AN: Hey guys. So, a few weeks ago, this fic experienced its one year anniversary. My plan at the time was to do a big update on the day of the anniversary as a sort of celebration, both of the start of my time as a writer, and as a celebration of you guys, my first audience. I felt I owed it to you guys to see this story through, as you all helped me to get where I am today as a writer with your patience, your support, and your reviews. Unfortunately, as it turned out, the few weeks since that anniversary have been fairly hectic. I kinda moved house three times and emigrated from Canada to Australia, so it was a bit busy. That being said, I'm doing the update now, and I intend to give you guys a minimum of one update every few weeks until I have seen this story through. I feel like I owe it to you guys not to leave my first major project unfinished.
That said, there is a favor I would like to ask of you all in exchange, and I would like to ask you all to read the author's note at the end of the chapter for more on that. Please, it's really important to me. Now, on with the chapter!
The third lord of the village hidden in the rain stood rooted to the spot, his attentions torn between the massive, blazing blue cat on one end of the complex, and the battlefield that was beginning to form near the hole so recently created in the village wall. A tailed beast was a serious problem, but someone with the power to unleash one on his home? That could be an even worse problem. The decision was made for him when the great cat let out a whine of pain, the back half of its body encased by a block of ice the size of a small hill.
Nagato closed his eyes for a moment, torn between anger that Haku had disobeyed the order to stay inside, or gratitude that he and his friends were working to distract the thing. At the very least, it bought him time. He reached within himself, tapping into the strange, ethereal reserves of his rinnegan, and pushed himself gently into the air, heading towards the new battlefield from above. It looked to be a surprisingly small incursion, all things considered, the bulk of the fighting focused around a group of two individuals in heavy black coats decorated with red clouds. They were currently engaged against Konan and Yahiko, holding surprisingly even with his companions through sustained barrages of elemental attacks. This was not altogether very concerning. He trusted his friends to overcome their foes. It was the second conflict that was by far the more distressing.
A third interloper, their face concealed by an orange mask, was engaged in combat with what appeared to be almost the entirety of the village garrison, veteran ninja of the last war, all of them, and was somehow making playthings of them all. More reinforcements were arriving by the second, redirected towards the stranger by his fellow leaders, and yet, no matter their numbers, none of them seemed able to touch the stranger. Even as Nagato watched, a trio of his men attempted an attack on the invader, coming towards the figure from three sides at once, blades at the ready. The first two almost made it close enough to touch the stranger, before, with a series of movements that Nagato barely even managed to track, he severed one of their hands at the wrist, and sent the other flying across the field with a solid blow to the sternum. The third attack, launched from the figure's blindspot, struck home, or so it seemed, the guardsman plunging a blade into the small of his foes back, only for the stranger to casually turn and backhand him into the ground with a thunderous crack. The blade, by all appearances, simply fell out of the intruder's back, not leaving behind even the faintest mark of its presence.
Nagato raised a hand, palm out towards the stranger, and grasped them with his power. The stranger flickered, as though a light switch had been momentarily turned off and on again, projecting them into the world. He pulled, his efforts forcing the stranger up off the ground with significantly less momentum than they should have done. Still, it should be enough to keep the stranger airborne long enough for him to do what he had to.
"All of you!" He shouted, floating forwards toward the remaining members of the garrison. "Go and help fight off the beast! Let me handle this one!" The surrounding ninja responded immediately, turning as one towards the distant conflict, the beast seemingly locked in battle with a giant, quarterstaff wielding toad. Hopefully, they should be enough to keep the little ones alive. He offered a quiet prayer that Shachi hadn't done something heroic and gotten himself killed, before turning to face his new foe.
The stranger had not spent their time airborne just waiting to come back down to the earth, it seemed, and as Nagato returned his attention towards them, they spewed forth a veritable torrent of electricity from their mask, a dozen crackling spears of incandescent cobalt blue sparking towards him, tinting the air with the smell of burning rain. Nagato didn't try to dodge, the strike was too fast to allow him to; instead, he raised his hands, before him, catching one of the bolts of lightning in his right hand, and making a desperate flurry of one handed signs with the left. The jutsu he used to shield himself was not among his favorites; it relied on a mass of shifting, rapidly compacted air and water to shield him, and its high speed of execution was offset by its incredible inefficiency of energy. He restored a degree of his reserves with the bolt caught in his hand, using his rinnegan to dismantle the jutsu into its base chakra and pull it inside of himself. The rest of the bolts hit his bubble, and he grunted slightly at the effort of keeping it up. This foe was strong.
The stranger landed, coming to rest atop a collapsed market stall, and stood, gazing at Nagato.
"So you're the Rinnegan?" The interloper asked in a calm, male voice. "Pleasure to meet you. My name's Tobi. I've been looking for you for a very long time."
Cautiously, Nagato descended, not willing to take this battle in the air, if he could help it. If this man was strong enough to send jutsu like the last one at him, then his specialized reserves were better spent defending than on mobility.
"Can't say I have a damned clue who you are," he replied evenly, changing mental gears so as to swap out the weapons from his Rinnegan's absurd metaphysical armory. He'd already seen that this man had a way of dodging physical harm, but his pulling technique had been effective, at the very least, so he may as well try shoving his foe with an almighty push. "Don't expect you're from the hidden cloud, and yet that," he gestured to the distant form of the tailed beast. "Looks an awful lot like Matatabi, who was last recorded in the hidden cloud's possession. Why are you attacking my home?"
"Tell you what," the stranger replied, his voice polite, almost jovial. "You carve out those almighty eyes of yours and give em to me, and I'll tell you everything there is to know about myself. Hell, I'll even call off the fire monster, sound like a deal?"
"Okay," Nagato summarized. "You're an insane bastard who wants to kill me, got it." He brought his palm forwards, intent upon seizing the stranger once more with his power, and letting of an almighty push of sheer, unbridled kinetic force. The stranger seemed to flicker momentarily out of existence, just as he had done the last time, except now, he did not reappear a moment later, he simply vanished. Nagato changed mental gears at the last second, and pulled back from releasing the blast he had intended. "If this is an invisibility thing," he murmured, glancing around himself in all directions as he turned slowly on the spot. "Then it's a really bad choice. My eyes tend to break through illusion Jutsu." No response. He sighed. Worth a shot.
Had anyone been to ask Nagato exactly how he had felt the attack coming, he would not have been able to tell them. It was as if a pressure was building up in the air to his left, and with it, a looming sense of threat. He ducked, and in that same moment, an arm materialized where his face had been a moment before, jabbing a wickedly sharp blade into the empty space. Without time for thought, Nagato reacted, thrusting his palm upwards toward the exposed arm and letting out his power in a violent blast of kinetic force. There was a sickening crunch as the limb contorted, the forearm snapping backwards in a place where it really wasn't supposed to bend. The fabric of man's sleeve ripped itself away, exposing pale, albino white skin beneath. As if from very far away, Nagato heard an agonized yelp of pain. He grinned.
"That's for attacking my home."
The arm vanished, and Nagato began to replenish himself for another burst, the Rinnegan's seemingly limitless supply of energy slowly pooling in to replace the expended power. A distance away, the figure reappeared, already recovered from the pain, it seemed, despite the shattered limb still hanging from his shoulder.
"That was a great trick," he admitted, a note of anger to his voice. "Wanna see one of mine?" Without any further warning, the broken arm melted, the white flesh losing consistency and flowing into a vague, putty like mass for a few moments, before resolving itself once more, fully healed. Nagato stayed quiet, not willing to let this stranger get to him. Without another word, the stranger charged.
Naruto had never had occasion before to realize just how truly majestic toads could be, but the idea was rapidly instilled in him when the mighty form of Gamaken brought the two pronged head of his quarterstaff down against the gigantic creature's head. Unfortunately, it would seem that despite its magnificence, the attack itself was of no greater effect to the monster than anything they had tried before. The beast yowled in pain, but surged forwards, undeterred, ramming its head firmly into the toad's unprotected stomach. The great warrior let out a bellow of pain as the skin of his chest began to sizzle and pop, filling the air with the disturbingly pleasant smell of fried festival meats.
Within a moment, Naruto and the others surged forwards, everyone gathered around him in a makeshift spearhead as they moved to draw the monster away from their protector. Gamaken saw their approach, and extended a hand as if to ward them off.
"Children! No! You are safest when you're behind me!"
They paid him no heed.
The creature opened its mouth, another sphere of glowing energy pooling in its jaws, collecting against the great toad's flesh and seeming to sink into it with a sound like fat popping, escalated to the volume of a cannon shot.
Sasuke brought forth the spectral arm once more, wreathed now in what appeared to be a glowing purple mist, and used it to cup the great cat around the ear, not hurting to any noticeable degree, but pushing it away from Gamaken's scorched chest for a moment. The sphere of energy raked across the warrior toad's chest as it dissipated, leaving behind not a ragged burn, but a scorched crater where before had been skin, a long line carved out of him a solid foot deep. Gamaken made a noise in the back of his massive throat that was surprisingly quiet, like steam escaping a pipe, his eyes going wide and glassy with the pain. To his great credit, he did not hesitate to pick up his weapon, swiping it into the feline's jaw in a thunderous uppercut. A single tooth fell from the colossal creature's maw.
Haku followed up with another blast of ice. Smaller, this time, barely a fraction of what he'd managed before. Naruto suspected his boyfriend's reserves were already running close to empty, judging by the pallor that sapped his already pale skin of what little color remained. The sheet of frost built up from the ground this time, encasing the creature's ankles and sealing them momentarily to the floor.
Naruto took the chance while the creature was immobile, bringing his arm back and flinging it towards the creature like a baseballers pitch, and sent a length of glowing chain streaming towards its midsection. His first instinct had been to go for the face, seal up the mouth before it had a chance to fire another laser blast, or melt any more of Gamaken, but he didn't want to waste the shot, and if he missed... he didn't want to miss.
The chain struck home just as the massive cat pulled free, the ice giving way around its feet with a squeal like chalkboard nails. It glared at them, opened its mouth, and was immediately rebuked by both the great toad and Sakura. It had been expecting the attack, and brought up a massive paw to counter Gamaken's thrust, striking the weapon so hard that it exploded, shards of metal and wood the size of surfboards flying in every conceivable direction. As for Sakura's attack, the beast chose simply to weather it. She sent another chunk of stone streaking towards it, and it took the blow on the brow with a growl. This time, however, the energy gathering in its maw did not dissipate, and it spewed forth a veritable stream of burning red flame, straight down towards the young sage.
No one was close enough to intercept. Sakura stood there, transfixed, as the flames spewed forth to engulf her. Naruto extended a hand in desperation, seizing the girl with his power and pulling her towards him with all his might. She barely made it clear in time, slamming into Naruto in an uncontrolled dive and sending them both sprawling to the floor.
Sasuke, it seemed, did not see what had saved his girlfriend, and turned his eyes towards the creature with a scream that was stuck halfway between rage and deep, utter anguish. In the back of his mind, Naruto took note to tease his brother about that if they actually made it out of this.
Sasuke's rage, it seemed, was not entirely useless, however. Yelling as if the very world around him was aflame, Sasuke pulled a second gargantuan susanoo arm from the air around him, wreathed the two ghostly fists in the same pitch black flames that Naruto had once achieved in his experiments with the sharingan, and began to pummel the colossal cat with them again and again. Where the fists struck, the flames stuck and stayed, like tar clinging to fur. The creature roared, a more genuine expression of pain than any they had yet managed to draw from it, and began almost instinctively to cringe away from the barrage, bringing its broad tails up in some attempt to hide from the blows. One tail caught in Naruto's chain, and the creature was ensnared; not immobile yet, but there was a chance. Naruto pulled himself upright.
The monstrous cat reared back, gathering more flames between its jaws, and surged forth to spew its fury down on Sasuke, who, in his state, did not even think to dodge. He was saved only by Gamaken, the tremendous fighter unclipping a shield from his back and stepping forth from behind the cat, placing the barrier directly between the stream of flames, and his miniature ally. Gamaken let out a deep rumble of agony as the flames seared his hand, the bare skin exposed directly to the flame.
The flame was doused, albeit momentarily, by a rushing stream of water, fountaining out from the distant form of Shachi. The cooling water drenched the great toads hand and he let out an audible moan of relief.
Naruto refused to be taken in by the spectacle. He glanced behind himself to where Sakura knelt against the ground, apparently charging for another burst of whatever superpower she worked by now.
"Sakura," he murmured quietly. "I need you to get me airborne so I can start wrapping my chains around that thing. Can you do it for me?"
"Can't you fly?" She asked, one eye peeking open to gaze at him while she focused on her jutsu.
"I kinda blew that option pulling you out of the fire," he grunted. "It takes a couple seconds to recharge. We don't have that long."
"... How much do you need?" She asked, the orange rims once more beginning to emerge around her eyes.
"Just get me airborne and circling the thing." He replied. "I'll have my flight back soon enough, and I can do the landing myself, but we need this thing tied up now!"
He cast a glance towards the fight. It was not going well. Sasuke continued to pummel the creature, his face set in a cold, angry glare, one of the ghostly arms laying splintered and broken on the floor beside him as he struck at it again and again with the remaining one. The cat was ignoring him, the flames about his fists having extinguished themselves once more, leaving only the ones burning on the creature's flank. It was bearing down on Haku, its jaws snapping as the small ninja pulled hand sign after hand sign, desperately calling forth nothing but tiny shards of ice. He was depleted. Shachi tended to Gamaken, who lay prone some way away.
"I can do that," Sakura murmured. "Tell me when you're re-"
"Now!" He cut her off, and she nodded.
"Sage art: Great barricade."
She made a complicated seal with her hands, and pressed it to the ground. Immediately, Naruto felt the ground beneath his feet begin to shift, before a prong of stone simply erupted from the tiles beneath him, launching him high into the air with an uncontrolled surge of inertia. He soared upwards above the beast, and took his chance to send another length of chain streaming forth like a whip.
This time, he had no option for caution. The monster was bare feet from Haku, its jaws open wide. This time, he aimed for the face.
The move struck home, and the chain met against the side of the monster's face, where it stuck. He stopped extending it, and seized his end of the cord with both hands, feeling the muscles in his arms quiver and pop against the strain as he tried desperately to pull the monster away from his partner, fighting against the force of his own momentum and fighting to not be simply torn apart. The chain began to slide free under his grip, his hand giving out in some instinct to save his arms, leaving the creature undiverted. There was a single moment of desperate terror as the monster pushed forth to snap at Haku with teeth like foot long spikes, before Sasuke's remaining susanoo arm grasped the chain in its fist and, with a tortured yell, yanked the monster backwards. Naruto sent his brother a silent, thankful prayer, and set his sights once more on binding the beast. He threw chain after chain as he began to fall, binding flanks and tail and spine, when the monster turned its attention to him, another gush of flame ready in its jaws. Sasuke gave another yank with his skeletal arm, only for it to shatter, the spectral arm falling to the ground in glowing, half translucent chunks. The flame massed between the creature's teeth, and Naruto closed his eyes, hoping against hope for a miracle.
There was a sound like the hiss of steam, and a yowl of annoyance, and Naruto opened his eyes.
Water. A lot of water, from over a hundred sources. He saw them now, from his new aerial vantage point, dozens upon dozens of ninja, men and women of the hidden rain, not one of them younger than thirty, were spaced out below him, firing jutsu after jutsu at the creature. Each, individually, was tiny, but together, they had served well enough to douse the monster's firebreath. Naruto let out a sigh of relief as he felt the power of his Rinnegan coming back to him.
"Oh, about god damn time!" He yelled, tapping into his flight to turn his fall into a dive, the multitude of chains trailing wildly behind him as he prepared his final push. He would not go for disabling the creature, there was no way they had the time for that anymore. There was only one, insanely stupid option left.
The monster swiped at the reinforcements below, scattering men and women across the shattered floor in a cacophony of noise and pain. The line held firm, the rain was strong.
Naruto adjusted his course, aiming for the monster's head at full speed. When he drew close enough, he gathered his chains, and cast them forwards like a net. They struck and bound to the demon's skull, looping down to the floor and binding, across vast swathes of it, anchoring the monster's face a bare five or six meters from the ground. It pulled and strained, but the chains held firm. Naruto continued to dive, passing within inches of its flaming form as he streaked towards the ground like a rocket. As he passed, he felt the heat of it burn his skin, leaving it stinging raw and red. He hit the ground hard, and made no effort to catch himself, falling on his back to the floor beneath the monster's head. The demon noticed, and turned its gaze down at him, eyes of pure fire and rage bearing down towards him. It opened its jaws. He raised his hand.
"Almighty push," he muttered tiredly, his palm directed towards the space just behind the creature's jaw. Then, he let out a blast, all the energy he could conceive of, dwarfing even the push he had used to roll the massive form of Gamabunta a few days before. He pushed hard enough that he felt the darkness creeping at the edges of his mind, ready to pull him into oblivion.
The monster reared, its back and hind legs twisting and pulling as it tried to compensate for the unbroken force that pushed at its forward shoulders. It continued upwards, further and further, straining all the way, until the chains binding its head to the ground went taught. Then, for the first time, it let out a genuine scream, a human scream, filled with pain and horror and fear, as it found its neck caught as the rope in a tug of war between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. The scream went on for less than a second, before something within the creature's body gave out with a snap like a falling oak tree. Then, quite suddenly, it went limp, its flaming form unresistant and still. It hung, suspended in the air for a moment, as the remainder of Naruto's push filtered its energy out into the surroundings, then fell to the ground with a loud thud. Not long after that, the flames began to fade.
"Yay team," Naruto murmured unenthusiastically, before finally allowing unconsciousness to take him.
AN: You know, I'm not gonna lie. That all felt very good to write. It's been a while since I worked on a Naruto story, and I forgot how freeing the fight scenes feel. Hope you all enjoyed it, please feel free to comment or review. Now, onto that thing I said I wanted your help with.
Some of you will be aware that my original web-series, 'Touch', has been slowly but surely growing in popularity over the five or so months since I began publishing it. Most of the feedback I have recieved on it has been positive, and I am glad about that, but the truth is that my progress with it is about to hit a wall, a wall that I need your help to get past.
There is a website called TopWebFiction, which hosts a popularity vote for notable web-serials, and which also serves as a prime source of advertising to a number of online authors, myself included. Functionally, it works like this: the more votes you get, the more new readers you are likely to attract. Now, the wall that I am about to hit is that I have pretty much reached the limit of how highly my story can be ranked, because everyone who remains above me has had years to establish their voting fanbase, where I have had about five months. In the hopes of redressing that balance, I came to you guys.
If enough of you vote for my story on that site, which is free to do, and takes less than two minutes, then I can break through that wall, and really begin to establish myself as an online author. So here I speak to each and every one of you, as an individual. Please, go there, and vote for my story. If you think my writing is good, that I possess an entertaining or thought provoking quality as an author, please go on there and vote for Touch, because you have no idea how much it would help me. Thank you.
Now, I am not going to hold any threat over your heads if you do not help me with this. I will continue to update this story a minimum of once every couple of weeks until it is finished, regardless of whether you choose to help me. That being said, if enough of you guys DO help me, then I'll probably be REALLY grateful to you, and will be likely to update this story WAY faster because of it, so if you want incentive, beyond helping an author to make it out into the world, then there's that, I guess. Thank you all and I really hope you want to help me on this one.