyomi without any consequence when the man hoisted Karura over his shoulder, made his way into Haku's bedroom, and deposited the intoxicated racoon on the last Yuki's bed. He walked back out into Haku's living room while Karura pleaded with him to return to the bedroom and join her.
"We'll only be a bit longer, love, just be patient." A small piece of bunched up black lace bounced off the back of his head. "And keep your clothes on, please. It's rather inconsiderate for you to start stripping when you're in someone else's home."
"You pay for it anyway, Naru-Kun, so it's as good as yours too." Was her argument. Haku had thought something similar earlier but now she was starting to regret that stance.
She really didn't need to see what Naruko's brother got up to with the mother of his children. The fact that he had two of them already gave her a pretty good idea.
"I may pay for it, but I pay for it so Haku has a place to stay during her mission. It's still her home in the end and you should respect that."
"But I don't wanna~!"
"Karura." There was a slight warning bite to his tone now, a firmness that had Haku sitting up a little straighter on her own couch despite it not being her name that'd left his lips.
"...We could invite her to join us?" Was the next suggestion to escape Haku's bedroom. The Kunoichi could feel the flush that spread over her face. There were more than a few things wrong with what had just been said but that only served to deepen her new color. There were taboos there that Haku knew better than to try unpacking, especially when she was still not sure exactly what his relationship with Karura or that Anko she had heard about was.
And speaking of Anko…
"...I think you've been spending too much time with Anko." He responded. "You can't solve every problem by inviting people into your-" He paused and corrected himself. "Or their beds."
"...Yeah." She agreed softly. "But can I solve this one that way?"
An amused snort escaped Naruto. "No, Karura, you can't solve this-" not that there was anything to be solved. "Like that. It's not the time or place. Settle down for a few minutes or I'll send you back first."
"Nooo~! I'll be good, Naru-Kuuun~! Don't make me go- please?"
"Then behave." He shook his head and was able to direct his attention to the host who'd never actually invited them into her home. "Sorry about her, I didn't realize she would get like this after a few drinks. It's something I'll have to keep in mind for any future outings."
"It's…fine." Haku didn't know what else she could say in this situation.
"Well, we won't take up much more of your evening. We came here utilizing a combination of a Konoha Kinjutsu I…obtained…and a rather complex property of some of my seals that I don't fully understand at this point. I'm not about to offer you the Kinjutsu portion, but I can offer to connect you to the sealing matrix."
"...And what would that do?" She probably should just decline, she- and Kirigakure- didn't need anything more tying her to Tsukuyomi and his Wolves but she couldn't deny her curiosity. He'd traveled across the world- or at least a good chunk of it- in part due to these seals. What benefit might she gain from it? There was also Kirigakure to think of. If she obtained it, maybe there was something Mei could use it for to help Kiri get back on its feet.
"Primarily, it would allow you to enter a mental manifestation of where my seals, my soul, and my subconscious mind meet to form an isolated world in which I can interact with the inhabitants of my seals and anyone else I've connected to it."
His Biju, he was talking about his Biju when he mentioned the inhabitants of his seals. She knew he had taken the Sanbi- just about everyone who worked closely with Mei knew that- but no one actually knew what the first Biju he had was. There was also that 'Mito' Karura had mentioned. The way she had mentioned her- and how Naruto had responded- it almost seemed like she was in his head too. Was 'Mito' what they called one of the BIju- and she tried very hard to ignore the fact that Karura seemed to believe that Mito was jealous of her relationship with Naruto if that really was the case- or just someone else he'd tied to the seal?
That alone would provide some rather important information about Tsukuyomi that Haku knew Mei would be very happy to obtain. She should probably say yes just for that, but there was also the fact that others would be connected. Would she be able to use this to gain more insight into Tsukuyomi and his followers? Would she become privy to information not known to those outside his inner circle? She couldn't imagine he allowed just anyone into what was essentially his mind, so those within had to be pretty important.
That did beg a very large question, however;
Why would he be offering that opportunity to her?
"And how would that benefit you?" She went ahead and asked. No subtlety, no beating around the bush, just a question she wanted answered.
He didn't seem to mind at all, though he also didn't exactly answer her question either. Not at first, anyway.
"This would provide you with several benefits, such as being able to contact me directly or, failing that, to reach out to someone else able to get in rapid contact with me at a moment's notice. No more letters, no more delays. More importantly, this would let you do the same for anyone else tied to these seals- such as Naruko."
Haku was feeling just a bit irritated when he seemed to ignore her question but that stopped her cold. She would be able to reach out to Naruko whenever she wanted, no matter where they were? Screw gathering information, that alone was worth it.
"And while I won't be teaching you the Kinjutsu, I have heard…let's say…rumors…that either Naruko already knows that technique or has access to individuals willing to teach her. I haven't seen her use it myself, but maybe she just needs proper…motivation?"
It took a second for his words to click. That Kinjutsu was the one he'd used to get here- that meant Naruko would be able to visit her whenever she liked.
Haku very nearly agreed to it right then and there, only to reign herself in at the last second. She still didn't know why he was offering this to her or how he benefited from the arrangement.
"And how would this benefit you." She repeated. Naruto smiled.
"I can reach out to you whenever I like, as I've said, and you can inform me of anything important that happens here in Namihime. Not anything Kirigakure related, of course, the less I hear about that place the better, but it would be nice to know if a new Daimyo rose up or things of that nature." He left it hanging there, suggesting that it would be up to her to decide what needed to be passed on but she knew he would be asking very specific questions directly if he didn't receive word from her first about things he was interested in. "There's also the fact that I'll be able to utilize that seal to repeat this."
…Wait..he didn't mean…
"It would save me the trouble of mailing a sealed Kage-Bunshin to you in order to take Karura out for a night on the town."
"Really, that's the main reason I'm offering this. I just figured being able to stay in contact with Naruko would be worth it to you."
That left Haku with several questions, but the only one she managed to ask was; "...Why is that so important?"
"Because no one's going to be looking for me in Mizu no Kuni when everyone knows how much I loathe Kirigakure and I'm trying to keep a low profile. That makes Namihime the perfect location for date nights."
…right. Of course it did. How silly of her not to realize.
Still, the ability to see Naruko whenever she wanted was more than worth being accessory to Tsukuyomi's global travel plans and it still would provide an opportunity to gather information.
Even if that did mean she had to occasionally deal with a drunk Karura.
"...I'll do it."
"Wonderful." Naruto's hands met in a single clap. "It should just be a few minutes for me to get everything ready, I've had plenty of practice so the actual application should only take a moment or two. While I prepare, do give some thought to where you'd like your seal and how large you want it."
"Ooooh~! Naru-Kun's going to trail his brush all up and down your naked body, Yukata-Chan, you lucky girl you." There was a giggle from Haku's bedroom. "And when he's all done I'm sure you'll agree to join us in here."
"Karura," Naruto sighed. "I've told you this already; applying the seal is not foreplay."
"That's not what I heard from the others. Tsunami-Chan and Anko-Chan, and Tayuya-Chan, and Mikoto-Chan, and Katsuri-Chan, and Temari-Chan…" Karura continued to rattle off names but Haku stopped paying attention. The red of her cheeks had already spread to cover a much larger portion of her body as she valiantly tried- and failed- to ignore the fact that Naruko supposedly had the seal too.
Had that also been foreplay-
No, bad Haku, bad thoughts. Don't imagine the two of them- the three of them- Haku shook her head vigorously to dislodge her train of thought to no avail. Hopefully these two would leave very soon because she was in desperate need of a cold shower now.
While Kawa no Kuni was certainly proving itself more agreeable to her troops, it wasn't nearly as eager to aid them as those in Kaze no Kuni had been. Kurotsuchi had sort of expected that, really, but it was still a bit disappointing. She would have taken great pleasure in marching upon Hi no Kuni with the remnants of Sunagakure and Shinobi from the two greater countries' mutual neighbor Kawa no Kuni.
That was fine. The plan hadn't counted on their cooperation. In fact, the plan had assumed some level of resistance from the smaller country- even if that would have been a terrible idea on their part- so she was pleasantly surprised that they had only offered a token resistance of admonishing them for not seeking permission to cross their borders. That was going to result in nothing more than a strongly worded letter to her Tsuchikage that he would promptly ignore-
Or respond to by sending whatever Iwa Shinobi he could spare to remind Kawa no Kuni what the difference between a minor country and a greater country looked like. She liked the sound of that second option more, to be honest, but knowing her grandfather as she did Kurotsuchi knew he was more likely to accept it for what it was- a mere token of disapproval- and ignore it. He would be much more focused on their conflict with Hi no Kuni to bother with something as trivial as a letter from Kawa.
Unfortunately Kurotsuchi's negotiations- or attempts at negotiations- had taken a few days and while that had given her forces a chance to rest she was now behind schedule. Suna had taken longer than they'd expected to settle down and there was some difficulty avoiding a number of merchants near Kawa's capital city with the size of her forces that cost her another half day to resolve, neither of which was too bad on their own but combined with the days she'd spent trying to convince Kawa to join them against Konoha- because any additional forces would be well worth it- had her much farther behind than she was comfortable with.
Gramps' orders may have been clear about potential allies but she still didn't like how much it was now interfering with the rest of the plan.
Kurotsuchi did not like being late.
Naruto brushed the back of his hand against the tunnel wall, purple eyes watching the way the seals his children had placed glowed faintly in response to the seal that had created them. It was a curious reaction, he thought, because these seals hadn't been activated yet. Perhaps there was some residual Chakra within them from their creation, that's the only explanation that came to mind.
His hand stopped and he peered over his shoulder to the gathered Wolves. "You've done well, children." He praised them. "Let's see the results." Flipping his hand over so his palm pressed Sealkeeper against the seals, he drew upon the Chakra of Karura and Isobu and pumped it into the matrixes.
Green and gold bloomed in the darkness that stretched out kilometers past his vision, the seals awakening and joining together to become a single piece that would ensure the structural stability of the tunnel and, if he'd done things right, reduce the chances of it being discovered.
While he couldn't see any changes he continued to maintain his connection to the seal, waiting for confirmation that the whole thing had been sufficiently powered.
"Pretty!" Isobu's comment reached him first but it was Karura who made it clear that the seals had reached them.
"They're glowing now, beloved. That's what you wanted to happen, right? I can feel my Chakra moving within them."
"Yes, love, that's perfect. Thank you for your help. Both of you." The Kage-Bunshin continued to prove its usefulness as the two remained at the Yu no Kuni outpost to monitor the seals there. The Doton techniques that had allowed the tunnel to reach completely across Hi no Kuni was similarly useful. He didn't want to consider how long it may have taken them to do this by hand, though it made him wonder why there weren't more underground structures for Shinobi.
Maybe there were and he'd just never heard of them? They were bound to be hidden, he supposed, but one would at least think Iwagakure would be known for having a village hidden within the stone if that was the case. That would make for a rather impressive hidden village. It was a shame they'd neglected to take advantage of the possibility.
Unless they hadn't. Hmm, maybe that was another thing worth looking into at some point.
"Love you, daddy!"
"Mmm, yes. We both love daddy, don't we Isobu-Chan?"
"And daddy loves you too. I'll be back soon." Well, some form of him would be, anyway. It was still hard to keep track of which instance of each person actually was that person. This Karura he was talking to, for instance, wasn't actually Karura but a Kage Bunshin of her. The Isobu, on the other hand, was the genuine Isobu occupying a Kage-Bunshin because she'd used Karura's chakra to make it.
Naruto swore that one of these days he would figure out how the hell all of this worked. It was going to drive him mad until he finally understood it.
Withdrawing his attention from the voices in his head- an alarming sentence if there ever was one- he examined the packed earth around the faintly glowing seals as it slowly turned black and glassy not unlike obsidian. Perfect, it looked like everything was going as intended. Now they just had to wait for the process to finish.
Naruto couldn't think of a better way to spend that time than with his family. With a small cloud of smoke his Kage-Bunshin dispelled itself, releasing his consciousness back to his physical body.
Sometimes he genuinely felt that Kage-Bunshin had to be cheating, he just had no idea what he was cheating at.
"Ah-hah, such a Youthful day for our most Youthful journey!" The Wolf proclaimed as he and his students stood just outside one of the many outposts that made up Otogakure.
"Yeah, Youthful." Dosu agreed. "You do know you're supposed to be attending these Chūnin exams as a member of the team and not as our Sensei, right? We can't leave until we have someone to pose as our Jounin Instructor." And with that in mind Dosu had absolutely no idea how any of the required paperwork was properly submitted to allow them to attend the latest Chūnin exams but he also figured it was probably best not to worry about it or, heaven forbid- ask.
Any answers he received were bound to be more of a headache than anything else, he'd rather deal with unsated curiosity than the burden of being aware of the madness he was sure to find.
"Not to worry, most Youthful Dosu-Kun, I have secured the assistance of someone familiar with Orochimaru to fulfill that role!"
Dosu and Kin shared a look.
Neither of them could think of any Jounin to take that spot unless the Wolf had reached out to Orochimaru himself and requested he pretend to be their Jounin Instructor like he had last time.
"And who did you get?" Kin asked.
"Me!" A grinning Mitarashi Anko planted her hands on her hips as she looked down upon the Youthful Oto duo. "The sexy but very much taken Mitarashi Anko, semi-retired Tokujō of Konohagakure no Sato and the personal Fang of Lord Tsukuyomi, Daimyo of Nami no Kuni and Father of the Wolves."
The two shared another look before turning back to their teacher for the past few months. "How in the hell did you manage that?"
He gave a shrug but his answer was as exuberant as everything else he did seemed to be. "I have no idea!" He proclaimed. His voice fell to an almost conspiratorial whisper. "But I think she was running from someone."
"S-Shut up!" A volley of Kunai hurtled toward the Youthful Wolf in a most unYouthful manner, though the man had no trouble dodging. "I'm here to help you out of the goodness of my heart and because Tsukuyomi-Kun has a vested interest in how you perform during this exam."
"...Really?" Dosu asked, not entirely convinced.
Kin crossed her arms, shifting her weight to one hip. "I don't believe it for a second."
"...Sexy Ankos need vacations too," The woman whined. Her next words were so quiet the three Youthful Shinobi nearly missed them entirely. "And as far away from Mikoto as they can manage. That woman is not human."
"What's a Mikoto?"
"Don't say her name!" Her next volley of Kunai headed straight for Dosu. Unfortunately he wasn't quite as successful at dodging them as his Sensei had been.
"Hey, watch it you crazy bitch!"
"That's 'Sexy Crazy Bitch-Sensei' to you, brat!"
Kin took a deep breath and released a long sigh. First the eccentric Wolf and now the Mitarashi Anko herself. She was going to a lot of trouble to reach Chūnin- returning to work with the rest of the Wolves under Tsukuyomi had better be worth it or all of this would have been for nothing.
At least she would be able to see Hanabi again, that would be nice.
"Wait a minute," Katsuri looked up from her book, a frown pulling at her lips as she suddenly realized why things had seemed to quiet as of late. "Have you seen Anko at all recently?"
"She's probably hiding from Mikoto again." Was Naruto's response. He didn't look up from the stacks of papers that covered his desk but Mai would be very pleased to know they were all from a personal project rather than work related to the House of Wolves. "She's started to go farther and farther in her attempts to escape her clutches."
The book in Katsuri's hands lowered to just above her waist. "I know it can be exhausting trying to keep up with Mikoto-" By the gods did that woman have stamina in the bedroom. Even a second Naruto was only helping so much "But she's not really serious about avoiding her, is she? I was under the impression she enjoyed it like the rest of us."
A hum of agreement escaped Naruto's throat. "Oh, she does. I just think she likes being chased as much as Mikoto seems to like hunting her."
"Chased or caught?"
Oh. That was fair. Giving a shrug, Katsuri returned to her book. May as well enjoy the peace while it lasted, those two were bound to be back before too long and then no one would be getting any rest.
Her tongue darted out to wet her lips as she turned to the next page.
She almost couldn't wait.
The only sound to fill the silence of the room was the clicking of her claws against the polished wood of the desk in the manor's master study. She didn't normally come here but the window offered a great view of the palace that sat in the center of the city, even if that wouldn't allow Akishi to watch her plan unfold.
This was it, the moment of truth would soon be upon her. Months of work accumulating to this. Had she prepared enough? Were her plans sufficient? Was she being too hasty? There were a dozen doubts that haunted her as she waited for word from the younger Children of Aū to reach her.
She knew that the actions she had taken with Orochimaru were the best chances for success that she could ever hope for but that knowledge was hardly comforting when her entire immortal future was dependent on the outcome of this plan.
They'd studied their targets carefully, learned all their routines and mannerisms. Knew their personalities perfectly and the exact moments they would be the most vulnerable but they couldn't account for everything and just one mistake had the potential of ruining everything.
And even if it all went off without a hitch tonight, what would happen if one of them messed up sometime down the line? In the coming days, weeks, or months they could still be discovered, couldn't they? Then everything they'd managed would have been for nothing.
Tsukuyomi had been very clear that their replacement of the Yu no Kuni royal family was to go completely unknown to the rest of the world. She didn't know exactly how long he intended for that to be the case but as he hadn't specified she would assume he meant he never wanted their actions to be found out.
Never was the same as forever- it represented a very long time. Fortunately the lifespan of mortals was relatively short so they would realistically only need to keep it hidden for a few generations before it didn't even matter anymore. Still, that was plenty of time for one of the younger serpents to fuck up.
Assuming they even made it that far. She abandoned the surface of the desk in favor of crossing her arms and holding them close to her in a gesture she found comforting for reasons she could not explain. Akishi was still trying to get used to her new body, how quickly would the rest adapt to fully human forms?
Perhaps she had been too hasty, too eager to finally fulfill the task given to her by the High-Priest. She should have spent more time going over things. Surely a week or two- maybe even a month- wouldn't have been too much of a delay? He'd never given them any sort of deadline, she could have realistically taken until either his deathbed or until he ended up growing tired of waiting and took the country himself.
She actually didn't know how long he would wait before the second one, so maybe it was for the best that she acted sooner rather than later.
Just…maybe not this soon.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a now familiar sound of scales against the hardwood floors and she turned from the window to glance at the small gold snake that approached her. "Great Akishi Ak'Gyun," it greeted her, head down and eyes never daring to so much as gaze upon her let alone meet her own. "I bring a report from the palace."
She did her best not to seem eager or show the trepidation she felt but she couldn't help the way she leaned forward slightly as she commanded them to share it with her.
"It is ours, Akishi-Sama, we've replaced them all."
The laughter bubbled up from her chest full of pleased victory and utter relief. They had done it, they had managed the impossible task set for them by the High-Priest. Now he would know there was use for the Children of Aū in this world and would take up his rightful place doing the work of the Father.
She was still a ways from returning to Mt. Aogi or even just the lands of Aūgoku but with this she was at least a step closer to it and, if nothing else, she absolutely possessed the means to ensure what time she would have to spend here in the mortal world would be comfortable.
In fact, so long as the High-Priest didn't expressly forbid it- and she had no intention of bringing the matter up to avoid the chance that he might just to spite her for some reason- she could now live like an empress.
A human empress, perhaps, but that was still far preferable to living as a human peasant. She had already come far too close to that when she started Tsukuyomi's task here in Yu no Kuni.
Now she just needed to actually inform the High-Priest of their success and return the amulet so he could finally speak to the father-
She paused, her lips moving into that shape she'd come to learn was a frown. No, she'd best put that aside for the time being. She needed to be absolutely sure that this Yu no Kuni was completely under their control before they dared bring it to his attention. She couldn't afford to be wrong about this.
Soon, though. Soon.
Then she would be able to savor the victory of informing Tsukuyomi that his impossible task had been completed.
Akishi could practically taste it already.
Sealkeeper: He Who Binds
Chapter 162-B "Bliss and Covenants"
Patron Release 2022.08.10
Just before his foot touched the ground it crumbled away. Backing up quickly, Danzō took time to observe the unexpected feature in his new compound as his ROOT agents moved into defensive stances before him.
A grinning face covered with soot popped up through the hole, seemingly unconcerned with the drawn Tanto of Fu and Torune. "Ha! Spot on! You owe me two thousand, Hoyakawa!"
Danzō blinked. Why did they seem so famil- That was a Wolf. That's why they seemed familiar. That was probably also why they were popping in through the ground beneath their old compound.
Of course, it was Danzō's now, so it would have been nice to receive a little warning. Waving his ROOT to stand down he cleared his throat to catch their attention.
"Hmm? Oh, Danzō-Dono." They seemed surprised to see them but their grin didn't falter in the slightest. "You'll never guess what we did."
He didn't doubt that for a second. "...And what did you do?" More importantly, did Naruto know about it? When it came to the activities of the Wolves Danzō was very aware that many of them tended to be…less than sanctioned by the Lord of Wolves himself. The constant remodeling of his previous apartments immediately came to mind.
Don't get him wrong, Danzō thought it was absolutely hilarious, but if some of Naruto's Wolves had made it all the way back to Konoha with whatever project they were working on and Naruto didn't know about it then Danzō was going to need to reach out to the young Daimyo so he knew where his Wolves had gotten off to.
"We've built a railway all the way from Nami to Konoha!" Ganju's head lowered back into the hole, slightly muffling his voice. "Come take a look!"
They'd…Danzō cut that thought off short. There was no point to following it before taking a look. Sure, it sounded ridiculous, but he didn't know the Wolves to lie about something like that. He just wasn't sure what to make of it. Knowing the Wolves, that could be a simple railway that extended to Nami- which was still damn impressive- or they could have built some complex system with engines running to destinations all across the world.
He also had to assume that the building of any sort of rail meant they had managed to acquire the engines from Yuki- he couldn't imagine why else they might do so, though they were Wolves so who really knew why they did anything- and he didn't even want to consider how they may have managed that.
If there was anything Yuki no Kuni was keeping tight lips on- beyond Doto's coup- it was the secrets to their engines. He rather doubted any of the Wolves had just shown up in Yuki and asked 'please'.
Making his way to the hole he carefully knelt down and stuck his head in it.
When they had mentioned a railway, they seemed to have neglected the fact that they had also built an accompanying station.
…And when the hell had they dug out this hollow beneath his new compound? It was easily a kilometer in diameter and he could see the track- and station- maybe a quarter of that below his current position. What the hell was left supporting his new base? He suddenly realized how Naruto must have felt each and every time the Wolves had knocked down another one of his walls.
He didn't like it.
Oh, there was that engine, too. A rather impressive sight, really, even if the cars it pulled didn't seem to match it exactly. The Wolves had obviously created those themselves which made sense. The engine alone would have been difficult to obtain, he couldn't -and didn't want to- imagine how they would make off with both it and a set of rail cars. Despite the railway extending all the way out here and the station- which he was still trying to wrap his head around. Why the hell was there a full station beneath Konoha?- appearing to be fully constructed the railcars remained mostly full of building materials.
Danzou's remaining eye narrowed in suspicion. What the hell were they still up to?
Of course, the first question he was actually going to ask was always going to be; "Does Naruto know you're here?"
"What? Of course he does!" Ganju claimed from his position on a tower of scaffolding, then he paused and took a moment to think. "Hey, Hoyakawa, Tsukuyomi-Sama does know we're here, right?"
"How should I know? I thought he put you in charge of the project. Shouldn't you have been the one to get permission?"
"No, Jūgo's in charge of the railway. I'm just in charge of building it."
"This is building it."
"Yeah, but I'm not in charge."
"But Jūgo's in Nami." Hoykawa pointed out. "So this part of the project was under your authority."
Danzō had dealt with the Wolves before, he should have known what to expect, but it was still hard for him to remember that he had originally trained these people as ROOT operatives. Shaking his head and deciding to leave his other questions for after they figured out if they were even supposed to be out here doing this, Danzō returned his attention to Fu and Torune.
Building an underground railway- presumably after stealing a train from Yuki- was an absolutely insane idea but he could already see some of the benefits it could provide.
"This is why it's a good idea to have allies, you two." The ROOT agents shared a look before Torune spoke up.
"Because they'll build a railway beneath your base?"
"No, because they'll pull off stupidly impossible things and you'll be able to benefit from them."
"Ah." It was clear to Danzō that the two still didn't understand.
"...And, what is the benefit here, Danzō-Sama?" Fu eventually asked.
"Right now? No idea." Danzou shrugged. "I'm not sure if they intend to expand the railway throughout the elemental nations but if they do I'm sure I can make use of the ability to transport troops and supplies discreetly so long as the Wolves are cooperative."
Stepping past the hole to continue towards his office he added. "If nothing else, the compound has another emergency exit now." That was looking on the bright side.
The two behind him shared another look. "But is the cost of having Wolves running around beneath our base worth that?" Was Torune's question.
"I'm trying very hard not to think about that." Danzō admitted, not turning around.
He probably should reach out to Naruto and figure out what the young man's plans with this actually were so he could be, at the very least, forewarned. Preferably he'd be able to either adapt some of his operations to make use of it or convince Naruto to change things on his end so they were more convenient for his existing ROOT plans.
It would also be good to have someone sent out who knew what they were doing and could reign in the rest of the Wolves, the last thing he needed was for them to be running around his compound without supervision.
The coasts of Nami didn't have the same charm as a tropical beach, Jūgo thought, but he did think that the ready availability of Nami properties at least partially made up for that.
He just didn't think Kari would agree.
Sitting at the small table in his hotel room, the originator of the Ten no Juin shifted through papers listing available properties that Tsukuyomi had sent to him. It wasn't an exclusive list that he had to choose from but they were all properties that the man could have under his name within a week at the most.
Jūgo had really been hoping there would be something in here that would help him distract Kari from the fact that he'd run off without so much as a goodbye. None of these seemed like they were going to be able to do that for him.
At least the southern and east coasts of Nami had sand, even if it was a bit colder than Kari might like. Maybe he'd be able to convince Tsukuyomi to allow him a plot of land and he'd just try building something himself.
Maybe not on the southern coast- though that would be preferable because it was both closer to Hanahime and slightly more sheltered from the Kaizoku sea- because Tsukuyomi was keeping that as some sort of nature reserve to protect the natural splendor of the country- Jūgo could appreciate that, actually, even if it was a bit inconvenient for his needs- but he didn't think it would be as hard to get a piece of the eastern coast.
Maybe he could get some of the forested area between the Hape lake grasslands and the sandy eastern coast? That would probably work. Then he and Kari could just use the Yato pass to get to Hanahime for anything they needed.
He frowned down at a map of the country. On second thought, that was quite the trip to be making even semi-regularly. Not for a Shinobi, of course, but for Kari? He doubted she'd appreciate it. Plus he knew he'd be missing the conveniences the city would offer like running water and electricity.
Kari wasn't about to be impressed by a substandard property with what would probably be more of a shack than a house where she'd have little access to most conveniences. In that case he'd be better off trying to get a loft property above a bar or something, she'd probably enjoy that more even if it wouldn't earn him much mercy from the woman.
Looks like he'd have to request something outside Nami and wait for Tsukuyomi to both approve his choice and obtain it. The commute as he continued working for the man- through Orochimaru, that was- would be a pain but at least Kari would be happy. That's all he could really try for. The Hanguri gulf was pretty warm, maybe he could get something in Hi no Kuni that was at least close to it. Anything in daytrip range- by civilian standards- would be great.
His planning was interrupted by a knock on his door. That was a nice change of pace, most of the Wolves had just been letting themselves in when they had questions or issues with the railroad. Getting up from his table it only took a few strides to reach the door and he opened it to….Kari.
She did not look happy.
"...Kari…" He greeted her. She returned it in a slightly different way- her fist to his face.
"Don't you fucking 'Kari' me, you bastard! What the fuck were you thinking, running off like that?"
"...I wasn't?" He tried. The punch had been solid but it was still only from Kari. Strong as she may have been she was still a civilian and wasn't able to strengthen her strikes with Chakra. Even if she could, Jūgo was filled with traces of Nature Chakra at any given moment which made him very, very resilient.
She took a moment to consider that. "...Good answer, that's a start." Kari eventually concluded. Placing a hand on his chest she pushed him into the room and closed the door behind her. "But you'd better have some much better explanations for me if you expect me to forgive you anytime soon."
"Explanations and apologies?"
"Only if those apologies include gifts."
"Would it help if I told you I was working on that before you punched me?"
"Yes, yes it would."
"Ahaha-ahahahaha!" Tsunade practically cackled as she took the honor of being the first test wearer of their armor. Not the regular armor, mind you, that hadn't been exciting enough for her old master, but of the prototype that Naruto hadn't even officially approved yet. They were going to need to get on that at some point, otherwise Shizune was pretty sure Tsunade would just try to keep the working prototype- which was just supposed to be a proof of concept- for herself.
Glancing away from Tsunade as she worked the large set of armor- at this point Shizune thought it might classify more as a vehicle than armor- she spared only a second- because she dared not leave her old master unsupervised for any longer than that- to see how progress was coming as they dressed up Tsunami in one of the sets Naruto had actually tasked them with creating.
While she was still getting Kunoichi training from Tayuya and Temari, Tsunami was the closest thing to a civilian Shizune and her team had access to without grabbing one of the palace servants and she wasn't about to hand over a set of incredibly strong armor to what were essentially slaves. That was just asking for trouble that Shizune didn't have the time or patience to deal with.
She had enough on her plate as it was, thank you.
Tsunami's lack of training- and her known trustworthiness- was important for this test because Shizune would only consider the project a success if anyone could make use of the armor. There would be steps taken to ensure they couldn't, of course, they didn't want anyone else to be able to get their hands on it, but Naruto should be able to provide a set to anyone he wished to ensure the protection of without worrying if they would be able to utilize it.
Mainly, though, as long as the wearer didn't have to use puppetry to get it to work Naruto would be satisfied with their success. Shizune didn't want to just meet his minimum requirements, however, she wanted to crush them and show that her team could tackle whatever he threw at them.
Partially to continue making up for their mistake back with Inoichi's prosthetic limbs and mostly to cover their asses in case he didn't like the prototype Tsunade was stomping around in.
How in the hell had they convinced her to let them build something so stupidly big?
Tsunade must have used that tongue trick she picked up from Orochimaru on her, that was the only real explanation for her allowing it.
Akatsuchi grimaced as he looked over the latest updates from squads spread along the Hi no Kuni border. Stalling as they were, he had known from the start that they wouldn't be in a favorable position but it still stung to see the loss of any Iwagakure Shinobi.
Those losses had been minimal, fortunately, and Akatsuchi would always be glad that their Doton techniques were superbly suited to guerilla warfare. The ability to pop out of the earth, launch an attack- and sometimes without leaving the earth at all- and return to the earth to escape was invaluable as Shinobi and was responsible for a majority of his forces having been thus far unscathed.
Konoha was made up of tenacious bastards, though, and while they might have not been as Doton-inclined their trackers had still managed to locate Iwa Shinobi in bad positions and luck accounted for all other Iwa losses. Bad luck for them and good luck for Konoha. It didn't help that Konoha had sent out everything they could spare while Akatsuchi was operating with only a portion of Iwagakure's might but he also had the benefit of not needing to contest with Konoha forces directly.
They were, after all, only a diversion. He was sure Konoha expected that, too, but whatever scouts they had sent out would have returned already with no news of Iwagakure forces in surrounding countries and no one sane would try to maintain a diversion for any significant period of time, there were too many chances they'd be discovered or overwhelmed.
Except that's exactly what Iwa was going for. They were a resilient people and if anyone could weather the storm until their support was in the right position it was going to be them. By the time Kurotsuchi brought the rest of their troops through Kawa and into southern Hi no Kuni they would already be confident that Iwa had no presence there and Konoha's troops would be fully engaged trying to root out Iwa Shinobi from surrounding minor countries.
And then they would be completely cut off and sandwiched between Iwa fronts as they moved to occupy the rest of Hi no Kuni and take control of Kagayaku Machi. He had to wonder just how long Konoha's Will of Fire would continue to burn when their country believed they had failed and their funding was cut off.
Akatsuchi gave it a month before they started splitting off to join other villages in search of patrons to line their pockets.
The Will of Fire may have burned brightly in Hi no Kuni but it would never possess the resolve of the mountain.
He would make sure of it.
It hadn't looked like much when she arrived but that was probably the point. It was a rather poor hidden outpost that was immediately recognizable from its surroundings. Even so, Akishi couldn't say she'd ever heard of humans making their dwellings beneath the waves of the ocean. There had been those who lived most of their lives upon ships back when she had last been in the mortal world, sure, and she wouldn't be surprised if there still were but to manage in the water was a new concept to her.
She had instantly found her interest piqued.
That had only grown when she managed to get inside the base. Through an opening on a rocky outcropping she slunk down into a maze of deep blue crystal. Dark from the outside, the inside seemed to allow the light of the sun to partially pierce through in patterns of waves and swirls that shifted with the overlying surface.
It was a bit dark for her tastes- she was a daughter of the sun, after all- but it was beautiful in its own way.
It was also a bit cold, which she was even less of a fan of. If she had been intended to be in the ocean her father would have made her an eel.
Well, he had made eels- those were literally just water snakes- but she wasn't one of them.
Her place was on a nice rock basking in the warmth. Or it would have been if Ashun hadn't fucked everything up.
She still wasn't pleased that she hadn't been permitted to…deal…with that little fucker. For some reason completely beyond her- and possibly beyond even the father, may he have mercy upon her for even thinking such impudence- the High-Priest seemed to like the little worm.
Akishi would have plenty of time to show him what it really meant to serve as a Child of Aū, though, so hopefully that would be put to rest before long. If Ashun somehow managed to remain the model of the ideal Child of Aū in the High-Priest's mind then Akishi might just end up drowning herself in the ocean. It would be a much kinder fate.
For some reason, she thought the High-Priest might both object and thwart her attempts, though she didn't suspect it would be out of some sort of mercy or kindness. No, he would probably do it to ensure she couldn't take the easy way out to escape her torment.
That would be wonderfully cruel, a trait perfectly suited to the High-Priest.
And of course it would be, her father would not be so insistent on swaying the young man to his side unless he was the ideal candidate for the position. Even then, when he'd needed to do so in the past, never had Great Aū gone so far as to send the Elders to the mortal plain in order to beg and plead for the opportunity to serve him and prove their worth.
This one was special, that was obvious.
Akishi might not have known why but that wouldn't stop her from doing as the Father commanded.
Slinking down the crystal tunnels of this strange place, Akishi could have sworn she felt the faintest of presences which she could only assume was the High-Priest himself. Had the completion of his task satisfied the terms of his contract and served to bind them together, even superficially until he officially recognized it or had she simply spent so long away from him that she was only now able to recognize the distinct taste of Aū on her return?
…Had the traces of Aū been washed from her own scales by this mortal world? Is that what made it easier for her to sense it in others? But how could she, the fifth-born, lose the touch of Aū so quickly when it stubbornly clung to a human who had spent a much longer time separated from the sun?
The answers made her very uncomfortable so she pushed them from her thoughts. There was little to be gained dwelling on them anyway, it was better to remain focused on the task at hand.
Following the slight traces of Aū brought her to a larger chamber that split off into several additional rooms. She may have passed this particular chamber entirely if it hadn't been for the multitude of furs that were scattered across the floor. She hadn't seen that in any of the other rooms she passed and, in fact, she only ever seemed to encounter fur where Tsukuyomi was involved.
She actually didn't know if it was due to his own taste or if his own 'children' simply thought he needed them. Admittedly they did look very soft and she could immediately tell that this area was a bit warmer than any of the others she'd gone through.
Oh, and the fact that Naruto was sat at a desk in the corner sort of helped her in identifying the owner of these chambers too.
Slipping beyond the deep purple curtains that separated these chambers from the rest of the undersea compound- one half of them tied back in what she thought was the equivalent of an open door to his private little domain- she noted the immediate quieting of her movement as her scales moved from scraping gently across cold crystal to the pelts in varying greys of his chambers.
She was right, these were soft. How lovely. It was no nap in the sun but it was better than a cave, that was undeniable.
If Tsukuyomi noticed her entrance into his domain he made no showing of it, his attention fixated firmly on the files spread across his workspace as his pen softly scratched against a fresh sheet of paper. It was…relaxing…surprisingly so. The light in here was dim- a majority of it coming from the lamp focused on the desk- and the air was slightly warm. The scent in the air was mixed between Tsukuyomi himself- with the slightest traces of Aū, as she had come to realize was the usual for him- the stacks of loose papers and bound books that surrounded him, and…there was something else she couldn't put her finger on at the moment.
It seemed to originate mostly from the pelts that spread throughout the room but she was absolutely certain that scent had nothing to do with either the original owner of those furs or the process that had been used to clean and prepare them for this purpose.
It was familiar, though, and it sent a pleasant tingle up her spine.
All that combined with the rhythmic scraping of Tsukuyomi's pen and suddenly a nap sounded most wonderful. Perhaps on the couch that had been placed near him, her tail draped over the back to ensure it stayed out of the way.
That could come later, though, first she needed to share the good news.
Continuing until she was beside his desk she curled down until her entire body was prone. Not an easy feat considering her length but she managed by encircling the desk with her tail.
…Huh, that scent was stronger now that her face was all but pressed into the pelts, its name on the tip of her tongue but refusing to be named. It was almost…addicting. She would have to figure it out soon so she could enjoy it more. Well, that or just spend more time in this room. That didn't sound bad at all.
"Tsukuyomi-Sama." She addressed him, taking care to express the proper respect as required by his station- or soon to be station- as High-Priest. Her voice was quiet, loathe as she was to interrupt the comfortable atmosphere of this sanctuary, and she returned to silence immediately after to await his acknowledgement.
His pen paused, the comforting sound falling still, and after a mere second he returned to what he was doing. She could only imagine he had stopped and glanced down at the Ak'Gyun lying prostrate at his feet but she knew that wasn't the case at all.
If he had looked at her she would have felt it. There was no mistaking the weight of those piercing eyes peering at your soul and determining your value. They were far too similar to those of the Father for her to ever be unaware of their presence.
Somehow that was even worse, though. She didn't like being judged by a mortal- even if he was to be the next High-Priest- and she loathed the idea that one might find her lacking in any area - Aba'ri didn't have a monopoly on pride, hers was simply the most blatant aspect of her personality- but somehow being ignored was even worse. Still, she retained both her position and her silence.
When he was ready to grant her audience she would have it, until then she was a guest within his domain here to request his time and attention- even if she brought news about something he'd ordered done. A position of subservience to anyone beyond the father was still new to Akishi and her time spent away from Tsukuyomi hadn't aided that but she wasn't really being given a choice here.
Her father had been very clear about just how much he valued having Tsukuyomi as his High-Priest and she wasn't about to do anything to fail him.
Even if it meant waiting on the whims of a human who was surely keeping her waiting just to be petty. She didn't have to read minds to know he was making her wait just because he could, though she had no idea just how long he intended to make her remain with her face pushed into the pelts of his floor.
And so she would patience of an immortal Kami could surely outlast that of a mortal man, he would only be able to hold off from inquiring about her presence for so long before either boredom- unlikely if he was occupied by his work- or curiosity got the best of him.
While the position was far from comfortable, the combination of his returning writing and the inviting smell of the soft furs had her only a hair's breadth away from dozing when a sudden silence drew her attention back to the mortal world. She didn't know how long it had been- it was hard to judge the passage of time from what little ambient light made it through both the waves and the walls- but she recognized the distinct feeling of his eyes finally meeting her skin and shivered at the sensation.
It wasn't necessarily unpleasant- not completely, it did remind her of the Father, after all- but it was certainly intense. There was no mistaking that sensation.
When it left her for a moment- she couldn't begin to guess at what else may have drawn his attention from her, even momentarily- she actually found herself disappointed.
"Akishi." His voice eventually broke the new silence as the weight of his gaze returned to her. She must have imagined it, but she could have sworn she was pressed ever-so slightly deeper into the thick furs. "I thought I had given you a task." His words may have been slightly accusatory but his tone was completely neutral.
That wasn't right, she wanted to hear the pride he would feel at her news within that voice, especially when he was speaking to her. Even anger at being disturbed- a passionate emotion- would be better than neutrality but, at the very least, it was not disappointment. She wouldn't be able to handle that because if the High-Priest was disappointed in her then there was no way the Father wouldn't feel the same.
She could hardly think of a worse fate.
"And it is complete, Tsukuyomi-Sama. My agents in the capital await your command, Yu no Kuni will follow."
"...Really?" Silence filled the air again, almost oppressively as she waited for something…something…she didn't know what, exactly she was waiting for, but certainly something more than his silence.
"Look at me, Akishi." There was something in his words, a hiss that echoed behind each syllable of the name she'd been granted by Great Aū, that she knew she wouldn't be able to disobey even if she wanted to.
But, most strangely, Akishi found that wasn't the case at all. Was this what it had been like to be in his presence when she'd first met him? Had she somehow forgotten this or had something changed in her absence? Between the scents of the room, the weight of his gaze, and the sound of his voice she found that her head wasn't clear enough to find the answer.
She could almost liken it to a numbness, only it wasn't numb. The exact opposite, really, an overwhelming sense of feeling which still managed to make everything else disappear.
Was 'bliss' the right word? Did it describe this state where nothing else mattered but the feeling she had in his presence, to the point where she became oblivious of everything else? Yes, she thought that might be right.
Her golden eyes met his purple and she knew she wouldn't be able to look away until he gave her permission. Part of her hoped he never would.
"You're not lying to me, are you Akishi?"
"N-no, Tsukuyomi-Sama." She assured him as a tiny voice in the back of her mind added 'Never, High-Priest. Never.'
"So you've replaced Yu no Kuni's royal family? All of it? And you were not discovered?"
"That's right, Tsukuyomi-Sama."
"And you did this on your own?"
She did her best to shrink back at that question but there was nowhere to go and his eyes refused to relinquish their invisible grasp over her. All she could do was writhe in discomfort.
"We….dealt with others on our own, Tsukuyomi-Sama." Was how she decided to answer. "The aid of others paid for through favors and promises, as you commanded, but all using only the means of the Children of Aū."
He held her gaze, looking for any signs of dishonesty and, finding none, gave a single nod.
The surge of relief that trembled through her body knowing he believed her was nearly orgasmic.
"Very well, Akishi, Ak'Gyun of Aū. I swore that if you succeeded I would take upon myself the mantle of Aū's High-Priest. Do you have the amulet of your father?"
"I do, Tsukuyomi-Sama." Moving her hands with some difficulty- and with her abdomen trembling at the unexpected difficulty of maintaining her mostly-prostrate position without the aid of her arms- she managed to reach down to the thin skirts that wrapped around her waist and, more importantly, the belt that held them there. Slipping her hand into one of the pouches hanging from the belt she withdrew the familiar golden amulet that had started everything between Naruto and the Great Serpent God of the Sun.
She felt his fingers brush against her hands as she held it out to him and nearly cried out in despair when they were gone again. Was it just her or was the feeling of Aū that clung to the young Daimyo growing more potent with every breath she took? Even beneath the waves as they were it already felt like he was cloaked in the sun, a pale cloud wearing the sunset like the finest raiments.
His crown of crimson hair was like a nimbus of divinity and as the amulet settled upon his chest it seemed to both lengthen and sway in a breeze that couldn't possibly exist.
Akunaki felt it then, a tugging at her very soul that was no doubt the prompting of an eager Aū. The appointment of his High-Priest was finally at hand, he would not allow this hard fought victory to be snatched from his fangs when he was so close.
"Please…" As her voice escaped her lips even Akishi was surprised by the almost wantonness of her begging. "Your hand, Tskuyomi-Sama, allow me your hand…"
With the amulet secure he placed his left hand back into hers and she was quick to cover it with her other hand, almost like she was scared he might pull away and go back on his word at the last moment.
Reaching deep into herself, she felt for a single strand of her immortal soul and pulled until it came free. She wound this- completely invisible to the naked eye- around their joined hands and followed the veins of his arm back to his heart and to the edge of his own soul.
Or, what she thought was his soul. Touched by so many different things she almost couldn't tell where one part ended and another began, nor could she seem to identify any single portion she was looking at. The only thing she could tell was that it seemed to burn as brightly as her Father's and she was mostly confident that she wasn't just seeing Aū's influence there.
But surely she had to be mistaken on that point- right?
Naruto felt a faint presence settle just outside…himself…as if he had a visitor on the edge of his sealscape that was connected to him but not quite fully present in his personal world. It was decidedly strange, but not as strange as the next few sensations. After attaching the presence seemed to hover around his heart, but not his heart- the heart of his soul was the best way he could describe it and it caressed the edges pleadingly, as if requesting permission.
He granted it.
The feeling pulled at part of his soul, dragging a small portion of his awareness down his arm and then through Akishi's until he reached what he was sure was her heart. Only, instead of just connecting to her heart as it had with his she seemed to draw him in even further, opening her soul to the piece of his until it was nestled in the deepest, most intimate place of her entire existence. It took hold there, took hold and sent out roots he could feel spreading through the core of her soul but for as fascinating as it was his attention was instead by the brilliant light that filled not just his vision but his senses of sound, smell and taste too.
For that one moment, less than a heartbeat, everything was light and warmth and life.
And then he heard the voice.
"Tsukuyomi," It practically purred with victory. "High-Priest," And seemed to take an exceptional amount of satisfaction in being able to call him that. "You hear now the words of Great Aū, the words of The Sun. Listen well and know me forever."
At long last, the covenant was sealed.
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