Disclaimer: We do not own Naruto

Co-Author and Beta: Etheral-23

Chapter 63: The Decisive Moment Act IV

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Naruto had felt a similar tension like this before, back when the Konoha shinobi were marching to raid Blood Leash's hideout. A dangerous mission if there was ever one. But this heaviness weighing down on them all was even more significant than that day. They were marching to war against an enemy whose power had reduced a nation to ruins; they knew the sheer power this monster wielded, what these demons from literal hell could do.

Yet they marched all the same, for they could not allow these creatures to run freely. Not after what they did, not after so many people died and suffered at their hands.

The remnants of the Tree forces, shinobi and samurai alike, carried a sense of cold fury, the type that still burned like ice. They wanted revenge, and the Land of Fire would help them.

They marched through the central road to the Land of Tree's capital, Hashare. While the rest of their split forces gathered at the other two routes. Maiyuri and the commanders rode at the helm of their troops; Naruto sat behind her with a tight grip on her haori, looking at the steely resolve in her mind.

"I'm leading men and women into a dangerous battle for the first time in my life, " She said loud enough that only Naruto heard her.

"Are you nervous?"


"I'm a bit nervous, too," He said, "We all are, but... we choose to be here; we choose to follow you."

Maiyuri let out a soft breath from her nose. "Thank you."

The sea of trees at the side of the road parted to reveal a large clearing at the end of the other routes the rest of their forces marched through. Gathering in large battle lines as they approached their destination. Naruto could not imagine what it felt to the Tree folk, seeing the seat of their homeland so wrecked. Walls were crumbling down, burnt buildings had fallen, and the heavy scent of smoke and ashes permeated the air. Inside it, the monstrous invaders dwelled, plundering their homes.

But the greatest of all those monsters sat before the walls; the giant gashadokuro seemed to slumber, its enormous black bones lacking the malicious glare of the red flames that dwelled inside the creature; it looked like a great doused bonfire.

The creature's fused skulls twitched, the sounds of bones cracking like thunder. Its jaw tittered, and a glow emerged from the center of its open thorax—supernatural fires burning inside it once more.

The gashadokuro stood up, roaring with such ferocity it sent gusts of wind everywhere.

Around him, his peers could only watch in horror.

"Holy shit..." Kiba muttered in disbelief.

"It's," Even Neji was stunned to his core, "monstrous" He didn't need to have his Byakugan activated to see the chakra of that thing was pure malevolence.

Akari grunted, turning to Kushina. "Your uncle ready?"

Kushina dismounted from her horse, "Of course, he is."

Yuma came to her longtime friend's side, "So we stick with the plan?"

"Yes," Maiyuri nodded, unsheathing her katana.

Another roar came from the gashadokuro, but another mighty roar followed that. Then, shooting out from the skies above, Genryu unleashed his fury upon the ancient skeletal monster slamming it into the ruins and ground.

As that happened, Maiyuri, Yuma, and Kushina dashed ahead to join the silver-scaled dragon chief. Tsunade soon yelled, "Now!"

"Go!" Akari roared as the troops charged into the ruined city.

Genryu bit down on one of the skeletal arms, using his body like a coiled spring, and whipped the giant demon flying. "Hell of a Friday, eh uncle!?" Kushina called out as she, Maiyuri, and Yuma joined the Dragon's side.

"You call the most damnable of times, Niece!"

"At least it's not boring!"

As they charged, Tsunade looked at Tsukiko's brother and the massive skeletal monster. "You sure we shouldn't join in and add extra muscle?" She asked Lyn.

"Already lots of demons inside the city!" Lyn replied from her mount. "And this Dhunarak guy, better not take chances!"

The dragon chief bared his teeth against the abomination, snapping at the creature, only for this one to turn to dust and manifest dozens of feet to the side, where it brought its fists down upon the dragon. But Genryu deftly moved out of the way, and the fists cracked the ground. "Kushina!" His serpentine eyes shifted to his grandniece, who quickly approached. "Can your chains keep that thing from vanishing?!"

"Haven't gotten a chance yet!" She admitted with a shrug, "But I'm confident of it!"

"It'll have to do," Yuma said, drawing her swords. "That thing is tough as hell, and I don't know how much damage it can take"

"We'll find out," With a leap, Maiyuri, Kushina, and Yuma jumped upon the great silver dragon's back. "Try to pin it down!"

It was a spectacle beyond what most mortals had seen in their lives, the great dragon lord fighting against a demon of song and legend. Their clash created gusts of wind so powerful it was like a storm. Genryu bit down on one of the arms, his great fangs barely able to make the smallest indentations, as the brave women jumped down his back and surrounded the creature, attacking from all sides.

"Wow..." Sakura muttered in awe.

"Pick your jaws off the ground!" Akari shouted; Sakura's focus returned to the task at hand, and she gripped the one-eyed woman's armor tightly as they rode.

The horses galloped at full speed, their entire regiment splitting in two, giving a wide berth to the clash of giants that made the earth around them tremble, joining in with the other two divisions. Naruto kept his gaze on the battlefield for a moment as he rode on Ushiwakamaru. Then, the royal horse neighed loudly, "There! The walls!"

The great city walls had multiple sections broken down, and as they drew closer, they could barely see any demons placed around them.

Lyn grunted, "Did they even place any defenses here?!"

Ire bloomed on Anko's face, "Do these bastards think we are so weak they aren't even going to try!?" She seethed, holding Kakashi's waist.

"As far as they are concerned, they won," Kosuke declared, with Kuma running beside him. "anything that comes now, they believe, will amount to nothing in the end."

"For a guy raised by bears, you are surprisingly deep," Ino noted.

Kosuke only made a loud grunt while Karin kept her gaze forward, holding onto her brother. "They aren't even moving to intercept us! They have got to sense us by now!"

Sasuke's, Neji's, and Hinata's prized doujutsu kept scanning for anything around them. "It's like Karin said; nobody is even out here." Neji addressed.

A long frown glowed on Shikamaru's face, "I don't like this."

"We don't have a choice," Asuma quipped back. "We have to stop this Dhunarak guy here and now."

Kiba, through his opinion in the mix, "Make the sons of bitches pay for all this!" Akamaru barked in agreement on his companion's head.

They neared the walls, and the horses and none-riding forces burst through. The city was in the same state of destruction as the Hidden Tree Village. With crumbled buildings everywhere, ash sooting the surfaces. Bodies were missing, and they didn't want to know what the demons had done to them.

Speaking of the monsters, in the ashy streets and the rooftops, dust and sand rose and took the form of those cloaked, scythe-wielding creatures Lyn and the others had fought before, howling animalistically as their foes approached.

"Holy crap!" Naruto shouted as he saw the monsters for the first time, the exact sentiment of shock shared by his peers and companions.

"Here they are!" Lyn said, brandishing her naginata. "They're the foot soldiers, but don't underestimate them!"

Ushiwakamaru neighed fiercely, "TO BATTLE!" Naruto yelped as the horse rose, lifting his hooves only to slam them into the ground. A cloud of smoke emerged from the impact, and from it emerged the royal horse in his battle form. A humanoid torso connected to the horse's body, bearing armor and wielding a large glaive. The horse picked Naruto up, "Heads up!"

And with a heave, he threw the boy high into the air. Naruto brought his hands together and performed his favorite technique. "Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!" Dozens of clones manifested in the air, falling to attack the creatures.

The battle began in earnest as more and more demons manifested from the dust and ash, clashing against the warriors from Fire and Tree.

Biting down on his thumbs, the original Naruto went through the hand seals Sasuke followed before slamming their hands to the ground. An enormous explosion of smoke, fire, ice, claws, and teeth came out with Jian, and Hui Zhong came alongside Abhay and Ajeet, who roared for the coming fight.

Peeking out from Naruto's collar was Hien, who surveyed the surroundings, "This is quite a dire situation!"

"No kidding!" The blond Uzumaki quipped, shoving a rasengan into a demon's chest.

A demon screeched, struck by a fireball in the face courtesy of Yasu, who wrapped around Karin's neck. "Thank you!"

"At your service Karin-Sama!"

Jian coiled around a giant demon, forcing its maw open before unleashing a torrent of flame down its gullet. Another monster almost pounced on him till the jaws of Abhay clamped down on the hell beast's throat, bringing it down hard. Lyn let out a warcry worthy of the warriors of old, twirling her flaming naginata as she descended upon the monsters. A swipe severed one the head of one and immediately crumbled to dust. She stabbed the weapon behind her and pierced through the next of another, the gust of flames that followed setting the demon ablaze. Her naginata danced with swaths of fire as she cut a fiery warpath through any monsters in her wake.

Tenten grinned, inspired by the ferocity of the warrior woman. She threw dozens upon dozens of projectiles, shuriken, and kunai, riddling every hellspawn she could see as her three-segmented staff hit with bone-breaking force. Her teammates displayed similar initiative in their ways. Lee let out a high-pitched sound as he attacked with both swiftness and power, his blows stunning and killing the monsters in equal measure, spinning kicks that snapped bones and broke necks with frightening ease. Neji did not bother using precision attacks on these scythe-wielding demons, their entire beings were one giant chakra point that he could not close, and their strange biology would just make it a waste of time to try and strike pressure points he did not know even existed. So instead, he laced his palms with highly concentrated chakra and hit them with devastating power. The energy-laced hands sundered muscle with brutal efficiency, his attacks swift and merciless as he still seemed to use precise taijutsu even if it was not the intent.

Gai, for his part, battled multiple demons at once, punching them and kicking them into dust the moment they came close. Two struck from both sides, their jagged scythes sweeping overhead, and all Gai did was dodge by doing the splits; this resulted in the demons' weapons burying in each other's skulls. Then, as they turned to dust, Gai took hold of the weapons and dashed, cutting monsters apart with devilish arms and finishing by burying them both on a large enemy's chest, and delivering a bone-pulverizing punch to its skull.

Asuma and Kurenai operated in unison with one another as the genjutsu mistress found her usual talents were ineffective against these beasts. So with a kunai in each hand, she paralleled her lover with his trench knives glowing with wind chakra. Their weapons and Taijutsu tore into their respective opponents precisely and brutally. Giving a solid roundhouse from the Sarutobi, he kicked a demon hard into the waiting blades of Yuhi, who stabbed it directly in the head.

Shikamaru felt some relief as his clan's trademark jutsu ensnared several demons that Choji brought their ends with an enlarged fist. Choosing not to use her clan's jutsu, Ino resorted to throwing Kunai and star with explosive tags Naruto made for her. As per her request, these tags held a bigger bang than usual, which worked well against the hellspawn whose bodies exploded upon being pierced by the weapons.

Akamaru was in the hinged form of his master as the two moved like literal tornados into oncoming demons. Hinata followed her older cousin's example in using palm strikes with chakra. Shino's bugs flew around her, with the bug user using his insects like a barrier as they refused to go near the demons.

Soujiro's katana moved like water, severing heads of demons alongside Sasuke, who unleashed a volley of fire jutsus. A monster that tried to attack the teen from behind was quickly impaled by an ice sharp from Hui Zhong, for which the Uchiha nodded in appreciation for the save. Close by, Kuma roared with his maw clamping down on a demon's neck with Kosuke ran his giant fist into a hellspawn's chest.

Tsunade was a landslide in human form; no matter the foe or monster in her path, she barrelled through them with superhuman strength. Demons were torn apart with a single punch, flown away in pieces with her devastating kicks, or just thrown with enough force; their impact buried them into walls or the ground.

Miharu and Namika had fought in battles before, bandits and the like, but nothing as grand scale as this assault. Nothing like this war. Yet, the twins fought with the experience of seasoned warriors, trained since young with the highest responsibility; To protect the royal line.

Maiyuri was more than their charge; she was their friend, princess, and leader. The woman they grew up with stood by her as she talked passionately about her dreams for a more prosperous Land of Fire and came to believe as she did. They believed in her vision. And swore to fight for it.

Namika tore through a demon with a straight sword; the weapon disappeared from her grasp, and then she switched to a spear, piercing another demon's skull. She changed again, this time to a heavy axe, and cut a demon's weapon in half, along with the devil itself. She barely remained with more than one weapon at a time, constantly adapting and flowing around her enemies.

However, Miharu's only weapon was his sword, and he wielded it with a mastery that surpassed his sister's talent with her multiple weapons. Namika fought with a hundred tools at his disposal, while Miharu focused on a single one and took his skill with the blade to the absolute limit. Cutting through demons as though they were made of paper, bringing swift ends to them with almost artistic talent.

The twins were always different reflections of each other. Excitable and quiet, contemplative and bombastic. A jack of all trades and a master of one. Always complimenting each other with perfect balance.

Ushikamaru was born to the horse clan of the Umobashi plains, who had long since sworn their loyalty to the Akiha clan. He met the woman who would be his rider when she was too young to ride him. Over the years, he watched her grow from a little thing to a woman of honor, discipline, integrity, and master of herself. And he took great pride in calling her his rider.

His enormous glaive cut down scores of demons; his hoofs trampled over their bodies, and he would destroy every single challenge to his mistress's ambitions.

The horse, the bodyguards, Maiyuri's three most loyal subjects, and the most devoted friends.

"Unleash your hordes, spawns of hell," The great horse neighed challengingly. "You will see us as more than a match. For we fight for our mistress."

"We fight for our princess," Miharu solemnly said as he cut another demon in half.

Namika smirked with wildness, "For she is the woman… who shall change Gogyou-koku!"

Around them, soldiers battled the demons with ferocity and determination. The Tree shinobi and samurai fought fearlessly, fueled by the pain of their loss. Even as the demons numbered in the thousands, they would not stop or retreat; even if they had to die here, so be it.

The natives of Tree still had something to protect. Civilians had managed to evacuate deep into the safe hidden areas around the village, the great trees that symbolized their nation may have been burnt down and destroyed, but they had not taken out their roots. The mighty trees of their land had existed for millennia, cut down the forest, and yet the heart of their nation would remain, growing again from their roots.

That's what they had believed for so long. Now all they felt was rage.

Revenge was their only creed now.

Vengeance for their people. For their nation.

For every shinobi and samurai of the Land of Trees present this day, they would kill ten demons. Make them pay a hundredfold for every life they took

Toshirou, the last highest-ranking member of the shinobi force, was a man who had lost it all. His family, his comrades, his home. He fought intending to die this day; they all did. And that made them so dangerous.

He did not shout as he fought; people shouted, and animals roared. The noises coming from his mouth did not belong to a person; they belonged to fury incarnate. And he unleashed that fury upon the monsters who took everything from him.

The creatures swarmed upon them with no logic or strategy, merely a blind bloodlust and hungry fury. Was this their nature at work, or was their master too confident of their odds?

They kept pushing through until they reached the city's center, where the once grand palace lay in burnt-down ruins, a husk of its former self. Before the ruins sat the demon whose visage she had seen before by the others, dressed in a bizarre set of robes covering its inhumanly tall form, the visible parts of his skin showing glowing blue lines. Metallic greaves and plates, a chest piece in the shape of a star, shoulder pads, and a large neckband where only the thinnest blue line between them could be seen. There was no face to be found, only a highly ornate headpiece with two thin lines of light where its eyes could be.

Two others on the demon's side radiated power just like their master. A hulking beast of bulging muscle, with a large jaw filled with sharp teeth, wearing unevenly covering plates of armor that showed his red-skinned chest filled with demonic markings. His growls felt like thunder as his blank eyes narrowed with ferocity. And a female demon with an impossible alluring body despite its inhuman nature, with crimson skin, long flowing black hair, and long horns adorning her head. Her eyes were a blazing yellow, with the pupils slit like a reptile's; they radiated pure mirth and desire.

The demon in the chair barely shifted. Instead, he clapped sardonically at his 'guests.' "Welcome, welcome" His voice felt like a sound echoing off metallic surfaces. "You've made quite the show so far, a most entertaining one."

Tsunade suddenly grabbed hold of the ground, ripping out a massive chunk of stone and earth, and hurled it at the demon with frightening speed.

The demon held up a hand, and as if the air solidified and became paper thin, the boulder split perfectly in two before it could reach him, the chunks flying past him and impacting loudly.

The demon laughed, amused. "My, those are good instincts! But, unfortunately, not enough people go right in for the kill."

Aezvyn purred, "Oh, I like this one. It is invigorating finding a human with a spine."

"You're not my type, honey," Tsunade sneered, maintaining her focus on Dhunarak, "By the decree of the Fire Daimyo. We have been ordered to remove your demonic presence from these lands with extreme prejudice."

A chuckle escaped the masked demon's lips, "Oh, have you now?" Grimaldous let out a low predatory growl, "Oh, we shall get to the fun within moments, my friend." He rose from the broken throne, "Let us break these humans, shall we?"

Kosuke's head shot upwards upon hearing a roar of a giant tribal-masked demon with its massive muscular arms raised. The large Uzumaki and his furry companion moved just in time before this new enemy's fists cracked the ground uprooting the earth in chunks. "Tremble, human! Your death shall be at the hand of Zoros, the undefeated!"

Cocking his head for a moment, Kosuke soon popped his knuckles with Kuma growling and ready for battle. "Let's see what you got then."

Dhunarak's hidden eyes narrowed at the sight of a young human child cloaked in crimson energy in the shape of a fox who soon landed near the buxom blond. "Jinchurriki... Humanity's flawed attempts to utilize an artificial demon's power as a weapon. And placed within a child no less, and you call us monsters."

Naruto growled at the devil.

"I applaud your efforts, but you have so much to learn."

Before their eyes, the demon began rising. Floating in the air as though gravity had no hold on him.

Arcs of shining purple energy danced on its dance as though forming a warped version of a mandala. Although the sheer energies coming from him felt more mystical than most jutsu, this stepped into the realm of true magic. The power to conjure energies much more freely than what ninjutsu was capable of.

"So allow me to show what a true monster is"

The demon held a hand, and a bolt of purple lightning appeared. The attack was fast, almost blinding with its intensity. But, thanks to long-honed years of instincts, Tsunade leaped out of the way as the lightning carved a path of scorched earth on its path.

"Taste the power of my magic!" Dhunarak proclaimed with arrogance. "Feel my spells and tremble!"

He made a grasping motion and swung both arms, and the earth around Tsunade came alive, rising and moving almost liquidly. Then, it slammed into her with the force of a landslide, making her gasp in pain as the earth covering her, solidifying, pressuring her body more and more.

With her superhuman strength, Tsunade tore all the earth from around her before it could crush her. Slamming her foot on the ground, this one cracking from the pressure, she lept at high speed towards the floating demon. She reared her fist back and slammed it upon his face. At least, that was the intent, for the devil warped away in a flash of light. His body was dematerializing and forming once more behind her.

Tsunade grits her teeth. 'Teleportation...!' And almost instantaneous too. That was a highly advanced space-time ability. The kind humans couldn't duplicate easily.

The demon chuckled, amused, "Your brute strength is no match for a true master of mysticism" He held up a hand, and Tsunade found herself locked inside a bubble of energy.

The demon made a downward motion with his fingers, and the sphere with Tsunade inside descended at high velocity, impacting the ground and cracking its surface. Tsunade groaned as she tried to stand up despite the pain. Only for a great force to slam against her, luminous pillar-like constructs descended upon her back as chains wrapped around them and the Hokage. She was forcing her arms and legs to cease as they constricted her body.

"Shit...!" Tsunade swore as she struggled against her bonds.

"Tsunade-sama!" Sakura shouted as she and her peers raced to help the Hokage. Only to stop in their tracks by the horned demon woman appearing right in front of them.

"Tsk tsk, leave them to their fun; we have our own game to play~."

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Lyn's body spun with flames and her naginata, tearing through several more minor demons before her danger senses kicked in screaming. The redhead barely evaded the oncoming charge of a large red-skinned horned barreling towards her with startling speed.

The giant demon spun around with a fierce glare, "You shall beg for death, Uzumaki..."

Saying nothing, Lyn simply got herself ready for battle. Close by, the Genin senseis found themselves standing against an average-sized green-skinned demon adorned in loose pants and a sleeveless hooded vest. It had a round goblin-like head, glowing orange eyes, sharp teeth, and six arms holding a different weapon.

"Greetings, humans," It spoke in a raspy guttural.

Gai's eyes focused with a glare. Despite looking smaller (weaker) than the others. He could see the hardened solid muscles of each arm and body of this hellspawn. "Do not underestimate it," he said before going into a combat stance.

"Like you have to tell us," Asuma quipped with his trench knives glowing with chakra.

"That is a Naknada," Hui Zhong called out while assisting several humans, "Goblin demons!"

The Naknada snarled, "Unsurprising, a wretched dragon knows of my people. As your kind has butchered many of us across the centuries!" However, he focused his attention on the humans, "for which I shall happily reap our vengeance upon you all." he smiled maliciously. "I shall pick you all apart, piece by piece."

"You hear one threat about mutilation; you hear them all," Anko said in a droned voice as she held kunai in a stance. "I don't know if you've noticed, but we're tearing you apart. You're not going to survive by your lonesome, pal."

The six-armed demon smiled.

They heard a hissing sound, and a giant blur slithered over the ground. Kurenai and Asuma jumped out of the way as a massive demon with the body of a snake and a woman's torso coiled and prompted herself up to twice their height. Her scales covered her face, where the similarities of human and serpent blended. She bared her fangs as her slit-shaped eyes glared balefully at them, hissing with venom.

A haze of red became apparent among the chaos of the battlefield, both from the figure dashing back and forth and from the blood it spilled. It stood a few feet from the shinobi, long bone-like claws protruding from its arms coated in blood. It was lizard-like in appearance, with red scales over most of its upper body and black leather-like skin on its belly down to its legs. The beast's maw was like the mix of a gecko and an angler fish; it chittered its teeth as blood lust radiated from it.

But the worst came for last, as they felt the tremendous pressure of unholy killing intent washing over them. The ground seemed to ripple in a mirage-like effect, a purple glow shining like a gate to the abyss had opened. Anko, Kakashi, and Gai jumped out of the way as a creature emerged with a supernatural cry, brandishing a deadly scythe. The demon looked almost identical to the most common rendition of the Grimm Reaper. With a gaunt, almost skeletal frame of pale dusty skin, a tremendous tattered dark cloak wrapped around it, and of course, the scythe. The sharp edges did not look like they were made of metal, but instead, a purple, almost crystalline substance which seemed to flow with ethereal energy. Inside it, the energy flowed like a mixture of water and smoke, taking on the moving shape of wailing faces. Its sunken eyes looked at them with a bale glow; the three-meter-tall monstrosity howled a shrill, echoing sound that made the souls of lesser mortals shudder.

Kakashi dryly gazed at Anko, who blinked wide-eyed at the entourage of demonic beings standing beside the Naknada. "You just had to jinx it, didn't you?"

"Shut up."

A wide, mischievous grin formed on the six-armed demon, "Let the slaughter begin!"

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Genryu roared, unleashing a stream of fire upon the monstrous gashadokuro crying out as the force of the attack sent it crashing into several ruined buildings. Yuma let out a cheer, "How does that feel, you bonehead!"

"Focus," Maiyuri reproached, charging beside Kushina, "We must keep applying as much pressure as we can!"

Without a word to the Uzu matriarch, her back erupted with golden chains shooting out, dashing towards the ancient and powerful demon. As it rose, portions of its form were soon wrapped by the Uzumaki's prized bloodline. 'Please hold, please hold, please hold!' The redhead mentally chanted. Upon midway rising, the enormous beast soon came to a restrained stop via the golden chains, "YES!"

Kushina's cheer soon was replaced with a cry of strain, with the gashadokuro roaring in defiance and trying to thrash out of the chains. "I can't hold this guy for too long!"

"It will be enough!" Her uncle yelled, slamming a clawed fist into the demon's skeletal fused head.

The scales and claws hit against the supernaturally hard bone. Even as the total weight of his fist crashed against the head, it only made small cracks on its surface, as the nails had better luck in scrapping the bone and leaving jagged lines over its surface. As Genryu reared for another strike, the gashadokuro moved its free hand and slammed it over the ground, creating a shockwave that threw Kushina off balance and sent her flying back. Her control and focus were hampered; the chains fizzled out of existence and released the demon.

Its body became a storm of dust and ash, moving away from Genryu's reach. Then, a giant skeletal arm solidified into existence, slamming down on Genryu's long back. The dragon roared as it was forced to the ground, the weight of the demon coming down on him as more of its body materialized. Multiple arms held him down, with the two upper ones trying to pry open his jaw and tear it off. His long serpentine body trashed around, seeking to hit the creature with his tail, but the demon kept a firm grip on him.

"We have you, big guy!" Yuma shouted as she and Maiyuri jumped atop his body, running over the scales and avoiding the waves created by Genryu's coiling. Three swords were held at the ready, the princess' prized legacy blade and Yuma's twin katanas, all swirling with visible chakra.

Whereas once their blades failed to cut through its bone alone, together, they were a force of unmeasurable sharpness. They unleashed fast strikes, their swords and arms becoming blurs as they sliced through the bones in fingers and forearms. The fibers were cut cleanly with their unrelenting attacks, and the lower parts of the demon's limbs were sliced off. The demon growled, either in rage or in pain they did not know, but as soon as the body parts were severed, they turned to dust again. Quickly, the gashadokuro tried to reform them, but with the lack of limbs holding the dragon down, it was already too late. Genryu roared and lashed out, striking with viciousness and biting down on the demon's neck. He coiled his body and poured his enormous strength, twisting around and sending the devil flying away from the city once more; the force of its impact combined with its titanic size made the valley splinter and crumble, and jagged portions of the earth came uprooted, as the tremors could be felt from miles.

The explosive force sent Maiyuri and Yuma flying till golden chains wrapped around them from scratch up and bleeding Kushina. A loud huff escaped from the Uzu woman, "I don't think we have enough earth users to repair that..." She sat the younger girls to the ground as her chains vanished.

"Think the folks here mind being called the Land of Trees and Craters?" Yuma winced upon receiving a pointed glare from Maiyuri, "Bad joke, shutting up now."

Genryu remained in the air; his eyes remained fixed on his opponent, who remained hidden in the massive dust cloud. His danger senses only reacted in a millisecond too slowly from a beam of pure energy shot out and up at him. The silver-scaled dragon unleashed a pain-filled roar as his shoulder and arm were struck.

The ground shook around them; the gashadokuro erupted from the ground and into the air with frightening heights before lunging at Uuzmaki's uncle. Yet despite his injuries, Genryu whipped his serpentine body and struck his tail hard against the demon's skull before it could reach him. "This bastard is starting to piss me off!" The dragon boss snarled and hissed out.

Before the gashadokuro could hit the ground again, it vanished and materialized with his feet on the ground and roaring angrily.

"I think the feeling is mutual!" Kushina yelled back.

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Naruto was beginning to notice a theme in his life. He trained, got stronger, and participated in battles that pushed his limits, rinse, and repeats. What bothered him sometimes was how much he needed help in those fights. Oh, he didn't think he had to fight every time by himself but needed proof of his improvement to see if he could overcome particular challenges. His friends wouldn't always be there for him, so he often thought about needing challenges.

This wasn't one of those times; this time, he needed as much help as he could get.

This demon, Aezvyn, was one of the strongest things he had ever fought. And given the list of his enemies, that said something.

He was shrouded with Kurama's chakra, boosting all his physical capabilities, empowering his techniques to the max... and he couldn't do a damn thing to her.

The blond growled, slamming his hands encased in the cloak of Biju chakra on the ground, boosting his element. Significant spikes of crystal emerged in a shredding wave. Anything on their path would have been torn apart, yet the demon woman chuckled, dancing between them even though they should have left her no room to move.

"Ohhhh, what a lovely scenario for my performance," She grinned at him, resting on one of the crystals.

Naruto formed a Rasengan coated in an arc of vermillion chakra; he jumped at high speed toward the red woman. She raised a sharp nailed hand and raised a barrier of intricate designs with lettering utterly alien to him. The Rasengan impacted it with voracious force, growing great winds all around them, even with all its power if it failed to break this barrier.

"You fight like a true devil, boy." Aezvyn purred with a malicious smile, "Holding nothing back... But having that fictitious mockery within you does not make you one of us!" Her shield glowed and soon repelled the blond Uzumaki back with force.

Flipping through the air, Naruto landed on his claw-like hands and feet near his fellow Genin. Disbelief glowed in Ino's blue, exhausted orbs, "We have been throwing everything at her, and not even Naruto is making a dent!"

Her words ring true as every attack they directed against the demoness was evaded effortlessly. However, every blow from Aezvyn's serrated whip, magic, and claws landed their marks with deadly accuracy.

Yet, at the same time...

"She's toying with us," Neji hissed, holding his cut arm.

None of her attacks have proved fatal or overly damaging.

Kiba snarled beside Akamaru, "No fucking shit."

'Even with my doujutsu. Even seeing the attack coming, I can barely dodge it,' Sasuke's mind burned with frustration. Then, a green blur passed beside him, "Even with your weights off, you'll still miss her, Lee!" He shouted.

Yet those words did not deter his fellow Genin and taijutsu specialist with lightning-fast punches and kicks. Instead, Aezvyn only smiled while dodging every strike sent her way, "I must say your determination is strong. Even admirable, for a human." Slightly shifting to the side, she quickly grabbed an extended limb from the young shinobi, "But it is not enough against me!"

Her hand wrapped tightly around his leg and dragged him over the ground. Lee groaned as the earth and stone rasped against his frame until he was finally thrown around like a rag doll, his body bounding and rolling off the ground repeatedly. Neji quickly moved to catch him, and Tenten unleashed a barrage of kunai, all carrying explosive tags on them. Aezvyn held out her hand, creating another barrier and letting the explosions blast off harmlessly from the other side.

Suddenly her body tensed, she found it almost impossible to move, and as the smoke settled, she saw one of the human children kneeling. His shadow extended unnaturally until it reached hers.

Ahhh, a shadow possession technique...

Then that blonde girl held her hands, creating a shape and looking at her between them. She instantly felt something probe into her mind. Oh dear, the little girl thought she knew the power of mind control? And she was trying it against her?

'Bad idea~.'

Ino's body seized, and the demon woman looked right at her. How those yellow eyes with black slits meet her own did Ino realize she had made a grave mistake. The moment she made contact with her mind, she opened a channel between them. Though the Yamanaka was trained to possess other people's bodies and push away their minds, she had seldom fought anyone who could resist her control. Those who had merely moved her away from their minds.

The demon did not push her away; she 'grabbed' her. She tugged at her mind and pulled; she pulled and pulled until Ino felt she was in her metaphorical shadow. The sheer weight of a very ancient and maleficent mind was bearing down on her.

Ino's hands went limp.

"Ino?" Shikamaru asked, "What's wrong? Did your technique not work?"

The Yamanaka said nothing, and Shikamaru knew something had gone wrong.

Ino reached into her pouch and pulled out multiple paper bombs. She threw them around without a care and ignited them with a single command.

Karin summed up the situation best, "Crap!"

They barely had time to scatter as the paper tags exploded, sending them in different directions by the force of the blasts. Then, finally, Ino's body was flung forward, skidding over the ground before finally stopping at the demon's feet.

She groaned, not just in pain but in fear. Her body was not responding to her; she felt like a puppet whose strings had been cut. Yet, there was this presence in her mind, seizing control of everything until her own body did not belong to her. Fear and panic flooded her, but she could not express it. The only sign of how she felt was spoken through the tears at the corners of her eyes.

"Ohhh, you think you can control minds?" The demon woman cooed as though she was looking at a puppy, failing to do the trick. "You don't know what control is, child. You don't know what it is to truly OWN someone, to reap their minds and souls and pull them to your every whim."

Ino could only let out the smallest of wails.

"Let me show you," Aezvyn grinned, showing sharp incisors as her eyes glowed with sadistic joy. "Bash your head in."

Ino's neck craned upwards, and then she bent her head down hard. Once, twice, thrice. Again and again.

A morbid giggle escaped the demoness' lips observing with delight in her eyes. "Can you feel it, little one? Your blood seeps out as your skin splits; your skull begins to crack!"

"STOP IT!" Aezvyn's attention sharply turned as two massive shadows closed upon her via the gigantic fists of a roaring Choji.

The devil woman only had seconds to raise her shield to block the attack. Its sheer force cracked and uprooted the ground around her and Ino's limp body, who continued to smash her head into the ground.

However, Aezvyn soon realized her mistake. Dashing like the wind from her side, the pink-haired girl reared back a glove-covered hand, "LET INO GO!" A cry of pain escaped the hell fiend with Sakura's punch striking her midsection. She felt her bones cracking as her mental hold broke from the Yamanaka, who screamed out in agony, holding her head. She did not even notice being picked up by Lee while Neji ordered him to take the injured heiress away from the battle.

For her captor, the hellspawn was sent sliding back and down to a knee in pain. However, she did not have a moment to catch her breath. Within seconds a crimson chakra-covered fist slams into her cheek from an enraged Naruto. His chakra cloak was more solidified, with two long tails swaying behind him. The blond snarled in a fury, showing now sharp rows of incisors in his mouth.

Aezvyn was sent flying back before hitting the ground. She lay motionless for a moment before sitting up and rubbing a clawed finger on her bleeding cheek, "all that for a drop of blood?" Then, she painfully chuckled, holding her side as she rose, "You're finally acting serious now?"

"Focus, brat!" Kurama severely reproached his jailor, "Even with me helping you, two tails of my power will overwhelm you if you don't concentrate!"

Kurama's chakra was a wild raging force, and it always made his emotions feel stronger. It forced an animalistic fury into him. But he could guide this fury, direct it to the monster who toyed with his friends and took sadistic joy in inflicting their pain. So as the two tails swirled wildly behind him, Naruto leaped with tremendous speed, cracking the ground behind him from the sheer force.

The demon woman grinned through the pain; she had not expected these children to wound her like that. But, if she did not start taking them seriously, eventually, they would outmaneuver her. Her life would indeed be on the line, mainly if that blonde brat kept dragging out all that wild energy that felt very demonic.

It was an incredible power, and she could feel it was only a fraction of its total power... Yes, those were vast reserves indeed. It had been a while since any type of lifeforce she consumed could increase her power beyond merely replenishing it; she still needed to find a sufficiently strong enemy she could prey upon. But, of course, all the other beings surrounding her in the cult would kill her for even trying.

But this child, wielding far more power than he knew what to do with... Yes, he would do.

Naruto raised two large claws made of shrouded chakra, increasing in size with each second before slamming them against the demon from each side. Aezvyn was crushed between the two ethereal claws, their force constricting her as they sought to break her. Naruto kept his attack, trying to overwhelm the demon through sheer force; he kept applying more and more pressure to kill her quickly... then it was to compensate because he felt his attack growing weaker...

The demon woman smirked at him, and he knew something wrong was going on.

Kurama's chakra flowed directly at her; the swirling violent red energy was absorbed as it kept making contact. He could feel his reserves dwindling as the chakra shroud fizzled out in parts.

"She's... absorbing my chakra," Even Kurama sounded worried, "Move it welp!"

Naruto did not need to be told twice, he tried to move away, but he was held in place by the demon, whose arm swiftly grabbed his shoulder and pinned him in place. "Ohhh, you're not going anywhere until I've had my fill~."

Naruto watched in panic as the red of his eyes shifted to his natural blue, all the fury and empowerment that came from Kurama's chakra vanishing frighteningly fast, the weakening sensation leaving him dizzy and unable to fight back.

With the last dregs of the chakra consumed, Aezvyn's eyes glowed.

A burst of power emanated as she howled, and Naruto was thrown back.

His friends caught him, and they watched in horror as the chakra swirled around her like a geyser. Hinata trembled as her Byakugan saw it all, "H-Her power..."

"It's rising," Sasuke finished, his dojutsu seeing the same.

Aezvyn laughed as the energy made her body mutate. Flesh coiled and rippled unnaturally as her entire frame expanded, her height slowly increasing by a foot as the muscles in her gorgeous frame grew more extensive and more defined. Her hair flailed wildly in the storm of power as markings manifested all over her skin; two stubs emerged from her back in a disturbing sight, extending and unfurling into enormous bat-like wings.

The demon woman licked her lips as her bale yellow eyes stared at them with even more hunger than before. "Ohhh, I should thank you. For years none of my meals were enough to trigger my evolution. But yours?" Her slit pupils quivered with excitement, "Yours were just what I needed~."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

A trifecta of roars from a human, a demon, and a bear could be heard through the battlefield. The raw power of fists, claws, and fangs was matched equally between the three. Kosuke's new gear proved its toughness by taking several brunts of the giant demon's attack and protecting its wearer.

Zoros let out a booming laugh, "FINALLY! A human who can match me!" His clawed fist connected with his human opponent before soon dodging Kuma's large jaws on his arm. "Even the beast shows courage!"

Kosuke said nothing as he pressed his strikes with unmatched power that was enough to break a portion of Zoros's mask. Instead, a lone glowing slit crimson eyes gleamed with fury and delight. "Keep impressing me, human!"

Evading a punch, the large Uzumaki grabbed the extended demon's arm. And even impressing, Zoros picked him up over his shoulder and let out a feral roar slamming the massive devil into the ground with enough force to crack and uproot the very earth. With this, Kuma joined, bringing down his claws and slashing deeply into Zoros's chest.

Said the demon howled and roared, with the giant bear roaring back with Kosuke clasping his hands together and bringing them down like a hammer.

The demon's hands shot up and caught Kosuke's fist. The human kept on the pressure, but Zoros's maw opened, and flames emerged like a bonfire. Kosuke's eyes widened, and he quickly let go, the demon spewing fire from his maw. He promptly stood up and kept breathing the hot flames, scorching the ground on his path as he forced his enemies to back away.

Kuma let out a wailing roar, standing on his hind legs as the fire forced him back; he quickly turned around and retreated a few feet further back. Kosuke covered his face as the heat of the flames kept drawing closer; already, his feet were starting to burn. Thinking fast, the human kicked up the ground and uprooted a large slab of the earth which shielded him from the flames. Kosuke held onto the piece of stone and tore it off the ground, using it as a blunt instrument to strike at the demon, fracturing the slab into pieces.

The demon's fire breath attack stopped, momentarily stunned; as soon as he returned his gaze to his enemy, the human was striking with his fists. Again and again, with no finesse nor skill, just pure brutality and strength. His head snapped in multiple directions as the assault continued unrelentingly.

Zoros could not stop the bloody smile growling on his lips, visible from his broken mask. 'How long has it been since I felt this?' He was repeatedly struck again and again, 'The rush of battle with your life on the line. My body has never felt so alive!'

Raising the stone above his head, Kosuke roared to bring it down with all his might. His opponent's fist shattered it before clutching Uzumaki's neck. Murderous glee shined in his crimson eyes before slamming his fist into the giant man's face. Snarling, Kosuke's eyes almost looked draconic as he did the identical hitting his knuckles down on Zoro's head.

The force of their blows cracked the ground around them.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Anko ducked and weaved from the rapid strikes that came from the Lamia demon. 'Guess being that snake's apprentice did have some advantages.' Still, parts of her coat were cut along with her skin, blood dripping from her wounds.

The demon was particularly nasty with its ability to spit poison and do it in such amounts that even if she missed, some would splash into her open wounds. Now, demon poison was something to be very worried about if Anko wasn't prepared for such eventualities. Not for demonic venom, but she was contracted to the snakes. And if there was something they and her bastard of a former mentor insisted on was developing an extreme tolerance to poison.

And she did, by regularly being bitten and administering antidotes before any permanent damage could be caused, allowing her to build up an insane immunity to toxins assaulting her system. So Anko was poison-proof, a pretty handy trait to have. And she took delight in watching the snake woman's face twist in anger when seeing her poison did nothing.

Anko dodged a tail trail passing overhead, throwing multiple kunai as she did, yet they could only penetrate the upper layer of scales without doing any severe damage. She followed by doing a series of hand signs and spitting a steady thin stream of fire upon the lamia. The demon woman flailed and wailed, trying to put out the flames as they toasted her scales and flames, quickly consuming a lot of her hair.

She screamed something in a language Anko did not understand, but she could imagine what the words meant. "I've been called worse~," She said cheekily.

The lamia roared at her, baring her fangs as poison-filled saliva spewed from her lips. She coiled and charged at Anko head-on with such speed she was unable to dodge. Her breath escaped her lungs as the full force of that serpentine body hit her, and it only got worse as the lamia quickly coiled around her and began squeezing.

With only one arm free, Anko flailed helplessly, only for her face to be held in place by the snake woman's fingers, the nails digging into her skin. Her half-burned face looked upon her with fury. "I will devour your flesh and violate your corpse!"

Anko coughed yet still grinned defiantly. "Yeesh... desperate much?"

The lamia screamed in her face.

Distracted in her anger, she could not react quickly as multiple snakes came out from Anko's sleeve. They bit down in any soft areas they could find, from the shoulders to the neck and even her face. The lamia howled in agony as a sharp fang pierced her eye. Her hold on the kunoichi slackened, and Anko quickly reached for a kunai.

She buried it deep through the demon's forehead.

"Go back to hell bitch," Anko spat, wiping the blood off her coat.

The Lamia's body became like ash and crumbled to the ground. Close by, Asuma ducked and weaved from the attacks of the red-skinned gecko-fish demon. His body and clothes were littered with cuts and blood, but so was his opponent as their weapons struck. Nearby kurenai looked a little worse than her lover but held her own against the six-armed Naknada.

Asuma let out a sharp breath as his trench knife parried a strike from the claws of the red lizard demon. The thing was fast, worryingly so; were it not for decades of carefully honed instincts and reflexes, he would have been skewered by now. But, instead, the creature seemed to act more like a beast. It did not speak, yet it still displayed great intelligence by strategizing and striking whenever an opening appeared.

When Asuma delivered a swift cutting strike aimed at its face, the red demon dodged; his eyes widened as the creature's claw went right for him, piercing his torso from side to side. It blinked in confusion when Asuma's body vanished in a plum of smoke, revealing a severed log instead.

Asuma reappeared a few feet away from the monster; he clicked his tongue. That had been close...

The red demon howled, shredding the log apart like it was nothing. It took a primal stance before charging at the human, the bone-like claws on its arm coming down on him. His trench knives stopped them, and the shinobi and monster were locked in a struggle, faces inches from each other.

The demon made a chittering sound, its angler fish-gecko-like face opening its great maw and showing rows of teeth; it roared at him, spitting all over Asuma's face.

"You're an ugly son of a bitch..."

Then, Asuma spewed a stream of ash from his mouth directly over the creature's maw. It choked on the ash, his strength wavering momentarily, and Asuma took his chance. He punched, swiped, and cut everywhere he could find. Over the red demon's body, his chakra-enhanced knives made multiple cuts over its scaly body, cutting into the flesh and drawing deep crimson blood.

Yet it was not enough; the wounds were superficial at best, and its hide and flesh were too resilient, even for his weapons.

The demon's hand shot up, letting his knife stab right through its hand. Asuma's eyes widened as the devil locked him in place, then he cried out as the other claw pierced through his shoulder. He fought through the pain, forcing his arm to move, and stabbed the demon in the eye.

The creature howled in pain, and the two forced themselves apart, jumping away to gain distance.

"Asuma," Kurenai called out with a glance.

"I got this; keep focused on your fight!" The Sarutobi gripped his trench knives tighter, 'Been a while since using this. But not much choice.' Pouring his chakra into his blades, they soon illuminated with blue energy constructed into large curved edges. Wasting no time or movement, the former Guardian Shinobi dashed toward his enemy.

Pivoting on the balls of his feet, he spun a complete three-sixty with his chakra-infused knives cutting into the demon's chest like a buzzsaw. It roared out as its scaly skin was easily torn, and his blood sprayed and flowed out. Yet Asuma did not relent as he brought one of his blades into the hell beast's chest and heart. The other moved violently, severing the demon's head from its neck.

Its body turned to ashes, scattering to the ground before the Sarutobi turned his attention to Kurenai and dashed to her side.

The Naknada sneered, "That one can be replaced easily. But he was still a comrade. So I shall kill you in retribution, human!"

Kurenai's crimson eyes focused on the demon's hands. A different weapon in each hand; from the right, she saw a dagger, a short sword, and a wrist claw. While on the left, he held a sickle, a gloved claw, and sai. None of them were particularly long, and it made sense. With extra limbs swinging around, weapons that varied too much in length and weight would be too cumbersome and inefficient in a fight. He was a melee fighter.

Kurenai always needed to gauge his opponent and how they thought and felt; it helped with her illusion-casting.

"Will you not be courteous enough to give me your name?"

The goblin-faced demon snarled and scoffed with his raspy voice. "Names are unnecessary in my culture. And I will not hear the titles in my native tongue sullied by one of your kind. So you will know me as the Naknada this day, your executioner and plunderer."

"As a ninja, information is not to be divulged. But in my culture, not introducing oneself is extremely rude." The kunoichi pulled out two kunai from her sleeves. "I am Kurenai Yūhi of Konoha"

"Your name matters little to me," The demon grinned. "For after this fight, you will be known as tribute. After that, I will parade your skull to my masters and keep it a trophy from my conquests."

The kunoichi did not rise to his bait, instead remained calm and composed.

The demon growled and threw himself at the human. Multiple arms swung at her from various angles, and jabs, stabs, and swipes came from the different weapons. The attacks were unrelenting and numerous, but what they made up in numbers and variety, they needed more power and speed. Kurenai's kunai deflected most of the attacks while dodging the rest. Yet she was still forced on the defensive, for even if each blow was not enough to pierce her defense, the numbers were quality on their own as the strikes came one right after the other, giving no windows of opportunity for Kurenai to use.

'He knows how to use those weapons.' Yūhi mentally wished that wasn't the case, but she'd deal with the cards given to her. 'attacks with precision and speed.'

She reared her neck inches away from the Naknada's short sword, "You know how to dodge well, human!" Then, leaping up with a single foot, he spun like a top, with all his weapons being a deadly grinder.

The Kunoichi rolled out of the way as her opponent turned on his heels and pressed his attack again. Finally, however, she saw a single opening and lunged for it with a kunai aimed at the demon's heart. But, unfortunately, she did not notice the upturn of the demon's lips while hyperfocused. His arm wielding his short sword parried her kunai before his wrist claws came down and slashed down on her upper torso tearing through her clothes.

"I have been in battles for centuries, Yūhi..." The Naknada mocked before thrusting his dagger for her heart, "There are only openings if I allow it!"

However, the edge did not pierce her skin and struck her heart. Instead, he heard the sound of metal breaking before being kicked hard in the chest, sending him back. Skidding back, he peered down at his now broken dagger before also noticing his wrist claws had several cracks and the tips were now broken. He growled before glaring at his prey, specifically the 'wounds' he inflicted.

Outside of her torn clothing, there was no single mark on her pale skin.

"Clever girl... A skin hardening technique." He sneered.

An idea she had for her training in case her genjutsu failed and she had to engage an enemy directly. The battle against the Blood Leash and facing the Beast Tamer Warlord reaffirmed her need to make such a skill. "Only trained for a few months to work on it. First time using it." She omitted.

The Naknada's glowed angrily, "Such a skill will only last with how much chakra you have. It won't last forever."

"Nope, but just long enough to kill you."

"Refreshing to face a human with an actual spine. I shall take that as well once your dead."

Kurenai knew she had to be careful about the usage of this technique. Her reserves were potent as befitting a jonin, but constant use would drain them quickly. Fortunately, as a genjutsu master, she knew a thing or two about proper chakra control. So rather than keeping iron skin active at all times, she activated it whenever she knew there was a strike she wouldn't be able to dodge and concentrated her chakra in the area where the attack would land. Thereby reducing the cost of the technique. Moreover, it was the best technique she could use, as she lacked some of her peers' physical endurance.

But she had to be careful; the attack upon her chest had not been too strong. Iron skin was potent but not very high level; an attack of a superior level would crack her defenses. Moreover, this technique was laced with earth element chakra; lightning attacks would pierce her. She'd have to switch tactics if her enemy wisened up.

Right now, she needed to go on the offensive. She cast a strong genjutsu the moment she saw an opening. As she came to learn, Demons were complicated to fool with illusions planted in their minds, as their chakra pathways were utterly different from humans. They didn't even have any; their entire bodies circulated chakra in a way she had never seen before. It was as natural to them as breathing.

But Kurenai was a master in her craft. Instead of twisting the pathways and saturating with her chakra to mess up the current of energy, she instead built up a 'block' of chakra in the area around the brain that began circulating according to her will.

It was not precisely the best, and she could not cast anything complex that would completely warp his surroundings, but she could stun his senses.

The naknada let a cry, two of his hands grasping his head as an unbearable ringing drilled into his ears; his vision grew blurry, and he could not perceive his surroundings as anything more than a haze. He stumbled, trying to remain firm under the assault. His sight and hearing were compromised, and he knew the human would be taking her chance... but she had not considered his scent.

His nose twitched, the woman's smell growing stronger, fast. She was rushing towards him. The naknada brandished his dagger and sword and slashed in the direction where he felt the scent coming, and the blades tore at the sleeves of clothing as an arm came up to shield herself from the strike.

The demon bit his tongue, forcing his mana to push through the blocks of energy muddled up in his brain, and the illusion ended. There was no longer any ringing, and his sight was unclouded. Instead, there stood the woman, surprised as she held up a reinforced arm that held the blades at bay.

"Got ya!"

He struck again, again and again; there was only so much the woman's reinforced skin could take, and eventually, it gave in. His weapons pierced the skin and drew blood. The sight brought him joy, and so he pushed harder. He relished in her screams as his weapons pierced flesh and cut as deep as possible, a storm of blades that sprayed blood all around them.

The kunoichi panted, her arms a bloody mess of severed muscles and gouging wounds.

"I claim your life…." The demon cheered in celebration, "as my price!"

He buried his sword and dagger into her heart. The woman's face froze in shock.

Then she exploded, blood flying everywhere and forcing his eyes shut; he wailed, flailing around blindly as he was temporarily blinded again, this time by the foreign blood in his eyes.

Then, there was pain.

On each of his limbs, he felt sharp blades pierce through his joints. Kunai buried themselves in every articulation they could find until his arms ceased responding, he was forced to his knees by a foot pressing down upon his back, and he felt the cold touch of a blade against his throat.

"No," The collected voice of the kunoichi called out, "I've got you."

The demon drew a raspy shuddering breath, "N-No!" He didn't understand how could this have happened! "Y-You were!"

And then he understood.

The blinding technique, the painful ringing that stunned him. She had conjured a clone when he couldn't see her and then moved out of his range. But the clone had smelled real; it smelled right, like flesh and blood. Many clones possessed a certain quality that allowed his senses to identify them. Pure chakra clones didn't have smells as strong, and elemental clones had the distinct sensation of their particular elements making up their forms.

But this one… "A blood clone," He realized.

Clones that bled and smelled just like the real thing.

"They're only as strong as the amount of chakra the user gives them," Kurenai confirmed, "I gave this one enough chakra to resist for a moment, then I detonated it right in front of you."

All that to blind him once more, to move around him and strike when his back was turned.

"You barely-evolved ape!" The demon trashed in a fury under her heel; he would not have it! He was the trophy taker here! He was the one meant to bathe in the riches of this conquest! He was the one who should bask in victory! "I will pluck your eyes and use them as jewelry; I will rip out your nails and-!"

His following words came out a garbled wet mess as Kurenai slashed his throat. But she was not a cruel nor sadistic kunoichi; she quickly put him out of his misery by stabbing him through the base of his skull.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

A bit further from them were Gai and Kakashi as they faced down the grim reaper-looking demon. Its scythe dripped with blood from both Jounin; "Its speed is incredible," Gai omitted with a huff.

Kakashi's lone Sharingan stared hard, "Fights like a berserker."

"Not the first time we fought one of those."


The skeletal demon let loose a loud shriek before charging at its prey. The duo dodged the wild swipes of the sizeable-bladed weapon that moved with lightning speed. 'Jien called this thing a Hell Vanguard,' Hatake mentally mused while his doujutsu aided him, letting him know where to duck and dart out of the way. 'We can't drag this one any further. We must take these demons out and aid the princess and Hokage.'

This being wasn't like any foe they had battled before; everything about this demon radiated an extreme sense of otherworldliness and tremendous malice. Killing intent was as natural to it as it was breathing. Moreover, its size was massive, easily twice the height of a grown man. And the reach of its enormous scythe allowed the demon to keep them at bay. Fortunately, it was not particularly fast.

Kakashi's Sharingan allowed him to predict its movements, dodging the grazing blows of the scythe to attack with his arsenal of weapons and jutsu. But the creature's body was outstandingly rigid; even if his attacks managed to pierce into its body, it just kept moving with only the slightest of flinches. Finally, the creature's unholy howl rang into his ears as he slammed the butt of his weapon into the ground and dragged it along, eventually hitting Hatake's torso with a painful sound and driving him away.

Gai instantly rolled in from behind, jumping to deliver a powerful kick at the creature's back. Its eyes glowed and vanished in black smoke.

The creature's teleportation was swift and valuable to get out of danger. Still, it was also easily telegraphed, as with the same burst of black smoke and a flash of purple light before it manifested, they could anticipate where it would appear. With another shrill howl, the demon emerged, swirling its scythe rapidly as it floated in the air. But, again, Gai's reflexes allowed him to jump out of the way.

It teleported again, this time above Gai. His eyes widened at the cloud of darkness; still mid-air, he had little chance of dodging it safely. The creature reappeared with its scythe raised over its head, ready to bring it down upon the taijutsu master.

It would have reached Gai without a pair of jaws clamping down on the shaft.

Its body was made out of blue electricity; its form was that of a tremendous ethereal canine, and its form waved and flickered due to the fluctuating state of its shape. A trail of lightning stretched from the creature's rear and connected it to Kakashi's hand.

Gai smirked at his swift use of his Lightning Hound technique; the construct made of pure lightning traveled at remarkable speed, saving him in just the nick of time.

The hound's electricity currents extended through the scythe and coursed through the demon's body. It howled as its enormous frame was struck by the arching currents of lightning as it burnt its flesh.

Before he fell to the ground, Gai acted swiftly. "Gate of Opening!" The sudden release of the carefully regulated energy made his body flow with power. With the energy empowering him, Gai bounced off the ground, leaving a large crack in its place, and moved with tremendous speed toward the demon. His body spun until he was a blur, a small whirlwind gathering the air around him in a miniature storm. Kakashi deactivated his technique on time, allowing Gai to strike the scythe safely. His whirlwind-like movement ceased, and he broke the spear's shaft with a devastating kick. Unfortunately, the attack did not stop and connected with the demon's midsections with a sickening crunch. The demon howled in pain, ash, and dust escaping from its maw.

"Got you!"

The demon proved him wrong by warping again, disappearing in the blaze of black smoke, letting the broken pieces of its scythe fall.

"Darn!" Gai's eyes darted around, searching for wherever the demon might appear next. He saw no glimpse of it in the immediate area around him... but he did catch a glimpse of it on the ground.

The glare of its eyes, the black smoke.

Behind Kakashi, who was still looking in the air to find the creature.

Gai shouted at the top of his lungs. "Behind you!"

A sound of shock came from his lips, and he swiftly turned.

The great demon howled and lunged for his skull with a large hand. Having witnessed the creature's strength, Kakashi had no doubt it would pulverize his head.

It was almost like his Sharingan was capturing everything in slow motion, the demon emerging from its teleportation with its arm outstretched, Kakashi turning just in time to watch the monster drawing ever so near until its palm was all he could see. His death was assured unless he moved. A substitution was a no-go; he could not activate the technique in time, and dodging was impossible at this distance.

He needed to do something, anything, or else he'd die here!

He needed more time and more space between himself and the creature. Neither of which he had available.

Time, space.

His eye burnt. Something from the depths of his Sharingan reacted on instinct, and he saw a thousand things clearer now, overwhelmed with so many new details and information it threatened to boil his brain.

He saw the actual intangible space between himself and the creature.

How to breach it, twist it, bend it.

The creature's hand was almost upon his head... and then it folded upon itself, twisting in a way that should not be at all possible.

The creature howled, either in pain or panic upon seeing its hand and arm fold upon themselves but a sudden void in reality, like water going down the drain combined with the greedy winds of a whirlwind, pulled its limbs through this small fissure upon space.

The creature tried to warp away, but in panic, the teleportation only worked halfway, landing only a few feet away from the Hatake.

The fissure in space collapsed, returning the air around it to normal, and Kakashi collapsed on one knee, exhausted. He panted, forcing himself to look up, and saw the tall demon haunched over, cradling what used to be its arm, now warped beyond recognition—no longer a limb but something more akin to a very abstract modern art project.

The demon tore it out, letting a sort of dusty sludge-like ichor from its severed limb, and roared in a fury at him.

Kakashi was once more helpless as it rushed towards him in an animalistic fury.

And then Gai descended from the sky, still empowered by his gate and delivering an earth-shattering drop kick right upon the creature's face, pulverizing its skull.

Despite the stinging pain of closing his inner gate, the Taijutsu master ran over to his longtime rival/friend. His eye took in Hatake's doujutsu with a light gasp. Instead of the standard three tomoye, there were three stretched triangles evenly spaced around the pupil that each curve at the top around the eye to form a circle. However, as quickly as he saw it, the doujutsu reverted to its original form.

Gai soon focused on his exhausted comrade's face, "What the hell was that?" he muttered under his breath.

"...Mangekyou Sharingan..."

That garnered Gai's attention, "I didn't know you had that."

"Neither did I, honestly," Kakashi lowered his bandanna, "That took way too much out of me."

Gai patted Hatake's back, "Then we stick to fists and kunai."

Thank the gods for his chakra storage seals. Otherwise, he'd have suffered from chakra exhaustion twice over today.

"You guys okay!" They turn their heads to see Asuma running towards them, "was coming to help, but it looks as if you dealt with the big ugly." Black ichor covered the ground where the demon fell.

A huff came from Kakashi as he stood up with Gai, "Yeah, but we're not done just yet."

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Hui Zhong and Jian roared overhead, picking off any demons they could spot with gusts of flames, tearing down with their claws and fangs any that jumped to meet them in the air. Lyn's naginata came down as fire glowed on its edge. Sparks came as they struck the skin of the monstrous red-horned demon, "The fuck are you made out of!?" Her body was covered with cuts, blood seeping from wounds, and her clothes were partially torn in places.

Grimaldous only darkly chuckled.

"I am made from the very matter of the underworld," The great demon said in his guttural voice; Lyn backed away to gain more distance. "Forged in the flames of realms so fierce and hot that not even the most raging of volcanos can compare. Tempered in millennia of unholy war, feasted upon the flesh of mortals and spirits alike. A huntress like you cannot even begin to comprehend what-"

Lyn's naginata twirled in her grasp, and with a downward swing, she unleashed a crescent moon-shaped arc of blue chakra.

Grimaldous raised his arms as the attack collided with them with a blast. The armored plates were singed but otherwise unharmed. He growled, looking at the woman enraged, "Did you just interrupt me?!"

"'Course I did. I don't like letting bad guys monologue."

A snarl emerged from the jagged rows of teeth that was his maw, and he quickly approached the demon hunter with thundering footsteps, "Fine! Let our actions do the talking!"

He reared his fist back and brought it down upon her. Lyn jumped away just in time, letting the fist collide with the earth and break it apart with sheer force. She slammed the end of her spear against the demon's head, striking one of those large horns and making his skull ring. Then, with a half-annoyed, half-pained, the devil swatted her away with the back of his hand. Lyn rolled back to her feet and held her ground, her hand dragging across the ground and swiftly crafting an invisible seal, eyes widening as the demon charged at her like a bull.

With a swipe of his hand, flames that shined with a neon red color were called forth, the swaths of fire solidifying and forming a weapon of dark and jagged metal half the size of him (which already was pretty impressive) it was an axe with rows of serrated edges on its blade.

Grimaldous roared and brought the axe down upon her; Lyn held her naginata with both hands to hold back the strike.

Her knees buckled, and the ground around them cracked and trembled. She gritted her teeth with extreme effort as it felt like she was holding an enormous boulder from crushing her.

The demon chuckled, amused, "For a little one, you are not as weak as you appear."

Lyn grinned, "I'm an Uzumaki, my strength..."

The ground shined beneath Grimaldous, and he looked down in shock to see a glowing seal.

"...is in my seals."

A torrent of hungry flames erupted and consumed his frame entirely.

Lyn flipped back, hearing Grimaldous howl out in pain. "And I'm damn good with fire chakra!" However, she did not smirk but remained stony and fierce with her naginata prepared to strike.

While that seal is one of her unique mixes with superheated flames hot enough to melt metals and lasted for fifteen seconds, it could take out most demons easily. But...

As expected, the hell beast remained with minor burns across his body. Nevertheless, he seethed in a near-feral state, with his eyes burning as the flames which engulfed him a second ago. "Your wretched clan of demon slayers... I remember your kind Uzu." He clenched his fists, "Erasing you from existence shall bring a smile to my face."

"Come and get me, you ugly son of bitch." At those words, Grimaldous charged with frightening speeds toward his prey.

Naginata and axe clashed in a shower of sparks; though Lyn had the advantage of the reach and possessed more incredible speed, Grimaldous's mastery of his weapon allowed him to block and deflect. However, despite his body's outstanding toughness, it was clear the demon would rather avoid being directly hit, and there had to be a limit to how much damage his robust frame could deny.

Lyn was in new territory, fighting the type of demons she knew very little about. And honestly, something was exciting about it, the unknown, the challenge. She vaulted over the devil, slamming her blade against the shaft of his weapon; as she descended to the ground, she twirled her weapon and thrust, but the giant red demon blocked it once again. The vibrations of the weapons colliding made her bones quiver.

He had to have a weakness; all demons were vulnerable to something. But she lacked the knowledge of his biology to take advantage of the fact. Sacred chants or hymns, items of a particular holy nature, would help. None of which she had on her person. And she was not faithful enough to do a proper chant to the Buddha and the bodhisattva.

But that did not mean she was not spiritual.

She honored the traditions of her clan, laying tribute and praying to her ancestors. Her wonderful girlfriend was a sage of growing talent from whom one could learn so much by watching her.

Chakra was spiritual and physical power made manifest, split in equal measure. Yang chakra was used to alter the physical world directly, while Yin chakra was used in techniques on the realm of the nontangible to affect the tangible, such as illusions or seals. By default, Uzumaki were masters of Yin chakra, pouring the power of imagination and knowledge of the metaphysical to create seals.

Lyn pulled every ounce of knowledge from her teachings, the lessons she got from Kya. Spiritual chakra, imaginary flames that could affect the tangible. On her weapon, she created kanji that followed with 'meaning' imbuing her weapon with a concept. 'Fire,' 'spirit,' 'flesh'.

Flames that cut more than the spirit as they render unto the flesh.

Demons, while physical, had more in common with spiritual beings.

She called to the dragon blood in her veins, like in the Konoha invasion, flames emerging from her figure as she bent them to her will.

As they clashed weapons, Grimaldous's eyes widened at the sight of her body shrouded by flames. The mix of orange and yellow slowly shifted to a gentler color, a soft gold outlined by blue—the mixture of spirit and physical energy no longer even, letting the spirit power flow more prevalently.

He who could withstand mortal flames finally felt their heat, which burned.

Lyn howled, and her body became a bonfire, a beacon shining very brightly as she burned with spirit fire.

She took a step forward, maneuvering past his defense, and delivered an upwards swing. Coated in gold flames, her blade made a diagonal cut from hip to shoulder. Grimaldous shouted in pain and jumped away, holding the bleeding gash on his chest as his flesh seared.

He snarled and sneered in rage with a hate field glare, "That detestable dragon blood... Fully awakened and burnings like a star within you."

"Yeah, still working on this," Lyn omitted with a grin. "Getting pretty good at it, though."

A scoff escaped from Grimaldous before the sound of thunder drew his attention. Darkening clouds gathered in the heavens above, with lightning soon sparking wildly. His gaze soon returned to the earth as the battle raged around him. Lyn cocked a brow as a smile grew on her enemy's lip, "What's with the mood change?" She grew more perplexed as he began to laugh in satisfaction. "Am I missing something?"

"Can't you feel it, Uzu? Look all around us at the magnificence of war, the laurels of conquest and combat. How many centuries has it been since I've felt so alive." He painfully smiled at the redhead, "To feel one's purpose again is glorious."

"If that purpose is slaughtering and ravaging innocent lives, I don't give a damn about your intention." the golden flames glowed brightly on her form and blade, "As a new member of the White Lotus, I'll be there every time one of you bastards come along and send you back to hell."

Grimaldous nodded approvingly, "That is good to hear."

"It is?"

"Immensely, there is no better joy than to face a worthy foe in battle with death waiting for the fallen." He extends his hands and arms out while still smiling. "What glorious fate can there be than starting the greatest war of this age? And what better enemy to face... than a White Lotus once again?" Then, as one arm lowered to his side, he pointed his battle axe at Lyn, "Let us savor this moment."

Thunder rolls above them as the two grow silent for an entire moment. Determination glowed on Lyn's face while excitement danced in her opponent's eyes while ignoring his wounds. Then, as lightning flashed, they dashed for the other and leaped into the air roaring with their weapons ready to strike.

In another flash of lightning, a Grimaldous came crashing down onto the earth, engulfed in golden flames. Lyn landed in front of him, holding her shoulder with a long slash from the demon's axe. She looked back only to see a deranged smile from her now-dying opponent. "I am the match that will ignite the glory to come." laughter rang out from him as his body turned to ash.

Lyn knew his words held some truth, feeling this battle was only a taste of what was to come.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Tsunade had lifted boulders hundreds of times her weight; she had punched a mountain in half and split the earth with her bare hands. Yet the mystic weight of the demon's spell was pushing her to the absolute limit, as though the more she resisted, the heavier the translucent rods upon her back became, and the tighter the ethereal chains around them got.

"Ahhh, can you feel it?" The arrogant prick casually walked around her with his hands behind his back. He looked to the battle raging around the city's ruins, feeling the tremors of the gashadokuro's wrath, and smiled with non-existent lips at the growing storm. Drops of rain falling in increasing intensity. "All the magic swirling in the air, the ferocity of this clash" As if on cue, a tremor shocks their surroundings, another sign of her daughter and her allies' fight against the titanic demon, "It can even affect the weather. It reminds me of the old days when our lords sundered the landscape and forever changed the maps with displays of their might. Ancient battles in places whose names you've never heard of"

Tsunade grit her teeth, trying to push herself off the ground. "You love sure love hearing yourself talk!"

The demon sharply turned to her, "What is the point of defeating an enemy if all you break is their body?" Dhunarak's voice was filled with sadistic amusement. "To crush their spirits and make them submit is a far greater victory."

He slowly knelt, drawing his covered head closer to hers. Tsunade looked up at him with gnashed teeth.

"I will have you all break, those who survive shall be our slaves, and I'll offer them all to our master."

The ground cracked as Tsunade drew every last inch of her strength to push the damn things off her back and break the chains. "Who the hell do you work for?!"

He stood up, spreading his arms wide. "I am a servant of the great Eight-Headed Serpent, lord of calamity, the bane of old Japan. A follower of the god who shall remake this world; The mighty Jashin, Nek-Moriah Shten, the Whore of Babylon, Queen of Blood and War, Nin-Aratta, Ninsianna. The true heir of Heaven, the Bellow-Queen, Ishtar..." He held his arms to the storm as though the weather phenomena manifested her will.

Tsunade did not dignify a response to that, and she just kept struggling against her restraints.

Dhunarak lowered his arms and shook his head, "Of course, that name means nothing to you. You mortals barely know anything these days; you are a shadow of what your ancestors were. In the old days, your kind had a bit of fight left in them; you are brutes compared to them" He once again folded his arms behind his back. "Do not bother resisting; my bindings work by adapting to the target's physical strength; the more power you use, the more they'll counter you." He chuckled, "With the added benefit of dispelling any minor techniques, so don't try to substitute yourself or cast any illusions; it's pointless."

His words made Tsunade cease resisting, and he took them as his words, finally making her give up.

But that wasn't the case. Instead, Tsunade was stunned by an epiphany.

If the techniques on her person had been dispelled... why was her body still young?

Her transformation technique wasn't just an illusion, and it wasn't vanity; she constantly used a portion of her power to remain in a prime physical state, holding back the ravages of her regeneration techniques that had aged her considerably. To the point her body was decades older than she was.

But... yes, she could feel it. It wasn't active, and her body was not any weaker somehow. She remained young...

Tsunade had no time to ponder how it could have happened as she quickly realized this was the ace she needed. By not needing to keep herself young, she could direct most of her energy to empower her body even further, beyond the precision of chakra application and expulsion to create superhuman strength. A constant steady flow of power and reinforcement...

Tsunade stopped resisting, and slowly the rods and chains lost strength, as he said their force was proportional to the power she used.

Her eyes closed, and the Senju heir concentrated every ounce of her chakra. The seal that stored those vast reserves dispelled and created various long black markings all over her frame, directing the chakra 'everywhere' in her body. Carefully aligning it on every fiber, every bone, and muscle with the perfect control a legendary medic like her had. She would wait until her restraints grew weak enough...

...and then her entire being flowed with torrents of power.

Tsunade shouted, pulling at the chains and lifting the rods with a mighty heave. The ethereal restraints shattered and dispelled into motes of light, a cascade of power so violent and voracious it erupted like a whirlwind of visible chakra. Her energy rose to the levels worthy of a Kage-tier individual like her, sending gusts of wind and fracturing the already broken ground further with sheer pressure. The rods crumbled under the weight of her power, unable to adapt fast enough, and so were overwhelmed.

Tsunade felt her body change as every cell and fiber in her body was filled with chakra and amplified to enormous levels, unlike when she used her regeneration technique. Every ninja could reinforce their body with the proper application of energy. Still, it took someone with already a mighty physical frame who could endure the sort of empowerment she was doing. Bones became as strong as steel, and muscle fibers multiplied and became iron walls. Her power grew, and everything about her grew.

Dhunarak turned in shock as the torrent of power destroyed the restraints he had crafted, "What?!"

The mortal she was... different; her slim frame was now winder, powerfully built, adorned with large muscles that were not there before. Black lines traveled over her skin, and he could feel the energies coursing through them, filling every pore.

"Tch!" He swallowed his surprise, "So you broke free and empowered your body" He waved his hand in the air, already casting another spell, "Don't think such a brute approach can-"

She closed the distance in a single bout and grabbed his wrist. He let out a sound of surprise, struggling to escape, but the grip was unmovable like the mountain of a woman before him.

"By the way, don't call me a brute," The Hokage said as she narrowed her gaze, "I'm a doctor."

Then she slammed him across the ground, dragging him across the earth and carving a trench with his body before finally throwing him as though he was just a mere rag droll. He skipped over the ground multiple times before he crashed against one of the ruined castle walls with a cloud of dust as pieces of stone flew apart in several directions.

For a moment, the Senju examined herself. 'How am I...' Then, she shook her head, 'I can worry about that later. I need to finish this now.'

Pain shot through Dhunarak's body as he raised from the rubble with a groan. It had been a long time since he felt pain; it almost felt alien to him. Then, however, an enraged snarl came from his lips, glaring with his now half-broken mask, revealing ashen skin and a glowing sapphire slit iris. "You will pay dearly for that."

However, his words died on his lips when he saw the human woman darting at him with tremendous swiftness. Once more, her fist was raised but only struck air as the masked devil teleported a fair distance away. Yet that did not deter Tsunade as she kept up the pace and ran towards Dhunarak, who once more vanished and reappeared in each advance towards him. "Are you scared?" She quipped in a predatory tone.

That seemed to incense the demon, "You impertinent child!" Magic glowed in his hands before he let out a fearful cry as Tsunade closed the distance. And once more, he teleported before she could strike him.

Like her grandson, a fierce smile formed, "You talk a big, all grandiose and theatrical. But not much of a bite, I see."

Her words seemed to get a rise out of him as he finally attacked with beams of magical energy shot in her general direction. Yet his aim was sloppy, making it easier for her to dodge them. 'Look like I rattled him good.' Her smile grew, applying chakra to her legs and feet, moving even faster towards her prey.

The demon swiftly raised his hand; he conjured ten layers of flat circular barriers in front of him, the first one double in durability than all the others combined, subsequently growing weaker with each layer but still quite strong in their own right—a defensive spell designed to slow the advance of an enemy's attack.

The Hokage woman raised her fist with a focused gaze and slammed her fist upon them.

The first five barriers broke with no resistance, shattering like glass.

The sixth resisted for half a second; the seventh lasted one second.

Dhunarak released a shocked gasp as the eight and nine barely lasted two seconds.

When Tsunade's fist reached the final barrier, this one first cracked but held on by the smallest of moments—giving Dhunarak the time to warp away as soon as her punch tore through it and hit the air. The demon reappeared high in the air and waved his arms in an arc, his hands making gestures as they traced lines of light and formed a sigil.

Tsunade was unwilling to give him any change; her strong leg muscles bulged against the fabric of her pants, straining at the seams as she propelled herself with a mighty leap, flying straight for the demon.

But Dhunarak had finished his casting, and what could only be described as a hole, in reality, manifested like an eye-opening. A sea of sickly green substances appeared from within, leaking a corrosive liquid, and from the hole emerged an enormous creature. It was serpent-like in appearance, with large scales layered atop each other and forming an armored plate; it possessed three eyes on each side as fin-like appendages flared. In addition, it had two arms, ending with enormous sharp claws, while the rest of its body was akin to a sea snake, long, coiling, and scaly, with fins and serrated-looking scales protruding from the tip of its tail.

The creature let out a hiss and opened its purple-colored maw as it fell from the portal, spewing a stream of corrosive poison against the Hokage.

The bashmu was an ancient serpent with potent and corrosive venom; it would melt ordinary humans. Even with her body fortified as it was, there was no way she could survive that. As the great servent fell directed to the human woman, hiding her more petite body from sight, Dhunarak was confident his victory was assured.

The bashmu spasmed, and from the back of its head emerged the Hokage, covered in purple blood, her clothes damaged by the corrosive substance, her skin peeling away and exposing muscle... yet regenerating at an almost instant rate before his very eyes.

How?! How could she heal herself so fast?! Was her knowledge of medical techniques so great she could undo this damage so quickly?! If she was using her power to strengthen her body to this level, she shouldn't have a fine control needed to heal herself simultaneously!

The Hokage grabbed the beast's corpse by the back of its head and ripped out one sharp scale only to send it flying toward Dhunara. Again, the demon quickly warped away, this time on the ground. He was already casting a new spell meant just for raw destructive power when the shadow of the bashmu's body loomed over him.

Tsunade had thrown the creature down the moment he appeared, with such high velocity and reflexes that the sorcerer demon could not escape in time.

With a booming sound, it crashed on top of him.

Tsunade landed on the ground safely, ensuring the last of her injuries was healed correctly. That thing's venom was something else, it was a good thing her new state employed her regeneration as well, or she would not have come out of it in one piece. "Hmph," She grunted in annoyance at her outfit, which wasn't as fortunate; at least she wouldn't be flashing anyone.

Movement caught her attention from the monster's body; a saw-like whirling disk of energy cut through the monster's back, and out emerged the demon, panting through non-existent lips, viscera, and blood clinging to his form as he forced himself to crawl out from the monster's body. He stood atop the corpse on shake legs, and she could feel his lone visible eye glaring at her with absolute rage.

"Not done yet?" She challenged.

"No... No, no, no..." Each word escaped like a hiss, furious and wild. "You are not going to be the end of me today; if I am ever to fall, it shall be at the hands of my betters" Blue flames ignited in his hands, and Tsunade readied herself to continue the fight. "I am the herald of Ishtar! And I will reduce everything to ash before I ever admit defeat!"

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Maiyuri felt the exhaustion surge through her the core of her being. The same could be said of Yuma, Kushina, and the great dragon chief himself. Yet none wavered and pressed on against their wicked adversary. Instead, a roar echoed from the gashadokuro, swiping several of his arms and skeletal claws racking against Genryu's silver scales.

Kushina's uncle let out a hissing cry before unleashing a torrent of flames into the demon's fused heads. However, much to his annoyance, the beast vanished and reappeared, "I am getting tired of this wretched beast!"

"We need to bind this bastard down," Yuma huffed, ignoring her new cuts and pain from her fresh wounds.

With her breathing ragged, the pinkette wiped away the blood dripping from a cut on her face. Her clothes had seen better days, with her armor pieces proving their temperament and keeping those areas safe. Yet, not far, she saw Kushina holding her swords while her golden chains hoover from her back. The Uzumaki matriarch the ready to take hold of this skeletal juggernaut.

Of course, it was easier said than done. The monster's ability to vanish and reform was its most extraordinary power, one it used to its full advantage. So they need to get it in place, even for a moment.

"Uncle!" Kushina shouted, "One chance is all I need!"

"I'll give you more than a chance!" Genryu roared as he flew close to the skies above, the thundering clouds beginning to unleash their downpour as lightning flashed. "I'll show you why our line descends from the great eastern lords!" A lightning bolt struck down on the ground, then another. Genryu's eyes almost seemed to glow, "Who granted the rain and good crops! Who raged the sea and ruled the oceans! Who calmed the storms and unleashed its wrath on lord Susano'o's name!"

Genryu roared, and the lightning bolts struck down, directly guided by his will.

Dragons of the east were more than serpents who flew and breathed fire; they were the masters of the weather, servants to the heavenly courts—beings as much wisdom and kindness as they were of wrath and might. Genryu's power over the weather was more than his ability; it was his right, as the son of Meihui, who served the great Storm God personally.

When the gashadokuro appeared again, he commanded the lightning to smite down upon the beast. Bolt after bolt descended upon its enormous body, and with each strike, it stumbled back; it roared in defiance as even though it resisted the attacks, its body was still pushed back. However, Genryu did not relent; he did not stop his assault for a moment, lest the creature escapes again.

Kushina took her chance, dashing as fast as she could until she stood behind the monster, her face illuminated by the blinding flashes of lightning, hair whipping wildly against the storming winds. She uttered a fierce cry, sending dozens upon dozens of chains as she willed her chakra to increase their length until they were almost a hundred meters long, wrapping themselves over the arms and legs of that horror. Their unique properties against beings like that allowed them to hold with immense strength, denying their ability to vanish.

Kushina grunted, feeling the best resist. Snapping her fingers, she activated the seals that regulated the flow of chakra and oxygen in her limbs, making her muscles ripple, and veins engorge as she dug her heels into the ground. "A dying blood clone of me held the Nine-Tailed Fox!" She boasted through clenched teeth, "You're just a pile of bones!"

Maiyuri looked on at the scenes, two magnificently powerful individuals. A dragon of the eastern clans, a living legend of the shinobi, giving it their all to keep this ancient monster at bay... and yet that was all any of them could do, keep it at bay. She lost count of the number of times she had struck with her sword, unable to cut any bones. Even Yuma, whose mastership and skill surpassed hers by a notable margin, failed to do anything. What would this change?

Here she was, giving it her all, and she still couldn't defeat this monster in defense of her people...

"Now's our chance!" Yuma, however, was not undeterred; Maiyuri always liked that about her; nobody could ever put her spirits down. "Mai! What are you waiting for?!"

The princess fell on one knee, using her sword to hold herself steady. "I..." She panted, "I can't," She said with shame. "This battle took too much from me; I can't continue..."

"Are you kidding me?!" Yuma snapped at her, walking towards her friend. "We can take it out right now!"

"How?!" Maiyuri shouted at her, "We did everything we could, and still, it wasn't enough! I struck it with my strongest attack before, and it didn't do anything! And I know you couldn't cut it down!"

"Tch," The white-haired woman clicked her tongue, "'Course I couldn't, haven't yet reached the Zero yet."

Maiyuri continued, "I keep trying to do things I... I know I can't do it. Lead this nation through a new path, dissolve this pointless system..."

Her pride was at the point of breaking; so much she wanted to do, pouring all her hopes and dreams into it. And every time she finally took a stance, reality struck her down with its heavy blows.

"How can I call myself a leader if I can't even kill a monster for my people?"

Yuma remained silent, and Maiyuri saw as she knelt before her. The taller woman looked at her with a stern gaze; it wasn't one of judgment or reproach but of solemn dedication.

"Because you don't have to do it alone."

Maiyuri looked up; surprise etched in her expression.

"All this time, you set out these goals to change people's lives for the better, knowing the kind of burden you'd be placing upon yourself." Yuma placed a hand on her friend's shoulder. "But they're not just yours to bear. You have so many people who want to help you."


"A leader shoulders the weight of her people, but nowhere does it say a leader should stand alone. Stand before your people, be their sword and shield..." A second hand came up, this time holding Maiyuri's cheek, "But don't you dare think for a moment I'll ever allow you through all that on your own"

Maiyuri let out a small gasp.

"Ever since I met you, all those years ago when we were kids, I knew you were meant for something amazing" The sword mistress smiled, "The way you learned from the monks, the way you took up the sword, whenever you saw a beggar on the street, or when you heard about something unjust happening, you always had that same look on your face. The look of someone who would stop at nothing to fight for what she thinks is right... and I knew I'd be right there at your side to help you fight for your dreams."

Tears pooled under the princess's eyes.

"We're in this together, not just you and me. You have your friends, comrades, and people who believe as you do. People who want to see this new future you dream so passionately about" She rubbed one of the tears away. "So stand up, stand up and fight, my friend. And if you cannot, I'll lift you, carry you if need be, or kick your stubborn ass around until you get your head on straight."

Maiyuri bit her lip and choked back a sob, feeling so very blessed to have a friend like Yuma in her life.

"Cry as much as you want, lean on us when your burdens become too much... but never stop fighting, that's is NOT who you are," Yuma swore passionately, believing every word coming out of her mouth wholeheartedly. "You're Maiyuri Sasaki, and nothing will ever stop you... because Spirit-Blade Yuma shall always be your sword."

Maiyuri looked at her friend's face, her sheer belief in her... the same hopes other people put in her to do things differently. Those wanted to get out of this cycle of retaliation and blood money. She thought of her people, the soldiers fighting and dying for her nation. The shinobi deserved to know something better...

How could she give up now when she owed them all so much for their loyalty?

Maiyuri stood up, and Yuma smiled brightly.

"Thank you," The princess muttered with profound gratefulness, the two friends holding each other's hands tightly. "I love you."

"Ehhh, we work better as friends."

And there she went... "Why do you always have to ruin the moment? You were being so serious right now..."

"Ugh! I know that felt like, soooo weird for me."

Maiyuri laughed; she wouldn't have it any other way.

She looked up at her friend, determination burning in her green eyes. "We do this together?"

Yuma nodded, "Always."

The two turned to face the creature, still entangled in golden chains and assaulted by the storm's fury.

Maiyuri held her blade Gyōten in her right, while Yuma held her nameless sword in the left while sheathing away the other.

Their free hands joined, palms touching as they closed their eyes.

"Om," The two muttered together. Again, years of spiritual teachings were put to use.

Raigo. The Welcoming Approach. A technique called about the appearance of Buddha at the time of one's death before entering the Pure Land. This technique required an incredibly enriched spirit, one's connection to the spiritual, and the ability to call upon the blessings of the bodhisattva.

The gods were gone, but their influence had not left this world. Mortals could still manifest their power if their spirits were attuned enough to their beliefs.

This sacred technique was passed down through the monks and, in turn to their disciples—a technique both Maiyuri and Yuma had mastered despite their young age.

The monks knew that spoke volumes of the strength of their spirits.

The manifestation Maiyuri called upon was Fudō Myō, Acala, the remover of obstacles and destroyer of evil. A bodhisattva was a gentle being who taught the dharma, but they possessed a wrathful side to protect the disciples of the Buddha. A deity demonic in visage, employing its raging duality in protecting others and dispensing justice against the wicked. A being whose aspect resonated well with Maiyuri, a gentle soul who sought to save her people but knew she would have to turn to violence if it meant winning them a better future.

To Yuma, the being who answered her call was Aizen Myō'ō, Rāgarāja, the love-stained Wisdom King. A contradictory being but one often could find among the gods. Rāgarāja was the protector of lovers from all walks of life. Aizen Myō-ō's philosophy was that love in all its forms was a sacred pursuit of spirituality. That sexual excitement or agitation, otherwise decried as defilements and passionate love, can become enlightenment and compassion for all living things. For someone like Yuma, who lived life to the absolute best and held passion in her heart as important as compassion for others, was it any wonder Rāgarāja resonated with her?

The manifestations of their Raigo came forth. Angry visages of divinities floated behind them in swaths of ethereal flames. Wisdom Kings, protectors of dharma and slayers of demons and monsters, aspects of their powers conjured by the strength of the two women's souls.

Their bodies were a perfect merge, two heads together as multiple arms held a sacred tool in each hand; above their wrathful faces, they had a great sword bathed in holy flames.

"Our blades split the mountains," Maiyuri said, almost like in prayer.

"Our swords split the seas," Yuma continued, the two walking forward as their manifestation followed closely behind them.

The gashadokuro FELT its power; it felt an antithesis to all it stood for. The great skeleton was a being of calamity, a destroyer, bloodshed and drought, famine and fire all in one, wrath and hunger being the only sensations allowed in its existence. Yet this power was also wrathful, but not in a way the creature, with its intuitive level of sentience, could understand.

Genryu and Kushina could; this was the power of righteous anger, the sword wielded by those who hungered for justice. It was as inspiring as it was terrifying.

"Our names reach the imperial heavens!" The princess continued her chant, the sword in Raigo's hand burning ever so brightly.

"Our hands grasp the divine!" Yuma howled, the spiritual chakra raging around them like the storm in the sky.

Burning spiritual flames, a blade made out of their souls. Flames that cleansed evil, a sword that cut more than flesh.

The two sword masters held their swords aloft, and the manifestation did the same with its singular blade.

"Two great souls!" Maiyuri and Yuma shouted as one, their souls synchronized so perfectly at this moment that they were almost one in spirit. Burning like a star in the imperial heavens. "Sharing a life!"

They brought their blades down.

"Niten Ichi!"

Two Heavens as One.

The combined Wisdom King brought down its sword.

A flash and impossible cut. Divine flames were coming down upon the wicked monstrosity.

There was no sound; the strike silenced the world.

The gashadokuro's roar could not be heard, and even then, it barely had time to howl. Its fused heads were split perfectly down the middle, and the sword kept cutting it down. Finally, the flames voraciously incinerated its blackened bones.

The pressure of the swing and the chakra explosion reverberated throughout the land.

The skies parted, vanishing the storm and letting the sunshine appear once more.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

From human to demon, all became still and silent as they bore witness to the sight of the gashadokuro as it was struck and split in half by what could only be described as the divine intervention itself! The power of the attack parted the heavens themselves, breaking the darkness above.

"Impossible..." Dhunarak uttered in a whisper.

His shock was shared among his subordinates. High above in the air, Aezvyn took stock of the battle around her that soon resumed. However, she could see the renewed vigor in the humans. They now fought against their forces with intense ferocity.

'We underestimated these humans.'

"NO!" Tsunade glared as Dhunarak was in near hysterics, "I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED HERE!" His body was illuminated with arcane power as he roared a chant in an unknown tongue. He raised his arms with his hands outstretched and orbs of black and purple energy appeared and grew massive. The masked devil let out a crazed laugh, "I am Dhunarak! Herald to our lord Ishtar! And I shall burn you all to the depth of the inferno!"

Once more, the battle paused itself as many demons now bore a look of terror and fear. "Master Dhunarak!" Zoros declared, "You shall destroy us all with that blast!"

"We shall all be sacrificed to our divine lady! HAHAHA!" Madness rang out from the masked demon as he gathered more and more energy.

Aezvyn felt a chill down her spine as she felt the power her lord was generating. However, her sights soon shifted upon seeing a torrent of flames rise from the ground like a tornado before vanishing, and who appeared made her blood turn to ice.

Tomoe stood at the head of Jiraiya and Kya, who stood ready for battle.

The Sage of the Flame, here. The gashadokuro, destroyed...

However, Dhunarak remained unphased, lost to his insanity. It did not take long for the succubus to make up her mind performing a chant and unleashing a chain that wrapped around their master, which disrupted his spell. "Zoros!" The giant devil shot his head at the female devil, "procure, our lord! We are leaving!"

"Hey!" Kosuke called out as his opponent ran off.

"We are far from done, Kosuke Uzumaki!" The massive demon looked back as he ran, "We will meet again and finish this!"

Naruto and the others glared up at the succubus, "You're running away!"

"Do not do this, Aezvyn!" The masked demon roared in a frenzy, "We must fight; we must show them the scourge of this world is not so easily thwarted!" He thrashed against his bindings before Zoros came and snatched him, "No! No, no, no, no! Unhand me, you fools! Ancestors, as my witness, you will suffer for this cowardice!"

Aezvyn looked back to Tomoe, readied an arrow ignited in flames from her large bow, and loosed it. It sailed like a flaming comet straight toward the female demon. "We return home now!" She ordered before narrowly dodging the flaming arrow.

Within seconds all the demons glowed with arcane magic before vanishing in black flames one by one. Then, finally, Dhunarak screamed as Zoros activated the teleportation, and the two disappeared.

"You damn coward!" Naruto roared in anger at Aezvyn as her teleportation spell glowed around her.

"Don't worry, child," the succubus glared down with a malicious smile as her body slowly faded, "Our paths shall cross again. And all your power shall be mine!" Then, she vanished entirely as another volley of flaming arrows soared toward her.

Tree and Leaf Samurai and Shinobi were now alone in the broken ruins with a pregnant silence cast through the area.

A wounded Miharu had one arm of his equally injured sister over his shoulder. Namika glanced at her brother, "Did we just win?" She spoke in a shaky tone.

Jiraiya only stared at the devastation in shock as Kya ran toward her lover, who collapsed in exhaustion. Tomoe kept a neutral gaze surveying her surroundings before taking in Genryu, flying overhead and dropping off Maiyuri, Kushina, and Yuma.

Jian and Hui Zhong both huffed now beside Naruto and Karin, with Hien and Yasu peeking out from the collars of their respected masters. "That was eventful." the small red dragon spoke warily.

"Understatement of the year," Kiba leaned forward with his hands on his knees, breathing heavily. Akamaru lay on the ground with Abhay, and Ajeet was equally exhausted.

"You guys alright?" Sasuke spoke to his tigers, who nodded.

"Longest damn fight we ever been in," Ajeet retorts.

Kuma's large tongue hung from his open mouth beside his tired human brother, who felt every muscle burning in his body.

Kushina let out a long, dragged-out sigh as she rubbed her sore arms, tense and hurt from using her strength seals. "I'm gonna need five days at the hot springs after today." She placed her hands on Naruto's and Karin's shoulders, who looked and smiled at her, assuring her they were fine.

"Holy shit, guys..." Jiraiya muttered as he approached them, checking them over. "I leave you alone for five minutes, and all hell breaks loose."

"Sad you missed the fun?" Tsunade called out sardonically.

Then, her relatives and teammate looked at her with gawking expressions.


"What-?" Kushina sputtered, "Mom! Why do you look like you've hit ten months of weight training in an hour?!"

"That's... a look on you, Hime..." Jiraiya muttered tactfully.

"Hmm? Oh," Right. Looking down at herself, her body was still in its empowered state. Meaning she still had muscles for days. "Right, I shifted chakra focus from keeping me in my prime to strengthening. Still getting the hang of it" She slowly dispelled the chakra, and her body deflated to its default state. In a flash of panic, Tsunade patted her chest and rear before sighing in relief. "Thank gods, I still have the goods."

Karin deadpanned at her, "Woah."

"Wait, you weren't using your chakra to keep yourself young?" Jiraiya was both intrigued and worried and familiar with what Tsunade needed to do to remain healthy after her regeneration technique had eaten years out of her lifespan.

"Mom," Kushina followed with concern in her voice, "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine, girl," She said, putting her at ease as she raised both hands. "Just... need to figure out how this happened first" And wasn't that a prospect both fascinating and terrifying. Her... rejuvenation could have happened out of nowhere.

Naruto did what he did best; he dissolved the tension. "Maaaaan..." He whined, "Even my grandma got muscles before I did. So when does puberty actually start?"

"You want to bulk up; just keep training. Most days of the week. For years. And eat lots of protein," His mother advised. "Then, one day, you may make your great-grandpa Korin proud."

"I'll take you out training, kid," His uncle Kosuke commented as he scruffed the ears of his bear companions. "We'll eat plenty of deer and have you lifting tree logs every day."

"Yay..." As if he didn't have enough with Lee.

They saw Lyn walking towards them alongside Kya; the formerly cold and distant Namikaze (though still reserved) had a look of mild concern as she looked over her girlfriend.

"You did not push your spirit flames too much, did you? You have yet to master it."

"Relax, babe, I'm fine" She grinned that Uzu grin of hers. "'Sides, you should have seen it. It was awesome!"

Kya closed her eyes, letting out a breath of both fondness and exasperation. "A fool I am for choosing you as my reckless companion, my love" She planted a soft kiss on her cheek.

"Godaime-Sama!" Tsunade sharply turned her gaze to a lone medical ninja who ran to her, "Shizune-san needs your assist with all the injured and wounded!"

Within an instant, the Genin twelve, Karin, and even Soujiro felt their blood turn cold. But nevertheless, they all soon dashed as fast as their feet towards where the injured were sent off. The last Senju followed with Asuma as Shikamaru shouted to him about Ino. After that, Hien's older brothers, alongside Ty Lee's, went in the same direction.

Gai and Anko helped an exhausted Kakashi sit down on a sizeable charred crate, "Damn it, Hatake," the snake mistress mumbled angrily, "We should have taken you to the damn treatment site where the injured are."

"I have chakra exhaustion, Anko. Can't do much but make me rest for a couple of days."

"You're being rather stubborn, my friend," Gai spoke concernedly.

Kakashi waved it off, "There are people far worse off than me that need the help. I'll be fine."

Exasperation glowed from Kushina overhearing the conversation rubbing her hand over her face. 'Gods, he just had to keep that damn stubbornness, didn't he, Minato?'

A further distance away stood Toshirou, with the surviving Tree shinobi and Samurai soon joining him. Their eyes were mournful as they all gazed at the ruins of what was once their beautiful and vibrant lands. Now, what remained was a dead husk of once was, along with the countless lives snuffed out in a flash.

Toshirou was always a hard and stern man who held his heart and feelings closed through his countless decades of service and dedication to his home. It was only his family ever saw his kindness, and all of them were gone. His sons, their wives, and their children.

And now it was all gone; so many of their people had died, slaughtered in the savage tidal wave of violence brought by those monsters. The merciless scythes that cut down so many lives, the abomination that unleashed such destruction that they doubted their land would ever recover from it.

Now all that was left were broken survivors. Avenging their fallen was the only solace they could take, but now all that remained was emptiness. Desolate as the broken remains of their homes. Their capital, their hidden village, nothing but ruins now. Their Daimyo, their Hokage, dead. Directionless, lost, and grieving. Survivors of a fallen land.

How could they ever recover from this?

What seed could they plant in hopeless soil? What great tree could grow atop the remnants of bloodied fields?

For now, all they have is their grief, allowing themselves to mourn for all they had lost.

"Gods, look at them..." Kurenai muttered, heartbroken.

Gai shook his he; his familiar fiery spirit dimmed in the face of this tragedy. "They lost everything,"

"What's going to happen to them?" Namika asked, "Their country can't survive after this..."

Miharu held no answers before looking over to his charge, whose gaze was mournful to the people of Hayashi.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX

Tsunade led the leaf medical ninja alongside the surviving remnants of the Tree medical corp into patching and healing every wound person up in a makeshift encampment. Daimyo Ahika sat alongside the many wounded as the danger had passed, but his focus was his daughter, who sat beside him. She was wrapped with several bandages over many portions of her body. Same for Yuma, who rested her head on his daughter's shoulder, "I'm going to be sore for a few weeks." The white-haired woman grumbled.

Close by, Tsunade overheard, "Once everyone is stable enough to move, I want everyone at the capital hospital in Amotsu."

Shizune's eyes were downcast as she covered the face of a now-deceased Tree shinobi, "Some won't make it that far, sensei."

Further down, Maiyuri took notice of Naruto and his fellow Genin alongside Asuma Sarutobi beside a conscious but severely hurt Ino. As she was told, the succubus they faced and who ordered the retreat was dangerous and used the Yamanaka's skills against her. Thankfully she received no trauma to the brain, which was a miracle.

The princess wished there could have been a few more miracles to be spread around. However, the respected summonings of Naruto and Sasuke offered aid which chief Genryu remained in case of any surprises. Jiraiya, alongside the sage of flame Tomoe Gozen, kept a vigil with the silver-scaled dragon as she introduced herself.

"This was almost like that time with that group of demons we faced a few years ago in Torii village." Lyn chuckled before groaning as she was bandaged up.

Kya deadpanned, "You and I remember Torii village very differently."

Nearby, she could pick up some of what Kushina was talking about with the Copy Nin. "Mangenkyu Sharingan? Are you sure?" She sounded so concerned.

"Completely," Kakashi nodded. "It couldn't have been anything else."

"Hmm, we need to get that eye routinely checked if you plan on training to use that stage more. The last thing you want is Obito's eye going blind" The Hatake merely nodded.

She saw her bodyguards and friends approach her with smiles, a soft gesture on Miharu's lips, and a wide beaming grin on Namika's. The white-haired young woman was hiding something behind her back. "Guess what I found in my scrolls?" She revealed a box and quickly opened it, showing a few small round sugary treats inside. "Mochi!"

"Oh, Kannon's mercy," Yuma perked up brightly, and Maiyuri couldn't lie and say she was not tempted.

"I'm... not sure" She hesitated. "Doesn't feel right to treat oneself when there are refugees."

Her three friends gave her deadpanning looks.

"Mai-chan," Namika droned, "Everyone is getting medical attention; they're all being given food, water, anything they need. You and Yuma-chan killed a giant ass gashadokuro."

"So cut it out with the 'oh-it's-not-proper' attitude," Miharu took over, "And eat some damn candy."

Without another word, Maiyuri took a candy in question as her guard sat with them. A faint chuckle came from Akiha, "I could practically hear Soga chiding you for being so familiar."

A nervous chuckle came from the young bodyguards, "Sorry, Akiha-Sama." Said the white-haired twin.

Said Daimyo, waving it off, never losing his smile, "Right now, I am not the Daimyo. I am merely a father proud of his daughter and her cherished friends who have always been at her side when she needed someone." He rested a hand on Maiyuri's cheek, "Saeko would be just as proud as I am of what you have accomplished today."

The princess couldn't fight the tears welling in her eyes as she smiled back at her father. Then, leaning forward, she gently hugged him as he returned it. Namika and Yuma gushed, 'Been a long time since we've seen this,' Miharu mentally muttered, grinning.

Detaching from her father, Maiyuri's eyes soon glowed with a solid determination, "Father, I fully intended to enact the changes our nation has long needed."

No reproach was given by her father, who merely nodded with warmth. "Whatever you decide, you shall have my full support. Now show the world who Maiyuri Sasaki is and what she will do."

Those were the words she had dreamt of hearing for so long. Her father was proud of her, and he supported her choices. If she had any doubts before, now she felt she could take on the entire world.

Her dear friend squeezed her hand, smiling at her. "You got this"

With a look of profound gratitude, Maiyuri squeezed her hand back before standing up. Then, taking a deep breath, she marched off.

This was it. The first step began here.

The heir of the Fire throne kept walking until she stood in front of the camp; a mound was in her way, so she stood over it, using the added height to make herself stand out more. She stood there for a moment; the princess' presence gathered attention quickly. Konoha shinobi and the capital's soldiers closest to her stopped for a moment as they saw Maiyuri; they approached, and so little by little, more warriors kept coming, as it was clear the heiress was about to speak with them. Tree ninjas and samurai stood there and watched Fire's princess look ready to make a speech. A few wondered if she'd truly make good on her word of helping their nation rebuild; others were too lost in their grief to care.

Maiyuri patiently waited until she deemed enough people were ready to hear what she had to say. The soft pinkette took a deep breath as she stared at the various faces of the assorted men and women standing before her. "What happened here," She finally started, "was a tragedy," The princess said mournfully. "A few days ago, two daimyos gathered to put a history of conflict and violence behind us. To pave the way for unity and peace... not everyone was happy with that decision"

Murmurs sprung out throughout the camp. The Tree shinobi responsible, or at least the ones who survived, for what happened to their nation had either been executed, or they had committed seppuku out of guilt and shame.

"But I'm not here to point fingers; right now, laying blame helps no one. It does not rebuild the lost homes" She shook her head, "It does not bring back the lives lost. No, what I truly blame was hatred. I blame greed... I blame the system that has locked us into this vicious cycle for so long," Maiyuri said, putting all her spirit in her words to show how strongly she felt. "Shinobi are killing each other for blood, money, anger, and scorn building for generations; as a result, guiding their choices to ensure this system would continue. People who knew only hate sold their souls to destroy their enemies, unleashing a monster they could not control. All in the name of proud servitude to their village, to their way of shinobi, because they refused to make peace with old foes... Because the conflict was all they knew, no longer fighting their enemies became unacceptable."

Her voice gained an edge, becoming louder as her words became more passionate. "I see it every day, ninjas doing as they please, fighting over and over because that is all they know, how to carry grudges that will be passed on for generations to come! So they can continue a system that feeds on blood, money, and war!" Finally, she addressed the ninja of her country. "Konoha-nin, is this truly what you want?! Is this what you want your children to inherit, a bloody legacy where they will pointlessly die for no other reason than 'it's what we do'?!"

Various sharp air intakes rang throughout their ranks as they stared at their princess in shock.

"There is no honor in this!" She shouted. "No glory, nothing to take pride in! What has this life given you?! I'll tell you what; pain, loss, treason, empty platitudes, and false promises that you are all fighting for the 'good of your village'! But I look at the state of the nations, and I see no difference from when the Great Five Villages were founded! NOTHING has changed! If you look back to your life, you will only see corpses and blood, your enemies' blood, and your kin's blood! If you look at your parents' lives, grandparents', and great-grandparents', you will find the same! Wasted lives, pointless sacrifices that have achieved nothing!"

Her breathing became ragged; her emotions were running wild. Thoughts she had long since suppressed were coming to the surface in droves. "I… I cannot tolerate this any longer. I can't just stand by and watch as we send our children to their deaths in wars that could have been stopped in the first place! Instead, I see people who wait for the next war to come instead of working to improve themselves and their nation, working to find a better solution!"

"I know we can be better than this! There is more to this life than hatred and pain, more to be earned than just money paid in the blood of our fallen, much more than just carrying old grudges!" She took a deep breath. "And for that… I choose to help the people of this country. I will keep my promise!"

Shinobi, samurai, and civilians from Tree could only look up and stare in shock.

Jiraiya's brow rose upon hearing those inspirational words from the princess. He glanced towards the Daimyo, who only beamed with pride towards his daughter. 'So you finally letting her spread her wings.' He smirked, crossing his arms.

For the sage of flame, her eyes gleamed with respect and anticipation to hear more. Genryu could not stop the smile growing on his lips, 'Oh, I like this one.'

"I'm going to make sure the people of Trees will recover; the Land of Fire shall help them rebuild everything they have lost… The actions of a few shinobi took our own lives, but I can't look upon this torn-up land, gaze upon these shattered lives, and feel glad for their pain, which will only start the chain again… So I choose to end it by offering the hand of friendship once more in their time of need."

The princess' words… she truly believed in them; she meant everything she was saying. Despite what had been done, Maiyuri wanted to help them, wanted to help them rebuild what they had lost.

"I… I want to do the same for the rest of the nations," Maiyuri declared. "I want this ceaseless hate to be over at long last. I want to change… everything!" She looked up resolutely. "I will embark on a campaign to unify the Elemental Nations!"

Shocked gasps were heard among the crowd. Such as the thing she proposed… the scale, the ambition of it, was she honestly planning too…?

"Some will call me a warmonger; others will say I'm just hungry for power!" She spat. "Let them say what they want, for I will prove my intentions through my deeds! I will build a new future for our children and all of our peoples, a unified front that will show the entirety of the Nations what we can do together!" She exclaimed, holding her fist high.

Tsunade stared back at the young woman in shock. The Hokage in her knew her goals were dangerous, that they would disrupt everything and cause many problems in the long run for a promise that did not seem possible. And yet the other part of her felt… admiration?

"…But I… I can't do this by myself," She admitted. "I will need your help, my countrymen; we must all work together to build this future!" Her gaze became downcast. "I know I'm asking you to fight for the sake of my ideals, but I'm also asking you to reflect on the world you want the next generations to inherit. Do you want the same kind of pain and tribulations you went through… or do you want something better for them?"

Some of those shinobi who could remember the previous Wars had lived through the Second and the Third. They had seen beloved friends and comrades die; their deaths did not bring them victory; they could not look back on their sacrifice and feel proud anymore because those deaths, as the princess had made them realize… had accomplished nothing.

What was the point of continuing this system their predecessors had created? Hashirama once had a dream where the clans would no longer fight among themselves… now instead, things had escalated and become far worse.

No… it wasn't worth it to continue like this.

"I ask you, will you stand with me?"

Murmurs of agreement and encouragement rang out among their ranks.

"Will you help me build this future?"

'Yes!' Various voices cried out as smiles formed on many lips.

"Will you help me unite… the Elemental Nations?!" The princes shouted as she thrust her fist in the air.

The deafening cheers of shinobi and samurai alike echoed throughout the camp, voices filled with absolute conviction cried out for the person they were swearing allegiance to, shouting over and over, 'Maiyuri!', 'Maiyuri!' as they raised their fists in the air. The princess had shared her dream of change with them, and it had touched their hearts to hear just how much she believed in it… She had shown them how much they, too, desired for things to change at long last.

Even the people of the Land of Trees stood and shouted the princess' name; such was the strength of her words.

Naruto, Sakura, Sasuke, Karin, and Soujiro could only watch as the princess was showered in praise, awed at the sheer emotion behind her speech and the strength of her promises; it made them feel like they were made of something indestructible. An unbreakable promise.

Older ninjas like Kakashi stood by and watched the woman they would one day call their leader and felt that day had come. Such compelling was her voice that, at that moment, they chose to follow her, come hell or high water. Kushina smiled as she remembered Minato's dream of peace, confident that this young and promising woman would be the one to deliver it. And so, all of them resolved to help her, to ensure that promised time would one day come.

Yuma smiled widely, knowing her friend would make good on her word. To her, there was no other outcome but Maiyuri's dream. Miharu and Namika watched on with great pride, promising to always walk after her.

Lord Sasaki cried as he looked upon her daughter, the swelling love and pride he felt in his heart was immeasurable. 'Saeko, this is our child…!'

Maiyuri panted, having exhausted her voice, but it all had been worth it. She allowed herself to smile as the tears ran down her cheeks. She had done it, said what she always wanted to, and confessed her dream and ideals to her people… and they chose to aid her in her quest.

She felt so touched and humbled that words alone did not describe it.

So Maiyuri resolved herself to bring forth this future she had promised them. Together, they will unify the Gogyou-koku.

XxX ~ xx ~ XxX ~ xx ~ XxX ~ xx ~ XxX ~ xx ~ XxX